Author’s Note: A team-by-team look at the first round of the NBA Draft. Some mock drafts try to advise teams, while some try to predict their moves; this one provides the best of both worlds, with some charm to boot.
Editor’s Note: I couldn’t resist adding a few notes after a few of the teams.
1. New Orleans Hornets
Best case scenario: Anthony Davis, Center, Kentucky
More likely: David Stern vetoes the pick.
This is the easy one. The Hornets have already begun building around “The Unibrow”, trading Emeka Okafor to Washington to create room in the middle. And for good reason. He’s a player with uniquely transcendent skills and he will only get better. There’s not a team in the league who wouldn’t be significantly improved by adding his defense and athleticism at the center position.
2. Charlotte Bobcats
Best case scenario: Michael Jordan sells his stake in the team and buys into the White Sox.
More likely: Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas
Where to begin. It’s hard to imagine the Bobcats being any worse next year, as they set an NBA record for lowest winning percentage this past season. And while there might not be a position they couldn’t upgrade at this spot, the cupboard is the most bare at Robinson’s position. Hopefully, he’ll be able to help change a losing culture with his championship pedigree at Kansas, and his work ethic might help to that end as much as his immense talent.
3. Washington Wizards
Best case scenario: New head coach Randy Wittman tops his career high of 32 wins.
More likely: Bradley Beal, SG, Florida
One of the bright spots in an otherwise abysmal year for the Wiz had to be the emergence of Kevin Seraphin in Nene’s absence. Along with a healthy Nene, newcomers Okafor and Trevor Ariza, and the hopeful development of last year’s top draft choice Jan Vesley, the frontcourt should be solid. And while John Wall is still an electrifying talent, his outside shooting hasn’t gotten any better. Enter Beal, who draws lofty comparisons to Ray Allen.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Best case scenario: LeBron James signs extension. Oh, wait…
More likely: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky
Kidd-Gilchrist won’t make anyone forget LeBron, but his all-around game in some ways draws similarities, not the least of which him being a great teammate. Harrison Barnes would certainly help as well, but MKD would provide much of what Robinson would bring to Charlotte, an idea of what it takes to win: defense, heart, determination, and a never-give-in attitude. Oh yeah, and freakish athleticism. Would provide a nice compliment to Kyrie Irving.
(Editor’s Note: Kidd-Gilchrist is my favorite player in the draft and I would take him ahead of this, but his 6’5” frame drops him below the two-spot I’d pick him at).
5. Sacramento Kings
Best case scenario: 1. A tent on this circus! 2. A trade, and/or 3. Kidd-Gilchrist
More likely: Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina
Sacramento has one of the most random collections of talent in recent memory. And if you think that’s a good thing, ask Paul Westphal, their coach who was fired because he got so fed up with DeMarcus Cousins that he tried to put him on the trade market himself. The problem right now is that the kids are running the show- and none of them are terribly good at leading. The Kings need veterans in the worst way; they’ll take Barnes here if he’s available because he’s a great talent, but he won’t be the solution. Kidd-Gilchrist would be a better option here, if only because he’s played on a team (Kentucky) where there wasn’t enough shots to go around, and yet he still found ways to make the team better. Barnes can really shoot it, but his best asset to the Kings would be his strong defense.
6. Portland Trailblazers (via Brooklyn)
Best case scenario: A do-over in the 2007 draft
More likely: Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State
The Blazers have two glaring needs: PG and center. And you better believe they’ll be tempted to take Andre Drummond, who could serve to finally be that franchise center they thought they were getting when they drafted Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. However, this ain’t your daddy’s NBA, when you needed a franchise center to win. Much more important nowadays is a dynamic playmaking guard, which is why LeBron was wise to team with DWade. And that’s exactly what Lillard is. The only “weakness” in his game seems to be the strength of his college competition, but he did his best to quell those concerns with a very strong combine.
7. Golden State Warriors
Best case scenario: Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut return from injury.
