The 2014 NBA draft is right around the corner, and the first round is beginning to take shape as the top prospects finish up the battery of tests and workouts that NBA franchises are all too happy to dish out as they try to make the best investment possible.
Did I say it was beginning to take shape? Because Joel Embiid's foot injury throws the top of this draft into chaos. The draft took shape, and then Embiid's foot injury took it out of shape. For months, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Embiid were locked in as the top three picks. Now, this three-man weave atop the draft is missing its centerpiece. Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix details how navicular-bone fractures have previously affected NBA centers:
Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the bone in 2008 and again in 2009, and it was the primary cause for Yao's forced retirement in 2011. Bill Walton battled fractures of the navicular bone that robbed him of all but 14 games between 1978 and 1982 and ultimately forced him into retirement. Zydrunas Ilgauskas dealt with a navicular fracture early in his career but went on to finish with nine healthy seasons.
With Embiid's injury in mind, let's take a look at how the draft might shake out on June 26 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
NBA Mock Draft
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jabari Parker, PF, Duke
Jabari Parker is a gem of a consolation prize now that Embiid is out of contention.
Ryan Grace, of ESPN's Stats & Information department, makes a compelling case for Parker at the No. 1 pick:
One knock on Wiggins’ game has been his lack of aggression in attacking the hoop. Parker demonstrated his offensive tenacity by attempting 94 more shots in the paint than Wiggins this past season. The Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the paint during the regular season, shooting 51 percent (league average: 54 percent).
If the Cavaliers were looking for help in the paint with Embiid, they will find a modicum of that in Parker. Obviously, Parker isn't the potential game changer on defense that Embiid is, but he should be able to contribute on offense immediately in the NBA.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
If basketball observers still want to question Andrew Wiggins' passion and ability to take over games, perhaps they should listen to the man himself.
I think I’ll be a star wherever I go," Wiggins told Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "That’s just how confident I am in my ability.”
He has every right to be confident. He's a better defensive player than Parker, although the latter is definitely the more polished threat on offense. Parker may very well top Wiggins in this year's draft, but there is a good chance the former Kansas star has the better career thanks to his all-around game.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Noah Vonleh, PF Indiana
Here is the big winner of the Embiid fiasco. No, not the 76ers, who will be devastated after missing out both Wiggins and Parker. The winner is Noah Vonleh.
The 76ers could look to trade this pick, but if they do end up keeping it, Vonleh can help them in a number of ways. He has a solid offensive game and is excellent on the boards. The 76ers need a player who's willing to dig in on defense, and Vonleh is no slouch in that aspect of his game.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, G, Australia
According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, a source says the Magic are considering Marcus Smart, Dante Exum and Noah Vonleh at this spot. Embiid could also be in the mix, but the Magic already have an exciting center in Nikola Vucevic.
With Vonleh off the board, the Magic will look to improve at point guard. Exum gives the Magic more flexibility than Smart. He can play both guard spots and would make a fearsome tandem with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt.
Oladipo briefly played point guard for the Magic last season, but he fits best as a 2-guard in this league. Jameer Nelson still has a couple of solid years left in the tank; he can tutor Exum and help turn him into a dominant point guard in the Association.
5. Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin has the word on Marcus Smart's most appealing intangible:
Smart will be dying to prove the doubters wrong after his perceived sophomore slump. A motivated player with his natural ability won't fall to the Lakers at No. 7. The Jazz take Smart here as the best player—with both feet intact—left on the board.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Aaron Gordon will likely serve as a defensive specialist while he fills in the gaps in his offensive game. He is an excellent rebounder and is comfortable playing above the rim with his outstanding vertical leap and strong shot-altering capabilities.
According to the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge sees plenty of uses for Gordon in the team's defense:
Because of that athleticism, Austin Ainge, the Celtics’ director of player personnel, believes Gordon would “be able to do some things like guard point guards, then switch onto the bigs in pick-and-rolls and do some creative things like that. Because he’s very versatile and athletic for his size.”
Embiid is tempting at this spot, but the Celtics are in a delicate position and have the assets to turn their prospects around in the next couple of years. They can't afford to take a chance on Embiid.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Embiid can't free-fall forever. The Lakers are the franchise of franchise centers; from George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. If Embiid recovers from his foot injury, he has the potential to join that list.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, sources believe Embiid's recovery process is to last four to six months following the surgery on his foot.
There is a strong possibility the Lakers could be in for another down year with the health and abilities of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant still in doubt. They have one center on the roster, Robert Sacre, who in no way shape or form is set to anchor an NBA frontcourt (he does add value with his bench celebrations).
The Lakers may disappoint their fans with another downbeat season, but they should have plenty of cap space in 2015 and a healthy Embiid could lure marquee players back to Los Angeles.
8. Sacramento Kings: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Kings will be happy to snatch up Julius Randle with the No. 8 pick, even though he may have foot issues of his own to contend with.
