The NBA draft might be far away from entering the national lexicon, as playoff basketball continues to make nightly headlines, but the process has already begun for teams across the league—even the ones remaining in the postseason.
The Portsmouth Invitational last month was teams' first chance to see senior prospects from this year's class. But Portsmouth—which often doesn't even get the nation's best seniors—has devolved into little other than a whetting of the appetite.
For most top-tier prospects, the draft process begins in earnest during next week's scouting combine. While they've been working out with trainers and prepping for interview with their agents, the combine is their first (and most important) opportunity to show off what they've been working on. Much like notable combines, teams and media types have long put a little too much stock into what happens there.
So expect draft boards to be flying all over the place in the coming weeks. Held in Chicago, the 2013 combine is a four-day affair from May 15-19.
But before we head into combine madness, let's take another look at our latest breakdown of the entire first round.
All lottery percentages are courtesy of the NBA (h/t ESPN's Chad Ford).
1. Orlando Magic (25 percent): Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
If the ping-pong balls go their way, the Magic face an interesting conundrum.
Scouts have reached a near-consensus that he's the best player in this draft, a guy who can instantly step in and be a difference-maker on defense—assuming his surgically repaired knee is 100 percent. But Orlando already has the promising Nikola Vucevic at center, and the prospect of building a team around two seven-footers might scare general manager Rob Hennigan off.
So Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops' report that the Magic (and Pelicans) would look to trade the No. 1 pick isn't much of a surprise:
Chris Sheridan @sheridanhoops
Sources say the #Magic and #Hornets will trade the No. 1 pick if they win the NBA draft lottery: http://t.co/7VjZmy6bcQ5/2/2013, 11:09:04 PM
The question comes in whether any other team wants Noel bad enough to make it happen. They'll know that Orlando wants to make a deal, and that could lead to a bevy of low-ball offers. And since we can't even begin to speculate about which team would trade up, we're going to keep Noel here for now.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 Percent): Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)
We know the Bobcats won't be one of those teams calling Orlando—or at least they shouldn't be. Landing at No. 2 is an almost-perfect scenario for Charlotte, as it avoids having to take Noel—an awful fit for the team's current needs—while exposing McLemore as the perfect muse.
With three non-shooters already adorning their core in Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats need someone who can space the floor. They need a spot-up shooter who commands respect on the outside and has enough other skills to morph into something far better down the line.
McLemore, a top-notch athlete and excellent defender in college, fits the bill perfectly. He may never reach the All-Star pinnacle, but he's a non-bust who fits everything Charlotte needs.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 Percent): Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
Assuming Cleveland doesn't land the top pick, Cavs fans can start ordering their custom Porter jerseys now. He's the No. 2 player on the team's board, according to ESPN's Chad Ford—presumably only behind Noel.
An unselfish, do-everything forward, Porter is the type of player that only moves up on draft boards when scouts watch more tape. He can defend multiple positions and has the sound awareness you would expect from a John Thompson III protege. A great passer and strong ball-handler in the open court, Porter has drawn many comparisons to Lamar Odom—and not just because both are shaky three-point shooters.
With the Cavs needing more players who don't need the ball to be effective, Porter is their perfect muse. He doesn't have the ceiling of a Noel, but one might argue he's the better fit long-term.
4. Phoenix Suns (11.9 Percent): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
New Suns general manager Ryan McDonough comes over from Boston with big dreams but a roster devoid of much long-term promise. The young players on the roster—Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and the Morris twins—look like they'll peak out at about league-average, and the two "cornerstone" pieces aren't anything to write home about.
Point guard Goran Dragic is already 27 years old, meaning he'll be approaching 30 by the time Phoenix can seriously compete for a playoff spot again. And it would shock no one in particular if Marcin Gortat was moved this summer (h/t Chad Ford).
That leaves McDonough with an indeterminate amount of options. There's no position that would be totally out of the realm of possibilities, though a Dragic replacement would be a surprise.
Oladipo is an intriguing option for what he could become. He's already considered the best on-ball defender in this class, a player who could have a Tony Allen-like effect on opposing wing players. He's also extremely athletic and can create off the dribble, which creates at least the illusion that Oladipo could develop into something special offensively as well.
On a team devoid of talent, anything is possible. But Oladipo is the best pick at this spot.
5. New Orleans Pelicans (8.8 Percent): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
We're not totally ready to rule out Burke going No. 1 to the Magic. Orlando's need for a point guard was apparent all season long, and Burke's sophomore campaign at Michigan might have been impressive enough to make it happen.
