In a draft lacking truly elite talent, every selection at the top of the board promises a massive domino effect that could alter the entire look of this draft.
While there are a handful of players with massive upside, none truly stands out as a can’t-miss prospect—something that makes selecting in the top five an unusually risky proposition.
Paired with a group of future free agents featuring a couple huge names like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, there’s more uncertainty than usual as the draft approaches. As is often the case, fans are in for an eventful first round that should hold a lot of surprises.
But for all the uncertainty, we also have a pretty good indication of what needs teams will look to address on draft day. While value certainly plays into how teams use their selections, need is a big indicator of what each general manager will look for in adding new talent.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the 2013 NBA draft’s first round could shake out, highlighting some players whose tremendous upside outweighs their relative risk.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
There are several possibilities here, but none seem as likely as the Cavs keeping this pick to select the most intriguing player in this draft class.
While Cleveland could certainly look to trade out of the No. 1 selection, this year’s class lacks the elite talent we typically see at the top of the board. It won’t be easy for Chris Grant to find a trade partner willing to give up enough to make a trade worth the price.
Things could change before June 27, but the most likely scenario ends with Grant keeping the pick and selecting Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. While Noel brings a lot of question marks (namely his recovering ACL), he also provides the Cavs with a future star at the center position—something they’ve lacked for more than a decade.
One of the most athletically gifted big men in the last several years, Noel’s defensive and shot-blocking prowess are tremendous, and he gives Cleveland the potential for a dominant frontcourt presence to pair with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
Orlando doesn’t have a difficult choice with this pick. If Noel comes off the board at No. 1, it’s hard to envision the Magic passing on a high-upside scorer with arguably the best jump shot in college basketball.
Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett are possibilities here, but Ben McLemore is the obvious choice. He has the size (6’5”) and quick release to make a smooth transition to the NBA game, though he’ll have to become a more dynamic offensive player to realize his potential as a true NBA scorer.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
The biggest knock on Porter is his relative lack of elite anything. The Georgetown product is proficient in nearly every facet of the game, but there isn’t one particular area in which he stands out.
That said, Washington doesn’t need a high-upside scorer with this pick given the presence of John Wall and Bradley Beal in its backcourt. With this selection, the Wizards can add a do-it-all forward who won’t need a lot of time to make the transition to the professional game.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
Anthony Bennett is one of the most intriguing players in this draft. Given his size (6’7”, 240 pounds) and tremendous athleticism, the UNLV product will garner attention at both forward positions at the NBA level.
That positional ambiguity is also somewhat of a deterrent, however. Bennett will be a bit of a project for whichever team selects him at the top of this draft. Fortunately for Bennett, Charlotte needs more than one piece to be a contender next season, and it won’t be in any hurry to rush him into a role.
5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Phoenix was one of the worst three-point-shooting teams in the league last season, and with plenty of positional needs to go around, the Suns will be looking to cash in on value at No. 5. Fortunately, the best player on the board happens to also be a terrific long-ranger shooter with plenty of athleticism and defensive prowess—something the Suns also need at the shooting-guard position.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
New Orleans drafted Austin Rivers last season and could still look for the youngster to turn a corner this year. But at No. 6 the Pelicans also can’t afford to pass on talent in favor of positional need.
Trey Burke is the best player on the board, and New Orleans shouldn’t hesitate to opt for talent and potential over filling a need.
7. Sacramento Kings: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Once considered a lock for a top-three selection, Shabazz Muhammad proved he still has a lot to improve upon after an inconsistent season at UCLA. He’s a terrific shooter and hard worker, but Muhammad has to improve at the defensive end and learn to create his own shots if he is to be a dominant NBA swingman.
8. Detroit Pistons: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh
This isn’t the ideal pick for the Pistons, but with Oladipo and McLemore already off the board, they can’t afford to pass on C.J. McCollum.
The Lehigh combo guard is an explosive scorer with a terrific long-range jumper, but his size (6’3”) will also be a deterrent for teams looking for a full-time 2-guard.
