The NBA draft will transform the lives of dozens of young men on June 26, but a couple of injury concerns for top prospects Joel Embiid and Julius Randle have already altered the top of the draft with only a few days remaining. Here come the latest predictions for every first-round pick.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
At 6'8" and 235 pounds, Jabari Parker is more than just a lanky swingman. He's only an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter than highly regarded power forward Julius Randle. As the most NBA-ready player in the draft, the Cavs will opt for a can't-miss prospect after puzzling the league by selecting Anthony Bennett first in 2013.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
CBS Sports' Ken Berger laid out the scenario for the first two picks:
With Joel Embiid's foot surgery, and the reported 4-6 month recovery that comes with it, the Cavs are said to be leaning toward Duke's Jabari Parker with the No. 1 pick. Parker is more NBA-ready than Andrew Wiggins, who would go to the Bucks at No. 2. Rival executives believe it would be out of character for Cleveland GM David Griffin to trade the top pick, and believe Bucks GM John Hammond would be hard-pressed to deviate from the other consensus top player in the draft after Embiid's injury shook up the top of the lottery.
The Bucks stunk up the league last season with 67 losses. Lo and behold, here is the player who multiple teams were supposedly "riggin'" for last season. The Bucks can play Wiggins alongside O.J. Mayo, just so long as they advise the rookie not to learn any habits from Mayo.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
Australian combo guard Dante Exum had been widely projected as the fourth pick for months, but he's also the best player available with the ability to run the point. The Sixers could play Exum at the 2 or use a lineup featuring two point guards. 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams gives Philly those options.
4. Orlando Magic: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Magic had targeted Exum to play alongside their own sensational guard from the 2013 draft class, Victor Oladipo. With Jameer Nelson looking every bit his 32 years of age, leaping for Marcus Smart's top-notch, two-way abilities would set the Magic up with one of the league's best young backcourts.
5. Utah Jazz: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Joel Embiid clearly offers the finest blend of offensive and defensive ability in a center's body. However, after copious concern over a back injury that hampered him late in the season, it emerged Thursday that he has suffered a broken foot.
USA Today's Scott Gleeson relayed the depth of the bad news after ESPN first reported the injury: "Embiid has a stress fracture in his right foot, agent Arn Tellem confirmed." The latest injury comes after Embiid told USA Today in May: "My back is better. I feel completely healthy." Now only one of those statements is true.
The dual injury concerns will ward off top teams in favor of surer talent and health, but Embiid's wealth of potential won't let him drop out of the top five. After all, he can stretch the floor for Utah in ways that Enes Kanter most certainly cannot. Even in the wake of the news about Embiid's broken foot, ESPN.com's Chad Ford still put him at No. 4 in his June 19 mock draft (subscription required).
Surgeon Dr. Richard Ferkel said about the talented 7-footer’s surgery on Friday, via ESPN.com: “Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid's right foot,” and he “tolerated the surgery without difficulty.”
The recovery time is expected to be four to six months. As noted by ESPN.com, a broken navicular bone ended the careers of Hall of Famer Bill Walton, Chinese superstar Yao Ming and UNC standout Eric Montross. Other big men like Kevin McHale and Kurt Thomas were able to return from the injury. Drafting Embiid will be a gamble, but it also carries the potential for a huge payoff that approaches Hakeem Olajuwon proportions.
6. Boston Celtics: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Noah Vonleh stands at 6'10" and offers a very attractive blend of size, toughness and shooting ability. He can knock down treys and still battle down low. According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan:
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).
Big hands are great assets in a forward. Just ask NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle recorded 24 double-doubles in his lone college season. Only Michael Beasley notched more as a freshman.
However, Randle dropped in a June 17 mock draft by ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required) due to increasing concerns about a possible foot injury. As Ford noted, teams have assigned varying significance to Randle's foot problem:
Issues with his foot that were detected at the NBA combine might lead to his stock sliding a bit. It depends on who you talk to. Several teams I spoke with weren't concerned at all with the injury, saying it was a minor procedure to fix it and of all the players that have had Jones fractures in the past, none have had lingering issues with it in the league. However, other teams have said that it concerns them enough that they'd pass in the mid-lottery.
The Lakers will not be one of the team's scared off. Randle is probably the draft's most NBA-ready player not named Parker, and as he told Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding: "I'm the biggest Lakers fan. Probably more of a Kobe fan."
Drafting Randle would also help address the Lakers' frontcourt issues, which sees everyone except Robert Sacre hitting free agency.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona
Aaron Gordon can just about fly, and he brings a certain swagger along with him. His athleticism around the rim makes him an immediate impact player and his solid defense will keep him on the court. He's worked on his shooting, and better ability from the perimeter would make him an obvious play at small forward.
9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit Pistons): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Shooting guard Nik Stauskas drained over 44 percent of his three-pointers in his two seasons with the Wolverines. While he can't do much on defense, he can help improve the Hornets' (nee Bobcats) shooting from downtown. They ranked 25th in three-pointers made and 23rd in three-point shooting percentage last season.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Doug McDermott finished his four-year college career with more points than all but four other players in Division I history. The consensus National Player of the Year will go somewhere in the first round, and the Sixers would be delighted to land him here. At 31.2 percent, they had by far the worst three-point shooting in 2013-14. He would also provide some insurance if (and when) they trade Thaddeus Young.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris can shoot the ball really well, which helps. The Nuggets got exposed by myriad injuries last season, and more depth on the bench would address that need. The team won just 36 games after piling up 57 wins in 2012-13.