More likely: Dion Waiters, SG, Syracuse
The Warriors’ three best players missed the end of the season with injury, and Bogut is not expected to be ready for the beginning of the next season. If they can come back at full strength, and that’s a big if, that’s three potential all-stars in addition to All-Rookie First Team SG Klay Thompson. The question for the team headed San Francisco, however, is how long they build around players on the disabled list. Bogut’s injury concerns might lead them to take Drummond, but the smarter pick here would be Waiters, whose slashing style would complement nicely the sharpshooting of Curry, Thompson, and Dorrell Wright. He also can play some point to help feature Curry more in the offense.
8. Toronto Raptors
Best case scenario: Damian Lillard
More likely: Andre Drummond, Center, Connecticut
Toronto has been stuck in that no-man’s land between being competitive and totally bottoming out, which has prevented them from being able to draft top-tier talent. Even when they won the lottery in 2006, they were left to take Andrea Baragnani, a nice talent but hardly the grand prize expected when choosing #1 overall. Ironically, they might have a chance at a greater talent here. Drummond, at 7’ and 279 pounds, has a prototypical body for an NBA center and otherworldly agility and athleticism for his size. The only thing that would hold him back from being the franchise guy that even Baragnani is not is Drummond himself. He has the defensive skills to make an immediate impact, but time will tell whether he pieces his considerable offensive potential into consistent production, much less domination.
9. Detroit Pistons
Best case scenario: Not another combo guard.
More likely: John Henson, PF, North Carolina
The Pistons, like the Raptors, are victims of their own mediocrity. Sensing the need to take a risk, they drafted combo guard Brandin Knight last year, even though they already had similar players in Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon. This might be the year they focus more on need, and Henson would provide a nice complement to Greg Monroe down low. Where Monroe lacks athleticism and much of a defensive presence, Henson makes up in a big way. And let’s not forget the Pistons still employ Tayshaun Prince, who could teach the kid a thing or two about how to be successful as a long, rail-thin, defensive specialist.
10. New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota)
Best case scenario: Andre Drummond
More likely: Perry Jones, F, Baylor
Being able to pick again in the lottery after choosing #1 overall has an air of luxury to it, and the Hornets might be tempted to take a risk here, as Cleveland did last year with Tristan Thompson. Jones has as high of a ceiling as anyone other than Mr. Unibrow himself, and it would instantly make the Hornets one of the longest and most athletic frontcourts in the league, regardless of who mans the center position. Jones has struggled at times to live up to the hype surrounding his potential, and it may do him well to play in Davis’ shadow. He also would stand to benefit from his example in the effort department, and the rewards could be considerable.
(Editor’s Note: Jones is another player I’m in love with, and teamed with Davis gives New Orleans a potent inside combo).
11. Portland Trailblazers
Best case scenario: Make another trade with the Nets!
More likely: Meyers Leonard, Center, Illinois
Hard to imagine a better scenario for the Blazers, who would cross off their two biggest needs by taking the 7’1” Leonard to man the middle after filling their point guard need with Lillard. Leonard makes up where Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge lacks in defensive presence, and where Leonard lacks in the offensive department, well, Aldridge doesn’t. Leonard also runs the break well and would be a happy beneficiary of Lilliard’s aggressiveness in the open court. If the Blazers do opt for Drummond with #6, they could always go with Kendall Marshall here, but Lillard and Leonard would be the superior pairing, both in talent and linguistics.
12. Milwaukee Bucks
Best case scenario: Meyers Leonard
More likely: Tyler Zeller, Center, North Carolina
The Bucks gave up on waiting for Andrew Bogut to get healthy, but it left them without a starting-caliber center. Zeller isn’t the shot-blocker that Bogut has been, but can contribute in that category and could replace his offensive production, at least in terms of scoring. Leonard would be more ideal, as he’s the better defensive player and it’s not like there are many shots left over with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis around. This would also mean three Tar Heels in the top twelve… Take that, Kentucky!
13. Phoenix Suns
Best case scenario: Steve Nash, don’t forsake us!!!
