These rankings are based on my RSPM player formula, adjusted according to each player’s age. The older the player is, the harder it is for him to receive a high grade in this system.
This ranking includes the 30 players currently projected to be selected in the first round of the Draft Express mock draft. I will also list second round “hidden gems”: players that scouts believe are second-round prospects but received a high grade from my RSPM formula.
This ranking is going to be very unique in that it isn’t going to conform to the expectations placed upon the players by the media. Last year, while the media debated whether or not Ben McLemore should be the first overall pick, my formula labeled him as being more likely to bust than succeed in the NBA. It’s far too early to render a judgment one way or the other, but McLemore’s rookie season was not encouraging. In McLemore’s defense, there weren’t very many rookies who did have a good season last year.
The point is that there are some players the media believes are superstars that my analysis will label as being much worse than the media hype. There are also players who are flying under the radar who my analysis believes will out-perform expectations. I’m betting that my rankings will end up being more accurate than the mainstream media rankings and actual draft order in the end, in terms of which players actually succeed.
Before I begin the rankings, one thing I am very confident about is that this draft class has been brutally over-hyped by the media in general. The media portrayal of the 2014 NBA draft class is that it has a few superstars in waiting, like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker. I don’t think there’s a single player in this year’s draft who is likely to be a superstar. I think there will be quite a few useful rotation players, and a small handful of All-Stars, but I don’t see any future Hall of Famers here.
PLAYERS LIKELY TO SUCCEED IN THE NBA (+1.00 or higher)
1. MARCUS SMART, PG Oklahoma State (+4.92)
Most of Smart’s headlines last season were about the incident where he shoved a fan and Oklahoma State’s mid-season losing streak. That’s completely unfair because Smart is an excellent draft prospect. He’s excellent at attacking the rim as he averaged 9.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. He’s an excellent rebounder for his position and a good passer as well (5.8 assists per 40). On top of that, Smart is a big point guard who actively grabs steals. The one element missing from Smart’s game is accuracy from long range as he only made 29.5% of his threes in college. If Smart can improve his long-range accuracy, then he’ll be a very well-rounded starting NBA point guard.
Smart is the single player I’m most confident will succeed in the NBA. It seems likely that a team will select Dante Exum over him, and I think that’s a mistake as I see Smart as easily the top point guard in this draft class.
2. JOEL EMBIID, C Kansas (+4.12)
A lot of people in private workouts have said that Joel Embiid has fully recovered from his back injury. If that’s the case then I see no reason why Cleveland should pass on Embiid with the first overall pick. He’s not the most prolific scorer, but he’s efficient, an excellent rebounder, and an outstanding shot blocker. On top of that, he already has good NBA size for a center at seven feet and 240 pounds. The only aspect of Embiid’s game I’m not thrilled with is his tendency to foul. Embiid averaged only 23.1 minutes per game at Kansas largely because of his 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes.
On the other hand, foul problems are common for young players and I believe Embiid can overcome this flaw over time. I agree with the mainstream on this one: Embiid is the premier center in the draft and worthy of a top three selection.
3. JORDAN ADAMS, SG UCLA (+4.06)
This is my first of what I’m sure will be a few “shock” rankings. Most people have Adams being drafted in the late first round, behind UCLA teammates Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson. Compare Adams’ 2013-14 numbers to LaVine’s, and I don’t see how anybody can rank LaVine higher:
(All stats per 40 minutes)
Adams: 23.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.0 turnovers, 2.9 fouls, 48.4% FG, 83.6% FT, 35.6% 3P
LaVine: 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 turnovers, 3.2 fouls, 44.1% FG, 69.1% FT, 37.5% 3P
The only things LaVine has over Adams are a little bit of three-point accuracy and he’s half a year younger. And I guess LaVine has been “wowing” people in combine drills. But look at what Adams has been doing! He’s an outstanding scorer and rebounder for his position, and great on defense as well. Adams is the best shooting guard in this draft and nobody realizes it.
4. NOAH VONLEH, PF Indiana (+3.32)
Nothing about Vonleh’s statistics jumps off the page, but he’s very solid in all categories. He shoots 52.2% from the floor and draws fouls at a fairly high rate. He’s an excellent rebounder (13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes) and averages 3.4 blocks and steals per 40 minutes as well. What’s most significant is that Vonleh is one of the youngest players in this draft – he turns 19 in August – and he put up those statistics at Indiana, so it’s not like he was beating up on bad competition the whole time.
