After a couple months of play the numbers are starting to pile up. While “legendary” might be a tad premature, I think we can call the 2014 draft promising at this point. It still could go either way, but I like the mix of freshmen and returning players enough to think that at least a few star prospects will emerge.
Drafts are about producing superstars though and that was the original appeal of the 2014 class going into the season. There were 2 players that had been compared to LeBron James as high schoolers. As it turns out there probably aren’t 2 LeBrons in this draft. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins look more similar to Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay right now. Please don’t take either comp too seriously, as it’s very early in the career of both players and Anthony and Gay are both having really bad years.
This top 60ish includes players from the groups I consider worth watching. The prospects are listed within their groups in order of how much I like them as prospects. The groups are listed in order of how likely it is players from such groups emerge as prospects. It is too early in the process and there’s too much still to be learned in the conference games to go with a straight 1-60 list. That will come in a month.
Top Freshmen and Sophomores
These 5 are the top tier of the draft at this early point in the process. The 4 freshmen have come in and done everything one would want out of a top prospect. The one sophomore has continued where he left off after a great freshman year.
Jabari Parker, SF Duke: None of the hyped freshmen have come in and dominated like Parker has. He’s scoring the ball at a ridiculously high level. He rebounds well for his position. His passing and defense are both solid. There’s nothing not to like here, making Parker the easy choice as the top prospect in the 2014 draft as the conference schedules start. My only concern with Parker is that as a player with such high usage, his efficiency could fall off the cliff as the season progresses. That will be something to watch. Should he maintain his current levels, he’ll make a great pro.
Joel Embiid, C Kansas: Embiid has a chance to emerge as the top overall pick. The reason being he’s a center and those remain the most difficult asset to find, making him more valuable. He does commit a lot of fouls and that is something he’ll have to correct.
Andrew Wiggins, SF Kansas: The most hyped incoming freshman has had a fairly ordinary start. His talent, especially the quickness is obvious to anyone who has watched him play. Because of that talent and the fact his stats have been trending up slightly I’m not ready to dump Wiggins from the top echelon yet. He does need to improve though.
Noah Vonleh, PF Indiana: Good player. Right now his only issue is the same fouling issues that have plagued Embiid. He’s promising offensively and he could stand to improve his defense.
Jordan Adams, SG UCLA: I have no idea what it will take for this guy to get some appreciation from the mocks. He scores often and efficiently. He has NBA size. His high steals and low turnover rate suggest a dominant player who will be great in the NBA. He has done all this for a couple of seasons now, the first despite the presence of Ben Howland and Shabazz Muhammad. Expect a slow climb to the lottery for Adams, but he’ll get there.
Sophomores getting it done so far
These 3 are off to great starts, but my concern is that they’ll revert to issues they had as freshmen and the red flags will start popping up. If they continue with the great play, they’ll move into the top group.
Kyle Anderson, Power Point Stretch 3/4 Forward UCLA: Last year Anderson was a guy who did everything but score. He didn’t score very often and wasn’t efficient when he did. So far this year he has been solid offensively while keeping up his great passing, rebound and defensive numbers. If he keeps the offense going, Kyle Anderson is a scary good prospect.
Marcus Smart, G Oklahoma State: You’d probably say I’ve had one foot on and one off his bandwagon until now. He is off to a nice start as a soph. He’s been more of a SG than a PG this year and I feel that suits him better. He’s scoring a lot more often and efficiently while passing less. He remains the lock down defender he’s always been.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C Kentucky: Right now Cauley-Stein just might be the best prospect at Kentucky. He has certainly had the best start. I like how he has embraced his role as a superstar energy player who doesn’t need to score to be valuable, going so far as to copy the hairdo of the best ever such player. As a shot blocker and rebounder he’s gone from decent to excellent.
Dante Exum, G Australia: I’ve looked as his numbers from all-star games and tournaments and see no reason to doubt his status as an elite prospect.
Dario Saric, PF Cibona Zagreb: Saric has improved a lot this season, looking like a legit late lottery pick as a stretch 4.
Next tier Freshmen and Sophomores
These players haven’t been on the level of the top group. They have shown enough promise and still have the upside that comes with youth. They also have some numbers that make them scary propositions as lottery picks right now. This is a good middle ground for such prospects going into the conference schedules.
Tyler Ennis, PG Syracuse: Ennis has looked dominant at times and is the top player in this tier. He’s been a great passer and his 3.4 S40 is a great number for a PG prospect. His offense has been weak, which keeps him out of the top group.
Montrezl Harrell, PF Louisville
Julius Randle, PF Kentucky: Of all the hyped freshmen, Randle is the most likely to tumble out of the lottery by draft day. The reason is his defensive numbers are just bad. An SB40 of 1.1 posted against a non-conference schedule is more of a blaring siren than a red flag. Randle is a solid rebounder and scorer, though his efficiency is slipping to dangerously low levels. Right now it is best to say that Julius Randle has some work to do if he’s ever going to justify his place near the top of the mocks.
