Defense still wins championships. Just look at the performance the Miami Heat put on against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7. They held the potent Spurs offense to just 37.8 percent shooting from the field.
Teams will always covet versatile athletes who have the ability and desire to defend at a high level. The 2013 NBA draft class has six players who will make an immediate impact on the defensive end.
Those players are the focus of this mock draft. Their selections will appear in italics, and their sections will feature a video.
(All prospect height, weight, age, stats and wingspan references per Draft Express)
(NBA stats per Basketball Reference)
(Salary references per Spotrac)
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
The one thing we know for sure about Noel is that he will be an excellent shot-blocker in the NBA. He averaged 4.4 rejections per game at Kentucky. His length (6'11" with a 7' 3.75" wingspan) and athleticism should also make him a force on the defensive glass.
The Cavs could really use a defensive rim protector like Noel. They were 25th in the NBA in points allowed and 19th in blocked shots. Noel's presence would instantly improve the team in those areas. There is some concern because he probably won't be recovered from his torn ACL until Christmas, per Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.
Nerlens Noel says hopes ready to go by Christmas. Says injury a blessing, working on other aspects. Will be a bettter player for it, he says— Keith Langlois (@Keith_Langlois) May 16, 2013
That could be the factor that is energizing rumors that Maryland's Alex Len will be the Cavs' top pick, per Joe Kotoch of Sheridan Hoops. However, I'm not convinced the Cavs will choose Len over Noel.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)
The sharp-shooting, high-flying shooting guard has the tools to be one of the draft's best scoring prospects. His textbook jump shot and ability to finish in transition would make him one of the top options for an Orlando Magic team that struggled to score last season.
With McLemore at 2-guard, the team's 94.1 points per game average should rise a bit.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
Porter does a little bit of everything on the court. He shot 42 percent from three-point range, pulled down 7.5 rebounds and dished 2.7 assists last season for Georgetown.
The Wizards need a glue player like Porter who is willing to do all the little things. Every good team needs a stat-sheet stuffer and Porter could fill that role for Washington.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Teams seem to be very high on Len, but an ankle injury that has prevented him from working out for teams and a less-than dominant collegiate career should be concerns.
On the positive side, he is a legit 7'1" center with better-than-average athleticism and a good shooting touch. If he's healthy and motivated, he could give the Bobcats a much needed low-post presence on both ends of the floor.
5. Phoenix Suns: Anthony Bennett (PF/SF, UNLV)
There should be no question about Bennett's ability to score in the NBA. He is a bit of a tweener at 6'7", but he has the requisite skills and arm length (7'1" wingspan) to score against defenders at either forward position.
The Suns need a No. 1 option on offense badly. Goran Dragic led the team in scoring last season at 14.7 points per game. If Phoenix takes Bennett, he could put up 18 points per night and win Rookie of the Year.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
The ability to knock down the three-point shot (38.3 percent), get to the free-throw line (4.3 attempts per game) and create for his teammates (6.6 assists) makes Burke the best selection for the Pelicans.
The team already has last year's No.1 pick, Anthony Davis, and high-scoring shooting guard Eric Gordon. If Burke is picked by the Pelicans, his skill set will meld in well with the Pelicans' incumbent talent.
7. Sacramento Kings: Victor Oladipo (G, Indiana)
As on-ball perimeter defenders go in the 2013 NBA Draft, Oladipo is the best of the bunch. He's a little short at 6'4", but he's physically strong with elite athleticism. Most importantly, he takes pride in his defense.
Perimeter defense is augmented by good athleticism, but it is mostly about desire and effort. Oladipo displays both when locking down an assignment.
His offensive game is a work in progress, though his first step gives him a great foundation to build upon. The Kings need a player who is defined primarily by his effort and passion. Oladipo would be a great selection to begin a new era for the Kings.
8. Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad (G-F, UCLA)
Muhammad has the potential to be a high-volume scorer in the NBA. His game isn't perfect by any stretch; he could stand to improve his ball-handling and shot off the dribble.
That said, he is a hard-working, competitive prospect who already proved he could score in a premier conference in college basketball.
Muhammad scored 17.9 points per game as a freshman at UCLA and his intangible qualities will drive him to improve on the pro level. The Pistons could benefit from a wing player who is aggressive offensively.
With their young and talented frontcourt, Muhammad could be a great addition to the young nucleus in Motown.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)
After shooting 37.7 percent from three-point range and pulling down seven rebounds per contest, KCP has solidified himself as one of the best wing prospects in the draft.
The T'Wolves need a player who can knock down perimeter shots to spread the floor for Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. If the team takes KCP, it will be getting a prospect who could start immediately in Minnesota.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Though he's extremely raw, Adams has good upside. He's a 7-footer who has a good motor, and he has displayed a willingness to work on his deficiencies. You can't teach size and urgency, but both are very valuable commodities.
