For basketball fans, June isn't just about the NBA Finals; it's also the high-point of NBA mock draft season.
While the aging stars of the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat battle it out for league supremacy, the rest of the nation already has one eye trained on the young players vying to become marquee names in the Association.
There is a wealth of talent to be found in this year's draft, and teams will look for players in the first round capable of fitting in on the existing roster while still providing the spark that changes—or in some cases, maintains—their fortunes for good.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Joel Embiid has the chance to become a dominant back-to-the-basket big man in a league moving away from traditional centers. He has monstrous potential at both ends of the court and is alleviating NBA scouts' fears about his troublesome back. ESPN's Chad Ford provided this insight on May 23.
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
He's been playing basketball for just over three years, but he has a rare combination of size, balance and deft footwork. Embiid has a natural feel for the game and should be eminently coachable at the next level.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins' freshman season raised questions about whether or not he has the cold-blooded mentality to take over games at the next level.
ESPN's Chad Ford noted that Wiggins has been working on all aspects of his game in preparation for life in the league.
Wiggins' workout was great. Working on keeping low, small tweaks to his 3-shot, terrific midrange game + craziest athlete in draft— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 25, 2014
It is too soon to tell if Wiggins has the same hyper-competitive streak that drives players like Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul. His talents are strong enough that he has the potential to become a game-changing swingman without the killer instinct. His commitment to strong defensive play gives him the nod over Jabari Parker at this spot.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, Duke
Jabari Parker has an excellent repertoire of moves on offense. There isn't a single reason to expect him to struggle with the ball in his hands at the next level. The 76ers are in desperate need of help at both ends of the court, and Parker should alleviate at least one of those problems right away.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
Dante Exum is a rare talent from Down Under. Even though he's 6'6", Exum still harbors ambitions toward playing point guard in the NBA. He cites his attacking ability as a sign he is capable of becoming a true leader on an NBA team. Via Paul Coro of USA Today:
I'm a get-to-the-rim type of player. I beat my man off the dribble and try to draw help to find different players. I guess that's what puts me in good position to be a point guard and also be that kind of vocal leader, to have that voice that tells players what needs to be done and be that voice for the coach.
The Magic are in definite need of a point guard—Jameer Nelson doesn't quite cut it anymore—and Exum can fill that need while still providing an option at 2-guard should the team need to juggle lineups on occasion.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh has forced his way into the discussion of the top players in this year's draft. He's got big hands, great rebounding instincts and solid footwork.
His 11.3 points per game at Indiana won't blow anyone away, but he played just 26.5 minutes per game and was hardly the focal point of head coach Tom Crean's offense.
Vonleh has the potential to form a great tandem with Gordon Hayward and anchor the Jazz's defense for years to come.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Celtics can use help at a number of positions, but there is a chance they will go for potential over polish with their first pick in this year's draft.
Gordon's headstrong comments must have plenty of NBA executives taking notice. Via Bleacher Report's own Kevin Ding:
Aaron Gordon: "Kobe's psychotic about basketball, and I am, too."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) June 4, 2014
Gordon shows plenty of self-awareness. The best way to prove to scouts that he can polish up the rough edges of his game is by making sure they are aware of his devotion to the game.
Gordon needs to develop a consistent jumper but can contribute right away by gathering up rebounds. If Gordon can capitalize on his potential, he will become a dangerous weapon on both offense and defense.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The Los Angeles Lakers need a leader for the future. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are both on their last legs, and a team that never strays far from the spotlight needs bold, confident players on its roster.
Smart would give the Lakers an excellent point guard to build around. He struggles shooting from outside (29.5 percent from three-point range in college), but this might not be an issue if the Lakers can hold on to Nick Young and surround Smart with effective shooters on the perimeter.
8. Sacramento Kings: Julius Randle, Kentucky
The Kings could have used a player like Gordon at this spot to shore up their leaky defense, but they can't go wrong by taking the best player remaining on the board.
A Randle-DeMarcus Cousins pairing could wreak havoc on league defenses. On the other hand, Randle and Cousins don't quite project as a fearsome defensive pairing in their own right.
Randle is an accomplished rebounder and has the ability to beat slower defenders off the dribble. The latter trait will need to be refined if he is to get his shot off consistently at the next level due to his relatively short wingspan.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, Creighton
The Hornets made a huge improvement last season with the signing of Al Jefferson. The big man dominated on the left block and made everyone better around him last season. The Hornets could complete their frontcourt by picking Doug McDermott, a stretch big that can knock down the open jumper with ease.
McDermott would be granted plenty of good looks on the outside with Jefferson drawing the occasional double team or Kemba Walker generating mayhem with furious drives into the lane.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Gary Harris, Michigan State
The 76ers must ensure they draft players who can keep up with their high-octane offense. Harris will have no trouble finding ways to get his shot off in The City of Brotherly Love and will provide a sorely needed boost on the defensive end as well.
Gary Harris was adamant he will put forth his best effort in the NBA, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin.
