With the NBA playoffs in full swing, several franchises still have hopes of winning a championship. But for the outsiders looking in and teams on the brink of being ousted, the focus has now quickly turned to the 2014 NBA draft.
A lot of offseason factors still remain before deciding which teams will ultimately take the top talent in this year's class. As for now, the top-loaded crop is as prized as any in recent memory, and the draft is set to take place on June 26.
While the order will likely change after the lottery takes place during the offseason, here's a look at the current projections for the intriguing 2014 NBA draft.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
After being criticized and praised equally throughout his lone season in college basketball, Andrew Wiggins did enough to retain his title as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds during his freshman campaign helped his stock, but what he did on the other side of the court made a difference in NBA scouts' minds. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN notes Wiggins' ferocity on the defense:
Showing explosiveness at both ends will make him a great addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, who already have Giannis Antetokounmpo. Wiggins and the Greek Freak will make a dynamic duo for the Bucks, who need as many stars as they can pile up to find relevance in the Eastern Conference.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Easily the most polished prospect in the 2014 class, Jabari Parker has a chance to shine in the NBA next season.
With flashes of Carmelo Anthony in his game—he doesn't shy away from those comparisons, either—the Philadelphia 76ers can pair him up with Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel for their own version of the big three, provided they all remain healthy.
3. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Any time a player is drawing comparisons to a younger Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the most physically elite specimens in NBA history, that prospect is probably worth the high pick.
In fact, former Kansas coach Bill Self said before the season that the comparison fits, per Mike Vernon of the Houston Chronicle:
"He kind of reminds me of Olajuwon," Self said. "I'm not saying he's Olajuwon at all, but there are similarities."
That upside in a player is exactly what the Orlando Magic need, especially with Victor Oladipo already bursting onto the scene in 2013-14. Still, because of injury concerns that kept him from the NCAA tournament, question marks still come up with Embiid, but they don't erase the potential he presents.
4. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Another exciting physical player in the paint, Julius Randle offers a stellar rebounding ability and brighter future with his scoring touch. The Utah Jazz need both—and more, honestly—to return to the playoffs in the coming years.
5. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Flashiness, explosiveness and high motor are all aspects commonly discussed when Aaron Gordon comes up. But it's his outstanding defensive ability that has caught the eye of scouts, which could lead him to a top-five selection with the historic Boston Celtics.
Ben Watanabe of NESN.com discusses what makes Gordon such a dynamic player on the court:
Gordon is the uber-athletic swing forward who dazzled observers with his defensive instincts and startling shot-blocking ability for his size. Some have said he could be a lockdown NBA defender immediately. Big games in the NCAA tournament — including back-to-back games against Gonzaga and San Diego State in which he scored a total of 33 points on 15-for-19 shooting — bolstered his stock.
But if a team takes a player at Nos. 4, 5 or 6, it wants more than just a defensive stopper. Gordon’s offensive skills might be a bit underrated, but nobody disputes that he is still developing as a shooter, passer and dribbler. In other words, pretty much everything involved with basketball offense. Analysts will repeat his 42-percent free throw shooting mark all day long, and his .495 field goal percentage seems low for a player who dunked so much.
In a class where upside is high, Gordon might end up being one of the best in the class with his size and frame. Thanks to having potential to change a game on both sides of the court, Gordon could be a long-term player for the Celtics that helps the resurgence of the franchise under Brad Stevens.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
The rebuilding stage for the Los Angeles Lakers has already begun, and bringing in a prospect like Dante Exum could provide stability for a franchise with several question marks.
Though he's not going to be someone to carry a team with as many issues as the Lakers have, Exum's ability to play either guard position adds versatility to the team's offense.
7. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
After one season with the Indiana Hoosiers, Noah Vonleh knows a little about being the star on a team struggling to find consistency. Paired up with DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt, Vonleh will have a chance to shine and help earn the Sacramento Kings notoriety in California.
8. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
It wasn't the best sophomore season for Marcus Smart following a suspension and erratic play, but his stock still remains high thanks to his ball-handling and ability to slash to the basket with ease.
While Brandon Jennings essentially has the position locked down for now, Smart's athleticism will be too much to pass up for a Detroit Pistons team in need of consistent scorers.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Doug McDermott, PF, Creighton
Just a year after taking a player purely for the hopes of turning him into a star at the next level with Anthony Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers will steer clear of that this year with Doug McDermott.
