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NBA mock draft: The Cavaliers have no choice but to take Joel Embiid

The unpredictable Cleveland Cavaliers could easily surprise us again at the top of the draft, but if they're smart, they take Kansas center Joel Embiid and let the rest of the draft play out.

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBA

There was a collective groan around the league when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery for the third time in four years, but it will end up making the draft that much more entertaining. If nothing else, Cleveland always keeps things interesting.

Last year, the Cavs were reportedly considering six players a week before the draft and didn't decide on Anthony Bennett until the day they had to make the pick. The year before that, hardly anyone saw it coming when Cleveland tabbed Dion Waiters with the fourth pick in the 2012 draft.

The Cavaliers post-LeBron are like the Oakland Raiders under Al Davis. You never know what they're going to do. Let's not forget this is also the same team that reportedly made an $80 million godfather offer to John Calipari to be the coach and GM. For what might be the most hyped draft in a decade, having the Cavs at the top should make it a little bit more fun.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

In the last three years, the Cavaliers have passed on Jonas Valanciunas, Andre Drummond and Nerlens Noel. That should be the type of draft day sin a franchise regrets for years. Luckily for Cleveland, Joel Embiid is a better prospect than all of the prized centers they've passed on. If he's healthy, Embiid has to be the pick for Cleveland. Of course after saying that, just wait for them to take Jabari Parker and make everyone's heads explode.

It will be tempting to take a wing with elite athleticism like Andrew Wiggins or an NBA-ready offensive game like Parker, but a strong two-way center is the toughest thing to find in basketball. That's what Embiid projects as being. He's only been playing the game for three years, but he has all the tools.

There will be people who question this pick in such a strong draft, particularly after the back injury that prevented Embiid from playing in the NCAA Tournament. But the 2014 NBA Draft is so strong because it includes Joel Embiid. Prospects like this just don't come along very often.

2. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

The Bucks can't go wrong with the second pick. Either they're getting a 6'9 forward who should be able to score from all three levels from day one or a 6'8 athletic freak with lockdown defensively ability and a ceiling that feels limitless. In this situation, the Bucks have to decide how Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins would fit into their roster and culture above anything else. For those reasons, we think they'll take Parker.

An elite offensive talent is never going to get to Milwaukee any other way but through the draft. Wiggins might have a higher ceiling than Parker, but the jury is still out on if he'll ever be a great offensive player. Parker has done just about all he can to show that he should be 20-points-per-game scorer for the next decade and beyond.

The Bucks already have a long athletic forward on the wing in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Parker's ability to stretch the floor from the perimeter and score in isolation situations gives Milwaukee an ideal second piece to the puzzle.

3. Philadelphia 76ers - Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas

This is the perfect marriage of player and team. Philadelphia probably would have selected Wiggins if it landed the first pick. If he drops to No. 3, Sam Hinkie and the 76ers fans that just endured a shamelessly tank-tastic season will know it was all worth it. The 26-game losing streak, the one-year wait for Nerlens Noel, the fact that their roster was so ambiguous that Sporcle turned it into a quiz ... all of it.

This is the best possible situation for all parties involved.

The ideal system for an athlete of Wiggins' caliber is one that makes him run, and the 76ers led the league in possessions per game last year. It'll help having a tall, heady point guard in Michael Carter-Williams running the show. It'll help that Philadelphia won't have any delusions about competing for a couple years, so there won't be any pressure on Wiggins to prove he's the Next LeBron (®) right away. Wiggins reportedly wants to play in Philly, too. This is the best possible situation for all parties involved.

4. Orlando Magic - Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

The Magic must choose between Smart and Australian point guard Dante Exum. Exum -- the international man of mystery -- is considered to be the superior prospect by most evaluators, but there's reason to think the Magic could go with Smart. Orlando was reportedly devastated when the Oklahoma State point guard surprisingly withdrew from the 2013 draft, and we know they've already had him in for a pair of workouts.

The biggest thing presumed to be working in Exum's favor is that a lack of existing game tape means his flaws haven't been thoroughly examined like everyone else in the class. What if that scares off Orlando, though? They've seen Smart for two seasons and likely feel comfortable with his strengths and weakness. Smart might not have Exum's size or length, but he's still a huge point guard at 6'4 with a wingspan over 6'9. He and Victor Oladipo could be a terrifying defensive backcourt. Offensively, Smart really just needs to stop taking so many bad shots.

