With the 2014 NBA Draft concluding and free agency starting at midnight on Tuesday, the NBA offseason is in full swing. Thursday night, we saw three of the top five teams draft players based on their potential.
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Andrew Wiggins, widely considered the top prospect with his potential and freakish athleticism, because he reminds teams of a young Tracy McGrady. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to be a starter from Day 1.
The Philadelphia 76ers took a chance on injury-prone center Joel Embiid, who won’t play for at least five to eight months with a stress fracture in his foot. They decided they didn’t want to pass up on a player who resembles Hakeem Olajuwon after just starting to play basketball three years ago. When healthy, Embiid looked like the best player in college basketball at times, dominating the paint on offense and defense.
Then there’s Aaron Gordon, a high flyer who the Orlando Magic already see as an elite defender but offensively, he doesn’t have a defined position yet and it will take him a few years to develop on that end of the court.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers took a different approach with the draft. They selected the players who are most ready to contribute at the NBA level right now. Here’s a look at the three candidates most likely to win Rookie of the Year next season.
Jabari Parker- Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee got their guy. Now it’s up to Parker to prove why everyone labeled him the most NBA-ready prospect in the class. He’s got a little bit of Carmelo Anthony in his game, or even a poor man’s Paul Pierce. With his versatile skill set, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t lead all rookies in scoring.
Who on the Bucks roster is Parker supposed to defer to — O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight or John Henson? Unlikely. The Bucks drafted Parker to be the man from Day 1, and don’t be surprised if he ends up averaging something along the lines of 20 points and eight rebounds by the end of the season. It’s expected that he’ll play the 3 and see some time as a stretch 4, where he can exploit the bigger, slower defenders.
Julius Randle-Los Angeles Lakers
When asked by ESPN’s Jay Williams on if he should have went higher in the draft, Randle replied: “Yeah, I think I should have went higher for sure but you know, the teams that passed on me will regret it.”
It’s clear Kobe Bryant is going to like Randle from the start. In college, he was a man amongst boys, a walking double-double averaging 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds a game as a freshman. He also helped lead his team to the national title game.
With a similar game compared to Zach Randolph, Randle is more athletic and at his best facing up and attacking off the dribble, catching the ball around the rim and finishing over his right shoulder. He only made 17 percent of the actual jump shots he took in college, but he would be a perfect compliment next to a finesse player like Pau Gasol, who the Lakers will try to re-sign. Because he’s such a physical presence on the backboard, Randle could average between 8-10 rebounds a game.
Marcus Smart- Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge‘s selection of Smart has to signal the end of the Rajon Rondo era in Boston. The Celtics drafted his potential replacement in Smart, while the Sacramento Kings drafted Ben McLemore‘s potential replacement Nik Stauskas, as McLemore could be headed to Beantown via a Rondo trade. Smart is likely to be the Celtics starter if Rondo gets traded.
What does Smart have in common with last year’s ROY, Michael Carter-Williams? An all-around game. MCW is a two-way player who won the award playing on one of the worst teams in basketball in Philadelphia. Smart will be in a similar situation in Boston. He’ll be an immediate favorite of coach Brad Stevens with his ability to apply ball pressure the length of the court, post up smaller defenders with his size and strength and get to the rim. His unique trait? He’s relentless and has a competitive edge to him that separates him from the rest of the class.
This is assuming Rondo gets traded eventually and the Celtics would start Smart at the point and pair him with rookie teammate James Young, who will start down the line, giving the franchise two building blocks in the backcourt.