With all speculation in the rear-view mirror, all 30 NBA teams now know where they will be picking on draft day. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery once again, for the second time in three years. In 2011, the Cavs took Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick. For anyone that has been living under a rock for the past two seasons, Irving is good, really good.
The NBA draft combine took place in Chicago this past week, and undoubtedly, stocks have risen and fallen since. Some of the biggest names in college and international basketball were measured, worked out, and went through drills in front of coaches, scouts, and executives of every NBA team. Potentially, some may have made themselves a little extra money, some may have lost a little money, and some may have lost an opportunity to play on the world’s biggest stage.
With all that said, it has been an eventful week when it comes to the NBA offseason, particularly the draft process. Here is a pick-by-pick prediction and analysis of the first-round.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel, Center, Kentucky
Once again, the team with the worst record in the NBA failed to win the league’s draft lottery. Orlando has been the only team to do so since 1990. In 2004, they did win the lottery and it worked out well for them when they selected Dwight Howard. Cleveland hopes that they may have similar luck with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
However, not long after the lottery concluded, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that the Cavaliers will investigate trade options. The Cavs currently have the 1st and 19th picks of the first-round, along with salary cap space to spare.
If Cleveland can not get a team to offer anything enticing enough to spark their interest, they will likely go with the top prospect in the entire draft class, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.
Noel is an elite shot-blocker and athlete. He has the explosiveness to get off the floor as quick as anyone and possesses the rare ability to block shots with either hand. Unfortunately, Noel is still not a “can’t miss” prospect. There are concerns about his small frame and ailing knee. After just 24 games at Kentucky, the freshman superstar tore his ACL in a game against Miami.
All signs point to Noel being able to return at full-strength. However, knee injuries tend to always linger with big men. Take Andrew Bynum for instance. Noel still possesses the most upside of anyone in the 2013 draft class and would essentially be a perfect fit in Cleveland. Tristan Thompson has proven himself as one of the up-and-coming power forwards in the NBA, and Anderson Varajeo will return after missing much of the 2012-2013 season due to injury. Noel would not be pressured to rush the rehabilitation process and with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving improving daily along with the return of Varajeo, Cleveland could potentially find themselves in the thick of the playoff race come April.
2. Orlando Magic: Trey Burke, Point Guard, Michigan
Orlando failed to land the number one pick in the draft despite finishing with the worst record in the NBA a season ago. While it is always a disappointment to be picking second when expected to go first, it may make their decision easier come June 27th.
In my past mock drafts, I have had Orlando taking Trey Burke with the first overall pick. Now with the draft order set and the Magic picking second, it means they will likely not have to contemplate taking Nerlens Noel despite already having a budding superstar at center in Nikola Vucevic.
Although Burke may go second overall if the Magic stay where they are, he is not viewed as the second best prospect in the draft. With that taken into consideration, the Magic may decide to trade down in hopes that Burke will still be on the board. After the Magic, there isn’t a team that really needs a point guard until the Sacramento Kings, who pick seventh.
Michael Jordan and Charlotte are reportedly very interested in Ben McLemore. They may want to trade up into the second slot to secure the two-guard. Any team that thinks very highly of McLemore or Georgetown’s Otto Porter may consider trying to move up to get one or the other.
However, if the Magic can not trade the second overall pick or are content with where they are at, I expect them to take Burke. In just his sophomore season, Burke was the consensus National Player of the Year and the point guard of the best offense in college basketball. More than likely, he is one player in the incoming rookie class that could come in and contribute right away. With Jameer Nelson aging ever so quickly along with his injury concerns, Trey Burke may be finding a new home in Orlando.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter Jr., Small Forward, Georgetown
Washington were the big winners in the 2013 draft lottery, landing the 3rd overall pick despite having just the 7th best chances at winning the lottery at just 2.8%.
Washington can go a lot of different ways here. They could go with a big man such as Alex Len, but with him now having injury issues, the Wizards may go for safety here by selecting Otto Porter.
