I was about fifteen minutes from posting an earlier mock draft when the Joel Embiid injury news broke. The resulting whirlwind of rumors, speculation, smokescreens, and fanbase panic has provided entertaining theatre to the post-NBA Finals lull leading into the draft. No other media practice has been sent into an uproar than the ever-popular mock draft.
The wonderful thing about mock drafts is that, while national and local beat writers lend their expert knowledge to the fun practice, novices like myself can do so with similar levels of accuracy. It’s impossible to predict the uncertainty of an event with movers and shakers like Sam Hinkie who, even in his first year calling the shots for the 76ers, threw a wrench into the process during last year’s draft. Considering the caliber of talent compared to the 2013 class and the amount of ‘ammunition’ some teams have to move up and down the two-round process, my attempt is sure to provide hysterical inaccuracies. Still, mock drafts are one of the more fun things about each league’s respective offseason and I’m a sucker enough to believe I have a clue as to what might happen a week from tomorrow when the chips start to fall. Most of these selections are based off of extensive rumors and reports I’ve read leading up to a night I’ve looked forward to for almost a year now. Some of the picks are more of just a hunch, admittedly. So, here we go.
NOTE: Limiting this mock to the lottery in an attempt to avoid sounding like I have any idea that I know what the teams picking from 15-on are thinking. Especially in the NBA Draft, trying to predict what happens after the first half of the opening round is essentially like throwing darts blindfolded.
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers-SF Jabari Parker, 6’8″, 241 lbs. Duke, Freshman
Though it is possible that the Cavaliers had their hearts set on Embiid, the new Cleveland front office is probably just as happy having their hand forced on the decision than having to roll the dice on the Kansas center. The polished scoring machine from Duke will join fellow Blue Devil Kyrie irving to make up a formidable offensive attack for a Cavalier organization in desperate need of a return trip to the playoffs. Parker’s size and advanced skillset will allow Cleveland to plug him into multiple lineups without forcing themselves to manipulate the minutes of some of their other key pieces. Parker, who led his team to multiple state championships in high school, will bring fire and intensity to the Cavaliers locker room after appearing to top out some with Irving as the marquee figure on the team. A one-two punch of a couple of former Duke ‘one-and-dones’ in a pedestrian Eastern Conference should be enough to get Cleveland back to the postseason for the first time since LeBron James‘s departure.
2.) Milwaukee Bucks-SF Andrew Wiggins, 6’8″, 200 lbs. Kansas, Freshman
Given his physical similarities to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Wiggins probably ranked third out of the three elite prospects, along with Parker & Embiid, on Milwaukee’s wish list for much of the pre-draft process. With Embiid’s injury throwing a wrench into the top of the board, the Bucks don’t overthink things and go with the best player available in Wiggins. The Kansas product is probably further along in his development than Antetokounmpo and can allow the Bucks to continue to bring the ‘Greek Freak’ along at a steady rate, as Wiggins will invite much more pressure and overall criticism given his stature since before arriving at Kansas. Though it will probably mean another year towards the bottom of an already bad conference, Wiggins’s arrival will inject some more life into the Milwaukee franchise as they piece together one of the most athletic rosters in the league. Coming off a season where the Bucks finished with the worst record in basketball, it’s not as if Wiggins will be expected to launch the team back into the upper echelon of the NBA for the first time in almost fifteen years. Instead, he can continue to develop some of the rougher edges of his game while increasing excitement in Milwaukee with his world-class athleticism.
3.) Philadelphia 76ers-G Dante Exum, 6’6″, 200 lbs. 18 years old, Australian Institute of Sport
Remember how I said some of these picks are based on a hunch? I am too clueless about what the 76ers will do with this pick to even entertain the notion of calling this selection a hunch. Though I am not discounting the possibility of Sam Hinkie going for the ‘double-tank’ and taking Embiid and having him sit out the entire season, Exum makes a little more sense, all things considering. From a talent standpoint, he is the last of a group that appears to be a small cut above the next tier of non-injured prospects. The wiry guard from down under has impressed whenever given a chance against top competition. He has a familiarity with head coach Brett Brown and, despite his similarities to Michael Carter-Williams, may have enough special aspects of his game that make the redundancy worth it. As far as developing into an NBA player, Exum will require a great deal of work and refinement. Fortunately, that happens to be Brown’s forte as a coach and the organization has made it clear they are not rushing anything at this point of their rebuild. There are few questions about Exum’s work ethic and Carter-Williams appears mature enough to share a backcourt with another player who could end up as a fixture on one of the NBA’s more promising young rosters. As mentioned before, there is almost nothing to base this selection off of. That said, with Wiggins and Parker off the board, there’s a little more than pretty much any other player.
