Predicting the Top Performers from This Year's NBA Draft Class
Michael Carter-Williams emerged as the most productive player from the weak 2013 NBA draft.
The 2014 edition was stocked with potential All-Stars and longtime contributors. But the immediate question on everyone's mind is how their team's draft picks will fare in the next 12 months.
These questions depend on a few factors: Is there a significant hole in the depth chart the team needs to fill? Will he be expected to start from day one? Does he have the body to compete in the NBA? Will a new free agent bump him down before training camp even begins?
Looking through the first round of the draft, here are five players who should get their shot early in the 2014-15 season and may prove vital to their team's success earlier than anyone imagined.
Jabari Parker, No. 2 Milwaukee
This one's too easy.
Jabari Parker has been tabbed as the most NBA-ready prospect of this draft class from the get-go.
Jabari Parker is more NBA ready than Wiggins. JB isn't afraid of the moment, playing with confidence like he wants to prove who's best.— Kyle Montgomery (@the_realkylem) November 13, 2013
Now that he and the Milwaukee Bucks have fallen into their ideal marriage, that assumption hasn't changed.
At 6'8", 240 pounds, Parker has the frame to develop a legitimate post presence and the skills of a perimeter player. He can still get into the paint for difficult buckets and arrives in Milwaukee as one of the three most talented players along with Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders.
The one-and-done Dukie has plenty in his game to work on to earn All-Star discussion. He's rated as a poor defender and lacks explosiveness, according to Draft Express.
But Parker comes in as a polished scorer, failing to tally double digits in just two of 34 college games and topping 20 points on 18 occasions. Milwaukee will welcome that production after finishing 28th in scoring last season amid injury and off-court problems.
Bilas: Jabari Parker is the most NBA ready from this draft. He could score 16 to 20 point a game— David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) June 25, 2014
It's no wonder Vegas gave him the best odds to win Rookie of the Year, per Sports Insights.
Julius Randle, No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers
The ability to stand out on the nation's most prospect-loaded roster deserves praise.
Julius Randle originally made up the third part of the Jabari Parker-Andrew Wiggins-Joel Embiid trinity of draft targets, until the 7-footer from Kansas took the country by storm.
Randle still held his own, averaging 15 points and 10.4 rebounds to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors over the rest of John Calipari's recruits. His next challenge will be continuing to stand out alongside Kobe Bryant, as possibly one of the team's top options.
The Los Angeles Lakers roster currently looks more like the bare kitchen cupboard of a frat house with only Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre officially under contract. That doesn't even take into account the lack of a head coach.
GM Mitch Kupchak thinks Randle can get involved immediately and in a lot of ways. He impressed the team with his shooting touch from distance and had the same 35.5-inch vertical leap as Blake Griffin, according to NBA.com.
There are concerns that Bryant will want to operate more in the paint to limit the miles on his legs, but Randle will earn his salary down on the blocks. He's confident enough to call himself the best rebounder in the draft and inspired others to make some bold claims about his impact.
Randle currently has the third-best odds to win Rookie of the Year. But this all could come crashing down if his foot actually becomes an issue and forces him to miss time before ever donning the purple and gold.
Doug McDermott, No. 11 Chicago (trade)
It's hard to imagine someone who scored so prolifically in college not continuing to ply his trade in the pros.
Doug McDermott finished his four-year career at Creighton as the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA Division I history with 3,150 points. He capped it by averaging 26.7 points per game in 2013-14 to win the following awards:
- AP Player of the Year
- Consensus First team All-American
- NABC Player of the Year
- Naismith Award
- Sporting News Player of the Year
- USBWA Player of the Year
- Wooden Award
If that doesn't sound like someone ready to put in work at the highest level, I don't know what does.
In a rare showing of aggression, the Chicago Bulls traded up from the 16th and 19th picks to nab McDermott at No. 11. No other player fits their desperate need for shooting than the guy who hit 45 percent of his 3-point attempts last year.
Besides D.J. Augustin, and Mike Dunleavy on occasion, the Bulls struggled to get buckets from the perimeter. This put added pressure on Joakim Noah to correctly facilitate the offense every time down the court and placed a higher premium on easy buckets.
McDermott comes in as an immediate floor-spacer even if he lacks elite speed on the wings. If Chicago succeeds in attracting Carmelo Anthony, McDermott will have replaced Dunleavy on the bench to make it happen. As a sixth man, McBuckets will have plenty of opportunity to flourish under coach Tom Thibodeau, though the team feels he's more than a one-dimensional shooter.
"What excites us about Doug is we feel he's more than a shooter," Forman said, per Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson. "He's a guy who is crafty with the ball, can create his own shot, can go in the post some, has a quick release whether it's from the perimeter or outside." Thibs agreed.
Shabazz Napier, No. 24 Charlotte (trade)
This selection has more to do with the fit than anything else, but it comes with a big "if".
If LeBron James returns to the Miami Heat, likely meaning the rest of the Big Three follow suit, Shabazz Napier entered the best situation of any rookie looking to both contribute and compete for a championship.
Miami's biggest problem in getting bounced out of the NBA Finals by San Antonio was a lack of capable point-guard play. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole disappeared from sight, leaving LeBron to do the distributing and the scoring.
Napier proved over the course of UConn's NCAA Championship run that he doesn't back down from any level of pressure. With the size and strength of an undrafted free agent, Napier earned his way into the first round. LeBron famously spoke:
No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier.— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 8, 2014
And it was so:
My favorite player in the draft! #Napier— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 27, 2014
Miami hopes they've found a replacement for Chalmers and Cole. While ESPN Insider Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) correctly urges caution over an undersized rookie point guard, there's reason to believe that Miami will be smarter with Napier than their current ball-handlers.
Napier won't put up the stats, but if the Big Three return, don't be surprised to see Napier playing a big role.
P.J. Hairston, No. 26 Charlotte (trade)
P.J. Hairston took an unconventional route to the NBA, even if he'll be playing NBA ball in the same state as his university.
Hairston left the University of North Carolina after two years due to a litany of issues involving benefits and eligibility. He promptly entered the D-League and dominated, averaging 21.8 points for the Texas Legends in 26 games. Twice he scored more than 40 points in a game.
Charlotte needs floor spacing, and in Hairston they may have it. He becomes the first player drafted in the first round from the D-League and brings elite shooting with him.
ESPN Insider Chad Ford would have taken him even higher:
Hairston hit 38 percent of his attempts behind the arc, playing on one or more days' rest, per NBA.com, and will have a chance to impact Michael Jordan's team. He currently looks set to back up Gerald Henderson at the 2.
Henderson has never shot better than 34.8 percent from behind the arc and topped 30 percent only twice in five seasons. Hairston has the opportunity to earn starter's minutes.