Aaron Gordon might be the better athlete, but if I’m choosing a power forward to develop for my team in the 6-10 range in this draft, I’m taking Vonleh.
5. KYLE ANDERSON, SF UCLA (+3.28)
Anderson is easily the most unique prospect I’ve looked at in the last two years. He’s a 6’9″ small forward but averaged 10.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists (!) per 40 minutes last year. He effectively operated as the point guard for the Bruins. It says something that Anderson’s assist rate is the highest of any draft prospect in 2014, including all the point guards. There are two knocks against Anderson. One is that he’s not a good athlete; that doesn’t concern me much as plenty of mediocre athletes have played at a high level in the NBA. The other is that Anderson isn’t a dominant scorer, and that part I agree with.
Still, this is a player with such a unique skill set that somebody has to take a look, right? Anderson might not fit into every team’s offense, but I have to think there’s a coach out there who can make the most of Anderson’s talents and cause serious headaches for opponents. I have to think that if a team takes Anderson after the lottery, they’re getting a steal.
6. JUSUF NURKIC, C International (+3.16)
This is where I have to step back from my formula a bit. RSPM sees Nurkic’s incredible scoring rate (26.8 points per 40) and impact play defensively (4.7 blocks and steals) and rates him highly. The problem is simple: 8.3 personal fouls per 40 minutes, limiting Nurkic to 16.1 minutes per game. It’s clear that Nurkic hasn’t figured out how to defend properly with his 280 pound frame.
I wouldn’t actually draft Nurkic over some of the guys ranked lower on this list because of that concern. However, the potential here is too great not to take Nurkic somewhere in the 12-18 range.
7. JABARI PARKER, PF Duke (+2.93)
Parker is one of the players people look at and envision a superstar future. I’m not quite so convinced. Now, Parker is a prolific scorer for sure, but his efficiency is not as high as I would like it to be. He scores a ton of points but takes a ton of shots in the process. Of course, if that makes him the power forward version of Russell Westbrook, that’s not a bad outcome. Parker is also a very good rebounder but his defensive metrics grade out as more average than good.
Parker is likely to be drafted in the top three and I don’t have a problem with it. He’s talented enough to deserve that status, and I think he’ll turn out to be an impact player for whichever team drafts him. I just think the hype is a little beyond Parker’s actual abilities.
8. CLINT CAPELA, PF International (+2.46)
Capela has become a “darling” of stats geeks like me, and I am ranking him highly as well. Capela is a rare player who scores at a high percentage (63% FG in the French league) and takes more than a few shots. His rebounding and defensive numbers are very good also. The only knock I have on Capela is that he doesn’t get to the free throw line a lot – but he still scores so efficiently that it almost doesn’t matter. Capela is definitely the non-lottery power forward to target in my humble opinion.
9. ELFRID PAYTON, PG Louisiana-Lafayette (+2.20)
Other than playing his games at Louisiana-Lafayette, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with Payton. He can score (21.4 points per 40), he can rebound (6.7), he can pass (6.6 assists), and he can defend (2.5 steals). He played 36 minutes per game. Payton gets to the free throw line very frequently as well. There are a lot of similarities between his statistical profile and Marcus Smart’s.
Damian Lillard showed that teams shouldn’t be afraid to draft point guards from more obscure schools. Payton is not a Lillard-level prospect but he’s a good one, and represents very good value in the middle of the first round.
10. DANTE EXUM, PG International (+1.85)
Exum is a difficult prospect to evaluate because I only have limited data on him. From the data I have, Exum scores at a high rate but not at particularly high efficiency. His rebounding and assist numbers are more average than good for a point guard. He’s fairly active on defense with 2.3 steals per 40, but that only rates as “adequate” instead of game-changing. The biggest point in Exum’s favor is that he doesn’t turn 19 until mid-July.
I see Exum as being more of a late-lottery gamble than an early-lottery “sure thing.” Scouts love him, so I could see preferring him to Elfrid Payton, but I can’t justify ranking him above Marcus Smart. I’m on the side of Exum succeeding in the NBA but I’m not confident in that assessment.
