Never underestimate the unpredictability of the NBA draft lottery.
For the third time in the last 11 years, the Cleveland Cavalier secured the first pick in the draft thanks to some favorable bounces from their ping-pong balls. The Cavs jumped the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats to obtain the first selection, with which they are likely to take Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.
Predicting the draft gets a lot easier when the lottery order is set. While this year’s class doesn’t boast a surefire No. 1 option, there are several players nearly assured of a top-five selection.
Let’s take a look at updated projections for the 2013 NBA draft with the lottery order now set, highlighting some picks that are either bold moves or safe selections (order courtesy of Bleacher Report's Twitter account).
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
It’s almost hard to tell which category Noel falls under. He’s nearly guaranteed of being the No. 1 selection given the Cavs need for a lengthy defender at center, but his limited sample size and recovering knee injury also presents Cleveland with a good deal of risk.
But in this case, the reward probably outweighs the risk. The Kentucky product is an athletic freak with the pure physical skills to be an exceptional NBA center. In a draft with limited frontcourt options at the top of the first round, it would be a shock to see another player selected here.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
If Noel is the first player selected, there’s almost no chance McLemore isn’t the next domino to fall.
One of the purest shooters in recent draft history, the Kansas product not only fits a need for Orlando, but also projects as a potential star at the NBA level.
With ideal size for the two-guard position and an extremely quick release many liken to Ray Allen’s, McLemore is perhaps the safest pick in this entire class.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
Washington got extremely lucky by landing the third pick. In a draft with some uncertainty at the top of lottery, the Wizards now face a lot less pressure to select a player who might not fit as well as a less highly rated prospect.
But in this case, Washington will likely see Porter fall into its lap. The Georgetown swingman is the perfect fit for the Wizards, who lack a lengthy perimeter scorer and strong on-ball defender.
If Noel or McLemore somehow fall to the Wizards, this pick gets a lot more interesting. But it’s unlikely that will happen, and Washington should be very happy with that.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
This is a true “best player available” situation for the Bobcats. Bennett is an athletic scorer with the frame of a power forward and the skill set of a small forward. Regardless of need or fit, Charlotte can find a spot for him.
5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
The Suns have a lot of holes to fill. Most of the top-rated players still available are perimeter scorers, and Phoenix will have a hard time getting away from a player like Oladipo.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Burke stood out as the best point guard in the nation last season, and he’ll likely parlay that campaign into a top-10 selection on draft day. If New Orleans is looking for a pro-ready guard with massive upside, it won’t have to look any further than the Michigan standout.
7. Sacramento Kings: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh
Sacramento has some talented frontcourt pieces in place, but it could use another scorer at the guard positions. While McCollum doesn’t have ideal size to play the two-guard in the NBA (6’3”), he does have a terrific long-range jumper and enough quickness and athleticism to play either guard position.
8. Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
The Pistons aren’t too many pieces shy of being contenders in the Eastern Conference. Their biggest focus should be finding perimeter scorers who can spread the floor and offer some versatility at the offensive end. Muhammad fits the bill, and he’s also the best player available at No. 8.
Muhammad may not have the ceiling some expected from him at the start of the season, but he is an extremely safe pick for the Pistons here. Should he realize his NBA potential, the UCLA product will prove to be a steal at No. 8.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
The Timberwolves would probably love for Muhammad, McCollum or Oladipo to be available here, but the options get pretty thin with the trio off the board. Instead of reaching for another shooting guard or small forward, Minnesota can draft one of the best big men in this draft in Cody Zeller.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Alex Len, C, Maryland
J.J. Hickson may not be back next season and Portland needs to start planning for that scenario. The Trail Blazers will be without another good option at center if Hickson is no longer in the picture.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Should Philadelphia choose to not retain Andrew Bynum, it will need to start looking for replacements prior to free agency. Olynyk will be a bit of a project, but he still has the ability to work his way into the 76ers frontcourt rotation in his formative years.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
It seems redundant for Oklahoma City to add another point guard in the first round, but lack of depth at the position was never more apparent than it was in the playoffs, when Russell Westbrook went down. Without an elite big man still on the board, the Thunder can look to add some depth behind Westbrook and augment a backcourt that looked extremely vulnerable with the point guard on the sidelines.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
One of the most intriguing foreign players in this draft, Schroeder shouldn’t fall past pick No. 15. His quickness and ball-handling skills are tremendous, and any team in need of a dynamic point guard won’t have to look any further than the German product.
