With the 2013-14 campaign winding down and the NCAA tournament in the rearview, many basketball fans will soon be left with nothing to look forward to but a long offseason, highlighted by free agency and the draft.
The 2014 NBA draft is still a few months away, but there is no better time than now to start brushing up on the top prospects and potential landing destinations for each—assuming they all declare.
Let's take a look at how the first round could shake out in the latest mock draft.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Wiggins is a bona fide star in the making and will be able to help turn around the abysmal Bucks if they're fortunate enough to win the lottery.
While he struggled at times during his lone freshman season with the Jayhawks, the Canadian native should be able to live up to lofty expectations in the NBA. He is a can’t-miss pick who could completely alter the fate of these franchise, so expect Milwaukee to make the selection if it holds the top pick this coming June.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The Sixers shouldn’t be too upset if they aren’t able to lock up the No. 1 overall pick after one of the most blatant tanking efforts in NBA history. There will be a bevy of options at their disposal, and none look better than Embiid.
The Jayhawks star can dominate the boards and impose his will on the game by scoring at a high clip down in the paint. This team needs to add size if its going to return to prominence, and there is no better big man in this class.
3. Orlando Magic: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Magic are hoping to start their transition away from a rebuilding team and move into a contending phase, but they still need a few more pieces to make that happen. Parker could jumpstart that process, as the Duke product is an elite scorer who can immediately step in and become one of the faces of the franchise.
Orlando would also look at Dante Exum and a handful of other prospects with this selection, but ultimately Parker has the best odds of developing into a franchise-caliber talent who can shoulder the scoring load and carry this group back into the playoffs.
4. Boston Celtics: Dante Exum, G, Australia
Exum should come off the board no later than this, as the Australian sensation has flashed far too much promise and potential leading up to the draft. The C’s have plenty of young pieces and look to be a team on the rise, but they still have the issue of what to do with Rajon Rondo looming over them.
If Boston makes this pick, expect the veteran point guard to become expendable and to be dealt sooner than later. He’s had a great career in Beantown and helped the franchise raise a banner, but it may be the end of an era if Exum shows that he is ready to take the reins.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Jazz are looking to rebuild their frontcourt and could get a legit stud down low if they select Randle. The Kentucky product is coming off a standout freshman season in which he averaged a double-double and helped carry his Wildcats to the championship game.
Randle is arguably the most NBA-ready of all the one-and-done talents in this draft and could impact the Jazz in a significant manner as early as this coming season.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Vonleh is one of the trendy picks in this upcoming draft, and the hype will only continue to grow around this Hoosiers star.
The Lakers need just about everything after suffering through one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them nab this high-upside, sweet-shooting, athletic big man.
7. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The Kings need to improve their work ethic and commitment, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Gordon is the perfect prospect to assist in that effort, as he is an elite-level defender who is still developing into an impact talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Gordon and burgeoning superstar DeMarcus Cousins could form one of the most dynamic young frontcourts in the league, as the Kings would have immense talent on both ends of the court.
8. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Smart dropped a few spots after returning to school, moving from a lock to go No. 2 overall down to the latter half of the lottery. That should keep him motivated to do well, and the Pistons would love to see him play with a chip on his shoulder.
This Pokes product has a ton of tools at the point guard spot and could realign this slumping Detroit team that needs a floor general more than anything else right now.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
The Cavaliers need to surround star point guard Kyrie Irving with more weapons if this team is ever going to make the postseason in the post-LeBron James era.
McDermott is leaving college as the No. 5 scorer on the all-time list and clearly knows how to get buckets. Whether he’s sinking shots from the parking lot or using his crafty footwork to confuse defenders inside, it is going to be tough to stop this young man from putting points on the board.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Stauskas is the shooter the Sixers need to install in their backcourt to stretch defenses and knock down open threes. He’s flashed the ability to do more than that, however, and has developed a more well-rounded game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor.
He’s the perfect complement for this rebuilding roster and should play an integral role as the squad’s sniper and secondary scorer for years to come.
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Harris is a consistent player who will join Ty Lawson in the Nuggets’ backcourt and assist the diminutive point guard by shouldering some of the scoring load.
The Michigan State star is an impressive driver who finds creative ways to get to the rack, but he also has a nice touch out to the three-point line and can keep defenders honest.
12. Orlando Magic: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Ennis is one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s class, as the Orange point guard is renowned for his poise and composure under pressure. He’s wise beyond his years and definitely has the mental part of the game down, but he could use some improvement in other areas.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix ranked Ennis No. 7 on his big board, citing his ability to perform in high-pressure situations as the main reason to take him:
NBA executives love playmakers like Ennis who excel in the pick-and-roll. Ennis isn’t a great shooter, but he protects the ball (3.68-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, ninth in Division I), is rarely rattled and appears to be most comfortable in high-pressure situations. Point guard has become the NBA’s most valued position, and Ennis has the makeup of a very good one.
It’ll be interesting to see how the pre-draft process treats the 19-year-old, as the finest points of his game will not shine through in workouts. Regardless, he should not slip past the Magic at No. 12, who could use a solid point guard to guide them back to prominence.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Saric is a tantalizing talent who might not surface in the NBA right away but should ultimately wind up stateside due to his amazing handles and court vision as a 6’10” player.
The Timberwolves have dealt with this situation before, waiting two years to bring Ricky Rubio into the fold after drafting him with a No. 5 overall pick. If the team accepts and potentially facilitates the impending loss of Kevin Love, it will enter a rebuilding phase and can certainly afford to stash Saric overseas for a season.
