With the lottery and draft combine in the rearview mirror, the shape of the 2014 NBA draft is starting to form. As teams unearth more information about raw collegiate and international talents through workouts, we can increasingly begin to project fits.
Though draft night itself is impossible to predict, we can construct a scenario for each team that seems likeliest to unfold. Trades figure to supplant some of these scenarios fairly quickly, but this should at least provide an idea of what each team hopes to accomplish in the draft.
Keeping that in mind, here's how the textbook first-round would likely unfold if the draft were held today.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas
The Big Three figure to go first in some order, and the recent buzz has given pre-draft momentum to Joel Embiid. The Kansas center is a unique prospect in this draft, as the dearth of polished big men makes him a tantalizing prospect. ESPN's Chad Ford recently reported that Embiid dissuaded concerns surrounding the stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss the NCAA tournament:
Just spoke with Embiid. Told me his back is 100 percent. Been working out hard for last 3 weeks.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
Who should go first overall?
If Embiid really is healthy, that would leave the Milwaukee Bucks to choose between wingmen Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Milwaukee needs talent everywhere, but Parker looks like a more stable projectable scorer, one who could serve as the alpha dog of the Bucks' rebuilding process. In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks already have one raw uber-athletic wing to pair with Parker.
That would leave the Sixers with Wiggins, likely the object of their affection all along. In a detailed film breakdown, Tyler Tynes of Philly.com explains why the Kansas star would be perfect for Brett Brown's up-tempo system:
How he fits with the Sixers: With Brett Brown’s fast paced offense and Wiggins being arguably the best player in this year’s draft when it comes to getting out in transition, this seems like a perfect fit. The Sixers are missing a piece on the wing and need another player with a scoring mentality on the roster next to Michael Carter-Williams.
Philadelphia will likely be bad by design again next season, especially if they finally pull the trigger on a long-awaited Thaddeus Young trade. But a core of Wiggins, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and 2015 Pick X would suddenly provide plenty of promise after a horrific 2013-14 campaign.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The next three picks represent a trio of athletic but raw and relatively unknown commodities. Of the three, Australian mystery man Dante Exum appears to have the highest ceiling, perhaps of any player in the entire draft. Despite the lack of film against high-end competition, pairing Exum with Victor Oladipo would give the Magic a huge backcourt teeming with upside, making this an increasingly logical fit:
What is Dante Exum's upside?
Meanwhile, the Jazz clearly missed Paul Millsap's ability to stretch to floor from the frontcourt. Vonleh could provide a reasonable facsimile with his range, and his defensive upside could make the Vonleh-Derrick Favors pairing a foundational defense against the pick-and-roll.
The Celtics were likely hoping for a go-to scorer but could settle for Gordon. A bit of a tweener, Gordon nonetheless represents a project who could become an All-Star if he develops his jump shot. As a result of this pick, Boston might finally embrace a full rebuild and trade away star point guard Rajon Rondo.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
8. Sacramento Kings: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Smart and Randle look like the last two players with a hint of All-Star upside. As such, expect both to remain in the top eight, even if their ultimate destinations are a bit hazy.
The Lakers badly need an infusion of talent anywhere, and pairing Smart with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt seems like a nice way to transition to the next era. Bryant will appreciate Smart's competitiveness as well as his shot creation and ability in transition. Elliot Cook of LakersNation.com thinks Smart could boost Bryant's production as he nears the end of his career:
As with you would want with any point guard, Smart can be very creative and isn’t hesitant to get his teammates involved. He isn’t in the mold of just a scoring point, but more so as a true one. This is perfect for the Lakers as Kobe will be coming back and Smart will have no problem getting him the ball where he likes it.
The Kings have many more needs besides another low-post scorer. (Any modicum of defense would be a start.) Nevertheless, Randle represents too much value to pass up at this point. The short-armed Kentucky forward might not cure Sacramento's ailing defense, but he and DeMarcus Cousins would be a wildly entertaining offensive frontcourt.
9. Charlotte Hornets (via Detroit): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): James Young, SF, Kentucky
11. Denver Nuggets: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
12. Orlando Magic (via New York): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
A quartet of wing players follows, as this is where the depth of the draft class really lies. Doug McDermott could provide sorely needed spacing to the ex-Bobcats. Of all the playoff teams, only Chicago and Memphis made fewer threes per game than Charlotte, which needs a scorer to pair with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson if it is to repeat its postseason appearance.
Kentucky's James Young had limited participation in the combine, but with a seven-foot wingspan, the small forward possesses the most impressive measurables of this group. Young's polished offensive game could provide a more immediate source of offense for Philly while Wiggins develops.
Stauskas' stock continues to rise, as his shooting and ball-handling ability could propel him into the lottery. At least one draft expert believes that his positional versatility should make him one of the most coveted 2-guards in this class:
"Stauskas is not only, arguably, the best shooter in the draft, but he has the ability to play both the one & the two" Chad Ford writes.— Hoops Hype Canada (@HoopsHypeCA) May 22, 2014
Dario Saric likely would go higher than this if teams knew he was coming to the NBA this year. Nonetheless, the 6'10" power forward possesses rare vision and ball-handling and passing ability for a player of his size. He would be a coup for Orlando here at No. 12, and he could replicate what the Magic once had in Hedo Turkoglu.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
14. Phoenix Suns: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
As projected, this would see the lottery round out with a pair of Spartans. Adreian Payne would likely be a top-five pick if he were younger, but at age 24, there is not much projectability left. Payne also has a lung condition that restricts his breathing, meaning teams will need to monitor his minutes for most of his career. Still, few prospects can match his combination of size, strength and shooting.
