The reason that sports drafts are so popular is because they provide instant gratification. We may not know for a couple of years how teams fared, but in the one moment that comes with each pick, it's refreshing to see new talent added to a roster.
Every team that is picking on Thursday night will come out of the draft looking instantly better. Optimism will run high, and even the most pessimistic fans will find something to cheer about.
As the final hours countdown before commissioner Adam Silver steps up to the podium, our latest mock draft looks at the teams that will make the most substantial improvements in their effort to make a run at the Larry O'Brien trophy.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
The Cavaliers are in an ideal spot to get better, even with Joel Embiid likely not an option after his recent foot injury and subsequent surgery on Friday. Their choice now comes down to the best pure athlete with the highest ceiling (Andrew Wiggins) or the best pure scorer who can make an impact right away (Jabari Parker).
Both players had a private workout in Cleveland, but Parker apparently left a lot to be desired in his. According to ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required), the former Duke star "tanked" the workout because he "strongly prefers to play in Milwaukee."
Even though that could just be draft hyperbole that is being used to force a trade with someone, those kinds of whispers this late in the process can't be completely ignored. Wiggins is an athletic freak of athletic at 6'8" and 200 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan.
The Cavaliers can pair Wiggins with Kyrie Irving to form one of the youngest and most dynamic backcourts in basketball. They will still need help to become a playoff contender, but the team's nucleus would look a lot better with Wiggins.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The Bucks are in such a poor state with their roster that they can't afford to miss with this pick. Parker's ceiling is tremendous, but he's even more valuable than a player like Wiggins because his floor is very high. He's going to be a dynamic scorer in the NBA right away, and he would give this franchise a true cornerstone to build around.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
No team was hurt more by Embiid's injury than the 76ers, who likely would have had an opportunity to add Wiggins or Parker. Now, in the same mock draft in which Ford reported that Parker tanked his Cleveland workout, is a trade that would move Philadelphia up to No. 1:
The Cavs received intriguing offers from the Sixers, Magic and Jazz late last week. Each is offering its own high lottery pick plus a veteran. The Cavs could theoretically get either of Thaddeus Young, Arron Afflalo or Derrick Favors and still have a top-5 pick in the draft.
Since we won't project any trades in this mock, the 76ers are just going with the best player available here. Dante Exum isn't necessarily a fit with Michael Carter-Williams already in place, but both are incredible athletes who can work well together, with or without the ball.
4. Orlando Magic: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
The Magic need to address two specific areas with their two first-round picks: A big man and point guard. Fortunately, the board lines up nicely at both positions for the team. Noah Vonleh has size (6'9", 247 lbs), strength, length and dribbling skills to score inside and out.
5. Utah Jazz: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Embiid is the great mystery of Round 1. He's got superstar potential when healthy, but that hasn't been the case for him since March. The former Kansas center battled a back injury that kept him out of the NCAA tournament and now has to deal with a foot injury that will keep him out at least four to six months, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
Even with the injury concerns, we are still talking about a seven-foot center who has shown the rare ability to score around the basket and be an impact defender. As a result, someone will take a chance on him early. The Jazz need help in every facet of the game, so they should shoot for the ceiling.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona
The best marriage of player and team in the top 10 is Aaron Gordon and the Boston Celtics. He's got so much work to do as an offensive player, but the work he does in terms of defense around the rim and rebounding is second to none in this class.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
With all the talk about foot surgery behind him, Julius Randle can focus on starting his NBA career in earnest on Thursday. He's exactly what the Lakers need to move forward with their instant-rebuilding process: A young versatile scorer who plays defense and rebounds like a mad man.
8. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
The Kings need all sorts of help at the point guard position, as they ranked last in the league with 18.9 assist per game last year. Marcus Smart isn't the most versatile passer in the class, but he knows where to go with the ball and isn't afraid to attack the basket.
9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit Pistons): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Charlotte's playoff berth last season wasn't a fluke, because there's a lot of young talent on the roster. If the newly-reborn Hornets are to keep their momentum going, though, finding an elite shooter is paramount.
