I'm not happy with Marcus Smart. When penciling in some potential draft picks earlier this week, I had him as the top player going to the Bobcats. With Smart returning to Oklahoma State, I had to redo everything. As you will read elsewhere, this is not a good draft. There are no stars, and none of the players will have a dramatic impact on the teams that pick them in the next few years. Next year's draft is supposed to be better, but forecasting a year in advance is a fool's errand. In this mock draft, I'll predict as if the lottery works out in the exact order of the opposite standings. The lottery, by the way, is on May 21. I will also lean more toward what teams should do rather than what they will do.
1. Orlando Magic Nerlens Noel, center, Kentucky Wildcats
I originally had Noel falling to fourth. He won't be ready to start the season after tearing his ACL in February, so the thinking goes that whichever team drafts him will be playing for the 2014 draft. I don't think that makes much sense, and the fact that Noel has a very limited offensive game gives me pause. However, Noel is an impact shot blocker (a skill that may not translate to the NBA) and should be a good rebounder. I think a Ben Wallace comp is the upside for Noel, and he could form a solid frontcourt with Nikola Vucevic.
2. Charlotte Bobcats Ben McLemore, guard, Kansas Jayhawks
With Smart, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats would have had a solid, albeit very young, nucleus. McLemore is a better shooter than Smart and could be a good defender. The problem with McLemore isn't so much a person thing as much as it is that the track record of Jayhawks drafted in the Bill Self era is not good. Mario Chalmers is the best of the sorry lot. McLemore's tendency to disappear and played passively, despite all of his skills, also doesn't help his case for being a top draft pick.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers Otto Porter, forward, Georgetown Hoyas
This might be the best fit of team and player in the early lottery. The Cavaliers started Alonzo Gee for 82 games in the 2012-13 season. Gee is a fine defensive performer, but Porter is bigger and can score. He had a breakout game in the Hoyas' final trip to the Carrier Dome against Syracuse by scoring 33 points and solving the Orange zone by shooting over it. He is a good rebounder and would fit on a team that has drafted four starters in the past two drafts (Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller).
4. Phoenix Suns Shabazz Muhammad, forward, UCLA Bruins
Muhammad seems to be falling on draft charts because he is older than he said he was, did not show much beyond shooting in his lone year at UCLA, and may have some concerns with his attitude. For the Suns, he sounds like another Michael Beasley, but I think he is better than that. UCLA under Ben Howland has produced stars such as Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday. Howland is gone, but Muhammad's pedigree is not.
5. New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Bennett, forward, UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Porter, Muhammad, and Bennett were unable to showcase their skills in the NCAA tournament. All three lost in the round of 64, which says a lot about this draft. Bennett is a power forward who can step out and hit a 3-pointer. The product of Canada played very well in the non-conference slate before injuring his shoulder. He would compete with Al-Farouq Aminu for minutes.
6. Sacramento Kings Trey Burke, guard, Michigan Wolverines
The Kings are a mess and don't even seem to have a permanent home. I'm not sure that Burke will be a star, but he was certainly reliable for the Wolverines as they made their way through the Big Ten and to the NCAA title game. The 6-0 guard has excellent range on his jumper and good (but not great) court vision. He is stocky enough not to be a terrible defensive liability, but his height leaves a lot to be desired. The Kings have a number of point guard options, but Burke may be somewhat better than Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette.
7. Washington Wizards Cody Zeller, forward, Indiana Hoosiers
I'm not high on Zeller. He didn't play well in the NCAA tournament, and I thought his lack of aggressiveness and slow decision making from the high post was a big reason the Hoosiers were unable to beat Syracuse. He does have a variety of skills that may be useful for the Wizards. I think he has a bit more polish offensively than his brother who was a rookie with the Cavaliers this season. He can hit a midrange jumper and is a willing rebounder. Zeller could grow into a fine forward behind Nene and Emeka Okafor.
8. Detroit Pistons Victor Oladipo, guard, Indiana Hoosiers
A Hoosier run! This might seem like a steal for the Pistons because Oladipo had such a nice season for Indiana. He should be an excellent two-way guard who could be a defensive perimeter assassin. In his junior season, Oladipo hit 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers after hitting less than a quarter of his long range shots in his first two years. He will need to work on hitting an NBA-range 3-pointer, but the 6-5 guard could slide into the confusion of the Pistons' backcourt situation and be a stabilizing force.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves C.J. McCollum, guard, Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Like Noel, McCollum was lost for the season when he injured his foot on Jan. 5 in a loss to VCU. I happened to be watching both games (the Noel and McCollum injuries) and wasn't sure what happened to the 6-3 Mountain Hawk at the time. Prior to the injury, McCollum was averaging 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. He could handle point guard duties in a pinch, but will mostly be drafted for his shooting ability, which should help Minnesota.
10. Portland Trailblazers Gorgui Dieng, center, Louisville Cardinals
Whereas Zeller disappeared in the NCAA tournament, Dieng played very well. He showed excellent passing skills in the high post in the Big East final against Syracuse and was able to hit some 12-15 foot jumpers. Those skills may be enough to raise his draft stock to above the average rebounder/shot blocker. Dieng showed off those skills as the Cardinals marched their way to the national championship. He could get some playing time behind or with Meyers Leonard.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via the Toronto Raptors top three protected) Dario Saric, forward, Croatia
You could look at this as the rich getting richer, but a mid-level first round pick may not be all that great. While I can't say that I've seen Saric, his description makes him sound like a young Toni Kukoc. He is 6-11 and can dribble and pass. His outside shot needs work, but the Thunder could let him develop in Europe for a year or two before bringing him over as a potential point forward (two of my favorite words). It would be a cagy move by general manger Sam Presti.
12. Philadelphia 76ers Alex Len, center, Maryland Terrapins
Len is a player that I am not as high on as others. He has excellent size and people will always tell you about that reverse dunk on Mason Plumlee. My response is, and ? He had a few other solid games, including one against the freshmen of Kentucky in the opener, but the 7-1 center also scored in single digits in seven of 11 games in late January through early March against a somewhat middling ACC. Despite his size advantage, he only collected double-digit rebounds seven times and averaged 7.8 boards. Len could serve as Spencer Hawes' backup in the short term.
13. Dallas Mavericks Pierre Jackson, guard, Baylor Bears
My feelings about Jackson are the opposite of how I feel about Len. I love him. I love his confidence, and I think he could be the point guard of the future for the Mavericks. He probably won't be considered, because of his size (5-10, 180 lbs), but I think his ability to hit shots and run an offense would make him a good get.
14. Utah Jazz Michael Carter-Williams, guard, Syracuse Orange
Jackson could be a consideration for the Jazz as well. Mo Williams is one of my least favorite NBA players. He is a good shooter, but he is essentially a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Unlike Mo Williams, Carter-Williams is not a good shooter, but he is a good passer and can deftly play the passing lanes on defense. Like Bennett, he slowed down in conference play as opponents tempted him to shoot. He has excellent height but will need to fill out as he matures.
15. Milwaukee Bucks Jamaal Franklin, guard, San Diego State Aztecs
And here is a bonus pick, since I am a Bucks fan and the team is essentially a lottery team. They are in an interesting situation since both Brandon Jennings (restricted) and Monta Ellis (unrestricted) are free agents. I always believe in picking the best player available, and Franklin might be the best. He compares somewhat to former Buck Desmond Mason in that he is a wing who can rebound. Like Mason, Franklin struggled on offense from the perimeter, but he could be a very solid perimeter defender.