2013 NBA Mock Draft: Sleepers Destined to Be Steals of Draft

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2013 NBA Mock Draft: Sleepers Destined to Be Steals of Draft
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Lost amid the tantalizing battle between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat for 2013 NBA supremacy is the fact that we're just a little over a week from descending to New York City for this year's draft festivities.

Should LeBron James and Co. force a Game 7, the rabid NBA fandom would have only one week to soak up all the draft information it's been pushing away during this epic series. And while it's easy in theory to stow oneself away for 168 hours to scour all the latest draft nuggets and scouting reports, well, that's just not realistic. People expect you to like...go to work. And talk to your kids. And eat.

In the process of doing all that unnecessary functioning like a normal human being, it's easy to allow a few players to slip through the cracks in your pre-draft process. I mean, NBA teams do it all the time, so it's a totally understandable phenomenon. Though finding diamonds or any precious stones in the rough might be a little bit more difficult in recent years—believe the hype folks; this draft is bad—there are a few guys who stick out as strong values when mocking up the round.

And even one or two who will be drafted in their "proper" position in terms of overall value will wind up far exceeding that going forward—so long as they find the right situation. Never doubt the factors going to the right situation play in this process. 

Alas, here's a complete breakdown of our latest look at the 2013 NBA draft, highlighting a couple sleepers along the way.

(Note: Sleepers are denoted by italicized subheadlines.)

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Alex Len (C, Maryland)

As we get closer to draft day, it becomes increasingly difficult to judge the veracity of reports surrounding potential picks. Smokescreens are real, they're understandable from the team's perspective, and it's no one's fault when a reporter winds up passing along information that winds up being merely team-fed false information. 

So when Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune reported Monday that Alex Len was in the clubhouse lead to be the No. 1 pick instead of Nerlens Noel, it was easy to start writing "smokescreen" in your draft journal. This Cleveland pick has already had about five million rumors attached to it, so another can't some as a shock. 

Just one thing: Smith's report has a good chance of coming to fruition. Len, like Noel, has been unable to work out for teams due to injury. But it seems that teams have become increasingly enamored with the Maryland star regardless—likely due to watching more and more game film—and his stock has been rising slowly through this process.

There's also a prevailing feeling that Len is simply a safer bet to be a long-term starter in the Association. The upside isn't the same, but Len already has an array of post moves and touch around the basket that has been nowhere to be found in Noel's game yet. He's also a big enough body to where teams shouldn't be as afraid of Len breaking down as they are of the 206-pound Noel.

There is potential for this to blow up in Cleveland's face should Noel wind up reaching his otherworldly potential. But he just might not be a risk Cavs brass is willing to take. 

 

2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)

The situation for Orlando is a whole lot simpler than it is in Cleveland. With promising young center Nikola Vucevic on the roster, Magic brass can easily pass on Noel in this spot without much criticism from fans. Vucevic doesn't have the ceiling of Noel, but he's already a semi-proven commodity in the NBA and will be just fine going forward.

That opens up the board for Orlando to solve its issues in the backcourt. There's a prevailing wisdom that the Magic would love to find a solution at point guard, and that's probably true. Jameer Nelson's contract extension was questionable when signed and has only gotten worse as his devolution continued. But Trey Burke, this draft's default top point guard, would be a pretty big reach at No. 2.

With Arron Afflalo likely heading elsewhere this offseason, though, there's a natural conclusion to this saga. McLemore is the third-best player in this draft by my estimation, a sweet-shooting 2-guard who can fill some of what Afflalo will leave behind and perhaps more in the long run. He's also a better fit than Victor Oladipo, who will get plenty of consideration in this spot as well.

 

3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)

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Should this scenario play out, I'm about 50-50 between Noel and Porter in this spot. Washington needs a long-term two-way player in the middle, with neither Nene nor Emeka Okafor being on remotely the same career path as the John Wall-Bradley Beal core. So Noel will certainly be tempting here.

