If you thought my associate Danny was going to be the only one at Court of Appeals to experience the incomparable joy of making a mock draft, think again. Less than 24 hours before David Stern announces the first selection at tomorrow's draft, I've got updated first round predictions based on the murmurs around the NBA over the past few days.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Kyrie Irving (PG - Duke) At some point since the end of the tourney, Irving and Derrick Williams have both been favorites to go first to Cleveland, with Enes Kanter even getting some consideration. Over the past 72 hours it grew more likely that Irving would be the top pick, with Cleveland recently stating their intention to take Irving. My hope -- just for the sake of the drama -- is that the Cavs have been bluffing about Irving all along and end up taking Williams here, thus spurring this draft's greatest story line:
Notoriously illogical Minnesota GM David Kahn finally lured his 2009 selection, Ricky Rubio, to the States, creating a logjam at point with Jonny Flynn and Luke Ridnour already on the roster. Then, with Irving falling to him at #2, he is faced with the dilemma of drafting the team's fourth point guard or overlooking him to make a reach for Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, or Bismack Biyombo.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves - Derrick Williams (SF/PF - Arizona) Though Enes Kanter hasn't been tied to the T-Wolves hardly at all, today the NBA world has been buzzing about Minnesota's stated intention to take him at the #2 slot. When Derrick Williams worked out for Wolves' staff he was described as a "monster," so the recent news that Kanter would be the guy here is somewhat surprising. While Kanter would not be a bad pick for Minny, the chatter surrounding him is more likely an attempt to garner more interest from teams looking to trade up to the #2 pick. But, if Minnesota keeps the second pick, Derrick Williams has the slight edge.
3. Utah Jazz - Enes Kanter (PF/C - Kentucky) No team would be happier than the Utah Jazz if the Timberwolves' interest in Kanter is genuine. Derrick Williams would give the Jazz just what they need in an hard-nosed, athletic combo forward who can step outside at shoot also. That being said, if he is off the board, the debate at #3 becomes Enes Kanter vs. Brandon Knight. While Knight fills more of a need for the Jazz, the reports are that they plan to take the best player available regardless of position, which is Kanter in this case.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers - Jonas Valanciunas (C - Lithuania) The Cavs would like to see Kanter available here, but that seems unlikely at this stage of the game. Cleveland reportedly likes Valanciunas' game, but is hesitant about waiting one or more years for him to play in the NBA because of the contract situation with his Lithuanian club team. In a perfect world, the Cavs would have their franchise point guard (Irving) and their fourth pick playing immediately and developing alongside one another. For that reason, Cleveland is reportedly also considering Tristan Thompson at this pick. In the end, I believe they will make the sacrifice of waiting in order to get the better prospect in Valanciunas.
5. Toronto Raptors - Brandon Knight (PG - Kentucky) Jose Calderón has had some success in Toronto, at least in terms of his own statistics, but at 30 years of age he does not appear to be in the team's future plans. Knight displayed considerable talents throughout his freshman campaign at Kentucky, highlighted by a series of clutch performances in the postseason, and the Raptors believe that his length, skills, and defense will allow him to be a part of the team's core moving forward.
6. Washington Wizards - Jan Vesely (SF/PF - Czech Republic) Tristan Thompson is also getting consideration at #6, but the consensus seems to be that the Wiz will take Vesely here. He is known for being a high-flyer who likes to get out in transition, which is music to the ears of the Wizards management as long as John Wall is at the helm. If we learned anything from Tyson Chandler's tenure playing with Chris Paul, any athletic player can be dominant when his point guard knows where to get him the rock. Let's just hope for the Wizard's sake that this pick doesn't turn out like their last Eastern European project.
7. Sacramento Kings - Kemba Walker (PG - Connecticut) Sacramento has a lot of options with this pick including Jimmer, Kawhi Leonard, Tristan Thompson and Kemba. The Kings have been relegated to the lottery each of the past five seasons and in order to prevent this team from relocating they could use a player that could help them win immediately. The Tyreke Evans experiment at point guard has seemingly failed and Kemba could be just the solution. There are questions about Walker's ability as a pure point, much like Evans, but the Kings would have the luxury of putting them both on the floor to play point guard by committee.
8. Detroit Pistons - Tristan Thompson (PF - Texas) The Pistons would prefer to add a point guard, as they are not committed to Rodney Stuckey as a part of this team's core. However, at the #8 pick three top PGs (Irving, Knight, and Walker) will likely be unavailable. There is also a need and power forward and the accepted theory is that the PFs available at 8 are more valuable than the point guard they might be able to select (perhaps the fabled Jimmer.) Marcus Morris is also in the mix here, but Tristan Thompson's upside is enough to entice the Pistons to take him instead.
