Each team is looking for something different for its first-round pick, but this year's NBA draft has something for everyone.
Whether a squad wants a high-upside player capable of becoming a star or safe pick who is certain to contribute immediately, solid options are available throughout the first round. The only question is which teams will make smart decisions and which teams will mess up their chances.
Although a lot can still change before the June 26 draft, here is a breakdown of the best choice for each of the first 30 picks.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The Cavaliers already have a quality young backcourt between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but the team needs to find some balance up front in a two-way player who can be one of the elite centers in the league.
Joel Embiid has that ability when healthy. He still has a lot of room to improve, but he could help teams right away with his shot-blocking talent on defense and his finishing ability on offense.
According to Ryen Russillo of Grantland, at least one NBA scout is extremely high on the center:
My top tier is Embiid, by himself.
I think Embiid is the only difference-maker in the group. I like Parker and Wiggins, but if they are your best player, you are going to be in the lottery every year.
Embiid has natural instincts. I doubt he was coached on much of this stuff, considering how quick his stops have been, and that he just started playing basketball.
The only question is his back injury, which seems to be a serious concern for Cleveland, according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio:
If the medical staff feels Embiid is healthy, though, this would be a no-brainer pick.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
When people pick apart Andrew Wiggins' game, they are simply looking for something to complain about. The young player has as much upside as anyone in the class with the talent to be a star for whichever team drafts him.
Milwaukee needs a prospect to build around, and Wiggins can be that person thanks to his all-around game that is still getting better.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Jabari Parker is the most NBA-ready player in the draft. He has a wide offensive game that allows him to score in a bunch of different ways, something that will lead to a high scoring average right away.
If he is drafted by the 76ers, Parker would immediately become the go-to option offensively and could be an early contender for Rookie of the Year.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Although he is not a household name just yet, Dante Exum has all the tools you look for in a point guard. He has good size and the quickness necessary to get down the court and into the lane to make plays.
Orlando can take Exum and pair him with Victor Oladipo to create an interchangeable backcourt that can succeed for years to come.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle was dominant at Kentucky while using his size and strength to manhandle opponents in the low post. Although there are better athletes in the NBA, he will be able to keep making plays inside.
While he might not have as high a ceiling as others in the lottery, Randle is a safe pick who knows how to contribute on a basketball court.
6. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
The Celtics have to look for potential game-changers in this draft to help the rebuilding process and get back to the playoffs. Noah Vonleh is the best available as a quality inside scorer who can also step out and hit a three-point shot.
While the Indiana product lacked assertiveness in college, his wide skill set should allow him to be successful at the next level.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart has plenty of confidence in himself as a player and a leader. According to Jabari Davis of Basketball Insiders, the point guard explained why this would make him a good fit with the Lakers:
The [Lakers are] interested. I’ve seen that. They found out a little bit more about me – not just as a player, but as a person. They were very interested… I think it would be a good fit. They’re looking for a point guard. Someone that can come in and man that team and take control, and you know that’s the type of person I am. I’m a leader, and I feel like it would be a perfect fit.
This makes a lot of sense from a rebuilding perspective, as Smart is the type of player who simply makes teams better. He has a high motor that allows him to make plays on both ends of the court, and he could represent the start of a rebuilding process in Los Angeles.
While there are still doubts about his ability to shoot from the outside, that has not stopped players such as Rajon Rondo from being successful point guards.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Athleticism goes a long way in the NBA, regardless of what else you can do. A leaper such as Aaron Gordon can be a productive shot-blocker on the defensive end while also consistently throwing down big dunks on offense.
With Sacramento, Gordon can be brought along slowly before eventually pairing with DeMarcus Cousins to create a formidable frontcourt.
9. Charlotte Hornets (via Detroit Pistons): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Charlotte reached the playoffs last year, but the squad still needs a lot of help before contending for a title. One area of need is an outside shooter who can spread the floor for Al Jefferson to continue making plays inside.
Doug McDermott is arguably the best shooter in the class, and he can get points in a bunch of different ways, as he did at Creighton. Even if he does not become a star at the next level, he will be a useful contributor throughout his career.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Even after adding Parker with the first pick, Philadelphia should have no problem continuing to add perimeter talent in the form of Gary Harris. The Michigan State product is a good defender who also has shown the ability to be a go-to option on offense.
All of a sudden, the 76ers will have a very nice core with Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel to go with Parker and Harris.
11. Denver Nuggets: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
The biggest thing keeping Dario Saric from being an even earlier pick is unfamiliarity. However, he has an impressive set of skills that makes him like a guard who happens to be 6'10".
Denver had a rough season and needs to take prospects who can be stars at the next level, and Saric is by far the best available.
12. Orlando Magic (via New York Knicks): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
After solidifying the backcourt with Exum, the Magic need to get more offensive talent who can help out in the frontcourt. Adreian Payne could be that addition as an athletic forward who can also consistently hit shots from the outside.
Although he is relatively old (23) compared to others in the draft, he still has room to grow and can help out significantly at the next level.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Nik Stauskas is one of the better offensive players in this class, as he can create his own shot or open up opportunities for others. He became a leader for Michigan this past season and can continue that success in the NBA.
Although the Timberwolves already have Kevin Martin, Stauskas can be a valuable addition to increase the backcourt scoring and help Minnesota compete with some of the other high-scoring teams in the West.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SF, Kentucky
The NBA scouting combine seems to hurt prospects more than it helps them once teams realize that most players are smaller than their listed heights from college. However, James Young did not disappoint with his measurements, via Chad Ford of ESPN:
His length allows him to get shots off against almost anyone who would be guarding him, and he has the potential to be a very good shooter. Additionally, he knows how to attack the basket and finish in traffic when needed.
