A player finding the right fit is always the most underrated part in judging his NBA journey.
For instance, when the Charlotte Bobcats select a player, it's hard not to assume the worst. Their organization has been filled with ineptitude almost since being founded and that has only gotten worse.
When the San Antonio Spurs pick a player, we assume they're on a one-way ticket to knocking down a backbreaking three-pointer in the postseason as everyone rooting for the opposing team curses R.C. Buford's existence.
Of course, that's not always the case.
A notable postseason example: The Spurs couldn't figure out the best way to use George Hill, so they shipped him off for a player (Kawhi Leonard) who they knew could fit in a defined role. The Indiana Pacers have since harvested George's potential and he's a vital cog in a team that will likely be heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That process of finding the right fit has already begun in earnest for players in the 2013 NBA draft class. We know the top names and roughly who will land in the lottery even before the ping-pong balls are even drawn. But with the draft combine revving things up this week in Chicago, the shuffling within that 14-20 player frame will be noteworthy in the coming days.
One performance in front of scouts—whether good or bad—could be the difference between the Georges of this class finding their San Antonio or finding their Indiana.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of our latest first-round projections as things get underway in Chicago.
Important note: The word "guarantee" here is being used loosely. We cannot obviously guarantee anything when the draft order has not been determined. However, if by some stroke of luck all picks stay in their current form, then these are the picks we're banking on.
All lottery odds are courtesy of the NBA (h/t ESPN's Chad Ford).
1. Orlando Magic (25 percent): Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
We're not doctors—nor do we play ones on TV, unfortunately—but it's easy to get excited about Noel's prognosis after seeing him without crutches hanging out at ESPN headquarters this week:
ESPN TalentProducers @ESPNBookers
Busy day at the WWL with @al_horford @jimmyconnors @nerlensNoel3. Catch them on @espn all day. #espncarwash @NBA http://t.co/ziNrpPtOvO2013-5-13 14:42:55
Orlando would obviously be in a pretty untenable situation if it lands the No. 1 pick. Noel has become the consensus top pick almost regardless of who is speaking. The Magic already have a promising young center in Nikola Vucevic. Could they take a page out of Memphis' book and just go with two seven-footers?
It's certainly possible. Vucevic is versatile and he affords Orlando to be patient with Noel's development. Then again, if a team falls in love with Noel and will give the Magic a king's ransom for the top pick while allowing them a chance to land a more pressing need (Ben McLemore or Trey Burke), then don't be surprised to see this pick get shopped.
No matter who gets their ping-pong ball picked at this spot, Noel will be the pick. The question is whether he'll remain with the team that drafts him.
2. Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 Percent): Ben McLemore (G, Kansas)
Unless you're the Memphis Grizzlies, you don't win without three-point shooting in today's NBA. Defenses have become too good, too smart across the league that even the most talented teams see their offense fall off a cliff without spacing. The league's revolution into all small ball all the time is a bit overstated.
Enter the Charlotte Bobcats. The Association's embodiment of the Bad News Bears have done a couple of promising things over these past few years, but drafting shooting is not one of them. Star-by-default Kemba Walker isn't an efficient off-the-dribble shooter, and fellow recent draftees Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo might need some Lasik as their shooting is so abhorrent.
For quite obvious reasons, that makes Ben McLemore a perfect muse for this roster. The former Kansas star can knock down shots from all over the floor—especially when he's set—and certainly won't hurt defensively. He has the athleticism and foot speed to guard either wing position proficiently and could give Charlotte a small-ball possibilities.
More than anything, though, this pick is one for all Bobcats fans. The Fantastic Four who have spent their evenings having night terrors about shots clanking off the rim.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 Percent): Otto Porter (F, Georgetown)
Perhaps the only mesh better in the lottery than McLemore and Charlotte is Porter and Cleveland. The former Georgetown standout has been pegged by many as a potential target for the Cavs, who have built their backcourt foundation on two players (Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters) who are best with the ball in their hands.
Porter is perhaps at his most effective when working off the ball. Though the Lamar Odom comparisons are quite apt for Porter, it's the subtleties of his game that make him a good fit with this Cleveland core. He can run in the open court, is a fantastic defender at two spots and can make an open jumper when one is given.
4. Phoenix Suns (11.9 Percent): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
Believe it or not, there's become some internal debate among scouts about the top shooting guard in this draft. Some feel that McLemore's shot-making and defensive prowess makes him a perfect fit in this league. Others see Oladipo's prodigious potential as an All-Defense selection and off-the-dribble creator that could be truly special someday.
