With the lottery done, it's time to take a crack at my first mock draft of the year. This year is tough because Cleveland could take Nerlens Noel or Otto Porter at #1, and either option creates a radically different lottery.
Predictably, the Cavs are playing it close to the vest. I'll do my best to jump into their heads at this point and take it from there.
1. Cleveland: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
Ultimately, while Porter is a very good prospect who has a fairly high floor, he doesn't set himself apart as a prospect you just can't afford to pass on. Noel, on the other hand, has a chance to be a game-changer on the defensive end. If you're going to compare him to a current or former NBA player, I would compare him to Theo Ratliff, who for a decade was one of the game's pre-eminent defensive big men. These guys don't come around all that often (although this is the second straight year one of them is coming out of Kentucky...) At any rate, until someone convinces me it's Porter, this is my guess.
2. Orlando: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
You can make a case for Trey Burke here, as the thoroughly average Jameer Nelson has only one year left on his contract. But McLemore has all the classic NBA shooting guard skills, and not being undersized for his position gives him more reliable upside than Burke, at a position that is as big a need as point guard.
3. Washington: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
And he doesn't even have to leave town! The Wiz have their long-term backcourt set with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Anthony Bennett is a possibility here, as that is also a position of need, but at #3 you can't really pass up on Porter.
4. Charlotte: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
The Hornets (yes, we can say that again!) need skill and athleticism in the frontcourt, and Bennett brings plenty. His body type is definitely that of a power forward, although ideally you'd like him to be a couple of inches taller. But the Canadian can handle, shoot, and has a legit back to the basket game.
5. Phoenix: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Oladipo is a top level athlete who projects to be an elite defender, but it's the emergence of his offensive game that has vaulted him up draft boards. Even top shooting guards like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Brandon Paul had a hard time stopping Oladipo off the dribble, and his three point shot reached a surprising level of refinement. Because of his defense, you could argue that he's a safer bet than even McLemore... and if his offensive game continues to progress, he could be a major piece for the Suns.
6. New Orleans: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Burke took incredible strides as a sophomore under John Beilein, progressing from a scoring lead guard to a true playmaker, someone who could run an offense while also possessing the ability to take over a game. He is already a plus three-point shooter, and despite his size he is a handful in the lane who can get all the way to the rim even at a hair under 6' tall. His defense improved mightily as a sophomore, as well. If he were three inches taller, he would be the clear #2 pick in this draft. As it is, the Pelicans should have a long term starter in Burke.
7. Sacramento: Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana
I have long believed that Zeller would make a better pro than he was a college player, as NBA 4's are going to have a hard time dealing with Zeller both on the perimeter and in the post. Zeller showed in Chicago that he's plenty athletic to match up with power forwards, and as he adds strength he should be able to give minutes at center, too. He's a nice insurance policy for the Demarcus Cousins wild card, and a compelling player to pair with Cousins in a potentially imposing frontcourt.
8. Detroit: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
C.J. McCollum is a popular pick here, but I can't see the Pistons going for another 6'3", score-first combo guard. MCW has incredible size and athleticism for the position, and he's a true point guard. If he develops the same court sense, he could be a bigger Rajon Rondo. And if he fixes his jump shot - which recent testing suggests may be happening - his upside is almost unlimited. He would make an ideal backcourt mate for Brandon Knight.
9. Minnesota: Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF, UCLA
Minnesota needs athleticism on the wings. Muhammad is not an elite wing athlete. But he can score, and the T'Wolves need someone who can do that, too. Muhammad may only be a scorer, but he lacks the baggage of someone like Michael Beasley. In a perfect world, Oladipo is the guy Minnesota would want here, and for that reason the T'Wolves might be a candidate to trade up.
10. Portland: Alex Len, C, Maryland
The jury remains out on Meyers Leonard, and you can never have too much size. With Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, the Blazers are pretty set outside. Len, a pure low-post center, would be a nice complement to the face-up game of LaMarcus Aldridge.
11. Philadelphia: Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke
Philly needs size, and Plumlee is both big and athletic. He can play in the low post, and run the floor with almost any big man in the game.
12. Oklahoma City: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh
This is both good value and a good fit. McCollum could back up Russell Westbrook as well as play with him, providing the backcourt scoring that James Harden took with him to Houston.
13. Dallas: Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
This 19 year-old emerged late with lightning quickness, a pure point guard's skills, and a competent jump shot. Who better to usher him into the NBA than countryman Dirk Nowitzki? Dallas is heading into a rebuilding phase, and Schroeder has the potential to grow into a fixture.
14. Utah: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
With a need at the point, the Jazz would have loved to see Schroeder or Carter-Williams still on the board here. Instead they go for the upside of this versatile, 19 year-old import. At 6'10", Saric possesses some real point-forward skills, a streaky jumper that should improve, and a basketball IQ perhaps unmatched in the draft.
15. Milwaukee: Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia
Milwaukee needs shooting (even after acquiring JJ Redick), and the small forward position is the Bucks' most unsettled. Karasev may be the best shooter in the draft.
16. Boston: Giannis Adetokuompo, SF, Greece
Adetokuompo is perhaps the most intriguing player in the draft. A long, athletic freak at 6'9", he often plays point guard for his Greek league team. Incredibly raw at only 18 years old, Giannis is likely to be stashed in Europe for 2-3 years... making him ready to come over right as Boston's rebuilding is in full swing. There is no one at #16 that will be an immediate boon to a rebuilding team, so this is a perfect opportunity for the Celtics to shoot for the stars.
17. Atlanta: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Good size, solid athleticism, solid shooting, and the ability to create make Caldwell-Pope an intriguing choice for a rebuilding Hawks team. He still needs to improve as a finisher and on the defensive end, but with the right coaching, the upside is there.
