NBA Draft Preview 2014

Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins top mock NBA front office draft in ESPN The Magazine.


( ESPN The Magazine & Insider )


How we mocked it up

2014 NBA Draft

Thursday, June 26
New York, N.Y.

Watch Live
(1st two rounds)

The 2014 NBA draft is out of our hands. Should the Cavs take the raw but tantalizing wing with high upside? Or the NBA-ready forward with a lower ceiling? Or shock everyone and roll the dice on the injury-prone 7-footer with limitless potential? We'll find out on June 26, but our experts have already spoken. Meet ESPN NBA Front Office, a new panel of ESPN analysts and NBA Insiders who went pick by pick and debated every possible scenario as if they were actually in the war room on draft night.

Then we had Insider David Thorpe size up each pick's floor and ceiling and Insider Bradford Doolittle break down how each pick will fill a need for his new team using last season's real plus-minus numbers. Because in a draft as loaded as this, who better than our Insiders and analysts to decide between Andrew Wiggins' many variables, Jabari Parker's one-dimensional game and Joel Embiid's uncertain future? No one.

  • Tom Penn General managerInsider

    ESPN NBA analyst, former VP of basketball operations and assistant GM for the Trail Blazers

  • Chad Ford Assistant GMInsider

    Senior writer for and Insider's draft analyst since 2002.

  • Amin Elhassan Director of scoutingInsider

    NBA Insider, former scout and assistant director of basketball operations for the Suns

  • Kevin Pelton Director of analyticsInsider

    NBA Insider, former analytics consultant to the Pacers

  • George Karl Head coachInsider

    ESPN NBA analyst, former NBA head coach with five teams over 25 seasons

  • Throughout draft week, follow the ESPN NBA Front Office crew as they debate each pick. #NBAFrontOffice



( Cleveland Cavaliers )


  • Kansas
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 19
  • 6-8, 200

His talent is unreal. His game? Still a work in progress.

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Tracy McGrady
Floor: Chandler Parsons
Wiggins is an out-of-this-world athlete who can score in myriad ways. Considering how open the court is in today's NBA, it's hard to imagine he won't average 20 ppg sooner rather than later. One of the best perimeter defenders in this draft, Wiggins has Paul George-type potential on the defensive end. -- David Thorpe


Joel Embiid was the heavy favorite to be the top pick before news of the stress fracture in his foot, which required surgery. Like any team, they will want to see the medical report, but this has seriously dampened their enthusiasm. That leaves two prospects: Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Wiggins worked out for the Cavs and was impressive, according to sources. Although he didn't shoot the ball well, he has improved his ballhandling and showed off his explosive athleticism. He has similar upside to Embiid and can be a defensive presence for the Cavs from day one. But there is a vocal faction within the organization pushing for Parker to be the pick. He is the most NBA-ready, and the Cavs are in a win-now mode. For now, though, I believe Wiggins offers the best combination of upside and impact.


Cleveland must build around Kyrie Irving, whose backcourt partner is smallish Dion Waiters. An elite wing athlete such as Wiggins alleviates some of the inherent defensive issues and would provide a running mate for Irving in transition. -- Bradford Doolittle

*Real Plus-Minus
"Regular " plus-minus measures the net change in scoring margin while a player is on the floor. So if LeBron James leads the Heat on a 10-0 run and Mario Chalmers is on the court, Chalmers gets a plus-10 rating, just for LeBron being LeBron. Pretty wonky. Enter "real " plus-minus, which uses play-by-play data to determine the impact each player has on each possession. So if Chalmers doesn't touch the ball or give up any points during that 10-0 run, then his RPM is zero. The RPMs listed here represent each player's rating through May 29.

Photography by Ture Lillegraven

Scouttake on Andrew Wiggins

Kevin Pelton, Amin Elhassan, Jeff Goodman | ESPN Insiders

The overwhelming sentiment on Wiggins is that there is no overwhelming sentiment. Eight months after his ballyhooed beginning at Kansas, he enters the NBA draft a divisive prospect. We hit up an NBA scout to get his unadulterated take and asked a few of our NBA insiders -- and Wiggins himself -- to dish back.

The Scout

He's an elite athlete1 and a great on-ball defender.2 I think he will be a very good shooter in the NBA.3 I have questions about his ballhandling and his ability to get past defenders in our league in the halfcourt.4 I'm also not sold on his basketball IQ.5 He does some of the same moves a lot of the time and didn't make the right reads against defenses.6 The other major concern I have is whether he has a killer instinct7 and whether he can be a star.8


If Wiggins actually has a 44-inch vertical, as his agent told Chad Ford, that would tie him with Shane Larkin for second among NBA players in DraftExpress' database.


I take pride in my defense. When I'm guarding somebody and they score, it bothers me. The next possession I really try to key in.


Wiggins' college numbers (34.1 3PT %, 77.5 FT %) suggest he'll be an average shooter or slightly better. Players with similar college stats as freshmen made 35.4 percent of their 3s in the NBA.


Right now, he's nowhere near good enough to create off the dribble; his handle is high and loose, and he consistently takes wide angles off screens. With some instruction and a lot of work, he should have an easier time creating space.


I disagree; I think his IQ is fine, but I wonder whether he knows how to compete, how to match the energy of his opponent. For most of his life, minimal effort has been enough to dominate. Can he learn to consistently go a few gears higher than he's ever been?


He looked completely lost against zone defenses, especially vs. Stanford in the NCAA tournament (four points, 1-of-6 shooting). And right now, his passing needs a lot of work (54 assists in 35 games).


Of the 11 All-Star wings who've entered the NBA from college since 2003, only three (DeMar DeRozan, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala) had lower usage rates in their last NCAA season than Wiggins (26 percent).


I think I'll be a star wherever I go. That's just how confident I am in my ability.



( Milwaukee Bucks )


  • Australia
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 18
  • 6-6, 196

Photography by Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

We've heard the hype. But is the Aussie for real?

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Michael Carter-Williams
Floor: Andre Miller
Exum plays with great speed and poise, like MCW or John Wall, which will help him dominate a full-court game. His size and length should help him be among the league leaders in steals too. Exum's floor is a tall Miller, a starting point guard and rotation player for 15 years who's comfortable in post-up play. -- D.T.


Jabari Parker would give the Bucks an immediate scoring threat, but the Bucks must think long term with this pick. Although Parker is the best player now, Exum has more upside, and, in three years, he could surpass Parker. The Bucks have a need at point guard, and the combination of two long, athletic young players such as Exum and Giannis Antetokounmpo invokes a young OKC tandem of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. This is a swing-for-the-fences move, but what the Bucks need right now is not really good -- they need great.


Milwaukee's general awfulness drags down its collective metrics, but the foundation of Brandon Knight, Larry Sanders and Antetokounmpo could flip that if joined by an impact talent such as Exum at No. 2. -- B.D.



( Philadelphia 76ers )


  • Duke
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 19
  • 6-8, 241

Parker's offense is NBA-ready, but his D needs work

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Carmelo Anthony
Floor: Luol Deng
Parker's skill level and polish, in addition to his excellent intangibles, suggest that he will be a Deng-type player at a minimum: a borderline All-Star who can fill a starting small forward role for years. If he works on his conditioning and improves his quickness, he will contend for scoring titles. That's how advanced his offensive game is. -- D.T.


Not an ideal pick for the Sixers, who were after Andrew Wiggins. But Parker gives them a terrific scoring option to combine with their young athletes in PG Michael Carter-Williams and C Nerlens Noel. Parker could average 20 ppg as a rookie in Philly. Look for PG Dante Exum to be a real possibility here too. They could end up shopping Carter-Williams or just pairing the two in the backcourt.


ROY Carter-Williams put up nice but empty numbers for the Sixers' glorified temp agency last year, but with two more top-10 picks, including Parker, joining MCW and Noel, he'll have to learn how to do that in a team context. -- B.D.

Photography by Ture Lillegraven

When I knew I was one-and done at Duke


When you're really feelin' it on the court, when I was in my groove and feelin' real nice out there, that's when those NBA thoughts creep into your mind. But when you're doing badly, that's when the doubt comes in. That's when you're thinking: Maybe I do need another year in college.

I had so many discussions with my family about the decision to leave, and they were all necessary. They gave me a lot of input, a lot of opinions, and I took all of it into consideration. The majority said they thought I was ready. The majority. But it was a conversation I had in mid-April with Coach K that really put it over the edge. I met him at his office after he got back from a trip to Vegas. He takes that time to roam, be himself, leave behind the worries of being a college basketball coach. So as soon as he got back, we talked, and he told me it was OK to move on. That was the biggest one for me. He said, "Know what? I want to be there for you no matter what. I'm still going to be your coach at the end of the day." I respected that. But I still had important people in my life saying, "Oh, another year wouldn't hurt. You can just go in, finish the career that you want at Duke."