4.) Orlando Magic-G Marcus Smart, 6’3″, 230 lbs. Sophomore, Oklahoma State
The Magic, miffed at missing out on Exum, take the second-best guard in the class to carry the reins for the next decade. Much like head coach Jacque Vaughn was as a player, the hard-nosed Smart will most-likely be entering the NBA with a large chip on his shoulder after a rocky sophomore season at Oklahoma State. One could have made an argument that Smart would have been a top-two pick in the 2013 class. Instead, some character issues were brought into question and Smart’s career in Stillwater wasn’t quite as storybook as one might have hoped. Still, Smart’s ability to defend, score, and most importantly lead will prove invaluable for a Magic franchise set to start progressing back toward consistent postseason contention. Orlando has some formidable pieces sprinkled throughout their roster. Smart’s intangibles along with his ability to do just about everything on the court make him as strong a candidate as any to lead them back into relevancy. With all of the uncertainty regarding some of the top prospects in this class (Exum, Wiggins, Embiid), Smart might be second to only Jabari Parker as far as a ‘safe bet’ pick when it comes to on-court ability and preparation for the NBA level.
5.) Utah Jazz-F Noah Vonleh, 6’9″, 250 lbs. Freshman, Indiana
For his first pick as new coach of the Jazz, Quin Snyder ends up with a player with room to grow and willingness to learn. From a physical standpoint, one couldn’t hope for a better prospect to mold and develop over the course of a few seasons. Despite playing on an Indiana team that lost a ton of talent from the year before, Vonleh consistently stood out on the court and was able to average close to a double-double in his one year in Bloomington. While his status as a lottery pick wasn’t necessarily in question coming out of college, Vonleh cemented himself as a top-ten pick with his pre-draft workouts and combine measurements. His 7’4″ wingspan and Kawhi Leonard-esque hands make him the type of project that coaches, especially ones with experience at the college level like Snyder, salivate over. Despite Utah using recent top picks on a pair of frontcourt players in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the formula hasn’t worked with the two of them and avoiding a potential talent like Vonleh could set the team back even further. With Kanter possibly hitting free agency after the 2014-2015 season, Vonleh could have an opportunity to grow into the team’s starting power forward and make him one of the most athletic, imposing frontcourts in the league in a few seasons. Meanwhile, he can bring rebounding, athleticism, and a defensive presence off the bench to a team that is in desperate need of a new identity as they attempt to make the long climb back towards the top of the Western Conference.
6.) Boston Celtics-C Joel Embiid, 7’0″, 240 lbs. Kansas, Freshman
You could probably count the number of people who were genuinely happy with the news of Joel Embiid’s injury on one hand. Included in that small group would be none other than Celtics GM Danny Ainge. Having been unable to lock down one of the top spots in a draft his team had positioned itself to do just that, Ainge was probably reserved to having to get lucky on a prospect if he wanted to avoid a true rebuild in a city that is none to fond of doing so. Instead, Ainge’s Celtics might just end up with the eventual best player in the draft. Sitting just outside the top-five, one can make a stronger argument for rolling the dice on Embiid. Not to mention the fact that the Celtics have a second pick later on in the first round, they are one of the few teams in a position to gamble on the services of the Cameroon transplant. Though it may mean having Embiid sit out for the entire 2014-2015 season, Boston is close enough removed from their last championship to keep the fanbase at bay for another year and the addition of Embiid can probably keep Rajon Rondo in town in the process. Considering the fact that Boston will be collecting first round picks from the Nets for the next eternity, the worst-case scenario is that Embiid never pans out and they will be able to inject young talent into the roster to make up for it sooner than any other team. The best case scenario is that, in a year’s time, Embiid is fully healthy and the Celtics lucked their way into landing the best player in the draft. But hey, it’s not like that city doesn’t deserve some good luck in the sports department, right?
