Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 NBA Mock Draft #3: March Madness

The NFL Report is proud to present its latest 2014 NBA Mock Draft. For this edition, our NBA writer Matt Reppucci and our College Basketball writer Gabe Schmittlein alternate each pick, with Matt taking the odds and Gabe the evens. If you are interested in how the picks have changed over time, here are links to our 1st and 2nd Mock Drafts of the year. Enjoy!

1. Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
From before he even played one game for Kansas, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the #1 pick. However, a slow start to the year and strong play by Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid threatened Wiggins’s spot. Nonetheless, he has really come on recently (except for a poor showing in Kansas’s loss in the NCAA tournament) and put his incredible athleticism to use effectively. Wiggins has been compared to LeBron James coming out of college because of a similar stature scoring ability. If Wiggins can put on a few pounds of muscle and learn to play a more all-around game, he will certainly have success at the NBA level. The Bucks are a team with really no building blocks for the future, so would be ecstatic for the chance to rebuild their franchise with a player like Wiggins.

2. Philadelphia 76ers - Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke
What seems certain with this pick is that the Sixers will draft a small forward, as it is their biggest need and it is probably the most talented position in the draft, with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker leading the pack. The only question now is who will fall to them, Wiggins or Parker. The chances are growing that whoever ends up with the number one pick will choose Wiggins, so that leaves Parker for the Sixers here with the second pick. Parker is undoubtedly the most pro-ready player offensively in this class, and would fit in fantastically for a Sixers team that could use really use someone who is able to put points on the scoreboard with consistency.

3. Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas 
Throughout the major part of the season, Embiid was looking like the best prospect in this year’s draft and possibly the #1 overall pick. He has a surprisingly well-developed post game, and can score perhaps more efficiently than any other player in this draft. His height gives him an advantage on the defensive end as well as on the boards. The Magic might have more of a need at point guard, so they may be tempted to take Exum, but Embiid is an incredibly rare talent who offers too much upside to pass up. The Magic almost won an NBA championship when they had a star center in Dwight Howard, so if they can get another one here they could trade their current center (who is pretty good in his own right) Nikola Vucevic for a point guard or keep him and have an amazing one-two punch at center that every team (minus the Rockets) would be envious of.

4. Los Angeles Lakers - Dante Exum, PG, Australia 
In nearly any other draft class, Exum would likely hear his name first overall - he’s that good. He resembles a better jump-shooting Michael Carter-Williams, with his tall stature (6’6”), great ball handling, and knack for finding an open man. At this point, the Lakers have needs all around the court, so it makes sense to take the best player available, and that is Exum. It also can’t hurt that Exum has publicly voiced his desire to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

5. Boston Celtics - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky 
Truthfully, if the Celtics land the #5 pick they might be looking to trade it away. The really don’t have a need at power forward as Jared Sullinger has played very well this season, except Randle is clearly the best player available in this spot. If they don’t trade the pick, they will take Randle just because he is so much better than anyone else left, displayed by his 15.1 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. Although it would be ideal for the Celtics to draft a small forward or shooting guard, a duo of Sullinger and Randle in the front court would be incredibly dynamic. They can both rebound at very high rates, and they can both shoot from the outside, creating so many mismatches for opponents. The best part is, Randle is 19 and Sullinger is 22, which would give the celtics a great core for the future.

6. Utah Jazz - Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State 
The Jazz are a bit cramped in the frontcourt, so it makes sense that they might look to draft a backcourt partner for Trey Burke. Marcus Smart played point guard at Oklahoma State, but he would likely move to shooting guard in the NBA. He already has great skills on the inside for a guard, and if his outside shooting improves, he could be an offensive force for years to come. Though some will be worried by his three game suspension for pushing a fan, it certainly did not impact his on-court performance, as he returned to save the fortunes of a reeling Oklahoma State team.