An elite scoring ability makes McDermott special, which is exactly what the Cavaliers need to take some of the attention off Kyrie Irving. If the team can find a way to keep Luol Deng during the offseason, next season could finally be the year in which the Cavs return to the postseason.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Speaking of players with a great scoring touch, the Philadelphia 76ers will follow up the Cavs with an outside presence in Gary Harris. Coming out of Michigan State after two seasons, Harris has the polish and stroke to change the game along with Parker and Carter-Williams.
11. Denver Nuggets: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
It has been a long journey for Rodney Hood, but his tenure in the college ranks has earned him lottery pick status in this year's loaded class. Transferring to Duke from Mississippi State, Hood shared the court with Parker as both shined on a regular basis on both sides of the court.
As the Denver Nuggets ponder which player to select with their first pick, Hood presents the best possible skill set for a team in need of scoring.
12. Orlando Magic: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis isn't just Andrew Wiggins' high school teammate anymore.
After coming into the college basketball ranks with Syracuse as a player that might potentially stay for four seasons, Ennis shined under the spotlight. And he used that lone year under Jim Boeheim to grow into one of the best prospects in the class, as Chad Ford of ESPN notes:
None of the more celebrated freshmen have been better than Ennis this season. He has a perfect blend between scoring and distributing the basketball. He's not an elite athlete, but that's about the only knock against the steady Ennis.
While he's not as refined as Exum at the point, Ennis will shine under the right system. And with size down low in Embiid and a scorer in the backcourt by his side in Oladipo, this is the perfect system for a player like Ennis to thrive.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
One of the best pure shooters in the class, Nik Stauskas has a chance to be a consistent scoring threat in the NBA for the next several years. Along with the ability to score, Stauskas can also handle the ball and create his own chances, making him valuable in the backcourt for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
14. Phoenix Suns: T.J. Warren, SF, N.C. State
While he doesn't draw a ton of attention, T.J. Warren finds a way to put up points in any situation. During his freshman season with the Wolfpack, Warren created scoring opportunities through offensive rebounds and putbacks despite not having plays designed with him in mind.
Ultimately what have him in the lottery are his sophomore season and the uncanny ability to create opportunities in the paint. Former coach Mark Gottfried had high praise for Warren following his departure, per Joe Giglio of the News & Observer:
I am extremely proud of T.J. He has developed tremendously as a person and as a player over the last two years. He has matured and become a special player to coach.
I truly believe he was the best offensive player in the nation this year, and although he is a great scorer, his rebounding and defensive improvement are often underappreciated. I am excited for T.J. and want the very best for him. I believe in him and will miss having him in our program.
After putting up consecutive 40-point games to close out the regular season and carrying his team to the NCAA tournament, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year will be the missing piece for a Phoenix Suns team on the cusp of making the playoffs.
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SF, Kentucky
James Young is a player who has plenty of room to grow in the NBA, but offers the Atlanta Hawks a shooter with a smooth stroke. For a team that narrowly made the postseason this year, the Hawks are still in need of a player like Young, making him their selection at No. 15 in the draft.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
One of the lone seniors in the class along with McDermott, Adreian Payne has experience and polish that many others in the class don't present. Payne also has an all-around game as a hybrid forward that will make him a popular player alongside the likes of Joakim Noah and—fingers crossed—Derrick Rose.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
After getting a flashy big man in Gordon, the Celtics will go with an international player that will complement the big man on the court.
Garry Parrish of CBS Sports shares his thoughts on Saric's game, writing, "Saric is a long wing and one of the world's most interesting prospects. He's capable of playing some minutes at power forward, and big enough to score on most small forwards."
Given his versatile ability, the Celtics will lock up the Croatian forward with hopes that he'll live up to the billing in Boston.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
It's hard to find a team that has scouted players better than the Phoenix Suns in recent years, and the franchise will once again find a gem in Clint Capela. The Swiss player is a phenomenal defender and rebounder, making him a great asset alongside Mason Plumlee in the frontcourt.
