With so much talent in this year's draft, trying to project how this year's edition will play out feels particularly difficult.
There is no consensus top overall pick. There are several excellent power-forward prospects who project to go in the range where the teams in those slots don't seem to need a ton of help at the position. There is the looming sense that trades could play a major role in this year's selections.
But march out into the unknown we shall, because what is more fun than a mock draft? Nothing, I say, and more than likely, so do you. So let's see if we can't find the natural landing spots for this year's top prospects.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas
If the Cavs want an instant impact and don't mind a lower ceiling, they should take Jabari Parker. If they aren't worried about any potential back issues, they should probably take Joel Embiid, who is a once-in-a-generation talent at center.
But if they want a player with a ton of upside, someone who will contribute on both ends of the floor, someone with rare athleticism and a player whose weaknesses are nit-picky and can be addressed, you go with Wiggins.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports lays out what Wiggins would bring to the team while also noting some of the potential downsides to the pick:
Wiggins is another optimal choice. A lightning fast transition player that could get up and down the floor with Irving. The big knock on Wiggins is his aggressiveness, but with [Kyrie] Irving and [Dion] Waiters, he won't have to be aggressive and can take his time developing his role. But then, that's the other issue. Do you want to draft the No. 1 pick to not have a high role in the offense, considering he'd be scrambling for touches with Irving and Waiters? Wiggins also projects as a potential small forward, and that could cause conflict with Waiters' role.
The Cavs cannot afford to blow this pick after the Anthony Bennett debacle from a season ago, but in Wiggins, you get a player who seems both safe and capable of really growing into a special player. Cleveland could go in a number of directions, or even trade the pick, but for now, Wiggins seems like the logical choice, even if he doesn't bring his own potential complications to Cleveland.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
It's pretty simple—if Embiid's back checks out, there's no way he should slip past No. 2. He just has so much upside, and the fact that he's still so new to the game is a frightening prospect for the type of beast he could evolve into.
Yes, the Bucks would probably prefer Wiggins if they had their choice, but Embiid is one heck of a consolation prize.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Sixers would be perfectly fine with this scenario, you'd have to imagine. They desperately need a pure scorer, and young players who project to be defensive stalwarts like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel would cover Parker on that side of the court.
Parker also feels like a safe bet as Rookie of the Year, so he would also get the fanbase excited after the dreadful 2013-14 season. The Sixers are going to end up with a stud at No. 3—the question all of Philadelphia will be asking right up until the draft is, "which one?"
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
The Magic are another team that can stay put and get a player they really want. I think they'll take a long, hard look at Marcus Smart here, too, but the upside of Dante Exum might make him too difficult to pass on. Just imagine a backcourt with him and Victor Oladipo in a few years—scary.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Utah isn't going to get the player it was probably salivating over, Parker, but Noah Vonleh is a pretty good consolation prize. He should pair nicely with Derrick Favors given his ability to stretch the defense, and his upside and ability to crash the glass don't hurt, either.
6. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
If Boston doesn't trade this pick for proven players or look to move up in the draft to select Embiid, it should not only look to bring aboard the best player on the board but also someone who can help the team immediately. Julius Randle fits the bill. A double-double machine in college, he would quickly give Rajon Rondo someone to pass the ball to.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Power forward may also end up being a major need, and the athleticism of Aaron Gordon may be too much to pass up, but if the Lakers keep this pick, Marcus Smart makes the most sense. He would be a nice complement in the backcourt to Kobe Bryant and would give the Lakers a bit of grit and toughness as well.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
At this point in the draft, the Kings need to simply take the most talented player on the board, and that happens to be Gordon. An athletic specimen, he'll help this team with his defense and rebounding until he polishes his offensive game enough to make a major impact on that side of the court.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
The Hornets desperately need outside shooting, and I think they'll choose Nik Stauskas over Doug McDermott to fill that need. Stauskas is the better athlete and can play a little point if called upon to do so, making him the more appealing talent.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
After taking the proven Parker, the Sixers go for upside here, adding an athletic guard to pair with Michael Carter-Williams to give the team excellent length in the backcourt. LaVine also addresses Philly's need for perimeter shooting, and he could end up being one of the steals of this draft if he continues to develop. Exum will go higher, but LaVine might end up being the best combo guard in this draft.
11. Denver Nuggets: Garry Harris, SG, Michigan State
The Nuggets are likely going to take whichever shooting guard they have atop their board, and if the draft falls as I have it here, that player will be Gary Harris. He's a two-way player who will instantly aid this team with his shooting prowess and defense.