7. Sacramento Kings - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana 
Besides Randle, Vonleh is the best rebounder in this draft. He is averaging a near double double, with 11.3 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. The Kings are set at the center position with DeMarcus Cousins and point guard with Isaiah Thomas, small forward with Rudy Gay, and shooting guard with Ben McLemore. However, their major problems are that they have no power forward complement to Cousins, and that as a team their talented players have been underachieving. Adding an exciting piece like Vonleh who could have been a top 3-5 pick in another not-so-stacked draft could launch the Kings into the next level and help them finally realize their potential. Vonleh will help them immensely on the boards as well as taking some pressure of Cousins in the post, making this really the perfect pick for the kings.

8. Detroit Pistons - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State 
Harris has been oddly underwhelming in March Madness thus far, but in a draft class that is not full of top-tier shooting guards, his draft stock probably won’t drop too much. Though his shooting touch has slightly abandoned him, his incredible defensive work rate has not. For a Pistons team that is in dire need of some backcourt help, especially on the defensive end, drafting Harris would make tremendous sense.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers - Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona 
The Cavaliers are in turmoil as a franchise for, like the Kings, they have good players who are not playing well. Last year they had the #1 overall pick but horrendously used it on Anthony Bennett. What they Cavs really need is to get more athletic, to get someone who can run the floor with Kyrie Irving, does not demand the ball all the time (Dion Waiters, anyone?) but can score when needed. They don’t really need a power forward as they seemingly have all positions covered, but Bennett is already looking like a bust so they would be smart to take Gordon here.

10. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks) - Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia 
The Nuggets are one of the leading teams in terms of drafting international talents, so it should be no surprise that they would go after the top international player in this draft, Dario Saric. Though the Nuggets have no immediate need at the small forward or power forward position, Saric seems to be a bit of a project player, and may even stay international for a year or two after he is drafted. Thus, though this pick may not pay immediate dividends, it makes sense for the Nuggets to draft Saric, as he his power forward frame and his small forward ball skills will make him a difficult matchup problem down the road.

11. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans) - Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke 
Rodney Hood has been a very consistent player this year for Duke, and unlike some of the top talent in this draft, he hasn’t had any long stretches of bad play. His shooting is incredible, including a 42% shooting percentage from three-point range, and his size gives him mismatches over most other shooting guards (as well as gives him versatility to play small forward). While sometimes he has bad days shooting, all great shooters do, the 76ers would be much improved by taking Hood after already taking Jabari Parker in this draft. That would give them a very formidable starting rotation of Michael Carter-Williams, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel, who are all very young and talented, setting them up beautifully for the future.

12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets) - Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton 
If the Magic do end up going for Embiid with their first pick, they will likely look for a small forward with this pick. Tobias Harris is certainly a solid player, but Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo already have the two guard spots locked up, so reinforcing the small forward position makes sense. McDermott may not have the upside of other players in this draft, but he can certainly provide immediate production for a Magic team that may be back in the playoff hunt sooner than predicted.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky 
While it could be argued that the Timberwolves need more offense besides Kevin Love, the truth is that Love, the face of their franchise, will be departing either by trade this year or free agency next. They Wolves would be smart to put a plan in place to replace him, and since it would be impossible to do that with one player, if they can get a great defender and rebounder this year in Cauley-Stein, they could draft a more athletic power forward who can score next year, setting them up well for Love’s departure. Cauley-Stein averages 2.9 blocks per game and just under 7 rebounds per game, although he would most definitely get more if Julius Randle weren’t grabbing so many. Cauley-Stein would immediately improve the Wolves’ defense, and could eventually improve offensively with the right coaching.

14. Phoenix Suns - Clint Capela, SF/PF, Switzerland 
The Suns are loaded with three picks in this years draft, so it makes sense that they might go international here, especially with Capella being as exciting a prospect as he is. He possesses incredible athleticism, and though he lacks a bit of polish, especially with his jump shot, his potential is endless. Though the Suns may have to wait a couple years until they truly reap the benefits of this pick, Capella could end up being a fantastic player for them, especially because small forward and power forward are two positions of need for the Suns.