14. Utah Jazz: Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
Larkin’s sub-six-foot frame may raise some concerns for lottery teams, but his athleticism more than makes up for less-than-ideal NBA size. Utah is in desperate need of backcourt help, and Larkin is a good option with the last pick in the lottery.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke
Milwaukee doesn’t need any more clutter in its backcourt. What the Bucks decide to do with J.J. Redick, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings will impact what they plan to do in the draft, but there’s a good chance they won’t worry too much about finding a perimeter scorer here.
16. Boston Celtics: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Boston is no longer in good position to contend for a title next season. With a bit of a rebuild in mind, the Celtics can afford to take a chance on a high-upside big man who also has a pretty nice touch from 15 feet and beyond.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Atlanta will be in rebuilding mode this offseason—perhaps more so than any team in the league. At some point in this draft, the Hawks will have to take a flyer on a big man like Dieng.
There’s a chance Atlanta decides to package its picks to move up in the first round, but as it stands, look for Danny Ferry to add two potential starters with picks No. 17 and 18.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston): Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
Recent Kentucky prospects haven’t all fared well in their formative years, but that doesn’t mean teams are going to shy away from them. While Goodwin could have had a much better season with the Wildcats, he offers plenty of NBA potential.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Rudy Gobert, C, France
Even if the Cavs ultimately decide on a big man with their first selection, another center shouldn’t be out of play this late in the first round. Cleveland has a lot of young talent in their backcourt but lacks a seven-footer who can play stout defense in the paint.
20. Chicago Bulls: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Chicago needs to add more depth to its backcourt this offseason. Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson played well in Derrick Rose’s stead, but the Bulls were without enough depth to sustain a deep playoff run. If they hope to fix that issue in 2013, they’ll have to target a guard in the first round this year.
21. Utah Jazz: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan
If Utah can manage to land a lengthy shooter like Hardaway this late in the first round, it has to pull the trigger. He has the size (6’6”) and range to be a terrific two-guard in the NBA, especially if he has a little time to develop his long-range jumper.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Saric looks to be a bit of a project at this point, but he has tremendous athleticism and ball-handling skills—and a ton of potential to match.
There’s a chance the Croatian goes much higher than this in June, but there’s just too much uncertainty involving his defensive skills and positional fit.
23. Indiana Pacers: Lorenzo Brown, PG, N.C. State
Indiana could use another lengthy guard who can contribute at both ends of the floor. Brown is a versatile scorer who also has the size to be a matchup problem for almost any point guard in the league.
24. New York Knicks: Erick Green, PG/SG, Virginia Tech
The Knicks aren’t in desperate need in any one area, and they have an opportunity to exploit that fact in the first round. A player like Erick Green could provide a lot of depth in New York’s backcourt, and give it a slasher who can open things up from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith at the offensive end.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Deshaun Thomas, SF, Ohio State
Deshaun Thomas had a terrific 2012-13 campaign with Ohio State, but he never quite lived up to lofty expectations. Still, he’s a pro-ready perimeter scorer who can log minutes in his formative years, and Los Angeles shouldn’t pass that up near the end of Round 1.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis): Tony Snell, SG, New Mexico
Minnesota needs to add a couple shooters who can take advantage of Ricky Rubio’s slashing and passing abilities. The Timberwolves have some solid pieces in place, but they’re sorely lacking in that department.
27. Denver Nuggets: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
Denver may try to find a perimeter scorer who can make up for the absence of Danilo Gallinari for part of the 2013-14 season, but there aren’t any players available at this point who can step in and eat up minutes in their rookie season. Instead, the Nuggets can select a seven-footer with excellent defensive skills who can log some minutes and contribute at the defensive end of the floor.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Giannis Adetokoubo, SF, Greece
Regardless of who San Antonio selects here, expect him to be a project. The Spurs aren’t in need of an immediate starter (or depth, for that matter), and Adetokoubo is the kind of player they can develop for a couple years until he is needed.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sergey Karasev, SG/SF, Russia
It never hurts to have an extra perimeter scorer, especially someone with the length and athleticism of Karasev. If the Thunder decide to augment their frontcourt with their first pick, expect a perimeter scorer to be on the radar at No. 29.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami): Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas
At pick No. 30, Phoenix will have the option of targeting a boom-or-bust prospect like Mitchell. He has the raw talent to be a good NBA player in the future, but he’s not quite at that level yet. The Suns can afford to gamble at the end of the first round, though.
The North Texas product’s size and ambiguous skill set are particularly intriguing, but they also make him a risk at any point in the first round. He’s not quite refined enough for the small forward position at this point, but he’s also a little undersized to play the four on a consistent basis.