When the clock strikes 7 p.m. ET on Thursday night, NBA teams will begin the hunt to find the prospect that best fits with their organization.
The decision needs to be made rapidly, but with precision. Making an ill-informed decision could lead to several years of picks in the lottery. While having lottery picks mean a team is likely to get a good player, it also means that the team hasn’t been successful during the year.
Teams must make the most of their draft picks unless they’re doomed for the cellars of the Eastern and Western Conferences. Organizations that are quick on their feet and enter the draft with a knowledgeable staff and a respectable big board will be the teams who are successful in the coming years.
Below is a full projection for the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft, looking into the weaknesses of each team and the player they need to select in order to improve for the 2013-14 season and beyond.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Alex Len, C, Maryland
The goal for the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the draft is to take a big man to pair with Tristan Thompson. Anderson Varejao missed most of the season with a blood clot in his lung and Cleveland will need to find a long-term replacement for him. It appears that the Cavs will take either Alex Len or Nerlens Noel with the top pick.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore, G, Kansas
The Magic need some help at the 2-guard positions. Beno Udrih is an unrestricted free agent and Orlando doesn’t have a ton of future talent on the roster in the backcourt. Arron Afflalo was the only guard on the roster last season who averaged more than 15 points per game.
3. Washington Wizards: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
It’s time for the Emeka Okafor era in Washington to come an end. The center saw 26 minutes per game last season and while he grabs around nine boards per night, he isn’t much of a contributor on offense. Nene Hilario can move to power forward if the Wizards select Noel at No. 3.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana
Gerald Henderson may have averaged the second-most points per game for the Bobcats last season, but his time as the starting shooting guard is about to come to an end. The Bobcats aren’t going to take a point guard to replace Kemba Walker and the top prospects remaining will all be guards. Henderson is the odd man out.
5. Phoenix Suns: Trey Burke, G, Michigan
There wasn’t a player on the Suns last season who scored more than 15 points per game, which is pretty embarrassing. Phoenix definitely needs to find someone who can put a bunch of points on the board night after night. Right now, no one on the roster is getting the job done.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
The glaring hole on what could eventually become a dangerous team is a small forward for the Pelicans. Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon are solid guards and Anthony Davis obviously isn’t going anywhere. With Robin Lopez at center, small forward is the only position left. Al-Farouq Aminu only averaged 7.3 points in 76 games.
7. Sacramento Kings: Otto Porter, Jr., F, Georgetown
John Salmons can’t seriously expect to be the starting small forward again next season after averaging 8.8 points per game in 30 minutes a night. He’s out of his mind if he does. A small forward who can put upwards of 20 points per night on the scoreboard is exactly what the Kings need to look for in the first round.
8. Detroit Pistons: C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh
If the Pistons don’t re-sign some of the players who are about to the hit the free-agent market, they won’t have many guards on the active roster. Brandon Knight will be the most notable one left and he isn’t anything special. He was the second-highest scorer on the team at 13.3 points per game. That should be tough for a rookie to top.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Shabazz Muhammad, F, UCLA
Andrei Kirilenko is likely gone this summer, which will leave the Minnesota Timberwolves without a solid small forward. Chase Budinger is a restricted free agent who could play the position, but putting him in the starting lineup will make the team even worse. The Timberwolves must take a true small forward at No. 9.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
The Trail Blazers might be losing their top rebounder, J.J. Hickson, to free agency this summer and the team isn’t very prepared in case he bolts. LaMarcus Aldridge can grab around nine per night, but with a weak surrounding class—in terms of crashing the boards—Portland has to put an emphasis on a big man.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
Spencer Hawes may seem like a good fit for the 76ers, but Philadelphia can do better. Hawes only scored 11 points and grabbed 7.2 rebounds per game last season. Granted, he wasn’t the starter all year long, but Lavoy Allen certainly isn’t the answer either. There are several big men in this year’s class who can average double-doubles.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via TOR): Giannis Adetokoubo, F, Greece
The Thunder need to find a way where Serge Ibaka can play center full-time. Kendrick Perkins is really just taking up space on the floor for 25 minutes per night. A shift for Ibaka could mean more room for Kevin Durant to maneuver. In that scenario, Oklahoma City would need to add another forward to play alongside him.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Shane Larkin, G, Miami
The Mavericks won’t do anything next season if Vince Carter is the top guard on the team. Darren Collison is a restricted free agent, and O.J. Mayo is unrestricted. Dallas might need a top guard more than any other team in the draft. As of now, Carter might be running the point for the Mavericks next season. That’s not a joke.
