The NBA playoffs are busy entertaining fans with nightly displays of heroics from across the league. Unfortunately for those hardcore fans without a team in the trophy hunt, solace is found only in the practice of speculating about which prospect will turn their team's fortunes around in the 2014 NBA draft.
The draft is front-loaded with freshman stars like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. After the lottery picks go down, the draft pool is a murky mix of raw potential, stalwart seniors and foreign men of mystery.
While the official draft order is still waiting on the machinations of the NBA lottery to get underway, here is a rundown of the most recent projections for the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins' bona fides were questioned due to stretches of inconsistent play at Kansas, but he still has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. Even Kansas' early exit from the NCAA tournament can't hurt Wiggins' draft stock in 2014.
The incredibly athletic, 6'8" wing player will make an excellent tandem with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the perimeter. Both players feature wingspans over 7'0", which will go a long way to clogging up passing lanes and revitalizing the Bucks' anemic defense. Milwaukee finished 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (per ESPN.com's Hollinger rankings), giving up 108.9 points per 100 possessions.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, PF, Duke
According to ESPN Insider's Jeff Goodman (subscription required), Parker was the player most often cited by NBA executives as deserving of the top overall pick.
The 76ers don't necessarily need Joel Embiid, as they still have yet to see Nerlens Noel in regular-game action. Parker is the most natural scorer in this year's draft, averaging 19.1 points per game for the Blue Devils as a freshman. He has a dazzling array of post moves and is probably the most NBA-ready player in the entire draft.
3. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Everyone loves Wiggins' ceiling. However, it is his teammate Joel Embiid who may have even greater potential in the pros.
Relatively unheralded before the season began, Embiid quickly showed that he was a force to be reckoned with. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders relays some of the comparisons made on his behalf:
Scout on Joel Embiid: "He may have highest upside in draft. He reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon/Patrick Ewing." More: http://t.co/T8pKqLQQal— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 10, 2014
The Magic could use talent at just about every position, but they can't pass on a potential franchise center with the No. 3 pick. Concerns about Embiid's back may still linger, but if he can prove that he is on the way to a full recovery, Embiid shouldn't fall any farther than Orlando.
4. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Jazz need help up and down the roster, and they have the luxury of being able to take the best player on the board. At this point, Julius Randle is the obvious choice.
Randle was an absolute double-double machine at Kentucky, averaging 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
However, there is at least one observer, ESPN's Myron Medcalf, who doesn't necessarily see Randle taking the league by storm.
Julius Randle should buy a pen and a notebook, fly to Memphis and just watch Zach Randolph in the playoffs. That's his ceiling. Maybe.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) April 22, 2014
It should be noted that Randle is much more athletic than Zach Randolph ever was. Z-Bo never had the vertical leap nor the quick first step that Randle possesses. In fact, if Randle projects as a more athletic Z-Bo, he should easily be making All-Star teams for the better part of the next decade.
5. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
Vonleh is the potential star lurking just outside the discussion of consensus top choices like Wiggins, Embiid, Randle and Parker.
He is Indiana's first one-and-done since Eric Gordon in 2008, and Indiana head coach Tom Crean has only positive things to say about his departing player. Via Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star:
"It didn't take long to see his personality. It didn't take long to see his character. It didn't take very long at all to see his work ethic," Crean said. "We've put our time in to help him get better, but he's worked as hard or harder."
If Vonleh feels even the least bit slighted by his spot on the fringes of the top players discussions, look for him to get revenge by forging an exemplary NBA career.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Exum has plenty of buzz surrounding him heading into the draft but will remain a mystery to many NBA fans until he dons an NBA jersey due to the fact he plies his trade Down Under.
Exum is famous for his size and athleticism at the point guard position. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders shows via Twitter how Exum stacks up physically against the Brooklyn Nets' Shaun Livingston.
Dante Exum - 6'6" 188lbs 6'9.25" wingspan Shaun Livingston - 6'7.5" 186lbs 6'11" wingspan— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) April 27, 2014
He possesses a great basketball pedigree—his father, Cecil Exum, played for Dean Smith at North Carolina—and has trained at the Australian Institute of Sport, which has produced a smattering of NBA players such as Luc Longley and Andrew Bogut.