Alas, there's a reason the Magic are considering trading the top pick. There is consensus that Burke is the top point guard in this draft, but that's mostly due to circumstance. Marcus Smart would have contended for No. 1 overall had he not returned to Oklahoma State for his sophomore campaign.
That leaves Burke as the default top point guards—not the default No. 1 pick. Assuming the draft board plays out like this (which it most certainly won't), the Pelicans are a good fit for the National Player of the Year. He could fit in behind Greivis Vasquez, eventually taking over if the NBA's assists leader
Plus, taking Burke is just another way to make folks forget about the Austin Rivers pick—not exactly a bad thing.
6. Sacramento Kings (6.3 Percent): Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
Much of Bennett's slotting will be up to how teams feel about his shoulder. Bennett, who left UNLV after one semi-productive season, will miss the next four months after undergoing surgery on his left rotator cuff. That puts Bennett back at full strength in September, which is long enough for him to at least get some action before the regular season begins.
If the Kings feel comfortable with his long-term prognosis, they shouldn't hesitate pulling the trigger on Bennett. He's a behemoth in the post, someone who outworks and overpowers defenders down low. While his shot selection could use a little work, Bennett can stretch out to 20 feet comfortably and has one of the highest upsides in this draft.
In other words, Bennett should be more than good enough to sell for $.50 on the dollar in a few months.
7. Detroit Pistons (3.6 Percent): Shabazz Muhammad (G, UCLA)
While Muhammad doesn't possess the highest upside in this draft, the Pistons would be more than happy to land him at No. 3. The former 5-star recruit trudged his way through a frustrating freshman season at UCLA, averaging 17.9 points per game while failing to live up to his lofty expectations.
Once you get past Muhammad not living up to the hype, a true NBA player emerges. He's one of the most pro-ready prospects in this entire draft, an interesting guard-forward mix who can shoot from the outside and has always had top-notch athleticism.
He'll pack a scoring punch from the moment he walks into camp, which will be a much-needed change for the points-deficient Pistons.
8. Washington Wizards (3.5 Percent): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Len is another player with injury issues, and it's possible the former Maryland standout's are more concerning. He will undergo surgery due to a stress fracture in his ankle and will miss the next four-to-six months, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Adrian Wojnarowski @WojVerticalNBA
Potential lottery pick Alex Len of Maryland had surgery to stabilize stress fracture in his ankle and will be out 4-6 months, his agent says5/3/2013, 7:08:16 PM
While he will travel to Chicago for interviews during the combine, it will be interesting to see how far he drops in June. Some had the seven-footer getting consideration as high as No. 2 to Charlotte prior to this injury.
With plenty of questions lingering about Len as a player—namely his disappearing acts against strong defenders—No. 8 feels about right. The Wizards need a long-term solution that isn't Nene or Emeka Okafor in the middle, and their presences in the interim allow Len to recover and develop at his own pace.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (1.7 Percent): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)
If you're looking for the biggest reason Minnesota should consider Caldwell-Pope, start with the stat sheet. The Timberwolves finished the 2012-13 regular season shooting a dreadful 30.5 percent from beyond the arc, a number more than two percent worse than any other team. Only five teams shot fewer corner three-pointers, which is widely regarded as the most efficient scoring area outside of the paint.
In a league that continues to emphasize three-point shooting, Minnesota is both an outlier and mediocre defensively. It's a walking, talking recipe for disaster in today's NBA.
Enter Caldwell-Pope. A 6'5" shooting guard out of Georgia, Caldwell-Pope is one of the more underrated prospects in this class. He can knock down spot-up jumpers with ease, has above-average athleticism and can be a lockdown defender on the perimeter.
While No. 9 seems a bit high for him now, it won't be after the combine. Caldwell-Pope should see a rise in stock, and the Timberwolves need to jump on him if he's available.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (1.1 Percent): Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
It's hard to put a finger on what position Portland will target, considering it needs any and everything coming off the bench. Plumlee isn't a spectacular prospect and his ceiling is a little lower than some other available players, but he's a known commodity. He's a great athlete, rebounds extremely well and could run the floor with Damian Lillard.
With J.J. Hickson's future with the Blazers up in the air, Plumlee could serve as a nice replacement in the short term and solid rotation fit over the long haul.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (0.8 Percent): C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)
The Sixers have trouble scoring. They scored a ghastly 99.5 points per 100 possessions this season, ranking 26th in the league, per NBA.com. They matched that ranking by making the fifth-worst percentage of their shots in the restricted area, all while attempting those shots at a bottom-half rate.
