Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Top 10 2014 NBA Draft Prospects
With the 2014 NBA draft rapidly approaching, coaches, general managers and front-office executives are deep in the midst of planning their draft-night approaches.
The May 20 draft lottery will shed more light on the likely order in which the prospects will fly off the board, but teams have no shortage of palatable options in the top 10. As many as four or five players this year could easily have gone No. 1 in 2013.
It's entirely feasible that a majority of the players taken in the top 10 will go on to earn multiple All-Star appearances. However, as NBA devotees are all too aware, potential doesn't always translate to success in the league. There's a strong likelihood that at least a handful of the prospects selected in the early to mid-lottery will fail to live up to their teams' lofty expectations.
Using current and former NBA players as our guide, let's take a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each of this year's top 10 draft prospects.
The players featured here comprise the top 10 of the most recent big board from Bleacher Report NBA lead writer Jonathan Wasserman, and the comparisons for each player are based on his college performance, physical measurables and subjective scouting.
10. Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Best-case scenario: Tony Allen with a jump shot
Early in his NBA career, Gary Harris is going to make his money on defense. Despite being small for a 2-guard—he measured only 6'2.5" in socks at the combine—he averaged 2.2 steals per 40 minutes as a sophomore at Michigan State this past season.
His smaller frame limits his ability to be an on-ball stopper against bigger wings, but he possesses strong defensive instincts and knows how to play passing lanes to generate takeaways. He's one of the best two-way players at any position in this year's draft.
Harris could easily develop into a Tony Allen-esque player—an elite backcourt defender—but with a jump shot too. Harris knocked down 65 of his 158 three-point attempts (41.1 percent) as a freshman and drilled 81 of his 230 attempts (35.2 percent) this past season.
Worst-case scenario: Xavier Henry
If Harris' defensive acumen doesn't carry over to the NBA, he'll struggle to carve out a significant role early in his career. Being undersized will hinder his ability to force the action near the basket offensively, leaving him largely limited to catch-and-shoot three-point attempts and easy transition buckets.
He could end up being a slightly smaller Xavier Henry—someone who's rarely asked to create shots for himself, but rather expected to make the best of limited opportunities. Like Henry, Harris' lack of ideal athleticism could prove detrimental when guarding bigger 2s like Joe Johnson or DeMar DeRozan.
"I have played against bigger guards in the Big Ten all year and I was able to hold my own," Harris told reporters at the draft combine. "I know it's a different level in the NBA, but just because I might not be typical size for an NBA two guard, I still feel like I can go out there and compete and play."
The Memphis Grizzlies drafted Henry 12th overall in 2010, which is around the range Harris should go off the board this year. Whichever team pulls the trigger on him can't expect anything more than a complementary option on offense who could struggle to defend bigger 2-guards in the early going.
9. Dario Saric, SF/PF, International
Best-case scenario: Toni Kukoc
Dario Saric might very well be the most perplexing prospect within the top 10. At the moment, no one is quite sure whether he'll even remain in the draft—he withdrew in June last year despite being "widely regarded as a lottery pick," per ESPN.com's Chad Ford—or whether he'll come to the NBA this year if drafted.
If Saric opts not to withdraw, he could be a perfect draft-and-stash option for one of the teams with multiple lottery picks (namely, Philadelphia and Orlando). His combination of ball-handling, passing and shooting brings one player above all others to mind: former Chicago Bulls big man Toni Kukoc.
"That's exactly who he is," one personnel man told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "Same power forward mentality as a passer and creator, same size. But he plays harder than Kukoc. Saric is kind of like, you don't know what to expect from him. He may just go out and drop 30 on you one night."
If a team can afford to not reap immediate rewards on Saric—assuming he stays in Europe for another year or two—he could end up being a steal in the late lottery.
Worst-case scenario: Fran Vazquez
The uncertainty surrounding when Saric will actually come to the NBA harkens back to the Orlando Magic's disastrous experience with Fran Vazquez in 2005.
