With the 2014 NBA draft rapidly approaching, SI.com is providing positional rankings for the top prospects in this year's class. We've already looked at the top shooting guards and small forwards. Let's break down the top 10 point guards of 2014.
1. Dante Exum (6-foot-6, 196 pounds)
Australian Institute of Sport (Australia)
2013-14 stats: N/A
Strengths: An athletic and intelligent guard with great size, Exum has drawn comparisons to Penny Hardaway and Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams of Philadelphia. Though there's been speculation about his NBA position (largely because of his size), those familiar with his game -- and Dante himself -- are adamant that he's a point guard. Adept at both scoring and creating for teammates, Exum excels with the ball and projects as a high-quality defender with a 6-9 wingspan. There are some who believe he’s one of the three best players in the draft in terms of potential, and selecting Exum presents a potentially massive reward.
Weaknesses:Though there’s largely a consensus on Exum’s massive upside, the fact remains that most teams haven’t seen him play much, aside from an appearance at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit. His jumper is improving but will need some work. He’s been held out of competition, so his individual workouts could have a big impact as far as swaying a team at the top of the lottery. There’s inherent risk in selecting a player you haven’t seen much, even one as talented as Exum. – Jeremy Woo
2. Marcus Smart (6-3, 227)
Oklahoma State, sophomore | Age: 20
2013-14 stats: 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.9 steals, 42.2 FG%
Strengths: Smart is a dogged defender and one of the best rebounders at his position. Last season at Oklahoma State, he recorded swipes on 5 percent of opponents’ possessions and posted a 14.9 defensive rebounding percentage, ranking second among teammates who appeared in at least 15 games, according to Kenpom.com. Smart is also a good finisher from close range and doesn’t shy away from contact. He drew nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes last season, which ranked 50th in the country. Smart showed improved distribution skills from his freshman season, boosting his assist rate nearly four percentage points, and is a terror in the open court, as he scored 1.134 points per possession on transition play types, per Synergy scouting data. In addition, coaches have long raved about Smart’s character and leadership qualities.
Weaknesses: The biggest flaw in Smart’s game is his shooting. Over two seasons with the Cowboys, Smart hit just under 30 percent of his three-point shots. Shot selection seems to be the main culprit, as Smart often settles for contested and fadeaway jumpers, but Smart will also need to clean up his shot mechanics to excel at the next level. Though he showed improvement as a distributor last season, Smart sometimes neglects the best pass in favor of uncontrolled forays into the paint. The “hero ball” mentality he appeared to take on at times last season won’t work on the team that drafts him. And for all the praise Smart has earned for his intangibles, the fan-shoving incident at Texas Tech won’t be overlooked. -- Chris Johnson
3. Tyler Ennis (6-2, 182)
Syracuse, freshman | Age: 19
2013-14: 12.9 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 41 FG%, 35.3 3FG%
Strengths:The Canadian-born Ennis is a pure point guard and heady floor general who almost always plays under control. Ennis understands how to work the pace of the game and doesn’t force things, perhaps his strongest trait -- he’s a great ball-handler and passer and adept at running the pick-and-roll. Defensively, his smarts translated into steals last season in the Syracuse zone and his wingspan measured over 6-7 at the combine. You know exactly what you’re getting with Ennis, and though he may not be a star, he’s got a chance to have a long, steady career.
Weaknesses:Ennis will have to find ways to score the ball consistently in the NBA. He’s not outstanding in terms of penetrating for shots and finishing. He shot 35% from three at Syracuse, a clip he’ll want to improve upon to keep defenses honest. Because he played in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, there’s understandable uncertainty about his man defense. He’s a good-not-great athlete whose longevity will depend on team fit and how far his considerable basketball intelligence takes him. -- JW
4. Elfrid Payton (6-4, 185)
Louisiana-Lafayette, junior | Age: 20
2013-14: 19.2 points, 5.9 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 50.9 FG%
Strengths: Payton will look to follow in the footsteps of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as the next mid-major guard to raise his stock into the lottery. Payton’s elite defensive skills and ability to penetrate (he attempted a ridiculous 8.6 free throws per game), coupled with his size and quickness make him one of the draft’s biggest sleepers. Though he’s a junior, Payton was a year young for his grade and still posted impressive numbers, as the only Division I player to average 19 points, five assists, six rebounds and two steals—while regularly guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player. He’s a high-character kid and hard worker who has done a ton to raise his draft stock over the past month.
