The lead-up to the 2014 NBA draft has been the longest in the event's history, as fans have been discussing the top prospects and team-tanking scenarios for over a year now. Yet even in the final weeks, players are still jockeying for position in the class.
Even with the combine being complete, individual workouts make it so the task of evaluating NBA hopefuls is never finished—not until Adam Silver steps to the podium at the Barclays Center and begins announcing names.
In the meantime, stocks are rising and falling across every level of the big board, and each player's first-round projection remains fluid. Everything is still subject to plenty of change over the coming weeks, but here's what it looks like now.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Cleveland needs a rim protector and an interior scoring option, and every team in the history of the league has needed a true seven-footer with the athleticism and smoothness of Joel Embiid.
Some of the perimeter scorers in this draft have the potential to develop into the superstar wings we're accustomed to seeing, but you don't pass up a chance to select a transformational center. Embiid could become the prototypical star center of the future, and that possibility is too tantalizing to pass up for anything.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
The Bucks lack most things that good basketball teams need. That is not the most trenchant analysis in the world, but it is a fair starting point when analyzing the biggest possible upside pick.
Wiggins won't be able to take over as a scorer from day one, but Milwaukee has no chance of winning from day one, either. As long as Wiggins can develop over time alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo to form a freakishly athletic wing tandem, the Bucks will get what they want out of this selection.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
As long as the Sixers play at a breakneck pace, they'll need some guys who can actually score the ball efficiently.
In this draft class, Parker's the best option for that type of offense. He'll be able to produce both inside and out in transition, and he'll take some pressure off Michael Carter-Williams with his ability to create his own shot in the half-court attack.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Victor Oladipo will always need some help with ball-handling duties if he's going to man the point guard position, so drafting an ultra-athletic point guard who is big enough to guard wings makes perfect sense for the Magic.
Exum has more experience running an offense than Oladipo does, but he's also nowhere near ready to have the sole responsibility of doing so at the professional level. What he is ready to do is attack off the bounce and wreak havoc on the defensive end—the former being something that Orlando could use in its system, and the latter being something that will strengthen its identity.
5. Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Utah has to be hoping Exum falls to No. 5, but that's not going to happen. If the Jazz remain at this spot, Smart becomes their guy.
The need here isn't as much for a secondary ball-handler—though Trey Burke could benefit from some support—as much as it is for a dynamic shooting guard. At 6'3", Smart is undersized for the position, but he has the strength and length to compete with much taller guys, and he has the skill to man either guard position on both ends.
6. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Even though the Celtics could very well be a playoff team next season in the moribund Eastern Conference, they are looking for the best big man prospect for the long term rather than the most NBA-ready player.
Vonleh is effective both facing up and with his back to the basket, exhibiting the nifty mid-range jumper Boston likes from its bigs as well as some shot-blocking length the team lacks. Whether or not the Celtics decide to keep Jared Sullinger, Vonleh will fit in nicely.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
In order to make the most of Kobe Bryant's final years, the Lakers are going to need to get a post scorer to pull defenses toward the paint and open space to shoot outside.
No one in this class can do that better than Randle. He's not the tallest guy (6'9"), but he can use his 250-pound frame to bull his way to the positioning he needs to snag rebounds and score inside. Granted, he won't be a Pau Gasol replacement, but he'll be effective.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The Kings need ability and effort on the defensive end, regardless of the form in which they come.
Aaron Gordon projects as a limited small forward rather than a power forward for most teams, but next to DeMarcus Cousins it won't matter that he's 6'8". Besides, he has the physical gifts to play bigger than his size, and he'll be able to aid Boogie as weak-side defender and a selfless offensive player.
9. Charlotte Hornets (via Detroit): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Unless the newly minted Hornets want to build their new image around Al Jefferson continuing to do everything himself, Charlotte is going to need some shooting.