14. Utah Jazz: Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse
Mo Williams and Jamaal Tinsley split time as the starting point guards this past season, but both are unrestricted free agents this summer. Gordon Hayward is set in stone as the small forward—or potentially the shooting guard. If Jerel McNeal is the starting point guard next year, Jazz fans might as well throw in the towel now.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Rudy Gobert, C, France
The Bucks need a big man. Whether they take a power forward or a center doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the prospect who goes to Milwaukee is tall and can grab rebounds. Larry Sanders will likely still be in the mix, but the Bucks don’t have anyone who can play alongside of him, and that’s a problem.
16. Boston Celtics: Mason Plumlee, C, Duke
If the Celtics are going to commit to a rebuild, there’s no hurt in starting off with one of the top centers in this year’s draft. The trio of Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Mason Plumlee could turn out to be one of the best in the league in the coming years. Each has a lot of potential in the NBA and could become stars quickly.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia
18. Atlanta Hawks (via HOU): Allen Crabbe, G, California
Louis Williams might end up being the lone legitimate guard on the Hawks’ roster next season; Devin Harris and Jeff Teague are both free agents. That being said, don’t be surprised if Atlanta uses its back-to-back picks on a pair of guards. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be the immediate starter and Allen Crabbe could be in the starting lineup as well.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via LAL): Kelly Olynyk, F, Gonzaga
If the Cavs decide to shock the world and stray away from Noel and Len, Cleveland will absolutely need a big man with its second pick of the first round. Kelly Olynyk has a lot of upside, and while he isn’t a top pick, he could be a good option for the Cavs down low. In this scenario, Varejao would likely still start.
20. Chicago Bulls: Jamaal Franklin, G, San Diego St.
With Derrick Rose out for all of last season, Nate Robinson was the team’s top guard. He averaged 13.1 points per night, but is now a free agent. While Derrick Rose will be back for next season, the Bulls will now have a void at shooting guard. Richard Hamilton might end up being the starter if Chicago doesn’t draft anyone.
21. Utah Jazz: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the two top players in Utah, but both could be gone in a blink of an eye this summer. The two are unrestricted free agents who would be tough to replace. They combined for more than 30 points and 16 rebounds per game. Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams won’t be able to pick up the slack.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Glen Rice, Jr., G, NBA D-League
The Nets have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson under contract for the next few seasons, but Brooklyn needs to add depth at the guard positions anyways. Brooklyn only had four players averaging double digits last season, and two were the aforementioned stars. None of the backup guards had seven points per night.
23. Indiana Pacers: Dennis Schroeder, G, Germany
In the next two years, a lot of Indiana’s players’ contracts are going to expire. David West is a free agent this year and Danny Granger, Paul George and Lance Stephenson will hit the market next season. The Pacers have one of the best teams in the league right now and need to preserve it with a smart pick at No. 23.
24. New York Knicks: Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan
The Knicks are going to lose a lot of offense to other teams this offseason. Jason Kidd is no longer playing, and J.R. Smith is bound to sign elsewhere. That’s 24 points per night gone already, and that’s not to say that more points won’t be gone via free agency. New York must look to draft someone who can help fill those voids.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
If the Clippers don’t think they’re going to be able to land a top free agent or trade for a big man, one option is to draft a center who can become a star. DeAndre Jordan looks like a valuable asset who could be dealt at some point and Blake Griffin can’t really play center every night. A power forward or center is a smart decision at No. 25.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via MEM): Reggie Bullock, G, UNC
Luke Ridnour is a very replaceable point guard, and even though the fans in Minnesota love Ricky Rubio, he hasn’t been great either. The Timberwolves should target a forward with their top pick and a guard—either to start or to play a big role off the bench—with their pick late in the first round.
27. Denver Nuggets: Sergey Karasev, G, Russia
Do the Nuggets really need another Evan Fournier? Not necessarily, but Sergey Karasev wouldn’t be a bad player to have on the bench or overseas in Russia. Fournier is still developing and trying to find playing time, as he averaged 5.3 points in 11 minutes per game this season. He was an accurate shooter, though.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor
The Spurs have a bunch of players hitting the free-agent market this summer and there might not be anyone to back up Tony Parker for next season. That poses a problem for San Antonio, especially since Parker’s health and age is going to start playing a big role. San Antonio needs to find the next Tony Parker.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Archie Goodwin, G, Kentucky
Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher and Ronnie Brewer are all likely gone this summer, meaning the Thunder need some depth at the guard positions. Russell Westbrook can’t do everything himself. Jeremy Lamb could play a bigger role, but Archie Goodwin is a player with much more potential in the NBA.
30. Phoenix Suns (via MIA): Ricardo Ledo, G, Providence
Ricky Ledo may need some time to develop, but in the long run, he’ll be a worthwhile first-round pick. If Phoenix picks up Burke with its first pick, Ledo does make sense with the second. He was can be the backup for the first half of the year and then potentially start at shooting guard in the second.
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