Drafting in professional sports is an inexact science. Oftentimes, players who appear to be can’t miss prospects fail to live up to their advanced billing, while others who appear to be projects turn out to be bona fide stars. Some players show their worth in their sports immediately while for others, it takes years before a player can be determined to be either a quality player or a bust. From the 2014 NBA Draft, so far, none of the draftees have been selected to the NBA All-Star game, and there are already several players who have not played a single game in the NBA.
Looking back at the top 15 players in the 2014 NBA Draft means the lottery selections from that draft are having their brief careers reviewed. As of this writing, these players have been available to the NBA for 2½ seasons, while not all of them have played that amount of time in the NBA for various reasons. While this is a small sampling in which to evaluate a player’s career, it is possible after two or three seasons to have an idea of where a player’s career is headed, and it is from this standpoint where the top 15 players of the 2014 NBA Draft will be evaluated.
15 Bust: Adreian Payne
Payne is the only non-lottery selection on the list as the lottery includes the 14 non-playoff teams and Payne was the 15th selection in the draft. Payne’s career started out with him missing almost his entire rookie season with foot injuries and assignments to the NBA Developmental League. Midway through the season, Payne was traded, and the following season, he again split time between the NBA and the D-League.
During his third season, Payne was diagnosed with a blood condition that forced him out for the entire 2016-17 season, and placed his NBA career in jeopardy. Between the injuries and the repeated assignments to the D-League, it appears that Payne will not make much of an impact in the NBA. Payne’s college stats were not outstanding for a player of his size, and seemingly, he was drafted higher than he probably deserved to be. His failure to thrive in the NBA might have been a result of his expectations being greater than his talent.
14 Boom: T.J. Warren
T.J. Warren’s career started out with him shuttling between the NBA, stints on the injured list, and assignments to the D-League. In many cases, this gives the impression that the end result will be a spot on the list of busts from the 2014 draft, but since his rookie season, Warren has started to turn his career around. Though his second season was also shortened by an injury, Warren has become one of the top players for the Phoenix Suns in his third season.
Warren began the 2016-17 season by winning the starting small forward job, and thus far, he has not disappointed his team or their fans. His numbers across every statistical category have increased, and along with Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, the trio has formed a youthful nucleus around which the Suns can build for years to come. As with any player, the future can change dramatically in an instant, but as of this writing, Warren looks to be a keeper for the Suns.
13 Boom: Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine’s career is perhaps the most typical career for a player at the start of his NBA career. LaVine began on the bench, was thrust into a starting role due to injury, but returned to the bench when the starter returned. Over his first two seasons, his scoring average and minutes per game increased, and he became a regular member of the Timberwolves’ rotation. LaVine also participated in and won the NBA Slam Dunk Competition in each of his first two seasons in the league.
In his third season, LaVine became a fixture in the Wolves’ starting lineup, but his season was cut short by an injury that will force him to miss the rest of the season. In addition, LaVine was unable to defend his Slam Dunk Title due to the injury. Despite this, LaVine is being counted on to be a main cog for his team going forward and into the future.
12 Boom: Dario Šarić
Šarić was drafted in the 2014 draft, but elected to stay in Europe for a time before coming to the NBA. As such, while the others on this list are, as of this writing, third-year players, Šarić is just a rookie. Therefore, Šarić’s career is being evaluated with a far smaller sample set than exists for the other players on the list. Šarić began his rookie season as a starter, but was moved to the bench, not as a demotion, but as a necessity for more bench-scoring for the 76ers.
Averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds during a rookie season is reason enough to be optimistic regarding a player’s future, especially if the player is a 6’10” forward. However, when the team’s star player, Joel Embiid, indicates that Šarić should be a frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, the Sixers and their fans should truly be hopeful towards the player’s future. Šarić has gotten off to a good start and looks to only get better.
