With the first round of the NBA playoffs continuing to rage on and the second round being just around the corner, several teams and fan bases are looking ahead to the 2014 NBA draft.
While the lottery still hasn't taken place and the non-playoff teams are still anticipating their fate in the draft, this year's class is too exhilarating not to take an early look ahead in the process.
Names like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been heralded all season, but the depth of this class means that several teams will have a chance to draft other potential stars this year as well.
Before the draft officially gets underway, here's a look at my predictions for the entire first round along with analysis for each elite prospect.
Note: Draft order is based off of final regular-season standings. Actual draft order will be determined by NBA draft lottery, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, May 20.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins entered college as the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and he exits with same status—but it certainly hasn't been that easy for the former Kansas star.
SMU coach Larry Brown, also a long-tenured NBA coach, spoke about the difficult situation for Wiggins during his freshman year, per Eric Prisbell and Scott Gleeson of USA Today: "I feel for Wiggins every day. You hear one game, 'Oh, he's the first pick.' Then the next game, 'Oh, I'm so disappointed.' That stuff drives me crazy. He's a 19-year-old freshman. He is a special kid."
After averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game at Kansas, Wiggins comes in more polished after one season. He will still need to grow with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he could eventually turn into a franchise-changer down the line.
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
Easily one of the best all-around prospects in the class, Joel Embiid has drawn comparisons to some of the greatest players in the NBA, including legends like Hakeem Olajuwan. Despite his injuries throughout last season with the Jayhawks, Embiid will still be a guaranteed top-five pick.
But Greg Doyel of CBS Sports stated pretty simply why a general manager might now shy away from making the decision to ultimately draft Embiid:
How does an NBA general manager draft Joel Embiid? He's an injury waiting to happen. No, check that. He's an injury that has already happened. Two injuries, that we know of: his knee, then his back. Draft Joel Embiid with the first overall pick, watch him get hurt or stay hurt or both, and the general manager that makes that choice will pay with his job.
After players like Greg Oden—the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft—have struggled just to stay on the court and never lived up to the hype, Embiid's prospects of going No. 1 overall have plummeted. As the No. 3 pick, though, Embiid will pair up with Victor Oladipo and could become the third game-changing center to play in Orlando within the past few decades.
Hopefully, the third time is the charm and Embiid will actually remain with the Magic.
4. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Another exciting physical player in the paint, Julius Randle offers stellar rebounding ability and a bright future with his scoring touch. The Utah Jazz need both of those things along with a return to the playoffs in the coming years.
5. Boston Celtics: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
The rebuilding stage for the Boston Celtics has already begun, and bringing in a prospect like Dante Exum could provide stability for a franchise with several question marks.
As the franchise is in flux due to the fact that Rajon Rondo is likely not the point guard of the future anymore, bringing in Exum will allow the Celtics to oversee the maturation process for the young star.
Though he's not going to be someone to carry a team with as many issues as the Celtics have, Exum's ability to play either guard position would add versatility to the team's offense.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
There's this guy in Los Angeles already, named Blake Griffin, who has been setting the world on fire with his explosiveness.
Blake Griffin 2.0 might be coming to the Los Angeles Lakers, with Aaron Gordon still available on the board here. Don't take my word for it, though, as Griffin said that Gordon reminds him of himself, telling Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv: "A little bit. He’s very athletic, he’s got a pretty good motor."
Yes, the Lakers just drafted Ryan Kelly and have high hopes of landing another power forward named Kevin Love in the future, but Kelly is more of a stretch-4 that can play outside, and let's just call this pick insurance for Love.
In a class where upside is high, Gordon might end up being one of the best prospects due to his size (6'8", 220 lbs) and frame. Thanks to having potential to change a game on both ends of the court, Gordon could be a long-term player for the Lakers who helps the resurgence of the franchise under a new head coach.
7. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
Another pick, another California team. Another pick, another talented power forward.
Noah Vonleh might have been forgotten about during the college season, as Indiana struggled to stay relevant this year, but his stock has skyrocketed this offseason. With the Sacramento Kings looking to build around DeMarcus Cousins and emerging star in Isaiah Thomas, Vonleh will be another immensely talented player to add to the frontcourt.
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 skills 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
The same man who won nearly every award there was to win last season in college basketball will look to take his scoring presence to the NBA. Thanks to a smooth stroke and an ability to create his own shot, McDermott will fit in perfectly with Kyrie Irving on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
During his two seasons with Michigan State, Gary Harris was both a leader and a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. As for the 76ers, they need all the offense they can get after a horrid season, so adding another scoring threat like Harris to pair with Parker will make for an outstanding tandem for the future.
11. Denver Nuggets: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
All Rodney Hood did during his college career was play stellar basketball at every stop he made. After transferring to Duke from Mississippi State, Hood teamed up as part of a sensational duo with Parker on a Blue Devils team that fell just short in March.
As the Denver Nuggets work to find relevance once again in the West, adding Hood to a lineup that finished 11th in the Western Conference would immediately impact the team next season.
