I don’t watch the Oscars. I no longer watch the NFL draft. I don’t watch horse racing or baseball. However, when it comes to the NBA draft and its proceedings (other than the combine), I am there. The draft lottery is so hokey, but I still like it. I enjoyed even more this year as the neither the Celtics nor the Lakers moved up. Bill Simmons’s pain is my pleasure, I guess, although he did make a cutting remark about the Bucks and Andrew Wiggins not being willing to go there. Where is Uncle Wiggly going to go? Force a trade to the Raptors? As is my personal annual tradition, here is a lottery night mock draft. Just as a reminder, my personal draft strategy is to always take the best player. A good coach will get good players to fit together. You wouldn’t think two point guards would work, but Phoenix did pretty well with it last year. Lastly, this is how I want things to fall – not so much how I think they will actually happen.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Joel Embiid
I have switched around these first three picks a bunch of times in my mind since the lottery finished. Cleveland will have its fifth top four pick in the last four years. They should be really good! Embiid represents a nice step up from Tristan Thompson. If he can develop offensively, Embiid could open up a lot of lanes for Kyrie Irving, and he might step up Anthony Bennett’s development (if such a thing happens). Of course, Embiid could develop further back problems or he might not be the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon. In any case, he represents a great building block.
2. Milwaukee Bucks – Jabari Parker
This is the entire reason I write mock drafts: to send the best player to Milwaukee. Parker has more offensive upside than any other player in this class. He is my pick to be rookie of the year, so why wouldn’t I send him to my favorite team. I still think the Bucks could rebound significantly if Larry Sanders can stay healthy and work his way into the good graces of coach Larry Drew. Parker may pose some defensive problems, but a good coach would work around that. I’m not sure if Drew is that guy.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – Andrew Wiggins
Here’s my problem with Wiggins (as I’ve written before): what is it that he does well? There’s little doubt that he is an amazing athlete, but players that disappear from games concern me. He is certainly capable of being a great defender who can score on the break. His shooting was decent – some might say Harrison Barnes-like – and he looks like a very good offensive rebounder. Was it worth it for the 76ers to throw away a season for him? As usual, I am skeptical.
4. Orlando Magic – Julius Randle
There seems to be a top tier of three players, but I am not sure whether it should be a top four. Randle brings an elite skill: scoring around the basket. Compared to NBA players, he may be somewhat undersized, but I like his determination near the tin. He should be at least an average defender with the potential to be much better. Randle did not have the pleasure of playing with pass-first (or pass-at-all) guards at Kentucky. Granted, he was not a passer either – so he has room to grow.
5. Utah Jazz – Aaron Gordon
I may like Gordon more than most people. He may never be a great offensive player (even though his freshman numbers were similar to Blake Griffin’s), but Gordon should be an impact defender and may be able to guard all types of players. I also really like that he fit into a winning situation at Arizona (I had a a similar feeling about Terrence Jones). After a year of acclimation, he should be a nice upgrade on the senior Jazz small forwards: Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson.
6. Boston Celtics – Noah Vonleh
The Celtics need to take tanking lessons. I don’t think their tanking was as egregious as Philadelphia’s because Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were nearing their dotage, so Danny Ainge just brought the future a little nearer. I don’t necessarily see the comparison with Chris Bosh that is so often used for Vonleh. He may be a good low post defender who can chip in on offense, while Bosh was a tremendous offensive player when he was on his own in Toronto. To be honest, I don’t have a strong feeling either way whether Vonleh will turn into a productive NBA player.
7. Los Angeles Lakers – Dante Exum
Exum is the bogeyman of this draft. He has played only a few games against top competition. On the plus side, he has the measurable and would get quality mentoring from Kobe Bryant. Oh, Kobe is as much a mentor as Michael Jordan was to Richard Hamilton and Jerry Stackhouse in Washington? If my feelings about Vonleh (who played in the best conference in college basketball) are murky, then you can imagine how I feel about Exum. He could be the guard version of Bismack Biyombo.
8. Sacramento Kings – Marcus Smart
This pick seems destined to happen. The Kings are led by hothead DeMarcus Cousins, so Smart should be able to fit right in. If they had only had Tyreke Evans for one more year, there would have been a seamless transition. Point guards are supposed to have good decision making, but Smart’s decision to return to school did not work out so well (although he was probably fairly compensated by T. Boone Pickens). I don’t think Smart is a point guard in the NBA, but he could be a good perimeter defender who can drive to the basket.
9. Charlotte Hornets – Doug McDermott
While Charlotte basketball fans may have uncomfortable memories of Adam Morrison, I don’t think McDermott is the next wispy mustachioed player to fail on Tobacco Road. McDermott isn’t the next Larry Bird either, but he should be able to help the Hornets stretch opposing defenses. His shooting is an NBA ready skill and could help the Hornets back to the playoffs for the second straight season.
10. Philadelphia 76ers – Nik Stauskas
It’s a shooting run! Stauskas showed that he could do a bit more than shoot in his second season as a Wolverine. The 76ers shouldn’t be worrying about fit at all and just take the best player available. Stauskas, the second Canadian selected, can facilitate the offense in a pinch and will be a step up from James Anderson (although who, at this point, isn’t).
11. Denver Nuggets – James Young
Like Randle, Young could be a player who improves as he moves away from the Kentucky All-Star team. In the NCAA tournament, he showed craftiness in attacking the basket. The southpaw came into the season with the reputation as a good outside shooter, but he was only ok (no better than the Harrisons). The Nuggets could take a few steps in the right direction with Danilo Gallinari returning and Young providing some bench support.
12. Orlando Magic – Kyle Anderson
I love Kyle Anderson! While Tyler Ennis would be the smarter pick and I would have loved to work local legend Elfrid Payton into this mock draft, I think Anderson may be a better pick if used correctly. Victor Oladipo isn’t a tradition point guard, so he could team with Anderson in the backcourt to provide match up difficulties. Point forwards in college haven’t panned out too well in the NBA recently (see Julian Wright and Royce White – for other reasons – for examples), but Anderson improved his shot in his second season at UCLA.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves – P.J. Hairston
Ennis and Payton don’t fit the last two teams in the lottery. While the Timberwolves are known for taking multiple point guards, it may be wiser to take a bit more shooting. Hairston has some major character red flags, but he looked like a very good shooter in 2012-13 for North Carolina. He has NBA-type size and could figure into the Timberwolves’ rotation before too long.
14. Phoenix Suns – Gary Harris
The Suns’ training staff has kept players healthy (despite Eric Bledsoe missing a chunk of last season), so they could view the oft-injured Harris as an interesting project. He looked like a nice two-way guard that would give the Suns a solid trio of guards. Phoenix could also opt for Harris’ teammate Adreian Payne since his game resembles the Morris twins.