Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Since the end of the NCAA Tournament, and even while the event was still taking place, there have been a flurry of announcements by underclassmen stating their intentions to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
In the last week, such players as Joel Embiid (Kansas), T.J. Warren (North Carolina State) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) have declared for early entry into the draft.
While the appeal of fame and fortune that comes with playing at the professional level is obvious, from a pure basketball standpoint coming out of college too early can sometimes prove to be detrimental. For others, building hype at the end of the regular season may have lifted their draft stock enough to make it folly to turn down the draft. Then there are the blue- chippers who have been destined for a selection in 2014 since they signed their national letters of intent.
Telling the difference between the first two is a tough task as injuries and changes in performance can turn a player guaranteed to be drafted this year into one searching for a professional contract overseas in the next.
The latter group, however, is much easier to determine, although there are still some players missing. For example, Duke forward Jabari Parker has indicated he will make a decision one way or another sometime this week, although all signs point to an early exit from the college ranks for the freshman.
Fellow first-year players Embiid and Andre Wiggins have not allowed speculation and hope to creep into the Kansas fan base. Wiggins, the lanky 6- foot-8 swingman from Ontario, has been at or near the top of every mock draft for the past year and is still projected to be selected in that range.
Although he did not put forward the dominant numbers expected, he still turned in a productive season (17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game). However, the sour taste of a four-point effort in the Jayhawks' loss to Stanford in the third round of the NCAA Tournament brought some questions about his "clutch ability" to the conversation.
Concerns are even greater when it comes to Embiid. The freshman center was very much under the radar entering the season, but his highlight-reel dunks and blocks put him squarely in the national spotlight and on the track toward a lottery pick.
The worries for the 7-foot center, who some have compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, are his still developing offensive game and the fact that he missed the last six games of the season due to a back injury. The ailment and past busts of talented big men with back issues, such as Greg Oden, could give some teams pause, but not enough to keep Embiid outside the top-10 picks.
Smart could very well have entered last year's NBA Draft and done quite well for himself. However, he decided to stay in Stillwater for another year. His draft stock has dipped some, partially due to the infusion of freshman talent to this year's draft class and partially due to a three-game suspension he served for an altercation with a fan.
Smart's tenacity is unquestioned, but his shooting remains suspect (41.3 field goal percentage, 29.4 3-point field goal percentage), which will hurt him if he hopes to remain as potent a scorer at the next level.
Some of the other recent entrees to the NBA Draft have not been at the top of every draft board all season but have risen there recently.
The most notable of the group is Warren. The 6-8 scoring machine led the ACC with a 24.9-point average, helping him win the conference's player of the year honors and thrusting him into the discussion when it comes to lottery picks.
Warren made himself look particularly attractive in the last month of the season when he willed N.C. State to a NCAA Tournament berth. Now Warren is hoping to ride his hot hand into a desirable spot in the draft.
Following in the same mold is Jarnell Stokes, a dominant frontcourt force for Tennessee, a team that went from being on the bubble to the Sweet 16 in helping the SEC raise its profile during the postseason.
Stokes is skipping his senior season to enter the NBA Draft after posting 15.1 ppg and 10.6 rebounds per game as one of 14 players in Division I to average a double-double for the 2013-14 season. He was even better come tournament time (18 ppg, 12.8 rpg), meaning his stock can't really get much higher. Entering the draft now just makes sense.
There are others for whom entering the NBA Draft is a bit more puzzling, although not entirely ridiculous.
It seems those waiting for North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo to turn into the next face of the program will never be satisfied, as the 6-9 forward declared for the draft earlier this month. McAdoo was certainly not a terrible disappointment in Chapel Hill, averaging 11.4 ppg and 5.9 rpg in three seasons.
But this is a player who was thought to have one-and-done potential in his freshman season. McAdoo was the 2009 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year, but never more than a second-team All-ACC selection. Perhaps a change of scenery will help his cause, but that's quite a risk to take anywhere before the second round.
Another big man hoping to bank on size and athleticism over college production is UNLV's Roscoe Smith. The junior forward is built well (6-8, 215 pounds) and had a great season in 2013-14 (11.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg). However, that was really his only season as a full-time starter.
He sat out the 2012-13 campaign after transferring from Connecticut, where he averaged 5.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg in two seasons as a reserve. Smith certainly didn't add to his resume down the stretch, scoring less than 10 points in six of the final eight games this past season, including a paltry eight-point, four-rebound performance against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference semifinals. He will certainly be drafted, but like McAdoo, probably not in the first round.
News broke on Monday that Jerami Grant would be following the same blueprint, as he is set to enter the NBA Draft following just two years at Syracuse. The 6-8 forward certainly has the athletic ability to make the step to the next level, but nagging injuries slowed him this season and he does not have a long track record of producing at the college level.
He averaged 12.1 ppg and 6.8 rpg in 2013-14, but played a little more than 14 minutes per game as a freshman and dealt with back spasms for much of the second half of this past season. Where he might go in the draft is a real mystery at this point.
Reports also surfaced Monday that Michigan State's Gary Harris is ready to enter his name for early entry, while players like Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle still need to declare officially. That makes for plenty of additional conjecture in the more than two months that remain before the draft.