The Biggest Concern for Each 2014 NBA Lottery Pick
Every NBA rookie enters the league with weaknesses that raise concern over his transition from college to the pros.
Much of the time, a concern stems from positional uncertainty or physical limitations. Other times, it has to do with a prospect's questionable fit in his particular lineup.
These concerns might not make or break the rookie's NBA outlook, but they could limit his potential or diminish his current perceived strengths.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers
The concern for Andrew Wiggins might actually change based on what team he ends up playing for.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst mentioned on the radio the Cleveland Cavaliers have a handshake agreement in place on a deal that would send Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade for Kevin Love.
If Wiggins ends up in Minnesota, the concern is that the lack of talent around him makes it tough to develop. Defenses will be fixated on him there. He won't have many threatening playmakers or scorers around him to take some of the pressure and attention off, whereas in Cleveland, LeBron James would draw opposing teams' top wing defenders.
Sometimes, too much responsibility early on could weigh a prospect down. Wiggins would be able to play to his strengths in Cleveland. In Minnesota, we could be looking at low-shooting percentages and lots of contested shots.
If the trade doesn't happen and Wiggins stays a Cavalier, the concern is that his passive tendencies and backseat approach resurface while playing with James and Kyrie Irving. Scouts dogged Wiggins last year for lacking assertiveness and aggression, as he'd often disappear for long stretches or even full games.
You wouldn't want Wiggins to get scared of letting down James and Irving—established All-Stars looking to win immediately.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
The concern for Jabari Parker hasn't changed much since his days in high school. Though tremendously skilled and polished, he's just not that explosive or light on his feet. And on the perimeter, his average first step forces him to settle for tough jumpers or contested shots.
As a forward moving from college to the pros, separating offensively will be more challenging, given the mobility and length of players his size.
Parker will put up points regardless—he's just too good—but I'm concerned his efficiency and consistency might take major hits in the pros, where he could struggle creating high-percentage looks against a set defense. He only shot 41.9 percent in Las Vegas Summer League after shooting 47.3 percent at Duke.
Will he be able to take wing defenders off the dribble, and how well will his 6'8" size translate to the NBA's post?
You also have to question his defensive outlook, particularly against small forwards. Without that convincing lateral foot speed, don't expect many hard closeouts on shooters.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The obvious concern regarding Joel Embiid centers around durability. First, it was a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss the college postseason.
And for months, that's all we were worried about—a potential back issue, which seems scary enough.
The fact that he'd soon break the navicular bone in his foot, which would require surgery and a five-to-eight month recovery period, is somewhat frightening. He'll be entering the NBA having already suffered two major injuries before logging his first minute.
It stinks, given how insanely good Embiid has become and how big of a game-changer he could be.
But you have to wonder whether his body was built for the potential 82-game-plus grind year after year. Some guys are just more fragile than others, and it seems like many are around 7'0" with 250-plus pounds to carry around.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon's offensive identity is somewhat undefined. He lacks the interior presence or post game of your traditional power forward. And without much shooting range or ball skills on the perimeter, he's not quite your everyday wing.
The biggest concern with Gordon is that he falls between positions. Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Thomas Robinson, Anthony Bennett—these are top-five draft picks who've landed on the wrong side of the fence that separates versatile combo forwards from tweeners.
There isn't a specific blueprint or formula for Gordon, though improving his outside shot should certainly be a priority regardless of what position he plays.
The Magic just have to hope he polishes up his game and ultimately carves out a niche for himself in the frontcourt.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
Not only does Dante Exum have to make the transition from Australia to the NBA at 19 years old, but his role will call for a major adjustment.
He's no longer a primary playmaker and No. 1 option like he's been in the past. Exum will have to adjust to less touches playing off the ball alongside Trey Burke.
“I think I’m still comfortable at the point,” Exum told Jody Genessy of the Deseret News following one of his summer league games. “I still want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible. I didn’t get it a lot in my hands these last couple of games.”
Is Burke, whose ceiling is a good three stories lower, stealing valuable touches away from Exum early in his career? By sliding Exum off the ball into the corners and on the wing, doesn't that diminish the mismatch his size, athleticism and ball-handling ability present?
If I'm the Jazz, my only concern is playing Exum off the ball hurts his development at the point guard position, which is where he ultimately holds the most potential value.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart will be a rock-solid NBA player just based on his defense alone. But his offensive ceiling is questionable, as it's still unclear exactly what role he'll be most effective in.
Though a terrific passer, I'm not convinced he's a point guard—at least not in a full-time, 35-plus-minute role.
Decision-making was an issue for Smart at Oklahoma State, where his assist-to-turnover ratios (averaged at least 2.7 turnovers and less than five assists both seasons) and shot selection (shot below 43 percent each season) were somewhat uninspiring.
And he only operated out of pick-and-roll sets on 21.2 percent of his possessions, while converting only 36 percent of his shots off ball screens, per Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress.
The fact that he's a poor shooter, despite his unwavering confidence, hurts him at both backcourt positions.
As a point guard, he'll need to capitalize with the pull-up off the dribble. As a 2, he'll need to capitalize as a spot-up shooter off the ball.
But he'll also be fairly undersized as a 2-guard, given that he measured in at 6'3.25" at the NBA combine.
Smart is too tough and skilled to let these issues get the best of him, but they could limit his upside and ultimately cause some playmaking inefficiency.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
The concern with Julius Randle stems from his style of play. He relied heavily on bully basketball last season—overpowering and overwhelming college bigs inside off offensive rebounds and finishes in the paint.
In the pros, he'll need to complement his heavy interior-oriented attack with a jumper, which will ultimately set up his dribble-drive game facing up, where he's the toughest to stop.