The Phoenix Suns had plenty of success with the dual-point guard backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe last season, but Harris would provide them with a more traditional shooting guard. His defensive ability would be a nice complement to the offensive creativity of Dragic and Bledsoe, giving the Suns one of the league's most promising young backcourts.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Jusef Nurkic, C, Bosnia
The post-lottery first round often consists of extremely raw athletic projects, which is exactly what we have with these next three selections. Zach LaVine predictably helped himself at the combine, though he is years away from having the strength and understanding of the game necessary to contribute. At 6'6", LaVine might eventually shift to shooting guard, thereby allowing the Hawks to pair him with Jeff Teague.
D.J. Augustin may have saved the Bulls' bacon during the season, but Chicago desperately needs a viable long-term solution for Derrick Rose insurance. Chicago finished 27th in offensive efficiency last season, the worst of any postseason team, per NBA.com. As SI.com's Jeremy Woo illustrates, Elfrid Payton's performance against lottery picks in the USA U-19 camp suggests that he could be an intriguing post-lottery sleeper:
Payton joined a talented group that also included Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon. He didn't just make the roster -- he earned a starting spot on a Team USA squad that breezed to a gold medal last summer, winning by an average of 39.6 points per game.
"I always felt kind of underrated -- nothing is wrong with that," Payton said. "But I always tried to play with a chip on my shoulder. It was all about trying to prove to them and also to myself that I can play on that level. I always thought I could, but it was all about going out there and showing it."
Conversely, the Celtics badly need rim protection, even if they have to wait for that talent to arrive. Bosnian center Nurkic is not a mobile big, but his strength in the paint could provide the final layer of defense Brad Stevens and Co. lacked last season.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
19. Chicago Bulls: P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
The NCAA tournament can drastically affect draft stocks, a fact Cleanthony Early has benefited from. The Wichita State forward was the best player on the court against a Kentucky team laden with future pros. Early's lateral quickness and wingspan could allow him to immediately enter the rotation for the Suns, as they could use some depth at small forward behind Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker.
The Bulls should continue to add perimeter scoring if ex-UNC guard Hairston is still around here. After spending a year in the D-League, Hairston has demonstrated deep range, the exact ingredient Chicago is so desperate to find.
The young Toronto Raptors do not have many glaring needs following their first postseason berth in six seasons, which could lead them to make a developmental luxury pick:
Obviously Ennis and Stauskas are neither big wings or rim protectors, but if either slip, talent will trump positional needs for Raptors.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 6, 2014
Ennis might seem redundant, but the Raptors could theoretically lose free agent Kyle Lowry in a bidding war this summer, while backup Greivis Vasquez is a restricted free agent. Ennis is not an elite athlete, but his superb floor vision and playable shooting make him an ideal backup point guard.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): Rodney Hood, SG, Duke
22. Memphis Grizzlies: T.J. Warren, SF, N.C. State
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
25. Houston Rockets: Kyle Anderson, PF, UCLA
These five players have all made significant noise at the highest levels of competition, but they all possess flaws that could drop them out of the first round entirely.
Rodney Hood might be the exception to that latter caveat, as he would represent a steal for the Thunder at this slot. The smooth lefty is a skilled shooter, and while he won't make OKC forget James Harden, he could at least offer the bench scoring Jeremy Lamb was supposed to provide:
I haven't seen any shooting stats from the combine but Rodney Hood is making everything right now.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) May 15, 2014
T.J. Warren might be a one-dimensional player, but his versatile scoring ability would be invaluable to the Grizzlies. Memphis badly needs a wing scorer to grease its offensive wheels, and Warren could certainly provide more than sometimes-available veterans Mike Miller and Tayshaun Prince.
K.J. McDaniels would likely go much higher with a more consistent jump shot. Nevertheless, the extremely athletic forward has exhibited lockdown defense in college and could shift to shooting guard if his 6'6" frame does not play well at the 3. Utah could use a perimeter defender to go along with the scoring backcourt of Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward.
Anderson and Grant are both skilled and explosive forwards who have yet to put together a consistent stretch. The Rockets would love Anderson's vision and fit in their up-tempo offense, while the Hornets could use another rebounder such as Grant when Jefferson hits the bench.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
30. San Antonio Spurs: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
These last five are essentially lottery tickets on talented teams, though a few could have the upside to become rotation players one day.
Shabazz Napier is on everyone's first-round radar following an NCAA tourney run that made him a household name. Napier may be undersized, but for someone who can be had late in the first, he brings a scoring touch and leadership that would play well on any team:
The average of first eight mock drafts I've seen, so far, has Shabazz Napier going 26th. A coach who drafts him will LOVE him in rotation!— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) May 21, 2014
Capela and Stokes could see their stocks elevated by a lousy big-man class. Capela is long and athletic with the ability to finish at the rim and could be a worthy developmental project for Phoenix. Stokes, meanwhile, comes with tremendous collegiate pedigree and could play right away for a Clippers team starved for frontcourt bodies.
Wilcox might seem a bit redundant given what the Thunder selected in Hood, but there is really no such thing as too much shooting. The Washington product has range and a high basketball IQ, which will always have a home in the NBA.
Porzingis, meanwhile, seems like a classic stash pick for the Spurs. San Antonio has had plenty of success unearthing international talent, and the 19-year-old Latvian forward has an enticing combination of athleticism and all-around offensive polish, which could make him a starter in a few years.