10 Bold Predictions for the 2014 NBA Draft
Now that the San Antonio Spurs have officially been dubbed champions of the basketball universe, it's time to shift our attention to the future stars of the Association.
With one of the most celebrated classes of the past decade set to take center stage when the NBA community gathers in Brooklyn on June 26, it's time to explore a few out-of-the-box possibilities come draft day.
For instance, could Julius Randle's foot injury cause him to fall into the latter stages of the lottery? Or how about sleeper Elfrid Payton shooting up draft boards while prospects like Tyler Ennis and Shabazz Napier jockey for position after pick No 15?
In the following slideshow, we'll take a stab at answering those questions, and more, with a slew of bold predictions about the 2014 NBA draft.
Boston Snags Aaron Gordon at No. 6 Overall, Passes on Marcus Smart
When constructing mock drafts, the Boston Celtics have been one of the harder lottery teams to peg.
It remains unclear whether the Celtics are looking to go big or small, but they certainly have the luxury of being able to select the best player available.
In this case, though, we've got the Celtics going big, bypassing Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart in favor of a versatile forward.
Arizona's Aaron Gordon, who led the Pac-12 in defensive rating (88.6) and the nation in defensive win shares (3.3), per Sports-Reference.com, is the pick here, especially with Noah Vonleh and Dante Exum off the board (more on those selections in a moment).
And while it may seem like a bit of a reach, it's worth noting the Celtics seem to have taken a liking to the lengthy and explosive athlete prior to the draft.
According to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, Celtics president Danny Ainge praised Gordon's defensive chops when the forward was in town for a predraft workout:
I think Aaron’s biggest strength is his versatility, said Ainge. I think he’ll be able to guard almost every position on the court, and that’s really his strength. He’s a great defender and he handles the ball pretty well for his size. And he’s going to have to continue his shooting, but he’s a worker and I think he will.
Often compared to Shawn Marion, Gordon would be a logical addition at No. 6 overall to a Celtics team whose frontcourt is filled with a hodgepodge of ill-fitting talents.
Orlando Selects Noah Vonleh, Dante Exum Slips to the Utah Jazz at No. 5 Overall
The most logical landing spot all along for Australian phenom Dante Exum has been the Orlando Magic at No. 4 overall.
With Jameer Nelson far from the youthful answer Rob Hennigan is looking for, the 6'6" playmaker feels like a natural fit next to Victor Oladipo.
But should the Magic choose to wait on a point guard and address another position of need, the Utah Jazz could find themselves staring at a gift from down under when they're on the clock at No. 5 overall.
In this case, we're going to go out on a limb and slot in Noah Vonleh at No. 4 overall to the Magic, which would give Jacques Vaughn a frontcourt replete with versatile weapons. Although Tobias Harris is capable of slotting in at the 4, Vonleh would give the Magic a more conventional power forward and allow the 21-year-old Harris to slide around between both forward positions.
NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks recently broke down what makes Vonleh so unique:
At 6-foot-9, 247 pounds, Vonleh is similar to Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh in his ability to score with his back to the basket and to hit the long range jumper. The 18-year old averaged 11.3 points and nine rebounds last season, shooting 53% from the floor and 48% on the 33 three-pointers he attempted. He also has some of the longest arms in the draft, measuring in at 7-foot-4.25 inches at the NBA Combine.
Now to the Jazz.
While point guard may not be Utah's most pressing need after selecting Trey Burke last year, the Jazz aren't in a position to sneer at the best player available.
With the potential loss of Gordon Hayward to restricted free agency looming, Exum would walk into an open role at either guard position and team with Burke and Alec Burks to instantly form one of the league's most intriguing young backcourts.
Dario Saric Falls out of the Lottery
Croatia's Dario Saric remains one of the biggest enigmas of the 2014 NBA draft, namely because he's shown a reluctance to participate in the predraft process.
Not only did Saric fail to attend May's combine, but according to EuroBasket's David Pick, the versatile forward also has not scheduled workouts with any teams ahead of draft night.
But after the June 16 deadline for international players to withdraw came and went, Saric will wind up being selected at some point come June 26.
But where he eventually lands is totally up in the air.
