The 2014 NBA Draft is probably the most anticipated draft since 2007. The expectations are high, and I have tried to soberly cover the most important aspects of it over the last year.

My own opinion of this draft class is slightly different than many scouts and draft experts. I think it’s a very deep draft, but I’m not convinced that there are multiple future superstars in this class. If I had to make a guess, I would say this draft class will be more similar to the deep draft class of 1999, as opposed to the superstar-laden class of 2003.

Joel Embiid's recent injury, unfortunately, helped confirm this feeling for me. Embiid was the one guy this year that seemed almost guaranteed to be a truly dominant NBA player if he could remain healthy. But the serious injury concerns surrounding Embiid knocked him off his mantle, and lumped him together with a handful of other very promising, but not incredible, top prospects.

With Embiid’s injury concerns, there’s no longer a large gap in quality between the five best prospects at the top of this draft. You could make a sound argument for any one of them being selected first. You could also make an argument for why each one of them could turn out to be a bust.

Here’s my list of the 20 best prospects in this draft, and where I would select them, with the caveat that I don’t have any information about their medical histories or personal dispositions. So much good stuff has already been written about these players by many different people, but I have added in a few words about each prospect to point out what may not been previously stressed enough:


1. It’s exceedingly difficult to know where to rank Joel Embiid without an informed medical opinion, which I don’t have. I still rank him first, although I’m reticent to do so, because a healthy Embiid is easily the best prospect in the draft, and the equal of Anthony Davis in terms of long-term potential.

It was surprising that more people did not realize how special Embiid was during the NCAA season. He clearly has the chance to be one of the best players in the game, and an all-time great. Embiid’s skill level can best be compared to Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. No current true center in the NBA has his level of talent, and no player in this draft comes close to him in terms of upside.

But Embiid’s injury concerns are far too scary to dismiss. A broken bone in his back and foot within a few months of each other are terribly ominous signs. I don’t fear the worst, but I fear something that could be close to it. This might not be a Greg Oden scenario, but any situation at all comparable to that is mortifying to think about.

Still, Embiid is so good that even if I felt I was only going to get 5 years out of him at nearly full strength I would probably take him first. Several other prospects in this draft are exciting, but none seem to have the superstar potential that Embiid possesses. 

We have to remember that Bill Walton was an MVP and led Portland to a championship before injuries decimated his prime. Likewise, centers such as Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had fantastic careers in spite of similar medical issues. If we expect Embiid to make substantial contributions before injuries derail his career, he unquestionably should be taken first. There’s not a Kevin Durant option in this draft, like there was in 2007 alongside Oden. If Embiid’s career is relatively short, but dominant, he’s a worthy #1 selection.

But, right now, only qualified medical specialists can appropriately speculate on Embiid’s long-term health. His murky medical situation makes this draft seem strangely incomplete, because we don’t know what doctors think about his expected injury risk over the next five to ten years. Hopefully the medical prognosis is at least somewhat positive and optimistic, but if it isn’t, then Embiid is too risky to be selected with one of the first few picks.

2. Jabari Parker is probably the safest option in the draft. He’s the prospect most likely to be an excellent pro for the next 15 years. His NBA future, in contrast to Embiid’s, seems reassuring to project.

In the first month of Parker’s freshman season, he looked to be the best player in college basketball. That’s a hell of a thing for an 18 year old to pull off. He proceeded to cool off a bit, but the fact that there were sustained stretches where Parker looked like Durant 2.0, in terms of freshman dominance, is an auspicious sign.

At 6’8” and 250 pounds, Parker’s athleticism is underrated for a player his size. He’s a big kid, and his exceptional feel for the game allows him to utilize his body offensively in ways that most forwards could never dream of doing. For a young player, his offensive game is staggeringly mature, and his scoring ability is at an elite level.

Parker’s defense isn’t good, but his skill level in that area isn’t as bad as advertised. He seems to have the drive and discipline to develop into a fine defensive player. If we want to be critical of Parker’s game, it’s just as easy to be discouraged by his poor passing numbers. He only had one game in 2014 where he recorded more than one assist, despite being the focal point of the Duke offense.

Nitpicking aside, Parker seems likely to be a stellar pro, and an offensive dynamo. The biggest fear I have is that his physical superiority will not be an overwhelmingly positive factor for him in the NBA. But that seems doubtful. Parker is a safe pick, and has the most star potential in this draft besides Embiid.

