The dust has settled and the smoke has cleared. At least a little bit. We don’t know the extent of Joel Embiid’s back issues. We still don’t know if Kevin Love will be moved before the draft. We can’t even begin to predict the multitude of draft day trades that will surely go down. But for the teams with so much hinging on this draft and the next five weeks, the final draft order provides some clarity. Or as much clarity as you can expect in a league that uses ping-pong balls to dictate the fate of some of its teams.
Here are some prospect rankings. The 2014 NBA Draft is unique in the sense that many of the players can be grouped together based on pro potential, playing style, or their respective college careers. So that’s what I did. I grouped them together and ranked them, taking who I deem to be the top 30 guys.
Note: this is not a mock draft. I, or anyone else for that matter, should not pretend to have any clue what is going through the heads of these GM’s at this time (especially considering the numerous mind-boggling selections we witness every year).
Let’s do this. (Heights and weights are most recent figures from DraftExpress).
Big name college players who don’t crack the top 30:
Nick Johnson, Patric Young, Aaron Craft, C.J. Fair, Russ Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Sean Kilpatrick.
Whew. That’s out of the way. Now let’s do this.
Group 1: BIG Guys
No, seriously. These kids are freakin’ huge.
30. Jusuf Nurkic (6′ 11″, 280, Bosnia)
29. Mitch McGary (6′ 10″, 263, Michigan)
Jusuf Nurkic is a grown man, a pure space-eater down low. Unfortunately, his slow feet and inability to leave those slow feet pose a problem in a modern NBA that covets quickness and athleticism out of big guys. Mitch McGary is also a load, but has a nice skill set. He catches the ball well, sets hard picks, and has great touch in close. Would he have benefited from staying in Ann Arbor for another year? Probably. But the NCAA’s ludicrous, and recently amended, recreational drug policy essentially prevented him from doing so. Regardless, if McGary is in shape, he’s ready to step into an NBA rotation right now.
Group 2: “A lot of people go to college for seven years.”……”Yeah, they’re called Robbie Hummel-er, I mean, Doctors.”
This lot probably would’ve benefited from going back to school.
28. Jerami Grant (6′ 8″, 210, Syracuse)
27. Jarnell Stokes (6′ 8″, 260, Tennessee)
26. DeAndre Daniels (6′ 9″, 195, UCONN)
Jerami Grant is a bouncy athlete who excels in transition but may be a bit of a twiner. He’s too little to play the post in the NBA and another year at Syracuse would’ve given him more opportunities to hone his perimeter skills. Stokes is another big who used his mass to dominant the boards in college but doesn’t have the athleticism or measurables most teams want in a 1st rounder. He’ll get exposed if he’s on the floor for too long, but like McGary, should be ready to handle the physicality of the NBA right away. DeAndre Daniels saw his stock skyrocket during the tournament and has an intriguing length/skill/athleticism combo. But he’s very raw, needs to bulk up, and didn’t play well on a consistent basis at UCONN. Why did he declare this year? He’s not going to go in the lottery, and teams in the late 1st are probably looking for an immediate contributor to help their title bid. He may be a D-League guy to start.
Group 3: Transitional Caution
Dominant college players who might struggle against NBA competition.
25. TJ Warren (6′ 8″, 220, NC State)
24. KJ McDaniels (6′ 6″, 195, Clemson)
23. Kyle Anderson (6′ 9″, 230, UCLA)
TJ Warren was a very productive scorer and rebounder for the Wolfpack but like many guys in this draft, he may be too short to play PF and not skilled/athletic enough to play SF. He’s very strong though, and he shoots well. Warren has made serious efforts to improve his permitter game and he be able to carve out a role in the NBA. KJ McDaniels’ leaping ability allows him to get away with some things. He was able to rebound effectively without boxing out and score 17 points a game despite not being very good at anything on offense. He needs work, but at the very least projects as a plus-athlete who can help a team in transition and on defense. Kyle Anderson is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. He’s basically a point forward at 6′ 9″. He’s an outstanding passer and solid shooter. The fact that he’s 6′ 9″ makes those two things much easier for him. The problem is that Anderson isn’t very quick or athletic. He will struggle to create for himself in the pros and will be a major liability on defense.
