We're heading into a huge month for college basketball and the NBA draft. The top collegiate teams in the land will be on the sport's biggest stage, and so will the top prospects.
Every year players make positive and negative statements about their NBA readiness during the month of March. This year will be no different.
As we head into this all-important month, here's a look at the smartest picks each team can make with its first-round selections.
The draft order is fluid at this point. The selection order is a projection of the final standings and observes pending trades.
1. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, SF - Duke
If the worst team in the NBA actually ends up with the first pick, the Bucks must make Jabari Parker their selection.
Parker is the most NBA-ready prospect in a stacked draft. Though Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have more potential, Parker is the safest pick. In Milwaukee's situation, it can't afford to gamble.
2. Philadelphia 76ers - Andrew Wiggins, SF - Kansas
How locked in are some folks in 76ers Nation to the thought that Wiggins will be joining their young nucleus in 2014? Check out this tweet from Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers:
Only 22 Sixers games left until Andrew Wiggins is on the team.— Michael Levin (@Michael_Levin) March 2, 2014
Who can blame Levin? A core of Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, Thaddeus Young, Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten is exciting.
3. Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid, C - Kansas
Orlando already has Nikola Vucevic at center, but that is no reason to pass on one of the best young 7-footers to come along in years.
Vucevic is going to be a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. He's played his way into a healthy raise above the $2.75 million he's due next season.
If the Magic don't want to pay Vucevic, Embiid as the man in the middle is certainly not a bad backup plan. Teaming the two together is also an option.
Either way, taking Embiid is the best move for the Magic.
4. Sacramento Kings - Dante Exum, PG - Australia
There's talk Exum may attempt to force his way to the Los Angeles Lakers, per Sean Deveney of the Sporting News. Per Deveney, some general managers are worried the young point guard might be angling to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
Would Exum go so far as to try to angle his way onto the Lakers, who currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA? That’s the concern among some front-office executives around the league.
Deveney's quotes one general manager:
When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing. We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.
It's easy to see why some might think Exum has eyes for the Lakers, but until he or his camp comes out and says that, I'll stick to the script. The Kings need a dynamic scorer and playmaker on the perimeter. Exum is one of the best in the draft at creating for himself and teammates off the dribble.
5. Utah Jazz - Noah Vonleh, PF/C - Indiana
For the longest, I've had Julius Randle plugged into this spot, but no more. Vonleh's length (6'8" and 7'4" wingspan) and the diversity to his offensive game (.535 field-goal percentage, 15-of-27 from three-point range and .716 free-throw percentage), has me convinced.
He is a highly skilled player who is still getting better.
Vonleh would be a great fit in Utah. Basketball Forever asks a question that I don't have an answer to.
Why does no one talk about Noah Vonleh? 6'10" Indiana freshman averaging 11.7 points/9.4 rebounds. BEAST— Basketball Forever (@Bballforeverfb) February 26, 2014
I'm talking about him now.
6. Boston Celtics - Tyler Ennis, PG - Syracuse
Syracuse has begun to slip a bit, but don't blame Ennis. The team's heady point guard continues to show why he's one of the best players in the nation.
If the Celtics want to know what it feels like to have a team-first, smart, young point guard who can knock down an open jump shot, they'll draft Ennis here and shop Rajon Rondo.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers - Rodney Hood, SF - Duke
If the Cavs are unable to retain Luol Deng after the season, which seems like a real possibility, the team will still need a small forward.
Hood is a smooth lefty with a great touch from deep and underrated ball-handling skills.
8. Los Angeles Lakers - Marcus Smart, PG - Oklahoma State
Kobe Bryant's days in the NBA are numbered. L.A. needs a new leader. Say what you want about Smart's jump shot and his flare-up earlier in the season, but the kid is a winner and a leader.
With a year or two to learn and grow under Bryant's wing, he could could maximize his potential.
9. Denver Nuggets (from the New York Knicks) - Julius Randle, PF - Kentucky
Randle is still a very talented prospect, but right now he's depending too much on his power game. He won't be able to outmuscle guys in the NBA every night.
He really needs another year in school if he is to really come prepared to excel in the NBA, but he's too good of a talent to let slip out of the top 10.
The Nuggets could feasibly move Kenneth Faried for assets and a little cap relief if they took Randle here.
