The 2014 NBA draft on June 26 will vault some young men to the professional level and turn them into millionaires. For most, their careers will be all downhill from there, but with the right combination of team fit, coaching and complementary players, these first-round prospects each have a shot at blossoming in the Association.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The Cavs somehow landed the first-overall selection for the second year in a row, though many felt they did not deserve the draft equivalent of a mulligan after choosing a total bust (so far) in Anthony Bennett at No. 1 in 2013. This will be the third time in four years that Cleveland controls the top pick, and they won this year despite having just a 1.7 percent chance.
After missing badly with Bennett, the Cavs should go the safe route and pick the player who was a consensus top pick entering the 2013-14 college season: Andrew Wiggins. The swingman has the size at 6'8" to play the 3, and he could form a potent scoring combination with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Luol Deng is unlikely to get re-signed, and Alonzo Gee's contract for next season in not guaranteed. They need a starting small forward, and he can shift to shooting guard if the team decides to stop waiting on some consistency from Waiters.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, Duke
While Joel Embiid could be a good fit as the second pick, the Bucks have a little problem: Larry Sanders is promised $44 million over the next four seasons. Some Bucks fans just experienced a sharp, intense headache after reading that.
Jabari Parker contemplated staying at Duke for his sophomore season, which would have afforded him the opportunity to play with incoming freshman and friend Jahlil Okafor. Instead, turning pro will greatly behoove the league's worst team, the 67-loss Bucks.
While Parker stands at the same height as Wiggins, he's got 40 more pounds on him, making Parker far better suited to man the small forward position. The Bucks starting rotation was a mess last year, with only two players starting more than 50 games, and Parker fills a position of need.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Like the Bucks with Sanders, the Sixers also have a player locked in at center. However, with 2013 draft pick Nerlens Noel set to play for the first time in the NBA, it remains to be seen how his slight frame will blend into the frontcourt and if his knee will hold up.
Noel made his name as an athletic shot-blocker, but the 6'11" youngster only weighs in at 228 pounds. Noel also lacks any significant gifts on offense.
Because of Noel's weaknesses in terms of frame and scoring ability, Embiid actually fits well alongside him. Embiid showed the ability to knock down the outside shot, and at 7'0" and 250 pounds, he will only add more strength to his frame. In a reversal of the typical dynamic, Noel would be the long-armed center around the rim while Embiid could step out and play like a stretch 5 at times.
Without question, it requires a slight gamble on the young man from Cameroon, as he could be the next Hakeem Olajuwon or the next Greg Oden. Teams must conduct due diligence about the back injury that kept Embiid out of some late-season games for Kansas.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
Australian combo guard Dante Exum has been pining for the L.A. Lakers. As he told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling back in February:
I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city...But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.
Unfortunately, he's too promising to last until No. 7. The Magic would make for an excellent fit with a rising young team poised to become a force in the Eastern Conference.
Victor Oladipo enjoyed an excellent rookie season, while Arron Afflalo played like an All-Star. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris round out the core of the team, so landing a prospect who can play both guard positions would give this dangerous squad valuable flexibility as it shapes the future.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The future of the Utah Jazz remains as wide open as the prairies shadowed by the Wasatch Mountains. Derrick Favors is the only player locked up beyond 2015-16. If the team does not anticipate retaining Enes Kanter, then a sizable power forward makes sense here.
Though Vonleh does not possess the offensive gifts of Julius Randle, he boasts the size for the NBA at 6'10" and will add to his 247-pound frame. Randle is slightly smaller and could struggle against opposing power forwards in the pros. Vonleh makes his hay with rebounding and defense, two things the Jazz desperately need to improve.
6. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle recorded 24 double-doubles as a freshman at Kentucky, the most ever for any frosh at the school and the second-most in Kentucky history behind Dan Issel, who had 25 double-doubles more than 40 years ago.
He's ready for the prime time, but he will struggle to dominate in the pros like he did with the Wildcats. At 6'9" and 234 pounds, he's basically the same size as Jabari Parker. Nevertheless, the Celtics have numerous picks upcoming and Randle could be a nice addition to young Boston bigs Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. Randle will stay down low while they leak out and shoot threes.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Lakers need everything. They only have three players under contract for next season—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre—and they're groping in the dark for a new head coach.