Group 4: “They are who we thought they were.”
NBA-ready guards who don’t have the upside of some others on this list.
22. Shabazz Napier (6′ 0″, 175, UCONN)
21. CJ Wilcox (6′ 5″, 200, Washington)
20. Tyler Ennis (6′ 2″, 180, Syracuse)
Shabazz Napier has carved himself out a nice place in NCAA Tourney folklore, but he lacks the raw explosiveness Kemba Walker has. He’ll be fine in the league though. He’s a heady guard with an array of finely-tuned dribble moves and shots that will allow him to be a scoring threat. He has also made great strides as a floor general, though you wouldn’t know it from watching UCONN’s tourney games, where it seemed like every big possession he just dribbled around for thirty seconds before making some ridiculous shot. Again, Napier will be fine. Just don’t expect a superstar. CJ Wilcox is a polished player with an outstanding jumper, but like Napier, his lack of physical tools and short arms may limit him to bench duties. Tyler Ennis knows how to run a team. He’s an exceptional floor general also capable of turning his own offense on when he needs to. But in an NBA with so many electric PG’s, can you trust this guy to impose his will and defend when you throw him out there? Ennis leaves a lot to be desired in the athleticism department, and his steal numbers at Syracuse were heavily inflated due to him playing at the top of a 2-3 zone.
Group 5: Skilled Big Men
No explanation needed.
19. Adreian Payne (6′ 10″, 240, Michigan State)
18. Dario Saric (6′ 10″, 225, Croatia)
Payne is a better athlete and tougher defender/rebounder than most think but it is obviously his perimeter touch that has scouts excited about him. That touch, along with his size, should make him a very effective pick-n-pop guy in the NBA. A big knock against Payne is his lung capacity. But he’s most likely going to be a role player in the NBA so I wouldn’t expect that to become a problem as I don’t see him playing huge minutes. 6′ 10″ people aren’t supposed to be as skilled or coordinated as Dario Saric. He’s a very smart player but he lacks the athleticism to be a dominant wing like he was in Europe. His best bet is to become a stretch-4.
Group 6: 3 Feet High and Rising
This is a group who have seen their stocks rise in the last month or so.
17. Cleanthony Early (6′ 7″, 210, Wichita State)
16. PJ Hairston (6′ 5″, 225, North Carolina/Texas Legends)
15. Zach LaVine (6′ 6″, 180, UCLA)
14. Elfrid Payton (6′ 4″, 185, UL-Lafayette)
13. Rodney Hood (6′ 8″, 210, Duke)
After four greats years at Wichita State, it’s nice that everyone is finally starting to recognize Cleanthony Early as a 1st round wing prospect. He needs to work on his ability to create his own offense, but he runs well off screens and has impressive athleticism when he does attack the rim. After leaving UNC, PJ Hairston dominated the D-League with the Texas Legends, re-affirming his position as a 1st round prospect. He’s a knockdown shooter, a solid defender and rebounder from the perimeter, and he’s just very strong physically. He lacks the ability to create his own shot but Hairston should enjoy a long career and a “3 & D” guy at the next level. Zach LaVine is a boom or bust prospect. He’s a legit 6′ 6″ point guard with good athleticism and a nice jumper. The problem is he was buried at UCLA due to his poor decision making and inability to handle any sort of physicality. He has a long way to go, but a 6′ 6″ point guard with his upside won’t fall out of the lottery.
Elfrid Payton is a big and quick guard who dominated for the Ragin’ Cajuns this past year. He’s a great finisher, ball-hander, and defender. He needs to prove he can consistently hit from deep though, and 3.8 turnovers per game are far too many for a college player with his talent. Rodney Hood is a tall, athletic wing who can score inside but also possesses a deadly jumper. He’s going to have to get stronger, work on his skills, and show that he’s actually willing to defend to make it in the NBA but all the talent is there. He wasn’t necessarily dominant at Duke, but it was hard to watch them and not think that this guy is an NBA starter one day.
