The NBA draft looms on June 26, and rumors swirl about trade scenarios, back injuries and especially how the top three picks will shake out. However, the rest of the league waits patiently for the lucky lottery teams to decide what order Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins deserve to be drafted in. (Hint: that's the order.)
Here are predictions for every first-round pick, and there's plenty to weigh in deciding after the trio of glory boys go at the top.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The Cavs once again have the first pick. After selecting forward Anthony Bennett, consider them once bitten, but this franchise does not shy away from risky moves.
Despite their opening at small forward, provided they do not retain Luol Deng, the Cavaliers will target Joel Embiid for his singular size blended with offensive ability. As one "NBA insider" told Fox Sports' Reid Forgrave, “Embiid is a lock for the Cavaliers at one.”
The only concern is the back injury that hampered Embiid late in the year, but most reports claim that issue has subsided:
News is positive in Cleveland after Cavs examine Joel Embiid's back and see no longterm concerns, according to a source.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) June 11, 2014
I've seen the reports that Cavs are concerned w/ Embiid's back, I'm skeptical. Dropping that intel weakens the value of the pick.— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) June 13, 2014
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Bucks need a cornerstone to build the franchise around. Coming off a 67-loss season that saw only two players make more than 50 starts, a new day is dawning for Milwaukee, or so the team and fans hope.
ESPN's Chad Ford opined in response to a fan's question about the top of the Bucks' draft board: "1a. Embiid 1b. Parker." With 1a gone, that will bring Parker to Brewtown. At 6'8" and 235 pounds, Parker has NBA size to man the small forward position, but he also possesses the quickness and offensive savvy to play at shooting guard if needed.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
Multiple reports indicate that the 76ers have completely fallen in love with swingman Andrew Wiggins. The only question for them now regards whether or not Wiggins will still be on the board. Many reports indicate that the Cavs and Bucks both love Embiid, and the Bucks' fallback choice would be Parker.
However, the Sixers could certainly try to swing a trade and move up if they are not confident about Wiggins falling to them. As ESPN's Chad Ford revealed (subscription required) about Wiggins in his most recent mock draft: “The Sixers have been actively trying to trade up to make sure they land him, and I'm told a swap of No. 1 for No. 3 and Thaddeus Young isn't totally out of the question.”
Prior to the season, many teams were alleged to be "Riggin' for Wiggins." Now, other notable draft prospects seem to have leapfrogged him, if ever so slightly. Even though the 76ers seem antsy, they should stand pat and wait for their player to fall to them. There will be plenty of time to trade Thaddeus Young after that.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
Australian guard Dante Exum can run the point, but he also has the offensive weapons to play the 2.
While Exum's favorite landing spot remains the Los Angeles Lakers—with the city's glitz and glam, not to mention Kobe Bryant—Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling reported that Exum's second choice would be Orlando.
As the young Aussie stated:
They’re having some point guard problems and they’re trying to get Victor Oladipo into the point guard. Also, having a good relationship with Victor, I think that would be a good fit. He could kind of mentor me a bit coming into the point guard.
Exum met Oladipo when he visited Indiana University on a recruiting trip.
While playing with Kobe would be thrilling, pairing Exum and Oladipo would make a formidable backcourt for years to come.
5. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle played so well as a freshman that he could actually crack the top four picks, which had been virtually set in stone for month's leading up to the draft. His 24 double-doubles as a freshman demonstrated his tenacity and ability down low despite measuring only 6'9" and 250 pounds.
Randle's strong showing in the NCAA tournament helped place him ahead of other blue-chip forwards Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon. After the Jazz happily let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk, bolstering the frontcourt with the best power forward in the draft would be wise.
6. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana
Boston finished 24th in the league in defensive rebounding last year, per ESPN.com. Vonleh stands at 6'10" and brings NBA-quality rebounding and defending to the table. While he can step out and hit threes like Boston's current young bigs Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Vonleh plays more like a classic power forward.
Vonleh already owned good range, making 48.5 percent of his three-point attempts in his only season at Indiana. Then he was measured last month with the draft combine's largest wingspan (a little more than 7'4") and largest hands (almost 10" long).
