NBA Draft

Cheap Seats: Which Prospect Has Biggest Impact Next Year?

Which 2014 NBA Draft prospect will be able to help their team the most from day one? Basketball Insiders’ interns discuss.

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Which 2014 NBA Draft prospect will be able to help their team the most from day one? Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor discuss:

Marcus Smart

The upcoming draft features a ton of talent, but many of these young players are praised for their potential more than their actual production at this point. However, there are some players who are ready to produce at the NBA level from day one. The player who will have the biggest impact next year, in my opinion, is Marcus Smart.

Today’s NBA is loaded with top-level point guards. That means that on any given night, a team will need a player who can slow down these talented guards. This is where Smart can make an immediate impact.

At the NBA Combine, Smart measured 6’3.25 in shoes with a 6’9.25 wingspan, and weighed in at 227 pounds. Smart has the size to match up with point guards as big as John Wall and Russell Westbrook, and the speed to stay in front of the quicker guards like Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe.

While Smart won’t lock down these point guards every single night, he will make life difficult for them. Westbrook may be able to score while guarded by Smart, but he will likely have a tough shooting night from the field and he’ll have to work for those points, which is pretty much all you can hope for against a player like Westbrook. For a team that struggles to defend against opposing point guards – such as the Los Angeles Lakers, who ran Kendall Marshall, Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash at point guard this season – Smart would make a significant impact immediately. He is also the type of point guard who can play alongside another point guard since he is big enough and strong enough to guard some NBA shooting guards, similar to Jarrett Jack.

In addition to slowing down point guards, Smart also plays the passing lanes very well, evidenced by his 2.9 steals per game last season. This is important because Smart is very tough to stop in the open court and when he drives the ball to the rim. With his size, Smart is able to bull his way through opposing players and finish at the rim, or make an easy pass to an open teammate. Smart won’t be able to do this as easily against NBA players, but with his size, he already stands over many of the best guards in the league.

Smart also draws contact well, as he averaged 9.9 free throws per 40-minutes. This will help him score at the next level, especially if he can improve on his 72.8 percent free throw percentage, which is likely considering he shot 77 percent from the free throw line as a freshman. While Smart will score attacking the basket and from the free throw line, his outside shooting does need work.

Too often Smart settles for tough jumpers, which defenses dare him to make. While his shooting mechanics are decent, his 29.9 percentage from beyond the arc is an issue. However, many prospects suffer from issues in their shooting mechanics entering the league, but they are often corrected with the help of shooting coaches. Though perimeter shooting is not a strength for Smart, it won’t affect his ability to contribute from day one, as Smart managed a 55 percent true shooting percentage last season, showing that his shaky perimeter shooting is offset by his ability to score in other ways efficiently.

Perhaps the biggest reason why Smart will be able to make a big impact from day one in the NBA is because of how versatile he is. Smart averaged 5.9 rebounds per game, a great number for a point guard. Smart isn’t just big at his position, but he also knows how to use his size effectively against his opponents. He uses his size to fight with bigger players for rebounds and move the ball in transition. He uses his ability to attack the rim as a means to set up teammates for easy layups, or wide open shots on the perimeter (he averaged 4.8 assists per game). He does not need to score to have a significant impact, as he can rebound, run the offense, get his teammates involved and check other point guards. But just in case a team does need Smart to score, he can do that as well, as he averaged 18 points per game last season.

With two years in college, unlike most of the other top prospects, Smart is ahead of the curve. Almost all of his stats improved in his second season at Oklahoma State and he has more experience than his colleagues. However, Smart was suspended for three games in February for shoving a fan during a game. The hope is that Smart learned from the incident, and will be able to handle those situations more appropriately moving forward.

Whoever drafts Smart will get a tough competitor, defender and multi-skilled player. Smart would be an especially good pick for the Lakers, who need a point guard to build around. He could learn from Kobe Bryant over the next two seasons, and take his game to another level. Smart will likely succeed wherever he ends up though, as he is a complete package with an NBA ready skill-set. In fact, don’t be surprised if Smart wins Rookie of the Year next season.

– Jesse Blancarte

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker had big expectations upon his arrival at Duke. Outside of Andrew Wiggins, there wasn’t a more heralded prospect entering this season. In his only year at the collegiate level, Parker showed exactly why he was considered one of the best players in the nation.

In Parker’s second college game, Duke faced off against Kansas, with Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Despite playing against two potential top picks, Parker was the best player on the floor, scoring 27 points on 18 shots, grabbing nine rebounds and knocking down four threes. He displayed a polished skill set rarely seen by players at that stage in their career. The rest of the season was much of the same, as Parker finished the year averaging 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds on his way to becoming ACC Freshmen of the Year and landing a spot on the All-ACC First Team. It would be unreasonable to expect him to replicate those numbers as a rookie, but depending on his situation, he may not be too far off.

At 6’8 and 240 pounds, Parker has the ability to play both the three and the four. His versatility will be a huge asset at the next level. He will be able to create mismatches from day one with his unique combination of strength and speed, something that is becoming increasingly more valuable in today’s NBA. Of course, you could argue that on the defensive end he may be exploited, which is a concern and certainly something he will have to work on, but Parker has the physical tools to become an adequate defender.

His most translatable skill from college to the NBA is his ability to score the ball. His array of offensive moves made him a nightmare for college coaches across the country this season. At his size, Parker has the unique ability to score from the post, off the dribble and from the perimeter. He is an adept ball handler and can penetrate the lane and use his strength to finish around the rim. This will surely be more difficult with NBA big men lurking around the basket but Parker, with his physical attributes, should have less trouble than most adjusting from the collegiate ranks to the pros. Additionally, his ability to get to into the lane should allow him to get to the free throw line frequently and draw a number of fouls.

