The 2014 draft class has long been hailed as a game-changer. While the hyperbole tends to be laid on a little thick at times, there is no doubt that Thursday will mark the night several franchises turn the corner.
Of course, while it's the names at the top of the class that often receive most of the hype, the depth is just as impressive. There are 35-40 prospects who could easily hear their names called in the first round.
Throw in Joel Embiid's newest injury serving as an 11th-hour, knee-buckling curveball for general managers, as well as the added intrigue of a potential Kevin Love trade, and this stands to be one of the most compelling drafts in recent memory.
Let's take a look at the how it may shake out.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins may have fallen short of unrealistic expectations last season, but he's still the same gifted played everyone has been gushing about the last several years.
His physical gifts are the most tantalizing part of the package. He can jump out of the gym, he glides effortlessly up and down the court, and his combination of length and athleticism makes him a potentially all-world defender.
There's a small risk here—his "killer instinct" has been questioned at times—but Wiggins' has MVP potential.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF/PF
The safest pick in the draft, Parker is wired to put the ball in the hoop. He can score out of the post, shoot off the dribble, shoot off the catch and has the ball-handling skills to lead the break. His amalgam of size, athleticism, skill, basketball IQ and demeanor isn't something teenagers are supposed to have, and he's as sure of a bet as there is to make an immediate impact.
The Bucks already have a strong defensive core behind Larry Sanders, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker gives them some necessary scoring punch.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
Dante Exum is an electric offensive option with tantalizing length, quickness and ball-handling skills.
One Eastern Conference scout, via The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, put it simply:
"He's long, athletic, he knows how to play. I think his biggest thing will be getting stronger and shooting. I think he’s athletic, but it’s interesting, because he covered [Andrew] Wiggins a couple times at that [Hoops Summit] event, and he did OK."
Embiid is an option here. The Sixers are still in rebuild mode, have two lottery picks and certainly aren't afraid to redshirt a big man. But the potential to pair Exum with Michael Carter-Williams—a player who shares many of the same alluring qualities—in the backcourt is simply too much to pass up.
Exum plus MCW equals one of the most unique, exciting, young tandems in the league.
4. Orlando Magic: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Well, Embiid did a good job of making people forget about his back problems. News broke Thursday that the big man, who was already dealing with a back injury, has a stress fracture in his foot that will keep him from participating in any additional workouts.
It's not just the actual injury that severely hurts the draft stock of the man who had emerged as the likely No. 1 pick. It's the growing worry that this will continue to be a problem in the future. Grantland's Zach Lowe explained the impact on the teams at the top of the draft:
Forecasting the NBA draft was already a huge guessing game. Now, it would probably be just as effective to pick names out of a hat.
Still, while this is brutal news, Embiid has too much potential to slip too far. The 20-year-old Cameroonian has a rare blend of size and skill at the center position that makes him a potentially unstoppable force on both ends of the court.
Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn still sees him going in the top 10 even though sitting out the entire season is now a possibility:
He's going to be a major risk for anyone, but the Magic can somewhat stomach it. They have a talented roster, a good young center in Nikola Vucevic and two lottery picks.
No one wants to touch Embiid with an Embiid-sized pole right now, but he's worth the massive risk at this point.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Separating the power forward trio of Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon essentially comes down to preference at this point, but the former has seriously been gaining steam in pre-draft workouts.
It's not really surprising, either, as he's built to impress in that kind of setting. He has size, length, massive hands, impressive athleticism and the jumper to fit as a dangerous stretch 4 at the next level.
He's not as NBA-ready as Randle, but the Jazz won't be able to pass on his potential.
6. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Question marks about Randle's surgically repaired foot have increased at an exponential rate, but as he told The Salt Lake Tribune's Aaron Falk, it's not a concern:
Sure, there are some concerns about his length and lack of explosiveness, but a month ago, getting Randle at No. 6 would have looked like a steal. He has a nice all-around offensive game, a relentless motor around the hoop and grown-man strength that helps him clean up the boards.
He serves as a nice complement to big men like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger who can stretch the floor.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Much like the Sixers, the Los Angeles Lakers won't take too much time with this pick.
Gordon's availability will make Mitch Kupchak and Co. think a little bit, but Smart is too much of a perfect fit for the Lake Show to pass up.
The hard-nosed point guard needs to work on his jumper, but he can get to the hoop at will and has the size and strength to be a lockdown defender. Perhaps most importantly, he has the intangibles and intelligence to make an impact right away, which will be important for Kobe Bryant and a Lakers team not interested in a lengthy rebuild.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
There is a consensus top eight in this draft, and if the Kings don't trade their pick, they'll likely end up just taking whoever is left.