What does Gary Harris consider his biggest strength? "My will to compete on both ends of the court. I’m going to give my all no matter what"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 4, 2014
Harris played alongside a high-scoring power forward in Adreian Payne as a Spartan and should have no trouble meshing with Parker at the next level.
11. Denver Nuggets: Zach LaVine, UCLA
What's so interesting about a player who averaged just 9.4 points per game during his lone season in college? The Los Angeles Lakers' Twitter account might be able to clear this up.
LaVine's game impressed Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek in other ways, via the team's official Twitter account.
"I thought he showed a great ability on the pocket passes and pick and roll." - Hornacek on Zach LaVine #SunsDraft Workouts— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) June 2, 2014
Upside and potential are the two buzzwords that will follow LaVine throughout draft season and well into the early stages of his NBA career. The Nuggets roster is comprised of steady—but not spectacular—players, and LaVine's potential to become an elite player might be too much for general manager Tim Connelly to pass up at this spot.
12. Orlando Magic: Dario Saric, Croatia
Saric gives the Magic another highly versatile player to fill out their flimsy roster. Saric is a 6'10" athletic marvel capable of posting up, running the floor and everything in between. He averaged 16.1 points and 3.2 assists per game and was named MVP of Croatia's Adriatic League.
The NBA will be a huge test for Saric early on, and he could very well struggle to adjust to the high level of competition. The Magic offer Saric the luxury of time to work out the kinks in his game thanks to their multiple draft picks and currently developing assets such as Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Nik Stauskas' offensive game took a great leap forward in 2013-14. The Canadian was a bit of a mystery coming into college, but averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 44.2 percent from three-point range tends to put you on the map and into the discussion of top players in the NBA draft.
Should Kevin Love depart, Stauskas would provide a boost on the scoring end and likely make up for the loss of the power forward's long-range shooting capabilities, albeit at a different position.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, Kentucky
At just 18 years old, James Young is one of the greenest players in this year's draft. He did an excellent job of finding his niche on a Kentucky team that took the majority of the season to coalesce into the juggernaut everyone predicted them to be at the beginning of the season.
Young is well aware of the glaring deficiencies in his game. Via Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:
James Young agreed that he needed to work on his shot selection (says he has been), also added needing to work on ball handling skills— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) June 4, 2014
His attitude and work ethic will fit in well on an improving Suns team that has plenty of picks to play with in this year's draft.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Rodney Hood, Duke
The Atlanta Hawks unleashed a three-point barrage on the rest of the league last season, but they can't continue to thrive on that single dimension alone.
Hood has the potential to get to the rim like few other players in this year's draft without sacrificing outside shooting abilities. His 42.0 percent shooting from three-point range at Duke can attest to that fact. The Hawks are solid at point guard with Jeff Teague and don't need another pure shooter like Kyle Korver in the mix.
Hood gives the Hawks a new dynamic on offense and allows them to add variety at this end of the court.
16. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis is a pure point guard who would make an excellent insurance policy for the oft-injured Derrick Rose. Ennis is highly regarded for his intangibles and caretaker mentality, but he has plenty of athleticism to work with, according to ESPN's Chad Ford.
Tyler Ennis with a 36 inch max vert. Pretty good actually for all the knocks about his athleticism #NBACombine— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 16, 2014
The Bulls need players who can revitalize their stagnant offense; Ennis' passing acumen is just the kind of skill they require to build an efficient attack.
17. Boston Celtics: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia
Jusuf Nurkic is a giant of a man. The Celtics' only 7-footer is Kelly Olynyk, who impressed last season despite not quite being ready for prime time. Nurkic would add a true center's presence to the Celtics roster and compete with Olynyk for big minutes at this position. Jared Sullinger would also have the opportunity to devote more time to playing power forward with Nurkic on the roster, thus giving head coach Brad Stevens more time to tinker with his roster and find a winning combination.
18. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, Switzerland
Clint Capela is another intriguing European prospect set to make the leap to the NBA. He has the size and strength to play center in the NBA, and his highlight videos show some solid leaping ability and a pure love for the alley-oop.
There is plenty of intrigue surrounding the Swiss phenom. Thankfully, Capela took it upon himself to explain what scouts should gather from his workouts. Via the Boston Celtics' official Twitter account:
Clint Capela on what he tried to show the Celtics during today's workout: "I'm athletic. I'm big. I have good size. I play defense."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 4, 2014
Capela would give the Suns an athletic big capable of running with fleet-footed guards like Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Look for him to become a frightening threat on fast-break opportunities.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
After selecting Ennis, the Bulls should continue to draft with their dreadful offense in mind. T.J. Warren is a high-scoring forward with the ability to cure their scoreboard ailments.
Warren averaged 24.9 points per game in 2013-14, tops among all players in the ACC. Jabari Parker might receive the majority of fans' adulation for his polished offensive game, but Warren put up better numbers just up the road at North Carolina State and has a wide variety of offensive moves that will translate to the professional ranks.
