2014 NBA Draft Rankings: Pre-Season Positions

October 25th, 2013 | by Clint Johnson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

I doubt Jazz fans have ever anticipated a draft prior to a season’s beginning as highly as they now do the 2014 Draft.  With the Jazz looking to struggle this season, and the most highly anticipated draft class since 2003 waiting in the wings, a number of fans are likely to track the top draft prospects all year long with an eye toward which may prove the future franchise cornerstone of their team.

So for convenience sake, welcome to the Jazz Draft Rankings!  As the season goes along, I will regularly post updates on how I rank the top draft prospects in a metaphorical race to the #1 pick.

I’ll provide my own rankings as well as Draft Express’s and current RSCI (Recruiting Services Consensus Index) rankings, perhaps others, as well as basic statistics on the players, links to more detailed statistics, and a short summary of why I’ve ranked each player as I have.

 

Andrew Wiggins, SF—6’8” and 197 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Kansas. Comp: Kobe Bryant.

Clint rank: 1st; Draft Express rank: 1st; RSCI rank: 1st.

Wiggins is the prohibitive favorite for number one overall pick in the coming draft.  The Canadian product is, by near unanimous account, a true franchise talent.  Wiggins’ floor is probably multi-time All-Star.  The best prospect since Kevin Durant—and maybe LeBron James—Wiggins has it all: height, length, freakish athleticism by even NBA standards, and a diverse and surprisingly polished game for his age.  With the tools to be both an elite scorer and defender, and better than average willingness and ability to get teammates involved, Wiggins is every NBA front office’s dream.  The only real question is his mentality: he sometimes fails to dominate outmatched competition, and has not always been a difference maker when competing against the other best players his age.  But as long as he continues to display the measurables that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated once he steps onto the court for Bill Self at Kansas, his will be the first name called on Draft Night.

Julius Randle, PF—6’9” and 248 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Kentucky. Comp: Chris Webber.

Clint rank: 2nd; Draft Express rank: 2nd; RSCI rank: 2nd

In a race with Wiggins, every other competitor is a dark horse—but if I were to bet on any dark horse to upset this race, it would be Randle.  To my eyes, he’s the greatest offensive force in this draft.  Supreme physicality: strength, speed, quickness.  Tremendous skill: range, ball handling, passing, footwork both on and away from the block.  I can see Randle competing for scoring titles in the NBA.  While his defensive technique and intensity lag behind his offensive gifts, I fully expect him to be not a man among boys in college, but a beast among sheep.  Think the explosive dominance of collegiate Blake Griffin only with substantially more skill.  The Chris Webber parallel is a close one when equating their games, but not necessarily their bodies.  Randle has a touch of the doughy to him, and weight may be a career-long concern.  But the sheer offensive package is perhaps once a decade quality.

Marcus Smart, PG—6’4” and 200 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Oklahoma State.  Comp: Jason Kidd.

Clint rank: 3rd; Draft Express rank: 5th; RSCI rank: 9th

2012-13 Stats: 15.4 pts, 5.8 rbs, 4.2 asts, 3.0 stls, 0.7 blks, 3.4 tos, 40% FG%, 29 3P%, 77.7 FT%.

While Smart would have been the first point guard taken in last year’s draft had the freshman not decided to return for his sophomore year, entering this season he is listed second or even third on many draft boards at his position.  Not mine.  Smart’s greatest attributes are his intangibles: leadership, attitude, and the ability to weld together talent to make a high functioning team.  He combines these intangibles—so important for his position—with substantial physical virtues as well.  He’s big and strong, in a Deron Williams mold.  Like Williams, he is not as quick or fast as some other guards, though I think he has a slight advantage over Williams in this area.  An active defender with good instincts and quickness, he should be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.  A suspect shooting touch is his greatest flaw at this point, yet after a single year playing point guard, he has already become the leader of the US international teams for his age group.  I see the makings of a similar leader, in every way, in the NBA.

Jabari Parker, SF/PF—6’8” and 241 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Duke.  Comp: Carmelo Anthony.