So the decision was really tough. Selfishly, I wanted to stay, to help out. Like, Duke really needs me. That was the selfish mindset that I had. But in a way -- and this may sound weird -- I wanted to do justice to [No. 1 recruit] Jahlil Okafor. He needs to go through the same thing I went through to be the player that he wants to be. With my help, he would still be good. But I think he'll be great without me.



( Orlando Magic )


  • Kansas
  • Center
  • Age: 20
  • 7-0, 250

You've seen the Olajuwon comp. Question remains: Is it valid?


Ceiling: Anthony Davis
Floor: Brook Lopez
Embiid isn't quite the athlete Davis is, but he has the rare ability to be both a dominant scorer and premier defender. If he struggles to stay healthy, like a lot of 7-footers, he'll have a Lopez-like impact, teasing his franchise and his fan base by showing only flashes of top-end talent. -- D.T.


If Dante Exum is available at No. 4, the Magic will have serious interest. But if Embiid falls to No. 4, he might be too tantalizing to pass up, especially since Orlando has another pick in the lottery at No. 12. The Magic are in desperate need of a rim protector and an athletic frontcourt player to pair with Nikola Vucevic and the Kansas center gives them just that. If Embiid's injury scares them off, Noah Vonleh is also a possibility here.


The hope? That as Victor Oladipo and the other kids mature, Embiid can provide his defensive prowess (2.6 BPG at Kansas last season) next to offense-oriented Vucevic. -- B.D.

Photography by Ture Lillegraven

"I'm not very good yet"


Joel Embiid arrives at the 22nd floor of a Hollywood high-rise wearing sweat-stained basketball shorts and size 17 sandals, ready for his first appointment with a personal tailor. The tailor has flown in from New York, where she usually dresses movie stars and Yankees, and she opens her bag of luxury fabrics and sets them on a table in front of Embiid. "I don't really know how this works," Embiid tells her, and no one in the room seems particularly surprised, since so much of his existence in the days before the NBA draft is defined by what he still doesn't know.

The appointment was made at the suggestion of Embiid's agent, Darren Matsubara, after he learned that his soon-to-be $20 million client owned only one suit: an off-the-rack special from Rochester Big & Tall, a charcoal combination that was in fact neither big nor tall enough. Matsubara decided it would be a bad first impression for the potential No. 1 pick to be introduced on national TV wearing pants that looked like unintentional capris. So in came Jennifer from Élevée, maker of $15,000 custom suits, to study Embiid's shoulder width and take down his sizes, measuring him for a life where nothing quite fits.

"What kind of a look are you hoping to have for the draft?" she asks him now.

"What do you mean by 'a look'?" he says.

"Like, maybe some kind of three-piece?" she suggests.

"What's a three-piece?" he asks.

Embiid is in this room -- in this position -- because coaches and scouts regard him as perhaps the fastest learner in the history of basketball, but no one is capable of mastering this much so quickly. Less than three years ago, he was dressing in white-and-black school uniforms in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where his best sports were volleyball and soccer. Less than two years ago, he was wearing mostly warm-ups, since he rarely left the bench for his high school basketball team in Florida. Less than one year ago, he arrived at the University of Kansas expecting to redshirt and then play four years of college basketball before maybe making it to the NBA.

And now here he is, barely 20 and one of the sport's rarest commodities: a shot blocker who can run the floor and shoot midrange jumpers, a 7-foot center who moves with rhythm and musicality. To many NBA scouts, Embiid is not only the draft's most talented player but also its most intriguing, an experiment for the team that selects him. He is a build-your-own superstar -- a player with no bad habits to unlearn, no sense of ego or entitlement to manage. But he is also entirely unproven, a top prospect who self-associates more as a beginner. "I am not very good yet," he says. "Of all the great players a team could choose right now, I am probably not the best. But maybe one day I will be."

The tailor hands him a binder with photos of the company's most exclusive outfits, but instead of focusing on the clothes, Embiid studies the faces of the athletes and actors 
who are modeling them. "I think I know some of these people," he says, flipping through the binder, pointing to each picture and then quizzing himself. Most of the names he doesn't remember.

"Who is this one?" he asks his manager, Dani Goor, pointing to a picture of Aaron Rodgers.

"And this?" he says, staring at Ryan Gosling.

"Doesn't this guy play basketball?" he asks when he sees a picture of Terrell Owens.

Finally he reaches the back of the binder. "Did you see anything you'd want to wear?" the tailor asks, but Embiid shakes his head. "I can't decide. It is a little overwhelming," he says. Less than four years ago, he had never visited the United States, never spoken a sentence in English, never watched an entire professional basketball game, never even heard of the NBA draft. "I need a little more time to figure this out," he tells the tailor.

He goes back through the binder again, once more scanning the faces, until he comes upon one he is sure he recognizes. It is a thin face with a wide nose, a goatee and a whisper of a mustache. "Who is that?" he says, and the name is so near to his mind that it is driving him crazy. His manager leans in to take a look at the book, and she follows his stare to a picture of a face she instantly knows. "Are you kidding?" she asks, because Embiid can be playful. Maybe he is joking, she thinks. But she can't be sure.

"That's Kevin," she says, tapping her finger against a picture of the most valuable player in the league that Embiid is about to enter. "That's Kevin Durant."

EMBIID IS SPENDING these final weeks before the draft at what his agency calls boot camp, training with eight other future NBA players as they study the fine points of a transition to a career as a professional athlete. He lives in his own apartment for the first time, and a nutritionist goes grocery shopping with him and shows him how to prepare healthy breakfasts. A financial adviser teaches him about investing; a branding expert shows him how to best communicate with fans on Twitter. He works daily with a yoga instructor and a weight trainer and two physical therapists and a sports scientist who records his weight balance as he moves. Each night brings another activity meant to prepare him for the NBA life: a movie premiere, front-row tickets to Jimmy Kimmel or courtside seats at a playoff game. He is followed most everywhere by Matsubara, Goor and an intern in charge of his transportation -- all of whom mostly worry that Embiid is having to deal with too much, too soon.

"It's a pretty fast learning curve," Matsubara tells him one day.

"By now, I'm pretty used to that," Embiid says.

He started playing basketball in 2011, mostly because he was bored. There were a few outdoor hoops at the sports club where he played high-level volleyball in Cameroon, and he started spending his breaks throwing a volleyball toward the rim and then dunking it, until one day a basketball coach saw him and recruited him for a local team. That coach gave Embiid a DVD about Hakeem Olajuwon titled Hakeem the Dream. It was a compilation of backstory and highlights from Olajuwon's journey from Nigeria to the U.S. and eventually to two NBA championships. Embiid replayed the video twice each night and practiced the moves the next morning, honing his jump hooks and shoulder fakes. Everything he knew about basketball came from rewatching those 49 minutes. "I kind of got obsessed," Embiid says.

He is from an upper-middle-class family -- the son of an army colonel and a mother who traveled regularly to France -- and his parents had gifted him with both a sense of the possibilities beyond Cameroon and the means to pursue them. They bought him a basketball and paid for an Internet package that allowed Embiid to watch his first moments of the NBA, a playoff game that aired at 3 a.m. Early in the summer of 2011, they enrolled their oldest son in a basketball camp run by Cameroon's only NBA player, forward Luc Mbah a Moute. There were 50 players at the camp, and after the first day Embiid concluded that he was one of the worst. He traveled whenever he touched the ball and mistook opponents for teammates. But Mbah a Moute watched Embiid play and saw something else: a novice basketball player who nonetheless seemed engineered to play the sport. He had the easy footwork of a former soccer player, the quick leaping ability of an elite volleyball spiker and hand-eye coordination passed down from his father, Thomas, who had played professional handball. At the end of the basketball camp, Mbah a Moute invited the top five players to another camp for elite African players. He chose Embiid first.

"Are you crazy?" Embiid said. "I'm not in the top 30 players here."

"Good thing I know more than you," Mbah a Moute told him.

They traveled together in August 2011 to the international camp. The walls of the gym were lined with college and high school coaches from the United States, including one from Montverde Academy in Florida, where Mbah a Moute had gone to school. The coach offered Embiid a scholarship and an I-20 visa to come to the United States. He went home to pack, but his father didn't want him to go. His son had not even graduated from high school yet, and he had never been away from his family or visited the United States. Embiid was an international prospect in volleyball, and his father believed that was his better sport.

"How do we know this is the best future for you?" his father asked, so Embiid decided to enlist Mbah a Moute's help in convincing him. Mbah a Moute tried to tell the colonel about basketball and the riches of the NBA, but some of the specifics were difficult to translate.

"Some players make $50 million," Mbah a Moute said, and the colonel misunderstood.

