The 2014 NBA draft may have lost some of its luster from the preseason hype, but it is still a loaded class.
Let's flashback to the start of the NBA season. ESPN The Magazine's Jeff Goodman reported an anonymous general manager was intent on tanking in hopes of landing the first selection.
Kansas' Andrew Wiggins figured to be the top prize, with Duke's Jabari Parker not far behind. Both players remain top prizes, but after their freshman seasons, neither prospect proved to be the kind of talent worth tanking for.
Going strictly on on the final standings from the regular season for the draft order, here is my projection for the first round.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
At Kansas for his freshman season, Wiggins lacked the ball-handling, killer instinct and consistency to be a prospect compared favorably to the likes of LeBron James. Still, his size and athleticism were on full display.
Wiggins is far from a finished product, but his potential to dominate on offense and defense make him the best prospect in this class.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Parker's offensive game has all the polish that Wiggins' lacks. In his freshman season at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points per game while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor.
He is not the greatest athlete, however, and projects to be a liability on defense.
There is no questioning his ability to score, though, and the 76ers could use a lethal scorer.
3. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Joel Embiid is 7'0" and moves very well. These kind of players do not last long in the NBA draft. He does have some injury concerns with his back, however. CBS' Gregg Doyel sums up his situation well:
The team that picks Embiid—and he'll be picked early; I'm hearing no later than third overall, barring medical reports that are worse than what NBA teams already know about him—will be drafting a guy with a broken bone in his back right now. A broken bone. In his back! In the NBA he will be asked to play 80 or so regular-season games in five months, every year, and to expand that to 100 or more games in six or seven months once the team starts making the playoffs. At Kansas he couldn't play 34 games in 4 1/2 months without being injured.
No doubt, there is reason for concern taking a center with back issues, but Embiid's potential won't have him lasting long.
He would provide the Magic with a strong rim protector with the potential to develop into a two-way force.
4. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Randle doesn't have ideal length at at 6'9". He's got everything else needed to be a good NBA player, however.
Randle's strength and ability to use his body effectively in the paint make him a double-double waiting to happen. The Jazz need an increased interior presence.
5. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Noah Vonleh didn't get a lot of press this past season playing for an underwhelming Indiana team. His upside is tremendous, however.
Vonleh has the strength and physicality to handle the post in the NBA, and he has the range to stretch the defense.
Wherever it falls in this draft, Boston must go for the best player available.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Dante Exum, G, Australia
Dante Exum is an exciting prospect that few know much about. As Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated highlights, this makes the upcoming combine hugely important for him:
Most fascinating combine attendee: Dante Exum. For a lot of execs, Chicago will be the first real look at the projected top-five pick.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 11, 2014
The Lakers need exciting playmakers, and Exum looks to fit that bill.
7. Sacramento Kings: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Power forward is a bigger need for the Kings than point guard. If they land high enough in the lottery, I would expect them to grab either Randle or Vonleh.
With those guys off the board in this scenario, the Kings will draft a pure point guard in Tyler Ennis. Isaiah Thomas is coming off of a strong season, but he is not a pass-first player and is a restricted free agent.
8. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Pistons must find talent for their backcourt. Marcus Smart entered last season with huge expectations and had an up-and-down season, but his talent and potential remained on full display.
Smart's scoring ability would help open up things for the Pistons' frontcourt.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The Cavaliers must find someone who can contribute with this lottery pick. Based just on his defense and rebounding, Aaron Gordon will be able to do that.
He is extremely raw on the offensive end, but with ample athleticism, he has big potential.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
With the 76ers drafting Parker in this mock, I have them adding more help to their offense with Nik Stauskas.
The Michigan guard is a great shooter and developed into an all-around talent in college.
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris has good range and the the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble. This would work well in Denver. The Nuggets need another scorer in the backcourt to help take some of the attention off of Ty Lawson.