3. Marcus Smart challenges Parker for being the safest pick in the draft. Smart is 225 pounds with a 6’9” wingspan, and there are not many point guards in the NBA who can match him physically. Smart is a thick, strong guard who likes to defend and score by using his strength and size. That’s a hell of a skill to have when you’re that big, and it translates perfectly to the next level.

Defensively, Smart terrorized teams with his aggressive play at Oklahoma State. His rebounding and steal numbers are exceptional for a point guard. Offensively, his forceful aggression sometimes seemed reckless and unsettling for a floor general – but frankly, his bulldozer mentality worked well most of the time.

The main concern with Smart is whether he’s a point guard. I think he is. I also think he’ll grow into the position the way Chauncey Billups did, and gradually become a more refined offensive decision maker. But Smart should be a defensive monster right out of the gate, and be able to defend both guard positions effectively. While his game might appear aesthetically rough, Smart is likely to be an All-Star some day for that very reason.

4. Andrew Wiggins doesn’t look like the superstar he was purported to be, coming out of high school. That’s not a bad thing, just reality. Wiggins’ freshman year at Kansas was decent, but rarely spectacular. He put up solid numbers and had some big games, but there were few glimpses of sustained dominance like we saw with Embiid and Parker.

But Wiggins’ athleticism is legit. This is a superior athlete, even in an NBA setting. The question going forward is how well Wiggins will be able to use his exceptional physical abilities against pro players. He projects to be an excellent on-ball defender, and his explosiveness should allow him to score at a respectable rate. But will he ever be a consistently dominant force offensively? His freshman year showed no signs of that, even with all the athletic skills.

I think Wiggins will have a good career, but he’ll probably be a player more in the mold of Michael Finley than Tracy McGrady. The scary thing is that if his offensive game fails to develop much, which is possible, then Wiggins might not be all that impactful. With the first or second pick in the draft, that’s a substantial risk to be taking. 

5. Dante Exum is mainly considered a top-tier prospect because he played very well against the best players in his age group last summer. That’s not a bad thing, but also not an ideal way to gauge a prospect that could be picked in the top three.

The general consensus that Exum is an elite prospect comes from those limited minutes against adequate competition, and the hope that he could be a huge 6’5” point guard in the NBA. So it’s difficult for me to rank Exum higher than here. The less I know, the more worried I become.

If Exum’s quickness, scoring touch and sense of the floor have been overstated because of the predominately weak competition he usually played against, we might be looking at a player who’s not as good as we expect.

But Exum’s positives are truly encouraging – he seems to have natural scoring ability, and his size is exceptional. I certainly can’t blame a team for selecting him early, especially if they have done their homework, but the unknown quality surrounding Exum is unnerving. Nonetheless, I like his chances of becoming a very good pro guard, and maybe a star.

6. Kyle Anderson is an exciting and unique prospect because of his passing ability. The “slow” pace of his game is much more of a plus than a minus – offensively he just breaks down his defender with his size and court vision and, defensively, his large frame allows him to cover the floor more nimbly than he’s credited for.

Anderson’s numbers are borderline outrageous for a 6’8” player – 15 points, 9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game this year at UCLA. Players this big rarely can pass the ball like Anderson has proven he can. If a team can’t utilize his special skills in the NBA, it’s probably more of coaching issue than anything else. Anderson should have a long, solid career.

7. Like Anderson, his teammate at UCLA, Jordan Adams put up very impressive statistics in college. Considered non-athletic, he averaged 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3 assists per 40 minutes this season. Those numbers are simply superior to most shooting guards who are usually considered top prospects, and imply Adams' athleticism is better than advertised.

He might not end up being an amazing pro, but that is what the numbers indicate Adams should be. I trust the numbers enough to think at the very least he should be significantly productive at the next level.

8. Elfrid Payton has been rising up draft boards because of reportedly excellent workouts, but based on numbers alone he deserves to be selected in the top ten. Like Smart, Payton is an aggressive point guard who scores, rebounds and defends well.

Payton played at Louisiana-Lafayette, so questions about the competition he faced are valid, but advanced metrics peg him as one of the better point guard prospects of the last few years. The numbers could be wrong, but like in Adams’ case, they’re probably not completely wrong. Payton’s shooting stroke is dubious, but there’s enough promise in his game to overlook the flaws and select him early in the first round.

