The end of the NBA season always leaves a void, but the good news is the draft happens virtually right away, so there is no time to catch your breath. It's especially true for this year, which features a deep crop of talent that can turn the fortunes of a team around in a hurry.
Of course, it's one thing to look at talent from the outside and say that it's good. Being able to perform on the biggest stage in the sport is another story entirely. The good news is that there appears to be more versatility with the players in this class.
Whatever happens on June 26, it's sure to ignite a fire in certain fan bases who have felt lethargic for too long. Here is a look at the draft order for the first round, as well as the top stars who should come off the board very early.
When: Thursday, June 26
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET
|7||Los Angeles Lakers|
|21||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|28||Los Angeles Clippers|
|29||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|30||San Antonio Spurs|
Top Prospects Available
Jabari Parker, F (Duke)
There's going to be a debate about the No. 1 overall pick up until the moment it's announced, but Jabari Parker looks like the most natural and NBA-ready player available.
According to ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider subscription required), the former Duke star had the best workout in front of over 100 talent evaluators at the end of May.
Not only did he go harder than (Andrew) Wiggins or (Joel) Embiid, he went harder than anyone else I've seen in a workout this year. It reminded me, a little, of the great workout Damian Lillard did in Oakland a few years ago. Aggressiveness and competitiveness show in things like this, and Parker passed those tests with flying colors.
Looking at the player Lillard has become, even though he's not a good physical comp at five inches shorter and not the same type of athlete, if that's the kind of offensive upside a team could get, Parker should be the top pick.
Parker has the energy, shooting ability and rebounding prowess to be a star at the next level. He's got to improve as a defender to be a superstar, but the offensive ability puts him in rare air.
Dante Exum, PG (Australia)
In a deep draft for point guards, it's a foreign player who stands above the rest. He's a long, lean player who can create with the ball in his hands and is developing a shooting touch.
If you had the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, who would you take?
John Gonzalez of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia wrote that Exum compared himself to Derrick Rose from a skills standpoint in a predraft interview since he knows how to "find the open man or break down the defender, get to the rim and finish."
While that's a little strong, since Rose is the best point guard in basketball when healthy, Gonzalez came up with a more apt comparison: Michael Carter-Williams, who is the same height but 10 pounds lighter.
Neither Exum nor Carter-Williams has much versatility shooting the ball, so most of their value is going to come from passing and setting up teammates. They are capable enough to score the ball when necessary.
Having that facilitator on offense is vital to success in the NBA today. It used to be having an effective center that was key, but the position has been so watered down that teams are getting smaller and faster to compensate.
Joel Embiid, C (Kansas)
The saga of Joel Embiid and the NBA continues to take new twists and turns. The 7-footer was unfortunately found to have a fractured foot, via Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, that has left his draft stock in a state of flux.
Even with the injuries, allow me to paint a picture for why Embiid isn't going to wait very long to hear his name called on draft day.
Despite the previous comments about size, teams are always going to covet it in the draft because no one can find it. Embiid had to answer questions about his back after missing the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, but he appeared to have come through with flying colors at the same workout as Parker in May, according to ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider subscription required).
While it was clear that Embiid was still working himself into shape after nearly eight weeks of rest for his back (he got very winded about 15 minutes into the workout and started to struggle to finish his dunks and shots), he still looked quick and made the 10-foot basket look like a Nerf hoop.
CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel went through the Embiid conundrum in April, before player workouts and evaluations kicked into high gear, and determined that he has a chance to do something special because of his youth, on and off the court.
But this kid's ceiling. Nobody knows how high it can be, because Joel Embiid has played basketball for just a few years. He improves not by the year but by the practice. He's a sponge and a prodigy, and if someday he redefines the center position, well, it's just not that hard to imagine.
What makes Embiid even more valuable, aside from the fact that he's a center with real basketball aptitude, is that he's able to move all over the floor. He has a good shooting touch and the ability to score in the paint and at the top of the key.
If the back and foot weren't issues at all, Embiid would be a slam dunk as the No. 1 overall pick. He went through a workout in front of Cleveland brass with flying colors, according to Ford in his latest mock draft (subscription required). The latest development likely ends any hope he had of going first, but for a team desperate to add high-ceiling talent, would it really be a surprise if Milwaukee popped him at No. 2?
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