Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes around the 2014 NBA Draft. Included is a revised Mock Draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts and information from in and around the process.
Yannis’ Notebook: From a positional ranking standpoint, things are extremely tight at the top for power forwards. Three freshmen, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon, are the premiere players at the position, unless you consider Jabari Parker a four (which many don’t).
The each bring completely different skill sets to the table, so the order that they are drafted in is really going to come down to team’s needs and preferences.
Randle is rugged and physical. He has a blue collar mentality with elite physical gifts. He’s going to come in and be able to help his team immediately with his ability to rebound the basketball on both ends and score in the interior. Eventually he may develop into a legitimate face up threat who can take you off the dribble or hit the mid-range jump shot.
Vonleh is longer with a little bit more finesse to his game. He loves facing up, but is comfortable going right to his back-to-the-basket game if he can’t get by his defender. He is a very capable jump shooter and has shown a nice handle for someone of his size. He needs to get stronger and improve his footwork, but the Chris Bosh comparisons are valid.
Gordon is probably the best athlete of the three, which is saying something because Vonleh and Randle are no slouches in that department. However, he is also the most unpolished offensively. He’s primarily going to make an impact with his rebounding and defense early on in his career. He really needs to land in a situation where his offense is an added plus, not a necessity. He’s a strong finisher and will be able to convert when set up, but he’s at least a year or two away from being able to create for himself at the NBA level. He doesn’t turn 19 until September (Randle will be 20 in November; Vonleh will be 19 in August).
These three hold so much potential that there is very little chance they slip out of the top 10, despite the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers are the only team with a glaring need at the power forward position. There are other teams drafting in that range, like the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings who could justify going with a power forward, but they have other needs that are more pressing. The Lakers may be the only team that presents them the opportunity to start right away, though.
Once Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum are off the board, expect the trade offers to start roll in, because there are teams slated to pick later in the draft that need a power forward far more than the majority of the teams drafting in the top 10. Those who are unable to move up will have to keep their fingers crossed for Adreian Payne, but he may even be gone before the lottery is over.
Joel’s Notebook: Teams with two first-round picks are always fascinating because they have a real ability to get their mitts on a couple of players who could potentially be major rotation guys on affordable contracts for a solid handful of years. After completing my mock this week, I looked at the combinations of guys I paired up for those teams with multiple first-rounders and found some really interesting tandems (or, in Phoenix’s case, an interesting trio).
Philadelphia is going to end up with one of the top three players in this draft, and in this case that guy ended up being Jabari Parker, an offensive stud they can play at either forward position next year. I put Jusuf Nurkic with him despite the fact that Philadelphia already has a “center” in Nerlens Noel because I like the combination these two guys could create. Nurkic is a huge Euro prospect with impressive traditional big man scoring skills. Noel does not have those things, and could just as easily play power forward alongside him. Nurkic’s name isn’t as sexy as someone like Gary Harris or Doug McDermott, but Nurkic is a unique player in the lottery this year. There’s not a lot of bigs like him in this draft.
For Orlando, Dante Exum is the perfect fit and very likely the guy they’re hoping/expecting to get at No. 4. He gets paired up in this scenario with Doug McDermott, which was the first time I had him landing in Orlando in any of my mocks. He’d be a three-point specialist out of the frontcourt a la Kyle Korver, and that’s a nice complement to someone like Nikola Vujecic, who does most of his work inside.
Charlotte would be thrilled if Julius Randle fell all the way to them at #9, and uber-athlete Zach LaVine gives them some promise and potential at a position of need. Chicago gets their backup point guard in Tyler Ennis and some post-Luol-Deng Era depth at small forward with UCLA’s Kyle Anderson. OKC ends up with Nik Stauskas and Jordan Adams, a couple of steals at those draft slots, and Phoenix grabs Adreian Payne, K.J. McDaniels and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Not the biggest names in the draft, but all guys who could come in and make the rotation right away.
