LaVar Ball is known to say and do outlandish things.
I don’t need to list them because his media presence is pervasive to the point overkill, but I will for the sake of highlighting it all in one spot:
He’s called out Kyrie Irving for not having a mother (she died when he was 4).
He’s maligned and threatened a female reporter (on national TV).
He’s maligned a sports journalist for his weight (on national TV).
He’s begun the marketing campaign for a $500 shoe for an unproven rookie while simultaneously insulting 95% of the market by saying “If you can’t afford it, we don’t want you; you’re obviously not a big baller” (paraphrased).
The NBA Draft process has been the subject of great debate over recent years, as many feel the rules set in place by the NCAA make the lives of players and coaches more difficult than they need to be. The current rules state that a player is allowed to enter the draft after one year of collegiate basketball or professional basketball overseas.
One recent adaptation to the rules state that a player is allowed to return to school after declaring for the draft if that player decides to not immediately hire an agent. Additionally, the NCAA passed a rule that allows players ten days to decide if they wish to remain in the draft after taking part in the NBA Draft combine. These recent changes to the rules are a step in the right direction as a player can return to school if they feel their draft stock can be improved after inquiring and participating in the combine.
While the NCAA’s recent rule changes benefit the players and their families, more could be done to help make this life changing decision as seamless and nerve preserving as possible. Acclaimed college basketball writer and analyst Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports proposed the following rule amendments that not only help the players and their families, but college coaches as well. While not all of Davis’ proposals will see the light of day, they are all thoughtful and helpful suggestions that benefit everyone involved in the arduous process that is the NBA Draft.
First, extending the withdraw date until after the draft could greatly improve the college game. That way, players who did not hear their name called could opt to return to school, given they are in decent enough academic standing. This could be especially useful in smaller conferences where players often end up playing overseas due to being unable to realize their NBA dreams. In addition, most coaches are not able to fill the thirteen available scholarships, which makes extending the withdraw date a legitimate benefactor for everyone involved.
Secondly, not allowing for draft prospects to compete against one another in an organized setting prior to the draft is counterintuitive. Pre-draft workouts are routinely conducted at an extremely slow pace, plus it fails to judge a player’s ability to execute in high pressure situations. While some might consider this unnecessary, getting a sense of how the draft prospects compete against one another is not only valuable to the players, but draft scouts as well as it can give greater insight than individual workout. In addition to this, there is no harm in allowing for players to receive a small compensation for these exhibition games. Given that paid internships are usually explored by college students during their undergraduate careers, NBA Draft prospects should be allowed the same opportunity.
Thirdly, allowing for players to formally interact with agents could allow for regulations to be placed on a practice that already exists despite its illegality. Agents are typically seen as sources of violation in the eyes of the NCAA. If the NCAA was to work alongside agents in educating players and their families about the business nature of the game, the draftees would be better off as they would be provided with a formal education as to how the business of basketball operates.
While the NCAA might oppose some of the rule changes suggested, each change would not only benefit the players and their families, but the NCAA as well. The NCAA working in conjunction with agents and players would drastically improve the college game, something any fan of collegiate sports can get behind.
As we move toward summer, and the quiet period for college basketball, there is still some work to be done before things settle down until the fall. A few Top 100 recruits remain uncommitted, the NBA pre-draft combine is coming up, and of course, a number of early entry candidates will make a decision to stay in the NBA Draft, or return to school.
While most of the big-name schools pepper the top of the recruiting class rankings again this year, there were a handful of non-traditional hoops schools that secured top classes. Here’s an early look at four schools which aren’t typically among the hoops elite, but may be set up to make some noise during the 2016-17 college basketball season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
When Ben Howland landed at Mississippi State, I immediately thought it was a great hire for the school, and a chance for a solid coach to revive his career. Going into his first season, Howland was able to secure one of the top recruits in the nation when he landed Malik Newman. Although year one wasn’t a huge success, finishing 14-17, 7-11 in the SEC, Howland has shown in his previous stints at Pittsburgh and UCLA, that he knows how to craft a team.
This year, Coach Howland was able to secure the seventh ranked recruiting class. The Bulldogs landed four players ranked in the top 100, headlined by big-man Schnider Herard, and combo forward Mario Kegler. Herard is positioned nicely to have an immediate impact replacing Gavin Ware on the interior, while Kegler can provide the inside-outside versatility which is key to today’s game.
MSU will return one of its leading scorers in 6’4″ sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon; and most importantly, could see Newman return for at least one more year. Although he put his name into the pool for early NBA Draft entry, currently Newman is projected as a mid-second round pick, so it may be in his best interest to return to school. If Newman returns and has the breakout initially expected of him, Mississippi State could improve by leaps and bounds.
Sure, the Hurricanes made it to the Elite Eight this past season, but Miami isn’t consistently able to keep itself among the nation’s top programs. Perhaps this will be the beginning, as Jim Larranaga has picked up the #10 recruiting class this year, and can build on last season’s success.
Huell should bring a ton of skill and athleticism to the Hurricanes’ frontcourt. He’ll also have an immediate impact on the defensive end, an aspect of the game which usually keeps freshman off the floor. That shouldn’t be an issue for Huell. Brown is known for his aggression and confidence on both ends of the floor. That mentality will serve him well in the uber-competitive ACC. It’s always difficult to remain at the top of the conference in the ACC, but Larranaga should have Miami right in the mix to continue their winning ways with this group.
Florida State Seminoles
Undoubtedly, most of the folks in Tallahassee are focusing on what the Noles will be doing on the gridiron this fall, but they may be in for a treat come winter time as well. In 2015, Leonard Hamilton’s crew was a bit up and down, missing the NCAA Tournament, and getting ousted in the second round of the NIT. Looking forward to the 2016-17 season, FSU has already gotten some good news.
