NBA Draft 2014: Pre-Lottery Predictions for 1st-Round Stars

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NBA Draft 2014: Pre-Lottery Predictions for 1st-Round Stars
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

The NBA draft is always tough to get a handle on until the lottery takes place. Sure, the top players are a no-brainer months before the college or pro seasons are over, but until the Ping-Pong balls tell the fans and executives where their teams' fortunes lay, the energy is spent on deciphering big boards and answering the "who deserves it more?" question.

Of course, the odds for each team in the lottery are locked into place. The Milwaukee Bucks have the best shot, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic. Each of these teams and the other desultory franchises that follow have their various wants and needs. 

There is still plenty of time to play matchmaker using insight from the league and the known odds for each lottery team, so let's take a look at where some of the biggest stars should be fortunate to end up.

 

Jabari Parker, F, Duke

Parker is the most natural, instinctive scorer in the draft this year. He doesn't have the eye-popping athleticism of Andrew Wiggins, but that didn't stop him from scoring over 19 points per game in his lone season at Duke.

At 6'8" and 235 pounds, Parker is one of the most physically ready players in this year's draft. He can score inside and outside, shooting 50.4 percent on two-pointers and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc. Perhaps the finest example of his offensive versatility was his 30-point bravura performance against the University of North Carolina.

He also chipped in big-time on the boards and led the ACC with 8.7 rebounds per game. According to ESPN Insider's Jeff Goodman (subscription required), Parker is the player tipped by most executives to be the No. 1 pick. 

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He won't fall far from the No. 1 pick, but he doesn't add enough defensively to garner the No. 1 overall pick. He might be the most effective rookie in the league, but the defensive ability of Joel Embiid and the astronomic potential of Andrew Wiggins would be difficult to pass up for the team lucky enough to draft first overall.

The 76ers are guaranteed a top-five pick and will need to revamp their frontcourt and add a player who can beat defenses in a variety of ways.

Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers

 

Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

Embiid looks to go anywhere from first to third overall in the NBA draft. Any team bad enough to make the lottery could use a good franchise cornerstone at center, but Embiid's best fit is with the Orlando Magic, who have the third-best chance at the No. 1 overall pick.

The Milwaukee Bucks have three players capable of playing the forward/center role at least adequately: Zaza Pachulia, Larry Sanders and John Henson. Sanders was tipped for greatness as a star shot-blocker in 2012 before injuries derailed his career last year.

The Philadelphia 76ers can use talent at any spot on the court not occupied by Michael Carter-Williams, but they just spent a draft choice on an injured center in the form of Nerlens Noel in 2013 and have yet to see him play. 

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The Magic have Nikola Vucevic (14.2 points per game, 11.2 rebounds) at center, but there isn't anyone else on the roster who can play the position like him. Embiid averaged just over 23 minutes a game at Kansas and could be eased into the NBA playing behind or alongside Vucevic in short bursts. 

If Embiid slips in the NBA draft, it will be due to unanswered questions over his back injury. He missed Kansas' entire run in their conference tournament as well as the NCAA tournament. It's been a long time since anyone has seen Embiid move in a live game, and they won't get to see him in the NBA combine, either.

CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel calls Embiid "the best prospect at center in nearly a decade" and posits that the Cameroonian's lack of a basketball upbringing was a factor in his injury:

Without years of playing high school and AAU ball, his back wasn't conditioned for the unusual stress he put on it last year. And the NBA will put a lot more stress on that back, because the season is more than twice as long.

This is where everyone makes frantic Greg Oden/Sam Bowie/Nerlens Noel comparisons. Injuries in a young center are a big red flag, but the tantalizing talent is just too good to ignore.

Prediction: Orlando Magic

 

Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

Randle was an automatic double-double during his lone season at Kansas, averaging 15 points per game and 10.4 rebounds on the way to second place in the NCAA tournament.

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He proved to be a monster on the defensive glass, bringing in 24.7 percent of all defensive rebounds available while on the floor, according to Sports-Reference.com. He's a traditional post-up power forward in the mold of Zach Randolph or even Chris Webber, although Webber was a much better passer in his day.

He wasn't often asked to handle the ball outside of the paint in coach John Calipari's dribble-drive. On the occasions where he did turn and face the basket, he showed a surprisingly quick first step for a player of his size and did an excellent job of finishing near the rim.

He's not the best athlete on the floor at any given time, and his short wingspan may hinder his ability to score when forced into tough angles in the NBA. 

Randle may be taking some chances with his draft stock, as ESPN Insider's Chad Ford reports he is unlikely to participate in drills at the NBA combine.

Randle could be in for a draft-day slide, but his potential is too enticing for most teams to pass up. He won't drop any farther than the Lakers, who will end up within the top nine of the NBA draft and are essentially a blank canvas when it comes to picturing their roster for the 2014-15 season. 

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers

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