With the lottery a distant, albeit familiar memory, one can proceed in earnest with predicting the future.
(This does not take into account any possible trades, of which I think there may be a few.)
1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (YAWN) – ANDREW WIGGINS, Kansas
The Cavaliers won the lottery for the second straight year and third time in the last four. The NBA either gave the Cavs three No. 1 overall picks in exchange for LeBron James, afforded the organization a gigantic mulligan for the Anthony Bennett pick 12 months prior, or believe the Cavaliers are willing to do something so crazy that ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ face may never recover.
We are all bored of Cleveland picking first, but at least there’s some drama attached to the choice. At this point, one could make the case for Wiggins, or his Kansas teammate Joel Embiid, a center with a back problem, or even Duke’s Jabari Parker.
But Wiggins has the single biggest upside of anyone in the draft. He walks into the NBA a dynamic athlete and stout defender, a criteria that puts an ocean-sized difference between himself and Parker.
Wiggins even fills something of a need if the Cavs don’t bring back free agent small forward Luol Deng or if they want Wiggins to play shooting guard and return Dion Waiters to the bench. Same goes for Parker and Embiid could replace Anderson Varejao.
Plus, if Cleveland clings to any ridiculous notion of James returning, an impactful player like Wiggins might help.
2. MILWAUKEE BUCKS – JOEL EMBIID, Kansas
This is based on reports that Embiid intrigued the Bucks prior to his back injury. This selection also is based on the fact that this back injury is not a lingering issue.
Larry Sanders had maybe the worst follow-up season to a great one in recent history. At $11 million per for the next four years, he’s going to be hard to trade, but then again, so will Ersan Ilyasova, who has $24.2 million due over the next three seasons.
The biggest reason Embiid fits there is because Sanders proved unreliable. The Bucks have a big-time small forward prospect in Giannis Antetokounmpo, so that might eliminate Jabari Parker.
3. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – JABARI PARKER, Duke
The Sixers wanted Wiggins. If you close your eyes, Sixers fans, there’s still a remote chance, but Parker is a nice consolation prize. He’s the most NBA- ready player in the draft and provides something Philly desperately needs – scoring.
The 76ers were unwatchable last season, in large part because they could not score. Parker can do that and will be the small forward of the future. His defense is atrocious, but that fits right in with the Sixers.
Philadelphia could end up with Wiggins, Embiid or even Dante Exum, if the organization thinks it can move reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. That move would only come if Embiid is there at No. 3 since the Sixers have Nerlens Noel ready to patrol the paint.
4. ORLANDO MAGIC – DANTE EXUM, Australia
The Magic get their point guard of the future in Exum, finally replacing Jameer Nelson. Exum and Victor Oladipo would represent an exciting, high- motor, unconventional backcourt.
5. UTAH JAZZ, AARON GORDON, Arizona
This is where the draft gets interesting. The top four seem pretty written in stone, so the Jazz at five represent the first choice that might require actual thought.
If restricted free agent Gordon Hayward returns, the Jazz have decent young pieces at all five starting spots. If he doesn’t, the three spot is a gaping hole.
But the Jazz would be wise to go with the best available, and that is Gordon. He is a freak athlete who will need a lot of work with regard to offensive polish. Gordon will be able to come in immediately and fly up and down the floor and attack the rim. He is the best athlete in the draft and with hard work, he could become elite.
6. BOSTON CELTICS – NOAH VONLEH, Indiana
The Celtics seems to have a glut of big men with Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Jeff Green, but the reality of this slot is that Vonleh is the best available player. Boston needs help shooting and maybe even a replacement for Rajon Rondo, if Danny Ainge moves him. Vonleh’s body needs work, but there are a lot of intangibles in his lean frame. Truthfully, this Indiana product is not that far from being ready, as he has a versatile game.
7. LOS ANGELES LAKERS – JULIUS RANDLE, Kentucky
Full disclosure – I love Julius Randle. I think he’s going to be a spectacular pro and I think he’s ready now to be very productive. He has incredible instincts for a young man. Randle is already a prolific passer from the low post and, at times, put his young Wildcats squad on his back. These are all wonderful qualities for a prospect coming into the league, especially to a flagship organization.
