March is a big month for college basketball and the NBA draft.
Once the conference tournaments and NCAA tournament begin, top prospects will see their stocks rise, plummet or become confirmed. Chances are the big three you've been hearing about all season will remain the most coveted players.
Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kansas' Joel Embiid seem like a lock to go 1, 2 and 3. The exact order depends on how the balls drop in the lottery, and how the three young men perform in March.
As we head into one of the most important stretches during the basketball calendar year, here's a look at my latest mock draft.
The draft order is obviously very fluid. The selections in this mock are based on the current records as of Feb. 23. It also recognizes traded picks.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
1. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, SF - Duke
Counting this lost season, Milwaukee will have made the playoffs just three times in the last 10 years. Unless you count Michael Redd—which you shouldn't—the Bucks have been without a marquee star since 2002, when Ray Allen last wore the uniform.
Milwaukee needs a star that it can depend on. Of all the teams in the lottery, it can least afford to miss on its first pick. While Parker doesn't have the most potential of the trio of candidates for the top spot, he is the most NBA-ready, and the safest.
That's a direction the Bucks have to go in, because they can't afford to remain sorry.
2. Philadelphia 76ers - Andrew Wiggins, SF - Kansas
With Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten in the fold, the Sixers should be ecstatic to grab the player whom many were calling the unquestioned No. 1 pick months ago.
Wiggins has had his ups and downs this season. However, any team that wouldn't take an ultra-athletic, 19-year-old freshman, who is already averaging 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, is crazy.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla sees Wiggins' talent and growth:
Andrew Wiggins lock Top 5, great kid, great attitude, playing hard, improving understanding of game. Consistency down the stretch is next.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) February 25, 2014
3. Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid, C - Kansas
Who would you take No. 1?
So what that the Magic already have a very productive Nikola Vucevic at center. He's going to be a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, and because he's played so well, you can bet he's going to get a healthy raise above the $2.75 million he's due next season.
Taking Embiid would ensure the Magic won't be left with a hole to fill in the middle. In the meantime, Embiid and Vucevic could either give the team a solid rotation of bigs or a good twin-tower effect.
This is a no-lose situation for Orlando.
4. Sacramento Kings - Dante Exum, PG - Australia
Exum has the talent and buzz to rise into the top three picks. His size, speed and upside are exciting for a point guard prospect. At 6'6", he's drawn some comparisons to former Orlando Magic great Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway.
If he can be half as good—and stay healthy—the Kings could have the steal of the draft, even at this high of a pick.
5. Utah Jazz - Julius Randle, PF - Kentucky
Randle struggled a bit when conference play began, but he seems to be getting back to the dominance he showed early in the season.
That's especially the case on the glass. In his last four games, he's averaging 13.2 rebounds per game. Randle is beginning to play the game with a chip on his shoulder, which is a good thing.
In an interview with Larry Vaught of Vaught's Views, Randle dismissed criticism about his game and focused on the major goal. Randle said:
"It is what is [on the scrutiny]. I don't care about that. It may or may not be true, but I'm playing basketball. I didn't come here to be liked. I came here to win a championship,"
This is all just a part of the maturation of a young man.
The Jazz have Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, but depth is a good thing. Also, Randle's presence could make Kanter or Favors expendable, which could help to provide trade bait to acquire a quality veteran wing player.
6. Boston Celtics - Marcus Smart, PG - Oklahoma State
Say what you want about Smart's blowup at a Texas Tech fan Feb. 8 and poor outside shooting. He's still a coachable, team-first leader. I'm not sure anyone still would categorize Rajon Rondo as such.
At some point, it seems like Rondo is going to get moved. Handing the keys to Smart, under the tutelage of head coach Brad Stevens, wouldn't be a bad look for the Celtics.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers - Noah Vonleh, PF/C - Indiana
With every game, it seems Vonleh gets better. Because of his shooting touch and motor, it's possible he could rise as high as No. 5 in this draft.
Jeff Rabjohns of Peegs.com gushes over the freshman's perimeter game:
Noah Vonleh's perimeter skills are so underrated. The Indiana freshman can drive and shoot 3s.— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) February 23, 2014
The Cavs need a young big man to pair with Kyrie Irving. It may be the only thing to help convince him to stay in Cleveland long term.
8. Los Angeles Lakers - Tyler Ennis, PG - Syracuse
Kobe Bryant's days in the NBA are numbered. For a person who loves basketball, it hurts to admit that, but it's true. The Lakers must look to find another natural leader, and there isn't a better one in this draft than Ennis.
