Predicting the Biggest 1st-Round Steals of the 2014 NBA Draft

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014

Predicting the Biggest 1st-Round Steals of the 2014 NBA Draft

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    Since the 2014 NBA draft is so richly stocked with talent, there are some steals to be had, even within the first round.

    There are valuable prizes in the lottery and beyond, and years from now, we'll appreciate how fortunate their teams were to select them.

    A draft "steal" often refers to a player who outperforms those drafted ahead of him, and there are a couple of those in the 2014 crop. But it can also simply denote a player who is exceedingly valuable in relation to his draft range, especially compared to other drafts.

    Which studs will emerge as 2014 gems?

Mitch McGary, Michigan, C (6'10", Sophomore)

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Projected Draft Range: 25-35

    Potential Landing Spots: San Antonio, LA Clippers, Phoenix, Oklahoma City 

    No matter where Mitch McGary lands, he could be a steal if his back holds up.

    His draft stock is in the late-first or early-second round, and that makes sense because he had back surgery in January and never returned to the floor in 2013-14. He's also a 22-year-old with limited college experience and unspectacular upside.

    That being said, the Michigan star could be a key cog and a more valuable addition than many of his late-first-round peers. He could step in and immediately thrive in the pick-and-roll, and he would also be comfortable operating in the high post as a scorer and passer.

    McGary's mobility and feel for the game are well-equipped for the NBA. His back injury is understandably a red flag for most teams, but if he can stay on the court for most of his career, he'll be one of the better rotational bigs in the league.

    The franchise that takes a chance on him could get richly rewarded.

Julius Randle, Kentucky, PF (6'9", Freshman)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Projected Draft Range: 5-8

    Potential Landing Spots: LA Lakers, Boston, Sacramento, Utah

    While Kentucky's Julius Randle may not be significantly better than anyone who's drafted ahead of him, he's still a steal if he lands at No. 7 or No. 8.

    Think about it. He's a one-and-done freshman star with an NBA-ready body, a Final Four under his belt, an unquestioned passion and a really high ceiling. And he'll probably be left out of the top five.

    There are questions about whether he'll be able to guard NBA post players and whether he'll expand his offensive skill set. Those concerns have some validity to them, but his foot speed, power and nose for the ball will compensate in a big way.

    CBS Sports' Matt Moore explained how Randle has top-three potential in this draft but may fall to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 7:

    "Randle could go three, I wouldn't be shocked. He could fall here (No. 7) or lower, I wouldn't be shocked. Either way, I think he's going to kick (butt) at the next level. I love the idea of his competitiveness growing under Kobe Bryant's tutelage."

    He probably won't be an NBA superstar, but that's okay. He and his squad will settle for countless double-doubles and a rock-solid secondary scoring option on playoff runs.

T.J. Warren, N.C. State, F (6'8", Sophomore)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Projected Draft Range: 20-25

    Potential Landing Spots: Toronto, Houston, Oklahoma City, Phoenix

    T.J. Warren was the ACC's top bucket-getter in 2013-14, and he was second in the nation in scoring. He averaged 24.9 points per game and notched 28.1 per 40 minutes.

    What does he get in return? His draft stock sits late in the first round, among several players who scored half as often as he did during their first couple years in college. 

    Warren's still not quite 21 years old, yet he's got the instincts to find baskets with or without the ball early in his NBA career. His pro comparison is a rich man's Trevor Ariza: a crafty, lanky third scoring option who entered the league struggling from three-point range.

    If Warren works hard away from the ball, capitalizes on transition chances and improves from three-land like Ariza, he'll be able to score 13-18 points per game. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) raved about him after a recent workout:

    Warren is so aggressive as a scorer and can get his shot off in multiple ways. You can't sit on him defensively. He just has too many moves, floaters, hesitations and ways to get that ball in the bucket. That explains why he shot nearly 76 percent at the rim this year and 44 percent in his two-point jumpers. The guy can score.

    Late in the first round, he offers incredible value as an efficient offensive weapon.

Zach LaVine, UCLA , G (6'6", Freshman)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Projected Draft Range: 11-24

    Potential Landing Spots: Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Charlotte

    Because he's a risky pick, UCLA's Zach LaVine could go anywhere from the late lottery to late-first round. He's an unproven commodity because he came off the bench as a freshman, and NBA executives don't know whether he'll actually develop into an efficient player.

    His ceiling is extremely high, however, as he shows promise as a ball-handler and range as a shooter. Oh, and his ridiculous 46" vertical doesn't hurt.

    I'm predicting he'll come close to his ceiling as a dynamic combo guard and full-fledged star. In that case, he would be one of the biggest steals of the draft if he's picked outside the top 10 or lottery.

    Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio says LaVine's "all-around game, athleticism has him climbing," and that he's "worth the risk" late in the lottery.

    Three to five years from now, he'll be slashing to the rim at will, creating for teammates and splashing jumpers to keep opponents honest. When that happens, we'll view his selection in the 2014 draft as a major coup.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, PG (6'4", Junior)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Projected Draft Range: 16-26

    Potential Landing Spots: Oklahoma City, Toronto, Miami, Chicago 

    Widely projected to land in the low 20s, Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton could wind up being one of the best two-way playmakers from the 2014 draft.

    He would be sneaky-valuable for the Toronto Raptors at No. 21, the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 22 or even the Miami Heat at No. 26.

    Creative point men such as Tyler Ennis and Kyle Anderson may get drafted ahead of him, but he has a really good chance to outshine both of them. Payton can break down defenders, see the floor and utilize his 6'8" wingspan and abundant athleticism.

    He doesn't just bring strong point guard skills with ideal physical tools; he also plays with a boatload of energy and has magnificent instincts on the defensive end. As a bonus, his unproven jump shot has looked great during pre-draft workouts.

    Payton's ability to put pressure on opponents on both ends of the floor will help him outclass most of his mid- to late-first-round peers.

    Follow Dan O'Brien for more NBA Draft coverage: @DanielO_BR