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5 Most NBA-Ready Upperclassmen in 2014 Draft

by Photo of Sam Cohen

Five upperclassmen in the 2014 NBA Draft that can help your team right away

5 Most NBA-Ready Upperclassmen in 2014 Draft

The 2014 NBA Draft is on Thursday and fans are in for a good one (besides New York fans, as both the Knicks and Nets have zero picks). This year's draft is one of the most exciting drafts ever, as there are many players with the talent to become future stars. While this draft certainly contains big names with unbelievable upside, it is also one of the deepest drafts in recent years. There are a number of players that will be taken in the mid to late first round or even early second round that can make a difference at the next level, which makes this draft all the more intriguing.

Underclassmen with potential are usually taken before every other NBA prospect, but those upperclassmen who can still immediately contribute a lot to a team should not be ignored. Take Draymond Green for example. Green, who played for four years at Michigan State, was taken by the Golden State Warriors with the 35th pick of the 2012 draft. While he may not have had the upside or youth that led a lot of other players to be drafted higher than him, Green has been instrumental in the Warriors' success these past couple seasons.

So which upperclassmen will provide value picks in this year's class? Here are five juniors and seniors slated to go anywhere from the mid-first round to the mid-second round who can make a difference right away.

All Mock Draft positions are via Draft Express.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Current Projection: First Round, 23rd Overall Pick

Payne is a great example of a player who will probably be taken later than his talent indicates he should, simply because he is older and does not possess the potential that many of the younger players have. But with great size and skill at 6'10'', the four-year player for the Spartans is a safe bet to be a good player for a long time to come. After coming off a great season in which he scored 16.4 points per game, Payne showed the ability to shoot the ball from inside and outside, as he shot over 50% from the field and over 43% from three-point range. He has the toughness and ability to finish through contact as well as rebound, as he averaged 7.3 rebounds per game. He is also a plus defender, using his great size and strength to his advantage. He plays well with his back to the basket and has a crazy vertical, as seen in this GIF:

Payne has also proven to be one of the more hard-working players in this draft. He gives the maximum amount of effort day after day and his toughness and leadership is unquestioned. While he may not be the sexiest pick, Payne is NBA-ready and will contribute to the team that takes him right away. 

Cleanthony Early, Wichita State

Current Projection: 2nd Round, 33rd Overall Pick

At 23 years old, Cleanthony Early may not be young but he is ready for the NBA. Early is coming off a season in which he scored 16.4 points per game and averaged about six rebounds per game, proving to be a very quality forward. He can shoot from long range (almost 38% from three-point territory) and is highly athletic, as he consistently dominates the forwards he plays against. He is also a very effective presence in the low-post, as he is not afraid to back defenders down and finishes well around the rim.

Early's size may prevent him from defending NBA power forwards, but he should be able to use his quickness and agility to be able to stay with small forwards. Though Early's age and passing skills will cause him to be picked at the very end of the first round or beginning of the second round, he is extremely athletic and still has room to grow. Early has a good chance of providing value right away and a team in need of a forward that can stretch the floor and play good defense would be smart to draft him.

Shabazz Napier, University of Connecticut

Current Projection: 1st Round, 24th Overall Pick

Napier exploded onto the scene after a dominant 2014 NCAA Tournament in which he averaged 21.2 points per game as he led the UConn's men's basketball team to their fourth national championship, but college basketball fans already knew he was having an amazing season. Napier, almost 23, has tons of experience and has the clear ability to perform under the highest amounts of pressure. What's more, though, is that he led his team in points (18 per game), assists (5 per game), and rebounds (6 per game). Yes, one player led the national championship-winning team in three of the biggest offensive categories, and he did it at 6'1". Napier is already a good defender and three-point shooter, but he also proved to be a capable rebounder who always looks to get his teammates involved.

Napier may not have ideal size or age, but he has the ability to put up some nice scoring and assist numbers while grabbing a few rebounds a game. He also improved in almost every single offensive category in each of his four seasons, which goes to show how hard he works and how willing he is to get better. His experience and drive to succeed will allow him to step in and play right away and while his ceiling might not be high, he has a lot of value.

Jordan Clarkson, University of Missouri

Current Projection: 1st Round, 28th Overall Pick

Clarkson may not be a household name, but he shouldn't be forgotten. A 6'5" point guard, Clarkson is a lot like Michael Carter-Williams, another quick, tall point guard who can score. Clarkson, who is leaving Missouri one year early after averaging an impressive 17.5 points per game his junior season, has the size and athleticism to play either guard position, which makes him a versatile piece. His great physicality allows him to get to the hoop or create for his teammates. His size and speed make him a plus defender at either guard spot. He also played over 35 minutes per game this season, which is quite impressive. And like any other 6'5" point guard with hands and feet, he rebounds well, as he averaged about four rebounds per game this past season.

Only time will tell if Clarkson stays at the point guard position. He looked better suited to play off the ball at times, due to his questionable ball security and decision-making. But no matter what position he plays, he's going to be a factor next year because he has the length to make a difference in any backcourt and the valuable ability to score and defend.

Jarnell Stokes, University of Tennessee

Current Projection: 1st Round, 26th Overall Pick

Jarnell Stokes is a double-double machine. The junior out of Tennessee had 22 double-doubles, tying a school record set in 1976-77 by Bernard King. The 6'8", 263 pound Stokes averaged 15 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and dominated the low-post with extremely physical play in the paint. He could actually be among the top three or four best rebounders in this draft class and he is also among the best players in this year's class at finishing in the post. The ways Stokes uses his strength and energy are truly impressive and if you don't believe me, check out this GIF:

 

Stokes is also a high-energy player who plays very unselfishly. He never gives up on plays and even though he is not a very versatile offensive player, he always seems to find a way to contribute each and every game. His 7'1" wingspan is a huge plus, especially since he does not have ideal height at the power forward position. Watch out for Stokes because he is as ready to contribute to a team as it gets and could prove to be the steal of the draft.

It will be exciting to see where each of these players winds up playing, as the system they are in will dictate what roles they play. In any case, there is no doubt that all five of these players will make in impact in the NBA, quite possibly as soon as next season. Look out for when their names are called on Thursday night.

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