With the NBA Draft just over 24 hours away, here’s my projected first round pick-by-pick.
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)- It’s either Wiggins or Jabari Parker here but I think they go with Wiggins for a few reasons. Wiggins gives the Cavs an elite wing defender and in a league where there are a lot of star wings having one who can defend a lot them is ideal. If Cleveland is serious about bringing LeBron James back, I think the fit with Wiggins is a little bit better than Parker who I think excels in the NBA as an isolation scorer. Finally, I think Cleveland could get a significant haul for Wiggins’ rights from the Sixers, a team that has been all in on Wiggins for quite a while. However, Utah is all in on Parker and so if Parker’s the guy here for Cleveland I wouldn’t rule out a trade involving Parker’s rights either.
2.) Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker (Duke)- This is an easy one. Milwaukee was 28th in the NBA in points per game this season and Parker gives them instant scoring. Parker will be the favorite to win rookie of the year next season.
3.) Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid (Kansas)- All of the injury news surrounding Embiid makes this pick a tough one for the Sixers who many thought would end up with Parker or Wiggins with this pick since all signs indicated Embiid would go first to Cleveland. I think Cleveland tries to take advantage of the Embiid news and if he’s still their guy, they’ll draft someone else’s guy and then trade with that team to get Embiid and also get some more in return as opposed to just drafting Embiid first overall. So I can see a Philadelphia-Cleveland trade in the works but if not, I think the Sixers take the chance on Embiid. They waited a year on Nerlens Noel and the potential for Embiid might be too much to pass up on.
4.) Orlando Magic: Dante Exum (Australia)- The Magic have been linked to Exum in several mock drafts and could definitely use a point guard. Noah Vonleh is a real possibility here but I think if the Sixers pass on Exum, I don’t think Orlando does the same.
5.) Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh (Indiana)- Tough spot here for Utah as they were hoping for Parker all year. But I think Vonleh is the pick here. Vonleh gives the Jazz a versatile big who can stretch the floor and perhaps would go well with Derrick Favors in the front court.
6.) Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)- There are a variety of different directions the Celtics can go here. Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle are possibilities and if Embiid slips then he’s likely the pick, but I think Smart at six is the best value Boston can get. A lot of this depends on how committed they are to moving Rajon Rondo. Whether or not they move forward with him remains to be seen. They could move him, use Smart as their point guard and look to acquire more picks. Maybe they keep him and Smart plays alongside Rondo in the backcourt. Maybe the Celtics use this pick to try and get Kevin Love. I think if they make the pick, it’s Smart.
7.) Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle (Kentucky)- Another team that has been rumored to possibly move their lottery pick however I think they keep pick seven and take Randle, the second-most NBA ready player in this draft behind Parker. Pau Gasol is headed for free agency so a big makes sense and the Lakers seemed very high on Randle after his workout and don’t appear to be too concerned over a foot injury he has lingering into the draft.
8.) Sacramento Kings: Aaron Gordon (Arizona)- The Kings have been actively shopping this pick and are probably the team in the top 10 that’s most likely to trade out. They’re interested in acquiring Josh Smith from Detroit. Smith is a good defender and athletic. That’s the kind of skill set Gordon brings to the table. In no way is that a comparison as Smith is much more polished offensively but if the Kings are looking for defense and athleticism, Gordon’s their guy if they make a pick here.
9.) Charlotte Hornets: Gary Harris (Michigan State)- Charlotte could use a wing with their point guard and center solidified with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson leading the team to a playoff berth this season. Harris is a good combination of shooting and defense and is just a very sound two-way player overall. Doug McDermott is in play here as Charlotte could use a sharpshooter but I see Harris having a better NBA career and believe Charlotte thinks the same.
10.) Philadelphia 76ers: Nik Stauskas (Michigan)- Whoever the Sixers come away with after their first pick, there’s no denying they need a shooter. But Stauskas is more than just a specialist. Shooting is his best attribute but he also possesses a good handle and ability to get to the hoop and score as well.
11.) Denver Nuggets: James Young (Kentucky)- The Nuggets had a lot of athletic players on their roster this past season in Anthony Randolph, Kenneth Faired, JaVale McGee, and JJ Hickson. They need a wing player. So why not draft an athletic wing who can shoot. Adding Young to their athletic core with Ty Lawson as their control man makes the Nuggets an exciting team.
12.) Orlando Magic: Doug McDermott (Creighton)- If the Magic aren’t able to land Exum at four I think Elfrid Payton is the choice here. However, if they do get Exum, they need a shooter. While Victor Oladipo shot close to 33 percent from three-point land in his rookie season, he’s not the spot-up shooter McDermott is. Exum’s jumper is quite the work in progress and so a backcourt with Exum and Oladipo making plays could use a shooter on the wing to dish to especially with Aaron Afflalo in trade rumors.
13.) Minnesota Timberwolves: Adrien Payne (Michigan State)- Regardless of when or if Kevin Love is traded, it’s becoming more and more evident that Love will not be around long term in Minnesota. So I think Minnesota has to go with a big here. International prospects Jusuf Nurkic and Dario Saric could be in play here but I think Payne is the guy Minnesota would be most comfortable with.
