While the eight remaining postseason teams are duking it out to make the NBA's version of the Final Four, prospects for this year's draft are preparing for the most important event since this year's Final Four.
Top players from across the land will descend upon Chicago next week for the 2013 NBA draft combine, a yearly ritual that starts to crystallize where these young men stand.
The combine will take place from May 15-19 this season and works much like the more-hallowed NFL version. Teams and players go through the whole meet-and-greet process, say nice things to one another and assumptions are either met or completely turned on their head. Then we all overreact to what just happened before completely forgetting by draft night.
But unlike the NFL's combine—rightly nicknamed the "Underwear Olympics"—the NBA's version at least allows its prospects to, you know, play the sport. Top prospects will go through individual drills and hit the weight room, as this draft continues to have a ton of flux at the top.
While we're not going to get a full idea of who goes where until the draft lottery takes place, there are some prospects with a ton of momentum right now—whether good or bad.
With that in mind, let's take a look at our latest breakdown of the entire first round and we'll highlight a few interesting players and teams along the way.
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 are looking at an awfully awkward meeting with Nikola Vucevic if they land the No. 1 pick. Consensus is slowly building that Noel will be the top pick regardless of which team gets their ping-pong ball chosen—and it's the correct call.
Noel is the one player in this class with true franchise cornerstone potential. Though the flashes on the offensive end were fleeting and he's obviously coming back from an ACL tear, teams like Orlando can afford to wait on his potential.
Noel is already an Anthony Davis-type defensive prospect down to the letter, including the fact he'll be a mess on pick-and-roll rotations for the first half of next year. But once he puts it all together—"all" including his burgeoning passing game and shot selection out of the post—there's a truly special player lying underneath.
It's a risk, and the health will have to check out, obviously. If it does, then there should be little question at the top of this draft.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 Percent): Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the right pick at No. 2 last season, and he would probably be getting more credit for his quietly solid rookie campaign if anyone paid attention to this franchise. The problem with Kidd-Gilchrist is that he's another non-shooter, a guy who was a complete mess with spacing—especially compared to Bismack Biyombo.
One-sided players are going the way of the dodo, and Kidd-Gilchrist will need to develop at least a solid mid-range game as his career progresses to totally pan out.
What that means for the Bobcats is that they cannot take a project shooter. They're the one team on the board where it would be understandable to pass on Noel, simply because he'd only continue the spacing hell.
In this scenario, they have no such worries. McLemore is much like Bradley Beal in that he'll probably never make an All-Star team, yet has every single tool of a 10-year NBA starter. He can knock down threes in spot-up situations, absolutely soars in the open court and was a committed defender at Kansas.
McLemore could be an opening-night starter wherever he goes. The Bobcats should hope it's to Charlotte.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 Percent): Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
Nothing in this world—except for every cute puppy GIF ever—is perfect, but Porter's fit in Cleveland is as close as you can get.
There are very few things on the basketball court that Porter cannot do well. He's a brilliant open-court passer for his position, can lead the break with his dribble if need be and is ridiculously unselfish—a key factor when playing with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
The Cavs have gone off the wall with some of their first-round picks the past couple years—Waiters and Tristan Thompson were both semi-shocks—and it's worked. This time, though, it's advisable to take the guy everyone thinks you will.
4. Phoenix Suns (11.9 Percent): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
The Suns need to win the top pick arguably more than any other team. They're a 12-man tank job waiting to happen in 2013-14, with their most redeemable players being Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic.
A player with even Noel's potential would do wonders for a franchise that felt dead inside from the moment Steve Nash departed for Los Angeles.
Oladipo wouldn't quite have the same effect, but his potential as a two-way talent is intriguing. He's already a future All-Defense selection, equipped with the jaw-dropping athleticism, foot speed and smarts that teams just drool over.
And while he'll likely have a Kidd-Gilchristian season in 2013-14—all defense, drive-only offense—Oladipo has an interesting offensive game for the pros. He was a fantastic slasher at Indiana, drawing comparisons to Dwyane Wade.