11. K.J. MCDANIELS, SF Clemson (+1.80)
McDaniels only barely makes this list because Draft Express currently has him being drafted at #29 overall. However, I want to make a statistical comparison right now:
Player A: 20.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 3.3 blocks, 2.7 turnovers, 45.9% FG, 84.2% FT, 30.4% 3P
Player B: 20.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 2.8 turnovers, 44.8% FG, 77.5% FT, 34.1% 3P
These players are very similar, but Player B is a bit better from three point range while Player A is clearly the more imposing defender. Player A gets a lot more blocked shots and more rebounds as well. Of course, Player A is K.J. McDaniels while Player B is the much more hyped Andrew Wiggins.
I’d like to see McDaniels sharpen up his long-range shooting a bit, but if he can do that, I can see him settling in as a quality two-way NBA player, and that would make him a steal in the late first or early second round.
12. JULIUS RANDLE, PF Kentucky (+1.79)
Randle was one of the players who was projected early to be a potential first overall draft pick. A lot of people have backed off that projection, and that’s good because Randle is simply not that kind of prospect. The good thing about Randle is that he’s very good at drawing fouls and he’s an excellent rebounder. His 250 pound frame is difficult for opponents to handle in the post. The bad news is that Randle does not profile as a plus defender.
If I had to choose between Randle and Noah Vonleh, I would roll the dice with the younger Vonleh. I think Randle can succeed in the NBA, particularly on the offensive end, but he’s not a complete player.
13. JARNELL STOKES, PF Tennessee (+1.77)
Stokes is actually quite similar to Julius Randle, except he should be available in the late first round instead of being selected in the first half of the lottery. He’s good at drawing fouls and a good rebounder, although he’s not quite as good at Randle at either of those things. Stokes makes up for that with fewer turnovers, fewer fouls, and slightly more activity on defense.
Seriously, Stokes is extremely close to Randle as a prospect but is available much later in the draft. He should be a quality addition to a team drafting late in the first round and represents one of the better values in the draft.
14. ANDREW WIGGINS, SF Kansas (+1.16)
Before Wiggins played his freshman season at Kansas, he was considered the top prospect in the 2014 draft class. His play at Kansas caused a lot of people to question whether Wiggins was a product of hype or the real deal. Then the pre-draft process began and suddenly Wiggins was being debated as the top overall pick again. I don’t particularly care how high Wiggins can jump – I’m much more concerned that he’s merely “good” and not “great” in every statistical category.
If I’m sitting at third overall, with Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker off the board… I’m taking Marcus Smart and letting somebody else take the risk with Wiggins. I honestly see Wiggins as a 50-50 prospect: an equal chance of succeeding or busting in the NBA. There’s no way I would take him in the top three but that’s probably where he’s going.
PLAYERS UNLIKELY TO SUCCEED IN THE NBA (+0.99 to -1.00)
These are players I believe will have an uphill battle in the NBA. I believe they are more likely to be NBA busts than successes, but they’re good enough that there is at least hope.
15. GARY HARRIS, SG Michigan St. (+0.84)
There’s nothing particularly great about Harris’s statistical profile. He doesn’t draw fouls at a high rate, he doesn’t shoot a high percentage, and his rebounding and passing are unremarkable. Harris’s best asset is his 35% three-point shooting, but at that percentage, Harris can’t rely on that as his only plus skill.
There’s nothing “wrong” with Harris, but there’s nothing really “right” either. If I’m looking at shooting guards, I’m much more interested in Jordan Adams than I am in Gary Harris.
16. AARON GORDON, PF Arizona (+0.83)
Gordon seems to be this year’s prospect whose high draft status is based more on athleticism than actual on-court accomplishments (along with Andrew Wiggins). He’s very young and raw, so it’s quite possible a sharp coach could mold Gordon into a force in the NBA… but he’s likely to be drafted by a team that isn’t so sharp. As for his statistics, Gordon shoots a decent percentage from the floor but isn’t a prolific scorer as he only scored 15.8 points per 40 minutes at Arizona. He’s a good but not great rebounder and his defensive statistics are mediocre (2.4 blocks and steals per 40).
Gordon is certainly skilled, so I see the upside. However, I could also see him just kind of fizzling out and I do think it highly depends on which team drafts him. For me, I couldn’t justify picking Gordon over Noah Vonleh, but I don’t mind him being taken in the late lottery.
17. TYLER ENNIS, PG Syracuse (+0.54)
It’s a lazy comparison to make, but Ennis really does profile similarly to Michael Carter-Williams last year. He’s a poor shooter (41% overall) who largely makes up for it with effective passing. Ennis doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as Carter-Williams did, but also doesn’t earn assists at quite the same rate. He’s definitely a pass-first point guard if you’re looking for one, but his relative lack of scoring is a red flag. Ennis also gets about the same overall draft grade for me that Carter-Williams got.
