The Cavaliers lucked their way into an improbable second consecutive overall pick, which means they'll have the top choice in what is indisputably a better draft than the 2013 iteration.
The question many are asking is just how good this draft is. Is it actually as good as 2003 when considering the top talent? I'd probably argue it's more comparable to the 2008 draft, which has produced five all-stars as opposed to the 2003 draft which has produced four Hall of Famers along with four other all-stars. The depth in this draft also isn't particularly impressive. The only real position of strength is the small forward spot, and I'd actually call the point guard and big man classes weak in regards to depth.
In other words, it's a very strong draft. It is most likely on the "generational" level that has been discussed, in that "generational" drafts tend to come around once every 5-7 years (2014, 2008, 2003, 1996). However, when looking for depth players later in the draft, I think it's actually worse than last year's -- a draft that I believe will still produce many quality role players. So without further ado, here is the top 30. As usual, all big board caveats apply: this is a list of the top 30 prospects, not a mock draft.
1. Andrew Wiggins, 6'9, 200 lbs, SF, Kansas
Wiggins is the wing with the most two-way potential and explosive talent. The athleticism oozes out of every pore both when he leaps and when he moves laterally. His first step is so lethal that a step back jumper will always be there for him, even on the NBA level, because of the respect defenders must give it. If you want an indication of what Wiggins is capable of on the offensive end, look no further than his games against West Virginia or Oklahoma State at the end of the season. It's probably fair to state that he made the wrong college choice for his NBA draft status. However, while Bill Self's system probably held back his offensive development, it did help him on the defensive end.
He's not a perfect prospect. The questions about his "killer instinct" may not be totally valid, but the ones about his ball-handling are. His handle tends to get loose from time to time, and that makes him a bit easier to defend as he attempts to get to the rim. His shot can be inconsistent as well. But overall, Wiggins is the guy that I'd bet on most to reach superstar status, given health concerns (we'll get to that in a minute) and overall ability.
2. Jabari Parker, 6'9, 240 lbs, SF/PF, Duke
Parker is probably the player I feel most comfortable predicting that he's going to be an all-star. His scoring ability in this draft is unmatched, in that he can get buckets from literally every spot on the floor. His post game on smaller opponents is fantastic, his long stride and quick first step allows him to blow by bigger defenders, and his explosiveness towards the rim is highly underrated. He's also an excellent shot maker who already has NBA three-point range and an excellent midrange game. His closest comparable is Carmelo Anthony, even down to the jab step he utilizes regularly and the fact that he's most likely going to be best as a power forward in today's NBA.
And that positional question mark has led to people questioning if he's a dreaded "tweener," which is outwardly absurd. Parker is the same size and Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon, meaning he absolutely has the size to play the power forward spot. He's even slightly bigger than Tristan Thompson. This is decidedly NOT an Anthony Bennett-like situation. The question is whether or not he'll also be able to play the small forward position, which mostly revolves around his defensive acumen. It's fair to say that he doesn't have the best defensive instincts at this point in time. Having said that, I think that can make him look slower than he actually is with his feet. He doesn't have great lateral quickness by any means when it comes to defending small forwards, but then again he barely did it at all this year. He was almost exclusively a power forward at Duke this year, and was often the biggest player on the floor for them. Also, the Blue Devils suffered from the worst defensive communication I've ever seen under a Coach K-led team. I'm not sure there's a lot to be taken away from Parker's year defensively. It's probably true that he's not going to be an elite defender, but then again I don't think he'll be the complete negative that some have said.
3. Joel Embiid, 7'1, 250 lbs, C, Kansas
So now let's go back to where I mentioned in the second paragraph of why I have Wiggins at number one. The health factor. This is what it comes down to for Embiid: if the back issues are not recurring and he gets a completely clean bill of health, he's the best prospect in this draft. He is a behemoth that moves with the fluidity of a small forward while being the size of Andrew Bynum.
