Only one team finishes the NBA season truly happy, leaving the other 29 to shift their hope toward next year.
For those prescient enough to have retained their 2014 first-round draft pick—not the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons—shaping next season's roster begins with the selection of top collegiate prospect. This mock draft examines each team's biggest need and the most prudent pick they can make on draft day to address that.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
The Cavs have the first pick for a second consecutive year, and they will have to summon the full measure of their cunning after selecting forward Anthony Bennett, who has been a complete bust so far, with the No. 1 selection in 2013. Cleveland won the lottery this year despite having just a 1.7 percent chance at doing so.
Luol Deng probably won't be back next season, and Alonzo Gee is not guaranteed a roster spot, either. The Cavs need a starting small forward, so Andrew Wiggins makes for a great option here. He's got the scoring ability and athleticism to play the 2, but he fits most naturally at the 3.
After months of hand-wringing and speculation about the top-three prospects, Wiggins remains the best choice, just as he was projected before the season began. The Cavs played well enough to have an outside shot at the playoffs late in the year, and they can still land the player that multiple teams seemed to tank for this season.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
For some strange reason, the Bucks committed $44 million to Larry Sanders for the next four seasons. Joel Embiid will not go to Milwaukee for that reason, so at least fans know who to blame.
There is no need to fret, however, as the wretched Bucks can still snag Jabari Parker. The bright-minded Blue Devil offers a range of skills that should help transform the Bucks from a 67-loss team to a 50-loss team. And watch out in 2015-16, when the team could actually challenge for the No. 8 seed like they used to.
Parker outweighs Wiggins by 35 pounds, and that size advantage will help make for a smooth transition to the pros. Parker is athletic enough to create his own shot when he needs to and smart enough to take what the defense gives him. Only two Bucks started more than 50 games last season, and Parker would immediately become the face of the franchise.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The Sixers will unveil 2013 first-rounder Nerlens Noel next season after his lengthy recovery from knee surgery. He carved out a reputation as an elite shot-blocker in college, but he's very slender for a big man at just 228 pounds.
Embiid can knock down shots on the perimeter, and the seven-footer's 250-pound frame will help him operate down low against NBA bigs. He and Noel can spot each other in the weight room as they bulk up. Embiid can operate almost like a stretch-5 (something the team lost after the trade of Spencer Hawes), leaving Noel to patrol on help defense a la Serge Ibaka.
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 relatively new to the game , and hailing from Cameroon, he has drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. Teams must trim expectations back from that pinnacle, and the back injury that kept Embiid out for crucial games down the stretch also creates some cause for concern, but he there is no doubt that he is a top-three prospect and potential NBA star.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
Australian combo guard Dante Exum wants to join the Los Angeles Lakers, but he'll deal with the longer flight to Orlando if the Magic grab him at No. 4, which is widely projected to be Exum's draft position behind the consensus top three.
With Victor Oladipo coming off a great rookie season, adding a versatile combo guard to the backcourt would make the future of this franchise even brighter. With long-time point guard Jameer Nelson entering the final year of his contract, which is not fully guaranteed, Exum could step in as the replacement, or he could come off the bench with his versatility to play the 2.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
What's the difference between Jabari Parker and Julius Randle? About 15 pounds.
Randle recorded 24 double-doubles as a freshman, but he'll find such statistics more elusive in the NBA due to his 6'9", 250-pound frame. However, he displayed good tenacity during the NCAA tournament, and that hard-nosed approach will translate well to the pros.
The Jazz have only one player signed beyond the 2015-16 season: Derrick Favors. If he sticks around, he and Randle would make for a talented young frontcourt pair.
6. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
Boston finished 24th in the league in defensive rebounding last year, per ESPN.com. Vonleh has NBA size at 6'10" and 240 pounds, and his chops as a rebounder and defender will serve him well.
Young Boston bigs Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk could end up as trade bait if the Celtics are serious about pursuing Minnesota Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love. Then again, as noted by ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, Boston would offer "pretty much anything Minnesota wants," and Sullinger or Olynyk would add salary to the T-Wolves' bottom line, making them less attractive pieces.
Even if both big men stay in tow, they like to play away from the basket, so Vonleh would give the C's someone to battle down low.
According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, Vonleh showed proficiency with his outside shot and measured in at the combine with the biggest wingspan at nearly 7'4" to go along with 10-inch hands. Think Kawhi Leonard.
As Vonleh said, via Bresnahan: "I can cover different positions. I would like to talk a lot on the court, tell guys to switch, do different things. I think my communication would definitely help wherever I go."