After initially testing the waters for the NBA Draft, last year’s top recruit and leading scorer Dwayne Bacon has decided to return. The 6’7″ Bacon averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game last year, and could be poised for an even bigger sophomore season. Along with Bacon, junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announced he would be heading back to school as well. His return bodes well for the Seminoles’ backcourt for the upcoming season.
Probably the best news this offseason came when top 15 recruit Jonathan Isaac decided to stick with Florida State, rather than try his luck in the NBA Draft. Isaac is a skilled and athletic big man, but is a bit of a beanpole at 6’10”, 205 lbs. With Bacon and Rathan-Mayes back, along with a number of guys who saw important minutes last season, Isaac will have a chance to develop, without all of the pressure being heaped on him. There’s also still a chance that Hamilton gets one more helping of good news, if freshman Malik Beasley decides to come back. As of now he’s projected as a late first round pick, but if Beasley returns, Florida State could have a big year.
Unlike Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Shaka Smart’s second installment at Texas took a bit of a hit this offseason. After leading the Longhorns in scoring as a freshman, Isaiah Taylor made the decision to not only enter the NBA Draft, but to immediately hire an agent. That closed the book on the 6’1″ Taylor’s career at Texas.
Don’t feel too bad for Coach Smart though. Even though his first season ended on a brutal buzzer beater to Northern Iowa, Shaka overachieved a bit getting his squad to the NCAA Tournament. Now with a top 15 recruiting class, he’s well on his way to getting the Longhorns back in the national picture.
Shaka can look forward to increase contributions from three returnees from last year’s freshman class. Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., and Tevin Mack all played significant minutes in 2015-16, and should make further progress this year under Smart’s tutelage. Senior Shaquille Cleare will be the only big man returning who played double figure minutes.
All of the departures should pave the way for what is tabbed as the 15th rated recruiting class in the nation. At the top of the list for Texas is versatile guard Andrew Jones. At 6’4″, Jones can play both guard spots, can create for others, and attack the basket. The backcourt will get additional help from Jacob Young, a 6-foot point guard prospect who was ranked near the top 100. Given the lack of frontcourt depth, James Banks will have an excellent opportunity to play right away, and an instant impact will be needed. Banks is the kind of big man Shaka Smart likes, as he has the athleticism to run the floor, and should be a contributor on defense right away. If Coach Smart continues to grab recruiting classes like this, it’s not going to take long for havoc to take hold at Texas.
Year in and year out, we have a good idea of what the Kentuckys, Dukes and Michigan States of the world will do not only in recruiting, but during the college basketball season as well. Keep an eye out as the 2016-17 season gets into full swing, as these historical football powers put their stamp on the hardwood.
The NCAA took a step in the right direction, when they implemented a new rules allowing college basketball players additional time to decide whether or not to enter the NBA Draft. In the new environment, players will be able to wait until 10 days after the NBA combine to determine if they will stay or go. In theory, this should provide ample time to get valuable feedback from scouts, NBA teams, college coaches, along with family and advisors, in order to make the best decision. The question is whether or not the players will do just that?
Immediately after the college basketball regular season ended, a significant number of players (both expected and unexpected), put their names into NBA Draft consideration. Sam Vecenie from CBSSports.com began ranking all of the early entrants this past Friday. It makes sense that just about anyone and everyone should test the waters. With the ability to withdraw after the NBA Combine, as opposed to the previous set up which required a decision to be made a month before, players should have all the information they need.
However, one of the first things college underclassmen need to do – or not do – is hire an agent. Year after year we see players who really have no business doing so, not only enter the draft, but immediately hire an agent. You would think that with more time at their disposal, players will be more likely to wait until they’re confident in their draft status before taking that step. Will they though? Looking at Vecenie’s list, there are 20 players who have already hired agents. Now some of those will definitely be drafted in the first round, but many are listed as “second round to undrafted” status. The rules are designed to provide options, and hiring an agent completely removes those options.
It will be interesting to see how the new rules impact players’ evaluations of the sheer draft numbers. There are only 60 draft slots, and with the additional time to assess draft status, before the deadline, everyone will know whether or not they are among those 60. This should lead to many players rushing back to campus. Will that actually happen? Similar to the practice of hiring an agent, it always seems that underclassmen either ignore the numbers or simply choose not to look at them.
Prior to the new rules, assessing the numbers should’ve been a pretty simple exercise. Check out a couple of NBA Mock Drafts like this one from Draft Express and see if your name is listed. If your name isn’t listed in the first round, head back to school. Or, if your goal was simply to be drafted, check the second round as well, and if not listed, head back to school. Again, this doesn’t happen. New-found patience is unlikely to be learned via the updated rules.
With all of the critical feedback which should be coming the way of the players, hopefully it will sink in and lead to clearer thinking. So few draft slots are available that the math should be first grade simple. The underclassmen rankings alone should provide a stark reality. Add in the fact that those rankings, along with the mock drafts, don’t account for 15-20 college seniors who will be in the mix, along with 10-15 international players who will also be drafted. Prior to the deadline, there should be plenty of information available to any player testing the waters, whether or not they fit into one of those draft slots. It will be interesting to see if they use it to their advantage, or completely disregard the numbers.
There’s a real opportunity for both the college and NBA games to improve because of the new early entry rules. Hopefully, given the additional time to assess players, NBA organizations will be able to more accurately project which players are ready for the jump, and provide honest feedback to those who aren’t. This, in turn, should lead to players, and their circle of support, honestly evaluating their draft stock. In theory, if more underclassmen return to school for further development, the college game will benefit not only from their skills, but also from their experience. This year’s NCAA Tournament showed that experience is critical to success.
In the long run, the NBA should benefit as well. First, with more “draftable” players available, teams will be getting better quality right away, rather than drafting projects and waiting on development. Second, those players who returned to school should be that much better when they do enter the draft in two to three years. With more finished products being drafted in the future, NBA rosters will be made up of more substance and less potential. This won’t stop NBA front offices from mis-evaluating players based on hype, but it should reduce how often it occurs.