5. Utah Jazz - Dante Exum, PG, Australia

Even after offering all of their draft picks for the next five years, a box of never-used FREDETTE No. 32 jerseys and several hunting rifles signed by Karl Malone, the Jazz probably still can't move up to grab Jabari Parker. Some things just aren't meant to be.

That's OK, though, because Exum at No. 5 is a great consolation prize. Yes, the Jazz drafted a point guard in the first round last year in Trey Burke, but Exum -- standing 6'6 with a 6'10 wingspan -- has the size to defend shooting guards and play off the ball. Either way, two combo-guard attacks are all the rage nowadays after seeing what Phoenix did in the regular season and what Oklahoma City did in the playoffs with Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson.


Jeff Gross/Getty Images Sport

6. Boston Celtics - Aaron Gordon, SF, Arizona

Danny Ainge is reportedly "locked in" on Gordon, but it's possible (if not highly likely) that's a smokescreen. Ideally, the Celtics would love to send this pick to the Timberwolves in a package for Kevin Love, but Boston lacks a good, young player like Al Jefferson that helped swing their last deal for a superstar with Minnesota.

If Love doesn't arrive and the board breaks this way, the Celtics have three very good players as options. The possibly bogus report that Ainge likes Gordon is our tiebreker.

7. Los Angeles Lakers - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

The Lakers are another team that would like to trade this pick for a veteran, but they didn't land high enough in the lottery to pursue a player of Love's caliber. Whether they trade the pick or keep it, the Lakers have to make this selection count.  Their 2015 pick goes to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade.

Vonleh wouldn't be a magic cure-all that ails the Lakers next season, but he would be a good long-term bet. At 6'9, 247 pounds with a wingspan over 7'4, he has prototypical size. He also has a promising enough face-up jumper to draw some Chris Bosh comparisons. It just won't happen overnight. As the second youngest player in the draft, Vonleh will likely need a few to develop before he really starts to make an impact.

Patience, Lakers fans. We know it's not a demeanor you know well. Vonleh should be a very good player in a few years.

8. Sacramento Kings - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

Maybe Julius Randle shouldn't be acting so defensive over a report that he may need foot surgery following the draft. If it's supposed to be a minor operation, Randle might just want to get it taken care of now so it doesn't linger and possibly cut into his season. The most important for Randle is having a long, healthy and productive career, not just maximizing his draft position.

If Randle does fall to No. 8, he could form a must-watch front line in Sacramento with DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie and Randle wouldn't provide the type of spacing most teams are after these days, but they could make up for it with physicality and superior rebounding. Good luck trying to keep either of these players away from the rim or off the glass.

9. Charlotte Hornets - Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist projected to lock down one of the spots on the wing long-term, the Hornets need to find a way to get shooting on the floor. The draft drops off a bit after the first eight picks, but fortunately for the Hornets, they should still have their pick of the two best three-point shooters in the draft.

If this comes down to McDermott versus Michigan's Nik Stauskas, the Hornets can take comfort in knowing they should be able to add a knock down three-point shooter either way. McDermott doesn't have Stauskas' ball handling or playmaking ability, but he's a bigger and more versatile scorer. In his last three years at Creighton, McDermott shot at least 45 percent from three. His all-around scoring dominance in college might hide the fact that he's also an incredible outside shooter. Putting MKG next to him would allow McDermott to take the easier assignment on defense, too. It works out for everyone involved.

10. Philadelphia 76ers - Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA

How much of a freak is Zach LaVine?

Zach LaVine is a complete freak.

LaVine scored 11 points combined in his last five college games, but his situation at UCLA was far from ideal. Steve Alford was giving his son minutes over a dude who can do 360 dunks wearing ankle weights and rain threes in his sleep. All LaVine needs is an organization that believes in him. He has all the talent in the world.

LaVine is very raw, but it's not like the 76ers are trying to win anything next year. Add Wiggins and LaVine to a team with Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, and Philadelphia could have an incredible core for years to come.

11. Denver Nuggets - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

The Bulls reportedly want to trade No. 16 and No. 19 to get into this spot. Whether Denver makes that deal or decides to stay at No. 11, Harris would be a good pick here. He's a bulldog on both sides of the ball after studying under sensei Tom Izzo in East Lansing for two years, and he doesn't even turn 20 years until September.