10. Charlotte Bobcats (from the Detroit Pistons) - Aaron Gordon, PF - Arizona
Gordon is more than just a high flyer, although it's hard not to appreciate shots like this from ZonaZoo:
Oh My Aaron Gordon! pic.twitter.com/v6VGy901Bs— ZonaZoo (@ZonaZooOfficial) February 27, 2014
The freshman also plays excellent defense and has the tools to add depth to his offensive game. Charlotte could line up a nice frontcourt rotation with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Gordon.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans) - Zach LaVine, PG/SG - UCLA
Remember that uber-athletic core I mentioned for the 76ers earlier? Add to that, LaVine, the pogo-stick combo guard out of UCLA.
As pure run-and-jump athleticism goes, he's probably the best athlete in the draft. He's also making 42 percent of his three-point shots.
If the Sixers play their cards right, their fans won't be sad for long.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves - Dario Saric, SF/PF - Croatia
Kevin Love can become a free agent (player option) after next season. If he decides to leave Minnesota, the team needs a player who can at least attempt to replace the scoring it'll lose.
Saric is more of a perimeter player than Love. At 6'10", he could be a matchup nightmare. Ideally, the Wolves could play him at the small forward with Love at power forward.
In either case, drafting Saric makes the most sense for Minny.
13. Orlando Magic (from Nuggets) - Doug McDermott, SF - Creighton
A team that features Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Embiid, Vucevic and McDermott wouldn't be half bad. With Tobias Harris also still in the fold, the Magic would be making strides back toward the playoffs.
McDermott is not going to be a star in the NBA, but as a spot-up shooter and high-post option, he could be a valuable part of an offense with athletic bigs and a dynamic young guard like Oladipo.
14. Memphis Grizzlies - James Young, SF/SG - Kentucky
Tony Allen is a great defensive stopper, but his lack of offense has always been an issue. Young isn't exactly Reggie Miller from the outside, but he is making 34 percent of his threes this season.
He's a stat-sheet stuffer (14.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists). He could play Allen's role defensively and offer more on the other end of the floor.
15. Chicago Bulls (from Bobcats) - Gary Harris, SG - Michigan State
Harris is one of the more physically strong guards in the draft. At 6'4", 210 pounds, he's able to drive to the basket under control, take contact and still get a shot up.
He also possesses a nice intermediate game. The Bulls still need perimeter scoring, and Harris is the best option available at No. 15.
16. Atlanta Hawks (from Brooklyn Nets) - Jerami Grant, SF/PF - Syracuse
Grant is a bit of a tweener at 6'8", 210 pounds. He doesn't have a small forward's skill set, but he doesn't have the bulk of a traditional power forward.
If possible, he'd be wise to pattern his game after the 76ers' Young. The Hawks need youth and athleticism in the frontcourt, and Grant is a player who can give them that.
17. Phoenix Suns (from the Washington Wizards) - P.J. Hairston, SG/SF - North Carolina/D-League
The Suns have been the biggest surprise in the NBA. The team is fighting for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. They have done it without a proven score to lead them on the offensive end.
Part of taking the next step for the team will require finding a go-to man down the stretch of games.
As one-on-one scorers go, Hairston is one of the best in the draft. He's currently showing his skills in the NBA D-League. He's already had two 40-point scoring performances, and he's averaging 22.2 points per game.
He could give the Suns the extra scoring punch it needs.
18. Chicago Bulls - Kyle Anderson, SF/PG - UCLA
Versatility is the key word with Anderson. He can legitimately play four positions in the NBA. At 6'9", 230 pounds with the ball-handling, passing and vision of a point guard, Anderson is a rare prospect.
The downside is his lack of elite-level athleticism. Because of this, he's not going to be drafted in the lottery. That could be the Bulls' gain.
Anderson could provide the Bulls a bench player capable of coming in to spell anyone from Derrick Rose to Taj Gibson during the 2014-15 season.
19. Boston Celtics (from Hawks) - Adreian Payne, PF - Michigan State
One of the more underrated big men in the draft is Payne. He's a better-than-average athlete, a good shooter for a big man (42 percent from three) and he comes from a great program.
The Celtics could be getting one of the steals of the first round if they took him here.
20. Toronto Raptors - Clint Capela, PF - Switzerland
Capela is long (6'10.5", 7'3" wingspan), athletic, and raw. But the combination is always sure to intrigue scouts. It seems to have worked out fairly well with the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Scouts knew little about him but as the buzz began to grow, so did the knowledge of his potential.
