It's only March. The NCAA Tournament hasn't even really begun. NBA teams each have about 15 regular season games left. Only a couple of prospects have indicated they'll enter the 2014 NBA Draft. We know nothing -- not who will pick where, not who will be available, not anything. We know nothing.
But it's never too early to mock the draft and figure out the contours of lottery. Since the lottery is more than two months away (ugh), I put the draft order in place based on what I think will be the final reverse standings for the league. Yes, I think the Bucks will end up with more wins than the Sixers and that the Lakers will win the Great Western Tank-off. Who knows what the ping pong balls will do? But this gives us a place to start.
Reminder: I know nothing. No inside info, no particular expertise, no sources, no scouting trips, no nothing. Who cares? Let's mock.
1. Sixers: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
NBA Draft Pining
NBA Draft Pining
Wiggins has been the prospective prize of 2014 as long as anyone can remember, with brief vacations to make way for Jabari Parker or, more recently, Joel Embiid. (Consider for a second that Wiggins has been on the NBA radar longer than Embiid has played organized basketball.) Wiggins and Embiid are more similar than they are different. Both have defense as a major draw, are considered to be good locker-room guys and balance high long-term upside with some obvious immediate impact to offer.
Why Wiggins for Philadelphia? Depending on how Embiid's back diagnosis shakes out over the next couple months, can Sam Hinkie really risk adding Embiid to a team featuring Nerlens Noel? Forget that Noel and Embiid are similar: that's just a lot of potential trauma for Philadelphia fans, unless you're sure Noel has made a full recovery and Embiid's injury is not at all serious.
2. Bucks: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Milwaukee has a tough decision to make if the Bucks are in a position to pick Embiid. They have Larry Sanders, a potentially elite defensive big, and they need instant offense, which could come in the form of Jabari Parker.
But I'm a firm believer in taking the best player available, and based on what I know (which is, again, very little) Wiggins is Embiid's only rival at the top at this point.
By the way: the Sixers will absolutely finish with a worse record than the Bucks. Milwaukee must hope the Ping Pong Gods will smite Sam Hinkie for his blatant pandering.
3. Magic: Dante Exum, Australia
Jameer Nelson is the last holdover veteran on Rob Hennigan's team. (Hennigan did re-sign Nelson, but it's pretty clear that the next good Magic team will feature a younger point guard.) The Magic were also reportedly super bummed that Marcus Smart pulled out of the draft last season; it stands to reason there's a very good chance Orlando can pick Smart this season if Hennigan still wants him. But there's a point guard rated higher than Smart now: Exum, the Aussie phenom.
It'll be interesting to see how many teams Exum ends up working out for. Many international prospects stay under lock and key. Ricky Rubio, for instance, agreed to one workout in 2009. If Exum looks like a lock for the top five, he might just camp out for a few months.
4. Lakers: Jabari Parker, Duke
I hate the Lakers.
Seriously, only the Lakers would have their worst season in ages in the year the draft is pumped full of top prospects and when they actually own their own pick.
Whoever the Lakers pick might become the best Lakers player instantly, depending on how Kobe Bryant recovers. If it's Parker, that would provide a nice counterbalance to Kobe on the coachability scale.
5. Jazz: Dario Saric, Croatia
Saric is a versatile small forward with good court vision and skills. So basically, this year's Giannis Antetokounmpo without the outrageous explosive athleticism or the refreshing persona. (Well, I don't know if Dario has a refreshing persona. Draft analysis!)
6. Celtics: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
The Celtics badly need size, and while you always take the best player you can, it'll be hard to pass up a physical monster like WCS. He'll totally fit in with the Southies if he bleaches his fade again, too.
7. Kings: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Sacramento needs defense, defense, defense. Aaron Gordon might be the second- or third-best defensive prospect in the lottery behind Embiid and maybe Wiggins. The NorCal native has some offensive question marks, and won't be the biggest power forward in the league. But the Kings have scorers and a hole at the four. Gordon would appear to be a perfect match.
8. Sixers (via Pelicans): Doug McDermott, Creighton
It appears Philadelphia will have two top-10 picks. New Orleans keeps its pick only if it lands in the top five. That will only happen at this point if three worse teams go on winning streaks or if the Ping Pong Gods smile again on the Pelicans. Having the flexibility of two high picks in this draft should do wonders for Sam Hinkie's strategy. That Jrue Holiday trade is going to look really good come June.
Why McDermott here? Why not? (Draft analysis!)
9. Bobcats (via Pistons): Julius Randle, Kentucky
Depending on how Kentucky does in the tournament -- they'll knock off a No. 1 seed or be out in the first weekend -- Randle's status could fluctuate wildly. He came into the season in the Parker-Wiggins conversation, but the Wildcats have been pretty mediocre and that's affected how we view Randle. A neat tournament run could help rehabilitate that stock. The combine will probably not, as scouts will be reminded about Randle's physical limitations.
10. Cavaliers: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Anderson Varejao is 32, Tyler Zeller is a pretty much still a non-entity, Spencer Hawes is a free agent and Mike Brown needs a defensive big man for the future. Vonleh has a whole lot of upside by that criteria. The question is whether the Cavaliers' next general manager will have the patience to wait on a very young big man.
11. Nuggets (via Knicks): Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The Nuggets need everything and nothing. What a weird roster. (If the team were in the playoff bracket, I'd be calling it wonderfully weird. Alas.) Smart is too good to fall out of the lottery, in my opinion, even if the Nuggets' best player is a point guard (Ty Lawson).
12. Magic (via Nuggets): Rodney Hood, Duke
Like the Sixers, the Magic will have two lottery picks thanks to the Dwight Howard trade. There's plenty of pressure on Hennigan to come out of this well. The ghost of Chris Grant haunts the lottery.
13. Timberwolves: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is going to be a fascinating draft case. He's a smart, skilled point guard who can score, but he doesn't match the crazy athleticism of many other modern elite point guards like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Raymond Felton. Jonny Flynn comparisons won't be fair at all, but they will exist.
Also, Googling "Tyler Ennis" is going to confuse so many NBA fans.
14. Suns: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
The top of the first round isn't deep with two-guards, unlike 2013. The two top shooting guard lottery candidates are Stauskas and Michigan State's Gary Harris. Sparty is a title favorite, and the tournament changes GM minds for sure, so the battle between Stauskas and Harris will be up in the air until the end.
You know what's weird? Phoenix will have three first-round picks with no gaping needs outside of maybe frontcourt depth and an Eric Bledsoe insurance policy. What a world.