"Fifty thousand dollars?" he said, still impressed, and he agreed to let his son go.

Photography by Bo Rader/MCT/Zuma Press

EMBIID SPENT THE first year regretting that he had come. The coach who had recruited him to Montverde took another job, and the school's new coach assigned him to the junior varsity squad. He vomited during warm-ups of the team's first practice after 20 minutes spent running suicides. He had never run sprints or lifted weights, and he got bumped around in the paint. "I came here to play basketball, and I never was good enough to play in the games," he says. "I would get in, mess up, and a few teammates would be kind of laughing at me."

A few of those teammates started to refer to him by a nickname, Big Quiet, because 
he often went unnoticed. He walked to a McDonald's near campus for lunch every day with a few other African players and learned English off the menu on the restaurant wall, ordering chicken sandwiches for three weeks until he knew enough to order something new, and then something new after that.

English was his fourth language, after French, Spanish and a local dialect, Bassa, and he became fluent within a year. Once he started to understand what his coaches were saying, the game started to make sense. He became a defensive force on the AAU summer circuit, blocking a few shots each game even though he still had the endurance to play for only 10 or 15 minutes. He transferred to a high school called the Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., and the coach, Justin Harden, gave him a daily workout schedule: 30 minutes of running, 30 minutes of weights, 200 jumpers and 100 free throws -- in addition to practice. He was still one of the team's most unpolished players, and he occasionally made embarrassing mistakes. But in his best moments, he made the game look easy, and he led the team to a state championship. "Nobody ever talked about how good he was, because he wasn't great yet," Harden says. "But every college program in America could see how good he was becoming."

Kansas, Texas, Florida and Louisville all offered scholarships. Embiid had never heard of any of them, so he searched on Google, trying to memorize which team went with which mascot. He sought advice from Mbah a Moute, who suggested Kansas because of coach Bill Self's reputation for helping big men improve.

"Most kids cannot be objective about themselves, and he actually can," Self says. "He knows what he needs to learn, and he studies. He can see something one time and then do it. I wouldn't be surprised if he could learn to play guard and have success. There's not another big man I would ever say that about."

At Kansas, Embiid was the ambassador between two worlds -- beloved by Cameroonians who knew little about basketball and by Kansas fans who knew nothing about Cameroon. His teammates imagined Africa as a place of jungles and tribal war paint, so he decided to have some fun with them while also burnishing a reputation for toughness. "Did I tell you about the time I killed a lion?" he asked them, inventing a story about having thrown a spear tipped with poison and then carrying a lion on his back for a mile. In fact, he had grown up in a nice house in a neighborhood of diplomats in a city of 2.5 million, and the only lion he had ever seen was in a cage at the zoo. "Most of those guys still think that story is true," Embiid says. "It started as a joke, but then they respected me after that."

When his parents came to visit, they had trouble making sense of America. His mother asked a Kansas administrator: How is college in the U.S. different from high school? His father asked a KU assistant coach: What does it mean to set a screen? In February, when it became clear Embiid would make millions in the NBA, he suggested to his parents that they might want to move to the U.S. Why not enjoy a mansion, some spending money, a few nice cars? He was starting to enjoy the U.S. for its vampire TV shows and its Shirley Temples. But his mother said she didn't want to leave her job working for the government, and his younger brother is still in eighth grade. "Their lives 
are in Cameroon," says Embiid, who has yet to go back for a visit. "They are happy for me, but they don't want any of this for themselves. They don't understand it."

Neither do his friends in Africa, most of whom have suddenly started playing basketball themselves. How hard can it be? They know of only one basketball player, a novice who spent a few years practicing and is now on the verge of a guaranteed fortune.

"Now everybody in Cameroon thinks basketball is easy," Embiid says. "They think they can have what I have. It is a whole country of No. 1 picks."

THE ORIGINAL GOAL was to keep the location of Embiid's workouts a secret, but secrets like this never last long. By the time Embiid arrives at the high school gym in Santa Monica one morning in late May, a few dozen basketball insiders are already in the bleachers, clipboards and lattes in hand. A videographer films Embiid as he warms up his back and stretches his legs. Mike Dunleavy Sr., a former NBA coach and general manager, has volunteered to run the morning workout, mostly so he can watch Embiid from up close. Kids who attend an adjacent elementary school migrate over during recess, carrying Sharpies and pressing their faces against the gym's windows and doors.

"Every day for me is a tryout," Embiid says as he laces his shoes. "That's the situation I'm dealing with."

What he's dealing with is the usual scrutiny of a potential No. 1 pick, amplified by the fact that his last college game ended with a stress fracture in his back, which kept him from playing in the NCAA tournament. Part of him wanted to stay at Kansas, if only to slow his life down by spending two years in the same place, but Mbah a Moute and even Self saw better reasons for him to go. Why continue to risk his back for more years when his draft stock would never improve? Now he has gone through rehab and feels healthy -- "100 percent," he says -- but NBA teams are leery of investing their futures in a big man with a history of back problems. These informal workouts at a tiny high school gym have become the focal point of the NBA offseason. How is Embiid moving? How's his stamina? How often does he ice?

"How are you feeling, big guy?" Dunleavy asks as he watches Embiid run the floor during a drill, set a screen and then, a few minutes later, knock down six consecutive 3-pointers. Embiid is both the biggest and the most athletic player on a court filled with likely first-round picks; he dribbles by an opposing center on one possession, then posts up a forward on the next. "I guess I've got my answer," Dunleavy says as the practice continues. "You're feeling pretty good."

With a few minutes left in the workout, the players begin to scrimmage. Embiid blocks a shot, grabs the loose ball and dribbles the length of the court, stopping just inside the 3-point line. He is guarded by two players, so he turns his back to the basket, pretending to retreat. Then he shakes his shoulders to fake one way, like he watched Olajuwon do so many times on the video. He spins the opposite way and jumps into the air, fading away from the basket. He shoots from 22 feet, and the ball drops cleanly through the basket. Both defenders shake their heads. "Damn," one says.

Dunleavy watches from the sideline and starts to laugh, and before long most of the people in the gym are laughing too.

Everybody is appreciating the magic they have just witnessed -- everyone except Embiid, who looks mostly perplexed. Not long ago, the laughter he heard on a basketball court came for different reasons. He wants to be sure.

"Coach," he says, jogging over to Dunleavy. "That was good, right?"



( Utah Jazz )


  • Indiana
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 18
  • 6-10, 247

Photography by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

He ruled the combine, but can this 18-year-old fix a franchise?

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Al Horford
Floor: Markieff Morris
If Vonleh continues to develop his basketball IQ and low-post game, he'll have a lot of Horford in him. He's not a natural post scorer, but he has range (16 of 33 from 3 in 2013-14) and is an elite defender. If his shot is all that improves, then the Morris projection is more fitting. -- D.T.


Utah doesn't need another 4, but if the Magic draft Joel Embiid, Vonleh has the most value on the board. His crazy combine measurements (7-foot-4 wingspan) and athletic testing (37-inch vertical) give him the edge over PFs Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon. Add his ability to shoot, rebound and block shots and Vonleh is a nice complement to Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.


Stocked with prospects, the Jazz are hoping these stats are just growing pains. Still, Utah needs to nail this pick to maintain progress. -- B.D.



( Boston Celtics )


  • Arizona
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 18
  • 6-9, 220

Photography by Gregory Bull/AP Images

At 6-9 and with a 39-inch vert, he may as well be called Aar Gordon

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Blake Griffin
Floor: Kenneth Faried
Remember when Griffin was just a dunker who couldn't shoot, pass or D up? Gordon (12.4 ppg, 8 rpg) has similar athleticism and growth potential. If he fails to mature, his energy alone could make him a monster PF like Faried, impacting games with hustle and heart. -- D.T.


The Celtics will likely try to unload this pick, but I'm not sure they can get much for it. They've been high on Gordon even though he's raw offensively. His defensive intangibles and athleticism change the game in ways that are hard to quantify. Not only was his 39-inch vertical the third highest ever for a post player, but he had this year's top time in the shuttle (2.76 seconds).


Boston wants a rim protector to push Jared Sullinger to PF. Gordon is no Joel Embiid, but he has length and could boost interior scoring. -- B.D.


( Los Angeles Lakers )


  • Kentucky
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 19
  • 6-9, 250

Photography by Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Images

His defense may need work, but his offense is made for double-doubles

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: LaMarcus Aldridge
Floor: David Lee
Randle won't be an Aldridge clone, but he can be the top threat on an elite offense. His motor and scoring (15 ppg, 57 percent True Shooting) suggest tremendous offensive aptitude. But if he ends up being a defensive liability, he becomes Lee, still a fringe All-Star. -- D.T.


