For the second year in a row, there is legitimate debate over who should be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Last season, no one really knew who the Cleveland Cavaliers would take with the top selection up until the pick was made.
When that pick turned out to be UNLV's Anthony Bennett, it came as a bit of a shock to some. It's not that Bennett lacked talent; he was a 5-star recruit out of Brampton, Ontario, per 247Sports. He was also borderline dominant for UNLV in his lone collegiate season, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
However, he wasn't the dynamic presence that most people think about when they visualize the top pick in the draft. In Cleveland's defense, the 2013 draft was devoid of that type of prospect, however.
While Bennett initially looked to be on his way toward producing one of the worst seasons by a top pick in NBA history, he has recently picked up his play. Over the last five games, he is averaging 10 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest. Those are not Rookie of the Year numbers, but when you consider Bennett made just five of his first 37 shots to start the regular season, it's a definite improvement.
The 2014 NBA draft is shaping up to be the exact opposite of last year's event. The prospect class has some, including SI.com's Chris Mannix, prematurely comparing it to the star-studded group that emerged from the 2003 class, which included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, among others.
Because the class is considered to be so strong, there is even more pressure on the team with the top pick to make the right decision with its selection. Missing on the No. 1 guy could possibly mean looking at the team with the No. 2 pick actually getting the transcendent star. For an example of such a case, see the 2007 NBA draft, where the Portland Trail Blazers took Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick instead of Kevin Durant, who was selected by Seattle (now Oklahoma City) at No. 2.
With this year's draft, we obviously don't know who will get the top pick at this point in time. That said, the order for this mock is based somewhat on current win-loss records, pending trade scenarios, etc.
We say "somewhat," because with the season in progress, the draft order is still very fluid. Look at this as more of a player ranking/prospect-team matching list.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Though Parker isn't the top prospect in my eyes, he is the most NBA-ready player in the draft. His offensive game is polished, he's a winner, and he comes from a program and head coach in Duke's Mike Krzyzewski that has him prepared to make an impact as a rookie.
Milwaukee can't afford to miss with this pick. If it does win the lottery, the team has to avoid the temptation of selecting either of the Kansas Jayhawks' stars, though they may have higher ceilings than Parker.
Parker is the surest thing in a talented draft class.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, SF/SG, Kansas
Parker is probably the man the 76ers would want the most, but if he's gone, Wiggins isn't a bad consolation prize. In fact, he's still the player I like the most in this draft class.
Where Parker's athleticism is just good and not great, Wiggins is a freak.
At this point, Wiggins lacks some of the assertiveness and consistency you'd like to see from a top-two pick, but we must remember that he is still just 19 years old.
Prospectively speaking, Wiggins' floor is a bigger, slightly more explosive Eddie Jones. His ceiling is a better shooting Scottie Pippen.
That's not a bad gamble to take.
3. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
From a pure talent/size standpoint, Embiid is the prospect with the most potential. The old adage says, "you can't teach size." When a seven-footer also possesses good instincts, better-than-average touch and footwork, you start to hear Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons.
Before Kansas' official practices even began, Embiid's head coach Bill Self had this to say about his young big man, per Tom Keegan of KUSports.com:
He kind of reminds me a little bit of (Hakeem) Olajuwon early in his career. I’m not saying he’s Olajuwon. I’m not saying that at all. But you know, some similarities when he was real raw when he was young, but always had great feet, light on his feet. I think Joel’s the same way.
When he's doing stuff like this, it just makes it all the more easy to see the comparison.
Orlando would would have cap room and a solid inside-outside presence with Victor Oladipo and Embiid.
4. Sacramento Kings: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
There's always a buzz about the top-rated international basketball prospect each year. This year, the man everyone is talking about is Exum—and for good reason.
He's a 6'6" point guard who has the goods to shoot it from the outside and the quickness to break guys down off the dribble. NBADraft.net compares him to Anfernee Hardaway. Take one look at him extending a play, and you can see that such a comparison is not far off.
Highlight reels are nice to look at, but you can derive more from detailed scouting reports like the one below from DraftExpress. There's also a brief interview with Exum included, during which he says that he patterns his game after Derrick Rose:
The Kings could use Exum in a variety of ways, but his size will create matchup issues, and his playmaking would only make DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore better.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Despite struggling a bit in SEC play, Randle is still a top prospect. His power near the basket is one thing, but the best part of his game is his face-up ability from the triple-threat position.
Randle has the speed to put the ball on the floor and blow by power forwards from 17 feet away from the basket. He gets into trouble when he tries to depend on his muscle too often. Polishing up his outside shooting and being a more willing passer will improve his overall game.
That said, he'd still be a nice addition in Utah.
