5 College Basketball Stars the LA Lakers Must Keep an Eye On

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIMarch 24, 2014

5 College Basketball Stars the LA Lakers Must Keep an Eye On

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    The next time Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Smart put on a uniform, it could be the Purple and Gold.
    The next time Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Smart put on a uniform, it could be the Purple and Gold.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In almost all cases, it's better to draft the best player available rather than to fill a specific need.

    Luckily for a rebuilding franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers, they need help at every spot on the court, allowing them to make their selection on pure talent and upside.

    Draftniks have soured on the much ballyhooed 2014 draft class as the season has progressed, but there are several potential stars to be had at the top of the board. 

    And the Lakers, with the NBA's fourth-worst record heading into Sunday's action, should have a few to choose from on draft night.

    Here are the five college basketball players L.A. must keep an eye on between now and then.

1. Andrew Wiggins

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    Andrew Wiggins came into the season touted as the league's next franchise-changing prospect, but couldn't quite live up to all the hype surrounding him.

    Wiggins has all the physical tools you want in a potential superstar.

    At 6'8" and with a 7-foot wingspan he's got incredible size and length for his position. He's an explosive leaper and very quick moving laterally. If he wants to defend, he can shut people down.

    The makings of an unstoppable offensive game are there too. 

    Wiggins is a decent outside shooter who can score from anywhere, but his greatest strength is his ability to get to the rim.

    In the few instances he put it all together—like in his regular season finale against West Virginia, when he put up a staggering line of 41 points, eight rebounds, two assists, five steals and four blocks—he looked like a once-in-a-generation prospect that the Lakers could build their future around.

    But his penchant for disappearing—like in the four-point, four-turnover dud that sent his Kansas Jayhawks crashing out of the NCAA tournament early—has to give L.A. pause.

2. Joel Embiid

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    Andrew Wiggins' teammate at Kansas, Joel Embiid came into the year with a lot less fanfare, but quickly stole the spotlight.

    He didn't put up eye-popping numbers, but Embiid looked like he was born to run and jump on a basketball court. Plus, he had a surprising level of skill for a big man with as little basketball experience as he had.

    Being such a fluid and graceful athlete with a solid base of skills and seemingly unlimited room to grow is why Embiid became the consensus No. 1 pick in the middle of the season.

    But a stop has been put to that as a back issue kept Embiid out of the Jayhawks' last six games—including the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.

    It's always risky to spend a top draft pick on a guy with questionable health, particularly if those issues involve the back or knees.

    There's the possibility of the player's career never getting off the ground, as in the case of Greg Oden.

    Or the player may have a limited shelf life, enjoying early success but being forced to leave the game in his prime—after landing a max extension from his club—a la Brandon Roy.

    Those are the dilemmas the Lakers must grapple with if the center from Cameroon is still on the board when they pick.

3. Jabari Parker

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    Jabari Parker may be the "safest" player on this list. He probably has the lowest floor, but he may have the lowest ceiling as well.

    Parker has the height and length of Andrew Wiggins, but in a more powerful frame (he's got about 40 pounds on the Canadian prospect). 

    He's a very skilled all-around player who can score in a variety of ways and is a smart, willing passer.

    The Duke product is also a great rebounder, leading the ACC in rebounds per game while finishing second in the conference in scoring.

    Parker's upside is limited by his so-so athleticism and shoddy defense. He'll probably never be a two-way force and he may find it tougher to finish in the paint against NBA athletes.

    Given his size, rebounding ability and lack of lateral footspeed, Parker is probably better suited to playing as a new-wave, small-ball power forward in the NBA.

    He's a great character guy with a high motor and a lot of offensive skill. The unlimited upside of a Wiggins may not be there, but the Lakers won't have any qualms in "settling" for Parker if he's available.

4. Julius Randle

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Julius Randle is the only player on this list who is still playing in the NCAA tournament, giving him a chance to rise up draft boards if he can carry the Kentucky Wildcats deeper into the tourney.

    Randle started off the year hot before hitting a lull in the middle of the season. He's a great athlete for his position and can score either facing up or with his back to the basket, but he doesn't have great size. He's listed at 6'9" and 250 pounds.

    The Kentucky freshman led the SEC in rebounding and finished seventh in the nation in cleaning the glass, but his lack of size means he likely will never be a great rim protector (he averaged less than a block per game in 2014).

    Randle didn't dominate games on a nightly basis the way many thought he would. He can still be a major force at the next level, though, if he doesn't fall in love with his jump shot and stays in shape.

5. Marcus Smart

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Marcus Smart stayed in school an extra year to improve his game, but did he manage to do it?

    He did improve, but in subtle ways. Smart's jumper is still wildly inconsistent, and his three-point percentage barely rose from last season's discouraging mark of 29 percent.

    But his two-point percentage climbed to over 50 percent as he finished better around the rim, and he got to the foul line at a staggering rate.

    Smart also led the nation in steals for the second consecutive year and cut his turnover rate significantly from his freshman season while using an even larger share of his team's possessions.

    The worry with Smart is that he's a a bit of a tweener. He's bigger and more physical than most point guards, but he's not an elite shot-creator.

    On the other hand, he's small for a two-guard and can't really shoot. Plus he needs to play with the ball in his hands.

    It's tough to find a suitable role for a guy like that, as we've seen with a player like Tyreke Evans.

    The Lakers will have to factor that into their selection criteria if everyone else on this list is gone by the time they're picking on draft night.