Porter is considered by most scouts the most advanced prospect intelligence-wise. He possesses the basketball IQ of a seasoned-vet and has all of the intangibles that any team could hope for. Somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, the Georgetown product has the length to be an impact player at the defensive end while he has proven to be a good team player, solid passer, and improving shooter.
With John Wall and Bradley Beal in the back court, Porter could be just the next piece of the puzzle. The three youngsters could be lethally dangerous in transition together. With the blinding quickness of Wall, the sweet three-point stroke of Beal, and the crafty finishing of Porter around the rim could be an exciting combination.
Porter would not have to be rushed into performing at a Rookie of the Year type rate either. Trevor Ariza is a serviceable wing at the NBA level. Porter could begin his career giving Ariza a breather here and there if need be. However, with his IQ and willingness to succeed, I don’t see there being much of a learning curb.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Ben McLemore, Shooting Guard, Kansas
If Ben McLemore is still on the board when Charlotte is on the clock, this is a no-brainer for Michael Jordan. McLemore is a picture-perfect fit in a struggling Bobcats franchise.
However, despite entering the draft after just his freshman season at Kansas, McLemore is considered to be the second best prospect by most scouts. Some believe he will pan out even better than Nerlens Noel.
With Cleveland and Orlando potentially shopping the first two picks in the draft, Charlotte may have to pull the trigger and move up in the draft. If McLemore is their guy, they will likely have to strike a deal with the Magic for the second pick. Noel will almost certainly go first overall to whoever winds up with that pick.
McLemore is a world-class athlete with explosive leaping ability and a smooth shooting stroke. With nearly flawless form, he is best in catch-and-shoot situations. He still needs to perfect his craft when it comes to running off screens the way the greats such as Ray Allen and Reggie Miller did, but the potential is there.
The shooting ability and range isn’t all that is impressive about McLemore’s game. He also has the size and leaping ability to finish above the rim at any time.
Despite his solid length and frame, Kansas’ superstar struggles to stay focused at the defensive ends at times. There were times when McLemore showed glimpses of a lock-down perimeter defender, and there were times when he looked completely lost off the ball.
He also struggles to create offense off the bounce. Regardless of what he lacks, the sky is the limit when it comes to Ben McLemore. His rare skill set that possesses the ability to finish above the rim at any time and knock down a three-pointer given the smallest window could be potentially dangerous for opposing defenses.
5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo, Shooting Guard, Indiana
The Phoenix Suns struggled in their first year of the post-Nash era. However, the once perennial playoff contender will look to get back on track after landing the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Phoenix has multiple question marks heading into this offseason. There are rumors that Marcin Gortat may not be back next year, and if he is, he struggled to stay healthy in 2012-2013. Jared Dudley was involved in trade rumors at this past June’s trade deadline as well.
With all of the question marks, Phoenix needs to draft a player that can contribute right away and potentially be a leader. Victor Oladipo may be that guy. With a work ethic unmatched in this draft class, Oladipo will be able to contribute with his effort alone.
Oladipo is a two-way player that is effective at both ends of the court. He can defend multiple positions, from bigger point guards to small forwards. Despite the critics of his jump shot, he did improve drastically in his junior season. Oladipo proved to be deadly in transition, imposing his will on teams.
Phoenix may also consider the second-coming of Michael Beasley in Anthony Bennett, but would it be worth the potential risk on and off the court? Bennett has not had the types of problems Beasley has had thus far in his career, but their playing styles are very similar. Both are labeled “tweeners”, which in recent history, has not been successful, despite all the interest NBA teams have in their rare skill sets.
In my opinion, Suns go with Oladipo here.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Bennett, Power Forward, UNLV
Despite taking Anthony Davis a year ago with the first overall pick, he is known for his presence at the defensive end. There is a player of the same position that goes by the same first name that will certainly intrigue the newly named Pelicans.
