Ranking the Biggest Boom-or-Bust 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 29, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Boom-or-Bust 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

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    A boom-or-bust NBA prospect is a guy who's either going to hit his ceiling or crash towards his basement floor. 

    These are the guys who offer high reward and high risk relative to where they're projected to be drafted. There's obviously not nearly as much risk drafting a boom-or-bust prospect in the second round as there is in the lottery, and the following rankings reflect that. 

10. Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 7'1", PF/C, Sophomore

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    Isaiah Austin was perceived as a potential future lottery pick when coming out of high school. What's not to like about a 7-footer who can shoot the three, score in the post, run the floor and block shots? 

    Even after what seemed like just an average freshman year, Austin still packs plenty of long-term potential when you consider his rare blend of size and skills. 

    But at roughly 225 pounds, he's not completely comfortable banging inside. He's also a little too awkward for the perimeter.

    Austin's NBA position isn't quite set right now.  If he finds a niche as an inside-outside big man, Austin could evolve into a unique frontcourt weapon. But if he doesn't, it's unclear where he fits in an NBA offense.

9. Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6'9", PG/SF, Sophomore

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    We haven't seen a player like Kyle Anderson come around in a long time. 

    At 6'9'', Anderson has a natural feel for the point-guard position, only he operates at his own pace—a pace not often found in the NBA. 

    Nicknamed Slow-Mo for a reason, Anderson isn't quick or explosive. He's not a leaper or speedster. He's not your typical athlete for a ball-handler. But he uses his size and instincts to manage a game and make timely plays when maneuvering around the defense. 

    Anderson is averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 51.6 percent shooting and 54.5 percent from downtown. Just imagine the mismatch he potentially presents if he's able to make the transition to the NBA. 

    But major questions remain as to whether he'll be able to make the switch smoothly.

    How effective can he be at the point without the ability to break down defenders? Who is he going to guard? Backcourts are too quick, frontcourts are too strong. 

    There's a chance Anderson doesn't make any impact at all at the pro level. There's also a chance he develops into a walking triple-double. 

8. Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 5'10", PG, Sophomore

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    There's no doubt Jahii Carson can ball—he's averaging over 19 points and five assists a game as a sophomore. He's ridiculously skilled and talented, and his size (5'10") hasn't kept his name out of first-round conversations. 

    However, there's a big difference in value between a spark plug and a point guard. Carson is a dynamic offensive weapon, but his ability to manage a game in a pass-first role has come under fire.

    "I really tried to work on the details of things this summer," Carson told Kelli Anderson of Sports Illustrated. "When to score, time and score, when do I take a jump shot, when should I look for the open man, when should I be aggressive? Should I use my left earlier?"

    Getting this part of his game right could be the difference between the D-League and one-year deals and following 5'9'' guard Isaiah Thomas' path as a special, breakdown playmaker

7. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'7", SF, Sophomore

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    With Sam Dekker, you're likely either getting a quality NBA wing or a productive one overseas.

    At 6'7", he's deceptively athletic and deadly from outside. Dekker is one of those players who can make any shot he takes so long as he's got room to release. 

    But the question at the pro level is how often he'll get that opportunity. Dekker doesn't create much for himself; rather, he plays within the offense and is opportunistic.

    There's little margin for error for a player like Dekker, who is neither a defensive asset nor offensive playmaker. 

    When it's all said and done, we could be talking about a guy like Gordon Hayward or Keith Van Horn. At the same time, his floor is low enough to keep him from moving into the first round.


6. Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'3", PG, Sophomore

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    Semaj Christon turned heads as a freshman, generating rave reviews for his size and explosiveness at the point guard position. Scouts loved his upside.

    As a sophomore, we haven't really seen much progression. He's averaging around 15 points and four assists a game, similar numbers to last year. 

    Christon also still isn't an outside threat. He hit seven three-pointers (on 28 attempts) all of last season, which, given the tiny margin of error for point guards who can't shoot, qualifies as a concern. This year, he knocked down seven of his first 14 attempts from three-point range, but that's not exactly something he'll be highlighting on his resume. He's also playing a shoot-first role for Xavier, so it's tough to tell how he'll perform when asked to facilitate as a passer instead of a scorer. 

    Still, you can't teach the physical tools he offers at the position. Christon can really get into the paint and pick up easy buckets at the rim. But if he doesn't add a jumper or his point-guard skills don't translate, his assets might not be strong enough to justify routine minutes at the most competitive position in the pros.  

5. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6", SF, Sophomore

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    Glenn Robinson's NBA appeal stems from his long-term ceiling. At this point, however, he's nowhere close to reaching it. 

