More on the draft
More on the draft
This year's crop of NBA prospects was heralded as one of the best in recent memory. While the past few months have washed away some of the hype, the 2014 draft still projects to be loaded with guys who could ultimately change the complexion of the league.
Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and others remain the cream of the crop, even if they didn't leave college basketball burning in their wake. Let's take a look at how some of the game's top prospects fared with the regular season winding down.
Even while missing a few games to injury, Embiid's first season in Lawrence has been a raging success. It will surely be his last, too, considering that most NBA draft analysts consider him the likely No. 1 overall pick over his talented peers.
The per-game statistics -- 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks -- aren't especially impressive, but the tape leaves you wondering when his first All-Star Game appearance will be:
Embiid still has a lot to work on, including a tendency to foul that's limited his minutes, but let's not forget how raw most scouts expected him to be this season. Instead, he's looked so polished that whoever picks No. 1 might not be able to justify drafting anyone else.
There's a chance that we look back at this Kansas team one day and wonder just how Bill Self managed to lose games with two players as brilliant as Embiid and Wiggins. (It probably has to do with both guys being teenagers).
Wiggins hasn't always delivered on the massive hype he received before arriving in Lawrence, but a 41-point effort against West Virginia in the regular-season finale showed his true talent. With Embiid sidelined by injury and fellow star Wayne Selden struggling, Wiggins stepped up and played the best game of his college career.
Because Wiggins plays with such talented teammates, it's often been difficult to project him to the next level. Some might say he was too passive at times, but Wiggins' willingness to play the team game should also benefit him in the pros. If there was any question as to whether he could take over a game, he assuaged some of those concerns against WVU.
Like Embiid, Wiggins' averages of 16 points and 5.8 rebounds per game aren't exactly sterling, but his best moments reveal an upside that most players don't have. If Embiid somehow doesn't go No. 1, it's probably due to some team Gettin' Wiggy Wit It.
On the cover of Sports Illustrated before he even decided where to attend school, Parker was The Man in this class before anyone else. He's since lost that title to Wiggins, who then lost it to Embiid. But the Chicago native remains an elite offensive prospect who should be a joy to watch for the next decade-plus.
While a lack of defensive ability is a big knock on Parker's game that ultimately puts him behind potential two-way stars like Embiid and Wiggins, the Duke forward might have the best scoring ability in the class. Coupling his impressive size with a polished floor game, he might be part of the next wave of big 3s to spend time at the 4, similar to Carmelo Anthony.
Parker has put up strong numbers for Duke this season, averaging 18.8 points and nine rebounds per game to lead the team. He played a more complete game as the season wore on, recording nine double-doubles in the team's final 12 games. Over that span, he recorded no fewer than eight rebounds in any game.
That combination of scoring and rebounding could make Parker a very valuable player in the pros, as Anthony has shown, but defense will be the question mark. He rarely had a major impact on that end for the Blue Devils and needs to show it's a priority in his development.
Starring for the Wildcats this season has revealed a lot about Randle's game. That's mostly been a bad thing for his draft stock, as scouts have become increasingly convinced that his lack of height and short wingspan put some doubt into his projection. That doesn't mean he's struggled for Kentucky, though. While Randle's performance has cemented some concern in the minds of GMs around the league, it's also affirmed that he's among the best post scorers and rebounders in this draft class.
Randle averaged 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for John Calipari this season, showing he's not quite on the level of Embiid or even Wiggins, but is still a very good prospect. Able to find space around the basket and finish with strength, he's a classic post scorer and the kind of guy teams love to build offenses around.
There were some great performances by the freshman, too, including a 25-point, 13-rebound beatdown against Ole Miss. That came in just 29 minutes and took Randle just seven shots. He also put up 27 and 13 against then-No. 2 Michigan State back in November and hit a game-winning put-back against LSU in February:
Overall, Randle had 18 double-doubles as a freshman, including seven in his last eight games of the regular season. Tempered expectations or not, he had a pretty good year in Lexington.
Coming off a fantastic freshman season at Oklahoma State, most analysts expected Smart to enter the 2013 draft as a possible No. 1 pick. Instead, he returned to Stillwater for what's proven to be a difficult sophomore campaign.
Smart likely returned to school hoping to further polish his game and enjoy some extra time before entering the pros, but his year has ultimately been defined by a shoving incident involving a Texas Tech fan. That earned him a three-game suspension and a lengthy, controversial appearance in the national media.
Despite all of that, Smart has actually played pretty well this season, averaging 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game. The Cowboys won four straight games upon his return from the suspension, including a victory over then-No. 5 Kansas.
It hasn't been an optimal year for Smart, but he remains a very good prospect in spite of it all. Some might consider Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis a preferable point guard prospect at this point, but Smart remains a lottery pick and one of the top players in the draft.