Weaknesses:The key to Payton sustaining NBA success will be the development of his jump shot. His field goal percentage is inflated by his prowess off the drive -- Payton hit from three at just a 25.9 percent clip last season and will have to improve to ensure he sees the floor and becomes more than a defensive specialist in the league. He’s a good passer but will have to take better care of the ball -- coming from the Sun Belt conference, Payton didn’t see the highest levels of competition on a regular basis and still averaged 3.6 turnovers per game. Whoever drafts him may have to be patient and invest the proper time in hopes of getting a full return. -- JW
5. Zach LaVine (6-6, 181)
UCLA, freshman | Age: 19
2013-14 stats: 9.4 points, 1.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 44 FG%, 37.5 3FG%
Strengths:One need only look at this photo of LaVine leaping 46 inches (reportedly a team record) at a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers to know his best attribute: athleticism. During his freshman season at UCLA, LaVine was known, on occasion, to throw down some vicious dunks. LaVine also shot the bell well for part of last season – he went 16-of-25 from three-point range during a five-game stretch in November and December (his percentages dipped later in the season) – and is a particularly effective finisher on the break. LaVine only turned 19 in March, so he still has plenty of time to round out some of the rougher edges of his game. His athleticism and scoring potential make him an intriguing prospect.
Weaknesses:For someone who projects as a potential point guard at the next level, LaVine’s distribution skills are suspect. LaVine posted an assist rate of 12.6 last season, just more than one third of teammate Kyle Anderson’s 34.3. His lean frame can pose issues against bigger, more physical defenders and he has trouble finishing in traffic. LaVine’s shooting numbers dipped precipitously after a hot start last season; he scored just eight points combined in UCLA’s three NCAA Tournament games. Shot-selection can be an issue for LaVine, as he tends to settle for inefficient, mid-range jump jumpers. LaVine had his share of issues defensively last season, though he does have the size and quickness to improve in this regard. -- CJ
6. Shabazz Napier (6-1, 175)
UConn, senior | Age: 22
2013-14: 18.0 points, 4.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 42 FG%, 40.5 3FG%
Strengths:Leaving Connecticut with two NCAA titles, Napier is a proven winner and intense competitor who looks as NBA-ready as any point in the crop. He’s a versatile scorer who who shoots it very well from the perimeter—helping offset his lack of high-grade explosiveness—and is also an excellent defender. He’ll rebound and do the little things to help his team succeed, and looks like a solid bet to become a useful cog somewhere. Napier’s not Kemba Walker, but shouldn’t be judged off the NBA success of his former UConn running mate. Teams looking for immediate point guard depth will think hard, as Napier is equipped to fill a role right away.
Weaknesses:Lacking the size many teams value in their ballhandlers, Napier has to prove he can cut it physically. Although he’s improved as a passer under Kevin Ollie, he’s still a shoot-first guy with questions surrounding how well he can distribute in the NBA. Though he can light it up, Napier has bouts of streakiness where he’ll put his head down and look for buckets. Can he become more than a spark off the bench? He’s also 22 years old. You know what you’re getting with Napier—he has value in the late first, but seems unlikely to be a home-run pick. -- JW
7. Jordan Clarkson (6-5, 186)
Missouri, junior | Age: 22
2013-14: 17.5 points, 3.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 44.7 FG%
Strengths:Clarkson is a big, athletic ballhandler and a well-rounded scorer coming off a productive year at Missouri after sitting out 2012-13 post-transfer. He’s more of a combo guard, often relied upon to initiate offense for himself and others and can get to the rim, finish and draw fouls. He’s a long defender that can bother smaller guards. He’s reportedly performed well for teams in workouts, and the upside his physical tools present makes him an intriguing selection.
Weaknesses:Is he really a point guard? Clarkson’s not the best distributor and is still learning the position in terms of seeing plays develop and making good decisions. He’s also not an outstanding perimeter shooter (28.1 percent from three last season, regressing from 37.1 percent as a freshman). It’s worth nothing that Clarkson’s father was diagnosed with cancer in February, which may have affected his play. The way teams feel about his potential growth in those two areas will determine where Clarkson ultimately falls. -- JW
8. Semaj Christon (6-3, 186)
Xavier, sophomore | Age: 21
2013-14: 17 points, 4.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 47 FG%
Strengths: Christon is a long and athletic scoring point who can get where he wants on the floor—namely into the paint where most of his baskets come from. He’s very good in transition and can also defend his position pretty well. He’s also very, very fast up and down the floor—physically, he’s an NBA-quality athlete. Christon looks like one of the more interesting second-round guards with some room for growth.
Weaknesses:He didn’t shoot three-pointers at a bad clip (38.8 percent) but also didn’t shoot many of them (less than two attempts per game), so his development into a confident perimeter threat, like many of the points in this class, will be key. He could use some more weight on his frame and will also need to grow more comfortable facilitating play. -- JW
9. Vasilije Micic (6-5, 188)
Mega Vizura (Serbia), Country: Serbia | Age: 20
2013-14 (Adriatic League): 12.1 points, 5.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 46.2 FG%
Strengths:Micic has had success with Serbia at nearly every youth level. He did a lot for his stock at last summer's U-19 World Championships, standing out in a title-game loss to the U.S. against a backcourt that included Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton. A true point and one of the most creative passers in the draft, Micic changes speeds effectively to create for teammates and passes extraordinarily well. He understands angles and shines in pick-and-roll situations. Micic has played professionally since age 16 and he’s a gamer with size, experience and savvy.
