Dante Exum, Australia, 6’6”, PG/SG, 1995
Put it this way: If Dante Exum chooses to put off the draft until 2015, I don’t see how he doesn’t start the year as the favorite to go No. 1.
However, with his stock currently through the roof, it will be hard for Exum not to capitalize in 2014.
He led Australia to a bronze at last summer’s FIBA World Championships, averaging 18.2 points and nearly four assists per game. He erupted for 28 points and five assists against Lithuania and 33 and four against Spain.
This was after he dropped 16 points in a win over Jabari Parker and Julius Randle at the Nike Hoops Summit.
Exum has takeover ability, and given his 6’6” size and jetpack explosiveness, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t translate to the NBA.
He’s a scoring point guard with the ability and willingness to create for others, as well as the skill set to dominate a game. I don’t want to overhype the kid, but think Penny Hardaway meets Russell Westbrook.
I’m just not sure we’ve seen this blend of versatility, size and athleticism in a guard.
If a team ended up selecting Exum over Parker or Randle, it wouldn’t be as insanely unreasonable as it might sound.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7’0”, C, Freshman
He’s the top center prospect in the country, and I don’t even think it’s close.
Joel Embiid just started playing ball a few years ago, which almost doesn’t make sense when you see him in action.
He shows some pretty fancy footwork out there for a raw 7-footer, using drop steps and pivots when there’s space to comfortably operate. He’s also got some GPS in the paint; he’s able to find the rim when the defense forces him into unfamiliar scoring angles.
With a soft touch inside and promising touch outside, he really has the potential to become an excellent offensive player.
And at 7’0”, 250 pounds with a 7’5” wingspan (half-inch shorter than Anthony Davis’), Embiid has the makeup of a defensive difference-maker.
He’s not going to fill up box scores as a freshman, but he might as a third-year player in the NBA. Embiid’s massive two-way upside makes him a legitimate option for a team drafting with a top-five pick.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6’4”, PG/SG, Sophomore
A likely top-three pick in 2013, Marcus Smart chose to return to terrorize college kids another year.
He racked up nine steals against Utah Valley. This guy is just hungry and loves to compete, and that plays directly into his appeal as an NBA prospect.
He doesn’t have the athleticism of Andrew Wiggins, the jumper of Jabari Parker or the size of Julius Randle. But he’s a winner, and that has some meaning among scouts and decision-makers.
Smart won a gold at the FIBA World Championships and two Texas state championships in high school. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 boards and 4.2 assists as a freshman, and now enters his sophomore season with Preseason National Player of the Year expectations.
As an NBA prospect, he’s one of those guys who you don’t care what position he plays. Let Smart run the point or move him off the ball—at 6’4”, 220 pounds, he’s got the size, mind and skill set for either backcourt position.
Even if his shooting percentages fall or his turnovers rise, Smart’s draft stock is pretty much bulletproof. He lacks the upside of some of the big-name freshmen, but Smart is a lock to find a significant role in an NBA rotation right away.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6’9”, SF/PF, Freshman
I’d bet Aaron Gordon was feeling all kinds of left out after what went down at the State Farm Championship Classic.
Gordon had been competing with and against guys like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle in camps and showcase events. He was actually named MVP of the McDonalds All-American Game which everyone took part in.
His upside is big-time. Though slightly smaller than Blake Griffin, the comparison between them as athletes is fair. Gordon is capable of making plays that nobody else in the gym could make.
A glowing target for lobs or dump passes around the rim, Gordon currently makes a living in the paint as a finisher and rebounder. He’s already double-doubled in his first-two games for Arizona.
The only thing keeping him from entering the Wiggins-Parker-Randle conversation is the uncertainty surrounding his position. Scouts think he’s a 4, while Gordon believes he’s a 3.
But if Gordon can pick one, stick with it and excel, he’s got a chance to reach All-Star levels one day.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6’6”, SF, Sophomore
Glenn Robinson III’s promise was flashed in limited doses last season. But it was still visible.
He’s got NBA written all over him, with great size, explosive athleticism, an evolving game and basketball genes.
Last year, he averaged in double figures in scoring and shot 57.2 percent (a terrific number for a wing)—as the fourth or fifth guy in the pecking order.
As a sophomore, he’s now a top-two option.
Robinson isn’t the scorer or dominant presence that Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle might be, but he’s got all the tools to affect the pro game in a complementary role.
Not every top-10 pick has to be a go-to scorer.
At this point, he’s an excellent spot-up shooter, exceptionable finisher and slasher, and a standout defender who can guard three positions.
This year, look for Robinson to show off an improved in-between game, where his pull-up jumper could emerge as an everyday weapon.
James Young, Kentucky, 6’6”, SF, Freshman
I’ve hopped aboard the James Young express early on after a promising start to his college career.
Young was a highly touted recruit out of high school, but he kind of got overshadowed by some of the bigger names in Kentucky.
It’s fairly obvious that this kid can play, with the size and physical tools to translate to the pros. He also has a two-way game that shows plenty of room for growth.
At this point, Young looks like a reliable shooter, shot-maker and finisher at the college level. With Julius Randle as Kentucky’s top option, Young is more of a complementary scorer.
And that’s what his role will be at the pro level. Young is a constant threat to score off the ball, whether it’s spotting up, slashing or getting a tip-in off a miss. But he also has the offensive talent to score opportunistically one-on-one when he’s got room to make a move.
At worst, an NBA team is getting a 6’6” wing who can stroke it, defend multiple positions and finish athletically in the open floor.
Young looks like one of the better bets not listed as an elite NBA prospect.