On Tuesday at roughly 9 p.m. ET, the Socratic paradox will rear its ugly head back into the NBA. No one will know anything, everyone will know that no one knows anything, but no one will admit it.
The 2013 NBA Draft order will be set at the conclusion of Tuesday's lottery. Ping pong balls determine who will receive the top three picks in the derby, and that will set about the order for the following 11 choices. In practice, eight or nine teams have real chances of seeing their projected slot shaken up, good or bad.
Once the order is set and teams know where they are picking, the rumors begin in earnest. Oh, the rumors. So many rumors! It's important for the draft connoisseur to pay close attention to each and every one of them, as they help tell the story of the annual draft. You cannot fully appreciate Hasheem Thabeet going No. 2 to Memphis in 2009 without having experienced The Great Hasheem Thabeet Draft Workout Standoff of 2009. (The same applies to The Great Ricky Rubio Pretends Minnesota Does Not Exist Standoff of 2009.) Draft season is basically a massive helping of origin story for all of these future NBA players. You don't want to miss any detail in the canon.
But there's a breed of rumors that is totally useless. "[Team] favors [players] and hates [player]." No. That's almost never right. You know why? There is absolutely no incentive for teams to hand out accurate information on their positions on any prospects. Given the typical trade activity level during draft season, it is a distinct advantage to have no other team knowing what you're thinking. Why on Earth would a GM tell a reporter that he thinks, say, Shabazz Muhammad isn't a lottery talent? So that Shabazz slips down the board! The GM's job is not to give free advice to the rest of the league. It's to get his team better players.
Of course, plenty of rumors are useful. Potential trades are a subset: if Team A offers a deal to Team B, and Team B doesn't want it, it could be useful to leak out the offer (or a reasonably inflated proxy) to show that other teams are interested in one or more of your assets. It's also sometimes useful for teams to leak out their own legit trade offers to show that they are trying to improve the club. "Check me out, I'm working the phones hard out here!"
But for every useful rumor, there are 10 bad ones. And that all begins in earnest on Tuesday night. So ... yeah. Gird thyself.
Our final pre-lottery mock assumes the lottery makes no changes to the draft order, which totally won't happen, because it never does. With the understanding that, like Socrates said, I only know that I know nothing, let's mock.
1. Orlando Magic: Nerlens Noel
An actual recent rumor I believe: the Magic were apparently devastated that Marcus Smart decided to stay in school. Yep. That's the 2013 NBA Draft in a nutshell.
2. Charlotte Bobcats: Alex Len
If the Bobcats really want to build a future contender and really don't care how intensely they alienate fans next season, they need to draft an injured prospect like Noel or Len. (Noel is expected to be out into December. Len should be back in November, but he'll be way behind in adjusting to the NBA.) Getting a high-potential player who won't contribute much as a rookie means a probable very high pick in the epic 2014 draft. It guarantees a depressing 2013-14 season, but ... how bad do you want it?
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Victor Oladipo
Prediction: Oladipo, a solid right-way type, will be the rumored target of almost every good team trying desperately to move up into the lottery.
4. Phoenix Suns: Ben McLemore
Had Smart entered the draft, he'd have been the most hotly debated prospect on the board. (People who don't like Smart because of his shooting stroke really don't like him.) Thanks to a recruiting scandal, McLemore might take the cake. Because, you know, whether a prospect's college recruitment ends up looking shady totally impacts what type of pro he'll be. And while I'm not terribly sure how the Suns intend to proceed under Ryan McDonough, I do know that McLemore's ceiling is really high.
5. New Orleans Pelicans: Otto Porter
Prediction: I am not going to get used to "Pelicans" before the draft. Porter is my favorite prospect, so expect me to find a way for him to fall to the Kings by my final pre-draft mock. It happens every year. (It only rarely works out. See: Cousins, DeMarcus.)
6. Sacramento Kings: C.J. McCollum
Okay, I buy it. McCollum is a top-10 player in this draft. Whoever runs the Kings' front office by late June will still desperately need some more shooting on this team, though defense all over the roster might be a bigger priority in the wider picture. (Also, prediction: if the Kings win the lottery a year after New Orleans won the lottery, I won't even try to reject the conspiracy theories.)
7. Detroit Pistons: Trey Burke
I don't think Jose Calderon will stick around given that a new coach will be in place, Brandon Knight is being turned into a two-guard and Rodney Stuckey is always two seconds from a trade. So, yeah, Burke.
8. Washington Wizards: Anthony Bennett
Any offensive-minded big man to mix with Washington's current defensive-minded frontcourt.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Shabazz Muhammad
If Rick Adelman continues his career, he's the perfect coach to turn Shabazz into a legit NBA starter. And it would also prevent Minnesota from signing O.J. Mayo, which is best for the world.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Cody Zeller
The greatest Zeller of all!
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Kelly Olynyk
Man, the annals of NBA jokedom could really use Cody Zeller supplanting Spencer Hawes and Andrew Bynum in Philly. Dammit.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto by way of Houston): Rudy Gobert
Gobert is like a vortex of sense for OKC: the Thunder love to pick international players, they need bigs and they could probably use some relatively immediate help while the title looks to be so within grasp. Gobert isn't a stash pick, so ...
13. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Schroeder
Not because Schroeder is German like Dirk. Because he's awesome. And Mark Cuban can't pass up awesome.
14. Utah Jazz: Michael Carter-Williams
Here's a rumor via Common Sense (not the rapper now known as Common): because the Jazz have this pick, the No. 21 pick from the Warriors and a desperate need for a point guard, it is guaranteed that there will be wild rumors about the Jazz trying to move into the top seven or higher to get Burke by packaging the two picks. Every team with multiple firsts outside the top half of the lottery is always rumored to be moving up.