As the NBA season begins to wind down, the teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee that have successfully gone about demolishing their rosters have distinguished themselves in the race to tank. Other squads like Detroit and Cleveland now find themselves in the NBA’s unenviable middle ground. They’re not bad enough to get a valuable draft pick, but certainly not good enough to make noise in the playoffs. Yet, for all of the discussion about which teams are putting themselves in the best position to get a great draft pick, there had been limited discussion of whether the prospects at hand really warrant the sort of attention they are receiving from the media.
The player most likely to be the number one pick in this draft is arguably the most controversial player in the country, Andrew Wiggins. Unfortunately, Wiggins was compared to people like Lebron James and Tracy McGrady when he entered college, a burden that was altogether unfair for someone as raw a prospect as Wiggins. Wiggins is the kind of player who shows flashes brilliance one moment, and frustrating mediocrity the next. In only the last few weeks, he has played games that saw him completely take over the contest, including a 41 point effort against West Virginia. Yet, he has also shown moments of the passivity that he is often criticized for. In what was likely his last college game, Wiggins struggled against lowly Stanford, recording only 4 points on 1-6 shooting. Yet despite his inconsistent offensive performances, the reason he is likely to be the number one pick is that he is able to defend at a consistently high level in a way that most people his age do not. Wiggins is the likely number one pick because the worst case scenario is still a truly effective defensive player who has his moment on the offensive side of the ball. Perhaps with improvement, Wiggins will make the comparisons to McGrady look much more reasonable.
Those who are most critical of Wiggins will point to Jabari Parker as the most qualified player for the number one pick. To a certain extent, these critics have a point. Parker has been a dominant offensive player at times, with extremely polished tools to score at any time. He rebounds exceptionally well for his position, and would have been the clear number one pick had he been in last season’s draft. Despite all of this, many of the criticisms that are levelled against players like Carmelo Anthony are levelled against Parker. Parker is an exceptionally polished scorer, but his defensive game is often completely nonexistent. Parker has yet to prove that he can be mentally engaged with the defensive side of the ball. Moreover, just as Wiggins is criticized for his occasional passivity, Parker has occasionally gotten in trouble by falling in love with his jump shot. These are habits that can be sorted out at the next level, but it’s Parker’s relatively lesser athletic ability that may just keep his name from being called on draft night.
Lastly, there is Joel Embiid, a man who was the consensus number one pick just a month ago. What makes Joel Embiid impressive is rather obvious. The 7-foot product of Cameroon drew comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, which ended up looking surprisingly apt only a few months into the season. Embiid had the ability to be dominant on the defensive end, combined with a remarkable athletic ability that was truly unmatched in this year’s draft. In fact, had it not been for a back injury that ended Embiid’s season early, it would appear obvious that he would have been the number one pick. But since the NBA has a clear aversion to injured centers, there are many teams that will simply steer clear of Embiid, no matter how gifted he is.
Despite the fact that some analysts have criticized this draft class as being more hype than quality, these three players clearly illustrate the fact that the top of this draft has the potential to produce as many all-stars as any of its predecessors. Since this draft has received enhanced scrutiny from the media, it has been natural to be critical of any signs of weakness within the draft class, but when looked at in totality, it seems exceedingly likely that the 2014 draft class will go down as one of the best ever.Photo: Bryan Horowitz/Flickr