As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, prospects are eagerly waiting to see which teams will select them. And as the big day gets closer, it's becoming more and more clear where the potential first-round prospects will go.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will have the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years, and they'll have a very tough decision as to who they'll take with the first pick. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the worst record in the NBA this past season, will be waiting to see which prospect Cleveland will take and then work from there.
Those aren't the only two teams picking, however, as there are 28 other selections in the first round as well. Having said that, let's take a look at the most current first-round projections for this year's draft.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
With the top pick, the Cavaliers will be looking at two players from Kansas in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. While Wiggins was expected to be the top pick since high school, Embiid's breakout year with the Jayhawks may convince the Cavs to go with the big, seven-foot center.
Concerns about Embiid's back have started to go away after some of his workouts demonstrated that he didn't seem to be limited in any way. However, according to Scott Gleeson of USA Today, Embiid suffered a foot injury this week that will require surgery. A second injury may be concerning, but it's hard to deny what Embiid is able to do when on the court.
Embiid's measurements are exactly what NBA teams want to see on a center. ESPN's Chad Ford tweeted out his official measurements from the combine, which are all quite intimidating:
Joel Embiid's measurements at the workout on Fri: 7' 1" in shoes, 7' 5.75" wingspan, 9' 5.5" standing reach.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 25, 2014
As a freak athlete with incredible length, Embiid looks like a potential All-Star at the position. The best part is that he's only been playing basketball for a few seasons, and he'll likely continue to get better once he enters the NBA.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
There are two other prospects that the Bucks will be looking at assuming Embiid goes No. 1, and those are Wiggins and Jabari Parker. The Bucks will have to decide whether they want a pro-ready prospect or one with an arguably higher ceiling who might take some time to develop. Considering the current state of the franchise, the Bucks will likely go with the latter.
Everyone already knows that Wiggins is a tremendous athlete with enormous upside and the potential to be a superstar one day. Still, he's going to need time to work on his game. If Wiggins wants to be a superstar, he'll need to work on his jumper, but considering what we saw from him at Kansas, it probably won't take him long before he starts making highlight plays in the NBA.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
After Evan Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers in February, the Philadelphia 76ers simply didn't have a go-to scoring option. In fact, they ranked dead last in the NBA with a 96.8 offensive rating. Michael Carter-Williams can run the offense, but he needs someone that can put up points in bunches.
Fortunately, Jabari Parker is a pro-ready scorer who can be that guy in Philadelphia. In just one season at Duke, Parker already proved that he can score in a variety of ways, and he's also smart with his shot selection. Adding Parker won't be enough to make the 76ers a playoff contender, but with the No. 10 pick in the draft also at their disposal, they'll at least make more noise next season.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
The point guard situation in Orlando needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Jameer Nelson is 32 years old and on the final year of his contract, while Victor Oladipo is best suited to play shooting guard. With that in mind, Dante Exum almost feels like a lock to go No. 4 overall.
Exum is an exciting international prospect that can play either guard position, and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla had some great things to say about him after watching him at a recent tournament, via Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
In that tournament, he was breathtaking at times. At times, he looked like a college freshman, doing dumb things, making turnovers. But when you watch him, it is easy to get enamored with him. He does have an, ‘it,’ factor that can take your breath away. He is capable of making some moves that make you do a double-take.
If the Magic bring in Exum, they'll have two versatile young guards in the backcourt that the team could build around.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
There are a handful of promising power forwards that could go in the top 10 of this year's draft, and all of them have different skill sets. For the Utah Jazz, they need someone that can provide a spark on offense while also helping them improve their league-worst 109.1 defensive rating.
Indiana's Noah Vonleh looks the part. He has plenty of length and is capable of scoring down low, but he also has an underrated jump shot that he showed off at times with the Hoosiers. His defense wasn't a problem either last season, as he was fourth in the Big Ten with a 91.7 defensive rating, per Sports-Reference.com.
Vonleh reminds a lot of people of Chris Bosh, and the Jazz would be just fine if he ended up living up to that comparison.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF/SF, Arizona
The Boston Celtics really need an intimidating presence in the frontcourt, and they can get that with Aaron Gordon. Gordon's athleticism has been on display all year, but what people don't talk about is the fact that he's also a great passer down low who can set up his teammates.
Gordon doesn't have a refined jump shot yet, but we've seen players get by in their first few seasons before feeling confident in their shot. In the meantime, Gordon can continue to be a strong defender and keep throwing down highlight dunks.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The entire roster for the Los Angeles Lakers is in need of help, and the team can draft whoever they want with this pick. Their lack of frontcourt options, even if Pau Gasol returns, means that the Lakers may look for someone they can put down low at No. 7 overall.
