Any investor knows that increases in potential reward come with associated increases in risk. There's no such thing as a free lunch in investing (unless you're an insider, but I digress), and the same holds true of NBA prospect evaluation, especially this year when there are no surefire lock prospects. If you want to try to hit a home run on Thursday, you'll be swinging at a questionable pitch, and the outcome may be a weak pop-up.
Even in what's considered a "weak draft" in terms of potential stars, someone (or more) will emerge as a legitimate impact NBA player. It's your general manager's job to figure out which of them is the future homer. Here's a list of the biggest risk/reward prospects in this year's draft, presented with a touch of humor and/or hyperbole.
Alex Len, Maryland
Upside scenario: His ankle not only heals properly but the rest of both feet are also dipped in reinforced titanium. Maryland's point guards actually were as bad as everyone claims and Len was injured for far longer than he's letting on, which explains his mediocre stats. He gets stronger and adds a couple of post counter-moves while still maintaining his nifty footwork and solid hands. In a league where Dwight Howard is still one of the best big men around with a giant fork in his back, Len becomes an All-Star-caliber center for a decade.
Downside scenario: The stress fracture is just the first sign that the 7-foot Ukrainian isn't going to be healthy enough to even see if he can get good enough. NBA big men routinely bang him out of position on the block and back him down at will. Len starts getting compared to other big men who had mediocre numbers and left school early. Maryland's point guards end up with better NBA careers.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Upside scenario: Those who chuckled at comparisons to a young Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan during the season stop laughing. Oladipo's improved outside shooting isn't a mirage. He gets tighter with the ball when he has it and makes you get looser when you have it. He finds three more levels of improvement and is easily the best player in this draft.
Downside scenario: Those who chuckled at comparisons to a young Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan during the season can't stop laughing. He's unmasked as a sloppy ball handler who can't shoot well enough to open up driving lanes. He can't play either guard spot effectively. Ben McLemore ends up as an All-Star.
Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Upside scenario: He's such the second coming of Larry Johnson that Converse gives him his own commercial campaign. He stays in good shape, learns to play defense at a pro level and uses his tweener status to terrorize opposing coaches who don't have a big man who can check him on the perimeter or in transition. Canadian basketball hails a supporting star to go with Andrew Wiggins, makes the Olympics.
Downside scenario: He's such the second coming of Derrick Williams that Timberwolves fans break out in hives at the mere mention of Bennett's name. He's limited to being a slightly-too-heavy volume shooter whose best role is in spurts off the bench because he can't defend anyone. Canadian basketball elects to clone Andrew Wiggins, but loses to Haiti anyway.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Upside scenario: Hard work in the gym fixes his cranky jump shot, making him impossible to guard. He becomes everything Shaun Livingston could have been had his knee not exploded, dominating in the open court and proving to be lethal off the pick-and-roll. His length makes him a potent defender as he adjusts to man-to-man coverage. Jim Boeheim cracks a smile. A small one.
Downside scenario: He continues to shoot like Shaun Livingston after his knee exploded. Defenses sag off him, rendering his passing skill almost useless. He can't adapt from playing zone in college to man-to-man in the pros. Jim Boeheim grumbles and goes back to bury the next promising freshman on his bench.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Upside scenario: He continues to outwork people, his perimeter shooting continues to be there and he becomes a lethal binge scorer. He actually tries to defend someone and make a pass every now and again. Adidas is vindicated. Ben Howland is vindicated. His sister, Asia, wins Wimbledon.
Downside scenario: He's exposed as a limited one-note scorer with no right hand. He plods along as a grumpy, low-efficiency shooter who is a walking negative plus/minus. Ben Howland is implicated. Adidas starts sending him pairs of Nikes. His sister draws Serena Williams in every WTA tournament for which she qualifies.
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Upside scenario: The offbeat 7-footer discloses he was "just messing around" last season at Pitt because he thought it would be funny. After a year of pro seasoning, he goes on to become the best New Zealand export since Flight of the Conchords. The All Whites draw Mexico in the World Cup playoff round and win both legs 2-0. Nerlens Noel and Alex Len end up as NBA busts.
Downside scenario: Going pro after averaging seven points and six rebounds ends up being a bad idea. After a year in the D-League, he starts considering overseas offers. Flight of the Conchords make a song about him called Giant Stiff. The All Whites draw Mexico in the World Cup playoff round and lose 11-0 on aggregate and then suffer Montezuma's revenge after the leg in Mexico City.
Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Upside scenario: He was the victim of a bad situation at North Texas and, when he realized he was about to play a second season in the Sun Belt, shut it down. He gets drafted by the Knicks, becomes a rebounding beast a la Kenneth Faried and plays a key reserve role on the franchise's first NBA champion in 41 years. An excited Carmelo Anthony opts out just so he can re-sign and lead the team going forward. Downside scenario: Regressing in basically every possible way from your freshman year to your sophomore year ends up being a red flag. He gets drafted by the Knicks and adds to their long legacy of terrible first-round draft picks. He gets buried in the rotation by January and watches as the Knicks lose in the first round. A disgruntled Anthony opts out with the intention of signing elsewhere, but James Dolan still re-signs him so he can lead the team going forward.