Nov 4, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari gives instructions to forward Julius Randle (30) during the game against the Montevallo Falcons at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Montevallo 95-72. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft: Top Power Forward Prospects

After taking a look at the top point guard, shooting guard, and small forward prospects in the NBA Draft, we take a look at who the top power forward prospects are.

In my own personal opinion, the power forward position might be one of the deepest positions in this draft. There is a lot of talent sitting on the board for power forwards, so this list that I am about to give you should be up for a lot of debate. To me, this is how I see the top power forward prospects panning out in the NBA.

1. Julius Randle – Kentucky

Randle is one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft, with a pro body to go with a diverse skill set for his size. His ability to handle the ball, face up and take defenders off the dribble or back them down lets him exploit mismatches. When his jumper is on, he can pull big men away from the paint. He’s a bruiser who plays hard, and it’s easy to see his productivity on the interior translating to the NBA based on his motor. Players with Randle’s array of moves and mix of power and finesse are rare.

Randle denied a Yahoo Sports report that he would need surgery on his right foot; teams will want to be fully educated on the injury situation before rolling the dice on draft night. Because of his size and strength, he’s made a living off bullying defenders to the basket, a strategy that will be much tougher as a professional. He’s left-hand dominant and rarely counters back to his right effectively — a tendency taller, more athletic defenders in the NBA will sit on unless he improves. His jumper was inconsistent at Kentucky. Randle is not not a great shot-blocker and won’t provide a ton on the defensive end. Randle’s upside might not be quite as high as other players in his draft range.

If you look at how Randle could potentially fit with the Utah Jazz, I think he could fit very well. If you put Randle at the power forward position next to Derrick Favors playing center, the Jazz very well may never lose a rebounding battle all year. They could be a very dominant duo on the low block, however, Randle’s defense could give the Jazz some concern.

2. Aaron Gordon – Arizona

An outstanding athlete and leaper, Gordon is a hybrid forward that does a bit of everything well. His greatest strength is his defense, as he’s active and able to guard multiple positions effectively. With the NBA’s stylistic shift toward more positionally fluid frontcourts, Gordon’s a unique piece that you can envision effectively meshing with different lineups. He’s unafraid to mix it up on the inside and strong on the glass, attacking the boards on the offensive end for easy points. Gordon runs the floor with ease and has improved his shooting some–you can see a bit of Shawn Marion in him and anything close to Marion’s career would be a great outcome. He’s also an above-average passer and a team player who doesn’t need the ball in order to be at his best. What’s more, Gordon doesn’t turn 19 until September. There’s a good chance he becomes a productive piece of someone’s puzzle, if not a star.

Gordon wants to be a small forward, a transition that may prove difficult. He’s not highly skilled scoring off the dribble and is really a set shooter right now — although he’s got three-point range, he has a ways to go before he can call himself a three-man. He also shot a measly 42.2 percent from the foul line, an alarming rate for any player, but especially frustrating for a player whose biggest long-term growth determinant is his jump shot. He’s a tweener, and teams will have to decide how to develop him, whether it’s fixing the jumper or teaching him post moves. There’s a chance Gordon never settles into a true position, which could limit his trajectory.

To me, I can see huge upside in Gordon and I think he will be in the conversation with Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins as the best players to come out of this draft. His athleticism is scary and could be a dynamic player. If he was to be drafted by Utah, and Favors develops his offensive game more, it could spell magic for the Jazz.

3. Noah Vonleh – Indiana

Perhaps Vonleh’s greatest strength is his work ethic. He once refused to go to Disney World with his family so that he could practice at a local YMCA. He also has an ideal physique for an NBA forward, with monstrous hands and a 7-4 wingspan. He is an exceptional rebounder, he hustles in transition and he showed great growth as a defensive player during his year at Indiana. Vonleh also displayed smart shot selection, connecting on 52.3 percent from the floor and a surprising 48.5 percent from beyond the arc (although he fired from deep only 33 times). Best of all, he won’t turn 19 until August, so the team that drafts Vonleh can expect even more gains.

Despite that wise shot selection, Indiana would have liked for him to shoot — and score — more often. He has the skills and size to be an elite scorer, but still seems to lack confidence. In addition, he’ll have to transition from playing on the wing (in high school and at Indiana) to making a home in the low post. Fouls (he fouled out of two games and registered four fouls in eight more) and turnovers (2.1 per game, versus 0.6 assists) could be trouble as well.

I’ve been very critical of Vonleh over the past few weeks, but GM’s and scouts seem to think that he could be a future star. I may be wrong but I just don’t see it. However, with his outside shooting, he does fit what new Jazz head coach Quin Snyder would like to do on offense. He is looking for a big man who can spread the floor and shoot the outside shot. It will take awhile for Vonleh to develop, but we will have to wait and see how he turns out.

4. Dario Saric – Croatia

Saric has had quite a year, from featuring with the Croatian U-19 team to winning the Adriatic League MVP and leading Cibona to a domestic championship. Last year Saric was a projected lottery pick before pulling out of the draft, and his stock remains high. A point forward type who handles and passes well, Saric brings perhaps as much offensive versatility as any prospect in the class. He’s also a willing rebounder, competes at a high level and is accustomed to success. There will be high expectations, but teams will have to wait at least two years before they see him in the NBA.

Questions linger about his NBA position — Saric may not be a good enough athlete to guard threes and doesn’t shoot consistently enough as a stretch four. He’s at his playmaking best in a role where he can handle the ball, something teams have to consider as they attempt to slot him into their future plans.

With the news that Saric was staying in Europe instead of jumping straight to the NBA, his draft stock has seen a little slippage in the majority of the mock drafts. If he falls a ways, the Jazz could consider picking him up at 23 and stashing him until he is ready to come over to the United States. If that were to happen, the Jazz could get a steal late in the draft.

5. Jarnell Stokes – Tennessee

Stokes improved statistically in each of his three years at Tennessee, where he enrolled early out of high school. He was first-team All-SEC last season and propelled the Vols to an unlikely Sweet 16 run. He’s a load in the post, with a 7-1 wingspan and solid strength helping him combat a lack of ideal height for the position. The efficient Stokes could play a role right away for the right team.

Stokes can score inside and rebound but is otherwise limited. He didn’t display a reliable jump shot in college and can’t do much on either side of the ball outside of the paint. A center in a power forward’s body, Stokes will be challenged when facing longer, stronger players and will need to add some new wrinkles to excel as a pro.

Putting Stokes at the fifth best power forward above a guy like Adreian Payne may seem like a stretch to some, but I think Stokes is going to be a guy that comes in right away and can contribute off the bench. A guy like Payne, I think, might struggle a bit. Stokes could be a dark horse and could be a Paul Millsap type player in a few years, barring he can develop a little more on offense.

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