14. Memphis Grizzlies: James Young, SF Kentucky
The Grizzlies need a versatile swingman like Young who can create off the bounce, get to the rim and even knock down a few shots when he’s left alone on the perimeter.
While he’s not a full-blown marksman, this Wildcats star has been improving in that area and can do a little bit of everything well. If he shows a commitment on defense during workouts, it will go a long way toward convincing the Grizz to nab him at the end of the lottery.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
The Hawks may have a number of decent bigs, but the team could use one who has the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line.
Payne can do exactly that, although the 23-year-old senior isn’t exactly oozing upside. Regardless, he projects to be a consistent rotation player who can open up the floor and give head coach Mike Budenholzer plenty of intriguing lineup possibilities.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Hood was one of the more consistent Blue Devils players in 2013-14, showing a commitment on defense and scoring the ball at a high rate.
The Bulls could use an uber-athletic wing like Hood to ease the load that Derrick Rose usually shoulders, especially now that the superstar point guard is coming off his second major injury in the past two seasons.
17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
The Suns are making their first of three picks in this draft at No. 17 and should immediately look to go big by nabbing Cauley-Stein.
This Kentucky product didn’t get to finish the NCAA tournament after injuring himself in the Sweet 16, but he flashed tons of upside and tremendous potential prior to going down. He’s a legit 7-footer who can protect the rim, run the court and defend at a high level.
18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Capela is rapidly rising up big boards and may go much higher than this when all is said and done this June. Regardless, the Celtics should be happy to take him at No. 18, as the Swiss star possesses a big body and has proven himself against a high level of competition in Spain.
19. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, G/F, UCLA
Anderson is one of the strangest players to watch in the college game, as he moves at what seems like a snail's pace but still manages to get the job done, be it scoring, rebounding or running the offense.
“Slow-Mo” is a natural point forward and could play a number of positions for the rapidly improving Raptors. He may even end up being remembered as the steal of the draft if he falls this far down the board in June.
20. Chicago Bulls: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
The Bulls need to start preparing for life without Carlos Boozer, which is why bringing in a beast like Harrell, who isn’t afraid to get dirty and bang in the paint, is a smart play for the organization.
Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times posted a quip concerning the UL product:
Stan Heath on #Louisville F Montrezl Harrell: "I haven't seen anybody in our league play so hard and be so aggressive in the interior."— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) January 20, 2014
The Cardinals star is known for his motor and athleticism, although his height leaves something to be desired. Regardless, he’s a perfect player for head coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and should bring 100 percent effort on every play, every night.
21. Phoenix Suns: Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita State
Early would make a perfect Suns player, as his scrappy style led an unheralded team to an unexpectedly great season.
Phoenix had low expectations coming into the year but outperformed those and is now in position to contend for the playoffs. The Suns will be back next year if they add a talented forward like Early, who lit up the NCAA tournament for two games and showed he can rise to the occasion.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): P.J. Hairston, PG, North Carolina/NBDL
Hairston is clearly NBA-ready. He dominated in the D-League during the 2013-14 campaign, averaging 21.8 points per game on 45.3 percent field-goal shooting and 35.8 percent from downtown.
That kind of proven production against quality competition would make him an ideal backup guard on the Thunder, a team that will be contending for a championship for the foreseeable future and doesn’t have much time to allot towards developing players.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Warren is a natural scorer who finds a way to put the ball in the net on a consistent basis. He may not be the most athletic player in the class, nor the best shooter, but he’s going to be an asset at the next level.
The Jazz will have to overlook his flaws if they are going to win games next year, as they desperately need to add prospects who can put points on the board. Warren can help them do that and should be able to carve a nice career out as a fringe starter/bench player.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
The Bobcats could use more options out on the wing, especially those with the scoring touch that Grant could provide. He’s a bit raw and still needs time to develop, but he should find an opportunity to do exactly that in Charlotte.
25. Houston Rockets: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Napier’s stock is through the roof after he put the UConn Huskies on his back and carried them to a championship. Whether or not that translates to NBA success remains to be seen, but the Rockets should be willing to find out.
He could eventually take over point guard duties from Jeremy Lin on this roster, as Napier represents a much cheaper, potentially more effective scoring option at the position.
26. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
Johnson is one of the springiest players in this class and an early favorite to win the 2015 dunk contest, assuming he enters the NBA and is picked to compete in it.
The Suns could use a high-energy, high-flying star like this to sell tickets and win games.
27. Miami Heat: Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
LaVine decided not to have another inconsistent season coming off the bench in Westwood in favor of taking his raw skills to the NBA.
He’s certainly not ready to see the court yet, but a contender like Miami could do much worse than stashing this potential star on the end of the bench or in the D-League.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Stokes is a bit undersized in terms of height when it comes to playing power forward in the NBA, but he makes up for that in raw strength and power.
The Clippers could always use more big men to join the rotation and reduce the workload that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan receive on a nightly basis.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Thunder have two picks in this draft and aren’t exactly looking to rebuild, so expect this club to take a handful of Eurostash talent or make a few trades to get future value.
Nurkic is a perfect option if they choose to go the former route, as the Thunder could store the raw but promising big man overseas until they are ready for him to play a bigger role.
30. San Antonio Spurs: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
McDaniels seems like an ideal Spurs player, as he has a motor that just won’t quit and plays with a ton of energy. He’ll run the floor hard on every possession, commit to defense and go hard after every rebound and loose ball.