With the NBA playoffs just beginning to capture the nation’s attention, June’s draft still feels like it’s forever-and-a-day away.
The vision of David Stern standing at the podium and doing his best Hulk Hogan impersonation hasn’t even entered into the five-most talked about NBA discussions in the national lexicon.
But the harsh reality is that the draft process has already begun for over half of the league. With the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs completing their sweeps of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, 16 teams have June 27 pegged as the next notable night on their calendar.
Of course, the process began long ago for the prospects who made their NBA draft intentions known. The Portsmouth Invitational got the postseason workout spree going earlier this month, and the gathering of all of the top talent for the NBA Combine is only about two weeks away.
So even as top-flight teams are doing their best to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, their scouting departments are hard at work trying to find a usable rotation player for 2013-14.
While we won’t know anything for sure until the draft lottery in May, we do finally have the pool of prospects set to be taken in this year's draft.
With that in mind, here is our latest mock draft and a breakdown of where every player stands following the draft eligibility deadline’s passing.
All lottery odds are courtesy of the NBA (h/t ESPN's Chad Ford).
1, Orlando Magic (25 percent): Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
The Magic will face what can only be described as a conundrum if they win the No. 1 overall pick.
Even with a torn ACL, Nerlens Noel is the best player in this class, bar none. His ability to affect opposing offenses at the rim is evidenced by his 4.4 blocks per game at Kentucky, where he was finally starting to scratch the surface of his potential on offense before going down with an injury.
Though he’ll have an adjustment period where he’ll look lost on defensive rotations due to his propensity for just lingering in the middle—think early-season Anthony Davis—Noel has all the makings of a defensive stopper at the next level. Assuming his prognosis is positive come June, Noel is the likeliest player in this class to develop into a star.
But Orlando faces the question of need versus talent at No. 1. The Magic already have their own talented young center in Nikola Vucevic, who was one of a select few net positives from this season in Orlando. And with Tobias Harris also showing signs of promise, a core is slowly developing in Orlando—even if it was getting bludgeoned every night this past season.
So do the Magic go with the potential in Noel or grab a guard like Kansas' Ben McLemore or Michigan's Trey Burke, both of whom fit needs? It’s tough to know which way Rob Hennigan is leaning, but we’re keeping Noel here for now.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 Percent): Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)
Much like Orlando, Charlotte would face a similar conundrum if it lands the No. 1 pick.
Noel is a need fit and would give the Bobcats a potential star, but he’s not someone who fits basketball-wise. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo are all net negatives as jump shooters, and they ostensibly make up the future in North Carolina. Adding Noel to that mix would create spacing hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
As such, the Bobcats would be perfectly fine with landing McLemore. A traditional 2-guard who can rain threes as a spot-up shooter, McLemore is the perfect elixir to the spacing problems. While he needs to be more assertive and will have to create more off the dribble as a pro, McLemore works hard on every possession and is an elite NBA athlete.
The Bobcats’ coaching situation needs to be figured out before we know how they’ll look schematically, but this is a good fit regardless.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 Percent): Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
Other than taking Noel atop the draft, it’s difficult to envision any scenario where Porter lands outside of Cleveland—assuming he’s on the board when the Cavs are up.
The Georgetown product is an answer for nearly everything Cleveland needs in its next puzzle piece. Porter is unselfish, almost to a fault, which is critical because Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are so ball-dominant. He’s a brilliant passer for his size, and is often compared to Lamar Odom—just about the highest compliment one can bestow upon a player of his size.
Mike Brown was brought in to increase the defensive focus, and Porter is a smart, committed defender who excelled under John Thompson III. Though we wish he’d have been more assertive as a scorer in the nation’s capital, Porter is a player that you fall in love with when watching his tape.
4. Phoenix Suns (11.9 Percent): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
In this scenario, the Suns would likely be choosing between Oladipo and UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad. They’ve coveted an explosive guard who can create off the dribble for a while now, and this is an area where both Oladipo and Muhammad excel.
The choice between these two comes downs to whether Phoenix wants more of an instant contributor or someone who could be a star come Year 2 or Year 3. Muhammad is a good enough scorer, and he excels enough from distance that it’s conceivable that he’ll score 15 points a night as a rookie. His offensive style translates well to the NBA, and he’s much further along as a scorer than Oladipo.
In Oladipo, Phoenix also knows what it would be getting at No. 4. The former Indiana star will be a great defender from the moment he arrives at camp, and he could be Tony Allen-like down the line.