12. Orlando Magic: Dario Saric, PF, Croatia
This draft is going to be all about international upside for the Magic, it would seem. Don't be surprised if Saric goes even higher than this if he makes it known he'll come to the NBA next season—he's a special talent.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Yes, I expect Doug McDermott will slide a bit in this draft. He's a specialist, no doubt, and his speciality is always a needed commodity in the NBA. But he isn't a great athlete and will likely be a defensive liability, and that will hurt him. Still, for a team that needs more perimeter shooting, McDermott is a logical fit.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SF, Kentucky
James Young could end up going higher than this, depending on how teams see him developing. He would go cold at times for Kentucky, but when he got going, he was hard to slow down on the offensive end. A long, athletic slasher, Young should instantly give this Suns team an offensive jolt off the bench.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Rodney Hood, SG, Duke
Rodney Hood is another player who will be a bit of a specialist in the NBA, as no one will ever confuse him for a defensive stopper. But make no mistake about it, Hood can light it up on the offensive end, and his length and range will make him a mismatch for many a defender.
16. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
This isn't just about getting Derrick Rose a backup—it's also about drafting a player who won't offer a huge drop-off if Rose continues to suffer from injuries. Tyler Ennis will never be anywhere near the scorer Rose is, but he's an unselfish distributor and a smart player who will fit Chicago's system well.
17. Boston Celtics: P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina
Consider this another proven player for Rondo to get the rock to. P.J. Hairston could always play, and now he's had a season in the NBA's Developmental League to grow up as a man, too. He could very well be a day-one starter. Pretty good value for the No. 17 pick.
18. Phoenix Suns: Adreian Payne, PF, Michgian State
Speaking of good value, how about Adreian Payne dropping to No. 18? Sometimes, the board just falls funny, but the Suns won't be complaining when this athletic, versatile power forward falls to them. Keep in mind, folks, Payne played last season with mononucleosis, a long-term illness that saps your energy, among other symptoms.
Pretty impressive, huh?
19. Chicago Bulls: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
The Bulls get their backup point guard before focusing on perimeter scoring. Cleanthony Early is another great fit for the Bulls, as he won't just score for them, he'll also bring energy on the defensive end and crash the boards.
20. Toronto Raptors: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
With Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, this pick will give the Raptors plenty of security should they not bring both players (or either one) back. It helps that Elfrid Payton could be one of the steals of this draft and may jump up the board between now and the draft.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: C.J. Wilcox, G, Washington
C.J. Wilcox can light it up from the perimeter, making him a valuable asset coming off the Thunder's bench. He's not the next James Harden, but he could fill that type of role for the Thunder going forward.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: T.J. Warren, SF, NC State
For a team that needs offensive production, nabbing a player who specializes in scoring the rock like T.J. Warren makes sense. It helps that the Grizzlies need bodies on the wing and would also help if Warren continued to improve his jump shot.
23. Utah Jazz: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
Speaking of players who need to work on their jumper, say hello to K.J. McDaniels. If he improves that aspect of his game, his athleticism, defense and ability could translate into a very successful NBA career.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Kyle Anderson, PG, UCLA
Few players intrigue me more in this class than Kyle Anderson, who has a fascinating skill set for a man his size. He likely projects as a point forward in the NBA, as he doesn't seem quite athletic enough to guard smaller guards on a regular basis. But for a team willing to figure out exactly what his best role will be, he could be special.
25. Houston Rockets: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Houston can afford to stash a European talent like Jusuf Nurkic, and that's likely the approach they'll take with this pick. In a few years, Nurkic could be a very strong incumbent for Dwight Howard.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
Wouldn't this be fun? Shabazz Napier would actually be a great fit on Miami, as his game translates well to Miami's floor spacing, and he would certainly be smart and humble enough to give up ball-handling duties to LeBron James whenever called upon to do so. I love this fit for the Heat.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
This is a great upside pick for the Suns, who add a nice scoring presence in the talented Jordan Adams. If the Suns keep all three picks, they could do worse than addressing three different positions like they do in these selections.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Would you look at that, another slashing 3 with athleticism but a jump shot that still needs development. He could contribute defensively immediately as he continues to work on his stroke.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Clint Capela, F, Switzerland
The Thunder can afford to take the draft-and-stash approach on a player like Clint Capela, who likely isn't headed to the NBA next season. Think of him as Serge Ibaka's future understudy.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
If Mitch McGary wasn't hurt this past season and didn't leave Michigan under such unceremonious terms, he'd likely go far higher in the draft than this. Tim Duncan is going to leave a void at power forward, and bringing aboard a project with a ton of upside like McGary certainly won't hurt as the Spurs try to address that void.
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