Porter wins out in this case, mainly because he's a better player, and Washington should recognize his instant-fit status. A former standout at Georgetown, Porter would fall right into just about any top-five team's rotation, with his unselfish nature and willingness to do all the oft-mentioned-yet-underrated "little things" playing a huge factor.

It also helps a ton that Porter can really play in the traditional areas as well. He's a strong enough ball-handler to play some point-forward if needed, has a vastly improved jumper and will be able to guard 3s and 4s once he adds a few pounds to his frame.

With John Wall and Bradley Beal both needing the ball to stay at their full effectiveness, Porter's chameleon nature would make him perfect in Washington.

 

4. Charlotte Bobcats: Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)

So much for the Bobcats trading the No. 4 pick. If Noel is available in this spot, Charlotte takes him without thinking twice—and for good reason. Noel is a terrible basketball fit next to Bismack Biyombo, gives the Bobcats yet another non-shooter in their core and is coming off an ACL tear. There are plenty of holes in this pick.

But the potential. Noel's star potential is something that doesn't exist in any other player in this draft—even Victor Oladipo, the draft's best player on my board. While the innumerable amount of red flags have caused Noel to drop—he's fifth on my board right now—a team like Charlotte cannot afford to pass on the possibility of him turning into a face of the franchise.

Finding the correct fit with Noel on this roster might take some work—most likely in the form of passing on the Biyombo era—but the board has fallen in such a way that the Bobcats would have little choice in this spot.

 

5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)

Much like Charlotte, there's little question of where Phoenix would go in this scenario. Scouts and teams continue to fall in love with Oladipo the more they watch him—both in the short and long term—and there's no hole to poke in the former Indiana star's ascent up boards.

At the very basement of his potential, Oladipo is a lockdown defender who brings otherworldly athleticism in the front court and won't do anything to hurt you. Players don't shoot almost 60 percent from the field without knowing what they do well. And should Oladipo ever find consistency in his improved but flawed jumper, it's not crazy to think his ceiling is that of a poor man's Dwyane Wade. Emphasis on the poor man's.

With the Suns being firmly in the midst of a tenuous franchise transition, they'd probably take a bankrupt man's Dwyane Wade in this spot. The low-risk high-reward potential makes it a wonder that Oladipo slides this far in this scenario, but it's merely a case of this being the best fit.

Phoenix would do backflips to have him available at No. 5, and team brass would be right to do so. 

 

6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)

The Pelicans are in an interesting spot in this draft, where they could probably take any position that isn't power forward (Anthony Davis' spot) and people would nod along. Eric Gordon's future has been up in the air seemingly since arriving in New Orleans; Robin Lopez is a fine player but in no position to complain about heading to the bench; and Greivis Vasquez might be better long-term as a hybrid rather than straight point guard.

With guys like Len and Oladipo off the board here, Burke begins to standout as the likeliest pick. While there have been some questions about how the all-everything guard will translate to the NBA level, it's become a bit overblown. Burke has thrived at every level of basketball being undersize and without prodigious athleticism, over time developing the type of substance to his game that makes it believable that he'll do the same in the NBA.

If New Orleans drafts Burke and expects Michigan numbers, it will be disappointed. However, if a team removes that prism and acknowledges Burke will probably develop into an above-average starter, then the former Wolverines star could pleasantly surprise. If that seems like painting with faint praise, well, that's because it is. But this is the 2013 NBA draft. You take what you can get—even at No. 6.

 

7. Sacramento Kings: Anthony Bennett (PF, UNLV)

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New majority owner Vivek Ranadive is finally starting to get his guys into place, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks. New head coach Mike Malone was one of the most respected assistants in the league, and Pete D'Alessandro was Masai Ujiri's right-hand man in Denver. So far the hires look pretty good on paper.

But without any real idea of the vision these guys have for the current roster, it's difficult to assess how this pick will go. It will depend heavily on how the first selections play out (obviously), but this scenario likely leaves them with a choice between Bennett and Michael Carter-Williams.

I think most Kings fans would pass on yet another go-around with an oversize athletic point guard whose game comes and goes. (Looking at you, Mr. Tyreke Evans.) Bennett, on the other hand, is a guy that will start getting consideration as early as Charlotte at No. 4. It's unclear to some (though not to me) what position he'll play at the next level—he's a 4, folks—but Bennett's raw ability and versatility are appealing.