In this case, that's Gordon, who makes a lot of sense for head coach Mike Malone's team.
The Kings were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season. While Gordon is a work in progress on the offensive end—he shot a woeful 42.2 percent from the charity stripe last year—he has the jaw-dropping athleticism and lateral quickness to immediately make a defensive impact.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, SF/PF Creighton
Doug McDermott may not be a great defender (although Steve Clifford is the kind of coach who can limit his deficiencies on that end), but he can absolutely fill it up offensively. Not just one of the best shooters in the draft, Dougie McBuckets can also score from mid-range or take smaller defenders down on the block.
Even if he comes off the bench for now, he would provide an immediate offensive impact to help the Hornets continue to move in the right direction.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
If McDermott isn't the best shooter in the draft, Nik Stauskas is the reason for that. The Michigan sharpshooter knocked down 44.0 percent of his threes as a freshmen and 44.2 percent on one more attempt per game (with defenses concentrated on him) as a sophomore.
The Canadian is far more than a shooter, though. He transformed from corner-ball specialist to all-out combo guard last year, showing the ability to take defenders off the bounce and score at the hoop or get to the line.
Yes, the Sixers already grabbed a guard in Exum, but they need offensive firepower wherever they can get it, and Stauskas can play both guard positions off the bench.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
If there's one thing that will hurt Gary Harris here, it's his size. According to DraftExpress, he measured at just 6'4.5" (6'2.5" out of shoes) with a 6'6.75" wingspan at the combine.
It's still hard not to be enamored by the Michigan State product. He can guard both positions, and he's a smooth offensive player who can shoot and be effective in transition. At just 19 years old, he's already very polished.
The Nuggets don't need projects, and Harris will make an instant contribution.
12. Orlando Magic: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis isn't the most exciting prospect, but he's an intelligent true point guard who makes everyone around him better. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, via the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins, recently praised his former floor general:
He's not somebody that's going to have a big learning curve. He understands. He's smart. I've had four or five point guards taken in the first round, and I probably did less with him in terms of getting him to do things, or coaching him to do things, than anybody that I've coached.
The Magic are in desperate need of a point guard, and while Elfrid Payton will get a long look here, Ennis is arguably the best all-around true floor general in the draft. The cerebral leader can pass, shoot, defend and immediately improve head coach Jacque Vaughn's team.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke
With Kevin Love's future in Minnesota so uncertain, it's difficult to tell what the Minnesota Timberwolves will be doing here.
As they currently stand, though, the biggest need resides on the perimeter, where they lack depth behind Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer.
Rodney Hood is a tremendous scorer. He has good size, a deadly shot and would make for a nice addition to the T-Wolves' second unit.
14. Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
You won't find many players quite as versatile or as skilled as Dario Saric. At 6'10", the Adriatic League MVP is the definition of a point forward. He can handle and pass like a point guard, but he can also shoot, post up and control the glass.
With such tantalizing all-around potential, he's a wild card who has a wide draft range, but the end of the lottery feels like tremendous value for the Suns.
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky
At just 18 years old, Young is a bit of a project, but he has the potential to become a dangerous offensive weapon at the next level. His size, athleticism and shooting ability are all incredibly enticing.
Kyle Korver is getting older, and DeMarre Carroll has just one year left on his contract, making this a nice pick for the future for the Hawks.
16. Chicago Bulls: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne's stock has been steadily rising in recent weeks, and there's a chance he's not available. If he is, though, expect the Bulls to quickly take him.
A prototypical stretch 4, Payne can shoot, run the floor and rebound. At 23, he's also ready to make an impact right away, which should only sweeten the deal for head coach Tom Thibodeau and Co.
17. Boston Celtics: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
Zach LaVine is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. Blessed with an unbelievable set of physical gifts, he could just as easily crack the top 10 as he could fall outside the top 20.
He's undoubtedly a work in progress, but the UCLA product is a ridiculous athlete who showed glimpses of being able to shoot the ball from the outside, as well as elite defensive ability.
The Boston Celtics are going to attack this draft depending on how their quest for Love goes. However, if they are unsuccessful and are forced into a slower rebuild, being able to grab Randle and LaVine gives them a blindingly bright future.
18. Phoenix Suns: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Suns have three first-round picks. That puts them in good position to do some wheeling and dealing on draft night, but if they don't trade, don't expect them to find a spot on the roster for all three rookies.
As such, Jusuf Nurkic is an ideal option. The 19-year-old could use another year or two overseas, but with a nice blend of size (6'11", 280 lbs) and agility, he's the second-best true center in this draft. Comparisons to Nikola Pekovic are often made, and if that comes to fruition, this is a steal for the Suns even if they have to wait a bit for it to happen.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
The Bulls need as much offensive help as they can get. They've already added a shooter and interior presence in Payne, and now they get T.J. Warren, a perimeter option with the unique ability to get to the hoop.