But we haven't seen Randle make many jumpers over the past year. He hit just three three-pointers and only 17.3 percent of his jump shots as a freshman, per DraftExpress' Derek Bodner via Synergy Sports Technology.
In Las Vegas Summer League, he shot just 41.9 percent without making a field goal outside the paint.
And it's not as if he's overly polished in the post, where he converted just 39.3 percent of his opportunities in 2013-14, per DraftExpress.
He's just a little too predictable right now.
At the end of the day, it's hard to see Randle ever taking off as a star without adding a jumper to his repertoire. At this point, we haven't seen many signs that he's got one brewing.
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
With that lights-out three-point stroke, 6'6" size and high basketball IQ, Nik Stauskas should have a place in the NBA regardless.
The only concern is that the rest of his scoring arsenal won't fully translate while his defensive limitations stand out.
Can he get to the rack in the half court, and will those step-back jumpers work against NBA-caliber 2s? Defensively, are we looking at a target for opposing offenses to isolate? Stauskas let too many guys just blow right by him at the college level.
If Stauskas does struggle with the physical transition, his potential label changes from perimeter scorer and playmaker to shooting specialist, which diminishes his value and purpose on the floor.
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets
Noah Vonleh was drafted based on potential, which is always a bit risky given the uncertainty that comes with it.
His 11.3 point-per-game average and 21.4 usage rate as a freshman, per Sports-Reference.com, don't exactly scream one-and-done top-10 pick. But every now and then you'd see flashes at Indiana—flashes the Charlotte Hornets are banking on to turn into every-game occurrences.
But what if they don't? What if Vonleh plateaus instead of improves?
Of course, you can ask that question about every prospect, but Vonleh is already behind most rookies with regard to their NBA-ready timetables. And after watching him shoot just 28.4 percent through seven Las Vegas Summer League games, it's clear he has a lot of catching up to do.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
We're not just talking about shooting inconsistency. Elfrid Payton hardly even has a jumper in his arsenal.
This past season, he made just 4 of 22 (18 percent) catch-and-shoot jumpers, 15 of 55 (27 percent) jumpers off the dribble and 17 of 66 attempts inside the arc, according to DraftExpress' Mike Schmitz.
In three years, he's hit 30 total three-pointers without ever finishing a season above 65 percent shooting from the line.
Payton has played a lot of minutes since 2012, and he's shown little to no progress on the perimeter. That's just a little unsettling.
Only Rajon Rondo stands out as a successful starting point guard who's gotten away with not needing a jumper. And personally, I don't think Payton is Rondo.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bull
Having led the country in scoring in 2013-14 and averaging at least 22 points a game in three straight years, you'd think Doug McDermott would have gone higher than No. 11 overall.
But he lacks quickness and athleticism at a position that traditionally requires it in the pros—at least for those whose core strength centers around their ability to put the ball in the bucket.
Will he be able to separate from NBA wing defenders? How badly will they expose him at the defensive end?
McDermott will also have quite the adjustment to make now as a third or fourth option, possibly off the bench, after finishing third in the country in usage rate, per Sports-Reference.com, as the go-to player at Creighton.
His role will be changing dramatically, as will the caliber of defender and assignment he'll be facing head-to-head each night.
McDermott really has some extraordinary skills—the concern is that the speed and length of the pro game will keep him from fully tapping into them.
Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
It's just a little unsettling to know that as an organization, the Philadelphia 76ers don't really have control over how their second 2014 lottery pick will develop while overseas. After being taken No. 12 overall, Dario Saric has announced, as expected, that he'll be staying abroad for at least the next year.
Who knows what could happen over that time? He could get hurt, develop bad habits or even choose not to come over—something the Orlando Magic got burned by with Fran Vasquez back in 2005.
Either way, there's always some concern when it comes to international prospects, given the difficulty tied to evaluating them in such a different setting. And Saric, who doesn't have a natural position, might not be looking at the smoothest transition.
At 223 pounds, it's tough to see him rebounding like a mad man the way he did overseas. And defensively, he could end up being forced to guard much quicker wings or stronger 4s.
But the 76ers can figure that stuff out later. It will just be nice to get him over safe and sound ready to produce. And hopefully sooner rather than later.
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
A shoot-first combo guard with a love for his jumper, Zach LaVine will no doubt be vulnerable to inefficiency and inconsistency.
His shot selection consists of low-percentage looks—step-backs, long pull-up two-pointers and threes.
As a freshman, he took 288 shots, and 75 percent of them came on jumpers, while he only finished with 17 made shots at the rim in the half court all season, per DraftExpress.
"Zach LaVine getting a little carried away with these long off-balance jumpers," ESPN's Jeff Goodman tweeted during LaVine's 3-of-12 performance against Duke earlier in the year.
Based on his athleticism and skills, LaVine should develop into a potent NBA scorer—the fear is that it's of the wrong variety. LaVine should look to avoid that "streak scorer" label. Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, Dion Waiters—these guys are incredibly talented, but they aren't valued as much due to the inconsistency that's tied to their low-percentage approach.
LaVine will ultimately have to learn how to pick and choose his spots as a perimeter scorer, driver and facilitator.
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
We just haven't seen many successful NBA scoring wings thrive without a three-point shot. And T.J. Warren doesn't really have one, which is unique for a volume-scoring forward.
He made just 26.7 percent of his three-pointers his sophomore year at North Carolina State. In Las Vegas Summer League, he converted 37 field goals, and all of them were two-pointers.
There has to be some concern that Warren's inside-the-arc attack will be tougher to execute in the pros against longer defenders and tougher rim protection. And you also have to worry how Warren's inability to stretch the floor will affect team spacing.
Warren dropped 24.9 points a game last year as a sophomore. He was a machine. But it's fair to question how well his scoring game will translate, given his unconventional approach.
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