By Brian Geltzeiler / @hoopscritic
This is my favorite column to write every year. On its face, it’s a mock draft, but a large portion of the piece will be mocking the draft and those that make the selections, and as my maiden voyage for The Cauldron, a large dose of my insane ramblings. Consider this mock draft an amalgam of what I think should happen and which teams I think are prone to mistakes. Considering the strength and depth of this draft, this will be particularly fun to break down.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers- Andrew Wiggins
A wise man once taught me that if you step in dog poop once, it’s the dog’s fault. If you step in it twice, it’s your own fault. In this analogy, the #1 overall pick is the dog poop. (Insert Anthony Bennett joke here.) The Cavs get a reprieve from their former GM Chris Grant’s feeble attempt to reinvent the wheel with last year’s #1 overall pick. Everything we heard coming out of Cleveland has them selecting Kansas center Joel Embiid with this pick. I like Embiid’s game a lot, but what I don’t like are his bones which would appear to be made out of paper mache. Embiid’s latest foot injury is a blessing in disguise for the Cavs because I wouldn’t want to be the GM who passes on Wiggins. The ‘not aggressive’ criticism of Wiggins is kind of absurd for a 19 year old kid. The kid does a great job of letting the game come to him and is prepared to be an above average defensive player the second he steps onto an NBA floor. With all of the Cavs dysfunction since a certain guy whose name rhymes with Schebron Schames left, having a kid with this kind of potential fall into their lap is a dream come true. They won’t pass on him but they would have if Embiid’s foot didn’t break off like a GI Joe doll. Just like the Princeton college recruiter told Tom Cruise’s Dad in Risky Business, Princeton can use a guy like Joel. Well, Cleveland can use a guy like Andrew.
2) Milwaukee Bucks- Jabari Parker
The Embiid foot injury simplifies the top of this draft for the Bucks. If GM John Hammond could get a healthy Embiid, he’d be doing the Elaine Benes dance, however, Parker isn’t exactly a consolation prize. Parker is a big time scorer the second he steps onto an NBA floor. Even though he can’t guard a chair, the Bucks are desperate for a go to type of scorer plus, he actually has expressed enthusiasm about playing in Milwaukee. This is a really good spot for Hammond because its mistake proof. If he goes ahead and drafts Dante Exum in this spot, he deserves to be drowned in a vat of cheese. Exum can play, but Parker is a no brainer and if by some chance Cleveland takes Parker, do not be the GM who passes on Andrew Wiggins.
3) Philadelphia 76ers- Joel Embiid
Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie comes from the Daryl Morey school of finding value. Ultimately, there are two choices here (really three, but I know that Hinkie won’t take Julius Randle like he should) and they’re Exum and Embiid. If they take Exum, they’re most likely going to need to move Michael Carter Williams. They’d be better off taking Embiid and having two big men in Nerlens Noel and Embiid. If they’re both healthy, either could bring back big time value. Plus, Philly has the incentive to not make the playoffs again this season. If they make the playoffs, they lose their draft pick as part of the Arnett Moultrie deal (as 400 guys with Rocky posters on their wall barf up a Pat’s cheesesteak). A lengthy, safe, and thorough rehab period for Embiid is the perfect prescription for the Sixers.
4) Orlando Magic- Dante Exum
Exum has a wealth of talent as a size point guard. All the skills are there. He’s an awesome fit for Orlando next to Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. The upside is there in many ways. The concern with Exum is the lack of game experience to draw off of against meaningful competition. Nonetheless, Exum is a worthwhile risk for the Magic.
5) Utah Jazz- Aaron Gordon
This is way early for Gordon, who is a great athlete and will defend real well as soon as he hits an NBA court, but he shoots so bad, that if he threw a bag of garbage off a pier, he couldn’t hit the water. He’s actually not an awful fit for the Jazz because they will need someone with size that can defend on the perimeter if they plan on re-signing who is so bad defensively, I wouldn’t let him guard my spot in line at the bank.
6) Boston Celtics- Marcus Smart
If Smart is the player Boston GM Danny Ainge selects, the characterization of the pick and the player’s name will be consistent with one another. I think Ainge is going to move Rajon Rondo this offseason. Smart may not be a traditional type of point guard, but he’s a tough as nails lead guard with great athleticism and a nasty edge. He’s another player who will be a decent defender from day 1. This is an important pick for Ainge. He’s got a lot of draft picks in the next 5 years but the player cupboard is relatively barren.
