The hype for the 2014 NBA Draft has been incredible, as there are 5 or 6 prospects that would be #1 selections in any other draft. All of these players have been under the microscope every game, and have not disappointed. Let's assess the performances of these players thus far and rank them where we think they will be selected in this years draft.
#1 Jabari Parker: 6-8 Forward, Duke: grade A
Jabari established himself as the most NBA ready player in early November as he scored over 20 points each of his first 7 games. With his incredible size, offensive versatility, solid defense, and leadership Parker is an NBA coaches dream. He's struggled thus far in ACC play, but you can't expect him to be lights out in every game. The ideal situation for him would be going to Utah, and yes that is partially because he is mormon. Also because Utah needs a guy like this, and building between Gordon Hayward and Jabari Parker will be very easy. That is a tandem that will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years. Parker, if he stays healthy, is going to be at worse a very productive NBA player, but his potential…. wow.
#2 Joel Embiid: 7-0 Center, Kansas: grade A-
Andrew Wiggins was all they could talk about in Lawrence Kansas heading into this season, but the real star has been the 7 foot monster from Cameroon, Joel Embiid. Thanks to Luke Richard Mbah-Moute, he came to America to play for the Jayhawks and NBA scouts cannot get enough of this guy. He's got the post moves, he's got the 2nd highest shooting percentage in the country, he hits his free throws and he is developing an outside game. He does struggle with foul issues, and always with big men injuries are a concern, but Embiid has some real potential. I was most impressed with his game recently against Iowa State, a game in which he scored 16 points, grabbed 9 boards, and had 5 blocks. His best moment was when he stepped out to defend the Cyclones best play DeAndre Cane with a minute left to go. He used great footwork, forcing Cane left, and keeping his arms straight up, ultimately causing Cane to throw a brick off the backboard. The best fit for him would be the Celtics, who are very undersized with Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass. If the Celtics can retain Rondo, I'd love to see the pick and roll develop between those two guys. Big men are always a risk, but I feel defensive players are bust proof and Embiid can at least be a very effective rim protector and shot alterer.
#3 Andrew Wiggins: 6-8 Forward, Kansas: grade B+
By far the most hyped player coming into this season, and he's played really well. Looking at the team he is on, it's not his job to score 30 points every night. With guys like Nadier Tharpe, Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, and Wayne Selden it doesn't have to be the Andrew Wiggins show every night as much as we'd all like to see that. He's a prolific scorer, a fantastic rebounder, and a great defender due to his athleticism. I would like to see him distribute the basketball more often, but that starts with head coach Bill Self giving Wiggins ball handling responsibilities. This is another guy with an incredible ceiling, but I think it might take him a little longer in the NBA. One thing is for sure, once he does get it, this kid will explode on the NBA scene. Definitely a player a team like Utah could use.
#4 Julius Randle 6-9 Power Forward, Kentucky: grade A-
When I see Julius Randle play, his tenacity, hustle, power, and will to win stick out to me. He isn't the most polished post player, when he gets to the NBA he's undersized, but he does a lot of little things really well. When it comes to boxing out, Randle is the best in the NCAA. He's had double digit rebounds in all but 4 of 16 games this season. His power and ability to embrace contact gives him the ability to get to the line over 10 times a game each night. A couple issues I have with Randle is that he can be reckless and guys who play his style are injury pone. Also, Randle tends to get caught with his hands down on defense which Coach John Calapari has addressed several time. Yet, I have never seen a guy with the combination of leadership and heart Randle possesses. NBA GM's are in love with the mental edge Randle has, and its abundantly clear that this freshman is the leader of the Kentucky Wildcats. Averaging 17 and 11, Randle is establishing himself as a power in the SEC and you can see the fear in defenders eyes when he comes barreling down the lane. The Orlando Magic could definitely use Randle as a compliment to Nikola Vucevic.
#5 Marcus Smart 6-4 Point Guard, Oklahoma State: grade B+
I love big point guards, and at 6-4 220 Marcus Smart is a big point guard. He does a little bit of everything, he can handle the ball, drive, shoot from deep, distribute, rebound, and he's not a bad defender. In a game against Memphis this season, Smart scored 39 points, went 5-10 from behind the arc, went to the free throw line 16 times, and managed to rack up 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 5 steals. That's what scouts love most about Smart, his ability to have huge nights is very appealing to scouts. Also, with the recent success of bigger point guards like Michael Carter Williams, Grevious Vasquez, Saun Livingston(recently), and Steph Curry have seen scouts change the way they look at the point guard position. Smart also has the versatility to play some shooting guard and small forward. I could see Smart falling to a team like the Lakers, a team in need of fresh blood at the point guard position.
Aaron Gordon is the player everyone loves to compare to Blake Griffin. The 6-9 225 lb forward for the Arizona Wildcats has been incredibly solid this year for the #1 ranked team in the country. Shooting over 50% from the floor, scoring 12.4 points per game, and averaging close to 8 rebounds per contest Gordon is a smart big man who sees the talent around him and knows there is no need for him to score 2o points a night. Senior guard Nick Johnson and Gordon are by far the best 1-2 scoring punch in the Pac-12 and arguably the country. Effective, efficient, and intelligent is how I would describe those two especially Gordon. Although he only averages 1.2 assists per game, you can see that he has really worked on his ability to pass out of the post. Gordon might not make an instant impact in the association, but he will be consistent in his production and his development in the NBA.
Dante Exum is another one of those tall point guards that are becoming very coveted in the NBA. With a 6-6 188 lb build, he is much like Michael Carter Williams in stature. His father played on Michael Jordan's UNC team,so basketball is in this kids genes. Anyone who has seen this kid talk knows he is intelligent and incredibly humble. The 18 year old Australian is considering coming to the states for a year of college ball instead of jumping straight to the pros. With smarts, size, and versatility, Exum is a lock to be a top 7 guy, the only knock against him is the fact he's from a foreign country which means less exposure.
Dario Saric is the player who scares the most GMs in this draft because European big men are very hit or miss. The 6-10 225 lb Croatian teenager considers himself a small forward, which was shocking when I first heard it but after watching him play he can do things only guys like Dirk Nowitski can do. Incredibly versatile, incredibly smart, and surprisingly strong are three of the attributes I like best about Saric. He's not soft and embraces contact. He knows how to position himself against different defensive looks and plays with a high basketball IQ offensively. The big question is how will he make the switch from the Croatian league to the NBA where he will be checking the worlds most superior athletes. He would be a top 10 pick, but his defensive and character flaws are well noted by NBA scouts. He needs a team with solid veteran leadership and someone who can take him under their wing to guide this potential star. Saric has an incredibly high ceiling, and is one of the top 5 most talented guys in the draft, but like many european bigs before him he is defined by the questions which arise from his game.
Before the year is done the order in which these prospects will shift, sometimes it changes daily. One thing is for sure, this draft is going to produce multiple superstars in the NBA. Come march in this college basketball season I expect each of these stars to rise to the occasion and put their incredible talent on full display.