The Kings solve their scoring issues here, but they will need to address defense later on down the line. A slip to No. 8 in the draft could light a fire under Randle, as he certainly doesn't lack confidence in his own abilities.
Via ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
Randle and DeMarcus Cousins could form a devastating one-two punch and propel Sacramento toward relevancy in the tough Western Conference.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, PF, Creighton
This pick just makes sense for the Hornets. Forget the talk about athleticism, potential and upside; the Hornets need a sure thing on offense in order to continue making strides in the diluted Eastern Conference.
Doug McDermott is a proven scorer who will make an excellent option on the outside for point guard Kemba Walker. He's 6'8" and shot 45.8 percent from beyond the arc in his college career. McDermott gives the Hornets more versatility on offense at the forward spot than the incumbent Josh McRoberts, a hard worker with limited offensive potential.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
The 76ers were dreadful on offense last season, but they weren't exactly stalwarts on the defensive side of the ball either. Gary Harris has an excellent work ethic and is a two-way player who can alleviate Philadelphia's concerns at both ends of the court.
He's also a very teamwork-oriented player; Harris thrived alongside Adreian Payne at Michigan State. The 76ers need players who can plug in and contribute from the outset, and Harris fits the bill.
11. Denver Nuggets: Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Dario Saric has impressed NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor as a big man. However, Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler didn't necessarily take that aspect of his game into account when making this interesting player comparison:
Hedo Turkoglu is a solid professional, but he isn't quite as dynamic or athletic or Saric. The Nuggets could take him here for his potential to run the fast break with the ultra-quick Ty Lawson.
12. Orlando Magic: Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
Orlando will take care of the backcourt with the No. 4 pick, and then look to shore up its frontcourt with Adreian Payne. He showed the ability to stretch the floor at Michigan State; Payne is unafraid to take a mid-range jumper and plays above the rim when working inside the paint. He and Vucevic would make an excellent high-low combination.
A potential Exum-Oladipo-Afflalo-Payne-Vucevic lineup could match any team in the league in terms of length and athleticism.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
If Kevin Love leaves the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio will need a new player to hit for catch-and-shoot opportunities on the outside. Nik Stauskas, with his 44.2 percent shooting percentage from three-point range on his resume, easily fits the job requirements.
Stauskas also showed an ability to get good looks off the dribble in 2013-2014, a big reason why he was able to make such an incredible leap in offensive production between his freshman and sophomore years.
14. Phoenix Suns: Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
Zach LaVine will be closely followed by the word "potential" until probably his second or third year in the league. LaVine may take time to reach his full capabilities—he needs to prove he has a consistent jumper—but his off-the-charts athleticism guarantees he doesn't fall past the middle of the first round.
LaVine compared himself to one of the best in the game, via Fox Sports' Jordan White:
Some would argue that Russell Westbrook's lack of restraint is the best part of his game, but LaVine certainly couldn't hurt a team's chances by fulfilling his own projections.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Rodney Hood, SG, Duke
The Atlanta Hawks will need a new way to attack defenses in 2014-2015, now that the whole league knows they are hamstrung on offense when the three-pointers aren't falling.
The Hawks could take a big step toward developing new wrinkles in their offense by adding a versatile scorer in Duke's Rodney Hood.
Hood told Grantland's Andrew Sharp about the player comparison he's heard throughout his life:
Everybody says Jalen Rose is somebody I have to watch, even though he’s a little older than me. It started back in high school. Everybody called me ‘Little Jalen.’ There aren’t too many left-handed guys out there who can handle the ball and shoot it.
Hood proved at Duke that he's excellent facing up against his opponent, can knock down the outside jumper (42 percent from three-point range in 2013-2014) and is unafraid to attack the basket. He sounds like a good bet to be as successful as Jalen Rose.
16. Chicago Bulls: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
The NFL combine is the place you are most likely to hear the term "workout warrior," but Elfrid Payton is doing his best to make sure that phrase becomes a fixture in NBA draft circles.
According to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, Payton is vastly improving his draft stock with stellar workouts:
The 6’3 point guard has been dominating workouts, which has really helped his draft stock. Initially, there were some questions about how he would fare against NBA-level competition, since he played at Louisiana-Lafayette and didn’t face the toughest opposition. However, after several impressive workouts, that no longer seems to be a concern. Executives who have watched Payton work out have raved about him.
The Chicago Bulls could get another tenacious defender on their roster and have a contingency plan in place at point guard if Derrick Rose is unable to fully recover.
17. Phoenix Suns: James Young, F, Duke
James Young is one of the youngest prospects in the draft, so he should fit in well with the emerging Phoenix Suns. He's a 6'7" lefty who can shoot from outside and drive to the basket with plenty of speed and power. He needs to work on his defense, but there is little doubt about his ability to contribute with the ball in his hands.
18. Boston Celtics: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia-Herzegovina
If the Celtics pass on Embiid at No. 6, they can still hope to fix things at the center spot by drafting Jusuf Nurkic out of Croatia's Adriatic League.
