Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore Lead Intriguing Class in Wide-Open 2013 NBA Draft

Anthony BennettThere are two types of people who talk about the NBA draft — those who say they know what will happen, and those who aren’t lying.

The 2013 draft is even more of a crapshoot than most, with only some consensus on who the Cleveland Cavaliers will take first overall and virtually no consensus after that. Everybody wants to trade away their picks in what is widely considered a relatively weak draft. The problem is, nobody wants to trade up or trade for picks at the expense of future drafts, since this year’s class is so thin.

With that in mind, we did our 2013 NBA mock draft a little differently. Rather than list the picks one to 30 and slotting in names, we will simply outline each team’s needs and what available players could be good fits.

Atlanta Hawks
Picks: 17th, 18th, 47th, 50th
Needs: C or PF, SF, SG
Best options: With Al Horford capable of playing either post position, the Hawks have some flexibility in the wake of Josh Smith‘s likely departure. They have back-to-back picks to take a stab at Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira or Duke’s Mason Plumlee, or they could simply guess that small forward Shabazz Muhammad‘s excellent motor will outweigh his flaws.

Boston Celtics
Picks: 16th
Needs: C, perimeter scoring
Best options: It’s impossible to guess the Celtics’ plans because their needs could shift overnight. Doc Rivers‘ departure could mean Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are gone, which could require the Celtics to target a big man like Pitt’s Steven Adams or Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk. If the Celtics are looking even longer term, they could snap up a point guard like Dennis Schroeder, betting that Rajon Rondo will not last through the upcoming rebuild.

Brooklyn Nets
Picks: 22nd
Needs: frontcourt depth
Best options: When Reggie Evans is your savior, you have issues. That is exactly what Evans became for the Nets last season as they grasped for options up front beyond Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche. They don’t need a game-changer, just someone capable of grabbing a rebound and possibly getting better over time, which Kris Humphries proved incapable of. Somebody like Louisville center Gorgui Dieng could be a steal if he is still there when the Nets pick.

Charlotte Bobcats
Picks: Fourth
Needs: everything but SF
Best options: Only the biggest Kemba Walker or Bismack Biyombo fans think the Bobcats are set at any position. In reality, the Bobcats are in straight “best available” mode, although their definition of “best available” may be different from everyone else’s. Michigan’s Trey Burke and Kansas’ Ben McLemore might be available if they want to go small, while Maryland’s Alex Len is the pick if they want to go big.

Chicago Bulls
Picks: 20th, 49th
Needs: perimeter scoring
Best options: Assuming Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are fully healthy, the Bulls are set at the top and bottom of the lineup. It’s everything in between that could use some work. Jimmy Butler made lots of fans in the playoffs, but the Bulls could still use a wing player who can put the ball in the basket with more regularity. That said, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. If San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin is on the board, coach Tom Thibodeau will find it hard to turn down adding the type of tough, defensive-minded shooting guard he loves.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Picks: First, 19th, 31st, 33rd
Needs: defensive-minded center or offensive-minded small forward
Best options: Nerlens Noel has been the consensus No. 1 pick for months. As the draft approaches, though, it is inevitable for reports to leak out that the team with the top pick is having second thoughts. For the Cavs’ sake, they had better not. Even if they are not sold on Noel, it’s a bad idea to rethink a year’s worth of scouting work based on a month of close, nitpicky evaluation.

Dallas Mavericks
Picks: 13th, 44th
Needs: everything except PF
Best options: If the Mavs end up using either of their picks, something went wrong. They are known to be shopping the 13th pick — and the guaranteed money they would have to pay whoever they drafted — in an attempt to shed payroll and free up money to sign two maximum-contract free agents. The Cavs are a possible trade partner.

Denver Nuggets
Picks: 27th
Needs: perimeter scoring
Best options: When Danilo Gallinari went down in the playoffs, the Nuggets’ inability to score in a set offense became glaring. While the only two-guard with proven one-on-one skills in this draft is Kansas’ Ben McLemore — who will not be available here — the Nuggets could snatch up a shooter like New Mexico’s Tony Snell, Cal’s Allen Crabbe or the more athletic Ricky Ledo out of Providence.

