Post-draft grades are designed to assess which teams made out the best with their selections and trades during the draft process, and on Friday, the Internet will be swimming with evaluations of the work of every NBA general manager.
With the draft just hours away, trade talk is swirling and rumors about each team's intentions are plentiful.
Soon the rumors will become fact or fiction, and the first step towards an attempt at improvement will be made. This mock draft focuses on predictions for each team's pick (written in bold) but also notes the best strategy that each team should employ.
In instances where the prediction and best strategy meet perfectly, that team's section will be spotlighted. These selections will appear in italics, and they will feature an image and 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)
Noel is still the player the Cavs will most likely select. He's long, athletic and he has tremendous upside. Noel told Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal that his knee has checked out fine with team doctors—including the Cavs' physician—so it shouldn't be a deterrent for the team.
Trading down and selecting either Kansas' Ben McLemore, UNLV's Anthony Bennett, Maryland's Alex Len or Georgetown's Otto Porter would be the best move for the Cavs. The top players in the draft are so close in talent that having the No. 1 pick is more of a problem than it is a benefit.
The team may as well add assets by trading down—while staying in the lottery—in order to select a player who can still help them improve.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)
The Magic need help at every position, so selecting the best player available is the most advisable approach. McLemore is the best prospect in the draft because of his shooting ability, legit 2-guard size and elite athleticism.
If the Magic take McLemore, they will be maximizing their position in the draft and securing a potential All-Star performer. While McLemore would shine as a rookie in the Magic Kingdom and give Magic fans something to cheer about, he won't improve the team enough to reach the playoffs.
That's a good thing because Orlando will want to remain in the lottery for next year's potentially stellar draft class. All things considered, the Magic couldn't do much better in this scenario.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
By most accounts, Porter is the top small forward in the draft. There is a possibility that the Cavs could even go for him with the top pick. Assuming everything transpires as written here, he should be available for Washington.
With the makings of a young athletic core led by budding star John Wall, the Wizards need a glue guy. Players who may not be spectacular at any one thing, but are good at everything, are important parts of a good team.
Porter shot 42 percent from three-point range, grabbed 7.5 rebounds and averaged 2.7 assists last season for Georgetown.
His skill set is perfect for the Wizards, and the team would be hitting a home run by taking him with the third pick.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Alex Len (C, Maryland)
The closer we get to the draft, the more the big men in this class have seen their stock rise, and this year will be no exception. A talented—but overrated—big like Len will get his share of looks from teams in the top-four. The Bobcats may very well make him to be their center of the present and future with this pick.
With McLemore off the board, Charlotte would be wise to take a look at Indiana's Victor Oladipo. He has a great work ethic, strong defensive talent and desire. He could help improve team culture with his ability to lock down opponents.
5. Phoenix Suns: Anthony Bennett (PF/SF, UNLV)
Even though he's a bit of a tweener, Bennett is a "can't miss" offensive talent. He's got a wide body with good athleticism. He also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside (37 percent from three-point range).
For a team like Phoenix, who had Goran Dragic lead them scoring last season with just 14.7 points per game, resisting the urge to draft Bennett here would be tough.
It would take some courage, but drafting C.J. McCollum of Lehigh here—or trading back to take him a few picks later—would be the best move for Phoenix. McCollum hails from a small school, but he is a big-time scorer. In four years, he never averaged less than 19 points per game.
At 6'3", he's a bit of a combo-guard, but Portland's Damian Lillard and Golden State's Stephen Curry have proven that combo-guards from small schools can be stars in the league.
McCollum would give the Suns a top-notch scorer and a better building block than a talented but smallish power forward like Bennett.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
Eric Gordon and last year's top selection, Anthony Davis, give the Pelicans a potential perimeter and low-post threat. The team still needs a point guard to engineer the team, though, and based on his two years at Michigan, it is hard to see another point guard who is a better fit.
Burke is the best pick for the Pelicans. His ability to knock down the three-point shot (38.3 percent), get to the line (4.3 attempts per game) and create for teammates (6.6 assists) would make him a valuable piece on an improving team.
