With the NBA's King having received his crown for the second straight season Thursday night, the league's draft extravaganza can finally start taking center stage.
While LeBron James and the Miami Heat's quest for league supremacy against the San Antonio Spurs rightfully captured the nation's attention, this year's June 27 draft is less than a week away. The 2013 draft has been the cause for a ton of derision but will ultimately go down in history.
First and foremost, it will be the last draft NBA commissioner David Stern presides over during his historic reign. America's favorite (or least-favorite) curmudgeon is stepping down next February, handing off the keys to the castle he built to the man he's been grooming for years to take over, Adam Silver. It will be a special moment when Stern first walks to the podium, especially after the fantastic Hulk Hogan impression last year.
Also noteworthy: The complete and utter chaos surrounding these selections. At this point a year ago, we could write Anthony Davis' name to the New Orleans Pelicans (nee Hornets) in Sharpie. This year it'd be a risk if we even traced anything with our index finger. Nothing about this draft is certain—except that nothing is certain.
And come next Thursday, that should bring forth quite a spectacle as the league's offseason gets underway in its normally helter-skelter fashion. With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of our latest look at the entire first round, along with some bold predictions for some of the picks.
(Note: We're not fooling around with bold trade projections in this space, mainly because it's an inane process that renders any actual projecting that can be done ineffective. The job here is to give you the best possible representation of Round 1—not play a game of NBA 2K13. All bold predictions are given the super fun label bold prediction alert.)
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Alex Len (C, Maryland)
As we get closer to draft day, it's starting to become clear the Cavs probably won't move this pick. The logistics of such a move would nearly be unprecedented—even in this draft. History shows that teams simply do not trade No. 1 overall picks. Chris Webber in 1994 was the last player to be traded by his team before ever playing a game, and it's unlikely anyone will command the ungodly haul the Magic got from Webber during the Clinton presidency.
So, with that out of the way, we're probably looking at a choice between Len and Nerlens Noel at this spot. Georgetown forward Otto Porter is a good fit and possibly the safest bet on the board, but Len and Noel have a building-block upside that's just impossible for a rebuilding team to pass on.
Len is getting the nod here, mainly because I'm picking up what Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune has put down:
The momentum for Len has been building for weeks and apparently has hit its crest. Len, a former Maryland standout who is currently recovering from ankle surgery, is infinitely further along in his offensive development than Noel and is no slouch defensively. He's largely viewed as the safer of the two picks, the one who will almost certainly be an NBA starter even if he's not a superstar.
With the Cavs looking to make a postseason push, the first (minor) surprise of Round 1 could come on pick No. 1.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)
Once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick, McLemore has seemingly been on a warpath to ruin his draft stock. Teams already questioned McLemore's competitive fire after watching on as he deferred to less-talented teammates at Kansas, and those concerns about his competitiveness have only risen in this process.
The 6'5" guard has by all accounts been dreadful during this year's workout phase. He refused to go against Victor Oladipo and Shabazz Muhammad and didn't participate in the drills portion of the combine, and ESPN's Chad Ford has reported he even showed up out of shape when he visited the Suns. It's like he wants to throw a Molotov cocktail on his top-five chances.
For this pick, Orlando would need to simply have faith that McLemore's talent will win out. And I'm betting on management doing so, simply because he's a better basketball fit than Oladipo, the team's other option at No. 2. If there's one knock on Oladipo, it's that he's still a mediocre (at best) shooter. Should the Magic add another player like that to the roster—alongside Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless, also unable to shoot—it would create a Bobcatian level of spacing hell.
McLemore will be the pick here, mainly because he's the best shooter in the draft. Just don't expect anyone to feel comfortable about it when he's selected.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
The Wizards would have quite the decision to make in this scenario. Noel fits a long-term need at center, and the team can even afford to wait for him to fully recover from his ACL injury. Nene and Emeka Okafor can continue working in tandem as starters, showing Noel the ropes as team leaders along the way. For Noel, Washington is arguably the best possible scenario for his long-term and short-term career.
However, in the first bold prediction alert of the draft, Porter is going to stick here where he's always been at No. 3. The former Georgetown forward is an absolute darling with scouts, his ability to do almost anything on the court becoming apparent on film. Porter has the handles to take the ball up the floor in the open court, is intelligent enough to understand spacing and will be able to guard both forward positions almost instantly.
