The last time we did this, we ended up projecting Austin Rivers as the 14th-best player in the NBA, ahead of players like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo. That went well.
Lesson learned? Not really. The same person responsible for the Rivers pick selected another high school player ahead of established stars. (Who is this crazy person? No comment.)
To get to know the panelists and read about what this whole list is about, see the Top 100 of 2017 index page.
20. John Wall
I know, I know, small sample size, blah, blah, blah, but from March 1 on, Wall averaged 23/5/8 with fewer than three turnovers a game while shooting 47 percent from the field and a not-terrible 34 percent from 3-point range. All this was with Garrett Temple taking most of the injured Bradley Beal's minutes. A fluke? Maybe, but I'm betting that it's the start of something special for a player who finally has a skeleton of a real team around him instead of the JaVale/Nick/Dray clown show. By the way, he's still younger than Damian Lillard. -PRADA
ZILLER: Wall is really good, and I think he'll be a really good point guard. I think this is the appropriate range for him.
FLANNERY: I'm not so certain and that puts me in the terribly awkward position of not totally buying into a guy who is one of my personal favorites. John Wall: When liberated fandom gets complicated.
ZILLER: The Monta Ellis Paradox.
19. Serge Ibaka
I can't help but notice how much Ibaka has already improved throughout his career. He was super raw when he entered the league and has steadily gotten better in virtually every category. He's a phenomenal shotblocker and, despite those who call him overrated on defense, is going to be a perennial DPOY candidate. Every team in the league wants an intelligent big man who can hit jumpers and protect the rim. In 2017, Serge Ibaka will be the best player in the league at doing a combination of those two things. -KACZMAREK
PRADA: An inspired pick, but one that'll make sense because he'll be a center in a hyper small-ball lineup with Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Durant in 2017. (Fred Hoiberg will be the Thunder's coach.)
TJARKS: As a Big 12 basketball fan, I can't give Fred Hoiberg enough props for what he's done at Iowa State. He's the best. He gave Kentucky its toughest game in the NCAA Tournament in 2012 with Royce White and four 3-point shooters.
Speaking of the Big 12, don't forget about my boy Perry Jones III! I still believe!
ZILLER: Will Tjarks take Perry Jones in the top 18? Stay tuned!
I almost took Ibaka at No. 18. He could actually be top 10 in the end. He's really, really valuable. But he totally tanked when Russell Westbrook got injured, so ...
18. Jonas Valanciunas
I'm a little concerned about Valanciunas's rebounding, but he projects as an awesome defender and scorer. That's a rare combination for big men, and he'll be 25 in 2017, hitting his stride ... if all goes according to plan. -ZILLER
PRADA: This may seem like a reach, but I'd rather have Jonas than the next guy on this list in four years.
FLANNERY: Thought a lot about taking Jonas higher and I'll probably regret it in 2017 when we're all writing via telepathy.
O'DONNELL: Underrated factor in this pick: With Masai Ujiri on board (and maybe even the recent influx of talent out of Canada), Valanciunas should have some awesome teammates around him.
17. Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is huge, skilled and recently turned 25 years old. That seems like a good start for this exercise. At 7'0 and 265 pounds, he should have a size advantage on nearly all opposing centers in the league. Lopez's post moves have been well developed since the moment he stepped into the league; he's averaged 18 points per game or more since his second season. His clear deficiency comes on the glass, but I'll bet on Lopez's already entrenched skill set over development from players like Enes Kanter, Valanciunas or even Jahlil Okafor at this point. -O'DONNELL
FLANNERY: I just can't be excited about a guy whose cultural frame of reference is The Avengers.
TJARKS: Bro-pez is why I was a little dubious about how much value the Celtics actually got from the Pierce-KG trade. If you have a big payroll and a seven-footer who can score, you should at least be a decent team. Also, given how Hollywood is, no question we're on Avengers 6 by 2017, right?
ZILLER: Lopez is darned good, but his inability to rebound forces the team to get a big rebounder at the four or suffer. Big-time rebounders are rarely floor-stretchers, and Lopez doesn't step out beyond the mid-range, so you're either conceding a chunk of the glass or conceding the stretch big style. Also, Lopez is much better when Deron Williams is playing well, and I'm not wholly confident in Deron Williams going forward.
16. Chris Paul
This is the safest and riskiest pick on the board -- not counting Prada's love for projecting high school players -- because CP3 will be 32 by the time the 2017-18 season starts, and even though he's held up fairly well, his minutes are already trending toward cautious at this point. That said, his game should translate well into his 30s and there may not be a smarter player in the league. -FLANNERY
PRADA: Is it really that "safe" when the lateral meniscus in his right knee no longer exists? I accept that CP3's game doesn't require athleticism, but I have serious questions about his long-term health.
