Ed Isaacson

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Underclassmen of the '14 Draft

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Yesterday, the NBA released the full list of early entry candidates who have declared for the NBA draft. Seventy-five players in all were on the list, including 43 players from schools in the United States.

Here is a brief look at some of the well-known underclassmen in the draft, many whom will hear their name called in June. The players are listed as I see their NBA draft value.

1. Andrew Wiggins, Freshman, F, Kansas
The most-heralded freshman in a class full of them, Wiggins showed why people have been raving about him for a few years. The expectations may have been a bit high, but when Wiggins was able to show his athleticism and skill in action, it was guaranteed to have people talking. His play could be inconsistent, but he impressed when he had chances. There was concern about his jumper heading into the season, but it looked fine, and he showed range to the NBA three-point line. Wiggins’ defensive skills are often underplayed, but he is capable of guarding multiple positions and can be a pest on the perimeter.

2. Jabari Parker, Freshman, F, Duke
One of the highly-touted freshmen this season, Parker lived up to his reputation as a high-level scorer, while also proving to be a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He is his most effective when playing from 15 feet in, but he has shown that he can knock down NBA-range three-point shots. Defensively, he has a lot of work to do just to become an average defender, but I think many teams will take his scoring and worry about the defense later.

3. Joel Embiid, Freshman, C, Kansas
Embiid made the most rapid improvement of any freshman in the country, showing some developing skill to go with great athleticism for a 7-footer. Still, he is very raw on both ends of the floor and will likely need some time before he has any impact in the NBA. The right coaching can make him a star for many years.

4. Marcus Smart, Sophomore, G, Oklahoma State
Smart shocked everyone when he decided to return to Stillwater for his sophomore year, even though he was a likely top-5 pick in last year’s draft. The season was certainly not what he had hoped for, and his frustration led to him pushing a fan at Texas Tech, landing him a suspension. However, Smart also showed why he is so highly-regarded as a point guard, scorer and defender, and the past season is now firmly behind him. Like last year, Smart’s biggest area of concern is his jumper, where he just forces too many bad shots. The problem is easily fixable, though, and I expect Smart to thrive at the NBA level.

5. Julius Randle, Freshman, F, Kentucky
A bull in the low post, Randle used his strong body and soft shooting touch to rack up 24 point/rebound double-doubles this season. He uses his left hand almost exclusively, yet he could only be stopped by double- or sometimes triple-teams. He doesn’t offer much on offense away from the basket, though he hasn’t really needed it. Randle is not a very good defender, but he has the body and athleticism to guard at the NBA level.

6. Noah Vonleh, Freshman, F, Indiana
Vonleh made an impression quickly this season for the Hoosiers with a nice combination of skill and maturity beyond his years. Unfortunately, the Indiana offense was a mess, and Vonleh did not get anywhere the number of touches he needed to really improve. He has a few basic back-to-the-basket moves for the low post, but where Vonleh separated himself was his ability to step out and knock down mid- and long-range shots consistently. He will still only be 18 years old by the time the draft comes around, so he should still have plenty of room to grow as a player. Vonleh rebounds well, but he isn’t a very good defender yet, and he needs to work on focusing more on being dominant down low first before relying on his jumper.

7. Gary Harris, Sophomore, G, Michigan State
After a freshman season where Harris played well but was bothered by nagging injuries, he stepped up in his sophomore year and showed why he was so highly regarded in high school. Harris is a very good athlete and versatile scorer, as well as a strong on-the-ball defender. He can have a tendency to force shots, but many times the Spartans’ offense wasn’t creating the space for him to work. Harris has the ability to step in right away for most teams and add some punch to both ends of the floor.

8. Aaron Gordon, Freshman, F, Arizona
Gordon came to college with a reputation as a strong rebounder and spectacular dunker, and he didn’t disappoint in either of those areas this past year. He also showed to be a versatile defender who could guard multiple positions. The rest of his offensive game, aside from dunks and put-backs, can be awkward, but his energy on both ends of the floor should be helpful to many teams.

9. Nik Stauskas, Sophomore, G, Michigan
Not many players this year surpassed expectations the way Stauskas did. He already had a deserved reputation as one of the best long-range shooters in college basketball, but he showed he was much more, including being a good ballhandler who can create his own shot, as well as a good passer and scorer off of pick-and-roll situations. He will need to work harder on defending at the NBA level, but his offensive skills should get him playing time immediately with most teams.

10. TJ Warren, Sophomore, F, North Carolina State
Warren was one of the top scorers in the country, averaging 25 points-per-game on over 52% shooting, including 31 games where he scored at least 20 points. The remarkable part of Warren’s scoring for a 6’8, 215-pound player, is that almost none of it comes from behind the arc. He hit only 31 three-pointers all year, and instead, he relies on a solid mid-range jumper to go with his ability to find open spaces in the defense quickly for good shots. Warren also does a good job hitting the offensive boards where he finds easy buckets. He will still need to develop his long-range jumper, but he’ll find ways to put up points regardless.

11. Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, G/F, UCLA
The Bruins’ 6’9 point guard the past two seasons, Anderson has tremendous vision and a passing ability that gives his teammates very good looks at the basket. He uses long strides to get past defenders and to the basket, and he has worked hard at improving his jumper. Anderson is a good rebounder as well, though there are questions about who he can guard at the NBA level.

12. Elfrid Payton, Junior, G, Louisiana-Lafayette
Payton was a triple-double threat all year for the Ragin’ Cajuns, including posting one in January. He is very effective off the dribble and is very tough to keep out of the lane. He went to the free throw line more than 300 times (but shot a disappointing 60%) this past season, and even though he is only 6’3 and 180 pounds, he has no problem absorbing contact. Payton also chipped in six rebounds and six assists per game, as well as more than two steals. Shooting the ball is his major flaw right now, but he can affect the game in many other ways. It doesn’t matter that he played in the Sun Belt conference. He goes out and plays his game no matter who the opponent is.

13. Rodney Hood, Sophomore, F, Duke
Hood made the most of his one season in Durham after sitting out a season due to his transfer from Mississippi State. He provided a strong secondary scoring option to Jabari Parker, while showing a consistent shooting stroke from long-range. He has the tools to be a good defender, but he really needs to put in a stronger effort.

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Ed Isaacson is in his second year of covering the NBA Draft for Rotoworld.com, while his work can also be found at NBADraftblog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @nbadraftblog.
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