The NBA’s Monday night schedule featured four games, but for many basketball fans, the focus wasn’t on the Heat, Lakers, or Warriors, but rather the Wildcats, Jayhawks, and Blue Devils. The NCAA’s Champions Classic in Chicago featured four top college teams, each of whom could eventually see multiple players selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. And top prospects like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle didn’t disappoint — Parker and Randle each poured in 27 points, while Wiggins held his own with 22 points and eight rebounds.
For fans of subpar NBA teams, it was a tantalizing preview of what figures to be a season-long race for the top spots in next year’s draft. Wiggins has long been considered the favorite to come off the board first, but as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman tweeted last night, while the Kansas forward may be the leader, he’s far from a lock. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com (Twitter link) expressed that sentiment in even stronger terms, calling the race for the No. 1 spot “wide open,” with multiple great options in the mix.
In addition to the three top prospects who played in last night’s games, point guards Dante Exum and Marcus Smart shouldn’t be ruled out of the discussion for 2014’s first overall pick. Heading into Tuesday’s games, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford ranked Exum above Parker on his big board, and tweeted last night that he wished Exum could be in Chicago to show his stuff as well. Smart, meanwhile, will at least have a small advantage in experience over his fellow top-five prospects, after deciding to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year. Ford’s No. 5 prospect doesn’t have the most upside among 2014 prospects, but if he makes strides on his ballhandling and jump shot this season, he’ll make for a very tantalizing option next June.
The race for the No. 1 pick figures to be one of the season’s most entertaining stories, particularly for NBA teams without serious playoff aspirations. As Sam Amick of USA Today observed last night (via Twitter), more than one NBA club had five reps in Chicago last night, attempting to get as many sets of eyes as possible on the next generation of stars.
What do you think? Is Wiggins still the likely No. 1 pick next June, or has the early-season play of either Parker or Randle changed your mind?