Is Harris good enough at any individual aspect of offense to ever be a great offensive player? That remains to be seen, but there's no denying he's as physically tough as any guard in this class. The Nuggets have JaVale McGee and Nate Robinson, so a little grit wouldn't be the worst thing.

12. Orlando Magic - Dario Saric, SF, Croatia

Saric isn't a big-time athlete or a great shooter, but he has tremendous feel for the game, a huge frame (6'10) and can play either forward spot. That type of versatility would make sense for Orlando with its second lottery pick.

The Magic are still trying to mold the team following the departure of Dwight Howard. They have some nice pieces, but the roster still doesn't feel like it's really taken shape. Two top-12 picks in this draft should start to change that. If Saric really does have the vision and passing ability of a point guard in a 6'10 guy's body, he's the type of player would could help a bad team finally take a step forward. Big guys who can pass are pretty helpful, just ask all the folks in San Antonio wearing Boris Diaw jerseys right now.

13.Minnesota Timberwolves - Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

The general consensus is that trading Kevin Love is going to move the T-Wolves back to the Stone Age, but there is a decent amount of talent here and Love should bring a huge haul. If this is the start of another rebuilding phase, the Wolves have to make sure lottery picks like this one count.

The Wolves got into this mess because they consistently missed on high draft picks like Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson to build around Love. Payne wouldn't only project as a fine Love replacement in the front court, he's also thought to be one of the safer picks on the board. No, he won't average 27 points per game, but he's a tall shooter like Love and should be better defensively.

Payne and Gorgui Dieng would be a solid two-way front court for the future. Get a couple of good-looking young players and some draft picks for Love, and maybe the Timberwolves can end the league's longest playoff drought more quickly than anyone anticipates.

14. Phoenix Suns - Rodney Hood, SF, Duke

The Suns have two great guards, a fun system to play in, and three first-round picks in this draft. All they need to do is keep adding pieces to the puzzle. At No. 14, Hood could offer a quick upgrade over P.J. Tucker, who went from playing all over Europe to starting 81 games in Phoenix last season.

Hood hit 42 percent of his three-pointers last season, so his shooting would be a nice fit alongside Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Some consider Hood a poor defender because he didn't record many steals and blocks, and Duke's defense was miserable last season. All of that is true. He did defend T.J. Warren as tough as anyone all season in the ACC Tournament, though, and that has to count for something. More than anything, Hood is a player with a high floor. It's OK to get a single instead of a home run sometimes.


Leon Halip/Getty Images Sport

15. Atlanta Hawks - Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan

Stauskas shouldn't fall this far and very well may end up in the top 10. If he did drop all the way to No. 15, though, the Hawks would be elated. We just saw Atlanta give the Pacers hell by spreading them thin with five shooters. What better to do in the draft than add the best shooter available?

If you stagger the minutes of Stauskas and Kyle Korver, Atlanta would have a knock-down three-point shooter on the wing on the floor at all times. The Hawks added a young players in the front court (Lucas Nogueira) and at point guard (Dennis Schroeder) in last year's draft, so going with a wing this time around makes some sense.

16. Chicago Bulls - Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia

This might seem like a head-scratching pick for the Bulls, but it makes more sense if you dig deeper. Joakim Noah turns 30 next season and has fought foot injuries throughout his career. That's just about the worst thing possible for a big man who relies on his athleticism. Chicago also had Nazr Mohammed as the backup center for the last two seasons. They're in desperate need of an upgrade there.

Even if Nurkic doesn't come over next season, it's OK. The Bulls still have the No. 19 pick in this draft. Ideally, these picks could be used in a trade for Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony. With the Bulls, we'll believe it when we see it.

17. Boston Celtics - T.J. Warren, SF, N.C. State

There is only one thing you need to know about T.J. Warren, and that is that T.J. Warren gets buckets. If you watched him drop 40+ in consecutive games in the ACC this season, you know he can and will score in the NBA. He doesn't have a pretty outside shot, but his floater is immaculate and he rarely misses from mid-range. The Celtics don't have anyone who can put the ball in the basket as easily as Warren can. This would not be a bad selection at No. 17.

