The 2014 NBA draft is quickly approaching, so now is the time to lock in final predictions as to how the first round will play out.
Former Kansas teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, along with Duke standout Jabari Parker, figured to be locks as top-three picks. That is, until a stress fracture in Embiid's right foot sent his stock plummeting.
Before Embiid's latest medical red flag, it seemed only a question of which order those three would be chosen. Now only Parker and Wiggins appear to be in the running for the No. 1 overall choice.
There is a considerable amount of talent to be had outside of that intriguing trio, so other teams stand to perhaps grab a franchise cornerstone in the later stages of Round 1. Below is a final mock for the first round, with more detailed analysis focusing on the likes of Wiggins, Embiid and Parker.
NBA Draft Basics
Date: June 26
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1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
This is the third time the Cavs have held the No. 1 overall pick in the past four years, yet they still haven't made discernible progress since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. Now is the time to cash in on a premier asset and one that also fits the needs of the current roster.
Parker plays James' 3 position but can flex to the 4 as well if Cleveland wants to have a smaller lineup. Parker is the most pro-ready of the three and still has upside to explore.
Of course, Wiggins offers his own unique athletic ability, superior defense and greater ceiling. That has reportedly created a schism within the Cavs organization on the evening before the draft, per ESPN.com insider Chad Ford:
The Cavs need someone who can score after ranking 22nd with an average of 98.2 points per contest in 2013-14. New coach David Blatt tends to adjust his schemes to his personnel, so an uptempo style featuring the likes of Parker, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters seems like a logical way to key a swift Cleveland turnaround.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
This is the no-brainer pick for Milwaukee, who will get a versatile defender who can pair up with a promising foundation. After not quite living up to the hype with the Jayhawks, the professional level is where Wiggins will reveal who he really is.
Wiggins' Kansas coach, Bill Self, shared some final thoughts on his prodigious player before the draft, per USA Today's Scott Gleeson:
Andrew is the type of guy who could score 28, and you'd say, 'Why didn't he score more?' Critics want him to do more. I understand that because the game comes so easy to him, it's so natural. His skill set vastly improved in one year of college basketball, and when it catches up to his athletic ability, he's going to be incredible.
That is about as good of an assessment of Wiggins as can be found. Pairing him with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the wing to go with O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight makes the Bucks formidable on paper.
Add in Larry Sanders clogging the paint down low and the power forward platoon that should create great competition, and the Bucks would be in line for a big step forward in 2014-15 and beyond with Wiggins in the fold.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, proving that general manager Sam Hinkie's draft pick was a home run. This coming season, Nerlens Noel will make his debut and should prove to be a monster interior defender while developing his post game.
With a myriad of second-round picks to play with and Wiggins off the board, Exum is an investment for the future who would create a most interesting, lengthy combo guard backcourt with MCW.
4. Orlando Magic: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Since Jameer Nelson is nearing the end of his career, there's a chance Orlando goes with Dante Exum here. Vonleh has such a tantalizing skill set that it'd be hard for the Magic to pass up on teaming him with Nikola Vucevic up front.
The Magic don't have a good 4, and Vonleh can aid spacing with his shooting range while serving as a dynamic defender and shot-blocker at the other end of the court.
5. Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Yes, Utah already has Trey Burke, but Smart's ability to distribute, create his own shot and even play the 2 if need be will lead to the Jazz taking him if he's still on the board here. Burke can also play off the ball, which would give Utah some necessary flexibility on offense.
6. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The only question about Embiid's future is his health, but it's a big one. The foot ailment adds to the back injury that held him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this last season.
Should the teams near the top ultimately decide to pass on Embiid, someone like the Celtics will be getting incredible value while still incurring considerable risk. Embiid is an efficient offensive player whose range can extend out beyond the three-point line. On top of that, the Jayhawk freshman phenom blocked 2.6 shots per game.
Brandon Bass has just one year left on his deal, and beyond 2013 first-round pick Kelly Olynyk, Boston has little invested in the frontcourt.