Burke could be one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year if he is taken by the Pelicans and is able to help lead the team to, or near, a playoff berth.
7. Sacramento Kings: Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
Every team should love Oladipo's work ethic and approach to the game. His athleticism, strength and desire imply that he could easily become an elite defender in the NBA.
But if teams don't believe that his ceiling as an offensive player is much higher than Tony Allen's—a player he is often compared to—then it seems a stretch to have him selected within the top-five.
The Kings need a player in the organization with Oladipo's qualities.
Who is the best Shooting guard prospect?
More than talent, Sacramento needs a culture change. That starts with ownership, trickles down to management and coaching and must also manifest itself in the players the team drafts.
With the Kings being under new ownership, this is the perfect time to begin injecting players with great intangibles into the mix. Oladipo would make it easy for the Kings to sign-and-trade restricted free agent Tyreke Evans, or move him back to point guard where he excelled as a rookie.
In any case, Oladipo could help Sacramento in a multitude of ways.
8. Detroit Pistons: C.J. McCollum (PG/SG, Lehigh)
McCollum can fill it up, as previously noted. Teamed with the Pistons already formidable frontcourt, he could help to give the team a much-needed offensive identity.
Although McCollum would certainly serve a purpose for the Pistons, trading back and still obtaining a point guard like Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams or even a scoring wing like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad would be best for the team.
With bigs like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, a distributing point guard like MCW would be the best fit in Detroit. Whether the team acquires a player like that in the draft or through free agency doesn't matter.
If Detroit wants a scorer, it would be better off looking at a wing like Muhammad who can shoot from the outside and get to the free throw line consistently. He averaged 5.6 free-throw attempts per game for the Bruins last season.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)
KCP's 37.7 percent three-point shooting with the Bulldogs and two steals per game make him the best "Three-and-D" prospect in the draft. The Wolves could use both qualities in their starting lineup next season.
Minnesota badly needs to improve their production from the shooting guard position. Alexey Shved is currently the only natural shooting guard of any distinction on the roster. KCP could come in and start immediately in Minnesota.
His ability to knock down the three-ball would help improve the Wolves' weakest area. Minnesota made just 30 percent of their threes last season, which was dead-last in the NBA last season.
They have to improve that statistic as well as add a potential defensive stopper to play against opposing teams' best perimeter scoring options.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
Adams has a great blend of size (7'0"), athleticism and work ethic. He is, however, extremely raw on the offensive end. That said, his upside is likely too high for the Blazers to pass up a chance to draft him.
Portland needs a defensive presence in the middle. The team ranked 26th in the NBA in blocked shots, 18th in defensive rebounding and 21st in points allowed per game last year.
The Blazers could trade back and draft a big like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng or Kansas' Jeff Withey, who would help the team right away and represent less of a risk than Adams.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller (PF/C, Indiana)
The 76ers need to rid themselves of the Andrew Bynum debacle as soon as possible. Replacing him with a big who can run the floor, stay healthy and actually wear the uniform would be a success in and of itself. Zeller seems like the most sensible option for Philly at No. 11.
Though Zeller is a legit seven-footer, he isn't a traditional center. That's fine, though, because few teams in the NBA have a legitimate big man. In fact, the Miami Heat have won back-to-back titles without a real center.
That said, they do have LeBron James, which helps a little, but the lack of old-school bigs in the NBA makes Zeller a passable option for the Sixers in the paint.
His ability to run the floor and score in transition would give Philly an athletic advantage in the middle on most nights.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors): Lucas Noguiera (PF/C, Brazil)
Remember what I said about bigs rising up the board in this draft? Noguiera as a potential lottery pick is a clear example. Recently the Brazilian with the 7'6 wingspan has started to receive lottery buzz (NBADraft.net) in mock drafts across the country (Dwain Price of The Star-Telegram).
There is no doubt the Thunder could stand to get longer, more athletic and younger at center, but a player who can score off the Thunder bench would also be an asset. With the 29th pick in the first round also waiting in the wings, the Thunder could target a big then instead of at No. 12.