Parker has the ability to shoot both off the dribble and in spot-up situations. When matched up against a less mobile defender, Parker can take two hard dribbles and pull up to knock mid-range shots. At the same time, if the defender sags off fearing the drive, Parker has the ability to hit the three. He was a little inconsistent from downtown at Duke, but showed nice range shooting from outside in spurts. His ability to attract the attention of defenders and spread the floor will be something can help an NBA team on the offensive end immediately.

His assist numbers at Duke were not spectacular by any means, but despite that Parker exhibited good vision, particularly in post situations. He was frequently doubled on the block and did a nice job finding cutting teammates or kicking it back outside to avoid a turnover or forced shot. At Duke, the offense relied heavily on him to score the ball but even so Parker maintained an unselfish style of play. At the NBA level, defenses won’t be able to key on him as much but if they do Parker will have no problem finding the open man.

On the glass, Parker is able to use his wide body to get in great rebounding position. He isn’t a player who relies on his athleticism rebounding the ball but instead is fundamentally sound boxing out and holding off his man before retrieving the ball. This is one skill coaches are constantly preaching and one that will benefit Parker greatly in NBA. He won’t possess the same strength advantage in the NBA, but his ability get himself in proper position is something that will be effective no matter the level of play and should make him an above average rebounder from the get go.

Parker’s ability to rebound will be valuable at the next level, but just as valuable is his ability to push the ball in transition following a rebound. He can put immense pressure on the defense with his ability in the open court. He can get up the court quickly and if he gets in the lane at full speed, more times than not he will finish at the rim or get to the line.

Parker is one of the most polished offensive players in this year’s draft. This, combined with his athleticism, should mean he’ll have little trouble adjusting to the next level and making an immediate impact. Barring something unexpected, Parker will be in the running for Rookie of the Year and be a leader in many statistical categories among rookies.

– John Zitzler

Joel Embiid

Back in the day, the Detroit Pistons with Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn set their team’s identity by playing intimidating and physical basketball. One member of the Bad Boys was quoted as saying an NBA team is nothing without some sort of identity and that still holds true in today’s NBA. Each player in this year’s draft class has a chance to change their future team’s identity, and while not all of them will have an impact like the Bad Boys had with the Pistons, their impact will still be felt on some level.

The team that drafts Joel Embiid on June 26 will have drafted the player most capable of having the biggest impact to their team. At this point, with less than three weeks to go until draft night, there is no lock as to which team will take Embiid. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been rumored to want Embiid with the No. 1 overall pick, but their recent draft history indicates they could quite possibly pick a player that no one expects them to take. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are also in the mix for the top overall pick. The Milwaukee Bucks need help everywhere, meaning they could take Parker, Embiid or Wiggins as well. With the third pick, the Philadelphia 76ers are in a position to take the remaining player out of Embiid, Wiggins or Parker (assuming they don’t trade up), but recent reports indicate they want Wiggins and they want him bad. Throw in Dante Exum, who is also reportedly drawing interest from teams in the top three, and potential trades, and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the top of this draft.

It remains to be seen where Embiid will go, but the team that does get him will be highly rewarded. Embiid has the potential to be a star, and he may contribute at a high level much quicker than expected. Embiid made huge strides in his lone collegiate season at Kansas, entering the year as a ridiculously raw center and leaving as a potential No. 1 overall pick. His teammates and coaches were amazed at his rapid development, since he’s only been playing basketball for four years yet picks up on concepts extremely fast. This should allow him to make a smooth transition to the NBA. Once he’s in an NBA team’s development program and has the best resources in the world at his disposal, he should be able to continue his ascent and make an immediate impact.

If Embiid lands in Milwaukee or Philadelphia, he’ll be able to play a ton of minutes from day one and there won’t be much pressure on him since those franchises aren’t expecting to make the playoffs anytime soon. That kind of opportunity and patience would be perfect for Embiid, who is viewed as a player with great tools to become an elite big man. He could continue to learn while putting up monster numbers, similar to what Michael Carter-Williams did last year on a depleted 76ers team.

At this point, many analysts are searching for an NBA comparison for each prospect and Embiid has drawn many comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. The comparisons derive from Embiid’s great footwork in the post, shot-blocking ability and overall fundamentals. Standing at 7’0 and weighing 250 pounds, Embiid brings great size to the position and he won’t be bullied at center. Embiid still stands to add some bulk to be able to ultimately compete with players like Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and DeAndre Jordan, but the fact that there aren’t many dominant centers in the NBA today should also help him as he looks to make an immediate impact. Marcus Smart will have to face a star-level point guard on most nights and Jabari Parker will have his hands full with the league’s plethora of talented wings, but there won’t be nearly as many tough match-ups for Embiid. His 7’5 wingspan will also help him, presenting a problem in the post each and every night and allowing him to become a dominant rim protector. Embiid runs the floor exceptionally well for his size and draws comparisons to Anthony Davis in that regard. Don’t be surprised if, like other young big men Davis and Andre Drummond, Embiid is able to impose his will and contribute in a big way sooner than later.

In an era where the center position is getting less and less notoriety, Embiid will help keep it alive. With his ability to play both ends of the floor and change the game dramatically, Embiid is certainly the player with the most upside in this draft. However, it’s very possible that he makes the biggest immediate impact as well.

– Cody Taylor

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