The Lakers could lose almost every big man on the roster and I think Randle is equipped to handle Kobe Bryant.
8. SACRAMENTO KINGS – MARCUS SMART, Oklahoma State
He is 6 feet, 3 inches tall and that might be the most important factor in Smart’s favor. Isaiah Thomas enjoyed a spectacular season in 2013-14, but he’s a free agent. Could the Kings justify big money on Thomas when they’re going to pay DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, assuming he doesn’t lose his mind and turn down a $19.3 million player option? That might make Thomas expendable and Smart affordable.
9. CHARLOTTE HORNETS – ADREIAN PAYNE, Michigan State
Charlotte needs scoring badly. The Hornets could use shooting and a stretch four who also likes playing inside might be the best option. This is way too high for Payne, admittedly, but this player fits the Hornets’ biggest need. He can shoot from 3-point range and give Al Jefferson some relief inside, which isn’t incumbent Josh McRoberts’ strength. Charlotte got this pick from the Detroit Pistons thanks to a Ben Gordon/Corey Maggette flip. With the Cavs moving up, this top-eight protected pick for the Pistons became something for the Hornets. It’s found money. Take a gamble.
10. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – GARY HARRIS, Michigan State
This will be Philly’s second top-10 pick thanks to a deal last draft night for Jrue Holiday. The Sixers also got Nerlens Noel in this trade, so they are essentially unveiling three very high picks opening night. If the Sixers get a small forward at No. 3, a shooting guard becomes a must. Any kind of shooter would make sense, so Doug McDermott of Creighton or Nick Stauskas of Michigan could be the call, but Harris is already a great defensive wing and the Sixers desperately need someone to try to stop somebody on the other team.
11. DENVER NUGGETS – NICK STAUSKAS, Michigan
Randy Foye and Evan Fournier are Denver’s shooting guards. Stauskas is the second-best shooter in the draft behind Dougie McBuckets, but his versatility to play both guard spots lands Stauskas in the Mile High City.
12. ORLANDO MAGIC – DOUG MCDERMOTT, Creighton
McDermott will probably go earlier than this. His measurables at the NBA combine were pretty solid and he can shoot. Anyone who can shoot the way McDermott can shoot has a spot in the NBA. He can’t create his own shot and teams should worry who he will cover because he’s too slow for small forwards and too weak for power forwards. But Orlando can run him out there with that athletic backcourt and get open looks. He could be the beneficiary of double teams versus center Nikola Vucevic.
13. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – DARIO SARIC, Croatia
Listen, it’s lunacy to try to peg what the Timberwolves are going to do until they decide on the fate of Kevin Love. He told them he won’t re-sign after this season when he’ll opt out. Whatever haul they get, especially if they pull the trigger on a Love move prior to the draft, may change to complexion of this choice. That’s why, I chickened out and took a foreigner who may not come to the NBA this season. He’s a skilled big man who really plays like point-forward-wing. It’s also easy to envision a point guard in this spot considering Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea are both free agents after the season.
14. PHOENIX SUNS – ZACH LAVINE, UCLA
This is my choice for quickest riser in the draft. He’s a 6-foot-5 combo guard and could provide depth behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, assuming he’s back in Phoenix.
15. ATLANTA HAWKS – JAMES YOUNG, Kentucky
A perfect fit. Atlanta has three great pieces in their starting lineup (Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague) and two adequate ones (Kyle Korver, DeMaree Carroll). Young can play wing spots, will be a good shooter and is a plus-defender. This is one of those predestined draft marriages.
16. CHICAGO BULLS – RODNEY HOOD, Duke
The Bulls need scoring and shooting. Kind of like the Timberwolves, the Bulls’ plans might be murky considering their name has been linked to Love and even Carmelo Anthony via free agency. If the team returns as is, with a healthy Derrick Rose, Hood’s big-time 3-point shooting could help Chicago’s scoring woes.
