The 2014 NBA draft may not be as great as some were originally projecting, but this crop of talent has the potential to alter the league’s landscape in a major way.
Whether your favorite team will be picking in the lottery or selecting at the end of the first round, it’s never too early to start familiarizing yourself with the top available prospects and where they might land.
Let’s take a look at how the first round might shake out when the draft gets underway this June.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
The Bucks are going to need a lot of help to return to prominence and there is no better time for this franchise to swing for the fences. There are practically zero imaginable situations where top-flight free agents would be lining up to take their talents to Milwaukee, so the club must unearth a superstar via the draft.
After making a plethora of decent picks in the middle of the first round over the last few years, the Bucks were fortunate enough to bottom out in a year where a premier talent like Wiggins is available at No. 1. The Kansas product would make for a great running mate with the always-intriguing Giannis Antetokounmpo and could form an elite tandem for the forseeable future.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Sixers will have a lot of options if they wind up with the No. 2 pick. The team could choose to go big and add Joel Embiid to an improving backcourt that also features Nerlens Noel or take a perimeter weapon to shore up the wing position.
Expect Philly to mull that decision long and hard, but in this hypothetical situation the team will select Parker. The Duke forward would give the Sixers a bona fide threat out on the perimeter, rounding out a strong, young nucleus with Michael Carter-Wiliiams and Noel.
3. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, G, Australia
The Magic will find it tough to pass over Embiid with this pick, but with Nikola Vucevic already under contract and making major strides each season the team already seems to have its center of the future.
Exum is likely the next best player available on Orlando’s big board and he fills a much more pressing need. Pairing the Australian star with Victor Oladipo should make the Magic’s backcourt an area of strength going forward.
4. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
If the Celtics are truly intent on retaining Rajon Rondo for the long haul, general manager Danny Ainge should run to the podium to make this pick.
Embiid is one of the most talented players in this draft and could have gone as early as No. 1 overall. His big body will make him a nightmare for opponents to deal with and shores up the C’s center spot for years to come.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Jazz are rebuilding their frontcourt and need to add a few more pieces before it can become a force again. Randle has the strength and scoring touch to make his man pay in the paint and will command a consistent double-team at the next level.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
The Lakers need to find a way to capitalize on their lottery pick in 2014, otherwise this franchise is in trouble. With the light set to turn out on Kobe Bryant’s career in the near future, there is the real possibility that there are going to be more rough seasons ahead for the Purple and Gold.
Vonleh may just be the superstar that this club needs to remain relevant after the Mamba’s reign concludes. He’s one of the fastest risers in this draft and has a ton of tools at his disposal, but it remains to be seen if his production will match his upside in the NBA.
7. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
One area of concern with the Kings is their overall lack of commitment to defense and a ho-hum work ethic. Nabbing a high-energy, high-enthusiasm prospect like Gordon should be priority No. 1 for the club, as he could not only help the team win games, but also change the culture in the process.
Gordon is a terrific defender and his offense is coming along nicely, making him an ideal complement to DeMarcus Cousins in the team’s frontcourt.
8. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Pistons have a disjointed collection of talent and no real direction right now, meaning they clearly have to bring in a player who can not only run the offense, but also lead the team in the locker room.
Smart is more NBA-ready than ever and while returning to school for a sophomore season was perhaps not the best choice, it was one that taught him lessons and has him more prepared to take on the responsibility and rigors of life in the Association.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
The Cavs are going to continue floundering and remain without a playoff appearance in the post-LeBron James era if they cannot find a way to install more scoring options around Kyrie Irving. The young point guard has to be frustrated with his lack of support, and his struggles aren’t a good sign for when he eventually hits free agency.
McDermott is the type of transcendent scoring talent who could change any ill will that Irving harbors towards his franchise, as the Bluejays product finds a way to put the ball in the net in a variety of creative ways.
Defense is perhaps the only concerning aspect of McDermott’s game, an issue that ESPN’s Chad Ford pointed out in his latest big board update (subscription required):
McDermott may have been the best scorer in college basketball this season, but his draft projections don't entirely reflect that. While everyone believes he'll be a great shooter at the NBA level, teams aren't entirely convinced he can guard a position, which makes him considerably less valuable. He should go somewhere between 10 and 15.
Considering he was the sole focus of just about every defense he faced during the last two years of his career, McDermott is undoubtedly prepared for whatever he will come up against in the NBA—be it double-teams, zones and more. If he puts a modicum of the same effort into his defensive efforts, the young man will be just fine.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Stauskas started his career with the Wolverines as a lights-out shooter who could connect from the parking lot and made defenses pay for ignoring him. In his second year, he developed into a leader and improved his overall game significantly.
The Sixers need a sniper like Stauskas to serve as a secondary or tertiary scorer, stretch the defense and open things up for an improving offense.
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Harris is the kind of stud scorer who will make life much easier for Ty Lawson. The Nuggets point guard has been doing a lot of heavy lifting and the team has to provide more options for opposing defenses to focus on.
Factor in the 6’4”, 210-pound shooting guard’s commitment to defense and discipline learned under head coach Tom Izzo and you are looking at a surefire lottery lock.
12. Orlando Magic: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Because of their Exum selection earlier, the Magic can skip out on drafting a point guard like Tyler Ennis here. Expect them to look for a perimeter weapon with this second lottery pick and Hood seems to be the best option for the club at this juncture.
