Each pick in this 2014 NBA draft could have a potential domino effect down the board. And depending on the pick and how the order plays out, that effect could leave someone stranded in the green room longer than he originally anticipated.
A few of the top prospects could be vulnerable to mini draft-day slides this year. I'm not talking about dropping out of the first round or lottery, but down or out of their projected draft range, which I set based off buzz and personal rankings:
|Projected Draft Range|
|Top Prospects||Projected Draft Range|
|Joel Embiid, Kansas||Top Three|
|Andrew Wiggins, Kansas||Top Three|
|Jabari Parker, Duke||Top Three|
|Dante Exum, Australia||Top Five|
|Julius Randle, Kentucky||Top Five|
|Noah Vonleh, Indiana||Top 10|
|Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State||Top 10|
|Aaron Gordon, Arizona||Top 10|
Let's assume the lottery plays out the way the odds say it should. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic have the best shot at landing top-three picks. And these are the building blocks each franchise is currently working with:
|Projected Order/Team Building Blocks|
|Pick||Team||Building Block No. 1||Building Block No. 2||Building Block No. 3|
|1||Milwaukee Bucks||Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG/SF||Brandon Knight, PG||Larry Sanders, C|
|2||Philadelphia 76ers||Michael Carter-Williams, PG||Nerlens Noel, C|
|3||Orlando Magic||Victor Oladipo, PG/SG||Nikola Vucevic, C||Tobias Harris, SF/PF|
Based on the draft order and each team's current building blocks, Kansas small forward Andrew Wiggins and Duke combo forward Jabari Parker seem pretty safe. Wiggins and Parker could probably slide nicely into any of these lineups, and they both offer that attractive All-Star upside.
When devising their draft strategy, if the teams selecting at the top value best fit over highest upside, then Kansas center Joel Embiid, who's coming off a stress fracture in his back, has to be the No. 1 candidate to slip out of his projected draft range.
When he's at full strength, I've got him as my No. 1 prospect on the board, and it seems entirely possible he goes No. 4 overall.
That's because the Bucks, Sixers and Magic each have different needs based on their rosters and rebuilding plans—and a few worthy prospects are available who can fill them more directly without presenting Embiid's level of risk.
A team like the Bucks might want a sure thing who can help restore some electricity in the building right away, given how long it's been since fans had something to cheer about in Milwaukee. In that case, their answer would be Parker.
The Sixers traded their All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday in a deal for center Nerlens Noel last summer, and after sending Evan Turner to the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline, they have gaping holes at the wing and forward positions.
Would you blame them for taking Wiggins or Parker to fit between point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Noel, if it meant passing on Embiid's upside? I wouldn't. Wiggins and Parker are both safer options who still offer plenty of potential reward.
The Magic could play a big role in the draft at the top of the board. Given the team's current roster, it's not out of the question to think that Orlando has its eyes on someone not named Embiid, Wiggins or Parker.
This team has young, promising pieces at every position in the starting lineup—except point guard. Check out the options Orlando could be looking at to fit its roster with a top-three pick:
|Orlando Magic: Current Roster/Upgrade Options|
|Jameer Nelson ($8 million team option)||Victor Oladipo||Arron Afflalo||Tobias Harris||Nikoka Vucevic|
|Draft Option||Draft Option||Draft Option||Draft Option|
|Dante Exum||Andrew Wiggins||Julius Randle||Joel Embiid|
|Marcus Smart||Jabari Parker||Noah Vonleh|
The Magic have an impressive 23-year-old center in Nikola Vucevic, along with some up-and-coming wings and forwards. Do the Magic want to double up on positions with Embiid and Vucevic, or could they be inclined to address the obvious hole in their long-term rotation?
The No. 1 question in Orlando is how it values Australian point guard Dante Exum and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart—two potential future replacements for 32-year-old Jameer Nelson, who has an $8 million team option this summer.
Orlando experimented this year with Victor Oladipo, a natural 2-guard, at the point, though it just seems hard to imagine him evolving into a full-time floor general.
If Orlando feels that Exum could be a franchise point guard the way that scouts think he has the potential to be, then he could be an option to target in the top three of the draft.
And whether the Magic pick first, second or third, if they take Exum, there's a decent chance Embiid would fall out of the top three, considering how appealing Wiggins and Parker likely look to the Sixers and Bucks.
Of course, if a team like the Boston Celtics or Utah Jazz defy the odds and land a top-three pick, Embiid's chances of going top three probably increase. Like I said earlier, the order of this draft is likely to play a major role in the order that everyone gets picked. Each team drafting at the top is at a different stage in the rebuilding process with different needs and values.
"It really does depend on who gets the top pick and whether they are willing to take a risk or not," one veteran general manager told ESPN's Jeff Goodman (Insider access required).
This back injury was also a pretty big blow to Embiid's stock. Even if it does check out before the draft, he is now a health risk. And despite his towering ceiling, it seems reasonable to think a team might want to avoid the risk of history repeating—especially given the cringeworthy sound of big men and back problems.
Considering the risk that's now attached to him, along with the strength of the field and the teams at the top all having centers, Embiid is the most likely top-three prospect to fall out of his draft range.
But let's move further down the board. Outside of Embiid, Wiggins and Parker, we've got Exum, Smart, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Indiana's Noah Vonleh and Arizona's Aaron Gordon. This seems to be the consensus next tier of prospects.