Weaknesses: Micic will need to shoot much better from the perimeter (28.9 percent from three-point range), particularly because he could have difficulty beating defenders into the paint. He also could struggle to defend his position because of his lack of speed. He did measure closer to 6-5 at the Adidas Eurocamp, where he played well, but being a slow guard lowers his stock. Micic’s success could depend on stylistic fit wherever he lands—if he comes over right away. -- JW
10. Russ Smith (6-1, 165)
Louisville, senior | Age: 23
2013-14 stats: 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 46 FG%, 38.7 3FG%
Strengths: We know Russ Smith can fill it up. We know he can score from all over the floor, in bunches, too. He’s used to winning at Louisville, has been successful on big stages and is extremely quick, able to create his own shots and make baskets with a high degree of difficulty. Smith also plays sound on-ball defense and can force turnovers with his pressure.
Weaknesses: First of all, he’s 23, which hurts the project-ability of a player already without the preferred size and strength to play the one in the NBA. Smith’s ability to furiously score points can also really hurt -- in his hunt for points, he can get reckless, turn it over and force iffy shots, which rarely flies in the league. Smith has spent the past couple months trying to convince people he can actually run the offense and be effective without dominating the ball. If he convinces a team he can make the leap, he could be a second-round bargain. -- JW
Just missed the cut...
Jahii Carson (5-11, 180)
Arizona State, sophomore | Age: 21
2013-14 stats: 18.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 43.3 FG%, 39.1 3FG%
Strengths: Few, if any, of this year’s prospects are as fast as Carson is with the ball. His quick first step and explosiveness are huge assets in transition, where Carson can attack the basket before opposing defenses are set, and the half court, where he can knife through traffic and beat opponents off the dribble. Johnson’s quick first step, tight handle and explosive leaping ability make him a tough cover.
Weaknesses:Size will be an issue for a player whose game is predicated upon slicing through defenses and finishing over taller defenders. Carson was also often reckless with the way he created for himself and his teammates, a mentality that contributed to his 18.2 percent turnover rate. Carson’s decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, as he often seemed to dismiss the best pass for a wild drive to the rim or contested shot. -- CJ
Deonte Burton (6-1, 190)
Nevada, senior | Age: 22
2013-14: 20.1 points, 4.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 47.1 FG%
Strengths: Burton has average size, but good strength and great athleticism. The Nevada product was able to get to the basket and finish as well as draw fouls (6.9 free throw attempts per game each of his last two seasons). Burton also has a 6-6 wingspan and is known for playing hard, which helps him project defensively.
Weaknesses:Nevada went 15-17 last season in the Mountain West and had losing records in three of his four years. Burton was the best player on a mediocre team, which always raises questions and he’ll turn 23 on draft night, which doesn’t do him any favors, either. He’s not outstanding from the perimeter, and shot just 31.4 percent from deep last year. --J W
DeAndre Kane (6-5, 200)
Iowa State, senior | Age: 24
2013-14 stats: 17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 48 FG%, 39.8 3FG%
Strengths:Kane had his best college season last year at Iowa State, where he was an efficient scorer – posting an effective field goal percentage of 53.2 and a true shooting percentage of 56.1 -- and distributor -- assisting on 30.8 percent of his team’s baskets while he was on the floor. Kane’s size, strength and quickness help him muscle past opposing defenders and draw fouls (he got to the line six times every 40 minutes). Kane also improved his three-point shooting (39 percent on 108 attempts last season), rebounded well for his position and showed good poise scoring and distributing in transition.
Weaknesses:With his 25th birthday coming in early June, Kane may have already come close to maximizing his potential. While he starred in his final collegiate season, it’s important to keep in mind he was playing against players three or more years younger than him. -- CJ
Aaron Craft (6-2, 192)
Ohio State, senior | Age: 23
2013-14 stats: 9.8 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 47 FG%
Strengths:Craft’s biggest asset is his defense. During his time at Ohio State, Craft developed a reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and for good reason. His ability to relentlessly pressure ball handlers, shuffle his feet and aggressively use his hands without fouling should translate to the next level. Craft is also proficient at jumping into passing lanes for steals.
Weaknesses: Craft’s offensive game needs work. His inability to beat defenders off the dribble and inaccurate jump shot rendered him a marginal scoring threat with the Buckeyes. His three-point shooting percentage declined from season to season – from 37.7 percent as a freshman to 30.2 as a senior – and only as a junior did Craft average double-digit points. And for as many turnovers as he forced, Craft was susceptible to his share of giveaways, too, coughing the ball up on 24.3 percent of his possessions last season. -- CJ