Embiid's offense is pretty far along for a 20 year old big man. He already has consistent jump hooks with either hand, good footwork in the post, strong quickness that makes him a weapon in the pick-and-roll, and a burgeoning jump shot that could make him unstoppable. It wouldn't surprise me to see him average something like what Anthony Davis did -- 17 points -- per 36 with solid efficiency as a rookie. It's on the other end where I think he's going to struggle as a pro initially. His instincts on the defensive end aren't good enough yet. The blocked shots and the specter of rim protection will be there immediately, but he still isn't strong with his rotations and isn't as good in space as you'd think he'd be given his fluidity and mobility. These are things that will come eventually as he continues to grow as a basketball player, but they are also things that could hold him to being a 20-24 minute per game player as a rookie.
So given these things, why do I have Embiid third? It's simply because of the back. I'm not a doctor, I have no idea what his problems are or how bad they are. So simply due to risk aversion, I have him third. If he ends up with a totally clean bill of health, then by all means I'll slide him up the board in future big boards.
4. Dante Exum, 6'6, 196 lbs, PG/SG, Australia
Now comes where all hell breaks loose on the board. I've admittedly only seen three of Exum's games on tape, along with some random Draft Express footage. From what I've seen, I'm impressed and believe that he has star potential. I don't know that I necessarily buy his "point guard" skills -- distribution, decision-making, etc. -- but I do buy his ability to make plays with both his vision and his ball-handling. Exum displays a special kind of athleticism where he's incredibly quick and explosive off of his first step, but then he's also able to smoothly seem like he's floating through the air as he goes to the rim. He's going to struggle defensively to start his career, but most rookies do anyway. I assume he ends up with the Magic at 4th, and he's a perfect fit with Victor Oladipo at the 2.
5. Julius Randle, 6'9, 250 lbs, PF, Kentucky
Randle's demise has been greatly exaggerated, and his offensive game is tailor made for the NBA. Where Randle excels is in the mid-post, where he can use his great first step to get past defenders and get to the rim, where he finished at a 70% clip in college. In college, the midrange area is too compact for him to operate, and he often had to sit in the post as opposed to the midrange. There, defenders were able to affect his shot much more easily. I'd also just like to mention that Randle showed off a jumper in high school that he never really got the opportunity to show in college. I think he probably has a semi-respectable 15 footer in his repertoire already, which will allow him to keep defenders off balance. However, the biggest thing that will be improved by the midrange space in the NBA will be the turnovers. No longer will he face double teams every single time he touches the ball. He does still need to work on his passing and decision-making, but it will not be as much of a problem as it was in the NCAA.
Randle's also the best rebounder in this class (outside of possibly Embiid), and his defense is actually okay. He moves somewhat well in space, and is strong enough in his lower body to move people off the block on defense. He'll never protect the rim well, but as a power forward that's more of a bonus than a necessity. This is a potential all-star power forward in the making, something like a more athletic David West. He'd be an excellent pick anywhere from 4th on down.
6. Marcus Smart, 6'4, 230 lbs, PG/SG, Oklahoma State
Smart is a two-way playmaking point guard that will be an elite athlete even at the point guard position in the NBA from day one. Very few players can combine his size, quickness, and pure strength. The character concerns aren't actually concerns, and you know that you're getting a player that is going to work his ass off to get to an all-star level. His biggest issue is obviously the shooting from distance, along with his shot selection. He might never be a good shooter, but he does everything else so well that I'm not sure it matters. He's a great decision maker once he hits the paint, a tough rebounder for a guard, and he actually works to defend and make plays on the defensive end with his length and ability to time passing lanes. Another potential all-star, and one that would seemingly fit well next to Trey Burke in Utah.
7. Aaron Gordon, 6'9, 220 lbs, PF, Arizona
Gordon is a bit more system-dependent in my mind than some of these other guys, but if he finds that right system he's going to be a monster for years. He is one of the two best athletes in this class -- along with Wiggins -- and he manifests it mostly now on the defensive end. Gordon was probably the most important defensive player in the country this season, with his ability to defend all three NBA positions and force turnovers. He reminds me a lot of Shawn Marion offensively in his ability to not only lead the break with his dribbling skill, but also fill in the lane on the fast break and finish at the rim efficiently (73% this year). He can't shoot at all right now, and his shot needs completely reworked from the lower body on up so that he can become at least a passable free throw shooter. If he goes to a up-tempo system, he could reach all-star level. If not, he might just end up as a role player that defends and passes well. He has quite a bit of development to go, but it's worth it for the upside.