He's not going to wow you with stats—unless of course you look at his 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio—but he has remarkable feel for the game.
As the Lakers move toward the post-Mamba era, Ennis would be a great choice as a leader to take the mantle.
9. Denver Nuggets (from the New York Knicks) - Rodney Hood, SF/SG - Duke
Hood is a silky smooth three-point shooter with the handle to create space for his own shot. With Danilo Gallinari battling injuries during the last two seasons, adding talent and depth on the wing is the way to go for the Nuggets.
Don't think Hood has the skills to handle the ball and play the 2-guard? North Carolina State guard Rodney Purvis warns the Twitterverse against sleeping on Hood's skills:
Y'all sleep on bro Rodney Hood you want to. He a 6'8 shooting guard !!!!— Rodney Purvis (@rpurvis44) February 21, 2014
10. Charlotte Bobcats (from the Detroit Pistons) - Aaron Gordon, PF - Arizona
With Al Jefferson in place at center, the Bobcats could use a scoring wing, but there isn't any value at the position this high in the draft.
Gordon is a safe pick because of his athleticism, defensive-minded approach and motor. He's a winner.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans) - Zach LaVine, PG/SG - UCLA
The Sixers are building a core of long, athletic and versatile young players. If the team takes Wiggins with the No. 2 pick, LaVine would fit in well with the new nucleus.
Though he's still a bit raw, he already has shown the ability to make his outside shot, and he may be the best pure athlete in the draft.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves - Dario Saric, SF/PF - Croatia
With the real possibility that Kevin Love could bolt the team when he can become a free agent (player option) after next season, Minnesota has to consider drafting a player who can play his position.
Saric won't be anywhere close to the rebounder Love is, but he does offer unique ball-handling and passing skills that could make him a matchup nightmare.
Of course, this talk is contingent upon Saric actually entering the draft and coming to the NBA next season. As Jonathan Givony of Draft Express explains, that's far from a given:
Dario Saric may still elect to enter the draft, get picked, and stay another year or two in Europe. Lots of confusion around his situation.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) February 22, 2014
13. Orlando Magic (from Nuggets) - Doug McDermott, SF - Creighton
McDermott will not be a star in the NBA, but his basketball IQ and smooth shooting stroke will translate well. Placing him on a team that could conceivably include Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Embiid and Vucevic is an intriguing possibility.
14. Memphis Grizzlies - James Young, SF/SG - Kentucky
Young is the most consistent performer for the Kentucky Wildcats this season. He's a stat-sheet stuffer whose game really will hit its stride, when and if his jump shot becomes more consistent.
Tony Allen is good, but Young could be a less offensively-challenged defensive stopper for the Grizzlies.
15. Chicago Bulls (from Bobcats) - Gary Harris, SG - Michigan State
Though he's not a freakish athlete, the 6'4", 210-pound Harris knows how to create his own shot and put the ball in the basket. He's physically strong and, at the very least, could give the Bulls a much-needed scorer off the bench.
In the motion offense the Bulls run, the skills Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman lauds in Harris, make him an ideal fit in Chicago:
Michigan St's Gary Harris moves so effectively without the ball, knows how to score within the flow of the offense. Such a valuable instinct— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) February 21, 2014
16. Atlanta Hawks (from Brooklyn Nets) - Jerami Grant, SF/PF - Syracuse
Grant is a plus athlete, but he's a bit of a tweener. At 6'8", 210 pounds, he is short and thin for the power forward spot, but he doesn't have the ball-handling or perimeter skills to be a conventional wing.
He still could be a valuable defender and finisher off the bench for the Hawks. His 7'2" wingspan is rare for a player of his height.
17. Phoenix Suns (from the Washington Wizards) - P.J. Hairston, SG/SF - North Carolina/D-League
The Suns are the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season. The team isn't going to win the NBA championship, but it is headed in the right direction under head coach Jeff Hornacek.
Adding a pure scorer like Hairston would give the team a wing player who could develop into a go-to man down the stretch in close games.
Who will have the better career?
18. Chicago Bulls - Kyle Anderson, SF/PG - UCLA
Anderson is the most unique prospect in the draft. He isn't blessed with great foot speed or leaping ability, but he's 6'9", handles the ball, passes like a guard, grabs 8.6 rebounds per game and knocks down 50 percent of his threes (22-for-44).
He should appeal to the Bulls because of his versatility on offense.
19. Boston Celtics (from Hawks) - Adreian Payne, PF - Michigan State
There's a chance that the Celtics could move Jeff Green and Brandon Bass during the offseason. Even if the C's retain one of them, they could still use a player like Payne.