Also, does anyone remember what happened the last time the Lakers had a ridiculously tall point guard?
7. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute monster on offense, but the Kings could use some help on the defensive side of the ball. Aaron Gordon is the hyper-athletic forward who could keep the Kings competitive in games when their defense can't get it together.
Gordon's stats wont blow anyone away, but his athleticism and playmaking ability have scouts absolutely drooling over his potential.
Still, as CBSSports.com's Matt Moore notes, Gordon doesn't always make full use of his physical prowess:
You can improve your jumper, you can improve your post-up situations. But with Gordon's wingspan and athleticism, he should be producing more points on putbacks. Much of what Gordon seems to struggle with is how short his jumps are on both inside attempts and offensive rebounds, based on little to no power being spent from this legs.
Gordon has plenty of skills to work on, but his innate agility, power and speed just can't be taught.
8. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Pistons didn't fare well last season with the out-of-control play of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. They will likely be looking for stability in the backcourt, considering they are loaded with big men like Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
Smart is a polished player without any glaring weaknesses, save for a suspect outside jump shot. His stock would have been much higher if he didn't have a disappointing sophomore season, but the Pistons have a potential steal here at No. 8.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Doug McDermott, PF, Creighton
The Cavaliers completely botched their No. 1 choice in 2013 by selecting Anthony Bennett and can't afford to take a chance on another project player. Their only option is to play it safe. The consistent play of McDermott makes him a perfect choice for the Cavs in the first round.
McDermott is a huge player with an excellent jump shot and a variety of moves in the low post. He averaged 21.7 points per game over the course of four seasons at Creighton. He was lethal from three-point range, averaging 45.8 percent for his amateur career. McDermott would be an excellent option for Kyrie Irving to kick the ball out to on the wing, and he could find himself scoring in double figures right away in the NBA thanks to his shooting stroke.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Saric is one of two basketball prospects drawing scouts' attention to Croatia's Adriatic League.
Saric is a lanky Croatian who can score, play stellar defense and rebound with ease. Saric draws plenty of comparisons to current NBA players as scouts and executives try to generate a frame of reference for his all-around game, but if he could choose one himself, it would be a certain do-it-all forward with a championship background.
Via Mark Woods of ESPN.com: "Lamar Odom, maybe. He's a big guy who can create. He can do everything on the court."
Hopefully, Saric can lay off the sweets better than Odom and use his lean, athletic frame to his advantage in the NBA.
11. Denver Nuggets: James Young, SG, Kentucky
Young rarely encounters a jump-shot opportunity he doesn't like. He was reliable all season long at Kentucky despite the struggles of those around him, averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Young is the type of player who can blend into any offensive scheme thanks to his ability to both score from outside and take the ball to the rack with authority. The Nuggets rely on a core group of players who play with speed and are willing to share the ball. Ty Lawson could use another player who can separate from defenders and get open for a mid-range jumper.
12. Orlando Magic (via New York Knicks): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
The Magic fix the frontcourt with Embiid as their first choice and now add some firepower to the backcourt in the middle of the first round.
Stauskas is perhaps the purest 2-guard to be found in this year's draft. He was an efficient scorer as a freshman, but the progress he made in 2013-2014 caught the attention of observers like Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News:
Nik Stauskas improved more than any college player I've seen from one year to the next. GR3 still could blossom in NBA. No bad choices here.— Bob Wojnowski (@bobwojnowski) April 15, 2014
The shaggy-haired Canadian is nearly automatic from beyond the arc. He shot 44.2 percent on three-pointers in 2013-2014 and could project to be the next J.J. Redick, who also happened to make a name for himself with the Magic.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren averaged 24.9 points per game during the 2013-2014 season. That should tell you all you need to know about why he decided to enter the draft after his sophomore year.
Warren utilizes a dazzling array of floaters, jumpers and death-defying drives to the hoop in order to rack up points. He would be a great addition to a Timberwolves team that often relies on Kevin Love to shoulder the majority of the load offensively.