If the Lakers had landed in the top three, they would have kept their pick. But with an entire frontcourt entering free agency, look for them to try to turn No. 7 and other assets into a veteran big man like Kevin Love. Again, it's unlikely, but if LA were to hold on to it, then a player who can contribute right away is a must. Randle (D1-best 24 double- doubles in 2013-14) has the most NBA-ready body and skill set among freshmen in this class, save for Jabari Parker.


LA has leaks all over the lineup, and Pau Gasol is likely gone in free agency. Old Kobe Bryant needs a quick fix that LA can't find at No. 7. -- B.D.



( Sacramento Kings )


  • Oklahoma State
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 20
  • 6-3, 227

The metrics love the ultra-competitive PG from OSU

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Russell Westbrook
Floor: Goran Dragic
Smart will never be as athletic as Westbrook (no PG is), but his strength and length (6-foot-9 wingspan) will destroy guards on the glass and at the rim. But even if his development levels off, he should still be a borderline All-Star like Dragic, who had a 3.36 real plus-minus last season, better than that of Western Conference All-Star James Harden (3.22). -- D.T.


The Kings love analytics, and by about every metric (including his 5.05 percent steal rate, tops in our mock), Smart is one of the three best players in this class. He fits the Kings' needs on multiple levels: Isaiah Thomas was good as a starter, but they think he's a better backup. Smart's size and savvy are major upgrades, but it's his toughness, leadership and desire to win at any cost that could change the culture in Sacramento.


The Kings have talent all over, but they need a hard-nosed PG to convert promising individual metrics into real wins. -- B.D.

Photography by Ture Lillegraven

Bouncing back from the shove


Marcus Smart just wants to get a shot off. He just wants to let it go. Stretched out on his sofa, clutching a PlayStation controller, the 20-year-old point guard is playing in an alternate future, a video game version of the NBA where amazing happens among avatars.

"Oh, don't let me shoot it!" Smart shouts as his NBA2K14 doppelgänger darts across a TV screen in a No. 33 Utah Jazz jersey. He's feeling it. "Please don't let me shoot it!"

Marcus Smart

Smart (right) doesn't regret returning for his sophomore season, in part because of the camaraderie he enjoyed with teammates like Phil Forte and Markel Brown. Photography by Orlin Wagner/AP Images

In this world, Smart never returned to Oklahoma State for a second season after he was named national freshman and Big 12 player of the year in his first. In this world, he didn't shove a fan in Texas either. Didn't face a torrent of questions about his emotional equanimity or his offensive efficiency. He got the hell out of Stillwater on the One-and-Done Express, picked by the fake Jazz in the fake first round of the fake 2013 NBA draft. "It's so crazy. I created me," Smart says of his customized character. "And it's pretty realistic." The digitized Marcus -- two inches taller and with a slightly sweeter stroke than the 6-foot-3 real deal, it must be said -- gets the ball at the top of the arc and drills an NBA-distance 3-pointer. "Whooooo!"

The flesh-and-blood Marcus Smart is leaving any minute for his second workout of the day at a high school gymnasium in Santa Monica, Calif., less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. He's escaped to LA for weeks of shooting and ballhandling drills, sharpening his skills for the NBA combine. "Swiiiiiish," Smart says, making another fake jumper. A text comes in -- his ride is waiting outside.

"Time to get my butt kicked," Smart says, dragging himself off the couch and back to reality.

WHAT DO YOU know about Marcus Smart?

That he grew up hard in predominantly black Lancaster, Texas, before his family -- mom Camellia, dad Billy Frank and brother Michael -- moved to the mostly white, affluent suburb of Flower Mound, Texas?

That he was a McDonald's All-American and Gatorade Texas boys player of the year?

That he was considered a consensus lottery pick after his breakthrough freshman season if he had entered last year's weaker draft pool?

That one of the key reasons he considered declaring then was so he could pay for his mother to get a new kidney?

That he once scored 12 points in just over a minute but is even better known for his smothering defense?

That he's what old-timers call a high-motor guy, all maximum intensity all the time?

That he never led Oklahoma State to an NCAA tournament victory?

You might know some of that or most of it or none of it. But you almost certainly know this: On Feb. 8, at the tail end of a loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Marcus Smart shoved a Red Raiders fan named Jeff Orr because Orr may or may not have shouted a racial slur at Smart as he crashed into the stands along the baseline. (The fan vehemently denied using the N-word or any kind of racial slur, but he admitted to calling Smart a "piece of crap.") Afterward, Smart publicly apologized for the incident and was suspended for three games.

So Smart isn't just in California to sweat his way into the upper echelon of the 2014 NBA draft. He has also come to strengthen his reputation, once unimpeachable, now maybe tainted just enough by that shove to cost him very real money in the real NBA.

THE MAG: Can we talk about Texas Tech?

SMART: [Sighs] Yeah.

THE MAG: What happened?

SMART: Man ...

He's prepared for the question. He always answers with a combination of self-reproach, forward thinking and the tiniest touch of exasperation.

In one instance, he's watching a Thunder-Grizzlies playoff game in superagent Arn Tellem's corner office and says: "I had a breakdown. I shouldn't have reacted that way. That's not who I am. I respect and love the game of basketball so much. It happened, I dealt with it, I learned from it and I'm moving on. I can't really dwell on it."

In another, he's hanging in his apartment and strikes the same note: "It's a chapter in my life that I'm not proud of. But it was a lesson I had to learn. And now I've put that incident so far out of my mind that I lost it. I don't like to think about it. How is that going to help me succeed? If you're too busy looking in the past, you won't see what's in front of you."

"I am not a bad person. I am just an intense person."

Marcus Smart

It's textbook draft prep. Take ownership. Turn the page. Don't dig too deep.

Two weeks before the combine, Smart's agent, Lee Melchionni, who works for Tellem, sits in his Westwood office and lays out the game plan. "We've encouraged Marcus to be honest and open as he talks about what happened," he says. "When he sits down with NBA teams, he'll take them through the incident and explain himself."

He'll have to. GMs will want to understand why Smart exploded in Lubbock, and they'll wonder whether he's likely to do it again in some equally hostile NBA city down the line. They'll know that before there was the shove, there was a chair he kicked in frustration in the first half of a January game against West Virginia. They'll have learned about the anger management classes in elementary school, when Smart started getting into fights after his oldest brother, Todd, died of cancer. "They're going to do their due diligence because they're going to pay Marcus millions of dollars," says Melchionni, a former role player at Duke.

The stakes are high. The difference in guaranteed salary between the No. 4 and No. 10 picks in the first round of the draft is more than $2.7 million over two years. An option for a third year pushes the gap past $4 million. So Smart will continue being honest and open because he must. The shove demands it.

And it brings with it a very particular burden. When Smart pushed Orr -- no matter what Orr might have said -- he kick-started the machinery of a damning stereotype. "There's this image of an angry black man, which is frankly racist," says professor Todd Boyd, endowed chair for the study of race and popular culture at USC. "He's bearing the weight of those stereotypes." The line for Smart between being seen as intense and being perceived as a threat is thin. "Anger is a legitimate emotion -- it's not criminal," Boyd says. "There's no crime against being angry. But if a black guy just raises his voice, people freak out. Look at Richard Sherman."

Sherman, of course, triggered a high-volume national debate about racial stereotypes by suggesting that "thug" (which he'd been called after his infamous post-NFC championship game interview) is just the N-word with a haircut. As for race and the role it might play in his draft placement, Smart won't go there. He won't address what Orr called him either, but he will say what he's heard since: "Thug, yeah I heard that a lot." As to whether he is a believer in the Sherman Principle, again, silence. That too is right out of the draft prep textbook: Don't dig new holes.

So it might never be known for certain what words triggered the shove in the stands. ("There's three sides to every story," says Smart's older brother, Michael. "There's Marcus' side, there's [Orr's] side and there's the truth.") But the real Marcus Smart wants NBA execs to know the things he was carrying before he lost his cool that night:

The Cowboys had lost three straight -- possibly the first time in Smart's life he'd lost back-to-back-to-back games, according to Kenny Boren, one of his former high school coaches.

He was feeling burdened by his de facto role "as one of the faces of college basketball, which came with expectations and a responsibility to perform every night with a large spotlight shining," Melchionni says.

His mother, who has survived on a single kidney (and thrice-weekly dialysis treatments) for some years now, was hospitalized with high blood pressure, which Smart learned shortly before the game.

Then the game itself went sideways, Smart wound up in the crowd, and he snapped. And he regrets it. And he means that.

Camellia was watching in her hospital room when it happened. "The nurses came running in because they saw my blood pressure go way up," she says. "When he called later, he said, 'Oh, Mama, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.' I told him, 'Whatever he told you, Marcus, talk is cheap. As long as they don't put their hands on you, you OK. You got to drown it out and walk away. People will be people. You got to control yourself.' He said: 'I'm asking God to forgive me. And I'm asking you and Dad to forgive me.' Well, we already forgave him. We all got a pressure point in life, and his pressure just popped. But everything happens for a reason. I think it made him mature."

