2014 NBA Mock Draft: First-Round Projections Entering NCAA Tournament
You hate to see an injury affect the NBA draft, considering we saw it happen last year, but Joel Embiid's stress fracture has raised a bit of concern over his durability.
And with the NCAA tournament upon us, his draft-day challengers will have one last opportunity to pitch their games to NBA decision-makers.
Unfortunately for Embiid, there also isn't a high demand for centers at the top of the draft board, either. And because of it, he's fallen from the No. 1 spot.
Still, this is a fluid situation. And it will stay like that until March Madness is complete and Embiid undergoes a physical during the pre-draft process.
But for now, we have a new top dog, as well as a new prospect to move into our 2014 top three.
Draft order set based on current NBA standings. All future trades have been taken into account.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8", SF, Freshman
The Bucks can't screw this up. Even though Joel Embiid's injury doesn't appear to be serious, it's not the stress fracture that's the issue—it's the durability factor.
Can Embiid's 7'0", 240-pound body hold up through the grind of 82-game-plus seasons? One scout told me anonymously that he believes the injury is a "concern for sure."
It could be a completely isolated incident or a sign of things to come. Either way, it's a question we aren't asking about Jabari Parker, who's established himself as the safest option on the board.
And when you're a team that needs a guaranteed building block, the combo of safe and upside seems like a good bet to make.
Andrew Wiggins has looked good lately, but he just seems to occupy a little too much of the same floor space that Giannis Antetokounmpo takes up in Milwaukee. Parker has the ability to play inside or out as a perimeter scorer or as a post threat.
He's been consistent, he plays with passion, and there aren't any concerns regarding his health, mentality, skill set or position.
If the Bucks are looking to make a pick based on the most favorable risk-to-reward ratio, Parker is the guy.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8", SF, Freshman
Andrew Wiggins was likely the guy the Philadelphia 76ers were thinking about when they traded Jrue Holiday last summer.
And now they'll have a chance to get him.
With some concern surrounding Joel Embiid's durability, along with the presence of center Nerlens Noel, the Sixers might be inclined to fill that glaring hole on the wing.
Wiggins has flashed some of that superstar upside lately—he hung 41 points on West Virginia and 30 on Oklahoma State in back-to-back games. And he's playing with the confidence and aggression scouts have been wanting to see all year.
The Sixers already have one center with an injury history. I can't imagine they'd want another when they could grab Wiggins to play small forward.
3. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6", PG/SG, 1995
Unfortunately for Joel Embiid, the Orlando Magic already have a promising center in Nikola Vucevic. And playing them together seems like a stretch.
Cue Dante Exum, whose pro potential is flat-out scary.
This would be Orlando's chance to get its floor general of the future. At 6'6" with a point guard's handle and a 2-guard's scoring arsenal, Exum has a two-way, NBA All-Star ceiling.
We've seen him take over games the last two summers during the FIBA World Championships, when he helped lead Australia to a silver and bronze in back-to-back years.
He also stood out at last year's Nike Hoops Summit against guys like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon.
Exum is the real deal, and with the durability concerns and positional conflict that come with Embiid, he could be the answer for Orlando in the backcourt.
4. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0", C, Freshman
This back injury has the chance to hurt Joel Embiid's stock from a number of different angles.
For starters, it happened just before the NCAA tournament and just over three months before the draft. But it's also allowed his teammate Andrew Wiggins to flourish.
Plus, the big man-injury combo is never a good look.
And with three teams drafting in the top three that already have centers in place, it's possible Embiid slips to No. 4.
That would make Embiid the ultimate value pick for Boston, especially if it turns out it's just an isolated injury. The potential reward here is just too great four picks deep, given his two-way upside as a post scorer and rim protector.
Unless doctors reveal that this back problem is something that could linger, the Celtics can't let him slide past them.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Noah Vonleh's season is over, but don't put the blame on him. Vonleh had a tremendous freshman year that saw him lead the Big Ten in rebounding despite playing just 26.5 minutes per game.