Anthony Bennett is an explosive scorer from inside and out. Bennett can fill it up in a variety of ways but is coming off of surgery. If Davis can fill out his lanky frame, he may be able to step in and play the center position consistently. Bennett could supply some much needed scoring in New Orleans.
7. Sacramento Kings: Rody Gobert, Center/Power Forward, France
Sacramento is happy just to still have an NBA team after the team had been rumored to be on its way to Seattle.
Tyreke Evans is a restricted free agent as of July 1st, and there are also rumors that he may not be back with the team four years removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign.
Isaiah Thomas has proven to the NBA that he was overlooked after being taken 60th overall. Thomas was the Kings starting point guard down the stretch and was a pleasant surprise for the franchise.
Another good piece if your a Kings fan is DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins has the potentially to be one of the best three centers in the league, if not the best. His skill set is unmatched by centers, but looks uninterested in playing basketball at times. Regardless, if Sacramento can get some more pieces around him, most believe Cousins will take the next step as well.
Gobert can play the center position or power forward. His defense is what scouts love so much about his game, along with his athleticism. The 7-footer can get up and down the court extremely well for a guy his size. Offensively, he is still a work-in-progress, but he has made strides as the years have gone by. Gobert’s size and athleticism translate seamlessly to the NBA.
8. Detroit Pistons: Alex Len, Center, Maryland
Detroit isn’t one to draft according to need. They are still in the process of overhauling their roster by simply acquiring assets. Despite his recent ankle injury, if Alex Len is available, expect the Pistons to use their pick on him.
Andre Drummond impressed many in his rookie season. We all know that one good season doesn’t mean sustained success. Regardless, Detroit has a front court in place for the future including Drummond and Greg Monroe.
While all of that is true, Alex Len could potentially be one of the best players in the draft. His ankle may be a concern, but it could be a blessing in disguise for the Pistons as well. If Len is on the board when the eighth pick rolls around, expect his draft day fall to stop in Detroit.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: C.J. McCollum, Guard, Lehigh
Wolves general manager and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders recently said that they would stress shooting this offseason. This statement seems logical given the front court presence of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic coupled with the natural play-making ability of Ricky Rubio.
If shooting and scoring is what Minnesota is searching for, look no further than C.J. McCollum. The Lehigh guard shot the three at an insane rate during his senior season, finishing up with a percentage above 50%. He has the ability not just to catch-and-shoot though, but to create off the bounce. McCollum can create his own shot at any time and fill it up in a hurry.
Given Rubio’s passing ability and the Wolves established post presence, McCollum seems to be a great fit.
10. Portland Trailblazers: Shabazz Muhammad, Small Forward, UCLA
Portland is not all that far from being a playoff team on a yearly basis. With one of the best power forwards in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge, Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, and guys such as Nicolas Batum, the Blazers may just need to add one more piece.
Another explosive scorer certainly wouldn’t hurt. Shabazz Muhammad is exactly that. With his lightning-quick first step and strong NBA-ready frame, Muhammad has the ability to impose his will on defenses.
The potential is also there for him to become an elite two-way player. With length and athleticism both above-average for the NBA, if Muhammad puts the work in, he could develop into a lock-down defender at the next level.
For him to reach his full potential, he will need to work on his shooting range. His three-point shooting touch is virtually non-existant, and his pull-up game from mid-range could use some work as well. Regardless, Muhammad would be in a good situation in Portland, especially after the reports that Lillard and Muhammad have spoken about playing together before.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller, Center, Indiana
At one point, Cody Zeller was the unquestioned first pick of the 2013 draft. Now it looks as though he will slip into the mid-to-late lottery range.
With depth in the front court being the biggest concern for the Sixers heading into next season, Zeller would be a solid fit. The two sides spoke on Thursday at the NBA draft combine, and Zeller said the interview went well.