7.) Los Angeles Lakers-F Julius Randle, 6’9″, 250 lbs. Freshman, Kentucky
Much like the Celtics, the Lakers could end up moving out of this pick in an attempt to make the most out of whatever is left of Kobe Bryant. Unlike Boston, the Lakers could end up bringing in a player like Randle that could have an immediate impact on a contending team. Much like Jabari Parker, Randle has the potential to step into an NBA roster and pick up right where he left off on the college level. The complications with a foot injury stemming back to before his college career started has scared off several teams. Considering their position with a fading star like Bryant, one would think the Lakers could be a team willing to take the risk on Randle and acquire a potential double-double player for a roster in desperate need of supplementary talent. Up until Kentucky’s run in the NCAA tournament, one would have little issue with some being lukewarm on him as a prospect. After a scintillating start to his college career, little was heard from Randle as the Wildcats trudged through a pedestrian SEC schedule. After their run to the title game and Randle’s role in the unlikely trek, it was easy to see why his stock rose back to the top of the class. His game is deceptively good along the perimeter and his ability to rebound at his height would be crucial for a Laker team hoping for another run at a title. Given the caliber of the Western Conference, I think it’s a pipe dream for Los Angeles to imagine they could contend with the likes of the top-five teams in their league. That said, aside from Parker, their might not be a prospect more prepared for the NBA than Randle. Should the Lakers hold onto the pick, it would come as little surprise to see him donning the purple and gold next season.
8.) Sacramento Kings-F Doug McDermott, 6’8, 218 lbs. Senior, Creighton
Does the looming specter of the failed experiment that was Jimmer Fredette keep Sacramento from drafting a shooter they so desperately need? Maybe. For a team that was in the bottom five of the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and had just three players average more than one made attempt per-game, one would have to think they’d be willing to dip their toe back in the water as far as bringing in a player who was defined by his ability to knock down the deep ball. Now that, at least for one more season, Sacramento has convinced Rudy Gay to stay on board, the team has a great deal of talent. Along with Gay, Demarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas made up a trio of 20+ point scorers all under the age of 30 in 2013-2014. Toss in a player like Ben McLemore, who is just scratching his surfacing in my opinion, and the Kings are looking at a pretty solid foundation. Cousins is a legitimate enough talent at the center position to allow the Kings to play with such a lineup. Until they have a dependable enough presence along the perimeter to stretch the defense and provide ‘Boogie’ with even more space in the paint, however, Sacramento will continue to find themselves on the outside looking in as far as the NBA’s true contenders. Though Michigan’s Nik Stauskas or even import Dario Saric would be an option here, the Kings are constructed to start winning now and cannot risk Saric staying in Europe or having to force McLemore to play on the wing. McDermott is by no means an ideal ‘four’, but he only helped himself in the pre-draft process and could be a player, like Jabari Parker, who could fit in just fine surrounded by a team of athletes like the Kings. McDermott is a ‘win-now’ player who could help sway Rudy Gay to remain in Sacramento as the Kings try to re-establish themselves as a presence in the Western Conference. If it becomes clear that they will be unable to retain his services, it would come as little surprise to see the Kings select Aaron Gordon. However, after almost a decade of irrelevancy in the West one would have to think Sacramento would be willing to overlook the Fredette failure and bring in a superior prospect like McDermott to try to return to the postseason conversation.
9.) Charlotte Hornets-G Nik Stauskas, 6’6″, 210 lbs. Sophomore, Michigan
Though not as bad as the Kings were from three-point range, the artists formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats were pretty putrid from deep. If Michael Jordan’s franchise has any hopes of success beyond the latter stages of Al Jefferson‘s career, the Hornets will round out a dynamic backcourt and add the services of one of the more intriguing players in the draft. Kemba Walker has proven already to have what it takes to pace a team in the scoring column while running point. As the Golden State Warriors have proven, a backcourt with two players with the ability to both handle and score can be a dependable recipe for success in the regular season and postseason. By no means am I saying that Kemba Walker is as dynamic a talent as Steph Curry is in Golden State. However, the Uconn product does have a similar skillset to Curry’s and can hit shots that only a handful of players in the league are capable of. Also, I could be way off on this one, but there’s something special about Stauskas. I really think he could end up being one of the more high-impact players in this draft class.