This is a boom-or-bust proposition, but the Celtics are still rebuilding and need another dynamic building block other than point guard Rajon Rondo. There's a chance that Embiid becomes one of the best big men in recent league history, so taking a flier on him makes sense at No. 2 overall.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Even with just one year of college under his belt, there are enough translatable skills for Randle to become an instant impact player as an NBA rookie. His ball-handling and face-up game will give other power forwards trouble. Randle is an elite rebounder, too, who can add strength to his frame to become a physical force later on.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
No forward can boast the defensive versatility Gordon brings to the court. Teaming him with DeMarcus Cousins would make the Kings' big man duo of the future an exciting one.
There is so much room for Gordon to improve as an offensive player, too. As long as point guard Isaiah Thomas can be re-signed, Sacramento would be wise to focus on defensive help down low after yielding 103.4 points per game last season.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Thanks to McDermott's ability to score from anywhere on the court, he can mesh with the Hornets well.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't have a consistent jumper, so McDermott provides a superior offensive option at small forward, but he can also be an exceptional stretch 4. That will only help the ball flow to center Al Jefferson down low.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
The Sixers can load up just about anywhere in the rotation, but with Wiggins likely to be inserted at the 3, Stauskas makes a lot of sense here. Although Stauskas isn't the best defender, he is a pure shooter that Philadelphia desperately lacks.
Wiggins' lack of offensive polish is offset by his ability to guard multiple positions. Both Carter-Williams and Noel can do that as well, which will help mask Stauskas' deficiencies in that area.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
A smart, two-way player on the perimeter is just what the Nuggets need to improve their stature in a deep Western Conference. By taking Harris, they would acquire a shooter, a supreme on-ball mauler and maybe even an instant starter.
12. Orlando Magic: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Since the Magic don't go with Exum in this scenario, Payton becomes the pick at 12th overall. The Ragin' Cajun star is a slasher on offense and has tremendous length to be a factor at the other end of the court, too.
If anyone should know about rising from small-school obscurity, it's Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. The ex-Weber State standout provided his analysis on Payton:
Getting two all-around difference-makers in Vonleh and Payton would see general manager Rob Hennigan hit a home run in this draft. It's up to coach Jacque Vaughn to push his players to step up in the meager East.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SF/SG, Duke
Shooting continues to be a problem for the Timberwolves. Adding a three-point marksman and versatile scorer in Hood to the mix would give Minnesota quite an intriguing threesome between him, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
Hood could even be a big 2 when coach Flip Saunders wants to deploy a larger lineup, allowing Love to post up instead of lurking outside the paint. That would provide electric PG Ricky Rubio with more options and even cleaner looks as he tries to improve his jumper.
14. Phoenix Suns: Kyle Anderson, F/G, UCLA
Since Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are both smaller point guards, Anderson could emulate a role formerly occupied by ex-Sun Boris Diaw as a point forward. There's room for Anderson's excellent basketball IQ at just about any position save for center, since he's 6'9" and can be a proverbial glue guy.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The oft-injured status of All-Star Al Horford should cause center to become a priority. Atlanta needs someone on the wing with potential to be a franchise-changing force, but what better player than Horford to help bring along a promising prospect at his position?
Enter Nurkic, a 19-year-old force of nature who has an NBA-ready body at 280 pounds and could emerge as a premier option for the future. There also isn't much depth at center for the Hawks, suggesting Nurkic would fit well as more of an immediate contributor.
16. Chicago Bulls: James Young, SF, Kentucky
It's all about offense for the Bulls. Snagging Young, who performed well in the NCAA tournament for the Wildcats, addresses that need.
Young can play either the 2 or 3, packing some scoring punch for this offensively anemic squad on the perimeter. Imagining Derrick Rose paired with Young in the coming years would have to scare the rest of the East.
17. Boston Celtics: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
Rondo is a distributor, and Avery Bradley is known for his perimeter-defending prowess more than anything.
Bradley is a restricted free agent, and Boston needs someone on the outside who can create their own shot. LaVine falls into that category, and although he had just one year at UCLA and is still raw, his freakish athleticism and streaky shooting offer a nice change of pace.
18. Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric, PF, Croatia
Talk about providing a shot in the arm—eventually—while also addressing the issue of size. Saric is electrifying in the open court as a passer, has three-point range and may even prove to be the best international prospect in this draft class.
