The upcoming 2014 NBA Draft is being touted as one of the deepest in years. Since last year, experts have been hyping the talent level of the college prospects that will be available, and team executives have been salivating over quite a few of the projected lottery picks. Unlike last year’s draft, there are a number of players that can be a true franchise changer.
Basketball is a team sport, and one player won’t get a team a championship on his own. Just ask the Cavaliers, who made the Finals in 2006/07, but were swept by the Spurs, during what would be their only appearance during LeBron James‘ tenure with the team. Even the great Michael Jordan needed the right pieces to fall into place before he led the Bulls on their incredible run.
A draft pick is simply a building block. Making the right pick might not get your team a ring, but it can be the first step in the right direction. It’s with that thought in mind we look ahead to draft night. The draft order is still in flux, as there is still half the schedule left to play, and the ping-pong balls yet to be chosen for the lottery order. In addition, team need will play a role in what player gets the honor of being the first name new commissioner Adam Silver calls. The other factor involved is whether or not all of the projected picks will declare for the draft. Top prospects like Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker have hinted that they might stay in school another year, which would alter the draft projections greatly.
Let’s examine the possibilities for the first overall pick in the draft. You can also check out the draft boards of Chad Ford of ESPN.com (Insider) and Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress for more information on this year’s prospects.
- Joel Embiid (Kansas): Embiid is a 7’0″, 240-pound center, and is 19 years-old. He is currently averaging 11.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 2.8 BPG. He is easily the most talented big man in the draft, and in addition to being a defensive presence in the middle, he is developing an offensive game to match. He has mentioned that many of the great NBA big men have stayed in school for more than one season. So it remains to be seen if he’ll stay another year to refine his game, or declare for the draft, where he’s all but assured of being a top 3 pick.
- Andrew Wiggins (Kansas): Wiggins is a 6’8″, 200 pound swingman, and is 18 years-old. He was the preseason pick for the top player in the draft, but his inconsistent play has called that into question. He’s averaging 15.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 1.6 APG. Despite Wiggins’ occasional disappearing acts, such as a three point effort against Oklahoma State, he still has a ton of raw potential.
- Jabari Parker (Duke): Depending on who is asked, this 6’8″, 241-pound, small forward might be the most talented player in the draft. Parker has the potential to be a stat sheet filler, and is currently averaging 18.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 1.3 APG. Parker has also hinted that he might stay in school, not just to refine his game, but also to play alongside his friend, and incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor. There is also the possibility that Parker might go on a Mormon mission after the season. Would a team picking first overall be willing to wait a full season before having his services on the court?
- Dante Exum (Australia): The son of former player Cecil Exum has made it known that he’s skipping college to enter the NBA Draft. This 6-6, 188 pound 18 year-old can play either guard spot, but scouts project him to be a star at point guard. Chad Ford of ESPN.com (Insider) was quoted as saying: “Exum hasn’t played basketball since December and it’s probably helping his stock right now. As scouts start to become disillusioned with the players they are seeing every night, it’s easy to pine for players like Exum who left a sweet taste in the mouth the last time they played (in Exum’s case, last summer). … Strong workouts could push him all the way to the top of this draft. But more likely, he’ll fall in the 3-5 range on draft night.” Exum averaged 18.0 PPG, and 4.0 RPG in FIBA under-19 competition.
- Julius Randle (Kentucky): Randle, the 6’9″, 225 pound forward isn’t as athletic as some scouts would like. Scouts also worry how his short wingspan will translate to the pro game. He’s currently averaging 16.6 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 1.7 APG. His offensive game is well above his defensive production, which means that if he has a difficult time getting his shot off against taller defenders, his value will be diminished greatly.
- Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): If Smart would have entered last year’s draft, there is a very good chance he would have been the first overall pick. His production has been inconsistent this year, and he’s losing ground as the top point guard to Exum and Tyler Ennis. Exum because of his upside and physical tools, and Ennis because of his more consistent play. Smart is no slouch though, and is averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 4.4 APG. Smart already has an NBA body, but is seen as a “tweener” in the backcourt. His outside shot is suspect, which would limit his value if a team wanted to move him to shooting guard.
- Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Gordon is a long-shot for the number one pick, but thanks to his athleticism has quite a bit of upside and potential. He’s 6’8″, 210 pounds, and has been compared to the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried as far as NBA potential goes. His numbers are 12.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 1.6 APG.
- Noah Vonleh (Indiana): Vonleh, a 6’10″, 240 pound forward, is starting to move up the draft boards. Scouts like his length, and outside shot better than Randle’s, and he is statistically a better defender. His numbers are 12.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, and 1.3 BPG.
- Dario Saric (Croatia): Saric is a bit of a wildcard. The word is that a number of NBA scouts and GMs will be heading overseas once the trade deadline is passed to get a better assessment of him. He’s 6’10″, 223 pounds, and has a great outside shot. He projects as a small forward in the NBA, though he could see action as a stretch-four. His numbers in Europe are 15.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 2.5 APG.
- Tyler Ennis (Syracuse): This freshman is shooting up the draft boards. He’s 6’2″, 180 pounds, and isn’t a spectacular athlete. His value is in how steady his play is, and his excellent basketball IQ. His numbers are 12.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 5.4 APG. He’s the starting point guard on the No. 2 ranked team in the country, which speaks volumes for his maturity. He has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, shoots 40 percent from 3-point range, and averages 2.5 steals a game. With the premium placed on the point guard position in the NBA, he has a chance to be off the board quickly. If he continues to produce the way he has, and leads Syracuse deep into the tournament, his stock could skyrocket.
There are the top prospects in this year’s draft. Quite a bit can change between now and draft night. A hot NCAA tournament, players staying in school, as well as potential injuries, can all impact where a player is taken. Plus, if an NBA team drafts for positional need, then the order can be altered even further. So, who do you think will end up being the first overall pick? Vote below, and don’t be shy about telling us whom you picked and why in the comments section.