Finding a consensus in this process is always difficult. But places like the combine allow for perspectives that you wouldn't otherwise find.
Tim Hardaway Jr., who guarded both McLemore and Oladipo in college, said he would give the edge to his Big Ten counterpart.
"He's impossible," Hardaway said (per ESPN's Chad Ford). "McLemore is good, but if you take away his jumper, he's guardable. You just can't take anything away from Oladipo. He's trying to take it away from you. You can't lose track of him for one second. I really think that will happen in the NBA."
In other words, this is a player the star-needy Suns would be lucky to land at No. 4.
5. New Orleans Pelicans (8.8 Percent): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
Burke should be showering Marcus Smart with weekly gifts for likely locking him into the first five picks, but New Orleans would be making quite the statement by drafting him here. Greivis Vasquez was a revelation this season at the point guard spot and led the NBA in assists.
Vasquez helped mask Austin Rivers' abhorrent rookie season and set up the still-developing Anthony Davis with plenty of easy looks. So long as his contract demands aren't astronomical, Vasquez and the Pelicans should be able to reach a long-term pact within the next year.
Nevertheless, Burke is quite the insurance policy. A National Player of the Year who created shots for himself and teammates throughout his career at Michigan, Burke is one of a few instant-impact players in this class. He can fit next to Vasquez when New Orleans wants to go small, and both would represent interesting trade chips for next summer.
6. Sacramento Kings (6.3 Percent): Anthony Bennett (F, UNLV)
The Kings can't afford to get cute with this pick. Their roster is overrun by redundancies, so much so that it wouldn't surprise anyone to see them let Tyreke Evans walk for nothing this offseason simply to unclutter the rotation. Whether management will make those moves is uncertain, but they should not be beholden to this current crop of players when on the clock.
Either way, Bennett seems like a perfect fit. He's built much in the mold of last year's lottery selection, Thomas Robinson, who was strangely jettisoned to Houston at the trade deadline. A 6'8" banger underneath, Bennett has NBA-ready strength and made a habit out of being a bully at UNLV.
Professional talent won't be intimidated by his size underneath, so Bennett will have to work on varying his post game a little more. But in the meantime, his ability to stretch out to 18-20 feet comfortably should bide him some time.
Health is certainly a question, and Bennett will need to be examined rigorously by team doctors everywhere. Yet even if his shoulder injury stretches past its four-month window, the Kings are a team that can afford to wait.
7. Detroit Pistons (3.6 Percent): Shabazz Muhammad (G-F, UCLA)
Over the past few seasons, Detroit has had some fantastic draft luck (yes, that exists). Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight, all of whom look like very good NBA players going into the future, lasted until the mid-lottery.
So while the Motor City might be dreading Joe Dumars having cap space again after the Ben Gordon-Charlie Villanueva catastrophe, they have to feel good about whoever gets taken at No. 7.
Assuming the board plays out this way, Muhammad would represent another nice stroke of draft luck. Though his ceiling isn't as high as some initially thought, Muhammad is still a ready-built NBA player. He can score in a myriad of ways, has a pro-ready body and good enough athleticism to possibly become an Opening Night starter.
With the Pistons in need of scoring on the perimeter, landing Muhammad would represent a near best-case scenario.
8. Washington Wizards (3.5 Percent): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Like Bennett, injuries are clouding Len's draft picture. The former Maryland standout will miss the next four to six months after undergoing foot surgery, which essentially takes him out of top-five contention.
There were already a bevy of questions about him prior to that news breaking—particularly about his tendency to get pummeled by opposing bigs—to justify him being taken ahead of any previously mentioned names.
That being said, Len's potential would likely be too much for the Wizards to pass on at No. 8. Nene and Emeka Okafor are players whose purposes are to keep Washington in playoff contention now—which would have happened had John Wall not been hurt—and possibly act as trade bait for big-needy teams.
Len is someone who could help form a tantalizing trio of youngsters with Wall and Bradley Beal. Though his toughness is certainly in question, Len is a skilled seven-footer around the basket who can pass or drop a few nice post moves on opposing bigs. If he ever finds the aggressive streak that wasn't there in college, Len is a potential All-Star.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (1.7 Percent): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)
Though his name has been under the radar for some time in the mainstream, the top-10 hype for Caldwell-Pope is finally starting to get going. In a draft with so few potential stars, teams have to look for translatable skills and how those players would fit within the framework of incumbent players.
For the Timberwolves, Caldwell-Pope represents a best-case scenario at No. 9. Their two building-block guards are Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, two players who are such bad shooters that it's difficult to see them sharing a backcourt long-term.