How's that?

"It's simple," she says. "When he was suspended, he realized everything can be taken from him like a twinkle in an eye. If somebody gets into his head again, he has to walk away."

Melchionni has tried to guide the NBA away from any perception of Marcus as "thug" and toward a more pleasing narrative. The agent, who keeps a copy of Mike Krzyzewski's Leading With the Heart next to his NBA CBA FAQ binder, has the sell down cold. "A big part of it is just the emotional fire and competitive nature that makes Marcus who he is," he says. "He just needs to harness it and not get into situations where he crosses the line. I think most teams would much rather have a player like Marcus who competes too hard, that you have to rein in, than a guy who is passive."

Smart too is on message. "They're trying to figure out anything they can that's wrong with me," Smart says. He is smiling. "I am not a bad person. I am just an intense person." And just like that, a potential stain on Smart's résumé is transformed into a positive.

The idea plays. Two weeks later, at the draft combine, Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations for the Celtics, tells ESPN's Andy Katz that he likes Smart's fire and that "I'd much rather calm a player down than try to light a fire under somebody. ... It's hard to find those guys who care and do anything it takes to win."

It's been nearly five months since Smart shoved Tech fan Orr, yet his motivations remain elusive -- by design. Tori Eichberger/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal/AP Images

THE MATH SEEMS simple: Marcus Smart went back to Stillwater, and it cost him. One year of lost NBA income plus the difference in salary between being an early lottery pick in 2013 and a mid-lottery pick in 2014 equals ... something substantial.

But Smart's calculation was more complicated. "Mama, I'm struggling with this," Camellia recalls him saying during a weekend visit to Flower Mound, not long after his 19th birthday. "I want to go pro to get you a kidney," he said.

"Stop right there," she remembers telling him. "I want you to enjoy life. Be a kid as long as you can, because once you decide to go to the NBA, that's a job. It's totally different from going to college and acting stupid with your classmates and having fun."

So Smart went back because he was barely 19 and wasn't ready yet. He was still struggling to accept the fact that he was suddenly a top NBA prospect.

"If you go back to before that year started, nobody was talking about Marcus coming out," says his college coach, Travis Ford. "It happened so quickly for him that he didn't have time to embrace the thought. So he said, 'Let me take another year to prepare for the NBA.'"

And besides, Smart says, "I was aware of how much money I was giving up. ... But the way I was raised, you can't miss something you never had." The shove didn't change that. In fact, it was only after he returned from his suspension that Smart began smiling on the court again. Not that he didn't second-guess himself at various points over the past year. "I'd be lying if I said there weren't times I sat in my room and would think, Did I make the right decision?" he says. "Ultimately, I know I did."

MARCUS SMART JUST wants to get a shot off. Wants to work hard. Compete. He just wants to let it go. It's Friday afternoon, on one of those chamber of commerce weather days in Southern California. Smart and a few other prospects are grinding -- again -- in that stuffy Santa Monica gym, where amazing happens among potential draftees. Fred Cofield, head basketball trainer for the agency that represents the players here, has Smart and other NBA hopefuls shooting spot-up jumpers from 13 cones.

Catch. Shoot.

Catch. Shoot.

Catch. Shoot.

"Get hot, Marcus!" Cofield says.

"There you go, Marcus!" he says.

"Way to shoot tired, Marcus!" he says.

After Smart makes nearly 200 shots, Cofield sets up a competition: two teams of two racing to see which duo can make 10 3-pointers first from a designated spot.

Best of three. Losers run.

"We are not running," Smart says, and he and his partner, Jahii Carson of Arizona State, win the first match, from the right corner, in a rout.

They lose the second, from the top of the key, by a single shot.

In the rubber match, from the left corner, it's tied at nine and Smart lets it fly. In this world, he is going to the NBA this year. Not at No. 2, perhaps, but not too far from it -- his team visits are with the Magic (fourth pick), Celtics (sixth and 17th picks), Lakers (seventh pick) and Kings (eighth pick.)

"THERE IT IS!" he shouts.

The ball goes in.

Smart runs down the court and launches into a backflip.



( Charlotte Hornets )


  • Creighton
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 22
  • 6-8, 218

Photograhpy by Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

He shoots, he scores. Any questions?

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Mike Miller
Floor: Martell Webster
Miller is an elite shooter who has won titles by just being reliable from deep. And McDermott could be even better. His 26.7 ppg last season and career 46 3PT % cannot be ignored. A floor of Webster isn't exactly a huge drop, making McDermott one of the least risky guys in our top 10. -- D.T.


A very unlucky outcome for the Pistons, who had to send this pick to the Hornets as part of the 2012 deal for Ben Gordon. But will the Hornets really take McBuckets this early? Consider: Their roster is loaded with athletes, and they just need shooters with savvy. So while this might be a little high for McDermott, the athleticism he showed at the combine (36-and-a-half-inch vert and solid lane agility) justifies a reach. Charlotte takes either him or Michigan's Nik Stauskas.


Charlotte was terrific on D, but its ball-control offense sputtered due to a lack of floor spacers. This is the draft to fix that by finding a new swingman. -- B.D.



( Philadelphia 76ers )


  • Michigan State
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 19
  • 6-5, 205

Photography by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Sweet stroke, solid defender -- and maturity beyond his years

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Bradley Beal
Floor: Jodie Meeks
Beal's wingspan and standing reach are longer, but Harris has a strong set of skills and a sweet stroke (career 38 3PT %) that will keep him in a starting lineup on a playoff team. If he doesn't develop, he still projects as a knockdown 3-point shooter. -- D.T.


If Philly lands its forward of the future in Jabari Parker at No. 3, it can focus on adding another piece in the backcourt alongside ROY Michael Carter-Williams. Some might say Harris' 6-foot-7 wingspan is a tad undersized, but a guard tandem of Harris and MCW would be solid. Harris can defend both backcourt spots, and assuming he reverts to his freshman 3PT percent form (41 percent versus 35 percent), he'll provide range. Want a bonus? In interviews, the 19-year-old impressed scouts with his maturity -- he's a solid addition for any young team.


Carter-Williams put up nice but empty numbers for the Sixers' glorified temp agency last year, but with two more top-10 picks, including Parker, joining MCW and Nerlens Noel, he'll have to learn how to do that in a team context. -- B.D.



( Denver Nuggets )


  • UNC/D-League
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 21
  • 6-5, 229

Photography by Sergio Hentschel/NBAE/Getty Images

The former Tar Heel dominated the D-League. But will it translate to the pros?

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Eric Gordon
Floor: Dion Waiters
Powerful, fast, skilled and tough. Those traits, in a shooting guard's body no less, are rare. Hairston, at 6-5, 229, is bigger than both of these guys and could wind up being, like Gordon, an offense-oriented playmaker, or, like Waiters, a lost talent who takes years to figure out how to play. -- D.T.


I would've gone with Nik Stauskas here, but my GM overruled me. Denver has Randy Foye and Evan Fournier at shooting guard, but Hairston has excellent range and more ability to finish at the rim. I'm told he aced his interviews at the combine too, which was huge. He was inundated with questions about his off-court problems at UNC, and multiple GMs said he handled them openly and humbly.


SF Danilo Gallinari and C JaVale McGee return from injury, so this pick can upgrade at SG. -- B.D.

The D-League is an alternate route to the NBA, not the preferred route, says D-League president Dan Reed. Gerry Broome/AP Images

The D-League path to the A-list


P.J. Hairston was alone. Gone were the adoring undergrads around every corner at North Carolina. Absent were the family and friends who'd been just an hour away in Greensboro. No longer interested were the fans and media who'd tracked the guard's every move. In their place, he found a recliner. A kitchenette that spilled into a cramped bedroom. A small TV. This would be home. The first night of Hairston's professional career would begin in an extended-stay hotel just outside Frisco, Texas.

This is how history is made. It is an accumulation of minor steps that only in retrospect can be traced along a connected path. P.J. Hairston's arrival with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League in January did not revolutionize basketball, just as Brandon Jennings' stint in Europe five years ago did not send a flood of high school prospects across the Atlantic. But like Jennings' decision before him, Hairston's four months in Texas will go down as a signpost of a near-certain future for pro basketball. For starters, it will lead to the moment on June 26 when Adam Silver calls his name as the inaugural D-Leaguer to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft. 
And someday, when the D-League resembles something closer to minor league baseball, Hairston will be remembered as a pioneer.