It's a bit cringe-worthy to think about Bennett and DeMarcus Cousins, two lazy defenders, in the same frontcourt, though. So if Sacramento winds up going in a different direction, that will probably be the overarching reason.

 

8. Detroit Pistons: Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)

The Pistons are in a position where everyone knows they'll take the best backcourt player on their board. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe represent arguably the league's most intriguing young frontcourt, while the backcourt in Detroit could use some work. 

Brandon Knight's most memorable career moment is getting crossed out of his shoes at this year's Rising Stars game. That's not to say that Knight is necessarily a bad player, but his ceiling is somewhere in the replacement-level range. And with Jose Calderon, who helped stabilize the offense after coming over midway through last season, hitting free agency, there's a bit of urgency for both scoring and high upside with this pick.

Carter-Williams gives you half of that equation—for now. The former Syracuse standout isn't going to impress anyone with his jumper at this point. In fact, teams would be pleasantly surprised if he even became league average at his apex. But the other skills—lockdown defense at both guard spots, elite court vision, brilliant passing, above average rebounding—are enough to make him attractive for a Pistons team that needs an offensive igniter

 

9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G, Georgia)

I may be the last voyager on the S.S. Caldwell-Pope. A fashionable sleeper when this draft started, Caldwell-Pope's buzz has died down faster than the buzz for Wale's new album. His sleepy performance at the combine and shrug-worthy athleticism numbers have led the charge possibly out of the lottery for the former Georgia star. All things considered, this is the top of the mark for Caldwell-Pope's draft stock and his "sleeper" status would only grow the farther he goes backward on draft night.

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That being said, Minnesota and Caldwell-Pope could make the perfect pairing. The Timberwolves were the league's worst three-point shooting team during the regular season by six country miles. Kevin Love's return to a full-time capacity will certainly help in that area, but his backcourt still boasts Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved. That's a one-way ticket to the bottom of the basement for three-point shooting.

Caldwell-Pope would do wonders for those numbers, especially with the de-emphasis on him handling the ball. He's an excellent spot-up shooter when given time, has deep range and an unalienable confidence that everything will fall. If the Timberwolves give him time to develop a bit, there's no reason Caldwell-Pope couldn't be a building-block-style third or fourth banana on a real contender.

And even at his basement, the former Bulldogs star is a shooter who can come in and give you intermittently effective scoring bursts. At No. 9, that might seem like a reach. But Minnesota's needs and Nikola Pekovic's impending long-term extension necessitate this style of move. 

 

10. Portland Trail Blazers: Cody Zeller (PF-C, Indiana)

Ever since being eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Zeller has been working hard at reinvigorating his dormant draft stock. The former Indiana star had been written off by many as a potential stiff at the next level due to his lack of improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year, but teams are beginning to see that wasn't really the case. A back-to-the-basket traditional center at Indiana, Zeller projects much more of an evolutionary 5 or stretch 4 at the NBA level.

In the combine and workouts, he's shown there was a reason people were hyping him as a top-five pick prior to the 2012-13 season. Zeller's otherworldly athletic performance at the combine left many jarred, and his flashing of a feathery touch from 15-18 feet has shocked and impressed scouts in workouts.

The Blazers took Meyers Leonard last year, so some would probably question Zeller landing in this spot. But Portland's bench is such a vast wasteland that it can draft Zeller without totally giving up on Leonard, who failed to impress last season. There is any number of directions the Blazers could go here—namely C.J. McCollum or Shabazz Muhammad—but Zeller is the most intriguing fit. 

 

11. Philadelphia 76ers: C.J. McCollum (SG, Lehigh)

At what point does the line blur between sleeper and overrated? Pundits have been extolling the virtues of these young men for months now, so it's hard for anyone to totally sneak up on educated fans.

