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Hoops Lab: Top Prospects Go "Poof" Early

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Top prospects go "poof" early

The 2014 NBA draft has long been touted as a potentially historic draft. This draft was supposed to harken back to the 2003 draft that gave us LeBron, Melo, D-Wade and Bosh in the first five picks or the 1996 draft that yielded Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and a host of other All Stars. The phrase "Riggin for Wiggins" was coined by Bill Simmons more than a year ago, back when Andrew Wiggins was still playing high school basketball in Canada, and there were supposed to be other blue chip prospects almost as good.

While I used to devour college hoops in my younger years, these days I'm purely an NBA guy. That happens when you get married and have children…I'm only allowed to have one sports obsession per season. So I really haven't watched much of the future super-draft class this year. I've seen some Sportscenter highlights and heard some talking head impressions, but I was looking forward to seeing them on the big stage in the NCAA tournament to really start scouting them out for next year.

But here's the only problem…if you blinked, you could have missed the tournament runs of most of the top prospects.

According to DraftExpress, these are the top-10 draft prospects for the 2014 NBA draft:

Andrew Wiggins, FR Kansas
Joel Embiid, FR Kansas
Jabari Parker, FR Duke
Julius Randle, FR Kentucky
Dante Exum, Australia
Marcus Smart, SO OK St.
Noah Vonleh, FR Indiana
Aaron Goodman, FR Arizona
Dario Saric, Croatia
Doug McDermott, SR Creighton

After the first weekend of March Madness, exactly two of the players on that list are still in the tournament. Two. And none of the top-3, which are the names that everyone has been touting all season.

The Wiggins that teams were supposedly "Riggin" for? He "led" his Jayhawks to a second round exit with a riveting line of 4 points, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers and 3 fouls in 34 minutes of action.

Wiggins' teammate Embiid never played at all in the tournament, as he's still recovering from a stress fracture in his back. He was still named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, which is impressive, but a stress fracture in his back? For a young center? That's got to be at least mildly troubling.

Parker ended his freshman year with First Team All America honors…and a first round loss to Mercer which prompted the Nae Nae seen round the world. Parker was also underwhelming in his only tournament action, going 4-for-14 from the floor and adding 7 boards to go with his 4 turnovers and 4 fouls.

Let's just say that, on the whole, I was underwhelmed.

But what does this mean for the upcoming NBA draft? Will the top prospects slide, or perhaps decide not to come out? And if they do come out, will they not be as good as advertised? Celtics GM Danny Ainge is on record earlier this year saying that this draft was overrated…was he right?

It's still too early to tell. While Parker said that his college career feels incomplete, none of the top prospects have officially declared their intentions yet. I tend to think they'll all go pro, but we don't know yet. One thing that I've read recently is the argument that the tournament doesn't define the prospect. After all, in 2007 freshman Kevin Durant led his Longhorns to a first weekend loss in the NCAA tournament while rival prospect Greg Oden led his Buckeyes to the championship game. And there is merit to not putting more emphasis on the tournament than its worth.

However, Durant had also turned in one of the most dominant freshman seasons in NCAA history and still scored 30 in his team's loss. None of the current crop have turned in seasons anywhere near that caliber, so they don't get as much benefit of the doubt with me as Durant did.

Bottom line: the NCAA tournament is only one piece of the puzzle as I try to get a feel for how a prospect will translate to the NBA for his rookie season. I'll be scouring the draft scouting sites leading up to the draft, I'll look at the fit of each player on their new team and how much the team seems committed to playing them, I'll watch a lot of them play in the Vegas Summer league, so by the time next season comes around I'll have a better feel.

But I must admit, it's pretty disappointing that I won't have more opportunity to see them play at the highest college level to really jump start my evaluation process. If they were Cinderella, this year's prospects got sent home well before the clock struck midnight.

Around the League:

Random DNPs are the enemy: Last week we saw LeBron James and Anthony Davis both post career-games early in the week only to sit out the following game for a random injury that healed in time for them to only miss one outing. Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo have been placed on "pitch counts" this year when it comes to playing in back-to-back games so we know that they'll sit out of at least one of the games, but we don't always know which one until game time. Don't even get me started on the Spurs, who've made spot-benching their starters to keep them fresh into an art form.

Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid these random DNPs for your star players. Teams have figured out that it's better for the health of their players if they miss a game every now and then, so it's to their advantage to keep doing this. It sucks for us, but really all you can do is to be vigilant. Make sure that you are near a computer when the games are about to start for the night, and have substitute players ready to swap in at a moment's notice. Those in weekly leagues are in a worse position, but really all you can do at this point is ride it out.