Let’s face it, Philly. Nobody is afraid of a front court consisting of Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown, Arnett Moultrie, and Lavoy Allen. While Moultrie impressed late in the season, there is no reason to believe that teams will be in any way, shape, or form afraid of the second-year man.
While the Andrew Bynum situation remains unsettled, Zeller would be a good pick here regardless. Yes, Zeller needs to add upper body strength. Yes, Zeller needs to toughen up a bit. Still, there is a reason that he was the pre-season favorite to win the Wooden Award for college basketball’s best player.
What is there to lose for the Sixers?
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Toronto): Kelly Olynyk, Center, Gonzaga
Rumors have been leaked that the Thunder are considering using the amnesty clause to get current center Kendrick Perkins off their books. While Perkins is a reliable defensive presence, he adds next to nothing offensively.
Oklahoma City predicates their game on speed and transition. Perkins is neither fast or effective in transition. However, there is a center that will likely still be on the board when the Thunder take their turn on draft day.
Kelly Olynyk runs the floor well, can score with his back to the basket, and knock down a shot out to 20 feet. Offensively, Olynyk is the most polished center in the draft. His footwork is impressive, along with his post moves.
Oklahoma City seems to be a yearly contender in the Western Conference and one of the only threats to the Miami Heat so they can afford to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward player such as Olynyk.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Michael Carter-Williams, Point Guard, Syracuse
Mark Cuban is well-known for his highly questionable antics. One thing that is not questionable though, is that he is one of the best owners that the NBA has to offer. Cuban is always willing to do whatever it takes to win, no matter how far he has to dig into his check book.
As of July 1, nearly everyone on the Mavs for the 2012-2013 season will be a free agent. Cuban signed a ton of players to one-year contracts last summer and is hoping it pays dividends. Dallas is rumored to be in the running for Dwight Howard again after failing to land the superstar big man a summer ago.
Regardless of whether or not Howard comes to Dallas, the Mavericks need to address the point guard position. Darren Collison is not the player that they had once thought, and Mike James is certainly not the point guard of the future.
Carter-Williams has the natural ability to run an offense. His size at 6’6″ is well above-average for the point guard position, and it allows him to typically see over his opponent and make the best pass available.
While his perimeter shooting is still improving, Carter-Williams’ length and athleticism allows him to disrupt opposing point guards at the defensive end. His size also allows him to guard players up to the small forward position.
One thing remains to be unseen; how will his role in Syracuse’s zone defense translate into a tradition man-to-man defense in the NBA?
14. Utah Jazz: Mason Plumlee, Center, Duke
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will both be free agents as of July 1st. Utah will likely let them both walk in favor of younger and cheaper solutions. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have proven to be worthy candidates to replace the two veteran front court teammates.
Although Kanter and Favors are the unquestioned starters entering next season if neither free agent returns, they will still need to add depth. Mason Plumlee could contribute high-energy minutes on a consistent basis. Plumlee is one of the best rebounding prospects in the class. His athleticism along with his frame allow him to be effective on the glass. While far from a go-to guy on the block or elite shot-blocker, Plumlee was praised for his work ethic at Duke.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Dennis Schroeder, Point Guard, Germany
Milwaukee has a lot of questions to answer. Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent this summer and is likely to get some hefty offers from other interested teams. While the Bucks have the right to match any offer that another team makes and retain the services of Jennings, how much do they value their current point guard’s production?
Regardless, Monta Ellis has been involved in trade talk after the failed experiment at a dynamic offensive back court. At times this season, it was evident that Ellis and Jennings had conflicting playing types. Jennings is the younger of the two and has been with the team for the entirety of his career thus far, so I expect them to show him favor.
Schroeder is a pure point guard; Jennings is more of a scorer. The combination of the two could potentially work. Schroeder doesn’t need to have the high number of shot attempts that Jennings does to be effective. He can contribute in other ways, such as his ability to run an offense. If one or the other guard is expected to be out, expect the Bucks to go guard here.