According to ESPN's Chad Ford, "Saric is getting looks as high as the Lakers at 7" and the "Sixers at 10 are a strong possibility." Ford concluded his tweet by noting that Saric is unlikely to last past the Atlanta Hawks at No. 15 overall.
And while his combination of off-the-dribble and spot-up scoring is undoubtedly lottery-worthy, it may not be worth taking a gamble with one of the draft's first 14 picks on a player shrouded in mystery when so many viable wing options figure to be available in that same range.
Doug McDermott Is Selected Before an SEC Player
It took 10 picks before a senior (C.J. McCollum) was selected in the 2013 NBA draft and 17 picks before one of the collegiate ranks' most seasoned talents (Tyler Zeller) was picked in 2012.
In other words, seniors typically aren't hot commodities in the lottery.
Upside is the name of the game when trying to find a franchise-defining talent, and seniors are typically labeled as more tapped out in that department.
But when it comes to the 2014 draft, there's one senior whose game will be worthy of a top-10 selection. And that's Creighton's Doug McDermott.
Widely projected as a lottery lock, McDermott capped off his collegiate career by averaging 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 44.9 percent shooting from three.
While he may not offer much in terms of classic upside or potential, McDermott possesses a complete arsenal of offensive tools that should make him a reliable scorer from day one in the Association.
It's also worth noting that McDermott graded out favorably in several athletic testing drills at the NBA combine, per Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman: "McDermott registered a 36.5-inch max vertical and a better agility time than guys like Tyler Ennis, Cleanthony Early, Rodney Hood and T.J. Warren—an encouraging sign, given his perceived defensive limitations."
A proven commodity whose stock is trending in the right direction, McDermott would represent a nice offensive upgrade off the bench for clubs like the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets.
Elfrid Payton Lands with the Orlando Magic at No. 12 Overall
As mentioned previously, the Orlando Magic have the luxury of waiting on a point guard if they so choose.
In possession of two lottery picks (No. 4 and No. 12 overall), the Magic could conceivably hold their breath and hope that a quality point guard lasts until the back end of the top 15.
And while he may not be an eye-popping talent like Dante Exum or Marcus Smart, Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton is the real deal.
Hailing from a smaller school, a la Portland Trail Blazers floor general Damian Lillard, Payton scorched the nets during his junior season to the tune of 19.2 points on 50.9 percent shooting from the field.
And while his outside shot still needs considerable work, Payton's ability to penetrate using his tremendous quickness will help mitigate the effects of his relatively broken perimeter stroke.
Payton's also demonstrated an ability to contribute in a multitude of ways on both ends of the floor.
According to Sports-Reference.com, Payton was the only player in the country last season to average at least 19 points, six rebounds and five assists, an impressive feat for a point guard standing 6'3'' and weighing 180 pounds.
On defense, Payton displayed an excellent work ethic as well, exemplified by his individual defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 99.2 over the course of three seasons, per Sports-Reference.
Here's Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal with a breakdown of Payton's defensive strengths:
"Not only does he remain intense when settling down into his stance, but he flashes tremendous instincts, allowing him to poke away the ball when it's being handled without much care and to jump into passing lanes without a moment of hesitation."
He may not be a Rookie of the Year front-runner, but Payton seemingly has all of the tools necessary to be a long-term starter at the next level.
Julius Randle Falls to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 10 Overall
If Doug McDermott rises, as boldly predicted, then someone may need to fall.
In this case, the casualty is Kentucky's Julius Randle, who's battled reports regarding a potentially troublesome foot issue over the past few weeks.
University of Kentucky forward Julius Randle, considered a top 10 pick, likely needs surgery on his right foot after the NBA draft in June, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The procedure is expected to keep Randle out six to eight weeks this summer, sources said, but there's a strong expectation within front offices that he'll be cleared for the start of training camp in the fall.
In addition, ESPN's Jeff Goodman passed along this concerning tidbit on Twitter: "Regarding Julius Randle: Multiple teams worried about his foot being an issue down the road. Feel it did not heal correctly."
