We are finally getting to the point where nonsensical hype and speculation is finally going to come with some tangible evidence in the 2013 NBA draft.
While there have been some smaller gatherings of prospects—namely the Portsmouth Invitational—next week's draft combine will finally help cement some top players' draft stocks. The lottery won't take place until later in May, but the true start of crystallizing the slotting for these top talents starts next week in Chicago.
A yearly gathering of nearly all notable draft names—international players traditionally opt out for a variety of reasons—the four-day combine, held from May 15-19 this year, gives teams their first real opportunity to get to know players on a personal level. Interviews are often the underrated aspect of this process with the loosely defined "character" being thrown around like a frisbee.
And, of course, there's the physical portion of the festivities. Measurements are taken, vertical leaps are leapt and a continuous stream of physical drills begins separating who truly stands out on the court. Don't be surprised if you hear one or two unforeseen players getting lottery buzz while a couple other top names cascade down draft boards.
With that in mind, here's one last look at our first-round breakdown before the draft combine.
1. Orlando Magic (25 percent): Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
If they land the No. 1 pick, there are three options for the Magic: Take Noel, shock the world by grabbing Trey Burke at No. 1 or try like hell to trade the pick and take the best offer. Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops noted that the latter is the likeliest answer in this scenario but we can't be sure any team will make an offer actually worth taking.
So assuming that Orlando sticks at No. 1 here, Noel is the consensus pick. You don't roll the dice on Burke when this draft's only potential superstar is staring you at the face.
Orlando does already have Nikola Vucevic. But if general manager Rob Hennigan is worried about how two big men can coexist down low, look at the Memphis Grizzlies. They went against the grain and are arguably the favorites to win the Western Conference.
Noel's talent is great enough that they have to give it a try.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 Percent): Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)
If McLemore is on the board when Charlotte's pick comes up, there's no question he should be a Bobcat. Michael Jordan's franchise is currently built around a trio of players—Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo—that can't shoot from outside 15 feet.
In case anyone hasn't noticed, two-way players are increasingly at a premium in this league. McLemore has a near-flawless jumper when taking a set shot, has dunk contest-worthy athleticism and was an excellent defender at Kansas.
Barring them landing the No. 1 pick and being understandably pushed in the Noel direction, this is a no-brainer.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 Percent): Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
Speaking of teams finding their perfect muse early in the lottery, Porter is exactly the type of player Cleveland needs.The Cavs have spent top draft picks each of the last two years on ball-dominant guards, and the last thing they need is another player who needs touches to be effective.
Porter was almost unselfish to a fault at Georgetown.He's a Lamar Odom-esque player who thrives in getting his teammates involved and making sound decisions with the basketball.Cleveland needs a player like that to thrive on the winds. Porter's range will keep defenses from being able to cheat into the paint.
Importantly, Porter is a fantastic defender.He's quick enough and big enough to take on either forward position and his sound technique could really rub off on Irving.
4. Phoenix Suns (11.9 Percent): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
Robert Sarver is arguably the NBA's worst owner but he made an awfully smart hire for his new general manager. Ryan McDonough comes over from Boston having spent the past decade working his way up from the film room all the way to becoming an assistant general manager.
One of the faces of the league's analytics movement, McDonough was the man who pushed the Celtics to draft Rajon Rondo in 2006 and has been instrumental to almost every other major decision of the Kevin Garnett era.
So have faith Suns fans.
Whoever McDonough takes probably has a good feel for the game and Oladipo fits the bill. He's a stalwart defensive player whose on-ball skills remind scouts of Tony Allen. His athleticism and off-the-dribble skills have even garnered some Dwyane Wade comparisons.
There are a number of ways Phoenix could go here with a roster so depleted. Oladipo is the type of high-character player who could really start shifting the culture.
5. New Orleans Pelicans (8.8 Percent): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
The first pick of the Pelicans era will certainly be interesting. Their roster is still in a bit of flux, with Greivis Vasquez likely wanting a big raise within the next year and Eric Gordon being lingering trade bait.
Nevertheless, Burke is a player who fits in almost whatever plan New Orleans has going forward.