Alex’s Notebook: In recent months, Noah Vonleh has been considered a notch or two below the top prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft. He has rarely been included in the same sentence as Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle. He tends to fall in that next grouping that includes Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Dario Saric among others. Vonleh has been viewed as a top-10 pick, but he’s not usually mentioned as someone who could be one of the first players off of the board on draft night.
However, that may change in the weeks leading up the draft. Vonleh has a lot of fans around the NBA and some teams are very high on the former Indiana big man. While his team didn’t experience much success during his lone collegiate season, he has all of the tools to be a spectacular NBA player.
Vonleh’s measurements and athletic testing wowed a lot of executives at the combine, where he measured in at 6’9.5 with a 7’4.25 wingspan and 9’0 standing reach. His max vertical was 37 inches and he had the largest hands of anyone in the draft class, and the second-largest hands of any player in NBA combine history.
He’s raw, but that’s expected for an 18-year-old who still has a lot of growing to do, on and off the court. His age is one of the reasons why he’s so attractive to teams, since he has a ton of upside and doesn’t seem anywhere close to reaching his ceiling.
Stretch fours are very popular in the NBA right now, and Vonleh has range out to the NBA three-point line. He has always been a great shooter, dating back to his high school days, and he has continued to work on this aspect of his game. He has also improved as a low-post scorer, but it’s still an area where he could use some work as he continues to develop his game.
At Indiana, he averaged 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds, while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from three. Some executives believe his numbers could’ve been even better if he had been featured more in Indiana’s offense.
Don’t be surprised if Vonleh continues to climb in the coming weeks.
Steve’s Notebook: Things got interesting this week after NBA teams got an up-close look at top tier prospects Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Al three skipped the Chicago NBA Draft Combine, so this was the first look teams had of them since their college season wrapped and in many cases it was the first time some teams saw them in person, although everyone drafting in the top 15 has been all over these guys for more than a year.
Embiid put all of his promise and amazing length on display. He attacked the basket aggressively. He did contact and jumping drills clearly designed to put questions about his back to rest. Teams they were there commented privately that Embiid looked as good as he could look, but that every expected that, what is still looming is what is his MRI looks like and how will team doctors view his back.
Embiid’s camp is still managing the process aggressively telling some teams if they want to see him they have to come to him. There is even more control being placed on who can see his medical materials.
It’s clear Embiid’s agent Arn Tellum wants to control where he lands in the draft which makes projecting him a clear cut number one pick a little tough. Cleveland is said to be “negotiating” a trip into Cleveland. While the Bucks are saying they may have to be “creative” if they want one on one time with the top level guys.
Parker put on a show in the same gym, showing his skill set for all to see. He was a better shape than many had expected as the word from Chicago during the Combine was that he was way out of game shape and had added anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds. Those estimates seem to be a little high. Its clear Parker has been going hard and his game stood out to those in attendance as the more polished and competitive of the three.
The sense that Parker could be the most ready to contribute of the three remains very real and he still has a large number of fans who suggest he could be the top pick once the Cavs get him in their gym.
Wiggins lived up to the hype which most wondered if that was possible. Wiggins is still viewed by most teams as the player that could be the brightest star of the bunch, but there are also concerns that his future stardom may be directly tied to where he is drafted. So there is some sense that he may not be a ‘one-size fits-all’ star, pairing him with the right coach and roster might be more important than some of the other top tier prospects.
While Wiggins is usually viewed an impact scorer, one aspect of his game that gets commented about the most among teams looking at him as a top level pick is the idea that Wiggins could become a very solid defender given his length and athleticism. Teams expect a learning curve on the offensive side, but there is a sense that Wiggins could be a very solid defender, even as a rookie.
While the “Big Three” did steal the attention of the league, some teams have started individual workouts.
Point guard Marcus Smart met with the Orlando Magic on Monday, and while the Magic are being very tight lipped about who they are meeting with, there is a sense around the Magic that players like Dante Exum may be gone before they pick at number four and Smart is viewed as very much on the board at number four depending on how things shake out.
The Magic hold the fourth and 12th pick as things stand today and are planning to work out as many as 30 players between those two selections.