But paired with Brandon Knight, Detroit could field a much more effective backcourt in 2013-14. Without a better option still on the board at No. 8, this is the most logical fit.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
Minnesota is in desperate need of a shooter who can spread the floor and take advantage of Ricky Rubio’s electric passing ability. Unfortunately, there isn’t a player on the board who fits that description and presents the Timberwolves with enough value to warrant a selection here.
If Minnesota focuses on value over need, Cody Zeller is the right choice. He could have benefitted from spending another year at the college level, but the Indiana center has the size and versatility to be a solid contributor in his formative years with the team.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Alex Len, C, Maryland
Portland needs to add depth to its frontcourt, especially with J.J. Hickson’s future still up in the air. With as many as five legitimate options here, it’s hard to predict which will come off the board at No. 10, but the Trail Blazers can’t really go wrong with any of them, considering their need at the position and the lack of explosive perimeter scorers available here.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Like Portland, Philadelphia is in desperate need of additions to its frontcourt. If Andrew Bynum is left to walk in free agency, the 76ers can’t put themselves in a position to rely on summer acquisitions to fill the void.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
The Thunder need immediate help at the center position. Kendrick Perkins pieced together a terrible year in Oklahoma City, and if the Thunder hope to make another run at a title next season, they need to shore up the position early and often this offseason.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
If Jamaal Franklin can quickly develop a long-range jump shot, he’ll likely be one of the steals of the first round. The San Diego State guard is an explosive slasher with good length and enough defensive prowess to get by in the NBA.
He just needs to focus on adding one more above-average element to his offensive game.
14. Utah Jazz: Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
Easily the most intriguing foreign player in this draft, Dennis Schroeder may not be available when the Jazz pick at No. 14.
The German point guard has an ideal blend of athleticism, ball-handling skills and passing ability, and it’s hard to envision him falling out of the lottery, given the lack of elite talent at the position. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for Schroeder to be the second pure point guard off the board in the first round.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
With Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis both potentially hitting the free-agent market this summer, Milwaukee can’t afford to pass on the point-guard position in the draft. Michael Carter-Williams gives the Bucks not only a potential replacement at the position but also a new element of leadership they lacked last season.
The Syracuse point guard is a true facilitator and leader, who, if he can develop his jump shot in his early NBA years, can be a top-tier player at the position.
16. Boston Celtics: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Boston is no longer a team that should be looking to build for next season.
If Kevin Garnett decides to retire this offseason, the Celtics will truly be facing a multiyear rebuild that will have to start at the center position. Steven Adams would be a good start to that rebuild.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke
With a ton of holes to fill this offseason, Atlanta probably won’t look to package its first-round selections to move up in the first round. Should Danny Ferry decide to hold on to both picks, expect upside and value to be his top criteria for the No. 17 and No. 18 selections.
Mason Plumlee doesn’t have tremendous upside, but he does present a lot of value in the middle of the first round.
With Josh Smith almost a lock to leave in free agency, this is a very smart selection.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston): Dario Saric, F, Croatia
The Hawks made their high-value pick. With the 18th selection, they can turn their attention to adding some big potential.
According to Chad Ford of ESPN, Dario Saric may opt to withdraw from the draft in favor of staying in Croatia to continue honing his skills. Should he decide to remain in the draft pool, however, Atlanta will have an opportunity to add a high-upside scorer with an extremely intriguing skill set.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
The Cavs would love for a scoring small forward to be available here, but with additional needs to fill, Chris Grant can’t afford to reach.
Instead, the Cleveland GM can add some depth to the team’s backcourt and give Mike Brown another terrific perimeter scorer to pair with Dion Waiters.
20. Chicago Bulls: Rudy Gobert, C, France
Chicago desperately needs some depth in its backcourt, but with Joakim Noah’s injury history and the relative lack of depth at the position, this wouldn’t be a bad alternative.
At 7’2”, Rudy Gobert is a high-upside prospect with massive defensive potential. Given the early run on centers in the second half of the lottery, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see the French prospect off the board long before the Bulls select at No. 20.