The Suns can't pass on Saric with their second of three first-rounders—even knowing that he'll reportedly not come to the NBA for at least two years. If Anderson is indeed not athletic enough to make it in the NBA, Saric provides insurance.
Learning under coach and legendary NBA shooter Jeff Hornacek—who's keyed a fast change in the organization's mindset—seems like an ideal situation for Saric to thrive on both ends of the floor.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Averaging 24.9 points playing mostly against the ACC is no joke, so Warren's demonstrated excellence this last season versus top-tier competition will allow him to stay in the first round.
The Bulls get a more proven commodity in Warren after gambling a bit on the promise Young possesses but has yet to demonstrate on a consistent basis. There's a chance Chicago trades one of these picks, yet emerging from the draft with Young and Warren would be a great haul.
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Reported mutual interest between the Miami Heat and Toronto PG Kyle Lowry, who's about to hit free agency, creates a sudden need for the Raptors to take a point guard.
Who better than Ennis, a homeland product, to fill the void? Ennis can hit big shots, distribute and play solid defense to compensate for Lowry's potential loss.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends
One of the best organizations in basketball takes a risk on a player in Hairston who was booted from North Carolina, then redefined himself in the NBA D-League. Hairston was UNC's leading scorer as a sophomore and could be the elusive franchise 2-guard the Thunder have been lacking.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Tayshaun Prince isn't going to be around much longer, so Early fills a need and happens to be among the best prospects left on the board. Early is 23, but he has room to grow as a player, and Prince's championship pedigree can aid that process.
23. Utah Jazz: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
After Utah opts to grab a point guard early in this mock, the Jazz go after a physical, overpowering paint enforcer in Stokes. A standout performance in the NCAA tournament put everyone on notice, and Stokes will help give Utah some teeth down low where it's desperately needed.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
This would be a dream scenario for Napier, as he'd join his former Husky teammate in Kemba Walker and be able to learn from him. The choice of Napier would stick with the theme of adding offense, something the UConn star can do in spades instantaneously in leading Charlotte's second unit.
25. Houston Rockets: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
An uptempo style of offense in Houston requires a fit player who is experienced, can create spacing and score form just about anywhere. In addition to excellent intangibles, Payne possesses all these characteristics. Coach Kevin McHale can teach Payne a thing or two about post moves, which should help Payne get more minutes.
26. Miami Heat: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
The Heat looked sapped of energy in the NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs. McGary brings size, strength and a spark to South Beach that Miami lacked toward the end of the year. This is a great fit for all parties involved.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
A 7'3" wingspan has Grant keeping the Suns long with a lockdown defender. The other players at Grant's position are more perimeter-oriented, and he would offer a change of pace as he can attack the rim with a high motor and energy off the bench.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland
There is almost nowhere else for the Clippers to go with this choice. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are the only viable players on the front line, so Capela makes sense as a long-view pick with the likes of McGary and Payne off the board.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
Sending Robinson to the D-League may be the best way for him to transition from an up-and-down career in Ann Arbor to the NBA level. That bridge won't leave him under any pressure to be a fixture with the Thunder, and Robinson can play the game with better instincts and blossom into a more consistent pro.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Spencer Dinwiddie, SG, Colorado
A torn ACL prevented Dinwiddie from being drafted closer to the lottery, but the rich get richer as the Spurs snatch him up at No. 30. Dinwiddie is a supreme shooter, can create offense for others and is fundamentally sound, serving as an ideal fit for San Antonio.
And the good news is, there will be no pressure for Dinwiddie to contribute right away. At some point, though, he has the tools to take over for Manu Ginobili in a similar role.
The top two of the draft will be where most attention goes, especially with how the dominoes fall when the Cavaliers make the first selection. However, as can be seen, there are excellent opportunities for teams to get better right away in the first round. There is underrated depth to this draft class—certainly superior than the 2013 crop of talent.
It will be worth tuning in to the 2014 NBA draft's first round for its entirety. There will be multiple great players to emerge from this class. They may not pay immediate dividends, but as a whole, these first 30 picks will see a lot of solid contributors enjoy long, successful careers in the Association.
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