Enter Stauskas, who is easily the deadliest of the three-point aficionados available. He has some ability to score off penetration and create opportunities inside the arc, but all that he'll really have to do is hit 40-plus percent from beyond the arc to make Charlotte happy.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Even after the Parker pick, Philly is still sorely lacking on the wings, as they feature no talent at all at the shooting guard spot.
Harris will be able to do a little bit of everything for the Sixers. He doesn't have prototypical swingman size—he's closer physically to being a combo guard—but he can get looks for himself both inside and out, and he'll be able to relieve Carter-Williams of some creation duties in the half court.
11. Denver Nuggets (via New York): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
When Denver lost Danilo Gallinari for all of 2013-14, it became clear just how much Denver needs a big, versatile offensive player on the wing.
Even with Gallo back, Dario Saric will still be very useful. The Nuggets will always need depth playing in their high-altitude environment, and with multiple multifaceted 6'10" scorers available, they'll be able to get more inventive with small-ball lineups and rotational quirks.
12. Orlando Magic (via Denver): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
With Orlando's backcourt of the future fully established, the Magic just need to keep stocking up on scorers to surround Oladipo and Exum.
Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless are already there for that purpose, but Rodney Hood sports a more polished and more varied offensive game than either of them. At best, he will become a go-to option at small forward; at worst, Orlando will have another valuable prospect to package for more talent.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Regardless of Kevin Love's status in Minnesota, the Wolves need a potent shooter at small forward to round out the offense.
McDermott is the best option to fill that need, and he has flashed more athletic ability in workouts than expected. He could amount to a nice second scoring threat playing with Love, or he could develop with a larger workload should Minnesota opt for a rebuild.
14. Phoenix Suns: Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe powered the surprising Suns last season, pushing the offense with their frenetic pace and hounding opponents on the other end. But when one left the floor, the system sputtered.
A 6'6" combo guard with tons of speed and leaping ability, LaVine can provide some more size than either of the incumbent point guards can, and he'll be able to progress as a distributor without having the pressure of ever running the offense alone. This is a high-upside pick with the potential for immediate rewards.
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SF, Kentucky
Atlanta certainly doesn't need more outside shooting at any position on the floor, but it would help the Hawks maintain their excellent spacing if they can get a swingman driver who could nail threes as well.
No Hawk can blow by defenders closing out like James Young can. He'll be able to probe off the bounce into the sweet spots Atlanta's offense generates in the mid-range, and he'll also be able to provide some more above-the-break three-point shooting than a DeMarre Carroll could when he plays small forward.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Speaking of spacing, Chicago's insistence on playing two traditional big men together has limited the Bulls in this regard, but it's still possible.
They need someone like Adreian Payne, who can stretch the floor and spot up beyond the arc as well as bang bodies with post threats and penetrators when they challenge Chicago inside. Since he'll always play with either Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson, Payne will be able to launch without shouldering primary rim-protection duties.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
With Boston's smallish frontcourt, there's a need for perimeter players who can score outside but have the strength to crash the boards.
The odds are slim that Early will be able to get around defenders and attack the lane as a pro in the way he did at Wichita State, but he can fulfill what Boston needs from another small forward. Whether the Celtics want to play offense-first with their second unit or merely spell Jeff Green with a similar player, Early will help.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): Kyle Anderson, SF/PG, UCLA
How does a guy nicknamed Slow-mo fit within the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns system?
Anderson's point-forward game won't result in him running the break anytime soon, but it will give Phoenix a whole new dimension in its half-court offense. He would allow the Suns to keep spacing the floor for drives inside, but he would also let both Dragic and Bledsoe play off-ball, leading to frequent cutting and more openings for everyone.
19. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
As long as Derrick Rose's knees are question marks—read: forever and always—Chicago will need effective two-way play from its backup point guard.
After learning Jim Boeheim's zone scheme, Tyler Ennis has shown some of the headiness necessary to pick up and execute Tom Thibodeau's unrelenting scheme. If he can do that and still knock down some threes on the other end, he'll fit right in.