And McCollum, the small-school kid with the elite first step and explosive scoring ability, just screams "sleeper" from the first time you watch him play. So are we past the point where McCollum is a sleeper in the traditional sense of the word? Perhaps. That being said, there are plenty of fans who still don't know how good this kid can be at the next level.

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Forever remembered by schadenfreudian Duke haters as the man who helped vanquish the second-seeded Blue Devils in the 2012 NCAA tournament, McCollum missed most of his follow-up campaign with an injury.

During the time he was on the court, the 6'3" combo guard continued to show all the traits that made him intriguing to scouts in the first place. McCollum is an explosive off-the-dribble scoring threat, a guy who could instantly vault into the league and start picking up points in gobs. He's not much of a defender nor has playing at Lehigh helped out his passing, but most people I've talked to see him as a microwave scoring sixth man. 

The Sixers need scoring anywhere they can get it. Why not from a kid who just played his college ball a (relative) stone's throw away in Bethlehem? It'd certainly be better than bringing Nick Young back.

 

12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)

The Thunder are in an awfully interesting spot with this pick. Jeremy Lamb's languishing in the D-League and Kevin Martin's impending free agency leaves the No. 12 selection as possibly the team's last chance to strike anything substantive from the James Harden deal. But with this pick coming in one of the worst drafts in recent memory, the potential for striking oil in this swamp land of a selection is minimal.

Adams, should he develop, is possibly the only player remaining on the board with realistic All-Star potential. The former Pitt center's decision to leave school early was curious at best, with his complete lack of post game and questionable basketball IQ making for quite the combo meal of rawness. But Adams was seemingly hard at work from the moment he left the greater Pennsylvania area, and his flashes of an improved touch around the basket sent his draft stock soaring.

At his very worst, Adams is a flameout who winds up taking Hasheem Thabeet and Hasheem Thabeet's hair's minutes deep in the rotation. If that's the case, the Harden deal may go down as one of the 5-10 worst in NBA history—Sam Presti only getting a pass because of all the great things he did previously.

At his very ceiling, Adams is a nightly 14-10-3 stat line who competes for Defensive Player of the Year awards. Couple that with him simply overpowering his way to a double-digit nightly scoring average, and the Harden trade wouldn't be a total disaster.

Either way, it's going to take a couple years to get there and find out who Adams will be.

 

13. Dallas Mavericks: Rudy Gobert (PF, France)

Dario Saric's decision to withdraw from the draft (arguably) disappointed no team more than the Mavericks. Dallas has been considering dealing this pick, but the prevailing wisdom became that if the right deal failed to present itself, that the Mavs would merely draft Saric and stash him for a year. Taking a draft-and-stash player would allow Dallas to not only acquire a tradable asset—the Mavs cannot technically trade their pick until after said player is drafted—but also avoid allotting salary cap space.

Saric withdrawing probably ups the trade possibility a bit, but it could be good news for a guy like Gobert. The 7'2" Frenchman has seen his draft stock wax and wane after a questionable athletic performance at the combine, but the cliche "you can't teach size" continues to apply.

With a wingspan slightly under 7'9", Gobert is the type of physical freak that makes scouts salivate as they wonder about his potential. Could he be a Roy Hibbert-esque rim protector someday? After all, you don't have to jump very high to display your verticality. Should Gobert be willing to hang out for another year overseas, he and the Mavs could be a strong match.

 

14. Utah Jazz: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)

Schroeder is another possible selection for Dallas. The German guard has tantalized and frustrated scouts ever since bursting onto the scene at the Nike Hoop Summit.

Clearly he's one or two years away from contributing to an NBA team. He's too slight and his basketball IQ not developed enough to handle the rigors of guarding the Deron Williamses of the league. 

But at the same time, Schroeder's physical skill set is jaw-dropping. He's lightning quick off the dribble, perhaps more-so than any guard since John Wall, and his aggressive style lends itself to the Russell Westbrook attacking style. The ceiling on this kid is pretty limitless. So is the basement.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see where Utah goes with this pick. Shane Larkin, the Miami guard with a safer reputation and long-term outlook, will also get a ton of consideration with this spot. Which of these two guards ultimately lands at No. 14 will say a lot about Utah's draft-night strategy.

