Here is my final mock draft as Thursday’s real deal quickly approaches. Since Joel Embiid’s foot surgery news didn’t break until shortly after my last one was published, and Dario Saric is now going to play in Turkey, this version definitely has a different feel.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jabari Parker, F, Duke
Joel Embiid’s back injury was already a pretty big concern, and the fact he’ll possibly miss all of next season after foot surgery means the Cavs would be taking a big gamble in drafting him. And after the Anthony Bennett disaster last year, they need a stone-cold lock play here. I still think Andrew Wiggins will be the bigger star down the line, but Parker appears to be ready to play and contribute right now. And as I said, the Cavs simply can’t afford to screw this up with another rookie bust.
2. Milwaukee Bucks – Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
The Bucks appear to be in a win-win situation here, assured to end up with Wiggins or Parker. They’ll happily take either player and need help everywhere. And if the Cavs go with Parker, the Bucks might just land the best player in this draft three years from now.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
There is chatter out there that the Sixers will take Embiid, and they may not pass on Dante Exum if he’s available. But Vonleh’s stock appears to be on the rise and the Sixers can always go with Thaddeus Young at small forward if they draft Vonleh. Yes, they could take a shot at Embiid, but I find it hard to believe the fans would be behind another top pick that may miss his entire rookie season, like Nerlens Noel did last year while recovering from knee surgery. But with everyone outside of Parker and Wiggins on the table, the Sixers have limitless options with this pick. Exum is certainly in play here, if the Cavaliers don’t take him No. 1, but you have to think the Sixers are feeling secure at PG with Michael Carter-Williams locked and loaded for the future.
4. Orlando Magic – Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Exum looks like a perfect fit for the Magic, as Jameer Nelson is on his way out and Exum’s arrival would give them every reason to end the Victor Oladipo point guard experiment and just start him at shooting guard. If Exum’s available here, I’m now fully on board with the Magic grabbing him. If he’s gone, I still like Vonleh to the Magic here.
5. Utah Jazz – Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
The Jazz might be ready to just go with Derrick Favors at center, a guy like Gordon, Vonleh or Julius Randle at power forward, and then bringing Enes Kanter off the bench to back up Favors. They have their point guard of the future in Trey Burke, but they could still jump on Exum here if he falls.
6. Boston Celtics – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
At some point in the Top 10, Embiid’s potential stardom outweighs the injury risk he’ll bring with him. To me, that point feels like No. 6 to Boston, and they could use a true center after living with guys like Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Vitor Faverani last season. If the Sixers take Embiid at No. 3, it will obviously shake up the entire lottery.
7. Los Angeles Lakers – Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
I had the Lakers taking Exum here, but am now convinced he’ll be long gone by pick No. 7. The Lakers need a lot of help and Smart is one of the better point guards in the draft. Steve Nash is about done, Kendall Marshall looks like a backup and Jordan Farmar is a free agent. The Lakers would probably love to see Embiid here, but if he’s off the board, a point guard probably makes the most sense.
8. Sacramento Kings – Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
I had Randle going to the Jazz at No. 5 last time, but that felt too high. The Kings have ancient Reggie Evans, underwhelming Derrick Williams, and oft-injured Carl Landry at power forward, so taking Randle here makes sense to me.
9. Charlotte Hornets – Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
All indications are that the Hornets are dialed in on McDermott, who might be the most underrated shooter and all-around player in the lottery. And with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looking like nothing more than a defensive specialist, McDermott to the Hornets looks like nearly a sure thing.
10. Philadelphia 76ers – Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Shooters like Stauskas don’t come around every day and the Sixers, like most NBA teams, could use one. And considering James Anderson was (mostly) their starter last season, Stauskas looks like a nice fit for the Sixers.
11. Denver Nuggets – James Young, G/F, Kentucky
I really thought the Nuggets were going to go for SF Dario Saric here, but he just signed a deal to play in Turkey for the next three years. The Nuggets could use a reliable small forward option with Danilo Gallinari constantly hurt, and Saric would have fit the bill. The loss of Saric should boost Young’s draft-day stock, although whether he’ll go as high as 11 is still up for debate.
12. Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Magic are overloaded at forward, set at shooting guard and center, and could be ready to let Payton and Exum battle it out for point guard duties. Exum is getting all the hype right now, but Payton would likely push him if they were both battling for the starting job next season.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves – Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Hood might be a ‘tweener, but with guys like Corey Brewer, Luc Mbah a Moute, Shabazz Muhammad and Chase Budinger failing to impress, taking a flier on Hood might be the way they go here.
14. Phoenix Suns – Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
We don’t know where free agency will send Eric Bledsoe and Harris has some flexibility to play both guard spots. No one saw the Suns being as good as they were last season, but if they lose Bledsoe, finding a competent shooting guard should be a top priority.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
The Hawks could use a forward or true center, and the fact that Dario Saric recently signed to play in Turkey could end up sending the Hawks after a big man. While they could still use some depth at the wing positions, my best guess now is that they finally try to land a true NBA center and take Nurkic. He’s only 19, has been compared to Nikola Pekovic, and it sounds like he’s ready to come over and start his NBA career if he gets drafted high enough.