14. Phoenix Suns: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson made huge strides on offense during his sophomore season at UCLA and has many excited about his ability to generate similar leaps in production in the NBA.
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Anderson has a unique, multi-faceted game that will translate well to the NBA. He's 6'9" and can shoot the three, rebound well and make the best decision passing the ball on nearly every trip up the court.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Capela is a tantalizing prospect currently playing in the LNB Pro A league in France. He's 6'11" with an enormous 7'4" wingspan and has a ridiculously great highlight reel.
The wiry giant has fantastic upside and clearly loves to finish the occasional alley-oop. Capela's game would be a nice change of pace for the Hawks, who currently rely heavily on outside shooting and will need to add a different dynamic to their offense in order to return to the playoffs in 2015.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Derrick Rose might not skip a beat once he makes his eventual return to the NBA, but the Bulls would be wise to add some depth at the point guard position. Ennis is a fiery, competitive point guard who could probably carve out a niche on just about any NBA team. His no-frills response to Tim and Sid of the Sportsnet Radio Network reflects his tenacity:
When asked what will help Tyler Ennis become a good pro, Ennis responded, "All I know is working hard and going to the gym." #timandsid— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) May 1, 2014
Perhaps Ennis can channel some of his frustration at Syracuse's collapse into his NBA career.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Let's make a run on Syracuse players who weren't totally responsible for the abrupt way their run at an undefeated season ended. Grant averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds during his sophomore season at the 'Cuse, a huge leap from his production as a freshman.
The Celtics could use Grant in a variety of ways, as he has the ability to compete at both forward spots. However, his jump shot is a bit shaky and will keep him from rising much further than the middle of the first round in this loaded draft class.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker formed an excellent scoring tandem at Duke. The lengthy 6'7" forward averaged 13.3 points per game and made a name for himself during his lone season in Durham.
He might not have had the opportunity to showcase his talent had he not transferred from Mississippi State. The attention lavished upon Parker definitely spilled over to Hood, and he made the most of it. Look for him to continue that success with a young, hungry team like the Phoenix Suns.
19. Chicago Bulls: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
McDaniels is the kind of high-energy defensive specialist that would fit in perfectly in head coach Tom Thibodeau's scheme in Chicago. He's also an absolute wizard when it comes to getting directly to the basket, averaging 17.1 points per game during his junior season at Clemson.
McDaniels is unafraid to take outside shots but will need to work on his 30.4 percent three-point shooting if he is to be trusted with those looks in the NBA.
But let's get back to the defensive mastery. McDaniels averaged a staggering 2.8 blocks per game at just 6'6" tall and will have everyone in the league looking over his shoulder on fast breaks.
SMU coach Larry Brown, who knows a thing or two about the NBA, compared McDaniels to a few prominent NBA stars. Via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier: "He reminds me of Paul George and Andre Iguodala, the kid (Kawhi) Leonard at San Antonio. (He’s) a human stat sheet. Guys that find ways to help your team win. He’s going to be playing at the next level doing the same thing."
No mincing of words there. Brown's comments should have the Association on notice.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Since the Raptors decided they needed Drake as a global ambassador, it makes sense that they add some global flavor to their team by selecting Nurkic.
He currently plays for Cedevita in Croatia's Adriatic League but has NBA scouts clamoring over him thanks to his 6'11", 280-pound frame. According to Mike Schmitz of Draftexpress.com, Nurkic averaged 13 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in just over 16 minutes of play each night. It is clear he's dominating inferior competition, but Toronto's coaches will have plenty of time to shape the 19-year-old into a formidable post presence capable of playing at the highest level.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas Mavericks): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris did an excellent job of improving nearly every facet of his game during his sophomore season, and the NBA definitely took notice.
