Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker All Shine On Big Chicago Stage

USA Today’s Sam Amick on the buzz surrounding the elite level future NBA talent at the Champions Classic in Chicago:

The traffic between Philadelphia and nearby Trenton, N.J., was heavier than normal on Feb. 10, 2002, with a parade of NBA scouts, coaches, and executives clogging I-95 because they all had somewhere special to be.

Seventeen-year-old LeBron James of St. Vincent-St. Mary was facing off against fellow high school phenom Carmelo Anthony of Oak Hill Academy, and the hordes of talent evaluators who were already in town for the All-Star game gleefully made the 35-mile trek to see these young stars who already seemed destined for greatness. It was, as one executive who was on hand that day described it, “a day where you felt the earth move.”

It moved again on Tuesday night, when three of the top contenders for No. 1 pick in the celebrated 2014 NBA draft took part in the Champions Classic in Chicago that likely will be remembered in the same vein as the James-Anthony faceoff by the estimated 80 NBA types who were on hand. Power forward Julius Randle of No. 1 Kentucky set the bar extremely high in the opener (27 points and 13 rebounds), showcasing his power style in a 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State.

In the second game, small forward Jabari Parker of No. 4 Duke showed off his versatile, NBA-ready game (27 points, nine rebounds) but couldn’t top uber-athlete Andrew Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) in No. 6 Kansas’ 94-83 win. Yet as fun and memorable a night as it was for fans and NBA executives alike, one general manager who asked for anonymity because league rules prevent him from talking about prospects likely spoke for the masses when he told USA TODAY Sports, “To be honest, I think (Tuesday) night muddied the waters even more.”

The beauty of this draft, though, is that it’s expected to be so good that any team in the top 10 should be fine even if those waters don’t clear up between now and June. That was the overlooked aspect of Tuesday night’s event, the fact that — as much as Randle, Parker and Wiggins “opened up the imagination,” as one executive put it — they aren’t alone when it comes to top-tier talent coming out of the college game. To wit, a second general manager shared his personal top-five list as it currently stands after the Champions Classic and listed Randle fifth behind Wiggins, Parker, Australian combo guard Dante Exum and Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon.

If magazine covers and endless hype were the most accurate indicator of each player’s standing (they’re not), then Wiggins would be all by himself in this race for the top spot. But as dynamic and electric as the 6-foot-8, 197-pounder clearly is, some executives wonder if his lack of strength and the relative rawness of his game might inspire a team picking first overall to opt for one of the more polished prospects. Said one executive who has heard the comparisons between Wiggins’ game and that of recently retired Tracy McGrady, “I’ll give you (the T-Mac comparison) in that he’ll take awhile (to make an impact).” McGrady didn’t become a star until his fourth season in the league.

Now contrast that sentiment against the one that surrounds 6-9, 248-pound Randle, and you get a better sense of why this draft is not only deep but deeply intriguing. Randle is the people’s champion, so to speak, among NBA decision makers. He plays extremely hard, has an NBA body and showed an ability to dominate against the Spartans that will always be intoxicating to anyone in the team-building business. He is, as one executive put it, a “sledgehammer” and Zach Randolph-type who looks capable of doing damage right away in the pros.

As for Parker, there are some concerns about his ability to defend and the question about whether he’ll be a small forward or power forward. Still, he did nothing but help his standing among this group with the way he played on Tuesday. And if Kevin Durant just so happened to be a general manager, then Parker would be headed toward No. 1 status. The Oklahoma City star has become friendly with Parker in recent years, largely because the he was coming to Durant’s camp during his days at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, and raved about his potential on Thursday night.

“That kid is amazing, man,” Durant said. “I think he’s the best player in the country. Him and Wiggins are like 1A and 1B.”

Of Wiggins, Durant said, “He’s raw right now, but he could be a Hall of Famer — an All-Star for sure.”

Asked to put his GM hat on and make a call on which player was better, Durant said, “That’s kind of like ‘close your eyes and just pick one.’ You’re good with either one of those guys. I love Jabari’s game. He’s so skilled. He has it all right now. Wiggins is so — physically, he’s on another level. That’s God-given ability he has. You look at him and you can tell he’s going to be really big. He’s going to fill out a lot. He’s athletic. Like I said, it’s kind of whatever you choose at that point (is good). There’s no wrong decision on that one.”

The irony of Durant making that claim escaped him, but his entrance into the league — in which the Portland Trail Blazers made the mistake of taking center Greg Oden first overall before he went to the then-Seattle SuperSonics — was one of the most infamous reminders that prospect projections don’t always pan out. As for which lucky team will be faced with this enviable choice, the Utah Jazz (1-8) remain the early front-runner after teams like the Phoenix Suns (5-3) and Philadelphia 76ers (5-4) that were expected to be awful got off to surprisingly strong starts.




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Posted on November 15, 2013, in NBA, NCAA Basketball and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker All Shine On Big Chicago Stage.

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