My hope is that this will lead to a higher quality NBA. One which more closely resembles the glory of the 1980’s and ‘90’s. This will all be contingent however, on whether or not all parties involved actually maximize the value of these changes. More than ever, the ball will be in the court of the college underclassmen to use the information provided, and be honest with themselves when they make their draft decisions.
Jakob Poeltl. Jakob who? If you haven’t heard of this young man that is a shame, but it is certainly understandable as well. This young sophomore center for the Utah Utes is one of those players that just goes about his business on the basketball court, doesn’t make a fuss about it, and can flat out dominate a game. He is up for Pac-12 Player of the Year and should certainly be in the conversation for All-American status in 2016. Poeltl is a player that people should start focusing on as the Pac-12 Tournament gets going this week and then the NCAA Tournament gets rolling.
The anchor down low for the Utah Utes is a player that people will notice because of his size, but not necessarily notice the stats he puts up. Why is that? For one, Poeltl is a very quiet, unassuming type of kid. He’s not really out there pounding his chest saying “Look at me!” He lets his statistics just speak for themselves and they have spoken loud and clear this season for the Utes. He nearly averaging a double-double this season while creating defensive nightmares for opposing teams in the Pac-12.
Currently, Jakob Poeltl is averaging 17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 1.9 apg. His field goal percentage is off the charts as well at 66 percent, but it also helps that he is seven feet tall to help maintain that high percentage. He averages nearly two blocks a game and that helps to create that presence in the middle for Utah. If one of their guards gets beat on the perimeter, Poeltl is there for help and to send a shot back if necessary.
Jakob Poeltl is a slight seven-footer. He’s not tipping the scales at 275-plus, he’s only weighing in at 235 pounds, so he’s a guy that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger guys in the low post. Obviously, getting bigger in size and weight is going to be something as he progresses through his college years and into the NBA. This is the one area in his game that he needs to pay attention to because coaches want their big men around the basket and not settling for their outside game. Coaches want a low post presence when they have a seven-footer.
Can he add the weight? Let’s hope so. Otherwise people may start to look at him as one of those typical European players who is strictly an “outside” big man and not somebody that can pound the inside on the offensive end.
Jakob Poeltl excels on the defensive end of the court. His coaches love the fact that he doesn’t allow other big men to get set up deep on their offensive end. He doesn’t allow that deep seal set up and has learned how to push the opposing big man off his desired spot on the block. Just ask Arizona center, Kaleb Tarczewski about how effective Poeltl was against him. Tarczewski was bottled up against Poeltl when the two Pac-12 giants played each other.
What are his chances at ending up in the NBA? According to some NBA scouts, he should be a Top 10 NBA Draft pick in 2016, if he comes out early. Some mock drafts have him in the top five, some have him the top 10. It depends on which mock drafts you look at. Scouts love the defensive presence that he has already. They love that he has a high ceiling, and that he can still get much better on the offensive side of the ball. He will certainly be an intriguing player to watch in the NBA Draft Lottery.
First thing is first though. He has to complete his sophomore season at Utah and try to get his Utes to win the Pac-12 Tournament, then get his team to make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament. The more success the Utah Utes have, the more name recognition Jakob Poeltl will have amongst basketball fans. I, for one, am already sold on this young man from Austria, but now it’s time for the rest of the country to be sold on Jakob Poeltl.
Last week, I wrote about Dion Waiters’s potential breakout year for the Cavs this upcoming season. Fellow teammate/number four overall pick Tristan Thompson is seen in some of the same light that Dion has found himself in. They were both surprising number four overall picks in their respective drafts; both of which have been scrutinized. Above everything else, they’re both polarizing players when it comes to evaluating what they have done and what they will do with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are fans that think the Cavs could do away with either of them and it wouldn’t hurt one bit. There are others who think it would take an extreme circumstance to part with one of them – though this is probably more so the case with Dion.
Nonetheless, it seems as if it’s been tough for fans to collectively gauge where Tristan Thompson belongs on the Cavs. Is he the power forward of the future (given the Cavs don’t complete a trade for Minnesota forward Kevin Love)? Is he just a scrub who won’t get much better, if at all, than he was last season with the Cavs? Is he somewhere in the middle? I think he’s a fascinating player if only for the opinions that he elicits from fans. Here’s where I think Tristan stands with the Cavs going forward.
Tristan Thompson was the fourth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the same draft in which the Cavs selected Kyrie Irving number one overall. As mentioned before, he was the surprising pick of the Cavs, passing up the likes of projected pick Jonas Valanciunas. Fair or unfair, these two will always be linked in terms of figuring out whether or not the Cavs made the right decision or GM Chris Grant was just trying to outsmart everyone.
As the number four pick in any NBA draft, you’re expected to contribute heavily and efficiently right away. Thompson hasn’t lived up to expectations in that sense, but if you step away from the vacuum of “he was the fourth overall pick” and look at the rest of the draft, his production, or lack thereof, for the number four pick is more understood. For comparison’s sake, the only player taken ahead of him that has clearly succeeded more than Thompson has been Irving. With Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter, while an argument can be made that both of them have been more efficient than Thompson, it’s so close that it really is splitting hairs to some extent.
Then you look at the players taken after Tristan Thompson that were a realistic possibility for the Cavs. The one that comes up the most is Jonas Valanciunas, who was expected to be taken by the Cavs at number four (I personally didn’t want him at the time because I wasn’t willing to wait a year for him to play overseas with that high of a pick). This is also a close debate between the two players, as much as the pro-Valanciunas/anti-Thompson crowd would be reluctant to admit. This article written during last season by Zach Salzmann of RaptorsHQ highlights some of the struggles Jonas has encountered during his young career.