Even if you only watched the NCAA tournament this season, Burke's style of play is obvious. He's not going to help anyone defensively, but is a fantastic slasher to the rim with enough creativity and strength in his game to overcome a slight size deficiency. He can also knock down shots off the bounce and from distance, which is critical for a New Orleans team that hemorrhaged points last season.
Shabazz Muhammad and C.J. McCollum are also options here if the team decides to trade Eric Gordon.
6. Sacramento Kings (6.3 Percent): Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
The Kings aren't in a position to be picky. They need to take the best player on the board regardless of position and then worry about purging their waste dump of a roster after that.
While Bennett's freshman season at UNLV was a bit underwhelming, he'd likely be a top-five pick if it weren't for his shoulder injury. A 6'8" forward with a massive NBA-style body, Bennett is already more than strong enough to bang in the paint. He's also an underrated athlete who can stretch out comfortably to the college three-point line.
Though this might seem like a retread of the Thomas Robinson pick (well, the Kings shouldn't have traded him to begin with) Bennett fits here talent-wise and as a need. The only question will be whether he can coexist alongside DeMarcus Cousins.
7. Detroit Pistons (3.6 Percent): Shabazz Muhammad (G, UCLA)
Detroit has been a mid-lottery team for almost a half-decade now, but things are starting to pick up. Corey Maggette's awful contract is coming off the books, and the Pistons are one year from getting out of the Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva era as well.
With Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight making up a solid young core, the future is bright in the Motor City. Except one thing—the Pistons still can't score. They were a bottom-10 team in both points per game and most every per-100 possession stats you can find per NBA.com.
Muhammad won't be the superstar many thought coming out of high school but the one thing he can do is score. It wouldn't shock anyone if he led all rookies in scoring, as his array of shots and NBA body makes him among this draft's most pro-ready prospects.
The question is whether Muhammad has a ceiling beyond 15-18 points per game.
8. Washington Wizards (3.5 Percent): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
It's not too often a center with Len's size and array of skills drops to No. 8. Len is almost a perfect fit for today's NBA—a seven-footer with an array of post moves and ability to stretch out to 18 feet comfortably. And as he continues to improve as a defender down low, there's some real potential for a two-way menace resting somewhere.
Len just never really showed it at Maryland. His performances were enigmatic, he tended to get bullied by top competition and he would disappear—often when the Terps needed him to step up. Add a foot injury to the equation and No. 8 feels about right.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (1.7 Percent): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)
Ricky Rubio might one day develop a jump shot. So might Alexey Shved. But for now, the Timberwolves' "backcourt of the future" has a real chance to be one of the worst shooting duos in the modern era. Both were well below 40 percent shooting this season and the Timberwolves' 30.5 three-point percentage was by far the worst in the NBA.
Caldwell-Pope might not be inside many top-10 lists at the moment, but he'll be there soon enough. He's an absolutely brilliant shooter from beyond the arc, with his percentages only being skewed out of circumstance. Had Caldwell-Pope played alongside anyone who had a real long-term basketball future, his stock could be a lot higher than it is.
That being said, he's a perfect fit for the Timberwolves. Slide him in next to Rubio or Shved, allow them to take the primary ball-handling duties and try to drain as many open corner threes as possible. Easier said than done, but this is a really good for for both parties.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (1.1 Percent): Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
Plumlee isn't about to wow anyone.
Scouts have seen him in Durham for four years, and they know who he is by now. Plumlee is a hard-working kid who spend his entire collegiate career under one of the best coaches in the history of basketball. He's an athletic freak. Someone who can run the court, dunk and rebound well.
With the Blazers likely losing J.J. Hickson, Plumlee is a more than adequate immediate replacement. Instinct might say to go higher upside with this pick, but after last season's dreadful bench performance, Portland needs reliable bodies more than anything.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (0.8 Percent): C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)
The Sixers' need for offense of any kind is well-noted. They threw the entire weight of offensive burden on Jrue Holiday's shoulders this past season, a point guard who came into the campaign with many questions about his long-term viability.
Holiday excelled with his expanded role and is a very good player, but he desperately needs scoring help in the backcourt.
McCollum is nothing if not an impending threat to opposing defenses. A 6'3" combo guard with arguably the quickest first step in this class, McCollum made a living out of driving to the middle of opposing defenses. He was knocking down over 50 percent of his three-pointers last season before going down with injury and seems to work relentlessly on improving his game.
