There are a few ways to strike gold in the NBA draft. Grabbing a player late in the first round—or even in the second—who turns out to be a key contributor is one way.
But teams can obviously strike it rich in the lottery.
Despite how highly touted some lottery prospects might be, the early picks are not a sure thing.
But let us not forget the Detroit Pistons took Darko Milicic with the second pick. That's a pretty nasty sandwich.
While there is sure to be some fool's gold in this year's crop of prospects, this mock draft will focus on the players who will have their team smiling on and after draft day.
The draft order is based on records as of March 28, with draft pick swaps and protected picks assigned accordingly.
The featured players will be spotlighted with an image.
1. Charlotte Bobcats—SG, Ben McLemore, 6'5", 195 pounds—Kansas
McLemore hasn't been at his best in the NCAA tournament thus far, but he still has a ceiling higher than any other player in the draft.
The Bobcats would have to make him the first player taken overall. A nucleus of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and McLemore is exciting.
It could take a year or two, but ultimately McLemore will be an 18-point-per-game scorer in the NBA.
2. Orlando Magic—C, Nerlens Noel, 6'11", 215 pounds—Kentucky
The injury is an obvious red flag, but when Noel returns—and if he stays healthy—he has the potential to impact the game as much as anyone defensively.
His length, athleticism and timing will make him an elite shot-blocker in the NBA. But fans will have to be patient as any team that drafts him will be cautious early on.
If he remains healthy, he has some All-Defensive team selections in his future.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers—SF, Otto Porter, 6'8", 210 pounds—Georgetown
The Cavaliers need a player like Porter. He's not an elite scorer, and he probably never will be. But he is a stat-sheet stuffer who can do the little things that help teams win.
He's reminds me of a less athletic Shawn Marion.
4. Phoenix Suns—SG/SF, Shabazz Muhammad, 6'5, 215 pounds—UCLA
I believe in Muhammad as a scorer.
His game is better suited for the NBA, and I love his work ethic and desire. He is a bit selfish, and that is something he'll have to tame—to a degree.
He wants to be the man, and many general managers will embrace that mental makeup. The Suns need a player like Muhammad.
There may not be a better player/team fit in the draft.
5. Detroit Pistons—PG/SG, Marcus Smart, 6'4", 200 pounds—Oklahoma State
The Pistons have a good number of guards on the roster, but they don't have a leader like Smart.
Rodney Stuckey's status with the team is up in the air beyond the 2013-14 season. As an expiring contract, he could be on the move.
Smart is the type of player who can affect the game in so many ways, and he's just at the cusp of how good he can be.
This is a scenario where you ignore the positions you have "filled"—especially when you're a lottery team—and you take a potentially dynamic player.
6. Sacramento Kings—SG/SF, Victor Oladipo, 6'5", 214 pounds—Indiana
More than anything, the Kings need to change their culture. They probably aren't ready to give up on DeMarcus Cousins, so they probably wouldn't look to Cody Zeller here.
Oladipo has the explosion and defensive makeup this team needs to start to move in a different direction. He could also be a replacement for Tyreke Evans, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
7. New Orleans Pelicans—PG, Michael Carter-Williams, 6'5", 185 pounds—Syracuse
MCW has intriguing size and athleticism for a point guard. He makes players around him better. He's averaged seven assists per game this season for the Orange.
His unselfishness and new ownership may be enough to make Eric Gordon happy, and that is a key to how the Pelicans move into this new era for the franchise.
8. Washington Wizards—PF/C, Cody Zeller, 7'0", 225 pounds—Indiana
You have to like the direction the Wizards are headed. John Wall is asserting himself as a leader, and the team could have contended for a playoff spot had he been healthy all season.
Adding Zeller would give the team a young, athletic big with solid fundamentals who hails from a strong program.
This would be one of the best picks of the lottery.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (From Toronto Raptors)—C, Willie Cauley-Stein, 7'0", 240 pounds—Kentucky
The only element the Thunder are missing is an inside scoring presence. WCS is far from a threat offensively at this stage of his career, but he does have some potential on that front.