We're not going to give those comparisons a second thought—mainly because we're not insane. But could Oladipo become a poor man's Wade? Sure. And that's good enough for No. 4 in this draft.
5. New Orleans Pelicans (8.8 Percent): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
Finding the right fit for the Pelicans in this spot wholly depends on how they plan on handling semi-big names already on their roster. They're reportedly open to trading Eric Gordon, who two years ago was their main haul for Chris Paul and one year ago signed a $58 million contract.
And with NBA assists leader Greivis Vasquez undoubtedly looking for a fat raise within the next 12 months, New Orleans could have to decide between selling high and paying up this summer.
Until there is better clarity, Burke is a pretty obvious choice among players on the board. He's only semi-committed on defense, but would give the Pelicans two players who are fantastic at finding guys in the open court. The National Player of the Year would instantly serve as an "our bad" for the whole Austin Rivers fiasco as well.
Still, all it takes is one big Gordon trade to make this team adjust its entire course of action.
6. Sacramento Kings (6.3 Percent): Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
As NBA.com's David Aldridge reported, Bennett will undergo surgery on his left shoulder and miss the next four months. What that ultimately means for his draft stock, though, very much remains to be seen.
Had Bennett been healthy, there's no question he'd be an easy pick for Sacramento. He's in many ways a replica to 2012 first-rounder Thomas Robinson, who was unceremoniously shipped to Houston at the trade deadline.
An extremely strong force down on the low block, Bennett bullied his opponents into submission at UNLV while showing range out to the three-point line.
We'll keep him here for now, but that could change as we get closer to the draft and player stocks become more cemented.
7. Detroit Pistons (3.6 Percent): Shabazz Muhammad (G, UCLA)
Joe Dumars' plan building this team is to structure it around his twin towers, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. It's feasible that as these two get older, the Pistons will try to work in a Zach Randolph-Marc Gasol-type dynamic, whereby the underrated passer Monroe works on the high post more often.
Even if that plan works perfectly, Detroit is still going to need scoring. And while Muhammad is probably never going to be the superstar that some expected out of high school, the former UCLA star leading all rookies in scoring next season is not out of the question.
Equipped with an NBA body, ability to score from anywhere and strong athleticism, Muhammad feels a little like when Tyreke Evans was coming out. You knew what he was going to be almost from the moment he stepped on the floor, but what his ceiling was beyond that was a question.
That being said, that type of player is exactly who the Pistons need as they're trying to figure out what the future holds.
8. Washington Wizards (3.5 Percent): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Len is another player who will miss time with an injury. It was reported by multiple outlets that he'll undergo surgery on his ankle and could miss up to six months. As such, we're going to avoid delving too far into Len—much like we did with Bennett—until there's more information about where he stands.
It's possible that one of Len's top competitors could wow at the combine and overtake him at this spot, but he stays here for now. Washington needs an eventual replacement for Emeka Okafor and/or Nene in its front line, and being around two consummate professionals could help the sometimes enigmatic Len develop.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (1.7 Percent): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)
Devastated by injuries the entire 2012-13 season, the Timberwolves never got to see if their preseason playoff hype was justified. Kevin Love played in only 18 games this season while dealing with a hand issue, and Luke Ridnour was the only player to start more than 65 times.
Yeah...not good. But with Flip Saunders taking over for David Kahn as president of basketball operations, one has to wonder what (if any) changes are coming this offseason.
No matter what is the ultimate plan, Caldwell-Pope fits in. Minnesota's two guards of the future, Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, are league-average shooters on their best nights. Both shot well below 40 percent for the season, and that's not going to cut it in a league where spacing is more precious than ever.
A brilliant spot-up shooter and excellent defender, Caldwell-Pope could be the elixir to those ills. He could help the Timberwolves make sure there's at least one guard that defenses have to respect at all times.