8. Dario Saric, 6'10, 225 lbs, PF, Croatia
I wasn't a big fan of Saric last year, and had him really low on my big board before he pulled out of the draft. I thought he was too much of a tweener that never be able to defend 4s with his length and wasn't a good enough shooter to be a perimeter-based player. But a year makes a massive difference. Saric was the MVP of the Adriatic League, and then won the Adriatic League Finals MVP as he led Cibona to the league championship. He averaged near 17 points (leading the league), 10 rebounds, and three assists per game in league play, and then in the final dropped 23 points to go with 11 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks. This line goes to show the versatility that Saric is capable of bringing to an NBA team. He's a smart player that can do just about everything offensively, although I'm not positive that the defense will hold once he reaches the NBA.
His shot really improved this season to where it's at least now a weapon, although slightly inconsistent. I buy his skill level now to the point where even if he can't defend on the NBA level, he'll still be enough of an impact guy offensively to make up for it.
9. Adreian Payne - 6'10, 240 lbs, PF/C, Michigan State
I'm a bit higher on Payne than most are. He's a guy with legitimate center size/length who can defend the paint and shoot from distance. Oh, and he's among the best athletes in the draft at any position. No seriously, watch this. That guy is 6'10 with a 7'4 wingspan, and he can do that. He's an insanely good athlete for his size. There is a slight condition where he has smaller-than-normal lungs, but that didn't stop him from playing nearly 30 minutes per game this year.
I'm honestly not sure I see the downside with Payne. I get that he's 23 years old and therefore might have limited upside. That's fine. Once you're down to the bottom of the lottery, you're just looking for a starter. And I can't see a circumstance where a guy who defends the paint well, blocks shots, and has legitimate NBA three point range as a center doesn't become an NBA starter. This is a Taj Gibson situation all over again I think, and any team outside of the top 10 who passes on Payne will probably be making a mistake.
10. Doug McDermott, 6'8, 220 lbs, SF/PF, Creighton
McDermott is going to be a good NBA player. He's probably not going to be a star like he was in college, but the guy can play in the NBA. He proved it last summer with the US Select Team, and he went a long way towards proving it further this year against Big East competition. You're getting an elite shooter in McDermott who can make shots not only from distance, but from all over the floor. He knows how to move without the ball into empty spaces to get easy buckets, and his athleticism is underrated. The defense is obviously going to be a question mark, but it's much easier to hide 6'8 guys who give defensive effort than it is to hide smaller guards. At worst, McDermott will probably be an early career Kyle Korver (before Korver got good defensively) that makes shots and plays 10 years in the league.
11. Noah Vonleh, 6'9, 247 lbs, PF, Indiana
Vonleh seems to be the guy that is rising in this draft the farther away we get from the NCAA season. The idea of Vonleh is spectacular. He's an excellent rebounder with length who already handles the ball somewhat well, moves well in transition, and has the foundation of a good shot. When you just watch highlights of Vonleh, you come away much more impressed than when you watch a full game though. He tends to float on the perimeter on offense, can't pass and has no court vision, as well as play somewhat lazy defense. Outside of the passing, a lot of this is fixable, and I'm sure a coach is going to look at his size and skill combination and try to fix him. And of course, I have him at 11th so I think there is a lot to work with here too. I just don't think he should be rising either given his play this year.
12. Gary Harris, 6'4, 205 lbs, SG, Michigan State
Harris moves well off the ball, and shoots well from distance, despite middling numbers this year that were most likely hindered by injury. He's also an excellent defensive player that really gets after it despite his size. He reminds me a lot of Bradley Beal coming out of Florida. Beal was a better rebounder but Harris defended better. He's a pretty complete player, and my assumption is that Harris becomes a solid NBA starter.
