NBA mock drafts don’t pollute the airwaves quite like their cousins of the NFL variety, but there are still plenty of experts out there reporting on the latest news and rumors about which prospect each team is falling in love with. That’s not what’s going down here. Misinformation and smoke screens abound as general managers attempt to get a leg up on the competition.
More importantly, I am not an NBA insider. I don’t know which player the Cleveland Cavaliers are leaning toward, and I won’t know until the first pick of the draft is announced. Instead, this mock draft is just about which player makes the most sense for each first-round selection.
Likewise, I don’t know how players are addressing potential character concerns, nor do I know the medical status of each prospect—so they don’t play a huge role here. Instead, it’s just based on watching basketball (both the prospects' play and the teams themselves) to determine strengths, weaknesses, needs and desires.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Health is the only reason not to choose Embiid here—period. This isn’t the draft class that was being hyped at the start of the year. There aren’t three or four “transcendent” players; there is only one: Embiid. The issues with Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins will be discussed shortly, but the lack of another, more proven option that possesses upside like Embiid makes him the choice by default.
He’s a legitimate seven feet tall, runs like a gazelle and instantly provides top-10-caliber rim protection. Turn on the NBA playoffs and you’ll see why you can’t pass on the Jayhawk.
Watch Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert’s defense around the rim for evidence of why he’s so valuable. Then watch Hibbert get exploited thanks to his lack of athleticism—as the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks showed. Then watch how Serge Ibaka energized the Oklahoma City Thunder by shutting down the paint for Tony Parker and the rest of the San Antonio Spurs.
Embiid can be a similar type of rim protector, but his trump card is the footwork and touch he’s displayed offensively. He’s shown an impressive array of post moves even in his basketball infancy. Furthermore, ESPN's Chad Ford reports that he’s demonstrated a smooth shooting stroke—something we didn’t see at Kansas:
Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
Embiid is raw, but the development we saw in one year at Kansas shows his innate feel for the game and the work he’s willing to put in. If every prospect in the draft reached their highest possible ceiling, Embiid would be the most dominant player. That’s why he’s the No. 1 pick.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Bucks have a hole at small forward and have a choice of Parker and Wiggins. Each player has his respective pros and cons, but ultimately it is Parker’s refined offensive game that wins out here.
Defense is certainly an issue since Parker doesn’t look quick enough to stay in front of NBA small forwards, but a couple of factors assuage this concern. Firstly, Parker looks like he could get himself in even better shape by losing a few pounds, which could help his lateral quickness (although not dramatically enough to make him a stopper by any stretch of the imagination).
The more important point is that Parker can play good team defense, and an NBA coach should be able to scheme around him and cover him up on the defensive end.
In short, his offensive gifts outweigh the defensive shortcomings. He’s a crafty scorer that can rack up points in diverse ways, but he also possesses the mentality you want to see from your best player—something you can’t say for Wiggins.
Parker is ready to contribute right now, and that swings the pendulum in his favor.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
The Sixers were basically trotting out a D-League team at times last season, so it speaks volumes that they had a clear hole at small forward on their roster. As such, they would gladly take whichever of Parker/Wiggins falls to them.
Wiggins is an elite athlete and gives the Sixers the makings of a disruptive defensive team alongside big man Nerlens Noel and point guard Michael Carter-Williams. This is also a good fit for the Jayhawk because he won’t necessarily have to be “the man” in Philly since Carter-Williams seems to possess more of that alpha-dog mentality.
Wiggins has the tools to be special, but there are also some legitimate concerns about his offensive game, which cause him to fall to this spot in the draft. He doesn’t move well without the ball, can’t dribble with his left hand and needs to improve his outside shot (34.1 three-point percentage in 2013-14).
Moreover, while he’s a tremendous finisher in transition, he struggles in a half-court offense, so there is plenty of work to be done. This is still a steal for the Sixers, considering the upside, but Wiggins needs a lot of refinement.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
This is the landing spot for the international man of mystery in a choice that will likely come down to Exum vs. Oklahoma State floor general Marcus Smart. The Magic desperately need a point guard, and both prospects bring excellent size to pair with the slightly undersized Victor Oladipo (6'4", 215 lbs) at the 2.