9. Relatively unproven, Clint Capela is an intriguing European prospect. At 6’10”, with freakish jumping ability and a huge wingspan, there are moments where Capela could be mistaken for a Swiss version of young Amare Stoudemire. That such a resemblance is there makes Capela deserving of being selected in the lottery.

Visceral explosiveness is one of the more intriguing skills a big man can have, and Capela has it. His numbers are solid and what you would expect – he scores well close to the basket, rebounds strongly, and blocks shots. Capela is raw, and maybe not ready for the NBA. But his upside is tremendously high, and that can’t be dismissed.

10. For such a young player, Aaron Gordon is an incredibly impressive defender. He led the NCAA in defensive win shares this year. However, I’m worried that his offense might never come close to his defense in the NBA, when he faces other elite athletes night after night.

Gordon is bigger, but he reminds me of how Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was considered as a prospect. Kidd-Gilchrist is clearly an excellent NBA defender, but there’s a good chance he will never develop into much more than that. Gordon has a higher upside than Kidd-Gilchrist – he’s both a great leaper and passer for his size – but his lack of offensive touch and shooting ability makes me doubtful he will become a star. Nonetheless, he seems likely to be a solid player in the league.


11. A renowned prospect in the Adriatic League the past few seasons, Dario Saric has already proven that he’s a hell of a player at high levels of European basketball, an impressive feat for a 20 year old. Unfortunately, he’ll be staying across the pond for at least another two years, which has to be considered a legitimate drawback for whatever team drafts him.
 

A 6’9” forward with excellent court awareness and ball-handling skills, Saric has the intelligence and physical skills necessary to affect all facets of the game. He possesses the flexibility for his position, an attribute you ideally want a forward to have. Saric can score, rebound, pass and defend, all at an above average level. The main concern is whether his European success will translate into NBA success, but with his all-encompassing game, there seems a strong chance it will. Despite not coming to the NBA for a few years, Saric deserves to be selected early.

12. Standing 6’11”, 280 pounds, Josuf Nurkic is one of the toughest prospects to gauge in this draft. The reason for that is in Europe, and specifically the Adriatic League, there simply are not many big men with the vertical explosiveness to effectively defend a player of Nurkic’s size. In the NBA, that will be a different story. 

Nurkic’s thrives in playing a horizontal game, not a vertical one, and in Europe it has served him well. For a 19 year old he has a terrific offensive arsenal, and a real feel for how to score. His PER against decent competition is exceptional. 

But Nurkic is not a leaper, and his girth might prove to be much less of a tool when he goes against the best athletes in the world. I fear we might be looking at a player more like Bryant “Big Country” Reeves than Nikola Peković. That is a risk worth taking in the lottery, however, because if Nurkic can figure out how to use his body against NBA big men, he could be a fantastic center. 


13. After being dismissed from UNC, P.J. Hairston lit up the D-League this year, averaging 22 points a game over 26 contests. I consider this an accomplishment with merit, because the D-League has more athletic, mature defenders than the NCAA.

Hairston’s draft journey to this point has been unusual, and I don’t pretend to know the gritty details (frankly, I doubt most NBA teams even know them.) Regardless, Hairston is a 6’5”, 230 pound shooting guard – his physical package and scoring skills alone warrant him being selected in the lottery, no matter what path he took to get here.


14. Noah Vonleh is another young freshman with impressive size. He rebounds very well, and has shown a touch from the perimeter. But there is something awkward about his game, and that seems unlikely to go away. When compared to Capela’s fluidity, Vonleh often seems stuck in quicksand, and he turns the ball over too much.

However, because he’s only 18, it’s easy to see Vonleh outgrow some of his awkwardness and become a more refined player, particularly offensively. Like with Gordon, though, I’m skeptical about him being able to evolve to the point where his game becomes complete enough for him to be considered a star forward. There are too many players in the NBA with similar skills for that to likely happen.

15. At 6’9”, 240 pounds, with a 7’4” wingspan, Adreian Payne certainly has the look of an effective NBA big man. The 23 year old stayed four years at Michigan State under Tom Izzo, and in this case, that can be seen as a positive as much as a negative.

Because of his maturity, Payne sometimes seemed a man against boys this season (for instance, he scored 41 points in 24 minutes in Michigan State’s first game of the NCAA tournament.) To what extent his physical dominance will translate to the next level is questionable, but the fact that he developed a perimeter game at his size means that Payne’s upside is probably higher than most people think. I might have him ranked too low.

