Now that the order of the NBA’s draft lottery is set, everyone and their mother will have a mock draft, including this writer. It’s a futile endeavor, as prospects’ stocks will rise and fall leading up to next month’s draft, based on private workouts, medical records, interviews and a host of other factors that neither the media nor general public will be privy to, for the most part.
This particular mock draft should be seen as not outright predictions, but suggestions for teams, based on their current rosters and knowledge of the prospects, but without knowing teams’ summer free-agency plans or possible shifts in on-court philosophy. The beauty of this year’s draft class is that it’s extremely deep, meaning that while teams can certainly make the wrong choices, it won’t be because of lack of available talent, as has been the case in other years.
[MOCK DRAFT: Schanowski has Bulls taking players from Big Ten, ACC]
While various of snippets of information will be learned over the next month or so, potentially rendering the following relatively useless, this will be the only mock draft submitted, so consider it a testament to brilliance if it proves to be even close to accurate and disregard the draft’s actual results if it doesn’t come close. And remember, it’s for entertainment purposes only.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Even if you’re like this writer and believe Jabari Parker is the best player and safest bet in this draft class — Joel Embiid is probably the best fit for the Cavaliers, but his back issues could make Cleveland wary after 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett’s disastrous rookie campaign — it’s hard to see new Cavs general manager David Griffin not picking Wiggins. The Canadian has the most hype of any of the consensus top-three prospects and Cleveland will be scared to pass on a talent regarded to have the most superstar potential, especially since the far-fetched notion of LeBron James returning to Ohio, even if the franchise is optimistic about that scenario, is anything but a given. Look for the Cavs, who have yet to hire a head coach, to once again try to deal shooting guard Dion Waiters this offseason, committing to the duo of Wiggins and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in an attempt to convince the latter to sign an extension with the team.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker will get to play as close to his native Chicago without being a Bull and become the face of the franchise in Milwaukee, an organization with new ownership and plans for a new arena. Paired with “The Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo, in what could be a versatile and complementary tandem, Parker will immediately be an impact scorer for the Bucks. This is another club that will consider taking Embiid—though the word is, agents will do their best to keep their clients out of Milwaukee — but a long-term go-to guy is more of a need for the Bucks than a shot-blocking big man, particularly if Larry Sanders can rediscover his game after an extremely disappointing season after receiving a contract extension.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Kansas
For all of the 76ers’ obvious efforts to tank, they ended up in less than an ideal situation, as a wing like Wiggins or Parker is much more of a fit than an offensively-raw, defensive-minded big man, as 2013 draft pick Nerlens Noel — who missed his entire rookie campaign recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his lone college season at Kentucky — has many similarities to Embiid. But Philadelphia can’t afford to pass on the center’s prodigious talent and will have to figure out a way to play make the pairing work, at least initially. Still, lottery results aside, Embiid’s considerable upside alone is something to be excited about and one can imagine a partnership between him and point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the league’s Rookie of the Year, being the foundation for the Sixers’ eventual turnaround.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
Orlando, with its young roster and some solid pieces for the future, fared well and while it could go in a number of different directions, Exum is the pick here, though adding frontcourt help like Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon will be tempting. Putting the oversized point guard in a backcourt with Victor Oladipo gives the Magic a defined style of play, as the two could be interchangeable and offer size, athleticism and versatility. Deciding how their supporting cast, including big man Nikola Vucevic, fit in will be crucial, but a youth movement seems to be the path, meaning veterans like floor general Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Arron Afflalo could be expendable this summer.
[WATCH: Exum creating draft buzz]
5. Utah Jazz: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Jazz, like the Sixers, didn’t make out as well as it would have hoped following a hapless season—Parker, who is of the Mormon faith, would have been the ideal addition for Utah—and while none of the prospects likely to be on the board is a perfect fit for the roster, Gordon might be the best combination of talent, long-term potential and sorely-needed intangibles. Although Gordon’s lack of shooting is concerning, his athleticism, defensive prowess and motor make up for some of his deficiencies, and with leading scorer Gordon Hayward set to hit free agency, he could potentially step in at small forward for the Jazz, though he also has the versatility to play power forward and might even be more of a natural at the latter position. How Utah regards young players like rookie floor general Trey Burke and big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could also complicate this decision, and Gordon doesn’t duplicate any of their games, unlike Randle or point guard Marcus Smart.