Thompson has had high expectations as the Cavs’ number four overall pick in 2011. But when you look at some of the players that the Cavs could’ve plausibly picked at that time, Tristan Thompson hasn’t been clearly outshined.
His role with the 2014-15 Cavaliers
A big part of this depends on what happens with the Kevin Love deal that will probably happen. However, to make things simpler, I’ll just assume (for now) a deal doesn’t get done and we go into next season with the roster as is (which won’t happen).
The current lineup would most likely look like this:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: LeBron James
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Anderson Varejao
The two biggest changes from last year are the additions of Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. I’d like to say LeBron coming in will give Thompson a big spike in productivity, especially in terms of rebounding, but how much of a step he takes this year will be much in part due to his own improvement. We all remember him switching shooting hands before the season last year. This saw an impressive improvement in his free throw shooting (60.8% to 69.3%) and around the basket (3-10 feet out; 39.2% to 42%).
His jump shot still leaves a lot to be desired. His hand switch rendered his impact with these shots ineffective, as he shot 34.9% from 10-16 feet out, down 3.9% from last season. Floor spacing on this team is always a great thing and Thompson can be a big part of that if he can improve his shot from mid range, much like Varejao has over his career. This would give the Cavs an extra pick-and-pop player to utilize.
Speaking of Varejao, with the starting lineup the way it’s projected, Thompson will likely continue to struggle to get rebounds the way he’s capable of. Varejao has been one of the best rebounders in the league over the last few years when he’s been healthy. Rebounding is one of Thompson’s best attributes, so it’s a bit redundant having him out there with Varejao considering the latter also possesses supreme passing ability and a solid jumper. Getting Kevin Love and sending Thompson to the bench would be the best thing for both the Cavs and Tristan.
Going forward: Starter or bench player?
Speaking of the bench, that’s probably where Tristan could do his damage on this team and where his skillset fits him the best. I only see this happening if/when the Love deal happens. For the argument of him being a bench player, let’s say the deal goes down with Wiggins and Anthony Bennett being traded away. This is probably what two of the lineups would look like:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Love
C: Anderson Varejao
PG: Matthew Dellavedova
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Mike Miller
PF: LeBron James
C: Tristan Thompson
Unless the Cavs sign a cheap rim protector, Thompson is looking to see minutes at center in a small lineup. Additionally, perhaps we shouldn’t rule out Thompson starting at center instead of Varejao. It would make more sense to limit Varejao’s minutes if you have to pick between the two. Nonetheless, Varejao is more experienced there and Thompson can still get ample minutes coming off the bench because of the current lack of bigs on the Cavs’ roster.
As a rookie, Thompson played in 60 games, starting 25 of them. Since then, Thompson has started all 164 games in the last two seasons. His experience the last few years as a regular starter would help should Love get hurt (has missed 96 games out of a possible 246 in the last three seasons).
With this lineup, Thompson should provide energy off the bench, something that is valuable to any team in the NBA. His rebounding is much more useful coming off the bench away from Varejao. With shooters like Waiters and Miller on the court – and even Dellavedova to some extent – offensive rebounds will be super beneficial to get these guys more possessions and touches.
Tristan Thompson has been both praised and – probably more so – criticized during his time with the Cavaliers. In reality, both aren’t wrong, but there’s middle ground to be had when talking about him. To me, he’s a solid player to have on the bench of a championship caliber team. He’s a hustle player who will get you a good amount of rebounds that lead to more possessions. He’s almost like what Varejao was in the early years. And as we know, there’s always room for a player like that.
With the 2014 NBA draft only 13 days away, there’s still a great deal to be determined for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs still have yet to make a coaching hire for this coming season, but it seems likely that they’ll have someone in place before the draft. The Cavs are also still conducting workouts and determining whom they will select with the number one overall pick, if they even keep it.
The Cavs have been linked to an abundance of coaching candidates over the past month, but many reports have seemingly narrowed it down to David Blatt, Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry and possibly Mark Jackson. Blatt announced yesterday that he would be leaving Maccabi Tel Aviv in order to pursue his dream of working in the NBA. It’s still unclear which team–and position–he will be working for, but he supposedly has an in-person interview with the Cavs sometime next week. Lue and Gentry are the only candidates who have been reported to have two interviews with the Cavs thus far. Jackson has simply been linked to being on the Cavs radar of late, by none other than ESPN’s Chris Broussard and his never-failing sources. There’s sure to be more details on the Cavs’ coaching development over the next week.
As far as where the Cavs are in determining which prospect to select with the number one pick, so far they’ve only had Joel Embiid in for a workout and medical test. According to @PDcavsinsider, Andrew Wiggins will be working out for the Cavs next Wednesday and Jabari Parker next Friday.
That means there will be only six days until the draft after Parker–the last of the top three prospects–works out in Cleveland.
Now, if the Cavs keep the number one pick, the obvious and best choice for them is either Embiid or Wiggins. Parker is the best player right now and should have the most immediate impact (he’s my early choice for Rookie of the Year), but Embiid and Wiggins are clearly the best prospects with the most upside and star-potential. It then really comes down to the results of Embiid’s tests in Cleveland and how they view his long-term health. It was reported earlier this week that all of the tests came out positive and his workouts were a success.
This morning, however, radio host Tony Rizzo claimed from his “sources” that Embiid’s physical with Cleveland did not go well.
I see no reason for the Cavs to leak this sort of information and devalue the first overall pick, and every other report that’s surfaced has been positive about Embiid’s workout. Suffice it to say that there will undoubtedly be countless more rumors swirling about the top three prospects as they continue to workout for teams over the next week and a half.
