Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, won by the Cleveland Cavaliers, set the order for the June 27 draft. But it didn’t create any more clarity about who will go No. 1. For now, here’s how we predict the first round will unfold.
(Note: Several teams don’t have first-round picks because of trades.)
McLemore is not a finished product and scouts will nitpick his level of assertiveness and lack of a fiery personality leading up to the draft. But at the end of the day, he’s the guy in this draft with the greatest shot at becoming a superstar. While a shooting guard hasn’t gone No. 1 in 40 years, McLemore is in position to do it. His outside shot is comparable to a perfect golf swing; it’s a thing of beauty. Combine that with freakish athleticism and you have a high-level prospect.
Noel’s length, leaping ability and cat-like reflexes make him an extraordinary shot-blocker. His offensive game, however, is extremely raw and may never be anything more than put-back dunks and hook shots. The other real concern is that Noel has torn the same ACL twice. Regardless, his ability to impact the defensive end puts him in the running for the top overall pick and he should land in the top two, despite not being able to fully work out for teams leading up to the draft.
The Jan Vesely experiement has not worked out, leaving the door open to add local guy Otto Porter. Another local product, Maryland center Alex Len, is a possibility. Porter made a very impressive jump from his freshman to sophomore seasons, showing no difficulty in becoming the leader of the Hoyas and winning Big East Player of the Year. Porter is about as low risk as it gets in this draft, but his ceiling isn’t as great as some of the other top prospects.
Oladipo would be a complete reach at 4, but when has Charlotte been known for making practical decisions? Oladipo is a late bloomer who draws rave reviews for his demeanor and personality. His explosiveness is off the charts (42-inch vert at combine) and his shooting and ball-handling have shown surprising improvement. Some wild comparisons to Dwyane Wade and even Michael Jordan have been thrown out for Oladipo. But those are unfair for a player who projects as a high-level role player, but not a star at the next level.
The Suns are in need of talent and Bennett has plenty of it. Despite being 6-8, his wingspan makes him essentially a 6-9 player and he’s got massive shoulders and hands. A vicious dunker in college, he lacks the foot speed to defend on the perimeter, essentially making him a stretch 4. Some scouts have mentioned him as a potential No. 1 pick, though that’s probably a reach considering he’s a tweener and the last 6-9 or under PF to go first was Kenyon Martin.
New Orleans will hope that Burke can make the same type of impact that his idol Chris Paul made on the city. Burke was not only the top PG in the nation this year, he was the best player in the nation. He carried the Wolverines all season with a will to win that was unmatched on the college level. On the negative side, Burke lacks elite-level speed and athleticism, making it a challenge for him to gain separation on opponents. But his immeasurables — competitiveness, heart and determination — are off the charts.
A solid character guy like Zeller could be a nice addition to Sacramento’s dysfunctional family. Zeller failed to live up to the preseason hype and much of the time chose to defer instead of taking on the role of Indiana’s star. It obviously took a toll on his draft stock, but a tremendous combine has him back on track. His 35.5-inch standing jump is the highest recorded for a big man in years. Zeller shows the ability to knock down mid-range shots with regularity and runs the floor like a gazelle, which is rare for a 7-footer.
McCollum would pair with Brandon Knight in the backcourt and push him as the team’s future starting PG. He’s got a nasty crossover and isolation game, showing a great ability to get defenders on their heels — a la Steph Curry — before pulling up for jumpers. There are some concerns about his ability to play the PG position as well as defend. Despite missing a large portion of the season with a broken foot, McCollum has a real chance to go top 10 and is a chic pick as the top PG prospect in this year’s draft.
The Timberwolves have a promising young roster and could groom Len behind Nicola Pekovic for a few seasons. Len shows the agility to get up and down the floor, make plays at the rim and the touch to knock down shots from midrange. While some may knock his fluidity, toughness and consistency, bigs take time. For a 20-year-old who is still adjusting to American culture after growing up in the Ukraine, his sophomore season was excellent.
