The 2014 NBA Draft is almost here. What started as one of the most highly anticipated drafts in recent memory has quickly morphed into one of the most action-packed. Joel Embiid went under the knife and is expected to miss four to six months, but he remains a tantalizing seven-foot talent. Meanwhile, there is an even mix of teams at the top of the draft that either tanked to get there or have a mandate to win now. This makes Embiid’s landing spot doubly hard to predict. Where will risk and reward intersect?
Behind Embiid, there are arguably seven prospects that would have been the No. 1 overall selection in last year’s draft. This has made the draft’s top selections simultaneously invaluable and expendable, as some teams eye veteran superstars while others reportedly consider trading back since there is so much quality depth. Throw in post-lottery variables like the position-less T.J Warren and Kyle Anderson and the news that Dario Saric will be overseas for at least two more seasons, and Thursday night should be wild.
Below is our fourth and final attempt to predict how things will play out at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. We have mixed in some trade commentary due to the overwhelming amount of rumors that are floating around. Beyond that, these picks are based on what we’re hearing around the league, our player evaluations, and what we perceive to be a team’s draft needs. Whether you’re an aspiring draft pundit or merely an excited fan, we welcome your opinion in the comments section.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins entered his freshman season at Kansas as the favorite to become the No. 1 overall pick. Whether Cleveland trades this pick or decides he is a better fit than Jabari Parker, I am betting he still ends up here. The defensive potential and athleticism of Wiggins better compliment franchise centerpiece Kyrie Irving.
- Milwaukee Bucks – Jabari Parker. If the Bucks have truly narrowed their selection down to Wiggins or Parker, then they should have a stress-free start to Thursday night. The Bucks and Parker, a Chicago native, have had a mutual interest all along according to reports. Milwaukee is seemingly the only team in the top eight that hasn’t had serious discussions to trade their selection, though it sounds like most of the roster would be available.
- Philadelphia 76ers – Dante Exum. The Sixers are trying to trade up while simultaneously thinking about trading Michael Carter-Williams in hopes of landing another top-10 selection. They also still may have interest in Embiid at three. It’s going to be a busy night for GM Sam Hinkie. If they stay put, my guess is they take Exum and either pair him with MCW or move the reigning Rookie of the Year. Even if they swap picks with the Cavs, Exum could still be the pick here.
- Orlando Magic – Joel Embiid. There is doubt that the Magic want to take a prospect here who might not get on the floor this season, even one with the talent of Embiid.
Unless Philly includes its No. 10 selection, the Magic also seemingly have the most enticing trade package for Cleveland. However this shakes out, I don’t buy that Embiid will fall much beyond No. 4. Maybe Hennigan rolls the dice, maybe the Cavs move back for him or maybe someone like Boston moves up, but this is the spot for Embiid.
- Utah Jazz – Noah Vonleh. Parker’s Mormon faith makes him an enticing target for Utah. If the Jazz make a move happen, expect them to do so for the Duke product. Should the Jazz stay at five, Vonleh is the pick with Exum already in Philly. Should the Magic opt for Vonleh at four, the Jazz would likely decide between Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart. Look for them to address their backcourt with their other first-rounder.
- Boston Celtics – Aaron Gordon. Danny Ainge is not one to maintain the status quo. He will likely either add a Kevin Love type to go with Rajon Rondo or move Rondo and start over with youth. Boston has been a popular destination for Embiid since the news of his injury. With the Kansas center going to Orlando here, the C’s will snatch the uber-athletic Gordon. Smart would be the other potential pick for Boston.
- Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle. If the Lakers can ship this pick to Philly for MCW and Thaddeus Young, I don’t see why they wouldn’t. That would give Mitch Kupchak the best of both worlds: youth for the long term and help for Kobe Bryant now. Randle would also help the Lakers next year and makes sense for Philly too after they took a guard at No. 3.
- Sacramento Kings – Marcus Smart. It sounds like the Kings are trading this selection in hopes of making a playoff push next year. If they’re shrewd, they’ll stay put in this scenario and scoop up Smart, who would be a steal at No. 8. This is also the highest Elfrid Payton could go. Both are high-character types who would be great additions to the Sacramento locker room.
- Charlotte Hornets – Doug McDermott. The Hornets need shooters, making McDermott, Nik Stauskas or Gary Harris the most likely selections here. McDermott offers a little bit of Josh McRoberts insurance as well, though Charlotte would use the two differently. The priority at No. 9 is to get Al Jefferson some immediate help on the offensive end.
- Philadelphia 76ers – Nik Stauskas. News that Saric will stay in Europe for at least two more seasons makes Philly a less likely destination for him at No. 10, though I still wouldn’t rule it out. In theory, what happens with their first pick (or two if they move MCW) will affect this selection. But I think Hinkie is just as concerned with obtaining valuable assets as he is with putting together pieces that fit. Stauskas and Harris are the top options here.
- Denver Nuggets – Gary Harris. I’ve had Harris going to Denver in the last two mocks and I’m sticking with it. This is right around where he is on most big boards. He perfectly aligns with the Nuggets’ needs and he even makes sense if this pick is dealt to Chicago. This is the part of the draft where names like Zach LaVine, James Young and Rodney Hood will start to pop up.
- Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton. Unless they somehow nab Exum with their first pick, the Magic will be looking point guard here. Payton apparently went toe-to-toe with Smart in workouts and destroyed every other guard he faced, resulting in his rise up draft boards. Pairing him with Victor Oladipo gives them a backcourt duo chock full of intangibles. Moving Arron Afflalo will open up a hole on the wing, bringing Young and LaVine into the mix.