From a scouting perspective, the 6'10" size, 240-pound frame and 7'4" wingspan stand out the second he hits the floor. Vonleh has sensational physical tools built for the NBA game, along with the motor and interior instincts that allow him to control the glass.
But Vonleh's skill set, though unpolished, is extremely advanced for an 18-year-old. He's got the back-to-the-basket game in the post, where he can hop-step into a jump hook or drop-step into a layup. And we've also seen him play on the perimeter, something the Utah Jazz bigs can't do.
Vonleh made 16 of his 33 three-point attempts this season.
The Jazz just need to go with the top prospect available, and with no real red flags or questions, Vonleh looks like the most promising option on the board.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Julius Randle has had a few games to forget this season, and Kentucky's loss to Florida in the SEC championship game was one of them. He finished just 1-of-7 with four points and seven boards.
But the Lakers have to be thinking upside here, and Randle's devastating blend of athleticism, strength and mobility is rather appealing. We've seen him dominate the interior this season, and he's also shown off his versatility with some coast-to-coast takes off defensive rebounds.
Without much of a perimeter game, along with short arms and questionable offensive instincts, I've got Randle slotted just behind Indiana's Noah Vonleh, who's a better shooter and has a five-inch wingspan advantage.
But you just can't argue with that 15-point, 10.5-rebound double-double Randle has been averaging as a freshman.
He has the chance to give L.A. a punishing power forward presence in the paint.
7. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG/SG, Sophomore
Since returning from his three-game suspension, Marcus Smart has been back on his game. And when he's locked in, he's a one-man difference-maker.
And that's what the Kings need—not just another raw, big-shot prospect who may or may not offer something in 2018.
Smart could step in for Sacramento next season and bring some toughness and heady play to the backcourt.
8. Detroit Pistons: Rodney Hood, Duke, 6'8", SF, Sophomore
Rodney Hood's versatility was built for the pros, where his 6'8" size, lethal outside stroke and mobility are a fit on the wing.
He's not scoring in bulk like he was earlier in the year, but Hood's 42 percent three-ball has remained consistent throughout.
In between, he can also work the pull-up and floater game, and he can finish above the rim off drives and lobs.
The Pistons, whose pick goes to Charlotte if it lands outside the top eight, could really use a guy who can stretch the defense and knock down shots.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG, Sophomore
Gary Harris looked sharp in Michigan State's win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament title game. He went for 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, scoring with the jumper and the drive.
He's become a more complete player this season, particularly off the dribble, where he's now a threat to put it on the floor and create. Harris has nearly doubled his assist rate this year while raising his scoring average up to 17.1 points per game.
He'd be an excellent fit in Cleveland with his ability to score within an offense, something that Dion Waiters has struggled to do since entering the league.
10. Denver Nuggets (via N.Y.): Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Sophomore
Nik Stauskas continues to impress with his new-and-improved floor game and scoring arsenal. He's become an extremely tough cover one-on-one, where he can beat defenders off the dribble and get to the rack or pull up and fire a jumper right over the top.
In between, he's an excellent passer, a high-IQ presence and a deceivingly good athlete.
Stauskas is also shooting 44.9 percent from downtown after shooting it 44 percent as a freshman.
The kid is lights out on the perimeter, has excellent size for his position and has evolved into a pretty complete offensive threat. And he also just led his team to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Stauskas has gotten the attention of scouts and sold me in the process.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (via N.O.): Dario Saric, Croatia, 6'10", SF/PF, 1994
It's looking more and more like Dario Saric might be a draft-and-stash option, if he does in fact choose to declare.
And given how far away the Philadelphia 76ers are from competing, they might be one of the few teams willing to wait.
The reward really could be worth it. Saric is dominating overseas, leading the Adriatic League in both scoring and rebounding.
“I will not decide anything until the end of the season,” Saric said via Emiliano Carchia of Sportando.com. “In the summer I will determine my future. For my development the best is to stay in Europe but we’ll see what happens. I don’t even have an agent right now. I will talk with my family but I will make the final decision."