If you’re thinking that means Ennis might be a draft steal, I firmly disagree. Carter-Williams was a classic stat compiler for Philadelphia, a horribly inefficient player who simply racked up big points, rebounds, and assists totals. He certainly didn’t deserve to be the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year. I see Ennis as more of a nice passer to have on the bench than anything.
18. DARIO SARIC, PF International (+0.44)
I didn’t like Saric’s statistical profile last year, and I’m not a big fan this year either. Saric’s strengths are that he’s a good rebounder and a fairly good scorer, although his scoring is unremarkable compared to other players in this draft. His passing is pretty decent for his position as well. On the minus side, Saric is mediocre at best on defense and turns the ball over a lot.
Overall, Saric isn’t “bad” but I don’t see anything to suggest there’s a lottery prospect here. Saric is projected to be drafted in the 8-12 range and I think that’s simply too high. I’d rather gamble on Aaron Gordon if I’m in the market for a power forward.
19. SHABAZZ NAPIER, PG Connecticut (-0.13)
My methods are not kind to older draft prospects. This backfired on me a bit last year as I had poor grades for players like Mason Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng, who each had very good rookie seasons for Brooklyn and Minnesota respectively. I’ve softened the penalty for being 22 years old or older, but the best of that bunch still misses the cut this year. That’s Shabazz Napier, the star of UConn’s unlikely championship run this year.
Napier is a good scorer, good passer, and very good rebounder for his position. However, his statistics don’t jump off the page as I would like to see from an older NBA draft prospect. Napier is a guy I see as having a very high chance to contribute in a meaningful way in the NBA, but with a low ceiling. If I’m in the market for a late first-round point guard, I’m either hoping Elfrid Payton falls to me or gambling on Tyler Ennis.
20. T.J. WARREN, SF North Carolina State (-0.24)
If you want numbers that jump off the page, look no further than Warren’s 28.1 points per 40 minutes, second only to Doug McDermott in this draft class (and yes, we’re getting to McDermott). Warren is also a pretty decent rebounder, so why doesn’t he get a higher grade? The problem is that Warren takes a ton of shots to get so many points. He actually makes two-point shots at a high rate, but can’t shoot the three and doesn’t draw as many fouls as he should (relative to how many shots he takes).
I think Warren is fool’s gold, a points compiler whose game isn’t going to translate particularly well to the NBA. He’s projected for the middle of the first round. At that spot, I would explore trading down and taking K.J. McDaniels if I badly wanted a small forward.
21. MITCH MCGARY, C Michigan (-0.56)
I actually kind of like McGary’s statistical profile. He’s not a huge scorer and doesn’t draw fouls, but is a great rebounder and a very active defender. One odd thing about McGary is that he gets a ton of steals but not too many blocks despite playing the center position. He only barely makes this list, checking in at #30 on the Draft Express mock draft. Not helping McGary’s case is him being 22 years old.
I’m totally fine with McGary as a late first-round pick, for a team needing a big man who can play quality defense off the bench. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect anything more than that out of him.
22. JERAMI GRANT, SF Syracuse (-0.70)
I’m not seeing what Grant brings to the NBA that is going to help him succeed. He has two plus skills: the ability to draw fouls and the ability to rebound. However, Grant is not an efficient or prolific scorer, and that really reduces the effectiveness of his ability to get to the free throw line. His defensive metrics are also below-average at just 1.7 steals and blocks per 40 minutes.
Grant is being projected as a late first-round pick. At that point I would rather just take K.J. McDaniels if I was in the market for a small forward.
23. NIK STAUSKAS, SG Michigan (-0.79)
Stauskas played for a basketball powerhouse in Michigan. That’s great and all, but other than that, I’m simply boggled at the lottery projections for him. Stauskas doesn’t play defense (0.9 blocks and steals per 40), doesn’t rebound or pass at a high rate, and is only an average scorer by first-round NBA draft standards.
I have to think his lottery projections are a result of him getting increased exposure playing for Michigan. It’s amazing to me that Stauskas is probably being drafted in the lottery while Jordan Adams is a late first-round afterthought. I’m not going anywhere near Stauskas if I’m in the lottery.