Shawn Long, PF Louisiana-Lafayette: He was looking good as a freshman last year before his efficiency fell off the table. He’s even better this year at the same point as a soph.
Aaron Gordon, F Arizona: His numbers show some promise, but little dominance. He seems like a tweener and while that’s not such a bad thing any longer, it isn’t a player that should be looked at with a top 5 pick.
Nigel Williams-Goss, PG Washington: He’s had an impressive start for a frosh PG, but lacks the eye-popping numbers Ennis has put up.
Jordan Mickey, PF LSU: He’s like Williams-Goss in that there’s little that blows me away here, but he meets all the minimum requirements at this early point.
Gary Harris, SG Michigan State: He’s done a nice job improving his game to get to this point. He didn’t look very good as a freshman and he still could regress, but so far he’s playing up to the hype.
Aaron Harrison, SG Kentucky: The Kentucky freshmen haven’t exactly blown me away. Aaron Harrison has been good enough to get into this tier, but he’s even shaky. I wonder if any of these guys would have been better off enrolling elsewhere where there weren’t so many super prospects in the way.
Brandon Ashley, F Arizona: A very similar player to teammate Gordon, but a year older and not quite as good.
Brice Johnson, PF North Carolina: Johnson can be a terror on the boards and defensively, but he is also foul-prone and has trouble getting much PT because of it.
Zach Levine, SG UCLA: He’s not in the class of teammates Adams and Anderson, but he has shown enough that he might emerge once he’s out of their shadows.
Two Transfer PGs to watch
Delon Wright, PG Utah: The brother of Dorrell, Delon Wright spent a couple seasons at City College of San Francisco before transferring to Utah. He has good size at 6’5” and has put up numbers of an elite PG prospect so far. Best to wait for a month of conference play before going too overboard, but Delon Wright will be in the lottery if this level of play continues.
Devin Brooks, PG Creighton: Brooks has also posted some stellar numbers after coming to Creighton from Iowa Western. The biggest negative for Brooks so far is he’s been a part-time player, averaging only 17 minutes per game. As is the case with Wright, best to let some minutes and numbers accumulate against better quality competition before going too over board. With both players the numbers are difficult to ignore though and if they keep coming we’re looking at a couple of potential stars here.
Finished or just getting started
These are 3 very good prospects who are having a tough time getting on the court this year. McGary and Hairston are done and Moreland is just getting it going.
Mitch McGary, PF Michigan: Out for the season after back surgery. McGary had continued the type of play that made him a likely mid-first rounder. My assumption will be that he’s coming back for his junior year and his name will be omitted from these pieces unless I hear otherwise. We all hope for a speedy and successful recovery.
PJ Hairston, SG North Carolina: Hairston’s case is a tough one to watch. He was starting to get it late last year and had emerged as a top SG prospect. He made some mistakes over the summer which cost him the season. The year off won’t help him, but he is a first round talent.
Eric Moreland, PF Oregon State: Moreland had been one of my favorites last year due to his strong rebounding and defensive numbers. There are some legitimate questions about him as a prospect though, mainly to do with his offense and the fact that so few others are impressed with him. This ranking is based on his play last year. He’s finally on the court following a 14-game suspension to start the season.
Junior and Seniors getting it done so far
It isn’t uncommon for veteran NCAA players to start fast before regressing back to their career norms once the games get a little tougher and the hot streaks have had time to cool. But every now and then one will continue with the stellar play into the tournament and such players have to be given their due as prospects. Here are 8 such players to keep an eye on going into the conference schedules.
TaShawn Thomas, F Houston: Thomas has been close has a prospect for a couple of years and may finally be putting things together. He’s an undersized PF at 6’8” 215 lbs. Top strength is shot blocking.
Russ Smith, PG Louisville: He has done a great job of re-inventing himself as a PG after learning last year that there was little interest in a 6’0” SG at the next level. He’s also scoring more efficiently than ever. Kudos to Smith for making a smart adjustment to his game.
DeAndre Kane, PG Iowa State: Spent 3 years at Marshall before transferring. At Marshall he was always a good passing/defense PG whose offense came up short. This year he’s shooting less, but has been much more efficient. He has good size at 6’4”, but is older than most prospects, turning 25 before the draft.
Amir Williams, C Ohio State: Williams has put up some solid numbers in low minutes for a couple of years. As a junior he’s getting more PT and has continued to post solid numbers. The bad news is he’s still at less than 24 minutes per game and his numbers were better in November than December.
Sean Kilpatrick, SG Cincinnati: He’s just doing what he’s done the previous 3 seasons, with just enough of an increase to consider him a late first round prospect.
Kendrick Perry, PG Youngstown State: Same as Kilpatrick. He’s a senior who has always been solid, but his numbers so far have enough of an uptick that he deserves a mention as a prospect.
Jordan Bachynski, C Arizona State: Bachynski landed in the same spot on this list last year, before fading during the PAC-12 schedule.
Cady Lalanne, C Massachussetts: Another junior big off to a great start.