Kawhi Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, came in with similarly giant hands and wingspan in the 2011 draft.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
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. What Smart offers that the remaining top forward, Aaron Gordon, does not is lockdown defense on the ball.
After the Lakers finished 28th in defensive efficiency last season, Smart offers an unparalleled blend of offensive and defensive proficiency for a team with question marks all over the roster. Provided they are healthy, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are signed up to play in L.A. next season.
After that, it's all a guessing game for now. Perhaps they should determine who will actually coach the team first.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona
The Kings are lucky enough to sit at No. 8, as the top octet of draft prospects have remained static for months now. Essentially, they can just sit back and wait for whomever among the top three big forwards or Smart falls to them, unless they choose to shop their attractive draft position.
Gordon's athleticism has the potential to turn the Kings into a high-flying dunk squad. His style of play has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin, a player who turned in an MVP-caliber season last year, and he even looks a bit like him:
I swear Aaron Gordon plays like Blake Griffin pic.twitter.com/7VRYLGfauu— Osman™ (@M_Osman25) March 24, 2014
9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit Pistons): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!" That is likely how new team president Stan Van Gundy feels.
Charlotte made hay on defense last year, but they lacked shooting on the perimeter to supplement Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson.
Lithuanian-Canadian shooting guard Nik Stauskas proved at Michigan that he can punish opponents from long range by hitting better than 44 percent of his triples in each season as a Wolverine. He's defensively deficient, but think of him as an offensive spark off the bench.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
The Sixers could try to move up with this pick by packaging it in a trade along with Thaddeus Young. If they stick at No. 10, landing the guy who scored more points in his college career than all but four other players in history would make for a nice option too.
Doug McDermott played four years at Creighton and served as a leader on the floor and in the locker room. The 6'8" forward can pour on the three-ball, making him an attractive prospect for the team that ranked last in three-point shooting percentage.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
The Nuggets always seem to have plenty of offense, but their defense often deserts them at critical times. That's what makes Gary Harris a great option.
The snaky, rangy shooter also brings tough defense to the court, making him one of the top two-way options in the backcourt. Though his shooting efficiency dipped in his sophomore season, his minutes and usage increased as he averaged 16.7 points and 1.8 steals per game in the stout Big Ten Conference.
12. Orlando Magic (from New York Knicks via Denver Nuggets): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood knocked down 42 percent of his three-pointers last season, which is pretty impressive for any forward. With the backcourt stacked up with young talent and Nikola Vucevic manning center, Hood would join a potent group of forwards headed by Tobias Harris. Hood would make for another swingman to supplement Arron Afflalo.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SG, Kentucky
With the utter uncertainty surrounding Kevin Love, the T-Wolves should secure a strong shooter.
James Young proved his scoring efficiency by shooting 47 percent on his two-point attempts, per Sports-Reference.com. However, he shot 35 percent from long range, which dragged his overall shooting below 41 percent. With better quality looks and less reliance on his perimeter shooting, Young can come off the bench and add a spark.
When Kevin Martin was sidelined for a spell last season, the offense looked completely lost. Contrary to popular belief, Love is not all you need.
14. Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
While Dario Saric may not be the fastest forward out there and he's an average defender at best, he also brings a 6'10" frame with the ability to do multiple things on the floor, like play the point and distribute to his teammates or clean up on the glass.
He did not withdraw his name from the draft before the deadline for international players, so he'll be there for the taking. The Suns have a wealth of talented young forwards, but Saric's unique skill set adds another dimension.
Dario Saric, Jusuf Nurkic remain in the draft. Both could go in top-20. Saric a likely lottery pick. Had a great season in Adriatic League.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) June 17, 2014
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
The Hawks lost Al Horford in December to an injured pectoral, and it changed the team dynamic drastically. Pero Antic showed some quality but not nearly as much consistency.
Adreian Payne could pose the most legitimate double-double threat in the draft outside of Randle. The four-year player saw his scoring increase with each season, and he dropped 16.4 points per game as a senior.
