The NBA has had its draft lottery and the order of the teams selecting new talent has been established. The only question that now remains is what players the teams at the top of the draft board might actually select.
There are many athletic talents near the top of the board, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that many of these players are ready to play. With so many freshmen coming out early, it has made the draft more about potential than selecting players who are ready to play. Doug McDermott has a ton of offensive skill, but who will he be able to defend? Aaron Gordon can jump and defend, but how will he be able to score?
So many questions remain for the rather youthful 2014 NBA Draft class, but the following 10 players might be ready to play sooner than later with more complete sets of skills.
10. Zach LaVine – G / 6’5″, 180 pounds (UCLA)
Zach LaVine is a super athlete who can also score from beyond the arc. LaVine is an electric player in the open court and can dunk with great ease, but what sets him apart from most high risers in the league is his outside shot. He has NBA 3-point range and is able to hit shots coming off of screens or after creating space with the dribble. He is tough to defend with his elite athleticism and ability to hit outside shots.
LaVine is thin and rather frail which will make it hard for him in the paint or on the defensive end. He can beat defenders to the rim but is not one to seek out contact and get to the foul line. He can use some added weight and assert himself more on the defensive end to become more of a complete player. If he can add weight and keep developing his outside shot, LaVine has the freakish athleticism to make it in the NBA.
Potential to be like Rex Chapman or Dennis Johnson if he can improve his defense.
9. Rodney Hood – F / 6’8″, 208 pounds (Duke)
Rodney Hood is a great all around offensive player who is athletic enough to make an impact right away as a small forward. He can drive and finish, while also being able to shoot at an 80% clip from the free throw line. Hood can drain threes (43% in 2013-2014) and has the ability to sink the mid-range shots as well. He has decent size for the small forward position and can defend most perimeter players with his above average athleticism and lateral movement.
Hood will find it harder to drive in the NBA with his thinner frame and average dribbling ability. He will need to add some bulk to be more confident to put the ball on the floor and keep defenders from taking away his outside shot. Adding some more muscle could also make him a better rebounder as well as a more capable defender. His ability to score, however, gives him more potential than most to make an impact at the next level.
Potential to be like Alex English or Klay Thompson.
8. Gary Harris – G / 6’4″, 210 pounds (Michigan St.)
Gary Harris is a solid athlete with good enough size to enable him to drive or shoot with equal effectiveness. He has a good burst to take most defenders off the dribble and yet has 41% 3-point accuracy to keep defenders honest. Harris also has excellent lateral movement, long arms and good strength for his position, making him a more than capable defender. He has all the tools to make an immediate impact at the next level.
Harris must continue to improve his outside shot and dribble with more control when he decides to drive. He lacks the desirable size for the two-guard position, but has enough of a body to help compensate for his lack of height. He also has to do a better job at working himself free and coming off screens as well as moving without the ball. He has tremendous potential if he can show the ability to make contested outside shots at the next level.
Potential to be like Arron Afflalo or Bradley Beal.
7. Noah Vonleh – F / 6’9″, 247 pounds (Indiana)
The draft stock of Noah Vonleh has been rising as scouts have come to realize that not many players come into the draft with his great size. Vonleh has the size, speed and strength to play right away at the next level. He has surprising mobility for a man of his size and can get out on the break or drive through the lane with his great athleticism. Vonleh is develping as a shooter and can be effective at driving, managing to draw his fair share of fouls
Vonleh has the passion and physical traits that will make him a good addition to just about any NBA team. He has plenty to learn and might still grow some more, but he is a gym rat and will work hard to improve his game. He has good range, but will need to be more consistent with his outside shot. It will help if he works on his post moves and has more confidence to take more open shots.
Potential to be like Antawn Jamison or a healthy Carl Landry.
6. Dante Exum – G / 6’6″, 196 pounds (Australia)
Dante Exum is silky smooth and one of the more athletic international players to come along in quite some time. He has a quick first step and can dribble with urgency or great control, always having enough awareness to look for the opportunity to pass. He can also get to the free throw line and finish when he gets close to the rim. Exum is a good on-ball defender and has enough quickness to stay in front of most guards he will likely face.
Exum has great potential and has proven himself to be quite effective in international play, but the fouls will be a lot harder in the NBA. His slight build and lack of having to develop a mid-range game might make it a little harder to adjust to the size and quickness of defenders in the NBA. He is athletic enough to play at the next level, but absorbing the punishment and having to do so for many games will be something that will test his slight frame.
