The 2014 NBA draft lottery came and went Tuesday night, and now that teams are on the clock, there is more clarity as to the draft order. In what seems like a scene from Groundhog Day, the Cleveland Cavaliers emerged as the winner for the second straight year.
And they even won without human good luck charm Nick Gilbert on hand as the Cavs were represented by new GM David Griffin. In the last four years, the Cavs have won the top overall pick an unreal three times.
Cleveland is going to be an interesting team to watch the next month until the NBA draft. According to league sources, the Cavs have a serious interest in Minnesota forward Kevin Love and could package the top pick, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson to try and get the All-Star from the Wolves.
Cleveland also is loaded with cap space this summer and could be a player for any of the top free agents, including LeBron James if he opts out this summer.
With Kyrie Irving eligible for a max extension and flush with cap space and young, tradeable assets, the Cavs are going to attempt to transform their roster and return to contention in the weak Eastern Conference.
With the results of the NBA draft combine fresh in the minds of teams, we already are seeing stocks rise and fall. Zach LaVine, Noah Vonleh and Rodney Hood all helped themselves last week. Having talked to several teams so far, the consensus does seem that Kansas center Joel Embiid’s potential – combined with his limited playing experience and skills – makes him very tough to pass on. But his medicals will be closely monitored.
One name that stands out as moving up in the lottery is Vonleh. A forward from Indiana, Vonleh is a raw player who will need time to develop and must get stronger. But his skills, ability to handle the ball and impressive measurements opened a lot of scouts’ eyes.
Another power forward who teams want to see in workouts to solidify his position in the lottery is Kentucky’s Julius Randle. He is a freakish athlete with great size but has ball security issues and sometimes gets too far away from the basket.
After these top two tiers, there are plenty of great options for the late lottery and into the teens. Come draft night there should be a fair amount of wheeling and dealing.
1. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
At the midway point of the season, Embiid seemed like the top NBA prospect as he was showing an impressive arsenal, including the ability to face up and shoot from deep. What most scouts love about Embiid is how raw he still is, having only been playing a few years. Before the draft teams, will pay close attention to Embiid’s medical reports as his back issues have raised some red flags. One executive said that Embiid is “by far the best prospect this year when you look at how little he has played and what he has done so far.” Still, will Greg Oden’s injuries serve as a reminder to teams and deter them from making Embiid the top pick? With Cleveland selecting first, it is hard to imagine the Cavs passing on Embiid, who would be a perfect complement to Kyrie Irving. After passing on Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas in past drafts, the Cavs finally take their man in the middle.
One scout I spoke to calls Parker one of the most polished elite prospects to enter the draft in years. While Parker is not the athlete that Andrew Wiggins is, he has shown his scoring prowess, and his game will translate to an immediate impact as a rookie. Parker is able to run an offense or play off the ball. From the sound of things in Chicago, the Jazz would love a chance to make Parker – raised as a Mormon – the face of their franchise. A majority of the executives I spoke to at the combine believed that Parker is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. No chance Parker falls outside of the top three. The Bucks need a player like Parker who can step in and play right away and help shoulder the burden on offense with Brandon Knight.
Wiggins is the safest bet to be the first pick. While he is still improving as a shooter and might not be the dominant force some thought he would be a freshman, he is a great defender that will be very good in transition and finishing at the rim. Wiggins is an explosive athlete and could be the second consecutive Canadian drafted first overall. The Sixers already have Nerlens Noel and also pick at 10, so getting Wiggins to fall to them would be great. Philadelphia just began its rebuild and can afford to let Wiggins develop on the court.
Exum is the top international prospect in the draft. Any team looking for help at point guard surely will be intrigued by his size, athleticism and basketball IQ. While he has not played against top competition, the predraft workouts could help push Exum even higher. Currently Exum is the top point guard in the draft, and at 18 has plenty of upside. Exum has the length and athleticism to also slide over to shooting guard, which should add to his value. Exum was the top prospect to appear at the combine and has shown the athleticism and polish necessary to secure his position as the top prospect of the second tier. While I don’t buy that Exum is a true point, he can definitely play alongside Victor Oladipo to provide Orlando with the most athletic backcourt in the NBA.
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size and good athleticism, Vonleh is a prospect that is moving up boards with an impressive NBA combine in which he showcased special skills as a big that can play inside or out and handle the ball. Still raw offensively, Vonleh has the physical measurables that teams salivate over. However, his immediate future in the NBA is on the bench and D-League as he develops and matures. He still will be hard to pass up for many teams. I am hearing that Philadelphia is intrigued by the chance of pairing Vonleh and Nerlens Noel. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter already in Salt Lake City, the Jazz might not need Vonleh right away. But pairing him with Trey Burke and Favors down the road would accentuate his unique skill set. The key with Vonleh will be patience, and the Jazz should be able to bring him along at his pace.