The Blazers don’t have a real position of need but a versatile forward such as Saric would help bolster their frontcourt. He has tremendous ball-handling, passing and feel for the game, but whether or not he has the quickness to utilize those skills is the question. He still has a lot of work to do on his jump shot, but his desire to be great makes him one of the top international prospect for this year’s draft.
The Sixers are forced to start over at the center position after trading away a lot of assets for an absolute dud in Andrew Bynum. Olynyk was arguably the most dominant big in the country and despite Gonzaga’s flame-out in the tourney, he was solid. He lacks great athleticism and quickness, but shows the skill set of a 10-year veteran. Olynyk’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll has led scouts to believe he can make it defensively in the league.
Rumors persist that Schroeder has a promise, and the Thunder are known for utilizing them. Schroeder used a tremendous week in Portland at the Hoop Summit to skyrocket up teams’ draft boards. He combines elite-level quickness with solid decision-making. His ability to handle the ball in traffic is impressive. He’s got an extra gear that allows him to get by defenders any time he wants to. He also possesses good size at the PG position at 6-2 with a 6-7 wingspan.
With OJ Mayo possibly on the way out, a SG who can give the Mavs instant scoring would be a solid addition. KCP is an underrated athlete with the ability to get to the rack as well as create and knock down shots on the perimeter. He doesn’t blow you away in any one area, but he’s a good shooter and scorer. After a freshman season in which he struggled with efficiency, he was able to improve upon his shooting from the floor and beyond the arc.
Utah needs a PG and and Carter-Williams is a true point guard with tremendous size. At 6-6 he reminds some of the high school version of Shaun Livingston that many became so enamored with before his tragic knee injury. Though not quite the talent, MCW’s ability to set up teammates for baskets is special for a player his size. He has a lot of work to do on his outside shooting and must prove that he can hang with the speed of today’s NBA PGs. He would likely pair well with a small 2-guard like Monta Ellis as he would probably be better suited defending 2 guards while running the point.
Milwaukee has had success taking projects like Larry Sanders, and Adams shows a lot of upside but will take time. Adams was a surprise entry as many felt he needed more time in college to develop his feel for the game and post skills. Adams used a very strong draft combine performance, displaying a surprisingly accurate midrange jumper, to likely ensure a place in the top 20. He is a long-term project due to his lack of experience and feel for the game but could really develop into a high-level center given time and the right situation.
The Celtics usually do a good job of maximizing talent at their picks and Muhammad could be highly undervalued by draft night and slip out of the lottery. Credit him for participating in the combine, but subpar shooting did not help his cause. Shabazz had a rough ending to the season with the report coming out that he’s actually 20 instead of 19 as his father had purported. But he’s still one of the most talented prospects in this year’s draft with a killer instinct and high-level scoring ability.
Plumlee was one of the surprises in college this year, but may slip to the teens due to his case of "senior-itis." Similar to last year with Tyler Zeller, younger prospects with more perceived upside may ultimately push the senior into the second half of the first round. He added some offensive skills around the basket and played the year with surprising consistency. He is a better version of his brother Miles, who somehow landed in the late first round in 2012.
"Bebe" gives the Hawks the opportunity to bring him in right away or allow him to develop for another season in Spain. Nogueira is extremely raw, but players with his size and agility are rare. He had a breakout performance at the Copa America U18 tournament in 2010 and some NBA scouts came away saying he had top-five pick potential. He lost most of that hype with a dreadful showing at the 2011 adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, but has had a huge bounce-back season playing in Spain for Estudiantes.
The Cavs won the lottery and can add a position of need here with a SF like Snell, who has been steadily moving up teams’ boards since declaring for the draft. He had better than expected athleticism numbers at the draft combine and shows excellent ability to knock down outside shots as well as find open looks off the dribble. He’s an unselfish player with upside and just needs to work on his level of intensity and consistency.
The Bulls have Nikola Mirotic still playing in Europe and could look for another player to draft and stash to keep off their books this year. Adetokoubo is this year’s "international man of mystery." He’s got a tremendous basketball body and some wicked highlights on youtube. The problem for him and scouts is that the level of competition in his league is considered by scouts as the equivalent to Div 2-3 college ball. So getting an accurate gauge of his talent and potential is difficult.
