Ranking Top 10 2014 NBA Draft Prospects with Most Potential
You can debate how NBA-ready the 2014 draft class is, but there's no denying that this group is chock-full of potential.
Who exactly has the highest ceiling? Which prospects possess the most upside?
Some candidates who are projected to go late in the first round cracked our top 10 "most-potential" list. Their physical gifts and raw talent give them a chance to climb high in the Association.
The rankings also include a fair share of big-name performers who could develop into stars. Which collegiate standouts fit the mold?
10. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan F (Sophomore)
Vitals: 20 years old, 6'6", 220 lbs, 6'9" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Leaping, foot speed, agility
NBA Potential: Glenn Robinson III won't be a go-to scorer in the NBA. He won't be a prototypical small forward from a skills standpoint, either.
His potential is immense because he can employ outlandish vertical gifts in any scenario. Robinson knows how to move without the ball, and once he has it, he's rim-bound in a hurry.
Meanwhile, his ball-handling skills and mid-range shot are coming along nicely. Most importantly, he's confidently and efficiently finding ways to help the Wolverines. Brendan Quinn of MLive.com noted how Robinson is becoming a more well-rounded player:
Robinson delivered his most complete game of the year at Nebraska. He made 9-of-12 shots in 36 minutes and spread out his scoring—nine points in the first half, 10 in the second—and was aggressive throughout. Between a series of dunks and quick, pull-up jumpers, he made 8-of-9 2-point field goals.
GR3 isn't guaranteed to shine like many of the other prospects in these rankings. The possibility of stardom is there, though.
He could be the type of player who doesn't need to monopolize the ball in order to heavily influence the game. When he does need to initiate, however, he can make some strong moves or bury a shot. Robinson could also make a big dent as a two-way performer, because he's versatile enough to guard two or three positions.
9. Isaiah Austin, Baylor F-C (Sophomore)
Vitals: 20 years old, 7'1", 225 lbs, 7'3" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Mobility, fluidity
NBA Potential: As we lament Isaiah Austin's draft stock plummeting over the past year and a half, let's remember what put him toward the top of last year's mocks to begin with.
Austin is blessed with exceptional length and a crazy standing reach of 9'3", and he also has a pretty shot to go with it. He can score inside (maybe not in a bruising post-up manner) and from deep, so if he lands with the right club, he could light up the scoreboard.
During his freshman year, Hoopsworld's Yannis Koutroupis said Austin is "the most gifted big man offensively to come around since Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins."
There's still a chance he may be a bust in the NBA, but he's certainly becoming a more assertive and consistent contributor for Baylor. He's taking advantage of his size more frequently, having tallied double-digit point totals in nine of his 10 games from Nov. 26 through Jan. 11.
If he gains some weight and eventually becomes a factor in the league, he would ironically be one of the bigger steals in the 2014 draft.
8. Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (Freshman)
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'9", 250 lbs, 6'11" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Quickness, power
NBA Potential: While Julius Randle's ceiling isn't quite as lofty as Andrew Wiggins' and Jabari Parker's, it's still extremely high.
The Kentucky star already possesses NBA-ready rebounding instincts (15.0 boards per 40 minutes, per Sports-Reference.com) and can finish strong among the trees. If he can expand his game a little more as a creator, he'll be a force in the league in the not-too-distant future.
"The thing is, Randle is likely going to wind up having to play more of a hybrid 4/3 role in the NBA, and he has both the speed and quickness for it," Logan wrote. "His ball-handling isn't the best yet, but it is getting better and will surely improve even more."
Earlier this season, I compared Randle to a Zach Randolph/Lamar Odom hybrid. If he has that kind of impact within his first few years in the league, foes aren't going to contain him.
His strength, motor and potential skills will make general managers think twice before passing on him.
7. Zach LaVine, UCLA G (Freshman)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'5", 180 lbs, 6'6" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Leaping, quickness, agility
NBA Potential: He won't dominate when he enters the NBA, but UCLA's super-sub Zach LaVine could become one of the most dangerous combo guards in the game.
During his first couple months as a Bruin, he showcased his brilliance in the open floor and an impressive shooting range. LaVine can blow away inferior athletes and play above the rim, while his perimeter stroke and range will be highly productive in the Association.
NBA eyes have taken notice of LaVine's prowess. One veteran NBA scout told Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog.com that the freshman's combination of "athleticism, size, scoring ability and [being] a combo guard" has piqued the interest of his colleagues.
In UCLA's win over Arizona State on Jan. 12, LaVine gave us a taste of the scoring punch he could provide in the future. He dropped 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting off the bench, exhibiting his shooting touch, half-court slashing skills and transition fireworks.
LaVine works fluidly away from the ball, and once he gets it, he utilizes a nice shot fake and a lightning-quick first step to create separation. He hasn't mastered the finer points of creating his own shot, but when he does, he'll be a potent threat in the NBA.
6. Noah Vonleh, Indiana F (Freshman)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'10", 240 lbs, 7'4" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Body control, strength
NBA Potential: Although he's serving as Indiana's most productive post player, Noah Vonleh is just scratching the surface of his all-around potential.
Owning a 7'4" wingspan doesn't hurt the situation. Michael Rubino of Indianapolis Monthly put it aptly, saying, "when (Vonleh) unfurls his arms, it is as if a pterodactyl is preparing for flight."
Accompanying that massive reach is a rock-solid 240-pound frame, which helps him carve space for rebounds and fight through contact on the way to the hoop.