15. Atlanta Hawks - James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky 
The Hawks have been looking for a true scorer since they traded away Joe Johnson, and they could be getting a steal this late in the lottery with James Young. Young is extremely athletic and is at his best when penetrating, which gives him the opportunity to score a lot of points as well as use his passing skills (which are very good in their own right) to dish the ball out to the Hawks’ shooters like Kyle Korver to give them more opportunities. While not as good of a shooter as Joe Johnson yet, Young could be the next cornerstone of this Hawks franchise if he develops well (he is only 18) and continues to use his athletic ability to get the paint.

16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats) - Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA 
Zach LaVine may be the most athletic player in this draft class - even more so than Andrew Wiggins. Teams won’t be too turned off by the fact that he doesn’t start for UCLA because he has two of the top guards in the country, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, in front of him. The Bulls are in desperate need of a shooting guard to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose, and Zach LaVine has the physical tools to develop into a star at the two guard.

17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards) - Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan 
Stauskas is an incredible shooter and could have gone even earlier in a different year. He is averaging an unreal 45.1% from beyond the three-point line, which is almost the same percentage as his actual shooting percentage (47.3). While the number of his total shooting percentage looks too low, it is hard for wing players to shoot for a very high percentage as they don’t penetrate and drive to the paint as much as others. The three-point percentage really stands out and shows what great potential Stauskas has, and that makes him exactly the type of player that the Suns are looking for and would love to draft here.

18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets) - Kyle Anderson, SG/SF, UCLA
Though Kyle Anderson will likely be drafted after his UCLA backcourt counterpart Zach LaVine, Anderson is probably the better player at the current moment. With an incredibly smooth jump shot and great ball handling and passing for a 6’9” player, Anderson is strangely reminiscent of former Celtic Paul Pierce. As the Celtics look to rebuild, they need to identify players that could be part of their core for years to come, and Anderson is one such player.

19. Chicago Bulls - Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville 
This is a steal for the Bulls here. Harrell has been nearly as good as Randle and Vonleh on the boards (8.4 rebounds per game) and added to his 14 points per game has almost been a double double machine. Since Randle and Vonleh went so high, Harrell logically should have as well, and therefore the Bulls would be absolutely ecstatic to land a big man who is athletic enough to score in the post but also rebound and play defense (as coach Tom Thibodeau loves).

20. Toronto Raptors - Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia 
Having just turned 19 years old, Hezonja is one of the youngest players in this draft class, so it understandable that he is not an entirely polished player yet. Though he has a very good mid-range and long-range jump shot and his physical tools are well above average, he still needs to work on his attitude, decision making, and ball handling. The Raptors have made a habit of drafting international players in recent years, so it would not be a surprise to see them pick him here and perhaps let him work on his game for a couple years in Europe before coming to the NBA.

21. Dallas Mavericks - Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse 
Tyler Ennis is another player who, frankly, should have gone higher. However none of the teams that hold the mid-round picks really have a need at point guard. Therefore, the Mavericks would be overjoyed to have Ennis fall into their laps at #21. Ennis is a team leader who would make all of their players better due to his ability to pass the ball yet score when needed. Dirk Nowitzki would certainly love to have a point guard who can get him the ball quickly instead of controlling the ball a lot himself. Monta Ellis would also love to have a running-mate in the backcourt. Taking Ennis here would be the obvious move here for Dallas.

22. Memphis Grizzlies - T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
If Warren had just managed to knock down a couple more free throws in NC State’s gut wrenching loss to Saint Louis (NC State lost 70-73 and Warren went 6 of 14 from the line) his stock would likely have risen four or five spots and he would have saved my bracket in the process. Unfortunately for him, that did not happen. However, where Warren is unfortunate, the Grizzlies are the opposite, as they will manage to pick up one of the most NBA ready players in the draft, who also happens to fill a positional need for the Grizzlies.