But let’s not kid ourselves, Oladipo can’t shoot. He’s improving and has made strides in this area, but he’s only slightly better than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Oladipo will finish at the rim and knock down a decent rate from midrange, but no NBA team is going to be afraid of his three-point shot.
We’re keeping Oladipo here because of his potential, but this is a closer margin than anyone realizes.
5. New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) (8.8 Percent): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
Much of New Orleans’ strategy with this pick will come down to the status of Eric Gordon. The Hornicans reportedly plan to shop Gordon this offseason, just one year after matching the shooting guard’s offer sheet with Phoenix. If Gordon is sent packing, or if the team has made an internal decision that it’s taking the best possible offer and moving on, then we may see Muhammad or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope get some consideration here.
For now, though, Burke is a perfect fit for the Hornicans’ needs. He’s a mea culpa for the Austin Rivers pick, which may go down as one of the worst picks in history. And Burke, the National Player of the Year this past season, also provides some Greivis Vasquez insurance, as he’ll be due for a hefty raise this summer or next.
Like Vazquez, Burke is a net negative defensively, but he’s an NBA creator already and a guy who can make his own shot off the bounce or slash-and-kick at an elite level.
6. Sacramento Kings (6.3 Percent): Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
Speaking of mea culpas, Sacramento/Seattle/Saskatchewan/Whatever gets an opportunity to atone for its strange midseason trade of Thomas Robinson in this scenario. Robinson was essentially a more refined version of Bennett coming out of school, a powerful post player underneath with an NBA body and surprising touch in the midrange.
Bennett was one of a tiny sampling of collegiate players last season who showed potential stardom and No. 6 is a good spot for him. At the very least Kings/Sonics/Whatever fans can be happy that he’s not a ball-dominant combo-guard.
7. Detroit Pistons (3.6 Percent): Shabazz Muhammad (G, UCLA)
We’ve mentioned Muhammad a couple times in conjunction with other teams, but he should be happy to land anywhere within the first 10 picks after an underperforming freshman season at UCLA.
As the head of a freshman class that was supposedly going to reinvigorate Bruins basketball, Muhammad led his team to a season that can be described thoroughly as “meh.” He averaged 17.9 points per game and led UCLA to a Pac-12 regular season title, but he did so on a mediocre 44.3 percent shooting, as the Bruins were upset in the Round of 64 in March.
This isn’t the superstar we heard so much about in high school. Muhammad doesn’t create well with his right hand, struggles shooting off the bounce and is good at a lot of things, great at few. He may well lead all rookies in scoring next season, though. Even with all of the negatives, Muhammad is still a professional scorer with an NBA body who cares whenever he’s on the floor.
Disappointment about his collegiate career aside, landing Muhammad at No. 7 is a good look for Joe Dumars.
8. Washington Wizards (3.5 Percent): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
The Wizards are in a place in this scenario where the top player at their biggest need position (Jamaal Franklin) would represent a reach. But luckily, their need for long-term depth in the middle can be filled by Len.
A familiar face to those in the Beltway, Len is a microcosm of everything that scares scouts about this draft. On one night, Len can look like a potentially dominant seven-footer with range that makes him a perfect fit for the way this league is headed, and then the next night, he can look like a complete mess who gets bullied by guys smaller than him in the ACC.
Washington has to find a long-term solution in the middle because Emeka Okafor is not the answer. Len a nice stopgap and a short-term fix who can provide 25-30 minutes of smart, strong defensive play.
It’s hard to feel completely comfortable with Len here, but the alternatives aren’t much better.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (1.7 Percent): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)
Caldwell-Pope is only a reach at No. 9 for people who don’t know his game. Languishing with awful supporting talent and equally bad coaching, Caldwell-Pope’s NBA stock has been adversely affected by his decision to attend Georgia.
He took on the brunt of the offensive load with the Bulldogs, scoring 18.5 points ad grabbing 7.1 rebounds per night while facing a barrage of defensive looks catered just to him. Had he gone elsewhere, Caldwell-Pope’s counting stats would have gone down, but teams could have seen how efficient of a scorer he really is.
A dead-eye spot-up shooter with range for days, Caldwell-Pope is a perfect fit for a Minnesota team in desperate need of shooting. He won’t be able to create off the dribble at an NBA level as a rookie, but he won’t need to with Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved feeding him passes.