Detroit Pistons
Picks: Eighth, 37th, 56th
Needs: SG or SF
Best options: Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe look like the real deals, but there are conflicting opinions as to how dedicated the Pistons are to second-year point guard Brandon Knight. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum could be the pick, but if UNLV’s Anthony Bennett (pictured above) is still available, general manager Joe Dumars will have a tough time turning down a chance to forming one of the best young frontcourt trios in the league.

Golden State Warriors
Picks: None
Needs: backcourt depth
Best options: The Dubs don’t have a pick, having trade it to Utah, but they could always get back in via trade. The Mavericks and Hawks are looking to get out of this draft, while the Celtics could be willing to exchange this year’s pick for one in the 2014 draft, which they love. Golden State’s starting backcourt is set with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but Jarrett Jack is not their long-term solution off the bench.

Houston Rockets
Picks: 34th
Needs: post scoring
Best options: Who knows? With no first-round pick, the Rockets are in the unfortunate position of having to draft in the middle of one of the weakest second rounds in draft history. Regardless of their needs, they will address those via trades or free agency, not with the No. 4 pick in the second round.

Indiana Pacers
Picks: 23rd, 53rd
Needs: PG, post or perimeter scoring
Best options: Roy Hibbert opened some eyes this postseason, but there is still a feeling that the Pacers would like to add a big man due to David West‘s impending free agency. France’s Rody Gobert is a popular pick here, and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng fits the bill of a risk-reward case the Pacers could take a chance on. However, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan could be exactly the type of solid, offensive-minded point guard they need.

Los Angeles Clippers
Picks: 25th
Needs: frontcourt depth
Best options: The Clippers’ plan to become Celtics West appears to have been derailed, but how about changing course and becoming Wolverines West? They already have Michigan alum Jamal Crawford and could add either Tim Hardaway Jr. or Glen Rice Jr. (whose father went to Michigan) to compensate for Grant Hill‘s retirement and the potential losses of free agents Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, or Caron Butler, who is on the trade block.

Los Angeles Lakers
Picks: 48th
Needs: any player younger than 35
Best options: No player of consequence is likely to be on the board when the Lakers’ one and only pick rolls around. If nothing else, whoever they draft would bring down the roster’s average age, so there’s that.

Memphis Grizzlies
Picks: 41st, 55th, 60th
Needs: shooter
Best options: The Grizzlies have a bunch of picks, but they are well outside the realm where they can realistically hope to get any player who will make next year’s squad. They could go high-upside with NC State’s C.J. Leslie or Brazil’s Augusto Lima and see what happens in summer league. If Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is still available, he could be a second-round steal.

Miami Heat
Picks: None
Needs: post defense
Best options: The Heat are in real trouble. They don’t have a pick in this draft, and LeBron James is one year away from possibly walking away from his deal in Miami. Oh, what’s that? The Heat just won their second straight title, and they would be unlikely to land an impact player at No. 30 anyway, if they hadn’t traded it? OK, so maybe they will be fine.

Milwaukee Bucks
Picks: 15th, 43rd
Needs: PG or SG
Best options: The Brandon JenningsMonta Ellis experiment clearly did not work, so new coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond have to go back to the drawing board. Miami’s Shane Larkin, Germany’s Dennis Schroeder and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan should all be there for the taking, if the Bucks are interested.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Picks: Ninth, 26th, 52nd, 59th
Needs: SG
Best options: Some team in the late top 10 or early teens is going to grab Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and it could be the Kings, Thunder or Timberwolves. He’s the big (6-foot-6), athletic shooting guard all three teams need. His availability depends on what teams higher in the draft do about Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams.

New York Knicks
Picks: 24th
Needs: backcourt depth
Best options: No matter how well free-agent-to-be J.R. Smith played in the regular season or Raymond Felton played in the playoffs, neither is a permanent fixture for a team that envisions contending for a championship for the next several years. Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. or Cal’s Allen Crabbe would help, and they need to scoop up Miami’s Shane Larkin or Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan if either falls.

New Orleans Pelicans
Picks: Sixth
Needs: PF or SF with offensive skills
Best options: UNLV’s Anthony Bennett is almost universally considered a top-five talent in this draft. The question is whether he gets taken that high and how committed New Orleans is to Austin Rivers. If he is gone by the time the Pelicans pick at No. 6, or if the team isn’t sold on Rivers as its long-term solution as a combo guard, Michigan’s Trey Burke or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum could hear their names called (assuming Kansas’ Ben McLemore has been taken already).