Point guard Trey Burke is going to garner his share of Rookie of the Year votes, though he won't win it. Regardless, he's still having a solid first season. Adding Randle for depth and options in the frontcourt makes sense, and a lineup that features Burke, Randle and Derrick Favors could be interesting.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Say what you want about Smart's altercation with a fan last weekend and his poor outside shooting (28.1 percent from three-point range), but there is no doubt that the guy is a do-it-all competitor. He's averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
The easiest thing to add to a perimeter player's game is an improved jump shot. Smart can work to improve that aspect of his game. Despite his recent behavior, Smart is a leader whose competitiveness is his best attribute, and that will help him succeed in the NBA.
Also, the Celtics may move Rajon Rondo some time soon. If they do, giving Smart the keys to the team under the tutelage of head coach Brad Stevens will be what both men need to have successful futures.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
Guess what? That whole Andrew Bynum thing didn't work out. Assuming Luol Deng re-signs with the team—which is not a given—the Cavs still need a presence in the middle.
Vonleh is a smooth 6'10" athlete, with a 7'4" wingspan. He's averaging 11 points and 9.5 rebounds as a freshman.
Most importantly, he appears to be improving as the season progresses. He's had a double-double in five of his last seven games.
He'd be a nice fit in Cleveland.
8. Los Angeles Lakers: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
No player's stock is rising as fast as Ennis'. The kid is a more athletic version of the Denver Nuggets Andre Miller. He almost never seems to make a bad decision with the ball, and he has a feel for the game that is uncanny.
He'd garner Kobe Bryant's respect from Day 1. In the event the Lakers are able to sign a big-time free agent or trade for an established star during the offseason, Ennis is capable of fitting in with Bryant as well as the new addition.
9. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
With all the injuries to Danillo Galinari, the Nuggets can't feel secure in him moving forward.
Hood has a feathery left-handed touch from the outside, but he also possesses the athleticism to create space for a shot and defend on the perimeter.
10. Charlotte Bobcats (via Detroit Pistons): Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Charlotte found its big man in free-agent pickup Al Jefferson last summer. Last year's lottery pick Cody Zeller has been slow to develop, but it's too early to call him a bust. Still, adding an athletic, defensive-minded forward like Gordon to the mix would be a smart move.
With Jefferson in place, the Bobcats don't need another post-up option. Gordon can impact the game as an offensive rebounder, defender and disruptive presence.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (via Charlotte Bobcats): Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
This is a bit of a gamble, but if it pays off, the 76ers would have one of the most dynamic young backcourts in the NBA.
LaVine has tremendous bounce and a good shot from the outside. He's made 43 percent of his three-point attempts, but his overall shooting still needs to improve, as he's only a 68 percent free-throw shooter.
Still, his ability to finish and defend on the perimeter would be key to the 76ers' rebuilding plan.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
The Wolves have to face the reality that one day they may lose Kevin Love. Replacing him with an exciting, offensive-minded playmaker and shooter like Saric would be interesting.
The young Croatian's shooting and passing ability would be nice compliment to Ricky Rubio. Even if Love stays, Saric has a place as a wing.
13. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
McDermott is the second-best scorer in the draft behind Parker. He can shoot the ball from the outside and the post.
Pairing him with Oladipo and the player the team takes with its first lottery pick could be deadly.
14. Memphis Grizzlies: James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky
Young doesn't get as much attention as he deserves at Kentucky. He's a well-balanced prospect with good range on his jump shot, solid defensive ability and an active body around the basket.
He needs to improve his shot selection, but he could provide Memphis more offense than Tony Allen, as both would play a similar role on the defensive end of the floor.
15. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Yes, the Bulls are still looking for perimeter scoring.
The team figures to look much different heading into the 2014-15 season than it does now, but a player capable of scoring from the outside and getting to the free-throw line from the 2-guard position is still a need.
Harris could be a steal for the Bulls at this point in the first round.
16. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets): Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
Grant has great length, but he's still likely to be a small forward in the NBA. He plays closer to the basket for Syracuse, and there should be a concern about his development on the perimeter.
He's taken only five three-point shots this season, and he isn't a tremendous ball-handler.
That said, he has the size, athleticism and the NBA pedigree (his dad is former NBA player Harvey Grant, and his uncle is former pro and NBA champion Horace Grant) to succeed at the next level.
17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Consistently improving since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Payne is another player who could surprise as a rookie. He's 6'10", and though he's not a freakish athlete, he has enough quickness and leaping ability for it not to be a liability.
Perhaps the best aspect of his game is his ever-improving outside touch, as Payne has drained 44 percent of his threes this season.
The Suns need youth and ability in the frontcourt to add to their promising young core. Payne would be a solid fit for the Suns.
18. Chicago Bulls: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
Adequate backups in the frontcourt are something the Bulls will need next season, along with perimeter scoring options.
Cauley-Stein is one of the most athletic bigs in the draft. He's an excellent shot-blocker and could easily become a valuable defender in Tom Thibodeau's system.