21. Utah Jazz: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan
Utah already got its point guard of the future in Dennis Schroeder, but the Jazz really need to continue building on their backcourt whenever possible. With Tim Hardaway Jr. still on the board, there isn’t a better option for this pick.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
Shane Larkin is a polarizing prospect. He’s explosive and athletic with projectable skills at both ends of the floor, but at 5’11”, he also stands to be a liability against much bigger NBA point guards.
Still, Larkin brings a complete skill set to the NBA and shouldn’t fall any further than this. The Nets could use some scoring in their second backcourt unit, and Larkin fits the bill.
23. Indiana Pacers: Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas
Tony Mitchell is far from a sure thing, but his upside is hard to ignore.
The forward struggled last year against inferior competition, but he’s also an explosive scorer who compares favorably to Denver’s Kenneth Faried. If Mitchell works on his defensive game and puts in the effort at the NBA level, Indiana will have gotten a steal with the 23rd pick.
24. New York Knicks: Allen Crabbe, SG, California
New York doesn’t have a lot of needs to address this offseason. With a late-first-round pick, the Knicks can target upside here in selecting California’s Allen Crabbe—a player some feel could work his way into the late teens, given his length and long-range shooting ability.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Tony Snell, SG, New Mexico
Tony Snell has many of the characteristics teams look for in a starter, but he’s still incredibly raw in many of those areas. Given some time to develop, the New Mexico product can be a terrific NBA 2-guard.
In Los Angeles, he’ll have an opportunity to ease into that development before being thrust into a starting role.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis): Deshaun Thomas, SF, Ohio State
It would make a lot of sense for Minnesota to package this pick with its first selection to move up at the top of the draft. The Timberwolves desperately need a perimeter scorer to pair with Ricky Rubio, and it won’t be easy finding one at No. 9 or No. 26.
However, trading up isn’t as simple as throwing two first-round picks at another team. If Minnesota opts to stay put, it needs to at least attempt to find a wing who can spread the floor and take pressure off Rubio at the offensive end.
27. Denver Nuggets: Giannis Adetokoubo, SF, Greece
Denver will be in a transitional state this offseason with George Karl receiving his walking papers. Without Karl, the prospects of retaining Andre Iguodala look a little bleaker, to say nothing of Danilo Gallinari’s potential absence to start the season.
If the Nuggets hope to find themselves in championship contention again next season, they need to continue adding lengthy perimeter scorers like Adetokoubo who can give them another scoring element and add some depth to the position.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
San Antonio doesn’t have needs at any particular position. For the Spurs, this draft (like many others) will be all about building for the future.
That future won’t always include Tim Duncan at center, and for San Antonio to continue creating long-term sustainability, it will have to start adding some frontcourt pieces to ease the sting when Duncan eventually retires.
Jeff Withey has a long way to go, but if he has a couple years to develop behind one of the best centers in the league, he’ll be well on his way to filling that void in some capacity when Duncan’s playing days are behind him.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sergey Karasev, SG, Russia
Oklahoma City’s 2013 draft will be an exercise in adding depth and upside at a couple key positions. The Thunder aren’t desperate for an immediate-impact player, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add a big, athletic perimeter scorer with a terrific long-range jumper.
Sergey Karasev still has a lot of work to do on his defense game, but at this point in the first round, no prospect is without his flaws. Expect Oklahoma City to look for a player like Karasev whose upside far outweighs his relative lack of NBA readiness.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami): Reggie Bullock, SF, North Carolina
With the Suns having already locked up Victor Oladipo with the fifth pick, this selection is a little harder to project. It would make sense for Phoenix to go in another direction here and lock up a frontcourt defender, but there isn’t a big man still on the board who wouldn’t need some time to develop at the NBA level.
Instead, the Suns can continue adding to their abysmal core of shooters by adding a forward who has one of the better long-range jump shots in this draft class.
Reggie Bullock has a lot of areas in which he needs to improve, but he’s a terrific spot-up shooter who will give the Suns another deep scoring threat, which they lacked last season.