Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Somehow, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins were all in the same building on Tuesday night.
Thank god the cameras were rolling.
The future of professional basketball is upon us and Tuesday night in Chicago, we got to see it firsthand. Turns out, it's bigger than we all thought.
Get your ping pong balls ready. The 2014 NBA Draft is about to be one for the ages.
The opener Tuesday night pitted top-ranked Kentucky against a veteran Michigan State squad led by coaching legend Tom Izzo. The Spartans were able to pull off the upset but not before Randle stole the show for Kentucky with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
The 6-foot-9 forward from Dallas won't turn 19 until later this month.
The nightcap may have been even more entertaining. It featured the last two Gatorade National Players of the Year in Duke forward Jabari Parker (the 2012 winner) and Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins (last year's recipient). In the end, fifth-ranked Kansas pulled out the victory thanks to some late-game heroics from the aforementioned Wiggins.
Given the impossible hype surrounding each player, a letdown seemed inevitable. Yet somehow, Randle, Wiggins and Parker were all able to set the bar even higher.
In the estimation of most scouts (68 were in attendance Tuesday night at United Center), Randle was the most impressive of the three. Many have compared him to a young Karl Malone. The fact that Randle was still able to put up huge numbers on a night when he committed eight turnovers speaks to his remarkable level of resiliency.
If Randle was the best Tuesday night had to offer, fellow freshman Jabari Parker was a close second. His night included 27 points and nine rebounds. His one-handed throwdown off an alley-oop may have been the game's lasting image.
Which leaves just one more freshman to talk about. Fittingly, it's the one who will probably have his name called first next June at the NBA Draft.
Wiggins' performance on Tuesday was not without its flaws. He disappeared for minutes at a time and was noticeably tentative after he picked up his second foul early in the first half.
But man, that finish was something.
The 6-foot-8 Canadian took a page out of MJ's book by saving the best for last. His contested jumper with a minute and a half remaining stretched the Kansas lead to four before his two-handed slam in transition moments later put the game out of reach. He finished with 22 points in just 25 minutes of court time.
The final scores of Tuesday's games were inconsequential. This night was about three players with the potential to change the NBA landscape for the next decade.
In some cities, the change is already happening.
Don't be fooled by Philadelphia's 5-4 start. This team has lottery written all over it. Michael Carter-Williams can have his November hot streak but when push comes to shove, the only thing the Sixers will contend for is last place.
Boston and Utah have similar lottery aspirations. Phoenix could get involved too if Eric Bledsoe ever decides to stop scoring.
The incentive for tanking may be at an all-time high. And with three super- freshman to choose from instead of the usual one, the risk has never been lower.
The fantasy impact of this tanking phenomenon may not be obvious but if you look hard enough, you can find it.
Say Sixers small forward Evan Turner gets hurt at some point this season. We'll call it a sprained ankle. That seemingly minor injury tends to linger when your team has nothing to play for. Or in this instance, when playing well now might actually hurt your team in the long run.
Because of tanking, players like James Anderson, who would never get minutes on a contender, can emerge as legitimate fantasy options.
Why exactly is Anderson (4.2 ppg for his career) averaging 34 minutes a game this season?
Well, why else? Because he's not very good and the Sixers are trying to get the first pick. But the shear volume he'll get on a nightly basis is starting to make him a halfway decent fantasy player (14.4 ppg in his last five).
If the freshman trio of Randle, Parker and Wiggins continues to impress, the stakes could get even higher. What if the Celtics deal Rajon Rondo in an effort to lose as many games as possible in the second half? A trade like that could have all kinds of fantasy consequences.
Let's use the Sacramento Kings as a point of reference. In his preview for Grantland, Bill Simmons suggested a swap that would send Rondo to the Kings for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Ben McLemore and Jimmer Fredette (Sacramento would also get Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks).
Think of the impact that would have on DeMarcus Cousins. With Rondo feeding him the ball on every possession, he could average close to 30 a game.
And in Boston, what about Fredette, a terrific shooter buried on a guard-heavy roster? If the Celtics decide to mail it in, Jimmer may finally get the minutes he's been craving his entire career. Just by being out there, Fredette would be a candidate for 15 a game.
A lot can happen between now and June. And that's the point. The wheels are already in motion. And it's making me wish 2014 was here already.