With Gordon and Vonleh gone, the Lakers can take Julius Randle. He was a double-double machine that showed plenty of promise at Kentucky, but some scouts are worried about his reliance on his left hand. One scout talked about Randle's inability to go right, according to Ryen Russillo of Grantland:
He goes one way, tries to knock everyone over. He’s so left-hand dominant it was comical. If you put him in a gym by himself, could he make a right-handed layup? He’s a good athlete but didn’t always use it. A lot of his stuff, offensively, won’t work in the NBA. It’s going to be a huge adjustment for him.
That might keep Randle from going before Gordon or Vonleh, but the upside is still there, and he could still end up being the best of the three.
8. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Even if the Sacramento Kings are able to bring back Isaiah Thomas, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, they'll need to find more help in the backcourt. Marcus Smart could be that guy, and while he's not on the same level as Exum, he has the chance to be a valuable player at either guard position.
Smart is a strong guard that has a height advantage at the point at 6'4'' and weighs in at 220 pounds. He's not the best long-range shooter, but he makes up for it by playing strong on defense and being a great leader for his team.
"An unbelievable competitor,'' Smart told Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer when asked about what a team will be getting from him. "You never question how tough I'm going to play. You're going to get a leader, somebody who's going to come in and play-make and do whatever it takes to make the team better.''
Regardless of where he plays at the next level, Smart will be ready and willing to do whatever it takes.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
The then-Charlotte Bobcats were finally able to make it back to the playoffs in 2013-14, and now they'll be looking to go back for a second straight year. If they want to make it again, though, they need to find more help offensively.
Gary Harris was already a solid three-point specialist before coming to Michigan State, but he's learned to score in a variety of ways under Tom Izzo. Harris looks like a great scorer at the shooting guard position, and he'll likely be able to fight for a starting job in Charlotte if the Hornets take him.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Even after taking Parker with their first pick, the 76ers will need all of the offensive firepower that they can get. Fortunately, Nik Stauskas has the tools to score in bunches if needed. He's a deadly three-point shooter with a quick release and the ability to catch and shoot as well as create his own shot. He may struggled defensively at first, but he's already a pro-ready scorer.
11. Denver Nuggets: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
While most NBA and college basketball fans haven't gotten a good look at Dario Saric, those that have are convinced that he can play in the NBA. At 6'10'', Saric might be one of the most versatile offensive players offensively in this draft class.
In fact, Derek Bodner of DraftExpress.com even went as far to say that he could become one of the best outlet passers in the NBA right away:
If Dario Saric plays in the NBA next season, he might be the second best outlet passer in the league. Man he's fun to watch.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 7, 2014
Saric is also a great ball-handler and shooter, so teams may be looking at him as early as the top 10 in this year's draft.
12. Orlando Magic: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
The starting backcourt should be set if the Magic draft Exum, but they'll still need frontcourt help with Nikola Vucevic's future with the team being up in the air after this season. Adreian Payne is already a developed power forward who can make big plays on either side of the ball. He'll need some time to get stronger, but he already looks like an exciting big man that could make a major impact in Orlando.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood was the second option behind Parker at Duke, and the two were one of the more exciting scoring combos in college basketball last season. He already has a terrific shot as well as the range to make NBA three-pointers, but he'll need to work on his defense. Still, with the Minnesota Timberwolves likely losing Kevin Love in the near future, they'll need all of the offensive help that they can get.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SF, Kentucky
If the Phoenix Suns were able to win 48 games and just barely miss the playoffs with last season's team, imagine how much better they'll be after using three first-round picks in this year's draft.
The first pick the Suns should make is Kentucky's James Young. As a freshman, Young proved that he can put up a ton of points as a spot-up shooter, and that type of play will mesh well with an aggressive point guard like Goran Dragic, who can open up the floor.
Young will need to work on creating his own shot, but his potential as a big-time scorer is definitely there.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Doug McDermott, SF/PF, Creighton
It's no question that the Atlanta Hawks love to shoot threes, and they may look for another perimeter scorer in the draft. The obvious choice here will be Doug McDermott, and before you complain that he isn't athletic enough to play in the NBA, look at Adam Levitan from Rotoworld's tweet about his vertical, which is better than Exum's:
Don't call Creighton's Doug McDermott unathletic. He posted an eye-opening 36.5 inch max vertical at Combine. Dante Exum did 34.5 inches.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) May 23, 2014
McDermott is a great all-around scorer that has NBA-caliber range. His size may limit him to small forward, but his scoring will translate to the position without any problems.
16. Chicago Bulls: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin may not be coming back to the Chicago Bulls, which means that the team will need to find a go-to backup behind Derrick Rose.
Tyler Ennis was only a freshman at Syracuse last year, but he showed off a terrific all-around skill set. He can pretty much do anything he's asked to, making him an ideal backup behind Rose.
17. Boston Celtics: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Adding a wing scorer will be a priority for the Celtics with their second pick in the first round. T.J. Warren knows all about scoring, averaging 24.9 points per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field as a sophomore at N.C. State. He's not a perimeter scorer, but he's consistent from mid-range or closer, and he'll be a solid scoring option off of the bench.