16. T.J. Warren is one of those fun players who scores profusely in college. When you average 25 points a game in the ACC, as a 6’8” sophomore forward, you deserve draft attention.

The problem for Warren is whether his innate scoring ability will be enough to carry him to serious NBA success. While he has been magnificent at putting the ball in the basket, nothing else about Warren’s game tends to stand out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make you pause. Warren rebounds, defends and shoots threes at only an adequate level. In college, that was fine. In the NBA, I’m not so sure it will be, but am looking forward to finding how Warren develops as a pro.

17. Considered one of the top prospects in the draft by some people, Julius Randle strikes me as a grinding power forward in the pros. That’s a useful player to have on your team, but not worthy of a top 10 pick, especially if reports of a medical issue in his foot are valid.

Randle’s strongest skill is his tenacity. He’s bullish on the glass, and likewise will force his way to the hoop to score. But he’s not long for a power forward, and players like him - who don’t block many shots or collect many steals in college - usually are not good pros. Randle’s numbers in those two categories is very low, and a legitimate reason for concern.

18. At 7’5”, 360 pounds, Sim Bhullar is literally the huge sleeper in this draft, and his main problem is that he may never be given a real chance to showcase his skills in the NBA.

Players of Bhullar’s size are rare, and they affect the geometry of games in ways that are hard to calculate. Having that much size in the middle of the floor is disruptive in any level of basketball, including the NBA. However, scouts seem to ignore this fact to focus on his negative qualities, so Bhullar might go undrafted.

Averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 assists per 40 minutes this season for New Mexico State, Bhullar has an excellent sense of the court for a player his size. He is a sufficiently skilled big man, not an unrefined project. In the NBA, he should still be able to regularly overpower players, and be a consistent force in the middle of the paint, as long as his minutes are kept in check. With his physical makeup, Bhullar does not need to play 25 minutes a night to be a highly useful part of a roster. He could be an ideal bench piece for a team that knows how to take advantage of size and floor spacing. 

19. Russ Smith is the opposite of Bhullar – he’s considered a bit too small to be taken seriously as a guard in the NBA. But such thinking strikes me at foolish – at 6’0”, 160 pounds Smith is indeed small, but there are other effective small players in the league.

Players like Earl Boykins, Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas have taught us that it’s unwise to undervalue small guards who have elite skills such as Smith. His career at Louisville was illustrious and, as it went on, Smith evolved into being more of a playmaker than just a pure scorer. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, he has been the best college basketball player in the country in each of the last two seasons.

Smith should be able provide instant offense and defense off a NBA team’s bench. My only concern with his size is the possibly heightened injury risk, but that concern is minor. Smith will likely be a second round steal.

20. K.J. McDaniels is another great athlete. He blocked almost 3 shots per game last year for Clemson, despite being only 6’5”, 195 pounds. That’s an impressive feat, and a prime example of a prospect proving his athleticism in a tangible way on the stat sheet.

The hope with McDaniels is that his superior leaping ability and speed will translate into a defensive prowess in the pros, and that his offense can be carried along with it. He’s skinny and perhaps without a defined position, but reportedly has the work effort and motor to make up for those shortcomings. His improvements during his junior season at Clemson helps back up those claims.


 
 

As someone who strongly believes in the 80/20 rule and how it applies to successful NBA roster building, at first glance the NBA champion Spurs seem to be a bit of an exception. But, on closer examination, they really aren't. 

Instead of having two or three great players to carry most of the load, the Spurs have four (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili.) And because they have four great players, each one of them is not required to play as many minutes as "normal" star players, or do quite as much on the floor.

Since 2012 we have all been lauding San Antonio's balanced system - the fluidity of the offense, the still formidable defense, the minutes allotment, the perfect complementary bench pieces, the incredible coaching, etc. It's been a pleasure to behold. It's also very hard to pull off, especially in regards to chemistry. There is a reason no other organization has successfully replicated it. 

I do not think San Antonio's feats are an exception to 80/20 rules as much as a perfectly balanced amalgam of them. Although this "current version" of the Spurs has won only one championship, they have been the best NBA team over the last three seasonsThey have done it by still having great players, and simultaneously making subtle team management decisions better than everybody else. It is difficult not to be impressed, and even more difficult to imitate.