17. BOSTON CELTICS – TYLER ENNIS, Syracuse
Is it too early to plan for Rajon Rondo’s departure? Probably not considering he’s a free agent at the end of the season and he could fetch quite a ransom in the trade market. Boston could go for a shooter here, with Avery Bradley a free agent, but Ennis is the highest value available.
18. PHOENIX SUNS – JERAMI GRANT, Syracuse
The Suns are in an unbelievable position as an organization. They have young, cheap talent galore and cap space out every pore of the franchise. They could use some defensive help and Grant is that.
19. CHICAGO BULLS – P.J. HAIRSTON, North Carolina
Hairston played in the D-League last season so he’s 21. That might scare some teams, but the Bulls could see it as a plus, considering he’d walk into a contending situation. Hairston is a great shooter, another wonderful commodity, much like No. 16 pick Rodney Hood.
20. TORONTO RAPTORS – ELFRID PAYTON, Louisiana-Lafayette
Who? This year’s sleeper is a 6-4 point guard who makes sense if Kyle Lowry bolts. He’s thin, so that’s a concern, and his small-college experience gives pause. Small forward is another place for an upgrade, so Cleanthony Early of Wichita State or North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren could don a Raptors’ cap.
21. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – CLEANTHONY EARLY, Wichita State
The Thunder have done really well in recent drafts, partially because they end up with so many first-rounders while maintaining high levels of success. That means OKC can take gambles, or take the best available player. Early is a little of both, although more best player available. He really doesn’t have many flaws and his range has improved. Big fan.
22. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – T.J. WARREN, North Carolina State
He’s the best scorer left on the board and fits a need for the Grizzlies – small forward play. Tayshaun Prince was hideous last season and Warren can get the ball in the hoop. He’s not a great shooter, which would help Memphis.
23. UTAH JAZZ – K.J. MCDANIELS, Clemson
One of the most athletic players in the draft, he would help Utah with that one aspect alone. Again, if Hayward scoots Salt Lake, the Jazz would need an upgrade. If Utah tabs Aaron Gordon early, this team would significantly improve running the floor.
24. CHARLOTTE HORNETS – KYLE ANDERSON, UCLA
He’s very skilled and he’s probably closest to a point guard than anything else. Anderson reminds me of a taller Tyreke Evans in that he can play anywhere on the perimeter. There is a lot of upside in this kid.
25. HOUSTON ROCKETS – JUSUF NURKIC, Bosnia
The Rockets will make an offseason push for Love or Anthony, like they do every time a big name becomes available. To get into the market for these superstars, Houston always needs to shed salary, so Nurkic, a very large man, could be stashed overseas.
26. MIAMI HEAT – MITCH MCGARY, Michigan
If McGary had come out last year, he’d have been an easy first-round pick. This season at Michigan, McGary hurt his back, missed most of the season and wouldn’t have been welcomed back due to a failed positive marijuana test. The Heat need help inside, especially on the boards. This, of course, assumes the Big Three is back and Miami is not scrambling to put together an NBA franchise.
27. PHOENIX SUNS – KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, Latvia
This is Phoenix’s third first-round pick, so the Suns will be bored by now. Actually, they’re doing an amazing job rebuilding this franchise through athleticism and versatility. Porzingis, aside from having a cool name, is just 19, he’s 6-11 and thin. He has a lot of skills, but probably isn’t NBA-ready just yet.
28. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – SHABAZZ NAPIER, Connecticut
Darren Collison may get paid handsomely if he utilizes his player option. That leaves backup point guard behind Chris Paul. Napier makes the most sense, if he doesn’t go earlier. They could definitely use more size, so someone like Switzerland’s Clint Capela is an option.
29. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – C.J. WILCOX, Washington
Can’t have enough shooters around Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
30. SAN ANTONIO SPURS – GLENN ROBINSON III, Michigan
Why not? The Spurs do have some rebuilding ahead. Tim Duncan is only player under contract for the 2015-16 season, but Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard will most definitely be back. Robinson can shoot and has pedigree.
(Jim Brighters is NBA Editor for The Sports Network)