This is going to be a special draft. Usually there are one or two "steals" late in the first round, but this year I genuinely feel like every single player taken in the first round has a chance to either be an All-Star, a solid starter or, at the very least, a productive rotation guy.
I have compiled a list of 10 players that I think are going to end up being first-round steals, and only one of them is going to be taken in the top 10 come draft day. If a team is picking in the top 10 this year, then they're almost guaranteed to receive a better-than-average player.
After the draft lottery commenced Wednesday night, I submitted a comprehensive, post-lottery two-round mock draft. I will be using that mock draft to determine the draft destination for the players listed in this article.
Height, Weight: 6'10", 220 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 14.3 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, 4.7 blocks per game
Draft Destination: New Orleans Hornets—No. 1 overall
It had to be done, so I'm just going to get this slide over with quickly.
Some of you may argue that a team can't technically get a "steal" if they own the No. 1 overall pick. However, just two days ago, New Orleans was looking at having the No. 4 overall selection.
I'd say hopping up to No. 1 and getting a franchise-changing player like Anthony Davis qualifies as a steal.
Davis will arrive in New Orleans and, barring any freak injuries, should be instantly placed into the starting lineup. Davis will join a frontcourt rotation that currently consists of Gustavo Ayon and Jason Smith.
With Chris Kaman and Carl Landry possibly heading out of town due to free agency, Davis will need to make his transition to the NBA as quick as possible. The Hornets will need his production.
Davis may still need to add some strength to his mostly skinny physique, but his already established mid-range game on offense and intimidating, shot-blocking presence on defense will lead him to Rookie of the Year honors.
Height, Weight: 6'9", 252 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 12.5 points per game, seven rebounds per game, 1.8 blocks per game
Draft Destination: Milwaukee Bucks—No. 12 overall
Second slide, second Kentucky Wildcat. Don't worry, there's even more to come.
Terrence Jones is an intriguing prospect that a lot of scouts can't seem to figure out. While he played as a face-up power forward at Kentucky, he is most likely going to have to transition to small forward in the NBA.
Due to his lack of a position and sometimes off-putting body language, Jones is a guy that could drop to the low-teens come draft night.
I, on the other hand, really love what Jones brings to the table. Jones is nearly unstoppable when he wants to be. "When he wants to be," is the problem, though. Many times last season I saw Jones quickly rattle off 10 points in a row, either bringing the Wildcats back into a game or closing out their victory.
Yet, may times, I also saw Jones disappear for stretches. That could have been due to the amount of star power Kentucky had on their roster. Under the right circumstances, I think Jones could be a really valuable asset to any NBA squad.
I currently have him projected to the Milwaukee Bucks, which is a really nice fit. Carlos Deflino is a free agent and may not be returning, so Jones could instantly step in and take Delfino's minutes while likely being just as productive.
Jones's transition to small forward for the NBA should be smooth. He's got the perfect size and athleticism to play the wing in the NBA, and even though his jump shot still needs some work, he's going to be able to get to the rim with ease.
He reminds me a lot of Atlanta Hawks combo forward Josh Smith, and it's not just because they're both left handed. If Jones lives up to a Smith-like potential, then he will be a steal for the Bucks.
Height, Weight: 6'9", 280 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 17.6 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game
Draft Destination: Philadelphia 76ers—No. 15 overall
This slide is completely dependent on whether or not my draft day prediction is right. Currently, I have Sullinger falling all the way to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 15, but Sullinger could also go as high as No. 5 to Sacramento.
Had Sullinger declared for the draft last season, he would have easily been a top five selection. However, the current knock on Sullinger is his propensity to struggle against bigger and longer opponents. If Sullinger measures at 6'7" or 6'8" instead of his listed 6'9", his stock is going to take a hit.
With that being said, Sullinger is still a rebounding machine. He also has an established and well-rounded offensive repertoire.
In Philadelphia, Sullinger would have the chance to start right away, especially if the 76ers use their amnesty clause on Elton Brand.
In the right system, Sullinger has the upside of David West.
Height, Weight: 6'6", 195 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 15.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game
Draft Destination: Minnesota Timberwolves—No. 18 overall
Ross has really been impressing scouts in workouts. He's got great size for a shooting guard at 6'6"-6'7" and he is likely one of the best shooters in the draft.
Honestly, he may not be on the board when the Minnesota Timberwolves make their selection at No. 18, but if he is, the Timberwolves could be getting their shooting guard of the future.
Ross still has some things he needs to work on, such as getting to the rim and progressing his court vision, but he's going to be productive from the get-go in Minnesota.
Why do I believe this? Two words: Ricky Rubio. That is assuming Rubio comes back from his injury without losing his ability to get in the lane.
Rubio's Steve Nash-like passing ability is going to get Ross plenty of open looks next season, which should ultimately speed up his transition to the NBA.
I'll go ahead and say it—if Ross goes to the Timberwolves, he'll be a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Height, Weight: 6'5", 205 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 16 points per game, five rebounds per game, 3.7 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game
Draft Destination: Orlando Magic—No. 19 overall
An elite talent, Washington point guard Tony Wroten may have benefited from staying in college for an extra year. Had he stayed to develop a more consistent jump shot, he would likely have been the first point guard off the board next year.
