When it comes to the NBA Draft, the college seniors often become a forgotten group. The allure of young stars full of potential almost always outshines the four-year player who has already proven to be a reliable source of production. Recent history shows that most seniors will be taken in the second round of the draft, though that doesn’t stop many from being instant contributors to their new teams.
Here is a look at my top 10 seniors in the 2014 draft, as well as a list of other players who have a very good chance of hearing their names called in June.
1. Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
McDermott was already one of the nation’s leading scorers heading into his senior year, but this year, he reinforced the notion that he is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, even when teams are focusing on stopping him. He will have the ability to step in right away for any NBA team as a shooter, but he has a great understanding of the game and spacing, which will allow him to help his teammates get good looks. Some may be concerned about his defense, though he is not as bad as many like to believe, and he has proven to be a good defensive rebounder who should get better with increased strength.
2. Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
Payne teased many over his first few seasons with a unique blend of athleticism and skill for a 6’10 player, though he could never seem to put it all together. He certainly did during his senior season. Payne is capable of scoring with his back to the basket or beyond the three-point line while also showing the ability to drive to the basket and finish in some spectacular ways. He could be a better defender and rebounder, especially with his athletic ability, but he handles himself well. Payne’s versatility will serve him well in the NBA.
3. Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut
After being a part of the Huskies’ NCAA Championship his freshman season, Napier added to his college legacy by leading them to another title in April. He can be extremely tough to contain one-on-one off the dribble, and once he gets into the lane, he is very good at finding teammates or unique ways to score among much bigger players. Napier has also shown that he can knock down open jumpers when he has the chance, though shot selection can be an issue. He has to watch a tendency to force the action on the offensive end. Napier is a tough on-the-ball defender, and opponents need to be careful when he is locked in on defense. He uses his quick hands and feet to force turnovers, and he turns them into points very quickly.
4. Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State
Early was a key part of a Wichita State team that went to the Final Four last year and lost only one game this past season. He has good size and a strong body, which he uses well to get to the basket. Early has also done a good job becoming a more consistent threat from the perimeter, hitting better than 37% from three-point range this past season. Early is a strong perimeter defender, capable of guarding multiple positions, though he can be a more consistent rebounder with his strength and size.
5. C.J. Wilcox, G, Washington
Wilcox is a streaky perimeter shooter, though when he is on, there aren’t many spots on the court where he can’t hit from. He is a good ballhandler for his size, and he uses long strides to get to the rim off the dribble. Wilcox has a great understanding of spacing, and he moves well enough off the ball to find openings in the defense. He’s an average defender, but he uses his length well to disrupt ball movement on the perimeter. Wilcox should be able to find a niche at the NBA level as a shooter off the bench.
6. Russ Smith, G, Louisville
After a junior season in which “Russdiculous” took the college basketball scene by storm, Smith showed there was more to his game than just being a volume shooter. Smith can still score in a variety of ways, from threes off the dribble, to a lightning-quick drive to the rim before the defense can react. This past season, Smith also showed that he can be a capable distributor, averaging almost five assists per game and showing better control on offense. He is a terror on the defensive end, able to pick up the ball full court and has an uncanny ability to force ballhandlers into mistakes. If Smith can continue to show he can be a reliable point guard, he should have a long future in the NBA.
7. Patric Young, F, Florida
Young never really lived up to the hype coming out of high school, but over the past few years, he has developed into a reliable defender and rebounder, as well as an efficient scorer around the basket. His offense seems to still be developing, and he showed a few new moves this past year, along with better touch around the basket. Young is incredibly strong for his 6’9, 250-pound frame, and this allows him to guard much bigger players in the post. Young should find a role at the next level as an energy defender and rebounder off the bench.
8. Deonte Burton, G, Nevada
Burton may have been one of the best scoring guards off the dribble in college basketball last season. He is an excellent ballhandler, and he has great speed and body control. While the Wolf Pack relied on him to be a scorer this past year, Burton also showed that he has a good future as a distributor, showing that he can find open teammates in the halfcourt and transition. Burton is an inconsistent defender, but with some effort, he could be above-average. In an ideal scenario, Burton will be able to play with an up-tempo team at the next level where he can play to his strengths.
9. Dwight Powell, F, Stanford
Athletic and smart, Powell just never seemed to put up the kind of season at Stanford that many expected out of him. One night he could get you 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the next night he could take four shots and grab a handful of rebounds. The skill and athletic ability is there for Powell to still be a good role player at the NBA level. At 6’10 with a good shooting touch around the basket and the ability to out-jump most other players on the floor, Powell would have probably flourished in a different offensive system, but teams are still aware of his next-level potential.
10. Lamar Patterson, G, Pittsburgh
Patterson is another late-blooming senior who stepped up in a major way this season. Patterson, like many Pitt players, always had a reputation as a tough defender, but this season, he added a versatile offensive game to the mix. Patterson can knock down mid- and long-range jumpers (40% from three-point range), but he also has the body to take smaller guards into the post area. He also added five rebounds and more than four assists per game, making him a dangerous all-around player. Patterson is the kind of player that coaches will love to have available for them on their bench to put into any situation.
Others to watch for: Roy Devyn Marble, G, Iowa; Cory Jefferson, F, Baylor; Markel Brown, G, Oklahoma State; Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona State; Alec Brown, C, Green Bay; Joe Harris, G, Virginia; Fuquan Edwin, G, Seton Hall; Shayne Whittington, C, Central Michigan; Josh Heustis, F, Stanford