19. Boston Celtics (via Atlanta Hawks): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Stauskas was originally labeled as a marginal athlete who could really shoot.
He is still known as a dangerous outside shooter, as he's making 44 percent of his three-point attempts this season. But he's also a better ball-handler and athlete than he gets credit for.
Check out these off-the-dribble highlights:
The C's rebuilding efforts could use a deadeye shooter who is deceptively agile.
20. Toronto Raptors: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Capela is one of the newest names on the international scene. He's just 19 years old, but his length (6'10", 7'3" wingspan) and athleticism has scouts excited.
Capela is very raw, but it's hard to ignore a 19-year-old with his size and athleticism. Take a look at DraftExpress' scouting video:
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): P.J. Hairston, SG/SF, North Carolina/D-League
College isn't for everyone.
Hairston had some issues that forced his collegiate career to end prematurely. Instead of becoming a precautionary tale, Hairston has used an opportunity to play in the D-League as a second chance to realize his NBA dream.
Hairston has scored 20 or more points in eight of the 11 games he's played in the D-League. That includes a 40- and 45-point explosion. The guy can score, and that's exactly what the Jazz need if Gordon Hayward walks in free agency.
22. Dallas Mavericks: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Cedevita
This is one massive 19-year-old. Yes, he's 6'11" with a 7'2.5" wingspan, but he's also 280 pounds. There's no question he has the bulk to bang with NBA centers.
That said, he's still very raw. The Mavs could draft and stash him for more seasoning. That would seem to fit well, as the team is looking to win sooner rather than later.
23. Phoenix Suns - K.J. McDaniels, SG, Clemson
If you're looking for a prospect who could also be a formidable participant in the NBA's Slam Dunk contest, McDaniels might be your guy.
He has sick bounce, but he's also physically strong and a good rebounder for a small forward. As an energy guy and solid defensive rebounder, he could be of value to the Suns.
24. Houston Rockets: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
As one of the more physically imposing and gifted athletes in the draft, Harrell's defensive prowess and athleticism would give the Rockets the type of power forward who could excel next to Dwight Howard. Harrell could also serve as a reserve role player.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
Dekker needs to improve his outside shooting a bit, but he's got great instincts and offensive skills. He would also be a great fit if the Clippers part ways with Jared Dudley, as Marc Stein of ESPN alluded to in a tweet:
Trade rumble: Clippers "itchy" to make a deal and Jared Dudley, with PT harder to come by and logjam at wing spots, is unexpectedly in play— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 5, 2014
The Clips could possibly need wing players for next season. Chances are, Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic won't be back. Dekker and Reggie Bullock could be the primary shooting guard and small forward off the Clippers' bench.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers): Wayne Selden, SG, Kansas
The Bobcats are devoid of consistent scorers from the wing positions. For now, Gerald Henderson is playing that role, but he doesn't have a lock on the position to the point where the Bobcats can consider themselves set.
Selden has some nice upside.
He could probably benefit from going back to school, but if he does come out, he could be a nice fit for Charlotte late in the first round.
27. Miami Heat: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Anderson is an intriguing player.
Though he isn't an explosive athlete, he's 6'9" with point-guard handle and vision, and he rebounds like a power forward.
He has drastically improved his outside shooting as well. As a freshman, he made just 21 percent of his threes. So far this season, he has made 50 percent of his attempts from deep. Mind you, he only shoots 1.7 of them per game, but he's still made himself a threat from long range.
Imagine Anderson on the floor with LeBron, Wade and Bosh (assuming they all return). That could be an awesome offensive unit.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Partizan
The Spurs have had great luck with international players. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker may go to the Hall of Fame when their careers are done, and players like Tiago Splitter have made a nice living with the organization.
Bogdanovic is a 21-year-old, offensive-minded wing player who could step in for Ginobili as the primary scorer off the bench.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: T.J. Warren, SF/PF, North Carolina State
Few players in Division I are scoring like Warren. He's averaging 23 points per game for N.C. State. His outside shooting still needs to improve a bit if he hopes to find a place in the NBA, however.
He's short for the power forward position and not quite strong enough to take the Paul Millsap route. It would behoove the Thunder to add some scoring depth on the wings. This late in the draft, Warren could be the best possible pick.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers): Nick Johnson, PG, Arizona
Johnson is one of the most impressive natural leaders in college basketball. He understands how to run a team, and he's also blessed with amazing leaping ability.
He can elevate and finish off the drive, and he's improved his free-throw shooting and field-goal percentage all three years at Arizona.
Along with the fact that Johnson is a local product, he could also help cushion the blow of potentially losing restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. Suns' president of basketball operations has said the team will match any offer for the point guard next summer, per Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com, but that could just be rhetoric thrown out to discourage a team from trying to pry Bledsoe away.
Johnson would be a good fit behind Goran Dragic.
All size and wingspan information courtesy of DraftExpress.com.
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