Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013 NBA Draft First Round Projections (Pre-Lottery)

Nerlens Noel has the highest upside, but also the highest risk factor
of all the prospects in this year's NBA Draft.
     With the exception of the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies, every NBA franchise is focused on the upcoming summer. Several teams are searching for head coaches, and while that should be their first order of business, the NBA Draft is also a crucial part to a team's future success. This past week featured the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Illinois, where many young talents were able to showcase their skills on the court in various drills and exercises. Several names that stood out include Indiana's Cody Zeller, Miami's Shane Larkin and French big man Rudy Gobert. Before the lottery, here's a pre-lottery mock draft. This draft order is subject to change depending on the results of the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday, May 21.

The Mock

1. Orlando Magic - Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas

The case for McLemore: The shooting guard has arguably the highest potential of anyone in this draft class. Nerlens Noel is considered one of the top big men in the draft, but the Magic have a deep frontcourt occupied by Nikola Vucevic, Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless and Hedo Turkoglu. General Manager Rob Hennigan must now acquire shooters to stretch the floor and McLemore is just that.

2. Charlotte Bobcats - Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Kentucky

The case for Noel: The Bobcats statistically had one of the worst defenses in the NBA last season. While Noel presents a huge risk, he also presents a huge reward. His offensive versatility is raw, but he led the NCAA in blocks per game last year (4.4 per game) and will instantly instill a defensive culture within Charlotte. The two biggest concerns about Noel are his weight and ACL injury, but the possible reward is massive. Charlotte is still in a heavy rebuilding mode, so this is a chance the franchise can afford to take.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers - Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown

The case for Porter: The Georgetown product doesn't stand out or wow fans athletically, but he is a fundamentally sound player. He won't score 20 points per game, but he is arguably the safest option in the draft and will fill a hole for Cleveland that has been present since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

4. Phoenix Suns - Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana

The case for Oladipo: The Indiana shooting guard tested out very well at the NBA Draft Combine and was superb throughout this past season. He is talented on both sides of the floor, a dynamic athlete and an exceptional leader. He has the potential to be an All Star for years to come and fills a need on the wing for the Suns.

5. New Orleans Pelicans - Trey Burke, PG, Michigan

The case for Burke: The Naismith National Player of the Year is the perfect fit for New Orleans. He is one of the best on-court leaders in college basketball and is not afraid of the big stage. Some scouts are scared off by his size, but Chris Paul and Ty Lawson -- two players Burke is compared to -- have thrived in the NBA. Burke has the skill set and heart to produce in the NBA and become the Pelicans' point guard of the future.

6. Sacramento Kings - Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana

The case for Zeller: Zeller proved he is a freakish athlete at the NBA Draft Combine, which should certainly help his draft stock. The Indiana big man was consistent throughout the season and is very versatile on offense. He can post up and step back to hit the mid-range jumper. His style of play reminds me of Pau Gasol, and that's something a down-trodden Kings franchise cannot pass up.

7. Detroit Pistons - Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse

The case for Carter-Williams: The former Syracuse point guard is everything the Pistons need. He is lengthy and a great facilitator. His jump shot leaves something to be desired, but Carter-Williams creates on offense and adds another young stud into the fold for a growing Detroit team.

8. Washington Wizards - Anthony Bennett, SF/PF, UNLV

The case for Bennett: The Wizards need a physical presence on the wing and in the post. At 6'8", 240 pounds, Bennett is a tweener who can play both forward positions, like Carmelo Anthony. His upside may not nearly be as high as Anthony's, and his recent shoulder surgery is a concern for most lottery teams, but he has a respectable, high upside. Washington has a need at the small forward; Bennett fills that hole.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves - Alex Len, C, Maryland

The case for Len: Minnesota was hampered by injuries this past season and needs to acquire more size. Nikola Pekovic has been a sturdy rock for the Timberwolves, but he could be headed out of Minnesota this summer in free agency. Len could be a reliable option off the bench for head coach Rick Adelman and contribute on both sides of the ball.

