September 3, 2012

Five toughest questions in 2014 ranking

MORE: Current 2014 rankings | New 2013 rankings

Last week, Julius Randle climbed over Jabari Parker to take the top spot in the rankings for the class of 2013. There will be no such movement Wednesday when the 2014 rankings are released, and 6-foot-7 wing Andrew Wiggins from Huntington (W.V.) Prep will maintain his iron grip on the top spot.

However, that doesn't mean that there weren't some very difficult questions to answer. Here are five of the decisions Rivals.com's Eric Bossi faced with the post-summer 2014 ranking.

Who is No. 2?

Wiggins' lock on the top spot is so secure that the only reason to consider another player for the No. 1 spot in 2014 would be if Wiggins does end up making a move to the class of 2013 as has been speculated for some time. Until then, though, the question is who to put in the No. 2 spot. A low post scorer, a rebounding machine or a big-time point guard?

From our perspective, there are three viable competitors for second position. Currently, Chicago Whitney Young center Jahlil Okafor is holding onto that position. At nearly 6-foot-11 with a 280-pound frame, Okafor is a true back-to-the-basket scorer with legitimate NBA size for his position and the skills to match. He was terrific for the United States 17-and-under team in the world championships and then a bit up and down playing grassroots ball with the Mac Irvin Fire - where his offense was often at the mercy of his guards and whether or not they felt like involving him.

Another viable candidate for the No. 2 spot is forward Noah Vonleh. Vonleh is arguably the top rebounder in his class and the 6-foot-9 forward from New Hampton (N.H.) Prep is a skilled inside/out scorer with size, tenacity and athleticism. While he can be a dominant rebounder and interior scorer, Vonleh does at times settle a bit too much for three-pointers and isn't always as aggressive around the rim as he can and should be.

The third option for second billing behind Wiggins is point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. A 6-foot-4 Texan who recently transferred to Deion Sanders' new school, the Prime Prep Academy, in Dallas, Mudiay oozes upside. Not only does Mudiay have great size, the junior is a high-level athlete, has a great feel in pick-and-roll situations and is becoming more dangerous as a jump shooter. The next step for him is to play up to his talent level on a more consistent basis.

Up or down for Pope?

Perhaps the most intriguing player in the class of 2014 is 6-foot-7 small forward Malik Pope. Opinions vary on the native of Sacramento, who is transferring to nearby Elk Grove (Calif.) Laguna Creek for his junior year.

Currently checking in as a five-star prospect and No. 14 nationally, if you catch him on a day when he's got it going, it's hard not to imagine him wearing a uniform with an NBA logo. He has range on his jump shot, can create for himself with the dribble, is a high-level athlete who beats people from rim to rim and shows potential on the defensive end. On the other hand, he's just as likely to have games in which he defers to teammates, is passive offensively and seems happy to just run up the court.

So what do you do with Pope in the rankings? After all, he just turned 16 in July and does many things that few wings can do. But his inconsistent and passive play at times is a worry as well. He's a tough call.

Where to slot the Australian?

The case of 6-foot-5 combo guard Dante Exum is an interesting one. After blowing up playing with Australia's national team at the 17-and-under world championships, Exum came to the United States and was impressive playing in events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. From a talent standpoint, the versatile and athletic guard is a no-brainer for the 2014 rankings.

However, he is an international prospect and it's not often that the rankings include international prospects because of limited viewing opportunities. For guidance in this case we look back to the case of Pitt freshman big man Steven Adams. Even before Adams made his way to the U.S. halfway through his senior year, Rivals.com ranked him because we had been able to evaluate him on American soil playing against American players. Since the same can be said for Exum, look for the Aussie to make his debut in the class of 2014 rankings on Wednesday. Now it's just a matter of deciding how high to rank him.

Who makes the highest debut?

The previously mentioned Exum is an excellent candidate to make the highest debut of anybody new to the rankings. But, could another player enter the rankings higher than the Australian combo guard?

Three to keep an eye on are Reid Travis, Grayson Allen and Isaac Copeland. Travis is an athletic and tough swingman from Minnesota who puts up big numbers on the offensive end. Allen is a shooting guard with a pure stroke, good size and some ability to put the ball on the floor. Copeland, has great size at 6-foot-9, is skilled facing the basket and came on strong during the summer. If anyone can edge Exum as the highest newcomer to the rankings, it will likely be one of those three.

How far will the rankings extend?

Currently, the class of 2014 is ranked through a top 100. Each year, we build up the rankings with the idea of eventually expanding them out to a top 150. Many times, that expansion to a top 150 comes at the beginning of a class of players' junior year. Sometimes, that expansion doesn't come until later in the spring of their junior year.

Keep the rankings at a top 100, expand them to a top 150 or perhaps even split the difference and make it a top 125 for the class of 2014? The answer will be revealed on Wednesday. Additionally, the number of five-, four- and ranked three-star prospects will have to be set between now and the release of the rankings.



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