5. Marcus Smart – G / 6’4″, 225 pounds (Oklahoma State)
Marcus Smart has the body and tenacity to play immediately in the NBA. A point guard who can score, rebound and defend, Smart might even be able to play as a two (shooting guard). His great size allows him to get through traffic on the way to the rim and in the open court he can pass or finish. His large wingspan allows him to be a good ball hawking defender, leading to his average of 3 steals per game. Smart ended his season with a 23 point, 13 rebound, 7 assist and 6 steal effort in a first round tournament loss to Gonzaga.
Smart needs to improve his assist to turnover ratio to become a true point guard at the next level. He will also be challenged to stay in front of the ultra-quick guards in the league like Damion Lillard, Steph Curry or Chris Paul. He might also have too much of a Russell Westbrook, score first pass second point guard, mentality which might make it harder to play point at the next level.
4. Julius Randle – F / 6’9″, 250 pounds (Kentucky)
Julius Randle can be relentless in the paint and already has the NBA body to make an impact in the league. He has no problem absorbing contact on the way to the rim, can use his body well to be an effective rebounder and has enough elite athleticism, so much so that he won the 2012 Under Armor Elite 24 slam dunk contest. At one point, Randle was considered to be the top recruit of his class and did finish his freshman season with an astounding 24 double-doubles.
Randle is a talented powerful player, but often has a tendency to settle for the outside shot. Although he can shoot the mid-range shot, he needs to improve his inside game where he will be asked to do more damage in the pros. He works hard and will need to work on his post up moves to become a more complete power forward. The left-handed player also needs to be able to drive to the right to keep defenders honest.
Potential to be like Karl Malone or David Lee with more range.
3. Jabari Parker – F / 6’8, 235 pounds (Duke)
Jabari Parker is probably the best pure basketball player in this draft, even though his athleticism is not off the charts when compared to others on this list. What he does have is a high basketball IQ and willingness to improve every facet of his game. He is a small forward who can rebound, has a good jump shot and can take opponents off the dribble. Parker is extremely talented and plays like a senior after playing only one season at Duke.
Parker might run into some problems with the elite athleticism he will face in the NBA. He is not the most explosive athlete, nor is he a high flyer, but he can dunk over or drive around defenders who take him lightly. The son of former NBA small forward, Sonny Parker, Jabari Parker will probably know what kind of intensity and effort he will need to succeed at the next level. He is ready for the NBA, but to be a major star?
2. Andrew Wiggins – G,F / 6’8″, 200 pounds (Kansas)
Andrew Wiggins is one of the most gifted athletes of the draft, providing him with the potential to be able to perform at the next level. Wiggins has the athletic pedigree being the son of former NBA player, Mitchell Wiggins, and Canadian Olympic sprinter, Marita Payne-Wiggins, as well as the accolades of being Mr Basketball (2013), the Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2013) and the Gatorade National Player of the Year (2013). He can score, play solid defense, has good court awareness and the elite conditioning to make it easier for his transition to the NBA.
Wiggins has tremendous potential, but will find it harder to get to the rack at the next level. He has a good spin move, decent step back jumper and is athletic enough to play shooting guard and be dominant with his size and leaping ability. Transitioning to small forward might be tough as he would face some stronger forwards who know how to use their bodies. He will need to add a little weight to grow into a natural small forward role.
Potential to be like Grant Hill or Tracy McGrady.
1. Joel Embiid – C / 7’0″, 250 pounds (Kansas)
Joel Embiid has tremendous upside potential to go along with his fantastic size. Embiid only started playing organized basketball in 2011 and like Hakeem Olajuwon he played soccer as well as volleyball throughout his youth. He is a fluid and gifted athlete who can move well for his size. Embiid already has enough of an offensive game to make him a threat at the next level and unlike many athletic big men in the NBA, he hits about 70% of his free throws.
Embiid can develop his game further on the offensive end and has the size, strength and athleticism to make the transition to the NBA defensively. He only needs to develop a little more of a big man’s mentality (a la Olajuwon and Mutombo) to become a nastier presence in the paint. His offensive skills can easily improve, but a little Kendrick Perkins attitude will be vital to him becoming a force in the NBA.
Potential to be like Hakeem Olajuwon or Tyson Chandler.
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