Couple that with the will to improve and Adams could ultimately be a steal.
The Blazers need a defensive-minded center to help hide LaMarcus Aldridge's lack of paint presence on defense. Portland was ranked 26th in the NBA in blocked shots, 18th in defensive rebounding and 21st in points allowed per game.
A big active body like Adams could help to improve the team in those areas.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller (PF/C, Indiana)
Not many 7-footers run the floor like Zeller. His 3.15-second three-quarter court sprint at the combine was proof of that. He can use this skill to beat opposing big men down the court and create easy scoring opportunities.
Considering the 76ers were the lowest-scoring team in the NBA last season, easy scoring opportunities are just what the doctor ordered.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors): C.J. McCollum (PG/SG, Lehigh)
If McCollum goes before this pick, he'll be in a better position to shine individually, but with the Thunder he could play a major role for a championship contender.
He never averaged fewer than 19 points per game in college and his scoring ability will translate to the NBA. As a senior he shot 51 percent from three-point range and he can play either guard spot.
That versatility makes him an ideal fit as a sixth man for OKC. He could make an impact spelling Russell Westbrook or Thabo Sefolosha.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
Tim MacMahon and Dave McMenamin of ESPN have reported that the Mavs would like to deal this pick to clear cap space for Dwight Howard. If they keep it, this draft pick will be essential in rebuilding a winner in Big D.
In that situation, the Mavs would be smart to look at the point guard position. MCW's size (6'5"), athleticism (41" vertical) and playmaking ability (7.3 assists per game) make him a smart choice.
He still has to work to improve his jump shot, but the tools are there for him to become a solid point guard in the NBA.
14. Utah Jazz: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
Schroeder and the Utah Jazz are a perfect match. The Jazz need a point guard in the worst way considering Alec Burks is their only player under contract at the position for next season.
Schroeder's speed and length (6'2" with a 6'7" wingspan) are very good for lead guard. He's only 19 years old, so he has room to improve, but he already displayed qualities during the Nike Hoop Summit that should excite teams.
Draft Express lauds his proficiency in pick-and-roll situations, his ability to create for teammates and his catch-and-shoot accuracy.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
Before the NBA combine Larkin was a borderline first-round pick. After he proved to be the top athlete in Chicago, his stock took a slight jump.
He's a solid playmaker as evidenced by his four assists per game last season for the Hurricanes. But his athleticism helped to curtail some concerns about his 5'11" stature.
The Bucks could lose both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in free agency this summer. Adding a lead guard could become a necessity as opposed to a thought. Larkin would be a good fit in either case.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Gonzaga)
Who knows what will happen with Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce? With so much uncertainty, the Celtics would be wise to take the best player available.
In this scenario, Olynyk would be the guy. He can make the 17-foot jump shot, play with his back to the basket and he passes from the high post as well as any big man in the draft.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Jamaal Franklin (SG/SF, San Diego State)
Had Franklin been healthy enough to participate at the NBA combine (per Mark Zeigler of UTSanDiego.com), he would have pushed many of the leaders in the vertical leap category. He's a world-class athlete who is especially tenacious and competitive.
His 6'11" wingspan and motor helped him snatch 9.5 rebounds per game last season for the Aztecs. Of that impressive total, 7.8 of the boards came on the defensive end. His offensive game will get a boost when and if he can improve his 27 percent three-point shooting. But he already has the goods to be a potent perimeter defender.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, Greece)
Back-to-back picks in the first round give the Hawks room to take a chance on a player like Antetokounmpo.
The 19-year-old from Greece has massive hands, a huge wingspan and solid ball-handling skills. He's young, raw and he hasn't faced the toughest competition, but it is hard not to be intrigued by his upside.
Atlanta could tab the player who may become the biggest surprise of the draft, or the prospect no one remembers after two or three years.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Reggie Bullock (SF/SG, North Carolina)
Bullock has a good combination of size (6'7") and three-point marksmanship (43 percent). The latter makes him an ideal fit for the Cavs considering the players currently on their roster.
A player who can spread the floor for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to penetrate and dish would instantly improve the Cavs' overall attack. Coming from North Carolina and playing under Roy Williams' tutelage, Bullock has also proven he will give good effort on the defensive end.
A "Three-and-D" player like Bullock would fit in well with the Cavs if the team selects Noel with the first pick.
20. Chicago Bulls: Mason Plumlee (PF/C, Duke)
Plumlee is a legit 7-footer with great athleticism and aggression around the basket. His active body and four years of experience at Duke will make him attractive to contenders like Chicago.
The Bulls could go for a shooter like Tim Hardaway Jr. of Michigan, but the team really missed Omer Asik's interior presence last season. Plumlee could give them the depth they need in the frontcourt.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Lucas Noguiera (PF/C, Brazil)
Assuming the Jazz address their point guard needs with the 14th pick, the team could bolster their frontcourt with this pick.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter should be the starters at power forward and center, respectively, but Utah needs depth with Al Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap likely leaving via free agency this summer.