9. Charlotte Bobcats - Marcus Morris (PF - Kansas) Supposedly, the Bobcats are targeting one particular player with the #9 selection, and if he is unavailable they will look to move the pick. Though the have kept quiet just who it is that they seek, Marcus Morris is a distinct possibility. Morris' game is similar to current Charlotte forward Tyrus Thomas, but his versatility and ability to play on the wing could fill the void left in the aftermath of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade.
10. Milwaukee Bucks - Alec Burks (SG - Colorado) Milwaukee is looking for a player to replace Michael Redd, as it appears his career --at least with the Bucks -- is over. The Bucks will eye sharpshooter Klay Thompson as well, but it is Burks' ceiling that makes him more enticing. Burks already proved he is a great scorer (over 20 PPG in the Big XII) that needs to add strength, but his skill set could allow him to be one of the best NBA players from this draft class a few years down the road.
11. Golden State Warriors - Klay Thompson (SG - Washington State) It is no secret that the Warriors covet Thompson at #11, and assuming he is still on the board they should waste no time selecting him. In college, Thompson faced tight defense and double teams as WSU's primary ball handler/scorer, but in Golden State's system, Thompson should get better looks as scorers Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry force the defense to collapse.
12. Utah Jazz - Jimmer Fredette (PG/SG - BYU) Utah's fan base already had the pleasure of experiencing "Jimmer-mania" throughout BYU's 2010-11 run, but in this case the rich get richer and Jimmer stays in town. He fulfills a few separate needs for the Jazz: a point guard, a shooter, and a jersey-selling machine.
13. Phoenix Suns - Chris Singleton (SF/PF - Florida State) On a team that could use some toughness on the wing and in the frontcourt (sorry, Vince Carter and Channing Frye) Singleton provides just that. Grant Hill won't keep playing forever (we think) and Chris Singleton could be a serviceable backup until he is ready to take the reins. Markieff Morris is another tough forward that could be in play with this pick.
14. Houston Rockets - Bismack Biyombo (PF - Congo) Houston is not without depth on their roster, but they lack a true star. All signs point Rockets' trading this pick for more established veterans, however if they do retain #14, Biyombo is an an option that immediately provides defense, rebounding, and hustle. With Hasheem Thabeet and Biyombo out on the floor, they should theoretically be able to block every shot in sight (though the Rockets would probably have to be down by 30 to put those two on the court together.)
15. Indiana Pacers - Kawhi Leonard (SF - San Diego State) Because of his versatility, athleticism, and size, Leonard will get looks as high as Toronto at 5. However, he is a player that I have slipping out of the lottery because of his perceived lack of offensive potential. Teams don't doubt his ability to be a contributor to in the NBA for seasons to come, but with a top selection most GMs would like to take a player with a higher ceiling.
16. Philadelphia 76ers - Donatas Motiejunas (PF/C - Lithuania) In contrast to Kawhi Leonard, Donatas Motiejunas is a player with one of the highest ceilings in the whole draft. He is a 7-foot tall player with an advanced skill set, but his intensity and strength remain big question marks. Motiejunas likely suffers from the fact that he has been on scouts' radars for much longer than other Euro prospects (Biyombo, Vesely, Valanciunas) and thus has had his weaknesses picked apart. He would still be a great value pick for the Sixers at #16, especially after being in the top 5 conversation before pulling out of the draft last year.
17. New York Knicks - Markieff Morris (PF - Kansas) The Knicks are lucky enough to have Amar'e Stoudemire under contract. But beyond that, their front line is as follows: Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams, and Ronny Turiaf. Needless to say, they need to improve in the post. The elder Morris twin (by 7 minutes) can step in and provide intensity, rebounding, and the occasional bucket without taking shots from more offensively-adept teammates Amar'e, Carmelo, and Billups.
18. Washington Wizards - Tobias Harris (SF/PF - Tennessee) For a team looking to rebuild with youth in the post-Agent Zero era, they may be inclined to take the 18-year-old combo forward out of Tennessee. In his one season in Knoxville, Harris showed a variety of skills that make him intriguing to teams picking in the latter half of the first round. His basketball IQ is a strength that will be needed in Washington.
