Ranking the Biggest Project Picks in the 2014 NBA Draft Class

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2014

Ranking the Biggest Project Picks in the 2014 NBA Draft Class

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    Associated Press

    Projects are all about long-term potential—guys with high ceilings, only their elevators are still at the ground floor or lower levels.

    These are essentially the prospects with the most room to grow, players who have big-time potential but still have plenty left to work on.

    Who's not a project? Players like Duke's Jabari Parker, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Kentucky's Julius Randle and even Australia's Dante Exum—prospects who are likely to make an immediate impact as NBA rookies. 

    While these projects might be able to produce as rookies, we're really expecting them to explode in that second or third year. The following projects are ranked based on the height of their ceilings meshed with the distance they are from reaching them.

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

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    John Smierciak/Associated Press

    Chris Walker still hasn't played a game yet (academically ineligible), but if you follow recruiting, then you're familiar with his upside.

    Walker defines the term "project." He's got minimal skills with a big-time ceiling thanks to some incredible athleticism for a 6'10'' forward.

    But at this point, we're not exactly sure what this kid brings to the table fundamentally. His upside comes strictly from his physical tools, as opposed to a skill set, which he might not have even started building yet.

    From a developmental standpoint, Walker should return to school given that he hasn't seen live game action all year. But NBA teams love to chase upside, and if he's able to convince them he's a long-term project worth their time, the 2014 first round should be within reach. 

    Either way, whether he leaves this year or the next, don't expect this investment to pay off for another few years—if it ever does.

9. Wayne Selden, Kansas, 6'5'', SG, Freshman

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Wayne Selden's role in Kansas' offense is limited, which can be attributed to a few things, including his team's system and its loaded lineup.

    But without the ability to consistently create his own shot, Selden can go long stretches without making an offensive sound.

    At 6'5'' with a manly 230-pound frame, he's got serious size and strength at the off-guard position. Selden also has excellent instincts attacking the rim, along with a threatening stroke that has plenty of room to improve.

    But at this point, Selden isn't very elusive off the bounce. Unless a hole or scoring opportunity is created for him, chances are he's not getting any good looks. He's also been somewhat erratic as a shooter, and for Selden to maximize his potential, shooting consistency will need to become a strength. 

    It will be a while until he's able to contribute to an NBA rotation, and without that ultra-athletic ability, his ceiling sits below that of a guard like UCLA's Zach LaVine.

    But given his size, strength and balanced offensive game, he's got the chance to develop into a solid NBA 2-guard over time.

8. Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9'', SF/PF, Freshman

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    We've seen the hops, the dunks and even an impressive basketball IQ. But we're still not sure which position Aaron Gordon will play in the pros.

    As of today, Gordon doesn't really have a post game to play the 4 (or the bulk at 225 pounds), and he lacks the perimeter skill set of a 3.

    Gordon is a project, one whose ceiling is tough to predict.

    But there's no denying his size and high-flying athleticism, while his passing skills and awareness are both on point.

    Still, I'd bet on the transition taking a long time for Gordon once he eventually gets to the next level. He'll probably have to learn and adjust to a new position and different sweet spots on the floor.

    Without the strength to overwhelm at the 4 or the game to take over as a wing, I just don't see how Gordon's ceiling can match that of a guy like Noah Vonleh, who has superior physical tools and an appealing offensive identity.

    If Gordon is able to establish a comfortable niche for himself as a 3, 4 or combo forward, he should evolve into a really nice frontcourt player.

    But the journey he'll have to go on could be long and arduous.

7. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6'', SF, Sophomore

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    Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    A lack of consistency has kept Glenn Robinson III from shaking the "project" label—he's still having trouble tapping into his offensive skill set on the regular.

    But his upside had been established early last year, and nothing can really change that at this point. 

    Robinson is a sensational athlete with good size for the wing. Offensively, he's got the skill set. Robinson has a nice perimeter game with a sharp pull-up jumper and promising shooting mechanics. He's also an excellent off-ball complementary target who picks up buckets by cutting and slashing.

    But at the next level, that jumper can't come and go as it's been doing through two years in college. As a wing, his outside stroke is going to be an important weapon for him.

    Robinson also needs a few years to improve off the dribble, as he isn't much of a one-on-one threat. 

    He projects as an excellent defender with a best-case outlook that resembles Andre Iguodala. Robinson just has a lot of polishing up to do before he'll be able to make an impact in the pros.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C, Sophomore

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    At this stage, Willie Cauley-Stein can only contribute in three phases of the game: rebounding, rim protection and finishing.

    And you don't need much of a skill set to be productive in those three areas.

    Cauley-Stein is an incredible 7-foot athlete who can run the floor and make showtime plays above the rim.

    However, his offensive game is nonexistent. Unless he's set up right at the hoop, he's not even going to look at it. He's a long-term project in that he's far from complete. And considering how few strides he's made on the offensive end from one year to the next, it's tough to imagine him suddenly evolving into a post threat.