20. Toronto Raptors: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Toronto wound up cracking the secret to its woes by limiting the amount of isolation scorers on its roster, but now it could use some more depth in that regard.
When DeMar DeRozan sits, T.J. Warren can pick up some of the scoring slack. Playing with Greivis Vasquez, he won't have to handle everything himself, but the Raptors would certainly benefit from having a bench guy who defenses know can get and make his own shot.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Speed and length are the name of the game in OKC, and the Thunder will need it at the point as Reggie Jackson approaches free agency next summer.
Given how important Jackson has become to the Thunder and how stingy they are with money, it stands to reason they would want to develop a new backcourt running mate for Russell Westbrook. That means a lightning-quick 6'3" guard like Payton should be very attractive.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia
As much as the Grizz love their grit-and-grind way of life, every summer they have the same need for more perimeter offense.
This time, there's a foreign solution in Mario Hezonja. He's not your classic spot-up guy complementing a brutalizing defense; Hezonja can break defenses down and finish in acrobatic fashion. No one in Memphis can provide that flair, and it would keep opponents that are expecting a vanilla Grizz offense off balance.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
Once again, Orlando and Utah are on the same track: the point guards are in place, so a scoring small forward comes next.
K.J. McDaniels is a little shorter and a little slower than Rodney Hood, but he's just as good at taking defenders off the bounce and is an even stronger finisher when he gets inside. If he can work on his three-point shot some more, he'll become a nice all-around scorer.
24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
As we noted earlier, the Hornets really need more shooting and more offense from the wing positions in general.
Michael Jordan has been known to bring local talent to Charlotte, so former UNC Tar Heel P.J. Hairston fits the mold. He got to display his volume-scoring ability even more with the Legends, and he'll be provide even more help as a Hornet when Jefferson sits.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Even after stockpiling options at power forward, Houston still hasn't found the ideal fit to be Dwight Howard's partner on the block.
Though he might not come over for the 2014-15 season, the 6'11" Capela has the jumper and the face-up game to give Howard the room he needs inside and the athleticism to help him turn away would-be inside scorers.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Mario Chalmers won an NCAA national championship with physical defense and killer three-point shooting before becoming a key cog for the Miami Heat. Shabazz Napier fits that same mold, only he's better at the stripes and succeeded with less talent around him.
He's the ideal rookie for the Heat locker room: someone who knows what it takes to win and is willing to do as much or as little as the team asks of him. Someday, he could easily replace Chalmers in the starting lineup.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
The point guards are in place, but as Gerald Green proved with his volume-shooting breakout last season, Phoenix still has a need for traditional shooting guards.
Adams, like Anderson, is no speedster (by any means), but he can stroke it from deep and provide some nice on-ball defense against bigger wings, saving Dragic and Bledsoe from that punishment. As a back-of-the-rotation guy, Phoenix could do much worse.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri
The Clippers' backup point guard has layered responsibilities: he must be able to run the offense himself when Chris Paul sits, but he has to also be able to create alongside the best point guard in the league.
At 6'5", Clarkson has enough speed to get the job done, fitting in physically at the shooting guard spot while Paul keeps his natural position. Learning from a future Hall of Famer, Clarkson will come along as a floor general in his own right, with Jamal Crawford around to help with second-unit responsibilities in the meantime.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, SF, Delaware 87ers (NBA D-League)
Does it seem like the Thunder would benefit from having a raw, improving backup small forward who can effectively and eagerly guard four positions while also spotting up for threes on the other end?
Antetokounmpo is nearly as ridiculous an athlete as his younger brother Giannis is, and he's a solid match for Kevin Durant in that regard as well. If Thanasis can improve his offensive game under the tutelage of OKC's stars, he could be a major steal.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Another year, another European investment for the Spurs.
Even if Tim Duncan retires and Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner test the market, don't expect R.C. Buford to change San Antonio's strategy. The Spurs will keep building their team with the same methodical discipline and keen eye for talent as before.
If that means stashing a 6'11", 280-pounder when there's a present need inside, so be it.
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