We'll have a better idea of his intentions as we get closer to May and June. But from a talent perspective, Saric looks good enough to justify lottery looks.
12. Orlando Magic: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Sophomore
It's as if it just clicked midseason. Montrezl Harrell has been dominant the past few weeks, and he's helped make Louisville the threat it's become.
He's averaging 19.1 points and 8.5 boards over his last eight games. Between his size, strength, leaping ability and coordination, he's really one of the top pound-for-pound athletes in the country.
Harrell has been a monster around the rim as a finisher and scorer, and he's even flashed some touch in the mid-range. After entering the season as a raw, unrefined prospect, it looks like Harrell is finally starting to cook at just the right time.
He's going to kill it at the NBA combine with the athletic and eye tests. But if he's able to make a March Madness impact and propel Louisville on a run, we could be talking lottery.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'6", PG/SG, Freshman
Zach LaVine's role and numbers continue to fluctuate, but his NBA upside remains intact.
He's flashed it too often throughout the season. With showtime athleticism, a dangerous handle and a lights-out outside stroke, the talent is there, as are the tools he'll need to fine-tune it.
Though still a few years from being NBA ready, LaVine is the type of prospect you reach on if there's nobody on the board who stands out as an immediate contributor.
14. Phoenix Suns: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore
Willie Cauley-Stein's bright spots should ultimately allow scouts to overlook the dark ones.
Without the ability to really create his own shot, he's had trouble this season finding ways to make a consistent impact.
But when his motor is revved and the ball is bouncing his way, Cauley-Stein can change a game on the interior. He was terrific against Florida in the SEC tournament title game, finishing with 10 points, 11 boards, five blocks and two steals.
You won't find many 7-footers that possess Cauley-Stein's athletic ability. And that's what drives his NBA potential: his ability to finish and defend above the rim.
Cauley-Stein would seem like an appropriate fit on Phoenix, a team with crafty playmakers, and one that plays to the strengths of the athletic.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'8", SF/PF, Freshman
Aaron Gordon hasn't been able to score with much consistency this season. His offensive game isn't there yet, but he's made up for a lack of skill with some admirable instincts, defensive versatility and easy-bucket athleticism around the rim.
In Arizona's loss to UCLA in the conference tournament, Gordon struggled to score, though he picked up eight boards, eight assists and two steals.
He's going to have to develop his off-the-dribble and post games. And he has to do something about that shot—Gordon is only hitting 30.8 percent from downtown and a disastrous 43.5 percent at the line.
But the talent and physical tools are there if he can channel them accordingly. Shawn Marion seems like the type of forward after which Gordon should be looking to model his game.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6'2", PG, Freshman
The Orange have stunk lately, but Tyler Ennis has already left his mark on the season.
And he's actually been quite productive through the turbulence that Syracuse has hit. Ennis is averaging 17.6 points and five assists on 42.9 percent shooting from downtown over his last five games.
Ennis might not have that flashy upside, but scouts love his poise and playmaking instincts.
The Bulls might want to draft another point guard so they don't have to rely on playing Derrick Rose for 35 minutes each night. Ennis would seem ideal with one of the team's two first-round picks.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): James Young, Kentucky, 6'6", SG, Freshman
James Young is averaging 14.5 points per game as a freshman for Kentucky, so it's tough to be too critical. But he's struggled to knock down shots with consistency, which, paired with his inability to create, has weighed negatively on his stock.
Still, Young has that ability to make shots in bunches and inject a lineup with some offensive firepower. He's making over two three-pointers a game this season, and when the opportunity presents itself, he can stop and pop in the mid-range, score off one foot with a floater or finish in transition.
Young has been pretty weak at the defensive end, but the Boston Celtics could use his size, athleticism and shot-making skills at the 2-guard position.
