- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
This year's NBA draft prospects haven't quite lived up to the lofty expectations that scouts (or we) had in July.
A number of top prospects have been good. Some very good. This draft is looking much, much better than last year's draft. But we've yet to see a player who appears to be able to turn around a franchise the way LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose did.
Kansas' Andrew Wiggins sat atop the first four editions of our 2014 Big Board (here's our most recent edition) and began the season as a consensus No. 1 pick. Wiggins has struggled at times this season, has been good at other times, and has been absolutely dominant in stretches. But he hasn't lived up to the expectations NBA talent evaluators had of him coming into the season. Two months into the 2013-14 college basketball campaign, he is no longer the consensus top pick and no longer No. 1 on our Big Board.
After speaking with numerous NBA GMs and scouts, Wiggins' teammate, Joel Embiid, has taken the top spot on our Big Board. Embiid, who was ranked No. 6 on the Big Board in July, has steadily risen all season. Unencumbered by the lofty expectations that confronted several of the other top prospects, he has been the one guy who has exceeded, pretty dramatically, scouts' expectations.
That doesn't mean Wiggins, or Duke's Jabari Parker, for that matter, are out of the running for the No. 1 pick. The most important part of the college basketball season is still in front of us, and both Wiggins and Parker have strong support among certain NBA franchises and could go No. 1 depending on who wins the lottery.
However, there's a growing number of talent evaluators who believe that Embiid will be difficult to pass up with the No. 1 pick. Size matters in the NBA. So does athletic ability, production and upside. Embiid checks all four boxes. We'll discuss some of these topics during my chat today at 1 p.m. ET.
Here's our fifth Big Board of the 2014 NBA draft.
HT/WT: 7-0, 240
The buzz on Embiid has been building slowly since the McDonald's All American Game and the Nike Hoop Summit last spring. Once considered a raw prospect who would take years to develop, Embiid seems to be improving by the week. Not only is he the most dominant big man in college basketball right now, but his college PER ranks second among players in our Top 30 (Creighton's Doug McDermott is No. 1).
Embiid's offensive game looks especially promising. In his last seven games, he's averaging 13.4 points in 24 minutes per game. He's blessed with quickness, excellent footwork and a soft touch on his jumper. His defense continues to improve, as well as his rebounding. He needs to get stronger, improve his in-game basketball IQ, and learn how to control his temper when teams get physical with him. But Embiid is one of the few big-man prospects who passes both the eye test and the production test. There isn't a player in this draft with a higher ceiling. Given his strong production of late, he no longer appears as risky as we once thought and could end up being the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft come June.
Previous rank: No. 3 | PLAYER CARD
HT/WT: 6-8, 200
Wiggins has faced expectations that few players could ever match. He's been inconsistent and passive at times. His jumper has been streaky and his handle can be a little loose. If you get past that (we could say the same things about a lot of elite players at age 18), there is still so much that keeps him in contention for the No. 1 pick. He has played his biggest games against his best opponents. Against the five ranked teams KU has played this season, Wiggins is averaging 20 PPG. With the exception of a tough game against San Diego State, his performances against Duke, Florida, Kansas State and Iowa State have been his signature games.
He has done most of his scoring this season without much help, as just 10.5 percent of his jumpers have been assisted this season, per Hoop-Math.com. (Duke's Jabari Parker has been assisted on 57.5 percent of his jumpers, by way of comparison). For the most part, Wiggins has had to create his own scoring opportunities. He has gotten more aggressive putting the ball on the floor and drawing contact around the basket. He is no longer settling for long jumpers. His rebounding numbers have been improving (he had 19 against Iowa State on Monday), and his defense has been better than any other player in our Top 10. When you combine all that with his elite physical attributes and athleticism, for scouts who are comfortable projecting down the road Wiggins is still an elite prospect.
Previous rank: No. 1 | PLAYER CARD
HT/WT: 6-8, 241
Parker was the most impressive freshman in the country coming out of the gate, but his offensive production has plummeted over the last four games as defenses in the ACC have gotten more sophisticated about how to attack him. Parker is averaging just 10.5 PPG in ACC play while shooting just 30 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. No wonder Duke is 2-2 in conference. While Parker still projects as the most NBA-ready of the prospects in this draft, and a number of teams still have him atop their draft boards, his play in January has raised some red flags.
Given how strong his performances were earlier this season, everyone expects him to return to his dominant self soon. However, that's not why he has slid a spot on our Big Board; his ranking here continues to be affected primarily by NBA scouts' concerns that he lacks the elite upside that both Embiid and Wiggins possess.
Previous rank: No. 2 | PLAYER CARD
4dEthan Sherwood Strauss
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com