18. Phoenix Suns: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
Everyone is talking about Zach LaVine after he posted a 46-inch vertical on that jump in the above Vine during a workout for the Lakers. The Suns could use his athleticism on the team, especially if Eric Bledsoe doesn't come back.
That being said, LaVine is definitely still a work in progress. Many were surprised that he decided to go pro after just one year at UCLA, but the upside is definitely there. The Suns can afford to use one of their picks on a project like LaVine, especially with the potential he brings.
19. Chicago Bulls: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF, Wichita State
At 33 years old, Mike Dunleavy isn't the long-term answer as a wing scorer. Fortunately, he proved he still has enough left in the tank to play small forward and let someone develop behind him. That person could be Cleanthony Early, who proved he can move to the 3 after a strong workout at the combine.
It'll take some time for Early to adjust to playing small forward, but with his athleticism and ability to score with a strong mid-range game, he looks like he could be a high-flying playmaker at the position.
20. Toronto Raptors: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Kyle Lowry is a free agent and a number of teams will be trying to sign the talented point guard. Whether or not that happens, the Toronto Raptors will still need to find another point guard, either to start or to be Lowry's backup.
Elfrid Payton is an incredibly underrated option here. He's flown under the radar after playing with the Ragin's Cajuns, but he was still an extremely efficient scorer, averaging 19.2 points per game and shooting 50.9 percent. He's impressed a number of people recently during workouts, including Ford:
Elfrid Payton shooting the ball so well. Killing guys in 3-on-3 on both ends. Special player.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 22, 2014
If he's still available at No. 20, Payton could end up being a huge steal for the Raptors.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
With Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler potentially on the way out, the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to need to find some help at shooting guard. P.J. Hairston has had a chance to develop in the NBA D-League, and as was the case at North Carolina, he's proven to be a deadly scorer on the perimeter as well as when slashing to the basket, giving the Thunder a potential starter this late in the draft.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The Memphis Grizzlies need a backup to Mike Conley, and they can get an intriguing one in Shabazz Napier. While he's not the tallest point guard at 6'1'', Napier is a strong scorer with the ability to create his own shot as well as set up his teammates for open looks. He won't be expected to start in Memphis, but he'll be a solid backup when Conley needs a break.
23. Utah Jazz: K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
We talked earlier about how bad the Jazz were on defense this past season, and fortunately they can continue to get help on that side of the ball this late in the draft with K.J. McDaniels from Clemson. As a small forward, McDaniels averaged 2.8 blocks per game, as he's arguably the best wing defender in this draft class. His offense needs some work, but the Jazz can live with that if he can shut opponents down.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Kyle Anderson, SF/PG, UCLA
When it comes to versatility, Kyle Anderson might be the most versatile small forward in this draft. At 6'9'', he has the ball-handling skills as well as the vision to serve as a point forward. Along with a solid mid-range game and the aggressiveness to cut to the basket, Anderson has a unique skill set that the Hornets could use.
25. Houston Rockets: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
For as high-scoring of an offense as the Houston Rockets have, they lack a true scoring option behind James Harden at shooting guard. Fortunately, they can fix that in the first round by taking C.J. Wilcox.
During his time at Washington, Wilcox showed that he was a great perimeter scorer who also had strong ball-handling skills, which means he'll be able to keep the Rockets offense going when Harden is out.
26. Miami Heat: Semaj Christon, PG, Xavier
If the Miami Heat don't re-sign Mario Chalmers, then they're going to need to find another point guard to play along with Norris Cole. Semaj Christon isn't a true floor general and doesn't have an outside shot, but he has nice size at 6'3'' and can use his aggressiveness to get to the basket.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
With their final pick in the first round, the Suns could draft yet another guy to play on the wing. Jerami Grant will need to get stronger before he'll have a chance to play down low, but in the meantime he could be an explosive wing player who can crash the glass and finish around the rim.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Patric Young, PF/C, Florida
Offensively, Patric Young hasn't developed the way scouts were hoping he would, but the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year is pro-ready on the other side of the ball. He's an incredibly strong and athletic prospect down low that could find plenty of scoring opportunities off of alley-oops in Lob City while backing up Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
When Kevin Durant needs to rest, the Thunder need an athletic small forward that can still keep defenders on their toes. Glenn Robinson III can be that athletic option, as he does a great job of playing above the rim and is able to drive to the basket. He doesn't have the best jump shot, but he has great upside and the potential to be a solid option behind Durant.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Tim Duncan is going to be done very soon, whether it's after this season or next. Boris Diaw will be his replacement, and they'll need someone else at power forward to back up Diaw. Jarnell Stokes is a physical power forward that can outmuscle opponents down low and crash the glass. He probably won't ever be a starter, but Gregg Popovich will find a way to use him off of the bench.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of NBA.com.