He certainly is not a pioneer by design. Hairston only landed in Frisco because he was no longer welcome in Chapel Hill. In June 2013, following his sophomore year, Hairston was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without a license. (Both charges were later dismissed.) The car, it would turn out, had been rented by Haydn "Fats" Thomas, a felon who promoted parties in Durham. The NCAA and UNC began investigating Hairston and his connection to Thomas, seeking to determine whether he had received impermissible benefits. Seven weeks later, Hairston was pulled over for going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Coach Roy Williams suspended him indefinitely, and on Dec. 20, a month into what would have been Hairston's junior year, UNC announced that it would not seek to reinstate him, effectively ending not only the NCAA investigation but his collegiate career. He needed a new home. Quickly.

THE NIGHT HAIRSTON learned that his time at UNC was over, he broke down in tears in Williams' office. He had expected to be suspended, not banished. "It hurt, but I couldn't sit inside and cry," he says. "I had to move on." He quickly ran through three options with his family. First, he could transfer -- but his mother didn't want him to sit out the mandatory year before being eligible to play. Second was Europe, the most lucrative possibility, but Hairston wanted to take online courses so he could graduate, and his decision-making process was moving so quickly that he didn't have time to figure out whether he could do that overseas. That left the D-League. The pay was poor -- just $7,216 for his prorated season -- and the life far from glamorous, filled with connecting flights and cheap hotels in cities such as Sioux Falls and Erie. But for four months, it would give him an opportunity to test himself against quality competition and maintain -- or improve -- his draft stock.

"There was the character question: Could they trust me?"

P.J. Hairston

Dan Reed, the D-League's 38-year-old president, speaks carefully when addressing the purpose of the NBA's minor league. It is an alternative route, not a preferred path, he emphasizes. It's an option for a player who decides college is not the right fit, an individual choice -- one Reed has no desire to try to influence. "We're not planning to be in high school gyms recruiting," he says.

And yet its growth is difficult to ignore. When the D-League launched in 2001, the league placed eight teams in Southeastern cities with no connection to NBA franchises. Now the D-League features 18 teams stretching from Maine to California, 17 of which will be affiliated with an NBA team by the start of next season. It's inevitable that before long, all 30 NBA teams will have a D-League affiliate. "Definitely within the next five years," predicts Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

With 33 percent of NBA players now sporting D-League experience, there's no question that this minor league has a major influence on pro hoops. The next step -- if and when the D-League becomes a viable destination for future stars out of high school -- remains the pivotal one. That's why Hairston's experience is significant.

"I can say this is the one time I was nervous about playing basketball," Hairston says of signing with the Legends in January. "I didn't know if the guys were going to like me. I didn't know how it would be on the court. And there was the character question­ -- could they trust me?"

It took all of one game before he had his answer. Hairston scored 22 points in 28 minutes in his first game, then dropped 40 his next time out. After scoring 20 or more points just eight times at UNC, he went on to average 21.8 ppg as a Legend. But he maintains that the D-League competition he faced was far superior. "You might see a 6-8, 230-pound small forward once or twice in college," Hairston says. "That was the big difference for me going into the D-League -- you had one every night."

Hairston, at 6-5, 229, was used to overpowering college wings or shooting over them with his sweet 3-point stroke. Playing against grown men­ -- a host of whom were All-Americans -- presented different challenges. His ballhandling needed to improve, and that became a focal point of his workouts. Says Morey, "People try to equate college with the D-League, and it's not even close. A bottom-rung D-League team would win the national championship easily."

Four D-League products have been selected in the second round of the draft, including Glen Rice Jr. last season. But it's another thing altogether to be a top-20 pick, and if Hairston is, others might follow his path. The D-League's current top salary, $25,500, won't exactly entice top high school players -- the joke in basketball circles is that it represents a pay cut from an elite college program. But consider this: The D-League doesn't restrict additional earnings. So what's to stop Gatorade and Nike from paying the next Andrew Wiggins millions while he bides his time for a year in Frisco rather than at Kansas? Only time.

NOT EVERYONE IS so bullish about the future of the D-League, though. One NBA GM says he needs to see substantial changes before considering it a serious home for top prospects. "The guys going to the D-League couldn't handle college, either socially or academically," he says. "So we're getting the worst of the best, basically. The D-League has to be more than s----y towns with lesser coaches and empty buildings if we're going to choose that as an alternative to college."

To his point, a top high school player has yet to choose to play in the D-League over college. Even Hairston admits, "If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely go to college."

That's not just because he wants a degree, although he says that's still an important goal. He missed the camaraderie of UNC, the energy. In Frisco, he navigated his first few weeks largely on his own, returning to the hotel after practice to nap, play video games or talk on the phone. He didn't venture into Dallas for six weeks.

When it comes down to it, money might eventually become the D-League's biggest recruiting tool. When Michigan's Nik Stauskas, another potential lottery pick, is asked about Option D, he says: "The main thing is the money. I'd still go to college, but if you start talking about making $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 in the D-League, that would change some kids' minds."

Morey says that day is coming. As the D-League develops and revenue increases, salaries will grow accordingly. To assume otherwise, he argues, is to ignore the history of every other minor league in the world, not to mention the current trends: D-League attendance grew for the fifth straight season, and although teams still average just 2,838 fans per game, franchises are now worth up to $5 million, up from $400,000 a decade ago.

And where fan interest grows, TV contracts follow. Says one team exec: "The unspoken thing is that's probably why Adam Silver wants the age limit to come up to 20. It's not to help college basketball but to help the D-League. If you can convince Julius Randle to come to the D-League, that suddenly becomes the third component of a national TV contract."

And when that happens, the place Hairston found himself -- on that recliner in the cramped bedroom of an extended-stay hotel -- might no longer seem so lonely. It might feel like just the place to be.



( Orlando Magic )


  • Croatia
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 20
  • 6-10, 223

Photograhpy by Panoramic/Zuma Press

Rubio redux? Saric is a risk that could pay off now ... or later

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Hedo Turkoglu
Floor: Al-Farouq Aminu
Don't forget how dynamic Turk was in Orlando, where he was the go-to fourth-quarter scorer on a team that lost in the 2009 Finals. Saric is that type of playmaker, a wing who can affect the paint with his size. If his growth stunts at Aminu, he can still be a solid 4 with sixth-man potential. -- D.T.


Saric just signed a three-year deal, with a player option after year two, with the Turkish league's Anadolu Efes, likely delaying his NBA arrival by a minimum of two years. This is Orlando's second lottery pick, so it can afford to gamble -- and wait. Saric's team won the Adriatic League title, and he was named the tournament's Final Four MVP (22 PPG, 13 RPG, 6.5 APG). The Magic already have so many athletes, and someone as skilled as Saric to facilitate all that talent would be a great fit.


Saric, whenever he arrives, will only help the team with his versatile skill set and years of professional experience -- especially as the Magic, led by Victor Oladipo, continues to gain valuable experience. -- B.D.

*Real Plus-Minus
"Regular " plus-minus measures the net change in scoring margin while a player is on the floor. So if LeBron James leads the Heat on a 10-0 run and Mario Chalmers is on the court, Chalmers gets a plus-10 rating, just for LeBron being LeBron. Pretty wonky. Enter "real " plus-minus, which uses play-by-play data to determine the impact each player has on each possession. So if Chalmers doesn't touch the ball or give up any points during that 10-0 run, then his RPM is zero. The RPMs listed here represent each player's rating through May 29.



( Minnesota Timberwolves )


  • Michigan State
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 23
  • 6-10, 239

Photography by Al Bello/Getty Images

Our oldest first-rounder is already primed for the paint

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Brandan Wright
Floor: Jon Leuer
Payne has the talent to be a metrics freak like Wright, who is more productive and efficient (20.6 career PER) than fans realize. If his D doesn't improve, Payne can still provide instant O, the way Leuer does in Memphis. -- D.T.


The Wolves need to trade Kevin Love -- he won't re-sign next season, which means they have to get something for him now or risk losing him for nothing next summer. So while perimeter shooting remains a must, they will also need help in the frontcourt. The good news is that Payne offers something of both. Not only is he ready to step in and play in the paint on day one, he's also an excellent shooter (career 41 3PT %) with NBA range who can really stretch the floor.


Minnesota's perimeter D and shooting scream for a 2-guard, a move that can shift Kevin Martin to sixth man. The search for a K-Love replacement at 13 is futile. -- B.D.



( Phoenix Suns )


  • Kentucky
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 18
  • 6-7, 213

Photography by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This final lottery pick shows jackpot potential

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Paul Pierce
Floor: Gordon Hayward
Young uses his frame so well; he reminds me of Pierce, who became a genius at footwork. If Young fulfills his potential as a shooter, he'll be special. If not, he'll be like Hayward: a mix of talent, athleticism and inefficiency. -- D.T.


