While the majority of NBA fans continue to focus on the playoffs and who will win the 2014 title, there are plenty looking forward to the future and the upcoming draft.
More than any other sport, one or two key players can transform an entire roster in the NBA and turn a squad into a playoff contender. Without a deep free agent class, the draft will be the best chance to find these types of impact players.
The good news is there are more than a few prospects capable of competing right away and helping out their future teams. All the squads selecting in the first round have plenty of options, but here is a look at predictions for each of the top 30 picks.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Those who watched Andrew Wiggins play this season likely have plenty of questions about the freshman's willingness to compete. Many times during the year, he was too passive and barely became a factor in the games.
However, he has off-the-charts athleticism and can truly dominate when he turns it on. Once he gets more comfortable, you will see this much more often and he will live up to his potential as the best player in this draft.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Although Nerlens Noel has not yet stepped on an NBA court, the 76ers are hoping that he can blossom into an elite shot-blocker. Pairing him with Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young represents a solid core for the team.
With a few more key players in this draft, Philadelphia could once again be a playoff contender.
Jabari Parker might be the smartest pick at this point as an elite scorer who might be one of the most pro-ready players in the class. Jeff Goodman of ESPN had some good things to say about the young player:
Jabari Parker is the safest pick out of the three guys (Wiggins and Embiid). I think he'll be a 18 & 8 guy in the NBA for a decade.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 17, 2014
On a team without a true go-to scorer, Parker can take over this role immediately.
3. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Victor Oladipo had a solid rookie season, but he is still at his best when playing off the ball. Dante Exum would make a better point guard as a long-term replacement for Jameer Nelson.
The Australian has great size for the position with the athleticism and quickness necessary to be a future star. He can pair with Oladipo to create one of the better young backcourts in the NBA.
4. Utah Jazz: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Enes Kanter is on the roster, but he has not taken the step this season that everyone hoped for. He is certainly not the defensive center that Utah needs to compete in the Western Conference.
Joel Embiid fixes that problem as the best interior defender in the class. Teams might be cautious about drafting a young player that has already shown to have back problems, but the Kansas product can be an impact player when healthy.
5. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Celtics have used a number of early picks on frontcourt talent in recent years, but teams drafting this early cannot pass on elite talent like Julius Randle.
Which "one-and-done" player will have the best NBA career?
Randle is a force down low who could be a double-double machine at the next level. He is a safe pick who will certainly contribute early in his career. No matter who else is on the roster, the coaching staff will find a way to get the big man on the floor.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Lakers have few players it can count on to be a part of the future. They need to change that by drafting a point guard who can be a leader going forward.
Marcus Smart can be a big-time contributor on both ends of the court with the ability to score, pass and play great on-ball defense. While he is not a good outside shooter, he can overcome that by performing well in every other aspect of the game.
7. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
While Aaron Gordon has plenty of talent, Noah Vonleh might have more upside due to his wide skill set. The Indiana star can move out to the perimeter and knock down shots or create shots off the dribble.
This skill set will help spread the floor and clear space for DeMarcus Cousins in the paint.
8. Detroit Pistons: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The Pistons would love to see Gordon still available at this stage in the draft. The forward is one of the best athletes in the draft and knows how to use it to score at and above the rim.
While he still needs to develop the rest of his game, the young player can ease into the lineup with limited playing time until he is ready to contribute more consistently.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Doug McDermott finished his career as one of the best players in college basketball history. He started out as simply just a shooter, but he turned himself into a talented overall player who can score in a number of different ways.
While some might question how well he will be able to transition to the NBA, his father and coach Doug McDermott is not concerned, via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
This would be a great addition for the Cavaliers, a team that needs more scorers on the roster to pair with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Most importantly, McDermott is a finished product that will be able to contribute right away. This is vital for a team that is looking to reach the playoffs after a disappointing season.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Hornets): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
After adding Parker with the first pick, Philadelphia can bring in another perimeter talent in Gary Harris. The Michigan State product is one of the best two-way players in the draft after making the Big Ten's first-team All-Conference and All-Defensive squads.
Harris can be a bit inconsistent, but he has all the skills you look for in a 2-guard in the NBA.
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Although the squad had a good season last year, this past season was not what the team is looking for. The Nuggets need to look for high-upside players who could turn out to be valuable going forward.
Dario Saric has that potential with the skill set of a point guard but the size of a power forward. Although he is still a bit raw, he is worth the risk for Denver.
12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Orlando had trouble scoring all year, finishing 25th in the NBA in points per game. The squad could use a versatile scorer who can get points either inside or out.
Rodney Hood was overshadowed by Parker this past season at Duke, but his offensive skill will translate directly into a solid NBA career.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SF, Kentucky
While the Timberwolves had one of the best offenses in the NBA this year, they struggled mightily defensively due to a lack of quickness and athleticism. James Young solves both of these problems to go with solid length to cause problems for opposing players.
Young can also hold his own offensively with a quality shooting stroke and the slashing ability to score in the lane when he sees an opening.
14. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland
Even after drafting Alex Len last season, the Suns could use more size in the low post that can help on both ends of the court. Clint Capela is a raw prospect, but he could develop along with the rest of the young roster in Phoenix as the team looks to become playoff contenders going forward.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Atlanta had a surprisingly successful year after losing Josh Smith, but the squad could still use more backcourt scoring. This is where Nik Stauskas can contribute after turning himself into an elite offensive player after being just a shooter as a freshman.
