Because the NBA playoffs are a two-month stream of games that seemingly never ends, the 2013 draft feels like it's lightyears away—which it is in a certain sense.
June 27, this year's draft date, is over two months away and there are plenty of storylines to sort out between now and then. But with Wednesday's games finishing up the 2012-13 NBA season, the draft process will begin in earnest for those 14 teams that fail to make the postseason.
As for the players? The process has already begun. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament took place last week, with 64 of the nation's best seniors making the trip. Though the PIT rarely develops first-round picks—Jimmy Butler was the last one—it marks the beginning of a process that will see the lives of young men altered forever.
The next notable step for potential draftees comes Wednesday—the ending of the regular season. While the lottery will ultimately determine the order of the first 14 selections, potential first-round picks will now see where they are likeliest to end up. And considering the NBA's draft order after the lottery selections are set by regular-season results (not postseason), those late-first rounders will get an even better idea.
With that in mind, let's check in on the projected draft order for the 2013 NBA draft, along with a look at a few key storylines.
|Projected 2013 NBA Draft Order|
|1. Orlando Magic|
|2. Charlotte Bobcats|
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
4. Phoenix Suns
5. New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans)
6. Sacramento Kings
7. Washington Wizards
8. Detroit Pistons
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
10. Portland Trail Blazers
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors)
12. Philadelphia 76ers
13. Dallas Mavericks
14. Utah Jazz
15. Milwaukee Bucks
16. Boston Celtics
17. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers)
18. Atlanta Hawks
19. Chicago Bulls
20. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets)
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors)
22. Brooklyn Nets
23. Indiana Pacers
24. New York Knicks
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis Grizzlies)
26. Los Angeles Clippers
27. Denver Nuggets
28. San Antonio Spurs
29. Oklahoma City Thunder
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat)
(Note: All picks 1-14 are subject to the NBA lottery process. The 2013 lottery will be held on Tuesday, May 21.)
Draft Storylines to Watch
Who Goes No. 1?
There is no question about who is the draft's most talented player. Kentucky center Nerlens Noel has perennial All-Star upside. He is an athletic big with elite shot-blocking prowess and game that's brimming with confidence and top-pick swagger. He was well on his way to locking up the top selection during his freshman season with the Wildcats, even showing a burgeoning offensive game that many scouts feared he lacked.
And then Kentucky made a trip to Gainesville on Feb. 12. The 6'10" star tore his ACL with about eight minutes left in the game between Florida and Kentucky, temporarily putting his draft plans on hold. While Noel has since had surgery and declared for the NBA draft, there is lingering doubt about whether he's the consensus No. 1 pick heading into June.
Kansas' Ben McLemore had a stellar freshman season of his own at Kansas, helping lead the Jayhawks to a Sweet 16 berth. He's largely seen as the surer of the two picks. An athletic 2-guard with a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, McLemore is at least somewhat comparable to Bradley Beal in last season's draft. He's a prospect with long-term NBA starter potential, whether he winds up on an All-Star team someday is up in the air.
Noel now has the label of boom-or-bust. The ACL injury leaves much up to the imagination, as reports are going to vary from team to team during the draft process. Smokescreens are a regular occurrence during the draft process, so it's very likely that the public will hear at least some conflicting reports in the coming weeks and months. (Noel and his camp, understandably, will always remain positive.)
What's interesting is that the draft board may not clear up until the very last minute. Everyone and their great grandmother knew Anthony Davis was going first in 2012, Kyrie Irving a year prior. But with the lingering questions about Noel's injury and McLemore's disappearance in the NCAA tournament, this may finally be the first season in a long time where the No. 1 pick winds up a question mark to the second David Stern walks up to the podium.
Where Does Trey Burke Land?
If the NBA draft were based simply on a player's collegiate performance, there would hardly be a question about who would go No. 1. Michigan guard Trey Burke had one of the best seasons in Wolverines program history, winning the National Player of the Year Award en route to leading his team to a national championship game berth.
Though Michigan ultimately fell short, it was through no fault of Burke's. He scored 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting and barreled his way through Louisville's top-notch press defense. Those national championship game numbers were just a microcosm of Burke's sheer brilliance and leadership while guiding one of the nation's most inexperienced teams.