As it stands, Weber State's Damian Lillard and North Carolina's Kendall Marshall should be selected before Wroten this year, but Wroten may have the most upside.
I currently have Wroten slotted into the No. 19 pick in the draft to the Orlando Magic. At No. 19, Wroten is a tremendous value and a steal for a team that has been lacking consistent guard play.
While Wroten projects as a combo guard at the next level, I tend to believe that he will be developed into a full-time point guard. He already has the court vision, size and handling ability to start for a handful of teams.
At this point, Wroten reminds me of a Rajon Rondo-type of player.
Height, Weight: 6'4", 215 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 12.3 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game
Draft Destination: Denver Nuggets—No. 20 overall
Dion Waiters is a guy that I can't really figure out. Normally, I wouldn't list a guy like that on a list of possible first-round steals, but if he's going to be as good as many scouts predict, then getting him at No. 20 will be a steal for the Denver Nuggets.
His stats from last season aren't eye-popping, but he was the second-leading scorer on a very balanced team. It's even more of an accomplishment when you realize Waiters was used off the bench for Syracuse.
Waiters is a bit undersized for a shooting guard—his most natural position. However, I'm not sure teams are going to draft him under the assumption that he's going to be a starter right away.
He will likely be used as a sixth man—a change of pace guard that can come into a game and be called upon to score—think James Harden without as good of a jump shot.
Waiters will need some time to develop, but he plays with a Dwyane Wade type quality and intensity. That's going to be a selling point for many teams.
Height, Weight: 6'8", 270 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 13.4 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game
Draft Destination: Boston Celtics—No. 22 overall
Royce White, like Wroten, is another guy that has top 10 talent but will likely fall somewhere in the mid to late first-round.
White is the best "point forward" in the draft. At 6'8" and 270 pounds, White is athletic enough to bring the ball up the court and then post-up the guy who is guarding him.
His stellar play led the Iowa State Cyclones into the NCAA Tournament and past the defending champion UConn Huskies. Though he's a bit of a "tweener," he's versatile enough to play and defend multiple positions.
White is a poor man's, albeit a very poor man's, LeBron James. Does he have THAT much upside? Maybe not. However, he's a steal if he's getting picked in the twenties.
Although he's a risk because of his anxiety issues, which include a fear of flying, he's a risk the Boston Celtics need to take at pick No. 22.
Height, Weight: 6'8", 208 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 15.3 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, 1.6 steals per game
Draft Destination: Cleveland Cavaliers—No. 24 overall
The Cleveland Cavaliers will have a plethora of options for their second first-round pick, and while Alonzo Gee has shown signs of promise, Moe Harkless will be hard to pass up if he's still on the board.
Despite not garnering much attention during his one-and-done campaign at St. John's, Harkless had one of the most productive freshman seasons in the entire country.
Teams are going to fall in love with his size and length, which is one area where he's already NBA-ready. He has the tools to be a force on both ends of the court.
Like most one-and-done prospects, Harkless still has areas of his game that need improvement, such as developing a more consistent outside jumper and proving he can play with a high-motor at all times.
He has a ton of upside and really reminds me of Rudy Gay. If he lives up to his potential, the Cavs may finally find their permanent replacement for "The King."
Height, Weight: 6'9", 240 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 18.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, two blocks per game
Draft Destination: Oklahoma City Thunder—No. 28 overall
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a position to do whatever they want with their only draft pick (No. 28).
However, with James Harden and Serge Ibaka both becoming free agents after next season, this is a solid draft to find a replacement if both can't be retained.
My guess is that the Thunder will want to keep Harden around at whatever cost, meaning Ibaka may not get the type of contract he deserves. I'm not saying Andrew Nicholson has the same upside as Ibaka, but he is certainly on his way.
Nicholson may already be more established offensively than Ibaka, and after averaging two blocks per game last seasons, he is shaping into a solid defender, as well.
His post game still needs work, but he has skill on the block. This is what the Thunder need the most—a post presence. If he does go to Oklahoma City, he may spend some time in the Developmental League during his rookie year due to their already proven depth.
Unless, of course, Nicholson turns out to already be better than Cole Aldrich, which is definitely a possibility.
Height, Weight: 6'2", 189 pounds
2011-2012 Stats: 9.4 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, 2.5 rebounds per game
Draft Destination: Golden State Warriors—No. 30 overall
I started the list with a Wildcat getting selected No. 1 overall, and now I'm ending with a Wildcat that's going to be the last pick of the first round—Marquis Teague.
Teague, like a lot of other guys on this list, has a chance of being drafted higher than I have projected. However, if Indiana passes on him at No. 26, Teague could very well end up with the Golden State Warriors at No. 30. That would be a huge steal.
After co-leading his young Wildcat team to a national championship last season, Teague proved he was ready to lead a team at the next level.
In Golden State, Teague could essentially play his first year as a backup to Stephen Curry and gain valuable experience while still developing. However, Teague is poised to be a starting point guard in the league at some point in his career.
Fortunately, that still makes Golden State a good landing spot due to Curry's proneness to injury. Teague could see a good amount of playing time during his rookie season.