While it's hard to expect anything more than good shooting and strong defense, this is the 2013 NBA draft we're talking about. You take what you can get.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (1.1 Percent): Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
In this scenario, Plumlee, a high-energy athletic stud who runs the open court like a gazelle, could replace the possibly departing J.J. Hickson, a high-energy athletic stud who runs the open court like a gazelle.
So...yay for symmetry.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (0.8 Percent): C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)
If McCollum somehow winds up lasting to No. 11, the Sixers would be nothing short of giddy—and not just because they have an easy marketing campaign with the Lehigh connection.
McCollum, who could have won the national scoring title if it weren't for a foot injury, represents one of many assets this Philly team needs. When team executives allowed Lou Williams to walk in favor of Nick Young, they essentially punted the Sixers' sixth-man scoring. Young had a predictably awful season on both ends, mainly because he's been awful for much of his career.
McCollum is a mea culpa on that decision. He's a lightning-quick guard who can maneuver around both the 1 and 2 positions, a perfect microwave scorer coming off the bench.
There will be many who compare McCollum to Damian Lillard during this process, but Lillard is the superior prospect. McCollum isn't consistent enough from deep yet and he isn't as strong of a passer.
But as long as Philly doesn't draft McCollum and instantly think Lillard 2.0, he should fit just fine.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) (0.7 Percent): Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
Folks' propensity to just throw a center in here because Kendrick Perkins is bad at everything except guarding five players in the entire league is a little perplexing. The Thunder have shown no inclination that they're even considering amnestying Perk or that they'd even be interested in moving him in a trade.
Scott Brooks likes him enough in bigger sets and he's one of the better locker-room presences in the league. Oklahoma City isn't going to go big unless it's the top player on the board, and in this case, it isn't.
Reggie Jackson has done a nice poor man's Russell Westbrook impersonation in these playoffs, but Carter-Williams could be the real deal—if he finds the right infrastructure. \
The Syracuse product can't shoot, but he's an elite on-ball defender, has fantastic court vision thanks to his 6'6" size and has a mountain of untapped potential.
Also worth noting: This could be the Thunder's only tangible acquisition from the James Harden trade. The possibility of hitting a home run plays into the equation here.
13. Dallas Mavericks (0.6 Percent): Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
These Mavericks find themselves with the unfortunate distinction of being the best-worst team in the league. A full season with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, and we're likely talking about them as a back-half Western Conference playoff team rather than a squad that made a bad bet it could land Deron Williams last summer and lost.
As such, there are any number of possible outcomes for the Mavericks and this pick in general. Zeller sticks here because he fits Mark Cuban's longstanding desire for another seven-footer, and if there's anyone who can teach a player how to thrive when not being the strongest guy on the floor, it's Nowitzki.
This is a perfect situation for Zeller. As for the Mavericks? That almost wholly depends on what they plan on doing this offseason.
14. Utah Jazz (0.5 Percent): Jamaal Franklin (G-F, San Diego State)
Utah is a huge trade-up candidate and would love for someone like Carter-Williams to descend to No. 14. But in this scenario, the point guard well is dry and Franklin would give the Jazz a versatile, athletic wing player who can defend three positions.
Franklin won't step in and knock down many (if any) long-range jumpers during his first couple of NBA seasons. He's very much the typical hard-working player, with his athleticism and motor making up for a few things he lacks.
That would make him a much-needed fit for the Jazz, whose defense is the main reason they coughed up the No. 8 seed down the stretch.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
In a draft that should see plenty of international talents be taken in Round 1, Saric is pretty easily at the head of the class. He just turned 19 and is only scratching the surface of his skills, but there's something potentially special about this kid that leaps out on tape.
An open-court marvel, Saric can lead a break right out of a long rebound or even take over a point-forward role when surrounded by shooters. He's not much of a gunner himself at this point, nor is his physique anything to write home about, but Saric will be drafted very much with the future in mind.
