Posted Dec 19, 2013 11:10 AM - Updated Jan 23, 2014 2:53 PM
There is a slight Andrew Wiggins backlash -- to be expected after years of living in the hype machine -- but, mostly, it's been hard charges by Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart that have turned the assumed Wiggins victory-lap freshman season at Kansas into an actual race for the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in June.
The actual ranking is close enough that it would be best displayed as 1, 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. And Dante Exum, his season in Australia over, realistically could join the party if he opts for the NBA over a 2014-15 of college ball in the United States, as expected. Either way, the early indication is that the top of the 2014 lottery will meet the considerable buildup, a great outcome no matter what but especially after the underwhelming 2013 selection.
Wiggins, a Canadian, would easily have gone first overall a year ago as a high school senior in West Virginia. The current version of Parker, Smart, Randle and probably Exum would have gone No. 1 last June as well, but now they all may be together in the 2014 class. Even with the dropoff after No. 6, if they all come out, the Draft will be electric by March Madness.
The current top 30, in consultation with front offices and without linking to any NBA teams (with affiliation, position, height and weight):
1. Jabari Parker, Duke | SF 6-8 235
A prototype small forward with skill, size and intelligence beyond his freshman standing. Parker is not a great athlete, but teams feel he has enough pop to become an NBA star.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas | SG-SF 6-8 200
The pros have been waiting years for the child prodigy to become draft eligible. Now that the moment finally has arrived, the son of former Bulls, Rockets and 76ers guard Mitchell Wiggins said he is one-and-done in college.
3. Julius Randle, Kentucky | PF 6-9 250
Randle isn't just the top big-man prospect based on potential. He could play an NBA game tonight, handle himself physically and score inside.
4. Joel Embiid, Kansas | C 7-0 240
The limited basketball experience while growing up in Cameroon is a hardship and a selling point: Embiid is unpolished, but his game is advanced for his circumstances, a very promising sign.
5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St | PG 6-4 220
Smart has great size for a point guard, defends and is a leader, but needs to convince front offices he can improve his handle and become a consistent shooter. He's off to a good start this seasont.
6. Dante Exum, Australia | PG-SG 6-6 190
Exum is weighing whether to enter the 2014 Draft or spend a season in the NCAA and declare in 2015, with the growing belief he will turn pro. He is a potential star as a combo guard in either scenario.
7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana | PF 6-10 240
One of the climbers of the early season has size plus a wide wingspan and will play physically inside. Though still developing his offensive game, Vonleh already shows nice skills.
8. Gary Harris, Michigan St | SG 6-4 210
The early numbers while dealing with a sprained ankle are bad -- 40.2 percent overall and 27.6 behind the arc the first seven appearances-- but Harris is still regarded as a top perimeter weapon who also can get to the rim.
9. Aaron Gordon, Arizona | PF-SF 6-9 225
The shooting problems are a concern, but Gordon is an elite athlete who plays hard and has a good feel for the game for someone who won't turn 19 until about six weeks before 2014 training camp.
10. Rodney Hood, Duke | SF 6-8 210
Hood has gone from Mississippi State to sitting out last season as a transfer to immediately pushing into the lottery as a catch-and-shoot specialist with 3-point range.
11. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan | SF 6-6 215
After sharing the offense last season with 2013 first-rounders Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Robinson has not capitalized on the chance to be an offensive star, but he remains a serious lottery threat.
12. Zach LaVine, UCLA | PG 6-5 180
The late-bloomer wasn't a major recruit until his senior year of high school, but now is moving far up the draft boards without nearly the hype of several other freshmen. That happens with point guards with size, athleticism and a shot.
13. James Young, Kentucky | SG-SF 6-6 215
It says a lot that Young continues to draw positive reviews from NBA eyes despite not shooting well and sharing the ball with other lottery picks.
14. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville | PF 6-8 230
Though still unpolished on offense and slightly undersized, Harrell's energy, 7-4 wingspan and athleticism translate into a potential impact player as a defender and rebounder.
15. Dario Saric, Croatia | SF 6-10 235
A strong possibility for the 2013 lottery before withdrawing late, Saric has very good instincts and can play in transition or halfcourt. But he is turnover prone and inconsistent with his shot.
16. Wayne Selden, Kansas | SG 6-6 230
Ben McLemore's replacement in the Jayhawks backcourt has great strength with the ability to play inside, as a scorer or for rebounding. The next step is to become a better shooter.
17. Doug McDermott , Creighton | SF 6-8 225
The inability to create and a lack of athleticism will hurt on defense. But that shooting. Plus, McDermott will have the experience of four years in college.
18. Adreian Payne, Michigan St | PF 6-10 240
The senior has been adding muscle and expanding his offense each season, the kind of upward trajectory front offices love to see. He already has the athleticism.
19. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky | C 7-0 235
A 7-footer with speed to run in transition and the instincts and physical ability to be a standout shot blocker. But his offensive game mostly consists of rebound putbacks and finishing lobs.
20. Semaj Christon, Xavier | PG 6-3 190
He has the speed and aggressive nature to be explosive with the ball, either in charging to the rim or creating for others. And he has good size. The problem is that he too often plays out of control, with a poor assist-to-turnover ratio. And the range is lacking.
21. Mario Hezonja, Croatia | SG 6-6 200
Hezonja has been one of the top backcourt prospects in Europe for years and is still only 18, indicating he may not declare in 2014, the first time he will be draft eligible. He has size and the ability to score from many places.
22. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky | PG 6-6 215
Because so much of Harrison's success as a blue-chip recruit was based on his physical advantages against smaller high school players, scouts have been watching how he does against college opponents. The early results have been mixed.
23. Jerami Grant, Syracuse | SF 6-8 210
Harvey's son/Horace's nephew, a reserve for the Orangemen, scores, rebounds and has the kind of wingspan and athleticism that indicate he could become a standout defender.
24. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin | SF 6-7 200
Dekker would be a particularly good fit as a complementary player, a spot-up shooter who uses hard work and good instincts to get open. Not having advanced speed or strength will hold him back.
25. James McAdoo, N. Carolina | SF-PF 6-9 230
The lottery projections and talk of potential stardom disappeared a year ago, but McAdoo continues to rate as a solid prospect who will have a long career ... just not a great career.
26. Jahii Carson, Arizona State | PG 5-11 180
Though he uses his elite speed to put up big scoring numbers early, Carson can be a talented distributing point guard, too, thanks to a high basketball IQ and an ability to create for others, especially in an up-tempo offense.
27. Mitch McGary, Michigan | C 6-10 265
McGary played eight games before being forced out of the lineup by back problems and underwent surgery in early-January, an obvious blow to his draft stock.
28. Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado | SG 6-6 200
He lacks the athleticism teams prefer, especially on the wing, but Dinwiddie can score, handle well enough to get a look at reserve point guard and has decent range.
29. P.J. Hairston, No. Carolina | SG 6-4 220
Hairston joined the Texas Legends after the NCAA ruled him ineligible at North Carolina for impermissible benefits, a showcase for his shooting range and physical play even if it's not the way he wanted his college career to end.
30. Isaiah Austin, Baylor | PF 7-1 220
Austin continues to do his best to give away money, maiming his draft stock by too often appearing disinterested in games. But 7-footers with a touch and potential as shot blockers keep the NBA interested.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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