24. P.J. HAIRSTON, SG D-League (Texas) (-0.90)
Hairston was a very respectable scorer in the D-League, scoring an average of 27.0 points per 40 minutes with decent three-point shooting ability. Unfortunately, Hairston didn’t show much of anything else. He didn’t rebound at a high rate and didn’t pass the ball at all. His defensive metrics are simply OK, nothing more. Hairston also didn’t draw fouls as much as a big-time scorer really should.
Once again… I’m not interested in Hairston as a post-lottery selection when Jordan Adams is still on the board. If Adams is gone then I’ll be brutally honest, I would just give up on taking a shooting guard at that point instead of taking Hairston.
25. DOUG MCDERMOTT, PF Creighton (-0.92)
I didn’t know whether to list McDermott as a small forward or power forward, and that’s part of the problem here. His defensive metrics are shockingly bad: 0.5 steals and blocks per 40 minutes. You almost have to try not to play defense to have statistics that bad. McDermott also isn’t much of a passer and doesn’t draw fouls at a particularly high rate.
With that said, Darryl is a big fan of McDermott and thinks he’ll be the Rookie of the Year next season. When Darryl says something like that, I listen… so I have to acknowledge the potential that McDermott blows this projection out of the water. With that said, my methodology simply does not like McDermott’s potential, with his hugely prolific scoring undone by a complete lack of defensive effort and his status as an older draft prospect.
PROBABLE NBA BUSTS (-1.01 or worse)
Most of these players are not going to make it in the NBA. It’s possible that one or two of them defy the odds, but these are players I would avoid drafting if I was running a team.
26. JAMES YOUNG, SF Kentucky (-1.64)
Young shot 40% from the floor for the Wildcats last season, didn’t draw a lot of fouls, didn’t pass, and didn’t defend adequately either. Young’s three-point shooting is decent, but other than that, I don’t see any plus skills by NBA standards here. But hey, Young went to Kentucky.
27. ADREIAN PAYNE, PF Michigan St. (-2.60)
Payne was a pretty good scorer for Michigan St. last year although his foul drawing was fairly average. Payne was also a solid rebounder but his defense was average at best. The worst news for Payne is that he’s a 23 year old prospect. I don’t see the same high-level play that Gorgui Dieng could boast about last year, so I have to put Payne in the “bust” category.
28. ZACH LAVINE, SG UCLA (-2.68)
I touched on this when talking about Jordan Adams earlier. Adams is such a better statistical prospect than LaVine that it seems absurd that LaVine might be drafted earlier. LaVine has impressed people in combine workouts and drills, but his actual on-court performance is sorely lacking for plus NBA skills.
29. RODNEY HOOD, SF Duke (-3.36)
Hood is very similar to Zach LaVine in that I just can’t figure out what he does that has people so intrigued. Right now, Hood is projected as a fringe lottery selection. But Hood isn’t particularly great in any statistical category. He’s also creeping up on the age of 22 already. I don’t get how anybody can select Hood before T.J. Warren, let alone K.J. McDaniels.
30. JORDAN CLARKSON, SG Missouri (-4.24)
I can’t figure out this one either. Clarkson is not an efficient scorer and shot less than 30 percent from three-point range. He’s a 22 year old draft prospect. He’s not a great rebounder or passer. His defensive metrics are below-average. As far as plus NBA skills go, I’m drawing a blank here.
SECOND ROUND “HIDDEN GEMS”
These are players expected to either be taken in the second round or undrafted entirely. My RSPM methodology has identified them as potential draft steals.
KHEM BIRCH, PF UNLV (+2.69)
At 6’9″ and 209 pounds, Birch is on the skinny side for a power forward but was a monster rebounder and shot blocker for UNLV. Birch averaged 13.0 rebounds and 4.8 blocks last year. He wasn’t a prolific scorer, but was good at drawing fouls and getting to the line when he had the ball. Birch strikes me as a player who could give NBA teams quality rim protection, which is why I’m astonished that he isn’t getting more attention in the draft process.
SPENCER DINWIDDIE, SG Colorado (+2.02)
Dinwiddie is the most interesting statistical case next to Kyle Anderson. He doesn’t take a ton of shots but gets to the free throw line a lot and scores at an extremely efficient rate. He’s also a pretty good passer and has decent defensive metrics. The lack of scoring volume could be a red flag, but Dinwiddie’s efficiency (1.17 points per possession) is enough for me to keep an eye on him.
And that’s it! No other second round prospects got a passing grade in my system. I’ll be back after the draft to recap which teams I thought got good value with their draft picks.