The NBA, more than any other league, utilizes its draft like a barter system. More picks are traded than actually made, with complementary veterans and even superstars in the crossfire as they find themselves moved for the sake of compensating for teams’ new rookie arrivals. But several quality prospects are on the bubble this year, far more worthy of a straight gamble than your usual draft day three-team swap. Kentucky standouts Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones are tremendously gifted players, but hidden talents like Weber State’s Damian Lillard and St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson can also make waves. With the Minnesota Timberwolves trading their pick as recent as today (No. 18 for forward Chase Budinger), here’s my best interpretation of this year’s mock draft: 1st Round only (barring any trades while I’ve typed this out).
New Orleans Hornets – Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky. No doubt the cream of the crop of this draft class, Davis has the physical tools to make an immediate impact in the pros. His long wingspan and stellar defensive awareness will help the Hornets’ frontcourt woes immediately, making him a solid pairing withif the team re-signs him.
Charlotte Bobcats – Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut. Bismack Biyombo, a very poor man’s Serge Ibaka, isn’t a center by any means and the Bobcats need an interior presence for D.J. Augustin to go to in this anemic, non-threatening starting lineup. Drummond is very raw offensively, but he can be coached up much liketo become some threat off pick-and-roll plays and post moves. Davis would’ve been perfect for this team and the future of the franchise, but they’ll have to make do with Drummond, who should be an impact player if coached effectively.
Washington Wizards – Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas. A pick that John Wall will salivate at, Robinson will join his budding point guard as a future premier one-two punch in not only the Eastern Conference, but entire league. Robinson’s freakish athletic ability and offensive prowess will finally give Washington some youthful hope moving forward.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Bradley Beal, SG, Florida. Even during the era ofdid the Cavaliers lack a shooting guard that can create his own shot. That partly led to James’ departure and the team’s continued lethargic offense during and after his time there. Last year’s top pick Kyrie Irving can’t do it alone. He needs a fellow backcourt threat to give him some space to operate on the perimeter. Beal does just that and can possibly do more, with potential to average 16 to 17 points a game at his best., good enough for the Cavaliers to improve drastically.
Sacramento Kings – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky. Talented yet troubled center DeMarcus Cousins will finally have an alumni counterpart to re-live his Kentucky glory days, which could be a major factor in the Kings’ possible upswing with this pick. Kidd-Gilchrist has the athleticism to be all over the stat sheet for years to come and is an immediate starter and upgrade for this lineup. His outside shot needs major improvement, but it’s a well enough gamble for Sacramento to make for some spice to an already young and fast team.
Portland Trail Blazers (via Brooklyn Nets) – Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina. Every draft has a shocker within 10 picks, some good and so many bad. But the Blazers, with two picks within the first 11 slots, could afford to take a solid, energetic and savvy big man in Zeller, who can run the floor and putback at his rightful place in the power forward position. Zeller and Aldridge is a twin tower lineup that will pose a consistent threat for a team that is simply a few pieces away from making major noise in the Western Conference.
Golden State Warriors – John Henson, PF, North Carolina. Yes, indeed, an odd pick for the Warriors, who are banking heavily on the health of incoming starting centerand current point guard Stephen Curry. With double-double machine still looming in the mix, Henson can add explosion to a frontcourt is at times stagnant and inconsistent, even with Bogut’s presence entering this season. Henson has the tools to be an important tool in head coach Mark Jackson’s lineup, with shot blocking ability and tremendous rebounding, both of which the Warriors have desperately lacked for a long time.
Toronto Raptors – Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois. Beyond frontcourt tweener, the Raptors have extreme question marks in the paint. Yes, Jonas Valanciuncas is arriving for the upcoming season and will immediately see time at power forward and center, but he is shaped like Bargnani (seven-foot, yet Durant-slim frame), good perimeter play but little chance of imposing size in the paint and snatching rebounds. Leonard is an offensive upgrade in the middle and will give Bargnani and Valanciuncas plenty of breathing room to make plays elsewhere. Despite Jose Calderon playing in the final year of his contract, they can afford to avoid the point guard spot for one more round.
Detroit Pistons – Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State. Given the extremely troubling back issues that have red-tagged this talented post product, I believe that the Pistons have the leverage and risk enough to take him. Detroit needs a fellow post presence forand the combination of Monroe and Sullinger up front could be very interesting for not only Brandon Knight, but the future morale of this once-prominent franchise.
New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota Timberwolves) –, SF, North Carolina. The Saints are being accused of hitting too hard in their bounty scandal on the football field, but the Hornets will hit hard in this year’s draft. Barnes is a ready-to-score stud who will easily give defenders fits. Davis and Barnes will spell high hopes in New Orleans. It may not bring sudden major improvement, but will be a good cog in the rebuilding project.