Defense will be a bit of an issue and McCollum is the very definition of a tweener. At the very least, though, he should develop into an excellent sixth man at the pro level.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) (0.7 Percent): Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
I've been beating this drum since the beginning, so I'm not going to belabor the point much further. Depending on what Kevin Martin does this offseason and how Jeremy Lamb develops (not so great thus far, thanks for asking), this pick might be the only tangible price Oklahoma City gets out of the James Harden deal.
That means you don't go big here just because conventional wisdom says to do so. This pick needs to be someone who has a long-term stake in the Thunder's future—not a human Kendrick Perkins out clause. Perk isn't exiting stage left, anyway.
Carter-Williams, while not a guarantee by any stretch, is one of the highest-potential players in this draft. He's an excellent facilitator, plays suction-cup defense and has ridiculous court vision at 6'6". It might the former Syracuse star a year or two to develop, but that patience could pay off in a big way.
13. Dallas Mavericks (0.6 Percent): Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
The Mavericks, like always, are an interesting team to watch this summer.
They again have cap space and are expected to be major players in the free-agent market. Last season they came up short bidding for Deron Williams, and if they do the same this offseason, a true rebuild could be in order.
While I'm not sold on him being a future star the way many others are—call me when he starts hitting his free-throws or can defend—Saric is an increasingly intriguing prospect for NBA teams. He has a wonderful feel for offensive basketball, creating in the open court as a point-forward and showing ball skills that you rarely see in a 23-year-old—let alone someone who just had his 19th birthday.
Mark Cuban had plenty of success building one consistent contender around an international player. Perhaps a redux is in order?
14. Utah Jazz (0.5 Percent): Jamaal Franklin (G-F, San Diego State)
Utah needs to fill the abyss at point guard that's remained since Deron Williams' departure, but there just isn't any value in taking Shane Larkin here. It's possible that the Jazz look into trading up and targeting someone like a Carter-Williams or even a McCollum if they think he could develop into a true point guard.
Without a trade, Utah could really go anywhere. Franklin is a tough, athletic defender who has gotten a bit of a bad rap because he played out of position in college. There's not much of a jumper to be found, but this kid is a winner and could fit in as a 2-guard or as an undersized 3.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
Going guard here is a possibility if the Bucks get word that Monta Ellis or J.J. Redick has no interest in returning. (Brandon Jennings is also a free agent, but is restricted. It's Milwaukee's call whether he stays or goes.)
However, the fit here with Olynyk is really intriguing.
Larry Sanders would be one of the league's most exciting players if he was on a more high-profile team. But for League Pass junkies, the ways of Mr. Sanders became something of a phenomenon in 2012-13. He's one of the league's best rim protectors and plays with an intensity so great you're almost afraid for the opposing big men.
Sanders just can't score consistently—at least not yet. Olynyk is a bit of a Bizarro Sanders, an offense-only player at this point who will probably develop only to a league-average defender at his peak. Yet it's almost a perfect meshing of styles, as Olynyk's propensity for straying from the basket and his fluidity in the post make up a bit for what Sanders lacks.
16. Boston Celtics: Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
With the futures of just about everyone even associated with this roster in flux, we're in BPE (best player available) mode with these Celtics until further notice. And here they get a player in Zeller who could become the draft's biggest steal if this scenario plays out in June.
A likely top-five pick a year ago, Zeller is the latest player to fall victim to second-year bias. Scouts got another full season of tape on Zeller, and they saw much the same player he was as a freshman. He's a smart seven-footer with an array of post moves and ability to pass out when double-teamed. His defense is probably a minus at this point, but he's a good enough rebounder and floor-runner that those deficiencies can be massaged at first.
No matter who comes back, the Celtics need size and they need scoring help. Zeller's talent makes this pick a rush-to-the-podium moment for Danny Ainge.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Glen Rice Jr. (G, NBA D-League)
The Hawks have already made their first waves of the NBA offseason by targeting Stan Van Gundy to be their next coach. That obviously at least somewhat indicates that Danny Ferry is making a big push this summer rather than hitting the detonator on this franchise, so it will be interesting to see how that affects Atlanta's draft targets.