Expect a similar process as the NBA draft approaches with Capela.
The Raptors have had issues maintaining the services of their American stars. Targeting top-notch international prospects when possible is a smart approach. Capela could get decent playing time at power forward for the Raptors fairly soon.
21. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors) - Nik Stauskas, SG - Michigan
Stauskas has swagger, and he needs it. He doesn't get the credit he deserves as an athlete. He isn't just a spot-up shooter. He can create space for himself off the dribble and get to the basket.
If the Jazz lose Gordon Hayward, Stauskas could make the transition pretty smooth. Think Stauskas knows he's underrated? Check out this tweet from him:
Embrace the hate and doubt. I've been the underdog since I started hooping at 7!— Nik Stauskas (@NStauskas11) February 22, 2014
22. Dallas Mavericks - Willie Cauley-Stein, C - Kentucky
As long as the Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki, they will need a defensive-minded rim protector at the center position to be at their best.
That's partially why the team peaked when Tyson Chandler was there.
Cauley-Stein has similar qualities to Chandler, though he could also wind up more like Ryan Hollins. In any case, this is the smartest pick for the Mavs here.
23. Phoenix Suns - Montrezl Harrell, PF - Louisville
The Suns are going to need another frontcourt presence to pick up Emeka Okafor's minutes in the 2014-15 season. The team will almost certainly look for a veteran, but taking the strong and athletic Harrell here makes sense as well.
He and Faried have some similar qualities.
24. Houston Rockets - Jusuf Nurkic, C - Bosnia
Omer Asik has been unhappy in Houston. Even though the Rockets haven't moved him, it's unlikely he'd remain with the team after his contract expires at the end of next season.
If Houston likes having the rotation of long, defensive bigs, it could target Nurkic with this pick.
Nurkic is another international prospect with great length. He's 6'11" with a 7'2" wingspan. He could give the team a developing young player, insurance for losing Asik and depth behind Dwight Howard.
25. Los Angeles Clippers - Sam Dekker, SF - Wisconsin
The Clips have veterans like Matt Barnes, Antawn Jamison and Jared Dudley at the small forward position, but getting younger here would be a plus.
Dekker is a good all-around player who could develop into a glue guy for Doc Rivers.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (from Trail Blazers) - Wayne Selden Jr., SG - Kansas
The Bobcats only allow 97 points per game. The only problem is, the team only scores 95 themselves. Adding offense is important this offseason.
Selden Jr. has some untapped scoring ability. He's had to peel his game back a bit playing with such a talented Jayhawks squad. As a late first-round pick, he could be a nice pickup for Charlotte.
27. Miami Heat - K.J. McDaniels, SF/SG - Clemson
The only athlete on LaVine's level in this draft is McDaniels. Unlike LaVine, McDaniels has some strength to go with his speed and leaping ability.
He could help the Heat most as a defender and slasher off the bench. If Miami retains LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, a player like McDaniels could relieve some of the defensive burden off of them.
28. San Antonio Spurs - Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG - Serbia
Manu Ginobili's time as an elite scorer is over. The Spurs need another player capable of creating off the dribble for himself and others.
Bogdanovic is just 21 years old and he has good size and athleticism for the position at 6'6", 200 pounds. Late in the first round, teams have to be willing to take chances on international prospects.
Bogdanovic could pay off for San Antonio just as Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and others have.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Roy Devyn Marble, SG/PG - Iowa
Marble is a scorer, but he's also a very good passer as evidenced by his 3.4 assists per game this season. At 6'6", 200 pounds, he can play either guard position. With a player like Kevin Durant, you don't necessarily have to have a conventional point guard.
If the Thunder don't at least reach the NBA Finals this season, the team may start thinking about going in a different direction at point guard. Marble could find his niche with the team if he plays off Durant well.
At worst, he'd challenge Jeremy Lamb for minutes at 2-guard.
30. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers) - Nick Johnson, PG - Arizona
There's the obvious geographical connection, but beyond that, Johnson's smart play is ideal for a backup point guard role. He's an excellent athlete with a winning attitude.
The Suns would do well to add depth, smarts and athleticism to their bench.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
All contract information per Spotrac.com
All height and weight references per Draft Express.
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