The 2014 NBA draft class has everything: athletic guards, foreign basketball imports, bruising big men and potential franchise saviors.
The Cleveland Cavaliers defied the odds and received the No. 1 pick for the second year in a row. Their choice won't have much of a ripple effect beyond the first three or four picks considering how highly regarded Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are. All three of those players are locks to be drafted within the top three or four picks.
However, that leaves plenty of mystery and intrigue for the remainder of the first round. Let's take a look how each team might try to strengthen their roster for the 2014-15 season and beyond.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid has the potential to become a truly dominant center in the NBA. While Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been touted as potential No. 1 picks for weeks now, Grantland's Bill Simmons is convinced that this was never the case:
News flash: As I said on TV before the lottery, Embiid was always going first. None of these teams was passing on him. Repeat: none of them. The amount of smokescreening going on in April and May was high comedy. We keep hearing his back is really screwed up, this could be another Oden situation … Just stop it.
Embiid is certainly worthy of the hype. He averaged a staggering 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes at Kansas, according to Sports-reference.com. If he can pair that excellent defense with a few sound post moves on offense, the Cavaliers have their franchise cornerstone for years to come.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins kicked off the NBA tanking storyline with his early displays of athleticism, scoring ability and basketball IQ. Kansas coach Bill Self believes that there are aspects of Wiggins' game that surpass those of current NBA superstars, via Matt Lombardo of NJ.com:
The thing about Andrew is that he should have been a high school senior this year. There's no way he's Lebron or Kobe, but he's the first Andrew. He can do some things better than those guys could. There are certain areas that he can't do as well as they did. He just turned 19 and he is competitive.
Self may be biased, but Wiggins is the kind of player that can make a $550-million investment in a small-market basketball team look (somewhat) sane.
Wiggins gets the nod over Parker at this spot due to his ability to play strong defense both on and off the ball.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, Duke
The 76ers have the luxury of multiple picks in the first round, and can address their obvious deficiencies on both sides of the ball in the draft. They will have no qualms about snagging Jabari Parker with the No. 3 pick. Parker has the most polished offensive game of any player in the draft and should fit right in on offense with Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams.
Parker can also put in a strong shift cleaning up on the glass, making him the no-brainer pick for the 76ers with Wiggins and Embiid off the board.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
The Magic are in dire need of a point guard. The aging Jameer Nelson can hardly seem to get through three-quarters of a season these days. Exum is a complete mystery, but a 6'6" point guard is too good for the Magic to pass up at this point. Exum will have no problem dishing to the ball to a slashing Victor Oladipo or the steady Arron Afflalo.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The Jazz may have locked up Derrick Favors with a four-year contract extension in October 2013, but they won't be able to resist the upside of fellow power forward Noah Vonleh.
Relatively unheralded at the end of the college season, Vonleh has vaulted himself into the conversation as one of the strongest players in this year's draft. ESPN's Chad Ford relayed how some scouts felt about his skill set.
His strong combine measurements and unquestionable rebounding skills make him a definite blue-chip prospect and a great option for the Jazz at No. 5.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The Celtics prepare for a potential Rajon Rondo exit by taking Smart, a supremely hard worker with sound fundamentals. Smart will need to work on his outside jumper, as he shot just 29.9 percent from beyond the arc during his sophomore year as a Cowboy. Then again, the Celtics never relied on that aspect of Rondo's game (a career 25.2 percent from three-point range).
At 6'4", Smart can also play the 2-guard if Rondo decides to stick around, pairing his scoring acumen with Rondo's passing wizardry.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, Kentucky
The Lakers' roster is in a ridiculous state of flux at this point. They can draft the best player available, and in this case it's Julius Randle out of Kentucky.
He lacks ideal size for an NBA power forward, but he has a wide variety of post moves and can beat bigger defenders off the dribble with relative ease. The Lakers' fans will be tough to please this season, but they can take comfort watching a player who could be threatening to average a double-double in his rookie season.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Aaron Gordon has been rocketing up the draft boards thanks to his impressive leaping ability and rebounding prowess. The Sacramento Kings need both of those traits in a big way.
NBA.com writer and Kings beat reporter James Ham confirmed that Gordon had a meeting with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and got a bit of a workout in as well.