Exum is the better complement on both ends of the court, which is why he’s the man for Orlando. His hybrid point/shooting guard game meshes well with Oladipo's, who also likes the ball in his hands. Exum’s 6’6” frame means they would form a lanky, athletic duo with the versatility to guard any type of backcourt.
Offensively, Exum’s perimeter jumper looks more promising than Smart's (42.2 field-goal percentage in 2013-14), which is a big factor thanks to Oladipo’s underwhelming jumper (41.9 field-goal percentage last year).
The prospect of taking a relatively unproven asset like Exum over someone like Smart or Kentucky forward Julius Randle is a little scary, but Exum is extremely talented and will be 19 years old at the start of the NBA season.
The upside and athleticism makes him alluring, while the fit makes him the perfect choice.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Noah Vonleh has been one of the biggest risers during this predraft process and used an exceptional combine to wow NBA scouts and execs—as detailed here by Ford (subscription required):
No one helped themselves more at the combine than Vonleh, despite the fact he didn't do any of the drills there. His measurements (6’9”, 6’9.5” in shoes, 7’4.25” wingspan, 9’ standing reach and the biggest hands of the draft) and his athletic testing numbers (37-inch max vertical jump) make him an elite physical specimen for his position.
But if you've watched Vonleh play this season, you know he's more than just an athlete with great size. He's very skilled and it showed in these workouts.
As Ford makes clear, Vonleh has all the physical tools you’re looking for in an NBA power forward—very much the opposite of Randle.
The Hoosier can also finish around the rim and shoot with range (48.5 percent from three at Indiana). His physical tools and upside (he will turn 19 in August) make him a better NBA prospect than Randle.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
This, admittedly, is a pretty big wild card, but Smart is slotted here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he is the best player remaining on the board. Secondly, he and Randle are the most talented players still available who are capable of being your best or second-best option (and there is a drop-off after those two).
Randle is an option here, but the Celtics already have an undersized power forward/tweener in Jared Sullinger (6'9", 260 lbs). I have my doubts about Randle’s ability to translate to the NBA, but Smart isn’t a great fit for this roster, either.
Smart does have the size and strength (6'4", 220 lbs) to play off the ball alongside point guard Rajon Rondo, but the combined lack of shooting would kill any semblance of floor spacing the Celtics had before.
Ultimately, I went with Smart here because I think he’ll be the better pro. It also seems like Rondo and the Celtics are headed for a divorce, and it would behoove Boston to find a replacement if it does opt to move on from Rondo.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Lakers have the good fortune of not having much of a roster to limit their draft selections, and Randle is the best player still on the board.
His inability to finish against length concerns me, as does his lack of passing vision and limited moves around the basket (how many times did he use that spin move?), but he’s physically ready to bang in the paint and there aren’t many NBA power forwards that will be able to take advantage of his poor size (6'9", 250 lbs) on the defensive end.
Furthermore, he showed the makings of a solid perimeter jumper, shooting 50 percent from field-goal range for Kentucky last year, which could make him an intriguing offensive weapon. The Lakers need players, and Randle is the best one available.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona
Jeff Goodman of ESPN (subscription required) made the same pick in his most recent mock draft, and his rationale is a good explanation for why this makes sense:
The Kings need both a shooter and a player who can inject some toughness into the lineup. GM Pete D'Alessandro could opt for Doug McDermott, but look for him to take Bay Area product Aaron Gordon, who could complement DeMarcus Cousins well up front because of his athleticism and defensive intensity.
Gordon has the versatility to play the 3 or the 4, and his athleticism and defensive intensity make him an immediate contributor.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris is a little smaller than a prototypical 2, but he’s strong and possesses the length to compensate (6'4", 210 lbs). More importantly, he’s a shooting guard with a complete all-around game who gives the Hornets more offensive talent—something they desperately need—while not sacrificing the defensive mentality that served the Hornets/Bobcats so well last season.
Michigan guard Nik Stauskas is another option here, but Harris provides much more defensively and will form a nice backcourt with Kemba Walker.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
This is an absolute no-brainer for the Sixers. They could use a power forward/center to pair with Noel, but none of the remaining big men are solid enough to play big minutes right away.