If he ever lines up alongside Kyle Korver, the Hawks would be nearly impossible to defend from the outside.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Derrick Rose has now missed the better part of two seasons due to injuries. While he is still one of the best players in the NBA when healthy, it is time for the Bulls to consider finding a long-term solution just in case he does not return to his previous level.
Tyler Ennis might not have the athleticism of some other stars at his position, but he has great composure on the floor and always seems to make the right play. This will be helpful for a squad that is perennially in the playoffs.
17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Although the Suns drafted a power forward with an earlier pick, Adreian Payne represents a completely different type of player. The Michigan State senior can step outside and hit a three or create his own shots to score in the lane.
Payne could give Phoenix yet another weapon who will be able to contribute early next season and help the team get into the postseason.
18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBDL)
P.J. Hairston will be an interesting case to follow this offseason as a talented player with a troubled past. The guard was suspended by the NCAA and was unable to finish his career at North Carolina when the school did not seek reinstatement.
However, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated points out that teams are not as concerned about this issue as you might think:
NBA teams more concerned with PJ Hairston's consistency than anything that happened at UNC. Hairston needs to finish Legends season strong— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 14, 2014
The consistency has been a problem throughout his time with the Texas Legends of the NBDL, but there is no denying his pure talent when he is playing well. He has good athleticism and a solid shooting stroke that makes him a deadly scorer from the outside.
Boston could use all of these skills as the squad looks to build on its young core.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
The Bulls had the best defense in the NBA this season, but they had trouble finding consistent scorers. While D.J. Augustin had a solid year, he is tough to trust going forward.
T.J. Warren is one of the best pure scorers in the class with a highly advanced mid-range game. He knows how to get the ball in the basket, and this skill is certain to help Chicago right away.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, PF, Syracuse
Toronto proved its doubters wrong throughout the season to earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but now it has to keep adding to the roster in a way that will allow it to stay in this position going forward.
Jerami Grant has the length and athleticism to be an immediately contributor off the bench for the Raptors to help bring depth to the frontcourt. If he can add a jump shot to his arsenal, he could be even better down the line.
21. Memphis Grizzlies: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson was one of the most versatile players in college basketball this past season, mostly running the point for UCLA despite being 6'9". His ball skills and vision could allow him to remain at the position at the next level.
Even if he moves to a spot that better fits his height, he can fill up the box score for the Memphis Grizzlies and help improve an offense in need.
22. Dallas Mavericks: Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
Not a lot is known about Zach LaVine after the freshman saw little playing time down the stretch at UCLA. However, scouts love his quickness and athleticism from the point guard position.
Dallas could use both of these attributes and watch him develop into a potential starter of the future.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
C.J. Wilcox might end up being a bit of a one-trick pony in the NBA, but it is a good trick. Wilcox is one of the best pure shooters in the class with the capability of draining shots either off screens, catch-and-shoot plays or creating his own looks.
The Jazz need help at a lot of positions, but Wilcox is someone who can help out for a long time.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Although Wichita State did not get as much respect as it deserved for an undefeated regular season, few can deny Cleanthony Early as an elite college player who can score in a number of ways.
He can be a nice addition to a Bobcats team that desperately needs more players that know how to score.
25. Houston Rockets: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
Even with the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets still need a lot of help on the defensive end of the court. K.J. McDaniels would help in this area as a 6'6" wing who plays like a 7'0" center.
McDaniels was one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball last year and should continue this production even against bigger opponents in the NBA. He should provide some much-needed improvements to the perimeter defense going forward.
26. Miami Heat: Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
Dwyane Wade missed a good chunk of the regular season with various injuries and he is clearly not the player he once was. Although Nick Johnson would not be able to replace the All-Star, he is as close as you will find at this stage in the draft.
Johnson is a bit undersized, but he was a leader on both ends of the court for one of the best teams in the nation this season. He usually found a way to come through in the clutch, and he would be a perfect addition to a perennial contender like the Heat.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers): Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Shabazz Napier owned the 2014 NCAA tournament. The senior point guard was by far the most impressive player in the field and he virtually carried Connecticut to a national title on his own.
This run had many people thinking about his potential in the NBA, which was originally overlooked due to his small stature at 6'1". LeBron James is one person who thinks he should be a high draft pick in June:
No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier.— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 8, 2014
As good as he was in college, however, he does not have the strength or athleticism necessary to handle the workload of an NBA season.
Still, he could be a quality backup that contributes at a high level in short bursts in every game. This would be a great addition to a backcourt that already includes Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
28: Los Angeles Clippers: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
While the Clippers have one of the deepest benches in the league, they could still use more players capable of coming in and contributing in the frontcourt, especially on the defensive end.
Jusuf Nurkic could develop into a quality shot-blocker and be a solid long-term option for a consistently improving team.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia
Most European players that come through the draft need a long time to develop before being NBA-ready. However, Bogdan Bogdanovic is already capable of contributing at this level thanks to his outside shooting and ability to score off the dribble. He also has the length to hold his own defensively.
The Thunder need to keep adding players capable of scoring when the focus is on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Bogdanovic is far from being a star, but he will take some of the pressure off when he sees the floor.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Tony Parker continues to get it done for the Spurs, but there is no harm in drafting a high-upside point guard capable of becoming a replacement a few years down the line.
Elfrid Payton was a high-volume scorer for a mediocre team at Louisiana-Lafayette. Although he is not guaranteed to turn into the next Damian Lillard, it is worth the risk at this stage in the first round.
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