Mar 13, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) laughs while on the foul line during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second round of the Big 12 Conference college basketball tournament at Sprint Center. Kansas won 77-70 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Draft: Upside, Upside And More Upside


“I demand a trial by upside!”

The 2014 NBA Draft lottery has been set and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be picking first in the draft. How? I have no freaking clue, but that’s not the point. Finally, all the speculation as to which team will be picking first is over. However, the debating does not simply end there. If anything, it’s just beginning.

Since last summer, NBA fans have been swooning over two names for the 2014 draft: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Wiggins has been compared to LeBron James in terms of potential “upside” moving forward and the unlimited hype surrounding him entering his one and only season with the Kansas Jayhawks. Parker, who had his high school jersey number retired while he was still playing in H.S., has always been seen as the second-best prospect, drawing comparisons to Carmelo Anthony for his style of play while a member of the Duke Blue Devils.

With these two star college recruits, the race was immediately on as fans, scouts and NBA aficionados alike haven’t stopped comparing the two teenagers against each other. It’s understandable, however, as both Wiggins and Parker have a chance to become the top pick in the NBA draft. There’s a lot of money and future of a number of different franchises are at stake. The decision to pick between Parker and Wiggins could make or break a franchise. And so, the debate has once again found steam and it’s not going to end until we have a final decision on June 20.

If there’s one thing that doesn’t quite add up with the argument between Wiggins and Parker, it’s the overuse of the word “upside”. By attaching “upside” to a player, it essentially means they have the tools and physical ability to be a big time performer in the NBA but aren’t quite ready. It’s killed a number of high-profile NBA prospects as well. We’ve seen players such as Derrick Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo all come into the pros as players with enormous “upside”. One by one, all have had top picks used on them in respective drafts only for each player to flame out one way or another.

Using “upside” to describe a prospect is a fancy, made-up buzz word overused to death by draft experts and fans as a way to justify a players who’s just not ready. It’s become such a clique that it’s lost its meaning. “{Insert player name here} has such tremendous upside, but they have to work on {begin list of flaws the player currently has}.” It’s not that having upside is a bad thing, it just doesn’t mean what it use to.

This is where Wiggins and Parker come in. Whenever the debate over mock drafts comes into play, “upside” is the first word used by everyone that think Wiggins will be drafted ahead of Parker. Some will go as far as to mix it up a bit and use the phrase “higher ceiling” rather than “upside”.  Same thing, just different phrasing. Now, it’s not to say that Wiggins isn’t a better prospect than Parker, because everybody has their own preference of players. What this is saying is that there are some who ignore the rest of the conversation and rely on “upside” as the great equalizer.

Sometimes it’s better to just let the process play itself out, but the debate over Wiggins and Parker has been a hot topic for the last year or so and will only grow as both players continue their careers in the pros. They’ll forever be linked together like Magic and Bird, though in a much, much different way. Twenty years from now, we could be looking back on this draft class and saying that Wiggins was, in fact, the way to go with the first pick. We could also be saying that Parker should’ve gone first. There’s also the possibility that we end up saying neither of them should’ve gone first or it doesn’t matter who went first because they both turned out to be great prospects at the time.

“Upside” can be the death to a prospect. It’s what plagued Wiggins at Kansas. Because of his outrageous expectations coming out of high school, nothing was ever good enough. But nobody seems to care anymore because “his upside is so tremendous he’ll be a Hall of Famer”. Again, there’s a lot of pressure on this kid to be great. A lot is riding on his 19-year old shoulders to help carry a sad franchise back to respectability. And the phase we’re in now is that he’ll get there in about five years or so. While that’s a nice thought, what exactly is that saying? By the time he’s 24 years old and we’ve lost a couple hundred games we’ll be a good team again?

This isn’t a plea to lay off Wiggins as a prospect or a bash attempt, as I feel Wiggins will be a fine pro and has the tools to be great. However, using “upside” to justify a draft selection is not the way to go. And that’s the problem. Those using “upside” to justify Wiggins as the first overall pick are ONLY using “upside” to justify it. There’s not a lot to the argument besides that. Rarely do you see these “knowledgeable” fans use his growing defensive skill, his nice step-back jumper or his ability to finish at the rim better than most centers as a point to their argument. It’s all about his “upside”. If that’s all we focused on then why not start drafting middle schoolers and let them work through the growing pains?

Andrew Wiggins may very well be the top overall selection. Jabari Parker may also be that player. Or maybe it’s Joel Embiid, who’s also forced to live with the “upside” label. Drafting players is so much more than looking at where they’ll be in five years, though that does play a major role.  It’s about looking at what they can do right now and expanding on that. If you’re going to use “upside” to explain a pick choice, have a backup plan, because that word has little meaning anymore. Not in this draft, anyway, which I’ve decided to dub as the Upside Draft.

Don’t rely on “upside”. That buzz word can only get you so far in the NBA Draft.

Tags: 2014 Nba Draft Andrew Wiggins Jabari Parker