Nurkic is tall, strong and has an excellent wingspan. He has true NBA-center size and can challenge Kelly Olynyk for minutes next season. Nurkic and Olynyk would make sure that Jared Sullinger doesn't have to play another minute outside of his natural power forward spot.
19. Chicago Bulls: Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA
Kyle Anderson looks like he's running in slow motion, which apparently is a frightening prospect in the NBA. Teams shouldn't get hung up on his lack of explosiveness, considering his stats project him as one of the most gifted offensive players in the draft.
Anderson averaged 14.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game in 2013-2014. His point-forward capabilities might be the answer to Chicago's offensive woes. Pairing him with either Payton or Rose would give the Bulls two excellent passers to keep the offense flowing.
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
The Raptors need an insurance policy in case Kyle Lowry takes his talents south of the border. Tyler Ennis has sound fundamentals and should become a solid point guard in the NBA. He lacks an outside-shooting game, but he can take care of all the basic requirements of a floor general thanks to his excellent court vision and superior ball-handling skills.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren easily has the best "old man" game in the NBA draft. He can hit a wide variety of off-balance shots, floaters and turn-around jumpers.
He scored 24.9 points per game for the Wolfpack in 2013-2014, good enough to lead the ACC in scoring but probably not good enough to convince teams he doesn't need a polished jump shot. The Thunder need to find scoring help for Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and few players at this point in the draft can even hope to provide the same kind of firepower as Warren.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: K.J. McDaniels, G/F, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels can add another strong layer to Memphis' defense with his athleticism and knack for blocking shots.
He swatted would-be shots 2.8 times per game at Clemson last year; his shot-altering capabilities could provide excellent cover for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the paint. The Grizzlies rely on grit and strength to grind opponents into dust; adding an athletic player like McDaniels gives their defense some fresh ways to confound opponents.
23. Utah Jazz: Jordan Adams, G, UCLA
Jordan Adams might have the lowest ceiling of the trio of Bruin prospects, but he's been working on adding new dimensions to his offensive game in order to make an impression on league scouts and executives. Adams discussed his commitment to playing in the post, via Mark Strotman of CSNChicago.com:
This whole summer I worked on my post game. I wanted to add that to my game in case I did get the ball on the low block, which I did sometimes in college, whether it’s a turnaround or a little quick hook, it’s something to get easier buckets around the basket.
Adams averaged 17.4 points per game in 2013-2014, mainly with a solid mid-range jump shot. If he can add a decent post game to his repertoire, the Jazz could have one of the steals of the draft at this spot.
24. Charlotte Hornets: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends
The Hornets need shooters unafraid to take—and you know, actually make—shots from the outside. P.J. Hairston won't be the typical wide-eyed rookie in the NBA; he already has plenty of experience playing against older league-hungry players after a year in the D-League.
According to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, the Hornets wanted a second look at Hairston:
Hairston's unique route to the NBA should translate to an increased level of confidence as he proves to the world he's still the same explosive player fans saw at North Carolina two years ago.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Clint Capela is a tantalizing young prospect who plies his trade in France. He needs to add some bulk to his frame, but he has the potential to become a versatile power forward in the NBA. A fixture of the pre-draft workout circuit, Capela has convinced at least one observer, Yahoo Sports' Eli Friedman, of his potential as a future pro:
The Rockets can pair Capela with Dwight Howard and create perhaps the best freak-athlete frontcourt combo in the league.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn
It will be interesting to see what shape the Miami Heat's roster takes after their NBA Finals debacle. It can't hurt to add a committed player like Shabazz Napier with proven championship experience, albeit at the collegiate level.
There is a chance the Heat won't bring back Mario Chalmers after his dreadful performance against the San Antonio Spurs, and even if he does stay the added competition is a definite plus. Napier won't back down from any challenge, including coming off the bench for a team looking to regain championship form.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse
The Suns have plenty of flexibility with three first-round picks, and their draft strategy could look vastly different from what we have here. However, if they do keep all of their picks, a player like Jerami Grant could only improve their overall depth and athleticism at the forward spot.
Grant has a freakishly long wingspan and a solid array of moves driving to the hoop. He will need to polish up his outside shot in order to reach his full potential in the NBA.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Mitch McGary will provide great cover for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, although his back issues are still a concern. McGary can pack weight onto his 6'10" frame and potentially play center in the NBA or stay at power forward and work on his well-developed array of post moves.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
The Thunder will continue to mine prospects for their scoring ability in order to increase the team's options on offense. Jarnell Stokes averaged 15.0 points per game in 2013-2014 and is one of the top offensive rebounders in the draft. Stokes can vacuum up all those wayward Westbrook shots and keep the Thunder offense from stagnating.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State
The San Antonio Spurs are an aging squad, but coach Gregg Popovich is the master of reinvention. He could look to build a more athletic version of his team by adding Cleanthony Early from Wichita State.
Early proved in the 2014 NCAA Tournament that he can score in a variety of ways, and he could provide a jolt of energy and form a potent tandem with emerging superstar Kawhi Leonard.