Predicting Future All-Stars in 2014 NBA Draft Class
With another thrilling NBA All-Star weekend hot off the presses, it's time to look ahead and project which 2014 draft prospects will enjoy future mid-February festivities.
This year's crop is talented and deep, but who exactly will carve out All-Star careers?
Not every big name will be a transcendental icon, but several of them will earn multiple trips to the East-West showdown. This class has high-octane guards, uncontainable forwards and promising big men.
We narrowed it down to a half-dozen draft candidates who will make frequent trips to the midseason spectacle. Who got the nod?
1 Appearance or Missed the Cut
The following players have an outside chance to be All-Stars, but will make one or zero appearances throughout their careers.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G: Smart is going to be a rock-solid NBA guard, but he lacks the intricate playmaking skills required to rise to the head of the pack. He will be a key piece on a winning club, but not a league-wide star.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse PG: Despite being a smooth quarterback and a steady decision-maker, Ennis won't have enough sheer athleticism or elite productivity to enjoy perennial All-Star status. The point guard field is deeper than ever, so there's no shame in missing the cut.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona F: The athleticism is there, and so are the intangibles and versatility. However, he may never be a good enough swingman scorer to compete in a crowded era of sensational forwards.
Gary Harris, Michigan State SG: Harris is a prototypical shooting guard who can help any team, but much like Gordon, he's fighting against some terrific peers at his position. He'll score 15-17 points per game but won't break into the top tier.
Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)
Why He's All-Star Material: Bruising forward meets skilled scorer
No. of Appearances: 2-4
Julius Randle's NBA stock might not be in the same stratosphere as Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins anymore, but that doesn't mean he won't enjoy a substantial amount of success.
His strong yet nimble attacks toward the hoop for Kentucky demonstrate a nose for the rim and a willingness to do what it takes to get there.
Randle's powerful forays to the bucket are complemented by a developing shooting touch and flashes of ball-handling and passing. In a couple years, he could be a tremendous all-around asset.
USA Today's Adi Joseph explains that although Randle won't be a franchise-changer, he'll still be superb:
He probably doesn't have the potential to become one of the five best players in the NBA. But he has the tools to be an All-Star and highly productive player for some of the same reasons he has dominated the college game. He's a bull with surprising agility and skill with the ball in his hands.
I don't expect him to be the best at his position or merit All-Star appearances for a decade. It does seem like he's pointed toward at least a couple appearances, though.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana PF (6'10" Freshman)
Why He's All-Star Material: Eventual double-double threat, stretch 4
No. of Appearances: 2-4
Indiana's expansive forward Noah Vonleh won't earn an NBA All-Star bid early in his career, and he's not even a lock to make a single appearance. He's far from accessing his pro ceiling, and he may never completely reach it.
But that ceiling is mighty high, and if he finds it, the All-Star Game is well within his grasp.
Vonleh is still developing many of his ball skills and decision-making execution, as he's only 18 years old and still adjusting to high-level hoops. However, he has a chance to be a versatile stretch 4 in the NBA.
Draft Express scout Mike Schmitz loves Vonleh's upside and collection of tools. Schmitz notes that he's "rough around the edges on offense but he's still so young and has upside there—three-point range, right-handed and left-handed jump hooks, solid handle."
When he harnesses those skills and becomes comfortable as an assertive leader, Vonleh could be a nightly double-double threat.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas SF (6'8" Freshman)
Why He's All-Star Material: Outlandish athleticism and flashes of brilliant skill (see video)
No. of Appearances: Six-plus
By now, we've all seen Andrew Wiggins in action, and while the Kansas swingman hasn't dominated the Big 12 or put up colossal numbers, we can tell his future is bright.
Once he sharpens up his ball-handling skills and establishes himself as a bold scorer, his natural talent and physical wares will do the rest. It will be tough for anybody to guard him in the open floor, and it will be equally tough for opponents to score on him.
Durant said Wiggins can be an "All Star, for sure...(he's) on another level with God-given ability. You look at him, you can tell he's going to be really big and fill out a lot."
Wiggins already has the ability to connect from beyond the arc or slash all the way to the tin. As he refines the mid-range game and finds more ways to attack the basket, he'll climb into the Association's upper echelon.
Dante Exum, Australia PG (6'6", 1995)
Why He's All-Star Material: Perfect storm of point guard size, skill and athleticism
No. of Appearances: Six-plus
Every NBA coach would love the chance to pick up a fleet-footed, skilled guard with a 6'9" wingspan, but only one will be so lucky this June.
Australian prospect Dante Exum went from unknown to "must-see" in a matter of months, and it's because he's a heady, smooth athlete who can craftily facilitate or explosively score.
Former NBA player and Australian-based scout Randy Livingston told B/R Lead Writer Jared Zwerling that he sees several similarities between big-name NBAers and Exum:
Livingston said Exum has the makings of a future star and sees strands in his game of Michael Carter-Williams (overall skills and body frame), Dwyane Wade (half-court attacking) and Russell Westbrook (open-court speed and finishing ability). One agent liked the Carter-Williams comparison, and also thought of Shaun Livingston (body frame and pick-and-roll playmaking).
If that doesn't suggest future All-Star appearances, I don't know what does.
Of course, Exum's not a complete lock to flourish, especially because he's a foreign baller who must transition to American hoops. But even if his NBA production is only 80 percent of what the hype and video highlights indicate, he'll be a star.
Joel Embiid, Kansas C (7'0" Freshman)
Why He's All-Star Material: Could be the next great NBA big man
No. of Appearances: 7-10
Before his freshman season began, we were cautiously optimistic about Kansas center Joel Embiid landing in the top 10 this summer.
Within the first few weeks of the season, the Cameroon native not only validated those top-10 projections, he rivaled Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in the No. 1 overall pick discussion. His natural talent, physical tools and developing skills suggest a career much greater than the average big man.
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders discussed how much NBA decision-makers love his star-studded upside:
When an executive starts talking about things they like about Embiid, they can go on forever. They drool over his graceful movements, soft touch, exceptional footwork, incredible instincts, high basketball IQ, 7’5 wingspan, extraordinary athleticism and, of course, limitless potential.
His numbers may be modest in college, but once he absorbs more of the game and polishes his skills, he could be a force on both ends.
It's not a stretch to believe he'll post 20 points, 12 boards and 3-4 blocks per night. That's sure to earn him a bunch of All-Star nods, and probably a few starts.
Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)
Why He's All-Star Material: Elite scoring weapon
No. of Appearances: 8-12
Once Duke's Jabari Parker emerged as the most "NBA-ready" freshman in the 2014 field, the narrative seemed to shift back to the sky-high ceilings of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
I've got news for you: Parker's ceiling is quite lofty, too.
John Gasaway of ESPN reminds us that he's young, and his basketball legacy is just getting started: "Jabari Parker doesn't turn 19 for another month (March 15). The NBA's excited for a reason."
Translation: Parker's already a star, with room for improvement, so he's going to be scary good.
Since he's a shade below Wiggins in the athleticism department, his potential is deemed to be slightly lower. But the good news is he'll become an NBA All-Star sooner than Wiggins, thereby competing in more total games.
Whether it's a crafty drive from the wing, a quick pull-up triple or an exquisite post-up, Parker has the complete arsenal to break down his opponents. Once he refines those skills at the pro level (which won't take long), he'll find his place among the league's household names.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR