NEW YORK — Saddle up, everyone. This is going to be a wildly unpredictable draft.
While reports about the weakness of this crop of draftees are premature — it is impossible to know just how good or bad a draft is until years after it’s completed — two things are clear: There is no can’t-miss superstar at the top (Kansas’s Ben McLemore has the most potential while Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel could become a Ben Wallace-like defensive force) and there are few certainties anywhere. Team’s draft boards will be all over the place, and lottery talent, at least in the minds of some general managers, will likely slip into the 20′s.
As teams gear up for group workouts, individual workouts and countless hours of film study, here’s SI.com’s Mock Draft 1.0.
1 – Cleveland
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
What a night for the Cavs, who nabbed the top spot for the second time in three years. The backcourt is locked in, with 2011 top overall pick Kyrie Irving and ’12 pick Dion Waiters. Expect the Cavs to snap up Noel, a 7-foot defensive menace who will solidify the middle and fortify a defense that ranked last in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage (47.6 percent) last season.
2 – Orlando
This is an interesting spot for Orlando, which has a roster loaded with young talent. If Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart had stayed in the draft, he would have been a natural fit. Incumbent shooting guard Arron Afflalo has three years and $23 million left on his contract, but it will be difficult for the Magic to pass on McLemore, a Ray Allen-type shooter with superior athleticism.
3 – Washington
Otto Porter, Georgetown
Here’s where things get fun. The Wizards need a small forward, and Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld got a good look at Georgetown’s Otto Porter all season long. Porter is a versatile forward with an excellent midrange game. But UNLV’s Anthony Bennett — who is unable to work out for teams due to shoulder surgery — has monstrous potential at either forward spot. Pencil in Porter, a more traditional small forward, for now, but but don’t expect it to be an easy call.
4 – Charlotte
Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
The Hornets — yeah, we’re calling them that again — badly need a big man to shore up a frontcourt that ranked dead last in points in the paint (25.3 per game), 25th in opponent points in the paint (43.9) and 27th in rebounding (40.3 per game). But the best fit here is Oladipo, a mature, defensive-minded guard who developed into a consistent shooter last season. In Oladipo, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte would have a solid perimeter nucleus to build around.
5 – Phoenix
The Suns’ roster is a mess, so Phoenix can afford to go with the best player on the board here. That’s Bennett, a 6-foot-7 239-pound force who some scouts believe will be the best player in the draft. Bennett is an explosive athlete, has a credible back-to-the-basket and face-up game and legitimate three-point range (38.3 percent last season). He’s something of a tweener, but if he settles into a position Bennett has superstar potential.
6 – New Orleans
Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
There could be a temptation here to take Maryland’s Alex Len, a physical center whose style of play has made several scouts believe he will be a better pro than college player. But Austin Rivers did little last season to suggest he is the long-term solution at point guard, and Burke is the kind of dynamic playmaker/scorer that the Pelicans need to boost an offense without a lot of weapons.
7 – Sacramento
Cody Zeller, Indiana
Zeller tested well at the combine, for whatever that’s worth, showcasing tremendous athleticism. Teams will want to see how he shoots from the perimeter at individual workouts but there is no denying that Zeller is a skilled offensive player. The Kings are a mess, but adding Zeller to a frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins has potential, and, after being branded a disappointment by critics following last season, Zeller will come in with a chip on his shoulder.
8 – Detroit
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
With Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the Pistons frontcourt is set. Detroit needs help scoring though (94.9 points per game last season, 22nd in the NBA) and Muhammad is a scorer. He prefers to play the 2-guard spot, but Muhammad has the size and strength to play small forward, too. Questions about Muhammad’s attitude and one-dimensional play linger, but his talent is undeniable.
9 – Minnesota
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Timberwolves star Kevin Love didn’t hesitate when asked what the team needs in the draft. “A lights-out shooter,” Love said. McCollum has been compared favorably to Damian Lillard, though he isn’t as comfortable at the point guard position as Lillard was coming out of Weber State. In Minnesota, McCollum, who has NBA-range and plays well in the pick-and-roll, doesn’t have to be a playmaker, not with an emerging star in Ricky Rubio entrenched at the position.
10 – Portland
Alex Len, C, Maryland
The Blazers need a starting center, and Len oozes potential. He’s a physical 5-man who rebounds well, protects the paint (2.1 blocks per game) and can play with his back to the basket. A stress fracture in his left ankle will keep him out of individual workouts, and that could hurt his stock; teams would like to see some signs of a diverse offensive game. But that could work well for Portland, which needs some muscle alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.
