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NBA AM: It’s Decision Time For Prospects

It’s decision time for some of the top names in the 2014 NBA Draft class, is anyone really staying in for another year?… Here is the latest.

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Decision Time On The Horizon: Playing deep into the NCAA tournament never hurts a prospect’s NBA draft stock, especially if there are looming doubts and questions about that player’s game. For the top of the draft board, however, getting bounced early may be something of a blessing in disguise. While the NBA has set April 27 as the deadline for underclassmen to declare their eligibility for the 2014 NBA Draft, having an early exit also allows for some early decisions.

Last year, a number of the top draft prospects waited until the very last minute to select agents and to get into training programs. A number of them took hits to their draft stock because they were not in premiere shape when the draft combine rolled around and were not necessarily ready for the scrutiny that a tight draft race includes.

With most of the top names projected to be in the 2014 NBA Draft class already out of the tournament, they can now shift to decision time. Here is what we know today:

Andrew Wiggins – Kansas – SF – 6’8″: Wiggins is done at Kansas. There was almost no doubt when he started the season that Wiggins would be one-and-done; the question is how bad do NBA teams ding him for his lackluster showing yesterday? The answer is not a lot, according to one NBA decision maker.

Most NBA teams had a good beat on Wiggins and his weaknesses. Most teams that have been eying him understand that he’s still a very young player that’s going to need a lot of time and development coaching. Wiggins will need to do some selling in the room if he wants to be the top overall pick, mainly because teams will want to hear him answer competitive questions to see if he truly wants to be great and hear him explain how hard he wants to work to get there. Getting into a training program early and really working on his body will go a long way towards illustrating what Wiggins is really made of. If he shows up to NBA teams without adding weight or defining his body, the doubts and questions about how hard he’ll work might come front and center.

There is almost no doubting Wiggins is gone in the top three, which means he is unlikely to go head-to-head with anyone in a competitive workout environment, but that does not mean he doesn’t need to be locked in a gym somewhere to really work on his body and his craft.

Word is Wiggins may already have a short list of would-be agents, so it’s simply making his decision and moving on with the next step in his path to the NBA.

Joel Embiid – Kansas – C – 7’0″: Embiid has baited the media all year with the idea that he might return to Kansas, although no one in the draft process is buying that. Embiid said yesterday that he was ready to play next weekend had Kansas advanced, but said with the season now over he’ll meet with his coaches and talk to a few people including fellow Cameroon native and NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute before making a final decision.

NBA talent evaluators are not overly concerned with Embiid’s back, but have said he was going to get medically scrutinized at the combine, not just because of his back issues but also because of a problematic knee. Assuming Embiid doesn’t have a major issue that will require surgery at some point, his stock is still very high with NBA teams and he is still very much in play for a top three selection.

The odds that Embiid returns to Kansas are believed to be very low, but given his reluctant nature, anything seems possible. Most NBA scouts have him on their board as “in the draft” until he says otherwise, mainly because most believe that his draft stock is as high as it’s going to get especially with a 2015 NBA Draft class that could feature some elite bigs.

The only wrinkle in Embiid staying is if his back or knee are worse than believed. That’s what teams are really watching for.

»In Related: The Top 100 Draft Prospects.

Jabari Parker – Duke – SF/PF – 6’8″: Like Embiid, Parker has kept the door open for returning to Duke, although also like Embiid no one is buying that line, mainly because Parker is a virtual lock to go top three this year.

Parker did say after his team was eliminated this weekend that he felt his job at Duke was “incomplete,” but no one believes he’ll turn away the guarantees at the next level, especially after it is all explained to him by would-be agents and the staff at Duke.

Parker’s tournament play was far from spectacular, but that really hasn’t changed how NBA teams viewed him. One talent evaluator said this weekend that no one on his staff was surprised at what they saw from Parker, saying defensive questions and issues have surrounded him all year.

Parker is deemed by many in the draft process as maybe the most pro-ready player of the bunch. With the possibility of him going in the top three still a very big reality, it’s hard to imagine that Parker, who already has a short list of possible agents, is going to turn away a top three pick for the uncertainty of the next year.

Duke’s incoming recruiting class may offer some level of temptation mainly because of the commitment of Jahil Okafor, who is a close friend of Parker’s, star point guard recruit Tyus Jones and standout swingman Justise Winslow.

If Parker really wants to win a National Championship, he’d have the players around him to compete for one. The problem is there are no guarantees that a stacked roster will equal a championship. Add that to the fact that no returning player ranked in the top five has stayed their following year and there are very real risks.

Parker could get tempted back to Duke, but it is highly likely his draft stock takes a major hit next season.

Parker has a few weeks to decide his future, but no one in draft circles believes he’s coming back, despite his comments to the contrary.

Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State – PG – 6’4″: Smart is the poster child for not returning to school. He dreamed of a National Championship and didn’t come any closer than he did as a freshman. Smart’s time with the Oklahoma State Cowboys is done. The next step for him is getting into a gym and refining that suspect jump shot.

NBA teams love Smart’s leadership and his toughness, but he’s going to have to fix that jump shot to really put himself in a position to challenge Australian guard Dante Exum for the top point guard spot.

Smart is often grouped with the second tier of players in the 2014 Draft class, mainly because he didn’t make any major leaps as a player in his second year at OSU. In fact, he showed more of his wrinkles and warts than the attributes that had him pegged as a top three player last year.