Clint rank: 4th; Draft Express rank: 7th; RSCI rank 5th

In his early high school years, this young Chicago player garnered discussion as the best American prospect in years.  Anticipation has cooled somewhat with the rise of a few American bigs and two international prospects in Wiggins and Dante Exum.  But Parker is the most polished wing player in this draft.  He can score from anywhere and do so smoothly and easily.  Smart and willing to make extra passes, he is a near ideal primary offensive option.  Following an injury he gained weight and alarmed a lot of people, and now many question whether he will be a small forward or a stretch power forward in the NBA.  The weight concern is legitimate, as is the fear he might be trapped between positions in the NBA, but my suspicion is a year under Coach K at Duke will get him in top game shape.  Whether that shape ends up playing the three or the four at the next level, I think Parker will come off the board early as a likely franchise scorer.  Count on hearing Parker’s name connected to the Jazz a lot this year because of his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Aaron Gordon, PF—6’9” and 212 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Arizona.  Comp: Blake Griffin.

Clint rank: 5th; Draft Express rank: 4th; RSCI rank 3rd

Gordon has a lot going for him, including the title MVP of the Under-19 World Championships and just maybe the most pure athleticism in a draft stocked with freak athletes.  He has excellent speed, improving strength (and the shoulders to keep getting stronger), elite conditioning, and a motor that never stops.  He is a presence on the court, getting to loose balls before anyone else and making a huge variety of plays.  He is very much a work in progress when it comes to skill acquisition, but the foundation for a solid post game is in the works and Gordon is already lauded for being both hard working and smart.  As one of the youngest players in his class, he may possess more untapped potential than many of his competitors.

Andrew Harrison, PG/SG—6’5” and 207 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kentucky.  Comp: Russell Westbrook.

Clint rank: 6th; Draft Express rank: 8th; RSCI rank 4th

I don’t like combo guards much at all, but even I like Harrison.  Unlike many combo guards, I think he has a real chance of becoming a genuine point guard.  He needs the ball in his hands a lot, but he shows an elite ability to create for others off of penetration and runs the fast break like the best in the NBA already.  He is incredibly strong for his position, making him almost unstoppable when in the lane, and he is fast enough to get there nearly at will.  He is a fantastic ball handler.  He needs to improve his jump shot and defensive commitment, and his propensity to score may still seduce him into the off-guard position.  But I am more hopeful that Harrison will become a genuine point guard than most combo guards because Coach Calipari will depend on him to distribute the ball around a stacked roster at Kentucky.

Dante Exum, PG/SG—6’6” and 188 lbs; 18 years old; Australian Institute of Sport.  Comp: Derrick Rose.

Clint rank: 7th; Draft Express rank: 3rd; RSCI rank NA

If Dante Exum is everything many think he is, he should be a top three pick in the draft, assuming he declares.  He looks an awful lot like a taller, longer Derrick Rose.  Exum has superhuman speed and can take it to the hoop literally at will.  He is an astute and willing passer, and has an advanced handle.  Like many young players, his defense is sporadic and sometimes suspect, but he has the tools to be a Gary Payton-grade shutdown defender of point guards, larger and faster than almost every opponent he faces.  Already a top prospect, Exum’s dominance at the U-19 World Championships, which won him all-tournament honors, moved him to the top point guard prospect on many boards.  Perhaps best of all, his instincts suggest his natural position might be point guard, in spite of his height and scoring ability.  The only reason I have him so low is I still think he is something of a unicorn: fabled Australian prospect, 6’6” “natural” point guard, and all with a great attitude and focus?  I want to see him under closer and more extensive examination against more consistent competition before I buy into the package too fully.  Nevertheless, he is an undeniably intriguing prospect with franchise-talent allure.

The top seven prospects all tantalize as possible franchise talents; not surprisingly, they are a clear cut above the rest of the field.  So expect all eyes to be largely on these seven players throughout the year.  That said, here are seven more prospects I think deserve watching.  If any of the top seven fall back in this race, I expect one of these guys to assume their place.

Joel Embiid, C—7’0” and 240 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kansas.

Some are quite high on the basketball novice from Cameroon because of his height, weight, and length.  Suffice to say, I’ll need to see a lot more before I consider putting him in my top ten.

Glenn Robinson, SF—6’6” and 210 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Michigan.

2012-13 Stats: 11.0 pts, 5.3 rbs, 1.1 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.3 blks, 0.8 tos, 56.8 FG%, 32.4 3P%, 67.6 FT%.

Robinson is an outstanding athlete who showed flashes of legitimate skill last season.  Without Trey Burke to stir the pot, Robinson will be asked to key the offense more often this season, which I’m very interested to see.

Mitch McGary, C—6’10” and 263 lbs; 21 years old; Sophomore, Michigan.

2012-13 Stats: 7.4 pts, 6.2 rbs, 0.7 asts, 1.1 stls, 0.7 blks, 1.2 tos, 60.2 FG%, — 3P%, 44.0 FT%.

