With the 2014 NBA draft just a few weeks away, it's time to break down a fresh mock draft to see where the top names are likely to fall.
A few prospects have stood out from the rest since Day 1, but there's been movement across the board throughout the college basketball season and even in the weeks and months afterward. The best in the class have gone through workout after combine after interview, and the process will finally culminate in hearing their name called in New York's Times Square Studio.
Let's break down a first-round mock and see where the top 30 picks take us.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins isn't the most NBA-ready player, and he's not sure to be dominant, but if the Cavaliers are looking for the highest overall potential, he'll be the first off the board.
Kyrie Irving has proved to be a star in the league, but he's shown signs of hitting his limitations—especially with a butting-heads relationship with Dion Waiters. The sky is the limit for an Irving-Wiggins backcourt, as the current Cavs' point guard is just 22 and Wiggins is 19.
Joel Embiid will be tough to pass up for Cleveland, but recent history of No. 1-pick big men with back problems will sway the Cavs in the direction of the high-potential youngster rather than the dominant defensive presence.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid has No. 1 overall written all over him, but the question remains about whether his back injury will inhibit him from long-term success. The top teams in the draft will be delving into that ad nauseam in these weeks leading up to the draft, and if the Bucks don't see anything life-altering about the Kansas big man, they'll take him to pair up with Larry Sanders for a formidable frontcourt.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, Duke
Philadelphia desperately needs a go-to scorer, and Jabari Parker needs a NBA home where he can step into big playing time early and fulfill his vast potential. There's no secret that he's ready to contribute right away, and alongside Michael Carter-Williams and a number of young pieces, the Sixers can give him that chance as well as anyone.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
The Magic have quietly started the process of rebuilding by getting Victor Oladipo last year, developing Tobias Harris and Arron Afflalo and working in some complementary pieces. What they lack is a point guard with his best years ahead of him—sorry, Jameer Nelson—and Dante Exum could be that guy. As a young player needing time to get used to the league and its ways, Exum could come into playing time slowly with Nelson as the current starter.
5. Utah Jazz: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Jazz could go with Julius Randle here, but with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors both showing big signs of improvement in 2013-14, they'd much rather grab a frontcourt player with more versatility. Randle has that, but Aaron Gordon is as versatile as they come and has the potential to impact games above the rim with the best in the NBA.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Anyone who watched the Celtics play last year knows they need scoring help in the backcourt, and anyone who watched Marcus Smart play at Oklahoma State knows he's not a true point guard. The chance to pair him up with All-Star facilitator Rajon Rondo should be too good to pass up for Boston.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, Kentucky
There's no doubting that the Lakers would be pumped to see this unfold. Randle is a top-five talent and even a top overall pick talent in some seasons, but with this being such a stacked class, he'll fall into LA's lap and become the new featured big man in town.
8. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The Kings already have some great players and high-potential guys in the backcourt but could benefit from adding the same down low in order to help out DeMarcus Cousins. It would be an ideal scenario for Noah Vonleh to head to Sacramento, as Cousins is the inevitable star center. Vonleh could be expected to contribute at power forward—where his size and defensive ability will make the Kings dangerous if the team's core stays together.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Charlotte made some big strides by making the playoffs in 2013-14, but the newly named Hornets need more of a scoring punch to insert into the rotation. Hello, Doug McDermott—the best pure shooter in the class who has the height and overall offensive arsenal to justify a lottery selection. And at somewhere like Charlotte, who knows?—he could even start quickly, given his years of experience in college.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Philadelphia cannot deny its need for post players, even with Nerlens Noel figuring to be a part of things after a redshirt rookie season. The Sixers can't expect to grab Embiid at No. 3—even though they likely would if given the opportunity—so getting Parker and then Jusuf Nurkic is a great plan. The Bosnian international can be an impact player on defense right off the bat and develop into a starter.
11. Denver Nuggets: James Young, Kentucky
The Nuggets have to feel pretty good about the core of their current lineup despite last season's struggles, but unless international standouts Danilo Gallinari or Evan Fournier are hitting, there's a lack of pure shooters. James Young isn't McDermott, but he's awfully close, and his dead-eye aim improved throughout Kentucky's run to the national championship game.
12. Orlando Magic: Dario Saric, Croatia
Exum lands right about where he should for Orlando, but Dario Saric could be a big steal at No. 12. The Croatian has been causing a buzz throughout the draft process with his size and versatility. If he's not taken in the top 10, he won't fall past the Magic.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
The T-Wolves would like to find a possible Kevin Love replacement since he might soon be gone, but with no sensible pick to fill that void, Tyler Ennis makes complete sense. Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea are similar players, but both have shown reasons over the years why having a young stud point guard on the roster to aid the offense further might be beneficial.