There's more to Stauskas' game than just pulling up from distance, too, as NBA Legion noted on Twitter:
Nik Stauskas can get up...40 inch vertical while working out the Lakers today, impressive.— NBA Legion (@MySportsLegion) June 20, 2014
The Hornets had the fourth-best defense in terms of points per game last season, so if they can just find an elite shooter to pair with Al Jefferson, they will start making noise in the Eastern Conference.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans Pelicans): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
With the 76ers filling out their backcourt earlier in the round, they can add another impact scorer to the roster here. Doug McDermott isn't the best athlete in the draft, nor will he overpower defenders driving to the basket, but he's got a smooth stroke and can find points anywhere on the floor.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Scoring has never been a problem for the Nuggets, who ranked second in rebounding and ninth in points last season, but they need to find an attitude and toughness on defense to avoid another disappointing year.
Harris fills an immediate need at the 2-guard spot and brings that Tom Izzo swagger into the NBA. He won't change the team's culture on his own, but he is certainly a good start for a second-year head coach.
12. Orlando Magic (from New York Knicks via Denver Nuggets): Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
With a new big man already in place, Orlando gets the point guard it so desperately needs in Elfrid Payton here. He's not getting the same publicity as Exum or Smart, but the Louisiana-Lafayette star is an explosive athlete who drives the lane with ease and plays in-your-face defense.
Which player provides the most immediate impact in the NBA?
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: James Young, SG, Kentucky
So much of what Minnesota does in the draft depends on when the front office decides what to do with Kevin Love. With no deal currently in place, the Timberwolves can just go after the best player available who fills their need for more scoring.
James Young is a one-dimensional talent, but that dimension is scoring. He's not a consistent shooter and has to learn to at least try on defense. If that happens, however, the Kentucky star has the potential to be a steal at No. 13.
14. Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
Teams that like size are going to be high on Saric, who is a 6'10" power forward with the ball-handling skills of a point guard and the rebounding skills of a big man. His shot is a work in progress, and weighing 223 pounds means that NBA defenders will overpower him in the paint.
When you combine the present skills with his ability to add muscle, though, Saric has the potential to be a star forward in the league for a long time.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Anderson, SF/PG, UCLA
There isn't a more versatile player in the draft than Kyle Anderson. He's not the most gifted player on the court, lacking defensive skills and possessing a slight frame, but his ability to handle the ball, show range with his shot and rebound fit nicely with a Hawks team that needs another option behind Al Horford.
16. Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte Hornets): Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
The Bulls might end up being players for a scorer in free agency (Carmelo Anthony?), but until that happens, they are at the mercy of the draft to repair their anemic offense.
Fortunately, Rodney Hood fills that need in a very big way. He's big for a shooting guard at 6'9" and has great touch from beyond the arc. Even if the Bulls make a splash on the open market, they need more depth to prepare for the very distinct possibility that Derrick Rose will miss some more time.
17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn Nets): Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
If Zach LaVine played more like a traditional point guard, he would be a lottery pick. However, he tends to fall in love with his own shot too often and everything else becomes forgotten.
However, we are still talking about a 6'6" point guard who is just 19 years old, has good form on his shot and can move to the 2-guard position with ease. The Celtics need to find an heir apparent to Rajon Rondo, or, in the event Rondo stays, a versatile guard who can play alongside the All-Star.
18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington Wizards): T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
There are some college players whose ability doesn't get appreciated when analyzing how their game translates to the next level. T.J. Warren is one of those players who is going to fall in the draft but has the ability to end up as one of the four best picks.
Seth Davis of SI.com collected reports from six scouts, and one of the most encouraging came in the discussion about the former N.C. State star:
He just makes baskets, and he's bigger than people think. He's thick. He's strong. He reminds me of Cedric Ceballos. Crafty and good around the hoop. Very impressed with what he did off the court in the summer to change his body. I think that speaks volumes about him as a person. From 15 feet and in, the best scorer in the draft.
The Suns are a young team in need of scoring versatility, even though they ranked seventh in points per game last season. Warren is the attacking forward the Suns need to go from a 48-win surprise team to a 50-win playoff contender.
19. Chicago Bulls: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
After getting the scorer they need earlier, the Bulls can opt for the best-player-available approach here, regardless of position. Adreian Payne is a big man who excels both in the paint and as a jump-shooter, so Tom Thibodeau will have more versatility to play with.
20. Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
With Kyle Lowry hitting free agency, bolstering the point guard position has to be Toronto's top priority in the draft. Tyler Ennis makes perfect sense as a player who fills the Raptors' biggest need and, as an added bonus, he can be used as a solid marketing device as an Ontario-born athlete.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas Mavericks via Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
This is an instance where athleticism and projection are worth the risk, especially for a team like Oklahoma City that is set to compete for a championship now and able to develop a player along the way.
Jerami Grant doesn't have much range with his shot and hasn't proven capable of being a consistent scoring threat, but the flashes he has shown in his two years at Syracuse make it easy to see star potential.
The 20-year-old also adds a much-needed big body who can play inside or outside for the Thunder, especially when they matchup with San Antonio in the postseason.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
If the Grizzlies had any kind of scoring threat last year, they could have pulled off a first-round upset against Oklahoma City in the playoffs.
P.J. Hairston is still rebuilding his stock after being kicked off North Carolina's basketball team in December and then spending some time in the D-League. While those issues make it difficult to forecast where Hairston will go in the draft, someone is going to take a chance on him in the back half of the first round because he's such a good athlete who knows how to score the basketball.
Memphis isn't far away from being a powerhouse in the Western Conference, so adding Hairston's ability to a talented roster makes too much sense.
23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri
The Jazz will end up with the best combination of a big man and a point guard in this draft if the board breaks this way. Embiid is a steal at No. 5, and Jordan Clarkson can lead an offense due to his ability to handle the ball and shoot from anywhere on the floor.
24. Charlotte Hornets (from Portland Trail Blazers): Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State
Even though he's not the shooting guard Charlotte needs, Cleanthony Early is the kind of player a young franchise needs to keep evolving. The Wichita State star was as impressive as anyone in the NCAA tournament, showing explosiveness and versatility in the Shockers' loss to Kentucky.
The Hornets will have taken care of their biggest issue with two of the draft's best pure scoring threats in Stauskas and Early in the first round.
25. Houston Rockets: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
This is a spot where the Rockets, who have one of the best rosters in the NBA, can afford to take a chance on the future. Clint Capela can come over right away or keep developing his game in Switzerland for another year, which will allow Houston to keep Terrence Jones at the power forward spot in 2014-15 before possibly exploring a trade to fill another hole.
Capela is a lot like Dwight Howard, for better and worse, with his lack of jump shot and stout defensive acumen. Putting those two on the same floor will be a nightmare for opposing teams trying to drive the lane.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The Heat have plenty of other things to worry about than the draft at this precise moment. LeBron James opted out of his contract on Tuesday, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard, leaving the team's immediate future in serious jeopardy.
Regardless of what happens with the King, Shabazz Napier should be on Miami's radar. He proved himself to be a great leader in the NCAA tournament with Connecticut, makes up for his lack of size with toughness and plays with an aggressive style that allows him to create easy baskets.
27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana Pacers): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
The Suns are in a difficult spot, because they have three first-round picks but not necessarily three available roster spots. They could make deals to avoid selecting three times, or they could add an international player who can stay overseas for a year before making any rash decisions.
There's also the possibility that Phoenix's front office looks to create competition, adding an exciting young player like K.J. McDaniels. He's the best pure defender in this class and isn't without offensive ability, though his shot needs to improve in order for him to be trusted with the ball.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Mitch McGary was supposed to build off his impressive NCAA tournament run two years ago to secure a spot in the lottery after this season. He got hurt early last season, though, leaving his stock in flux.
However, according to Ford, McGary doesn't seem likely to fall out of the first round:
I'm confident Mitch McGary has a promise in the 1st round. He's done just 1 workout. He's healthy. His camp has gone radio silent.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 24, 2014
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Speaking of toughness, Oklahoma City has to get more physical down low in order to keep up with the Spurs out in the West. Jarnell Stokes has some offensive ability thanks to his big body, but his rebounding and defensive ability are what will make him a valuable asset at the next level.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina
No team loves to draft international players more than San Antonio. No team has had more success in that regard than the Spurs, either. Jusuf Nurkic is a project and doesn't have the best body at 6'11", 280 pounds, but his size and ability to handle the paint are always valuable.
Plus, the Spurs can hide him overseas for another year before bringing him into the fold.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter: @adamwells1985