Caldwell-Pope would help ensure that would happen as sparingly as possible. A brilliant spot-up shooter and solid defender on the outside, the former Georgia product would fit next to either Rubio or Shved, both of whom work best as primary ball-handlers.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (1.1 Percent): Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
According to ESPN's Chad Ford, Plumlee's agent Mark Bartelstein is "fairly certain" his player will be a top-10 pick come June. While that has "agent speak" written all over it, Plumlee's elite athleticism, NBA body and rebounding have tantalized scouts for years.
However, tantalization did not necessarily equal excellence. Plumlee struggled with his consistency through his first three years in Durham, not truly ascending into one of college basketball's greats until this past season.
At 23 years old, most scouts feel like they know who Plumlee is. He's a high-energy player who will bring it every night, projecting to something like 12 points and eight rebounds a night—assuming he starts.
With J.J. Hickson hitting the open market this offseason, Portland isn't a bad bet to replace him with Plumlee.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (0.8 Percent): C.J. McCollum (G, Lehigh)
Sam Hinkie sure hasn't been shy since taking over as general manager. He essentially gave Andrew Bynum a one-way ticket out the door and seems ready to completely change the culture for a struggling Sixers franchise.
Sixers fans should hope he's as proactive bringing in scoring as he was throwing the Bynum deal under the bus. Philadelphia's offense cratered over the last two seasons under Doug Collins, and Jrue Holiday is the only player capable of forcing his offensive will on opposing defenses.
McCollum would instantly change that culture. A brilliant shot-creator off the bounce, the Lehigh product gets to the rim with ease and has one of the quickest first steps in this class.
While there are some questions about his level of competition, McCollum's performance vs. Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament is almost enough alone to make scouts drool.
He might never be much other than a sixth man. That will be fine with the Sixers, who were haunted by the ghost of Lou Williams with each clanking of a Nick Young shot during the regular season.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) (0.7 Percent): Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
There will be many pleas for a seven-footer in this scenario, and that's more than understandable with what a liability Kendrick Perkins has become. With Gorgui Dieng on the board in this scenario, it's possible that Sam Presti pulls the trigger and finally gives the Perk era a kiss goodbye.
Mostly, it depends on what Presti is trying to get out of the pick. If it's merely an instant contributor who can play 20 minutes per game of solid interior defense and plug a hole, then Dieng would be a just fine fit.
I just have a feeling that the Thunder will be reaching for more with this selection. Carter-Williams represents the only real chance at landing a potential All-Star in this spot, though he comes with some noticeable warts (mostly shooting-related).
His vision as a 6'6" point guard is unparalleled, his athleticism is off the charts and he was one of college basketball's best passers last season.
Had MCW developed a jumper at Syracuse, it's likely he's a top-five pick. As it stands, Oklahoma City lands a player who is just a few tweaks away from being a really solid NBA contributor.
13. Dallas Mavericks (0.6 Percent): Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
It's unclear whether Saric will even stay in this draft, but the Mavericks could be interested if he decides to stick around.
Dallas has been an in-the-now team ever since Mark Cuban bought the franchise. After missing the playoffs this season, though, it might be time to start building into the future.
The Dirk Nowitzki era is rapidly closing more than anyone wants to admit. Simply retooling this roster with a bunch of one-year contracts to land a No. 7 or No. 8 seed has to hit the point of diminishing returns eventually.
Saric, though unable to hit a free throw or defend all that well, might turn into a building block for the future. The Croatian star is one of the youngest players in this entire class and has an excellent feel for the offensive side.
He'll need developmental time and for an organization to have patience—not exactly staples of the Mavs organization at this point.
But Saric's potential will be too much to pass up here unless management falls in love with a player like Cody Zeller or Kelly Olynyk.
14. Utah Jazz (0.5 Percent): Jamaal Franklin (G-F, San Diego State)
Landing a big-name point guard will be at the top of Utah's list on draft night or in free agency, but it's beginning to look like the Jazz will have to wait until July. Carter-Williams and Burke will both almost certainly be gone, leaving Utah with a choice between reaching for Shane Larkin or going with the best fit available.
We're going under the assumption that either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap will return next season, so Franklin becomes an obvious fit. He's a tough-minded wing who would add a much-needed defensive spark for the Jazz.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
Olynyk is the third-best remaining center on my board at this point, but the fit with Milwaukee is almost too perfect to pass up.
