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If an NBA team was looking to turn itself around during the 2013 NBA draft, it was out of luck. The same statement doesn’t apply to 2014.
Unless a franchise is hoping to build around a shooting guard—good luck, as it takes a legendary talent to do that successfully—it’s in great shape. Led by Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Julius Randle and so many other impressive prospects, the other four positions are loaded with franchise-changing potential.
In order to take a look at just how much this draft could change the future, let’s go with a position-by-position breakdown.
I’ll be excluding shooting guards, as that position doesn’t have the same level of talent at the top. It’s deep with plenty of prospects—like Wayne Selden, Spencer Dinwiddie, Gary Harris, Rasheed Sulaimon, P.J. Hairston and LaQuinton Ross—but they aren’t going to develop into MVP-caliber players in the NBA. Few of them will emerge as anything more than upper-level starters.
And in a draft class this good, that’s not going to cut it.
Dominant floor generals haven’t won too many championships in modern-day NBA history, but it’s hard to deny they’re among the most important pieces of any great team. With a liability at point guard, it’s hard to advance to the playoffs, much less survive a few rounds.
If you’re looking for a great point guard, you’re in luck during the 2014 NBA draft. The position is absolutely stacked at the top, making it the second-best position of the five, behind only the power forwards. And even that is debatable.
A lot hinges on Dante Exum, the 6’6″ Australian guard whose natural position is the 1.
Exum burst onto the draft scene following great showings at each and every international competition he attended. The most notable event was the Nike Hoop Summit, and you can see those highlights above.
If Exum develops a consistent perimeter jumper, he’ll be a nearly complete player at only 18 years old. He’s already that good off the bounce, and his size and athleticism make him a dynamic offensive threat in just about any situation.
The Aussie might not end up being eligible for this draft, though. As relayed by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, Exum said, “Schools have been saying I can start in early December and play this season. But if college is the option, I’ll stay in Australia, do workouts with the national team and then go to college next August. Playing this season in college is not an option.”
If Exum ends up changing his mind and attending Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan or Oregon in December, he’ll be a top-five pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The same is true if he enters as an international prospect.
But he’s by no means the only great point guard.
Who will be the best point guard in this class?
Marcus Smart would have been in the discussion for the No. 1 pick had he left Oklahoma State after a sensational freshman season in which he averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game for the Cowboys. He’s going to drop down the boards a bit just because of the strength of this class, but Smart is still a potential franchise floor general.
Versatility is the name of the game for Smart, and he’s able to make an impact in so many ways, even when his jumper isn’t connecting. Somehow, the OK State standout is actually the smallest of the three elite 1-guards, standing at “only” 6’4″.
The third is Andrew Harrison, who will be John Calipari’s latest one-and-done point guard at Kentucky. Harrison is the best distributor of the bunch, but, like the other two, he’s by no means limited to one area of impact.
If he can prove he has the mental focus to succeed in the NBA, he’ll be perceived as yet another stud at the position.
What more can be said about Andrew Wiggins before he plays his first game of college basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks?
At this point, he’s viewed as the next great NBA player, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Think about that for a second. There are reportedly NBA executives who would be willing to pay max money for a small forward before he’s even played a single second above the high school level.
He’s that good.
Here’s what Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report’s NBA Lead Writer, had to say about the highly touted Canadian prospect:
Wiggins isn’t locked in for superstardom, but he’s one of the rare young prospects with the natural talent to hold up such a towering ceiling. His upside will remain intact whether he excels at Kansas or struggles with inconsistency.
I wouldn’t bet on Wiggins taking over the country with monumental performance after monumental performance in one year in college.
The hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins should be focused on his long-term outlook. And given what we’ve seen so far, all signs point to an electric future NBA stud.
I’m going to disagree slightly with Wasserman here. I wouldn’t bet on him taking over college basketball as a freshman, but I’m not going to bet against it either. Whatever athletic tool you can dream up, Wiggins already has it.
And speaking of great athletes, how about Glenn Robinson III?
How good will Andrew Wiggins be?
There must be something about athletes with “G” “R” and “3” in their nicknames, regardless of the order.
Robinson has to show more of an attacking mentality during his latest season in Ann Arbor. He was the tertiary option behind both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. for the Michigan Wolverines, averaging 11.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game as a freshman.
The small forward isn’t going to disappear this year, especially now that those two teammates are in the Association. This is now his team (along with Mitch McGary, who you’ll hear more about later), and he’s going to put on a show with his all-around play and ability to distribute the ball from the wings.