Oklahoma City Thunder
Picks: 12th, 29th, 32nd
Needs: C, SG
Best options: Kevin Martin is a free agent, and it’s debatable just how good a fit he was in OKC. Even so, the Thunder need help up front, where Kendrick Perkins has gone downhill fast. Pitt’s Steven Adams is big and skilled, although he has the “too nice” label Kevin Durant has been saddled with. Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk would be a very intriguing pick with his unique skillset.

Orlando Magic
Picks: Second, 51st
Needs: PG, SG
Best options: As dreadful as the Magic were last season, they actually have a promising core of Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless. They also seem committed to working with second-year forward Andrew Nicholson as a long-term project. An athletic slasher and shooter like Kansas’ Ben McLemore slots in perfectly if the Magic brass trust coach Jacque Vaughn to instill some work ethic in him.

Philadelphia 76ers
Picks: 11th, 35th, 42nd
Needs: PF, perimeter scoring
Best options: Jrue Holiday is the Sixers’ only real impact player, while Thaddeus Young is solid enough to try to fill other positions for now. The Sixers need a big man, whether Andrew Bynum re-signs or not, because Bynum’s injury history all but guarantees he won’t play more than 65 games in a season. They could also use a shooter, but those are so much easier to come by in the free agency that it’s not worth wasting the 11th overall pick on one. Expect the Sixers to go big with Indiana’s Cody Zeller or Pitt’s Steven Adams.

Phoenix Suns
Picks: Fifth, 30th, 57th
Needs: everything
Best options: Lots of people believe new general manager Ryan McDonough wants an impact guard, which leaves the Suns with really only two options at No. 5. If they want offense, they can reach for Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. If they want defense with the potential to become a better offensive threat, they can grab Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

Portland Trail Blazers
Picks: 10th, 39th, 40th, 45th
Needs: C, SG
Best options: The Blazers made the best pick in last year’s draft by taking Damian Lillard sixth overall, but there is a sense that they are not finished bolstering their backcourt. If Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum or Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are still available, the Blazers are interested, but Indiana center Cody Zeller seems to be the perfect pick for a team that needs size.

Sacramento Kings
Picks: Seventh, 36th
Needs: SF, SG, true PG, defensive-minded big man
Best options: Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum keeps coming up in connection with the Kings, especially if the team swings a draft-day deal involving Jimmer Fredette. Still, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett is tailor-made for a squad that gave 81 starts to Jason Thompson, who is solid enough, and 72 starts to John Salmons, who is not.

San Antonio Spurs
Picks: 28th, 58th
Needs: frontcourt depth
Best options: With the Spurs, it is always a safe bet to look overseas. The cream of this year’s international crop, like Brazil’s Lucas Nogueira and Germany’s Dennis Schroeder, are expected to be off the board well before the Spurs pick. France’s Rudy Gobert could join his countryman Tony Parker, or San Antonio could take a real longshot project like Livio Jean-Charles or Alex Abrines.

Toronto Raptors
Picks: None
Needs: C, PF, future PG
Best options: Rudy Gay is not quite as horrible as some analysts pretend, but the Raptors still need a whole bunch of help. It won’t come in this draft, as the Raptors have no picks and no real sellable assets to trade into the draft. New general manager Masai Ujiri will have to look elsewhere to spark Toronto’s rebuild.

Utah Jazz
Picks: 14th, 21st, 46th
Needs: PG
Best options: The Jazz have desperately needed a point guard ever since they traded Deron Williams, and while there is no obvious choice here, there should be a few workable options on the board for either of their first-round picks. Miami’s Shane Larkin or German import Dennis Schroeder could fit the bill for a developing squad. With their other first-round pick, the Jazz could take a gamble on a big man like Mason Plumlee.

Washington Wizards
Picks: Third, 38th, 54th
Needs: SF, C
Best options: Otto Porter fits in so perfectly here, the Wizards seem destined to screw it up. The backcourt is set with John Wall and Bradley Beal, while Nene is still eating up a hefty chunk of change through 2016. Porter would slide neatly into Washington’s opening at small forward, filling the Wizards’ 1-3 spots in the lineup for the next several years.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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