Gordon lists as a power forward, though he's even slighter than Randle at 6'9" and 220 pounds. However, he's cut from a completely different mold. Gordon drips with athletic ability and often evokes comparisons to Blake Griffin for his high leaping and high motor. Selecting the next coming of Blake Griffin would help stoke a scintillating L.A. rivalry for many years to come.
8. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart could prove to be the best two-way player in the draft, but some behavior concerns caused his stock to dip slightly. That comes as great news for the floundering Kings, a franchise under new ownership looking to turn things around fast. Smart can play either guard position as his athleticism and quickness allow him to create his own shot. He also boasts ferocious defense.
If another team snags Smart before No. 8, the Kings would be more than happy to draft whoever lasts out of the three top PFs: Vonleh, Randle or Gordon. Jason Thompson turned in a mostly forgettable season at that position, and the team has little beyond DeMarcus Cousins, except for 2013 draftee Ben McLemore. Rudy Gay holds a $19 million player option, though he hardly fits into a long-term plan for the team.
9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit Pistons): Dario Saric, Croatia
Because the Cavaliers won the lottery and moved up, the Pistons got bumped down to No. 9. As a result, they lost this pick because it was only top-eight protected as part of the Corey Maggette trade, so new coach and team president Stan Van Gundy caught some rotten luck.
But it's great news for the rising Hornets! (Hint: formerly the Bobcats.) At 6'10", Saric offers a Swiss army knife of skills from rebounds to ball-handling. Like most rookies, he will need to add some bulk, but he offers a high IQ on the court and could possibly end up being the finest PF in the draft.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Doug McDermott, Creighton
If you like Kyle Korver, you'll love Doug McDermott! The new bombs-away NBA has trended toward players who can shoot regardless of position. Not only can McDermott shoot, he earned the nickname "McBuckets" as he rose up the all-time college scoring list, finishing fifth with 3,150 points, only 500 and change behind collegiate scoring king Pete Maravich.
By the way, the Sixers finished dead last in three-point shooting percentage last season. McDermott also brings plenty of on-court savvy with his sweet stroke.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, Michigan State
This team has approximately $44 million committed to the oft-injured Danilo Gallinari and "Shaqtin' A Fool" regular JaVale McGee over the next two seasons. They desperately need some cheap young talent to help set them up for the future. Coming off an injury-plagued season that saw a drop-off of 18 wins, the Nuggets need to right the ship.
Harris would have players ahead of him at the 2 like Randy Foye and Evan Fournier, so the extraordinary shooter could very well win the starting job.
12. Orlando Magic (from New York Knicks via Nuggets): Rodney Hood, Duke
After selecting a combo guard in Exum at No. 4, the Magic will look to add to the frontcourt as well. Hood became somewhat of an also-ran behind Parker, and he did not get a chance to make his mark on the NCAA tournament thanks to the Blue Devils' second-round exit.
However, while Hood lacks standout skills in any one area, he is an intelligent all-around player who stands as the best forward available at this point.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Like Harris, Stauskas played two years in college and honed his sensational shooting into a potent weapon. In fact, Stauskas could very well be the finest pure shooter in the entire draft. Think of him like Stephen Curry light, except his defense plummets to James Harden levels of inefficacy.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, Kentucky
Young is not a gifted defender, or even a competent defender, but at least he can score. Young brings both athleticism and a fairly accurate shot, but his primary skill consists of his relentless play and perpetual motion without the ball. The Suns have plenty of big men, but they need to fill out the middle of their rotation.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
The Spartans' big power forward had them poised as favorites to win the NCAA tournament in most brackets. That plan did not pan out, but Payne earned a reasonably high draft pick with his fine season. The Hawks somehow managed to sneak into the playoffs after losing Al Horford, but their lack of depth up front became a major pain along the way.
Payne can cure what ails them.
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte Bobcats): Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Even if his former coach at Syracuse Jim Boeheim doesn't think he's ready, Ennis will merit a first-round selection somewhere between No. 10 and 20. Every year, the Bulls get ready for a title shot with Derrick Rose, and for three consecutive seasons now, he has not been available for a concerted playoff run.
While Ennis is hardly the answer to Rose's fragility, he would give the team greatly needed depth at the position instead of running poor Kirk Hinrich ragged every night.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, UCLA
It happens every year. A player who could easily have been drafted in the top 10 bounces down the draft board like a plinko chip on The Price Is Right.
