Mid-October is not synonymous with the NBA draft. Basketball fans are usually starting to notice the NBA preseason and getting ready for the start of college ball.
But unlike past years, there has been a greater focus on the 2014 NBA draft and the overwhelming star power it has. That is why “Tankapalooza” is already part of basketball lexicon.
For a long time, this next draft has been called the Andrew Wiggins Lottery, and one year prior to the 2014 draft, the tanking began when the Philadelphia 76ers unloaded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the draft rights to Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans’ first-round pick, which is top-five protected.
While the Sixers were the first team to be accused of tanking this season, they will not be the last.
For anyone in denial about NBA teams tanking, just think back to the 2002-2003 season, when the Cleveland Cavaliers were doing everything they could to land LeBron James. Coincidentally, some compare Wiggins to James in his ability and potential franchise-altering impact.
Ultimately, there will be 14 teams whose fate will be decided by ping-pong balls. Here, as we sit in late October, is how I see the lottery going:
1. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas, FR
Combined with ferocious athleticism and unique skills, Wiggins is the consensus top prospect in what appears to be a loaded class. There is no doubt in my mind that Wiggins will be a star in the NBA, and Jayhawks fans should appreciate his time in Lawrence as there has not been a freshman with this much anticipation surrounding him since Kevin Durant.
One big Wiggins question is whether he will make an early commitment to playing for Team Canada next summer. If he does that in the next month, it could land Canada one of four wild-card spots available for the 2014 World Cup.
2. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, FR
I have known Randle since his freshman season in high school, and his maturation and physical development is awe-inspiring. Randle reminds me of Amar’e Stoudemire with his length, strength and athleticism.
There is no doubt NBA teams have not had this strong of a prospect to choose from after the first pick since 2003. Make no mistake, there can be a healthy debate about Randle deserving to be the first pick in the draft. He is that talented.
3. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, FR
Parker is not the athlete that Wiggins or Randle are, but he is polished and intelligent and should mesh seamlessly with the Blue Devils this season.
Scouts around the NBA vary in their comparisons of Parker but throw out names like Carmelo Anthony, Grant Hill and Paul Pierce, among others.
4. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State, SO
Smart had an outstanding freshman campaign and will look to build upon that as a sophomore with LeBryan Nash as his primary running mate.
Smart’s physicality and athleticism should make him a matchup nightmare for most NBA point guards.
5. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona, FR
Gordon reminds me so much of Blake Griffin with his size, explosiveness and ability to finish at the rim. Gordon may even showcase his versatility as a freshman by playing some small forward for the Wildcats in what appears to be a loaded frontcourt for coach Sean Miller.
Gordon’s ability to finish and make highlight-reel dunks is unquestioned. It’s now imperative he show how well rounded his game truly is.
6. Dante Exum, SG, Australia
While Exum’s ability to score is his best trait, he still needs to improve as a shooter and is a bit frail. As he grows and develops, I think Exum firmly becomes a wing.
But he could break into the league as a point guard to protect him from an increased physical toll.
7. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, FR
What separates Embiid from the rest of the top prospects is his potential. A legit 7-footer with a freakish wingspan and great athleticism, Embiid already has a knack for blocking shots and rebounding.
Playing on a loaded Jayhawks team, Embiid should be expected to contribute and fill in the production of the departed Jeff Withey. However, I believe his offensive opportunities will be few and far between with how raw he is. Make no mistake, Embiid can do some amazing things offensively, including shoot with range. But I am not sure coach Bill Self will be okay with that this season.
8. Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky, FR
Harrison may be the best prospect on the team aside from Randle. As a lead guard, Harrison is dynamic at getting to the rim but also has solid vision and handle.
He will be in the mix along with Smart and Exum to be the top point guard in the class.
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