Stauskas is certainly polished enough to play right away, and he gives the Sixers the perimeter shooting they need (47.0 field-goal percentage, 44.2 three-point percentage for the Wolverines last year). Stauskas has great size for the position (6'6", 205 lbs), and he’s not a liability defensively. He won’t be a stopper anytime soon, but he won’t need to be with Wiggins and Carter-Williams flanking him on the wings.
11. Denver Nuggets: Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
An uber-athletic guard out of UCLA who finds himself at a hybrid position and is too aggressive for his own good? Sounds like Russell Westbrook, but it also describes LaVine. The Nuggets have a logjam in their frontcourt, so adding another player to that mix makes no sense.
Instead, Denver takes a flier on this raw but exceptionally gifted prospect that will take some time to develop but could turn out to be a star at the 2-guard position. His outside shot needs work (37.5 three-point percentage in 2013-14), but there is enough shooting on the roster to cover him up—at least initially.
LaVine brings more athleticism to a very athletic team and adds some defense to a shooting guard spot occupied by Randy Foye and Evan Fournier at the moment.
12. Orlando Magic: Doug McDermott, SF/PF, Creighton
At this point, the Magic can opt to take the best player available, and in this case it brings them a player with an elite NBA skill: shooting. The three-point strokes of Oladipo and Exum may improve, but the pair may never become knockdown shooters from beyond the arc.
Drafting McDermott gives the Magic shooting from an unconventional position and can compensate for the lack of it in the backcourt.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SF, Kentucky
The Timberwolves are an enormous draft-day wild card because nobody knows what is going to happen with Kevin Love. For this mock draft, however, we’ll operate under the assumption that Love stays in Minnesota.
To help him out and convince him to re-sign, the Wolves add a very talented wing player in Young with the size (6'7", 203 lbs) and athleticism to develop into one of the league’s best small forwards.
Furthermore, he gives the Wolves three-point shooting. He wasn’t a terrific shooter at Kentucky, hitting on 34.9 percent of his attempts from three-point range last year, but his form is already very good and he can turn himself into a deadly three-point bomber.
14. Phoenix Suns: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
This makes it two Blue Devils taken in the lottery, and Hood is a very good fit in Phoenix. He has the length (6'7") to defend the small forward position and showed great intensity on that side of the floor at Duke.
He also brings a reliable outside jumper to the table (46.4 field-goal percentage in 2013-14) and serves as an intriguing two-way player at small forward—something the Suns lacked last year with P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green manning the position.
15. Atlanta Hawks: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
The Hawks’ biggest hole on the depth chart is at the small forward position, where DeMarre Carroll is a great role player but doesn't reach the level of a below-average starter. Warren may have to settle for coming off the bench to start, but he’s a gifted offensive player with the mechanics to become a very solid three-point shooter.
16. Chicago Bulls: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Dario Saric is the best player on the board, but he’s very similar to Nikola Mirotic, who may be coming over to the NBA this season. Instead of Saric, the Bulls draft Nurkic, a bruising center who is big and strong enough (6’11”, 280 pounds) to play in the NBA immediately.
Nurkic would serve as a backup to Joakim Noah, but he would instantly shore up the Bulls’ frontcourt rotation—which will look very thin after Carlos Boozer's possible departure this offseason.
17. Boston Celtics: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
The Celtics went with the best player available at pick No. 6, and general manager Danny Ainge will do so again here, nabbing what could be the steal of the draft at No. 17.
There is always a concern about how foreign players will adapt to the speed and physicality of the NBA, but Saric is a terrific playmaker who can do it all offensively. It’s unsure when Saric would come to the U.S., but David Pick of EuroBasket suggests that Saric would come over immediately for the right team—and the Celtics are one of those clubs:
Dario Saric, I'm told, has let it be known he plans to go to NBA next season if drafted by Celtics or Lakers.— David Pick (@IAmDPick) May 29, 2014
18. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland
It’s unlikely that the Suns keep all three of their first-round picks, but Capela would be a great upside pick here if they do. Like many foreign big men, it’s unclear whether he has the size and strength to play in the NBA right away (6'9", 220 lbs), and he’s a bit of a tweener, but his upside is too tantalizing to pass on.