What happens when Vonleh plugs in ball skills? He's already showing flashes of face-up creativity and possesses a decent mid-range shot.
"Combo forward" is a buzzword these days, and it seems like prospects either thrive in the dual role (think LeBron James) or flounder (think Anthony Bennett). Given his physical tools, youth and demeanor, we can pencil in Vonleh to join those who thrive.
5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona F (Freshman)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'9", 225 lbs, 6'11.5" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Leaping, body control, lateral quickness
NBA Potential: If Aaron Gordon was only a high-flyer who made alley-oops look easy, his NBA potential wouldn't be close to what it truly is.
His physical attributes are imposing, but his defensive focus and possession-by-possession work ethic will drive his unique upside. Arizona's star forward knows how to use his length and agility to stymie opponents, and he demonstrates superb court awareness.
Gordon's drive will fuel his development as a ball-handler and shooter. He's not guaranteed to become an ultra-versatile combo forward, but the foundation is there. CBS Sports' Zach Harper says that "he still has so much growth left in his game."
His first few years in the league will revolve primarily around defense, rebounding and going skyward to the bucket. However, if he cultivates those ball skills, he could operate on the wing a lot more as a slasher and shooting option.
Don't expect Gordon to be his team's No. 1 offensive option throughout his NBA career. That doesn't mean he won't be the most important asset on the court, however.
4. Dante Exum, Australia G (18 Years Old)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'6", 188 lbs, 6'9.25" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Agility, quickness, body control
NBA Potential: The 2013-14 college basketball season has been a noisy one, so Australian sensation Dante Exum has been somewhat on America's back burner.
Don't sleep on him, and don't forget how great he could be in a few years.
His outstanding physical tools and unselfish creativity are worth top-five consideration. When it comes to upside, no other guards in this draft match him.
In fact, Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler thinks only one other player in the entire class is worth drafting ahead of him: "Exum is my guy if Parker is off the board."
Few players with his size can be as smooth and speedy as he is. Exum pulls it off while attacking the hoop and making the best play for his squad. In the event that he sharpens his jump shooting, he'll have a great chance to be an All-Star.
3. Jabari Parker, Duke F (Freshman)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'8", 235 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Fluidity, strength, body control
NBA Potential: Despite his recent dropoff in production and Duke's collective struggles, Jabari Parker is a massively tempting NBA prospect.
Sure, his defense won't shine at the next level, and his overall athleticism probably won't either.
That being said, his repertoire is impressively refined for a 6'8" 18-year-old. And that makes us wonder how much he can achieve if he keeps working at his craft.
"He's athletic enough for the one-handed alley-oop, strong enough to defend anyone in college hoops, he can handle the ball and become a one-man fast break, he rebounds on both ends, and he can score from the post or the perimeter," wrote Grantland's Andrew Sharp back in November.
As the Duke freshman develops more savvy and big-game experience to go along with his current skills, he will grow into an influential leader.
Parker isn't quite as explosive or speedy as some of the studs on this list, and his defensive ceiling is a little lower. But he still cracks our top three because his NBA future is exceedingly bright.
2. Joel Embiid, Kansas C (Freshman)
Vitals: 19 years old, 7'0", 250 lbs, 7'5" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Agility, mobility, body control
NBA Potential: Considering his blend of size, coordination and ability to absorb the game, Joel Embiid's ceiling lies among the great centers in NBA history.
The Cameroon native is still learning the fundamentals of basketball during his freshman campaign at Kansas, as he only started playing hoops at the age of 16, per Tom Keegan of KUSports.com. All the early evidence indicates he's a natural, as he displays solid instincts on both ends of the court.
Embiid's low-post footwork is fantastic for a college freshman, and it's only going to get better once he turns pro. In addition to his moves, finishing ability and shot-blocking deftness, he shows a knack for connecting with teammates and dealing with pressure-filled defenses.
"Against San Diego State, Embiid was constantly double-teamed and was still able to find teammates for open shots," noted Peter Bukowski of Sports Illustrated. "That kind of passing ability is an innate feel, and hints at a skill level far beyond recent foreign-born NBA post projects."
The big man will likely be a guy who can hit elbow jumpers, create his own shot, pass to cutters, defend every frontcourt and run the floor.
In other words, he'll eventually be one of the absolute best centers in the league.
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas F (Freshman)
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'8", 200 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
Best Athletic Gifts: Leaping, agility, quickness
NBA Potential: Maybe you’ve heard of this Andrew Wiggins guy.
Kansas’ much-hyped swingman has undergone an up-and-down season, but his long-term NBA potential remains colossal.
As he polishes his skills and adds some muscle, he will be able to accomplish more offensively and dominate the way scouts hoped he would.
That is, if he wants to.
Before the start of the season, an NBA source poured some cold water on the idea of Wiggins as the no-brainer No. 1 pick, per ESPN's Jeff Goodman (subscription required):
He looks like just another player. I've seen him a few times in the past, and to be honest, he hasn't been off-the-charts any of those times. I love his athleticism, but I worry about his intensity—as well as other aspects of his game. He doesn't shoot it great, and he's got zero aura about him. Again, I'm not saying he can't get there—but people are making far more of this kid than they should.
If Wiggins can gain confidence and find that intensity on a more consistent basis, he will be able to lead his NBA club on both sides of the court. He owns the makings of a dependable outside jumper and he could terrorize opponents if he learns how to effectively attack off the bounce.
As for the defense, an uptick in assertiveness would quickly turn him into one of the NBA's elite stoppers. The length and athleticism are already in place, and the intangibles may soon catch up.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: