2014 NBA Draft: Top Freshmen With Analysis

Could Bobby Portis be the most undervalued freshman this year?

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There has been a lot of talk about this years freshman class being only equal to the elite level of the 2003 NBA Draft Class because of the quality of the top of the class. There are a handful of prospects in this class that might be able to ascend to stardom at the NBA level.

With Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, and the overall class being compared to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and that cast.

Over the past five years there have been 30 freshmen drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft with 19 going in the lottery, including four straight freshmen going No. 1 Overall. Prospects are more polished, talented, and ready to contribute right away these days. This year is no different with 19 freshmen in the Top 75 including the top five prospects.

This class is undoubtedly talented and has as much a chance as any other to be on the level of that 2003 Draft Class, but if it is as good as the 2008 Draft Class then it will not disappoint.

Between Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and the other four freshmen in the lottery that class was loaded. They added another three freshmen in the first round in general making it the deepest and most talented high school class in the past 10 years. Can this years group match (or surpass) that? With 11 freshmen in the Top 30 of the Big Board that is certainly a possibility.

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Will this class produce as many lottery picks and future NBA stars as previous years? Or, is this an especially special class that will exceed the norm?

Here are the Top 50 Freshmen to watch this season:

1.    Andrew Wiggins — Kansas Jayhawks Small Forward

The hype and adulation for Wiggins has reached LeBron James status, and ironically, that is the player that he is being compared to at the NBA level already. They are obviously very different players, but Wiggins the prospect has the same potential future impact that James came into the league with. Wiggins is an athletic freak that not only can jump out of the gym, but runs the floor as effortlessly as any player at his position, and break down an opponent in a multitude of ways. What stands out the most is the intensity he has on the defensive end when challenged by another prospect that is meant to be Wiggins peer. He can flat out shut down an elite offensive player from end-to-end. Match that intensity on the defensive end with his offensive superiority and Wiggins is the one prospect that will alter the course of the franchise that selects him.

They build-up for Wiggins is a little excessive, but it is also warranted with the talent he has displayed over the years. There will be a lot of teams gearing up for Wiggins in a variety of ways leading to a lot of very bad teams. Those teams that miss out on this opportunity will have other terrific options, read below.
2.    Jabari Parker — Duke Blue Devils Power Forward

The No. 2 spot is fairly interchangeable, but for now that spot goes to the multi-skilled Parker. When you watch Parker play he is a combination of Shawn Marion’s size with the scoring repertoire of a Paul Pierce type. He is a very versatile scorer and one of the smartest prospects on the court in terms of basketball IQ. Parker has won at every level he has played at the highest level. At Duke he will have the opportunity to work with one of the best teachers of the game and learn the required skills to make the jump to the NBA four.

There is no player in this class with the basketball IQ or the offensive polish as Parker. He is the type of prospect that a team can build an offense around and potentially be a franchise player.
3.    Julius Randle — Kentucky Wildcats Power Forward

This summer Randle looks like he has trimmed down, worked on his conditioning, and will be even more of an offensive nightmare for the Wildcats this season. Decision-makers at the NBA level have been talking about Randle like he is the more athletic second coming of Al Jefferson or Zach Randolph. The skills in the paint have been demonstrated to make those comparisons pretty accurate as Randle has the ability to dominate the glass and score consistently with his post moves, athleticism, and mid-range game. Randle has a lot of potential and might be the most skilled big man in this or any draft class in years.

Keeping in shape and outplaying his teammates (NBA lottery hopefuls in their own right) will be key to Randle staying in the mix as a Top 3 pick in the upcoming draft.
4.    Dante Exum — Undecided Combo Guard

This comes with the disclaimer that Exum could bypass college entirely and go straight to the NBA from Australia, but if he does attend college this season, it is likely for this year and next. He wants to get the most out of whichever experience he chooses. No matter the route Exum decides to go he is going to be a lottery talent and even a potential candidate for the No. 1 Overall pick. He is that talented. This year Exum took another giant step as he out performed many of his peers on large scales with his ability to run the offense and attack the basket with his 6-6 athletic frame. He has the requisite skill-set to be what Shaun Livingston could have been and a better version of what Penny Hardaway was.

This combination of size and skill on the perimeter is a rarity making Exum a hot commodity that could be a franchise changer at the next level.
5.    Andrew Harrison — Kentucky Wildcats Point Guard

In any other draft a big point guard with the athleticism and scoring ability of Harrison would warrant being in consideration for the Top Overall Pick, but instead he is battling it out with Exum and standout sophomore Marcus Smart to be the first “point guard” off the board. Harrison is one of the most gifted guards in the class with his ability to shoot the ball and facilitate the offense, he is in the class of big, nontraditional point guards. The question with Harrison comes down to effort and motor as he can drift in and out of being a dominant leader on the court. The talent is there and with consistent night-to-night effort from Harrison he could shoot up the draft boards in June.

With the NBA filling up with big, strong point guards that can get their own shot a prospect like Harrison has more value than other positions and could be a key to the future of a franchise.
6.    Joel Embiid — Kansas Jayhawks Center

Raw talent from a big man on both sides of the court can be extremely rare for an athlete. Embiid has that on his side as a newer version of Serge Ibaka with his ability to impact the game with shot altering and blocking as well as a variety of ways to score the ball on the offensive end. Getting the opportunity to watch Embiid work out and practice showed all the dimensions of his game that may not be on display in game action because of his other responsibilities on the court. Embiid is a fluid shooter with three-point range. He can stretch the floor as a shooter and finish athletically above the rim. Developing his timing on the defensive end at Kansas while learning how to score in the paint more consistently are what can push Embiid to being a much more polished prospect.

Athletically Embiid has an extremely quick first jump allowing him to burst above opponents for blocks and finishes on the offensive end. There were a few moments where he was able to slap the highest points on the backboard flat-footed, from under the basket.
7.    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — Arizona Wildcats Small Forward

Defense often does not get recognized and praised at this stage in a prospects career. If you are an elite defensive prospect with the physical tools to be an eraser it is a positive, but not enough to be in consideration for a lottery pick. Hollis-Jefferson is one of those types of prospects, built like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist athletically with a similar defensive reputation, and more polish at this stage offensively. His shooting is not a major weakness though it can be improved and he is capable of scoring the ball on the other end while erasing both wing positions as well as having the ability to defend the one.

Hollis-Jefferson is under the radar at this point because of his gravitation towards being a defensive oriented prospect, but those intangibles allowed Kidd-Gilchrist to go No. 2 overall just two years ago.
8.    Bobby Portis — Arkansas Razorbacks Power Forward

In this generation of big men there is a pull towards the perimeter oriented style that reduces the impact of having a 6-10, 6-11 skilled forward. That is the biggest weakness for Portis who gravitates towards the perimeter consistently despite showing efficiency and skill in the paint. Portis is one of the more well-rounded big men in this class with his ability on the offensive end to face-up, put the ball on the floor, and score inside-and-out. He is also a passionate defender that has the potential to impact that end of the floor with his length and athleticism. There should be plenty of opportunity for Portis this year with three of the top five leading scorers from last season gone.
9.    Dakari Johnson — Kentucky Wildcats Center

The Wildcats will have a wealth of big men with Randle, highly regarded sophomore Willie-Cauley-Stein, and Johnson. They all play a different game that should compliment each other with Johnson as the throw-back big man that plays in the paint and below the rim. That is not saying Johnson is not an athlete in general, but he is most effective on the glass snaring rebounds and finishing with touch inside. He is not going to make a lot of highlight plays on either end, but is a classic big man capable of a double-double a night. Very low maintenance prospect with high effectiveness.

 

10.  Aaron Gordon — Arizona Wildcats Power Forward

There is not one athlete in this class that is in the same class as Gordon. He is explosive, energetic, and can make plays solely on his athletic ability that the most skilled players in the game cannot make. Immediately Gordon is going to have the most impact filling the lane on the break and brining energy on the offensive glass. He is a terrific offensive rebounder taking full advantage of his athletic gifts to track rebounds and make plays on the glass. Over the past few summers Gordon has been working on his handle, jump-shot, and trying to develop his perimeter skills to be a more effective and versatile prospect. While he has improved in those areas dramatically they are still developing skills at the college level and especially the NBA level.

Gordon has Top 5 pick talent and athleticism, but in terms of overall skill he is behind that curve needing to develop more of his game in a more competitive environment.

 

***11.   Noah Vonleh — Indiana Hoosiers Forward/Center

There are big shoes to fill in Bloomington and that is what is expected of the highly skilled and talented Vonleh this season. In Vonleh the Hoosiers have one of the biggest, longest, and most versatile big men in the country. On the offensive end Vonleh should be able to contribute right away with his mid-range game and size. With that size and potential Vonleh can be an impact defender like the other talented big men in this class.

With how talented the class of big men are this year prospects like Vonleh are interchangeable with Portis, Johnson, Gordon, and Embiid.
12. James Young
13. Aaron Harrison
14. Chris Walker
15. Nigel Williams-Goss
16. Tyler Ennis
17. Keith Frazier
18. Wayne Selden
19. Kasey Hill
20. Jarrell Martin
21. Isaiah Hicks
22. Austin Nichols
23. Jabari Bird
24. Marcus Lee
25. Rysheed Jordan
26. Demetrius Jackson
27. Nick King
28. Zak Irvin
29. Anthony Barber
30. Kuran Iverson
31. Matt Jones
32. Kennedy Meeks
33. BeeJay Anya
34. Christian Wood
35. Reggie Cameron
36. Devin Williams
37. Mamadou Ndiaye
38. Deonte Burton
39. Eric Mika
40. Nick Emery
41. Semi Ojeleye
42. Xavier Rathan-Mayes
43. Brannen Greene
44. Roddy Peters
45. Duane Wilson
46. Troy Williams
47. Ishmail Wainright
48. John Egbunu
49. V.J. Beachem
50. Akoy Agau