FLANNERY: The safe part is his game, the risk is his health. He's missed 20 games in the last three years. That doesn't scream, ‘THE END IS NIGH.'
Look, we all know the deal with CP3, but Jason Kidd played well into his 30s and had to develop a jumper. Paul already has that, plus the smarts, the passing ability and the craftiness.
PRADA: Maybe. It's true Kidd's microfracture procedure didn't doom his career and he was older than Paul when he had it. But Kidd also was bigger, and bigger point guards tend to hold up better over time. Has anyone played into their 30s with no lateral meniscus?
TJARKS: Isiah Thomas, for a reference point, was out of the league at 33. Next season, Jameer Nelson will be the only starting point guard under 6'1 and in his 30s. It's a good thing Paul is special, because he'll have to break all the rules to be an elite player in 2017.
KACZMAREK: The knee injuries are a bit concerning, but Paul is a different kind of point guard than Westbrook and Rose. He doesn't need his athleticism as much. If he's still the same masterful floor general and midrange shooter, he'll remain a star in 2017.
15. Dwight Howard
He'll be 32 and declining from a peak. The question is, how high of a peak will he be declining from? You can make the argument either way. He's 27, been in the league for a decade and has never been the most skilled player, so maybe he'll never be as good as he was in Orlando. On the other hand, he'll be two years off major back surgery next season and playing in a much better environment in Houston. By 2014, we'll have a much better idea of which way Dwight's career will go.
Regardless, there's a reason he was so coveted this offseason. Big men age slower than guards, and 75-80 percent of Howard should still be an extremely good player in 2017, especially given how much smaller the NBA is becoming. -TJARKS
ZILLER: I'm a little surprised he's this low. At age 32, Shaq got robbed of the MVP trophy. Howard's worse offensively and better defensively, and I think we've seen from Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that defense can age pretty well.
O'DONNELL: I think Dwight is still a pretty safe bet here, all things considered. The back issues are definitely scary, but the guy played hurt all last season and averaged 17 a game while leading the league in rebounding. There are some good young centers, but no one is particularly close to his level yet.
FLANNERY: The thing that concerns me about Dwight are his injuries. Backs don't just heal magically on their own. KG and Duncan aged extremely well, but they also had all-around games that compensated for a loss of athleticism. I worry that Howard wasted too much time earlier in his career and it will come back to haunt him.
PRADA: Paul basically made my case for why I went with the next guy over Dwight and CP3.
14. Julius Randle
I'm going to get killed for this pick, so let me explain.
If this 2014 draft class is even 80 percent as good as people say it will be, chances are there will be multiple top-25 NBA players by the time they enter their fourth year. We don't know who they are, and picking one is like finding a needle in a haystack. But even the Class of 2009 had two players (Blake Griffin, James Harden) who earned five-year max contracts before their fourth season and several others (Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday) who got lucrative extensions. And that was a bad draft. It's not out of the question that 2014 has five or more players worthy of whatever results of the five-year max in the next CBA.
I'm rolling with Randle over some of the other big names in the class because I see the raw power and skill that could redefine the power forward position. He's potentially Lamar Odom without all the baggage, a better Anthony Bennett with passing. His defense is the big question mark now, but John Calipari is the kind of coach who will sit you if you don't defend. I think he's got as much potential as Andrew Wiggins, to be honest.
So, he's my choice among a litany of other 2014 prospects. A lot can change, obviously, but I'd bank on at least three members of the Class of 2014 being top-25 players by the start of their fourth seasons. I'd cautiously bet on Randle being one of those three. -PRADA
KACZMAREK: Whattt? Over CP3? Over Dwight?
PRADA: Why are people scared ranking kids who just finished high school this high?
KACZMAREK: Because I know nothing about them. They could easily be the next Harrison Barnes or Austin Rivers or Sebastian Telfair. They might very well be this good, but there's no NBA team that would trade James Harden for the No. 1 pick this year, right? We know Harden is a superstar.
PRADA: I bet a bunch would. Maybe not the Rockets, because they're trying to win a title, but if you're someone like the Hawks and you won 45 games with Harden and not much else, wouldn't you? (Note: We'll revisit this conversation later.)
O'DONNELL: I like it. I watched Andrew Wiggins and Randle for a few days at the McDonald's Game practices and believe both will be amazing. But how many players with only three years of experience are consensus top-15 guys right now?