 
 

One of the things I like about the 2014 NBA Draft is the amount of prospects that seem to have a good chance of becoming All-Stars. That has probably been why there has been so much talk about it being a "top heavy" draft. The 2014 Draft seemingly has more potential stars than any other draft class this decade. 

Whether it actually turns out that way, of course, is anyone's guess. 


But the top prospects in this draft look promising, and this is what I mean when I say that: there are seven players in this class that I think have at least a 50% chance of appearing in an All-Star game someday. 

By comparison, in the 2013 Draft I only thought Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter fit that criteria. And in the 2012 and 2011 Drafts, respectively, I thought only Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving fit that bill.

So seven prospects with at least a 50/50 shot of becoming an All-Star is a lot of talent, and a big upgrade compared to the last few drafts.

A healthy Joel Embiid is easily the best prospect in this class, but then there are six other players that I deem to be very promising. Really, not much has changed in regards to the top prospects since the beginning of 2014. There are still the same four top players after Embiid: Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum. I have a hard time deciding who I like best out of that group of four after Embiid; they are all close to each other in my eyes.

 
Then we have the two UCLA guys: Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. They seem likely to both be drafted much lower than they deserve, particularly Adams. Anderson and Adams should prove interesting studies, because the advanced stats community has largely endorsed them as lottery picks since their freshman year at UCLA, but most scouts have never held them in such high regard. I expect them both to be very good NBA players, and potential first round steals.

Besides Embiid, none of the top prospects scream "superstar" to me, and there is a good chance that at least one of them is a bust, but still there is a lot to like about the top of this draft. Seven excellent prospects is quite a bounty.

 
 

This year's rookie class caught a lot of flak for being really bad, but the truth is that the long-term outlook of the 2013 NBA Draft class is significantly better than most people think. This is certainly the case in terms of star potential, when judged through the objective lens of PER.

Obviously, the top of the draft was largely a disaster, as I went over last month. But Nerlens Noel is still likely going to be an excellent NBA player, and the same can be said of Victor Oladipo. My guess is both those guys end up being All-Stars, and the top players from this draft. 

But there are other players that showed real long-term promise. The important thing to remember is that every draft (yes, even the 2000 Draft) ends up producing at least 3 All-Stars, and there is no reason to think that this draft class will be any different.

Michael Carter-Williams had an erratic but exciting rookie campaign, and finished with a solid 15.5 PER.  Meanwhile, Trey Burke's 12.6 PER was slightly below the benchmark I like to see - but since he is a promising young point guard his mediocre PER is more forgivable. It seems quite possible that Carter-Williams or Burke could play in an All-Star game some day.


There were also several rookie big men who put up decent to exceptional numbers in limited minutes. The most impressive of the bunch was Mason Plumlee, who had one of the best rookie years - in terms of PER -  that we have seen in the last decade. If he can continue to have such efficiency when his minutes increase, Plumlee will become a very valuable player.

Gorgui Dieng, Kelly Olynyk and Jeff Withey also posted 15+ PERs and showed flashes of excellence. Obviously, all three of these players could go either way at this point, but in all likelihood at least one of them will have a good NBA career.

And we have said nothing of other potentially solid NBA players like Steven Adams, Nate Wolters, Tim Hardaway, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rudy Gobert - just to name a few. 

The jury is still out on most young players in their first and second years in the league. If they do not hit the 15/13 PER rookie benchmark they are unlikely to ever become exceptional, but they can still have substantive value somewhere down the line. A few unmentioned rookies that we hardly noticed this year are likely to "come out of nowhere" sooner or later (look at what Troy Daniels did for Houston the other night.) 

Improvement in the NBA, for the large majority of its players, is an interesting and somewhat random thing. So much is based on timing and the system a player finds himself in. Only the truly exceptional players seem to be able to rise above this fact consistently. But there will be other guys from the 2013 Draft class that surely will end up having a sizable NBA impact, we just don't know who they are yet.

Probably the rookie with the hardest expectations to fill going forward will be Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak started the season so well that he got everybody in the NBA excited, but as  Harlan Schreiber skillfully pointed out, his low PER tells another story. The Bucks might be wise to try to trade Antetokounmpo this Summer, when his value is probably at its highest (obviously that is unlikely to happen.) 

Ten years from now the 2013 NBA Draft will likely to be regarded as having been relatively weak, but not an outright disaster like the 2000 Draft. However, it does not appear as promising as the 2014 Draft. I will talk more about that subject soon. 