7) Los Angeles Lakers- Julius Randle
This is one of my favorite players in the draft. I truly believe he has top 3 ability in this draft. His game is so diverse, yet it appears he’s been pigeon-holed with a Zach Randolph comp that doesn’t do justice to Randle’s versatility. He’s a good low post player but more importantly for today’s NBA, he’s a good high post player. For a big man, he’s an excellent secondary ball handler in the Lamar Odom mold. (Laker Lamar Odom not Kardashian Rehab Lamar Odom.) Randle is a really good rebounder and has all the ingredients to be a good defensive player despite the fact that many scouts worry about his wing span, which could be a problem if he ever has to fly like a bird. Some scouts have rated him lower than Noah Vonleh, which is insane considering that as a basketball player, Vonleh isn’t a pimple on Randle’s tush. And speaking of Vonleh…
8) Sacramento Kings- Noah Vonleh
Our first Dave Kingman style swing and miss goes to the Kings, who are shopping this pick in hopes of getting a veteran who can help now, which would be great of they were close to contending for a title. The only thing they’re close to contending for is the league lead with technical fouls (thanks a lot DeMarcus). Vonleh has all the tools, the problem is that he lacks the killer instinct and aggression a big player needs to be real good in the NBA. He slept walked through far too many games in Indiana for my taste and his style isn’t exactly what I would call high energy. (think Al Bundy on a couch) Scouts love Vonleh, but I’m not much of a fan.
9) Charlotte- Doug McDermott
I’m not as sold on McDermott as many others are. He is a very good shooter with good size, but it’s hard for me to envision a time when McDermott will ever be a guy who can play anything resembling NBA quality defense. It also bugs me that scouts hold Adreian Payne and Shabazz Napier’s respective ages against them but McDermott, who is almost as old, gets a free pass. This is the classic example of a player who was so underrated that he became overrated.
10) Philadelphia- Dario Saric
Saric is a big forward who can score inside and out and is also a good rebounder. He’s got good size at 6’10 with an NBA body. He’ll struggle defensively, but with his ability to be a successful perimeter scorer as a big forward, he fits in the stretch 4 era. The big issue regarding Saric is whether or not he’ll come over from Europe and considering he just signed in Turkey for two years, it’ll be at least that long. However, keep in mind what I said about Philly. They want to insure the lottery again to keep the pick. If Saric waits 2 years to come over, it actually suits the Sixers’ needs quite well.
11) Denver Nuggets- Nik Stauskas
The Nuggets have had issues the last few years finding guys who can throw it in the ocean. It got especially bad last year with Danilo Gallinari missing the entire season. A catch and shoot wing player with some size who can also serve as a secondary ball handler is exactly what the doctor ordered. There have been some skeptics on Stauskas’ ability to play NBA defense, but I like his instincts and his willingness to work on that end of the floor. Stauskas would be a very good fit in Denver.
12) Orlando Magic- James Young
I like this kid more than most. A smooth slashing forward who can stroke it from the perimeter. Arron Afflalo is probably going to be moved sooner rather than later so adding a wing player who is dynamic offensively is a good thing. Young will struggle on defense early on but he’s only 18 years old. His game will become more well-rounded on both ends of the floor over time.
13) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rodney Hood
Hood has the size and the shooting ability to be an immediate contributor as a big wing player and even a stretch 4 in certain matchups. What he can’t do is defend. He couldn’t fight off a toothless poodle with a metal rake. His fundamentals are poor and he didn’t show a ton of interest of being a decent defender in college. Nonetheless, I like him in this spot for the Wolves.
14) Phoenix Suns- Adreian Payne
Because of Payne’s age (23), which is erroneously considered a liability by many scouts, this is a player that helps the Suns a whole bunch immediately. He is an ideal big forward for today’s NBA with his ability to shoot it from outside with good size. His offensive game is diverse and dynamic and he’s a decent rebounder. He needs work defensively but he’d be a part of a very impressive young big man rotation in Phoenix with Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee. Payne is one of the more NBA ready players in this draft. His experience is an asset, not a liability.
15) Atlanta Hawks- Gary Harris
Harris has the potential to be a very good scorer but he’s still challenged when it comes to shot selection. He also happens to be a seasoned player who plays defense and generally plays smart. Harris is far from the most exciting player in this draft but his cerebral game and his ability to score will make him a very natural fit in Mike Budenholzer’s system.
16) Chicago Bulls- Shabazz Napier
Let me go on record that there’s very little chance that the Bulls select Napier here but they really should. They’ll probably take Elfrid Payton or Tyler Ennis because they’re both younger and although Payton has a decent chance to be a rotation player day 1, neither has proven what Napier has proven. He is a superb ball handler and is one of those defensive players who regularly guards 90 feet and is damn comfortable doing it.
He’s not a guy who looks great on an advanced stats sheet but he’s a good decision maker with a knack for hitting big shots plus he has above average speed and quickness. But Napier won’t get selected this high because he’s 23, which many of the quantitative models are not fond of, so in a bizarre twist, Napier’s age, which is a significant factor in his NBA readiness, is used against him.
17) Boston Celtics- T.J. Warren
Warren can flat out score. His ability to get open off the ball and his proclivity to hit mid range shots and get to the basket could make him a guy that helps immediately. He has a chance to be really good if he develops a three point shot and puts out some effort but there’s just as good a chance he ends up like a Ryan Gomes who never makes an impact anywhere because he’s a pretty ordinary athlete.
18) Phoenix Suns- Zach Lavine
Lavine may end up being the NBA’s version of Mike Mamula, a former top 10 pick for the Philadelphia Eagles who ruled the draft combine but couldn’t play a lick. He could have a future as a catch and shoot threat, but I’m not buying this whole “Lavine can be a big point guard” nonsense. Yes, he’s young but for a perimeter player, he’s way too raw for my taste, like half cooked chicken. With that said, not the worst risk for Phoenix at 18 considering they’re loaded with picks.