Noguiera is a long, athletic, shot-blocking energy player from Brazil. It may take him a year or two to get acclimated to the NBA game, but he has the potential to be a defensive presence off the bench.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Sergey Karasev (SF, Russia)
Karasev can light it up from three-point range. In 11 games at Eurocup 2013, the 19-year-old made 49 percent of his threes. That is exactly the type of sharp-shooting wing player the Nets need.
Brooklyn was ranked just 17th in three-point shooting at 35 percent during the regular season. In the playoffs, that number dipped to an even less impressive 30 percent.
Karasev would instantly upgrade the Nets' perimeter attack.
23. Indiana Pacers: Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG, Michigan)
The Pacers need a backup point guard, but because they are expected to be a serious contender for the NBA title next season, the team could look to fill that void with a veteran.
As one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA (22nd overall), there is a need to improve the long-range attack. Hardaway Jr. projects as one of the better spot-up shooters in the draft.
He made 36 percent of his attempts last season at Michigan and he's ultra competitive. The skill set fits the need for the Pacers and the intangible quality matches the team's culture.
24. New York Knicks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
Dieng proved he was a winner in anchoring the Louisville defense en route to a national championship. He averaged 2.5 blocks and 9.4 rebounds per game in his final year with the Cardinals.
His rim protection is his best asset and it is the skill the Knicks should covet the most. New York's frontcourt is ancient and in need of healthy and youthful players to matchup with the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Dieng would become Tyson Chandler's backup immediately. He would even be a viable option to start if Chandler misses time. Chandler's contract runs through the 2014-15 season, so Dieng could be the future starter in the middle if the Knicks select him.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
Understandably, the Clippers top priority is to convince Chris Paul to re-sign. Beyond securing the continued services of their star point guard, the team must also address their depth in the middle.
DeAndre Jordan is the only legitimate center on the roster, and he still struggles with foul trouble too often. Withey could be a solid backup for Jordan, but if the latter isn't careful, the former could push him from the starting role.
Withey understands how to play tall and use his length as a rim protector as opposed to leaving his feet unnecessarily. In some ways his game is similar to Asik's in that regard. Withey blocked 3.9 shots per game as a senior and grabbed 8.5 rebounds.
He will contribute on the defensive end for a team early.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
Even though the mock draft calls for the T'Wolves to take KCP with the ninth pick in the draft, the team would still need more capable shooters. Minnesota was dead last in the NBA in three-point shooting at 30 percent.
Crabbe has good range on his jump shot (35 percent three-point shooter) and a scorer's mentality. He and KCP could battle for the starting 2-guard role and subsequently add depth to the position.
27. Denver Nuggets: Ricky Ledo (SG, Providence)
As first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Andre Iguodala has decided to opt out of his contract. With the possibility of losing him, the Nuggets need to think about drafting depth at the swingman positions.
Ledo attended Providence, but he never played a single game for the Friars. His workouts indicate he is a good ball-handler and excellent shooter from long range. However, with such a lack of experience, he is a gamble.
For Denver it would be a risk worth taking considering their draft position and potential need.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State)
Tony Parker is 30 years old and while he is the youngest and most effective of the Spurs' aging Big Three, he needs a more consistent backup.
Canaan is a physically strong, scoring point guard who could be a valuable bench contributor. He played four years for the Racers and averaged 24 points and four assists per game as a senior.
The Spurs have shown the knack for finding valuable pieces late in the draft. Canaan could be the newest example.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Rudy Gobert (C, France)
The 20-year-old Frenchmen is noticeably raw offensively, but his extraordinary length will make him a formidable shot-blocking presence early. Standing 7'2" with an otherworldly 7'9" wingspan, Gobert can nearly dunk without jumping and protect the rim with ease.
He needs to get stronger, but at such a young age there is good chance the weight and muscle will come with the proper training.
Whatever he's able to provide on the offensive end would have to be seen as a plus.
Which prospect will make the biggest impact as a defender?
At some point the Thunder need to move away from Kendrick Perkins in the middle. Gobert alongside an increasingly more balanced Serge Ibaka would make for an elite defensive frontcourt.
Thanks to Ibaka, the Thunder led the league in blocked shots this past season. Adding Gobert would only make the interior defense stronger.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Tony Mitchell (SF/PF, North Texas)
Mitchell's combination of muscle and athleticism almost warranted being featured in this mock. The only issue is whether or not he'll accept the role of defensive stalwart.
It truly is in his best interest, because at 6'9" and 235 pounds with amazing leaping ability, he could be a lockdown defender and beastly rebounder.
The Suns need everything, so taking the best player available is smart. Mitchell is exactly that and he could be a major steal this late in the draft.
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