IF everything did check out with Embiid and there appears to be no long–term problems, he should be the number one pick. Yes, the league has shifted from teams coveting dominant big men to now valuing two-way wings, but players like Embiid are rare. Embiid has been most often compared to Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan thus far, and if you’ve been watching this year’s NBA Finals (or the last 15 years of the playoffs), you know how valuable Duncan’s skill set is. The Miami Heat have the best wing in the league in LeBron James, but Duncan–and even Boris Diaw–has caused them absolute fits. Having a big who can post-up, face-up, knock down the mid-range shot, pass out of the post, make the right play out of double-teams, rebound at a high rate, protect the paint, block shots, all while keeping his teammates involved is a true commodity in today’s NBA. These are all things that Embiid is capable of and will continue to get better at. Yes, Wiggins is an athletic freak that will immediately contribute on defense and likely end up like a Kawhi Leonard or Nicolas Batum, but passing on Embiid is probably scarier than passing on Wiggins (and I’m extremely high on Wiggins).
The possibility of pairing Kyrie Irving and Embiid together for the next 5+ years is salivating as a Cavs fan. Having your franchise point guard and center in place, and then building around them seems like the best recipe for success at the moment. Especially with the assets and cap space that the Cavs also have now and over the next couple of years. There are plenty of options out there for the Cavs to consider in every aspect of this offseason, but if they can nail this coaching hire, number one pick and free agency; Cavs fans might actually be able to finally escape basketball purgatory.
The 2014 NBA draft is on June 26th, so a lot can change between now and then. Fellow MTAF: Cleveland writer Dan Armelli and I decided, however,that it’s never too early to assess the prospects and where they fit within the first round. Basically, Dan and I alternated picks and selected the prospects we thought best fit each team throughout the first round of our NBA mock draft. I used the traditional coin-flip method of determining who got the first pick, and Dan was the lucky winner. So, without further adieu, the Cavs are on the clock.
#1 – Cleveland Cavaliers
Dan: With the first pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers select… Andrew Wiggins. It’s Embiid or Wiggins here, a debate that won’t end until the draft actually happens or something unforeseeable comes out about Embiid’s back. I take Wiggins either way, as I think he becomes the best player out of this draft at a position the Cavs have had a black hole at since 2010-11 until Luol Deng came in the middle of last season.
Wade: There it is! The quest for the number one pick is a two-man race between Wiggins and Joel Embiid. If everything checks out long term, Embiid is probably the guy. I’m super high on Wiggins though and would be ecstatic with either prospect. Good pick.
#2 – Milwaukee Bucks
Wade: With the second pick, the Milwaukee Bucks select… Jabari Parker. Two reasons why I have the Bucks taking Jabari: He’s a perfect fit for them and Embiid’s back problems are still unclear. Parker is the clear third best prospect and will likely be gifted to the Sixers, but he would fit perfectly alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders. The Bucks desperately need a go-to scorer and Parker could be that right away. Both of those players could also make up for some of Parker’s defensive efficiencies. I would enjoy seeing opponents try to get to the rim and score on a lineup consisting of Antetokounmpo, Sanders and Embiid though.
Dan: I love the pairing of Giannis and Parker as well. From a Cavs perspective, perhaps we’ll be able to see some Parker/Wiggins battles depending on how the Bucks set their lineups. I might have went with Embiid, but the back concerns are real and Parker’s not a bad choice either.
#3 – Philadelphia 76ers
Dan: With the third pick, the Philadelphia 76ers select… Joel Embiid. Embiid is the best of the top three left. I loved Nelrens Noel last year and pairing him with Embiid in the frontcourt is scary. It will be hard for opponents to score in the paint against the 76ers, given both big men are able to escape further significant injury.
Wade: The new twin towers! That would be interesting to watch. I’m still sad Noel isn’t in a Cavs jersey…
#4 – Orlando Magic
Wade: With the fourth pick, the Orlando Magic select…Dante Exum. Exum is the wildcard in this draft lottery. Scouts haven’t been able to see a whole lot of him, but his size and skill are freakishly impressive. He’s 6’6” with a 6’ 9.5” wingspan and has the ability to play both guard positions. With an explosive first step, great body control and play-making abilities; he’ll be a perfect fit next to Victor Oladipo and give the Magic their backcourt of the future.
Dan: This is the obvious pick, and a good one, that a lot of people are projecting to happen. I was sad when the Magic forced Oladipo into the point guard role and now they get a bona fide guy to run the offense with playmaking ability.
#5 – Utah Jazz
Dan: With the fifth pick, the Utah Jazz select… Julius Randle. This pick probably comes down to Randle and Noah Vonleh. While Vonleh may have the higher ceiling, Randle has the higher floor and at the very least will be a great rebounder even though he’s a bit undersized. Confidence is not an issue with Randle, performing well in the NCAA tournament.
Wade: If the Jazz keep the pick, I think this is the likely choice. Randle should have a long career in the league.
#6 – Boston Celtics
Wade: With the sixth pick, the Boston Celtics select…Noah Vonleh. Vonleh has some of the biggest upside in this draft and he’s only 18. He’s 6’9” with a 7’ 4.25” wingspan and recorded the second widest hands in NBA draft combine history at 11 ¾”. Vonleh is a skilled rebounder, can score inside and outside and has tremendous potential. He’ll need to work on his perimeter shooting at the next level and is definitely a project, but the Celtics should have the time to develop him as they likely won’t be contending in the near future.
Dan: The Celtics are in a great position to steal a guy their longtime rival Lakers probably like, which probably includes Vonleh. Pairing him with Kelly Olynyk should be fun in the coming years.
#7 – LA Lakers
Dan: With the seventh pick, the Los Angeles Lakers select… Marcus Smart. The Lakers were a laughing stock last year with Kobe out for almost all of last season. I think taking Smart is a pick Kobe would embrace, given the both of their competitive attitudes. Smart should be able to play either guard position and is a playmaker for the Lakers once Bryant moves on, if he ever does.