In other words, he's every bit the instant contributor a team like Washington needs. The Wizards are going to vie for a playoff spot next season—a back-half one, but still—and Porter usurping some minutes on the wings could go a long way toward helping that cause.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
The precipitous Nerlens Noel drop ends here. It's not a question of basketball fit here, because Noel isn't a great one. He's another non-shooter on a team full of them, a second straight offensive project from the University of Kentucky. Alongside Bismack Biyombo, Noel would help create arguably the worst offensive frontcourt in the entire league.
His talent is just too prodigious to pass up here. Biyombo can be traded if necessary. Noel, even if there are rampant questions about his mental and physical makeup—ESPN's Ryen Russillo noted the questionable characters steering Noel's career in a podcast interview with Grantland's Bill Simmons this week—the possibility of landing a superstar in Charlotte is fleeting.
The franchise has been at a complete dead end since it came into the league, oscillating between the dregs of the league and dregs of playoff teams. Noel's talent alone brings hope. And even with Victor Oladipo on the board, my No. 1 player, perception would be that the Bobcats are insane to pass on Noel here.
5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
Bold prediction alert: Victor Oladipo will be the best player in this draft—and it won't even be that close. He'll make multiple All-Star appearances and be a very good second banana throughout his career.
Why, you ask? Because he's only tapping into his massive potential. Almost an also-ran during his first two years at Indiana, Oladipo finally started putting his game together into a two-way force to be reckoned with. His offensive game, especially creating off the dribble and spot-up shooting, need some work. But he showed last year that his long-range shot was improving, all while mostly staying within himself in Indiana's offensive system.
That doesn't bode well for instant superstardom, and Oladipo will need at least two years of solid development. The payoff, a two-way menace who may win a Defensive Player of the Year Award someday, is too good for Phoenix to pass. It's possible that Oladipo lands at No. 2, in which case the entire draft could go up in smoke for the Suns.
In this scenario, though, they walk out as one of the biggest Round 1 winners.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
The rebranded Pelicans are another lottery team with playoff aspirations. Last year's top pick Anthony Davis began showing off his two-way skills toward the end of last season, finally showing improvement on defensive rotations and defending a pick-and-roll.
As Davis' minutes and comfort increase, he should develop into the superstar most expected. Just like Austin Rivers will finally get the right towel-waving technique in his wrist, it's a process. (Sorry, I had to.)
At No. 6, New Orleans essentially has two choices: Burke and Anthony Bennett. Both bring their share of questions to the table (Burke's athleticism and size, Bennett's tweener status and lack of post moves), but also have long-term NBA-starter potential. Burke sticks here mainly because it's unclear whether Greivis Vasquez can or should be a team's full-time point guard. Vasquez acquitted himself beautifully to the position last year, but his ultimate destiny might be as a Swiss Army knife guard who can go back and forth between positions.
Burke is a more traditional, attacking guard and his leadership ability has to be attractive for the Pelicans.
7. Sacramento Kings: Anthony Bennett (PF, UNLV)
Welp. It certainly didn't take long for DeMarcus Cousins to stir the pot with new ownership. The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones reported earlier this week that the enigmatic big man will be looking for a maximum contract extension this summer or will request a trade. It's unclear whether the Kings' franchise-cleaning project included Cousins or not, but this is certainly a situation to monitor in July.
So with that in mind, it would be wise to eliminate all preconceived notions about how this roster composition for next season. There's no telling who comes back next season, who doesn't and what new Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro has in store.
The best player available in this spot is unquestionably Bennett, a 3-4 tweener whose game screams the latter and whose size screams the former. In today's NBA, though, positions aren't rigid. Bennett can go back and forth between the two spots depending on the lineup, and his versatility might be a good thing when it would have been a concern in the past.
And if you're worried about how he'll handle the 3-4 split on the defensive end, don't; he's a terrible defender either way.
8. Detroit Pistons: Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
With their frontcourt locked up for the present and future, the Pistons will be looking firmly in the backcourt with this selection. Jose Calderon, a stabilizing force at the point guard spot after coming over in January, is a free agent. It's unclear whether the aging veteran is interested in coming back to a franchise that's still a few years away from being a contender.
Brandon Knight was drafted as a point guard, but it's become pretty clear he's better off the ball. His passing and ball-handling skills haven't hit acceptable levels in this point guard-run league, even if Knight only just finished his second season.