This pick would be better utilized on a player like three-point marksman Sergey Karasev of Russia. He could give the Thunder another scorer amongst the reserve unit, and he could also replace free agent Kevin Martin's production if he leaves.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)
As first noted by ESPN's Tim MacMahon and Dave McMenamin, there is almost no way the Mavs will keep this selection, as they will attempt to shop the pick in order to clear cap room so they can make a run at Dwight Howard this summer. But if they do keep the pick, MCW or Germany's Dennis Schroeder will likely be the selection, per MacMahon in a separate article.
Clearing room to chase Dwight Howard is the smartest direction for Dallas to go. Even if it can't land the NBA's best big man, the Mavs will still have flexibility moving forward to significantly improve the team through free agency next summer.
In addition to that, Dallas will likely miss the playoffs again in 2013-14. That means it will be a part of the draft lottery next June that could lead to them selecting a legitimate franchise player.
14. Utah Jazz: Dennis Schroeder (PG, Germany)
Speed, wingspan (6'7") and instincts are the qualities that stand out when you see Schroeder play. As the lead guard, he has the potential to be a balanced performer who excels at creating for his teammates as well as scoring himself.
Who is the best point guard prospect?
Utah has only one point guard currently under contract for next season, and that's Alec Burks. He has yet to emerge as a starting-caliber point guard, though, so the team must find someone this offseason who can play that role.
In this scenario there are a few players to consider at the position, but it comes down to personal preference. Schroeder's upside seems to be the highest of every remaining point guard on the board.
There isn't a more logical pick at this stage of the draft for Utah.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
Larkin’s speed, agility and leaping ability opened some eyes at the NBA combine. His ability to score from the outside and push the ball in transition should appeal to the Bucks. Milwaukee could very well lose both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in free agency this offseason, so point guard is a position of need.
Larkin is a nice prospect, but the Bucks need to make a bold move. Packaging an established player and the 15th pick in order to move up to take Burke would be a great move.
It would be very unlike the Bucks to do so, but that’s exactly why it should be considered.
16. Boston Celtics: Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Gonzaga)
There is so much uncertainty surrounding the Celtics organization right now. That is why the team will likely take the player who offers them the surest skill set.
Olynyk is a offensive-minded big man who could play the center or stretch-4 position because of his passing and shooting ability.
With the 16th pick, the Celtics could take a player like Olynyk, but taking a gamble on a raw talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece could pay bigger dividends down the road.
He’s only 19, and he hasn’t played against top-notch competition, but his athleticism, ball-handling and huge wingspan are an excellent foundation. He may not be ready to play in the NBA right now, but that should be fine with the Celtics. It seems it will be at least another three years before they are ready to contend again.
Perhaps Antetokounmpo would be ready to join them at that time.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Sergey Karasev (SF, Russia)
As far as shooters go, Karasev may be the best in the draft class. In Eurocup 2013, he made 49 percent of his three-point attempts. The Hawks could lose one of the best shooters in the NBA this offseason, as Kyle Korver is a free agent.
Karasev is a younger, left-handed version of Korver with a tad more athleticism.
Karasev to Atlanta would make sense for the aforementioned reasons, but a player like Jamaal Franklin from San Diego State could offer athleticism, work ethic and passion for a team that needs a soul.
The Hawks have had talent in the recent past but never a hard-working catalyst for their team. Franklin’s athleticism, versatility and grinding approach could be infectious for Atlanta.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Shabazz Muhammad (SF, UCLA)
If Muhammad slips this far, he is going to be one of the draft’s biggest steals. There has to be some credence given to the fact that he averaged 17.9 points per game as a freshman in the Pac-12. Perhaps no player in the draft has had their college production disrespected more.
Muhammad can score, and as the Hawks’ roster turns over, he could be an excellent fit for a team who will be looking for an identity. He works hard on his game, so many of the deficiencies targeted by critics will be Muhammad’s focus early in his career.