Orlando drafted Vazquez 11th overall that year under the pretense that he "was definitely going to leave Spain's ACB League and join the NBA," per Aldridge. He still has yet to leave Europe, however, leaving Orlando with nothing to show for a late-lottery pick.
Saric's new agent, Misko Raznatovic, recently told DraftExpress, "At this moment he believes that is better to stay in Europe for a season or two, to get a taste of the Euroleague, and then to enter the NBA when he has more experience."
Raznatovic assured DraftExpress that Saric wouldn't be the next Vazquez, saying, "He will be in the league no later than 2016," but teams could be wary of drafting him in the top 10 without concrete assurance that he'll come to the NBA within the next few years.
8. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Best-case scenario: Shawn Marion or Andrei Kirilenko
Aaron Gordon's performance at the combine legitimatized his case to be one of the top forwards off the board in the 2014 draft. He came in at just under 6'9" in shoes with a 6'11.75" wingspan and led all players with a 2.76-second shuttle run.
Throw in his 32.5" standing vertical leap and preposterous 39.5" max vertical leap, and it's easy to understand why he often draws comparisons to another athletic freak, Blake Griffin. Those physical gifts have him poised to dominate defensively in the NBA, even while his offensive game catches up.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford called Gordon "an Andrei Kirilenko type player," while ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan (subscription required) compared him to Shawn Marion. Either comparison is apt and speaks to the value Gordon will bring in the NBA: a complementary Swiss army knife on both ends of the court.
Worst-case scenario: Al Thornton
Gordon enthusiasts have to hope he doesn't end up like another player who drew comparisons to Marion coming out of college: Florida State's Al Thornton. Though Thornton stayed all four years in school and never projected as an elite defensive option, he did share many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Gordon.
For one, both players were abysmal from the charity stripe in college. Thornton drilled just 52.7 percent of his free throws during his first two years in school, while Gordon knocked home only 42.2 percent of his this past season. Each player also showed off a fledgling three-point stroke in limited circumstances.
Many of Thornton's weaknesses carried over to the NBA after the Los Angeles Clippers drafted him 14th overall in 2007, causing him to fall out of the league after only four seasons as a pro. Gordon's defensive acumen should give him a slightly higher floor, but failing to improve his offensive deficiencies will limit him from becoming a key contributor in the Association.
7. Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State
Best-case scenario: Eric Bledsoe
Any teams interested in drafting Marcus Smart this year need only look to the Phoenix Suns for an example of how he could blossom in the NBA.
Alongside Goran Dragic, who's wired more like a traditional point guard, the Suns started combo guard Eric Bledsoe and thrived accordingly. Both players proved capable of running the offense or operating off-ball, which presented a significant matchup advantage against virtually every opponent the Suns faced.
Smart can follow in Bledsoe's footsteps as a lethal combo guard in the NBA. Though he mostly ran the point in college, B/R's Jonathan Wasserman describes him as "a scorer with a point guard's mindset" who "can handle either position, with the instincts of a 1, the size of a 2 and the skill set of both."
At the combine, he measured out as 6'3.25" in shoes, but his massive 6'9.25" wingspan should help him when facing off against larger 2s defensively. Like Bledsoe, he loves wreaking havoc in passing lanes—he averaged 2.9 steals per game in college—and projects to be a strong two-way combo guard in the NBA with the ceiling of a legitimate All-Star.
Worst-case scenario: Randy Foye
Smart didn't play point guard until he came to Oklahoma State, according to ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan (subscription required), and his playmaking skills still leave much to be desired. He's not wired as a traditional Steve Nash-esque point guard; he's much more in the mold of Randy Foye, the former Villanova combo guard who lit up the Big East in the mid-2000s.
Foye had the benefit of playing with Allan Ray and Kyle Lowry for his final two seasons at 'Nova, which freed him up to focus on shouldering more of an offensive load. He averaged 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a senior, which led to him being drafted seventh overall in the 2006 draft.