Should Carter-Williams be the pick here, the duo could create an interesting backcourt. Carter-Williams has enough length to guard almost any 2 in the league at 6'6", allowing the Pistons to feel comfortable playing them in tandem. The former Syracuse star is also a brilliant passer and rim attacker, so there aren't many worries about him taking over the full-time point guard reins.
One (not small) concern: Neither Carter-Williams nor Knight can shoot.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)
Bold prediction alert: Look at the name above; tell me you're not surprised.
Throughout this draft process, Caldwell-Pope-to-Minnesota has been a selection I've been unwavering in touting. It's been a marriage I've seen throughout this process as being very good even as Caldwell-Pope has disappointed during the workout process.
The reasoning: Minnesota was an abhorrent three-point shooting team. If you haven't caught on to the way NBA teams play and how we (as analysts) judge the game, the word "spacing" is unbelievably important. If teams don't respect your shooters on the outside, as is the case with the Timberwolves, they can collapse the paint and make things a nightmare for slashing guards (Ricky Rubio) and big men.
Caldwell-Pope is nothing if not a great shooter. He didn't light up the world at the combine the way some expected he would, but at the very least Caldwell-Pope will develop into a solid spot-up shooter. Even with a better player on the board in C.J. McCollum, Caldwell-Pope is just the better basketball fit.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Cody Zeller (PF-C, Indiana)
The Blazers are in an interesting situation. They have one of the league's more promising starting fives, with Damian Lillard's emergence and LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum's quiet excellence making for a strong young trio of building blocks. Meyers Leonard, last year's No. 11 pick, is still a project. It's unclear whether he'll be a solid NBA starter or work out like that time in third grade you tried making a volcano with baking soda in your parents' kitchen.
Portland's bench, though, is so bad it almost makes you want to begin a Kickstarter campaign to get a competent unit funded. The Blazers bench averaged a robust 18.5 points per game last season, a figure just as terrible as you'd imagine.
That makes the Zeller selection make a little more sense in this spot. He's not a "threat" to Leonard's development or a sign the team is moving on from Aldridge. Zeller, whose name may continue to rise come draft night, is a second or third big who might even light a fire under Leonard to get better.
At the very least, he's a guaranteed bench contributor. I think we can all agree that'd be a welcome sight.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: C.J. McCollum (SG, Lehigh)
The Sixers have been in a perpetual offensive horror show for about a half-decade now. They've had neither the offensive firepower (Andre Iguodala) nor injury luck (Andrew Bynum) with their best players to have a top-half offense. And it's not like their coaching or personnel (looking right at you, Doug Collins and Ed Stefanski) have done much to help matters, either.
But with a new regime in tow, perhaps some offensive competency will come along with it. Drafting McCollum, perhaps this draft's most underrated prospect, would go a long way toward helping that cause.
It's unclear whether McCollum can start at either guard spot in the Association. His passing skills aren't quite there for him to take the point, and his size could be a detriment against 2s. As a potential bench spark plug who could score 15-20 points a night off the bench, though, McCollum could be a really interesting fit in Philly.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
The Thunder are fully ensconced in win-now mode, but it's unclear what their other options are in this scenario. Shabazz Muhammad could be a target as a potential bench scorer, but is Oklahoma City really willing to take a risk on someone with his baggage? It's a curious conundrum.
Adams is a more ideal fit over the long term, though. The former Pitt center shut up some of his most noted critics (*looks in mirror*) by flashing an excellent touch around the basket at the combine—one that was completely absent under Jamie Dixon. There's a difference between doing it against air and keeping your rhythm against Marc Gasol, but no team is drafting Adams expecting an instant impact.
It's what the seven-footer might bring three years down the line—an excellent high-motor defender, great rebounder and league-average offensive player—that makes him attractive. There aren't going to be many players who could create an instant impact for the Thunder in this spot anyway, so why not go for the home run?
13. Dallas Mavericks: Sergey Karasev (SG, Russia)
Bold Prediction alert: This pick will be traded.
As I said in the intro, I'm not wasting my time or yours with inane draft trade scenarios. They're going to happen, as they do every year. Trying to predict the compensation and such is a complete black hole, one that completely distracts from really delving into the draft—the reason you all came here in the first place.