Before Embiid supplanted Randle as the top big in the draft, scouts and executives around the league raved about Randle’s combination of size and athleticism. After an impressive freshman campaign highlighted by the Wildcats’ run in March, Randle is right on the cusp of the top five. Executives at the combine continue to ask about Randle’s shot selection, as he tended to make questionable decisions at times as a freshman. Randle still needs to be coached up, but if he is, he could reach his potential, comparing favorably to Zach Randolph. While Randle’s biggest wart is ball security, that can be easily fixed, and it’s hard to imagine a team passing on him. With Jared Sullinger already in place, the Celtics might have preferred a longer option or a perimeter scorer. But Randle has too much upside to pass on. If he taps into his special potential, the Celtics could have a steal.
One year ago, Smart might have been the top pick in the draft but opted to return for a disappointing sophomore season, highlighted by an embarrassing on-court incident when he shoved a fan in the middle of the game. While most scouts I have spoken to said it’s a teachable moment for a young man, there will be some who might have reservations about Smart’s maturity. As a basketball player, Smart is physical, athletic and a competitor. The Lakers could really use an infusion of youth. Smart is a special talent at point guard and could extend Kobe Bryant’s career by getting him easier scoring opportunities. While Aaron Gordon would be hard to pass on, I think a point man like Smart gives the Lakers a different dimension.
Looking at Gordon, it’s hard not to get excited about his potential as he is an athletic and explosive forward. From a size standpoint, he is an undersized 4, but as teams start to open up offensively they can create mismatches with Gordon’s athleticism. Gordon reminds me a lot of Blake Griffin, and I can see some team in the high to mid-lottery falling in love with his highlight reel dunks. No big prospect wowed more during the agility drills and vertical testing at the combine. Coming from a family of athletes, Gordon has an impressive basketball IQ and is savvy beyond his years. The Kings are getting the best available player in Gordon, who can arguably defend three positions as a rookie. While he is raw offensively, the Kings do not need another scorer right now. Mike Malone would love this pick.
9. Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton, 6’8″, 230 lbs
McDermott was one of the most exciting players in college basketball the last few years, and his ability to score will surely lead to a lot of teams paying close attention to him during workouts. The major question mark with McDermott is whether he is starting-caliber wing in the NBA or more of a reserve or specialist due to lack of athleticism. Playing against the lower level competition that he did will make his workouts even more important. McDermott measured in a shade under 6-7 and lacks the length that teams crave from their wings, but there is no denying his ability to score. Charlotte needs scoring from the perimeter to play off Al Jefferson, and McDermott would be a good fit.
10. Dario Saric, SF, Croatia, 6’10”, 225 lbs
Saric is a skilled perimeter player with great length and enticing abilities to handle and facilitate an offense. Only 20 and with at least another year overseas, Saric is a draft-and-stash candidate and could be a great investment for a team missing out on one of the top eight players. Saric could be an intriguing prospect for a lottery team looking to break the bank in free agency and not wanting to have a rookie deal on the salary cap this season. Saric is the top European prospect in this draft and a lock to be in the lottery. With Nerlens Noel and whichever rookie the 76ers take at No. 3, there is almost no chance Philadelphia brings in a third lottery pick as a rookie. Saric is a talented offensive player and could be a nice addition in a year or two.
Smooth and aggressive are two of the first words many around the NBA use to describe Harris. In two seasons in East Lansing, Harris showed he is a capable scorer that can attack the rim and defend but needs to improve as a shooter. Harris’ stock suffered a bit at the combine when he measured in at a shade under 6-3. While a bit short for your prototypical shooting guard, Harris is a prospect to watch during predraft workouts as I am told he is a strong competitor and very polished off the court as well. Denver is on the verge of returning to the playoffs and will want a player that can provide them with the instant contribution that other rookies cannot.
Nurkic’s combination of size and skill at just 19 has teams watching closely. He must improve his conditioning but is a prime candidate to crack the lottery as teams get to see him up close. One executive I spoke to said Nurkic is the most polished center prospect in the draft, which says everything you need to know about this position and the type of prospects in this draft cycle. The Magic could follow up their pick at No. 4 with a draft-and-stash player like Nurkic. With Nikola Vucevic in Orlando, the Magic could potentially bring over Nurkic and develop him behind their talented center.
Stauskas surprised many with his athleticism while at Michigan, but his true calling card is shooting – and that is what has most GMs intrigued. With the ability to score from anywhere on the court and range well beyond the 3-point line, Stauskas, is a safe pick in the lottery because at the very worst he is a 3-point specialist but has the length and athleticism to develop into a borderline starting shooting guard. Word around Chicago is Stauskas was a top interview for teams and that he could solidify himself in the late lottery with strong workouts. With Kevin Love’s status in the air, it is hard to guess what direction the Timberwolves will go. But adding a shooter like Stauskas would be a nice complement to the current roster.
More than one NBA scout has told me how much they love Hood and his game. It’s hard not to agree when watching tape of Hood, because you see a smooth scoring wing with excellent length and a great stroke. While Hood will probably not become an All-Star, plenty of teams need a player with his skills on the offensive end who can simply catch and shoot. Buzz has been growing since Duke’s season ended that Hood is moving up boards and could be a late lottery pick. According to sources, Hood is a top target of Chicago, which is armed with two first-round picks. Given that, Phoenix with three picks will be active in trade talks and this one could yield a nice bounty.