20. Toronto Raptors: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Which Michigan State player will have a better career?
Adreian Payne is a multifaceted forward capable of stretching the floor with his agility or using his size to post up against defenders on the low block. He prides himself on his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.
“I think I’ll be able to bring a lot of versatility,” Payne told Ben Watanabe of NESN.com. “I just try to play with intensity and do anything I can for my team, be able to stretch the court, run the floor, rebound and block shots.”
Payne could add an outstanding athletic dimension to a Raptors squad full of gifted young players.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
The Thunder are one of the most physically impressive teams in the NBA. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are notorious for their game-changing displays of athleticism. However, every team can use a player capable of switching up the pace from time to time.
Anderson may have a debilitating lack of speed and agility, but he boasts an incredibly proficient all-around game based on strong fundamentals. He averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game as a sophomore. The index of players listed at 6'9" that can pass like Anderson is thin and leaves plenty of space in every scout's filing cabinet.
If Russell Westbrook decides he wants to take even more shots next year, the Thunder can throw Anderson in at point forward and let him dish all night long.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
The Grizzlies tend to thwart teams with brute strength and suffocating defense. McDaniels can definitely contribute on defense, although he uses supreme athleticism and guile instead of force.
McDaniels averaged 17.1 points and 2.8 blocks per game as a junior. McDaniels' shot-blocking ability combined with the defensive prowess of Marc Gasol and Tony Allen would cause fits for opposing teams looking to score on drives into the paint.
23. Utah Jazz: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early will end up in the late first round, but he's got plenty of upside as a prolific scorer in his own right. The Wichita State swingman averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during his sophomore year and was an integral part of the Shockers' undefeated regular season.
It's difficult to determine which position best suits him at the next level, but he will bring a well-rounded offensive game regardless of where he ends up.
24. Charlotte Hornets: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends
The Hornets lack a true go-to shooter on the outside. P.J. Hairston shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc with the Texas Legends in 2013-14 and can compete with Chris Douglas-Roberts for a starting position. Hairston got a chance to polish his game against seasoned players in the D-League and will be more NBA-ready than many roundball fans realize.
25. Houston Rockets: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Scouts covet Jerami Grant for his tantalizing length and graceful playing style at small forward. Former NBA general manager Tom Penn believes Grant can eventually thrive at both forward spots.
"We start to think of him as power forward, a rebounder and shot-blocker," Penn told Mike Waters of Syracuse.com. "You can make credible case based off these measurable of him as a four."
The Rockets are set in the backcourt with Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and James Harden. Grant would fill the swingman role and be a potential asset in the paint once he adds to his slender frame.
26. Miami Heat: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
Elfrid Payton is a superb two-way player who could inject some life into the Miami Heat roster. He's tall for a point guard at 6'4" and isn't afraid to get physical on the defensive end. According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, at least one observer says Payton has shown signs he can hang with one of the big-name guards in this year's draft.
Source told me that Elfrid Payton held his own today against Marcus Smart in workout in Sacramento.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) June 3, 2014
There is no reason to believe Payton won't become an effective role player in the NBA. The Heat will be happy to secure his services with the No. 26 pick.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jordan Adams, UCLA
Which UCLA player will have the biggest impact as a rookie?
Jordan Adams learned how to make the most of his scoring opportunities as a member of a UCLA roster overflowing with NBA-level talent. He averaged 17.4 points per game as a sophomore and displayed an incredibly sound mid-range jump shot.
The knock on Adams is his playing weight, but he shed some pounds before the NBA combine in March. According to Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times, Adams weighed in at 210 pounds at the combine, down from the 232 pounds he carried around as a Bruin.
His dedication to addressing his flaws should lead a team to taking a chance on him in the first round. The Suns would be happy to draft another potential scorer like Adams.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Delaware 87ers
The Clippers have a deep roster and can go in a multitude of different directions with the No. 28 pick.
They do have a need at backup center, but with Nurkic off the board and Mitch McGary still recovering from back surgery, they will instead attempt to craft the most athletic roster in the NBA by selecting Thanasis Antetokounmpo. He can finish on the fast break and would make an intriguing project for Doc Rivers, a coach known for getting the most out of his players.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Shabazz Napier, UConn
There is a decent chance that Derek Fisher will be donning power suits on NBA sidelines as a coach next season, so the Thunder might have a big opening for a crunch-time performer in the backcourt. Napier's three-point shooting improved every single season in college, culminating with a strong 40.5 percent clip in his senior year.
Napier showed in the NCAA tournament that he's capable of playing with a level head in high-stakes games, which is exactly what the Thunder would be missing without Fisher.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
San Antonio adds to its foreign legion and begins the search for a long-term replacement for Tim Duncan by selecting power forward Kristaps Porzingis. The lanky youngster plays for Cajasol Sevilla in Spain, a country home to one of the best leagues in Europe. Porzingis can run the floor and is a well-developed shot-blocker. There is plenty of talent here for head coach Gregg Popovich to mold into a competent NBA player.