But, alas, here's what we know: The Dallas Morning News’ Eddie Sefko is reporting the Mavericks are likely to trade the No. 13 pick; Dallas can't technically "trade" the pick until after it is made because of the NBA's rule preventing teams from missing selections in consecutive years; however, Dallas can make the pick, then trade it after the fact. Pro Basketball Draft's Twitter account passed along this little nugget on Thursday:
Dallas pick is available and Cavs appear to have parameters of a deal in place to move up from 19 for it. Target is Sergey Karasev.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) June 20, 2013
OK, you've got two teams here. They have a common purpose. I don't know what's going to happen. Do you? I think you do.
14. Utah Jazz: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
The Jazz are fully expected to take a point guard here, as they should. Mo Williams worked as the team's primary ball-handler this season, and unless LeBron James decides to take his talents to Salt Lake City, Utah isn't winning if that's the case next season.
That should leave the team with a choice between Schroeder, a boom-or-bust talent, and Shane Larkin, a safer rotational bet with a lower ceiling. The Jazz have two picks in this draft. It's unclear whether that will affect the team's thinking in this spot, but Schroeder's potential is tantalizing.
A German-born spark plug, Schroeder is a poor man's Russell Westbrook in waiting if he ever finds a real feel for the game. He bursts into the paint with a jarring quickness, can rise up in the paint and finish with ease and plays a really aggressive style. It's about a 50-50 proposition between Larkin and Schroeder, but let's give the Jazz some risk-taking credit here.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Shabazz Muhammad (SG-SF, UCLA)
Bucks management has to spend its nights fretting about the future. Monta Ellis (player option), J.J. Redick and Brandon Jennings (restricted) might all leave town this summer. Ellis, seemingly the team's top priority, has already declined a two-year extension and will opt out of his contract, per USA Today.
Should Ellis and Redick bolt, the entirety of the team's plans in the backcourt could go down the drain. Milwaukee traded promising young forward Tobias Harris to Orlando, and he subsequently busted out down the stretch with the Magic.
Muhammad is a decent insurance policy for the worst-case scenario. As this process has drawn out, Muhammad has arguably become the draft's most underrated player. While he probably won't turn into the Shabazz Muhammad who was supposed to be a left-handed Kobe Bryant coming out of high school, this version of the former UCLA star is still an excellent scorer. He can still slash to the rim with proficiency, teams still have to respect him beyond the arc, and the confidence has never wavered on this kid.
There are a lot of players, some en route to being taken quite early, that are possible busts. Muhammad isn't one of them.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
The Celtics are a mess right now, so trying to find any concrete takeaways within this pick is a losing proposition. Until the futures of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are cemented, this team is in complete purgatory.
No matter who comes back, though, Olynyk would be a solid fit. He's built like a center but plays like a stretch 4, almost a less-athletic version of Zeller in terms of skills. But Olynyk, a big-time late bloomer at Gonzaga, also has a tantalizing untapped potential that will make him a strong post-lottery selection.
Whether that's to Boston or not is ultimately unclear—much like everything else in that franchise.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Rudy Gobert (PF, France)
Heading into this offseason, the Hawks' strategy is simple: Coax Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to tag team their way to the A. If that plan fails, well, who the heck knows? Danny Ferry is in a perfect position to blow up this entire roster, bottom out and join the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes if he wants.
In other words, draft plans are probably secondary in Hawks franchise pow-wows. Nevertheless, having consecutive picks allows Atlanta to show its hand on draft night. If the team is going all-in on keeping cap space, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be taken with one of these two selections; it's just a fact.
I'm going to give Ferry a little self-awareness credit here and award his empty roster the two best players available. Larkin, even at the size of a Twix bar, is about as low-risk as they come. He's an explosive athlete despite his size, works hard on both ends of the floor and plays with a massive chip on his shoulder. At his basement, he's a ninth man.
Gobert, the freakishly long Frenchman, is a bigger risk. His lack of measurable athleticism at the combine was a bit of a surprise, but his otherworldly length is something you can't put a price on. By his sheer physical presence he'll be able to alter shots at the rim and be a passable defender.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Jamaal Franklin (SG-SF, San Diego State)
Bold Prediction alert: See Mavericks, Dallas.
No use in delving too much into this pick. The Cavaliers probably won't be selecting here, and even if they do, it will probably be for another franchise. But should a Dallas trade fall through and leave the team stuck, Franklin would be a great (albeit polar opposite) consolation prize. He's an excellent defender who can take on positions 2-4, scrapping with his tenacity and making up for his tweener size with excellent athleticism.
