Warning: This 2014 NBA mock draft features a top-tier prospect falling out of the top three.
Drafting is not an exact science. Every general manager has a different strategy when it comes to building a franchise through the draft. Some teams prefer track record over potential. Others prefer those with high ceilings over guys who are NBA-ready. To each his own.
The following mock draft represents the best-case scenario for each team with a selection in Round 1. While the draft may not shake up like this, each team would benefit from having the selections play out as follows.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The most NBA-ready big man in the draft is Joel Embiid. The Cavs already have firepower in the backcourt in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, so adding Embiid down low will help create a more balanced offensive attack.
Embiid is also a monster on defense, as he can redirect shots and grab boards. This is a pick that the Cavs need to make, even if Andrew Wiggins is the more dynamic player.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Despite missing out on the No. 1 selection, the Bucks will still get their man in Wiggins. This franchise is going nowhere fast, but Wiggins will help get them back on track. This is actually a perfect scenario, as Wiggins will need a few years to blossom in the league. By the time he's ready to go, Milwaukee should have the talent around him to compete.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
This pick was thought to be when Jabari Parker would hear his name called, but Noah Vonleh is the better pick for the 76ers. Matt Moore of CBS Sports recently mocked Vonleh at No. 3:
REACH ALERT. Listen, if Sam Hinkie's not getting a transcendent star, what did he tank for? He goes for the maximum upside here, in the belief that Vonleh and [Nerlens] Noel combine to form some sort of space pterodactyl. [Jabari] Parker's the obvious go here, but with limited ceiling and athleticism, he doesn't fit the Hinkie profile.
Vonleh and Noel have the potential to be a dominant tandem under the basket. Vonleh has also shown the ability to stretch the floor a bit, so he'll add that versatility to the team as well.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo make up the backcourt in Orlando right now, but the Magic would do well to add another guard into the mix. Dante Exum, the best guard in the draft, will add versatility in that he can play both point guard and shooting guard. He and Oladipo will form a formidable duo.
5. Utah Jazz: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Finally, Parker finds his new home.
This is certainly the best-case scenario for the Jazz. He fits everything the Jazz need right now, and he'll be able to shoulder the scoring load alongside Gordon Hayward. Plus, Parker will work well with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
This is only a best-case scenario for the Celtics if Aaron Gordon turns into a Blake Griffin, like Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe thinks he might:
Gordon is extremely athletic, plays stellar defense and runs the floor well. His offense is a work-in-progress, but so was Griffin's when he entered the league.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Lakers will need a point guard when Steve Nash retires. Heck, they'll probably need a point guard when Nash inevitably misses time next year. After Exum goes at No. 4, the best one available here is Marcus Smart.
Smart has the versatility to both score and facilitate, making him an ideal option for a team with little depth. Kobe Bryant will take pressure off him during his rookie campaign, and Nash will teach him how to run the point in the NBA.
8. Sacramento Kings: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
This is basically a gift for the Kings, as Randle will undoubtedly become one of the top players of this draft class. He is a physical beast, dominating opponents both on offense and defense. He and DeMarcus Cousins will pair up to be one of the most physical fronts in the league.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, PF, Creighton
Moving back to Charlotte will make the Hornets a fan favorite in the area next season, and the franchise should bring in a guy like Doug McDermott to be the face of the new franchise for the next decade-plus.
The guy can shoot from anywhere on the court. He plays good enough defense to get by thanks to his deceptive athleticism. He'll be in the running for Rookie of the Year.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
The benefit of passing on Parker at No. 3 and grabbing Vonleh is that the Sixers have a shot at a similar player to Parker at No. 10. Dario Saric isn't on the same level, but he possesses similar skills and a knack for getting the ball in the basket. If you want to call him a poor man's Parker, then go right ahead.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, PG/SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris is a stud defensively and quite good offensively, making him an ideal selection for the Nuggets. Denver could use a guard that can do both effectively. He was a leader for Michigan State this year, leading the Spartans in their most recent run in the NCAA tournament.
12. Orlando Magic (from New York): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
After going small with a guard at No. 4, the Magic will go bigger with a forward at No. 12. Clint Capela is a big man who can run the floor and use his superb length to play well above the rim.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SF, Kentucky
James Young has an opportunity to step up and play a big role on the Timberwolves if Kevin Love indeed departs this offseason. The small forward is a great shooter and capable ball-handler. He's a guy that Minnesota can rely on and build around for the future.