19. Chicago Bulls: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
After taking Payne with their first pick in the draft, the Chicago Bulls will shore up a position of need with Kyle Anderson. As another player who can shoot and handle the ball—he played the point with UCLA—Anderson will flourish with the Bulls and give the team another scoring threat.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, PF, Syracuse
Playing alongside Ennis would have stolen the shine away from any player this past season, but Jerami Grant continued to thrive in 2013-14. Thanks to both great athleticism and ability inside the paint, the Toronto Raptors will take a chance with Grant in the hopes of returning to the postseason next year.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas Mavericks): P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina
Decision-making may not be one of P.J. Hairston's best assets, but his shooting touch makes him a potentially great player at the NBA level. And for a team that has two selections in the first round and a championship-caliber team already, the Oklahoma City Thunder might be willing to take the flyer on Hairston.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
This one just makes too much sense for the Memphis Grizzlies not to pull the trigger.
K.J. McDaniels is a great scorer, but an even better defensive player. While he's slightly undersized for the position at 6'6", the Clemson product developed into a star with the Tigers, as Jonathan Givony of Draft Express noted during the season, via Mandrallius Robinson of USA Today:
He's emerged as one of the best players in the ACC. ... If you just look at his size (6-foot-6, 200-pounds), his frame, his athleticism and how much he's improved as a perimeter shooter and a ball-handler, he's got a lot of things going for him as an NBA prospect. We may be ahead of the curve here, but I think people will catch up eventually to the kind of prospect he is.
On a team that already has established stars like Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, McDaniels will ultimately take over the small forward position and help keep the team as a contender in the West.
23. Utah Jazz: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
The opinions of Shabazz Napier vary among different analysts, but he can immediately help the Utah Jazz return to relevance at the next level. Much like Kemba Walker—yes, I'm annoyed with the comparison, too, but it makes sense—Napier has a chance to put the franchise on his shoulders and shine alongside a player like Julius Randle.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers): Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita State
Following the second playoff season in the team's history, the Charlotte Bobcats will once again become the Hornets and bring in a legitimate scoring threat. Having Cleanthony Early sharing the paint with Al Jefferson, the Bobcats, er, Hornets will once again contend in the East.
25. Houston Rockets: Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia
Yes, the Houston Rockets already have an established shooting guard in James Harden, but they could see Mario Hezonja develop slowly behind the star. The only reason this pick might not make sense is Hezonja isn't known for his defensive prowess, something he certainly won't learn under Harden, the defensive juggernaut.
26. Miami Heat: Semaj Christon, PG, Xavier
One underwhelming position for the Miami Heat over the last two championship seasons has been the point guard. Mario Chalmers may have put up some of his best numbers this season with 9.8 points and 4.9 assists, but adding Semaj Christon to this lineup would give both players time to develop under the system.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers): Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
With a wealth of draft picks and plenty of star potential in the draft already taken, the Suns will pick up a player with a ton of upside and freakish athleticism in Zach LaVine.
Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com points out LaVine's strengths at the next level:
LaVine is an impressive athlete with really good length and size for either guard position, although his advantages are greater at the point than they are at the two. UCLA played one of the 15 toughest schedules in college basketball this year, so his body of work is primarily against good competition. He excels in transition and has the ability to finish above the rim when he gets into the lane with some momentum. When he’s filling the wing in transition, he looks every bit like a NBA player.
... At 19 years of age (his birthday was on March 10), LaVine possesses the valuable combination of youth, athleticism and scoring ability that will earn him some money at the next level.
This is clearly not a position of need for Phoenix with Goran Dragic at the point and Eric Bledsoe at the 2, but adding a functional player like LaVine behind both would give him time to develop in the NBA.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Elfrid Payton, PG, Lafayette
Remember all that talk about Elfrid Payton during the college basketball season? No? Well, that's because there really wasn't any.
Despite not getting any attention, Payton shined with Lafayette, tallying 19.2 points, six rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. Showing growth during each season with the Ragin' Cajuns, Payton will now be in the spotlight with the Clippers behind Chris Paul.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Talk about a guy who made some money during the postseason. On the NCAA tournament stage, Jarnell Stokes developed into one of the best post players in this year's class thanks to his size and physicality.
After adding a shooter with the first selection, the Thunder will bank on Stokes' potential to bring that presence in the paint to Oklahoma City.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
No team in the league knows more about turning international players into NBA stars than the San Antonio Spurs. Adding Jusuf Nurkic, a 6'11" center with a boatload of upside, the Spurs will have yet another chance to coach a player into a cog behind Tiago Splitter.
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