Assuming Ferry wants instant contributors, Dieng and Rice could step into an NBA rotation right now. There are ceiling questions about Dieng considering he's already 23, but the very bottom-dollar return you're getting is a good post defender and shot blocker who can make some nifty post passes. Grabbing an eighth man at No. 17 isn't always the worst thing in the world—especially in this class.
Rice is more of the home run pick. He showed flashes of brilliance during his one-year stint in the D-League, averaging 25 points and nine rebounds per game en route to leading the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a championship. The son of former NBA All-Star Glen Rice, the namesake has already started showing more consistent flashes on his jumper and is a very good defender.
At the very least, Rice and Dieng should fit somewhere within Atlanta's rotation. And with cheap talent being increasingly at a premium, that makes them solid value picks here.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Adams is one of the riskier prospects in this class. He's like watching a kitten trying to do a Rubik's Cube on the offensive end. He's that lost. And there weren't exactly many signs that he was putting it together anytime soon at Pitt.
Nevertheless, the appeal is there if you look hard enough. He's an imposing force with an NBA body, a guy with both the athleticism to block shots and strength to grab every rebound. Even if Adams only turns into a high-energy defensive stopper off the bench, that's an asset Cleveland can use.
Having already locked in their top target in this scenario, the Cavs won't regret this pick even if it fails to work out.
20. Chicago Bulls: Tony Mitchell (F, North Texas)
Criticism continues to grow about Tom Thibodeau's propensity to run his stars into the ground, but it's hard to argue with the results. He gets more with less than any coach in the league, and has somehow pushed the defending champs into a physical war during these playoffs.
I say this for one reason. If there's anyone who can find that untapped well of talent in Tony Mitchell, it's Tom Thibodeau. Watching Mitchell at North Texas these past two years has been an exercise in constant frustrations. He's a marvelous defender, extremely talented athlete and understands floor spacing in the open court—when he wants to.
Mitchell's sophomore season was a complete nonstarter for those who thought he should be a lottery pick, and No. 20 might even be a stretch at this point. Still, it's hard to argue against the Bulls—a team in need of a talent injection—going for the home run.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Shane Larkin (G, Miami)
The Jazz get a point guard they may wind up considering at No. 14 seven picks later. There wouldn't be much thought put into this pick, nor should there be. Larkin is a bit undersized, but he's a relentless defender, has a good first step off the dribble and plays with a fearlessness that's infectious.
At the very worst, he'll be an end-of-the-rotation guy who plays a strong locker-room role.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rudy Gobert (F, France)
There's a very distinct possibility that Gobert winds up going much, much higher than No. 22 come June.
At 7'1" with a 7'9" wingspan, Gobert is the type of athletic freak of human nature that makes scouts swoon over what he could be. He's already a hard crasher to the paint on pick-and-rolls and could be Tyson Chandler-like if properly coached.
On tape, Gobert looks like he moves really well in the open court and he's a strong finisher at the rim. That being said, there are definitely some flaws—namely his complete lack of polish as an offensive force—that hold him back a bit.
If he gets in the weight room and has a good infrastructure around him, Gobert could wind up being the best international talent in this class.
23. Indiana Pacers: Myck Kabongo (G, Texas)
The Pacers certainly miss Danny Granger, but their true weakness comes from their lack of depth. Their bench has been a bottom-of-the-barrel unit for at least the last two seasons, and Indiana won't have that much wiggle room cap-wise if it plans to retain David West.
That makes this pick especially important, and Kabongo fits arguably the Pacers' biggest bench need. The D.J. Augustin-Ben Hansbrough combo has been as dreadful as it sounds this season. Both are barely worth a roster spot from a talent perspective, Augustin outlier three-point barrages notwithstanding.
Even as his career at Texas was mired in controversy, Kabongo remains an interesting NBA fit. He's a traditional point guard in every sense of the word, a brilliant open-court creator and a solid defensive presence.
Kabongo might not ever become a star the way some thought he would before college. For the Pacers' purposes, he'll be more than good enough.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
It seems the Knicks' long-term game-plan with this roster is to build around their current starting lineup, and shift to a revolving doors philosophy with their secondary players. That's especially the case with big men, where New York cannot possibly expect Kenyon Martin to perform the way he has this season again next November.