18. Phoenix Suns: Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6'8", SF, Senior
I'd imagine Phoenix would be thrilled if it got a crack at Doug McDermott, who looks like your favorite to win National Player of the Year.
McDermott just had himself a ridiculous season, averaging nearly 27 points a game on 45 percent shooting from downtown. Despite entering each game with a target on his head, nobody has been able to really slow him down.
There are some questions regarding his defensive outlook, considering he only has four blocks and eight steals the entire season. Plus, he's 22 years old, which might prevent a team from reaching.
But as a mid-first-rounder, he offers excellent value to a Phoenix team looking for an immediate contributor, and preferably one who can throw the orange in the basket.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State, 6'8", SF, Sophomore
T.J. Warren has been a scoring machine over the past two months. The last time he didn't notch at least 20 points? January 11.
Warren went for 40-plus points back-to-back earlier in March, and with a strong win over Syracuse (thanks to Warren's 28 points), N.C. State gets to go dancing.
It's not like he's been playing garbage competition, either. Warren just has a knack for putting the ball in the hole, whether he's attacking, pulling up or floating it over traffic.
The Bulls could use some offense on the wing, and at 6'8", 215 pounds with a 24.8-point-per-game average, Warren looks to have the physical tools and scoring touch to fill it up.
20. Toronto Raptors: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'3", PG, Junior
Elfrid Payton came up big in overtime of the Sun Belt tournament title game, propelling the Ragin' Cajuns into the dance as a No. 14 seed.
Scouts have viewed Payton as a second-rounder over the past two years, but his breakout season has loosened the needle. And now he'll get a chance to move it against Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Payton has all the credentials. At 6'3", he's got the point guard size, mind and explosive athleticism. He even has a little John Wall in his game if you can expand your imagination a bit.
But the mid-major label has hurt him. Now on the national stage, Payton will have the opportunity to show what he can do against Doug McDermott and the No. 3-seeded Creighton Bluejays.
The Raptors might need a point next year if Kyle Lowry leaves this summer. And Payton might be picking up steam as the best one on the board after Syracuse's Tyler Ennis.
21. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends, 6'6", SG
The Memphis Grizzlies could really use an offensive punch at the 2-guard position, which just happens to be P.J. Hairston's speciality.
He's averaging over 21 points on 36.4 percent shooting from downtown in the D-League. Last year, he led North Carolina in scoring with over 14 points a game.
At 6'6", Hairston is a physical guard with long arms who can light up the perimeter, attack off the bounce and create turnovers at the defensive end.
Assuming no red flags emerge during the pre-draft interview process, Hairston should get plenty of first-round looks.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia, 6'11", C, 1994
One of the strongest impact prospects overseas, Jusuf Nurkic has been making the most of the 16 minutes a game he's getting for Cedevita.
He's got the highest Player Efficiency Rating of any player in the Adriatic League, where he's averaging 28.6 points and 13.7 boards per 40 minutes.
Nurkic is a monster at 6'11", 280 pounds, and he has the footwork and touch to score in the post with his back to the rim.
It's tough not to think of Nikola Pekovic a little when watching him crush opponents on the interior.
The Thunder might have trouble finding an immediate contributor. Nurkic just gives them another long-term big man to build with down the road.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'8", SF/PF, Sophomore
Jerami Grant appears to be in business after a back injury limited him early this month. He returned to put up 16 points and eight boards against Florida State and 19 and 10 against North Carolina State.
With that 7'2" wingspan and electric athleticism, Grant's presence can be constantly felt on the interior. Tips, finishes, layups, offensive rebounds—loose balls just tend to find his hands around the rim.
He's even started knocking down some mid-range jumpers.
Grant hasn't hit a three-pointer all season, which makes you question what position fits him best in the pros. But for teams looking to inject some athleticism and off-the-ball playmaking into the lineup, Grant could be a nice mid-to-late first-round pickup.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10", PF
Adreian Payne had two strong games for Michigan State to close out the Big Ten tournament. He finished with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in only 17 minutes against Wisconsin, and he followed with 18 points and nine boards in the title game against Michigan.