11 Boom: Doug McDermott
Doug McDermott set a number of scoring records while in college, and came into the NBA with the expectation that he would be able to score and rebound. As with many rookies in the modern NBA, McDermott was initially relegated to a reserve role with the Bulls, earning minutes along the way. An injury shortened his rookie season and, like many of the others on this list, McDermott had to work his way back into a role with his team.
In his third season, McDermott is the fourth on the Bulls in points-per-game and fifth in total points scored, despite playing less than 25 minutes per game from the bench. McDermott is the top reserve on the Bulls, and the only thing that keeps him out of the starting lineup is the fact that the frontcourt starters seldom miss games. Despite that, McDermott is a crucial cog to his team’s success, now and going forward.
10 Boom: Elfrid Payton
Since many European draftees elect to stay in Europe for several seasons after being drafted into the NBA, and with all the rookies who got injured, Payton is one of only two players drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft who was selected to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team (Andrew Wiggins being the other). Two of the other selections were drafted before 2014, and the third, Jordan Clarkson, was a second round pick who overachieved.
Elfrid Payton is one of the few players on this list who, during his first three years in the league, has not lost significant time away from the game due to injury. As such, he has been a productive and dependable player for the Magic, and is growing into a player on which his team can depend. The next step for Payton is for him to help his team to improve its win total and get into the playoffs.
9 Bust: Noah Vonleh
After a single year in college where he posted slightly better than average numbers and was considered one of the top freshmen in his conference, Vonleh left college for the NBA. During his time in the Association, Vonleh had been injured, sent to the D-League, and traded, all during his first three seasons. In addition, Vonleh’s numbers are nowhere near what he did in college, so he is mainly called upon for defense and to give starters rest during games.
At his current rate of production, it appears that Vonleh will likely spend more time in the D-League, or might soon be out of the NBA altogether. Vonleh’s team is filled with young talent, and is fighting for a playoff spot out West, yet the Blazers do not rely much on Vonleh, which does not bode well for his future.
8 Boom: Nik Stauskas
Many of the names on this list have started slowly in their NBA careers, and are working their way into becoming bona fide NBA stars. Nik Stauskas is one of those stars. Stauskas started a single game during his rookie season, and halfway through his third year, he has started almost as many games for the Sixers as he did during his first two years combined. A true measure of a player gaining the confidence of his coaches is that his minutes per game increase each year, and Stauskas has that stat working in his favor.
Though he was traded to the Sixers following his rookie season, Stauskas has become a key member of the team’s roster. He has contributed to the team’s turnaround from being the worst team in the league to winning more games by the All-Star Break than the team has won in either of the last three seasons. Before long, Stauskas could be one of the leaders of the Sixers, and help making that team relevant again.
7 Boom: Julius Randle
Like many on this list, Julius Randle did not play during his true rookie season, the season following the draft. In Randle’s case, it was due to an injury that saw him injured during the first game of the season, and costing him the entire season. However, the following year, Randle hit the ground running and established himself as one of the top young forwards in the league.
Randle leads the Lakers in minutes and rebounds-per-game, and is the top scoring forward on the team. Randle seems to be getting better with each passing season, and is begin counted on as one of the leaders of the Lakers into the future. The nucleus of the team is filled with players from the last three NBA Drafts, so the team has the opportunity to grow together and become a more cohesive unit. Being on a team filled with young, talented players can only continue to help Randle to become a top player in the league.
6 Boom: Marcus Smart
As with many others in this draft, Marcus Smart has suffered injuries that have cost him significant court time. In addition, he has been sent to the D-League on one occasion. Regardless of that, Smart has become one of the top players on the Celtics, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Though Smart’s measurable stats are not among the best in the league, he is a crucial part of the team’s rotation as a reserve guard playing behind an MVP Candidate in Isaiah Thomas.