Since joining the NBA, however, Foye has been little more than a high-usage, low-efficiency combo guard best suited for a role off the bench. If Smart can't develop a reliable three-point stroke—he shot 29.5 percent from downtown during his two years in college—and refine his playmaking abilities, he could be consigned to the same fate.
6. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Heading into the draft combine, the biggest concern with Julius Randle had nothing to do with his on-court ability. Instead, front-office executives had reason to worry about his size and wingspan, because, as SB Nation's Jonathan Tjarks noted, "Randle is built like a Tyrannosaurus Rex: All torso and no arms."
The Kentucky big man actually tested out better than expected at the combine, however, measuring 6'9" in shoes with a 7'0" wingspan. His bullying, physical style of play is reminiscent of Zach Randolph, but Randolph's wingspan is estimated to be roughly 7'4" or 7'5", which helps him compensate for his relatively diminutive height against larger power forwards.
Randle is far more athletic than Randolph, which puts him more in the mold of Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith (who also tested out with a 7'0" wingspan). And unlike Smith, Randle appears to recognize his limitations as a long-range threat, having attempted only 18 three-pointers with Kentucky this past season.
Worst-case scenario: Tyler Hansbrough
Randle's lack of ideal size could prove detrimental in the NBA, as he had the second-smallest wingspan of any big-man prospect measured at the draft combine. He could follow in the footsteps of Tyler Hansbrough, another former elite college scorer who struggled in the NBA when he stopped being able to physically overpower his opponents.
At the 2009 combine, Hansbrough measured out at 6'9.5" in shoes with a 6'11.5" wingspan, quite similar to Randle's measurables. Like Randle, Hansbrough thrived as a back-to-the-basket scorer in college with a wide variety of post moves, though he generated few steals or blocks (1.3 and 0.5 per game, respectively) throughout his career.
Since coming to the NBA, Hansbrough hasn't been anything more than a bench big man, with career averages of 8.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game. Much like Hansbrough, Randle struggled to rack up steals or blocks during his one year at Kentucky, which could severely limit his upside as a starting power forward.
5. Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh only bolstered his draft stock by having his measurables tested at the draft combine. Despite coming in at 6'8" without shoes, he touts a massive 7'4.25" wingspan and a 9'0" standing reach. (Isaiah Austin, who measured out at 6'11.5" without shoes, is the only prospect at this year's combine with a larger wingspan.)
ESPN.com's Chad Ford compared Vonleh to Chris Bosh, and the similarities aren't difficult to see. Vonleh is a rangy forward who averaged 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in only 26.5 minutes per game as a freshman this past season. He also knocked down 16 of the 33 three-pointers he attempted, showing off promise as a potential stretch 4.
In reality, a Bosh-Serge Ibaka hybrid seems to be the ideal best-case scenario for Vonleh. He's closer in height to Ibaka than Bosh, but he likely won't be as prolific a shot-blocker as the Oklahoma City Thunder forward. Depending on where he lands, it's fathomable he starts averaging close to 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game within the next few seasons.
Worst-case scenario: Anthony Randolph
Every year, some freakishly athletic big man shoots up the draft boards largely due to his physical gifts. In 2007-08, that player was Anthony Randolph, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game for LSU.
His 7'3" wingspan and 9'1" standing reach had front-office executives drooling, leading the Golden State Warriors to pick him 14th overall. Six years later, however, Randolph still has yet to make the most of his extraordinary physical gifts, with career averages of only 7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 15.2 minutes per game.
That shouldn't be as much of a concern for Vonleh, who weighed in at 247.1 pounds at the combine (nearly 50 pounds heavier than Randolph), but big men do tend to take far longer to develop than their smaller backcourt counterparts. Patience must be exercised with the 18-year-old Vonleh if he doesn't make an immediate impact in the NBA next season.
4. Dante Exum, PG/SG, International
Best-case scenario: a Russell Westbrook-Michael Carter-Williams hybrid
Dante Exum is the great unknown at the top of the 2014 draft class. The Australian combo guard hasn't played competitive basketball in months, and it's not as though he frequently went head-to-head against top competition when he did play.
