Now is the time when prospects can distinguish themselves and improve their stock like Elfrid Payton and Zach LaVine have done. On the other hand, players such as Laquinton Ross and Kyle Anderson have failed to impress scouts.
According to sources, Cleveland has locked in on Kansas center Joel Embiid, and barring an unexpected surprise medically, will tab him with the first pick. Embiid is expected to be in Cleveland next week to interview and undergo a physical, so the Cavs should be able to answer any questions they might have.
There is still a chance Cleveland would trade this pick, but it sounds like the Cavs are more comfortable holding the pick at the present time.
Another team to watch is Utah, as I have been told by multiple sources that the Jazz absolutely covet Duke SF Jabari Parker and wish to make him the face of their franchise. With two first-round picks, including the 5th overall, and a young roster with some talent, the Jazz have the pieces to move up and grab him if they can find a willing trade partner.
With big names such as Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo being rumored on the block, and multiple teams with cap space and draft picks, there will be a lot of wheeling and dealing come draft night.
1. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
According to my sources, the Cavaliers have Embiid at the top of their draft board. While the Cavs will still closely examine his back, the closer we get to the draft the more it sounds like the Cavs have found their man. 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. 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.” 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.
2. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, 6’8″, 235 lbs
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 at the pre-draft camp in Chicago, the Jazz would love a chance to make Parker – who was 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. With John Hammond needing to impress new owner Wes Edens, the selection of Parker should pay immediate dividends on the court — unless Hammond can get a nice package from the Jazz and slide down to No. 5
3. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas, 6’8″, 200 lbs
Wiggins might be a safer pick than Embiid, but if he falls to the Sixers then Philly will be ecstatic. 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, Michael Carter-Williams, and also pick at 10, so Sam Hinkie can be active on draft night in exploring trades to move up, down, or acquire a veteran. Philadelphia just began its rebuild and can afford to let Wiggins develop on the court.
4. Dante Exum, PG, Australia, 6’6″, 185 lbs
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.
5. Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana, 6’10″, 240 lbs
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size, length, and good athleticism, Vonleh is a prospect who 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. I continue to hear that Utah is open to moving this pick to try and move up to acquire Jabari Parker.
6. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona, 6’8″, 215 lbs
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. Others see a Shawn Marion type of super-athletic forward that can be a matchup nightmare. Coming from a family of athletes, Gordon has an impressive basketball IQ and is savvy beyond his years. The Celtics would be getting the best available player in Gordon, who can arguably defend three positions as a rookie. While he is raw offensively, the Celtics are no strangers to offensively raw players as evidenced by Rajon Rondo.
7. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, 6’9″, 250 lbs
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 the Lakers in a position to grab a prospect of Randle’s caliber, it’s hard to see them passing on the opportunity to pair him with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are also interested in Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon according to sources.
8. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State, 6’4″, 220 lbs
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 Kings could really use a leader and Smart has showed that ability at Oklahoma State. Smart is a special talent at point guard and will give the Kings a physical mismatch that they can exploit.