In the NBA world right now, everybody is doing what they can to stay entertained. We’re tuning into The Last Dance every Sunday. We’re squeezing every detail we can get out of this supposed rift in Utah right now between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. We’re trying to figure out what’s the aptest solution for this current season when this quarantine ends. All of this confirms that we are going through our worst nightmare as hoop junkies: An NBA drought.
Since we can’t analyze anything currently game-wise, we can only analyze the past. One enjoyable pastime is analyzing previous iterations of the NBA Draft. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the most hyped-up draft classes of all-time, the 2014 NBA Draft.
Knowing what we know now, that sounds preposterous– but back in 2014, the anticipation surrounding the 2014 class was unmistakably high. Before the start of the season, the consensus was that two game-changers – Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker – were about to enter the league. Well, until another phenom from Kansas that went by the name of Joel Embiid demonstrated that he too was a can’t-miss talent. Not to mention the tier of young talent below them – Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart – wasn’t too shabby.
Many teams in the NBA took notice and punted that season in hopes of getting one of the elite prospects. Teams like Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Utah made the necessary adjustments to put themselves in a position to get a top prospect before the season started. Other teams like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Sacramento and the Lakers weren’t originally intending to do the same at the start of the season but, inadvertently, they ended up in the running.
It’s been almost six years since this supposed-juggernaut of a draft took place, so how do we look back on it now? Well, it’s a mixed bag, to say the least. A fair amount of fantastic players came from this draft. They just weren’t the ones who we expected to be fantastic back in 2014. Yeah, it’s complicated. The best way to approach this is by examining in this way:
A. The Hits – the players that panned out
B. The Misses – the players that did not pan out
C. The Sleepers – the players that exceeded minimal expectations
D. Jury Is Out – those that have shown flashes
Joel Embiid, No. 3
His debut was delayed more than any fanbase would like, but he was well worth the wait. Embiid is a franchise center – and on both ends of the floor, he remains the focal point for teams to stop. Still, there are some causes for concern. He has regressed a little this season. His durability in the postseason still remains in question until he proves otherwise. His fit with Ben Simmons is as clunky as ever, but Embiid has lived up to his billing as a game-changer.
If Philadelphia is able to recoup the shooting it once had with JJ Redick, Embiid’s production should launch to MVP-worthy levels for years to come.
Marcus Smart, No. 6
When you look at Smart’s stats, you likely won’t be wowed by what he has done as the sixth overall pick. But, watching him on the court, it’s easy to see the impact he has on the Celtics. He’s a pest. He’s a hustler. He’ll throw his body in harm’s way to make a winning play. He’s spearheaded the Celtics’ winning culture. There’s a reason why he’s only one of three players selected in this draft’s lottery that has stuck with his original team. For that, he’s a hit.
Zach LaVine, No. 13
LaVine’s a scorer, he’s shown that much both in Minnesota and Chicago. There’s only one thing holding him back from being a full-on All-Star. He has yet to prove he can produce that well for a good team. As good as he is scoring-wise from just about anywhere on the court, his defense negates pretty much all of it. Now that new management has taken over with the Bulls organization, LaVine will get another shot to prove he’s more than an empty-calorie scorer.
Jusuf Nurkic, No. 16
It is difficult to pan out and not and be on your original team just because the other player selected by the same team in the same draft also happens to play the same position – worst of all, that late-second-rounder turned into one of the best players in this draft. There’s a reason why Portland’s defense went right into the basement this season. They miss the all-around game Nurkic brings as a center. If Portland has a resurgence next year, the big-man enforcer will have a lot to do with it.
TJ Warren, No. 14
Last year, Warren was in the same boat as Zach LaVine. He’s proven that he can score the basketball, but we had yet to see if those numbers were effective. Now that he’s gone through a change of scenery in Indiana, we can now see that, yes, Warren’s offensive production can benefit a good team. Even with seemingly more offensive talent around him in Indiana, his numbers have managed to stay the same. Through that, he’s justified his selection.
Jabari Parker, No. 2
It’s hard to give Jabari this label because fate dealt him a cruel hand on multiple occasions. Tearing the same ACL twice in almost two years certainly stunted his growth as a player. The bigger problem is that he was slated to be a superstar dating back to his days as a high schooler. Young superstars don’t get tossed around five times over the last two years. They also don’t become internet memes when they show a lack of interest in playing defense. There’s still time for Parker to carve out a Corey Maggette-like career for himself. For a No. 2 overall pick that was expected to run the NBA, yikes.