However, he is a tremendous shot-blocker and athletic finisher. He could be a solid aspect of the Thunder's bench early on and could possibly develop into a starting center in the NBA.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves —C, Alex Len, 7'1", 255 pounds—Maryland
The Wolves could lose Nikola Pekovic in free agency. Len would give them an option at center to replace him.
I'm not extremely high on Len, though. I think he has the highest bust potential of any player projected for the lottery.
11. Philadelphia 76ers—PG/SG, C.J. McCollum, 6'3", 192 pounds—Lehigh
McCollum is my sleeper pick for Rookie of the Year. He has a polished offensive game as a scorer and playmaker.
He has the size to play either guard position on some teams, and landing with the 76ers would be an outstanding fit for him.
He missed most of this season with a foot injury, but this kid can play.
12. Portland Trail Blazers—C, Kelly Olynyk, 7'0", 255 pounds—Gonzaga
Despite the fact that the Bulldogs were upset in the round of 32 by the Wichita State Shockers, Olynyk was great in the tournament.
He's more athletic than people give him credit for, and he is very skilled.
J.J. Hickson is a free agent at the end of the season, and he may command a healthy salary. He's just 24 years old, and teams tend to overpay for young, athletic big men.
The Blazers could put Olynyk in the middle next to LaMarcus Aldridge and still have Meyers Leonard as a backup.
13. Dallas Mavericks—PG, Trey Burke, 6'0", 180 pounds—Michigan
Dallas needs talented young players, and at this point the position they play doesn't matter. The team is old at nearly every spot on the floor, and there is no guarantee the Mavs will be able to re-sign O.J. Mayo.
Burke is a starter from Day 1, a big name and an impact player.
14. Utah Jazz—PF/C, Isaiah Austin, 7'1", 220 pounds—Baylor
As a stretch-4, Austin has some value. He reminds me of Charlie Villanueva in that regard, but I'm not sure he'll ever have the lower-body strength to be a factor in the post.
15. Milwaukee Bucks—PF/C, Mason Plumlee, 6'11", 245 pounds—Duke
Plumlee might be the most athletic big man in the draft.
That's saying something when you consider how athletic both Noel and Cauley-Stein are. I can't wait to see how high Plumlee's vertical leap measures during the NBA combine.
The Bucks don't have a viable center under contract beyond this season, and Plumlee would be a smart pick here.
16. Cleveland Cavaliers (From Los Angeles Lakers)—C, Rudy Gobert, 7'0", 240 pounds—France
The Cavs may actually decide to move Anderson Varejao this offseason, and if they do, the team would benefit from adding a young big man.
Gobert is a bit of an unknown, but his length and athleticism are apparent. I've only seen a little of him, but my early impression and comparison is Ryan Hollins.
17. Boston Celtics—SF/PF, Anthony Bennett, 6'7", 235 pounds—UNLV
If Bennett is available here, moving Paul Pierce just got easier. Pierce is still playing at an All-Star level, so the Celtics could get a lot in return for him.
Boston would be adding a big-time talent by taking Bennett here. He has high potential as a scorer, the frame to be effective on the block and the jump shot and first step to score on the perimeter.
18. Atlanta Hawks—SF/SG, Glenn Robinson III, 6'6", 215 pounds—Michigan
Robinson III has been great in the NCAA tournament. If he continues to play at this level, he will be the player who helped his draft stock the most during the tournament.
If that does happen, he will likely be out of reach for the Hawks.
19. Chicago Bulls—SG/SF, Jamaal Franklin, 6'5", 220 pounds—San Diego State
Franklin is underrated. He rebounds, scores and is an exceptional athlete in the open court. I wouldn't be surprised to see his stock soar once pre-draft workouts start.
The Bulls still need a shooting guard—that is unless they plan to let Jimmy Butler play that role—which I think is worth a shot.
But even then, Franklin makes sense as a backup swingman.
20. Atlanta Hawks (From Houston Rockets)—SF/PF, Dario Saric, 6'10", 225 pounds—Cibona Zagreb
The Hawks will probably lose Josh Smith in free agency. The team needs to prepare for life without him at the power forward position.
