The 2014 NBA draft is just around the corner, and a number of franchises will try to shape their futures by targeting some of the best prospects to come out of the college ranks in quite some time.
While it's unclear whether there's a true game-changer in this draft class as was expected this time last year, there are certainly a handful of players who could become All-Stars and the faces of their franchise. General managers with high lottery picks will be swinging for the fences to ensure that their team doesn't have to be in the same position years down the road.
Let's break down a fresh mock draft and predict the best move for each team.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The Cavs have an awfully tough decision at No. 1, but if they're going for the player with the highest upside and biggest potential, they won't look past Andrew Wiggins.
As a one-and-done at Kansas, he never truly reached the plateau that was set for him before the season but still grew throughout the campaign and posted some dominant performances. His ability on defense is good enough to rely upon early as he explores his offensive game, which he's been trying to improve over the offseason, per ESPN's Chad Ford:
Wiggins can jump out of the gym and would be a scary pairing with Kyrie Irving, which would allow Cleveland to get some return for Dion Waiters.
Joel Embiid will be hard to pass up, but his back has pushed him "out of the running" for the top pick, per Fox Sports' Sam Amico. Are his back problems worrisome enough to ruin his stock? No, but it's enough to allow a special player like Wiggins to jump just ahead of his former college teammate.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Back problems aside, Embiid is a lock for the top two or three picks. Milwaukee needs a jolt of excitement just about as much as any franchise, making a potential Wiggins or Jabari Parker move awfully enticing as well—but the Bucks won't pass up on a big man who could team up with Larry Sanders for a formidable frontcourt.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, Duke
It's not quite enough to make him the top pick or even No. 2, but Parker is the most NBA-ready player in the draft by a long margin. Philadelphia showed it was capable of playing just above the cusp of mediocrity early in the season, and if Michael Carter-Williams starts out strong like he did as a rookie, having someone like Parker to dish it to will add an important wrinkle to the offense.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
The Magic did well to add Victor Oladipo with the second overall pick last year, but oft-mentioned trade target Arron Afflalo is the only other promising youngster in the backcourt. Dante Exum's length and athletic ability make him a surefire top-five pick despite his lack of quality competition, and Jameer Nelson could take the reins for another year or two, while Exum learns his way.
5. Utah Jazz: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Jazz will be hard-pressed to pick Julius Randle, but the versatility and sheer athleticism of Aaron Gordon is too good to pass on. With big bodies Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors improving in Utah, Gordon would be a much better fit to play alongside either of them, and it could take the Jazz—assuming Trey Burke continues to boom and Gordon Hayward sticks around—to the playoffs quite soon.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
If he gets into the right environment and all the chips fall correctly, Marcus Smart could end up being the best player in this class a few years down the road. He'll join a great scenario in Boston with a respected young coach in Brad Stevens and a pure point guard in Rajon Rondo who will allow Smart to do what he does best—put the ball in the basket.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, Kentucky
This is a dream scenario for the Lakers. After seeing some of their targets fall off the board, Randle—a probable top-five pick and a top-three selection before the season—will fall into their laps. There are some good things going on in the LA backcourt, but building the blocks around a player of Randle's ability and potential will make the Lakers feel (somewhat) validated for their historically bad season.
8. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The Kings may not even pick at No. 8, with Yahoo Sports' Marc Spears reporting Sacramento may trade the pick in a Kevin Love deal, but if that too-good-to-be-true scenario does not work out, the Kings will want to pair DeMarcus Cousins with a promising youngster. Noah Vonleh needs a year or two of development but can start to play some minutes right away and eventually grow into a dominating presence alongside Cousins.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, Creighton
As the first playoff team with a draft pick, the newly named Hornets will be looking to add a number of immediate contributors to bolster their lineup. Doug McDermott is as experienced as they come, and the college legend's ability to knock down shots better than anyone in the class will allow him to make an early impact.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
They may have Nerlens Noel, but the 76ers showed last year that they're in no hurry to rush the long-term project onto the court. He should play some in 2014-15, but bringing in Jusuf Nurkic—a big-bodied center from Bosnia with a defensive presence—will give Philadelphia some much-desired leeway in taking its time to get Noel's feet wet and give him a solid partner in the post.
11. Denver Nuggets: James Young, Kentucky
Despite finishing 23 games back in their division and nowhere near playoff contention out West, the Nuggets can light it up offensively with the best of them. James Young would be an incredible addition for a team that already gets its shooters open and moves the ball around, as he exploded in the NCAA tournament with Kentucky and is one of the draft's best pure outside shooters.
12. Orlando Magic: Dario Saric, Croatia
He could be taken a few picks higher, but Dario Saric shouldn't fall past No. 12 to the Magic. His 6'10" frame and outside shooting stroke have drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, and if he's anywhere close, Orlando will be keen on adding him to the fold.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Kevin Love looks bound for anywhere but Minnesota, and it's hard to find true leadership and will to win anywhere on the Timberwolves roster. Tyler Ennis played just one year at Syracuse but took over games down the stretch in a way that the great NBA point guards do. His outside shooting ability and facilitative skills will at least make him effective, and it shouldn't be long until he overtakes Ricky Rubio.