The 2013-14 ACC Player of the Year poured in 24.9 points per game last year on an absurd 58.0 percent shooting from inside the arc. He is a natural scorer and a good option to improve Chicago's bench this season.
20. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Anderson, PG/SF, UCLA
With Kyle Lowry (unrestricted) and Greivis Vasquez (restricted) both hitting free agency, the Toronto Raptors would probably like to grab more of a true point guard here. Canadian Tyler Ennis would be the dream pick.
While Kyle Anderson is 6'9" and without a defined position, though, he arguably has the best vision and passing ability in the class. Although there are concerns about him running point guard because of his lack of quickness, he can initiate offense and distribute from anywhere on the court.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina/Texas Legends
The Thunder could go point guard here. Reggie Jackson has one more year before he hits restricted free agency and likely becomes very expensive to keep.
However, depth on the wing is also an area of need with Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler both possibly on their way out.
P.J. Hairston left North Carolina on a sour note, but he has a nice all-around offensive game and a dangerous three-point shot that would go well in OKC's second unit.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, sources believe GM Chris Wallace and head coach Dave Joerger will draft a small forward.
Jerami Grant still isn't the shooter or scorer who can play the 3 on a regular basis, but his outstanding length and explosive athleticism will help him fit several positions on the floor. While he may be a long way from turning into a star, Harvey's son can play a meaningful role as an energetic, high-motor rotation player.
23. Utah Jazz: K.J. McDaniels , SF, Clemson
Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams are both free agents, opening up space on the perimeter.
K.J. McDaniels is long (6'11" wingspan, per DraftExpress), athletic and has good instincts on the defensive end. He blocked a ridiculous 2.8 shots per game during the 2013-14 campaign and could immediately improve the Jazz in that area.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription needed) recently slotted Elfrid Payton at No. 8 overall to the Sacramento Kings. While that seems a bit high, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see him sneak into the top 15 with the way his stock has been steadily rising.
Still, things sometimes just shake out this way, and talented prospects fall a little too far.
No worry for the Hornets, who will need a backup for Kemba Walker and would love to add Payton's quickness, length, defensive ability and toughness.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland
As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported, the Rockets are going to be in the mix for Carmelo Anthony should the superstar test free agency this summer:
That means GM Daryl Morey and Co. will be clearing cap space, making it a good bet that this pick is ultimately dealt. If that doesn't happen, though, Clint Capela is the perfect solution.
The Swiss sensation isn't likely to come to the NBA for a year or two, but his potential is through the roof. One of the most physically gifted European players in quite some time, he possess the length and athleticism to be a difference-maker in the interior in the future.
Win-win for Houston, who can't afford to spend money on a rookie right now.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Mario Chalmers is a free agent, and his dreadful play in the Finals only decreased the chance of his return to South Beach next year.
That will be especially true if the Heat are able to land Shabazz Napier, an electrifying floor general with a good outside stroke, great defense and unmatched intangibles.
An endorsement from LeBron doesn't hurt, either:
That is, um, if LeBron is still in Miami (*ducks*).
27. Phoenix Suns: Jarnell Stokes, PF/C, Tennessee
Compared to Jarnell Stokes, many of these other prospects are mere children.
That's not because of his age—the Tennessee product is only 20 years old. It's because he has the strength to beat The Hulk in an arm-wrestling match.
At 6'8" and 260 pounds of muscle, Stokes is an absolute force on the inside. He can rebound and score with his back to the basket, and as Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy argued, his toughness and competitiveness will never be questioned:
This is a good candidate for the steal of the first round.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
The Clippers are an up-tempo team, and Cleanthony Early would fit in really nicely. He has a nice skill set that lets him stretch the floor, but he's most dangerous when able to get into the open court and show off his explosive athleticism.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan
There are rumors swirling, per Kennedy, that Mitch McGary has been given a first-round promise:
While his back injury—which cost him nearly his entire sophomore campaign—and a less-than-ideal departure from Michigan are both concerning, don't forget that McGary looked like a near lock for the lottery after his freshman campaign.
Strong, physical and relentless on the glass, McGary would provide an instant spark off the bench for the Thunder, who clearly need depth behind Serge Ibaka.
30. San Antonio Spurs: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
An excellent sharpshooter with sneaky athleticism and ball-handling ability, C.J. Wilcox is a perfect fit for the Spurs, who like to spread the court and move the ball as quickly as possible.
A big man is a possibility here, but with Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli nearing the end of their deals, reloading on the wing isn't a bad move, especially if Wilcox is still available.
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