12. Orlando Magic (from New York Knicks via Denver Nuggets): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Rodney Hood has a forward's size mixed with the long-range touch that helped him drain 42 percent of his three-pointers last season. While everyone was busy hyping up teammate Jabari Parker, Hood put down 16 points per game.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SG, Kentucky
The T-Wolves need more scoring options for the backcourt behind Kevin Martin. James Young averaged better than 14 points per game with Kentucky. Although his shooting efficiency leaves something to be desired (41 percent from the field, 35 percent from downtown), he's still got talent worthy of a lottery pick.
14. Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
The Suns have a number of talented young bigs, including Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len. However, none of them can play quite like Dario Saric. The 6'10" Croat has excellent ball-handling skills and profiles as a legitimate point forward in the pros.
However, Saric could slide even further down in the first round after ESPN's Chad Ford reported: "Saric has agreed in principle to a three-year deal with Turkish powerhouse Anadolu Efes, a source close to Saric told ESPN.com on Monday. The deal will have a player option for year three."
The signing would likely keep Saric in Europe for at least two more years before he can opt out, but he's still a unique talent, and the Suns could hedge slightly and snag him at No. 18. According to Ford: "Sources say the Hawks at 15, the Celtics at 17, the Suns at 18 and the Bulls at 19 are all looking at Saric." All of those teams have multiple first-round selections except the Atlanta Hawks.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne has the skill set to one day average a double-double in the pros. He's already got decent size for the NBA at 6'10" and 245 pounds and steadily improved his scoring average for the Spartans up to a career-best 16.4 points per game as a senior, plus 7.3 rebounds. Payne even hit 42.3 percent of his triples and made 1.4 per game. He offers both an insurance policy for Al Horford and the ability to stretch the floor off the bench.
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte Hornets): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Bulls might as well find a competent young backup to play behind the ever-fragile Derrick Rose. Elfrid Payton led the Ragin' Cajuns and put up gaudy stats to the tune of 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Those have him rising in the draft as a rival to Marcus Smart for his scoring ability and stout defense.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
Zach LaVine has solid skills as a combo guard and would lend Boston much-needed depth and flexibility at the guard positions. Rajon Rondo's future remains up in the air, and if LaVine lasts until now, the C's would hungrily snap him up.
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington Wizards): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
After going big with their first pick, the Suns will go small and address their backcourt depth. With a great one-two punch of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix got off to an excellent start last season. An injury to Bledsoe hampered the team noticeably, and the Suns finished just out of the playoffs. Ennis can learn behind those two while also answering the depth problem.
19. Chicago Bulls: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jusuf Nurkic stands at 6'11", which is really the whole reason the Bulls would draft him. They need greater depth at almost every position, but they've ridden Joakim Noah so hard lately that he runs the risk of wearing down. Nurkic could be the backup big to take Nazr Mohammed's place.
20. Toronto Raptors: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Unlike Bill Murray in Space Jam, Jerami Grant loves playing defense. He also scored 12.1 points per game for the Orange last season, but at 6'8" and 210 pounds, he's a little small for a forward who can't shoot threes.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas Mavericks via Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
T.J. Warren struggles from long range (27 percent last season), but he's got a great scoring instinct from the mid-range in. He racked up 24.9 points per game for the Wolfpack last year, and OKC could certainly use someone with that scoring ability.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League), formerly UNC
P.J. Hairston used to play at North Carolina, but the Tar Heels dismissed him from the team for legal troubles, and then the NCAA ruled him ineligible. That landed him in the D-League, but he already demonstrated his scoring prowess by averaging 14.6 points in 23.6 minutes for UNC in 2012-13. Theoretically, his time in the D-League should help his maturity.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Kyle Anderson can flat out handle the ball, so don't remind him that he's actually a 6'9" forward. He could get picked somewhere in the teens thanks to his unique all-around abilities, not to mention his pretty stats from last season: 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals. He also shot 48 percent from the field and from three-point range.
24. Charlotte Hornets (from Portland Trail Blazers): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
A possible draft-and-stash candidate, this 6'11" Swiss player marks one of the few options for real size in the first round. Some lottery teams are even interested in his shot-blocking capability, but he's significantly unpolished.
25. Houston Rockets: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early scored more than 16 points per game, and he can help stretch the floor on a team that loves to do that. He could also provide some help if Chandler Parsons departs, but Early is merely a rotation player.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Shabazz Napier not only won his second national championship last season at UConn, but he took home Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament. He's a winner; Pat Riley likes that. Longtime Miami point guard Mario Chalmers could be gone since he's a free agent but also because of his rotten showing in the NBA Finals.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
The athletic wing can play some serious defense. While his 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game are impressive, this 6'6" leaper managed to block 2.8 shots per game as well.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
In the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers actually deployed "Big Baby," a.k.a. Glen Davis, to play meaningful minutes. The Clippers need more depth up front, and this 6'10" forward could be a steal here after his draft position dropped due to his back injury.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
After he averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, think of Jarnell Stokes like a poor man's Julius Randle. Remember all the difficulties the Thunder faced in the playoffs after Serge Ibaka sustained a calf injury? Well, here's a backup power forward!
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri
If Jordan Clarkson lasts this long, the Spurs would be wise to take him. A point guard with combo guard skills, he could be the potential replacement if Patty Mills leaves in free agency, which he almost certainly will to capitalize on his strong finish to the season.