Wade: Yep, love this pick. Smart is difficult to compare to any current players and I think he’ll thrive on the Lakers. Playing alongside Kobe as he ends his career and being mentored by Steve Nash is a nice way for Smart to start his career.
#8 – Sacramento Kings
Wade: With the eighth pick, the Sacramento Kings select…Aaron Gordon. This just seems like a Kings pick. Gordon is the best athlete in the draft (outside of Wiggins) and also one of the youngest at only 18-years-old. He’ll be able to contribute defensively right away, but is limited offensively. With a new owner who seems to want to revamp the team to play more up-tempo, Gordon could end up fitting in quite nicely with the Kings. He’ll likely start off as an energy big off the bench who can guard multiple positions.
Dan: Gordon would be my pick here too. I want so badly for him to develop a consistent shot and if he does, the Kings get a steal. Gordon next to Boogie Cousins could be yet another great frontcourt pairing we’ve had so far.
#9 – Charlotte Hornets
Dan: With the ninth pick, the Charlotte Hornets select… Doug McDermott. I’m a little hesitant picking McDermott here, only because he may be a dumpster fire on defense at times. However, his shooting ability and scoring upside is something the Hornets, and other teams, will be intrigued by. He also seems very willing to adjust his playing style if need be, as not every will translate for him right away. He’s probably a stretch four on offense.
Wade: Dougie McBuckets! McDermott should be a solid rotation player in the league for some time; I’m just glad it isn’t going to be for the Cavs with this pick. He’s versatile on offense and has a high basketball IQ, but I agree, his defense is likely to be atrocious.
#10 – Philadelphia 76ers
Wade: With the tenth pick, the Philadelphia 76ers select…Gary Harris. The Sixers need a shooting guard to pair with MCW, Noel and their third pick. Harris is solid on both ends of the floor, can play without the ball and has a nice shooting stroke. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started for the Sixers this season due to his athleticism and likely ability to thrive in their fast-paced system.
Dan: Love, love, love this pick. I almost took him for Charlotte at nine. The 76ers missed out on Parker earlier, but get great shooting ability with Harris here. Philly looks like an exciting young team right now with this draft.
#11 – Denver Nuggets
Dan: With the eleventh pick, the Denver Nuggets select… Zach LaVine. I’ve focused on the Nuggets from afar and the continuous problem they have is lack of a consistent go-to guy in sweaty-palms-time. LaVine is a great candidate to fill that role as a great competitor, athlete, and shooting ability. He’s a bit of a project, so they’ll need to be patient, but the payoff could change their ways of being a team with no superstar since Carmelo Anthony.
Wade: This would be a bold move, but I like the Nuggets taking that chance. LaVine has tremendous potential and I could see him either taking off in a couple years or busting. He needs major work on the defensive end, but his offensive potential and athleticism validate him being a lottery pick.
#12 – Orlando Magic
Wade: With the twelfth pick, the Orlando Magic select…James Young. With their backcourt of the future and a solid NBA center in place, the Magic could look to bring in Young to grow with their young guys and eventually take over the starting small forward position. Young is an explosive athlete with decent range and has great upside. He needs to continue improving his outside shot and defense, but he’s worth developing for the Magic.
Dan: This is almost like the LaVine pick, and I feel are both good picks. Orlando got their point guard earlier and are able to move Oladipo to shooting guard. Now they need that player on the wing that has the potential to change the game on offense or defense. He has most of the intangibles/measurable you need to do this and hopefully Aaron Afflalo will be able to help mentor him early on.
#13 – Minnesota Timberwolves
Dan: With the thirteenth pick, the Minnesota Timberwolves select… Adreian Payne. Kevin Love is mostly likely gone. While Payne may be a reach here, depending on who you talk to, I think he’s a great guy to plug in if/when Love is gone. He has some of the same abilities Love does like stretching the floor and attacking the boards, and may even have better defensive ability. So not only can he replace Love, but he’s a darn good player on top of it.
Wade: Ahhh I wanted Payne on the Suns so bad. I’m extremely high on Payne. The only reason he isn’t higher is because he’s 23 years old. He’s long, extremely athletic, can defend the paint and is a skilled outside shooter. I would love to watch him run in the Suns’ system, but I like your point about replacing Love. The Wolves made a great selection here.
#14 – Phoenix Suns
Wade: With the fourteenth pick, the Phoenix Suns select…Dario Saric. Saric should go higher than this, but it’s all about which team wants to take a chance on when he’ll actually come over. He impressed everyone with his MVP performance in the Adriatic League this year and probably has the highest basketball IQ in this draft. He grew up playing the point (much like Giannis) and has great vision and playmaking abilities. He has range, but needs to continue improving his shot. He also doesn’t have great athleticism, so his fit with Phoenix could be a work in progress. The 20-year-old has lottery-type skill though.
Dan: You nailed this description. I like the pick here, if only because I was struggling to find out if I should take him for the Hawks at the next pick. But seriously, this is an intriguing pick. The Suns love them some athletic ability and guys that can run, which isn’t necessarily Saric’s strong suit. However, he has that scoring upside they’ll be going after and his ability to move the ball will be an asset in transition.
#15 – Atlanta Hawks
Dan: With the fifteenth pick, the Atlanta Hawks select… Rodney Hood. Surprise, surprise, the Hawks take a shooter. Hood offers them a fit as it pertains to being able to shoot efficiently from the 3-point line. He might not have to start right away, if the Hawks choose to keep starting DeMarre Carroll, so he wouldn’t be pressured to excel right away. He also has the athletic ability to become much more than a shooter, which just heightens his value here. He can become an all around good player with a respectable floor of being a sharpshooter.