And with the future being murky for Milwaukee, having Saric to look forward to might be worth it.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (F-C, Gonzaga)
Short version: The Celtics' first concern is what happens with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this offseason. How they plan on approaching this offseason—whether as a full-scale blowup or a bringing back of the band—will affect this pick majorly.
Olynyk is arguably the top player left on the board in this spot, and he projects as an interesting stretch-4 or Zydrunas Ilgauskas-type center at his ceiling.
The former Gonzaga star's ability to hit from 18 feet could be particularly attractive to a team that could lose another big man with an affinity for that shot.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Glen Rice Jr. (G, NBA D-League)
Here the Hawks get two players who are perfect in these spots in Round 1, but would be questionable selections at best anywhere earlier.
Dieng, for all of his improvements as a passer, is still a mess on the block for the most part and is 23 years old. He projects as a very good contributor over his career as a seventh or eighth man who can come on and give solid minutes off the bench as a shot-blocker and rebounder.
Rice is more the enigmatic selection. He resurrected his dead-in-the-water draft stock by going to the D-League of all places and thriving as an explosive scorer
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
I'm well-established of being bearish on Adams' prospects as an NBA player, but his long-term Anderson Varejao replacement potential could be attractive to Cleveland. For all of his complete brokenness on the offensive end, Adams is a very good shot blocker, an elite athlete and has an insatiable motor.
If he develops into a high-energy starter who scores eight points, grabs 10 rebounds and blocks two shots a night—about his ceiling—the Cavaliers would be thrilled with that outcome.
20. Chicago Bulls: Tony Mitchell (F, North Texas)
There aren't many places in this world an enigmatic talent should rather go than to be coached by Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls head man has been turning in a virtuoso season, leading his team to a shocking early-series lead against the Heat without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich.
Other than the whole "playing his starters into the ground" thing, Thibodeau has done a marvelous job of handling every bad situation.
He may be the only coach who could save Tony Mitchell's still-enormous potential. Mitchell came into the 2012-13 season as a potential lottery pick, his elite leaping ability, fantastic defensive skills and burgeoning offensive skill set intriguing scouts.
But his second season at North Texas was only more disappointing than the first, and Mitchell now gets into the first round merely because the rest of it is so bad.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Shane Larkin (G, Miami)
The Jazz may not get their point guard of the future here, but Larkin remains a very underrated prospect. He's a hard-nosed kid who plays top-notch defense, can get to the basket and plays with the type of poise you want from an instant contributor.
His size is certainly a question mark, but the skills far outweigh those concerns at a need position this late in the draft. At the worst-case scenario, you're looking at a ninth man with a ton of character with Larkin.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rudy Gobert (F, France)
The Nets would love to trade this pick along with another asset like Kris Humphries' expiring contract for a third-tier star, only they can't because they shipped off last year's first rounder in one of the 10 worst deals since the merger (and I'm being kind).
As such, they'll probably use this pick on a talented young international player who could turn into an asset down the road. Gobert is one of the most freakish players in this draft, a 7'1" forward with a 7'9" wingspan and jaw-dropping athleticism and open-court skills.
Like most international players in this class, he could spend the next year or two honing his skills. And that would work out perfectly for the Nets, who are already looking at a fat tax bill.
23. Indiana Pacers: Myck Kabongo (G, Texas)
Outlier games aside, D.J. Augustin was dreadful in his first season with the Pacers, so much so that Ben Hansbrough replaced him at one point. Indiana can't go into next season with that duo engulfing offensive and defensive rhythm if it expects to compete for a championship.
Kabongo was a major disappointment at Texas, with his on-court play never quite matching up to the lofty expectations. Then again, he played for Rick Barnes, who could only take Kevin Durant to the NCAA tournament.
So maybe all is not lost for Kabongo, a pure point guard whose game screamed future NBA starter coming out of high school.
Either way, he's not D.J. Augustin and he's not Ben Hansbrough. That's good enough for Frank Vogel, I'm assuming.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
There are plenty of questions about how replicable the 2012-13 Knicks season is, but Withey would go a long way toward helping that replication process.