The Hawks would do well to tab one of the most underrated players in this draft class.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Reggie Bullock (SG/SF, North Carolina)
Shooters who can help spread the floor for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters should be on the Cavs’ radar. Bullock is another “Three-and-D” player, but he isn’t quite as athletic as KCP. He still plays strong on both ends of the floor, though, and his experience in a major program like North Carolina is a plus.
At No. 19, Bullock’s 6’7”, 225-pound frame and 44-percent three-point shooting makes him a solid swingman prospect with the skills and build to help Cleveland immediately. This is a perfect fit for the Cavs’ second first-round pick if they take Noel No. 1.
20. Chicago Bulls: Mason Plumlee (PF/C, Duke)
Selecting a backup big man or a shooter would be logical for the Bulls. Plumlee is a seven-footer with above-average athleticism who could spell both Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah.
Taking Plumlee would be the safe move, but trying to dangle Luol Deng’s expiring contract and all-around game in order to move up into the top-five would be a better approach.
Jimmy Butler proved during the playoffs that he could play Deng’s role. While “Gluol’s” contribution to the team shouldn’t be diminished, Butler’s ability to do the little things can’t be ignored either.
If the Bulls could move into the top-five, they could get a crack at McLemore or Oladipo, both of whom would fill the long-lasting need at shooting guard.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Rudy Gobert (C, France)
You can’t teach size, and at 7’2” with a 7’9” wingspan, Gobert has plenty of unlearned assets. The Jazz need depth in the frontcourt, as they could lose both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson this offseason via free agency. Gobert could back up Enes Kanter and give the team a great rim protector off the bench.
Utah would be smart to target a big man here. Tony Mitchell of North Texas has the athleticism that better fits in with the young frontcourt that the Jazz are building around.
Mitchell, Derrick Favors and Kanter could be a tough rotation of young big men for teams to tangle with.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (SG, Michigan)
Improving the team’s outside shooting should be one of the keys to the Nets’ offseason. Brooklyn was ranked 22nd in the NBA in three-point accuracy last season.
The Nets inability to make deep shots helped the Bulls eliminate them in the playoffs. Hardaway, Jr. specializes in long-range shooting, as he made 36 percent of his three-point attempts for the Wolverines last season.
Veteran toughness is a need, but the perimeter shooting has to improve. Hardaway, Jr. is not just a good shooter, he’s also a competitive and mature prospect who will bring a winning attitude.
At this point in the draft and with the needs the Nets have, Hardaway, Jr. would be the smartest pick.
23. Indiana Pacers: Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State)
With D.J. Augustin heading for free agency, the Pacers need a backup point guard. Canaan is a good fit because he’s physical, tough and he can score. He averaged 24 points per game for Murray State last year.
He could give the Pacers a scoring option for their second unit.
Indiana would be better suited to fill its backup point guard need through free agency. The team is too close to winning an NBA title to entrust such an important role to a rookie drafted in the late first round.
Instead, taking a player who can offer bench scoring is the best option. Allen Crabbe of California is the type of jump shooter/slasher who could thrive as a sixth man in Indiana.
Crabbe’s presence would also make Danny Granger even more expendable.
24. New York Knicks: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
New York’s frontcourt must get younger and healthier. Dieng is a rim protector, solid rebounder and underrated offensive player. He could ultimately replace Tyson Chandler as the Knicks starting center in a few years.
Center is the obvious position of need for the Knicks, but Withey could the better fit because of his size and defensive timing.
Dieng is a good shot-blocker, but Withey’s rejection clinic in the NCAA tournament (5.6 per game) was impressive.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
The Knicks loss could certainly be the Clippers gain. DeAndre Jordan is a young and athletic center, but there isn’t much in the way of depth behind him.
Withey could play big minutes and a major role in a strong Clippers’ run next season.
Withey is the player within the Clippers’ range who could help the team the most. L.A. has some need for a starting 2-guard, but they should seek a veteran to fill that spot considering their high expectations for next season.
Not only could Withey give the Clippers a better-than-average backup center, but he could also push Jordan for his starting role.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves: Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
The team with the worst three-point shooting in the NBA last season could still stand to add another shooter, even if this mock has them targeting KCP with the ninth pick.