Portland Trail Blazers – Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut. The ghost of Brandon Roy’s game is still wandering in the Rose Garden, looking for a player to assume the role. Enter Lamb, who can score at will and is a sudden upgrade to, who we’ve all seen at his best so far, which isn’t franchise-changing. The Blazers lack an edge in the frontcourt post-Roy, so getting Lamb should be something that will not only reinvigorate that lineup, but keep the fans compelled.
Milwaukee Bucks – Moe Harkless, SF, St. John’s. A perfect fit for the Bucks, Harkless can make this team extremely dangerous offensively, as head coachfinds himself having a smoother time enforcing his defense-first mentality on his players. Harkless is a capable defender who is capable of scoring 20-plus points per game. Along with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, he will give the fans a little time to think less about the loss of Andrew Bogut and more time to think heavily about the team’s outlook.
Phoenix Suns – Perry Jones, PF, Baylor. Steve Nash is leaving the Suns for greener pastures (and a championship pursuit) in free agency, but many have forgotten about Aaron Brooks, who had to play out his contract in China before being eligible to return to the team. With that in mind and the Suns wanting him back, Phoenix could use even more depth at power forward, despite drafting Markieff Morris last year. Jones is a bona fide gift of athletic ability with his given size. He needs polishing on the offensive end, but his explosiveness allows for him to split minutes with Morris at power forward and push Channing Frye to the backup center role behind Marcin Gortat.
Houston Rockets – Fab Melo, C, Syracuse. The oddest selection I’ve made thus far, I believe this will work on the basis that the Rockets need some impact on the interior, given Houston is unsuccessful in its suddenly-frantic pursuit of Dwight Howard. Melo has the same capabilities as Howard (shot-blocking, altering shots/plays and efficient rebounding), but simply is ineffective scoring the ball. There’s always more promise being a great defender over a great scorer when entering the league, so expect his offensive game to be worked on by head coach Kevin McHale as he progresses. Melo does fall in the same category as current veteran Rocket centers Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert in terms of offensive prowess, but is younger and faster with more potential.
Philadelphia 76ers – Austin Rivers, SG, Duke. The 76ers, as hard as they play under head coach Doug Collins, have no go-to guy, something that may have kept them from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this year after a seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics. While it’s yet to be determined if Evan Turner can fill that role, Rivers can do just that right away, as he is built to score and slash with very little trouble. While Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski couldn’t hone his skills completely on both ends of the court, Collins will be tasked and should do so successfully, working Rivers hard to make him a dependable defender.
Houston Rockets – Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor. While Melo will cover the defensive front for the Rockets, Miller can cover the offensive end. The local talent can score in so many ways and his pure athleticism puts him over Chandler Parsons for the starting small forward spot. If he bulks up a little bit, Rudy Gay may find his shadow residing in Houston.
Dallas Mavericks – Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt. It’s more likely that the Mavericks will secure Deron Williams this offseason. If that comes true, Dallas must address the center position more than anything else. Brendan Haywood is older and getting less effective as the seasons go on. Only Tyson Chandler has provided any semblance of an interior force at the position, so taking Ezeli, despite his lack of post play, would bolster the interior with some more energy. Ezeli may not dominate the scoreboards, but he’s a dirty-work player like Chandler, who helped the Mavericks earn their first NBA title in 2011.
Houston Rockets (via Utah Jazz through Minnesota Timberwolves) – Dion Waiters, SG, Syracuse. If Houston doesn’t get what it wants through draft trades, the selections it makes will certainly fill the void. Waiters is a swish waiting to happen, showing the ability to attack the rim relentlessly and score at will. He will battle with Courtney Lee for minutes at shooting guard and has the ability to win it. Nevertheless, this team will be one to be reckoned with these selections, capped by a dangerous guard in Waiters.
Orlando Magic – Jeff Taylor, SF, Vanderbilt. Not the best pick for the Magic, but they seriously need some versatility at small forward. Hedo Turkoglu is an overpaid statue and Jason Richardson has wandered too much around at guard and forward, making the demand for an established slasher at forward a critical one. Whether Howard stays or goes won’t stunt Taylor’s growth. He won’t be a leading scorer, but will certainly be a dependable one.
