Posted Mar 28, 2014 7:10 PM
The separation in the draft has become clear, with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and maybe Dante Exum in some order in the lead pack, followed by Julius Randle and Marcus Smart, and then a big drop to No. 7.
Now comes the NCAA tournament as a huge scouting moment for all involved. Wiggins is still struggling with his shot, but while stringing good games together more than before, and topping that with a strong March (and maybe April) builds a better case to be first off the board on June 26. Kansas teammate Embiid needs to show the stress fracture in his back is not a long-term scare for the NBA. Smart and Randle can't lose more ground.
The tournament is factored into evaluations every year, the way front offices like the chance to see how prospects respond to the brightest of lights, except that the 2014 postseason could alter the top five of the draft more than usual. For now, if Embiid comes back strong, it's still tight in the top three with team need the deciding factor among Embiid and the two wings -- and a lot of guys with something to prove.
The top 30 heading into the madness, after conversations with numerous front offices:
1. Jabari Parker, Duke | SF 6-8 235
Parker is the most NBA-ready top prospect, without the same high ceiling as some of the others but also without the same risk. That could become the deciding factor for a general manager who likes job security.
2. Joel Embiid, Kansas | C 7-0 240
Just when he was passing most all the tests in the speedy ascension from unknown to possible No. 1, the back injury late in the regular season has created a new layer of having to prove himself.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas | SG-SF 6-8 200
The son of former Bulls, Rockets and 76ers guard Mitchell Wiggins is coming on. Not to where he is matching the preseason hype, but a nice tournament will continue the forward momentum and become a needed reminder of why he began the season as the No. 1 prospect.
4. Dante Exum, Australia | PG-SG 6-6 190
Exum is in a great position. His season in Australia is over, he is working out in the United States, teams can't evaluate him against real competition, interest will grow, and he will pick his spots for individual workouts.
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky | PF 6-9 250
Randle went from a very impressive start to a lengthy cooling trend once SEC play started, but nothing changes the fact that he could score inside against NBA defenses right now. He needs a big tournament.
6. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St. | PG 6-4 220
Smart will be a physical force, has a chance to be very good defensively and shows a great attitude. But what a risk to take a point guard who can't distribute (4.7 against 2.5 turnovers heading into the tournament) or shoot (42.5 percent).
7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana | PF 6-10 240
One of the climbers of the early season has maintained the standing with a display of physical play inside and signs of being able to develop a scoring touch away from the paint. Averaging 9.0 rebounds in 26.5 minutes as a freshman in a major conference is promising.
8. Aaron Gordon, Arizona | PF-SF 6-9 225
The lack of a perimeter game is a concern for someone who might play small forward, but Gordon is an elite athlete who defends, plays hard and has a good feel for someone who doesn't turn 19 until about six weeks before 2014 training camp.
9. 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. The concerns are that he is turnover prone and has an inconsistent shot. The signals from Europe are that he won't stay in the draft this year either, but he has a long time to decide for sure.
10. Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia | C 6-11 280
On a fast track up the board in recent months, to where NBA teams are putting Nurkic in the top 10 and he could be the second center off the board. A good finish to the season in Croatia pushes him higher.
11. Gary Harris, Michigan St. | SG 6-4 210
Harris began the season regarded as a top perimeter weapon who can also get to the rim and had the additional bounce of recovering from a slow start while dealing with a sprained ankle. But he still begins the tournament at just 42.3 percent overall and 35.1 on threes.
12. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse | PG 6-2 180
Ennis needed only a few months to go from nice prospect for the future to the immediate impact of one of the best freshmen in the country without being spectacular. His steady play has won over front offices.
13. Doug McDermott, Creighton | SF 6-8 225
The lack of athleticism will hurt on defense and with the inability to create. But that shooting. Plus, McDermott will have the experience of four years in college.
14. 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.
15. Adreian Payne, Michigan St. | PF 6-10 240
The senior has been adding muscle and expanding his offense with each season, the kind of upward trajectory front offices love to see. He already has the athleticism.
16. 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.
17. 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 indicates he could become a standout defender.
18. Zach LaVine, UCLA | PG-SG 6-5 180
It's getting harder and harder to find NBA teams still considering him a point guard, a hit to the draft stock. Without that image as the next Russell Westbrook, LaVine is another athletic wing, though 40 percent on 3-pointers is a selling point.
19. James Young, Kentucky | SG-SF 6-6 215
The early climb has leveled way off with Young at 40.4 percent overall and struggling to make at least half his shots two games in a row. Just like teammate Randle, the tournament brings extra value for Young.
20. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville | PF 6-8 230
Though still unpolished on offense and slightly undersized, Harrell's energy, 7-4 wingspan and athleticism that gives him the ability to play above the rim translate into a potential impact player as a defender and rebounder.
21. Wayne Selden, Kansas | SG 6-6 230
Selden announced March 25 that he will return to Kansas, but teams won't cross him off their list until it becomes official after the filing deadline. Too many players have said in the past that they are staying in school and then went to the NBA anyway. Front offices will also be able to ignore the 10.2 points a game because he played with two lottery picks and has the strength to score inside. Ignoring the lack of range will be harder, though.
22. P.J. Hairston, No. Carolina | SG 6-4 220
Hairston has had some good early moments with the Texas Legends after leaving North Carolina, reinforcing his standing as a possible first-rounder who can score from the perimeter or go hard to the rim.a better shooter.
23. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan | SF 6-6 215
The son of Big Dog Robinson, in the lottery conversation at the start of the season, did not take advantage of the chance to star following the departures of 2013 first-rounders Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and then the injury to Mitch McGary. Teams still see the potential.
24. Vasilije Micic, Serbia | PG 6-4 190
While he won't beat many people off the dribble, a potential problem, Micic is a pass-first point guard with vision, size and the ability to deliver the ball at the right time and place.
25. 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 with good size. The problem is that it too often leads to playing out of control, with a poor assist-to-turnover ratio. His shooting is improving.
26. Kyle Anderson, UCLA | SF 6-9 230
He can handle the ball for a forward, is versatile, has good size and a nice feel for the game. A lack of athleticism that will hurt his ability to create and defend is a drawback.
27. Clint Capela, Switzerland | PF 6-10 210
Good showings while playing in France have moved him into first-round consideration, with the chance for a continued climb if the NBA continues to see an upward trend in his development.
28. T.J. Warren, No. Carolina St. | SF 6-8 225
He heads into the tournament averaging 24.8 points a game because of a scorer's mentality, not a scorer's touch -- Warren is at just 71.1 percent from the line and doesn't make threes. The hard work on the offensive boards, and rebounding in general, makes a positive difference.
29. 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. His size and ability to score from many places equals great possibilities.
30. Deonte Burton, Nevada | PG 6-1 190
Even a bad season for Nevada could not knock Burton off the radar. He is athletic, plays tough and gets to the line, and makes shots, though with no 3-point range.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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