Early NBA Draft Big Board

With all of the heavy hitters having either declared for the NBA Draft or announced that they will stay in school for another year, this is a good time to unveil my first ranking of the 2014 Draft prospects. Please note that this is a ranking of who I think the best players in the 2014 draft are, not where I think players will actually get drafted. It’s a bit early for one of these maybe, but we will have an updated one as the NBA Draft draws closer:

Also of note: I am only ranking guys who I have seen enough of, so no Dante Exum, Dario Saric, Clint Capela, etc.

1. Joel Embiid, Fr. C, Kansas

I am going on the assumption that Embiid is 100% healthy, or at least will be in short order. He’s a legitimate 7 footer, he was a great rim protector all year, he scored efficiently, and his basketball IQ, for a guy who had barely played before getting to Lawrence, was through the roof. He needs to get more strength in his lower half and could stand to get a bit better at passing out of a double team, but after watching his variety of moves on offense, and the way he can both protect the rim and get out on the perimeter for short periods of time on defense, Embiid is my #1 prospect by a fairly wide margin.

2. Andrew Wiggins, Fr. SF, Kansas

Wiggins entered the year ranked #1 and hasn’t done anything to lose that ranking, it’s just that Embiid went and took it from him. Media seem to be concerned about his aggression, or lack thereof, but he led Kansas in both usage rate and percentage of shots taken this past season. Still, Wiggins’ defense is far ahead of his offense at the moment, and he could step into an NBA game on that side of the floor right now. Offensively, Wiggins needs to diversify his moves a bit more and get better at finishing in traffic. His jumper came along nicely as the season went along, however, which could add another element to his game.

3. Jabari Parker, Fr. SF, Duke

Based on what I have heard and read about him, I might put Exum here if everyone were eligible. But it’s going to be Parker, who seemingly has the opposite problem of Wiggins: he could play in an NBA game and score 20 points right now, but probably couldn’t guard the chair I’m sitting in. Parker also quietly had a rough year with his jumper, as he shot just 29% from three in ACC play. I have some slight questions about Parker finishing inside against NBA talent as well, but as he gets into an NBA strength program I think you’ll see an uptick in athleticism (and he’s already underrated athletically) but I do think his ceiling is somewhat limited.

4. Noah Vonleh, Fr. PF, Indiana

I can only assume this will be the most controversial ranking here, but I love Vonleh’s game. He can score inside and outside, shooting 53% from two and 49% from three this year, and he was one of the best rebounders in the country. Vonleh is one of the youngest prospects in the draft as well, not turning 19 until August 24. He’s not a great passer in the post and he was a surprisingly disappointing defender given his wingspan, but he still has physical maturation and basketball maturation to go through, making him one of the more intriguing guys in this class.

5. Marcus Smart, So. PG, Oklahoma State

Marcus Smart had an up and down Freshman year, was somehow universally praised for being better than he was, probably would have gone top 3 in the draft, but decided to come back. He then got suspended for pushing a fan, finished 8th in the Big 12, and saw his stock plummet. Still, Smart had a better year on the court in his Sophomore season than his Freshman season. He still can’t shoot, making under 30% of his threes, but he uses his size to get into the lane effectively, he’s a potentially elite perimeter defender, and he’s already got his NBA flop game down. He improved his passing skills this year, so even though his lack of a jumper will limit his overall effectiveness as a player, he’ll carve out a nice career as a point guard.

6. Julius Randle, Fr. PF, Kentucky

The big questions with Randle surround his length and struggle with it. He has some alligator arms, and while it didn’t hurt his rebounding at Kentucky it probably will in the NBA, and it will hurt him defensively as well. Randle struggled against some of the longer defenders he went up against, which is going to be a problem since every NBA team has those types of guys. He’ll be good in transition, and while he has some things to improve out on the perimeter I think he could develop into a nice perimeter player thanks to his ballhandling.

7. Aaron Gordon, Fr. PF, Arizona

Gordon is a freak athlete. He dominated at the combine, testing better than most guards in a lot of the speed/agility drills. He’s a legit 6’9″ in shoes, which is good for him, because I think any hopes of him playing the 3 were dashed by his Freshman season at Arizona. Gordon is a horrible shooter and not a great ball handler. He can develop those skills (see his most often comped player, Blake Griffin – not that I think that’s a great comp.) but I think his potential is limited by his problems shooting the ball.

8. Doug McDermott, Sr. PF, Creighton

McDermott won’t be able to defend very well in the NBA, but I think he’ll be a good, steady scorer. He can really shoot, and has the height to be able to get his shot off over people. I’m not sure if he will be able to post guys up in the league like he was able to in college, but he runs off screens really well and is able to get shots that way. Is an NBA team going to run their offense through him? No, but he could be a nice complementary piece. There’s always room for shooters in the league, especially ones who are 6’8″, so I don’t join a lot of people in thinking McDermott will be a bust.

9. Gary Harris, So. SG, Michigan State

Harris is a guy I’ve loved all year (and even last year). He can really get after you defensively, and he has a really nice looking shot. It’s somewhat concerning he shot only 35% from three this year with an increased offensive workload, but he takes care of the ball, defends without fouling, and can score in a variety of ways.

10. Nik Stauskas, So. SG, Michigan

I have led the Nik Stauskas charge for quite some time, even dating back to early in his Freshman season. He’s too good of a shooter to leave him alone at all, and he’s an underrated ballhandler, passer, and inside scorer. He drew quite a few fouls for the Wolverines last year, partly due to how tightly teams had to play him on the perimeter, and I think he’ll be able to score effectively in the NBA as well. The issue for him is going to be the other side of the ball. Can he defend? If he can adequately, he’ll be a steal even as high as pick 10.

11. James Young, Fr. SG, Kentucky

12. Rodney Hood, So. SF, Duke

13. Tyler Ennis, Fr. PG, Syracuse

14. Kyle Anderson, So. SF, UCLA

15. Elfrid Payton, So. PG, UL-Lafayette

16. Adreian Payne, Sr. PF, Michigan State

17. PJ Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (D League)

18. TJ Warren, So. SF, NC State

19. Zach Lavine, Fr. SG, UCLA

20. Shabazz Napier, Sr. PG, UConn

21. Jordan Adams, So. SG, UCLA

22. KJ McDaniels, Jr PF, Clemson

23. Cleanthony Early, Sr. SF, Wichita State

24. Jerami Grant, So. SF, Syracuse

25. Spencer Dinwiddie, Jr, PG, Colorado

26. Mitch McGary, So. PF, Michigan

27. Jarnell Stokes, Jr. PF, Tennessee

28. Isaiah Austin, So. C, Baylor

29. Johnny O’Bryant, Jr. C, LSU

30. Glenn Robinson III, So. SF, Michigan