As one of the most respected NBA insiders on the planet, people listen when Chad Ford works the phones and puts together a mock draft with the spectacle on approach.
As is the case with any sport, there is no exact science to a mock draft. But Ford's is different from the pack in that he is not rating players or slotting for best fits and the like. Rather, the ESPN guru uses knowledge gained from teams and sources to craft his mock:
"Remember our mock draft is not a ranking of who we think the top players are. Instead it's a reporting tool to convey our latest intel from NBA scouts and GMs on what each team might do in the draft."
Below are the most notable selections based on said intel. Ford's mock can be found here (subscription required).
No. 3. Philadelphia 76ers: Dante Exum, PG, Australia
As Ford aptly notes, no team has been hurt more by the Joel Embiid injury saga than the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker presumably off the board by the time the 76ers waltz to the podium, the general consensus was that they would have no qualms about taking the Kansas product.
This notion was also confirmed by sources that spoke to Bob Cooney of Philly.com:
But Ford expects the 76ers to balk at the idea of drafting yet another player who has to miss a large chunk, if not all, of his rookie season due to injury. It makes sense, especially if Ford is correct in saying the front office believes the Australian product can play well with Michael Carter-Williams.
No. 4. Orlando Magic: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Thanks to Embiid's injury and Exum being off the board, Ford has the Orlando Magic settling for the very high ceiling presented by the 18-year-old Indiana product Noah Vonleh.
It is important to note that the front office in Orlando, owners of this selection and No. 12 overall, have been hard at work trying to move around to accelerate the rebuilding process:
The Magic have also been trying to both move up and get another lottery pick. They've offered Nos. 4 and 12 and Afflalo to the Cavs and Bucks, but so far, no takers. They've also used Afflalo as bait to get a pick from the Kings at No. 8 and the Nuggets at 11, but so far, no deal.
No dice so far, but Vonleh is not a horrible way to start off what should be another talented draft class. He is a force on the defensive end of the court already, which will help to make up for what center Nikola Vucevic brings to the table in that area.
While a work in progress on the offensive side, "upside" is the key word. Many will view this as too high for Vonleh, but if he matures at a fast pace, nobody will say so in hindsight.
No. 6. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
The fall stops at No. 6 for Embiid in Ford's latest offering.
It makes too much sense. The Boston medical staff knows what it's doing, just look at how injury red flags handed out to the likes of Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger have worked out in recent years.
Should they sign off on Embiid, fans can rest easy about his injury rap sheet. Austin Ainge said, via Marc D'Amico of NBA.com:
There’s been many, many guys we’ve passed on. Our medical staff told us to pass on Greg Oden. Our medical staff told us to pass on Brandon Roy… So there’s two (Bradley and Sullinger) we’ve taken chances on. There’s been many, many others we’ve not decided to chance on.
In other words, Boston is a pretty good barometer for Embiid's future success, not to mention how much longer his fall will continue if the Celtics take a pass.
No. 15. Atlanta Hawks: Shabazz Napier, PG, Uconn
Coming off a season in which Jeff Teague, at 26 years old, led the team to the playoffs and recorded averages of 16.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game, the Atlanta Hawks sound on the hunt for a replacement.
That is, according to what Ford is hearing:
However, the Hawks are also not completely sold on Jeff Teague and could explore the market for him this summer. That's led them to take long looks at both Shabazz Napier and Payton at No. 15 if something materializes in the next few days. Napier, especially, seems to have gained momentum in workouts the past few weeks, and sources say he's moved into a strong possibility in Atlanta.
There seem to be other issues in Atlanta at the moment, but it is hard to go wrong with Napier at this juncture. A four-year player who led his team to a title, the field general is often hailed as a pro-ready point who can be trusted to execute an offense effectively.
That can be difficult to find, so it would explain why Napier's stock continues to rise. No. 15 is not all that shocking, but the team Ford has selecting him certainly is at this point.