Rarely does the NBA draft receive as much attention as its NFL counterpart, but that might change in 2014.
There is such an incredible amount of projected talent in the upcoming NBA draft that it sparked discussions of tanking as a valid strategy for a number of teams before the year even started. It is the rare draft that there is both franchise-changing talent on the top and depth that will give almost every team with a pick in the first round an opportunity to grab a contributor.
Unlike the NFL draft, we still do not know which teams will be picking where in the NBA. Consider this mock draft something of a projection on what will happen with both the players selected and the order of the picks as trades and the playoffs develop.
All underclassmen included in this mock are assumed to be declaring early for the NBA eventually.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, Duke
The debate over the No. 1 pick is always an exercise in weighing projected ceilings with immediate readiness.
Jabari Parker may not have the ceiling that Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid do, but he is also the surest bet in the draft. He can score from anywhere on the floor, is a solid shot-blocker on the defensive end and is a better rebounder than advertised.
Don’t underestimate the value of spending a year under the tutelage of Mike Krzyzewski either.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Ending up with Embiid as a consolation prize at the No. 2 pick is something of a dream come true for the 76ers (or whatever team lands here).
There is no better rim-protector in this draft class than the Kansas big man, and he is a formidable rebounder as well. Embiid can also score from the low block, which is necessary for any squad taking a chance on a center with a top-five selection.
3. Utah Jazz: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The hype surrounding Wiggins before the season started was borderline unfair, but he is still one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class even though he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations.
His ceiling is through the roof thanks to his versatility and athleticism. Much like Parker, he can score from anywhere on the floor, get out in transition, contribute in the rebounding department and is a solid defender.
Don’t be surprised if Wiggins ends up being the top pick after all.
4. Orlando Magic: Julius Randle, Kentucky
CBS Sports’ Zach Harper did a solid job of summarizing the abilities and concerns surrounding Julius Randle as a top-notch draft pick:
The Zach Randolph comparison was made for Randle. It's not an insult by any means. Randle will have to learn to bully his way into the paint against much bigger players in the NBA, but he has the body and skill set to do it. Is it a bad thing to draft the next Z-Bo? Not at all. It's just a bit of a ceiling letdown when you think about ceilings of the three players ahead of him.
From a talent standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than Randle. While there are some valid worries about his ability to overpower big men at the NBA level, Randle is too enticing of a prospect to pass up at the No. 4 spot.
5. Sacramento Kings: Dante Exum, Australia
Dante Exum is the biggest mystery in the entire NBA draft, largely because the competition he faces on a regular basis isn’t exactly NBA-caliber.
However, he is incredibly talented and a genuine on-court leader. He has scoring abilities, is a solid defender and gets out in transition with ease.
Whichever team selects Exum will be looking for a point guard of the future that can last for years to come.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
In a different draft, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon would undoubtedly contend for the No. 1 pick, but there is so much talent he will slide a bit to a lucky team at six.
Gordon is something of a young Blake Griffin with his high-flying abilities above the rim, his rebounding prowess and his finishing touch in the paint.
He contests enough shots on the defensive end as well to warrant a high selection.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
It hasn’t been the best month for Marcus Smart.
Smart was suspended for shoving a fan in a game at Texas Tech, and while it certainly hurts his Oklahoma State team, if Sean Deveney of Sporting News is to be believed, it won’t hurt his draft stock:
That is mainly because Smart is a terrific scorer and capable long-range shooter who also excels on the defensive end. Smart’s talent will make it easy to overlook some of the maturity questions that arise after the latest incident for many scouts.
8. Los Angeles Lakers: Gary Harris, Michigan State
You would be hard-pressed to find a shooting guard in college basketball who looks more like an NBA scorer than Gary Harris.
Harris is a solid three-point shooter, can drive the lane with ease and hit free throws when he is fouled at the rim. He is also an improving defender, which will be highly valued in this draft class.
9. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks): Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Indiana has fallen on hard times this season by Hoosiers’ standards, but Noah Vonleh is still a terrific rebounder with a bright future in the NBA.
Outside of the fact that he may be the best pure rebounder in the draft, Vonleh’s wingspan means he challenges shots on a regular basis on the defensive end. He has the strength to bully players at the NBA level as well, which is something that is still a question mark for many players his age.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Charlotte Bobcats): Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Harper of CBS Sports once again breaks down the upside and concerns for a top prospect in this draft. This time it is Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky:
I'm not sure how low is ceiling is on offense and he shoots free throws like he's blindfolded. But he can protect the rim with the best of them and will likely be a good rebounder at the NBA level. Don't want to get ahead of myself here but could he be a taller Ben Wallace-type of defender?
A taller Ben Wallace is certainly an enticing thought.
11. Charlotte Bobcats (via Detroit Pistons): Rodney Hood, Duke
Rodney Hood may get overshadowed by Parker whenever Duke takes the court, but he is probably the better three-point shooter of the two and is a better defender.
He possesses incredible playmaking ability, can drive the lane, hit open teammates and finish at the rim. He also has the highly coveted tandem of athleticism and size that NBA teams are always looking for from their small forwards.
12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets): James Young, Kentucky
Gary Parrish of CBS Sports gives us a peek at some inside information regarding James Young’s draft status:
John Calipari told me in October that some NBA scouts thought Young was Kentucky's best prospect. I don't think I believed him then, and I'm still not sure I believe him now. But that statement sounds more reasonable today than it did then.
It may be a bit premature to call Young a better prospect than Randle, but he is a capable long-range shooter and is long enough to be a solid defender.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Doug McDermott may be the best college basketball player in America. ESPN’s Andy Katz pleads for fans to appreciate his overall career:
While McDermott’s college career has been incredible, NBA scouts only care about how he will produce at the next level. There are concerns about his ability to defend, but he is such a great scorer that someone will take a chance on him in the first round.