14. Phoenix Suns: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
The Suns are among the teams that are looking to find those two or three pieces remaining to make the playoffs out in the brutal Western Conference. First on the list should be outside shooting, and Nik Stauskas is the type of player who could hit threes with a very small window—which Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic's assist totals will love.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Paul Millsap's monster season was the only thing saving Atlanta from futility last season after Al Horford went down, and there's no doubt the Hawks could use a promising big man. Adreian Payne is of a different breed with a great outside shooting game and a takeover-the-offense mindset, but he has the size to succeed. If the Hawks don't put training wheels on him, he will soar.
16. Chicago Bulls: Rodney Hood, Duke
Chicago desperately needs young guards who can defend and play at a high level, and Rodney Hood would be just that. He's still young and has some untapped potential, but he can light it up on offense and has the length to impact plays on the defensive end.
17. Boston Celtics: Clint Capela, Switzerland
Jared Sullinger is great, but the Celtics could use one more young big, because veterans Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries certainly aren't the long-term answer. Clint Capela is a defensive stud who can buy into Brad Stevens' system, play energetically and develop his offensive game over time.
18. Phoenix Suns: P.J. Hairston, NBDL
P.J. Hairston has the talent to potentially go in the lottery but will fall in the Suns' laps at No. 18, and they won't complain. Adding Stauskas is a good move, but Hairston could very well be a better player and has more tricks in his bag on offense. With experience in the D-League, he could play decent minutes off the bat.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
After nabbing Rodney Hood just three picks earlier, expect the Bulls to address their frontcourt with their second of two first-rounders. Jerami Grant can come in and contribute on the glass as well as with some post scoring, which will be welcomed commodities with Carlos Boozer seemingly on his way out.
20. Toronto Raptors: Zach LaVine, UCLA
If Toronto wants to advance past the first or second round of the playoffs, it is going to need more weapons to come off the bench. Zach LaVine is an athletic specimen who could offer plenty of danger for opposing teams and might even sneak into the lottery.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
The Thunder already have a number of promising young players at T.J. Warren's position, but they also struggle at times to find a cohesive group of bench players. With experience at N.C. State as the go-to guy against elite schools, he can come in and threaten for playing time based on his ability to score one-on-one, along with his length and athleticism.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
As told by their maddening cold spurts throughout their playoff series with Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies would benefit from an offensive stimulant off the bench. K.J. McDaniels was a dominant scorer with Clemson, and his numerous ways of attacking the basket and impacting the game will earn him early playing time in Memphis.
23. Utah Jazz: Gary Harris, Michigan State
A player who could go in the top 10 or the lottery, Harris will serve Utah well by falling all the way to No. 23. He could be a pure shooting guard next to Trey Burke, as long as they can get past their rival school allegiances, and the former Spartan who's already one of the hardest-working prospects will have an added chip on his shoulder after slipping down the board.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
Kemba Walker is becoming a star in Charlotte, but the team often has to put too much on his shoulders. Elfrid Payton brings instant offense off the bench, is a great passer and averaged more than two steals per game in his final collegiate season.
25. Houston Rockets: Jordan Adams, UCLA
After a big-time 2013-14 regular season ended in a distasteful first-round playoff defeat, Houston will look to find rotation players the cheap way—through the draft. At a brisk 19 years old, Jordan Adams might be young, but averaging more than 15 points in both of his seasons at UCLA proves he can put the ball in the basket.
26. Miami Heat: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Chris Bosh is becoming less and less of a rebounding big by the three-point attempt, and there's no telling whether it will be Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem or one of the other 3,000 bench players on Miami's roster hitting the boards. If there's one thing Jarnell Stokes can do, it's rebound the ball with force. He finished second in the nation in double-doubles last year but also has an offensive touch around the basket and a developing mid-range jumper.
27. Phoenix Suns: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
With three first-round picks, the Suns would fail miserably not to get a big man. After picking up Stauskas and Hairston with the previous picks, Phoenix can grab Kristaps Porzingis at No. 27—a true 7-footer who can line up at either the 4 or the 5 and impact the game with his length.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Chris Paul went down for a big stretch of last season, and Darren Collison is the only true point guard other than him on the team—unless you count Jamal Crawford, which I don't. Shabazz Napier isn't the replacement to Bledsoe that they could really use, but given the way he took over the NCAA tournament, you'd have to think LA would at least explore his potential in the pros on a team where he won't really be expected to do much off the bat.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary, Michigan
Few teams have as much young talent as Oklahoma City, but it's hard to decipher which of its bench players are going to develop well. Promising backcourt guys like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb lead one to believe the Thunder could use help down low more, and Mitch McGary's energy—as long as he's healthy after back surgery early last season—will be enough to make him effective in OKC's front line.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Isaiah Austin, Baylor
The Spurs have a heap of positions they will soon need to replace but none more so than down low, where Tim Duncan's soon retirement will open up a gaping hole. This isn't to say the last pick of the first round will fill the shoes of arguably the greatest power forward of all time, but Austin's size and great potential make him a typically clever Spurs' draft move.
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