Still, it would be a surprise to see Exum slide out of the top five on draft night. Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, who traveled to Australia to get a glimpse of him earlier this year, describes what makes him such an attractive NBA prospect:
While Exum's overall pace was a bit slower, you could still see his control of the game—not panicking in double-teams, keeping his dribble alive in traffic and having the court vision to make skip passes to the baseline corners for three-pointers. He's also tall (6'6") and long (6'9" wingspan) to make plays out of the post, which should give him a key advantage in the NBA.
At the draft combine, Exum compared himself to Russell Westbrook (for his explosiveness) and Manu Ginobili (for his finishing ability).
Due to his size (6'6" in shoes with a 6'9.5" wingspan) and explosiveness (he had the second-best time in the lane-agility test at the combine), his best-case scenario appears to be a blend of Westbrook and Michael-Carter Williams, which would put him in the conversation as one of the league's top point guards.
Worst-case scenario: Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston entered the league as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. After two so-so seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, he was in the midst of a career year in 2006-07 before dislocating his left kneecap against the Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 26, 2007.
Livingston missed an entire season to rehab—a miserable, rigorous process he described to Zwerling earlier this year—and after returning only showed flashes of his former self. He bounced around the league for five years before finally latching on in Brooklyn this past season and finding a niche as a genuine contributor.
Knock on wood, the injury gods will spare Exum from suffering a similar fate. However, as we've seen in recent years with bigger, quicker guards like Livingston, Rose and Westbrook, severe knee injuries tend to crop up after a few years of players twisting and torquing through 82-game seasons.
Exum battled through some minor right-knee tendinitis this past winter, per Zwerling, which could easily be a one-time issue that never bothers him again. However, teams must be wary of the possibility of a more serious knee injury down the road, one that could submarine a squad's championship dreams in a heartbeat.
3. Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke
Best-case scenario: Carmelo Anthony
Of all the prospects at the top of the 2014 draft class, Jabari Parker is best equipped to step in as a meaningful contributor immediately. His 6'8", 240-pound frame will help him not get pushed around by bigger, more physical bodies in the NBA, and there's no questioning his potential as an elite scorer.
Parker averaged 19.1 points on 47.3 percent shooting as a freshman at Duke, knocking home 38-of-106 three-point attempts too (35.8 percent). He started off his college career on fire, dropping 20-plus points in his first seven games and 10 of his first 12 before slightly cooling off once conference play began.
His proclivity for dominating in the post and being able to score from all over the court frequently draws comparisons to Carmelo Anthony, which makes perfect sense as a best-case scenario. Like Anthony, Parker is a strong rebounder for his position (whether he plays at the 3 or the 4) and should have little trouble averaging 20 points per game in the NBA.
The Duke freshman also possesses strong ball-handling skills for a player his size, and despite what his 1.2 assists per game might otherwise suggest, he's a willing passer. If he's a worse-shooting, better-passing version of Anthony, whichever team lands him on draft night will be more than pleased.
Worst-case scenario: Adam Morrison
Though Parker should have little trouble thriving offensively in the NBA, his defensive potential leaves much to be desired. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski benched him during portions of Duke's round of 64 loss against Mercer in the NCAA tournament due to his defensive limitations, which rubbed some pro scouts the wrong way, per ESPN.com's Chad Ford.
That puts his floor somewhere in the ballpark of Adam Morrison, another former elite scorer in college whose shortcomings on defense hindered his ability to earn significant floor time in the Association. Morrison wasn't anywhere near the rebounder Parker is—he averaged 5.1 boards over his three-year career at Gonzaga—but he was a much more lethal scorer and three-point shooter.
Like Morrison, Parker could find himself in the dreaded "tweener" zone—too slow to guard 3s and too small to defend 4s. Per Ford (subscription required), no power forward prospect has been successful in the NBA with a standing reach as small as Parker's (8'8"), with Blake Griffin (8'9") being the closest.