6. Boston Celtics: Julius Randle, Kentucky
While the Celtics hoped to get a higher pick, getting Randle would be a coup for this spot in the draft. The left-handed bruiser still needs work on his defense and extending his shooting range, but projects to be a double-double machine in the NBA with his relentless interior game and physical rebounding ability. Boston has a lot of areas to address and while they have veterans at power forward in Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass, they are expendable, as is most of the roster, as a course of action regarding Rajon Rondo’s future needs to be determined.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The Lakers also may have lucked out by being in a position to take a player that can be productive at the outset of his career, have room to grow and address a need, not to mention the intangibles Smart brings to the table. The powerful point guard seems like a young player future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant can both respect and mentor, and it doesn’t hurt that he should also receive some positional tutelage from another legend, Steve Nash, in what will likely be the final season of a storied career. It wouldn’t be completely surprising if the Lakers traded this pick due to free-agency considerations — or at least attempted to test Minnesota’s resolve to not deal All-Star power forward Kevin Love — but if Smart ends up in Los Angeles, his package of skills and potential leadership ability (outbursts last season notwithstanding) just make too much sense for the Lakers.
8. Sacramento Kings: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
This might seem a bit high for Ennis, but with the Kings’ continued lack of cohesiveness and incumbent starting point guard Isaiah Thomas (more of a scoring-minded player anyway) a restricted free agent this summer, there’s some credence to bringing in a natural playmaker to distribute the ball. Ennis is known for his poise and while there are questions about his defense, outside shooting and athleticism, he proved to be a calming presence, a clutch performer and consummate floor general as a college freshman. It will be hard to pass on the likes of Noah Vonleh to form a big-man duo with the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins, but Ennis’ positive qualities and what he would add to a team in need of stability are too much for Sacramento to ignore.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The Hornets, back to their original name in a roundabout way, broke through this season and made the playoffs, so while it would be natural to target a player more ready to produce as a rookie, banking on Vonleh one day reaching his ceiling is the move to make. One of the youngest players in the draft, the big man’s rebounding prowess and ability to step outside as a shooter are intriguing, and his skill set could be a nice complement to leading scorer Al Jefferson, arguably the league’s premier post-up scorer. Vonleh is also highly regarded for his character, something Charlotte prizes, and could grow alongside young players like point guard Kemba Walker and wings Gerald Henderson Jr. and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Dario Saric, Croatia
After he pulled out of the draft a year ago, teams will be cautious with Saric, but assuming he has both feet in this time around, there’s not much debate as to his actual ability. Possessing an uncanny combination of ballhandling, passing, rebounding and post-up play, as well as not being a stiff athletically, the point-forward prospect would help Philadelphia upgrade its roster’s low level of overall talent. Saric would help relieve the aforementioned Carter-Williams of playmaking duties and set up Sixers’ inside players like Noel, veteran forward Thaddeus Young and presumably Embiid.
11. Denver Nuggets: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
The Nuggets had a rougher season than expected, partly due to injuries, but a primary deficiency was their perimeter-marksmanship issues. Enter Stauskas, who would add size at shooting guard—undersized veteran Randy Foye started at the position for the majority of the campaign; the backcourt as a whole was one of the league’s smallest—and is arguably the draft’s best shooter, as well as a potentially nice fit with speedy point guard Ty Lawson.
12. Orlando Magic: Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott will be a rookie next season, but on a young team like Orlando, the national player of the year’s mature game will compensate for his lack of experience, as his outside-shooting prowess would be a major benefit for the likes of Oladipo, Vucevic and potentially Exum. The forward will be attacked on the defensive end of the court, but his ability to space the floor, rebound the ball and make the right basketball play outweigh the negatives of his game.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Zach LaVine, UCLA
LaVine’s high ceiling — displayed during his lights-out start to the college campaign and in last week’s showing at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago — makes him a tantalizing addition and for Minnesota, which is now somewhat in flux because of the aforementioned Love situation, should look to add the best long-term talent. The explosive combo guard obviously needs to work on his body, defense and feel for the game as a floor general, but his elite athleticism and scoring potential can’t be discounted.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, Kentucky
Young is another prospect with a huge upside, as the southpaw swingman has the tools to not only be an athletic slasher with range and size for his position, but a solid defender, too. Phoenix, with its up-tempo style, would be an excellent fit for his game and Young would add another dimension to a team on the rise with his versatile skill set, if they don’t look to package this pick — or their two other first-round selections — to make a bigger acquisition.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Payne definitely benefited from his four years in college, as he continually added to his wide array of skills, but it works against him in the draft, likely being selected lower than his talent would indicate. Atlanta would be the winner in this scenario, as the athletic stretch four with a post-up game and the willingness to bang on the inside should be an instant contributor, potentially forming a nice duo with Al Horford.
