The right foot stress fracture suffered by Kansas center Joel Embiid has shaken up the 2014 NBA draft. Embiid, once thought to be a surefire top-three pick along with teammate Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker, is now a big question mark.
Now it will be fascinating to observe which team takes a gamble on the talented Jayhawks big man, who battled a back injury and missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments because of it.
Parker and Wiggins now seem like the best candidates to go No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the top draft choice for the third time in four years. Some of the guesswork and risk in taking a frontcourt player first have been eliminated for Cleveland, so the Cavs should cash in on one of the other can't-miss prospects.
Here is a mock of the first round, with the more detailed analysis focusing in on the marquee trio of Parker, Wiggins and the sliding Embiid.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
A lot of the justification for taking Parker has to do with Embiid's medical circumstances. As for Parker over Wiggins? It's simply a matter of making an instant imprint on the team, both in terms of intangibles and professional polish.
The more pro-ready of the two is Parker, and he fits better in Cleveland. The Cavs apparently think so too, according to a report from this last Saturday by CBSSports.com's Ken Berger:
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.
There are no more excuses for a Kyrie Irving-led team to be out of the playoffs in such a woeful Eastern Conference. Longtime overseas coach David Blatt inherits considerable talent, and he is expected to do big things by many who are more acquainted with him, per BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy:
By the way, it's not just players who are raving about David Blatt. Rival NBA executives say he's the real deal and an excellent hire.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 21, 2014
Adding a smart player like Parker who can even flex to the 4 will eliminate the conundrum presented by misfit forward Tristan Thompson getting starter's minutes. Thompson is a bench player on a playoff-caliber team, adding to the heap of draft misfires from the previous regime.
Small forward has been an obvious position of need that the Cavs have neglected for too long. They can't lose with Parker and Wiggins to choose from, but Parker has a bit more of the killer instinct and will to succeed right away. For as young as this team is, Parker has room to become a respected leader even as a rookie.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
Almost by default, Milwaukee opts for Wiggins. An uneven season at Kansas isn't enough to knock Wiggins out of the top two. For all the talk of his raw skill set, he still managed to average over 17 points per game.
The prodigious player certainly isn't shying away from becoming the new face of an NBA franchise.
"I think I’ll be a star wherever I go. That’s just how confident I am in my ability," said Wiggins, per the Journal Sentinel's Bob Wolfley.
Grantland's Bill Simmons has an interesting scenario with regard to how the draft will play out, presuming the Cavs choose Parker at No. 1:
If/when Cavs take Jabari, Bucks are screwed (they wanted Jabari) + Sixers are screwed (they wanted Wiggins). Could Embiid drop to Bos or LA?— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 19, 2014
Just looking at the Bucks on paper, Wiggins begins to become a logical, apparent consolation prize. Larry Sanders is an excellent paint defender, while the combination of John Henson and a multitude of others fill out the 4.
Plugging Wiggins in on the wing along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, O.J. Mayo and electric point guard Brandon Knight would ignite excitement in Milwaukee.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
General manager Sam Hinkie misses out on Wiggins, so he goes with the next best option on the board that would create quite an intriguing frontcourt. Vonleh has all the tools to be an unstoppable offensive force, is a tremendous rebounder and serves as a perfect complement to Nerlens Noel.
There isn't a ton of bulk between the tandem of Noel and Vonleh, but their athleticism will make up for those shortcomings as they add more muscle. When they do, the combination of them with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be tough to deal with.
That is, unless this rumor from ESPN's Ryen Russillo rings true:
More Embiid fallout. Lakers could move Nash and #7 to Philly for MCW and T Young. 76ers would take Exum at #3.— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) June 20, 2014
How might that impact the rest of the draft's dominoes?
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Embiid could go here if the Sixers do take Exum at No. 3. It would be tempting for the Magic to pair Embiid with Nikola Vucevic, but presuming Vonleh is off the board and Embiid is perceived as too much of a liability, Orlando addresses another need at point guard.
The 6'6" Exum can slice to the rim and has the length and potential at age 18 to be a longtime franchise cornerstone. This will relegate aging veteran Jameer Nelson to a lesser role and allow Victor Oladipo to stray away from running the point.
5. Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The best appears yet to come from Derrick Favors, and taking a flier on Embiid doesn't make a lot of sense for the Jazz. They need immediate impact talent, which is what Smart is. A capable distributor who can also create his own shot, Smart is a great combo guard complement to Utah's Trey Burke in the backcourt.
6. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com reports that the Celtics would even consider trading up to draft Embiid. They have the ammunition to do so with the 17th pick in a potential package. However, Boston may not have to.
This intel from Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix should have everyone in the top five afraid to touch Embiid with a 10-foot pole:
Several medical experts have described Embiid's type of injury to me as serious. Say navicular bone is the slowest healing in the body— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) June 19, 2014
You will hear this a lot: Yao Ming, Bill Walton and Zydrunas Ilgauskas all had navicular fractures in their feet.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) June 19, 2014
Polarizing opinions are sure to surface in this suddenly fascinating storyline in the predraft process. But count Bleacher Report expert Jason King as a true believer in Embiid's ceiling:
Id still take Embiid No. 1. He'll be one of the 10 best players in the NBA within 3-5 years. There are "red flags" w/ the next two guys too.— Jason King (@JasonKingBR) June 19, 2014
Legitimate 7-footers with Embiid's skills don't come along often. There's a chance he could bypass all these injury woes and emerge as the best player from this entire draft class—and one of the better centers in recent league history.
GM Danny Ainge, even with his strong track record in Boston's front office, would have a lot of questions to answer if Embiid busts. Then again, Ainge would be praised as a saint should Embiid take the league by storm.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
It's a win-win situation for Randle and the Lakers regardless of whether they can keep Pau Gasol. Randle is the gritty presence L.A. needs in the frontcourt. With a relentless motor and elite rebounding capabilities, he will be a nice addition with superstar Kobe Bryant returning to help him.
8. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Offense is in plentiful supply up front with DeMarcus Cousins. What the Kings lack is a versatile defender that can elevate the entire team in Sacramento's clear area of weakness. Defense is much of what's preventing the Kings from ascending in the West.
Enter Gordon, a supreme athlete with great length and a lot of room to develop as he fills out and guards multiple positions in the meantime.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Dario Saric, PF, Croatia
A run of towering players sees Saric come off the board for a Charlotte squad starved of a playmaker on offense. Saric is dynamic in the open floor, with point guard capabilities in terms of handling the ball, court vision and finishing at the rim. The fact that he can fill it up from three-point land makes Saric too good to pass up.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Carter-Williams—again, assuming he stays in Philly—makes up for the slightly undersized Harris in the backcourt. The benefits of bringing in Harris: a high basketball IQ, a knack for locking down the perimeter and a ready-made starter. All that outweighs Harris not having a prototypical 2-guard's frame.
11. Denver Nuggets: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA
LaVine has springs in his shoes, evident in the 46-inch vertical leap he registered in a workout for the Lakers.
After just one year at UCLA, it will take a while for LaVine to find a niche in the NBA. In terms of talent and excitement, though, few prospects have the potential LaVine boasts. He adds a lengthier alternative to Denver's diminutive point guards led by Ty Lawson.
12. Orlando Magic: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Getting such an effective attacker in Exum to run the offense requires shooters to space the floor. Few can do that as well as McDermott among the players left on the board. Plus, the prolific scorer (26.7 ppg as a senior) can do it all on offense and even play the 4 in smaller lineups. It's up to the Magic to find interior defense in free agency if Exum and McDermott are their choices.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
A slender sharpshooter in Stauskas makes sense for Minnesota if Harris is no longer available. Coach Flip Saunders' squad can rebound well with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, but the Timberwolves ranked 26th in three-point shooting.
That's where Stauskas comes in to give more room for Love to play nearer to the basket, rather than launching 6.6 three-point attempts per game as he did last season.
14. Phoenix Suns: Rodney Hood, SF/SG, Duke
Hood could go higher due to the fact that he has tremendous size and is a pure enough shooter to be deployed at the 2. Phoenix needs to get bigger on the perimeter with the likes of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe out there.
Defense isn't Hood's strong suit, but he can improve. Entering a revamped Suns organization as the team's first of three Round 1 selections would be a great launching point for Hood's pro career.
15. Atlanta Hawks: James Young, SF/SG, Kentucky
A standout performance in the Wildcats' captivating run in the NCAA tournament saw Young mature at a rapid rate, hitting clutch shots and showcasing his array of offensive skills. Young has to prove he can stroke it from beyond the arc more consistently, which should come in time.
16. Chicago Bulls: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
A 6'8" wingspan for the 6'4" Payton makes him an attractive option for the Bulls (h/t ESPN.com, subscription required). He has similar quickness and finishing skills as oft-injured star Derrick Rose and is a great value pick at this slot. Coach Tom Thibodeau will love a hard worker with great defensive upside, too.