More likely: Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut
There were times last year when it seemed Nash was on an island, with few offensive weapons around him at his disposal. However, the Suns still managed to finish 8th overall in points per game. Much more glaring, on the other hand, was defense and rebounding. Lamb is an above-average rebounder at his position and can be very disruptive on the defensive end. And he would take pressure off Nash on the offensive end, both on the fast break and in the half court.
14. Houston Rockets
Best case scenario: Pau Gasol. Like, 7 months ago.
More likely: Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky
Lots of shooting guards still available, but Houston is expecting Kevin Martin to bounce back to form after an injury-plagued campaign. On the other hand, the Rockets, like the Suns, struggled in rebounding and defense. And even with the emergence of Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry’s improvement, they still ranked only 12th in assists. Enter Jones, who rebounds well, blocks shots, and passes even better from the post. One thing to keep an eye on, however, is the poorly-kept secret that coach Kevin McHale doesn’t suffer fools gladly, as Lowry’s recent discontentment reveals. Jones can be a prima donna, but if he can show some maturity, there’s a lot to like here.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
Best case scenario: Anybody want Elton Brand’s $17 million contract???
More likely: Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi State
Evan Turner, a shooting guard, led the Sixers in rebounding last season at 7.5 per game, so Moultrie can definitely help in this category. He averaged over ten a game last season, to go with 16 ppg. Jared Sullinger would be an intriguing (and less expensive) Elton Brand-type player here, but his back issues are giving teams pause.
16. Houston Rockets
Best case scenario: A Yao Ming revival? Or at least some other 7-foot international center with a three-letter first name (and no, I don’t mean Pau)…
More likely: Fab Melo, Center, Syracuse
Any 7-foot, 255-pound center that falls out of the lottery is going to come with question marks, and Fab Melo is no exception. In addition to his great offensive deficiencies, he was ruled ineligible for the NCAA tournament for academic reasons. But let’s be honest, basketball isn’t rocket science…
17. Dallas Mavericks
Best case scenario: Deron Williams, baby!!! And maybe a side of Dwight?
More likely: Terrence Ross, SG, Washington
This one might actually come down to Williams and his free agency. If the Mavs sense he’s leaning towards Brooklyn, they very well could go with Kendall Marshall here, a pass-first point guard of Jason Kidd’s ilk. Either way, it’d be hard to pass on Ross here, what with Jason Terry’s aging bones (and don’t even get me started on Vince “Half Man, Half a Raisin” Carter).
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah)
Best case scenario: Austin Rivers, SG, Duke
More likely: David Kahn trading down. And down. And down…
No, I haven’t been constructing this whole draft so that the Wolves get to select Rivers (ok, maybe just a little). But even if it wasn’t enough of a no-brainer to take Rivers here to try and remedy the most glaring hole in Minny’s roster, there isn’t exactly a big worth taking at this slot. Just don’t underestimate David Kahn. Or is it overestimate David Kahn?
19. Orlando Magic
Best case scenario: Dwight Howard goes away. Forever.
More likely: Tony Wroten, Jr., PG, Washington
The Magic needs to shake things up a bit. What they’ve been doing so far has failed, and their offense is culprit no. 1. Enter Wroten, who will attack the bucket relentlessly and could offer Howard his best playmaker he’s had in his career. Sure, he can’t shoot worth a lick, but the Magic shoots the three so well people might not even notice.
20. Denver Nuggets
Best case scenario: They need a superstar. Like, say, Carmelo Anthony.
More likely: Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State
Sullinger is a beast down low and offers something the Nuggets don’t really have, low post scoring, in addition to rebounding. But let’s be honest, the Nuggets are loaded with good players who together won’t add up to more than a good regular season team that will fizzle in the playoffs for lack of star power. They need to package some players and make a trade. (Editor’s Note: To those who think Isaac’s gone crazy in dropping Sullinger this far, please be aware that a report came out last week regarding some back issues that has teams scared. If anything, Isaac’s on the optimistic side in keeping him in the first round).
21-22. Boston Celtics
Best case scenario: Find the Fountain of Youth. And fast.
