The NBA regular season is nearly over, and for the teams not fortunate enough to qualify for the playoffs, it's time to look ahead to the 2013 draft.
Although a combination of ping pong balls will ultimately determine the draft order on May 21, the worst teams in the association are inevitably going to be near the top of the board. That provides the golden opportunity for instant improvement, assuming those squads can snag a player to fit their systems.
In that context, below is a breakdown of some of the top prospects in this year's class and where they would best fit amongst the currently struggling NBA franchises that will have the chance to select them.
Orlando Magic: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
The reigning Naismith Award winner took the Wolverines all the way to the national championship game, where they fell short to the Louisville Cardinals.
However, Burke showed the ability to operate at a high, efficient level from a distributing standpoint and could also take over a game scoring the ball. The Magic have Jameer Nelson through 2015 but could use another younger PG.
The starting lineup for next season would likely feature promising youngsters in Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Arron Afflalo. Adding Burke to the fold would make the Magic one of the most exciting youthful teams to watch.
With an average of just 94.1 points per game, this team clearly needs a shot in the arm on the offensive end and someone who can create their own offense at that.
Burke fits the bill, and as long as he improves his defense moderately, he has the chance to be an immediate starter, with Nelson possibly playing a sixth man role and a valuable mentor.
Charlotte Bobcats: Nerlens Noel, F/C, Kentucky
A torn ACL for Noel has his draft stock in serious debate. There's no way he falls out of the lottery, but he is no longer a consensus No. 1 overall pick.
It really was a shame that Noel went down, because his offensive game was beginning to show promise as he continually sustained elite-level play on the defensive end of the court.
Noel would be a massive upgrade to the Charlotte frontcourt, which is apparently counting on Bismack Biyombo as the long-term anchor. That seems outrageous—because it is. However, if Biyombo is paired alongside Noel, it could be a very different story.
There is still room for the young Noel to thicken his frame. It's incredible that he blocked 4.4 shots as a true freshman for the Wildcats, despite being so raw and without nearly the strength he could possess.
Whether the Magic or Bobcats get the top pick remains to be seen, and Charlotte will have to hope Noel lasts long enough.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Otto Porter Jr., SF, Georgetown
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters form one of the most exciting backcourts in the league, and the front line is solidified with the trio of Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller.
It's time for the Cavs to take the next step, and the pressure will be on more than ever—especially with Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reporting that head coach Byron Scott will likely be fired on Thursday.
Owner Dan Gilbert must be getting impatient, especially after guaranteeing an NBA title before ex-Cavs superstar LeBron James won one with the Miami Heat. Porter fills the void at the team's most glaring positional need and would be a key cog in a prospective, quick Cavs turnaround.
Porter is extremely versatile and a wonderful defender on the wing that Cleveland sorely lacks, and he came into his own for the Hoyas as an individual offensive force.
Working off the ball with Irving and Waiters would free up Porter with a lot of clean looks as a rookie, and his three-point range would significantly stretch defenses out. Whether it's Scott's team or not next season, Porter seems like the logical pick.
Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Not only is Oladipo fantastic at shooting the ball, but he is also a devastating perimeter defender, winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award.
The former Hoosier star has the all-around game to contribute in the pros right away. Few players expend the type of consistent effort that Oladipo does, and he has the energy to revitalize a franchise from Day 1.
That is something the Suns desperately need. In addition to their putrid three-point shooting, their defense is awful, letting up over 101 points per contest.
Should Oladipo head to the desert, he will instantly improve the Suns in that regard. Fundamentals are not in question, as Oladipo consistently stays in front of his man and has the athleticism to recover and make up for being slightly undersized for an NBA 2-guard.
There may be rookie mistakes due to Oladipo's reckless abandon, but it will at least point Phoenix in the right direction.
New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
Even though Bennett may be viewed as a "tweener" forward, that might be the best thing for New Orleans.
The team has the personnel to accommodate whatever role Bennett decides to play, and his presence would give the lineup so much versatility. Anthony Davis could be placed at center, while Bennett could craftily work the inside as a post player.
Bennett can also be a stretch 4, which is an increasingly hot commodity. However, his athleticism gives him the ability to play small forward as well, where he could even supplant Al-Farouq Aminu as the starter.
What the Hornets lack right now is a swingman that provides a viable scoring option and rebounder that can create mismatch problems. That is precisely what Bennett brings to the table.
He may be viewed as a one-year wonder, but with all the players making the jump from college to the pros after their freshman seasons these days, that shouldn't really be a red flag.
Projected NBA Draft order entering Wednesday evening:
|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)