Even if a different franchise is in this spot, which duh, Franklin would represent a strong value pick.
20. Chicago Bulls: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
Curbed expectations will be key for any team that drafts Dieng. The former Louisville center got a ton of lottery buzz when the Cardinals made their NCAA tournament run and probably would have went top-14 had the draft been in early May.
But as teams have had Dieng in for meetings and watched tape from last season, it's become plain as day he'll never be worth a lottery selection. A markedly improved passer, Dieng is still about as raw as it gets with the remainder of his offensive game. At 23 years old, it's really hard to say whether Dieng will even be a workable offensive force in the Association.
That being said, for Chicago's needs, he's a perfect fit. The loss of Omer Asik was the Bulls' biggest among their departing bench mob last season, with floor-spacers coming in a close second. Dieng probably can't replicate Asik's underrated effect, but if he can do a decent facsimile, it would be a marked improvement over Nazr Mohammed.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Mason Plumlee (PF, Duke)
Let's do this one Twitter-style (140 characters or less): The Jazz needed two things: A big and a PG. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are free agents. Utah already got its PG. Plumlee is big. Bye.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
The Nets are in a position where everything comes with a "win-now" connotation. Their entire roster is filled with veterans, with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez being the only players not grasping to their straw-paper-thin prime. Couple that with Brooklyn choosing the completely unproven (as a coach) Jason Kidd to take over the team's reins, and there is going to be a ton of eyeballs watching this team next year.
At this point in the draft, Crabbe is one of only a select few players who are relative guarantees to help out the cause early-on. The former Cal star is a scoring threat every time the ball touches his hands; he is both fearless and abundantly skilled as a shooter. He's also possibly the best pure three-point shooter after McLemore in this draft, which would be a major boon for a Nets team that struggled with its spacing last season.
Crabbe is almost a completely unwilling defender, though, so Kidd's first big job as a coach would be coaxing requisite effort from him on that end.
23. Indiana Pacers: Reggie Bullock (SF, North Carolina)
Bullock should garner interest from a ton of playoff teams looking to score a quick contributor. He's an athletic wing who can stretch out to the three-point line with the best in this draft, but it's his versatility that intrigues a ton of scouts.
Asked to play the 4 for almost the entire second half of last season by Roy Williams, Bullock did so and excelled. He quickly showed an understanding of rebounding angles and put in the effort to get them, which is interesting to watch for a kid whose motor was stuck in second gear his first two years.
Frank Vogel is a coach who can make sure that effort sticks around. The Pacers' defensive mastermind isn't one to mince words when a player starts underperforming effort-wise. There were multiple instances last season of players being pulled from the rotation for ineffective defensive play, so this would be a good motivational fit for Bullock.
24. New York Knicks: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
The Knicks are in a position where they need warm bodies, preferably ones who need as little coaching as possible. They aren't in a position to be anything less than extraordinary next year, and the team saw what can happen when you fill it with octogenarians. Injuries, intermittent effectiveness and holy ghosts of past glory haunted the Knicks this past season, taking with them any chance this team had of being a real Eastern Conference contender.
Withey, by no means, is going to be the player to put them over the top. There's a ton of necessary moves that need to be made, most of which regard players with exorbitant salaries and nonexistent performances (*cough* Amar'e *cough*). Those moves aren't always feasible, so players like Withey—stop gap youngsters who can help right away—have to be brought in for depth.
Kenyon Martin helped in the middle last season, but going Year 2 with that experiment and expecting a similar result is a pretty massive risk.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Tony Mitchell (PF, North Texas)
The Clippers are in a similar situation to the Celtics for obvious reasons. So with it being wholly possible that Los Angeles doesn't pick here, let's just put the most intriguing player arguably of this entire draft here.
Mitchell is undoubtedly a lottery talent, but he seems to have nickel head. He was unable to stay academically eligible while at Missouri, missing his entire freshman season (he redshirted) before finally regaining his eligibility during what should have been his sophomore year after transferring to North Texas.
The last two years at North Texas have been frustration-filled to say the least. Mitchell's numbers went down across the board from his freshman to sophomore campaign, helping lead to a situation where he's trying to crawl back into Round 1. Opinions vary on where Mitchell should be taken and his projections do the same, but he's worth the risk at this late juncture.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, Greece)
Bold prediction alert: Giannis Antetokounmpo will never play an NBA game.