19) Chicago Bulls- P.J. Hairston
If the Bulls draft Hairston, this could end up being my favorite team/player match in this draft. Hairston can shoot it and the Bulls need that on the wing, especially if they have to move Jimmy Butler in a sign and trade to get Carmelo Anthony. (insert Knicks Twitter joke here) Hairston can also defend well on the perimeter with good fundamentals and instincts. He certainly could be one of those gritty Thibodeau wings who shoot it well enough to keep defenses honest.
20) Toronto Raptors- Elfrid Payton
Odds are that this pick ends up being Ennis, but due to my Napier doctrine, Payton falls to twenty and if he does, Toronto will be very lucky. Payton can distribute and defend right now. He’s got good length for a point guard, but needs to work on both his shooting and finishing around the rim. Either way the Raptors will be in the market for a point guard as insurance for Kyle Lowry’s pending free agency.
21) Oklahoma City Thunder- Cleanthony Early
Here’s another ‘older’ player who proved to be a very effective inside outside scorer and has the size and athleticism of a big NBA wing. He’ll need to learn NBA defense. With both Caron Butler and Thabo Seflosha with expiring contracts, a big wing fills a big need. Also keep an eye on Glenn Robinson Jr. in this spot as well.
22) Memphis Grizzlies- Tyler Ennis
Ennis made a big mistake declaring for the draft. There’s a decent chance he becomes Josh Selby 2.0. In the era of the great point guard, Ennis isn’t athletic enough to be competitive with most of these athletes. He may not have become more athletic staying in school, but he would have learned how to be crafty. Even though Memphis has Nick Calathes, a young point guard to develop behind Mike Conley is not a bad idea, as long as they do better than Ennis. This pick has a decent chance to be Napier.
23) Utah Jazz- Glenn Robinson Jr
This one should work out better than Utah’s first pick. Robinson is still a little raw, but he’s an awesome athlete and is another guy who will be able to defend pretty well from day 1 in the league. He needs to refine his offensive game and shoot it better, but he’s young with a ton of ability. He’s the type of player who will be a glue guy on a title contender some day.
24) Charlotte Hornets- Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic is the type of big man that Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford can work with. He’s a good rebounder and knows how to play positional defense plus he plays with a little edge, which cuts both ways because he has a fouling issue and a whining to the referees issue. Nonetheless, the potential is there. He doesn’t have a buyout issue in Europe currently, which wouldn’t keep them from stashing him if they wanted to but it wouldn’t be bad to have a capable backup to Al Jefferson.
25) Houston Rockets- Kyle Anderson
Anderson has a similar skill set to Royce White, who Houston drafted two years ago, except Anderson doesn’t have an anxiety disorder and the entitled attitude of a 16 year old spoiled brat. Anderson is a true point forward who can rebound, score in the post, and is an improving shooter. He’s slow as molasses and couldn’t guard Chris Farley in a phone booth, but he can be a big time asset on offense. If he ends up on Houston, they will find a place for him in that rotation.
26) Miami Heat- Nick Johnson
Johnson has the dreaded tag of being a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, however, considering how the Heat play and who the Heat may lose to free agency (Mario Chalmers, not Lebron), just like basic training for John Candy in Stripes, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD4xwK13lGk) Johnson is perfect for the Heat. Because he plays like a true combo guard, he doesn’t work for a lot of teams but his attention to detail on the defensive end and his shot making ability will be a welcome addition for the Heat.
27) Phoenix Suns- Jordan Adams
Adams is a good mid range scorer and Phoenix certainly needs some of that on the wing, however, I’m not positive Phoenix keeps this pick. He’s an active defender but he’s somewhat challenged shooting the three ball, which may be a problem in the NBA, nonetheless, a worthwhile shot at this point in the round.
28) Los Angeles Clippers- Mitch McGary
I love McGary for the Clips. They need a reliable backup big man and McGary is definitely an NBA rotation player. Mitch made a mistake not coming out last season and had his issues with injuries and hanging out too much with Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson on the golf course. Nonetheless, McGary is a great example of a guy who will have early success largely because of where he lands and the Clippers are a great spot for him.
29) Oklahoma City Thunder- Thanasis Antetokonumpo
The Greek Freak’s older brother is a sleeper in this draft. With a little seasoning, this kid can be a very valuable 3D guy. Keeping in mind that the Thunder are most likely losing Butler and Sefolosha as I mentioned earlier, so filling those spots with young cheap talent is a huge plus. The other reason I put Antetokonumpo in this spot because of my editors at The Cauldron ever turn this column into a Scrabble game, I just hit the mother lode.
30) San Antonio- Jerami Grant
Grant is the type of kid that the Spurs love to develop. He’s a tad of a tweener although he’s more than athletic enough to project as an NBA wing. Even though he played in Syracuse’s zone in college, he is an active defensive player who could be a good on ball defender with some work. His problem is that he really needs work on his perimeter shooting. This would be a great landing spot for him because of the Spurs excellent coaching staff and the lack of pressure to contribute immediately.