Can any of these guys fall from their projected draft ranges? You bet.
Randle versus Vonleh and Gordon
Based on his takeover ability and success in the national spotlight, Randle had seemed like a top-five pick all year. But I have him outside the top five, and I don't think I'm alone. Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher detailed why some scouts believe Vonleh is actually the better prospect at power forward:
Vonleh, who's nearly a year younger than Randle, has five extra inches of length and an extra inch of height. He also showed a lot more promise as a shooter, nailing 16 of 33 three-point attempts to Randle's 3-of-18.
If Exum goes anywhere in the top five and a Vonleh supporter is sitting there at No. 4 or No. 5, that could drop Randle to No. 6—which is how I have it playing out in our latest mock draft.
If Randle does fall outside the top five, he'll likely be competing with Gordon, who's also almost a year younger, though the Arizona forward isn't as refined offensively and offers less of a presence on the boards.
However, he offers something that Randle doesn't, and that's invaluable defensive versatility and intangibles. Gordon finished No. 1 in the country in defensive win shares, which estimates the amount of wins contributed by a player on defense. He's also an excellent passer and above-the-rim finisher who showed improvement as a shooter. He also posted a respectable 35.6 percent three-point percentage.
I have Randle going before Gordon based on the guaranteed presence you get from him in the paint. But between Vonleh's promise and upside and Gordon's unique two-way versatility, Randle should have some serious competition for a spot in the top five or six—something that didn't seem likely following the first month of the season.
Smart versus the Field
Though Marcus Smart should still be slotted as a top-10 prospect, he's not necessarily locked in the way he appeared to be back in November. His three perceived strengths coming in are now all being questioned following his sophomore year.
Known as a winner entering college, he failed to advance out of the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Pegged as a leader, he displayed some pretty poor leadership by getting himself suspended during a critical point in the season. And while many labeled him a floor general, both his decision-making and shot selection were a problem for him throughout the season.
And is he a point guard? A combo guard? Smart averaged less than five assists and more than 2.5 turnovers per game in each season at Oklahoma State, shooting below 43 percent from the floor and less than 30 percent from three.
Given the strength of the field, he appears locked out of this year's top five. The question is whether or not he slips deeper into the late lotto or mid-first round.
I personally rank him at No. 7 on our latest big board, but with potential intruders like Croatia's Dario Saric, Michigan State's Gary Harris, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Creighton's Doug McDermott, Smart's spot in the top seven, or even the top 10, might not be set in stone.
|2014 NBA Draft Big Board|
|7||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|10||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|19||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||SF||Senior|
|21||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||PF||Senior|
|25||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends (D-League)||SG|
|27||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
Damien Inglis, France, 6'9", SF, 1995
Inglis got an invite to this year's Nike Hoop Summit, where he measured in spectacularly at 6'8.5" with a 7'3" wingspan. Those numbers are even more appealing when you consider they belong to a projected small forward.
He first generated buzz at last May's Nike International Junior Tournament in London, and though he didn't have a big role in France this season and his playing time at the Summit was limited, his talent and upside refuse to stay hidden.
With measurements closer to that of a rim protector, Inglis handles the ball on the wing, where he can create, pass and shoot. His per-40-minute averages in 26 games this year are 12.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists on 50 percent shooting and 38.7 percent from downtown.
However, it's his defensive versatility that's the most glowing aspect of his game. He has the size, length and foot speed to guard the post or blanket the wing.
At 18 years old, he is more of a project than a quick answer, but his long-term potential is first-round worthy.
"Amazing upside," his teammate at Roanne—a former NBA player—anonymously told me regarding Inglis.
Here are his highlights from his week at this year's Nike Hoop Summit in Portland:
Clint Capela, Switzerland, 6'11", PF/C, 1994
Capela's strong season for Chalon in France put him on first-round radars, resulting in an invite to this year's Nike Hoop Summit. He made the most noise during the measurement portion of the event, when he came in at 6'11", 222 pounds with a 7'4.5" wingspan.
However, he didn't generate much buzz during practices, and he only got 14 minutes during the game, failing to make a significant impact.
He has tremendous physical tools as a finisher, rebounder and shot-blocker, which will ultimately be his calling in the pros. But at this point, he's just too limited and raw offensively.
We previously had Capela as a potential lottery pick, but we dropped him down to No. 22 on our latest big board.
- This draft has the potential to produce a solid point guard class, with Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Tyler Ennis, Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton, Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Serbia's Vasilije Micic. All six should generate first-round looks. And I'd peg Payton as the guy to watch entering the combine. A year younger than most juniors, he still has serious upside to hit as a 6'3" rocket in the backcourt. He aces the eye test, which should work to his advantage during workouts, where scouts and general managers get to see him up close.
- At a Thursday press conference, Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie entered the draft despite the torn ACL he suffered in January. He was a first-round candidate prior to the injury, though not a lock. At 6'6", he can handle the ball at the point or score from the wing. It just seems hard to imagine a team investing guaranteed dollars in a fringe first-round talent with a serious injury. Coming back to Colorado wouldn't have done any good. Dinwiddie just suffered a bad break—the timing of his injury was awful.
- Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson have both decided to return to school. It's significant, considering they're both centers and Kentucky's top recruit coming in, Karl Towns, is also a center. Someone's minutes and draft stock are bound to be affected.