14. Phoenix Suns: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
The Suns aren't many pieces away from contending in the Western Conference. Even during a rebuilding phase last season, they were just a few games out of the playoffs.
Nik Stauskas will give them the type of shooting that all great teams need in their arsenals. The Michigan product can also create for himself, however, so he adds an extra dimension to the team.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne could go higher in the lottery, but seeing as this is a best-case-scenario mock, we'll roll with him at No. 15. The Hawks will benefit from adding Payne down low, as he is great in the post and works well with his back to the basket.
He can also step out and hit a jumper, though, so he isn't a one-dimensional big man. He is a mature player and a proven leader. That's what Atlanta needs.
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
While shooting is something Rodney Hood certainly excels at, playing defense is what's going to make him money in the NBA. The Bulls love wing players that can defend, so adding him at No. 16 will coincide with their roster-building strategy.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis, owner of arguably the most clutch play of the last college basketball season, will give the Celtics a great insurance policy at point guard. If Rajon Rondo goes down with an injury, Ennis can step in. If Rondo gets traded (hey, who knows at this point?), Ennis can take the reins.
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington): T.J. Warren, SF, N.C. State
Phoenix doesn't need any more players to wait on. It needs players who can play effectively from day one. That's T.J. Warren, a proven scorer at N.C. State who has a nose for getting to the rim.
When defenses press up on him, he can also create space and pop a jumper. Warren is pretty much just a scorer, but he's a very good one.
19. Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
Zach LaVine is a guard who the Bulls can afford to wait on. He needs to do some developing, but he has all the athletic tools to do just about anything in the NBA. Just check out this vertical:
The Bulls have enough depth to withstand using the No. 19 pick on somebody who is going to be a rotational player for the first few years of his career.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
LaVine is a top athlete in this draft, but so is Jerami Grant. Grant also needs some work in the NBA before reaching his full potential, but the Raptors are known for being extremely long and athletic. Grant is a perfect fit here.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas): Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson is tall and lanky at 6'8" tall with a wingspan of 7'3". He plays well at the rim and uses his length to disrupt those he is guarding. Anderson won't be asked to do all that much in Oklahoma City out of training camp, so he can learn from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during his rookie campaign.
Durant is similarly tall and lanky, so Anderson would do well to take a few pointers from the NBA's MVP.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
Want an NBA-ready point guard? Then Shabazz Napier is your man. He is an extremely smart player who knows how to set up his teammates for success. His outstanding performance in the NCAA tournament propelled him into the first round of the draft, but where exactly he'll go is still up in the air.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
A mid-major star, Elfrid Payton doesn't get the love he deserves. The Jazz will show him some love by investing a first-round pick on him, however.
Trey Burke has potential as a point guard, but Payton is a more traditional facilitator and floor general. Sure, Payton can put the ball in the basket when he needs to, but I like his court vision and decision-making skills more than I like Burke's.
24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland): Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early will bring a winning attitude to the Hornets after hardly ever losing at Wichita State over the past two seasons. He has the skills to stretch the floor given his shooting ability as well. Currently listed as a power forward, his 6'7" frame might make him a better fit for small forward.
25. Houston Rockets: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
On a team that could always use more defense, K.J. McDaniels is an ideal fit for the Rockets. He's a small forward who can block shots consistently while also playing stellar defense because of his length and footwork.
Offensively, he runs the floor and makes plays in transition—exactly what Houston loves to do.
26. Miami Heat: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
C.J. Wilcox is a solid prospect whom the Heat can afford to develop while he adjusts to the NBA's speed of play. A good scorer and decent playmaker, Wilcox will add good depth to one of the deeper teams in the league.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends
Like Warren, P.J. Hairston knows how to score. He showed that with the Texas Legends after a disappointing end to his career at North Carolina. Regardless, the Suns will take a chance on him at No. 27.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes is a great fit for an already deep Clippers team. The power forward will see time as a rotational player behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, learning from them how to block efficient scorers under the basket.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
I wonder if the Thunder are honest enough to honor this "promise" to draft Kristaps Porzingis in the first round:
Did the Thunder give Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis the 1st “promise” of the 2014 Draft? http://t.co/dhfV6cxfHj (insider)— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 4, 2014
Porzingis is a good prospect who will bring more depth to the roster, but he'll probably need some time to develop.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Jusuf Nurkic is a monster of a man. He is 6'11", 280 pounds. That type of size can be used by any team.
The Spurs are a perfect fit, however. They can give him time to adapt to basketball in the states, and Tim Duncan can mentor him on how to be an effective big man in the NBA.