With Thomas and Avery Bradley, both in their 20s, playing ahead of him, Smart will spend much of his career as the third guard on a championship-caliber team if Boston management elects to keep all three guards. However, if the team elects to move one of its starters, or if Smart goes to another team, he will have the opportunity to be a starter. From there, he will truly be able to show his worth to the league.
5 Bust: Dante Exum
Dante Exum is one of the few players on this list with the distinction of having appeared in every game for his team during his rookie season. However, though he was hailed as one of the top point guards in the draft, as evidenced by his being taken with the number 5 pick by the Jazz, Exum, has thus far failed to live up to the expectations that were placed on him. Injury cost Exum his sophomore season, and though starting point guard Trey Burke was traded at the start of the 2016-17 season, Exum has not been able to earn his spot.
Exum’s minutes and assists have gone down from his rookie season, and it appears that he will have trouble cracking into the Jazz starting lineup. Since the Jazz are currently one of the top teams in the Western Conference, unless there are multiple injuries to guards on the Jazz, Exum’s role is sealed. His value, based on his minimal contributions, might force the team to send him elsewhere, or allow him to leave as a free agent when his contract expires at the end of the season.
4 Boom: Aaron Gordon
After having been the second-leading scorer and leading rebounder on a team that spent much of the college season ranked at number-one in the country, before falling in the NCAA Tournament, Gordon was looked at as one of the top players in the draft. He was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the 4th pick. However, just as has happened with many of the players in this draft, Gordon missed significant time during his rookie season due to injury, and has been working to regain his form ever since.
During his second season, Gordon looked to be playing close to the level that he did in college, but his performance during the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk contest helped Gordon to get much more attention from the league. Though he was defeated by Zach LaVine, many felt that Gordon was the true winner, and experts began to watch Gordon more closely. During his third season, Gordon cracked the Magic’s starting lineup, and began putting up numbers similar to his college stats. The next step is for Gordon to help turn the Magic back into a winning franchise.
3 Boom: Joel Embiid
Embiid’s third season in the NBA is actually his rookie season because he missed his first two full seasons due to injury, and his third season was just cut short at the midway point. Many will look at the fact that, before his most recent injury, Embiid was averaging 20.2 points-per-game for the much improved 76ers. However, some teams will start to look at Embiid as a talented big man who is unable to stay healthy.
Players like Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Yao Ming and Bill Walton were all talented seven-footers who were top two draft picks, but also who were unable to stay healthy enough to have productive careers. All of these men suffered multiple knee and foot injuries that hampered them constantly and shortened their careers, and Embiid seems to be dealing with the same types of injuries. Despite all the question marks, Embiid has been too productive on the court to be considered a bust.
2 Boom: Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and was thrust into the starting lineup on opening day. Parker’s rookie season began with him establishing himself in the league right away, before an injury ended the season after 25 games. Parker returned for his second season, improving in nearly every statistical category, while playing 76 games.
Through the first half of his third season, Parker was second on his team in scoring, but an injury ended that season at the All-Star break. While it would seem that Parker is an injury prone player, Parker, when healthy, was one of the top players at his position in the league, and his team had improved to where they are just outside of a playoff spot. The Bucks hope that Parker can return next season and pick up where he left off.
1 Boom: Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins was drafted by the Cavaliers, but was traded to Minnesota in a deal that brought Kevin Love and a championship to Cleveland. Despite that, Wiggins did not allow being traded and losing the opportunity to play alongside LeBron James, to dampen his drive to be one of the best players in the league. As the second leading scorer on the Timberwolves, Wiggins has established himself as one of the top players on his team and one of the best at his position in the league.
In addition to his productivity, Wiggins has started in every game that he has played thus far in the NBA, and unlike his draft mates, has only missed a single game through 2½ seasons. At midway through the 2016-17 season, Wiggins is in the top-20 in the NBA in points-per-game, and is just outside of the top-10 in points scored, behind LeBron James. Wiggins seems to be getting better with each season, and soon, will be an All-Star, as well as one of the best players in the league.