12. Orlando Magic (via Denver): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Doug McDermott may not ever be able to guard anyone in the NBA, but he will be able to score. This makes him a strong compliment piece to Embiid, who I have the Magic selecting at No. 3.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood is an excellent three-point shooter. He is also a solid athlete with good ball-handling skills.
He isn't the kind of player who will explode to the rim, but he's adept at creating his own shot. He would be a great fit for the Timberwolves.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SF, Kentucky
The Suns need someone who can defend on the perimeter. If that player can hit a three and help stretch the floor, all the better.
James Young needs to add a little strength, but he fits the Suns' needs.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Anderson, G/F, UCLA
The Hawks need players to help them space the floor. Kyle Anderson is not a pure shooter, but he is a unique playmaker with length.
Anderson is slow and will struggle on defense, but he has the potential to be a matchup nightmare.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Phoenix): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Unlike many European players, Dario Saric has the physicality to handle the NBA. He may even be able to provide minutes at power forward.
The Bulls will benefit from his wing scoring.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita State
I have the Celtics double dipping at power forward in this draft, but that is dependent on the players available.
In this instance, Cleanthony Early is the selection because of his strength in the interior. He has an unstoppable motor, and the Celtics need players who can contribute. Early will be a valuable bench piece.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Mitch McGary is recovering from a back injury and will miss the scouting combine. ESPN's Chad Ford passes along the news:
Michigan’s Mitch McGary also will miss NBA Draft Combine. Back is better, but still not quite ready for drills & athletic testing— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 12, 2014
Despite this, McGary's ability to use his muscle down low and grab rebounds will make him a good pick for the Suns.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jordan Clarkson, SG, Missouri
With a backcourt that can't stay healthy, the Bulls need an infusion of guard talent. Jornad Clarkson needs polish on his offensive game, but Clarkson's strong defense will fit right in with Chicago.
20. Toronto Raptors: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne made big strides in his offensive game last season, and he will be able to score in the NBA. He will need to add bulk to handle the physicality, though.
Toronto will be able to bring him along slowly, but he will be a big asset to Toronto's frontcourt down the line.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina/D-League
P.J. Hairston will enter the draft from the D-League. He averaged 21.8 points per game on 45.3 percent field-goal shooting and 35.8 percent three-point shooting while there.
The Thunder need depth in the backcourt, and Hairston would be a candidate to add minutes right away.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The Grizzlies need a backup point guard and would do well to find one who can contribute right away.
Shabazz Napier will instantly be able to provide minutes in the NBA.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren is a lethal scorer. He doesn't bring much to the defensive end, but his scoring gives him value.
The Jazz could use another perimeter scorer.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels is a great athlete. He will need to add serious polish to his offensive game to be a reliable scoring threat in the NBA.
The Bobcats need a youthful perimeter defender, and McDaniels fits the bill.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, PF,C Switzerland
Clint Capela is a project pick. As you can probably guess, he needs to add muscle to his nearly 7'0" frame.
He moves well, has long arms and the potential to be a threat on offense and defense.
26. Miami Heat: Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
If Zack LaVine had returned to UCLA for his sophomore season, he would have had a chance to be a lottery pick. He showed that kind of talent this past season, but his inconsistency was troubling.
At pick No. 26, his ceiling makes him worth the selection for the Heat.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
The Suns have an excellent starting backcourt with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Nick Johnson needs polish, but he is an exciting athlete. He would bring a strong dimension to the bench.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes is 6'8" and 260 pounds. As those numbers suggest, he will not be soaring through the air like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
What he will do is bang around in the paint and grab rebounds. He also has a decent scoring touch.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Jusuf Nurkic is another project pick who needs bulk. The Thunder need, and have needed, a reliable post scorer. Nurkic has that potential and is worth this selection.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Roy Devyn Marble, SG, Iowa
Roy Devyn Marble would fit right in with the Spurs. He is an excellent shooter who can also move the ball. Gregg Popovich can do wonders with this kind of player.