The NBA draft is tomorrow so here is my take on the first 14 picks plus the two Bulls picks for my fellow Chicago audience. All of these picks are made with the assumption that no trades will be made, though several are likely to happen before the night is done. To be clear, this is what I think will happen, not necessarily what should happen. Starting with number one:
1. Jabari Parker, Forward, Duke – Cleveland Cavaliers
Two weeks ago, this spot was going to be Embiid’s, but now with injury questions abound, Parker is the safest pick. Good, not exceptional athlete, good, not great shooter, surprisingly good post game for a 19 year old, mature beyond his years, Parker is basically a guaranteed All Star caliber player. Not the upside of some of the other player but definitely the safe pick, and after drafting Anthony Bennett last year, Cleveland needs to hit on this one.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Guard/Forward, Kansas – Milwaukee Bucks
If I had to make a pick today who is going to be the best player from this class my money would conservatively be on Wiggins. The comparison I hear most often is to Tracy McGrady, which would mean a Hall of Fame career. His athleticism and defensive tenacity are well documented, but his scoring was very hit and miss this year at Kansas, so there is much more risk associated here than with Parker. But I absolutely love his upside and he played very well his last month or so in Lawrence.
3. Dante Exum, Guard, Australia – 76ers
I could see Exum or Embiid going to Philly. There are pros and cons to both obviously, but the Sixers may be a little worried about putting an injured seven footer next to another injured seven footer in Nerlens Noel, so Exum will be the pick. The interesting thing there is that Exum would be placed next to promising future star Michael Carter-Williams, who like Exum is a tall point guard that is only an average shooter, so by placing them next to each other, Philly may struggle to shoot from three. That being said, a two man combo like that growing up together may be exactly what the Sixers need for future success.
4. Joel Embiid, Center, Kansas – Magic
We could be seeing the impossible–a reincarnation of Hakeem Olajuwon. Everything is set up for Embiid to become a dominant center except for his foot. In my opinion, that should not matter and he should be taken either first or second but each of the three teams seem to be in a position of fear to the point that they want to see immediate results, so Embiid will fall to the Magic at four. And Orlando may even let Embiid slide for more immediate help for Nikola Vucevic. Some say they will go Noah Vonleh here but in my mind there is no reason to pass up on such center talent. Worst case scenario, he is Greg Oden. And that is pretty bad. But best case he could be The Dream. Worth it.
5. Aaron Gordon, Forward, Arizona – Jazz
Utah has two youngish big men that they have put their small hopes on in Favors and Kanter, but those are not exactly the best guys upon whom to pin hope. The Jazz need guards to put alongside Trey Burke, especially since Gordon Hayward may be gone, but the guard talent is not as high here as forward talent and I think Vonleh is the best talent here. He is the most versatile big man in the draft with his huge length, great athleticism, and three point shooting and is the rare stretch four that can be a rim protector and rebounder. He has the Anthony Davis physique right now and needs to bulk up, but Davis has done it very quickly so I would expect Vonleh to do the same.
6. Noah Vonleh, Forward, Indiana – Celtics
Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. They are both young, somewhat talented big men but by no means are they Boston’s future down there. Rondo and Avery Bradley make up a decent back court so Boston needs bigs, and Gordon is the best available. During the season, there were comparisons to Blake Griffin, which I think is a little lofty, but I heard Bill Simmons say Shawn Marion once he learns to shoot just a little, and that seems appropriate. Gordon is a great athlete, rebounder, shot blocker, who just needs to add some semblance of a jump shot and he can be a real good player.
7. Julius Randle, Forward, Kentucky – Lakers
Foot concerns are quite prevalent here like they are with Embiid and that has caused Randle to drop below the likes of Vonleh and Gordon the last couple of months. And that is good for the Lakers because they are getting a potential top five talent here. For the first time in forever the Lakers are in pure rebuilding mode and Randle is a good place to start, a nice two way presence in the paint that can rebound, put the ball on the floor, and shoot the mid range jumper. I’m not saying he is the future of the Lakers, but he certainly can be part of it.
8. Elfrid Payton, Guard, Louisiana-Lafayette – Kings
This pick is going to be traded so everything is a little mixed up but the Kings could use a guard and for me Payton is the choice here over Marcus Smart. Payton strikes me as a great leader at the point, a solid passer, a defensive stopper, and a finisher at the rim. He seems to me more fit to be a role player immediately and eventually a real good point guard on a rebuilt Kings team. This pick would certainly be a surprise but given some thought he looks like a better fit than Marcus Smart.
9. Gary Harris, Guard, Michigan State – Hornets
Assuming the Hornets give up on Kidd-Gilchrest as a scorer, Charlotte could really use a shooter. That means Harris, McDermott, and Stauskas are all in play and while Harris may be the third best shooter, he is a better all-around talent offensively and he also brings a stronger defensive presence. He would be a nice piece to place alongside Kemba in a rebuilt Charlotte squad.
10. Dario Saric, Forward, Croatia – Sixers
Toni Kukoc. With Noel protecting the rim and Exum and MCW handling the ball, Toni Kukoc returns to be the big, versatile stretch four and complete a young, ultra-talented roster. The problem is that, like Kukoc, it will be a few years before Saric is coming to the NBA, but keep him on retainer, make Philly a playoff roster in the awful East, bring Saric over and the Sixers may be competitive.
11. Nik Stauskas, Guard, Michigan – Nuggets
Danilo Gallinari is Mr. Glass so Denver needs shooters. Stauskas and McDermott are in play but Stauskas is better without the ball so he gets taken here. Now Ty Lawson just needs to get healthy and maybe Denver can go longer than two years without firing a good coach.
12. Marcus Smart, Guard, Oklahoma State – Magic
Aaron Afflalo is probably gone so Orlando needs another guard to handle the ball and allow Oladipo to go off-guard more often. Smart is the best point guard available. I would buy Smart going eighth as well and Elfrid Payton here, but I think Smart may fall a little into his college propensity to try and take over games and that cannot be a part of his NBA style, as he is only a decent athlete and shooter. That being said, he is a competitive freak, incredibly tough, and will bring considerable size and strength to Orlando’s backcourt.
13. Doug McDermott, Forward, Creighton – Timberwolves
You know, Larry Bird was an average athlete and great shooter in college. Just Saying.
Ok, Larry was not this average. McDermott is a lights out shooter, but the Kyle Korver comparisons only match up because he is white and went to Creighton. Realistically he is more like Ryan Anderson. If Minnesota manages to get Klay Thompson in the Love deal then you have two great jump shooters, but McDermott will not be a huge difference maker right away.
14. James Young, Guard/Forward, Kentucky – Suns
Assuming no trades take place, the Suns seem pretty set at both guards with Bledsoe and Dragic, but another jump shooter to put on the wing who can also defend and score off the dribble can add nicely to Phoenix’s already competitive core. Young may not be a huge splash but he is a safe pick that can bring value immediately.
16. Adreian Payne, Forward, Michigan State
The Bulls are looking for shooters first and foremost, and Payne is a good stretch four that he will be especially valuable if the Bulls lose Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. He is a very good athlete that can compete inside and out. The Bulls have done very well drafting late in the first, landing the likes of Gibson and Jimmy Butler, and Payne would fit nicely into that same group.
19. Tyler Ennis
If either Rodney Hood or Shabazz Napier is here, then for God’s sakes, the Bulls need to take them. I believe one of them will be still available but the Bulls will be intrigued by the more Derrick Rose-y Ennis, someone who scores in the paint and is unselfish and smart. Ennis is not a great athlete but he was one of the top freshman in the country this past year so he should be a solid back up to Derrick for a few years.