Preface: After watching an absurd amount of college basketball this year to scout for my beloved Celtics, I decided to try writing a mock draft for the first time. I’m not only a huge Celtics fan but a diehard fan of the NBA itself, and I cannot wait to see what ensues tomorrow night in what promises to be the most entertaining NBA Draft of my lifetime. I expect an abundance of absurd trades that throw this whole thing out of whack, but if every team were to keep its pick, this is how I see it going down.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas – Cleveland would have loved to have taken Joel Embiid but they need a sure thing and Wiggins is that. He will help them a lot defensively from day one, and he has the potential to blossom into a top five player in the league given his outrageous athletic abilities. They might pick Parker they think he can help them compete right away, but Irving and Dion Waiters are not very good defenders, and adding a third key player who is a liability defensively would not be the right decision. Johnny Manziel and Andrew Wiggins will be united in Cleveland, and Drake will be delighted.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker, F, Duke – The Bucks need a sure thing star, and Parker is their man. Given Embiid’s injury, Parker and Wiggins should definitely go one and two in this draft, and the Bucks will take whichever one falls to them; the decision is easy. Parker could be the leading man for this franchise for the next decade-plus.
3. Philadelphia Sixers: Dante Exum, G, Australia – After the first two picks, this draft will become fascinating. The Sixers might try to move up to number one if they truly covet Andrew Wiggins to the extent that they’ve advertised to be. If they cannot work out a deal, they will have to choose between Embiid, Exum, Randle, or Vonleh. Embiid definitely has the highest ceiling, but the injury concerns are real, and he might be an awkward fit with Nerlens Noel in the Sixers’ frontcourt. Exum and MCW in the backcourt has the potential to be terrifying for opposing guards; two highly-skilled guards over six-foot-six? That’s a matchup nightmare for almost any lineup that any team can trot out there. If they think Exum is more of a point guard and won’t fit well with MCW, they could go with Vonleh or Randle to play in their frontcourt with Noel. At the end of the day, I think Exum will be the pick, but either way this pick will set the course for the rest of the draft.
4. Orlando Magic: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky – Orlando has a tough decision to make here. Do they roll the dice with Embiid and his injury concerns, or continue what has been a pretty strong ongoing rebuilding process and go with a safe player who can help right away and try to make the playoffs this year? They already have a productive center in Nikola Vucevic, but that shouldn’t dissuade them from taking Embiid if they see him becoming a franchise player. I personally love what Randle brings to the table, which is why I think they should take him here. The kid is walking double-double for the next fifteen years. I watched a ton of Kentucky basketball this year and came away impressed by his game each time I watched him; he is absolutely relentless in the post. He is mobile enough to guard stretch fours in the NBA, and he should be able to punish weaker defenders in the post. Embiid is an enticing prospect, but ultimately the Magic will go with Randle.
5. Utah Jazz: Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona – The Jazz are in a tricky situation here. Everyone knows Jabari Parker would be a perfect fit in Utah, and they realistically could move up by making a trade with Cleveland to select him. They have young talent and draft picks; Cleveland could get Favors, the fifth pick, and another pick for the first overall selection. Cleveland definitely has to consider taking Parker, seeing if Embiid falls to five, and if he does, making that deal. But, because this is a mock draft I’m selecting whom each team should take in their respective spot, and if Utah stays put they will take Aaron Gordon. Gordon will be a productive NBA player with the potential to be an all-star. He will be an excellent defender and rebounder right away, and if he can learn to use his athleticism on offense, he has the potential to turn into a top twenty player in the league. Utah already has Favors and Kanter in their frontcourt, and they can’t really afford to wait for Embiid. Gordon is their guy.
6. Boston Celtics: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas – Danny Ainge will be THRILLED if Embiid falls to Boston here. Danny is a well-advertised gambler that won’t be able to pass up the chance to grab the best player in the draft with the first overall pick. The Celtics are in a better situation than anyone in the top five to take this gamble. They don’t know if they want to move this pick in a deal for Kevin Love or keep it to rebuild, but Embiid represents potentially the best trade chip in the draft, and if they choose to rebuild they can most definitely afford to sit out Embiid for the year. And, their current roster construction is in dire need of a rim protector. If Embiid is there at six, Ainge will not be able to pass him up. And I will be giddy.
7. LA Lakers: Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State – The best long-term prospect here is Noah Vonleh, but the Lakers believe they can contend next year (which is absurd unless Carmelo AND LeBron come along), and Marcus Smart is much more NBA ready than Vonleh. Kobe Bryant will LOVE Smart’s competitiveness, and Smart could actually really benefit from exposure to Kobe’s approach to theg ame. The more I think about it, I actually really like this pick for the Lakers. (Which probably means they will move it for a veteran that makes them minimally better next year).