At the very least, he will be a rim protector and shot-blocker that runs the court extremely well for his size and finishes above the rim.
In other words, he’s a perfect fit for head coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of basketball.
19. Chicago Bulls: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Payne is very similar to Taj Gibson in many ways, but that’s a good thing in this instance. This pick is contingent on the Bulls amnestying Boozer, but Payne can contribute immediately.
He’s not going to develop very much, but he’ll provide toughness, defense, athleticism and the ability to be a strong pick-and-pop player thanks to his impressive outside shot (42.3 percent from long range last year).
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
There is certainly a sentimental/business aspect to this decision. Drafting the hometown kid in a market that was fantastic for its playoff series will drive up enthusiasm and sales for the team, but that is obviously not the reason to draft Ennis (although it is a factor).
No, the reason to draft Ennis is that he’s a very poised, smart young point guard who can serve as the leader for this young team and step into the starting role, depending on what happens to free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: P.J. Hairston, SG, D-League
Hairston definitely has a lot of baggage. His dismissal from North Carolina and questions about his character and work ethic are serious and legitimate. His half-hearted showing at the NBA combine won’t help matters, either, but the Thunder are strong enough to deal with his eccentricities and can stash him on the bench if he doesn’t pan out.
The reason for drafting him is that he could be the missing piece for OKC. These playoffs have shown us that the Thunder lack two-way players and need outside shooting, and Hairston can fulfill both roles.
He played very well in the D-League and has the talent to be a steal at this point.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
McDaniels is a tremendous athlete and a lockdown defender who shot the ball better than expected from downtown (30.4 three-point percentage in 2013-14). If he can continue to hone his shot, he’ll be a very solid role player for the Grizzlies. He could also replace Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup, which would be nice.
23. Utah Jazz: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
At this point, the Jazz will just add a player who can carve out a spot in their rotation, and Robinson at least has the athleticism to be a lockdown defender.
A reunion with former Michigan teammate Trey Burke will be good for him, and he’s a better fit for this roster than someone like Kyle Anderson or Jerami Grant.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
Porzingis is a very skilled big man who, at 7'0" and 220 pounds, won’t be physically ready to contribute right away. With some bulking up, however, he could be a very good NBA player. He can shoot it from deep, put it on the floor and score in the post, and he’s also a very solid defender.
This is a long-term pick for the Hornets that could pay huge dividends down the road.
25. Houston Rockets: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
The Rockets could use a true power forward instead of a tweener like Terrence Jones, but there isn’t really a good one around, so they instead opt to draft a point guard who can do it all on both ends of the court.
26. Miami Heat: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan
We’re not quite sure what will happen to the Miami Heat and their Big Three, but assuming they’re all back we know they will need more size in the middle. Enter 6'10" Mitch McGary. He is recovering from a back injury and may not contribute for a couple of years, but his combination of size and energy should make him at least a solid role player.
27. Phoenix Suns: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Once again, it is unlikely that the Suns hold on to all three first-round picks, but Early is arguably the best player still on the board. He’s a good athlete and can do everything pretty well.
In a league where wing players (specifically long and strong wing defenders) are always necessary, it does Phoenix no harm to double down on Hood here and add another solid small forward.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Grant is one of the best athletes in this class, but his lack of other skills makes him a work in progress. His jumper is improving, however, and he competes hard on defense and on the glass. He’s also excellent in transition, which makes him a good fit for these Clippers.
Ideally, another big would be the pick here, but there isn’t one of good value on the board and Grant is strong enough to slide over and play some minutes at the 4 against smaller teams.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
Adams serves as insurance for Hairston. Adams isn’t a great athlete nor is he a good defender, but he's a crafty scorer and was a leader for UCLA last season.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia
Is it any surprise to see the Spurs go international with this pick? In Bogdanovic they get a player who may not come over immediately (not really an issue for them) but provides excellent range and a smooth jumper—and shooters always have a role on coach Gregg Popovich’s teams.
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