Crabbe’s active body is a tough cover, as he runs off screens much like a young Richard Hamilton.
If the Wolves take Crabbe, it would be hard to argue with the selection. Sure, he and KCP are both wing players, but KCP could play small forward. Both players would offer Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio dangerous shooting options on the wing.
Their presence could improve two positions (shooting guard and small forward), or at least solidify one for the foreseeable future.
27. Denver Nuggets: Ricky Ledo (SG, Providence)
If Andre Iguodala leaves via free agency, the Nuggets will have a huge void in the shooting guard/small forward role Iggy plays. Ledo is a natural scorer who could give the Nuggets an offensive punch once he’s developed and has gotten acclimated to the NBA game.
He attended Providence, but he never played a game for the Friars due to academic ineligibility. Still, his potential is through the roof.
The Nuggets will need a player who can assume Iguodala’s defensive duties if the team is unable to re-sign him. A player like Long Beach State’s James Ennis would be a better fit.
He may not be as talented offensively, as getting his shot off the dribble isn’t his strong suit, but he’s a world-class athlete with great length and versatility. In some ways, he’s similar to Iguodala.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Mitchell (PF, North Texas)
The NBA Finals proved the Spurs need to add athleticism to the frontcourt. Tiago Splitter is a free agent, and he was unable to take advantage of his size this postseason because of his slow feet and modest leaping ability. Tim Duncan played well, but at 37 years old, we don’t even know if he’ll be back for another season.
Mitchell would have no dexterity issues. He’s only 6’9”, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better athlete in the draft. He could push Duncan back to center if he doesn’t retire.
Tony Parker is 31 years old, and he really seemed to wear down at the end of the postseason. He’s not at the end of his rope yet, but the Spurs need a player who can back him up and still run the offense properly.
A young point guard like Texas’ Myck Kabongo could be the perfect understudy for Parker. He has great potential, but he’s not quite ready for a major role. He averaged 14.6 points, five rebounds and 5.5 assists for the Longhorns last season.
If he can learn from Gregg Popovich the way Parker has, Kabongo could be the latest draft steal for the Spurs.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Erick Green (PG/SG, Virginia Tech)
Green is one of the other more underrated players in the draft. He averaged 25 points per game in the ACC this past season. Even though his team didn’t enjoy a plethora of success, that’s more than a noteworthy accomplishment.
The Thunder could still be in search of the scorer off the bench if they take a big with their lottery selection. Green is a smart pick at this point who can fill that need.
Though Green is a talented scorer, the Thunder will be doing things backwards if they go big first and look for a scoring guard here.
In agreement with the initial strategy from the No. 12 pick’s section, the Thunder should have taken a shooter with that pick. This selection could be easily land them a talented big man like Bucknell's Mike Muscala.
He isn’t a great athlete, but he does have the ability to score in the post (18.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season). That is something none of the Thunder’s current big men can do.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Tony Snell (SF, New Mexico)
With the last pick in the first round, the Suns should target the best player available.
Snell’s shooting (39 percent from three-point range), length (6’7” frame and 6’12” wing span) and athleticism seem similar to Kawhi Leonard. However, his low-energy demeanor may prevent him from being as good as Leonard.
When you’re as bad as the Suns were last season, you can’t afford to gamble on players with low motors. Phoenix doesn’t have many veterans in place to help bring Snell along. Focusing on high-effort players is an advisable approach, as it can help establish the desired culture.
Pierre Jackson of Baylor would be the guard that best fits this description at this point in the draft. He’s smallish at 5’10”, but he is a dynamo who can score and create (19.8 points and 7.1 assists per game last season).
As bigs go, Phoenix could go after Erik Murphy from Florida. Murphy isn’t going to win any foot races or enter the slam dunk contest, but he is 6’10” and 250 pounds, and he is one of the better three-point shooters in the draft (45.3 percent from three-point range).
As a stretch-4, he has the bulk to defend in the post and the versatility to knock down the three. His work ethic is exceptional and he could be a solid role player with the Suns for years to come.
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