Gordon is unpolished on offense, but scouts are in love with his athleticism and potential. He will have to develop a few go-to moves on offense in order to survive in the NBA, but DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas can shoulder the scoring load while he develops.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, Creighton
The new-look Hornets have an excellent inside-outside combo in place with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. However, they need a player who can space the floor and consistently knock down shots from outside. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't look like he will be the solution to that conundrum anytime soon.
McDermott will bring his 45.8 three-point shooting percentage to the NBA, making him the perfect guy for Walker to pass to out of the pick-and-roll.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Zach LaVine, UCLA
After snatching up a surefire scorer in Parker, the 76ers go with the "Sure, why not?" approach by banking on the high upside of Zach LaVine. His stats aren't all that impressive (9.4 points per game, 1.8 assists), but he is definitely an athletic marvel.
The 76ers play at a breakneck pace and would probably submit a formal request to the league for hockey-style substitution if they could. LaVine could be an absolute weapon on the fast break for this team, and at least provide the fans with some highlight reel plays while they rebuild in Philly.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Gary Harris knows how to create his shot in a crowded offense. Despite sharing the ball with Adreian Payne, Harris averaged 16.7 points per game during the 2013-14 season. He has a variety of offensive moves and is also a very hard-working defender. Harris should fit in well on a team known for piecing together egalitarian rosters.
12. Orlando Magic: Dario Saric, Croatia
Orlando is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the United States, and the Magic will capitalize on that culture by adding a second international man of mystery in the first round.
The 20-year-old Croatian is a lanky power forward with excellent scoring chops. He's won the MVP award in Croatia's Adriatic League, but faces questions about his strength and effort on defense. The Magic need help in their frontcourt, and Saric's ability is too tantalizing for them to pass up here.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
If Kevin Love stays in the frigid north, the Timberwolves could have an aggravating three-point shooting tandem on their hands. Nik Stauskas put up 17.5 points per game during his sophomore year, mostly in catch-and-shoot situations. No one would ever confuse him with a lockdown defender, but he has the potential to become an instant scoring threat in the NBA in the mold of J.J. Redick.
14. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, Switzerland
Clint Capela could give the fast-paced Suns a solid defensive presence without sacrificing any athleticism. The young power forward currently plies his trade in France, an out-of-the-way destination for most NBA scouts.
However, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough believes the competition he faced overseas is just as good as what the majority of NBA prospects faced in the NCAA.
"Clint plays in the first division in France. I think the competition level there is as good or better than major college basketball,” McDonough told Matt Petersen of NBA.com. “He’s playing against men. He’s playing against guys who have been or will be in the NBA. If anything, that probably helps him.”
If McDonough sees the transition from France to the NBA going smoothly, he will have no problem taking a chance on Capela with the No. 14 pick.
15. Atlanta Hawks: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
The Hawks launched the second-most three pointers in the NBA last season, per NBA.com, and all it got them was a first-round playoff exit in a thin Eastern Conference. They need to add a different dynamic on offense, and T.J. Warren fits the bill.
A truly remarkable volume scorer, Warren averaged 24.9 points per game in 2013-14. That was the best scoring mark in the ACC and third-best overall in the NCAA. He has the explosiveness and rim-attacking ability that the Hawks sorely missed last year.
16. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Lloyd's of London might not insure Derrick Rose's knees at this point, so the Bulls prepare for the worst by taking Tyler Ennis out of Syracuse. Ennis is an instinctive player with great leadership qualities, and should have no problem stepping into a bigger role should Rose face more time on the sideline.
17. Boston Celtics: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, Payne has been getting some serious attention from teams with multiple picks in the first round.
The Celtics took care of both guard spots by selecting Smart, so they add a dose of athleticism to their frontcourt by selecting Payne. The Michigan State standout has an array of post moves and a strong enough outside shot to create plenty of space on the floor. The Celtics will be ecstatic to add an athletic building block to their young roster.
18. Phoenix Suns: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia
The Suns continue to bolster their frontcourt as well as their international flavor by taking Jusuf Nurkic with the No. 18 pick. Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler believes Nurkic might be the second-best prospect in the draft at his position.
He falls a little bit out of Kyler's expected range here, but only because more teams are moving to smallball tactics and there are plenty of other European options abound.
19. Chicago Bulls: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
McDaniels is a rangy swingman with the ability to make game-changing plays on defense. At just 6'6", McDaniels averaged a staggering 2.8 blocks per game as a junior. He would fit right into the Bulls' defensive system, and can still chip in on offense.