With a destructive blend of size, length, power and athleticism, Payne is a handful on the interior.
This season, he's added a reliable jumper. Payne has hit 34-of-81 three-pointers this season, good for 42 percent, and he's at nearly 75 percent from the stripe.
The Bobcats might want to consider Payne for frontcourt depth as a pick-and-pop option off the bench. And at 23 years old, Payne should be ready to roll sooner than later.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, Switzerland, 6'10", PF, 1994
A breakout season abroad has put Clint Capela on the map. He's been around the radar, but now it looks like he's here to stay. And it's not difficult to spot what NBA scouts are so impressed with.
He's a tremendous athlete with ridiculous size and length, a common description for most young, raw yet promising power forwards.
Capela is shooting around 67 percent as a pick-and-roll machine in France, and he's averaging 13.1 boards and 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes.
Look for the buzz to increase once the NCAA tournament wraps up next month.
26. Los Angeles Clippers: Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6'3", PG/SG, Junior
Nick Johnson's athletic ability has always been his core strength, but this year, he's finding more ways to score and make plays throughout a game.
Johnson is averaging 16.2 points this season. Whether he's attacking the basket, pulling up in space or using his incredible hops to finish plays off the ball, he remains in constant playmaking mode.
And he's also the leader for the No. 1 seed in the West region.
Johnson is more of a combo guard than a point or shooting guard, but if he can find a niche—arguably the same one that Avery Bradley has been able to fill—his top-shelf athleticism and two-way motor could be useful off the bench.
27. Miami Heat: Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6'9", PG/SF, Sophomore
Kyle Anderson has established himself as one of the toughest covers in the country and ultimately one of the more unique prospects we've come across in quite some time.
He just dropped 21 points, 15 boards and five assists on Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game. He's even shooting 48.1 percent from downtown this year.
But despite the loaded stat lines and box scores, there are still questions as to whether his slow-motion style of play will translate. Some scouts are skeptical over his defensive outlook, and they wonder if he can run the point despite lacking in speed or athleticism.
Still, some scouts believe the mismatch he presents gives him lottery value. His projections are all over the place, but if Anderson does slip, the potential reward should be worth the risk anywhere after No. 20.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: C.J. Wilcox, Washington, 6'5", SG, Senior
C.J. Wilcox projects as a shooting specialist after making over 300 three-pointers during his four-year career at Washington.
At 6'5", he has the size and adequate athleticism to play the 2 in the NBA, and with that quick and short release, he's a threat to catch and shoot whenever he gets a touch.
Wilcox is the type of player who's going to be more effective with better playmakers around him, the way Tim Hardaway Jr. has been on the Knicks.
He'll probably be able to step right into Oklahoma City's lineup and provide it with a knock-down shooter and three-point sniper. His 18.3 points per game average aren't likely to translate, but his jumper should.
29. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6'1", PG, Senior
Shabazz Napier had another strong season in what seems like his ninth year at Connecticut.
He's averaging 17.4 points, 5.9 boards and 4.9 assists per game on 39 percent shooting from downtown, and he has the Huskies locked in as a No. 7 seed in the dance.
Napier is exceptionally skilled, from his ball-handling to his shot-creating and three-point range. And he's as mentally tough as anyone.
He'll have a chance to earn himself a backup role for a long time in this league. And the Suns could use one right about now.
30. San Antonio Spurs: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson, 6'6", SF, Junior
Few wings in the country have made a bigger two-way impact than K.J. McDaniels, who, at 6'6", led the ACC in shot-blocking. It just highlights his above-the-rim presence.
McDaniels also averaged 17 points and seven boards this season.
He struggled shooting the ball, but he's proven to be capable of knocking down shots when in rhythm. In between, he's an explosive attacker and big-time finisher before or after contact.
A high flier with an NBA body and a much-improved offensive game, McDaniels has officially entered the first-round conversation.