17. Boston Celtics: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Some may consider this a bit high, but after the bold move to take Embiid, Boston needs to address the backcourt. Rajon Rondo is a pure pass-first point guard, so having Napier spearhead the Celtics' second unit would work well since he can create offense for himself and others.
Napier should continue to have his share of doubters even after guiding the Huskies to an NCAA title. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens would jump at the opportunity to coach Napier up.
18. Phoenix Suns: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Anderson served as a point forward with the Bruins, and his lack of elite athletic ability won't be a hindrance to his NBA success. Playing point guard in Phoenix would offer an interesting change from Dragic or Bledsoe, but Anderson could also fill in at the 3 or 4 on occasion to aid ball movement and half-court execution.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Keeping with the theme of adding more offense, Warren put up 24.9 points as a sophomore for the Wolfpack. There's reason to believe he will continue to score in bunches, particularly if he's afforded opportunities to utilize his creativity in Chicago on a team so focused on defending.
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
The Ontario product would experience a homecoming of sorts after shining with the Orange in his lone year at Syracuse. Depth at this position is key for the Raptors to acquire, especially if Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
Even when James Harden was around, he played more of a super sixth-man role off the bench. Wilcox could be the shooting guard of the future Oklahoma City has lacked in the era headlined by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Joining forces with those All-Stars, at least in theory, affords Wilcox a tremendous chance to make an early impact. It'd be a refreshing change from his efforts to carry lackluster Huskies teams in college.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Better late than never. Excuse the terrible pun, but Early is an ideal fit for Memphis' style that emphasizes fundamentals. Early is a classic glue guy who could allow Tayshaun Prince to come off the bench as he reaches the end of his playing days.
23. Utah Jazz: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Adding flexibility to the backcourt with Smart leads to the Jazz making a bold pick with McGary at No. 23 overall.
McGary is a great candidate to enter the rotation right away with his energy, and he figures to be more assertive on both ends of the floor than any of the Utah bigs garnering significant minutes. The possibility of reuniting with Burke in Salt Lake City also enhances the likelihood of this pick coming to fruition.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri
The quickness Clarkson brings to the court would complement Kemba Walker well. Having those two along with Saric roaming free on the fast break provides the Hornets with some transition sting they didn't have in 2013-14. If he can get his jump shot in better shape, Clarkson could be one of the top steals at this stage of the draft.
25. Houston Rockets: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Coach Kevin McHale likes to run an uptempo offense. Since Payne has a great all-around offensive game, he can fill in as a more natural fit at the 4 than Terrence Jones. Payne makes sense whether or not restricted free agent Chandler Parsons is retained.
26. Miami Heat: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Fizzling out in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in five games was a bad look for Miami. There's a lot of uncertainty on the horizon with LeBron James as a potential free agent. Stokes brings desperately needed power to the front line and can crash the glass as well as anyone in this class.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The jury is still out on last year's top draft choice in Alex Len. He has to loom larger in the Suns' plans entering his second season. In the event that Len is a bust and with two solid first-rounders already in the fold, Phoenix opts for insurance at center by selecting Nurkic. The promising international prospect is already 6'11" and 280 pounds at age 19.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland
With an elite coach in Doc Rivers, L.A. has the pieces in place to push further in the postseason with its current nucleus. That allows the Clippers to invest in the future with Capela, who may be on a fast track to the NBA in this scenario given the lack of depth at Capela's spots beyond DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
Robinson is frustrating in a sense because he has so much more talent than his play in Ann Arbor often suggested. Perhaps a D-League demotion—though it won't be viewed as such on a deep Thunder squad—will give Robinson a nice bridge to prove himself before truly leaping to the NBA.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Spencer Dinwiddie, SG, Colorado
Which frontcourt player in this draft will have the best career?
Battling back from the heartbreak of a torn ACL will only harden Dinwiddie. He'd be rewarded in this situation by starting off in San Antonio, flanked by a flock of veteran mentors to be groomed into a potential star.
A lot of attention will rightly center on Embiid and how his injury impacts the draft picture. However, there are a myriad of quality players who should be off the board in the first round. This class has underrated depth and has been overshadowed by the top three.
Both Wiggins and Parker were letdowns come March Madness, and Embiid's unfortunate injury has been well-covered. Just be sure to keep an eye on what happens with some of the contenders toward the bottom of the order. They may widen the gap and create further disparity between the best and the rest than the parity the NBA draft is designed to promote.