McCollum isn't going to fix those woes overnight, but he'll go a long way toward trying. An NCAA tournament darling in 2012 after helping Lehigh upset Duke, McCollum came into his senior campaign with high expectations. He was a preseason All-American, and many had him pegged as the favorite to lead the NCAA in scoring.
Then an ankle injury ruined his final collegiate season—but not necessarily his NBA draft stock. McCollum is still widely remembered as the whirling dervish of shot creation who can get to the rim with ease. That's still very much the case. He would likely fit in as a sixth man in Philadelphia, taking the role that Nick Young so poorly played in 2012-13.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) (0.7 Percent): Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
The Thunder will likely face a conundrum between potential and instant need at No. 12. There have been catcalls for Kendrick Perkins' departure for two seasons now, and his inability to handle Marc Gasol in the Western Conference semifinals hasn't helped matters. With players like Cody Zeller, Gorgui Dieng and Kelly Olynyk still on the board, it's possible they pull the trigger on a seven-footer here.
But Oklahoma City's biggest problem since Russell Westbrook has gone down doesn't lie with its big men. It's the uninventive, stagnant offense that has Kevin Durant doing everything to spark scoring opportunities. Part of that is on Scott Brooks, but the other is that Reggie Jackson just isn't equipped to handle primary shot-creating opportunities every night.
Carter-Williams has his flaws—his jump shot is broken—but he has the potential to develop into a star at some point. He already possesses elite court vision and excellent athleticism, which made him one of the better assists men in college basketball last season.
If Sam Presti wants everyone to shrug their shoulders in June, he'll take Dieng. If he wants to turn heads and possibly hit a home run, MCW is the obvious pick in this scenario.
13. Dallas Mavericks (0.6 Percent): Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
Depending on how his workouts go in Chicago and on an individual level, Dario Saric may slide into this pick. He's exactly the type of captivating talent that enthralls Mark Cuban, and the possibility of a draft-and-stash could be interesting to a team surely looking to make waves in free agency this summer.
But Zeller is the pick here for now, simply because his value is too strong to pass up. The seven-footer disappointed a bit as a sophomore, with his overall statistics stagnating, and Indiana failing to live up to its preseason No. 1 billing.
Nevertheless, the player Zeller was a year ago—gifted in the post, an above-average rebounder and smart player everywhere on the floor—is mostly the same one he is today. That was good enough for top-five consideration in 2012, and could make him a steal for Dallas at No. 13 in 2013.
14. Utah Jazz (0.5 Percent): Jamaal Franklin (G-F, San Diego State)
If OKC passes on Carter-Williams, Utah will gladly scoop him up. The Jazz's biggest need is at point guard, and it wouldn't shock anyone in particular if they tried anything in their power to land Burke.
Assuming both MCW and Burke are gone, Franklin is a strong fit here. He needs to work on his shot but brings a ton of athleticism and energy to both ends of the floor. If there's a reasonable comparison on the board, he'd be a smaller version of who we thought Kawhi Leonard would be coming out of college.
If Franklin develops a jumper the way Leonard did, this will be a very good pick to end the lottery.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
Saric is one of the biggest wild cards in this draft—at least at this juncture. The evaluations about both his talent and ultimate landing spot remain in flux.
Some are enthralled by his feel for the game, marvelous open-court ability and widening array of skills. Others are concerned about his 50 percent free-throw rate for KK Cibona, his lack of strength and ghastly defensive discipline. Potential usually wins out in these cases, which means this is about as low as you'll see Saric get drafted in June.
If Saric isn't off the board at this point, Milwaukee should leap at the chance to take him. The Bucks haven't historically been a major free-agent destination, and that's unlikely to change with Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick all being questionable to return.
Bringing in Saric would create hope for the future, even if he doesn't contribute in 2013-14.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
The future is completely in flux for Boston, but Olynyk would be good value here regardless of who returns from this year's bunch. While he was a one-year wonder at Gonzaga—2012-13 was the first year he even averaged more than 15 minutes per game in college—Olynyk's skill set makes him an interesting prospect at the next level.
A seven-footer with range out to the three-point line, it's unclear whether Olynyk's positional destiny is as a power forward or stretch 5 in the Zydrunas Ilgauskas mold. He's not a great rebounder and isn't what anyone would mistake for overly tough, so a team that takes him will have to be fine with him being one-dimensional.