16. Chicago Bulls: Rodney Hood, Duke
The smooth southpaw sharpshooter’s game is a match for the Bulls’ desire to improve their perimeter offense. Hood isn’t as one-dimensional some think, however, as his blend of ball skills and size for his position allow him to operate as both a secondary ballhandler and on the interior, while also having the potential to improve dramatically as a defender.
17. Boston Celtics: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Measuring up a couple inches shorter than expected, combined with an inconsistent sophomore year, being more of a true shooting guard than a combo and dealing with injuries throughout his college career could affect Harris’ stock. Conversely, his toughness, ability to play on both ends of the floor and potential as a shooter are all held in good standing, and many observers believe the former high school football star and son of an ex-WNBA player will be an impactful performer as soon as he enters the league.
18. Phoenix Suns: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia
Nurkic is projected to go higher in the draft by some observers, so if he lasts this long, it would be a steal for the Suns. While he could remain overseas, the true center could be ready to play now, as his massive frame, surprisingly skilled offensive game — think Marc Gasol, with less passing acumen and shooting range — and rebounding ability translate to the NBA game right now.
19. Chicago Bulls: Clint Capela, Switzerland
Capela is a ways away from being able to contribute in the NBA, which actually works for the Bulls, as they would be able to keep him stashed in Europe for a few more years, a la 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic. The big man still needs to add weight and develop a feel for the game offensively, but his raw tools, including natural shot-blocking ability and explosiveness that allows him to finish above the rim, bode well for the future.
20. Toronto Raptors: K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
A defensive-minded wing with a developing offensive game, McDaniels would be a nice complement to All-Star scorer DeMar DeRozan, as well as young swingman Terrence Ross. He makes sense for an athletic Toronto team that made major strides this season, joining its young nucleus as a three-and-D role player and another piece to the puzzle for the future.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Thunder always looks for players with major potential and Payton, a mid-major star, fits the bill as a big point guard with smooth athleticism, excellent defensive ability and playmaking skills, though he needs to improve his shaky shooting and add bulk to his slender frame.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: T.J. Warren, N.C. State
Warren would add scoring punch to the defensive-minded Grizzlies with his old-school game and though critics knock his defense, shooting range and perceived lack of explosiveness, his offensive instincts should allow the wing to develop into a productive pro.
23. Utah Jazz: Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Grant still has to round out his overall game, but the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant (and nephew of ex-Bulls power forward Horace Grant) is an active, high-level athlete with potential worth taking a gamble on for the Jazz at forward.
24. Charlotte Hornets: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
A point forward with tremendous court vision, solid rebounding ability and an improved outside jumper, Anderson’s glaring lack of quickness and athleticism have rightfully led to questions about his defense, but the right coach, perhaps Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, could find a way to hide him on that end of the floor, while taking advantage of his offensive talent.
25. Houston Rockets: C.J. Wilcox, Washington
A knockdown shooter from deep with decent size for a shooting guard, the four-year college player would seemingly fit Houston’s perimeter-oriented offense, and his underrated athletic ability could allow other parts of Wilcox’s game to blossom in time.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, UConn
The two-time college national champion already has LeBron James’ stamp of approval and given that the Heat may need to address Napier’s position — Miami’s starting point guard, Mario Chalmers, is a free agent this summer — it’s feasible that the quick, aggressive, two-way floor general could end up on South Beach.
27. Phoenix Suns: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Stokes is a tad undersized for a power forward, but his physical nature, length and track record of dominance on the boards could equal success as an NBA role player and with the Suns’ up-and-down style of play, he might be able carve out a valuable niche for himself.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: P.J. Hairston, D-League
Based off his talent, Hairston should be a higher pick, but red flags relating to why he was dismissed from North Carolina could serve to drop his stock, making the Clippers an ideal landing spot, as the sharpshooting swingman is a product of the AAU team Chris Paul sponsored and rookie swingman Reggie Bullock, his college teammate, is also on the roster.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Early should probably be drafted higher also, but the NBA’s usual fascination with youth is a candidate to affect his draft position, which would benefit him in the long run, as he would be mature, talented three-and-D player who would be a solid backup for league MVP Kevin Durant at small forward.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
A San Antonio native, if Clarkson makes a homecoming, it would be a nice story, but it would also make sense, as the athletic combo guard is the typical Spurs’ late-round pick with nice upside, as well as a possible replacement for current backup point guard Patty Mills, who is a free agent in the offseason.