After months of seemingly endless speculation and mostly-unreliable rumors, the 2014 NBA Draft has finally come and gone, leaving us, as fans, here to completely over-analyze and scrutinize each and every pick for several more months, before these rookies even get a chance to play a single game in the NBA. While much of the draft played out as was expected, it is no secret that many players were selected later than they should have been. Here is a look at the top eight players who could end up exceeding expectations and making an immediate or eventual impact for their respective NBA teams, ranked in order of their draft slot:
Top Steals of the NBA Draft
1. Charlotte Hornets (No. 9 overall): Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
There is absolutely no way that, coming into the NBA draft, anyone within the Charlotte Hornets organization expected Noah Vonleh to still be on the board when it was their turn to pick with the 9th overall selection. Many had him going to Orlando with the 4th overall pick, others thought Utah would take him with the 5th pick, and absolutely nobody foresaw him sliding past the No. 7 slot, where the Lakers drafted former Kentucky power forward Julius Randle.
Vonleh averaged 11.3 points and 9 rebounds per game for the Indiana Hoosiers during his freshman season last year. He was also a great shooter, hitting 52.3 percent of his shots from the field, and 48.5 percent from three-point range. Standing at 6-10 and wieghing 240 pounds at only 18-years-old, he is an extremely talented big man who has often been compared to Chris Bosh in terms of his unique ability to stretch the floor.
Vonleh boasts the size to play the four spot in the NBA, while also possessing the quickness, mobility and tremendous shooting ability of a wing player, making him an absolute steal for the Charlotte Hornets.
2. Charlotte Hornets (No. 26 overall): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends
Another great selection in what was an excellent NBA draft for the Hornets, former University on North Carolina and Texas Legends (NBA Developmental League) star shooting guard P.J. Hairston provides tremendous value for the team at No. 26 overall. Without his off-the-court issues, Hairston would have undoubtedly been in the same discussion with Marcus Smart for the for the top overall guard in this extremely talented draft class.
Merely a role player during his freshman season, Hairston emerged as a legitimate scoring threat for the Tar Heels as a sophomore, averaging 14.6 points per game. Following that season, however, He was suspended indefinitely by the NCAA for reasons that are still unclear, and UNC never sought his reinstatement.
He spent last season with the Texas Legends of the NBA’s developmental league, and continued to dominate his competition, putting up a remarkable 21.8 points per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field.
If he can put his past behind him, keep his head straight, and stay out of trouble, P.J. Hairston has the unmatched potential to develop into a star in this league for an up-and-coming Charlotte Hornets team.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (No. 32 overall): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
With an almost unheard of six total selections, the Philadelphia 76ers were the undisputed winners of the 2014 NBA Draft. While their two top-10 picks, big men Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, may steal all of the headlines, the Sixers had a quietly had nice draft in the second round as well.
With the 32nd overall pick, team general manager Sam Hinkie added yet another asset to this young, talented roster, selecting small forward K.J. McDaniels from Clemson. After a very strong junior campaign in which he averaged 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, McDaniels was widely expected to be a mid-to-late first round pick.
McDaniels is a well-rounded player who can easily score in transition, finish above the rim and through contact, and has no problem knocking down his free throws. He really excels, however, on the defensive end of the court, where he averaged an insane 2.8 blocked shots per game last season. Along with a nearly seven-foot wingspan, McDaniels has all the physical attributes necessary to become a great defender in the NBA.
4. New York Knicks (No. 34 overall): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Call it the “Phil Jackson effect” if you like, but the New York Knicks somehow went from having having owning no draft picks the day before the NBA draft, to having arguably the best draft the team has had in quite a while.
After orchestrating a trade which sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas while bringing two second-round draft selections to New York, Jackson made the most of what he had, selecting former Witchita State small forward Cleanthony Early with the 34th overall pick, and D-League star shooting guard Thanasis Antetokounmpo with the 51st pick.
Early, who was expected to be picked in the early 20s, could very well end up being the steal of this draft. On a Wichita State Shockers team that entered the NCAA tournament 34-0, he averaged 16.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The 6-8, 210 pound forward has a natural inclination to put points on the board, and the length to develop into a lock down defender in the NBA.
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