While it's unclear who's coming back, the Celtics are a team that can afford a one-dimensional scorer. Their offense stagnated against the Knicks in the postseason, and Olynyk could help a ton with spacing.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Glen Rice Jr. (G, NBA D-League)
Atlanta finds itself at a franchise crossroads. Only three players—Al Horford, John Jenkins and Lou Williams—are under guaranteed contracts for next season, with Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson both having qualifying offers on the table. Though cap holds will take up a decent amount of the Hawks' space initially, they could completely blow things up if they choose to move on from players like Josh Smith.
That's what makes them so interesting on draft night. With back-to-back picks, the Hawks are a candidate to do literally anything.
Assuming they stick, Dieng and Rice are really solid selections—regardless of what the future holds. Dieng can step in right away and play 20 minutes alongside Horford in the frontcourt, allowing the underrated big man to shift over to his more natural 4 spot.
And Rice really could be the home run of this draft. He was kicked out of Georgia Tech after being a human wrecking ball of dissent. It was an era filled with suspensions and ended only when he caught charges for unlawful operation.
However, a trip to the D-League seems to have awakened something special in Rice. He averaged 25 points and nine rebounds per game while making 47.3 percent of his shots during the D-League playoffs, leading Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a championship.
There are still plenty of questions about his maturity, and the D-League competition (duh). With uncertainty being boundless, the Hawks can stand to take a chance or two in this draft.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Upside is the big word you'll hear when scouts talk about Adams—mainly because he's one of the rawest first-round prospects in this draft. He's a big-bodied tough kid who excels at blocking shots around the rim, but Adams has no offensive game to speak of and came out at least one if not two years early from Pitt.
Having already landed an instant contributor in Porter in this scenario, Cleveland is one team that should feel comfortable taking the risk.
20. Chicago Bulls: Tony Mitchell (F, North Texas)
For at team that picks in the back half of Round 1 almost every year, the Bulls have done a fantastic job of finding contributors. They snagged Taj Gibson at No. 26 in 2009, grabbed Jimmy Butler at No. 30 in 2011, and the jury is still out on last year's No. 29 pick Marquis Teague.
Of the players left on the board at this point, Mitchell has the best chance to become a home run candidate. He's one of the draft's best athletes, a human highlight film in the open floor destined for GIF-able moments.
The problem is that he's a bit Perry Jones-like, in that his sophomore season was a major disappointment for his proponents. Mitchell's stats went down across the board, and he showed little sign of developing an outside shot.
Nevertheless, it's hard to pass on someone with such strong upside—especially for a team like Chicago that needs one more player (not Derrick Rose) to truly contend.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Shane Larkin (G, Miami)
The Jazz's need for a point guard has already been covered at length, and Larkin is a more than solid fit at No. 21. He's a bit undersized and struggled to finish at the rim as a result. That's only going to get worse at the next level unless Larkin gets more creative with how he attacks the basket. Good coaching could go a long way on that front; whether Ty Corbin is a good coach is very much up for debate.
Nevertheless, the Jazz are at worst landing a seventh or eighth man. Larkin is extremely quick with his first step, is an aggressive, smart defender and showed range out to the NBA three-point line at Miami.
In this draft, Utah will be more than happy to grab him at a need position.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rudy Gobert (F, France)
By the time we hit late June, it's possible that Gobert locks himself into the lottery. A freakish athlete at 7'1", Gobert runs the floor almost at a guard-like pace and has out-of-this-world athleticism. Though already a seven-footer, Gobert's 7'9" wingspan allows him to reach up and grab balls that seem almost impossible to touch.
That's what makes him one of the more intriguing names heading into the draft combine. It's rare for international players to attend, but his name was on the list of participants released on Thursday. If teams like the way he runs pick-and-rolls, Gobert's athleticism and potential could springboard him as high as No. 10 to Portland.
For now, he stays at a relatively conservative No. 22. The Nets would do just about anything to land a star-worthy prospect, and at the very least Gobert could be a future trade chip.
23. Indiana Pacers: Myck Kabongo (G, Texas)
The Pacers' entire bench could use some reworking, but point guard might be their most glaring weakness. D.J. Augustin was wretched after signing a one-year deal with the team last offseason, and it's hard to see him coming back next season.
Ben Hansbrough is the third guard in that rotation. He is Ben Hansbrough, probably a very nice young man but not-so-good basketball player.
Kabongo, despite a disappointing two-year stop at Texas, represents an instant upgrade over both players. He's a pure point guard in every sense of the world, a floor general with excellent court vision who can beat NBA defenders off the dribble.
