• November 28, 2014

Analysis Short on accomplishments, but high on intrigue, it’s the 2014 NBA draft class

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Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:05 am

As early as this time last year, the 2014 NBA draft was heralded as the best draft class since the class of 2003.

Funny, because the 2014 class hasn’t played a second of basketball in the NBA while the 2003 class boasts eight All-Stars, a four-time MVP (LeBron James), a scoring champion (Carmelo Anthony), the NBA record-holder for 3-point shooting percentage (Kyle Korver) and the 2007 Sixth Man of the Year (Leandro Barbosa).

Only time will tell if the 2014 class can live up to that standard.

But the class has already proven to be a memorable one, even before the summer league tips off in Las Vegas later this month.

When was the last time the consensus No. 1 pick since the second half of the college basketball season fell from his projected spot a week before the draft, as Joel Embiid did after undergoing surgery due to a late foot injury?

Embiid, who went No. 3 to the Philadelphia 76ers, will likely come to define this draft whether it is in a good way or a bad way.

Prior to his foot injury — Embiid also missed time in his only season at Kansas with a back injury — Embiid had drawn comparisons to former Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon.

By the time the draft started, Embiid was being compared to the center taken after Olajuwon in that draft — Sam Bowie.

If Embiid makes a full recovery and is able to realize even half of his seemingly endless potential, then Philadelphia will be applauded for seeing the long-term benefit of a short-term gamble in taking Embiid.

But if Embiid goes on to have a career similar to that of Bowie, then the Sixers will have wasted a pick in a potentially loaded draft.

The two picks that followed Embiid are also ripe for scrutiny as the Orlando Magic grabbed a dynamo in Aaron Gordon — albeit one who cannot shoot and doesn’t exactly have a position — and the Utah Jazz nabbed 18-year old Australian guard Dante Exum — a complete unknown commodity even by foreign standards.

Exum, however, was long assumed a top-five pick while Gordon wasn’t expected to be a serious consideration until pick No. 6.

Speaking of pick No. 6, it and pick No. 7, are two reasons the 2014 draft is already a memorable one as the two marquee franchises in the NBA, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, ended up picking back-to-back in rare lottery seasons for both franchises.

Both got what was considered good value in Oklahoma State combo guard Marcus Smart at No. 6 and Kentucky power forward Julius Randle at No. 7

Randle at No. 7 was particularly good value for the Lakers, even though they might have preferred a guard, like Smart, to fill team needs.

Smart and Randle, both Dallas-Fort Worth products, are physical players who can contribute right away whether as a defender (Smart) or a scorer (Randle).

Both have concerns that come with playing that position in the NBA -- for Smart it is his ball handling and outside shooting touch, and for Randle it is finishing over length -- but both highly-competitive players ought to fit in nicely with proud franchises.

The 2014 draft is also the first to see the return of the Charlotte Hornets, who nabbed Indiana stretch forward Noah Vonleh at No. 9 and P.J. Hairston, of UNC fame, later in a draft-night trade with the Miami Heat.

Vonleh is a raw prospect but has the physical tools to be special at the next level while Hairston will fit in right away with his prototypical shooting guard frame and ability.

The 2014 draft may be the one that saw the return of the Hornets, but Vonleh and Hairston may actually be responsible for the resurrection of the Charlotte franchise as annual contenders.

Regardless of what happens in the future, the 2014 draft is already a noteworthy one in NBA history.

The only question now is whether or not it will remain that way for the reasons the 2003 draft is today?

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