More likely: Royce White, F, Iowa State; Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure
White is the fashionable pick here, and it makes sense that Boston can imagine itself a good environment for a sensitive psyche like White’s. But what intrigues me about this pick is the potential defensive matchup White might be able to provide for a certain other 6’8”, 250 pound (White’s actually 260) incredibly skilled behemoth from what they call the South Beach. The other glaring issue from that Game 7 which White could remedy was a stark lack of Celtics who could create their own shot, which White can also do. Meanwhile, Nicholson provides size, shot-blocking, and impressive shooting range for a big man, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt him to have the Big Ticket to show him the ropes. (Editor’s Note: As a Celtics fan, I’d crawl to St. Bonaventure to put Nicholson in C’s uniform and have him learn from a hopefully re-signed Garnett the next year or two).
23. Atlanta Hawks
Best case scenario: A center to fall to them, enabling Al Horford to play PF.
More likely: Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina
Four Tar Heels in the top 23! I’m sensing a John Calipari joke coming on… But seriously, folks, the Hawks have weapons, but haven’t had an above-average playmaker in almost ten years. You have to go back to Jason Terry pre-Dallas days to find a Hawks player average more than seven assists per game. Meanwhile, Marshall averaged almost ten assists per game last season. (Editor’s Note: If Marshall falls to #23—and there’s no reason to think he won’t—he’ll have a career that will get at least one GM in the top 22 picks fired).
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (via LA Lakers)
Best case scenario: The Heat don’t win another championship?
More likely: Moe Harkless, SF, St. John’s
Cleveland is in best-player-available-territory if they haven’t tried to trade this pick already. They definitely don’t need another rookie on the roster, but Harkless is a good value here. He can score, but shot (and missed) way too many threes. And the Cavs could use a shooter, so keep an eye on the Will Bartons and Jeff Taylors of the world here. (Editor’s Note: Harkless is another player I have a man-crush on, though I’d have liked to have seen him at St. John’s one more year).
25. Memphis Grizzlies
Best case scenario: Learn how to protect a 27-point lead.
More likely: Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky
The cupboard is bare behind Mike Conley, and Teague has the potential to be a player. Already lightning quick and a good finisher, he’s not ready for big minutes yet, but could be a nice change-of-pace type backup for the Grizz.
26. Indiana Pacers
Best case scenario: Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina
More likely: Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor
Could really use a point guard here, as Darren Collison’s 4.8 apg led the team and leaves much to be desired. Miller, all 6’11” of him, would provide another shot-blocking presence besides Roy Hibbert (which they currently don’t have), and insurance in that department in case Hibbert departs via free agency.
27. Miami Heat
Best case scenario: Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…
More likely: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State
Green is a great fit here for a lot of reasons, a very smart, veteran player who could contribute to the Heat on the cheap without having to score. It helps him, too, because with such good defenders around him, his “tweener” status isn’t such a liability. (Editor’s Note: The one-and-done culture of college basketball has gone so far that Isaac can justly refer to a graduating senior like Green as a “veteran.”
28. Oklahoma City Thunder
Best case scenario: Re-sign James Harden and Serge Ibaka
More likely: Evan Fournier, France
The Thunder is poised to make a run at a championship next year, and they likely won’t need the services of a rookie. That being said, a veteran of a high-level league like Fournier is more likely to be able to step in and contribute. At the very least, he could stay in Europe another year or so for further seasoning.
29. Chicago Bulls
Best case scenario: Derrick Rose returns to full strength from ACL surgery.
More likely: John Jenkins, SG, Vanderbilt
It’s no secret the Bulls have been looking for a shooting guard for quite some time now, particularly one who can spot up for open looks when Rose penetrates. Jenkins is one of the best spot-up shooters in the entire draft and can score in other ways as well.
30. Golden State Warriors (Via San Antonio)
Best case scenario: Miles Plumlee, F/C, Duke
More likely: Warriors fans boo the team regardless of whom they pick.
The Warriors will need help in the middle while they wait for Bogut to get healthy, and Plumlee will be able to contribute right away. He can’t do much offensively at this point, but at 7’ and 250 pounds, not to mention a 40 inch vertical he’s worth a look over the long term.