13. Nik Stauskas, 6'6, 210 lbs, SG/SF, Michigan
Stauskas might be the most pure three point shooter in this draft this side of McDermott. But he's also an excellent ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, and has enough size to be hidden on defense easily (which he'll almost certainly need). He's reminiscent of Klay Thompson, and would be an excellent fit on a team with a good point guard that can get him open kick out looks.
14. Tyler Ennis, 6'2, 180 lbs, PG, Syracuse
Ennis is a heady, smart decision maker that should be able to step in immediately and run at least a second unit. He's poised, calm, and has a penchant for making big shots. He also has long arms and is good at stepping into passing lanes, as most Syracuse players tend to be. The three point shot is good, not great, and he's not an elite athlete for the position. He'll be getting by on intelligence, and those guys are often hit or miss as far as being starters in the NBA.
15. James Young, 6'7, 213 lbs, SG/SF, Kentucky
Young is a potential 3 and D guy that doesn't yet play D. He has a beautiful three point stroke, solid athleticism, and a 7'0 wingspan. The problem is that right now the shots didn't fall last year (that's often not a big thing -- Beal was not particularly strong percentage-wise at Florida) and if they end up not falling, he might not have much use. If he decides to actually get after it and defend -- which he has all of the tools to do -- he'll be an awesome role player.
16. Zach LaVine, 6'6, 180 lbs, SG, UCLA
I can tell you right now I have no idea where LaVine should be accurately placed because he's about as hit or miss as a prospect as it gets. LaVine's tools are immaculate: he's fast, has great ball-handling skills, leaps better than anyone who isn't named Wiggins in this draft, and he shoots well from three. In any other year, he might be a surefire lottery pick. Had he returned, he might have been the top guard on my board. However, right now there's a strong chance he ends up getting lost in the shuffle. He has less than zero defensive instincts. UCLA often had to fall back into a zone when he stepped on the court. He's not strong enough yet to defend one-on-one, and most likely will spend quite a bit of time in the D-League as a rookie. But the tools at this point are too strong to pass up. He will either be an all-star caliber player or out of the league in three years.
17. P.J. Hairston, 6'5, 230 lbs, SG, North Carolina (kind of)
Hairston is a light's out shooter who plied his trade in the D-League this season after being unceremoniously kicked out of North Carolina. He's a good athlete with a solid wingspan that should give offensive players problems on the defensive end, but it's the shooting that will make him a good role player early in his NBA career. He already has an NBA body at 230 pounds, and his experience in the D-League should help with his learning curve.
18. Jusuf Nurkic, 6'11, 280 lbs, C, Bosnia
I've seen less of him than I have of Exum, but from what I've seen he's extremely strong on the block with good feet and a soft touch around the rim. The problems I mostly have with him are that he's not in great shape and he fouls a ton. This draft is so bereft of big men that a team in the mid-teens is going to take him and pray, but he's definitely still not ready for the NBA and he might never get there. Or he could be Marc Gasol. Who knows. I certainly don't.
19. Kyle Anderson, 6'8, 230 lbs, SF/PF/I have no idea, UCLA
Anderson is among the strangest prospects I've ever seen enter a draft. UCLA tried him off ball last season, and it was clear that they didn't get the most of his abilities. So this year, he transitioned to a point guard role and completely flourished, affecting the game is just about every way imaginable. Not only did he get to show off his vision, but his jump shot improved and he started getting wherever he wanted on the floor, just like he did in high school as a five-star prospect. The athleticism still leaves a lot to be desired, but he has a huge wingspan and if he puts on ten pounds will probably be able to defend 4s. He'll need to transition into more of a point forward role, but I like his skill enough to think he might be able to carry a second unit offensively. But he's a strange player that could also be out of the NBA in three years if he doesn't get a coach that can utilize his unique skill (like Ben Howland).
20. T.J. Warren, 6'8, 220 lbs, SF/PF, North Carolina State
Warren is another hyper-efficient scorer in this draft. He has a ridiculous array of floaters and runners that most guards would dream of. The biggest thing moving forward for him is if he can develop a three point shot. He moves well without the ball, so being able to get more space to operate will be essential to his development. I don't think he'll be able to guard 4s regularly, so he probably ends up as a more perimeter oriented player. In a lot of ways, he's almost as unique as Anderson in that I don't know if he'll work out, but if he gets the three point shot he might be able to make it work.
