Spending a first-round draft pick carelessly will mean several trips to the lottery for many teams in the National Basketball Association.
A pick in the draft is a very valuable asset to have. Some teams are fortunate to have more than one in the first round while others will have to wait until late Thursday night to make their first selections. Making the correct choice could push a team into the playoffs or turn a contending team into a title favorite.
Scouts and front offices work tirelessly the entire season, watching the top prospects in the country and overseas. They narrow down their big boards, keeping in mind who’s under contract, what the team needs and how the prospect will fit in the organization. It’s a long process and an important one.
So, how is the first round of Thursday’s draft going to play out?
This is how each team will spend its pick in the first round, with analysis on the current state of the team, background on the prospect and what the future holds for the organization.
*Italicized draft picks are those with additional analysis on how the team will spend its pick in the first round.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Alex Len, C, Maryland
Alex Len might not have been the top center in the country last year, but he’ll likely be picked before anyone else. He averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore, but has a ton of potential for the future. Cleveland will likely choose between Len and Nerlens Noel. Len is the safer choice and is the better fit for the Cavs.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore, G, Kansas
The Magic need help all over the floor, but if Noel is available, Orlando should refrain from taking him. Ben McLemore is the player Orlando must take. Orlando needs points, no matter which position they’re coming from. McLemore scored 15.9 points per game as a freshman at Kansas. He has the potential to put up around 25 per night in the future. Noel may only average 15 throughout his career.
3. Washington Wizards: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
There is a gaping hole on the low post in Washington. Several of the team’s big men are bound for free agency and there isn’t a player on the roster who can help the Wizards from tumbling further in the standings. John Wall and Bradley Beal can only do so much. Noel is an easy pick here, if he’s available. He’s the perfect center to put with to the two guards.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana
Charlotte will likely select the best player on the board with the fourth pick in the draft. But the Bobcats shouldn’t take another point guard. Kemba Walker is a fine starter, who needs to remain in the starting lineup for next season. That means Trey Burke is likely out of the picture for the Bobcats.
While Charlotte could aim for a forward, a shooting guard seems more beneficial. Gerald Henderson is a restricted free agent and Ben Gordon will hit the market after next season. Both aren’t great starters, but Charlotte doesn’t have many other options at the 2.
That’s where Victor Oladipo comes in. Oladipo is one of the top players and shooters in this year’s class. He shot 59.9 percent from the floor and 44.1 percent from downtown last season. He’s a playmaker who will make others on the court better. He and Walker have what it takes to team up for 40 points per night.
5. Phoenix Suns: Trey Burke, G, Michigan
If you look at the Suns’ numbers from this past season, you’d be shocked to see how poorly nearly every player on the roster played. Goran Dragic led the team in scoring with just 14.7 points per night. Somehow, as a team, Phoenix scored 95.2 points per night. It can’t rely on a complete team effort like it did in 2012-13, though.
The Suns need a player who can put the team on his shoulders, score 20 points per game and turn the franchise around. That player will be Burke, the point guard from Michigan. Burke will take Dragic’s spot, or one of them will be forced to play shooting guard. Phoenix needs to find a way to play both of them.
Burke scored 18.6 points per game for one of the top teams in the nation last year. He’s a great passer and knows how to grab a rebound or two as well. Burke is a fantastic shooter—one of the best in the class—and will be the face of the franchise in Phoenix for many years to come. He’s a player with whom top free agents will want to play.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
Anthony Bennett is the most versatile forward in this year’s class by far. While he’s an elite player on the low block, opponents aren’t going to follow him out to the three-point line where he’s more than capable of hitting shots. As a freshman at UNLV, he shot 53.3 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from deep. He’s only going to get better, and putting him next to Anthony Davis is a brilliant idea.
7. Sacramento Kings: Otto Porter, Jr., F, Georgetown
The Kings’ new management team doesn’t want to mess up the first top pick of its regime. In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, Sacramento should go with one of the safest prospects, Otto Porter, Jr. The small forward was excellent in his second year at Georgetown and will fill a big hole at the position for the Kings.
John Salmons was the primary small forward for nearly all of last season. While averaging 30 minutes per night, he was only scoring 8.8 points. There’s no question that Porter could match that total—he’ll most likely double it. He scored more than 16 points per game last season and his game should translate well to the NBA.