Wade: haha Rodney Hood was my primary pick for the Bulls. I was considering Hood for the Cavs when they had the ninth pick and I think he fits well with the Hawks here. He’s 21-years-old and doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of upside, but he can stroke it from deep. He moves well off the ball and should be able to get his shot off with ease due to being 6’8”. He needs to drastically improve his effort on defense, but he could supply the Hawks with additional shooting.
#16 – Chicago Bulls
Wade: With the sixteenth pick, the Chicago Bulls select…Nik Stauskas. Stauskas should probably be a lottery pick, but I like his fit with the Bulls here. He’s one of the best shooters in this draft and can handle and facilitate the ball as well. His defense needs work, but his size and being surrounded by good defenders should help hide this a bit. His game would complement Derrick Rose well, as the Bulls could definitely use a sharpshooter. The more I think about this marriage, the more I like it for Stauskas and the Bulls.
Dan: Cold blooded shooter. Like you said, he could probably go a little higher than this, depending on which shooter certain teams value more. I thought the Bulls would pick a fail-safe point guard because that Derrick Rose guy can’t seem to stay on the court- though they could go there at 19. In any case, Stauskas gives them long-range shooting depth they need.
#17 – Boston Celtics
Dan: With the seventeenth pick, the Boston Celtics select… Tyler Ennis. I thought about a few different point guards here, even though I would’ve liked a guy like Hood or Young to fall. But there are still questions surrounding Rondo and how long he’ll be in a Celtics uniform, even though Brad Stevens has welcomed him with open arms. Regardless, Ennis seems like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of player, with great intangibles. He can pass the ball, shoot, and drive the lane on offense. He doesn’t have great athleticism but makes up with it with his instincts, something I think Stevens will appreciate.
Wade: Depending on what happens with Rondo and which direction the Celtics go, this could be a valuable pick for them. Ennis is a smart, playmaking guard with size and length that should be able to come in and run the second unit right away.
#18 – Phoenix Suns
Wade: With the eighteenth pick, the Phoenix Suns select…P.J. Hairston. Since the Suns took a bit of a gamble on Saric, grabbing one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft seems like a smart move for them. Hairston spent last year excelling in the D-League and is a fantastic shooter. He’s also a good athlete and should fit in well with the Suns’ system. It shouldn’t take long for Hairston to contribute in the NBA.
Dan: More scoring for the Suns! P.J. Tucker is about to get paid, and probably by a different team. If that happens, this pick makes even more sense. I loved the reasoning behind this pick too. You took a risk before and in turn you now take a guy with D-League experience and that fits what the team wants to do. Excellent choice.
#19 – Chicago Bulls
Dan: With the nineteenth pick, the Chicago Bulls select… T.J. Warren. I suggested before that they might take a point guard, but my thought is Ennis is the guy they’ll want. Even if he’s on the board here, Warren’s a great possibility. He lacks the athleticism to take his game to a top level, but he gives great effort on defense, which Tom Thibodeau will love. He’s also a guy that will give the Bulls a scoring threat on the wing that they need.
Wade: Yep. With their franchise point guard and center in place–and Taj Gibson primed to become a starter–the Bulls need scoring wings. I like the additions of Warren and Stauskas.
#20 – Toronto Raptors
Wade: With the twentieth pick, the Toronto Raptors select…Kyle Anderson. The Raptors are an up-and-coming team in the East with plenty of young talent. I expect Anderson to be gone by this pick, but if he does fall, he could be a good option for Toronto. He could back-up DeRozan and Ross and help facilitate. As a 6’9″ point guard in college, he should be able to translate those playmaking abilities to the NBA and create offense for the Raptors second-unit. He will be especially useful once Vazquez is gone. If Anderson can improve his shot and develop consistent three-point range, he’ll be very tough to guard.
Dan: I typed up this replay before you got out your description and we’re on the same page. This another team that can go point guard, and with the selection of Kyle Anderson, that’s not out of the question even though he stands at 6’9. His strength is distributing the ball and setting up his teammates. If he can become a better shooter, that’s a plus.
#21 – OKC Thunder
Dan: With the twenty-first pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder select… Cleanthony Early. Early is looked at as a bit of a tweener, but I think he fits the Thunder well for two big reasons. First, they need more scoring off the bench when Durant and Westbrook are off the floor. Early can give them that – though his 3 point shooting can improve. Second, it’s obvious OKC is a championship caliber team and will be playing in big games. Early is a player that didn’t shy away when the lights were bright in the NCAA Tournament.
Wade: Early’s stock has risen over the past month and this could be a good fit. The Thunder usually draft long, athletic prospects and Early isn’t extremely long, but he can definitely put the ball in the hoop. He’d likely spend his rookie season in the D-League, with Lamb, Perry Jones III and Roberson still waiting on consistent minutes, but that’s how the Thunder like to develop their future players anyway.
#22 – Memphis Grizzlies
Wade: With the twenty-second pick, the Memphis Grizzlies select…Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic is really a lottery talent. I’d be sort of shocked if he dropped this far because some team will likely draft and pray he comes over sooner rather than later. The Grizzlies situation is sort of unknown as of late, however, and this could be a valuable pick for them. It’s uncertain how much longer Gasol and Randolph will be in Memphis and the Grizzlies could grab their center of the future here. Nurkic is so good on both ends of the floor (seriously, look this guy up), but needs to learn to foul less. He’s a project, but a great one.
Dan: Haha, I love that you said “look this guy up” because Nurkic isn’t a guy that I’ve been able to watch yet, but he’s popped up on other mocks and have been able to read a decent amount on him. Going by what I know, this is such a Grizzlies pick. He’s a tough guy, a brute, who has a high motor with great upside on defense. It also seems like he’ll be able to rebound at respectable clip early on. I trust what you say. Good pick.