The Super Role Players
These players are very good at one thing and may find a niche because of it. They’re not complete players, but are worth keeping an eye on.
Doug McDermott, SG Creighton: We’re all familiar with him. He’s back with the same high volume/efficiency offense act with nothing in the way of passing and defense.
Shannon Scott, PG Ohio State and Briante Weber, PG Virginia Commonwealth: Similar players. The big strength is defense. Both also have passing numbers most PG prospects would die for. Neither has ever shown much offensive ability.
Nik Stauskas, SG Michigan: Steve Kerr and Hubert Davis beat the odds by playing long NBA careers despite posting weak defensive numbers in college. They did this by becoming super-effective 3-point shooters. Stauskas looks like the same type. He’s a super-efficient scorer with a very low turnover rate.
Alec Brown, C Green Bay: Number-wise he might be the oddest of oddballs. Brown isn’t a good rebounder for a 7-footer and has struggled to hit over 50% of his 2-pointers during his career, both big negatives for a center. He is a solid shot-blocker and he has drilled the 3-pointer at over 40% for 2 years now. Is he worth a look as a rim protector on defense and a stretch 4 on offense? Maybe.
The Best of the Rest
Derrick Marks, G Boise State: Marks is the more complete player and better prospect of Boise’s 2 high scoring guards even though Anthony Drmic is the leading scorer.
Jarrod Uthoff, F Iowa: He transferred from Wisconsin following a redshirt freshman year. He had to sit another year following the transfer. He appears to have been worth the wait. Uthoff has a real nice all-around game. The Hawkeyes have a loaded front court so he could have trouble getting starter minutes this year.
Alex Hamilton, PG Louisiana Tech: He’s killing it as a soph, following a very uninspiring freshman year. He’ll move up the board if he can keep it going.
Cameron Ridley, C Texas: The one time top 10 prospect is starting to show some signs of life.
Mike Moser, F Oregon: Moser is at his 3rd stop now and is making the most of it. He has flashed a lot of different skills during his odyssey and this year his 3-pointer is dropping at a 37% clip. As a smallish PF that’s a big deal. He is a 5th year senior.
Tymell Murphy, SF Florida International: Murphy is on his second stellar season at FIU following a transfer from JC. The versatile forward has been good enough this year to merit consideration. The negative is he’s 6’5”, which is small for a forward.
Taylor Braun, SG North Dakota State: Solid 4-year player who has dialed up his numbers just enough as a senior.
Sim Bhullar, C New Mexico State: Listed at 7’5” 360 lbs, Bhullar is nothing if not a presence. He’s also a decent rebounder, an excellent shot blocker and a guy who is able to put the ball in the basket at a very efficient rate. The weight is a concern. Very tall guys are prone to leg and foot injuries even if they’re fit. With Bhullar there has to be a point where it is worth it to take a flyer in the hope he can drop a lot of the weight. It isn’t like he’s just some big guy who needs to be molded into a basketball player. He’s already a reasonably productive college player.
Jalen Jackson, SG Central Arkansas: Jackson is a freshman off to a very impressive start. I’m not going to go overboard on him just yet. One reason is the Bears returning star, LaQuentin Miles just rejoined the team and his presence could affect Jackson’s numbers. The other is it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be in the 2014 draft discussion as a freshman. I did want to give him a mention though, because he looks very good. We’ll see how his season plays out before making too much of his start.
Shabazz Napier, PG Connecticut: Napier has done a good job improving his prospectworthiness over the past couple of years. He’s still marginal, but the fact he improved is a good thing in itself.
Adreian Payne, PF-C Michigan State
Brendan Lane, PF Pepperdine: Lane is a 5th-year senior off to a great start. He transferred to Pepperdine following 3 years on the UCLA bench. He was never anywhere near this good at UCLA.
John Brown, F High Point
Aaron Craft, PG Ohio State: A good passer/defender, Craft is back to being a low-volume scorer after his efficiency took a dive with more offensive responsibility last year.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State: An undersized PF who might have enough skills to make it as a SF. There’s a lot of good basketball going to be played in Iowa this winter.
Khem Birch, PF UNLV: Birch has regressed some following a promising first season at UNLV. He remains a good shot blocker but he only recently got his FG pct above 50%.
LeBryan Nash, SF Oklahoma State
Jordan McRae, SG Tennessee
Alex Kirk, C New Mexico
Brendan Dawson, F Michigan State
Alan Williams, F UC-Santa Barbara
Isaiah Austin, C Baylor: As horrendous as some of his play has been, considering he came in as a top 5 prospect, Austin always seems give me something to like. This year it’s his improvement as a shot blocker. The negative is his rebounds and scoring efficiency took a big dive.
Denzel Livingston, SG Incarnate Word: UIW is in their first season of division 1 ball, playing in the Southland Conference. Congratulations, UIW! They have started 12-1 against an impossibly weak schedule and Livingston has put up some great numbers in the process. The competition is going to step up now and we’ll see if Livingston and the rest of UIW can keep it going.