 

15. Milwaukee Bucks: Shabazz Muhammad (SG-SF, UCLA)

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The story of Shabazz Muhammad is one of overblown expectations and equally inane reactions in the other direction. Muhammad was never going to be the savior of basketball that so many thought when he arrived at UCLA.

Even in high school it was clear that he had way more "old man" game than impending Kobe Bryant-like superstardom. But the high school hype machine being what it is, Muhammad was deified as the next coming.

And then he was deconstructed the moment it became clear that wasn't who he was. Muhammad's one season at UCLA was a perfectly good freshman season, especially considering the circumstances. He averaged almost 18 points per game while showing his ability to stretch the floor and find other ways to help out without overusing his still good athleticism. When considering the massive microscope he was under and the pressure-packer of playing under the controversial Ben Howland, it's become increasingly clear that Muhammad has gotten a bad rap.

With the future of Milwaukee's backcourt very much up in the air, Muhammad would be a good insurance policy. He'll never be a superstar, but it's totally within the realm of possibilities that he leads all rookies in scoring. 


16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)

Three words for Boston: What. A. Mess. Until we see what happens with this whole Doc Rivers-Kevin Garnett fiasco, there's no use looking deep into this pick. Olynyk is a decent value here, and his ability to stretch the floor could make him a fun pairing with Rajon Rondo.

Yeah...that's about all I got.

 

17. Atlanta Hawks: Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Jamaal Franklin (SG-SF, San Diego State)

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The Hawks are undoubtedly considering all their options with these back-to-back picks. With a bevy of cap space, the team is expected to be a major player in free agency, with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul (duh) representing their biggest targets. But should Danny Ferry get the feeling that his chase of the big fish is going nowhere, what better way to enter the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes than to blow the whole damn thing up?

We'll get a good idea of which way they're leaning on draft night. If Ferry has a feeling that Atlanta still has a legitimate chance of landing one of the big fish, don't be surprised to see one of these picks to get sold, traded or used on a draft-and-stash player. 

I'm not buying the Hawks as a real suitor for Howard or Paul. So with that in mind, Larkin and Franklin represent really good values at need positions—which are every position in Atlanta right now—and will be rotational pieces going forward.

Larkin is smurf-sized, but he has more than enough athleticism and skills to make up for it—at least until the athleticism atrophies. And while Franklin may never develop a consistent jumper, he's a hard worker on the defensive end and has a little Kawhi Leonard potential at his apex.

 

19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Allen Crabbe (SG, California)

The Cavs aren't too keen on adding more young players to this roster, so expect this pick to be moved if they end up sticking at No. 1. Even if Cleveland only parlays the pick into a protected future first-rounder, it would be better than adding another child into a locker room that already looks like a Chuck E. Cheese's. 

Since we don't know which of these picks will be moved, though, Crabbe would be an interesting fit here. He'd compound the already-present lack of defensive presence in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but units with Crabbe and Irving could be really, really interesting offensively in short bursts.

Crabbe is a spot-up shooter, a good athlete and little more, but that's about what you get at No. 19 in this draft.

 

20.  Chicago Bulls: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville) 

It's not speaking out of turn to say the Bulls missed Omer Asik this season. Of all their strange personnel decisions over the past couple years—most of which were admittedly financially related—the Taj Gibson over Asik remains the worst. All you need to do is look at the Rockets' defensive splits this season for proof. Chicago let a gem of an asset go for nothing; you don't do that and subsist in the NBA.

Dieng, though not a perfect prospect, could be a mea culpa for that pick. The former Louisville standout has a developed sense of timing blocking and adjusting shots, and we've seen time and again that rebounding is one still that translates. Tom Thibodeau kept Asik pretty much out of the offensive flow in Chicago, and he would probably have to do the same with Dieng. He's developed as a passer, but the rest of his offensive game is raw.

At 23 years old, that probably isn't getting much better as a pro. Negativity aside, though, Dieng is a very viable 15-20-minute nightly player who could help fill the void left by Asik.


