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Though the 2013-14 NBA season still has more than month before opening night, teams already have been looking toward the 2014 draft, considering the depth of elite talent that likely will be available.
We asked our panel of NBA and draft experts to weigh in on the 2014 class. Chad Ford, Paul Biancardi, Jeff Goodman, Amin Elhassan and Kevin Pelton all bring various scouting, metric analysis and reporting expertise to the discussion.
1. Who else besides Andrew Wiggins could be the No. 1 overall pick?
Ford: If Wiggins can't live up to the hype, I think there are three players who could easily justify being taken that high. The most obvious choice is Julius Randle. The Kentucky phenom has all of the tools to be an elite NBA big man. Dante Exum and Marcus Smart also could snag the top spot if the team that wins the lottery is in desperate need of a point guard.
Peer into the minds of ESPN's NBA experts and see their predictions.
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Biancardi: Randle. He has the unique combination of power, size and explosion to go with his skill to score and tenacity on the glass. In a power forward's body, Randle possesses scoring ability not only in the paint but also at the elbows. Reports out of Lexington has Randle making 3-point shots comfortably during workouts.
Goodman: Indeed, it's no lock Wiggins will be taken with the first pick. Two other freshmen have a chance -- Randle and Duke's skilled forward, Jabari Parker.
Elhassan: It would have to take a set of extraordinary circumstances for Wiggins to fall past the first pick, but if he did, I think Parker would be the best bet to supplant him. Like Wiggins, Parker also is the son of a former NBA player, and he brings excellent feel, basketball IQ and skill to the table. The concerns for Parker will be his position (he's a tweener) and improving his body.
Pelton: I think both Randle and Exum could be in the mix. While Wiggins has far more hype, the recent track record of No. 1 prep prospects (Harrison Barnes, Shabazz Muhammad, even Andre Drummond to an extent) in college is decidedly mixed, and Wiggins still needs to prove his ability against NCAA competition.
2. Did Marcus Smart make the right decision to return to school?
Ford: Sure he did. He understood the risks. But he wanted to improve his game and believed another season at Oklahoma State would give him more chances to hone his point guard skills. He might slip a few spots in the draft because of his decision (NBA scouts often pick you apart in Year 2), but as David Thorpe is always reminding us, it's the second contract that matters in the NBA, not the first one.
Biancardi: Emotionally, it was the right decision because his heart and mind were still in the college game and he felt a need to accomplish more. Financially, there is a question because he might have been a top-3 pick in the 2013 draft. Some guys just want to get drafted and collect a paycheck; Smart wants to be ready for the NBA. He made the right choice for him based on his values.
Goodman: Absolutely. He won't go as high in 2014 as he would have in 2013, but he'll be far more prepared to come in and be a starting NBA point guard. He still needs another year to work on his decision-making and could also use the season to become a better perimeter shooter.
Elhassan: I've always been an advocate of players entering the draft early if they have a good chance of going first round; there's nothing to gain from playing another year in college (for free) and much to lose (overexposure, injury, etc.). In Smart's case, it's extremely difficult to argue that he'd go higher this year (in a stacked draft) than he would have last year.
Pelton: If we define the "right choice" as trying to get drafted as early as possible, then no. He would have had an excellent chance of going No. 2 overall to Orlando in 2013, and I think it's unlikely he goes in the top three this year. But there's more to the right choice than that, and if Smart wanted another year in college before turning pro, I can't blame him.
3. If Dante Exum plays in college, does it affect his draft status?
Ford: His draft stock is so high right now, Exum takes a huge risk by playing in college -- especially if he decides to join a team midseason. Right now, after his stellar play for Team Canada in the under-19s, he looks like a lock as a top-5 pick. But if he struggled in college, his ranking could just as easily plummet.
Biancardi: After watching him play and work out at the Nike Hoop Summit, I see a player who possesses all of the attributes of an NBA 2 or 3 featuring a 6-foot-9 wingspan. He is playing his high school basketball in Australia and will be finished in December, so he could arrive on a college campus shortly thereafter. But I think there are too many question marks along with a learning curve to play on a new team, and with a new coach. It could expose some of those unknowns.
Goodman: Sometimes less exposure is better, and that's the case right now with Exum. His draft stock has soared this past offseason and going to college could help, but it's more likely that it would hurt his draft status, because it's hard to rise from where he is, and far easier to drop.
Elhassan: Playing collegiately would likely be a low reward-high risk scenario. If he plays well against the similar athleticism of domestic competition, he can move only marginally higher. If he doesn't play well, his stock drops. Skipping college keeps up the allure, much like it did for Enes Kanter in 2011.