Boston would be foolish to let him slip past them here.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Lakers roster presently consists of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. The only other commitments are a couple of qualifying offers and Nick Young's player option (and Swaggy P will want more than $1.2 million next season). This team doesn't even have a head coach!
The Lakers could go in any direction with this pick, and it will likely boil down to guard Marcus Smart or one of the top-three power forwards available. However, Smart offers the rare blend of offensive skill and defensive prowess that would help change the identity of a team that ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF/SF, Arizona
The Kings have a very good draft position here, because after the top-eight picks in the draft, little consensus exists about the next tier of players.
Gordon has freakish athleticism that often draws comparisons to that of Blake Griffin. The only question about this pick is whether the Kings can come up with a better nickname than "Lob City North."
Sacramento's roster is a hot mess with DeMarcus Cousins as the franchise's cornerstone. Carl Landry will earn nearly $20 million over the next three seasons, and the Kings have similar money and years committed to Jason Thompson, who has seen his player efficiency rating steadily decline over the last three seasons, per Basketball-Reference.
They can always play Gordon at the 3, though, and watch the highlight dunks roll in.
9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit Pistons): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
The Pistons' pick got pushed to No. 9 when the Cavs won the lottery, and Detroit promptly lost their pick since it was top-eight protected as part of a trade that yielded them Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon in 2012. Oops!
After the Bobcats made the playoffs last season, the re-branded Hornets could be ready to sting the competition in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte ranked 25th in the league in three-pointers made last season, so adding a shooter would address an area of need.
Nik Stauskas is a Lithuanian-Canadian, and he can be an assassin from long range. He nailed over 44 percent of his three-pointers in both of his seasons with the Wolverines. Just don't mention anything about defense to him.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Throughout his collegiate career, Doug McDermott had opposing teams wishing they had their very own "McBuckets." He finished his tenure at Creighton as the fifth-best scorer in college basketball history with 3,150 points. McDermott also offers high-IQ play, and it's just a shame that the 6'8" forward is a little undersized for a stretch-4.
The Sixers ranked last in three-point shooting percentage last season, so the four-year senior can try and teach them all how to "Dougie" from long range next season.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
If there's not already an old saying that dictates "you can never have enough shooters," then there should be. While the Nuggets got more than expected out of Randy Foye last season, and though Evan Fournier poses an interesting backup at the position, Harris offers too much versatility to pass up on here.
Harris can create his own shot and punish defenses if left open, and he played in a very tough Big Ten Conference. But what distinguishes him from other top shooters in the draft is his ability as a defender.
Eat your heart out, Stauskas!
12. Orlando Magic (from New York Knicks via Denver Nuggets): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Saric stands at 6'10", which helps make him a very competent rebounder, but he's also got the ball-handling skills suited for a point forward. However, he's not much of a defender and lacks the quickness to stick on small forwards or the size to match power forwards.
Putting on 20 pounds of bulk would help his cause, but the same could be said of most rookies. After adding Exum to the mix, Saric can help round out Orlando's existing young talent in the frontcourt.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
With so much attention focused on Parker, fellow Blue Devil Rodney Hood got somewhat overlooked in the scouting talk. The T-Wolves love rangy wings, and Hood fits that category well after hitting 42 percent from downtown last season.
Minnesota will need to find enough time to concentrate amid the Kevin Love rumors to actually hone in on a good draft fit here.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SG, Kentucky
The Suns have a wealth of young talent at virtually every position, but Eric Bledsoe's injury left their backcourt perilously thin down the stretch last season. James Young offers a talented swingman who can start out as a spot-up shooter who can bolster the bench.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Somehow, the Hawks made the playoffs with Al Horford being sidelined by a pectoral injury since December. They threw the kitchen sink at the problem and somehow cobbled together a frontcourt, even after Pero Antic suffered an injury of his own.
Never fear, Adreian Payne is here to solve that problem. The domineering forward has a high ceiling with the potential to provide 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night. Yes, please!
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte Bobcats): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
You may have heard of a guy on the Bulls called Derrick Rose. Actually, if you've been watching basketball for less than three full seasons, you might not have even seen him on the court. His knees are held together with paper clips and Elmer's glue at this point, and the Bulls desperately need a competent backup at the point who is more spry than Kirk Hinrich.
Enter Tyler Ennis. He's savvy and limits his mistakes on the court. This would be the dream spot for Ennis, as he would be going to a good team with an immediate need for his skills.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
The Celtics might as well consult a Magic 8 Ball for help in deciding Rajon Rondo's future with the team. They could continue a slow process of rebuilding with their wealth of draft picks, or they could swing a huge trade and drastically alter the complexion of the team.
Either way, Zach LaVine makes for a great addition to the roster. The combo guard can address any and all needs in the backcourt and has good size at 6'6".