21.  Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Mason Plumlee (PF, Duke)

If the Jazz wind up taking Schroeder over Larkin at No. 14, expect a more Utah-y (if that's a word) selection come No. 21. The Jazz aren't historically the biggest risk-takers in the league, so they'll certainly want to get at least one guaranteed contributor.

Plumlee is just that. The former Duke standout took four full years to finally start putting together his athletic prowess with some, ya know, basketball skills, but his potential was clear throughout last season. A nightly 17 points and 10 rebounds, Plumlee was among the most active players in the ACC on both ends of the floor.

He's also 23 years old. The ceiling here is relatively low, but he's almost certainly not going to bottom out, either. With the futures of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap up in the air, Plumlee would represent very good insurance policy should one or both leave. 

 

22. Brooklyn Nets: Sergey Karasev (SG, Russia)

Even before Saric withdrew from this draft, Karasev was by far my favorite international player in this draft. Depending on the day—I'm fickle like that—the Russian guard will fall somewhere between No. 8 and No. 10 on my board. I like him that much, and the infatuation only continues to unfurl the more I watch his tape.

At 19 years old, he is getting a ton of minutes over in Russia and has a bunch of offensive skills that translate to the NBA game. Though not a great athlete, he's crafty around the basket and slashes with an intriguing sense of knowledge for someone his age. Karasev has also been showing a beautiful jumper in workouts with teams, which is almost the final piece in his offensive puzzle.

It's doubtful he'll ever have the athleticism to become a good defender, but he's not completely blasphemous on that end. With a good coaching staff in place—and who knows if that will happen in Brooklyn with Jason Kidd—Karasev could turn into a passable defender simply by being in the right place at the right time.

Either way, he's going to be one of the steals of this draft unless taken in the lottery.

 

23. Indiana Pacers: Reggie Bullock (SF, North Carolina)

If Bullock winds up falling to the second round—wholly possible, by the way—add him to the list of "sleepers" in this draft. But at No. 23, the Pacers would be finding about the right value for a player who will spend his career being a valuable bench contributor for contenders.

Bullock, like many of these upcoming selections, is a quintessential late first-round pick. He fits a glaring need for the team in question (Indiana: shooting, bench players with a pulse), lacks a high ceiling and does one or two translatable things really, really well. A team-first player during his time in North Carolina, Bullock is an excellent shooter who was able to show off some nifty rebounding skills after switching to the 4 late in 2012-13.

With Indiana's bench deficiencies becoming the underrated story of its Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, Bullock is a guy who could instantly take some of the minutes allotted to more questionable players.

 

24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)

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While Withey falls into many of the late first-round cliches, he's not necessarily filling a short-term need in New York. Kenyon Martin did a more than adequate job of defending bigs and was so good in the postseason that he essentially usurped Tyson Chandler for long stretches. 

Withey is more of an insurance policy just in case Martin turns into a—oh, I don't know—35-year-old forward with a rich injury history overnight. The former Kansas standout is who he is and nothing more. He'll give you a requisite 15 minutes a night of good defense and six fouls before making his way to the bench, likely without points.

The team that drafts Jeff Withey will be making the unsexiest pick of the night. But whatever. He'll be a contributor, which is more than you can say about a ton of players in this year's crop.

 

25.  Los Angeles Clippers: Glen Rice Jr. (SG, NBA D-League)

Much like Boston, I'm going to abstain on the in-depth analysis with this selection until the whole Rivers-Garnett situation wraps itself up. We'll probably have an answer within the next couple days, but until then, there's just no sense in judging a roster that is in complete flux.

Rice might stay in this spot regardless of whom the Clips give up in a potential trade. He's an excellent low-risk, high-reward value at this point. Los Angeles is also in need of some help at the 2, so this could be a good fit.

 

26.  Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, Greece)

Timberwolves get my annual Twitter-style (140 characters or less) analysis this time around: Some team gave Antetokounmpo a promise. I think it was Minnesota. The name Antetokounmpo makes keeping to 140 characters hard. Bye. 