Young has tremendous upside (team-high 20 in the NCAA title game), and the Suns clearly have a need at small forward -- P.J. Tucker isn't the long-term solution. If Young had shot the ball more consistently as a freshman (40.7 FG percent, 35 3PT %), he would be in contention for picks 8-10. Still, scouts are convinced there is nothing wrong with his stroke, and given a little time (he'll turn 19 in August, making him one of the youngest in the draft), he could be a very effective defense stretcher.


The overachieving Suns are rich in assets, so targeting a more versatile offensive wing to replace Tucker seems to be the best play. -- B.D.



( Atlanta Hawks )


  • Michigan
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 20
  • 6-7, 207

Photography by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

He's more than just a pretty J

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Damian Lillard
Floor: Jeremy Lin
Teams are flooding defenders ball-side more than ever, putting a higher premium on elite shooters (see Lillard). Stauskas has one of the purest strokes in this draft (career 44 3PT %), which could make him unstoppable. At worst, he has the craft and talent to be a potent scorer off the bench. -- D.T.


The Hawks already have the NBA's most accurate 3-point shooter in Kyle Korver (47.2 3PT percent in 2013-14), but they could certainly use another knockdown threat like Stauskas (team-high 17.5 ppg last season), who has the potential to play the point and 2-guard. He might have the best jumper off the dribble in this draft, and given his size and athletic ability, he has the look of an NBA facilitator.


Jeff Teague's RPM will turn positive if the team's D improves. But it's hard to pass up offense. -- B.D.

When I knew people saw me as more than just a shooter


The first time I really started to get credit for my game was during our game against Iowa State this past season. In the second half, [point guard] Spike Albrecht had the ball at the top of the key and he kicked it to me on the left wing; [small forward] Caris LeVert was in the left corner, and there was only one defender for the two of us, so I immediately faked the pass to Caris and the defender tried to jump it and ran toward him.

The whole lane just opened up. There was a huge gap, and I took one dribble and took off. Two other defenders came to help, but I was in the air before they could get there. I remember feeling like I kept going up and up and getting higher and higher, and then I just dunked it really hard. Dick Vitale was broadcasting that game and started showing me a lot of love. After that game, and that play, people started noticing that I could do more than just shoot.

Now granted, shooting is always what I've done best, but I was always the best player on my team growing up, so I'd have to do a lot more. I was the point guard when I was young -- I only hit my growth spurt in high school -- so I was smaller than everybody. I was used to bringing up the ball, passing, getting to the basket. Obviously, I was still shooting a lot, but I was doing everything out there because I had to.

I always believed I was more than a shooter, even though people would say otherwise. I think that's why I've always played with a chip on my shoulder and with a little bit of flair -- because I've always had stuff to prove to people. So in a way, I think those misperceptions worked to my advantage. They motivated me.



( Chicago Bulls )


  • Syracuse
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 19
  • 6-3, 182

Photography by Richard Lewis/Icon SMI

This polished PG could haunt teams that take a pass

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Ricky Rubio
Floor: Kendall Marshall
Ennis (6-foot-7 wingspan) already makes the same elite passes and steals as Rubio -- but adds scoring (12.9 ppg in 2013-14). -- D.T.


With Derrick Rose's uncertain knees and D.J. Augustin entering free agency, the Bulls need a reliable 1. Ennis impressed during combine interviews and plays mistake-free basketball (3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio).


Chicago hopes a healthy Rose will fix the PG spot, allowing it to focus on finding a shooter and an insurance policy at the 1. -- B.D.



( Boston Celtics )


  • UCLA
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 19
  • 6-6, 181

Photography by Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports

Never sleep on long, athletic point guards out of Westwood

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Jamal Crawford
Floor: Gerald Green
LaVine has a combo that's rare in today's NBA: tremendous ball skills and an excellent perimeter touch. Like Crawford, he can be an elite scorer, but he might need a few years to develop. -- D.T.


If the Celtics get Aaron Gordon at No. 6, LaVine would give them arguably the two most athletic players in the draft. He has a 6-foot-8 wingspan and a 41-and-a-half-inch vertical, tied for second highest at the combine. He's raw, but scouts say he's the one guy outside the top 10 with superstar potential.


Boston needs offense -- it ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season -- and LaVine adds a perimeter threat that neither Avery Bradley nor Jeff Green provide. -- B.D.



( Phoenix Suns )


  • Duke
  • Power Forward
  • AGE: 18
  • 6'8", 241

Photography by Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel/AP Images

Undersized big has huge potential


Ceiling: David West
Floor: Udonis Haslem
Stokes has an elite-level power game, with considerable skill and craft -- the 20-year-old averaged 15 and 11 on 53 percent shooting last season. If he has a huge center next to him, like David West has in Roy Hibbert, Stokes, even at 6-8, could be a great power forward. But even if he doesn't, he's as tough a player as they come, something that has helped Haslem, for example, have the kind of career that has far outdone the expectations placed on him when he left the University of Florida. -- D.T.


With the Suns shoring up their wing at No. 14, look for them to add a forward in the paint. Stokes isn't a sexy pick. He's a bit undersized and needs to slim down, but his rebounding numbers and soft touch around the basket intrigue scouts. The differences between him and Julius Randle, statistically, are small. He could be a huge steal for the Suns at No. 18.


The asset-rich Suns need a power big to shore up a 22nd-ranked defensive rebound percentage. Stokes can help the Suns' interior with his body. -- B.D.



( Chicago Bulls )


  • Duke
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 21
  • 6-9, 208

Photograhpy by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Locking down this deep threat will be a tall task

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Luol Deng
Floor: Wesley Johnson
If he can match Deng's perimeter D and 3-point shooting, Hood is a borderline All-Star. If he doesn't assert himself offensively, he's more similar to Johnson, who's never lived up to his hype. -- D.T.


The Bulls need a shooter in the worst way, and Hood, a silky-smooth lefty, hit 42 percent from 3 last season. He has elite size and the maturity to play meaningful minutes right away. While Chicago still has frontcourt issues, this draft should shore up the backcourt, especially if Tyler Ennis is still there at No. 16.


Chicago adds insurance at the PG spot with Ennis at No. 16, and here, with the 6-9 Hood, they add a much-needed scoring threat from the wing. -- B.D.



( Toronto Raptors )


  • Wichita State
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 23
  • 6-7, 209

Photography by Jaime Green/Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images

Can the mid-major scoring sensation be a next-level star?

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Chandler Parsons
Floor: Wilson Chandler
Like Parsons, Early is on the old side entering the draft, but Parsons proved 23-year-old rookies can improve. Early is a scorer -- a 121.3 ORtg in 2013-14 -- but if he excels only on O, he'll land a Wilson Chandler-like role, with buckets off the bench. -- D.T.


Early was a darling of the NCAA tourney (dropping 31 on Kentucky) and the combine, with his 40-inch vertical. He's a prototypical wing who can score off the bounce and from the perimeter. Even though he's a bit older, he should be able to step in to give Toronto a potential starter at the 3.


The Raptors need more firepower on the wing, and Terrence Ross' poor D shows they need a shooter who can play right away and defend. -- B.D.



( Oklahoma City Thunder )


  • Bosnia
  • Center
  • Age: 19
  • 6-11, 280

Photography by Jordamovic Samir/FIBA Europe

In a draft that's light on bigs, Nurkic looms large

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Marcin Gortat
Floor: Cole Aldrich
Nurkic has little experience against elite competition, but with impressive strength and polish for a young post, he can be a long-term starter in time. His projection ranges from a solid two-way big (like Gortat) to a benchwarmer. -- D.T.


Nurkic has the size and soft hands to be an NBA center. In just 16.6 mpg in the Adriatic League last year, he scored 11.7 ppg. His paint presence makes him stand out in a draft devoid of legit bigs, but his lack of athleticism and conditioning issues will probably keep him from going higher.


Thabo Sefolosha is headed for free agency, and Kendrick Perkins might be amnestied. Holes can't be filled by a developing player in the short term. -- B.D.



( Memphis Grizzlies )


  • Syracuse
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 20
  • 6-8, 214

Photography by Bill Wippert/AP Images

He's an off-the-charts athlete, but his jumper is just off

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Kawhi Leonard
Floor: Trevor Booker
If Grant masters his perimeter game -- he took just 20 3s at Cuse -- he can be an excellent starter, filling needs on both ends like Leonard. If he doesn't develop his outside game, he'll be an energy PF like Booker, earning intermittent playing time. -- D.T.


The Grizzlies could use help at the 3, and Grant is a combo forward with elite athletic ability and length (7-foot-2 wingspan) plus defensive toughness. Several teams came away from the combine impressed with his basketball IQ, but his lack of a real jump shot keeps him out of the top 20.


Memphis has a gaping hole at SF, but it's tough for a veteran team to find an instant starter at No. 22, so a wing prospect makes sense. -- B.D.