Should that reported issue manifest itself in the form of tangible concern, then it's quite possible the low-post banger could slip a bit on draft day while prospects like McDermott, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart and even Nik Stauskas creep up draft boards.
But even if Randle does slip, he could very well find himself in a favorable situation at No. 10 overall with the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Nerlens Noel penciled in as the team's starting center and Thaddeus Young's future with the club in limbo, Randle could eventually provide double-double consistency and be the offensive linchpin next to the flat-topped, shot-blocking Noel, a fellow former Kentucky Wildcat.
Michigan Will Be the Only School with Three Players Selected in the First Round
Typically, it's the University of Kentucky's job to churn out an obscene number of first-round prospects.
But with Julius Randle and James Young as the school's only premier talents available this year, it's time to temporarily pass the torch.
Enter the Michigan Wolverines.
With a trio of compelling names in Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, there remains a chance that Michigan head coach John Beilein will see three of his former standouts selected in Round 1.
In order to be the only school to boast that designation, though, Wolverines far and wide will need to hope that UCLA's talented trio doesn't usurp the Maize and Blue's spotlight.
The triumvirate of Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson likely has a better shot of accomplishing said feat, with the successful completion hinging on Adams' viability as a late first-round selection.
But because we're in a bold mood, it's Robinson and McGary who get the edge here, creeping onto stacked, championship-contending rosters at the back end of the draft.
No Syracuse Players Are Picked in the Top 20...
The last time we saw Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis competing on the hardwood, he was being dispatched by the Dayton Flyers in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, we've got some more bad news for Ennis and his fellow Orange draft hopefuls.
In the spirit of boldness, we'll go out on a limb and project that Ennis and teammate Jerami Grant will both be selected after the Toronto Raptors pick at No. 20 overall, which would disrupt somewhat of a trend that's been established of late.
Syracuse has a nice track record of producing top-20 selections, and lottery picks, in particular.
Excluding 2012, in which no Syracuse players were selected, Jim Boeheim has seen former standouts Jonny Flynn (No. 6 overall), Wesley Johnson (No. 4 overall), Dion Waiters (No. 4 overall) and Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 overall) picked in the early stages of the draft.
Although DraftExpress has Ennis pegged at No. 16 overall to the Chicago Bulls, I'm more bullish on point guard Elfrid Payton and a host of others.
...But Shabzz Napier Will Be
One of the more divisive talents in this year's class, UConn point guard Shabazz Napier is widely projected to come off the board sometime in the latter stages of Round 1.
The reasons why?
Combine Napier's age (22 years old) with his score-first mindset, and he doesn't exactly fit the mold of your prototypical NBA point guard.
Similar to seniors Adreian Payne and Doug McDermott, it's also easy to look at Napier and say that he's maxed out his potential after four years of college ball.
But if we examine the statistics more closely, it's clear that Napier is just now starting to come into his own.
After averaging 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists en route to being named the 2013-14 NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player while earning Consensus All-American honors, Napier has plenty to offer his future NBA employer.
With a skill set similar to that of a score-first point guard like the Atlanta Hawks' Lou Williams, Napier is capable of making an immediate impact off the bench during his first year in the Association.
The NCAA's leader in win shares (7.9) last season, per Sports-Reference.com, Napier could be worth the gamble for teams in need of scoring help between picks 15-19.
Zach LaVine Is Drafted by a Team Whose Win Total Exceeded His Vertical Jump
UCLA's Zach LaVine has emerged as a predraft star thanks to some insane athletic testing numbers.
Chief among them is the 41.5-inch vertical leap he recorded at last month's NBA combine.
And while he wound up boosting that number to 46 inches during a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers, we're going to stick with the official number that didn't include a running start.
What this all boils down to is a creative way of saying LaVine will fall out of the lottery and land with a team that had at least 41.5 wins during the 2013-14 season.
As a result, his likely suitors in that case would be the Phoenix Suns (although they also hold the last pick of the lottery), Chicago Bulls (No. 16 and No. 19 overall), Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and so on.
Although projections regarding LaVine vary wildly, the risk commensurate with picking such a raw prospect before a more proven player like Nik Stauskas, Rodney Hood or even Adreian Payne isn't worth the gamble in such a loaded draft.