2014 NBA Draft: Analyzing Riskiest Potential 1st-Round Prospects

David DanielsSenior Writer IJune 20, 2014

Kansas center Joel Embiid watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Memphis Grizzlies in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 13, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Grizzlies won 102-90. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Every player in the 2014 NBA draft is risky to some extent, but some carry significantly more risk than others.

Andrew Wiggins' passiveness may limit his ability to lead his team in no more than scoring. Dante Exum's unpolished shooting and playmaking skills may be exposed against American competition. But they, like many first-round prospects, are so gifted in at least one aspect that they're unlikely to bust.

The following players' ceilings are high, but their floors are just as low.


4. PF Mitch McGary, Michigan

Once upon a time, Jabari Parker contemplated delaying his NBA career for a two-year Mormon mission, according to Sports Illustrated's Jeff Benedict. This was an off-the-court concern for franchises considering drafting Parker. His good character would've temporarily hurt the team.

Dec 28, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan (52) and forward Mitch McGary (4) sit on the bench in the second half against the Holy Cross Crusaders at Crisler Arena. Michigan won 88-66. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA T

McGary, as well as the next prospect on this list, also have off-the-court character concerns. But theirs isn't for good character.

Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel reported in April that McGary would enter the NBA draft after the NCAA sentenced him to a year-long suspension. McGary tested positive for marijuana. The 6'10", 249-pounder claimed it was his first try, but it still waved another red flag for scouts.

McGary had already sat out nearly the entire year with a back injury. He's healthy now, but injury and drug history isn't an attractive combination for a player who's already 22 years old and never scored more than 9.5 points per game in a season.


3. SG P.J. Hairston, North Carolina

Hairston didn't have the best summer he ever had last year. Grantland's Mark Titus summed up the series of events that ruined Hairston's North Carolina career.

In a span of about 10 weeks last summer, Hairston (1) was pulled over for speeding while driving a rental car that had been loaned to him by a convicted felon named Fats, (2) was again pulled over in Fats’s rental car, only this time he had weed, a 9mm handgun, and no driver’s license, and (3) was caught going 28 mph over the speed limit.

North Carolina proceeded to suspend Hairston indefinitely. The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre reported around the same time that the NCAA had begun to investigate Hairston's connection to an NBA agent. Months later, North Carolina announced that it had kicked Hairston off the team. 

Never convicted of a crime, Hairston soon began scoring 21.8 points per game in the D-League, but it's debatable whether this outweighs the red flags he waved at North Carolina. Just this month, ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) reported that Hairston took a "lackadaisical approach" to drills at the combine. Teams must carefully weigh whether this was the same lackadaisical approach he showed toward staying out of trouble last year.


2. PG Zach LaVine, UCLA

Russell Westbrook averaged just 3.4 points in 9.0 minutes of action his freshman year at UCLA. He found the floor more as a sophomore but didn't necessarily wow scouts with 12.7 points per game and 33.8 percent shooting from downtown. He instead wowed scouts at the combine, recording a time of 3.08 seconds in the three-quarter court sprint and 36.5-inch vertical.

He didn't turn out to be a bad player.

LaVine has a similar resume entering the draft. He averaged an underwhelming 9.4 points and 1.8 assists per game this season. But he ran the three-quarter court sprint in 3.19 seconds at the combine and dropped jaws with a 46-inch vertical at his workout with the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, for every Westbrook-like success story, there's far more freak athletes that busted. Westbrook didn't jump as high in 2008 as O.J. Mayo, who never lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted third overall. Westbrook didn't run as fast in 2008 as D.J. Augustin, who also fell short of his ninth-overall expectations.

LaVine has a Westbrook-like ceiling, but also a floor as low as pre-Phoenix Suns Gerald Green.


1. C Joel Embiid, Kansas

Embiid wasn't on this list last week.

Then ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported that Embiid needs surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. This isn't an it's-all-good, time-will-make-everything-better injury. ESPN's Kevin Pelton went as far as to say "for a big man, there's no worse sentence."

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 17:  (L-R) Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets discusses Nike athletic shoes with broadcaster and former player Bill Walton before practice at the Rockets practice facility on December 17, 2002 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER:User expressly
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Pelton pointed out that this is the same injury that reduced the careers of Yao Ming and Bill Walton. Of course, Kevin McHale and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also suffered "navicular injuries" but bounced back with a vengeance after healing.

After already missing the end of the season with a back injury, Embiid has officially earned the injury-prone label. He still has the highest ceiling in the draft, but his previous floor of developing into nothing more than the next Serge Ibaka just plummeted.

It didn't take long after Embiid's injury for al.com to run the headline, "Is Joel Embiid the next Greg Oden." Oden or Hakeem Olajuwon—that's a disparity that could make or break a general manager's career.


David Daniels is a columnist at Bleacher Report. He tweets, too.