( Utah Jazz )


  • Louisana-Layfayette
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 20
  • 6-4, 185

Photography by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Steal? Check. Points? Eh.

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Rajon Rondo
Floor: Ish Smith

Like Rondo, he's a good passer and defender (2.3 spg in 2013-14), but absent improved scoring, Payton projects as a backup guard. -- D.T.


Payton needs to improve his shooting (25.9 3PT percent) and strength, but he is my sleeper pick and a great get at No. 23. I wouldn't be surprised if he moves into the lottery by draft night.


Stocked with youth, including Vonleh at No. 5, the Jazz add a pass and defense-first PG, a good complement to the offense-oriented Trey Burke. -- B.D.



( Charlotte Hornets )


  • UCLA
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 20
  • 6-9, 230

Photography by Lenny Ignelzi/AP Images

Caution: This Bruin is a slow burn

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: In-shape Boris Diaw
Floor: Out-of-shape Boris Diaw
In the right system, Anderson can initiate possessions from all over the court (6.5 apg last season). -- D.T.


He's nicknamed Slo-Mo for good reason. But for a guy who lacks real athleticism, Anderson is scarily effective. His ballhandling ability is special for a player his size.


Charlotte's ball-control offense stagnated due to a lack of floor spacers. McDermott obviously helps there, but Anderson's passing ability could prove key, as well. -- B.D.



( Houston Rockets )


  • Washington
  • Shooting Guard
  • Age: 23
  • 6-5, 201

Photography by Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports

He sizes up short but comes up big from long

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Danny Green
Floor: James Anderson
His 6-foot-10 wingspan makes up for less-than-ideal height. Wilcox could be a Green-like shooter, but if he falls short, he'll fight for a roster spot every year. -- D.T.


Even veteran teams need NBA-ready prospects who can shoot. Houston's backcourt is crowded with James Harden and Francisco Garcia, but Wilcox offers depth.


Houston needs perimeter defense and rebounding upgrades, but the Rockets' system can never have enough 3-point shooters. -- B.D.



( Miami Heat )


  • Connecticut
  • Point Guard
  • Age: 22
  • 6-1, 175

Photography by Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

The diminutive PG could land a starting role

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Kyle Lowry
Floor: Ramon Sessions
Napier has Lowry's smarts and is a better 3-point shooter than Lowry was at 22. He really needs a coach to just give him the ball and trust he'll figure it out. Otherwise, Napier is a long-term backup. -- D.T.


It's unclear whether the Heat can afford unrestricted free agent Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole will enter free agency next summer. So Miami could use a guard who knows how to play in big games. Napier scored 21 PPG during the Huskies' NCAA title run -- and posted a 37½-inch vertical at the combine.


The Heat can't replace one of the Big Three through this draft -- and hope they won't have to. Miami would certainly settle for a second-unit playmaker. -- B.D.

Photography by Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT/Getty Images

The former Husky, as famous for his mouth as for his two titles, wants to set the record straight

By Arasha Markazi

So about that whole "there are nights that I go to bed starving" thing you said during March Madness, which prompted the NCAA to allow student-athletes unlimited meals ...

NAPIER: My comments about being hungry were blown out of proportion -- but it needed to be fixed. I don't think student-athletes should get paid -- a lot of kids can't deal with a lot of money -- but you have to treat us differently than regular students. We have to go to school; we have to go to practice for two and a half, three hours. That takes a lot out of you. And with the calories we burn, some days we're not able to eat as much as we need to. The school provides you with food after workouts, which is great. But when that's at 7 p.m. and then you go back to your dorm and study from 8 to 10, you're going to be hungry again, because the food you ate after practice just replaced the calories you burned during workouts. In hindsight, I'm kind of glad it got blown out of proportion, because that actually did something.

And about that whole "this is what happens when you ban us" comment on the podium after the Huskies won the title following a one-year postseason suspension for a low APR score ...

It was super important for me to say that, because I feel we were banned for something that this team's players did not do. It was the folks that came before my time that didn't go to class. Granted, I had just 15 seconds, and it came off like I was coming at the NCAA. I wasn't -- I was just telling everybody that we didn't give up when we were banned. The NCAA gave us two years to work for this, and we took advantage of it. That's what I meant: You gave us an extra year to work and an extra year to stay hungry, and once we got on that stage to give ourselves an opportunity to win, we took full advantage of it. That's what I wanted to get across, but in that 15-second window, I couldn't say much.

And about the video board fame of your irrepressible, ubiquitous mom ...

I've always been a mama's boy. When I was younger, I never really left the house without my mom. She's always been a big supporter of me, and I understood the things she did for us. She had to make sure we had food on the table -- there was no guy there for us; it was just my mom. And whenever I was on the basketball court, she was there yelling. Every time we won, I looked at her, smiling and celebrating. It wasn't easy to give up the NBA last year, but the biggest reason I stayed was that I promised my mother I would get my degree. I was the first in my family to graduate -- and since graduation day was Mother's Day this year, my degree was the best present ever. No matter how much money I could make, there's no present more special than that.

And about the day LeBron James tweeted that he's pretty much head cheerleader on Team Shabazz ...

I don't have Twitter, so my teammates showed me his tweet: "No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier." I was like, Wow. No way. No way. I looked at my phone, and I had about 100 text messages about it. Anyway, I don't know if I'll end up being the first PG taken or sixth or fourth, but who cares? That doesn't mean you're going to be the best or fourth best or sixth best in the NBA. Besides, some teams want to pick off "potential," and I can't control that. But potential is a scary word. And I guess the older you get, the less potential you have? I don't know where that comes from. I know there's a lot of room for me to get better too. I'm just going to work my tail off to prove how good I can be and how competitive I can be.



( Phoenix Suns )


  • Clemson
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 21
  • 6-6, 200

Photography by Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports

Former Tiger brings multitude of skills to Phoenix

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Andre Iguodala
Floor: DeMarre Carroll
Very good in transition and a tremendous athlete, McDaniels does a lot of things on the glass and on defense that can help him be an Iggy-type player, a defense-oriented wing who fills up the box score without pouring in 20 PPG. -- D.T.


Phoenix could use more athleticism at the wing position, and the 6-6 McDaniels, who averaged 17 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.8 BPG and 1.1 SPG last season at Clemson, has been impressive in his workouts and could be a good fit. Glenn Robinson III and Jerami Grant are other possibilities here.


This, the Suns' third first-round pick this year, provides additional depth at the wings, to replace P.J. Tucker, who's better suited in a backup role, and insurance, in case Eric Bledsoe leaves in free agency. -- B.D.



( Los Angeles Clippers )


  • Switzerland
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 20
  • 6-11, 222

Photography by Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA/Landov

A mobile interior threat going through the motions

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Serge Ibaka
Floor: Jordan Hill
His potential on D (1.5 BPG last season and a 7-foot-5 wingspan) is high, but Capela lacks motor. -- D.T.


Capela is long and athletic, but he's raw. The Clips need interior depth, though, and giving him 10 minutes a night to rebound and block shots should speed up his development.


The Clippers are in win-now mode and will likely need to replace free agent PG Darren Collison. Doc Rivers doesn't play rookies, so a development project makes sense. -- B.D.



( Oklahoma City Thunder )


  • NC State
  • Small Forward
  • Age: 20
  • 6-8, 220

Photography by Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty Images

He's one-dimensional, but oh, what a dimension

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Joe Johnson
Floor: Kyle Singer
Already a brilliant and creative scorer, Warren needs to improve his ballhandling to translate his game to the pros. If he doesn't, he's a role player continually fighting for a roster spot. -- D.T.


OKC has two of the best scorers in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and Warren has the tools to be the third -- he shoots an absurd 69.7 percent at the rim. But he's not a great shooter elsewhere and isn't a great defender.


Thabo Sefolosha is a free agent, and the 6-8, 220-pound Warren could serve as his replacement, if OKC decides to go small, playing Kevin Durant and the 4 and Serge Ibaka at the 5. -- B.D.



( San Antonio Spurs )


  • Michigan
  • Power Forward
  • Age: 22
  • 6-10, 250

Photography by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

He's multi-dimensional, for better or worse

NBA Comparables

Ceiling: Ronny Turiaf
Floor: Robert Sacre
As Turiaf and Tyler Hansbrough have shown, energy and physical play are proven NBA job savers. Without those traits, like a lot of late firsts, McGary will struggle to ever sign a multiyear deal. -- D.T.


McGary received a year suspension for marijuana use, pushing him to declare for the draft. But with Tim Duncan aging, the Spurs will need interior help. If everything checks out with his back, McGary could be a DeJaun Blair-type get for Pop.


Free agency could deplete the Spurs' bench, and if San Antonio takes this multiskilled big man at No. 30, he might actually get some real playing time. -- B.D.

More Stories