Early May is a fuzzy time for NBA mock draft talk. We know most of the players who will be in the June draft -- the NBA has released its early entry list, and only a few European stars or back-of-the-first underclassmen will pull out. But we won't know the draft order until May 17, when the NBA holds its annual draft lottery. In this league, team needs still weigh heavily, even though it's a league where talent trumps fit consistently. As such, at this point it's even more of a mystery than it will be in the weeks leading up to the draft, when things will be pretty darned mysterious.
But you think a shroud of confusion is going to stop us from wildly projecting the results of the draft? Pshaw!
This mock draft is based on a draft order before the lottery. We've dropped a tier structure over the whole shebang.
TIER 1: TOP O' THE CAKE
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
The Wolves are, predictably, in a tough spot. They don't have a good point guard on the roster -- Jonny Flynn's story has been written, but he's been unproductive in two seasons. Luke Ridnour is aging and struggled with injury last season. But if David Kahn really thinks Ricky Rubio is coming stateside, can you pick another lottery point guard? Irving's the best prospect on the board, but taking him would complicate the Ricky relationship, at least at the onset.
But I'm not sure Minnesota could take Derrick Williams No. 1, given the presence of Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. Love-Williams could be a deadly combo, provided the Arizona product can guard small forward and Love can learn how to guard, period.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Derrick Williams, F, Arizona
The Cavs are the opposite of the Wolves: for Minnesota, neither of the top pick options make total sense. For Cleveland, "both please." I think very few teams would take Williams over Irving at the very top, the Cavs included. A common thread among the worst teams in the NBA is the lack of a top-flight point guard. The Cavs are thin at forward, too -- Antawn Jamison is on skates out of town, and J.J. Hickson is a solid but unspectacular option. The small forward spot is destitute in C-Town.
TIER 2: MYSTERIOUS DELICACIES
3. Toronto Raptors: Jan Vesely, F, Czech Republic
The international talent stream is full this year, and Vesely is one of the more intriguing prospects. Jon Givony of DraftExpress wrote the definitive Vesely profile for SI.com earlier this year. A lanky, athletic forward who can sprint the floor, defend and finish? That's the NBA ideal, if not the execution. (Yes, I have noticed that all eight teams left in the NBA Playoffs are more content in the halfcourt than an up-tempo game.)
4. Washington Wizards: Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
Kanter played even less than Daniel Orton, which is an impressive feat made possible only by the NCAA's iron fist. The Turkish big man made his name in the United States a year ago at Hoop Summit, and given Washington's frontcourt question marks -- is JaVale McGee a part of this new core, or not? -- he could be a good fit.
5. Sacramento Kings: Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
The 6'11 Lithuanian is considered an energy player who activity earns more production than his skills. That said, he's one of the more productive per-minute players in Europe despite being 18, and while you'd love to have some finesse from your tall players, you can't teach passion. Jonas seems to have it, according to all reports.
TIER 3: CHAMPIONS ALL
6. Utah Jazz: Kemba Walker, PG, UConn
The Jazz need guards. Guards guards guards. We'll see if Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller have a Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson trade up their sleeves, but assuming trades will be spare before the collective bargaining agreement is approved, Utah has to be looking guard in the draft. After Irving, Walker's the best one on the board.
7. Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
Knight may have been the only player who moved into the lottery during the NCAA Tournament, thanks to some timely makes and ... well, to be honest, thanks to everyone else pulling out. Detroit's entire roster is a mystery, but point guard is particularly curious. I mean, Tracy McGrady played there over Rodney Stuckey. Am I supposed to figure out what that means?
TIER 4: MORE DELICACIES, POSSIBLY NONEXISTENT
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Bismack Biyombo, F, Congo
I'm not going to lie: when I first heard about Biyombo, I was convinced he was a hoax, like that soccer player some enterprising kids dreamt up a few years ago. Only Ben Golliver's live reports on Bismack's existence convinced me he's real.
TIER 5: BOBCATS
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Marcus Morris, PF, Kansas
I'm not saying Michael Jordan avoids foreign-born players like he avoids good fashion, but the thought of Charlotte taking someone like Donatas Motiejunas just made me laugh out loud. Better stick with MADE IN THE U.S.A. products.
TIER 6: THE OTHER LITHUANIAN
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Donatas Motiejunas, PF/C, Lithuania
Donatas will likely be overshadowed by the more eye-popping Valanciunas; Motiejunas is a year older and more a traditional Euro-type -- a skilled shooter. That's not a bad thing, and Milwaukee could certainly use a player like that.
TIER 7: WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIERS
11. Golden State Warriors: Kawhi Leonard, F, San Diego State
The Warriors are very seriously only a few players away. But LeBron James and Dwight Howard aren't in the draft. Kawhi Leonard is. Enjoy him.
TIER 8: THE JIMMER
12. Utah Jazz: Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU
I refuse to publish a mock draft that does not have Jimmer Fredette going to the Utah Jazz at No. 12. Unless I decide Utah would pick him at No. 6.
TIER 9: DAVID STERN IS GETTING ANNOYED NOW
13. Phoenix Suns: Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
Thompson could very well zip up mocks as we approach June. Phoenix needs more frontcourt help, and could probably also use a solid two-guard prospect. This draft is light on the latter, though.
14. Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky
Jones is another solid prospect who could go a lot higher than this. The Rockets need to continue to build a base of talent, given the roster's uncertainty.