The Dark-Horse Fit for Every Lottery Team in the 2014 NBA Draft
The dust has settled from the NBA draft lottery. Most premier draft picks have worked out and showcased their skills. The 2014 draft is officially taking shape.
But there are dark-horse draft prospects poised to mix things up.
Most clubs have a group of prime targets, but we identified outside-the-box matches for every lottery team. They might not be widely projected to land in these spots or generating a lot of rumors right now, but they're better fits than most realize.
Which under-the-radar selection could your favorite team potentially make?
Barring a massive change of heart or an unforeseen trade, four star prospects are near-locks to take the top four spots.
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker are set to land in the first three in some order, and the Orlando Magic are poised to take Australian prodigy Dante Exum.
As such, everyone else, including standouts such as Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle, are long shots to claim a top-four spot. There are no real hidden dark horses to challenge for the top spot, and if a team trades up to a top-three slot to get Exum, then whoever is available among Parker/Wiggins/Embiid will fall to fourth.
Things really get interesting for potential dark horses at No. 5...
No. 5: Utah Jazz
Widely Projected Targets: Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart
The Dark Horse: Dario Saric, Croatia SF/PF (6'10")
The obvious targets for Utah at No. 5 are big names like Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh. But instead of altering its backcourt or low-post setup, it may opt for a versatile forward.
The Jazz were the worst scoring team in the Western Conference in 2013-14, and a lack of playmaking prevented them from keeping opponents off balance. A multidimensional offensive weapon alongside Trey Burke and the bigs would add a new dynamic to the squad.
As mentioned in the video, Jody Genessy of The Deseret News believes Utah may turn the draft upside down with an unconventional choice:
"The Jazz have broadened their European (scouting) and their international scouting," said Genessy. "I could see them maybe surprising people and going with a Dario Saric or something like that with the No. 5 pick..."
Saric has been considered a late-lottery selection for most of the year, but considering how he played during Cibona's run to the Adriatic title, he may be one of the draft's brightest gems.
No. 6: Boston Celtics
Widely Projected Targets: Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon
The Dark Horse: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia C (6'11")
Danny Ainge's Boston Celtics are sitting on the fringe of the draft's top tier, which means they could end up missing out on an anchor like Noah Vonleh or a forward stud like Julius Randle.
If that happens, and they aren't able to swing a reasonable trade, they could still take care of their void at center in a big way. Jusuf Nurkic has been established as a lottery talent, and he's the best legitimate 5-man on the board after Joel Embiid.
He owns great hands for the pick-and-roll, a bulky frame to carve out space and a soft shooting touch. And he's not quite 20 years old, so he could become a monster in Beantown for years.
One scout told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that Nurkic reminds him of Sacramento's dominant center: "He's like a DeMarcus Cousins type in size and offensive game. He plays more athletic and swift than you would expect for a guy 280 (pounds)."
The Celts would obviously have to pass on several intriguing wings and guards by choosing Nurkic, but if he becomes a double-double starter, it will be worth it.
No. 7: Los Angeles Lakers
Widely Projected Targets: Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle
The Dark Horse: Rodney Hood, Duke SF (6'8")
A few months ago, Rodney Hood was viewed by many as a top-10 caliber pick. While that type of hype has cooled off, there's a chance he may end up in that range after all.
Fortune didn't favor the Los Angeles Lakers during the lottery, so they won't have a chance at one of the draft's biggest treasures. Now, instead of swinging and missing on a prospect based on upside, Mitch Kupchak and Co. could take a productive, safe pick and fill a huge need.
Enter Rodney Hood at the small forward position, where he would give the Purple and Gold better shooting and playmaking than they've seen the past couple of years. The Duke transfer shot 42 percent from three-land in 2013-14 and helped the Blue Devils offense run smoothly.
He's not a superstar target for L.A., but he'd be a rock-solid piece for the rebuilding effort as he works with and without the ball. According to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, "Hood has piqued the interest of several teams, including the Lakers (No. 7 pick) and Hornets (No. 9)."
When you examine the top wings in the draft based on size, skill and known value, you won't find many, if any, better than Hood.
No. 8: Sacramento Kings
Widely Projected Targets: Doug McDermott, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas
The Dark Horse: Adreian Payne, Michigan State PF (6'10")
If the top playmakers such as Dante Exum and Marcus Smart are already off the draft board at No. 8, the Sacramento Kings will likely target an outside shooter (such as Doug McDermott) or a versatile athlete (such as Aaron Gordon).
How about getting a prospect who gives you both shooting and athletic size?
That's what Michigan State forward Adreian Payne offers. He's not as appealing as some prospects because he's 23 years old, but then again, none of those youngsters have the threefold gift of a 6'10" frame, explosive athleticism and legitimate three-point range.
In addition to supplying outside shooting, Payne would complement DeMarcus Cousins quite well in the frontcourt. His length and defensive toughness are exactly what Sac-town needs to move forward in the West.
No. 9: Charlotte Hornets
Widely Projected Targets: Doug McDermott, Nik Stauskas, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris
The Dark Horse: Rodney Hood, Duke SF (6'8")
We didn't want to repeat too many prospects, but Rodney Hood fits here just as much as No. 7, if not more.
There are a bunch of talented shooters in the 2014 crop, and the Charlotte Hornets might go in Hood's direction due to his mix of size and ball skills.