#23 – Utah Jazz
Dan: With the twenty-third pick, the Utah Jazz select… C.J. Wilcox. Wilcox should be a great scoring option in the Jazz rotation. Gordon Hayward is known as a shooter, but struggled with his 3-point shot this year and has had trouble carrying a good shooting season over to the next year. Wilcox should provide some consistent shooting ability from the arc right away. He has very good athletic ability, but his handle has prevented him so far from being a great all around scorer. His athletic ability also gives him upside on the defensive side of the ball.
Wade: This could be a good pairing with Randle. I agree, the Jazz will welcome his shooting, especially if they lose Hayward to FA. Wilcox is probably already a little better shooter than Alec Burks and has decent upside. I like it.
#24 – Charlotte Hornets
Wade: With the twenty-fourth pick, the Charlotte Hornets select…Spencer Dinwiddie. This was a tough one. I considered stashing Capela here or taking Jordan Adams, but I think Dinwiddie might be the best option. He has good size, can shoot the ball well, has a good handle and has potential on defense. He also moves well without the ball. The Hornets could use his shooting and upside.
Dan: More offense for Charlotte, which should be a breath of fresh air for them. In the limited time I’ve spent watching Dinwiddie (which happens as we get deeper into the class), it seems like this is a perfect spot for him. This is compounded by the fact that they took McDermott earlier, who is a great distributer, and which should facilitate Dinwiddie’s off the ball movement.
#25 – Houston Rockets
Dan: With the twenty-fifth pick, the Houston Rockets select… Glenn Robinson III. For me, this is a “duh” pick, especially if GR3 can make sure his shooting stroke becomes a consistent one. His athleticism gives him an upside that is welcomed this late in the first round. He has okay measurables but needs to lock in and focus on what he needs to improve. He has the ability to be a nice two-way player but doesn’t have great feel yet. Nonetheless, the Rockets will welcome his scoring upside on the bench. He still has a lot of room to grow as a player.
Wade: I am really hoping that GR3 falls to the Cavs at #33, but it’s unlikely. His stock took a bit of a hit this year, but he’s still a first-round talent. He’d be a welcomed addition to the Rockets bench.
#26 – Miami Heat
Wade: With the twenty-sixth pick, the Miami Heat select…Shabazz Napier. I also think Russ Smith would be a great fit here and teetered on them taking a big like Isaiah Austin, Mitch McGary or Dwight Powell. Napier is a proven competitor though and would fit in perfectly with the Heat’s style of play. He doesn’t have good size and might struggle on defense, but he makes big shots and should be able to create steals. There’s a lot to be determined on the Heat roster this summer, but it probably doesn’t hurt that LeBron loves him as well.
Dan: Nooooo! This is such a dangerous pick for all Heat anti-fans (including myself). Napier is yet another player for them in which the moment is never too big for the him. (Love that you mentioned Austin by the way, I think that would be an interesting pick). Napier will be a playmaker no matter who’s out there on the floor with him.
#27 – Phoenix Suns
Dan: With the twenty-seventh pick, the Phoenix Suns select… Isaiah Austin. Since you didn’t take Austin, I will. I’m not in love with him as a prospect, but I think he fits here. I think the Suns are a team that can get the most out of his strengths as a big man, which are his athleticism and shooting ability. He would also bring some much welcomed rim protection to the Suns. He’ll be a project, but I don’t think it’s that big of an issue considering they have three picks in the first round alone.
Wade: Yeah, he definitely needs developing, but he could be something down the road. I’m not sure they’ll want to develop him with Alex Len, but maybe Len will be much-improved this year. Austin is an interesting prospect.
#28 – LA Clippers
Wade: With the twenty-eighth pick, the LA Clippers select…Mitch McGary. The Clippers have been pining after a solid backup big man for some time now (they inquired into Varejao and Tyler Zeller), so McGary could offer good value for them at the end of the first round. McGary’s stock drastically fell this season due to a back injury, but he could still be a solid rotation player. He would benefit from playing with a great point guard like Chris Paul. He isn’t long or athletic, but has nice size and strength. He can also run the court well and finish at the basket.
Dan: As I looked at the draft as a whole, I thought McGary would be such a Spurs pick, kind of like DeJuan Blair. But he doesn’t reach them in this mock. I like this pick because I’m not a fan of the Clippers’ bench frontcourt. I think this is a relatively safe pick – as it pertains to talent – because of his rebounding ability.
#29 – OKC Thunder
Dan: With the twenty-ninth pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder select… Clint Capela. If Early hadn’t been picked before, this pick is K.J. McDaniels, one of my favorite prospects in this draft. However, at this point the Thunder could use some depth in their frontcourt with Capela. He’s a very athletic player who plays above the rim, giving OKC a fun player off the bench. His overall game needs a lot of polish and he needs to get a better feel for the game. If he does, he could become a starter down the road. He has the potential to have a positive impact on both sides of the court, but he needs a lot of work.
Wade: I’m so glad you took Capela here because I really didn’t want him to miss the first round. He’s long, athletic and has huge upside. He’s also probably the rawest prospect in this draft when it comes to playing actual basketball. This is a draft-and-stash pick that could end up paying dividends for the Thunder a few years down the road.
#30 – San Antonio Spurs
Wade: With the thirtieth pick, the San Antonio Spurs select…Elfrid Payton. There’s no way Payton should drop this low, but that would be something that happens for the Spurs. He’s a long, athletic point guard who can penetrate and make plays for his teammates. He has tremendous upside on both ends of the floor and could wind up being a fringe-star in this league. If he can improve his awful shot, watch out.
Dan: Big thumbs up for this pick. I seriously considered Payton at 17 and 19, and depending what day it is, I take him for the Celtics. Great way to end the round with the Spurs taking another guy that could be a staple of their team for years to come. Go figure.
Some omissions who could be first round picks: K.J. McDaniels, Jordan Adams, Jordan Clarkson, Jerami Grant, Kristaps Porzingis, Russ Smith, Dwight Powell.
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