10. Portland Trail Blazers - Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga

The case for Olynyk: The Gonzaga big man presents offensive inside depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge for the Portland Trail Blazers. Bench depth was one of Portland's biggest problems last season and the bench is something this team needs to address. Double-double machine J.J. Hickson is a free agent, so if he leaves, Olynyk fills his spot immediately.

11. Philadelphia 76ers - C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh

The case for McCollum: Some 76ers fans will clamor for a big man because of the unknown in Andrew Bynum, but McCollum is an undeniably great scorer. He could put the ball in the basket, case closed. The Lehigh star led his team to a huge upset against Duke in the NCAA Tournament two years ago and can produce on the big stage. Wherever McCollum goes, he could provide a spark off the bench or start for some teams because of his great scoring prowess.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder - Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh

The case for Adams: Before the NBA Draft Combine, most analysts viewed Adams as a stellar athlete with not much else to praise. However, he elevated his stock to potential lottery pick during the combine in Chicago. He showed his offensive ability to post up, hit mid-range jump shots and also play exceptional defense. Adams can sit behind Kendrick Perkins for the next year or so to hone his skills and soon become a core member for Oklahoma City. He will be the offensive post presence that the Thunder desire.

13. Dallas Mavericks - Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville

The case for Dieng: The Louisville star and recent NCAA basketball champion is one of the most menacing defensive presences in all of college basketball. The Mavericks have a huge hole at center, and in case they cannot convince Dwight Howard to play for Dallas, Dieng becomes a nice insurance policy and the best defensive presence in Dallas since Tyson Chandler helped guide them to their 2011 championship season.

14. Utah Jazz - Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF, UCLA

The case for Muhammad: This summer, the Jazz will have eight free agents on the market, including wings Randy Foye, DeMarre Carroll and possibly Marvin Williams, who was not the answer on at small forward for Utah. Muhammad automatically brings a star appeal that Utah hasn't had since Deron Williams was traded. There are some questions about Muhammad, but he is a great scorer and could be a go-to option for the Jazz starting right away in his rookie season.

15. Milwaukee Bucks - Rudy Gobert, C, France

The case for Gobert: With Samuel Dalembert, Gustavo Ayon and Joel Przybilla all possibly traveling elsewhere in free agency, Gobert could be paired next to star athlete Larry Sanders. Gobert is scouted as a long, athletic offensive weapon and could be the perfect adversary to Sanders' incredible defensive game.

16. Boston Celtics - Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke

The case for Plumlee: Over the past couple of seasons, it has been clear that the Celtics need an infusion of youth in the post. Plumlee is extremely long and athletic and could be slotted in the starting lineup next to 37-year old Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.

17. Atlanta Hawks - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia

The case for Caldwell-Pope: This is practically a dream scenario for both Caldwell-Pope and the Hawks. The Georgia product stays close to home and can be plugged as either a shooting guard or small forward, both positions of need for the Hawks. Caldwell-Pope, at 6'6", is extremely athletic and quick. He can be a dynamic, scoring threat in the NBA.

18. Atlanta Hawks - Jeff Withey, C, Kansas

The case for Withey: With their second first-round pick, Atlanta can acquire a big man to play next to Al Horford if Josh Smith abandons the Hawks in free agency. Withey is a very solid defensive presence down low and could start right away. As a senior, he gained great experience playing four years for an incredibly-run program in Kansas. Withey and Caldwell-Pope would result in a very good draft for Atlanta.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers - Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil

The case for Nogueira: This could be a match made in heaven. Cleveland could use size off the bench and Nogueira gets to play with a great mentor in Anderson Varejao, an Olympic star for Brazil's national team. His potential is very high and in Cleveland, he will get to develop behind Varejao and Tyler Zeller. In 3 years, Nogueira could become a key piece for Cleveland.

20. Chicago Bulls - Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan

The case for Hardaway Jr.: The star Michigan guard was one of the major reasons why the Wolverines were able to make a run to the NCAA championship game. His three point shooting ability will work perfectly in hand with the penetration ability of Derrick Rose and Chicago's inside tandem of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Hardaway Jr. may not start right away, and may even be a sixth man, but his game is similar to Jamal Crawford, a former Bull.