- Minnesota Timberwolves – Adreian Payne. If Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes (or both?) is Minnesota-bound, it will mollify the Wolves’ need for wing shooting to go with Ricky Rubio. Payne’s ability to stretch defenses from the four will also help on O, while his size and toughness should bolster an anemic interior defensive unit.
- Phoenix Suns – Dario Saric. Saric’s commitment to Anadolu Efes will make him a tempting option for every team picking in the teens. There’d be little reason why Phoenix, which has three first round picks, wouldn’t take him here. It would be awfully risky to hope he’s there at No. 18. The Suns were a good bet to stash a prospect from overseas, and now the best one not named Exum might fall right into their lap.
- Atlanta Hawks – Zach LaVine. Some believe Mike Budenholzer is destined to make the Hawks the Spurs of the Eastern Conference. Could Kyle Anderson go here as a Boris Diaw type? Could the Hawks overlook T.J. Warren’s positional questions and pull the trigger on the N.C. State star? Maybe, but I think LaVine has too much upside to pass on at No. 15.
- Chicago Bulls – P.J. Hairston. The Bulls are in on all the available NBA stars, whether via trade or free agency. They also have interest in moving up to grab a shooter. Payne would fit great if he falls to 16. Hairston would be a reach at No. 16 according to most draftniks, but I love him, especially for Chicago. He gives the Bulls a shooter/scorer and adds more toughness to a roster full of it.
- Boston Celtics – James Young. There haven’t been many reports linking the Celtics to Young, but at No. 17 they’d be hard-pressed not to take him. He already possesses a polished offensive arsenal, making him a nice compliment to Gordon (whom the C’s added at No. 6). If Ainge opts to go into full rebuild mode, Boston could target Tyler Ennis or Shabazz Napier here to replace Rondo.
- Phoenix Suns – Rodney Hood. The Suns are one of few teams to have had Hood in for two workouts, suggesting that they’re serious about drafting the Duke product. He fills Phoenix’s need on the wing and provides mid-to-long range shooting. Young would fit here and I think the Suns are a sleeper for Warren, too.
- Chicago Bulls – Shabazz Napier. It’s well-documented that the Bulls need shooting, but they need point guard help, too. Whether it is Love, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, Chicago is a good bet to land a major piece who will help their offensive woes. I think the team’s need to back up Derrick Rose with a legitimate point guard is underrated, and at least one report says the Bulls prefer Napier to Ennis.
- Toronto Raptors – Tyler Ennis. A week ago I had Payton in this spot, but he has since rocketed up draft boards. Smart, Payton and Napier have all outshined Ennis in workouts. Jordan Clarkson could also pass him, but taking a local product who fits a need makes a lot of sense at No. 20 for the Raptors. Ennis might be boring, but his steadiness makes him a good bet to stick in the league.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Jusuf Nurkic. Many projections have the 280-pound Bosnian going much earlier than this, a trend that started in the last week or so. I still believe Saric will be the first European off the board, though I concede that Nurkic probably won’t fall beyond No. 21. Teams with multiple first rounders — like the Thunder, Bulls, Suns, Celtics and Jazz — all are potential landing spots for him.
- Memphis Grizzlies – T.J Warren. K.J. McDaniels and Jarnell Stokes are tailor-made for the “grit and grind” in Memphis and Anderson would be an intriguing addition for a team without much offensive creativity. That said, Warren should be the pick if he’s available at No. 22. He just knows how to score and is ready to play right now, making him a steal for the Grizz.
- Utah Jazz – Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson makes sense whether the Jazz land Vonleh or trade up to add Parker. The Mizzou product would give the Jazz two guards who can play both positions and, most importantly, provide the type of shot-making their roster lacks. Hairston fits if he’s on the board here, as does Jordan Adams.
- Charlotte Hornets – Mitch McGary. Charlotte has perhaps promised McGary it will take him at No. 24. While it’s certainly not a binding commitment, the Michigan big does make sense here for the Hornets, who are intent on adding size after securing a shooter at No. 9. If he’s healthy, he’s a nice combination of safety and upside.
- Houston Rockets – K.J. McDaniels. The Rockets could use some more bulk, making Stokes a possibility here. They also need another defender, which is where McDaniels comes in. Patrick Beverley is great, but his size and offensive limitations necessitate another option to help compensate for the defensive indifference of James Harden.
- Miami Heat – Kyle Anderson. Pat Riley sounds confident he’ll retain his three superstars, so it’s safe to assume he will draft accordingly. Erik Spoelstra has already shown he can blend talented pieces, which should soften any reservations about grabbing Anderson. No one seems sure how he’ll play offense or if he’ll play defense, but this is a highly skilled player.
- Phoenix Suns – Cleanthony Early. I had Clint Capela pegged to Phoenix here last week, but after stealing Saric at No. 14, that becomes unlikely. The Suns are sure to use one of their three picks on an international player they can stash and the other two on wings. Early will help next year and offers a completely different skill set than Hood, whom they took at No. 18.
- Los Angeles Clippers – Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is a personal favorite and it wouldn’t be surprising if he went in the early 20s. He has NBA-ready bulk and skill but some question how he will handle length. At 6’9″ and 260 pounds, he has the same measurements as Jared Sullinger. His physicality would fit nicely behind the explosiveness of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Jordan Adams. After securing Nurkic at No. 21, the Thunder are likely to seek perimeter help and someone who can contribute soon at No. 29. Adams lacks athleticism but that isn’t a huge problem in a backcourt with Russell Westbrook. Shooting guard is a need in OKC with Thabo Sefolosha a long shot to return.
- San Antonio Spurs – Clint Capela. The Spurs will have most of their championship core back, enabling a number of possibilities to close out the first round. Capela is well worth a flier at 30, as is 7’3″ Walter Taveras. If the Spurs opt for a college player, Jerami Grant and Glenn Robinson III are potential fits.