Aldridge on the brink of Return: LaMarcus Aldridge has missed the last seven games with a back injury, but he is listed as questionable for Thursday and could get on the court if he impresses the team during morning shootaround/pre-game warm-ups. The Trail Blazers are one of the few teams with the impetus to get their young stars to play as soon as possible, as they are still fighting for playoff positioning and need Aldridge to lead them.

Wade limping to the finish: Health has been a concern for Dwyane Wade all season, and it continues to be an issue down the stretch. Wade appeared to injure his hamstring in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night, and asked to be removed from the game. The severity of the injury is unknown, but as hard as the Heat have worked to have him healthy for the playoffs, expect them to err on the side of caution in treating this.

Irving's bicep still on the mend: Kyrie Irving has been out since March 16 with a strained tendon in his left biceps, but he was able to take shots during the Cavs' team shootaround on Tuesday. Even still, Irving has no time table for his return and his absence has led to greatly improved value for Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack.

Thomas' quad: Isaiah Thomas missed Wednesday's game with a quad injury, and his return is unknown. Thomas has been a huge driver for one of my teams all season, so count me among those hoping that "Zeke 2.0" is able to get back on the court in time for the fantasy playoff finals.

Pekovic back soon: Nikola Pekovic has missed the last six games with bursitis in his ankle, but he is expected to return to practice as soon as Thursday and perhaps game action by this weekend. While Pekovic himself has been a solid roto center when healthy this year, this news is more significant for its potential impact on his teammates. Kevin Love is one of the best producers in the NBA when he's relied upon, but Pekovic was able to carve a bit into Love's production earlier this year. Similarly, new sensation Gorgi Dieng (see New Additions) has been a monster in Pekovic's absence, so Pekovic's return likely at least slows Dieng's production.

New Additions

Reggie Jackson (51% owned in Yahoo! Leagues): Jackson has been a reasonable producer in his 6th man slot, but he has shown that he is a worthy roto starter when he gets the starting nod from the Thunder. Russell Westbrook has had a series of injuries this season, and the Thunder are trying to keep him fresh for the playoffs, so they have been giving him spot games off. Though it is difficult to predict when those games off will come, this makes Jackson a worthy spot-start on the nights when he's running the show in OKC.

Gorgui Dieng (40% owned): Last week during my interview on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today, Peter Schoenke asked me whether Dieng's recent double-doubles (he had two at the time) meant that he should pick Dieng up. I told him that, at this time of the year, if you have room you always should pick up a young player showing signs of production. I hope that Pete did pick up Dieng, because in the week since he has averaged 13.5 points (51% FG, 84% FT on 4.8 FTA), 15.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals. Dieng has been an absolute monster in his stint substituting for the injured Nikola Pekovic, enough so that he's even started eating slightly into Kevin Love's touches. Pekovic could return as soon as this weekend, but you should continue to ride Dieng as long as you can. Even after Pekovic returns, Dieng may have done enough to hold onto some decent playing time moving forward.

Jordan Hill (35% owned): Hill has been inconsistent all season, much like every Lakers role player that gets extended minutes. But timing is everything, and in the last week Hill posted a monster 28-point/13-rebound game on the heels of a 9-point/14-board/4-block effort. I don't feel comfortable recommending him, but if you're desperate and can overlook the fact that he only had nine points/five boards in 14 minutes in his last outing, Hill could be worth a roll of the dice.

Ramon Sessions (33% owned): Sessions has always held a dear place in my heart, every since I picked him up as a "random player on bad team that starts getting minutes and produces" flyer about five years ago and he started dropping 20-assists games to lead me to a title. Sessions is quietly poised for another such run as the 6th man in Milwaukee right now. He's playing behind starter Brandon Knight, but Nate Wolters is out for the season due to injury. This has opened it up for Sessions to score in double digits for six straight games, including a 28-point/7-assist/6-rebound outing against the Clippers on Monday.

Henry Sims (18% owned): Henry Sims is shaping up to be a posterchild for the "random player on bad team that starts getting minutes and produces" award this season. The 76ers seem determined not to win another game this year, and have gifted the unheralded Sims with about 30 minutes per game of late. He's responded by averaging 14.7 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists, .7 steals and .7 blocks over the last week.

Keeping up with the Professor

If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.

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