The 2014 NBA Draft has been heralded as one of the best classes in recent history. This year could produce a large number of All-Star caliber players, several of whom have program changing talent. Now when I say program changing, I mean a player that can be the piece to take the teams we see in the bottom of the standings into championship conversations almost immediately.
The NBA, unlike any other sport, is a superstar driven league. This draft class boasts several players at that level, two of which have rumors surrounding them indicating they may return for another season at their respective schools. Jabari Parker of Duke and Joel Embiid of Kansas are two of the top freshman in the country, and both have mentioned the idea of staying in school for another year. Each player would likely have a successful rookie season at the next level, but would this be a good or bad idea to stay for a sophomore campaign? And what would keep them from leaving?
Between the two, Jabari Parker looks to be the more NBA ready player. This is not to say that Joel Embiid is not going to be a force when he does decide to leave college basketball, it only means that Parker’s skill set is a little more refined. The Duke freshman began the season on an absolute tear, averaging 22 points in the first 12 games.
He set the Duke record for most 20-point games by a freshman in only 21 games. This is Duke were talking about. They’ve been one of the most dominant college basketball teams in the last few decades and Parker is breaking records a little past halfway through the season. He has a body built for the NBA – athletic at 6’8” and 240 lbs – and has experience playing just about everywhere on the floor. Parker is a player that could have gone straight to the NBA from high school and made an impact. There is no doubt that he will be drafted somewhere in the first three picks, so why would he stay when he has such a bright future?
One reason could simply be the success of his team this year. Duke is in position to make a run in the NCAA tournament, but they’ve already stumbled against some teams this season. If they falter early on, that could only feed Parker’s hunger for success. This kid doesn’t know how to lose. He led his high school team to four straight state titles, so an early exit from the tournament could be a strong reason to stay. Let’s also not forget that fellow Chicago-native and number one prospect Jahlil Okafor is about to become a Blue Devil next season. Could you imagine a front-court of Okafor and Parker? That would be a tantalizing duo for any level of basketball.
Joel Embiid has a similar reason to return to Kansas. Cliff Alexander, the number three player in the country, is a power forward that could top the Parker/Okafor combination when it comes to dominance. However, Embiid has other reasons to return outside of the possibility of playing with another lottery-pick player. Unlike Parker, Embiid has only been playing basketball for about three years and lacks some of the finer points in his game. He has good touch around the rim, but his overall post-game needs some work. Embiid could benefit from another year at Kansas to develop that part of his play, which would improve upon his already elite level talent. Even though it looks like he will be taken with the first overall pick, if Embiid can put on some weight and improve his post moves, there is no reason he won’t be positioned at the top of the draft in 2015.
Between these two players, Embiid could probably benefit more by staying an extra year. He doesn’t need the year to be a dominant presence in the NBA, but injury possibilities aside, there wouldn’t be a real downside to return to Kansas. He could improve his game and be even more ready to take on the likes of Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, and some of the other premier centers in the league.
Jabari Parker doesn’t necessarily have the development issue Embiid has (not that it is even much of a problem), so the only reason he would return would be to win a championship. Parker is not the high-flying athlete that some NBA players are, but his skill-set will be one of the best in the league almost immediately.
Both of these players are likely to declare for the draft once the season comes to an end. They are ready to make the jump to the next level and have the potential to be All-Stars very quickly. The possibility of both staying would just be a great change in the environment of college basketball. It would buck the trend of freshman using the few months of their freshman year as a stepping stone to the NBA. If they would stay, it could start a new trend of college players staying for a few years, building bona fide rivalries – similar to the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson one in the late 1970’s. That would be a sight to see.