After an abysmal 2013/14 season and disappointing lottery finish, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves drafting 7th behind the Boston Celtics in the 2014 NBA draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers had vaulted to the number 1 pick, and were poised to select consensus number 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. It had been rumored that the Milwaukee Bucks would take offensive specialist Jabari Parker out of Duke, but the remaining lottery teams faced some difficult choices with the remaining players being labeled as a flawed and high risk class. Each lottery team approached the draft with different priorities, needs, and philosophies, which made it difficult to predict which player would go to which franchise.
While more time is needed to make the ultimate judgement on the 2014 draft class, some clear patterns have emerged and some conclusions can be drawn based on two complete seasons of statistics and team impact.
Andrew Wiggins, Small Forward
As anticipated, number 1 pick (drafted by Cleveland, traded to Minnesota in the Kevin Love trade) Andrew Wiggins has blossomed into an elite scorer and competent wing defender at the NBA level. His athleticism and extensive offensive skill-set have allowed him to pace the class in scoring, and he has provided Minnesota fans with a young star to rally behind, as the team continues to struggle securing wins. Draft day concerns about whether or not Wiggins was too passive to be a star in the pros have long since dissipated, and the majority of the basketball community continues to view Wiggins as the top of the class.
Jabari Parker, Shooting Guard
Duke product Jabari Parker had multiple warts on draft day, including a poor showing and early exit in the NCAA tournament, and a suspect reputation defensively. However, his abilities as a pure scorer were impossible for the Bucks management to pass up. After a knee injury derailed his rookie campaign, Parker emerged as a solid scorer in the league, and has improved his defensive skills somewhat throughout his sophomore year. The Bucks quickly paired Parker with some key free agents and are now playing competitive basketball in a weak Eastern Conference.
Julius Randle, Power Forward
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers, having lost multiple key assets in free agency and being led by an aging but often injured superstar, were in desperate need of a star prospect to change the fortunes of the franchise. University of Kentucky phenom Julius Randle, who had originally been projected by many to be a top 3 pick, had inexplicably fallen to the 7th pick when Boston selected Marcus Smart one pick earlier. Randle had a reputation for being an athletic rebounding machine with raw but potentially elite scoring abilities. There were some injury concerns, and Randle had not shown the ability to make jump shots while at Kentucky, but Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss decided to roll the dice with the talented young forward.
After missing his entire rookie year due to a broken leg sustained in his first professional game, Randle has established himself as one of the league’s best on the glass, outpacing the rest of the draft class by more than 100 rebounds, despite missing a whole season due to injury. Randle, or “the bull,” as he has been nicknamed by some Lakers fans, has demonstrated the physicality and aggression necessary to be successful on the block in the NBA, and has shown flashes of a midrange game as well as some ability to lead the break in a point forward role. Paired with second round standout Jordan Clarkson, Randle has returned excitement for the future to the Lakers organization, and remains a key building block moving forward.
Honorable Mention: Elfrid Payton
Noah Vonleh, Power Forward
On draft day, Vonleh was considered a boom or bust candidate, with enticing raw skills, but a frail frame and suspect shooting ability. Vonleh was selected by Michael Jordan and the Bobcats with the 8th pick, and the pick was immediately criticized. After a horrific summer league debut, Vonleh struggled with the physicality of NBA competition, and never developed a jump shot. He finished out a rookie season without cracking the starting lineup and making no real impact, and was later deemed a bust and traded.
Marcus Smart, Point Guard
In a puzzling move, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics drafted Marcus Smart, despite having NBA champion Rajon Rondo on the roster, and glaring needs at several other positions. Smart was known for his playmaking abilities and defensive acumen, but was an all-around terrible shooter. While he has carved out a significant role in the Celtics rotation (in the wake of the Rondo trade), Smart continues to struggle mightily with his outside and mid-range shooting ability, posting miserable true shooting percentages in both his rookie and sophomore seasons. Though he has established himself as an excellent wing defender, it is unclear if his offensive struggles will keep him from developing into anything more than a defensive specialist moving forward. While he appears to have some value, Smart was drafted as the next transcendent star in Boston, and it appears he will fall significantly short of expectations.
Dishonorable Mentions: Nik Stauskas, Joel Embiid
Dante Exum, Point Guard
Out of the Australian professional system, little was known about Exum heading into the draft. He had dominated competition in his home country, but it was unclear how he would fare against NBA competition, as there was not enough solid tape on Exum to make any definite conclusions.
Utah selected Exum with the 4th pick in the draft, after Philadelphia took injured Center Joel Embiid at 3. Exum showed flashes of star potential during his first season, but suffered a late knee injury that cost him all of his sophomore campaign. While it remains unclear what Exum will be in the pros, many in the Jazz organization believe he will rival the league’s elite point guards if he is able to stay healthy and continue to develop.
Aaron Gordon, Power Forward
Arizona standout Aaron Gordon was taken by the Magic with the 5th pick, as perhaps the most physically impressive player of the class. A freak athlete with a high ceiling, Gordon was billed as a Vince Carter type player by the Orlando media, and was drafted more on raw potential than actual abilities.
After a middling rookie season plagued by injury, Gordon has emerged as an intriguing offensive player on a Magic team filled with young talent. Gordon wowed the NBA world with a host of spectacular dunks in the 2016 NBA dunk contest, and came out of the all star break with improved statistics and a more defined role in the Magic’s rotation. While there are still some question marks about Gordon’s game, his future is beginning to look brighter.
Overall, the biggest opponent faced by most of the top 10 draft picks from the 2014 NBA draft has been the injury bug. Parker, Embiid, Exum, Gordon, Randle, and others have struggled with major injuries in their young careers, which has slowed their development and made accurate assessment difficult. However, it’s clear that this draft class has produced several players with superstar potential, and many other solid starters to help usher in the next era of NBA basketball.