Larkin would be doubling up at the position but he would be a value pick and insurance in case the boom or bust MCW selection doesn’t go smoothly. Larkin recorded the highest vertical leap ever at the draft combine with a 44-inch running jump. He was not far behind Trey Burke in terms of being a team leader and floor general and there are a number of scouts that actually prefer Larkin to Burke as a prospect. As the son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, Shane has the pedigree to overcome a significant lack of size.
The Nets have cap concerns and could look for a European with the possibility to keep him overseas, or trade out. Gobert failed to impress at the draft combine as he looked mechanical and slow running the floor. He has ridiculous length with a 7-9 wingspan. He also possesses good shooting touch and appears to have a body that will allow him to add strength and eventually battle in the paint in the NBA. He struggled to put up consistent numbers in the French League. So the question is whether teams will be willing to look past the lack of productivity and draft him on potential.
The Pacers are in pretty good shape at all positions and with Paul George and Lance Stephenson’s emergence aren’t in need of a young wing, but Hardaway would add depth and shooting on the perimeter. Hardaway Jr. shows mental toughness and consistent effort at all times. He has a well-developed offensive game with good elevation and form on his shot. The big knock on him has always been foot speed as he lacks a great first step to beat opponents off the dribble. He grew up around the game, and that is apparent with his focus and feel.
Dieng would help add depth to an aging frontcourt that battled injury trouble all year with Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire. Dieng benefited from Louisville’s deep tourney run, as he was able to display the ability to consistently knock down midrange shots. While not a speed burner, he shows good defensive abilities, particularly in blocking shots. Dieng missed a portion of the year with a fractured wrist, but his return coincided with the team’s resurgence as he anchored Louisville’s interior defense. His condor-like 7-4 wingspan makes him a formidable obstacle around the basket.
The Clips could use some additional firepower off the bench and Crabbe has nice scoring ability. The Pac 12 Player of the Year, Crabbe has a sweet outside shooting stroke and solid athleticism. He also possesses good size for the 2-guard position. The biggest knock against him has been his toughness, level of intensity and consistency. He had a solid finish to the year, leading Cal into the second round of the tourney, but it seems that he’s a player that needs a push (or shove) to motivate him.
The Wolves could look for an upside pick here, and while Mitchell is more of a 4, he would like to transition to the 3 spot. He surprised many by returning to North Texas and was unable to enhance his draft stock. Mitchell is a unique player as he combines freakish length (7-3 wingspan) and explosiveness. He seems to be convinced that he’s a 3, and despite his chiseled physique, apparently does not enjoy battling in the paint.
The Nuggets have a deep and talented roster and could look for a Euro stash pick here. Green would give them more perimeter offensive firepower off the bench. The leading scorer in the country at 25 ppg, Green was forced to shoot a ton as he didn’t have much help playing at Virginia Tech. He was not asked to be a distributor, so the question is just how much of a point guard he is. He showed some ability to play the position earlier in his college career, and some scouts really like him.
Sticking with their long Euro theme, Karasev is in the mold of a Danny Green and could come over in a couple seasons after working on his body. Karasev’s outside shooting impressed scouts at the Hoop Summit all week and he had a breakout season playing in Russia as the top player on his team. He lacks great speed and may struggle defensively with slow feet, but he’s a decent athlete and shows some ability to get to the basket off the dribble.
OKC needs immediate contributors as a contender, and Thomas fits the bill as a guy who could come in and provide scoring right away. Thomas doesn’t have great athleticism or foot speed. In fact, his movements resemble a creaky old NBA veteran who is in his 12th season. But he’s such a tremendous scorer that he’s getting first-round buzz from scouts.
The Suns take a somewhat local guy as San Diego and Phoenix are a hop and a skip away, and Franklin offers energy and athleticism to a team in need of talent. Franklin is a bit of a 2/3, showing better ability to slash and affect the game with his athleticism than smooth guard skills, but he competes hard. Some concerns linger about character and attitude. An incident flipping off a fan and/or referee have him on the first-round bubble.