Dante Exum, No. 5
Along with the same unlucky injury history as Parker, Exum, sadly, has suffered just the same. He’s been through the wringer since entering the league. He’s torn his ACL, dislocated his shoulder, torn his patella tendon and sprained his ankle a million and one times since his rookie year. The injuries have cast a shadow over his career – but even when he’s on the floor, he still hasn’t shown enough to justify his selection.
Nik Stauskas, No. 8
Stauskas was picked eighth in the lottery because he was supposed to be a sharpshooter. Well, since the very beginning, he bounced from team to team all while never really bringing his supposed sharpshooting on an NBA level. His career splits shooting 39/35/81 from the field justify why Stauskas has been out of the league since 2019.
Noah Vonleh, No. 9
Even though Vonleh vaults himself ahead of Stauskas because he’s still technically in the NBA, the big man is also a career journeyman. He’s been on six teams since coming to the NBA. Outside of one decent year on a throwaway New York Knicks team, Vonleh’s been largely unimpressive as a whole. You’d expect more from the ninth overall pick.
So, something needs to be made clear here: The 2014 draft had a lot of sleepers. For all the guys who have disappointed, there were plenty of them that exceeded expectations. Diving into all of them would take forever, so let’s first give a little shoutout to those who excelled, but not as much as the one winner that takes the cake.
Gary Harris, No. 19
Rodney Hood, No. 23
Bogdan Bogdanovic, No. 27
Kyle Anderson, No. 30
Joe Harris, No. 33
Jerami Grant, No. 39
Dwight Powell, No. 45
And then, of course…
Nikola Jokic, No. 41
The most obvious pick of the group. Jokic isn’t going to be the poster boy for Men’s Health magazine anytime soon, but he is the most skilled big in the game right now. You know about his expert passing. You know about his finesse around the basket. You know about how he can take over a game at any moment. What you don’t know is that, despite his doughy physique, he’s actually quite underrated as a defender. Since his ascent, Denver’s been right around the top of the west. That’s downright amazing for a late draft pick.
Clint Capela, No. 25
When you play so well that James Harden wants to bench Dwight Howard in favor of you, then you’ve exceeded expectations. Capela fits the mold as the prototypical big in today’s NBA. He blocks shots, rebounds, runs the pick-and-roll as well as anyone and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Atlanta will be a different situation from Houston, but as long as his injury issues are a thing of the past, he’ll be a big help to them.
Spencer Dinwiddie, No. 38
Like Harris, Dinwiddie has played an instrumental role in reviving Brooklyn as a franchise. His emergence came later than some of the others mentioned in this category – still, he’s averaging 20/7/3 on a playoff team while on a bargain contract. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving coming back next season, his role will decrease but Brooklyn has to take pride in that they have a great complimentary piece to put next to them.
Jordan Clarkson, No. 46
The reason why Clarkson deserves more elaboration than the other sleepers on this list is that he was the first one in this draft to emerge as a steal. Since he entered the league, Clarkson has shown an ability to be a spark plug off the bench. Better yet, before his trade to Utah this season, his effectiveness was always in question, but not anymore. He’s been one of their more positive subplots in a season rooted in dysfunction. For that, he has solidified himself as a prominent sleeper.
Jury Is Still Out
Julius Randle, No. 7
The aforementioned issue with LaVine is the same for Randle. Randle has absolutely proven that he can score the basketball – he just hasn’t been able to do that with a playoff team. The closest he came was with the Lakers during his last year in Los Angeles. The only way to see if Randle is a hit is if he, at long last, makes a playoff team.
Aaron Gordon, No. 4
Unlike Randle, Gordon can say that he has contributed to a good team. However, every year like clockwork, Air Gordon been slated for a breakout, but it never happens. He has improved since his rookie year, plus he’s as good as advertised defensively. There’s something missing to his game on the offensive end that we just haven’t seen yet. We may never see it – but if we do, it might not be with Orlando.
Andrew Wiggins, No. 1
Lastly, there’s Andrew Wiggins, who was just too difficult to determine where he fits under. Needless to say, he’s put up good numbers since entering the league. And those numbers were clearly good enough to earn him a nice payday. Since then, that contract has been labeled as one of the worst in the league. Wiggins is still in his mid-20’s, and now that he has a lesser role in Golden State, there could still be time for him to find himself. For now, he’s undetermined.
Ultimately, the funky turn out from this particular draft goes to show that no matter how much excitement a class of rookies can get, it’s impossible to draw big-time conclusions until some time down the road. Maybe we should consider that before the next class that comes as hyped as the 2014 NBA Draft.
But it might be a while before we see something like that again.