If there’s any player who can take the No. 1 spot from Andrew Wiggins, it’s Julius Randle. And if there’s any position that can take the No. 1 spot from the point guards, it’s this group of power forwards.
Let’s roll with some NBA comparisons here, just to put things in perspective.
Julius Randle’s best comparison at the moment is Amar’e Stoudemire—but not the current version playing for the New York Knicks. I’m referring to the version of STAT who ran the court alongside Steve Nash and emerged as a legitimate All-Star stat-stuffing machine.
The Kentucky freshman has similar athletic upside, especially when coupled with his impressive jumper and developing set of back-to-the-basket moves. Depending on how he grows while in Lexington, Randle could stick on the Stoudemire track, but he’s also capable of becoming more of a stretch 4 or more of a physically dominant bruiser.
For Randle, the sky is the limit. And it just so happens that he often touches the sky when he plays.
Aaron Gordon’s NBA comparison is a little easier: Blake Griffin.
An absolutely insane athlete, Gordon will dunk early and often during his one year at Arizona. His offensive game isn’t particularly developed unless he dunks the ball or shoots a spot-up jumper, but he’s also a guy with great defensive potential.
He’s going to punish plenty of rims at Arizona, and he’ll do the same in the Association.
As for incoming Duke freshman Jabari Parker, he doesn’t have as much athletic upside, but he plays a smooth and well-rounded offensive game that is already making me think about Carmelo Anthony. Yep, he has that many tools when he needs to put the ball in the basket.
Parker is still a great athlete—don’t get me wrong—but it’s his cerebral play and versatility with or without the ball that have allowed him to stand out thus far.
Between these three players, all of whom could be drafted in the top five, this is a deep and talented position at the top.
The center position deserves to be mentioned as potentially franchise-changing, but the expectations have to be tempered a little bit more here. The trio of big men is included here not because it includes a future MVP but because centers are just that important to the current NBA landscape.
Given the myriad up-and-coming big men in the NBA, it’s a position that’s getting deeper, and that will continue after the 2014 NBA draft adds a few more studs to the mix.
But while point guard, small forward and power forward all boast true superstars, this class of centers is a franchise-changing one simply because it can provide a few upper-tier starters and potential All-Stars.
The 5 with the most upside is Joel Embiid, an incoming freshman at Kansas.
Here’s what NBADraft.net had to say about the second Jayhawks stud featured in this article:
A seven footer with an exceptionally high ceiling…What is most striking about Embiid is how advanced his game is given that he reportedly only started playing basketball in 2011. The former volleyball and soccer player is clearly a naturally gifted athlete, and his length and fluidity both translate very well to basketball.
Whoa. Hang on a second. He’s only been playing since 2011? And he’s already a blue-chip recruit at one of the finest programs in the country?
It’s hard to believe, but Embiid is already more than just a 7-footer with ridiculous athletic abilities. While it’s not surprising the big man is raw offensively—particularly when going to work with his back to the basket—he already shows great defensive instincts and should be, at the very least, a landlord in the paint.
Isaiah Austin is another huge center with a raw game and high ceiling.
The Baylor Bear stands at 7’1″, but he can play on the perimeter. He attempted 2.6 three-pointers per game as a freshman, and while he hit only a third of his looks, it’s still encouraging that he was able to do that as a true first-year player.
Once he fills out his frame and becomes even more of a defensive presence, he could be one of the more unique centers in basketball.
Finally, we have Mitch McGary, who burst onto the national scene during this past March Madness.
How many centers can do this?
McGary’s best game of the season came against Kansas, when he put up 25 points and 14 rebounds. But he also stood out against Syracuse, threatening a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
His inside-outside play and physicality on both ends of the court make him appear to be a future stud, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him drafted in the lottery portion of the 2014 NBA draft.
Make no mistake about it. This is a Stacked draft class with a capital S.
The point guard and power forward positions are loaded with franchise-changing talent, and Andrew Wiggins alone keeps the small forward spot highly relevant. The centers aren’t on that same level, but they’re good enough to make for a great class.
If you’re looking to turn your franchise around with any of these positions, you’re in great shape. As highly coveted as the No. 1 pick will be this year, it’s not like the rest of the lottery is devoid of excellent options.
In fact, it looks like this draft class has the potential to go down as the best of all time. There are a lot of games left to be played between now and then, but the hype exists for a reason.
Actually, it exists for a lot of reasons.