There are a ton of draft projections out there, and despite the multitude, most are eerily similar. The best players, after all, are the best players.
So let’s take this discussion in another direction. Let’s not talk about who the best players are, but talk about which top ranked players are the safest picks. Who is a gamble and who is sure to not just be a big draft name, but play a big game for a career?
Another way to think about this question is to visualize a continuum with potential on one side and skill on the other. A guy who has a lot of skill and a lot of potential is obviously going to be a safe pick. Likewise, a guy with a lot of skill who lacks potential is still going to be a safe pick, although not as valuable, because skill without potential removes all doubt; what you see is what you get.
All of these ratings are in regards to very highly ranked prospects. None of the most prominent prospects would be risky picks in the second round. Rather, these players are classified as safe to use a top-10 pick on.
Here are five elite prospects, ranked from least safe (No. 5) to safest (No. 1).
Jonas Valanciunas is 6’11” and 240 lbs. That sounds bigger than it is, as one of the main problems with this young player is that he’s just too damn skinny.
He’s working on that though, and hitting the weight room isn’t one of the harder challenges NBA prospects are faced with. For his first couple of seasons in the league Valanciunas is going to get pushed around a lot, but once he adds some bulk, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Jonas Valanciunas is probably already the best big man in the draft. He has a softer touch and is more proficient on the boards than his rival, Enes Kanter, and has displayed more consistent improvement, apropos of an intense work ethic.
He has superb instincts around the basket, in terms of rebounding, defense, off the ball movement, and scoring, and none of those things can simply be taught. Jonas Valanciunas may not be the best athlete on the planet, but he has the intangibles of a great big man.
Valanciunas is ready for the NBA, but he still has a long way to go in his development. He’s a safe pick, but given his slender physique, he only makes that designation by the skin of his teeth.
This is someone you’re going to want to keep your eye on.
Everyone knows what James “Jimmer” Fredette is good at: sharp shooting. He has the absolutely insane range and accuracy of J.J. Redick.
In both of the last two years Fredette has had a 45 percent field goal average and a 40-plus percent average from three-point land.
His set up and pull up is one smooth motion and almost instantaneous once he decides to shoot, which is important, because a lot of players who are great shooters in college find they can’t get their shot off once they make it to the pros. Jimmer Fredette will not have that problem.
Moreover, defenders, traffic, and shot block attempts have a negligible effect on Fredette’s accuracy. It’s almost as if when he decides to shoot, all the other players on the court cease to exist; perfect concentration.
He has the court vision and the passing ability to make defenses leery of collapsing on him when he drives to the basket.
The only problem is, Fredette doesn’t have the athleticism or pace to match up with most guards in the NBA. Like Redick before him, Jimmer Fredette will surely find himself in the position of a role player, although probably a coveted one.
Jimmer Fredette isn’t the most talented prospect in the upcoming draft, but he’s about as transparent a pick as anyone could hope for. Still, teams may harbor a measure of concern when considering Fredette, until he proves he won’t be a major liability on the defensive end of the court.
Fredette is a safe pick—not the safest, but far from the least.
Kyrie Irving, despite having a college career that spanned a mere 11 games thanks to a toe injury, managed to impress enough scouts and coaches to place him in the first slot of almost every mock draft out there.
Without a doubt, one of Kyrie Irving’s high points is his ability to shoot the ball. He has managed to average 17.5 points while shooting an amazing 52.9 percent. Irving is nearly as good from behind the arc, where he drains the ball 46.2 percent of the time, and to top it all off he is a 90.1 percent free throw shooter.
Kyrie Irving is more than a shooter; he’s the type of player that makes his entire team play better, and the 4.3 assists he averaged a game don’t do that statement justice.
The Duke Blue Devils benefit from the tutelage of Coach K and seem to manifest as an offensive power house year in and year out, but this past year, the team and the individual players lost a degree of lethality when they lost Kyrie Irving.
Irving is very young—only 19—and yet he played with the poise and maturity that is expected of superstar seniors, but a rare treat in freshman.
He doesn’t have the stunning athleticism of Chris Paul or even Kemba Walker, but neither does he have Walker’s penchant for out-of-control drives. Irving relies on finesse, grace, and a subtlety of motion that sets him apart from the first-step blow-bys that seem to mark the top guard prospects in every year’s draft.
A style of play that relies on wisdom and finesse also tends to result in longevity and be less hampered by injury, which is just one more reason Irving is a safe pick.
Kyrie Irving has shown that he is an unselfish player, although some might argue that is not necessarily a quality you’d want in abundance from someone who might well be the first overall pick in the draft (a la the recent criticism of LeBron James). Regardless, selflessness bodes much better for a team’s chemistry on and off the court than selfishness, and we all know that problems in the locker room lead to problems on the court—just ask Shaq and Kobe.
In addition, Irving doesn’t have any glaring flaws in his game. He’s a smart, solid player, and there’s not a single aspect of his game that needs to be improved in order to reach NBA caliber. He’s already there.
Right out of the gates Irving will be good, and at the end of his career he’ll probably still be good, but never great.
Derrick Williams can be summarized in one word on the offensive end of the court: versatile. He can score from behind the arc, on mid-range jumpers, in the post, off the dribble drive, and more than any other college player in the last year, get to the free throw line.
He also moves well off the ball.
If Derrick Williams gets drafted to play at the 3 position then he’ll be the biggest in the league besides LeBron James. If he plays the 4 Williams will be about average size, but quicker than most.
On the other side of the ball Derrick Williams’ game could use some work. He’s not a great defender, and the closer the ball gets the basket, the more inept Williams becomes, which is obviously somewhat detrimental to his outlook as a prospective Power Forward.
Another downside to Derrick Williams is that he tends to be lackadaisical in loose ball situations.
Derrick Williams has the potential for improvement, but he also has a great deal of skill under his belt. Furthermore, it seems likely he’ll drastically and immediately improve his defensive game.
NBA scouts like to see upward trends; the same way Colleges like to see that a high school student’s GPA rose from their freshman to senior year.
I don’t know about Derrick Williams’ GPA, but he improved every aspect of his game from his freshman to his sophomore year. A few of his more noteworthy statistical launches include going from averaging 15.7 to 19.5 PPG, from 25 to 56.8 percent on 3 pointers, from 68.1 to 74.6 percent on free throws, and from 7.1 to 8.3 RPG, while averaging less than two additional minutes of playing time.
Generous and well-developed talent mixed with a good deal of potential and a demonstrated ability for improvement (or the realization of potential, if you prefer) make Derrick Williams not only a wise pick, but a very safe one as well.
Alec Burks is a scoring machine who averaged 20.5 PPG last season. Most of his points came off of quick drives, and he came to be regarded as one of the best slashers in the NCAA.
His size, at 6’6” and 195 lbs, is ideal for an NBA shooting guard.
Unlike a lot of the other top prospects this year, he’s also a relatively complete player. Alec Burks is a strong defender, rebounder, and passer.
His only real weakness is his jump shot.
You wouldn’t know it looking at his field goal percentage, because that reads at 46.9 percent, but remember that most of those points are coming off of drives. His difficulty shooting the ball is more evident if you look at his downtown shooting percentage of 29.2.
This is a safe pick. Alec Burks is definitely going to be good, and if he improves his jump shot, it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets invited to participate in the All-Star game in a couple years time.