The Canadian product proved beyond a doubt that he is not just a dead-eye shooter from deep. Winning Big Ten Player of the Year up against a very strong showing from the rest of the conference cemented the Michigan sharpshooter as one of the best in all of college hoops last season. Carrying his team, following the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., to another deep tournament run. Were it not for a clutch Aaron Harrison three pointer in the regional finals, Michigan could very well have been playing in their second straight Final Four. Credit head coach John Beilein a great deal for the accomplishment, but it was hard to take your eyes of Stauskas in the motion-heavy offense that the Wolverines ran to perfection. He has the ability to handle the ball and even run the offense for extended periods of time. He can run all day around screens and his lightning-quick release makes him as frustrating a player to guard as any in the class. An ankle injury has limited his pre-draft workouts leading up to next Thursday. Make no mistake, however; Stauskas will not fall out of the lottery and would be a great get for the Hornets at #9.
10.) Philadelphia 76ers (From NO)-PF Aaron Gordon, 6’9″, 220 lbs. Freshman, Arizona
For how important this pick is for the 76ers, this was a tough call. Ultimately, Gordon is the best combination of fit for what the 76ers are trying to do along with a high ceiling with which the organization can work with. Many argue that Gordon is a few years away from making a legitimate impact as a starter in the NBA. That said, his apparently relentless work ethic paired with salivating athleticism means he will be able to affect the game in other ways while he is rounding into form as a starting four on a title contender.
Given how many additional picks (5) the 76ers have over the course of the rest of the draft, this pick hinges on the notion that they will be able to move around throughout the remainder of the evening to land a shooter that the roster so desperately needs. Gordon is somewhat of a best-player-available selection, but more in the eyes of the selector. Much like Wiggins, Gordon’s development will require great patience and his transition will most likely have its fair share of bumps on the road. However, with the correct approach, Gordon could end up being a perfect fit with the uptempo 76ers and a fixture in the locker room with his contagious attitude and work ethic.
11.) Denver Nuggets-F Dario Saric, 6’10”, 223 lbs. 20 years old, Croatia
I’m not saying that Saric is definitely going to be a star in this league. When picking at 11, however, a star-deprived team like the Nuggets seem like a prime candidate to roll the dice on a European talent with the potential to be great. Denver has a respectable collection of solid players who often outperform their own talent level. Good coaching and effort only go so far in the Western Conference. Seeing as the Nuggets aren’t exactly the prime destination for the NBA’s top free agents, taking a gamble on Saric developing into a potential star might be their best bet into vaulting back into the upper tier of the dominant half of the NBA. After Saric, there are very few players in this draft that could end up being truly special on the NBA level. Therefore, an organization as well-run as the Nuggets have been for the better part of the 2000s should be comfortable enough taking a risk, realizing they’ve been working under a bit of a glass ceiling with the lack of a legitimate superstar. Saric’s offensive game paired with the lightning quick and dynamic Ty Lawson could prove to be lethal in a few years, and the supporting characters fill the necessary roles to make him for any sort of defensive shortcomings. Even with the doubts regarding whether Saric will leave his European club for the NBA in his first season, the ‘by-the-book’ Nuggets should be able to rest easy knowing they took a shot on a player with true franchise potential.
12.) Orlando Magic (from NYK via DEN)-F Rodney Hood, 6’9″ 208 lbs. Sophomore, Duke
After playing things relatively safe with their earlier selection of Marcus Smart, Orlando goes with a high-ceiling wing prospect in Hood. The lefty, who is apparently making a late push up draft boards, rounds out a very intriguing potential starting five in the sunshine state. With Smart, Hood, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, and Nik Vucevic; the Magic would present a tantalizing blend of athleticism, scoring, defense, and grit that few teams could match. Often overshadowed by Parker in their one year in Durham, Hood was able to put together a deceptively strong season and even outperform his All-American teammate on a few occasions. His range goes beyond the three-point line, he can play well above the rim, and even demonstrated a favorable mid-range game. If Hood can put on some more weight on his lanky frame, he has the tools to become a strong wing defender as well. As one who watched almost every Duke game this season, it was tough not to recognize Hood on the court. Though he did experience more dormant stretches than Parker, Hood could heat up in an instant and could score just as effectively as the potential #1 pick. As the only other team besides the 76ers with a pair of lottery picks, Orlando nabs Hood at 12 and, for the first time since Dwight Howard’s departure, starts looking back toward the postseason.