11 – Philadelphia
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
With the future of Andrew Bynum in doubt and with a hole at the power forward spot, the Sixers badly need frontcourt help. There are questions about Olynyk’s strength and concerns about how, after three years at Gonzaga, he will match up with bigger, more physical defenders. But there is no denying Olynyk’s offensive skills. He has a variety of moves in the post and at the combine showcased guard-like shooting from the perimeter.
12 – Oklahoma City (via Toronto)
Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
There is increasing chatter among NBA executives that the Thunder — with two first-round picks and young talent in Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones on the roster — will look to make a major move on draft night. If they keep this pick, Saric, a smooth, mobile big man one executive describes as “the best passing big in the draft” is a nice find. Saric isn’t the bruising back-to-the-basket scorer that Oklahoma City craves, but he is exactly the kind of high potential talent GM Sam Presti loves to develop.
13 – Dallas
Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
The Mavericks need a point guard and Carter-Williams is considered the best pure playmaker in the draft. The Shaun Livingston comparisons are easy to make — how many 6-foot-6 point guards are there to compare him to — but two executives said they liked Livingston’s potential more coming into the draft. Still, Carter-Williams has superior point guard instincts and if he can harness his size and improve his jump shot, he could develop quickly.
14 – Utah
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
People around the league like players who can do a little of everything and Franklin, who led San Diego State in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season, is that kind of player. He doesn’t shoot the three particularly well, but he plays with energy and is a solid defender. German point guard Dennis Schroeder will be tempting here, too, but Utah could chance that it can grab a point guard with its second first-round pick.
15 – Milwaukee
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Who knows what happens to the Bucks backcourt — Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent and Monta Ellis can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer — but the Bucks will need some help. Caldwell-Pope made huge strides as a sophomore, surging up a few teams draft boards late in the season. He’s more of a prototypical 2-guard, which will give the next Milwaukee coach a traditional option even if Jennings, Redick and Ellis return.
16 – Boston
Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
With or without the core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — two players who may not be in Boston when training camp opens — the Celtics need size. Dieng, 23, has a defensive reputation (he was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season after swatting 2.5 shots and pulling down 9.4 rebounds per game) but his offensive game is better than most think: Dieng is a strong passer with a decent mid-range jump shot who scouts say is one of the best screen men in the draft.
17 – Atlanta
Mason Plumlee, C, Duke
If Josh Smith departs as a free agent, the Hawks could move Al Horford to power forward — his more natural position — and search for a more traditional center. They will go hard after Dwight Howard this summer, but Plumlee, an athletic 7-footer who has developed a solid low post game, is someone Atlanta can develop.
18 – Atlanta (from Houston)
Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
Schroeder, says an Eastern Conference scout, “is a miniature [Rajon] Rondo.” At 19, he has natural point guard instincts, superior speed and an improving jump shot. Several teams in the 20′s would love for Schroeder to fall. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is a restricted free agent, and though he is likely to return, Schroeder has the potential to be a big-time starter in the future.
19 – Cavaliers (from LA Lakers)
Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas
Mitchell is a 6-foot-9, 236-pound beast with undeniable inside-out skills. His production tailed off last season and reports of poor effort — reports Mitchell confirmed to reporters and team officials at the combine — will stick with him for a while. Still, Mitchell is a tantalizing talent (he compares himself to Denver’s Kenneth Faried) whose abilities could make him worth the risk to a rebuilding Cleveland team that suddenly could be flush with promising power players in the frontcourt. They could dangle one of those players in a deal to bring back the scoring forward that they need.
20 – Chicago
Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Adams is an enigma. He struggled in one season at Pittsburgh, appearing overwhelmed by the strength and speed of the competition. According to one Eastern Conference executive, it looked “like the game was too fast for him” at the combine. But his skills are undeniable. At 7-foot, 255-pounds, with a wingspan of 7-5 and enormous hands (9.5 inches long, 11 inches wide), Adams is a physical specimen with extraordinary athletic ability. With time and coaching, Adams could develop into a significant low-post threat.
21 – Utah
Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
Point guard has been a major issue for the Jazz since the team traded Deron Williams to the Nets in February 2011. Larkin needs seasoning and his size (a shade under 6-feet) is a concern in a league where supersized playmakers are becoming the norm. But he is a phenomenal athlete — he topped the combine in the 3/4 court sprint (3.08 seconds) and vertical leap (44 inches) — and an excellent ball handler who projects to play well in the pick-and-roll. Larkin is one of several point guards who should be on the board here.
