Move aside, football; you've hogged the spotlight long enough. The 2014 NBA draft now becomes the focal point of forecasting fun.
Now that Round 1 of the attention-stealing NFL draft is finally over, we can all collectively divert our mock energy to the hardwood. At least the NBA is kind enough not to let its proceedings hang over everyone for months with no end in sight.
It may seem a bit early to project what will occur in the draft given that the playoffs are still in full swing, but the nation's top prospects will receive their job assignments on June 26.
OK, maybe it is a little early, but the time will fly faster than you can say "I'm glad my team didn't toss aside all of its valuable picks like the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets."
The following draft order (which is based upon final regular-season standings) will almost certainly change after the draft lottery, but let's make the best of what's here now.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
Should the Bucks be rewarded for their tanktastic season by receiving the No. 1 pick, they'll have a tough choice on their hands with three franchise-altering talents sitting on top of the board.
While Andrew Wiggins didn't obliterate the NCAA during his highly anticipated freshman season, he still flashed superb athleticism on the court. Not going anywhere in 2015, Milwaukee should bank on Wiggins morphing into its future superstar.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
A tremendous consolation prize at pick No. 2, Jabari Parker is the most polished player of the top prospects, and he should be snatched up by the 76ers here. Drafting Parker would give Philadelphia a strong chance to host the Rookie of the Year for the second straight season.
3. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
According to CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, the general manager that takes center Joel Embiid is putting his job in jeopardy. Also according to Doyel, the general manager that doesn't take a chance on the young big man could also get fired for the misstep:
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.
But how does an NBA general manager not draft Joel Embiid? He's 7 feet tall, 250 pounds, and the best prospect at center in nearly a decade. On a Kansas team built around perimeter players, Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in just 23.1 minutes. This kid could average, easily, 20-and-12 as a rookie. An NBA general manager who ignores a center like this to roll the dice on Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins or Duke's Jabari Parker is an NBA general manager who could pay for that decision with his job.
Well that's super helpful.
If we learned anything from the Portland Trailblazers' painful history of respectively taking Sam Bowie and Greg Oden over Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, going big isn't always the most prudent selection. With Wiggins and Parker off the table, however, the choice is easy for Orlando to gamble on Embiid's massive ceiling.
4. Utah Jazz: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
The Jazz need a wing scorer who can take some burden away from Gordon Hayward, but a true shooting guard or small forward isn't in the cards unless the lottery bodes well for them. They'll instead see what happens when they pair Trey Burke with Dante Exum, an 18-year-old Australian who touts tremendous explosiveness as a dynamic combo guard.
5. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle takes his daily double-double to Boston, who should not be attached to Jared Sullinger's 13.3 points per game on 12.1 field-goal attempts per contest. Unless the Celtics have plans to move Rajon Rondo, they should grab the best player available in order to motorize their rebuilding effort.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Kansas State
New head coach Swaggy P has a lot of work to do to fix the sinking ship that is the Los Angeles Lakers. Not even the Lakers are delusional enough to think Steve Nash is the long-term answer at point guard, so they get their replacement in Marcus Smart, an all-around talent who is a solid jump shot away from becoming an All-Star.
7. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
DeMarcus Cousins is an underrated monster on the offensive end, but he'd be well served by Sacramento acquiring a defensive-minded power forward who can help improve a unit that allowed 103.5 points per game last season. Per Sports-Reference, Aaron Gordon led all NCAA players with 3.3 defensive win shares last season.
8. Detroit Pistons: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
In terms of pure value, Noah Vonleh is the top player remaining on the board here.
Then again, the Detroit Pistons learned the hard way that building an actual team rather than a decent-looking NBA 2K squad matters, so they'll address their dire need for outside shooting with Michigan's Nik Stauskas. He may be a slight reach here, but Stauskas can stretch the floor for the rest of the team's inside-scoring options.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
(See the earlier point about Vonleh being the best player available.)
During his freshman season, the 18-year old shot 52.3 percent from the floor while averaging 9.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks through 26.5 minutes per game. There's major upside here.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan
A solid shooting guard is the next piece to Philadelphia's retooling puzzle. One of the NBA's worst defenses will especially enjoy Harris' quick hands that lock down the opposition. With a healthy Nerlens Noel, the 76ers have a lot of young promise.
11. Denver Nuggers: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
One of the draft's most intriguing prospects, Dario Saric offers a sweet stroke and solid ball-handling skills for a man of his stature. A shooting guard would suit Denver's needs better, but two of its potential top targets—Stauskas and Harris—are already gone, so the franchise should instead invest in a project.
12. Orlando Magic (via New York): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
After going big earlier with Joel Embiid, the Magic will go small here with Tyler Ennis, a point guard who had a knack for knocking down big shots at Syracuse.
Victor Oladipo switched to point guard last season in to fill Orlando's glaring hole there last season, but Ennis' presence would allow him to switch back to his more natural position of shooting guard during his sophomore campaign.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Minnesota ranked 26th with a 34.1 percent three-point shooting average last year, and Doug McDermott knows a thing or two about shooting from behind the arc. Don't expect much from him on defense, but somebody has to space the floor and help Kevin Love puts some balls in the basket.