18. Suns - Clint Capela, C, Switzerland

Clint Capela is gigantic: he measured at 6'11 with a wingspan over 7'4 at the Hoops Summit a few months ago. He's still only 20 years old and supposed to be a good athlete. The problem, of course, is that no one has really seen him play. Remind you of anyone?

Capela enters the draft in the same vein as Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka. One has been in the league for three years and no one knows if he's any good yet. The other is a two-way monster whose absence in the Western Conference Finals might have cost the Thunder a matchup against the Heat. Good luck figuring out which one Capela will be.

That's the thing with drafting a player like Capela: you don't know if you're getting Ibaka or Biyombo. Either way, the Suns are in a position to gamble with so many picks this year and next year.

19. Chicago Bulls - James Young, SG, Kentucky

I could write about Young's seven-foot wingspan, his sterling reputation as a shooter (even if the numbers didn't really back it up) and the fact that he's still only 18 years old ... or I can just embed the GIF of his unholy slam against UConn in the title game:


Much better this way.

20. Toronto Raptors - Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

Drake demands you take a Canadian player, Masai Ujiri. If you don't, he's going to sit in the back of the club and send several melancholy text messages about it. Really not all that different from a normal Drake day, I suppose.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA

Here are the wingspans of the Thunder's core players:

Serge Ibaka: 7'4

Kevin Durant: 7'4

Steven Adams: 7'4

Perry Jones III: 7'1

Reggie Jackson: 7'0

Jeremy Lamb: 7'0

Kyle Anderson has a 7'3 wingspan. I rest my case.

22. Memphis Grizzlies - P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (D-League)

The Grizzlies always need shooting, and firing from three-point range is Hairston's game. He attempted 6.8 attempts from deep for the Texas Legends of the D-League last year after he was kicked out of North Carolina by the NCAA. Here is the good news for Hairston: the NCAA has no jurisdiction in the real world. That's good news for everyone, really.

23. Utah Jazz - K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson

If the Jazz add Exum to a core of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, they would be further along in the rebuilding process than anyone might realize. McDaniels is the type of dude who can be a perfect role player for a young team. He defends multiple positions, gives you a superior athlete on the floor and has a game that's more versatile than polished.

24. Charlotte Hornets - Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn

The hungry nights are over, Shabazz. Now, you end up right back where you started; playing behind Kemba Walker. This should make college basketball fans everywhere very, very happy if it happens. Walker and Napier may not seem like a natural fit in the backcourt together, but having ball handlers and shooters is the new hotness after watching the way the Spurs dismantled the Heat. If anyone could take a team with a Napier-Walker backcourt and make them solid defensively, it's Steve Clifford.

25. Houston Rockets - Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA

The advanced stats love Adams. The Rockets are run by the early advanced stats innovators. You can connect the dots from there.

26. Miami Heat - Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette

Payton has a decent chance of going at the end of the lottery because he's big, athletic and projects as a relentless defender. The one hole is in game is that he can't shoot very well yet. Evidence:

Still, he's drawing Rondo comparison for a reason. He has the talent to be taken much higher than this. Payton's biggest problem might be that so many teams already have point guards. Whether it's Payton or Ennis, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see one of the point guards in this draft fall for that reason.

27. Phoenix Suns - Mitch McGary, C, Michigan

McGary is only a few months younger than Kyrie Irving, but being a little older isn't always a bad thing for a big man in the draft. It worked out pretty well for the Nets with Mason Plumlee and the Wolves with Gorgui Dieng last season. McGary has a nice faceup game and the size to handle the pounding on the inside in the NBA. He isn't a super exciting pick, but he's a pretty safe one at this point in the draft.

28. Los Angeles Clippers - Cory Jefferson, PF, Baylor

It's a shock a Clippers fan hasn't tried to spread a nasty and completely unfounded Internet rumor about Glen Davis yet to get him off the team next year. Los Angeles desperately needs a third big man, and Jefferson is a great candidate at this point in the draft. Most mocks have him as a second round pick, but he has the size and talent to go at the end of the first.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Walter Tavares, C, Cape Verde

Walter Tavares has a 7'9 wingspan.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Vasilje Micic, PG, Serbia

The safest bet in the draft is the Spurs using this pick on an international player you've never of before. Vasilje Micic, come on down.