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An Early Assessment of the 2014 NBA Draft Class

Highly heralded months ago, the tone has quickly changed in regards to this year’s rookie class.

Yannis Koutroupis

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They say it takes three years to truly grade a draft, but the 2014 class had as much as hype as any since the star studded 2003 class that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh among other high-level players. That created expectations that, 20+ games into the season, they are falling drastically short of meeting. They’re far closer to going down as one of the most disappointing classes, rather than one of the best ever, if they continue on their current pace. In their defense, injuries have taken a toll on this class, and a lot of players have yet to receive a serious opportunity to prove themselves. However, whereas a lot of projections had multiple franchise players coming out of this draft, there’s reason to wonder if that will ever become reality. Until that changes, the overall outlook on this class will never be positive.

Here’s a deeper look at what we’ve seen from the class so far. :

If Rookie of the Year were handed out today…

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker would likely run away with it. He’s been an integral part of the Bucks’ resurgence. After finishing with the worst record in the league last year, they’re now 12-12 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. While Parker’s averages of 12.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists aren’t mind blowing, it’s important to point out that he’s only playing 30 minutes a night and is really being eased into a feature role by new Bucks head coach Jason Kidd.

Still, Parker has shown the potential to be a true No. 1 option in flashes, like when he went for 22 points on 11-15 shooting in a close loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers or when he dropped 23 points on 8-13 shooting in a road win against the Brooklyn Nets. He’s having a really strong December so far, averaging 14.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 60 percent from the field. He’s gotten away from settling for threes, one of the chief complaints about his game during his lone season at Duke.

Parker made it clear prior to the draft that he wanted to be a Buck and play near his hometown of Chicago. It doesn’t look like the fit could be any better for both parties as Parker is the only lottery pick who can claim he’s at least close to meeting expectations.

The rookies who have let us down

Andrew Wiggins, the top overall selection, had a tumultuous offseason. From the second LeBron James re-signed with the Cavaliers, it became clear that he was no longer in their plans. Trade rumors for Kevin Love surfaced immediately and by the end of August, Wiggins had already been traded to the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves. His potential was great enough to go No. 1, but the Cavaliers didn’t think he could help them enough immediately to justify passing on one of the league’s most productive All-Stars. There were actually some cries that the Cavaliers could end up regretting trading Wiggins, but even during their recent struggles, there’s no second guessing going on in Cleveland.

That’s because Wiggins has proven to be as raw and unready as his biggest supporters feared. He’s caught heat from his head coach Flip Saunders for not playing hard enough, which has always been his biggest flaw. Wiggins doesn’t appear to have the killer instinct of a Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, but the hope is that he blows up after a slow start in similar fashion to Paul George and Vince Carter.

The jump from the mid-major ranks in the NCAA to the NBA has been a difficult one for Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton to handle so far. He’s received ample opportunity under Jacque Vaughn, a former NBA point guard himself who was thought to be a perfect fit to groom Payton, but has mainly showed how far away he is from being ready to be the starting point guard the Magic hoped for when they drafted him. Payton is shooting a woeful 37 percent from the field, 25 percent from deep and 46 percent from the charity stripe. If he were on a team focused on winning now, it’s hard to imagine he’d be seeing the floor half as much as he is with the rebuilding Magic. They’re showing faith and confidence in him right now, but at some point Payton is going to have to deliver or he’ll find himself watching like most of his other classmates.

While it may not be fair to call any second-round pick a disappointment, this draft analyst was expecting more from New Orleans Pelicans guard Russ Smith. A prolific player in college who stayed for four years and helped Louisville win a championship as a junior, Smith has been unable to carve a niche for himself on a team with one of the thinnest backcourts in the league. He’s been spending time in the D-League and recently had his chances of cracking the rotation made even worse by the signing of Gal Mekel. After a strong summer league in which he looked like a potential difference maker with his speed and scoring ability, there’s reason to wonder now if we’ll just have to watch the D-League in order to see him in action because it doesn’t look like his chance is coming since it hasn’t already despite the Pelicans’ dire circumstances.