The knock on Olynyk at Gonzaga and with scouts is that he's not tough. That he prefers playing too far away from the basket and to avoid banging too hard on defense to ever become an All-Star caliber center.
Those deficiencies—even if they're a bit exaggerated—won't be a problem with the Bucks. Larry Sanders is one of the best three or four rim protectors in the entire league, but he has little offensive game away from the rim.
If Milwaukee wants to go big, an Olynyk-Sanders combination could be really interesting.
16. Boston Celtics: Cody Zeller (C, Indiana)
In this scenario, the Celtics would be more than fine with Milwaukee grabbing Olynyk. Considered a likely top-five pick heading into the college basketball season, Zeller's stock dropped due to a semi-disappointing sophomore campaign.
Though he rebounded better and showed an increased understanding of defensive rotations, that was about it for Zeller's improvements. He continued to disappear for long stretches and get overpowered by smaller players.
That being said, the degradation of his game has gone a little far. He's still an excellent post presence with an array of moves and soft touch around the basket. And his ability to run the floor on the fast break has always been underrated.
With the Celtics' roster in a state of flux, Zeller will fit no matter what happens going forward.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Glen Rice Jr. (G, NBA D-League)
The Hawks are going to need bodies with almost their entire roster hitting the market this offseason, and they'd be landing arguably the two best available here. Rice and Dieng are both NBA-ready coming out of the gate, players who can instantly contribute on either end of the floor.
Dieng's draft stock went skyrocketing during the NCAA tournament and some began seeing him as a lottery pick. That's a bit overzealous, but No. 17 is a good fit. At the very basement of his potential, he's a warm-bodied seven-footer who can play 10 to 12 minutes a night off the bench.
Rice is a bit more boom-or-bust, yet it's hard to see him falling flat on his face as a player. He was utterly brilliant in the D-League playoffs this season en route to a championship, showing flashes of near-stardom all over the floor. Though troubles dogged his time at Georgia Tech, Rice could be a great fit if those are behind him.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Adams is a massive project, so any team that picks him up will have to be patient. The one-and-done center doesn't affect the game whatsoever offensively and will need a coaching staff willing to push him hard into developing on that end. Though there were some flashes of promise at Pitt, Adams leaves for the pros only slightly more polished than he arrived in college.
Still, it can't be said that Adams gives lackluster effort. He's a big-bodied, athletic seven-footer whose motor runs out-of-this-world hot at times. There's some potential for a real defensive stopper buried somewhere in Adams, and the possibility he turns into a bigger version of Larry Sanders has to intrigue the defense-needy Cavs.
20. Chicago Bulls: Tony Mitchell (F, North Texas)
There are any number of areas the Bulls could go with this pick, so it's hard to peg the best possible fit. Jeff Withey would be an interesting mea culpa for allowing Omer Asik to walk, and nabbing Allen Crabbe would help Chicago's anemic three-point shooting.
We're going Mitchell at the moment, mainly because we like the fit. In two years at North Texas, Mitchell flashed a talent level so high that it became infuriating that he couldn't consistently hit that level. His sophomore campaign was mired with disappointments, leaving his first-round grade very much in the air.
That being said, Chicago would be a near-ideal fit. His defensive prowess would fit right in with Tom Thibodeau's system, and for all of the criticism the Bulls coach has gotten this season, it's hard to argue against his results.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Shane Larkin (G, Miami)
In this scenario, the Jazz get a guard they might consider at No. 14. Larkin probably isn't a long-term NBA starter at the position, but he's tough, can create off the dribble and should settle in as a seventh or eighth man.
That's too big of a price to pay at No. 14. Seven picks later, though, Larkin and Utah could be a perfect match.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rudy Gobert (F, France)
For the Nets, landing Gobert is a godsend. There are plenty of scouts who have the athletic freak—Gobert is 7'1" with a 7'9" wingspan—as someone who could land in the lottery come June. Gobert runs the floor supremely well, finishes at the rim and could be a pick-and-roll menace down the line.
Brooklyn needs to either draft a star or start compiling young assets. Gobert could be either, which is more than good enough to pull the trigger here.
23. Indiana Pacers: Myck Kabongo (G, Texas)
Indiana will likely be heading to the Eastern Conference Finals, but there won't be much thanks given to its bench for that result. The Pacers have survived all season long with their five starters being their only consistent contributors, though Danny Granger's injury has been the root of some of that.
Where Frank Vogel has struggled most to find consistent production is at point guard. D.J. Augustin has been intermittently effective in these playoffs, and that's an awfully nice distinction for someone shooting 37.3 percent. And with Augustin only under contract through this season, it's hard to see the Pacers bringing him back on a long-term deal.