14. Phoenix Suns: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
If Phoenix is serious about getting to the playoffs, it won't take much more as the Suns finished just out of contention last year, when they were expected to compete for the top lottery pick instead. Nik Stauskas gives the Suns a sharpshooter to bring off the bench. If Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic play anywhere like they did last year, Stauskas will be open for plenty of threes.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Al Horford going down for the season last year was alleviated somewhat by Paul Millsap's impressive play, but Horford's absence showed a glaring lack of big men on the roster. The Hawks could remedy that by adding Adreian Payne, an expert scorer who also plays big on the boards.
Oh, and the simple fact that he's 23 makes him worlds ahead of most of the class in terms of NBA readiness.
16. Chicago Bulls: Rodney Hood, Duke
Injuries haven't been kind to the Chicago Bulls over the years and have shown a serious lack of able guards and wings on the roster. Rodney Hood out of Duke has a great offensive game with an arsenal of abilities, and his 42 percent clip from beyond the arc will allow the Bulls to target him from deep to help the NBA's worst offensive team.
17. Boston Celtics: Clint Capela, Switzerland
The Celtics have Jared Sullinger, but other than that, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace have been manning the post primarily for Boston. That's not a good look moving forward, so expect Boston to go with an international standout in Clint Capela—a great shot-blocker with the size to develop over the coming years—to help out.
18. Phoenix Suns: P.J. Hairston, NBDL
As previously stated, the Suns are just a few moves away from getting over the hump and into the playoffs. After selecting Stauskas, Phoenix will go with more of an all-around player in P.J. Hairston, who showed glimpses of being worthy of a lottery selection with his play in the NBA D-League.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Carlos Boozer is on his way out in Chicago. If that's the case, the Bulls will need some serious help down low even with Taj Gibson emerging as the new starter. Jerami Grant isn't an offensive dynamo, but improving from 3.9 points per game to 12.1 as a sophomore showed that he is on his way up in terms of development.
20. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
The Raptors are one of many teams that are looking to add an intriguing piece to bolster their growing playoff chances. Kyle Anderson could allow Toronto to take the next step, as his all-around ability to score, facilitate and rebound will be well received north of the border.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: T.J. Warren, N.C. State
Oklahoma City has a knack for finding young studs out on the wing and developing them—see: James Harden—and T.J. Warren is the next one up. After showing a dominant offensive game at N.C. State and using his length to disrupt passing lanes, he could fit into the Thunder's deep rotation and threaten for playing time early on.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
Especially in their playoff series against Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies struggled on offense throughout the 2013-14 season and even before. The reason for that problem is a lack of quality scorers on the outside, and K.J. McDaniels has the experience of being the go-to scorer at Clemson to help him realize the importance of being an offensive juggernaut.
23. Utah Jazz: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Utah will get one of the steals of the draft in Gary Harris, who could very well go in the lottery and is likely to go much higher than No. 23. As a shooting guard, he could play big minutes alongside Trey Burke and possibly develop into a starter's role with a few more years under his belt.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coming from a small school in Louisiana-Lafayette, Elfrid Payton knows what it means to take over games. After averaging nearly 16 points per game as a sophomore and improving to 19.2 per game, along with more than five rebounds and assists, he has shown the ability to make a splash, and he'll do so quickly in Charlotte.
25. Houston Rockets: Jordan Adams, UCLA
James Harden and Chandler Parsons can be dominant, but there's little offensive firepower behind them on the bench. Jordan Adams averaged 17.4 points per game and could play big minutes, as his youth hasn't shown any signs of slowing him down on offense. He averaged 15 points in each of his two seasons with UCLA.
26. Miami Heat: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
With Chris Bosh playing on the perimeter more than ever, the Heat need a rebounder. Jarnell Stokes won't play big minutes with the Heat early on but can clean up the glass. He was second nationally in double-doubles and has an offensive game with many tricks.
27. Phoenix Suns: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
After going with perimeter players with their first two first-round selections, the Suns won't be able to pass up on size with pick No. 3 of the opening round. Kristaps Porzingis doesn't figure to be a big part of things early on, but his size and potential make him an easy player to develop throughout the coming years, and he'll eventually play a big role on the hardwood.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
The Clippers don't need too much help, but adding a young point guard with a killer instinct wouldn't be frowned upon. Shabazz Napier can play small minutes early on and figure out how to transition to the next level with one of the NBA's best teams.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary, Michigan
The Thunder have Serge Ibaka and some formidable bench players in the post, but there's room for a new name to emerge in the frontcourt. Mitch McGary didn't play much last season after having back surgery, but his ability to impact games with his energy and ferocity is without question.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Isaiah Austin, Baylor
The Spurs have a history of drafting well even without nearly any picks in the first half of the first round in recent years, and that will continue with the selection of Isaiah Austin. Tim Duncan won't be around forever, and Austin's arrival will help to alleviate the stress of that—even by the smallest of margins.
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