Throughout this entire process, the rise of Antetokounmpo has always stood out as strange. That's especially the case if he winds up as a first-round pick. Watching him on what limited film that's available, the appeal of Antetokounmpo's talent is apparent. He's a marvelous ball-handler and finisher around the basket for his age, and he has a body that will eventually be able to withstand NBA punishment.
But he's doing this against the equivalent of a JV freshman team. It's easy to look talented when you're surrounded by talent that makes Yi Jianlian's chair look like an All-Star. There's no telling how he'll handle NBA competition, mainly because he hasn't even handled Greece's top division-level competition. Next season—don't expect him stateside next year—Antetokounmpo will finally get an idea of how he stacks up against others with similar skills, as he begins his contract with CAI Zaragoza of Spain's top division.
All of this is so concerning that I have significant doubts about whether Antetokounmpo will ever play in the NBA. He's at least three years from being a bench contributor right now, and while that would only make him 21, it's still going to be an interesting situation.
27. Denver Nuggets: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (SG, Michigan)
The Nuggets have made Boston look like a bastion of stability in comparison already this offseason. They have already replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, parted ways with Coach of the Year George Karl, and seen their best player prepare to opt out of his contract.
The chaos has been astounding for a team that just won a franchise-record 57 games during the regular season. But the ship-righting starts on draft night, most notably by finding someone who can step back beyond the three-point strike and hit a shot.
Despite spending much of his career being overshadowed by other players, Hardaway could just be the perfect addition in Denver. He has an intricate knowledge of the NBA and how it works, knocks down open shots and already brings a helpful toughness on both ends of the floor. With Andre Iguodala's impending free agency looming, it'd be good to grab a semi-insurance policy here.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
Which direction San Antonio goes with this pick won't say much. The team has tended to go with the best player available on its board, and it's been only a semi-successful endeavor recently. R.C. Buford hasn't hit on a draft pick since 2008's pilfering of George Hill (and drafting of Goran Dragic, who was traded), with the last few years bringing a rapid succession of "meh."
Interestingly, the decline has coincided with a de-emphasis on foreign players. The Spurs' last non-American taken with their first pick was Tiago Splitter in 2007, with the years since bringing forth a ton of collegiate players with contributor upsides.
Look for San Antonio to find its way back off the stateside grid with this pick. Nogueira has been a curiosity for scouts and teams for a few years now, his upside as a shot-blocking, rebounding high-energy giving menace standing out. It's unclear how much he's improved since first entering the draft in 2011. His feel for the game and passion for it are a bit questionable, two things San Antonio can coax out of anyone.
The talent is here, and it's just raw enough to tantalize some team into making him a first-round pick. Should Nogueira be on the board at No. 28, that team will likely be the Spurs.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ricardo Ledo (SG, Providence)
We're getting to the part of the program where teams either take massive risks, punt the pick with a foreign player who isn't coming over or hope to land a ninth man with a well-known collegiate player. If you know the story of Ricardo Ledo, you know where this is heading for the Thunder.
One of the more highly sought after recruits in the nation for 2012, Ledo chose Providence and was supposed to ignite a renaissance. Instead, Ledo ignited an engulfing flame over his collegiate career before it got started. He was ruled ineligible (but still allowed to practice) and never set foot in a Big East game for Providence.
Nevertheless, he chose to come out with the hopes his top-10 talent would sway one first-round team. It's starting to look like a good bet. Ledo is simply a better player than most guys you can get this late in the draft, and what's the point for a team like Oklahoma City drafting a 10th man who will never play?
At least for this year, the Thunder have to emphasize getting the best possible haul out of this draft—and that often means taking risks.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Pierre Jackson (PG, Baylor)
Bold prediction alert: Jackson finishes top-five in Rookie of the Year voting next year.
There are few things we can predict in the NBA. But if you can shoot, you can pass and you can get into the lane, you're probably going to have some level of success as a guard. If you're 6'5" and possess those skills, say hello to the lottery. If you're 5'10" and possess those skills, good luck finding your way into the first round.
Such is the plight for Jackson, who is one of this draft's most talented offensive players. A marvelous open-court player who excels at a more NBA-level pace than the collegiate slog, Jackson would find himself with plenty of opportunities in Phoenix. Goran Dragic is a good player and would keep the starting job; he'd just likely be joined by a little spark plug every once in a while.
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