Based on the prospects likely to be considered for that No. 1 overall pick, the eventual lottery-winning general manager will have to decide which drafting approach to take: swing for the fences or play it safe.
Duke's Jabari Parker just declared himself eligible for the 2014 NBA draft, where he's projected as a top-three pick this June. His competition for that No. 1 pick will be Kansas center Joel Embiid and forward Andrew Wiggins—two prospects with higher NBA ceilings, given Embiid's ability to change a game at both ends of the floor and Wiggins' superior athleticism that allows him to do things that Parker can't.
But among the three, Parker established himself as the most refined and NBA ready. Thanks to that strong and mobile 6'8", 235-pound frame, high skill level on the perimeter and effective post game down low, chances are he could step right in and make an immediate impact.
And of these top three options, each presents a different level of risk. Embiid presents the highest as a 7-footer coming off a back injury and minimal organized basketball experience. Wiggins presents the second-highest risk—at this point, his core strength is still athleticism over skill, while many have questioned his basketball mentality. The safest option is Parker, whose only real concerning flaw is his defensive outlook.
"He's the safest pick in this draft," one NBA scout said of Parker via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com. "There may be others with more potential, but if you're talking about a guy who can come in, help you from day one, Jabari's your guy."
Depending on where each franchise is at in its rebuilding stage, along with the current personnel on its roster, each GM is likely to value the risk and reward of each prospect a little differently.
Here's the question these GMs have to ask themselves: How important is the gap and difference between Parker's upside and Wiggins' and Embiid's? Is it worth it to risk passing on possible greatness for probable yet less-rewarding production?
It's like blackjack, and Parker is your 19 or 20. Would you rather stay with this hand knowing it's strong no matter what? Or would you rather have an 11 that allows you to double down for a bigger payoff—even if it means you have to risk more?
We talk about Wiggins' and Embiid's ceilings being higher than Parker's, but it's not like Parker projects as a role player. If he's able to maximize his talent, we'll be talking about a perennial All-Star and threatening go-to scorer. This type of upside alone should be worthy of the No. 1 pick, but because he's in a draft field with Wiggins and Embiid, he's not such an obvious answer.
If I'm general manager John Hammond of the Milwaukee Bucks, who'll have the highest chance of getting the No. 1 pick, you never know—my job could be on the line here if I screw this one up. And that's why Parker is absolutely worth a No. 1 pick to a team like the Bucks—a team in desperate need of a sure thing and potential face of the franchise.
Right now, the franchise's future is built around Giannis Antetokounmpo—a 19-year-old, who just a year ago was playing in Greece's second division in what looked like high school gymnasiums.
Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders are both nice players, but neither is a cornerstone you can expect to lead the Bucks to winning seasons.
I don't think Milwaukee would be wrong for going after Embiid if his back checks out during his pre-draft physical. But at the same time, there's risk to avoid here by going with Parker, who just doesn't really have any red flags or serious holes.
I'm not in love with pairing Antetokounmpo with Wiggins—two skinny forwards who occupy similar space on the floor. Parker seems like a better fit, given his ability to play inside or out, on the perimeter or in the post.
If the Philadelphia 76ers get the No. 1 pick (second-best odds), I think it immediately comes down to Parker versus Wiggins. Considering they traded Jrue Holiday in a deal for Nerlens Noel, I'm not sure the Sixers will want to double up on the center position with Embiid—especially given the team's need for a scoring forward.
However, if there's a franchise out there that can afford to swing for the fences, it's the Sixers, who just started rebuilding with no rush for any results. And though I think Parker would still be worth it, the setting and fit for Wiggins is too good to pass on. Wiggins, whose biggest flaw is arguably his passive approach, would have an ideal place to develop as an immediate top-scoring option without any pressure.
The Orlando Magic, who have the third-best shot at winning the lottery, could also use a scorer at the 3 or 4 positions. Embiid paired with center Nikola Vucevic wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. So, again, it comes down to Parker versus Wiggins. In this case, both players seem to fit what Orlando would be looking for, though it really wouldn't shock me if it went with Australia's Dante Exum to fill a more direct need.
And if the ping-pong balls get a little weird, I truly do believe Parker would be worth the top pick for the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
Though Parker doesn't project as an All-NBA defender, let's face it—in the NBA, average-to-mediocre defense doesn't always diminish top-shelf offense. Just look at Parker's top two pro player comparisons, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. Both play mostly under the rim, and neither one is a defensive ball-stopper, yet they've each managed to reach stardom by doing exactly what Parker excels at—getting buckets.
He might not end up as the shiniest treasure in this year's field, but heading into the draft, Parker offers a favorable risk-to-reward ratio that some teams might value over high yet uncertain upside.