LaVine offers good size as a 6'6" point guard, and that helps his chances at serving as a combo guard in the pros. He certainly has the scoring chops, but he treads the fine line between hunting for buckets and keeping his teammates involved. Also, he only weighs 181 pounds, so keep him away from the skim milk.
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington Wizards): P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends/UNC
Hairston could have been a higher draft pick, but his career got derailed by an NCAA investigation into improper benefits. As a result, the former leading scorer for the Tar Heels landed in the D-League.
That transition should have helped improve his game for the NBA, though he comes as a roll of the dice. Phoenix does not shy away from risk, and the Suns' front office will be feeling lucky after they aced the Luis Scola trade.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Grant comes as something of a wild card. The forward has the potential to be a double-double producer in the NBA, but his offensive game has questions surrounding it.
As one unnamed Western Conference player personnel director told Mike Waters of Syracuse.com about Grant: "I like his size and length and athletic ability. He needs to show that he can handle the ball on the perimeter and shoot the ball on the perimeter.''
20. Toronto Raptors: T.J. Warren, NC State
Despite playing on a middling Wolfpack team, Warren poured on the points and averaged 24.9 per night. He showed good skills on both the offensive and defensive boards, and the fluid forward could provide sneaky value after his team missed out on March Madness.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas Mavericks via Houston Rockets and Lakers): Clint Capela, Switzerland
If nothing else, the Serge Ibaka calf injury which held him out of Game 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals proved that OKC needs greater depth in the frontcourt. Capela has proved himself as one of the league's best shot-blockers and rebounds, except that was in the French league. Still, the 6'11" Swiss from Geneva would be a boon for the Thunder.
Also, while it might be hard to believe, the Mavs actually traded this pick to the Lakers many moons ago to acquire none other than Lamar Odom.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Grizz love their grit and grind, and Nurkic offers the best blend of that at this point in the draft. He has the potential to be a double-double producer, but he needs to work on his conditioning, not to mention staying out of foul trouble.
Don't expect a smooth transition from the Adriatic League, but he could instantly become a potent backup center for a few minutes per night.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Bruins small forward Kyle Anderson put up 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Good luck finding that kind of production this late in the first round. The Jazz will take everything they can get.
24. Charlotte Hornets (from Portland Trail Blazers): K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
This team has a core of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson locked up for next season, but the ever-versatile Josh McRoberts will likely seek a payday in free agency. Having already addressed that small forward position with Saric at No. 9, this is the spot to gamble.
Though somewhat undersized for small forward at 6'6", McDaniels plays big. At Clemson, he turned in 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game last season. Last year, the Knicks drafted one of the best rookies of the 2013-14 season at No. 24 with Tim Hardaway Jr., and the Hornets will be hoping that the 24th pick remains lucky.
25. Houston Rockets: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
The Rockets love their scoring, and Early did plenty of that on a Shockers team that went undefeated for much of the season. The 6'7" small forward averaged 16.3 points per game, shot 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from downtown. He would be a good fit on the second unit.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Now that Napier has a pair of NCAA titles to his credit, he won't want to land with some stagnant franchise. He claimed the Most Outstanding Player honor as his Huskies won the NCAA tournament, and he could very well enjoy similar success as a young professional, just like Norris Cole has become accustomed to.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers): Jordan Adams, UCLA
The shooting guard ladled out 17.4 points per game, and adding him to the rotation would provide at least some insurance on the bench in case Eric Bledsoe sustains another injury or Goran Dragic regresses back to his former self.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
If Darren Collison elects to forgo his player option, the Clippers will be left scrambling for a backup PG once again. Payton excelled as a junior for the Ragin' Cajuns, averaging 19.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He brings speed and strong ball-handling, and he could learn plenty from the born-to-assist Chris Paul.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Nick Johnson, Arizona
At 6'2", Nick Johnson is a pint-sized shooting guard, but he averaged 16.3 points per game on a very strong Wildcats team. He's an energetic defender, though he lacks the length to really trouble most NBA shooting guards. The Thunder need more bench scoring, and Johnson can provide that.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Mitch McGary, Michigan
While the Spurs locked up Tiago Splitter through 2017, Boris Diaw is set to hit free agency, so they could take a chance on this Wolverines center. He missed most of last season with a back injury, but he should be ready to bounce back in the NBA, at least for a few minutes a night as a rookie, provided he does not incur the ire of head coach Gregg Popovich.