McGary doesn’t look like an elite physical specimen, and he isn’t.  But he reminds me a lot of David Lee, and I think he has a chance to be a very good player in the NBA.

Willie Cauley-Stein, C—7’0” and 244 lbs; 20 years old; Sophomore, Kentucky.

2012-13 Stats: 8.3 pts, 6.2 rbs, 0.9 asts, 0.8 stls, 2.1 blks, 1.7 tos, 62.1 FG%, — 3P%, 37.2 FT%.

When Nerlens Noel went down injured last season, Cauley-Stein immediately jumped up draft boards when people saw his physical tools.  Seeing him play dimmed that enthusiasm, and this year he will have to show substantial maturation to his game if he’s to reignite some of the passion he once caused.

Gary Harris, SG—6’4” and 210 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Michigan State.

2012-13 Stats: 13.0 pts, 2.5 rbs, 1.3 asts, 1.4 stls, 0.2 blks, 1.5 tos, 46.3 FG%, 42.5 3P%, 73.3 FT%.

Harris is a fine shooter and a tough competitor, not surprising given he’s coached by Tom Izzo.  Harris lacks the height and extreme athleticism desired for a top flight shooting guard, so he will have to prove he can compensate by smart play and, hopefully, truly elite shooting.

Montrezl Harrell, PF/C—6’8” and 230 lbs; 19 years old; Sophomore, Louisville.

2012-2013 Stats: 5.7 pts, 3.6 rbs, 0.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 0.7 blks, 0.6 tos, 57.7 FG%, —3P%, 50.8 FT%.

Harrell will fill in for Gorgui Dieng next season, where he will seek to build on a fine freshman year that included a national championship.  Harrell is a rare athlete, but he’ll need to show more than hops and activity to convince NBA scouts he deserves a lottery pick.

Mario Hezonja, SG/SF—6’6” and 200 lbs; 18 years old; Barcelona (Oro).

Hezonja has the raw talent to give the top seven in this draft a run for their money, but his attitude has been borderline toxic.  Pure talent keeps him on this list, as maturation could make him into an excellent NBA player, but as of now I wouldn’t waste a pick on him, maybe not even in the second round.

Finally, I will conclude each rankings post with a prediction on how I suspect the race will end for the Jazz, given the information at that time.

I’ve thought 27 wins sounds about right for this season since the schedule came out, and the preseason (plus Vegas putting the over/under for Jazz wins at 27.5) has done nothing to sway me from that number.  27 wins would have been good for fifth worst record in the league last season.  As the year goes on, I’ll keep track of the Jazz’s record and what pick it suggests they might get in the draft, and identify who, at that point, I think they would take at that slot.

So right now, before the race even begins: with the 5th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select…

Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. In addition to his writing center work at Salt Lake Community College, he designed, coordinates, and teaches in an experimental author residency program for a West Valley City public charter school. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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10 Comments

  1. casey says:

    Nice article Clint. I like Marcus Smart as well, though I wonder about his fit with the Jazz. He brings a lot of things to the table, but elite scorer doesn’t seem to be one of them. Considering what the rest of our roster looks like, I think we’d be better off going for Exum/Harrison if we end up drafting a point guard.
    What I wonder is what do we do if we’re picking 5th/6th, and the best pick available is a power forward (gordon)? Do we draft him and look to trade Kanter for another wing? Do we choose position over talent? Do we just trade the pick? Interesting options the Jazz would have.
    My biggest worry though is we land just outside these elite prospects on draft night. Look, I want our guys to be good, but I also want our team to lose a lot :P

    • babnik says:

      Unless for some odd reason Gobert has an explosive rookie season and becomes essentially a Camby/Chandler type player or at least a 18/10 guy with 2+ blocks a game, the Jazz won’t trade Kanter. Favors will be great, but he most likely won’t ever average more than 18 ppg while during Jazz contention. Hayward, as much as I like him, isn’t a franchise player…a franchise face? Yes, similar to Milsap. That then comes down to two options: Kanter being used as a scorer, or the Jazz drafting/trading for a score first/defensive PG that can still pick and roll. There are great scorers on this time, but non with superstar ability to score. Kanter has too much upside to just deal away, if he is traded it will be for a proven player and not draft picks…hence why Kanter won’t be traded. Gobert will be traded before Kanter.

  2. Clint Johnson says:

    For any wondering:

    Right now, I have Wiggins going first, Randle going second, Parker going third, Exum going forth, which would leave the Jazz to chose between Smart, Gordon, Harrison, or the field. In that case, I think they take Smart.