14.) Phoenix Suns: Rodney Hood (Duke)- Goran Dragic had a great year for Phoenix playing with Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt. While Hood is listed at 6’9’’ he’s only slightly above 200 pounds and may be looked at as a two guard. The Suns are high on Hood and may not have Bledsoe in their future plans as Bledsoe is set to be a restricted free agent. Hood gives the Suns the frame of a true wing which is what they need.
15.) Atlanta Hawks: Elfrid Payton (Louisiana Lafayette)- There have been some reports that the Hawks are going to shop Jeff Teague over the summer. With their frontcourt solidified with Paul Millsap and Al Horford, they could go with a wing here. But if Payton is available at 15 he’s likely the best player available and I think the Hawks grab him and maybe look to add a wing in a trade involving Teague’s departure.
16.) Chicago Bulls: PJ Hairston (NBA D-League)- Chicago could use a shooter. Hairston gives them one with deep range and can also finish around and above the rim. Great size for a shooting guard at 6’5’’230 and seems like the right pick for a Chicago team that may make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony this offseason to play small forward.
17.) Boston Celtics: Dario Saric (Croatia)- A rebuilding team like the Celtics can afford to wait on Saric, who has made it clear he’s going to play a few more seasons in Europe before coming to the Association. Because of that, I think Danny Ainge doesn’t pass on Saric who was projected in the lottery before his announcement that he’d stay in Europe a few more years.
18.) Phoenix Suns: Zach Lavine (UCLA)- If he’s still available at 18, I think Lavine is the highest player on most teams boards here and I don’t think Phoenix passes. A 48-win team can add some depth and slowly begin to implement a shooter and great leaper like Lavine into their rotation with hopes of him reaching the potential many scouts believe is through the roof.
19.) Chicago Bulls: Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia)- Rumors have the Bulls prepared to amnesty Carlos Boozer to free up some space to try and sign James or Anthony in free agency. If that’s the case, then the Bulls could use a big at a cheaper price and Nurkic fits that description.
20.) Toronto Raptors: Tyler Ennis (Syracuse)- A point guard makes sense here for the Raptors with Kyle Lowry headed for free agency. Ennis is not on the same level of Smart, Payton, or Lavine but I think the Raptors will take the chance at this point and go with the Canadian native in Ennis.
21.) Oklahoma City Thunder: Kyle Anderson( UCLA)- Anderson draws lots of comparisons to Boris Diaw and the Thunder just fell to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in six games and may want to add this kind of forward that can facilitate especially considering Russell Westbrook isn’t your prototypical facilitating point guard.
22.) Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)- Zach Randolph may be headed for free agency but it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else next season. Assuming Randolph returns, the Grizzlies will look for a wing and Early seems to be a good fit.
23.) Utah Jazz: TJ Warren (NC State)- Assuming they go with Vonleh at five, then I think Warren makes sense here. Having drafted Trey Burke last year, adding a wing to go with Gordon Hayward seems logical.
24.) Charlotte Hornets: KJ McDaniels (Clemson)- If they go with Harris at nine then I think Charlotte could use another wing. McDaniels is extremely athletic and a good defender. Offensively he’s coming along. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has not given Charlotte the kind of production they would like from a number two overall pick so maybe McDaniels can steal some minutes in the rotation.
25.) Houston Rockets: Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)- Napier seems to have gained momentum on a lot of boards and could go higher than this. There are a lot of good point guards in the NBA and I think teams that need one feel more comfortable drafting younger point guards. There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding Jeremy Lin’s future in Houston and I think the Rockets would be happy with Napier falling to them.
26.) Miami Heat: Clint Capela (Switzerland)- The Heat definitely need help in the frontcourt and I think Capela provides that. At 6’11’’ 222 he’s a bit of a tweener as teams can use him as a center or a power forward. One thing’s for sure, Capela has major bounce above the rim and can be a really good shot-blocker. I think this could be a late-round steal.
27.) Phoenix Suns: Mitch McGary (Michigan)- Having gone Hood and Lavine earlier in the draft, I think here’s where the Suns look for a big to give them bench depth. McGary appears to be healthy and this late-first round area should be where he falls.
28.) Los Angeles Clippers: Jerami Grant (Syracuse)- The Clippers are in need of an athletic wing. I think they’d like to get McDaniels here but aren’t going to move up to grab him. Grant has slipped out of mid-first projections due largely to his lack of a jump shot. But Grant fits the bill if the Clippers decide to go with the athletic wing they could use.
29.) Oklahoma City Thunder: Walter Tavares (Spain)- Quite the presence defensively as a shot blocker and rebounder standing at 7’3’’. The Thunder could use somebody else like this besides Serge Ibaka and Tavares is that bigger body. He could be a good find here and turn into a nice defensive piece off the bench for Oklahoma City.
30.) San Antonio Spurs: Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee)- Stokes can give the Spurs some physicality as a banger off the bench. As a bruising kind of power forward he seems like the guy San Antonio could use and perhaps spell Tim Duncan with.