The actual draft order will not be known until the lottery is held May 20, and even knowing the order does little to lessen the uncertainty. The Cleveland Cavaliers showed this last year by shocking the experts and taking Anthony Bennett first overall. (Maybe the Cavs should have listened to the experts, in hindsight.)
It is impossible to know everything about a player or how every team feels about each prospect, but one thing the NBA draft has shown is that “need” is seldom a consideration. Teams tend to go with the best player available, whomever they happen to think that player is. Of course, opinions differ, not just between executives and reporters, but also within front offices.
Without further ado, here’s a look at how the lottery portion of the draft could play out.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (SF/SG, 6-foot-8, 200 pounds)
In a season in which tanking was a major concern, the Bucks actually tried to be good — and failed miserably. The worst team in the league gets its turnaround off to a good start by taking the lithe 6-foot-8 swingman out of Kansas.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Kansas (C, 7-0, 250)
Back issues always are a concern when it comes to big men, and the Sixers might be gun shy after losing Nerlens Noel for an entire season to a knee injury. But Embiid is a risk Philly needs to take. A healthy Embiid/Noel pairing could develop into a stout defensive front line.
3. Orlando Magic: Jabari Parker, Duke (F, 6-8, 241)
His defensive liabilities aside, Parker can flat-out score, which is just what the Magic need. Orlando was the second-least efficient offensive team in the NBA, but putting Parker beside Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris should change that.
4. Utah Jazz: Julius Randle, Kentucky (PF, 6-9, 225)
The Jazz already have a couple of promising young big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but they cannot afford to pass on Randle, who could immediately boost Utah’s middling performance on the offensive and defensive glass.
5. Boston Celtics: Dante Exum, Australia (G, 6-6, 188)
There is increasing confidence the 6-foot-6 Australian could play two-guard alongside Rajon Rondo or be a supersized point if Rondo is dealt.
6. Los Angeles Lakers: Aaron Gordon, Arizona (F, 6-8, 210)
The best player available here probably is Marcus Smart, but this is L.A. we’re talking about here. The Lakers won’t let a dunk machine capable of bringing Staples Center to its feet get past them, no matter the rest of his extensive offensive limitations.
7. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (PG, 6-4, 225)
A fiery young guard in the same locker room as fiery young center DeMarcus Cousins? It might create some headaches for coach Michael Malone. But if the Kings can keep Smart and Cousins’ personalities from clashing, they could have the makings of an All-Star inside-outside duo.
8. Detroit Pistons: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse (PG, 6-2, 180)
The Pistons have seen enough of Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings to know that a solid, playmaking point guard goes a long way.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Noah Vonleh, Indiana (PF, 6-10, 240)
Though bigger and less athletic than Gordon, Vonleh brings a similar sort of package. He’s a defensive beast in the making, but his offense is a work in progress.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Dario Saric, Croatia (F, 6-10, 225)
Assuming he enters the draft, Saric is a perfect ironic fit for the Sixers, who love moves that suggest they know something other people don’t. Per scouting reports, Saric is tall and skilled, yet weak and a poor decision-maker.
11. Denver Nuggets: Doug McDermott, Creighton (F, 6-8, 210)
Run-and-gun Denver would create spacing nightmares for opponents by pairing McDermott and 6-foot-10 sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari (if healthy) in its frontcourt.
12. Orlando Magic: Gary Harris, Michigan State (SG, 6-4, 210)
Though undersized, Harris possesses enough shooting touch and athleticism to be a dangerous volume shooter in the NBA, especially off the bench.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, Duke (SF/SG, 6-8, 180)
He’s long and can shoot, but Hood is not particularly strong or a consistent defender. That combination of traits has led similar players in the past to bump all the way up to the top 10 or to fall out of the lottery entirely.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, Kentucky (6-6, 215)
Although streaky as a shooter, Young still will be just 18 years old at the time of the draft. His youth could mean even more upside than some of his draft classmates, especially on the offensive end, where his skills still are developing.
Photo via Facebook/Kansas Men’s Basketball