One week from today is the NBA draft, and chaos has been unleashed. Thursday’s revelation that Joel Embiid has suffered a stress fracture in his foot and will be unable to work out for teams or attend the draft has turned what appeared to be a settling draft order upside-down.
Cleveland, owners of the top overall pick for the second consecutive season, now is in a difficult position. Before the news of the injury, Embiid was the player the Cavaliers had at the top of the board and were keen on selecting.
However, with the Anthony Bennett debacle, the Cavs really can’t afford to use the top pick again on another big with an injury. Many around the league believe Bennett’s disastrous rookie season was a result of shoulder surgery that prevented him from playing in the Summer League and caused him to be out of shape.
Make no mistake: Doctors have not declared this a career-threatening injury, and Embiid should be 100 percent by the time training camp begins. With two more than viable options at the top, the sense around the Cavs is that Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are excellent choices.
While Parker is set to work out in Cleveland on Friday, Wiggins visited Cleveland on Wednesday and the workout went well. According to a source, there is a stronger sense the Cavs could trade this pick now. Philadelphia has been locked in on Wiggins, and if the draft shakes out as it appears now, the 76ers will need to swap picks with Cleveland to select Wiggins, whom the Bucks will grab if Parker is the top pick. If Cleveland were to move down, it could be more likely to take Embiid with less pressure and expectations on the raw big man.
Another team to watch is the Utah Jazz, who would like to move up to acquire Jabari Parker. The Jazz have discussed trades with the Bucks and Cavs in hopes of acquiring the Duke freshman. According to a source, Derrick Favors could be available to make a deal work.
The Kevin Love sweepstakes has officially begun, and the Timberwolves appear to have a top suitor in Golden State, which is reportedly offering Klay Thompson and David Lee as a package to acquire the All-Star. I sense a deal for Love could be made on draft night and could blow up the draft as it could have ramifications throughout the first round.
Here is how I see the draft going:
1. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, 6’8″, 235 lbs
With the news on Embiid breaking it sounds like Cleveland could prefer to play it safe and take Parker, whom it had at the top of its board most of the season. Don’t rule out a trade as Cleveland would love to acquire an All-Star to pair with Kyrie Irving.
Philadelphia is hot for Wiggins and would be devastated to see this shake out, but Embiid has not worked out for Milwaukee and it could be a risky pick for GM John Hammond, who is already on shaky ground with new owner Wes Edens. Wiggins is regarded by some as the top prospect in the draft and could pay huge dividends down the road. The Bucks prefer Parker, though.
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. I hear that the 76ers feel comfortable with Exum and Michael Carter-Williams sharing the backcourt.
4. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
There is a chance Exum going to Orlando could create a run on PGs, and the Magic do like Marcus Smart. However, Rob Hennigan can’t pass on a player with Embiid’s potential to pair with Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. There is a slight chance Embiid could slip past here if doctors are concerned with his foot, but I feel strongly that this is his floor as of now.
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size, length and good athleticism, Vonleh is a prospect who is moving up boards after 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. While Vonleh is still raw, he has flashed enough potential that it will be hard to pass for many teams. While Marcus Smart is a possibility, I think Vonleh is the choice. Pairing him alongside Favors would be wise as they could play well off of one another.
6. 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 Celtics will be active and could try to move up to get Embiid if he slips but with their attempts to trade Rajon Rondo in the past, grabbing Smart would be wise. Aaron Gordon is a possibility as well.
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 around the league 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. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant could be great and Randle could be the first post-Kobe building block for the Lakers.
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. Doug McDermott is gaining traction here but I see Gordon’s upside as too hard to pass on.