It’s never too early to talk NBA Draft, especially with a projected class as deep and talented as the 2014 group. Every two weeks, I’ll take a look at how college basketball’s premier talents performed during the past few weeks and judge how their recent outings impacted their NBA stock. This week, I’ll focus on a handful of wing players who could potentially be on the Cavaliers radar if they draft in the middle of the first round. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford’s current Big Board Rank is in parenthesis followed by the player’s age, position(s) and school.
The Top Four
Andrew Wiggins (1), 18—G/F, Kansas: KU lost to Colorado and Florida but it wasn’t because of the high-flying Wiggins, who performed admirably in defeat. Wiggins was aggressive and kept the Jayhawks in both games, scoring 22 and a career-high 26 points respectively while sinking 15-of-17 free throws. He added 11 boards in the loss to Florida and dropped in four three-pointers and two blocks. Some have questioned his outside shooting but he’s hitting nearly 35 percent of his attempts from long range and shooting 49 percent on the season, respectable numbers for a player garnering intense attention. What sets him apart outside of his insane athletic abilities is his versatility and defense. Fans and media members tend to forget about defense, but that’s half of the game folks. Wiggins very well could earn multiple all-defensive team selections.
Jabari Parker (2), 18—F, Duke: The Blue Devils have been off for almost two weeks since a win over Michigan on December 3rd in which Parker scored 15 points. He’s made just two of his last 12 three-point attempts yet is still shooting a remarkable 47 percent from downtown and 55 percent overall. Parker is arguably the most polished offensive player to enter college basketball since Kevin Durant averaged 26 points per game at Texas in 2006-2007. There’s no doubt Parker can be a 20-point scorer at the next level while possessing outstanding passing skills and maturity beyond his years. His defense is the question; is he long enough (his seven-foot wing span has quelled some doubters) to bother NBA power forwards? Joel Embiid is hot on his tail for this spot.
Julius Randle (3), 19—F, Kentucky: Randle’s production has tailed off just a bit after a historic start to his college career. He failed to rise to the occasion in a loss to North Carolina yesterday, scoring a season-low 11 points while grabbing just five rebounds and committing four turnovers. He’s still averaging an impressive double-double of 17.2 points and 11.4 boards through 11 games. The lefty is relentless, an exceptional ball handler for a power forward and can jump out of the proverbial gym. Randle can score with his back to the basket or face-up but relies on his left-hand too heavily. He must continue to work on driving right and finishing with his weak hand because smart defenders will force him away from his strength.
Joel Embiid (4), 19—C, Kansas: Embiid’s stock is soaring and it’s easy to see why. The 7-footer from Cameroon only started playing basketball when he was 16 and although unfair, reminds many of Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon. It’s very rare to see someone at Embiid’s age and size that possesses such fluid footwork, body control and agility. He can play with his back to the basket or step out and hit a jump shot. He pulled off Olajuwon’s signature dream shake in yesterday’s win over New Mexico, earning ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ from the impressed crowd. Embiid poured in a career-high 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals in the victory over a strong Lobos team. He is just grazing the surface of what he can become and that has fans, scouts and NBA front offices excited. For my money, he’s Wiggins’ toughest challenger for the top pick.
Cleveland Searching for a Small Forward
The Cavaliers have an obvious hole at the three-spot, which they must address in the offseason, unless the team thinks Anthony Bennett can transition to the three-spot and thrive. It depends where the Cavaliers finish in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but as of now, they are likely to pick somewhere in the low-to-mid teens. Here are four wing players to keep an eye on as teams wrap up their non-conference schedule.
James Young (11), 18—F, Kentucky: Young is another sensational freshman on a loaded John Calipari coached squad. Young has good size for the three position, standing a tick under 6’7” with a 6’11” wingspan. We all know Cleveland lacks great outside shooters and Young can fill that void. In 11 games, he’s taken nearly seven threes per contest, hitting at a 34.2 percent clip. He’ll probably have to improve that number if he wants to solidify a spot in the top 10 in this draft, though he’s far more than just a jump shooter. Young is getting to the line 4.5 times a game, rebounds well for his position and carries potential on defense.
Chris Walker (14), 18—F, Florida: After sitting out the first month of the season due to academic troubles, Walker has finally been cleared to practice with the Gators and could be ready to play by the end of the week. The wiry 6’9” forward may end up playing the four in the NBA as he fills out and adds strength. Walker is quick and supremely athletic, but must improve his low post game and refine his shooting stroke. It will be interesting to see how Walker progresses on a stacked UF team.
Jerami Grant (16), 19—F, Syracuse: Grant is another long, explosive athlete with a great motor and good rebounding skills. His consistency was questioned before the season but he’s been assertive this season, scoring in double figures in six of the eight games he’s played in, while shooting over 53 percent from the field. Grant is excellent in space and has the size (7’2” wingspan) to wreak havoc on the defensive end.
Glenn Robinson III (25), 19—F, Michigan: The sophomore was unstoppable against No. 1 Arizona in the first half yesterday afternoon, scoring 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting. He finished with a season-high 20 points and missed just one shot. Robinson has struggled with his perimeter shot this season but has now strung together two straight solid performances. He’s a smart player with explosive athleticism, who must answer questions about his effort. He’s fallen out of the lottery due to a shooting slump to start the season yet could easily rise back into the mid-first round if he can continue to build on his performances from the past week.