Group 7: Jump-shooting and…Jump-shooting and…
These guys are known for their ability to hit the trey but there is much more to their games than just that.
12. Gary Harris (6′ 4″, 205, Michigan State)
11. Doug McDermott (6′ 7″, 220, Creighton)
10. Nick Stauskas (6′ 6″, 205, Michigan)
9. James Young (6′ 7″, 215, Kentucky)
Measuring in at just 6′ 2″ without shoes certainly didn’t help Spartan standout Gary Harris, but the guy is a physically strong athlete who can shoot, drive, and defend. I don’t think it’s completely out of the question that whatever team picks Harris moves him to PG a la Russell Westbrook. He’ll need to work on his vision and handles, but Harris is just too good of an all-around player to fall out of the lottery. I’m not buying the idea that Dougie McBuckets can’t play in the league. He is an underrated rebounder, defender, and distributor. Putting up a 36″ vertical at the combine certainly eases some concerns about athleticism surrounding him. He’s not gonna average 25+, but he’s going to make whatever team takes him better immediately.
The 6′ 6″ Nick Stauskas is an intriguing prospect. Some say all he can do is shoot. Some say his handling and passing abilities are grossly underrated. He won’t give you much on defense, but he just finds ways to score. I’d want Stauskas on my team over some of the more athletic wings in this class. James Young is a good athlete, a better defender than you think, and obviously a solid shooter. He doesn’t jump out of the TV in any one area of the game, though. But there were times when he put the entire Kentucky offense on his back when the other freshman were struggling. Of guys I have ranked outside the top 5, I think James Young has the best chance to become a superstar. It seems like he is just starting to realize everything he can do on a basketball court.
Group 8: Falling?
Here are a couple guys who might not go in the top 5 like we initially thought, but that has more to do with others surpassing them than anything they did wrong.
8. Marcus Smart (6′ 3″, 225, Oklahoma State)
7. Julius Randle (6′ 9″, 250, Kentucky)
I feel like I sway my opinion on Marcus Smart every other day. On one hand, he’s a physically imposing guard with experience running a team who can be a terror on defense when he wants to be. On the other hand, measuring at 6′ 3″ wasn’t that impressive and the teams he ran weren’t all that great. He also can’t shoot. Smart could go as high as #4, but could also fall into the 8-12 range if other guys standout during individual workouts. I hate to write this about a kid, but the lack of composure he displays on the court -and I’m not just referring to THE incident- is alarming.
Julius Randle is a left-handed Paul Millsap to me. That’s not an insult, you’ll take that in the top 10. He has outstanding hands, angles his body well to maximize his strength, and crashes the boards hard on both ends of the floor. While he has a decent mid-range jumper, his perimeter skills don’t seem to be as impressive as we all thought they were coming into college. He’s also not very tall for an NBA big. One time thought of as a possible top overall pick, Randle has safely settled into the 4-8 range on any list or mock draft you’ll read.
Group 9: #Upside
They have flaws. They weren’t all that productive in college. But that upside, mmmm…..
6. Noah Vonleh (6′ 10″, 245, Indiana)
5. Aaron Gordon (6′ 9″, 220, Arizona)
There are a lot of Vonleh-Chris Bosh comparisons being thrown around. Vonleh isn’t anywhere near the refined offensive player Bosh is now or was coming out of Georgia Tech, but he has a 7′ 4″ wingspan and huge hands to pair with his tantalizing athleticism. He flew under the radar this year, mostly due the fact that Indiana was awful, but a guy with his dimensions isn’t falling out of the top 10. Aaron Gordon is my man-crush in this draft. He is a dynamic and explosive athlete on every level. He’s the best leaper in this class after Wiggins, and frankly, in game action Gordon looks even more athletic than the potential top pick. Measuring at 6′ 9″ was big for him. he’s ready to be a lockdown defender right away but he doesn’t have the strength or back-to-the-basket game to be a true PF in the NBA. To play on the perimeter, Gordon will need to greatly improve his shooting and ball-handling. I’ve been enticed by Gordon for a long time now, he reminds me a lot of Paul George coming out.
