Re: ESPN Insider request: Top prospects, storylines for 2014 draft
The 2003 NBA draft brought us LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The 2014 draft has a chance to bring us one franchise player (Andrew Wiggins) and a host of other ridiculously talented prospects.
What a difference a year makes.
The 2013 draft didn't have a franchise player or even any locks to be All-Stars at the top of the draft. While there was considerable depth in this year's draft, star power was definitely lacking.
The 2014 draft, on the other hand, is stacked at the top thanks to a few top returning underclassmen and a phenomenal freshman class. Several NBA scouts and GMs said our 2014 Top 100 draft prospect list may be the strongest ever. Wiggins is the consensus No. 1 prospect in our Top 100 after talking with numerous NBA scouts and executives. He is one of the most hyped prospects ever to come out of high school and draws comparisons to a young Tracy McGrady. Wiggins received the top vote from every scout and GM I spoke with.
Wiggins is an elite athlete who does just about everything well. He has great size for his position on the wing, is an explosive leaper and can score from beyond the arc and off the bounce. While there are times when he appears to be a bit disengaged, his talent -- both physically and from a skills perspective -- is off the charts.
While Wiggins is the current king of the 2014 class, he'll have his hands full fending off contenders to the throne. Overall, scouts believe that there could be multiple franchise players and as many as eight NBA All-Stars in this group. That's a big-time draft.
Beyond Wiggins, here's a breakdown of the top five prospects for 2014 and a look at key storylines for next year's draft.
The best of the rest
Kentucky forward Julius Randle is also highly regarded by scouts. "In a normal, non-Wiggins year, he would easily be the No. 1 pick," said one scout. Randle is another freak of nature, an explosive athlete who stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 250 pounds. He has the ability to score in the paint and on the perimeter, and plays with an aggressive motor.
Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, who would've been the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft had he declared, is also a potential rival to the throne. Smart decided he wanted another year of experience under his belt and returned to Oklahoma State. He has great size for his position, is ferocious on both ends of the floor and is a natural leader. If he improves his jump shot and tightens his handle, he'll give Wiggins and Randle a run for their money.
And we can't count out Duke's Jabari Parker. For several years Parker was ranked as the top player in his class (until Wiggins reclassified). Parker is already one of the most NBA-ready prospects on our list. He can play the 3 and the 4, has an extremely high basketball IQ and is one of the most skilled players in the draft. The only thing holding him back is a lack of elite athletic ability.
Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison rounds out the top five. Like Smart, he's a big point guard who overwhelms his opponents on both ends with his size, strength and toughness.
An elite freshman class
Freshmen have always had a huge impact on good drafts. After all, one-and-dones are the true royalty of great drafts.
In the 2008 draft, a record seven freshmen went in the lottery. In 2014, we're projecting another seven freshmen as potential lottery picks. They include Wiggins, Randle, Parker, Harrison, Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Kansas' Joel Embiid and Florida's Chris Walker.
Four other freshmen -- Kentucky's James Young, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison as well as LSU's Jarrell Martin -- are possible first-rounders.
A solid sophomore and junior class
A small number of talented players decided to skip the 2013 draft and return to college. Just about everyone with a shot at the first round threw their hat into the ring. Only one returning college player -- Smart -- ended up cracking our top five.
However, there are a number of interesting returning players in this draft. We're projecting sophomores such as Michigan State's Gary Harris, Michigan's Glenn Robinson III, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell to be potential lottery picks in 2014.
Several other returning players, including Tennesee's Jarnell Stokes, Michigan's Mitch McGary, Syracuse's Jerami Grant, Wisconsin's Sam Dekker and Kentucky's Alex Poythress, also could work their way into the lottery with excellent seasons.
Another strong crop of international prospects
The 2011 class boasted a number of stellar international prospects. Four international players -- Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo -- went in the lottery. Several others, including Donatas Motiejunas, Nikola Mirotic and Davis Bertans, went in the first round.
However, 2012 had the weakest international class. Only one player, France's Evan Fournier, was selected in the first round.
This year's international class bounced back, featuring seven players led by Sergey Karasev, Lucas Nogueira, Dennis Schroeder, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Livio Jean-Charles and Nemanja Nedovic going in the first round.
And the 2014 class also appears strong. There have been only two international players taken in the lottery in the past three years, but this coming year we could have three: Croatia's Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja, as well as Australia's Dante Exum. Several other international players, including France's Boris Dallo, Spain's Guillermo Hernangomez and Serbia's Vasilije Micic, also could crack the first round.
Lean forward …
In 2014, a whopping nine small forwards and eight power forwards make our top 30.
That's good news for teams that had to suffer through one of the worst power forward drafts ever in 2013. Only three power forwards -- Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk -- were selected in the lottery.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have only three point guards and three centers ranked in the top 30 for the 2014 class.
The point guard drought continues to be especially depressing. The 2012 crop was historically weak (one PG in the lottery), while the 2013 crop produced three lottery picks, but none in the top five. In our 2014 list, two of the four are ranked in the top five, but there are only two other PG prospects in the rest of the draft.
Overall, the draft class of 2014 is rounding out to be a once-in-a-decade sort of group. And it could get even better. You also have to factor in that some players who we're not talking about will rise -- they always do. Victor Oladipo, Alex Len and Michael Carter-Williams weren't listed as lottery picks before this season, for example.
As the camps and international tournaments get underway, look for further reports, including ongoing Big Boards, updates to the Top 100, Ford-Bilas breakdowns, mock drafts and more in our year-round draft coverage.