You know you have eye-popping athleticism when a 37" vertical leap can be a tad disappointing for some observers.
McDaniels and Ennis would give the Bulls an excellent young tandem to lead a reconfigured bench unit.
20. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
He's 6'9" and has the ability to score, rebound and pass with aplomb. He averaged 14.6 points and 6.5 assists per game in 2013-14, no easy feat on a team that also featured Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams.
Anderson also happens to be slower than molasses in the winter, but that won't scare a team from Canada. NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper relayed an unorthodox pro comparison for the former Bruin.
A taller version of Professor Miller? That sounds like a player who will have a long tenure in the NBA.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
The Thunder double-down on their superior athleticism by taking Cleanthony Early with their first pick in Round 1. Early's ability to get to the hoop and create open looks off the dribble should help the Thunder, who are in desperate need of scoring help outside of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Early showed he has potential to become a "heat-check" player after his 31-point outburst against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Rodney Hood, Duke
The Grizzlies love to try to grind opposing teams into dust. They have two bangers in the frontcourt in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but they could use a player with height who adds an outside dimension on offense. At 6'8", Hood has an incredibly smooth shooting stroke. He will need to add some bulk to his 215-pound frame to please the Grizzlies' brass, but he would definitely give the team a unique option on offense.
23. Utah Jazz: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends
The Utah Jazz took care of their frontcourt by taking Vonleh, now they look to add a scoring threat in the backcourt by taking Hairston.
Hairston has taken a bit of a circuitous route to the NBA. He was declared ineligible by the NCAA after two standout seasons at North Carolina, but continued to hone his craft in the D-League. The Jazz can pair Hairston with Trey Burke on the perimeter and let the long-range shots fly.
24. Charlotte Hornets: James Young, Kentucky
At just 18 years old, Young backs up his surname as one of the youngest players in the draft. He played the majority of the season in Julius Randle's shadow at Kentucky, but demonstrated that he has strong potential as an offensive weapon in his own right.
25. Houston Rockets: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Jerami Grant possesses excellent physical tools, including a ridiculous 7'2" wingspan. He averaged 12.1 points per game as a sophomore with Syracuse, showing a special ability to make plays around the rim on offense. Grant is just 20 years old and will have time to mature into an NBA-caliber frame. The Houston Rockets can have Grant come in off the bench and provide them with high-energy minutes while they rest their starters.
26. Miami Heat: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
The rich just keep on getting richer in this year's draft. The Miami Heat won't hesitate to snatch up Elfrid Payton, an excellent two-way player who has been overlooked coming out of mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette.
He averaged 19.2 points per game as a junior and won the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year award. At 6'4", he has the ability to smother opposing point guards on defense. Payton will breathe new life into a Heat roster built around aging veteran players.
27. Phoenix Suns: C.J. Wilcox, Washington
The Suns might feel like they have more picks than they know what to do with in this year's draft. They won't be afraid to add a shooter like C.J. Wilcox after stocking up on big men early in the first round. Wilcox shot 38.9 percent from beyond the arc in his collegiate career and can knock down shots from outside whether he's in a catch-and-shoot situation or pulling up off the dribble.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, Michigan
The Los Angeles Clippers lose some of their presence in the paint whenever DeAndre Jordan faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Ryan Hollins and Glen Davis aren't sufficiently talented to play heavy backup minutes at center, so the Clippers add to their deep roster by selecting Mitch McGary.
McGary did have to undergo back surgery toward the end of last season, but his agent Mark Bartelstein says the 6'10", 255-pound forward/center is just seven to 10 days away from working out for NBA teams, as per Brendan F. Quinn of Mlive.com.
The Clippers will be just fine adding a player with his potential at the bottom of the first round.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
Glenn Robinson's shooting percentages took a dip in his sophomore season at Michigan, but part of that may be due to the fact that Nik Stauskas started taking all of the good looks from outside. Robinson clearly knows how to work with star players around him, and could become a key cog for the Thunder as they continue their quest to find scoring options other than Westbrook or Durant.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Shabazz Napier, UConn
Napier is too slow, can't dribble and isn't athletic enough to get his shot off in the NBA. No matter, as mastermind coach Gregg Popovich will find a way to turn Napier into a scoring threat off the bench. His can-do attitude and willingness to lead make him an appealing project player. Popovich could surprise everyone by grooming Napier to take the reigns once Tony Parker decides to call it quits.
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