He yanked down better than seven rebounds per game while averaging 28 minutes last season. He can shoot too: 42 percent from downtown and 79 percent from the line.
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte Hornets): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Derrick Rose has bad knees. This much we know. Kirk Hinrich does nice things sometimes, but he's hardly a starting-caliber point guard anymore.
Tyler Ennis offers depth at a position of need, and he could be the best point guard qua point guard in the draft.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
Whether they keep Rajon Rondo as a cornerstone for the future or trade him to help the rebuilding effort, Zach LaVine would be an asset to the rising Celtics. Standing at 6'6" and offering the ability to play both guard positions, the Bruin could fine himself right at home in Boston.
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington Wizards): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
This Ragin' Cajun sensation made big noise at a small school. Elfrid Payton offers the unique package of ability to play the point, score the ball and hold his own on defense. While the Suns already have Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Payton would be a solid backup to start out and provide crucial depth if either starter gets dinged up.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
With Ennis backing up D-Rose at the point, the frontcourt needs attention with Nazr Mohammed becoming a free agent. The 6'11" Jusuf Nurkic has first-round talent in a center's body, a rarity in this draft class.
He could back up Joakim Noah and learn from the master of all-out defensive effort. Some pundits project him as high at No. 12, so landing him here would provide good value.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
He won't provide much in the way of offense, but Jerami Grant can take care of business on defense. For a Raptors squad that became rededicated to effort on the defensive end of the court—ranking 10th in defensive efficiency last season after sitting 22nd the previous year, via NBA.com—Grant makes a good fit.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas Mavericks via Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren brings both range and professional scoring ability. Though he shot just 27 percent from three-point range last season, he can still provide the bench scoring that OKC so desperately needs.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League), formerly UNC
No team made fewer three-pointers last season than Memphis. They will draft a scorer, and P.J. Hairston is that scorer everyone forgot about. He played college ball at North Carolina before getting dismissed from the team for legal troubles and ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
After all, he averaged 14.6 points in just 23.6 minutes per game with UNC in 2012-13, and a season with the D-League's Texas Legends will have him coached up against tough competition.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson may be 6'9" and 230 pounds, but don't tell his ball-handling skills that. Anderson offers point forward abilities with the skills to score as well. He could actually fill two positions of need for the Jazz, with Gordon Hayward hitting free agency and Trey Burke entering his second season.
24. Charlotte Hornets (from Portland Trail Blazers): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Clint Capela could be a draft-and-stash candidate, but that could be more valuable than letting him languish on the bench and play a handful of minutes per game. Securing the rights to the 6'11" Swiss is a play for the future and a better bet in the mid-20s than gambling on a college prospect. Plus, you never know when Al Jefferson will break down.
25. Houston Rockets: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early averaged over 16 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting last season. He's athletic and offers quickness. Houston likes players like that, especially considering that Chandler Parsons' future with the team looks uncertain.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Shabazz Napier won Most Outstanding Player and his second national championship at this year's NCAA tournament. With Mario Chalmers playing historically poorly in the NBA Finals, Napier could be just the fresh blood and great find Miami needs late in the first round.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels has the body of a shooting guard with the mindset of a power forward. He'll give you a little bit of offense when his opportunities come, but his real talent lies in his defense. He brings both tenacity and quickness at a position that Phoenix could stand to shore up.
The Pacers almost certainly regret trading this pick as part of the Luis Scola deal.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
The 6'10" Mitch McGary battled some very tough big men in the Big Ten, but he should be ready for the prime-time leap. Doc Rivers' coaching helped elevate the play of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan last season, and McGary could find himself the beneficiary of similar sage instruction from Doc.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes brings a big-bodied forward at 6'9" and 262 pounds. He offers double-double skills at a bargain-basement price, which can happen when you play basketball for the Volunteers.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri
It's all gravy for the Spurs after their domineering run to another title, but landing a competent backup for Tony Parker can't hurt. At 6'5", Jordan Clarkson has the length and offensive ability to play both guard positions. Patty Mills could be on the move in free agency, so the Spurs need to shore up the backcourt.