Porter is a well-rounded forward who can help the Kings get to the next level. He brings an outstanding offensive game and a polished defensive game to the table. He could go earlier than No. 7, but if he’s on the board, the Kings would be foolish to pass on him. He’s a player that other teams will regret not taking earlier in the first round.
8. Detroit Pistons: C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh
C.J. McCollum may not have faced the toughest competition in the country during his four years at Lehigh, but he definitely made enough of an impact to get drafted within the top 10 picks. He’s a good scorer—averaging 23.9 points per game in his senior year—and is fantastic at shooting from three-point range—hitting 51.6 percent of his shots last season.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Shabazz Muhammad, F, UCLA
Shabazz Muhammad will be a top-10 pick in the draft. Minnesota must address its weakness at small forward and that’s a problem that Muhammad would immediately solve. He’s a scorer who would play well with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. That trio should be able to get the Timberwolves into the playoffs as a low seed.
10. Portland Trailblazers: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
If Portland is willing to take a big man who needs a lot of work on offense, but can play hard and well defensively, Steven Adams is its guy. He only scored 7.2 points per game as a freshman this past season, but shot 57.1 percent from the floor. Keep in mind that those 7.2 points were nearly all right underneath the basket.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
Cody Zeller will be one of the steals of the draft if the 76ers can get him with the 11th overall pick. Zeller had a great year at Indiana and is more than ready to take his game to the next level. Despite playing just two seasons with the Hoosiers, he looked a lot like a senior who had four years of experience. He’s an early candidate for Rookie of the Year.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via TOR): Giannis Adetokoubo, F, Greece
The Thunder don’t need a lot of immediate talent this year, but could use a solid backup for Kevin Durant. Perry Jones had a decent rookie season, but Oklahoma City can do much better—and Jones could be used more as a power forward anyway. If Giannis Adetokoubo can prove he can play against good forwards, he should be Durant’s backup.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Shane Larkin, G, Miami
Dallas’ top three guards are all going to hit the free-agent market this summer and the Mavericks aren’t ready for that to happen. If Mike James, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison all leave, the Mavs are bound to finish toward the back of the Western Conference.
If still on the board, Dallas has to take Shane Larkin. The former Hurricane is one of the top guards in this year’s class and is arguably the most complete. He’s a good shooter who can score at least 15 points per night while crashing the boards, making crisp passes and forcing several turnovers.
Dallas lacks a player who can help Dirk Nowitzki end his career in style. As of now, Dallas isn’t going to be in contention until well after Dirk retires. Larkin will help make the Mavericks contenders again. He’s also the type of player whom the Mavs can build their future around. He definitely has All-Star potential.
14. Utah Jazz: Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse
By selecting Michael Carter-Williams at No. 14, Jazz fans will soon forget all about the loss of Deron Williams. Utah needs help in a bunch of areas and Carter-Williams has the chance to take the Jazz to new heights. While his college numbers aren’t elite, he’s a player who makes his teammates better. He has what it takes to be a leader in Utah.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Rudy Gobert, C, France
Pairing Rudy Gobert with Larry Sanders seems like a smart idea for the Bucks. They don’t have a ton of talent on the roster and could lose several key players to free agency. While Gobert and Sanders are both centers, Milwaukee could put both on the low block and have the better defender guard the opponent’s top big man.
16. Boston Celtics: Mason Plumlee, C, Duke
Boston probably isn’t going to be trading away Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles this summer, but that doesn’t mean that KG will return to the Celtics for next season. Boston still needs to prepare itself in the scenario where Garnett retires or demands a trade elsewhere. For now, the Celtics don’t have many great options down low.
Without Garnett, the Celtics will likely have Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass as its two starters on the block. While that’s fine for now, it could be better. Chris Wilcox is a free agent and Shavlik Randolph isn’t the best backup. Fab Melo could play a big role next season, but that might be a bit of a stretch.
