Wiggins, Parker and Embiid highlight an NBA draft class for the ages
The fluctuating fortunes of Andrew Wiggins
Over eight months ago, even before the 2013-14 season began, I wrote about a certain Canadian forward – then only 18 – who had joined Kansas University as a freshman, and was changing the best-laid plans of several NBA teams. Andrew Wiggins, a spectacular young star with limitless potential, was rising in the horizon, and seemed to be the sure-shot top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Things changed as time passed. Wiggins’ value fell and then rose again. Names like Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, and briefly, even Julius Randle or Dante Exum were considered above him.
Meanwhile, the mystery of the NBA team most likely to be making the top choice on 2014 Draft night evolved too. A plethora of horribly performing teams with draft rights this year threw their names into the hat. Bucks, 76ers, Magic, Jazz, Celtics and others ‘fought’ for last place. The ultimate loser would have a better chance of becoming the ultimate draft winner.
Cleveland and Milwaukee go for youth, Philadelphia for the future
That ‘winner’ ultimately turned out to be – against all odds – once again the Cleveland Cavaliers. And once draft night arrived, the Cavaliers turned their number one pick into the young prospect whose presence had been hovering all along: Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins will join a young and exciting team, becoming the third Canadian lottery pick in recent years (with Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett) and play alongside the backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
His forever rival, from high school to college, and in draft prospects, was Jabari Parker, and he didn’t have to wait too much longer. Parker was selected at second place by the Milwaukee Bucks. Parker will instantly become the best player in the team, bringing excitement back to a side that hasn’t had a player with superstar potential for over a decade.
The Philadelphia 76ers are thinking about tomorrow at the complete expense of today. After spending a season with their last year’s lottery pick – Nerlens Noel – injured on the sidelines, the 76ers made some more moves on draft day that are not likely to be in action anytime soon. With the third pick, they picked up Joel Embiid, the Cameroonian big man from Kansas whose foot injury hurt his draft status, but is a player with too much upside to pass on. They traded their number 10 pick to Orlando and got the rights to Croatian Dario Saric – who was picked 12th – and will wait for him to join them after a few years in Turkey.
Utah get Exum, Lakers prepare for Gasol’s departure
With the fourth pick, the Orlando Magic picked up Aaron Gordon, possibly the best athlete in the draft, passing on Australian point guard Dante Exum, who ended up going to Utah with the fifth pick. Exum is an interesting choice for the Jazz, who already have a young backcourt tandem of Burke and Burks (Trey and Alec), and they might still make some more moves to fit all these pieces together.
The Celtics can be happy with their draft night collection, bringing in point guard Marcus Smart with the sixth pick and adding shooting guard James Young at 17th. Will Smart’s arrival mean a departure for starting PG Rajon Rondo?
It’s rare to see the Lakers in the lottery, and at seventh, they picked the best remaining talent in Kentucky’s power forward Julius Randle. There are questions if Randle’s game can translate successfully in the NBA, but he’s tough enough for the league, and can be the man taking care of the middle for the Lakers once/if Pau Gasol departs.
Surprise pick by Sacramento, Orlando acquire strength for the future
The Sacramento Kings surprised everyone by picking sharp-shooter Nik Stauskas with the eighth pick, adding two shooting guards to their team via the draft in consecutive years (after Ben McLemore last season). Indiana’s Noah Vonleh slipped to ninth, but the Bobcats will be more than happy to have him play the role of a sharp-shooting power forward next to Al Jefferson.
The 76ers 10th pick – which turned out to be tenacious defensive point guard Elfrid Payton – was traded to Orlando. The Magic end up with a nice young core for the future now, featuring Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier (acquired from Denver for Aaron Afflalo a day earlier), Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
Continued action outside the top 10
The draft continued to be deep and interesting outside of the top 10. The Nuggets selected consensus national college player of the year Doug McDermott at 11 and traded him to the Bulls for number 19 Gary Harris. The Raptors shocked the world by picking the least-known name in the draft, Bruno Caboclo, who sent Twitter into a frenzy for being called the ‘Brazilian Kevin Durant’.
The Thunder picked Mitch McGary at 21. The Hornets selected UConn’s champion point guard Shabazz Napier at 24 and then traded him to the Miami Heat.
The Suns’ pick at 27 - Bogdan Bogdanovic - wins my award for the best name on draft night. And the NBA champs San Antonio Spurs continued to be the smartest guys in the room by picking Kyle Anderson, a high-IQ power forward, with the 30th pick.
The second round didn’t have any superstars, but definitely displayed the depth of this draft by producing several more names that should eventually become quality NBA contributors.
Disappointment for Sim Bhullar and India
Indian and Indian-origin basketball fans had hopes that Indian-Canadian Sim Bhullar, a 7-foot-5 giant out of New Mexico State, could break one of the last race barriers and become the first ever South Asian to play in the NBA. Unfortunately, 60 names were called on Draft Day 2014, and Bhullar wasn’t one of them.
Bhullar, who has foregone the last two years of his college eligibility, still has the potential of working his way into an NBA roster, and he will have to work through the summer league or individual team workouts to get a chance to be signed by a team.
Canadians rule the roost
Although Bhullar didn’t make it, this year’s draft still had a distinctively Canadian feel to it. Apart from the top pick Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis also went in the first round, while Dwight Powell was picked in the second.
Wiggins has the potential of becoming a leader in the draft that we could one day look back at fondly for being one of the deepest ones in recent memory. Between Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Exum, Gordon, Randle, Smart, Vonleh, and Saric, I feel that there are many future stars coming out this year. And there are sure to be many more hidden jewels deeper into the picks, whose ultimate talent only time will reveal.
NBA wins hearts
But perhaps the biggest story of the draft didn’t concern any team at all, but the goodness of the entire NBA as a whole. This was the first draft led by new Commissioner Adam Silver, and in a touching moment, Silver drafted Isaiah Austin from Baylor.
Austin was sure to be called by a team in the First Round this year before being told that his career would be over due to the Marfan syndrome, diagnosed just a week before draft night. Austin may never be able to play basketball professionally again, but the NBA accepted him into the family.
By the time the draft concluded, the NBA family had indeed gotten much larger, with a group of extremely exciting new names ready to carry on the league to greater heights. Learn those names, because chances are that, in a few years, the whole world will be chanting many of them.