    Also, for any who wonder at the Smart comparison of Jason Kidd, this is the player I believe Smart will most parallel stylistically in the NBA. Thus far, he as often looks like James Harden or Dion Waiters, thick bodied and seeking contact when he penetrates. But I think he will continue to develop as a point guard, and when he plays in that mode, I see a lot of Jason Kidd.

  3. Trevor Richins says:

    I dont think Smart would be the best pick. I like him but he is a pg, too small to play the 2 full time. With I think a wing is where we need to go. Id like to see them go SF so Heyward moves to SG. The way you had it going down, I think Harrison or Gordon would be the better pick for the Jazz

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I don’t see Gordon as a SF in the NBA. I think he’s definitely a PF, or worse, gets caught between positions. As for Harrison, I think he loses a great deal of value if he plays anything but PG. He isn’t a good shooter. Honestly, i think the Jazz are crossing their fingers they have a shot at Wiggins or Parker because of their position, but if they were gone, I think they’d pick Smart unless Burke really shows something special this year.

  4. Brent says:

    Trey Burke, at least statistically, is much better than Marcus Smart. Here’s some stats:
    Points per 40: Burke 21.1, Smart 18.3
    Offensive Rating: Burke 121.2, Smart 102.1
    FG%: Burke 46.3%, Smart 40.4%
    3pt FG%: Burke 38.4%, Smart 29.0%
    Effective FG%: Burke 53.0%, Smart 45.4%
    Assists per Game: Burke 6.7, Smart 4.2
    A/T ratio: Burke 3.0, Smart 1.3
    Who would you rather have?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      In the NBA, I’d rather have Smart, no question. He’s bigger, stronger, and quite likely faster, which should translate to superior defensive ability and finishing in the lane. I grant that Burke may always be a better shooter from range than Smart, but even that isn’t a given.

      Also, I’m a believer in intangibles proven consistently over time against the best competition. Smart established a reputation for tremendous competitiveness and leadership while winning two high school Texas championships, he led the US U18 team to a championship as captain, then the U19 team to another championship, once again as captain. Amongst the best of his peers, he has always been the leader, and he has always won. Best of all, he’s been playing point guard for less than two years. With that minimal experience at the position, he’s still run the point in international competition for championship teams.

      One other thing to consider: Smart was a freshman last year while Burke was a sophomore. Comparing their freshman stats may be a fairer comparison:

      PER: Smart 24; Burke 19.4
      TS%: Smart .532; Burke .538
      eFG%: Smart .455; Burke .502
      TRB%: Smart 9.9; Burke 6.2
      AST%: Smart 26.8; Burke 28.7
      STL%: Smart 5.3; Burke 1.7
      BLK%: Smart 2.2; Burke 1.2
      TOV%: Smart 18.9; Burke 16.7
      USG%: Smart 27.2; Burke 26.4
      ORtg: Smart 105.3; Burke 107.4
      DRtg: Smart 86.1; Burke 102.3
      WS: Smart 5.5; Burke 4.4
      WS/40: Smart .198; Burke .142

      As a freshman, Burke was a slightly better offensive player, but Smart was a much better defender, as well as a better rebounder. Smart was the best player overall as a freshman. Add that to Burks’ playing the point his whole life while Smart is still learning the position, and I truly believe that Smart is clearly the better prospect as an NBA point guard, especially given their respective sizes. I think Trey Burke will be a good player in the NBA, but I think Marcus Smart might be truly great. He really does remind me of Jason Kidd in his court presence and how he can affect the game on both ends of the floor.

      Smart isn’t my top choice for the Jazz in this draft, but should they end up with him, I love that fit.

      • Brent says:

        Nice analysis! It will be fun to look back after Marcus Smart’s sophomore year and see how he compares. Trey Burke’s sophomore numbers are better than Deron Williams’, Russell Westbrook and equal/slightly better than Chris Paul’s.
        He also, won a lot and got his team to the championship game. When they were down 10 pts with 5 mins to play against Kansas, he recognized it and put his team on his back.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          He was a great college player, and I think he will be a good NBA player. But there are college players who are great in college and mediocre at best in the NBA: Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Hansborough, TJ Ford, Jason Williams, Joe Smith, and Calbert Cheaney all won the Naismith PoY award. Burke may be more Adam Morrison or Jimmer Fredette than Mike Conley Jr. or Chris Paul. We’ll see.

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