When news of Joel Embiid's broken foot, umm, broke, it did far more than send the Kansas center's draft stock into flux. It took the entire scope of the lottery and shook it like a snowglobe.
What looked like a rather mundane first four picks suddenly became packed with intrigue. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who once looked like a lock for Embiid, are now stuck choosing between rolling the dice and staying with their man or going with the safer choice in Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins. The Milwaukee Bucks will likely follow suit by taking the remaining healthy player. Embiid might go as early as No. 3 to the Philadelphia 76ers or fall into the laps of Boston or Los Angeles.
The most talked-about draft of the last decade is now the most exciting in recent memory. Which, of course, is great for fans but frustrating for those of us tasked with sussing out the real from fake between now and Thursday.
The billowing clouds caused by smokescreens have gone from clearing out to never being bigger. Everyone is jostling for position. No one knows what's going to happen. Destinations of top names—especially near the top of the draft—are in a weird state of flux.
With that in mind, let's check on some of the most notable draft-night rumors being floated around the league heading into the home stretch.
Jabari Now the Favorite at No. 1?
The Cavs were taking Embiid before his injury. It was the worst-kept secret around the league, and the order of selection seemed set until Utah at No. 5. Embiid would go first, Milwaukee takes semi-local kid Parker second, the Sixers luck into Wiggins at No. 3 and Dante Exum falls in line to Orlando.
Now, it's all one big shrug emoticon.
There's a sect who believes Wiggins' combination of safeness and upside will be too much for Cleveland to pass up. Others see Parker, the safest pick in the entire draft, and know the Cavaliers' desire to win now may trump any talks of the elusive "potential."
The latter scenario is in the front seat at the moment. CBS Sports' Ken Berger reports the Cavaliers have designs on taking Parker at No. 1. Berger also notes that new general manager David Griffin is highly unlikely to trade the pick, much to the chagrin of the Sixers front office.
While anything can change, I'm inclined to agree. Parker was atop ex-general manager Chris Grant's draft board all season before his departure, and it's not as if Dan Gilbert expunged the entire scouting and executive staff. Griffin was Grant's vice president of basketball operations, and he's kept plenty of the surrounding staff in place.
Drafting Embiid, who fills a need, has All-NBA potential and plays the league's scarcest position, is one thing. You can alter your instant-impact board for someone who fills all those categories. The Cavs brain trust apparently doesn't get the warm-and-fuzzies when considering Wiggins in that same light.
I've ranked Wiggins No. 1 on my draft board in light of Embiid's injury and see him developing into the perimeter stopper Cleveland needs on an offensively-based roster. Throw me into Griffin's shoes, the choice comes down to Wiggins and going all-in with Embiid—Parker doesn't even get consideration.
Griffin thinks differently. Parker should be considered a strong favorite for the top pick at this point.
Dario Saric Has Promise From the Nuggets?
NBA history tells us the best way to keep an international prospect in the draft is through a promise. Agents are famously mysterious with their client's desires, and international players are not beholden to the collegiate system. Dario Saric can wait another year to enter his name into the draft and still be paid handsomely for his services.
So...hence the promises. By sending a promise a player's way, agents can ensure their players are not embarrassed on draft night and teams can keep all their options open. Because what's life without a few broken promises?
At any rate, the buzz around Saric in recent days has been that he has a promise. Berger points out he's refused to work out with teams in the back half of the lottery, telling them he won't be available when their pick comes up. The "strong indications" are that Denver is the team who provided the pinky swear.
The Nuggets-Saric pairing is one I've made throughout the process, and the logic behind it is sound.
Denver's roster is capped out and filled to the brim with mediocre talent. Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are the only guys on the roster management can point to as unequivocal successes, and the latter has been the subject of trade rumors since the beginning of last season. There are 11 players on the roster who are worthy of being in an NBA rotation; how many of them are above-average NBA starters?
The point being here is the Nuggets need no more clutter. They're one of a handful of teams that can sell their fanbase on a draft-and-stash situation. Their desire for a player with star potential is also filled by Saric, who probably would have been a top-five pick had he kept his name in the draft a year ago. Only concerns about his availability and the depth of this draft class are holding him outside the top 10.
Saric has not yet indicated whether he's leaving his Serbian club Cibona for the NBA this summer, and the odds seem 50-50 at this point. Denver can deal either way. This is a near-perfect match for both sides.
Both Shooters Going in the Top 10?
Even though they play different positions and have very different skill sets, Nik Stauskas and Doug McDermott are in direct competition with one another. The only teams that will consider them in the mid-to-late lottery are ones with a glaring need to space the floor. Charlotte, Philadelphia, Orlando and Minnesota have that exact problem, so the lottery should not be a problem for either player.
Who goes first is another question entirely.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reported earlier this month that McDermott and the Hornets looked like an early match. The team has a habit of taking well-established collegiate players under Michael Jordan's stewardship—and wildly underprepared guys as well, for a weird dichotomy—so grabbing college basketball's National Player of the Year makes sense.
As workouts continue, though, the positive buzz around Stauskas is increasing by the minute. The Michigan product vastly improved his dribble-drive game from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and teams are seeing his ability to create shots and space for himself in workouts.
Stauskas also has arguably the prettiest shot in this draft, and his release point is more traditional than McDermott's. When talking about two players whose overarching draw is the same, sometimes it's those minor differences that wind up changing people's minds.
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders is reporting Stauskas "may" have played himself into the top 10. Stauskas is No. 9 on my final big board, and Charlotte seems like the same type of fit it'd be for McDermott.
Stauskas could play backup to Gerald Henderson initially before a move into the starting lineup. Grabbing him also allows for the possibility that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist develops enough jump-shooting skills to make him an NBA starter.
Or McDermott could go No. 9 and Stauskas No. 10. The Sixers, like they were in many categories, were the worst three-point shooting team in basketball last season. Their analytically-inclined front office encouraged players to stretch their range, but this roster needs someone opposing defenses will respect. Given their choice at No. 3 will probably be between Embiid and Exum—two non-shooters—grabbing Stauskas with their second pick makes some sense.
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