8. Sacramento Kings: Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana – The Kings will be thrilled if Vonleh falls to them at 8. His skills are a perfect match for Demarcus Cousins: he can space the floor with his shooting ability, but he can also become a great post defender and can help protect the rim (something Cousins struggles with). If Vonleh does not fall to 8, Smart would be a good fit if they don’t plan on bringing back Isaiash Thomas, and a Smart-Ben McLemore backcourt represents a promising future. The Kings have been rumored to be shopping this pick as well, so there’s a lot of ways they could go with this.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Doug McDermott, F, Creighton – Charlotte took a big step forward this year by making the playoff, even though they only got the seventh seed in the lowly East. The Hornets need a scorer, and that is exactly what Dougie McBuckets does. There are definitely questions about how his limited athleticism will translate to the NBA, but he showed he could score in various ways at Creighton, and he should be able to at least be a productive, Ryan Anderson-type player at worst. His shooting ability will be an asset for Charlotte this year, and if his scoring ability can translate to the NBA game, Charlotte will be getting a great player here at 9, which truly showcases the depth of this draft.
10. Philadelphia Sixers: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke – After taking Exum at 3 the Sixers have secured their backcourt for the long-term and will look for players to help build around their MCW-Noel-Exum core. Rodney Hood fits that mold as a three-point shooter on the wing that can also help create offense. Hood also has the potential to be a very solid defensive player, given his length and athleticism. There’s also a pretty strong possibility that this pick will be moved if the Sixers move up from three. Moreover, if someone slips to 7 or 8 that they covet, they could package this pick and one or two of their 5(!) second round picks to move up a few spots.
11. Denver Nuggets: Zach Lavine, G, UCLA – The Nuggets are trying to get better quickly when are probably better off taking a few years to rebuild, and I think that’s the direction they will ultimately head towards with this pick. Ty Lawson, Danilo Galinari and Kenneth Faried are all good but not great players, and the three of them aren’t enough to trade for a superstar. Plus, no superstar will want to play in Denver unless them three are also there. They’re better off moving those guys for picks and going with Lavine here because he carries the most potential remaining on the board. This guy is a FREAK athlete, and once he figures out how to really play basketball, he could be the steal of the draft. He could also be a bust, but a lot of teams in this region love Lavine, and I think the Nuggets will ultimately take him here.
12. Orlando Magic: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana Lafayette – Drafting Payton here would give Orlando a solid collection of high character, pesky ballplayers to build around. A backcourt of Payton and Victor Oladipo would cause a lot of annoyance for opposing ball handlers, and it would give the Magic a lot of athleticism as well. Randle also fits the mold of high character, hard working and pesky. This team could definitely make the playoffs next year in the East.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan – The Wolves have a lot different players they could pick here, and I think it really comes down to whichever shooting guard they like the most. They could take Gary Harris, Stauskas, or James Young here. They need to surround Ricky Rubio with shooters, and Stauskas is the premier sniper of the three. He can also help with handling the ball, and if he can expand to that part of his game, he could be one of the best players to come out of this draft. This pick is a toss up, but I’m going with Stauskus because of the shooting he immediately brings.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SG, Kentucky – Phoenix currently employs two very good point guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. They might eventually have to part with one, which would free James Young to become their starting shooting guard. I think Young’s game will translate perfectly to the NBA; he showed a very solid shooting stroke at Kentucky even though his numbers weren’t off the charts, he is extremely athletic which should help him defend well, and he can put the ball on the floor. I might be overly high on his game because I watched a ton of Kentucky this year, but I think he could definitely develop into an all-star shooting guard at some point in his career. Out of the Stauskas, Young, Harris trio, I think Young will finish up with the best career. For a Phoenix team that is on the come-up and in need of a little more star power, Young is a perfect fit. They could move Dragic or Bledsoe for more pieces to fill out the roster in the future, and eventually become a true contender in the West.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan St – This is pretty low for Harris but the way this draft worked out, there was no great fit for him until here. Harris is the best player available at this spot in the draft and the Hawks will be happy to have him. This is one of the easiest selections of the draft thus far.
16. Chicago Bulls: Dario Saric, F, Croatia – If Saric had not just signed a two-year deal to stay in Turkey, he would have been a sure lottery pick. Because of that deal, however, he is going to slide, but it remains unclear how far. The Bulls have Nikola Mirotic coming over from Europe this year, and they can afford to stash Saric there for another few years. He has top ten talent, and this pick could really reap benefits if he comes over as an NBA ready player in two years on a fresh four year rookie deal.
17. Boston Celtics: Kyle Anderson, Point Forward, UCLA – Anderson is the definition of a point forward. There are concerns about who he will guard defensively, but he can play offensively right away, and teams will do their best to hide him on defense. He is also an extremely effective rebounder, and Anderson will be a great fit in Brad Stevens’s motion doffense. Anderson can be Boris Diaw with an even better offensive game.
18. Phoenix Suns: Adreian Payne, PF/C, Michigan St – Channing Frye is a free agent, and if the Suns don’t think they will be able to pay him they can’t go wrong with selecting Payne, who can do a lot of the things that Frye does. Payne is 23 and will be able to play right away, which is encouraging for a team that is on the verge of becoming a perennial playoff contender. They could also go with Tyler Ennis or Shabazz Napier here for insurance in case they don’t bring back Eric Bledsoe.