An NCAA violation gives him a bad public reputation, but the punishment was arguably among the most power-hungry actions in the organization's history. And Kabongo is by all accounts a good kid and hard worker. He should fit right in with Frank Vogel's defensive-minded philosophy and add some much-needed flair off the bench.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
At some point the Knicks have to get younger. Kenyon Martin has been a oil well of surprising excellence during the playoffs for New York, but there's a reason he signed so late in the regular season. Heading toward his 36th birthday, the Knicks cannot in good conscious rely on Martin to be their first big off the bench.
Luckily the draft board works out perfectly here. Withey gets downgraded by potential-hungry scouts, but some of the big men already taken are guys whose career arcs will probably pale in comparison. The former Kansas star is an excellent defender in the post, a guy who can block shots and is athletic enough to run the floor on the break.
The Knicks' window is now. They need a player who won't need to be babied along and won't kill what they do on either end of the floor. If he's available, Withey is that player.
25. L.A. Clippers: Allen Crabbe (G, California)
Chris Paul has already said what we all know: If he comes back, Eric Bledsoe almost certainly won't. The Clippers won't be able to afford to pay both, and Paul, the league's best point guard, obviously takes priority.
So don't be shocked if you hear a ton of rumors in June about a possible Bledsoe deal. But here's the rub: The Clippers have to be 1,000 percent sure Paul is coming back before even considering trading their top young asset. They won't know that until July, when the free-agency period gets underway.
That whole situation makes drafting a point guard a tricky proposition. So even though a player like Pierre Jackson might make some sense, Crabbe is a safer bet and won't rock any boats. He's an excellent spot-up shooter, which is something the Clippers lacked once it became clear Chauncey Billups was getting minutes only because Vinny Del Negro doesn't understand it's bad when the ball doesn't go in.
Crabbe won't be much other than a seventh or eighth man. That's more than good enough value at No. 25.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Adetokunbo (G-F, Greece)
Adetokunbo is more of a curiosity than anything at this point. He plays in one of Greece's lower-tier leagues, facing competition that would pale in comparison to mid-major universities stateside. But at just 18 years old, Adetokunbo is one of the draft's youngest players and an extremely talented young prospect.
Playing point forward, the Greek star has skills that more resemble a point guard than his likely NBA position, small forward. There's not much great tape on him, but he's not a very good shooter from what I've seen, and you can tell he has the body of a teenager.
Having already landed a need at No. 9, the Timberwolves can afford to take the chance.
27. Denver Nuggets: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
The Nuggets would love to land someone like Crabbe to help their spacing issues, so losing him to the Clippers would sting in this scenario. It's at that point that Denver would probably punt the pick with an international player, hoping to stash him for a couple years while the team's overwhelming depth shakes itself out.
If the Nuggets go international, Schroeder would be a steal in this spot. The 6'2" guard has been scampering up draft boards quietly throughout 2013, and his stock might wind up putting him out of reach at No. 27. An excellent slasher to the hoop, Schroeder has one of the quicker first steps in this class and is a fantastic finisher at the rim.
Even if Crabbe is on the board, Denver might want to consider Schroeder.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Sergey Karasev (G, Russia)
The Spurs' international pipeline has long been renowned as the best in the league, and Karasev could wind up being their latest gem. He's a tall, slashing guard at 6'7" who can get to the rim and play both wing spots.
With San Antonio needing an eventual replacement for Manu Ginobili, Karasev is very much in that mold. He'll need to improve on this jumper and add some more variety to his game to ever approach that lofty goal, but Karasev would be a steal at No. 28.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
While we weren't on board with OKC taking a center at No. 12, Nogueira represents a perfect high-upside risk here. The Brazilian seven-footer is athletic in the post, an expert shot-blocker whose defensive presence is already palpable.
He probably won't come over for one or two more years, as he's currently locked in with Asefa Estudiantes of ACB. The draft-and-stash strategy will be just fine with the Thunder, though, as they can't really afford to be keeping too many players in development at this point.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (G, Baylor)
Jackson might be the prospect who finally ends the first-round plight of the undersized guard. Guys like Isaiah Thomas have long been undervalued on draft night due to their size, and Jackson will be the latest test study for that.
He's 5'10" if we're being kind and could take a beating on defense at the next level even though his overall defensive profile is strong.
Nevertheless, the kid is an offensive beast in every sense of the word. He's an excellent three-point shooter and explosive athlete, equipped with a quick first step that gets him to the rim more often than one would think. And with the Suns starved for any scoring help they can get, Jackson is a strong first-round flier here.
He might not work out to anything other than a bench microwave scorer, but that's more than good enough value with the last pick in Round 1.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: Follow @tylerconway22
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