19. Charlotte Bobcats - Iman Shumpert (PG - Georgia Tech) After letting Raymond Felton go in favor of his protegé, D.J. Augustin, the Bobcats have seemingly soured to the idea of him as the lead guard of the future. Iman Shumpert has tested incredibly well athletically leading up to the draft and there is no doubt he can handle the rock, but his decision making has been the main slight on his game. With hyper-athletic points such as Rose and Westbrook taking over the sport, Charlotte can they will turn Shumpert's strengths into on-court production.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves - Nikola Vucevic (PF/C - USC) Like Iman Shumpert, Vucevic was another player who benefitted tremendously from the draft combine. In his case, it was the measurements, not the athleticism testing, that played to the Serbian big man's advantage. He measured in at 6'11.75" in shoes, with a 7'4.5" wingspan and 9'4.5" standing reach. For a team that already has Kevin Love controlling the boards down low, they do not need another traditional banger in the post. Vucevic can stretch the defense with his shot and also has the ability to create with his back to the basket.
21. Portland Trailblazers - Kenneth Faried (PF - Morehead State) Portland has no shortage of players that can put the ball in the hoop, but they could certainly use a player like Faried whose sole purpose on the court is to defend and rebound. I'm sure Portland wishes they had Greg Oden to do just that, but as he heads into free agency they will look to find a player that can contribute on the glass to complement budding star LaMarcus Aldridge.
22. Denver Nuggets - Jordan Hamilton (SF - Texas) With J.R. Smith likely leaving Denver in free agency, they will look to replace his offensive productivity. Smith brought size and outside shooting to the table and for the most part that is what they would be receiving in Hamilton. For a team looking for another scoring threat Marshon Brooks and Jordan Hamilton are in the picture here, with Hamilton ultimately winning out based on his future potential.
23. Houston Rockets - Marshon Brooks (SG - Providence) One thing is certain about Marshon Brooks: he can score the basketball. After being the sole focus of opposing Big East defenses on a weak Providence team, he still managed to lead the conference in scoring, ahead of Kemba Walker and Ben Hansbrough. For a team like the Rockets with no glaring holes to fill, Brooks could get picked simply as the best player still on the board.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder - Reggie Jackson (PG - Boston College) The Thunder could use an offensive-minded post to alleviate the pressure on Westbrook, Harden, and Durant to score, but it appears the Thunder plan to address another area. Rumor has it that the Thunder have made a promise to draft Jackson if he is available at #24. OKC is apparently shopping backup PG Eric Maynor (perhaps for another big) and Jackson could fill Maynor's role behind Westbrook.
25. Boston Celtics - Tyler Honeycutt (SG/SF - UCLA) With this pick, the Celtics have the choice of either addressing their need at power forward and center or on wing. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce aren't getting any younger, and it became clear with the Jeff Green trade that GM Danny Ainge is looking to add more youth to the wings to succeed Allen and Pierce. Unlike Green, Honeycutt has shown the ability to be an explosive scorer at times, though he lacked consistency throughout his two years at UCLA. He is a player with high upside though, and could be worth the risk so late in the first round.
26. Dallas Mavericks - Jeremy Tyler (PF - USA) Jeremy Tyler has had quite the circuitous road to the NBA draft after skipping his senior year of high school to play in Israel and then Japan. Despite concerns about his attitude, the fact remains that he has one of the best packages of size and skill of any big man in the in the draft, especially from a player his age. As reigning champions, the Mavericks can afford to take a chance on Tyler though he may need to step in earlier on if they are unable to sign Tyson Chandler (very unlikely.)
27. New Jersey Nets - Justin Harper (PF - Richmond) New Jersey has one more season with Deron Williams to convince him that he should remain with the Nets. For that to happen they will have to make substantial progress towards becoming a contender in the Eastern Conference, and the first step is drafting a player ready to contribute. At #27 there are plenty of projects available (Nikola Mirotic and Davis Bertans, to name a few) but the Nets will want to take a proven college player like Harper with NBA shooting ability to provide immediate help.
28. Chicago Bulls - Davis Bertans (SF/PF - Latvia) If there is anything that the Bulls learned from watching the Finals, it is that they need some shooters to spread the floor. They will surely address that in free agency, but may also choose to do so with one or both of their first round selections. Bertans is only 18 and will need time to develop overseas, but scouts recognize that his shooting ability is elite and therefore believe he is worth the wait.
29. San Antonio Spurs - JaJuan Johnson (PF - Purdue) Tim Duncan's run as an elite power forward is coming to a close, and he needs a successor in San Antonio. JaJuan Johnson is already a polished post player who was able to leader Purdue to considerable success throughout his four seasons in West Lafayette. With a few years playing understudy to Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Johnson could be the next great find for general manager R.C. Buford and the Spurs.
30. Chicago Bulls - Nolan Smith (PG - Duke) Should Darius Morris fall to #30, he and Norris Cole are options here, but I see Chicago going with a more versatile player with the final pick of the first round. Nolan Smith is a fierce competitor that has also shown the ability to play off the ball, which could be a positive for the Bulls, who have a surefire star already at point in MVP Derrick Rose.