Is Andrew Wiggins the clear No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft? Not so fast, scouts say

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Marc J. Spears
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The heralded 2014 NBA draft class is often projected as the "Andrew Wiggins' Sweepstakes." Which team will win the draft lottery and the right to draft Wiggins? Who's tanking for Wiggins? What franchise will be lucky enough to rebuild around Wiggins?

For some NBA fans, the June draft centers around the Kansas freshman and only him.

There are a few NBA front-office executives and scouts, however, who aren't completely sure Wiggins will even be the No. 1 overall pick.

"Until Wiggins learns how to play hard," one NBA scout said, "he's Kansas' third-best freshman."

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Not many talent evaluators are that critical of Wiggins, but they do agree that he's not the only college player who will merit a close look this season. Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle, Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart and Australian guard Dante Exum – in addition to Wiggins – could make this a particularly strong draft for NBA teams.

Wiggins and Parker will face off on Tuesday when Kansas plays Duke in the Champions Classic in Parker's hometown of Chicago. Randle is playing in the other game of the Classic doubleheader when Kentucky takes on Michigan State, giving scouts a chance to see three of the top prospects in one location.

"Wiggins has been advertised pretty high," one long-time NBA scout said. "Is he that good? The jury is still out."

Wiggins' hype began to grow after he had 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks to lead the World team to a 84-75 win over Shabazz Muhammad, Nerlens Noel and the United States at the 2012 Hoop Summit, an exhibition pitting the top American high school seniors against the top international teams. A Toronto native, Wiggins then became the first Canadian to be named the 2013 Naismith National Player of the Year as the top high school player. The 6-foot-8 swingman was also named to the Associated Press All-American preseason first team, despite being a freshman.

While Wiggins has drawn some comparisons to LeBron James, one NBA scout said Wiggins' "worst-case scenario" is he's Vince Carter. Another scout likened him to Tracy McGrady.

"He's not LeBron," one NBA general manager said. "It's not his fault regarding all the hype. People say he's pretty humble. He's a top-three pick for sure, if not No. 1."

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Said an NBA assistant GM: "He could be No. 1, but it's not a given. He's not overrated as much as the anointed one gets way too much attention."

Parker scored 22 points in 23 minutes and made all three of his 3-pointers in his debut during Duke's 111-77 win over Davidson last Friday. Randle is averaging 22.5 points and 14.5 rebounds through his first two games. Smart played well against NBA players in USA Basketball's senior minicamp last summer. Exum began receiving praise after performing well at this year's Hoop Summit alongside Wiggins.

"Julius Randle is the real deal," one NBA scout said. "Jabari Parker is really good. Dante Exum, he was super impressive at the Hoop Summit at practice and is smooth and can shoot it. Marcus Smart, if a team needs a point guard, he can be a high pick, too. This upcoming draft class is outstanding."

NBA executives and scouts love Wiggins' athleticism, upside and star potential. His father is former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a Canadian track star. He also is considered to have great character and few off-the-court concerns. But the knock on Wiggins, several NBA executives told Yahoo Sports, is that he doesn't play hard all the time.

Kansas coach Bill Self validated that concern by benching Wiggins in part of a 92-75 exhibition win over Fort Hays State on Nov. 5. Afterward, Self said Wiggins "didn't seem as engaged as he should be." Three days later, Wiggins responded with a team-high 16 points and three steals in an 80-63 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

Wiggins "is not always playing hard and motivated," an NBA scout said. "That scares people. That scares me a little. You need a gym rat, someone that absolutely loves it. It's 82 games. It's tough. Those guys are harder to win with than guys who love it."

When asked if he had the same motivation concerns with Parker, Randle, Exum and Smart, the scout said: "Absolutely not."

The high expectations for Wiggins could be difficult for him to match, even if he plays well this season. One NBA scout said he would take that pressure into consideration in his evaluation.

"A guy like LeBron had the hype, and more than lived up to it," the scout said. "But there were others like Omar Cook and Sebastian Telfair who were No. 1 this and that, and didn't live up to pressure. It's too much."

Still, an NBA GM said he wouldn't be surprised if all the hype worked in reverse – putting major pressure on the team with the No. 1 pick to select Wiggins.

"I believe most will be swayed by the hype, even if it's close and a couple other guys look great," the GM said. "But there is not a clear difference as there was with LeBron [in 2003] to the rest of the field."