While Dario Saric’s vision and handles are intriguing, he may not be appearing in the NBA for some time. Hood, on the other hand, will show up from day one ready to drain buckets and win games.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
The T’Wolves need to start stockpiling assets to either convince Kevin Love to stay or make the rebuilding phase after he leaves a bit less painful.
Saric is a gifted athlete with amazing ball-handling skills for his 6’10” frame and will certainly be able to contribute when he makes his way stateside. This team has experience waiting for European studs to make the leap and may be willing to go through that process again to nab an up-and-comer like Saric.
14. Memphis Grizzlies: James Young, SF Kentucky
The Griz could use some more firepower on the perimeter to compliment their tandem of star big men. Young lit up the NCAA tournament with his ability to get to the rim and a remarkable long-range shooting display. He still needs to prove he can be consistent, but there is no reason to pass him up at the end of the lottery.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Ennis is one of the most poised, confident players in college basketball, traits that aren’t often seen from 19-year-old freshmen.
The Hawks could use a steadying presence at the point guard spot and he would make this team better in a hurry. While some expect Ennis to come off the board earlier, his top talents won’t exactly shine in pre-draft workouts and his stock is likely to dip slightly in the weeks leading up to the draft.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
The Bulls have to be intrigued by Payne, especially after the big man dominated during March Madness and put his full collection of skills on display. The 6’10”, 245-pound bruiser would be an ideal replacement for Carlos Boozer, due to his ability to bang down low and stretch the defense out to the three-point line.
Chicago will also have to give heavy consideration to this next prospect on draft day…
17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein is a legit 7-footer with world-class athleticism that allows him to protect the rim with ease. His presence alone alters shots that teams would normally try inside and he should only improve on the offensive end in due time. The Suns need his defensive presence to remain a playoff contender in future seasons.
18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Capela is one of the more mysterious prospects in this class, but the Swiss star has been putting up decent numbers against quality competition in the European leagues. Boston will be looking to jump-start its ascent out of the league’s basement by adding a player whose skills could far exceed expectations for his draft position with this pick.
19. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, G/F, UCLA
Anderson, better known as “Slow-Mo,” is an interesting player to watch as he plays the game at his own pace. It has been effective in college, but might not translate too effectively to the NBA level.
Regardless, Anderson is a great handler with above-average court vision to go with his 6’9”, 235-pound frame. His potential as a point forward would open up a lot of options for the Raptors, a team that is winning games by sharing the ball and making the extra pass.
20. Chicago Bulls: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
The Bulls are going big yet again with this pick, getting a high-energy, hustle player who plays bigger than his 6’8” height would indicate. Harrell is bursting with athleticism and loves to play above the rim, which would make him a fan favorite in the Windy City.
21. Phoenix Suns: Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita State
Early is a scrappy, versatile forward who was the catalyst for his Shockers’ undefeated regular season. He’s a great shooter with the perfect 6’8” frame to play the swingman spot at the next level and could end up being one of the best value picks in the entire draft at No. 21.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): P.J. Hairston, PG, North Carolina/NBDL
Hairston is simply NBA-ready after dominating the D-League in 2013-14. The former North Carolina star lit up the competition for 21.8 points per game on 45.3 percent field-goal shooting and 35.8 percent three-point shooting.
The Thunder don’t have much development time to dish out, so adding an impact player like Hairston at this point would be the best possible option for the championship contender.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Warren is a scorer through and through, but there are other flaws in his game that the Jazz will have to overlook in order to get points on the board. His defense is the most notable of those, but he more than makes up for that by finding a way to guide the ball through the hoop.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Grant isn’t exactly the most polished player, but the Bobcats can afford to gamble on his raw athleticism and immense upside. It might take a few seasons, but eventually the Syracuse product should be a real contributor in the NBA.
25. Houston Rockets: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Napier might climb much higher than this when all is said and done. The UConn star guided his program to a national title and proved to the world that he is a big-time player who can step up against the best competition out there
The Rockets could be searching for a Jeremy Lin replacement this summer and Napier would be the best on the board at this point.
26. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
The Suns continue to get younger and more athletic in the 2014 draft, adding a prospect who honed his game in nearby Tucson. Johnson can jump out of the gym and will be able to ignite and inspire his teammates with thunderous jams and other impressive plays.
27. Miami Heat: Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
LaVine is a supremely raw talent who isn’t quite ready to make the leap to the NBA, but wasn’t willing to toil on the bench in Westwood for another season either. The Heat would be an ideal landing destination, as the club could allow LaVine to develop at the end of their bench and eventually put the guard on the floor in a few years.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Stokes declared his intentions to go pro on Friday and should definitely be rewarded with a first-round selection. While he could come off the board earlier than this, the forward should not fall past the Clippers at No. 28. The big man could take some of the workload away from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, two frontcourt stars who log a ton of regular-season minutes.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Nurkic is an ideal player for the Thunder to stash in the Euroleague and allow to develop for a few seasons. If he pans out, they can bring him over when he is ready to contribute at a meaningful level.
30. San Antonio Spurs: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
McDaniels is a blue-collar talent who will gel perfectly with the Spurs. The Clemson product can run the court, get to the rim, bring down rebounds, go hard after every loose ball and much more.