This is an uncertain offseason for the Timberwolves, but Caldwell-Pope would create a nice starting point.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (1.1 Percent): Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
Plumlee is a classic case of scouts having too much tape. Just about anyone who has seen Duke play over the past couple years knows that Plumlee is a high-energy player with elite athleticism who needs a ton of work in the post. His ceiling is little higher than the fourth- or fifth-best player on a contending team, his basement is as a high-energy role player—an athletic version of Tyler Hansbrough.
That’s not exciting, so any team that takes Plumlee will incur the wrath of fans. But with such a dearth of depth—especially in the middle—Portland could do a whole lot worse here.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (0.8 Percent): C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)
A foot injury took the 2012 NCAA tournament darling off the radar last season, but expect the fervor to pick right back up come June. McCollum, by virtue of his lightning-quick off-the-dribble ability, high scoring prowess and departure from a mid-major is going to get Damian Lillard comparisons until we’re all sick of hearing about it.
McCollum isn’t nearly as gifted of a passer, but there’s a reason that storylines get driven into the ground. The Lillard comparison is viable, though, and McCollum projects as either a score-first point guard or a score-everything sixth man coming off the bench.
Nick Young probably won’t be back next year, which is a blessing in plain view. Management’s decision to let Lou Williams go in favor of Young was just dreadful considering the lack of cost differential, but McCollum could provide solace for those ills.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) (0.7 Percent): Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
The Thunder’s need for a big man has long been overblown. They’ve been sensational in lineups that feature Kevin Durant at the power forward slot all season long, and as much as laughable as his contract is, Kendrick Perkins isn’t going anywhere.
The true need for Oklahoma City is a shot-creator coming off the bench—someone who can slash into the paint, score at the rim and find open teammates. It was obvious even in victory how much the Thunder missed Russell Westbrook (and James Harden) in Game 3 of their playoff series with Houston.
This isn’t the time or place to bemoan the Harden or Eric Maynor trades. Sam Presti cannot run a team expecting his superstars to get hurt, but he can be expected to get value out of those trades, and thus far there has been little of substance coming out of the Harden deal.
For all of his imperfections (read: shooting...from anywhere), Michael Carter-Williams has Harden 2.0 potential. He’s a titillating prospect—a 6’6” point guard with a great first step off the dribble and elite passing ability. If OKC is patient in his development, there’s some star potential here.
13. Dallas Mavericks (0.6 Percent): Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
The Mavs represent another one of many wild cards in this lottery. With big dreams of landing top-flight players on the free-agent market and becoming a contender, their begrudging lottery pick is pretty far down the line on their list of priorities. Mark Cuban isn’t a “win later” kind of guy, no matter how much this roster screams rebuild.
Even so, Zeller is a strong fit in this spot. Cuban has long coveted a long-term answer at center, having once had one in Tyson Chandler before allowing him to sign with New York in 2011.
Though Zeller didn’t take a huge leap in the way that many hoped he would as a sophomore, that’s almost made him underrated. A smart player with an array of post moves and solid touch around the basket, Zeller would be a top-three pick if he had more bulk to his frame. He’ll get bullied a bit as a rookie due to his thin frame, but one has a hard time seeing Cuban pass on a top-tier center here.
14. Utah Jazz (0.5 Percent): Jamaal Frankin (G-F, San Diego State)
Just go ahead and place Utah on your “most likely to trade up” list now. The Jazz need a long-term solution at point guard, and they won’t be finding it at No. 14. Trading up to grab Burke will create long conversations in their war room, assuming he doesn’t wind up going with the top pick. Even moving up to take MCW is well within the realm of possibility.
We’re just not in the business of projecting that here. Franklin is a slashing forward who does just about everything but shoot, and he is a strong-bodied player who was well out of position for much of his career at San Diego State. Even if Franklin only becomes a seventh man at the NBA level, he’ll take minutes away from Marvin Williams, which is a win for all involved.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
Of any player outside the lottery, Saric is by far the likeliest to jump inside the first 10 picks. A 6’10” wing player with an arrayed skill set, Saric is one of the more impressive open-court creators that you’ll ever see for someone of his size. His court vision is sensational, acting as a point-forward with the type of smarts you rarely see from a kid who just turned 19.
It’s not a guarantee that Saric comes over next year. In fact, we’d categorize it as unlikely. He’ll spend the next year or two developing overseas, coming over when he can find an amenable buyout in his contract and the situation looks right.