 
 

As we gear up for the playoffs - the "real" NBA season - I think once again of the same old question: what did the regular season really teach us about who the best teams are? Before the '13-'14 regular season began, I figured it was likely that Miami would win the Eastern Conference Finals, and probably be the slight favorite to win the Finals.

I figured out west that OKC was probably the slight favorite to win the Western Conference Finals, but that the Clippers, Spurs and maybe even Houston would be serious contenders as well.

And that still looks to be the case. Despite showing us many small details, the '13-'14 regular season clarified nothing as to who truly the best teams are. The playoffs will show us the truth. It should be fun to watch.

 
 

Joel Embiid’s back injury is obviously a concern, but nonetheless I have been surprised that many 2014 NBA mock drafts now have Andrew Wiggins and/or Jabari Parker being drafted ahead of Embiid.

This is a blatant overreaction to an injury we know little about.

Yes, any type of back injury is serious, but Matt McCarthy did a good job putting Embiid’s injury in context and pointing out that just because past big men have seen back injuries hamper their careers does not mean the same thing is destined to happen to Embiid.

Andre Drummond recovered nicely from a similar back issue last year, and nobody seems overly concerned about his NBA future.  Embiid probably has an even higher upside than Drummond, and that means he should be the first pick in June - unless a legitimate red flag is raised by NBA doctors. Hopefully this does not happen.

The current Embiid situation, of course, brings back images of Nerlens Noel falling all the way down to the sixth pick in the 2013 Draft.  At the time, frankly, most of us were so shocked to see Noel drop that far that we just kind of acknowledged the insanity of it and quickly moved on.  But Noel’s fall to 6th – when he should have been taken 1st - was truly stunning.

Noel’s momentous drop looks more horrible today than it did on draft night – even though Noel still has not played a game.  The players taken before Noel, with the exception of Victor Oladipo, are worse than we thought.

Meanwhile, despite his injury, Noel still is probably going to be an excellent NBA player. We will give Orlando a pass – for now - but the other four teams that bypassed Noel at the top of the 2013 Draft clearly made drafting mistakes. Let’s look at the players, besides Oladipo, that were embarrassingly taken ahead of Noel: 

-Anthony Bennett has been bombarded endlessly for his futile rookie season, and the criticism is warranted.  Number one picks cannot have a single digit PER.  It’s inexcusable.  Bennett certainly may become a useful NBA player, but when you are drafted that high you need to turn into a star.  Otherwise you are a bust. Barring an unprecedented turnaround in production, Bennett is a bust.

-Many people, including myself, were high on Otto Porter before the draft. I thought he would make an All-Star game or two. And while I firmly believed the Wizards should have selected Noel at #3, I at least saw where Washington was coming from when they took Porter.

But Porter’s rookie season has been a disaster.  He was injured at the start of the season, and when he returned Randy Wittman never gave him consistent playing time.  Wittman is a lousy coach, and certainly should have played Porter much more than he has, but nonetheless Porter has looked overmatched when he has been on the floor.  His PER is lower than Bennett’s.  He might bounce back next year if he gets more playing time, but it’s highly doubtful he will ever make an All-Star game appearance.

-Charlotte drafting Cody Zeller at #4 over Noel seemed like a cruel joke when it happened, and it still does. Zeller is not bad, but he will probably never be very good, either. His talent level is significantly inferior to Noel’s. This was an inexcusable pick by the Bobcats.

-The same thing can be said about Phoenix’s selection of Alex Len at #5 over Noel.  I’m sorry, but you cannot give Ryan McDonough executive of the year when he decides to select Len over Noel. Len also has a single digit PER, and if you are wondering why I am stressing PER so much it’s because it is the most important stat to gauge a rookie player’s future chances at stardom.

So Nerlens Noel, still likely to be a future NBA All-Star, was passed over five times.  Four of the players picked before him appear to be on their way to bustdom. And New Orleans, the team that drafted Noel sixth, immediately traded him and a future first rounder for Jrue Holiday in the misguided hopes of making the playoffs (that was another absolutely terrible move.)

The top of the 2013 NBA Draft proved once again that most NBA front offices know nothing special about drafting.  Nerlens Noel never - never - should have fallen out of the top three. His drop to 6th was part of some of the craziest, and most incompetent, drafting in recent history.