He certainly showed that ability in the national championship game:
There are concerns about his defense, but Young still has plenty of time to improve in all areas. He represents a lot of upside that could help the Suns down the line.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Although Parker got most of the headlines at Duke last season, Rodney Hood was often just as effective. The forward made big plays throughout the year as a versatile player who can score on the outside or drive in and score in the paint.
The Hawks desperately need scoring depth, and Hood is someone who can provide it right away.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Hornets): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Derrick Rose is the man in Chicago when he's healthy, but that has not been too often in the past two years. The Bulls need to start thinking about a contingency plan at point guard in the form of Tyler Ennis.
While Chicago had two effective point guards last season between Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin, neither was capable of truly running an offense that ended up being last in the league in scoring. Ennis can improve the unit and get the most out of everyone involved, which will be useful whether or not Rose plays.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
Zach LaVine became one of the quickest-rising players in the class after scouts were able to see what he can do with his impressive athleticism and pure speed. He has the potential to be a quality scorer in the NBA whether he does it from the point guard or shooting guard position.
While his lack of playing time in college will likely drop him out of the lottery, he becomes a worthwhile risk for the Celtics at this stage.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Although Clint Capela is incredibly raw, he can contribute early on with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability. Those are things the Suns lacked while attempting to reach the playoffs last season.
Capela could step in and develop along with the young team to help the organization get back toward contention.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
While Ennis can come in and improve the flow of the offense, the Bulls still need people capable of putting the ball in the basket. The good news is that T.J. Warren is one of the best in the class in this area.
The North Carolina State star almost single-handedly carried the squad to the NCAA tournament last season as one of the top scorers in the country. He has a deadly mid-range game and should be able to help the Bulls right away on the offensive end.
20. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson might not be the quickest or most athletic person in the draft, but he knows how to play basketball. The versatile player was a 6'9" point guard last season, although he likely projects as a wing in the NBA.
No matter where he lines up, Anderson will utilize his great passing ability and vision to improve a unit that tended to be inefficient at times last season.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas Mavericks): Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
It is clear that Oklahoma City needs more depth in the frontcourt, and Jusuf Nurkic can provide it. He already has an effective scoring approach with strong on-ball defense, but he has the potential to be even better.
While the team drafted Steven Adams last season, Nurkic can provide even more depth for a squad looking to contend for a championship.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Memphis is another team that simply needs to find players capable of scoring. Cleanthony Early proved throughout last season that he can help out in that area.
The small forward knows how to create his own shot and should remain an effective scorer at the next level. Additionally, he is a tough defender who can fit in right away with what the Grizzlies do best.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBDL)
P.J. Hairston was a promising prospect at North Carolina, but he was removed from the program when he was caught receiving improper benefits.
The good news for the guard is that NBA teams do not seem to care about this issue, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:
Meanwhile, the lack of consistency is a problem, but he is as good as anyone when he is hot. He had multiple 40-point games with the Texas Legends and can be an elite outside shooter any coach would love.
He is not a complete player, but he is someone who can get points right away for the Jazz after the team lacked many scoring options this past year.
24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland Trail Blazers): Jerami Grant, PF, Syracuse
While Jefferson had a huge year for Charlotte, he received very little help in the frontcourt. The Hornets need to bring in someone capable of providing rebounding help to match the bigger teams in the Eastern Conference.
Jerami Grant might not be able to shoot from the outside, but he can be an effective rebounder and inside scorer who helps right away, similar to what Mason Plumlee did with the Brooklyn Nets this past season.
25. Houston Rockets: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
Although size is important in the NBA, you want athletes capable of playing bigger than their height. K.J. McDaniels played like a center last season despite his size at 6'6".
He does have the athleticism to remain a wing in the NBA, but he is an above-average shot-blocker who will be effective in this area no matter where he lands. With Houston, he can help a team that struggled defensively all year long.
26. Miami Heat: Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
Nick Johnson lacks ideal height for a 2-guard at 6'3", but he knows how to make plays on both ends of the court. He is someone who likes the ball in his hands in big situations and knows how to make the most of every situation.
While he will not be a star for the Heat, he can provide plenty of depth in the backcourt and become a go-to option for the second unit.
27. Phoenix Suns (Indiana Pacers): Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Although Shabazz Napier was a star in college, he does not have the size NBA teams want in a starting point guard at 6'0". The best-case scenario is that he becomes a star off the bench who gets points in bunches.
Phoenix already has a solid backcourt between Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, but the squad would love to have another option such as Napier to get quality minutes and improve going forward.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Although Mitch McGary missed most of last season due to injury, he is worth a shot for a team with a relatively complete roster.
Los Angeles has talent at every spot, but the squad could use a tough player capable of bringing down rebounds. McGary has a high motor, which allows him to get almost every loose ball on both ends of the court.
ESPN's Tim McCormick thinks this skill will be even better going forward based on his mindset:
The Michigan product can provide important minutes in the rotation and should be able to stick around for a long time in this league.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
C.J. Wilcox might not have tons of upside, but he is one of the more efficient scorers in the class. He can simply get into the lane and find ways to score at or above the rim.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
While Tony Parker remains the point guard for San Antonio and shows no signs of slowing down, the Spurs would be smart to draft a high-upside player who can learn from the veteran and possibly take over in a few years.
Elfrid Payton is very quick and has the ability to put up points in a hurry. Although he could use some more development to become a better passer, he will have plenty of time to improve in this situation.
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