Boston must select someone who can split time with Sullinger and Bass. Mason Plumlee is the easy choice for the Celtics, as he would be a good fit in their system. He’s a great overall center who plays well on both sides of the court. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands in order to make an impact on offense.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to be a very good player at the next level. He’s already a great shooter from everywhere on the court and could come close to scoring 20 points per night in his rookie season—should he start. He also grabs rebounds like he’s a power forward, as he averaged 7.1 per game as a sophomore.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via HOU): Allen Crabbe, G, California
Allen Crabbe isn’t your everyday guard from California. He’s an outstanding shooter, who could probably score 10 points per game with his eyes closed. OK, maybe not 10, but at least two. Crabbe shot 45.9 percent from the floor as a junior last year while averaging 18.4 points per game in 33 games.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via LAL): Kelly Olynyk, F, Gonzaga
Kelly Olynyk really made a name for himself last season at Gonzaga. The forward only played in around 26 minutes per game last season, but made the most of every opportunity on the floor. He scored 17.8 points and had 7.3 rebounds per night in his junior season. He’s a very accurate shooter, hitting 62.9 percent of his shots in 2012-13.
20. Chicago Bulls: Jamaal Franklin, G, San Diego St.
Jamaal Franklin knows how to put points up on the board, but needs to improve his shot. He shot 41.3 from the floor and 28 percent from downtown in his junior season at San Diego State. He’s a great rebounder, as he’s averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, which is high for a guard. Keep in mind that he didn’t play in a great conference.
21. Utah Jazz: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Gorgui Dieng isn’t going to take the floor each night and put up crazy numbers. He’s a solid big man who nearly averaged a double-double last year. Playing 31.1 minutes per game, Dieng scored 9.3 points and grabbed 9.4 rebounds in his junior campaign at Louisville. He’ll likely come off the bench to start his rookie year in the NBA.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Glen Rice, Jr., G, NBA D-League
The Nets need to put emphasis on taking a player who knows how to shoot the ball. Brooklyn’s roster doesn’t have a lot of players with much accuracy and putting points up on the board could soon become an issue. Glen Rice, Jr. needs a bit of work on his shot, but is an excellent overall player who could be a big asset.
23. Indiana Pacers: Dennis Schroeder, G, Germany
As long as the Pacers feel that David West will re-sign, Indiana doesn’t need a ton in this year’s draft. That being said, adding depth should be a priority. The Pacers have a couple of good guards, but George Hill needs a good backup. Dennis Schroeder is a great option if he’s still around for the Pacers to take at No. 23.
24. New York Knicks: Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan
The Knicks need help at the guard positions and Tim Hardaway, Jr. will be there to save the day. He averaged at least 13 points per game in each of his three years at Michigan, playing around 30 minutes per night. He’s a solid shooter who can take the place of J.R. Smith with a little bit of experience.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
A seven-foot center, Jeff Withey is one of the better big men in this year’s draft class. He might not go very early in the draft, but he’ll be a valuable role player in the NBA. He never played much at Kansas until two years ago, only averaging a few minutes per game in his first two seasons. Last year, he averaged 13.7 points and 8.5 boards per game.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via MEM): Reggie Bullock, G, UNC
Reggie Bullock got better and better with more experience at North Carolina, and he’s not done learning yet. In his junior year, the guard averaged 13.9 points while shooting 48.3 perfect from the floor and 43.6 percent from downtown. There isn’t a team in the NBA that wouldn’t want a shooter like him.
27. Denver Nuggets: Sergey Karasev, G, Russia
Sergey Karasev is going to fall in the first round if teams believe he’s not going to come to the United States right away. He’s a good-sized shooting guard who can play point guard and small forward if he needs to. The Nuggets could use a player with that type of versatility, now and in the future.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor
Pierre Jackson needs to be the future replacement for Tony Parker. Jackson is very small, but is good on both ends of the floor. He’s accurate from inside and outside the three-point line. Parker isn’t much of a three-point shooter, but there are a couple of similarities between the two guards.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Archie Goodwin, G, Kentucky
Archie Goodwin’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes him an intriguing prospect for several teams. While he’s bound to go late in the first round, he has the potential to be a good starting guard in the future. In his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 14.1 points per game while shooting 44 percent.
30. Phoenix Suns (via MIA): Ricardo Ledo, G, Providence
Ricky Ledo may never have played in a college basketball game, but he’s sure to take the floor for an NBA team next season. He’s a smart guard who would fit well with the Suns, whether Phoenix selects a guard with its top pick or not. Ledo could end up starting for Phoenix next season if the pieces fall in his favor.