 
 

I wrote a few words for B/R on how the NBA can make tanking obsolete, with ease. Click here to read it.

 
 

I have a new article up on B/R about Andrew Wiggins, and why we should stop trusting high school scouting reports when it comes to NBA superstar potential. I will admit I swooned over Wiggins like everybody else last August -there was so much positive hype surrounding his potential I just kind of assumed Wiggins would inevitably be the #1 prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft.

I was wrong, and I don't plan on making assumptions like that about high school players again, especially if they are guards or swingmen. If you want to have some perverse fun, check out RSCI's ranking of the best high school prospects every year since 1998, via DraftExpress.

 
 

I have something new up on B/R about how great Joel Embiid is as a prospect. Equally interesting is how this draft is shaping up once we get through the much publicized cream of the crop. 

There are no "sure things" in this draft after Embiid - which isn't a criticism, but obviously needs to be acknowledged. As great as Jabari Parker has often looked his freshman year, his passing and defensive numbers have only been adequate, and there is a chance that his physical superiority will not be an overriding positive factor for him as a pro. I still think Parker will be a wonderful NBA player, but there is a chance he will only be good, and never great. 

The same goes for Andrew Wiggins, even more so. There is nothing statistically that screams "star" when you look at Wiggins' numbers. I expect him to be an excellent NBA player, but would hardly be surprised if he stumbles, despite his exceptional physical skills.

Things get murkier outside the top 3. Everybody seems to think Dante Exum will be great - but there is relatively little to judge him by. That makes him an obvious risk, albeit a risk probably worth taking once the aforementioned players are off the board. Meanwhile, Marcus Smart has had an up and down sophomore year - but he still reminds me enough of Chauncey Billups to be taken early. 

After those five top guys, this draft starts getting fun and very unclear. It is difficult to peg who the next five or ten best prospects are - it seems quite likely that a few future All-Stars will drop in a draft class like this one. The ten million dollar question, obviously, is who are those players? It's very difficult to say, but the incomparable Ed Weiland recently highlighted some excellent candidates. Players like Delon Wright, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams seem like prime options to be late first round/second round steals.

There apparently is a lot of talent in this draft. It will be interesting to see how much of it ends up coming from the very top, and how much flows down to the rest of the first and second round. Right now, I have no idea - and that's an exciting thing.

 
 

The 2014 NBA Draft was supposed to be one for the ages - and it still may be - but the perception of the upcoming draft has shifted over the past month.  Andrew Wiggins is no longer considered the surefire #1 pick, and his somewhat passive play has raised concerns about his long-term potential. Jabari Parker played incredibly well the first six weeks of the season, but lately his production has slipped. Joel Embiid has emerged as another strong candidate to be picked first, but he often gets in foul trouble, which means he sees limited minutes on the floor.

What does all of this mean?  Only that the 2014 NBA Draft will maybe stop having quite as much hyperbole swirling around it. But the truth of the matter is that this draft still looks great.

It was rather surreal to see Wiggins, Parker and Julius Randle tear up college basketball the first few weeks of the season, but it was only sensible to expect that those moments would not last all year long. Especially when discussing young freshman prospects, what we see in college is usually only a partial glimpse of what the best prospects will become.

Wiggins has not been a dominant force for Kansas, but that doesn't mean he will fail to become a great NBA player. Not all top freshman prospects are as dominant as Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant were. And even if no superstars come out of this draft, it hardly means it will be a bad draft class.

The 1999 NBA Draft produced nine All-Stars and was a great draft, yet no one player became a perennial first team All-NBA player. Similarly, the 2001 Draft produced eight All-Stars, with its best players probably being Pau Gasol and Tony Parker. You don't need top-tier superstars in a draft for it to be excellent.

The point is that the 2014 NBA Draft will probably be very good - it has many auspicious signs - and we shouldn't let uneven play from the top freshman prospects shake our perception of it too much.  Freshman are inherently uneven performers, and there will be many freshman prospects in the upcoming draft.

There is another equally compelling reason to be just as excited about the 2014 Draft now as there was two months ago: Embiid looks like the best pure center prospect since Greg Oden in 2007. This is a huge deal, and is not being discussed enough.

Embiid is truly a great prospect, and any disappointment about Wiggins should be dispelled by the wonderful surprise that Embiid has been as a player. If anything, between Embiid and Parker's exceptional starts, the top of this draft looks more promising than at the beginning of the season.

 



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