19. Chicago Bulls: Shabazz Napier, PG, UCONN – After two straight years without Derrick Rose the Bulls obviously need to invest in another point guard just incase Rose becomes Brandon Roy 2.0. Even if Rose ends up being fine they could still use a solid backup point guard to keep his minutes down, and that is what Napier will bring them. Shabazz fits the Tom Thibodeau mold of an extremely hard-working, tough player. His crunch-time antics in the NCAA Tournament were no fluke, and all contending teams would love to have a guy like Shabazz come playoff time.
20. Toronto Rappers: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse – Kyle Lowry had an outstanding year in 2014, and he will have a lot of suitors vying for his services in free agency. Toronto would love to have him back, but he might see greener pastures in a place like Miami. Ennis was born in Toronto, and the Canadian Basketball Revolution would continue on with a Canadian in Toronto if the Raptors select Ennis here. Ennis probably won’t be ready to play this year; he’s raw, but he showed a ton of leadership and playmaking ability for the Orangemen this year. I personally don’t love his game, but wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being a player similar to Mike Conley, which is not too shabby at all.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita St – The Thunder are entering a huge offseason that could play a large part in deciding their future. It became obvious this past postseason that their supporting cast needs significant improvements if they want to win a championship. The best model for them to follow would be something like what Miami has been the past few years: surrounding their superstars with three point shooters. At this point in the draft, the guys that could be those shooters-Stauskas, Young, and Payne-are gone at this point, so I have them going with a wing to help spell Durant. They could always move up using this pick and the 29th pick to acquire whoever they see as the best fit, or they could look to acquire key contributors in free agency. Bottom line, if the Thunder have a great offseason, they could easily be the favorites to win the championship in 2015.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia & Herzegovina – Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies have hit a snag in their contract talks, and Memphis would love if Nurkic fell to them here. Marc Gasol is a free agent next summer as well; Nurkic provides insurance for Memphis’s two big men up front.
23. Utah Jazz: Jordan Clarkson, G, Missouri – The Jazz selected Trey Burke in the first round last year, but he was not very productive in his first season in the NBA. Clarkson can play both guard spots, and he could come in and compete with Burke right away. This is a big draft for the Jazz; with two first round picks, they have a good chance to come away with productive rotation players at both spots. If they can bring back Hayward and get development from Favors and Kanter, they could be a fringe playoff squad next year.
24. Charlotte Hornets: PJ Hairston, SG, UNC/D-League – Hairston falling to 24 shows just how good this draft is. He should be able to come in right away and be a three-point shooter wherever he goes. Charlotte’s roster is loaded with athletic players, but lacks shooting. If they can come away with McDermott and Hairston, they will be adding two guys that significantly improve an area of need.
25. Houston Rockets: TJ Warren, F, NC State – This postseason showcased the main flaw of the Rockets current roster construct: too much reliance on a few key players without much rotational depth. Warren is a guy who can come in and be a scorer right away in the league. He should be able to help out right away and help take some of the scoring burden off James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons (and maybe Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James). Warren going late in the first round again showcases how good this draft is. Houston could also possibly move this pick if they want to save the cap space for one of the aforementioned stars.
26. Miami Heat: Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA – The Heat obviously have a very uncertain future going forward with their Big Three, but if they keep their core together they’re going to need someone that can spell Dwyane Wade for long periods of time. Adams can shoot the lights out, which fits Miami’s style, and is ultracompetitive. Something tells me LeBron would enjoy playing with this kid. The Heat really need a point guard more than anything else, but with the top four point guards off the board, they may need to move up from here to get one.
27. Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland – The Suns will almost certainly move this pick, the third of their three first round picks, but if they decide to keep it they could do worse than taking a project big man like Capela. They could afford to stash him overseas for a few years or let him develop in the D-League without worrying about him wasting away on their bench.
28. LA Clippers: Jeremi Grant, F, Syracuse – As a contending team, the Clippers need a wing defender capable of logging heavy minutes against star forwards such as LeBron and KD. Grant is a raw talent, but he has the size and athleticism to one day become such a player. He probably won’t be able to play a lot next year, but if he can develop a jump shot he could become a rotational player in the NBA.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan – The Steven Adams pick last year was a huge success, and he will likely slide into the starting lineup this year if the Thunder can get rid of Kendrick Perkins. They will need another big, and McGary represents a lot of value here. He very easily could have been a lottery pick if he had entered the draft last year, and the fact that he missed almost the entire season this year will undoubtedly cause him to fall to the end of the first round.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Walter Tavares, C, Spain – The Spurs are the deepest team in the NBA, will likely bring back their entire team next year, and don’t need a rookie on their roster. They can afford to take a chance on a project like Tavares. The Spurs love international players, and they won’t need anything from Tavares for a few years at least.