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington Wizards): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Since the Suns opted for a guard already, taking a defensive-minded forward like Grant makes sense. He learned under a very solid system at Syracuse and can add another dimension to a frontcourt with a wealth of young talent, which includes Miles Plumlee, Alex Len and the Morris twins.
Unfortunately, Grant's jump shot is on a par with that guy in the grey sweatshirt and headband at your local park's court.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Having already landed Ennis to back up D-Rose, the Bulls will go big with this pick.
At 6'11", Jusuf Nurkic offers rare size in a draft that's surprisingly light on centers. With Nazr Mohammed hitting free agency, the team needs to find some depth behind Joakim Noah in order to save the Defensive Player of the Year's legs from his never-ending motor.
20. Toronto Raptors: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren is a rangy wing player with excellent scoring instincts. However, his shooting efficiency plummets once he's out on the perimeter. He shot 52 percent from the field and just 27 percent from three-point range. Leave the long-range shooting to someone else.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas Mavericks via Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Would you believe that the Thunder eventually ended up with this pick as a result of the Lakers trading Lamar Odom to Dallas and the Thunder trading James Harden to Houston, respectively? Yes, really.
Anyway, bully for OKC! After Serge Ibaka's calf injury in the Western Conference Finals proved just how desperately thin the Thunder's frontcourt is, they should go out and find a big body with more upside than Kendrick Perkins.
Clint Capela could be a draft-and-stash selection, but if he's only a year away, locking up the 6'11" Swiss talent would bode well for the future.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
The Grizz ranked dead last in in made three-pointers in 2013-14. In fact, they made 81 fewer treys than the next worst team (New Orleans).
P.J. Hairston has good size for a guard at 230 pounds, and he's got the outside shot to help address an area of need in Memphis. He played at UNC before a couple of legal run-ins got him suspended from the team and declared ineligible by the NCAA. A year in the D-League will have made him better prepared for the next level than many draft prospects.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Kyle Anderson, SF/PG, UCLA
While watching the Bruins last year, if you happened to have a small TV, you might have mistaken Kyle Anderson's ball-handling skills for those of point guard Zach LaVine.
Anderson has point skills inside his 6'9", 230-pound frame, and those abilities could help take some pressure of Trey Burke as he heads into his sophomore season, and his presence could also fill out the small forward position with Gordon Hayward's future being uncertain.
24. Charlotte Hornets (from Portland Trail Blazers): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Michael-Kidd Gilchrist is a good defender, and that's all I have to say about that.
Now, if Charlotte also wants some offense out of the small forward position, they should opt for the athletic Cleanthony Early. He can shoot the ball and has plenty of quickness, so he's rarely late on his defensive assignments, either.
25. Houston Rockets: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
Though he's only 6'6", K.J. McDaniels brings the mentality of a larger man to the frontcourt. He offers stout defense and enough athleticism to guard out on the wing. If only he had shot better than 30 percent from three-point range last season, the Rockets would really have something here.
Either way, he would provide some depth behind Chandler Parsons—though McDaniels would be a poor insurance policy if Parsons actually bolts for another team, as the latter is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in July.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
All Shabazz Napier does is win. He picked up a pair of NCAA titles with UConn and claimed Most Outstanding Player honors at this year's NCAA tournament.
Mario Chalmers will hit free agency this summer, meaning the Heat need a backup plan. Norris Cole flashed his lockdown defense in the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, but Napier could offer the option of scoring prowess as well.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers): Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
The Suns are on the clock. Again!
After going for depth in the backcourt and on the wing, now is the time to spring for the big man in a draft short on size. The 6'10" McGary soldiered through a tough conference for the Wolverines, and he would make for yet another talent in a frontcourt brimming with bright youngsters.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Elfrid Payton could easily go before this and might find himself drafted in the teens, but playing ball for the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns will hurt his stock a bit. If he lasts until this spot, though, the Clippers should pounce on the chance to add depth at the point. Payton even offers solid defense, too.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Nick Johnson, PG, Arizona
Johnson averaged over 16 points per game this season for the Wildcats, and he played in a scheme that allowed him to turn in very impressive defensive performances on a nightly basis.
After springing for a power forward earlier in the draft, the Thunder will get a chance to add some much-needed bench scoring here.
30. San Antonio Spurs: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
Wilcox averaged over 14 points per game over his final three seasons at Washington, and he's capable of knocking down roughly 40 percent of his three-pointers. The Spurs love surrounding their veterans with shooters, and the selection of Wilcox would champion that philosophy. While he will turn 24 on Dec. 30, that just means he should bring a measure of maturity that the Spurs like to cultivate.