The Bucks, depending on how their free agency situation goes (Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract, Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent and J.J. Reddick is an unrestricted free agent this offseason), could want to target an instant-impact player. But the potential to import a star in a couple years has to be intriguing, much in the way it was for the small-market Timberwolves when they drafted Ricky Rubio in 2009.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
There has been a ton of talk about Kevin Garnett retiring at season’s end since his comments at the All-Star break, and it hasn’t gone away with Boston’s playoff struggles. If Garnett retires, the Celtics’ plans would obviously be significantly altered. Rajon Rondo’s return from an ACL injury is still up in the air, and Paul Pierce certainly isn’t getting any younger.
Could we be on the precipice of a rebuild in Boston? Don’t be surprised.
If things stay the course, though, Olynyk is an intriguing prospect for Boston. He can score inside and out, giving the Celtics a much-needed boost in offensive versatility. They could use rebounding help, and unfortunately Olynyk won’t provide that, but his offensive skill-set can’t be found cheaply on the free-agent market—Reggie Evanses can be though.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Glen Rice Jr. (G, NBA D-League)
Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has quite the intriguing offseason ahead of him. Atlanta has built its future around the summer of 2013, compiling a mismatched roster full of players on expiring contracts. Only three players (Lou Williams, Al Horford and John Jenkins) have guaranteed money coming their way from the Hawks next season, leaving a puzzling question for Ferry this summer.
Is his team cashing a one-way ticket to Tank City in preparation for the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes? Or is it throwing its hat in the Dwight Howard pool and trying to make huge splashes.
No matter which way the cookie crumbles, Dieng and Rice fit.
A seven-footer with an intimidating shot-blocking prowess, athleticism around the rim and strong passing ability for a big man, Dieng should be a nice role player as a rookie. There are questions about how high his ceiling really goes—he’s already 23—but his worst-case scenario is an eighth man.
Rice is more of the boom-or-bust pick. Much more the latter during his time at Georgia Tech, Rice blossomed in the D-League this past season. Scoring from all over the floor, the 22-year-old guard dominated without the pressures of academia.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Adams’ decision to leave Pitt after just one season struck most as curious. The New Zealander was a project when he came stateside, and his freshman stop with the Panthers was up-and-down, to say the least.
He finished well around the rim and showed off his shot-blocking chops, but he’s broken offensively. He is not just raw, he’s almost completely useless on that end unless taking an easy feed from a guard.
The emergence of Tristan Thompson and a return of Anderson Varejao gives Cleveland room for Adams to develop. There aren’t many (if any) guys in this draft with his combination of shot-blocking, rebounding and athleticism. Five years down the line, Adams could be a steal.
20. Chicago Bulls: Isaiah Austin (F, Baylor)
Austin wasn’t the dominant wunderkind that Baylor had hoped for when they landed him, but you can see why NBA teams would be intrigued by his skill-set. It’s not too often that you’ll find a 7’1” forward-center who can stretch out to the NBA three-point line (though inefficiently so), swat shots like gnats and defend excellently.
The problem is that he’s never put it all together. Austin has never had the "eureka" moment where he realizes how dominant he could become, and that’s a problem when projecting his ultimate ceiling. Players who don’t get it on this level hardly ever do, but Austin’s talent is so vast that it’s hard to fault any team taking a chance on him.
And if there’s any coach in the league who could taskmaster Austin into realizing his potential, it’s Tom Thibodeau.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Shane Larkin (G, Miami)
It Larkin stays on the board this long, it’s time to uncork the sparkling cider in Utah. The former Miami star is a Lilliputian, and the idea of “playing above his size” has always been a nice way of saying someone is good for a short guy.
What the Jazz would be getting is the same thing the Hurricanes got in college. Larkin is a sterling defender, a hard worker who never takes plays off and plays with an insatiable aggressive streak. There’s a place for him somewhere in the NBA, even if it’s not in a starting lineup.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rudy Gobert (F, France)
Anyone who has watched Brooklyn this postseason knows the days of having Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans on the floor at the same time has to end. Defenses pay them no attention whatsoever offensively because both are active minuses on that end. The Nets are playing 3-on-5 every time down the floor with that duo in the game, which is something that has to be addressed this offseason.
Gobert isn’t going to change that lineup next season, but neither will any other player on the board. The Frenchman is, however, the best option for Brooklyn in the long-term. He’s an athletic freak with a 7’9” wingspan and the type of gazelle-like running style that once made Anthony Randolph a lottery pick.