If the plan is to move on, Kabongo would be a fantastic choice this late. Though his production never matched up to his prodigious hype, Kabongo's array of skills points to an instant upgrade in the Pacers' rotation.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
Let's spell this one out simply: The Knicks need youth and size going forward. Withey provides both of those and is one of the draft's most underrated prospects. If he lasts to No. 24, the seven-footer should be making a massive culture change from Lawrence to New York City.
25. LA Clippers: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
Let's call this a hedging of the bets for the Clippers. As everyone on the big blue marble knows, Chris Paul's free agency looms over the sunny Los Angeles summer. While the Clippers can offer him more money and a longer contract than any other team, Paul has been wholly noncommittal during this process.
If CP3 bolts, anarchy will reign supreme for the Clippers. But if he stays, Los Angeles will likely be looking for a long-term backup. Eric Bledsoe is up for a massive extension this offseason, so he's as good as gone the moment Paul re-signs due to cost concerns.
With Schroeder on the board in this scenario, the Clippers would be remiss if they didn't pull the trigger here. The German guard has been captivating scouts' attention early in the draft process with his off-the-dribble explosiveness and adeptness at getting to the rim.
There's no guarantee he comes over for next season, but Schroeder could make Clippers fans forget about Bledsoe someday if developed properly.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Adetokunbo (G-F, Greece)
The Adetokunbo Internet hype has gotten way out of hand. While an intriguing prospect and a freak athletic specimen, the ongoing talk about him playing point guard at the NBA level is laughable. Adetokunbo is a very good ball-handler for being 6'9" and can do a ton of good things in the open court as a point forward.
But the thought of him Magic Johnsoning his way through the league needs to stop. Adetokunbo was able to work as a primary ball-handler in Greece mainly because he played in a second-tier division with competition akin to low-level Division I basketball at its very best.
To translate to the NBA, Adetokunbo will have to work on his shot consistently and find a franchise willing to deal with his growing pains. The Timberwolves have shown a willingness to draft-and-stash before, and they could hit paydirt if Adetokunbo is truly committed to getting better.
27. Denver Nuggets: Allen Crabbe (G, California)
The Nuggets will certainly retool their roster this offseason, and an emphasis on acquiring outside shooting should take top priority. Spacing was so cramped in Denver's offense that you would often see a player line up completely out of bounds as a secondary strategy to help out ball-handlers.
Spoiler: If you can't space the floor without playing four-on-five, you're probably not a real contender.
Crabbe isn't going to fix those woes overnight, but he'll certainly help. Though the assertion that he's little more than a long-range shooter is at least somewhat fair, Crabbe isn't a bad defender and rebounds well for his size.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Sergey Karasev (G, Russia)
The Spurs have become brilliant at drafting role players who fit around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The problem is that San Antonio hasn't been able to pluck a star late the way it did with Parker and Ginobili.
With Ginobili looking like a shell of himself throughout the 2012-13 season save for a few spare instances, it's time to start looking for that next instant-scoring star.
Karasev will never fill Ginobili's shoes, but he could be come the player who fills his role. An electric 2-guard with an elite slashing game, Karasev is an extremely proficient player for being 19 years old. He's not going to win any dunk contests—or layup contests for that matter—but he is crafty around the rim and rarely makes mistakes.
Couple that with San Antonio's excellent international scouting, and Karasev would be a very good fit.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
The Thunder might not have landed their center in the lottery, but a perfectly suitable long-term solution should be available at No. 29. Nogueira is a seven-footer with a ton of athleticism and shot-blocking prowess who desperately needs work on his offensive game.
There have been some questions about whether he's willing or able to put his prodigious talents together, but Oklahoma City can afford to take the risk in this spot.
Plus, Nogueira will likely stay overseas for at least a year. So even if he doesn't develop enough to come stateside, the Thunder will be free—financially and from the burden of keeping around a sunk cost.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (G, Baylor)
There are plenty of players left at No. 30 who have a higher potential than Jackson, but none that are actually better basketball players. The only reason Jackson isn't considered a first-round lock is his lack of size, which has only been proven time and again as being (somewhat) overrated.
If a player has translatable skills—of which Jackson has many—and the craftiness to work around his deficiencies, there's a place for him in this league.
Jackson can score, create off the dribble and find open men in the open court. He's very much in the Nate Robinson-Isaiah Thomas mold, which would be more than good enough for the offensively weak Suns at this spot.
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