While players like Doug McDermott garner the vast majority of projections for the Hornets, the club at least has its eyes on Hood. As previously noted in the Lakers' slide, Charlotte is one of the teams reportedly interested in him.
The club needs a small forward more than a shooting guard, so that gives Hood an edge over guys like Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris. Small forward was the lowest-scoring position for the 2013-14 Bobcats.
At that point, it's likely a decision between Hood and McDermott. If the Hornets feel Hood will be more versatile on both ends of the floor, they may take him despite McDermott's vaster body of work in college.
No. 10: Philadelphia 76ers
Widely Projected Targets: Gary Harris, James Young, Aaron Gordon, Nik Stauskas
The Dark Horse: Zach LaVine, UCLA G (6'5")
Assuming the Philadelphia 76ers draft a forward or center with their No. 3 pick, they'll look to add shooting and backcourt depth with their No. 10 selection.
Gary Harris would be a safe pick, as would Nik Stauskas. And someone like James Young would provide tremendous size, making Philly's backcourt one of the biggest in the NBA.
But what if one or more of those ballers is unavailable by the time the 10-spot rolls around?
Philly should consider an explosive, albeit riskier, alternative. UCLA guard Zach LaVine is young and inexperienced, but he's clearly got shooting talent and playmaking potential. His terrific showing at the NBA Draft Combine and ensuing workouts proved that he owns the physical tools and early stage skills needed to develop into a true combo guard.
If he comes remotely close to tapping into his upside, he'll fill the Sixers' need for a 2-guard in thrilling fashion while giving Michael Carter-Williams some facilitating help.
No. 11: Denver Nuggets
Widely Projected Targets: Dario Saric, Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas
The Dark Horse: T.J. Warren, N.C. State SF (6'8")
Yes, this is a bit of a reach here, but it's also a testament to T.J. Warren's high level of skill and value as a young scorer. N.C. State's standout sophomore led the ACC with 24.9 points per game.
He's smooth and crafty inside the arc and near the bucket, and his length (6'10.25" wingspan) is handy when finishing drives or fast breaks. Warren should also be much more efficient from three-point range as a pro, as he'll improve and will take a more modest volume of shots.
Bleacher Report lead writer Jonathan Wasserman noted that the Nuggets need some multifaceted help in the frontcourt: "Denver lacks offensive versatility up front, with Kenneth Faried strictly an interior player and Danilo Gallinari, when healthy, more perimeter-oriented."
If Dario Saric is off the board, that makes this dark-horse option truly intriguing, because the Wolfpack star can fill up the hoop from anywhere. Warren will operate seamlessly off Ty Lawson, and he'll bring a new dimension to the wing as he scores inside and out.
No. 12: Orlando Magic
Widely Projected Targets: Nik Stauskas, James Young, Adreian Payne, Dario Saric
The Dark Horse: T.J. Warren, N.C. State SF (6'8")
Here's that Warren guy again.
Remember, we're assuming the Orlando Magic took Dante Exum with their No. 4 overall pick. And we're also assuming that a couple of their primary choices, such as Nik Stauskas and James Young, had already been plucked.
Even if Warren isn't near the very top of the Magic draft board, he's at least on their radar.
According to Mike Tuck of Sports Talk 1080 in Orlando, the team will be working out Warren along with Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Zach LaVine and Nick Johnson Monday.
N.C. State's prolific scorer is one of the most polished sleepers in this draft. If his collegiate resume wasn't enough, ESPN's Chad Ford said he's thrived during recent draft workout scrimmages.
No. 13: Minnesota Timberwolves
Widely Projected Targets: Adreian Payne, Nik Stauskas, Zach LaVine
The Dark Horse: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse PG (6'2")
Although Tyler Ennis isn't an unthinkable choice talent-wise, he's not the most predictable pick considering Minnesota's need for shooting.
However, with many of the shooters potentially off the board and Kevin Love likely being traded for countless assets, this pick could make a ton of sense.
We didn't want to get into hypothetical trades with too many of these slides, but an eventual trade involving Minny isn't too far-fetched. CBS Sports' Matt Moore explains why the Wolves may target Syracuse's pass-first point guard if all the draft's top sharpshooters are gone:
"Best player available," Moore said of Ennis. "It gives them depth where they need it and insurance in case they're not in a position to give Rubio a monster deal. Very tradeable."
It's a fluid offseason for Flip Saunders and co., which means their draft approach and options could be all over the map.
No. 14: Phoenix Suns
Widely Projected Targets: Rodney Hood, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine
The Dark Horse: Kyle Anderson, UCLA PG/SF (6'8")
When the Phoenix Suns got rolling in transition or open-floor slashing situations, they had no problem lighting up the scoreboard.
On the other hand, they struggled to consistently generate offense via assists throughout the year. Jeff Hornacek's crew averaged 19.1 dimes per contest, good for 29th in the Association.
Without altering the roles of its explosive young guards, Phoenix could facilitate its offense in an exciting way by adding UCLA point-forward Kyle Anderson.
The slow-footed playmaker is a risky, controversial prospect, and thus his draft stock sits in the 20s for most prognosticators. But in the right system, with plenty of speed around him, he could be an awesome weapon.
Using his size and superb passing instincts, he could make everyone in the Suns lineup a little scarier.