The rookies who have surprised us

On most Basketball Insiders’ 2014 mock drafts, Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels was a lottery pick. We were that high on his talent and ability to help right away. Yet, because of concerns about his perimeter skills and potential to be a positionless tweener, he fell to the second round. That cost McDaniels the security that comes with being a first-round pick, but he fortunately landed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Not only were they willing to give him the option of becoming a restricted free agent this offseason, they’ve also given him ample playing time that he has thrived in. McDaniels is in the Rookie of the Year mix thanks to his averages of 9.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.5 blocks a game. Questions about whether he belongs in the league have been answered. He has a handsome pay day coming his way that should put him up there with the top 10 picks in terms of annual salary.

The other two rookies who have surprised the most are teammates on the Houston Rockets: Tarik Black and Kostas Papanikolaou. The fact that Black is still on the Rockets’ roster alone is a surprise, but he appears to be the new Greg Smith in town. Like Smith, he’s come in with a great attitude, willingness to learn and been as low maintenance as they come. He simply goes out there and does what Kevin McHale asks of him. He was really solid while Dwight Howard was out due to a knee injury and actually started a handful of games. For a player who was a perennial underachiever in college after disappointing stints in Memphis and Kansas, Black looks more like a late bloomer who is better suited for the pros than NCAA. He should be in the league for a long time, which is not something a lot of undrafted free agents have ever had the luxury of saying.

Papanikolaou came in as a relative unknown after being selected 48th overall by New York in 2012. He was very good internationally after that point, but far from a star who was a certifiable NBA rotation player. In another example of how strong of a scouting department they have, the Rockets tapped him as a good fit for their program and he has been extremely solid. He does a little bit of everything, and at 24 years old he is still far from peaking. The Rockets have a steal in him, just as the Nets appear to have in 2011 second round pick Bojan Bogdanovic, who has come in and established himself as one of the top rookies by scoring just over nine points a night.

Important members of the class we haven’t seen yet

When evaluating this draft class, it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t point out that some of the better players in it have yet to take the floor, or only taken it for minutes in the case of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Julius Randle. After a really intriguing preseason where he got progressively better as it went on, Randle went down with a broken leg in the season opener that will keep him out the rest of the year. Randle would be seeing major minutes on this struggling Lakers team and potentially be in the Rookie of the Year race if he were healthy. Top picks Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart have also missed some time with injuries.

Same goes for Joel Embiid, although the Philadelphia 76ers knew when they drafted him third overall that the chances of him playing before the start of the New Year were slim. Now we’re not even sure if Embiid is going to make his rookie debut this year. He may end up going the Nerlens Noel route and making his debut in what should be year two. It’s worked out well so far for Noel, who is 100 percent healthy and seeing extensive action every night as he works to develop into the face of the franchise the 76ers hope he can be.

For a short period, it looked like we may not be seeing much of Dario Saric, who the 76ers acquired in a draft night trade with the Orlando Magic, either this season. Saric signed a two-year contract in Turkey prior to the draft, so it was clear that he’d be overseas for the next 24 months. However, after sparingly playing in his first game of the season, there were rumbles that he could fight to get out of his contract and join the 76ers immediately. That didn’t happen and he’s settled in now, averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. The 76ers stay in frequent contact with him and have to be pleased with how well he’s been playing as of late.

Phoenix Suns first-round draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic is having a strong campaign for Fenerbahce, averaging 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. At 22 years old, the Suns hope to bring him over soon and utilize his versatile offensive skill set in their free-flowing, up-tempo attack.

At 7’3 with one of the longest wingspans ever recorded at 7’9, Cape Verde big man Walter Tavares is the sleeper we can’t rule out of making a major impact in the NBA one day. He’s averaging just over two blocks in 22 minutes a game in the ACB. He’s extremely raw, but at 22 years of age and a virtual newbie to high-level basketball, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he starts to make some significant strides really soon and comes over as an immediate-impact player, whenever he does decide to make the jump.

Finally, we’re probably just days away from Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir making his rookie debut. The 53rd pick of the 2012 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers played just six games for Galatasaray before being let out his contract to sign a big money deal with the 76ers. With the recent trade of Brandon Davies, look for Aldemir to get a chance immediately to earn major minutes in the rotation. 76ers GM Sam Hinkie has loved him since his days back in Houston and was willing to take on the problematic Royce White in order to acquire his rights.

With several months still left in the NBA season, a lot can change. There are a lot of members from this draft class that just haven’t gotten their chance yet, but it’s far too early and they’re too talented to seriously make decisive judgments on. This could still go down as one of the better classes in recent memory, they just have a lot of ground to make up in order to get to that point after the first 20 or so games.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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