Look for McDermott to be the best three-point shooter in the NBA in this draft class.
14. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats): Jerami Grant, Syracuse
There are some legitimate concerns about Jerami Grant.
He isn’t a great shooter, which is a problem for a potential small forward. He also is too small to bang around with the bigger guys in the paint in the NBA.
However, Grant is a great rebounder, especially for his size, and can drive the lane against bigger defenders. He will find a way to be productive at the next level.
15. Memphis Grizzlies: Wayne Selden, Kansas
Wonder why Kansas will be on the short list of Final Four contenders in March?
Wayne Selden is the third Jayhawk to appear on this list and we are only on No. 15. Selden gets a bit overshadowed by Wiggins and Embiid, but he is still a productive scorer and has the size and athleticism to be a productive forward at the NBA level.
16. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets): Dario Saric, Croatia
Harper of CBS Sports introduces us to the prospect that is Dario Saric:
He's a really tall small forward that has improved his scoring output as of late and has a good-looking outside stroke right now. Throw him in some one-on-one workouts and it would be easy for GMs to be dazzled by him. Could be lottery bound.
It is easy to overvalue players on their performances in workouts before the draft, but Saric has the ability to deliver on his promise if put in the right situation.
17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Zach LaVine, UCLA
Zach LaVine is the rare point guard prospect who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and throw down some of the nastiest dunks in college basketball.
From an offensive versatility standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than LaVine.
18. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis does a little bit of everything for Syracuse.
He is a great facilitator, which is always a must for a first-round point guard, is a solid defender and can score when needed. He proved he has the clutch gene when he drilled a quarter-court dagger at the buzzer to knock off rival Pittsburgh.
19. Toronto Raptors: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Which Harrison brother will be drafted higher?
The guess here is Aaron, partially because he projects as a shooting guard, one of the weakest positions in the NBA. He is a solid shooter and overall playmaker and has the athleticism to become a better defender than he has showed at Kentucky thus far.
20. Boston Celtics (via Atlanta Hawks): Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell isn’t the ideal height for an NBA big man, but his overall strength and willingness to battle on the boards will translate to the professional level.
Harrell has the athleticism and leaping ability that is needed to challenge shots down low in the NBA. He needs some improvement on the offensive end to be considered a sure-fire NBA contributor, but the good outweighs the bad here.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Jordan Adams, UCLA
Jordan Adams is the rare college basketball superstar who excels on both ends of the floor.
He is a terrific shooter and can score from almost anywhere in the half-court offense. He can drive past defenders with an explosive first step. He even has the ability to score from mid-range, which isn’t a given in today’s game.
Yet, it is Adams’ defensive skills that will lead him to the first round.
22. Dallas Mavericks: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
If only the 40-yard dash was used as a legitimate metric in the NBA evaluation process like it is in the NFL.
Jahii Carson may be the fastest player in America. His speed and acceleration ability help him overcome his lack of size, especially in transition.
If Carson is paired with a number of impressive finishers at the rim in the NBA, it could be an entertaining offense to watch.
23. Phoenix Suns: Mario Hezonja, Croatia
Mario Hezonja is another high-risk, high-reward pick who will likely thrill scouts in the individual workouts before the draft but may not deliver on his vast potential against NBA competition.
His upside will certainly inspire some team to take a flyer on him.
24. Houston Rockets: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Harper is a bit harsh on Andrew Harrison when evaluating his NBA potential:
I'm just not buying that he's an NBA point guard at this point. I could buy him being a combo guard off the bench, but as someone to run my team? He seems like a much worse version of Brandon Knight at the point. I still think he's a rotation player but the hype is gone.
The point guard position is so deep at the NBA level that it is hard to imagine Harrison as a legitimate superstar one day.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, Michigan
Mitch McGary could have been a top-10 pick last year, but he chose to come back to school.
In hindsight, that may not have been the best decision for reasons completely out of his control. He is battling chronic back injuries that may knock him out for the entire season. NBA teams will certainly move him down their big boards because of health concerns.
However, when healthy, McGary is a very productive big guy thanks to his rebounding and scoring abilities.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers): Semaj Christon, Xavier
Semaj Christon is one of the more underrated players in all of college basketball largely because he plays at Xavier.
He is a formidable playmaker off the dribble, is capable of hitting from behind the three-point line and has the athleticism and speed to stay in front of his opponents on the defensive end.
His size as a point guard makes him an even more intriguing prospect.
27. Miami Heat: Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
When you are the Miami Heat at this point, you take the best player available.
Talent-wise and NBA-pedigree wise, that will be Glenn Robinson III from Michigan.
Robinson can score from mid-range, post up smaller defenders and has solid touch from behind the arc. He is a capable defender as well, and his last name will probably boost him up a spot or two come draft day.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Robinson’s teammate at Michigan, Nik Stauskas, has carried the Wolverines without McGary this season.
He is a dangerous shooter from behind the three-point line, can create his own shot and has the size to defend and post up.
Teams will be intrigued by his shooting skills, but he does more than just that for Michigan.
29. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers): Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Much like McGary, injuries are a concern for Adreian Payne of Michigan State.
He is dealing with foot problems this season, which is something that can become crippling in the long run, but when healthy he is one of the best players in all of college basketball. He is a terrific rebounder, can score from the low block and even has three-point shooting prowess.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder: LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
LaQuinton Ross has an NBA skill set, even if his collegiate career has been a study in inconsistency.
He is a formidable long-range shooter, can post up smaller defenders and isn’t a bad rebounder for his size. Ross may be a bit thin in terms of NBA forwards, but his ability to score makes him an intriguing prospect at the end of the first round.
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