    Cauley-Stein is still an attractive project to take on based on the impact a guy with his physical tools is capable of making. If he were a little closer to reaching his ceiling, meaning his ball skills were more developed, Cauley-Stein would be ranked a spot higher than Jerami Grant.

5. Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'8'', SF/PF, Sophomore

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    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Jerami Grant is one of the sickest athletes you'll see when you take into account his hops, length (7'2'' wingspan) and coordination. 

    He catches everything around the rim and throws down full-extension putback dunks that make you question what you saw.

    But he has no real skills or moves whatsoever, which is amazing when you consider how active he's been.

    One-on-one, he relies on a quick first step and length to finish around or over defenders. Grant has no post moves, counter moves or jump shot, though he did hit two against North Carolina.

    Grant's immaculate physical tools give him a towering two-way ceiling, especially if he's able to evolve into an NBA small forward.

    Unless it's for defense or energy, I wouldn't expect Grant to make an impact right away. But adding a jumper and expanding his offensive game would make him an asset worth investing in for the long term.

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

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Zach LaVine doesn't even start for UCLA. But if you've seen this kid play, you've probably picked up on his wild upside. He's an electric athlete with 2-guard size and a point guard's handle.

    Rarely do you see him get the chance to create at UCLA, but when that chance comes or an open-floor scoring opportunity arises, LaVine stands out like you wouldn't believe.

    And though we've been waiting for his three-ball to stop falling, it hasn't. LaVine is shooting 45.1 percent from downtown, and with a quick release and good elevation, his jumper looks likely to carry over.

    We're not even sure what position he'll play in the pros, considering he's barely given a chance to showcase his full set of skills in college. And it's that positional uncertainty, along with a 180-pound spaghetti frame, that has LaVine ranked just below Noah Vonleh.

    But if I'm drafting in this year's lottery, I"m not letting LaVine slip out of it. The NBA loves athletic guards who can handle and shoot the ball, and LaVine fits that description.

3. Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10'', PF/C, Freshman

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Noah Vonleh has been an animal for Indiana, and he projects as a beast at the NBA level.

    But at 18 years old, he's still in the very early stages of the developmental process.

    He's only taking seven shots a game, which you can credit to his raw post game and limited touches in the offense.

    Still, Vonleh has managed to average over 12 points a game while completely dominating the boards, where he's bringing in over 15 rebounds per 40 minutes, a better rate than Kentucky's Julius Randle. 

    Vonleh has even flashed some face-up potential from 20 feet away. He's 9-of-17 from downtown this year, and with strong, shifty shoulders and quick feet, Vonleh can put it on the deck and wheel and deal his way to the rim.

    When Vonleh eventually starts adding to and polishing up that offensive game (word is he's extremely coachable and has a terrific work ethic), we could be looking at Chris Bosh 2.0.

    Just don't expect it for another few years.

2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', SF, Freshman

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Andrew Wiggins is a project. 

    He's still more of an athlete at this point than a refined or polished scorer. Wiggins relies on his amazingly quick first step, open-floor agility and trampoline bounce to separate for buckets. 

    Just wait until this guy improves his handle and expands his shot-creating arsenal. Wiggins is still at the point where he often loses the ball in traffic.

    He's averaging over 15 points and six boards without much help from his spot-up, pull-up or step-back jumper. Wiggins is even having trouble finishing off easy drives to the basket.

    But eventually, you'd like to think he'll start finishing those after a few years of repetition. And you'd also like to think he'll become more threatening on the perimeter. 

    Considering he'll be guarded by wings like LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the 200-pound Wiggins isn't going to be the everyday mismatch that a guy like Joel Embiid might routinely present.

    But based on his two-way ceiling and room to grow as an offensive weapon, Wiggins remains an elite long-term prospect.

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

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    There isn't a prospect on the planet with a higher ceiling than Joel Embiid, and though we kind of knew it coming in, given his 7'0'', 250-pound frame and 7'5'' wingspan, nobody could have anticipated just how far he'd come this soon. 

    Arguably the early favorite to go No. 1, Embiid should still be viewed as a project when you consider how new he is to the game. And that's just scary.

    "You're going to be the No. 1 pick," coach Bill Self told Embiid before the year, according to CBS Sports' Gary Parrish. Only Parrish stated that Self was referring to 2015 or 2016, when Embiid wouldn't be as raw.

    Who would have thought—just two months into his freshman year, and Embiid has already emerged as the prize of the class. 

    He's dominating games right now, and I'm not sure he even knows what he's doing. How could he? He's only been playing organized basketball for the last three years.

    Embiid is ridiculously skilled right now and still has so much to learn.

    If he can get this good in just three years, imagine how good he can get in 15 with NBA coaching. 

    We're talking about a rare 7-footer with an old-school post game, a promising jumper he hasn't even tapped into yet, and the ability to single-handedly change a game on the defensive end. 

    Where do I sign up?

    If whoever drafts Embiid is able to complete this incredible project, they will have a superstar, a franchise player at the toughest position to find one.