Pelton: There's probably not much downside because of the circumstances. He'd be joining a team midseason and trying to learn both the American game and the NCAA on the fly, so it would be easy to explain if he struggled. If he played well anyways, he could boost his stock.
4. Who could rise significantly in the ranks?
Ford: I will be watching two Kansas freshmen closely -- Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden. Scouts went crazy for Selden this summer. If he shoots well and plays with some discipline, he could move into the top 10. Embiid? He looked really raw this summer, but he's the only legit center in our top 10. If he's playing well in March -- Rick Pitino might be right -- he has the talent to be the No. 2 pick in the draft.
[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Chris Keane/Icon SMI
McDermott's shooting should guarantee him NBA job security.
Biancardi: Watching Jerami Grant since high school, I've seen a guy who has added something to his game and changed his body. At Syracuse he improved his inside scoring and at the high post while remaining a consistent rebounder. Length, athletic ability and improving skill along with good genes will have him rise in the draft. His dad, Harvey, was the 12th pick in the NBA draft in 1988 and his uncle, Horace, was the 10th picked in 1987.
Goodman: I'm going with a few guys here: Semaj Christon of Xavier is one of the best point guards in the country; Duke's Rodney Hood is a long and skilled wing who transferred from Mississippi State; and Missouri's Jordan Clarkson is a scoring point guard who transferred from Tulsa.
Elhassan: Doug McDermott. He's been one of the premier scorers in college basketball and performed well in the Team USA minicamp this past July. Undoubtedly, some will focus on all of the things he can't do while glossing over things he does very well, like shooting from the perimeter. As the late Cotton Fitzsimmons used to say, "You can never have too many shooters." McDermott's stroke will find him gainful employment.
Pelton: Eric Moreland. Moreland, who plays at Oregon State, isn't currently in Chad's top 60, putting him outside the second round (if everyone declares). He's got first-round talent as a rebounder and shot-blocker, and a solid season could get him to that point. However, Moreland has to stay out of trouble after getting suspended by the school indefinitely during the summer.
5. Who is the most overrated player right now?
Ford: Mitch McGary. He turned a stellar NCAA tournament showing into some serious draft buzz. But without Trey Burke setting him up for easy dunks and with teams now focusing their defenses on stopping McGary, can he repeat his March Madness performance?
Biancardi: Alex Poythress. He arrived at Kentucky with a college-ready body. He was rated No. 13 by our ESPN Recruiting Nation staff out of high school. But he struggled in his first season, was inconsistent in practice and often disappeared during games. He will be teamed with better players this season, which will help. A breakout season is needed in order to match his reputation.
Goodman: Jarnell Stokes. He's somewhat undersized, not overly skilled and isn't overly athletic. Personally, there's no way I'm taking Stokes in the first round of the draft.
Elhassan: I hate to say it, but Wiggins. Don't get me wrong -- he's by far the most talented prospect in the draft, and as I said earlier, a mortal lock to go No. 1. But sometimes he's spoken of as a franchise savior, the best prospect since LeBron James. I'm not sure he's ready to step in and be awesome immediately, and I think the James comparison shortchanges players like Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving.
Pelton: James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina. The fact that McAdoo is still even in consideration for the first round is testament to the power of potential, because he hasn't even yet proven he can be effective at the NCAA level, let alone in the NBA.
Good article, thanks for posting!
A couple of these "overrated guys" like Jarnell Stokes and James McAdoo would be overrated -- if they were top 10 picks. But, I think they have McAdoo in the 20's and Stokes after that even. At 20 or so, I think these guys are good picks.
McAdoo is long and fairly athletic. He's also been in college a while so he is not some young kid out of high school. I think he could be a rotation guy, maybe even a very good sixth man type like Jeff Green one day and that is something you would like with a late first round pick.
Jarnell Stokes is undersized, but he has legit power forward skills. If he is a top 10 pick then he will be viewed as a bust. But, as a late first rounder or a possible second rounder then I think he is a good value. He could be like a DeJuan Blair player.
The league has featured numerous "small ball" lineups the past few years so I think these guys could fit in as power forwards. I could see McAdoo at the 3, too.
I think Chane Behanan is underrated if he is a projected second round pick. Yeah, he is 6'6 but he has a great motor and is a terror on the boards. Good athlete, too, who can throw down some power dunks. I am thinking that this is kinda what Charles Barkley was like in college. Chane gave Michigan all they could handle and then some. I think his ferocity on the offensive glass put Louisville over the top.