22 – Brooklyn
Allen Crabbe, SG, California
The Nets would love a big like Gorgui Dieng to slip this far. Crabbe’s three-point percentage last season was his lowest in three seasons at Cal, but he shot well at the combine, has good size for his position and has shown an ability to use screens well. With MarShon Brooks on the trading block, Brooklyn will be on the lookout for a replacement.
23 – Indiana
Sergey Karasev, SG, Russia
Karasev is NBA-ready, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound swingman who front offices love for his versatility. He faced quality competition in the PBL, Russia’s top league, and reportedly looked sharp at the Nike Hoops Summit in April. Karasev is an excellent catch-and-shoot player, and Indiana loves to play inside-out.
24 – New York
Rudy Gobert, C, France
Gobert is impossibly long at 7-foot-2 with a 7-8 1/2 wingspan and a 9-7 standing reach, both combine records. He didn’t show much offensively at the combine though, and several execs expressed concern about his slender frame. But the Knicks AARP frontcourt needs an infusion of youth, and Gobert’s defensive potential will be too good to pass up.
25 – LA Clippers
Jeff Withey, Kansas
The Clippers could sorely use a more offensive-oriented option at center. Withey isn’t it, but he is a big, skilled defender who can fill in at either frontcourt spot and provide protection for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in case of foul trouble. Withey isn’t the type of player who creates offense for himself, but he’s athletic and a good finisher, and playing alongside Chris Paul would undoubtedly jack up his production.
26 – Minnesota (from Memphis)
Reggie Bullock, SF, North Carolina
Bullock didn’t exactly receive a ringing endorsement from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who said recently he was more worried about Bullock, an early entry candidate, going to the NBA than any of the 11 other players who left UNC early under Williams. But Bullock can shoot the three — something Minnesota, which shot an NBA-worst 30.5 percent from three last season, sorely needs — and rebounds well for his position. If new president Flip Saunders fears losing restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic this summer, massive French center Mouhammadou Jaiteh could be considered.
27 – Denver
Tony Snell, SG, New Mexico
With Andre Iguodala considering opting out of the final year of his contract, Snell is a safety net. Snell is a rangy 2-guard with decent offensive skills and the physical tools to be a solid defender. His three-point shooting steadily improved over three years at New Mexico, topping out at 39 percent last season. Providence’s Ricky Ledo, who dazzled scouts with his shooting potential at the combine, is another option here.
28 – San Antonio
Glen Rice Jr., Georgia Tech (via the NBA D-League)
It’s tough to get a read on what direction the Spurs will go here. They could opt for a raw international talent like Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo or France’s Mouhammadou Jaiteh, someone they could stash overseas for a year or two years like Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter or Luis Scola. Or they could opt for someone who can play right away. After a checkered career at Georgia Tech that ended in a dismissal from the team last year, Rice thrived in one season in the D-League, averaging 25 points and 9.5 rebounds for Rio Grande in the playoffs. More importantly, he stayed out of trouble, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by NBA executives.
29 – Oklahoma City
Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
Let’s be blunt: Goodwin had a bad combine. He struggled with the NBA three and didn’t distinguish himself in any of the drills, looking every bit like a player forced to come out of college because of the vaunted recruiting class coming in behind him. Still, the lanky Goodwin showed flashes of Jamal Crawford-like potential at Kentucky, and Oklahoma City can afford to be patient with a prospect who could give them badly needed scoring off the bench.
30 – Phoenix (from Miami)
C.J. Leslie, SF, NC State
New Suns GM Ryan McDonough has a sharp eye for talent — as an assistant GM in Boston he was a strong advocate for Boston drafting Avery Bradley in 2010 and acquiring Rajon Rono in a draft night trade in 2006 — and he will need that eye here. The Suns have holes everywhere, so position isn’t really relevant. Leslie battled inconsistency at NC State, and there are questions about his attitude and work ethic. But he is a tremendous athlete — he ran a 3.1 in the 3/4 court sprint at the combine, second only to Miami’s Shane Larkin — and showcased a versatile game in college.
First Mock Draft shows that wild ride awaits us
NEW YORK — Saddle up, everyone. This is going to be a wildly unpredictable draft.