Enter Withey, a 23-year-old seven-footer who provides just about everything basketball-wise that Martin does—just without the same intense flair. He's an excellent shot-blocker, commands the paint well and doesn't force anything on offense.
If the Knicks could have him on their postseason roster now behind Tyson Chandler, they would be a lot better off. Assuming Withey is on the board, it'd be a mistake if he's not the pick.
25. LA Clippers: Allen Crabbe (G, California)
Plenty of questions linger for the Clippers heading into this offseason, mainly regarding the return of Chris Paul. If CP3 returns, everything is fine. Anything else is a return to anarchy for this oft-maligned franchise.
So let's make this one simple: The Clippers need outside shooting, primarily because Chauncey Billups is no longer good at playing basketball. Allen Crabbe is one of the three or four best spot-up shooters in this draft.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Adetokunbo (G-F, Greece)
Adetokunbo, though arguably one of the most talented prospects in this class, is going to be drafted and stashed for two or three years down the line. He plays in Greece's second division, facing competition that pales in comparison to what he'll face in the NBA. Add that to the fact his jumper is broken, and he needs to add at least 20 pounds to his frame and the team that grabs Adetokunbo has to be in it for the long haul.
Though it was under a different regime, Minnesota has had quite the success with the draft-and-stash process. They waited for Rubio for two seasons, eventually landing a playmaker who should develop into an All-Star.
Adetokunbo is no Rubio, but his array of skills is intriguing.
27. Denver Nuggets: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
The Nuggets' top priority this offseason—other than re-signing Andre Iguodala, of course—is to find floor-spacers. Even if they're one-dimensional, anything resembling an above-average spot-up shooter will do.
With Crabbe off the board in this scenario, Denver might be stuck going the international route. Reggie Bullock is a name that might crop up for some in this spot, but he's a second-round talent. The Nuggets could easily trade out of this spot and grab him in Round 2 if that's who they want.
However, if they take a chance on an international player, Schroeder is certainly a name to watch. The 6'2" German import is tailor made for the Nuggets' frenetic pacing. He's one of the fastest guards in this draft, explodes toward the basket with an array of sneaky dribble-drive moves and is improving at finding players in the open court.
Ty Lawson is in Denver long-term, but Schroeder as an eventual Andre Miller replacement has to tickle George Karl's fancy.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Sergey Karasev (G, Russia)
While Tony Parker and Tim Duncan seem to bathe in the fountain of eternal youth, the signs of wear on Manu Ginobili have been showing for a couple years. There are still momentary flashes of the old Manu, as his scintillating Game 1 performance against the Los Angeles Lakers attests.
But too often, it's just not there. San Antonio needs to quietly start building for the future, and Karasev might be the perfect replacement for Ginobili in the future. He's fantastic at getting to the rim and can play three different positions—even as a primary ball-handler.
There are plenty who think Karasev will impress enough to ascend even higher than No. 28, and that's wholly possible. If he's here, the Spurs have to act.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
The obsession with Oklahoma City grabbing a center stops here—and you could argue works out better in the long-term. Nogueira, nicknamed Bebe, has been on NBA teams' radars for the past few years, having been a revelation at the U-18 FIBA Americas tournament in 2010.
His development on the offensive end has mostly plateaued since. There still isn't much of a post game to speak of, and his baskets are almost solely easy put backs and dunks. With Nogueira not even getting 15 minutes a game in ACB, we're looking at a multi-year project.
It's one that the Thunder can afford. They've been great at developing talent over a longer term, and keeping him with his ACB team—while not paying him, of course—is a fine strategy.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (G, Baylor)
Jackson's size (5'10" if we're being generous) is the only thing keeping him from being a mid-first-round pick. He's a natural scorer and distributor with jaw-dropping athleticism and quickness off the dribble.
There isn't a guarantee Jackson will ever start for the Suns, but you're not looking for that at No. 30. Grabbing someone with translatable skills—of which Jackson has plenty—is more than enough to justify this selection.
It also doesn't hurt Phoenix desperately needs scoring help—especially if it goes Oladipo with its first pick.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: Follow @tylerconway22