Early Steals of the 2014 NBA Draft

Last year’s draft class was considered by many to be one of the best in a while. It even drew comparisons to the 2003 Draft Class that featured LeBron, Melo, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh among others. With guys like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid showing great promise to one day be franchise players, there was no shortage of talent for each and every team to choose from at any given point.

Among the elite lottery players were some under-the-radar talents that many teams passed up. Some of these guys have shown to be accurately valued in that regard, playing at the level that everyone thought they would. On the other hand, this year’s steals of the draft have already emerged as solid players that were passed up by many teams. Let’s take a look at three of these guys.

Zach LaVine (13th Pick)

SG – Minnesota Timberwolves

As the 13th pick, it would seem that LaVine was taken too early to be considered a steal. But he’s shown that he can put up quality numbers early on in his career. If he continues to play the way he’s shown he can, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a top 5 rookie when the season is all over with.

As you would expect from a rookie, LaVine’s play has been very inconsistent. Not all of this is due to his play style. A lot of it has to do with his widely varying minutes played each game. In his first game, he saw only five minutes of action, while in his most recent game, he saw an incredible 42 minutes. As a result, his season averages of 8.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 2.8 APG are lower than they could be. LaVine has already had six games with double-digit scoring, capped off by 22 against the Spurs and a career-high 28 against the Lakers. Alongside his 22 against the Spurs, he also added 10 assists, showing that he has potential as a play-maker on a weak Timberwolves squad. He has shown the ability to shoot the three well, and don’t forget that he might just be the best dunker in the league here in a few years.

His role on the Wolves is much larger than those of some other rookies selected higher than him, so naturally his stats look better than some of his competition. But with 12 slots ahead of his 13th pick, there’s probably a few teams wishing they could go back and redo their selection.

Shabazz Napier (24th Pick)

PG – Miami Heat

We all knew Napier could play after watching him throughout UConn’s magical tournament run this past NCAA season. It seemed every shot he took was points on the board and his ball handling second to none. However, he was undersized for the NBA and as a result, his stock wasn’t all that high either. But as the 24th pick, he’s already shown that he’s the best point guard of last year’s draft, even surpassing 5th pick Dante Exum and 6th pick Marcus Smart.

He’s already 7th on the NBA Rookie Ladder, the highest of anyone at his position. But despite his excellent play, he doesn’t really back it up in the stat sheet. Like LaVine, Napier too has six games with double-digit scoring, but he caps out at 17 points against the Clippers and is averaging only 7 PPG on the season overall. He also is lacking in the assists area, with less than 3 per game as an average and his highest total coming at 4 in a few games, numbers that will not get it done as a point guard. But it isn’t all about the stats. Napier has incredible ball handling skills and can create shots for himself when needed. His three point shot has been somewhat inconsistent, but he definitely has the range to be a solid shooter from deep. Oh, and there’s still that fact that he is the best rookie point guard in the NBA right now, in front of a few lottery picks.

Part of his lack of stats has to do with the fact that he is playing behind both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at the point guard spot, so he receives fewer touches and minutes as a result. But when he gets minute, Napier has shown the potential that he could easily be a star in the league one day.

KJ McDaniels (32nd Pick)

SG/SF – Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are bad, KJ McDaniels is not. He is the obvious steal of the draft, being taken lower than both of the other guys on this list but still putting up far superior stats. Sure he is on the 76ers which means a huge role as a rookie, but I mean who cares? This guy is gonna be big here in a few short years.

McDaniels is already 3rd on the NBA’s Rookie Ladder, being surpassed only by Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins (who happen to be the #2 and #1 picks, respectively). He has 10 games of double-digit scoring compared to six from Napier and LaVine, and he is averaging 10.1 per game. He gets it done inside and can knock it down from deep. But he’s not a typical shooting guard. He is averaging 4 RPG, but has already gotten 13 in a game against the Mavs and 9 a few days later against the Spurs. Even more shocking is his presence as a shot blocker – he already has three games with 4 blocks and two games with 3! He may not be as athletic as LaVine, but he is definitely in the conversation for second-most athletic rookie. And he was taken 32nd overall! (I wish he would have fallen two more spots so my Knicks could’ve gotten him.)

McDaniels is good. It’s that simple. If people knew he was going to put up numbers like this, he would have been taken as a lottery pick. He doesn’t have the potential like Wiggins and Parker yet, but if he keeps playing like he is early on, he will have a nice, long NBA career.

Who do you think should be in the conversation for biggest steal in the 2014 Draft? Let me know in the comments below!

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