Alas, college superstardom does not automatically equal top billing in June—which is exactly why Burke will never hear his name mentioned among the Noels and McLemores of the world. He's still a lottery pick, mind you, but his ultimate landing spot remains fluid.
Projections on Burke's ultimate destiny as a pro are varied. Some view him as an offensive juggernaut who will help out a team's bench as a sixth man, nothing more. Others see his leadership and offensive skill set, then wonder how a guy with his resume couldn't get top pick consideration in such a weak class. The most negative folks see Burke's all-out playing style and his small stature—Burke is essentially Chris Paul's size when he came out of college, and Paul fell to No. 4 partly for that reason—and see a consistent injury risk whose career could be derailed.
In this version of the NBA, where point guard play has arguably never been at a higher level, how Burke turns out is obviously critical. Teams cannot be wasting picks on seventh men inside the top five, especially not at a premium position.
Nevertheless, Burke stands alone as the best point guard in the 2013 class. That distinction once went to Oklahoma State product Marcus Smart, but the Cowboys star spurned a likely top-five distinction to return for his sophomore season (per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski).
With multiple teams early in the lottery needing a point guard, Burke may wind up replacing Smart inside the top five. At the very least, his NCAA tournament ascent and Smart's absence ends all talks of a fall outside the first 10 picks.
What About Shabazz Muhammad?
Though it was probably unrealistic at the time, nearly every award bestowed upon Burke was once expected to land at Shabazz Muhammad's doorstep. A top-flight recruit since middle school, Muhammad was viewed as the savior for a UCLA program floundering under Ben Howland. Muhammad was oft-compared to a left-handed Kobe Bryant, equipped with high-flying athleticism, a sweet stroke and a win-always attitude.
Muhammad's high school coach Grant Rice spoke of his guard's legendary competitiveness prior to him arriving at UCLA.
"When the guys guarded Shabazz, they knew to put in a mouthpiece," Rice said (via ESPN's Jason Jordan). "It's not even anything dirty; he'll just do what he has to do to dominate. Mentality-wise, he's cut from the same mold as Kobe Bryant."
Muhammad may have been cut from Bryant's mold, but he did not carry the Lakers star's winning mentality to Los Angeles. He started his career as a Bruin by getting suspended for an improper benefits scandal. The banishment only lasted three games—and many have questioned whether it should have happened at all—but the stigma seemingly lasted throughout Muhammad's entire freshman season.
The 6'6" guard finished with solid, but unspectacular numbers. Scoring just a shade under 18 points and grabbing over five rebounds per game, Muhammad was a very good scorer, but sometimes ventured into the inefficient realm. UCLA waltzed its way to a Pac-12 regular-season championship, but was unranked for much of the campaign and was upset by Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. An entire season gone with just a "meh" attitude about Muhammad's play and effect on the program.
In fact, Muhammad's 2012-13 season continued to be more noteworthy for character questions than on-the-court play. He noticeably sulked after teammate Larry Drew knocked down a game-winner in February and admitted he wanted the ball on the play afterward. And during the NCAA tournament, it came to light that Muhammad was 20 rather than 19.
The one-year age difference doesn't mean much to NBA teams. There are plenty of older freshmen, including likely lottery pick Anthony Bennett. But what concerns all involved is the knowing age malfeasance, the piling up of character questions by the yacht-load.
With this draft being widely accepted as "weak," Muhammad will be a lottery pick. Just know that the team that takes him won't be 100 percent excited about taking the risk as it would have been 12 months ago.
|Projected 2013 NBA Draft Lottery Results|
|1. Orlando Magic - Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)|
|2. Charlotte Bobcats - Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)|
3. Cleveland Cavaliers - Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
4. Phoenix Suns - Victor Oladipo (G, Indiana)
5. New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) - Trey Burke (G, Michigan)
6. Sacramento Kings - Shabazz Muhammad (G, UCLA)
7. Washington Wizards - Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
8. Detroit Pistons - Glenn Robinson III (F, Michigan)
9. Minnesota Timberwolves - Alex Len (C, Maryland)
10. Portland Trail Blazers - Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) - Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
12. Philadelphia 76ers - Jamaal Franklin (G-F, San Diego State)
13. Dallas Mavericks - Michael Carter-Williams (G, Syracuse)
14. Utah Jazz - C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)