He has excellent touch from the outside, as evidenced by his 42.6 three-point percentage. He's also big, strong and agile at 6'10", 245 pounds.
20. Toronto Raptors - Clint Capela, PF - Switzerland
Capela is a long (6'10" 7'3" wingspan), athletic, but raw big man. The video scouting reports on him show a pivot player who could immediately impact a team as a shot-blocker and finisher close to the basket.
The Raptors would seem to have a better chance maintaining the services of a player who isn't American. The team just might want to target international players whenever it gets a chance.
Capela is one of this draft's best from overseas. Givony called Capela a first-round prospect in early February, and he predicts others will jump on the bandwagon soon:
Shocking to me that we're the only ones that consider Clint Capela a 1st round prospect. I'm sure after the @nikehoopsummit that will change— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) February 1, 2014
21. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors) - Nik Stauskas, SG - Michigan
This season Stauskas has shown off excellent athleticism to go with his dead-eye shooting. He's one of the biggest sleepers in the draft. The Jazz would be tabbing a pretty nice insurance policy in the event Gordon Hayward walks.
22. Dallas Mavericks - Willie Cauley-Stein, C - Kentucky
WCS may never become a good scorer in the NBA, but his size, athleticism and timing for blocked shots will make him a good rim protector.
23. Phoenix Suns - Sam Dekker, SF - Wisconsin
Although his three-point shooting numbers have fallen from 39 percent as a freshman to 34 percent as a sophomore, Dekker has been more efficient overall.
The defensive culture that is preached at Wisconsin will have prepared him perfectly to fit into the environment Hornacek has created in Phoenix.
24. Houston Rockets - Jusuf Nurkic, C - Bosnia
Nurkic is another international prospect with great length. He's 6'11" with a 7'2" wingspan. The Rockets may not be able to hold on to Omer Asik next season. If that's the case, taking a player like Nurkic could give the team a developing young player and depth behind Dwight Howard.
25. Los Angeles Clippers - Montrezl Harrell, PF - Louisville
Frontcourt depth is an issue for the Clippers. Harrell could provide toughness, rebounding and energy for the Clips. He is undersized to play the center, but similar to the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem, his strength and motor allow him to play bigger than he is.
As you can see from this video, Harrell is a bit more athletic than Haslem.
Howie Lindsey of the Louisville SportsReport talks about one of Harrell's qualities:
Montrezl Harrell said after the game that he wants to be this team's "engine." He said he wants his energy to light a fire for his teammates— Howie Lindsey (@howielindsey) February 23, 2014
26. Charlotte Bobcats (from Trail Blazers) - Wayne Selden Jr., SG - Kansas
The Bobcats need more scoring from the wings and some offensive punch off its bench. Early in Selden's career, he could deliver both.
He could be held back a bit by all the talent on the Jayhawks' roster. If that's the case, he could be a real gem for the Bobcats late in the first round.
27. Miami Heat - K.J. McDaniels, SF/SG - Clemson
McDaniels might be the only athlete in the draft on par with LaVine. He has amazing leaping ability, and he's also physically strong.
Assuming the Heat retain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's services, McDaniels could take pressure off both on the defensive end.
28. San Antonio Spurs - Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG - Serbia
The Spurs have done well drafting international players. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker may be on their way to the Hall of Fame. Players like Tiago Splitter have made nice contributions to the organization.
Bogdanovic is a 21-year-old, offensive-minded wing player who could replace Ginobili as the primary scorer off the bench. Eurostep also mentions another aspect of Bogdanovic's game that doesn't get a lot of attention:
Underrated aspect of Bogdan Bogdanovic's game: His knack for stealing. Can pick it up from right under your nose, very sneaky.— EuroStep (@eurostepblog) February 23, 2014
29. Oklahoma City Thunder - T.J. Warren, SF - North Carolina
Few players in college basketball are scoring like Warren.
He's averaging 23.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for NC State. His three-point shooting has dipped off considerably this season, though. He's now making just 29 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Because he's not a great athlete, he needs to be more consistent from long range. Still, he has a nose for scoring the basketball around the basket, and he moves well without the ball.
Those are the tools of a valuable bench player.
30. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers) - Nick Johnson, PG - Arizona
Aside from the local connection, Johnson is an excellent leader and floor general. He also has extraordinary athleticism and good strength for a point guard.
Taking him would give the Suns three solid point guards, or it would allow for either Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe to be moved in a tough trade that could render the other pieces the team needs to move forward,
All height and weight references per Draft Express.
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