23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors) - Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
Grant is an explosive athlete who the Jazz would welcome with open arms after already selecting Marcus Smart earlier in this draft.  With these two players, the team would be immediately more athletic and they would actually have a clear core of players whom they can build around for the future.  Grant is a winner, and is a very good player all-around.  However, he is at his best when running the floor and leaping for alley-oops (despite his smaller 6'8" height), which is where he would thrive on a team with Marcus Smart.  This draft scenario is very promising for the Jazz, so they would be smart to take a similar approach.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers) - P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends 
Before Hairston was dismissed from North Carolina and before people realized how good this draft class was going to be, Hairston looked in line to become a top five pick. Obviously, things went downhill from there, but he has still managed to keep his name in the first round of most draft boards by dominating the D league this season. The Bobcats are desperate for a wing scorer, and Hairston, who is averaging 21.1 points per game for the Texas Legends, would be a perfect fit.

25. Houston Rockets - Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State 
One of the only seniors that will be drafted in the first round this year, Payne is a very NBA ready prospect who will fit in well in a position of need with the Rockets. He could push them from contenders to favorites with his skill as a rebounder (7.3 per game) to take some pressure of Dwight Howard, a scorer (16.6 points per game), his athleticism, and surprising 43.8% three-point percentage. Payne is an all-around solid player who knows how to win and would be the perfect piece that the Rockets would love to add this late in the draft.

26. Miami Heat - Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut 
I am honestly clueless as to why Shabazz Napier is not going to be a higher pick in the NBA draft. My best guess is that there is a predisposed model as to what makes a good prospect: large frame and extremely athletic. Sure, Napier doesn’t exactly fit that model, but he has dominated the college game, so I don’t see why people continue to write him off as a great prospect. He is a lights out shooter, a fantastic passer, and even helps out on the boards, not to mention that he is extremely clutch and has a great attitude. The Miami Heat might be willing to take a relatively low-risk chance on a player like Napier, especially because they still don’t have a completely stable situation at the point guard position.

27. Los Angeles Clippers - K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson 
The Clippers are really only lacking at the small forward position, yet are already good enough that their small forward can be a role player. McDaniels would fit in perfectly in that role, as he could use his very solid all-around game to help the team in bits when needed. He can score sometimes (17.2 points per game), rebound sometimes (7.1 rebounds per game), defend very well (2.8 blocks per game), and use his athleticism to drive to the rim or run the floor. Although his shooting is not great, the Clippers already have great shooters in Jamal Crawford and JJ Reddick, so they wouldn’t need McDaniels to be one. He would fit in very nicely with a Clippers team looking to make a run at a title.

28. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers) - Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina 
This is the Suns third pick in the first round, and even though they already drafted international with one of their previous picks, it seems as if they might go outside the states again here. Nurkic is a prospect with outrageous upside - at 6’11” and 280 pounds, he has one of the best frames in this draft class, and his post game is second to only Joel Embiid. However, there are questions about his attitude, dedication, and decision making that have caused some teams to turn their backs on him but have not deterred other suitors in the slightest. The Suns have no current staple at the center position, so Nurkic might be worth a try for the them, especially with the potential he provides.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State 
Early has played very consistently all season, although he has never been considered an elite prospect. As a senior he has developed his game so that he is now a very solid small forward and all-around player. He can score by using his athleticism (16.4 points per game), and sometimes go off from three-point range (37.5%). Lately, he has played so well in the NCAA tournament (23 points against Cal Poly and 31 against Kentucky) that his stock has probably moved up into the first round. The Thunder would love to have a solid role player at small-forward, so would welcome Early with this pick.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona 
In my opinion, Nick Johnson has been one of the best players in college basketball this year. He has been the key player for one of the top teams in the country, and is able to perform on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. While he may be the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball, his offense is not far behind, as his outside shooting is great and he can get to the rim with ease. The Spurs, a team that puts great value on attitude and hard work, would be ecstatic if Johnson fell to them here, especially seeing as Manu Ginobili might not have too many more years in him.

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