21. Rodney Hood, 6'8, 210 lbs, SG/SF, Duke
Hood's a pure shooter, and that's pretty much it. He's not a great defender, not a great ball-handler, can't create for himself, and doesn't rebound well for his size. Normally when it comes to shooters, it's the ancillary skills that help you make it, and I just don't see them for Hood. He's an excellent shooter, and those guys always have a place in the NBA, but it might not be a particularly large one when it's all said and done.
22. Russ Smith, 6'1, 160 lbs, PG, Louisville
Smith has all of the makings of a perfect backup point guard that can both make plays and defend. Look at guys like Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Patrick Beverley, and others. If you defend well, shoot threes, and make plays with the ball occasionally, you can succeed. Russdiculous does all of those things, and would be an excellent pick up for any team that plays high pressure defense.
23. Jordan Adams, 6'4, 210 lbs, SG, UCLA
Adams is a playmaker with poor shot selection, but he has excellent instincts in passing lanes and a huge wingspan that should allow him to become a solid defender. He needs to try to reign in his conscience a little bit, but if he does that he'll probably stick in the NBA as a bench scorer for a while.
24. C.J. Wilcox, 6'5, 201 lbs, SG, Washington
He's another pure shooter in the mold of Hood, except he doesn't have the positional versatility that Hood can bring and he's even more of a spot-up, catch and shoot guy. Given his long wingspan (near 6'10), and better quickness, I think he might have a better shot than Hood to defend. But what you see is what you get with Wilcox.
25. Shabazz Napier, 6'0, PG, UConn
I've admittedly never been the biggest fan of Napier, but after he led UConn to the title it's impossible to keep him out of the first round. He's a shot maker through and through, and that should at least hold over into the pros. Despite the steals, he's never been much of a great defender though and will struggle even more there in the NBA due to his size and for this reason, I like Smith slightly more than him.
26. Clint Capela, 6'11, 222 lbs, Switzerland
He's big, Swiss, has a huge wingspan, and can't quite play basketball yet given his showing in the Hoop Summit game. He'll be a draft and stash that you hope pays off down the road as a shot blocker that ends up being mobile.
27. K.J. McDaniels, 6'6, 200 lbs, SF, Clemson
McDaniels is an incredible athlete that's probably in the class of Gordon and LaVine. He also can't shoot though, and doesn't have the secondary skills of Gordon. He'll be an excellent defensive player/playmaker that could end up like P.J. Tucker though if he can simply iron out his jumper and make it respectable.
28. Spencer Dinwiddie, 6'6, 205 lbs, SG, Colorado
A potential 3 and D guy that is recovering from a torn ACL. He played a lot of point guard for Colorado, but he shot the ball well and moved well off ball when Askia Booker moved over to the point guard spot from time to time. He needs to play with better intensity on the defensive end, but he does well getting into passing lanes and using his length when he's engaged on that end.
29. Glenn Robinson III, 6'7, 210 lbs, SF, Michigan
He moves extremely well without the ball, has a solid midrange jumper, and is a great athlete for the small forward position. You can't ask him to do much by himself, but with a good point guard he could flourish like he did with Burke at Michigan.
30. Elfrid Payton, 6'4, 185 lbs, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
He can't shoot, and turns the ball over recklessly like it's his job. But the combination of size and intriguing athleticism at least make him an interesting prospect. He needs to rein in the recklessness, but if he does that he has a very high upside.
Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State; Khem Birch, PF, UNLV; Jerami Grant, PF, Syracuse; Patric Young, C, Florida; Mitch McGary, C, Michigan; DeAndre Daniels, SF, UConn; Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee; Jordan McRae, SG/SF, Tennessee; James McAdoo, PF, North Carolina; Nick Johnson, G, Arizona; Jordan Clarkson, SG, Missouri.
Tier 1: 1-3
Tier 2: 4-8
Tier 3: 9-15
Tier 4: 16-21
Tier 5: 21-30