Smart is one of the players who could really change how teams view him with a solid training program. If Smart can go to NBA teams and illustrate that he’s the more pro-ready prospect he might get more consideration, which means picking an agent and getting into a training and development program is a must for Smart.

Word is Smart has a circle of people in his life that are in his ear, hopefully those voices don’t steer him away from training, because if Smart comes into workouts and meetings with teams with the same shot and same body structure, he may find himself a lot lower on draft day than he expects.

Tyler Ennis – Syracuse – PG – 6’2″: There is a very small window for Ennis to return to Syracuse, but almost no one in the draft process believes Ennis is back with the Orange next season. Again, this is a case of his stock won’t get any higher than it is now. Deemed a 10-20 range player in the 2014 NBA Draft, Ennis needs to get his decision made and get into a gym.

There is a lot to like about Ennis; he has ideal NBA point guard size. He proved that he can lead a team this season, but he’s going to need to improve his body and his shooting before he gets in to see NBA teams. As it stands today Ennis is likely the third point guard taken in the 2014 NBA draft. If either of the guys in front of him slip up in their preparation or delivery to NBA teams, Ennis could sneak a little higher especially as the big guys in the draft class start to develop fans at the top of the draft board.

Ennis has said there is no time table for a decision, however letting the season cool off and getting into the agent process would be wise, especially for a guy who needs to show up in workouts.

»In Related:Jarnell Stokes No Longer Under The Radar.

Noah Vonleh – Indiana – PF/C – 6’10”: Vonleh has already said he is entering the 2014 NBA Draft, so that door is closed.

Vonleh has begun working out in advance of the draft and is expected to settle in on an agent fairly soon. With such an intriguing set of physical tools, he is the guy that could be poised to jump on draft day, especially if he comes in to teams with a sculpted body and a refined shooting touch.

Vonleh leads the second group of would-be prospects and could go as high as five or six depending on how teams warm up to him. Players his size (6’10) do not grow on trees and if Vonleh works hard over the next few months on his body, he could find himself shining a little brighter, especially if some of the top level guys take too long in the process; that’s how it played out last year.

Rodney Hood – Duke – SF – 6’8″: The smart money says Hood comes out this year. The problem is he isn’t overly hot right now in NBA circles. Returning to school might be good for him personally, but professionally, unless he really makes a jump, he is a mid-first rounder at best this year and maybe lower next year without appreciable gains.

Hood needs to get into a program quickly, and really work on his physical conditioning, ball handling and defensive mindset. Viewed by many as a shooter and not much else, Hood has a chance to clean up some aspects of his game. Hood is likely going to have to work out against a number of players in a three-on-three setting, which means many of his defensive flaws are going to get exposed. If Hood can get his body right and really focus in on defense, he could find himself in a really good situation.

Historically, players with Hood’s label coming into the process get drafted in the late teens and twenties. Really refining his body and some of his weaknesses could help lock that in.

Wayne Selden – Kansas – SG – 6’6″: Selden has a tough decision. If he stays in school he might get more opportunities next season and could potentially improve his draft stock. However, given how streaky Selden has been this season, coming out now and getting into a development program might mean more. It’s always better to get paid an NBA wage while developing rather than risking career ending injury in college.

Selden looks to have a similar draft profile to Phoenix’s Archie Goodwin. He is uber athletic, a suspect shooter and more of a project player. Selden is likely a late 20s, early 30s player, so getting into a training program now and really refining his jump shooting could go a long way for Selden.

He has a lot of promise at the next level where athleticism is a coveted skill, but Selden has a lot of wrinkles in his game he’ll need to start ironing out, especially if going 10-20 is a goal.

It wouldn’t be crazy for Selden to stay at Kansas, but there are no guarantees he’ll improve even with Wiggins out of the way. It is highly unlikely that Selden isn’t drafted; the question becomes can he do enough between now and individual workouts to change his overall image with NBA teams.

»In Related: Key NBA Dates.

Cleanthony Early – Wichita State – PF – 6’8″: Cleanthony is a senior so he is not coming back to Wichita State, but the real question is can he work himself into the NBA draft?

A number of teams have Anthony on their radar, but like a lot of the non-hyped players in college basketball Early is going to have to see a lot of NBA teams.

The first big decision for Early is picking an agent, which sources say he may already have an inside track on that process.

Next will be whether or not to participate in the April 16 Portsmouth Invitational. A lot of agents urge their clients on NBA radars to bow out and take their chances in the structured group or individual workouts rather than risk getting exposed at Portsmouth due to the make shift rosters and guard dominate play.

Early, however, needs all the exposure he can get. In a draft loaded with younger more visible player, Early needs to remind teams that he can play and be athletic.

That’s were getting into a training program and getting his body right is going to play a huge factor.

Early isn’t a top tier prospect, but he is interesting in the second round. Showing up big and proving that he can play with anyone would be smart, especially for a guy few are seriously talking about, but did go out with a huge performance against Kentucky.

There are 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tournament, and while the pressure and the focus gets more intense for teams trying to get to the Final Four, so does the scrutiny players will undergo by NBA teams as the tournament progresses.

» It’s March Madness time and Basketball Insiders has you covered with detailed game-by-game capsules featuring all the details on every game. Want to know more about each matchup? Check out each capsule and make sure you are ready all the way through to the championship game.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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