    He's a silky-smooth 6'6" athlete with explosive hops. And, in limited doses, we've seen flashes of his NBA-caliber game. Robinson has a pull-up, step-back and spot-up jumper, along with the ability to slash and finish easily on the break. 

    Robinson's big problem is that he can't tap into his skill set on a consistent basis. He's just not as seasoned at this point. Whoever takes him in the draft will have to hope it all eventually clicks and comes together for him down the road, because he's not polished enough or NBA-ready right now. 

    As a prospect, he's a long-term investment with potential Andre Iguodala-like returns. But there's a lot of work to be done. And if he's not able to get there, there's a chance he fades into the background—like he's done a little too often as a sophomore at Michigan. 

4. Chris Walker, Florida, 6'10'', PF, Freshman

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    A former McDonald's All-American and highly touted recruit, Chris Walker's NBA upside was visible as a junior in high school. 

    At around 6'10'', Walker might be one of the top-three athletes in the projected 2014 NBA draft class. He's an electric leaper who spends an awful amount of time above the rim.

    However, Walker hasn't played a game yet, as he was ruled academically ineligible to start the year. Word is he'll be returning to Florida soon, but his role and capabilities both remain uncertain. 

    Since the beginning of his collegiate career, he's been considered a raw prospect. Walker's ceiling is pretty much driven by his physical tools alone. 

    We're not yet sure if this kid can play. We may not find out this year, with Billy Donovan likely to ease Walker in slowly whenever he does become eligible to play. 

    But if Walker chooses to declare and not risk wasting another year, he might be worth a blindfolded swing. 

    Without playing many freshman games, Walker should pose as the poster boy for boom-or-bust prospects. 

3. Dario Saric, Croatia, 6'10", SF/PF, 1994

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    Dario Saric is one of those guys you either love or hate. 

    If you love him, you're likely enamored with his offensive versatility. At 6'10'', Saric has the size of a power forward with the mobility and ball skills of a wing. An active presence on the glass who displays a high IQ on offense, he has appealing upside as a glue guy and multidimensional frontcourt playmaker.

    However, he's not a big-time scorer, nor does he have a true defensive position. At roughly 223 pounds, Saric doesn't have a body built for defending the post, while his lateral foot speed doesn't seem quick enough to compete with explosive NBA wings. 

    He's averaging around 13.3 points, 7.8 boards and 2.6 assists on 54 percent shooting abroad. You get the feeling Saric is either going to be a unique and valuable NBA forward...or he's not. 

    It's always a little tougher to predict how international prospects will fit into the NBA game, and Saric is certainly no different. 

2. Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", PG/SG, Freshman

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    Zach LaVine blew up early for UCLA and generated serious draft buzz while flashing some wild NBA upside.

    He's one of those stop-what-you're-doing-and-watch type athletes. With a runway to take off from, LaVine can get crazy lift and make that showtime finish above the rim.

    LaVine also handles the rock and can create off the dribble, as well as knock down shots from behind the arc. When you combine his elite athleticism with a handle and jumper, you get big-time NBA upside. 

    However, after starting the season red hot from downtown, he's cooled off as of late. Though he's still shooting it at 44 percent from three, there's reason to believe his hot start was a bit of a fluke.  

    He's also a 180-pound combo guard, which doesn't seem to be talked about nearly enough. 

    There are red flags here, and even some of his strengths, like shooting, aren't fully convincing. But if he ends up putting on bulk and maintaining a lethal stroke, LaVine could realistically generate top-10 interest.

1. Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0", C, Freshman

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    It's not that he has the potential to be a bust—but he does in terms of meeting the value that comes with being a top-three pick.

    And that's what it may to take to secure Joel Embiid, which means passing on some sure-thing NBA locks. 

    His upside is through the roof—arguably the highest of anyone in the class. Embiid has the potential to emerge as one of the NBA's top two-way centers. 

    But if Embiid is ultimately unable to reach his ceiling, he's going to be the guy who teams passed on for prospects like Kentucky's Julius Randle, Oklahoma's Marcus Smart or Australia's Dante Exum—players who are dominating right now instead of ones projected to dominate five years from now.  

    Embiid is playing only around 20 minutes a night for Kansas, averaging 10.5 points and 6.7 boards. A big man like Randle is putting up 18 and 11, double-doubling on an every-game basis. 

    Embiid is a raw 7-footer who just started playing ball at 16 years of age. He's not NBA-ready, and drafting him will require a franchise's patience as the big man develops. The glass-half-empty guys think Haseem Thabeet.

    But if Embiid continues to improve and meet his projected ceiling, we could be talking about the top player to emerge from this draft class.