One day until the NBA Draft, and there is very little that seems like solid information. While the latest injury to Joel Embiid has added some uncertainty to the lottery, the truth is that there is just a deep pool of options here for teams, and many can go in multiple directions with their picks. Still, through it all, my top three has not changed.
Team needs were taken into account, but these selections are based on who I believe each team should take.
1) Cleveland – Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas
The top prospect in this class, Wiggins has a combination of skill and athleticism which will allow him to make an immediate impact in the Cavaliers’ lineup, while still having a lot of untapped potential to make him a strong pick at number 1. The combination of Kyrie Irving and Wiggins, with a hopefully improved Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, could give Cleveland a dominant scoring group.
2) Milwaukee – Jabari Parker, F, Duke
Parker will give the Bucks an instant boost in scoring, and the ability to play him inside or out should give the coaching staff plenty of lineup options. The attention he will receive from defenses should allow some of Milwaukee’s other young players to have the space they need to score themselves, and they have enough long basket protectors to hide Parker on defense.
3) Philadelphia – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Since the last mock draft, a foot injury was also uncovered, and I still believe the Sixers will roll the dice on Embiid. I’ve mentioned before that offensively, he and Nerlens Noel are different enough that they could complement each other, and they would form an imposing defensive duo. Plus, the return of a healthy Noel with Embiid out will give Noel time to develop his game on the court aside from being with another big man, and allow Embiid to take his time getting healthy.
4) Orlando – Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana
I had Marcus Smart here through the first two mock drafts, but think Vonleh’s potential and size could win out in the end. It helps that has the Magic have a solid core of young players, including frontcourt players, who can ease the transition on Vonleh, though he could help in some areas right away. Smart or Dante Exum could still be in play here, but the Magic can fill the guard needs a little later.
5) Utah – Dante Exum, G, Australia
The lottery’s mystery man this year, Exum has good size and he is skilled for his age. He hasn’t really faced top-level competition and many teams will be getting a real close look at him for the first time in the coming weeks. As mentioned above, I’m not sold on Exum as a point guard, but he could become a solid complement next to last year’s first round pick, Trey Burke, in the Jazz backcourt, with the potential for maybe some short stints running the point.
6) Boston – Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
As Boston continues to rebuild, it’s a smart idea to find the eventual successor to Rajon Rondo at point guard and Smart seems to be a perfect fit for coach Brad Stevens, as well as having an ability to slide to the 2 to play alongside Rondo as needed. Smart’s ability to defend will get him plenty of time early, and his offensive game should adjust fairly well to the NBA, as long as he refrains from taking some of the bad shots he did in college.
7) Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle, F, Kentucky
The Lakers are looking at a complete rebuild during Kobe Bryant’s final years with the team, and while a higher pick could have secured their future a bit more, Randle has the ability to make an immediate impact next season. Randle is a strong post player who is very agile for his size, and he can be a terror on both the offensive and defensive boards. He won’t give a very good defensive presence yet, but he will be a double-double threat from the get-go and a nice piece to start the Lakers' rebuilding.
8) Sacramento – Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
This is a stretch in terms of where I have McDermott’s value, but Sacramento would be an ideal spot for him to bring his scoring strengths. He can provide a much needed consistent perimeter shooter, which would open up space for the ever-improving DeMarcus Cousins to operate in. Concerns about McDermott’s defensive ability have been blown out of proportion and he understands the game well enough to cover up his deficient areas.
9) Charlotte – Rodney Hood, G/F, Duke
Hood will give the Hornets some much needed size on the wing, to go along with strong shooting ability and athleticism. The big key to getting the real value from this pick will be Hood buying into coach Steve Clifford’s defensive mindset and putting in the effort to improve.
10) Philadelphia – Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan
Having taken Embiid at number 3, the Sixers can still improve their backcourt here with Stauskas, a tremendous perimeter shooter and a good enough ballhandler to help take some of the point guard pressure off Michael Carter-Williams. The threat from three-point range is the key, and Stauskas’ ability to stretch the floor will help everyone else on the floor with him.
11) Denver – Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Saric has to spend two more years over in Europe, but he is a highly-skilled offensive player who will fit into many different roles. With no real glaring needs heading into next season, it’s easy for the Nuggets to roll the dice on Saric and wait two years for the possible payoff.
12) Orlando – Elfrid Payton, G, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Magic shored up their frontcourt with Noah Vonleh at number 4, and they can still address their need at point guard with Payton. He’s a strong defender, rebounder and distributor, and though he needs to improve as a perimeter shooter, he has a great ability to put pressure on defenses with his penetration ability. In a few years, a Payton-Oladipo backcourt could be one of best young ones in the league.
13) Minnesota – Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona
Kevin Love is certain to find his way out of Minnesota at some point in the next year, and while Gordon isn’t really a replacement; he will provide an extremely athletic forward who can run the floor and rebound, as well as guard multiple positions. He still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end, but he will certainly bring a little excitement to the Timberwolves.
14) Phoenix – Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
This season’s surprise NBA team, the Suns were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, and fell just shy of the playoffs. The status of Eric Bledsoe returning to the team is unknown, so Harris could immediately step in and provide a versatile scorer in the backcourt who can run the floor and defend well.
15) Atlanta – Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA
Anderson is the toughest player to project in this class with his unique skill set. He has high level vision and passing skills to go along with an improving jumper, but at 6’9, he will be playing at the forward position. What he does provide coaches is the ability to mix and match lineups to find him spots on the floor where he can be most effective. To get the most out of Anderson, a coach who is willing to think outside of the box is needed, and Mike Budenholzer could be that coach.
16) Chicago – Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut
Napier will help provide stability at the point guard position for the Bulls as Derrick Rose comes back from another knee injury. A strong leader, Napier could take total control of the team’s second unit and his ability to defend should be very appealing to coach Tom Thibodeau, plus he has shown he can score when needed.
17) Boston – James Young, G, Kentucky
The Celtics drafted their point guard of the future in Marcus Smart earlier and now they can address a need on the wing with the athletic, but raw, Young. He has shown, at times, that he can shoot as well as get to the basket, but doesn’t do either one consistently enough to be effective. Also, he isn’t a very good defender, but hopefully coach Stevens will help him there.
18) Phoenix – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
With the second of their three first round picks, the Suns could take a shot at the big-bodied Nurkic, who at 6’11, 280 pounds, already has NBA size. Nurkic is still developing on both offense and defense, but he moves very well for his size, and in a few years, he could give the Suns an intriguing option in the middle
19) Chicago – TJ Warren, F, North Carolina State
With their second first-round pick, the Bulls can address a need for scoring with one of the college’s best in Warren. He loves to find holes in the defense to get his shot and a healthy Derrick Rose should create many for him. He is also able to seek out mismatches when he has a smaller defender on him, setting up in the low or mid-post area for a quick shot. Long-range shooting still needs to be worked on, but he will put up points quickly regardless.