Saric is an especially skilled for a big man.
His vision is the highlight of a solid overall offensive skill set. Per Sportando.net, he has an NBA buyout option for the summer of 2014, so the team would have to wait a year for him to arrive.
21. Utah Jazz (From Golden State Warriors)—PG, Myck Kabongo, 6'2", 175 pounds—Texas
Utah has to take a point guard. Alec Burks is the only player under contract at the position after this season, and he hasn't exactly looked like an irreplaceable star.
I liked what I saw from Kabongo once he returned to the Longhorns lineup after suspension (via Yahoo! Sports), and he's the only pick that makes sense for the Jazz.
22. Brooklyn Nets—C, Jeff Withey, 7'0", 250 pounds—Kansas
Withey has been playing out of his mind in the NCAA tournament. He's averaging 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.
The Nets don't have much reliable depth in the middle behind Brook Lopez, so Withey would be a great role player for the team.
His rebounding and shot-blocking could help craft an identity for the second unit.
23. Indiana Pacers—SG, Archie Goodwin, 6'5", 195 pounds—Kentucky
With Danny Granger's contract set to expire at the end of the 2013-14 season, he could be moved as an expiring deal. Paul George has emerged as a star at small forward, but the 2-guard position could use an upgrade or depth.
Lance Stephenson has been productive, but Goodwin would at least add depth. He could possibly push Stephenson for minutes as well.
I love his ability to get to the rim and free-throw line. He has the potential to be a high-volume scorer.
24. New York Knicks—C, Gorgui Dieng, 6'10", 245 pounds—Louisville
The Knicks need a center almost as much as Utah needs a point guard. Tyson Chandler has been dinged up this season, and his backups are 39-year-old Marcus Camby and 40-year-old Kurt Thomas.
Dieng's shot-blocking and rebounding would be a great addition to the team.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (From Memphis Grizzlies)—Tim Hardaway Jr., 6'5", 195 pounds—Michigan
As a wing player with the Timberwolves, Hardaway Jr. would get great opportunities to spot up.
His game in the NBA will likely be as a spot-up shooter, and there are few point guards in the NBA better than Ricky Rubio at finding shooters.
26. Los Angeles Clippers—PF, Adreian Payne, 6'10" 240 pounds—Michigan State
The Clippers need depth in the frontcourt. They don't have much behind DeAndre Jordan, and that explains their desire to add a veteran big near the trade deadline, per Sports Illustrated.
Payne's length, athleticism and versatility are beginning to shine in the NCAA tournament. He is starting to rise up the draft board.
27. Denver Nuggets—SF, Sergey Karasev, 6'7", 205 pounds—Triumph Moscow
Andre Iguodala's contract will be the Nuggets' top priority during the offseason. This team has an exciting, young ensemble core, but Denver may need a star to push it over the top.
They won't find that at this stage of the draft, but Karasev is a skilled player without exceptional athleticism.
He still has some tools as a perimeter threat.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder—SG, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6'6", 200 pounds—Georgia
KCP may be a modest mixture of Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha. He can shoot the ball fairly well (37 percent from three-point range), and he has the size, mindset and athleticism to be a solid perimeter defender.
With Martin heading into free agency—and with the team presumably addressing the center position in the lottery—this would be a smart pick.
29. San Antonio Spurs—SF/PF, C.J. Leslie, 6'9", 210 pounds—N.C. State
The Spurs have a knack for drafting quality players late in the draft. They have had success with international players and upperclassmen, and Leslie is a junior who is expected to enter the draft, per CBS Sports.
He is an exceptional athlete that I think was never allowed to play on the perimeter as much as he needed to. He needs to work on his outside shot, but he could be a matchup problem as a small forward.
30. Phoenix Suns (From Miami Heat)—SF/PF, Tony Mitchell, 6'8" 235 pounds
Mitchell is a physical specimen who excels in the open court. He isn't the type of player who needs plays run for him—he gets hustle buckets and plays above the rim.
At this point in the draft, the Suns could be adding a valuable role player to their rebuilding efforts.
Follow me, the NBA and its draft is one of my passions.
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