He's not a great outside shooter, but the Thunder desperately need options on offense when either Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant is having an off night. Harris also does a decent job of taking care of the ball, a constant issue for Westbrook, averaging just 1.7 turnovers per game in 2013-2014.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Payne has great size at 6'9" and 215 pounds, and he can score in a variety of ways. Whether it is posting up as a power forward or knocking down spot-up jumpers from the perimeter (42.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2013-2014), Payne's versatility should give the Grizzlies a major boost on offense.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Early is likely to end up in the latter half of the first round, and the Jazz would be a perfect spot for his all-around scoring ability and solid defensive work ethic. Early made headlines after his 31-point performance against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, as he displayed an ability to pop up from outside, drive to the hoop and hit a mid-range jumper or two.
Early's athleticism makes him an intriguing pick, and I think the Jazz take him a bit earlier than most observers might expect.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers): Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
LaVine will have to bulk up in order to survive the rigors of the pro game. Scouts love his raw potential and athleticism, despite the fact he averaged just 9.4 points per game sharing the ball with Jordan Adams and Anderson.
Fans would be wise to note that Jrue Holiday left the Bruins with less than spectacular numbers, but the word from scouts gave him the confidence to make the leap, and we all know how well that has turned out. Expect LaVine to make a similarly smooth transition. LaVine would give the Bobcats an excellent shooting option at guard and put some pressure on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to raise his game on offense.
25. Houston Rockets: Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
Adams hasn't officially declared for the NBA draft but has filed paperwork to explore his draft status, according to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times.
He is still just testing the waters, but he may be better off by jumping ship to the league since his teammates LaVine and Anderson have already abandoned Westwood. Adams averaged 17.4 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and helped lead UCLA to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2014.
26. Miami Heat: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Payton is unfairly overlooked coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette, which is a shame because the 6'3" point guard is fearless and productive on both ends of the court. He attributed his constant improvement to his excellent work ethic, via Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:
Dinwiddie will take his talents and well-manicured mustache to the first round of the NBA draft, and attempt to put Colorado basketball on the map in the process.
Dinwiddie averaged 14.7 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting in 2013-2014. He's a threat from downtown, shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the three-point line. ESPN's Chad Ford believes Dinwiddie is a fringe first-rounder, but the Suns have the luxury of multiple picks in this year's draft and could take a chance on him.
Hmm … bubble first rounder RT @GoodmanESPN: Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie officially announces he's headed to the NBA Draft.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) April 24, 2014
Dinwiddie is an explosive offensive threat and would provide the Suns' primary ball-handlers—Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic—with an excellent scoring option on the wing.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan
The Clippers need an effective big man to spell DeAndre Jordan. Ryan Hollins is bumping up against his ceiling and unlikely to become a part of the regular rotation. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is powerful, but he lacks ideal height for an NBA center.
Enter Mitch McGary. He's 6'10" and 255 pounds, and he is a menace in the low post. He isn't the flashiest player in the NBA draft, but he showed plenty of grit and determination as a major part of last year's Michigan squad.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The Thunder get a gift in the form of Napier, who can provide instant scoring relief for Westbrook.
Napier became a household name by leading the Huskies to the the NCAA National Championship in 2014. He was a scoring machine, racking up over 20 points in four of the six tournament games.
Napier's been on an upward trajectory since he began his collegiate career. He's raised his shooting percentages and scoring average every season, and he even managed to chip in with a healthy 5.9 rebounds per game his senior year. He's not the strongest or quickest player on the floor, but he's a gym rat and a gamer who will make plenty of teams pay for passing on him in the 2014 NBA draft.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
ESPN's Chad Ford recently moved Robinson to No. 30 on his latest big board.
Big Board 9.0 is here. Andrew Wiggins remains No. 1. Glenn Robinson III is No. 30. http://t.co/V1odqMVNMR (insider)— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) April 30, 2014
Robinson's shooting percentages took a slight plunge in his sophomore season, although he remained a key contributor to Michigan's offense. His struggles mainly came on the perimeter, where he shot just 30.4 percent from three-point range. His overall field-goal percentage also dropped from 57.2 percent to 48.8 percent.
However, if there is any team that can erase a negative trend in a big hurry, it's the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich can use Robinson both on the wing and in the post, and he could very well end up on a similar trajectory to Kawhi Leonard, except with smaller hands.