18. Atlanta: Kelly Olynyk, PF/C, Gonzaga
Olynyk has an impressive skill game for a player of his size, able to shoot from the perimeter and dribble-drive. Too good a value to pass up here.
19. Cleveland: Reggie Bullock, SF, North Carolina
Not a sexy pick, and probably a reach here (which makes the Cavs a candidate to trade down), but Bullock would slot in nicely at the 3 between Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Bullock has size and length, making him an above average defender at a premium NBA position, and he's a terrific standstill jump shooter to stretch the floor for Uncle Drew.
20. Chicago: Gorgui Dieng, PF/C, Louisville
A lot depends on whether the Bulls think they will be able to retain Marco Belinelli. Not possessing his Larry Bird rights, the Bulls - in luxury tax territory - can only sign minimum-salary players. Belinelli probably played himself into more market value, however he has a very good role as the third wing on a potential contender. If he leaves, I would look for Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. in this spot. But for now, Dieng would give the Bulls an extra big man who can give them some of what they lost when Houston pried Omer Asik away. Dieng can defend and block shots, pass out of the high post, and has the potential to make a staple out of the foul line jumper. Pitt C Steven Adams would be a possibility here, too, and possesses more upside, but Dieng is more likely to contribute right away, and this is what the Bulls need. The Bulls don't have minutes to give for on-the-job training, and Tom Thibodeau has a higher threshold for throwing rookies out on the floor than most coaches. Adams would likely be a better pick 3 or 4 years down the line... but the Bulls need to compete now.
21. Utah: Steven Adams, C, Pitt
The young Kiwi has excellent athleticism and should be able to play defense at the NBA level fairly soon. His offensive game is a work in progress, but he does show signs that it's there. For a rebuilding team, Adams is a high-value pick at #21. Getting Saric and Adams would be a very good draft for the Jazz.
22. Brooklyn: Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
Franklin led the Aztecs in virtually every statistical category as a junior. He needs to improve his jumper, but he has excellent length, is well-built, athletic, and versatile. While he may be a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none, Franklin's outstanding motor should at least ensure he can be a rotation contributor, perhaps like Ronnie Brewer when he was in Utah. With MarShon Brooks on the outs with the Nets, Franklin would give them the option of going small with Joe Johnson at the 3 and Gerald Wallace at the 4.
23. Indiana: Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
Larkin emerged as an explosive player for the 'Canes as a sophomore. His size will always be an issue, and he doesn't have Trey Burke's repertoire to overcome that. But he has the potential to be a long term high-end backup or low-end starter - and for the Pacers a nice game-ready complement to George Hill.
24. New York: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
The Knicks need everything... and the Knicks need nothing. But they are definitely in "win-now" mode, so if they can get a guy who can help them off the bench right away, that would be a win at #24. Withey is not the strongest, and he doesn't have a terribly impressive offensive game, but he is a gifted shot blocker and can defend the rim when Tyson Chandler is not in the game.
25. L.A. Clippers: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan
Hardaway stood out at the Chicago camp, earning high marks for his intensity and professionalism. At Michigan he displayed an NBA-level perimeter jump shot, but an ability to create was never in evidence, and his commitment to defense did not begin to surface until well into his junior season. But he has the length, tested well athletically in Chicago, appears willing to work at it, and if he's properly taught he might become more than an adequate defender. Even just being able to stretch a defense while defending his position would make him an NBA rotation player - and exactly what the Clippers need. If his ability to create exists but was simply not utilized within the structure of John Beilein's offense, he could be a hidden gem.
26. Minnesota: Glen Rice Jr., SG/SF, D-League
So, we get back-to-back sons of '90s NBA stars here. Minnesota needs athletes on the wings, and Rice brings brings size and athleticism. He brings some baggage, too, having been benched by Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech, then the next year dismissed from the team by Brian Gregory. But once he got to the D-League, the former top prospect out of high school emerged as a prolific scorer. He's not great as a creator, but like his father he's a plus standstill sniper, which should fit well with Ricky Rubio. He has the physical tools to defend, but will need some solid instruction and motivation to develop. All told, this would be a nice high-upside value pick this late.
27. Denver: Erick Green, PG, Virginia Tech
Andre Miller can't play forever, so Denver needs to start cultivating a new backup to Ty Lawson. Green is primarily a scorer with the ability to get - and make - perimeter shots. But he does have the ability to run an offense, and is adept in the pick-and-roll game that is such an NBA staple. With a 6'7" wingspan, Green has the potential to log some minutes alongside Lawson should last year's first round pick, Frenchman Evan Fournier, not develop.
28. San Antonio: Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil
"Bebe" has a physical profile that is reminiscent of Denver's JaVale McGee. The 20 year-old is rail thin at 6'11", but is a freakish athlete and can dominate the defensive end of the floor. If he gets stronger and adds a modicum of offensive skill, Nogueira could become a difference-maker. He might be best off stashed overseas for another year or two, which is fine by the Spurs. A potential Marcus Camby clone.
29. Oklahoma City: Rudy Gobert, C, France
Gobert does not have much of an offensive game beyond dunking - which he can do almost without jumping thanks to possessing the wingspan of an Airbus. His athletic testing in Chicago was underwhelming, but there is only so athletic you need to be with a 9'7" standing vertical. He's 19 and needs a lot of development. But the Thunder would probably prefer not to add two rookies right now anyway, and are looking ahead to the day they replace Kendrick Perkins.
30. Phoenix: Mouhammadou Jaiteh, C, France
Yet another physically impressive foreign center for a team that is willing to wait on long-term potential and isn't looking for immediate help. Despite being the second youngest player in the draft, not turning 19 until November, Jaiteh wants to make his way to the NBA quickly. The Suns will hope he can grow along with them.