And they’re off! How have the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft come out of the gate in the race to be the first overall pick? One week into the season, here are my rankings.
Andrew Wiggins, SF — 6’8″ and 197 lbs; 18 years old; Freshmen, Kansas. Comp: Kobe Bryant.
Clint’s rank: 1st; Draft Express rank: 1st; NBADraft.net rank: 1st
2013-2014 Stats: 19 pts, 5.5 rebs, 1.0 asts, 1.5 stls, 0.5 blks, 1.5 tos, 58.3% FG, 40% 3P, 66.7% FT
Both Julius Randle and Jabari Parker used their first week to declare their candidacy as a deserving first overall pick — but Wiggins also showed it will take a prodigious effort to unseat the favorite in the race. Wiggins showed a strong overall game as he led Kansas to a 2-0 start, splicing some electrifying athletic plays into his otherwise solid offensive and defensive game. His calling card thus far is probably his defense against Jabari Parker in Kansas’s defeat of Duke. Parker ravaged the Kansas defense for 19 points in the first half, causing Bill Self to switch Wiggins onto Duke’s star in key moments of the second half, despite Wiggins being in foul trouble. Wiggins helped hold Parker to eight second half points, keying Kansas’s huge early season win. Wiggins has opened with a star’s game, and shown glimmers of the superstar he may be destined to become.
Julius Randle, PF — 6’9″ and 248 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Kentucky. Comp: Chris Webber.
Clint’s rank: 2nd; Draft Express rank: 2nd; NBADraft.net rank: 3rd
2013-2014 Stats: 24 pts, 14.3 rebs, 1.7 asts, 0.0 stls, 0.3 blks, 4.0 tos, 61.8% FG, 0.0% 3P, 71.4% FT
In my preseason rankings, I warned Randle would be not a man among boys, but a beast among sheep in college. Well, the sheep know the beast has arrived. Randle has opened the season as simply the most dominant force in the college game. He routinely scores on double teams in the post, and is starting to see three and even four defenders coming his way. Defensively, he is showing what many expected: lack of focus and disinterest. But on the offensive end there is no more dynamic force in the nation, so much so that a few people are starting to wonder if there has been as dominant a post scorer in college basketball since Shaquille O’Neal. Randle has roared his claim to the best prospect in the world, and don’t expect him to quiet down all season.
Jabari Parker, SF/PF — 6’8″ and 241 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Duke. Comp: Carmelo Anthony.
Clint’s rank: 3rd; Draft Express rank: 4th; NBADraft.net rank: 2nd
2013-2014 Stats: 23.3 pts, 8.3 rebs, 2.0 asts, 1.3 stls, 1.0 blks, 1.3 tos, 58.5% FG, 68.8% 3P, 73.3% FT
It took Jabari Parker one game to shed the preseason questions about his fitness and athleticism. 22 points and 5 rebounds on 80% shooting and 3-3 from distance, plus one alley-oop dunk with his elbows level with the rim, will do that. The only question about the Duke star now is if he can really be this great throughout an entire season. How much a dream player has he been for Coach K? Following the Kansas loss in which Parker scored 28 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, he was asked to give himself a grade for the game. His answer: “C-minus.” He’s easily the best talent at Duke since Kyrie Irving, and his combination of exquisite scoring ability, surprisingly complete game, and unselfish winning focus just may make him the top prospect in a once in a decade draft class.
Marcus Smart, PG — 6’4″ and 226 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Oklahoma State. Comp: Somewhere between Joe Dumars and Jason Kidd.
Clint’s rank: 4th; Draft Express rank: 6th; NBADraft.net rank: 6th
2013-2014 Stats: 13.7 pts, 4.3 rebs, 3.3 asts, 4.0 stls, 0.3 blks, 2.7 tos, 40% FG, 31.3% 3P, 63.2% FT
Smart doesn’t boast the glossy numbers of those ranked above him, but his fall one spot is due to Jabari Parker ascending to his rightful place by putting to rest concerns arising from past injury. I still LOVE Smart as a prospect, and the early season has given glimpses why. Four steals per game in only 24 minutes of play, for example. Or the fact that he’s shot 40% or better from three in two of OKS’s three games this season. But to understand my enthusiasm for Smart as a prospect, you have to watch him play to see how universal his effect is on his team. As his coach Travis Ford says of Smart, “He’s calling plays, he’s making changes on the fly, he’s deciding how to get the ball to a guy who’s hot or slow it down depending on time and score. I’m giving him more freedom than I’ve given any player in my 17 years as a head coach.” You can’t understand Smart as a player without seeing how he affects his team, and thus far his effect equates to winning by an average of 47 points a game! Not bad for a guy who only started playing point guard last year when he joined the Cowboys.