If someone like Olynyk slides here, the Nets will pounce on him. But if not, a draft-and-stash for Gobert is probably their best option.
23. Indiana Pacers: Myck Kabongo (G, Texas)
George Hill is the present and the future for the Pacers, but Frank Vogel would probably rather incinerate himself than see D.J. Augustin or Ben Hansbrough play meaningful minutes next season.
Kabongo had his fair share of problems at Texas, being suspended for the first 23 games of last season due to receiving impermissible benefits. Of course, those dastardly benefits were worth a grand total of $475, and his punishment was more for lying to the NCAA rather than actually doing anything wrong.
Don’t be surprised if he becomes a fast riser up draft boards, either. Kabongo has always been a player whose style translated better to the pro game than college, and there aren’t many things he does poorly.
He’d be an instant upgrade over the Augustin-Hansbrough duo, which should be enough for Indiana.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
Kenyon Martin has been a godsend during the playoffs, but he’s 35 years old. Eventually, this team has to add someone in the middle who, you now, knows how to use an iPad. The resurrection of Spike Lee’s mid-1990s Dream Team was fun for a year and it worked out, but grabbing youth is necessary for this core to have a future.
Withey probably won’t ever become a starter, and he basically is who he is as a player at this point. But that’s just fine with the Knicks, who could peg him in as a shot-blocking seven-footer behind Tyson Chandler.
25. LA Clippers: Sergey Karasev (G, Russia)
This is a simple draft-and-stash. The Clippers have an insane amount of depth—so much so that they had to push Grant Hill out of their playoff rotation—and they don’t need any more. They have to make a pick in this spot since Boston had their first-rounder last year, and Karasev could develop into a nice player down the line.
Don’t expect anyone born in the U.S. here.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis Grizzlies): Tony Mitchell (F, North Texas)
The Timberwolves could face a rocky offseason. Nikola Pekovic continued blossoming this season and should be in line for a hefty raise, one that has led many to wonder about the future of Kevin Love in Minnesota.
Depending on how that situation plays out, Mitchell’s selection may be a home-run risk aimed at landing a sleeper star. The North Texas product hurt his stock by not improving as a sophomore, but he remains a young man with a ton of potential. His leaping ability is off-the-charts good, he plays hard on every position and he can even move down low and play the 4.
Even if Love is still around, Mitchell would add some much-needed depth.
27. Denver Nuggets: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
The Nuggets were arguably the league’s most disappointed team when Doug McDermott decided to return to Creighton for his senior year. His Kyle Korver-esque shooting was the perfect elixir for Denver’s well-covered spacing issues. McDermott's decision now leaves the Nuggets without much to choose from at this spot.
Instead, Denver finds itself very much in the same position as the Clippers. Equipped with 10-12 players that would be in any NBA team’s rotation, the Nuggets have little use or room for another guy in a suit.
Schroeder is a fast-rising Euro who dominates similarly skilled players, though, and he would be a nice selection here.
28. San Antonio Spurs: B.J. Young (G, Arkansas)
Manu Ginobili is back to showing flashes of his former brilliance during the postseason, but that’s all they are. They’re glimmers that speak of a better time in Ginobili’s career, where he could provide a scoring spark on a nightly basis off the bench.
Young isn’t going to confuse anyone with the word “defender” but he can fill up the bucket. He was an explosive scorer and leader of Arkansas’ uptempo offense, showing quick bounce off the dribble and an underrated ability to stop on a dime for a nice midrange shot or floater.
He’ll need to improve as a decision-maker in order to stay in Gregg Popovich’s rotation, but that time will come for a kid who won’t turn 20 until May.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
As a combination of need and skills, Nogueira is a perfect second pick for Oklahoma City. He’s a seven-footer with wowing athleticism, but he is the type who definitely needs three years of seasoning before making an NBA impact. Still, he could be special when he does.
The Thunder could wind up selling this pick off for a future selection. If they stick here, though, Nogueira is a solid draft-and-stash who could turn out well when he eventually comes over.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Allen Crabbe (G, California)
The Suns juxtapose their pick of the offensive project Oladipo by landing Crabbe, an instant-impact scorer who is arguably the best pure shooter in this class. It’s a question of whether or not Crabbe will be much more than just a shooter in the NBA, but that’s of little concern for Phoenix at No. 30.
You grab contributors at this point, and in this draft, a guy who can knock down a three-pointer and won’t kill you on defense is good enough.
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