Denver Nuggets – Terrence Jones, PF, Kentucky. One of the deepest teams in the league, Denver can afford to swing for the fences with this pick, but I see the Nuggets addressing the one thing that doomed them in the Western Conference 1st Round series against the Los Angeles Lakers: interior play. The Nuggets were disadvantaged and eventually dismantled by the Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol combination, prompting what could be an upgrade in Jones, who is a more surefire scorer than Kenneth Faried. Faried is a budding talent, but Jones also can provide an inside-out threat off the bench or in some time in the starting lineup. Denver would score big with this stud.
Boston Celtics – Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi State. Boston’s rebounding woes put it in too many problems over the course of the season and were part of its demise in an Eastern Conference series loss to the Miami Heat. Moultrie has similar size to Kevin Garnett and could eventually take his place sooner than later, depending on Garnett’s decision on whether he returns for an 18th season. He can rebound, score and should help the Celtics’ frontcourt right away.
Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers) – Terrence Ross, SG, Washington. With Ray Allen likely gone this offseason, the Celtics have a huge void at shooting guard. They already were devoid of consistent offense at that position in the first place, but Ross will solve those problems right away. He has an Allen-like game with his sharp jump shot, making the possible loss of the future Hall-of-Famer not so painful.
Atlanta Hawks – Evan Fournier, SG, France. The Hawks are fine in the frontcourt with Josh Smith, Al Horford, Ivan Johnson and Zaza Pachulia, but Joe Johnson is playing out of position at shooting guard with a small forward frame. Fournier can certainly fill that role and – if he plays this year – could very well be a solid upgrade at the position with the 240-pound Johnson at the small forward spot.
Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers) – Royce White, PF, Iowa State. An unusually gifted power forward, White has the playmaking ability that can shadow a bit what Cleveland’s former “king” (LeBron James) did in the past, also eerily similar in size to the man. White is an effective rebounder, passer and scorer, great news to Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao down low.
Memphis Grizzlies – Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure. With Zach Randolph still looking to find his form following recovery from knee surgery, Nicholson should enter the season and be the alternate should Randolph’s value begin to dwindle. Like Randolph, Nicholson can hit the outside shot and has three-point range. He’ll be quite a scoring threat for this young, upcoming Grizzlies squad.
Indiana Pacers – Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State. Point guards George Hill and Darren Collison are both solid distributors, but none are nearly as explosive as this pick. Lillard can light up the scoreboards and has a deadlier shooting touch than both Hill and Collison. Paul George has yet to develop a consistent jump shot at the shooting guard position, but Lillard, who can play both guard spots, should make in impact just about anywhere near the three-point line, once more giving the dynamic George time to grow some more.
Miami Heat – Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina. Sure, a head-scratcher to most critics, but a head helper to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and just about anybody else in a Heat uniform who is looking for an open shot. The Heat need a solid center more than anything else, but none warrant a 1st-round grade at this point. Although Miami prevailed over 29 other teams to win the NBA title, its offense was stagnant and predictable at times. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are able playmakers at the point guard spot, Marshall is a pure passer and will make others’ lives easier on the floor, even Chalmers’ and Cole’s. Marshall’s shooting and defense need work, but a pass-first guard can be just what three-time MVP ordered, taking some of the load off him and giving him more options to operate on the floor without the ball.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Draymond Green, SF, Michigan State. Green was a rebounding machine in East Lansing, showing undying leadership and endless effort on both ends of the floor, things that the energetic, tough-minded Thunder will covet. Green helps the frontcourt immensely despite being 6’7”. He plays bigger than his size and also displays a complementary offensive attack. With a Dejuan Blair-like presence, Green’s post presence could critical in getting the Thunder back to the NBA Finals and over the hump.
Chicago Bulls – Tyshawn Taylor, PG, Kansas. Like a prominent teacher appoints one’s substitute, enter Taylor in place of former MVP Derrick Rose, who is out until the middle of next season recovering from ACL surgery. Taylor is a frantic, relentless attack-first guard like Rose, but head coach Tom Thibodeau will manage to reel in Taylor like he did with Rose. What Taylor truly has going for him is his ability to score off the fast break and being a good defender, tools that will make his stay in Chicago very comfortable. When Rose returns, it’ll be easy for Taylor to play alongside him or behind him, as he is versatile at both guard positions.
Golden State Warriors – Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky. Like John Henson will provide some insurance policy and clean-up effort in the case of Andrew Bogut not playing a full season, Teague will do the same for Stephen Curry, whose foot injuries are becoming a greater concern. I was hesitant to give the Warriors a point guard pick in the 1st Round, still believing that Curry will consistently be a force under Mark Jackson. However, they must consider all possibilities and cover their bases. Teague has vastly improved as a floor general and is definitely pro-ready. With an improved jump shot (much like countless John Calipari-coached players), Teague should spark this club and get Klay Thompson countless open looks.