He's not quite the athletic player, nor is he as tough as Kenyon Martin, but the former Kansas star is a seven-footer who spent his entire collegiate career honing his craft as an elite defender.
Withey would have fit perfectly on a team that thought giving Marcus Camby a three-year contract was, you know, something resembling a good idea.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Allen Crabbe (G, California)
Assuming they get Chris Paul back this offseason, the Clippers won't have a great deal of needs. They'll look to retain Matt Barnes, who deserves to get paid, and should really consider moving on from the DeAndre Jordan era if they can land a more reliable veteran big.
But those are problems for July. Landing Crabbe at No. 25 would help chip away at another glaring problem for Los Angeles—consistent spot-up shooting—which cropped up plenty against Memphis in the playoffs.
What Crabbe does other than shoot at the NBA level is questionable.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Adetokunbo (G-F, Greece)
Let's make one thing clear: Adetokunbo won't be an NBA point guard. If and when he ever comes stateside, he'll be shifted over to a point-forward role where he'll stay off the ball way more than he's used to at this point.
Nevertheless, there may no more intriguing player in this entire class. At 6'9" and with a 7'4" wingspan, Adetokunbo has become a must-see prospect anytime he steps on the floor among players in this class.
He has excellent court vision, athleticism and passing skills for someone of his size, and it's apparent how much teammates enjoy playing with him.
There isn't all that much tape on him, so even NBA teams are in the getting-to-know-him process. But any team looking for an international player this late in Round 1—as the Timberwolves should be—would be remiss if they didn't think about Adetokunbo.
27. Denver Nuggets: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
The iteration of the Nuggets that was just eliminated from the playoffs almost certainly won't come back next season. There are too many pieces, and not enough of them fit into a cohesive playoff unit.
But there's no one on the board at No. 27 that could even remotely help this roster. Schroeder has become an increasingly interesting name for teams looking for a draft-and-stash prospect, as he is just scratching the surface of who he could be as a player.
At just 19 years old, the German guard has excellent court vision and passing skills, and calling his initial step lightning-quick is a disservice.
Denver already has a long-term point guard in Ty Lawson, but Schroeder won't be coming over anyway for at least a couple years.
28. San Antonio Spurs: B.J. Young (G, Arkansas)
For all the talk about Old Manu being "back" for these playoffs, he's scoring 12 points per game and shooting 38 percent from the field. This is a modified version of Manu Ginobili, a late-career player who can show flashes of his former greatness in a pinch, but those flashes are fleeting.
With his reign as San Antonio's sixth man coming to a close sooner than you think, it's time R.C. Buford finds his next top bench scorer.
While Young doesn't quite have the same international flair to his game—there will be no so-beautiful-you-want-to-cry Eurosteps in his future—he was an explosive scorer from all over the court at Arkansas.
As soon as he improves his shot from long-range, Young could be a very explosive bench piece for the Spurs. Until then, I'm sure they won't cry about extending the Ginobili era another year.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
For those clamoring about the Thunder getting a center, here is where they should hope to get their wish. Nogueira is a goofy-gamed seven-footer who has been on NBA teams' radars for years and even entered the 2011 draft before pulling out.
He's in for the long-haul this time around—NBA rules dictate you can't enter twice—which means scouts are finally going to get a look at him against top college players.
There's no indication that Nogueira will come over for next season, and Oklahoma City would probably be more than happy with him developing more overseas.
But in a couple of years—perhaps when Perkins' contract ends—Nogueira could step in and become a stalwart on the defensive end and have the ability to run in the open court.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (G, Baylor)
Jackson is a Lilliputian, but how many times do we have to be shown that basketball players can play basketball regardless of their size? At pick No. 30 and considering his ability to do just about everything offensively, Jackson is a very solid pick for a Suns squad that needs help anywhere they can get it.
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