14. Phoenix Suns: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
With their first of three first-round picks, the Suns claim Duke's Rodney Hood, who gives them a crucial perimeter shooter to complement their fierce point guard duo. While Hood has some weaknesses off the ball and on defense, Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler thinks his shooting stroke will still get him noticed:
Rodney Hood may have the softest touch as a shooter I have seen in this process... Extremely crafty as lefty. He should do well in workouts.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) May 8, 2014
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SF, Kentucky
Speaking of shooting, the Hawks lived—and died—by the long ball during their first-round loss to the Indiana Pacers in a series that spanned seven games. Per NBA.com, they set some new playoff landmarks with a permanent green light:
The Hawks set new #NBAPlayoffs records in most 3's attempted in a game (44) & a series (230). Their 79 threes made is also a series record— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 4, 2014
Part of that stems from not having a perimeter player who can consistently drive to the basket, and James Young is an aggressive attacker who can make plays at the rim. He also showed occasional promise as a spot-up shooter, which will suit him well should the Hawks continue to fire away from behind the arc.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): T.J. Warren, SF, NC State
T.J. Warren is a throwback forward—a bulldozer who attacks the basket with a limited shooting arsenal. His tenacious style, with or without the ball, will fit right in with Chicago, a team full of players who don't do things the conventional way.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Kyle Anderson, PG/SF, UCLA
The perfect Rondo contingency plan, Kyle Anderson can make himself useful elsewhere if Boston holds on to its star point guard. Although one hardly thinks of a 6'9", 230-pound player, per Sports-Reference, as someone to run the show, he handled the position with aplomb at UCLA despite worries about his lack of speed at the slot.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
The Suns continue to bulk up on forwards who can stretch the floor and shoot the basketball. Adreian Payne bolstered his game by adding a deep jumper, but his age (23) may keep him out of the lottery. Phoenix can grab a safe contributor here knowing that it has one more first-round choice at its disposal.
19. Chicago Bulls: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
The Bulls employed a revolving door of backup guards this year who ended up playing many more minutes than they hoped once Derrick Rose went down with another injury. It's about time they install a legitimate Plan B with P.J. Hairston, who demolished the D-League last season, as he would give Chicago some instant offense off the bench.
20. Toronto Raptors: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
A long-term investment is a hard sell for a team that enjoyed its highest win total in franchise history this season, but the young club could become something special with Clint Capela wreaking havoc at the 4 in a few years.
He's a queston mark, but what player isn't this late in the game?
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
Jerami Grant won't help the Thunder's immediate cause, but his athleticism and upside will propel the team to take a shot on Grant becoming a spark plug for their lacking second unit. He needs to hone his jumper and defense, though, which is why the forward fell outside the lottery.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF, Wichita State
The Grizzlies made a concerted effort to add some shooting in Courtney Lee and Mike Miller, but they need more offensive reinforcements in the wild Western Conference.
Cleanthony Early, whose draft stock has risen after a sensational NCAA tournament, could serve as a small forward or as a stretch-4 off the bench.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels is not the sharpshooter that would work wonders for Utah, but he's a ferocious defender with tremendous quickness when guarding the perimeter. With a little work on the other side, McDaniels will turn into a great buy late in Round 1.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
He is not the wing shooter Charlotte needs, but Zach LaVine oozes too much upside to pass up at No. 24. The dynamic combo guard is raw, but he can run opponents out of the gym with lightning-fast quickness.
25. Houston Rockets: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Elfrid Payton rose into the first round of many mocks when projectors realized that he averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game last year for the Ragin' Cajuns. That level of productivity would sure look interesting alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Shabazz Napier is a great fit for a Miami team whose championship window won't remain open forever. Don't expect him to blossom into a superstar because of his sizzling March Madness run, but he'll deliver quality minutes off the bench as a disciplined ball-distributor and lock-down defender.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Serbia
Going back to that point about Phoenix having more than enough picks to balance safe investments with risky propositions, the Suns will gamble with their last first-rounder, snagging Bogdan Bogdanovic from Serbia. If all goes well, the Suns are getting a lights-out shooter here for their troubles.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Nobody is saying Mitch McGary needs to take minutes away from Blake Griffin, The Clippers are simply taking a high-reward gamble on the forward, who could have warranted a lottery selection if a back injury had not derailed his sophomore season.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Jusus Nurkic was in play for the Thunder at No. 21, so they'll be glad to steal him here with their own selection. Steven Adams is an interesting talent who should receive more playing time next season, but Nurkic offers a more physical presence down low, which must matter in OKC if Kendrick Perkins somehow still has a starting job.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Vasilije Micic, PG, Serbia
The Spurs once again go overseas in hopes of procuring a future All-Star after years of seasoning. Vailike Micic, 20, won't need to play in San Antonio just yet, but Tony Parker won't be running the Spurs' show forever.