Aaron Gordon, PF — 6’9″ and 212 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Arizona. Comp: Blake Griffin.
Clint’s rank: 5th; Draft Express rank: 5th; NBADraft.net rank: 23rd (for the record, this is insane)
2013-2014 Stats: 14.3 pts, 9.3 rebs, 1.3 asts, 1.0 stls, 2.3 blks, 1.7 tos, 58.1% FG, 80% 3P, 30% FT
Gordon isn’t the Alpha and Omega of his team like those players I have ranked above him, but he’s started the season out just as strong in his own way. Gordon is already Arizona’s Mr. Everything. He’s stuffing stat sheets and driving the frenetic Wildcat defense with his unmatched energy and effort. He’s also showing a charming willingness to fit into the team, doing whatever is asked of him. He’s still raw, and when he slows down and thinks too much, he can get in trouble (at the free throw line, for example). But overall, Gordon has started his season well and remains a must-see player with his unmatched athleticism and endless energy.
Andrew Harrison, PG/SG — 6’5″ and 207 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kentucky. Comp: Russell Westbrook.
Clint’s rank: 6th; Draft Express rank: 8th; NBADraft.net rank: 22nd (this too is insane)
2013-2014 Stats: 10.7 pts, 1 rebs, 3.3 asts, 0.0 stls, 0.0 blks, 2.0 tos, 50% FG, 60% 3P, 81.3% FT
Of all the star prospects topping the list, Harrison has had the most difficult transition to the college game. He isn’t able to dominate physically as consistently as he did in high school (though he has Julius Randle to do it for him), and he — like most of his teammates — received a lesson in physicality at the hands of Michigan State recently. That being said, he has just started the complex process of becoming a point guard on a team loaded with talent; it makes sense it may take him some time to fill his role as main distributor on Kentucky’s loaded roster. He’s shooting well early in the season, and that has been a concern about him in the past. He really needs to improve his defense, particularly given his physical ability.
Dante Exum, PG/SG — 6’6″ and 188 lbs; 18 years old; Australian Institute of Sport. Comp: Derrick Rose.
Clint’s rank: 7th; Draft Express rank: 3rd; NBADraft.net rank: 5th
2013-2014 Stats: NA
Not much new here, other than Chad Ford reporting Exum is likely to declare for the draft, according to unnamed sources. Lots of people love the Australian prospect, but he’s holed away training while his competitors are out on the court nightly in front of dozens of scouts. Personally, I won’t move him up my rankings until there’s more to go on than his admittedly impressive performance at the U19 Championship.
I still rank these top seven a grade removed from other prospects. Further down the list, here are developments on a few prospects of note early in the season:
Joel Embiid, C — 7’0″ and 240 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kansas.
Embiid has opened his season largely as expected: some nice plays, quite a few moments of tantalizing athleticism, and no great overall impact on games yet. He’s playing about 15 minutes a game, and that will need to increase to allow him to show enough for me to move him into the elite of this class. (Others disagree, as Draft Express currently ranks him 7th where NBADraft.net ranks him 4th.)
Mitch McGary, C — 6’10″ and 263 lbs; 21 years old; Sophomore, Michigan.
McGary has yet to play a game due to back pain, and it’s starting to look like the injury might be an issue all season. He’s starting to drop down draft boards and will need to prove he’s healthy to stop the plummet.
Wayne Selden, SG — 6’6″ and 223 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kansas.
Selden is a physically overpowering off-guard who has been on draft radars for a while. He’s opened the season shooting 47.1% from the field and 33.3% from distance; if he can continue with or improve on those numbers, he may well climb into the top ten.
Gary Harris, SG — 6’4″ and 210 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Michigan State.
Harris hasn’t found his stroke from deep yet, but if he does (and he should), he might be a name slowly climbing draft boards throughout the season. The young sophomore is already putting up 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a game for the #1 ranked team in the nation.
Rodney Hood, SF — 6’8″ and 187 lbs; 21 years old; Sophomore, Duke.
Hood is the other 6’8″ scoring SF at Duke, but if he keeps producing 20 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3 assists a game on 66.7% shooting, expect to hear his name more and more. He has some baggage after his transfer from the chaos that was the 2011-12 Mississippi State Bulldogs (transferring resulted in his sitting out last season), but he’s played his way into first round discussion. If he keeps on putting up these numbers, it isn’t out of the question to talk about him breaking into the lottery.
The Jazz are 1 and 10, two games behind the teams with the second-worst record in the league (the Bucks, Kings, and Wizards). Which means if the season were to finish right now, my guess: with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select…
Andrew Wiggins from Kansas.