With the “deepest” draft in years now complete, the 2014 NBA Draft represented a huge step forward for many teams. With three highly rated prospects that could have each been taken first overall, several franchises landed key additions that have potential to become major contributors right away.
After the darlings of the draft, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, were taken with the top two selections, it was all about fit and function for the rest of the players as teams positioned themselves to acquire major talent. But which team had the best draft? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Green: I love what the Philadelphia 76ers have done in the last two drafts. After doubling up and taking Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel last year, the Sixers received another injury discount when the former top pick Joel Embiid slipped to them at the No. 3 selection Adding Embiid with Noel gives the team a pair of 7-footers—but Philadelphia may not be able to trot them out together until 2015 after reports surfaced that Embiid may miss all of next season with a broken foot. But Embiid’s absence could lead to another top selection for the Sixers in next year’s draft—for a team slowly rebuilding, the Sixers are just collecting damaged but special talent while they suffer through punishing seasons.
Riley: I thought Philadelphia’s selection of Embiid was a bit risky considering last year’s gamble with Noel. Lower leg injuries with NBA big men are always risky, and rolling the dice on situations like those in back-to-back years could easily come back to haunt the Sixers. In contrast, however, I thought the Orlando Magic came away with a nice coup in taking power forward Aaron Gordon and point guard Elfrid Payton. The fact that both players should be able to walk in and get immediate playing time at positions of need speaks volumes to the Magic’s draft strategy. Orlando has looked to acquire all the young talent it can since the departure of Dwight Howard a few seasons ago, and they landed another pair of blue-chip prospects in the high-flying Gordon and the crafty and quick Payton.
Green: Gordon’s offensive game is still a work in progress and there’s always a wait-and-see approach when a prospect is coming out of a small school like Payton (University of Lousiana-Lafayette). Grabbing a player most predicted as the top selection just a few weeks ago has to be an attention-grabber for the Sixers. It’s not often that a team can take a total game changer with the No. 3 selection. Embiid’s one year at Kansas saw play against top-caliber competition, and he blocked shots, dominated on the glass, ran the floor like a gazelle and scored with surprising efficiency and precision as a young freshman.
But on side note, I also really love the New York Knicks’ selection of Cleanthony Early. Here’s a team that didn’t even have a draft pick just a month ago, but new President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson put his stamp on the team by trading away center Tyson Chandler for veteran point guard Jose Calderon and the 34th overall pick, which he then used to nab Early. Early is an explosive 6-foot, 7-inch small forward that led Wichita State to a perfect 34-0 record and put on a beautiful performance in the NCAA Tournament to advance his team to the Sweet 16. I really see this Knicks team shaping up exactly the way Phil Jackson wants, and Early will be an important piece to what he’s trying to do with the team.
Riley: I agree on the Early pick—that was a nice selection for the Knicks. But as for Embiid, there may be no greater intangible that a prospect can possess than availability. We know about Embiid’s accolades and his length and strength, but what we don’t know is when he’ll play again or if he ever will be the player he was before he broke his foot. The Magic pretty much know what they’re getting with a premiere athletes like Gordon and Payton. The two draftees were often paired together on the same team for pre-draft workouts and just slaughtered competition according to Gordon. “Nobody could stop us,” Gordon told The Orlando Sentinel. “In all the games that we played on the same team, we probably lost twice out of all the games. Interesting enough, we ended up on the same team. So this is my kind of guy. I wouldn’t have picked anybody else in the draft to play with me.” Gordon’s praise of his new teammate is exactly the kind of camaraderie that you want in a pair of fresh-faced rookies. It’s also the kind of chemistry that could help Orlando change their fortunes sooner than later, making the selection of the two easily the most exciting moves of any team in the draft.