As the Houston Rockets are quickly realizing with James Harden, elite scoring ability alone doesn't make a player a franchise cornerstone. If Parker's struggles on defense carry over into the NBA, he could follow in Morrison's footsteps and become one of the larger draft busts in recent memory.
2. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Best-case scenario: Julius "Dr. J" Erving
Freakish athleticism sets Andrew Wiggins apart from his peers at the top of the 2014 draft class. He stole the show during the draft combine on Thursday—despite, you know, not actually being at the combine—when a picture of his vertical began circulating online. (His agent, Bill Duffy, told ESPN.com's Chad Ford that Wiggins measured out at a monstrous 44" vertical in that picture.)
Given how well athleticism often translates in the NBA—see: Westbrook, Russell—Wiggins' ability to jump out of the gym will only bolster his chances of developing into a superstar. Unlike Parker, he has the makings of a player capable of dominating on both ends of the court.
Among current NBA players, Paul George appears to be Wiggins' best comparison, but dig into the wells of league history, and Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving comes to mind when watching the Kansas freshman. Like Wiggins, Dr. J relied on his athletic gifts more so than an elite shooting ability to embarrass his opponents.
Wiggins isn't a Kevin Durant-esque shooter by any means—he drilled 43-of-126 three-point attempts (34.1 percent) this past season at Kansas—but he's not a lost cause in that regard either. If he develops a reliable long-range stroke, he could become the league's most lethal scorer not named Durant or LeBron James.
Worst-case scenario: Trevor Ariza
Wiggins didn't live up to the sky-high expectations bestowed upon him before his one and only season at Kansas. He didn't start lighting up the scoreboard until the waning months of the season, punctuated by a 41-point explosion against West Virginia on March 8.
His inconsistency wasn't entirely unexpected, however. Check out what B/R's Jonathan Wasserman wrote about Wiggins' NBA prospects last summer:
Wiggins isn't locked in for superstardom, but he's one of the rare young prospects with the natural talent to hold up such a towering ceiling. His upside will remain intact whether he excels at Kansas or struggles with inconsistency.
I wouldn't bet on Wiggins taking over the country with monumental performance after monumental performance in one year in college.
Even if Wiggins never establishes himself as a go-to scorer in the NBA, he's still far too talented to bust out of the league completely. At worst, he'll be a three-and-D wing like Trevor Ariza, who notably was a far worse three-point shooter coming out of college (.237) compared to Wiggins (.341).
1. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Best-case scenario: Hakeem Olajuwon
Kansas center Joel Embiid appears to have the highest ceiling of any player in the 2014 draft—that of Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon's.
Embiid only began playing organized basketball three years ago, according to Bleacher Report's Jason King, but as SB Nation's Jonathan Tjarks noted, he's "the rare seven-footer who projects as both an elite defensive and offensive player."
As a freshman this season, the big man averaged an eye-popping 19.4 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes, often outplaying his far more heralded teammate, Andrew Wiggins.
So long as Embiid's back checks out over the next month, there's little doubt he'll be able to step in and compete immediately. Given the dearth of true two-way centers in the NBA, he'll have a realistic chance of growing into one of the league's best big men in the next three-to-five years. (He already has the "Dream Shake" down pat.)
Worst-case scenario: Greg Oden
Though Embiid's ceiling is nearly limitless, his floor is far lower than the other presumptive top-three picks. There's inherent risk in using an early first-round pick on a big man with potential injury concerns, as Greg Oden demonstrated in 2007.
A spinal stress fracture sidelined Embiid for most of March, including the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. As Dr. Matt McCarthy explained on Deadspin, "his body hasn't adjusted to [the] rigors of dragging a 250-pound frame up and down the court night after night," which likely caused the injury.
"A history of stress fractures is a strong predictor of future stress fractures," McCarthy noted, which could be a major red flag to any team with a top-five pick. If doctors express concern during his physicals over the next month, the Oden experience may cause teams to think twice before spending a high pick on him.