12. Orlando Magic: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
After coming into the college basketball ranks as a player that might potentially stay for four seasons, Tyler Ennis shined under the spotlight as a freshman. 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, the Magic feature the perfect system for a player like Ennis to thrive in.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Likely one of the best pure shooters in college basketball last season, Nik Stauskas will bring his outstanding scoring prowess to the NBA. Having Kevin Love inside and Ricky Rubio outside means Stauskas will find open opportunities, changing the Minnesota Timberwolves offense enough to hopefully keep Love in Minnesota.
14. Phoenix Suns: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Scoring, it's just what T.J. Warren does.
The 2013-14 ACC Player of the Year lit the conference up every time he took the court last season despite being double-teamed and, at times, triple-teamed.
Former teammate Richard Howell explained to me exactly why Warren is such an offensive threat. "He helps out a lot because he’s a scorer," said Howell. "He’s one of the most prolific scorers in the nation, and I don’t feel a lot of people are paying attention to that. I think the sole reason for that is because he doesn’t get his points in bunches. He doesn’t go out there and people say, ‘Oh my God,’ and it’s not some wild-type 20 point performance. He just scores, and that’s something that we definitely need."
And that was during his freshman year with the Wolfpack. During his sophomore campaign, Warren tallied 40 points twice, with averages of 24.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Tony Buckets is coming to Phoenix, and he'll bring the same explosion to the NBA that he provided in college.
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SF, Kentucky
James Young is a player who has plenty of room to grow in the NBA, but he would offer 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.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Much like the aforementioned Warren, Adreian Payne was known for tacking on huge point totals throughout his college career. But with more polish and a great outside shot, Payne would make for a perfect fit for the Chicago Bulls, especially with a player like Joakim Noah clogging up the paint next to him.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
After getting their point guard of the future in Exum, the Celtics will go with an international player that can fill up the inside.
Garry Parrish of CBS Sports shared his thoughts on Saric's game: "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 his billing in Boston.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): 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 to pair alongside Mason Plumlee in the frontcourt.
19. Chicago Bulls: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
After picking up Payne earlier in the draft, the Bulls will look to a position where they have a little bit more of a need by picking up Kyle Anderson. The underclassman has phenomenal ball-handling skills along with a great shot that can help the team when Derrick Rose ultimately returns to the lineup.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, PF, Syracuse
Though the Toronto Raptors are currently in the midst of a potentially franchise-changing postseason series, the team is still in need of another big man alongside Jonas Valanciunas.
As both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are showing glimpses of being future stars in the league, adding Jerami Grant would give the team another rebounding and scoring prospect.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): P.J. Hairston, PG/SG, North Carolina
After being dismissed by North Carolina in December of 2013, P.J. Hairston showed that he is still a great talent during his time in the D-League this season, with averages of 21.8 points and 3.5 rebounds. Due to Hairston's 6'6" and 230-pound frame, the Oklahoma City Thunder will take the risk to add yet another scoring presence alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
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 he is 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: Cleanthony Early, PF/SF, Wichita State
Marvin Williams isn't the answer in Utah, and Jeremy Evans certainly hasn't been getting the job done, either. That is why the Jazz selected Randle with the No. 4 overall pick. Richard Jefferson is in the twilight of his career and Brandon Rush isn't the future of the franchise, so Utah will select Cleanthony Early, too.
While he played power forward at Wichita State, the 6'8", 216-pound Early projects better at the 3 in the NBA. His scoring ability will give Trey Burke another great offensive threat to grow with in the future.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
After making it to the playoffs for the second time in franchise history as the Charlotte Bobcats, the team will now switch back to being called the Hornets starting next season. Along with that change, they'll bring in a player that's a bit of an experiment but one that could eventually pay off.
Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com points out Zach LaVine's potential 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.
... 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.
Thanks to having Al Jefferson in the paint and Kemba Walker running the point, LaVine will flourish at the 2. If he can adapt quickly to the NBA, look for the Hornets to make their first trip back to the playoffs in a while as well.
25. Houston Rockets: Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia
Mario Hezonja isn't going to come in and replace James Harden, but the Houston Rockets could see Hezonja develop slowly behind the star. The only reason this pick might not make sense is because 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 point guard. Mario Chalmers may have put up some of his best numbers this season, with 9.8 points and 4.9 assists per game, but adding Semaj Christon to this lineup would give both players time to develop under the team's system.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
Having a wealth of draft picks and plenty of star potential to choose from in the draft, the Suns will pick up a player with a ton of upside in Jordan Adams.
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 Adams behind both of those players would give the young guard time to develop in the NBA.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
A player who carried his team to the NCAA championship and emerged as a bright young star, Shabazz Napier will bring those talents to the Los Angeles Clippers. Getting a chance to learn under Chris Paul will give Napier a great learning curve, and his presence will add another floor general when CP3 is on the bench.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri
After selecting Hairston earlier in the draft process, the Thunder will look to add an insurance policy for both him and Westbrook here. Reggie Jackson filled in valiantly for Westbrook this season, but adding Jordan Clarkson in case Hairston falters or Westbrook suffers another injury is a wise move.
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. By adding Jusuf Nurkic, a 6'11" center with a boatload of upside, the Spurs will have yet another chance to coach a player into becoming a key cog behind Tiago Splitter.
All height/weight information courtesy of NBADraft.net.
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