Group 10: Dante Exum
Players in this group are named, you guessed it, Dante Exum.
4. Dante Exum (6′ 6″, 195, Australia)
When it comes to watching Dante Exum, most of us here in America are limited to YouTube highlight reels. But, damn, are those highlight reels impressive. Measuring at 6′ 6″ at the combine re-affirmed the idea that Exum has tremendous upside at the PG spot. He’s a smooth athlete with great burst who almost looks like he gains speed when dribbling the ball. He’s an outstanding passer, and the reports from every interview have him chalked up as a high character kid. Exum’s shot needs work though and he certainly needs to bulk up. The idea that he can’t score in the mid-range is slightly overrated though considering he never has had to because he always gets to the rim with ease against the competition he’s faced. There were reportedly multiple teams -including the Lakers- considering Exum with the #1 pick. He’s the wild card in this years top 5.
Group 11: The Big 3
The pretty-much-unanimous top three guys in the draft.
3. Jabari Parker (6′ 9″, 235, Duke)
2. Joel Embiid (7′ 0″, 250, Kansas)
1. Andrew Wiggins (6′ 8″, 200, Kansas)
Let’s start with Parker. He’s widely considered the most NBA-ready guy in this class and the odds-on favorite to win ROY. I agree. Where my take tends to shift is on his upside. He has a slow first step and at the NBA level he will be just a slightly above-average athlete. He also has an inconsistent jumper. That’s nit-picking though, this kid projects as a superstar. He’s a superbly skilled and smart player who can do everything on the court from being your leading rebounder, to your top defender, to your go-to scorer, to your primary ball-handler. He has a plethora of moves when attacking the rim. He has all the tools to develop a dominant back-to-the-basket game if he wants to, much like the player he is compared to, Carmelo Anthony. Parker doesn’t have the ceiling of Andrew Wiggins, but his floor isn’t as low.
Joel Embiid being ranked this high is 100% contingent on his back and knee checking out in medical evaluations. If he gets medical clearance, watch out NBA. He’s a long, fluid athlete with exceptional balance. This is so rare for a seven footer. In fact, you can probably count on one hand the seven footers in the history of the NBA who have the raw balance and coordination Embiid has (I can name Hakeem, Shaq, Dirk, and that’s it). Embiid will make a major impact on defense right away and his offense game is more refined than most think. He’s worked on his post game and actually has improved his touch in the mid-range. He also passes the ball and moves within the flow of the offense. This is important considerimg how far out to the perimeter most centers extend in modern NBA offenses.
Wiggins didn’t remind us of LeBron, so what? Saying Wiggins had a “disappointing” freshman season is just a moronic statement. All he did was set the all-time Kansas freshman scoring record. But let’s not focus on what he has done. What about what he can do? Obviously, Wiggins is a ridiculous athlete. He makes it look effortless but he is a flat-out explosive leaper. He runs well too and is already dominant in transition. His elite lateral quickness will allow him to be an exceptional defender (remember LeBron wasn’t much on defense at this age, but the tools were there, and now he’s the best defender in the league). He really improved his shot. What’s perhaps most impressive about Wiggins is that he does all this within the flow of the Kansas offense. He passes when he should. Yes, he probably should’ve been more aggressive in their tourney loss but there are so few 18-19 year olds who have the “killer instinct” people say Wiggins lacks. LeBron developed it. Durant developed it. Wiggins shouldn’t be compared to those two because he is a very different player, but as a wing prospect, he’s as close as we’re going to get.
Thanks for reading! Make sure to tune into the draft on June 25th, and throw me a follow on Twitter. @ZakKondratenko.