TJARKS: I don't know. How many guys from the Class of 2009 or later are top-25 guys in 2013? At this point in their careers, they're more top 50-100. Anyone younger than this year's freshman class gets dicey.
PRADA: Aren't people comparing the 2014 draft class to 2003? LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were all in the top 17 of Bill Simmons' 2006 trade value column and were top-25 players in 2006-07.
TJARKS: I feel like there's a lot more young talent in the league now than there was then.
ZILLER: Mike makes some solid logical points, but he also picked Austin Rivers the last time we did this, so ...
13. Paul George
I'll admit that this ranking is assuming some substantial development from George on the offensive end. He's already an elite perimeter defender with exceptional physical tools, but he needs to be more of a creator on the offensive end, though he's a great shooter at this point in his career and should continue to improve. It's not often that we have a young stud perimeter player whose defense is so far ahead of his offense, but that's the case with George. As he improves his handles and takes better shots, he'll be a monster on both ends. Plus, his length makes him one of very few players that can reasonably hold their own against Kevin Durant and LeBron James defensively. -KACZMAREK
FLANNERY: No one loves PG more than me, but this is too high for him. Not a lot too high, but a little too high considering the wealth of big men and lead guards below him on our list. That said, if he continues to develop, he can be a better offensive version of Andre Iguodala, and that's a really valuable player to have around.
TJARKS: George has improved by leaps and bounds every year, but he's got maybe the toughest leap of all still ahead of him: from very good to great. Can he be an efficient scorer on a top team -- 20-plus points a game on 45 percent or more from the field? I'd like to see him get to the free throw line more. He can do everything else on a basketball court.
PRADA: I'm in favor of this ranking. George's biggest weakness is his handle, which hurts his shot selection, which causes his efficiency numbers to plummet. But ball-handling is a skill you can improve with drills over the summer, and with better handle comes more shots at the rim and, in turn, better efficiency. He's probably going to be the league's best perimeter defender in 2017 as well. Considering all that, No. 13 isn't out of the question.
O'DONNELL: Don't discount that Paul George's growth rate might make him 7'4 by 2017. He was the other player I considered at No. 11, so this spot is fair for him.
12. Stephen Curry
Right now, Stephen Curry's trajectory is as an efficient Allen Iverson. I couldn't be more excited to see that play out. (Well, I could be, if he were a Sacramento King.) The injury concern is obviously there, but two point guards ranked higher on this list are coming off of major surgeries. The injury risk exists for basically everyone on a list in which you're projecting players out four years, so while Curry's ankle history is worrisome, it's not unique. -ZILLER
FLANNERY: Are his ankles OK? That's really my only question with Steph.
PRADA: Anything involving the Warriors freaks me out. Weird things happen to that franchise.
TJARKS: I love watching Steph shoot as much as the next person, but the point guard position has become a bit overrated in the modern NBA. Teams don't win titles with point guards as their best player often. I'd rather have George and an average point guard than Steph and an average small forward. For Golden State, I worry that all their talent is on the perimeter. They're going to need Andrew Bogut to stay healthy over the next few years.
PRADA: All that may be true, but I don't think it has anything to do with how good Steph is specifically. No. 12 seems like a fair ranking.
KACZMAREK: His ankles worry me so much, and I think we got a little carried away after his monster postseason. This is a tad high for my liking, but certainly not anything egregious.
11. Kevin Love
There's not a single player in the NBA who combines Kevin Love's elite rebounding with knock-down ability from 3-point range. He missed 64 games last season with two hand injuries and a minor knee operation, but his previous production speaks for itself. As a 23-year-old, Love posted 26 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. He'll be in his prime at 29 years old in 2017, probably gone from Minnesota and instead playing on a team with at least one other star player. Assuming injuries are mostly bad luck, Love should be in line for some good fortune coming up. If he stays healthy, Love may be the best power forward in the NBA for a long time. -O'DONNELL
FLANNERY: Where will Love be playing in 2017? I just don't see his time in Minnesota ending well.
PRADA: Imagine if the Bulls have their choice of pursuing Love or LaMarcus Aldridge, except Aldridge is available sooner. Who do you ... wait a minute, the Bulls aren't going to do anything because ... Bulls.
TJARKS: Talked about this earlier, but I really think the Rockets are in prime position to get one of Love or Aldridge. That's a monster Big Three. A package of Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Omer Asik will be hard to pass up.
ZILLER: Kevin Love is awesome and productive. When we figure out how to measure defense, we might look at him differently.