 

27.  Denver Nuggets: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (SG, Michigan)

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With Tim Connelly installed as the Nuggets' replacement for the departed Masai Ujiri, Denver's crash course on draft-day strategy can begin. Oh, wait. They need a coach too. Things aren't going too great for a team that won a franchise-record 57 games during the regular season, are they? Yeesh.

Anyway, digressions aside, the Nuggets need Andre Iguodala insurance no matter who takes over as coach. The veteran swingman will opt out of his deal in July, possibly leaving behind a massive void to fill. Danilo Gallinari's injury already cast a shadow over Denver's spacing during the playoffs, and the departed George Karl had to resort to stationing players out of bounds at points even with Gallo healthy.

There's a ton of talent on this roster and a lot to like; shooting just isn't it. While Hardaway isn't on the level of a Crabbe or Karasev among shooters, he's one of the hardest-working kids in this entire draft. Burke, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary got hailed during the NCAA tournament, but it was Hardaway who was the team's emotional leader.

He's a heady kid, who obviously knows what this lifestyle entails. Denver couldn't instantly plug Hardaway into the Iguodala spot in the rotation—duh—but he would at least help bridge the gap some.

 

28.  San Antonio Spurs: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)

The Spurs have a limited window remaining with this core. Tim Duncan can't eschew age forever, Manu Ginobili's flashes of brilliance are coming fewer and farther between, and Tony Parker won't be running through eight screens per possession when he's 35. Father Time eventually creeps up on everyone—even this Big Three that has seemingly taken an ageless serum over the past decade-plus.

Until that day comes, though, San Antonio can keep trying to find developmental gems on draft night and hope for the best. Nogueira is one of the more intriguing names in this entire draft. He first burst onto the scene a few years back at Eurocamp in San Antonio  and has been on scouts' radars ever since.

It's unclear when Nogueira will come over, but the Spurs can afford to wait—for now. 

 

29.  Oklahoma City Thunder: Ricardo Ledo (SG, Providence) 

With Adams in tow already, Sam Presti might as well go all boom-or-bust with his two first-round picks. Much like Adams, Ledo is very much a work in progress—mainly because no one saw him play a lick of college ball this past season. He was ruled ineligible and spent his entire 2012-13 season practicing with his Providence teammates behind closed doors.

Before heading to Providence, there were many who saw Ledo as a lottery-type talent. He was one of the more explosive players in the class of 2012, a tantalizing athlete who was considered by 247 Sports to be the second-best 2-guard in his class.  

The problem is that no one knows how much a year off has hurt his game. There's no telling how Ledo would have handled Big East competition, nor is there any real word of whether he's made any improvements as a decision-maker.

But at No. 29? There's no more talented player left on the board. There's no sense in OKC wasting the pick on a college semi-star who might play six minutes a game next season. The goal here has to be finding a gem, either at No. 12 or No. 29, that can help contribute to the championship cause down the line.

 

30.  Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (PG, Baylor)

Every few years, a player comes along with a ton of translatable basketball skills—shooting, dribbling, passing, ya know, the basics—and gets completely ignored until the second round because of his stature. Two years ago Isaiah Thomas, now a starter for the Kings, was the NBA's version of Mr. Irrelevant for no other reason other than he was 5'9". Nate Robinson, the knucklehead of the Lilliputian League, went in the first round but spent seasons being tossed around like a football on July 4—at least somewhat due to his stature.

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Should he last to No. 30 or be a second-round pick, Jackson will be the next in that lineage of players. A freakish athlete with a 44-inch vertical, the 5'10" former Baylor star is a spitfire of NBA-level explosiveness. He's a fearless scorer (somewhat to a fault) and has never met a lane he didn't think he could contort his body through.

In many ways he is Robinson or Thomas. The skill sets, the fearless style and the athleticism combination create so many similarities it's hard not to envision those guys when watching Jackson's film. Too many times we get stuck comparing players because they look similar. Jackson actually fits the bill because he plays similarly to his miniature counterparts.

Under the right circumstances, we know guys like Jackson can thrive. Phoenix needs scoring, so it could be one of those situations.

 

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