21. Utah Jazz - Shane Larkin, PG, Miami (FL)

The case for Larkin: His incredible athleticism is one of the headlines post-NBA Draft Combine as teams get ready for the NBA Draft Lottery. Larkin was a borderline first-round pick a couple weeks ago, but is now in lottery consideration. He is a prodigious three-point shooter and one of the quickest point guards in the 2013 NBA Draft. His size could be a concern, but his athleticism is comparable to Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook. Larkin doesn't have the potential of Westbrook, but will make an impact in the NBA regardless.

22. Brooklyn Nets - Reggie Bullock, SF, UNC

The case for Bullock: The North Carolina forward was arguably the best three-point shooter in the entire NCAA last season (over 43 percent made) and will automatically become an offensive threat off the bench for the Nets. Gerald Wallace was a disappointment this season and he did not have a natural backup behind him. Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans are both likely not to return to Brooklyn, so bringing in one of the top young perimeter scorers in this year's draft will surely help the Nets.

23. Indiana Pacers - Erick Green, PG/SG, Virginia Tech

The case for Green: The Pacers are one of the best defensive teams in the league, but Green adds a potent offensive aspect into Indiana's fold. This past season, he was the NCAA's leading scorer (25 points per game). He could fill D.J. Augustin's role as the backup point guard and thrive as the top option off the bench as both a facilitator and scorer, similar to Memphis guard Jerryd Bayless.

24. New York Knicks - Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany

The case for Schroeder: Behind Raymond Felton, the Knicks have two veteran guards in Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. Kidd was horrid and underwhelming in this year's playoffs, while Prigioni could garner interest from multiple teams in free agency. Schroeder has good potential and could develop behind Felton while playing in two-guard sets. Size is an issue for the Knicks, but they will also need guards for the future because both Kidd and Prigioni are encroaching retirement.

25. Los Angeles Clippers - Glen Rice Jr., SG/SF, Rio Grande Valley Vipers

The case for Rice Jr.: Glen Rice Jr. had some struggles while playing college basketball at Georgia Tech, but it was in the NBA Development League where he made his presence known. Last season in Rio Grande, he averaged 25 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. Remember, he's a 6'6" wing, not a power forward or center. He can start at shooting guard or small forward and be a dangerous scorer for the Clippers, possibly next to the best point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves - Allen Crabbe, SG, California

The case for Crabbe: The former California guard automatically fills Minnesota's long-lasting hole at the shooting guard position. Crabbe has improved each year at California in almost every statistical category. He is lengthy and can shoot from any spot on the floor. Adding him to Minnesota's starting lineup will give the Timberwolves a solid scorer next to Ricky Rubio. The two could form one of the best young NBA back courts.

27. Denver Nuggets - Jamaal Franklin, SG/SF, San Diego State

The case for Franklin: It is unlikely that Andre Iguodala leaves in free agency, but if so, Franklin is a decent insurance policy. The 6'5" wing is not a great three-point shooter, but he has an excellent motor and defensive prowess that will fit right in with head coach George Karl's system.

28. San Antonio Spurs - Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Greece

The case for Antetokounmpo: This young Greek talent is incredibly raw and would probably be best served playing in the NBA D-League for a year or two before stepping on an NBA court, but his potential is sky high. If any coach could maximize that potential, it's Gregg Popovich. Antetokounmpo is a 6'9" point guard who's versatile enough to play three or four positions. San Antonio has been known as a franchise to dig international diamonds from the rough and it should not be a shock if they select one of the top international prospects in the first round of this year's NBA Draft.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Sergey Karasev, SG/SF, Russia

The case for Karasev: The Russian perimeter presence will be welcome in Oklahoma City as a key contributor off the bench. At 6'7", he has considerable length, but he weighs under 200 pounds, so that is a fair concern. Like Antetokounmpo, it would probably be best if Karasev developed his skill set in the NBA D-League. He also has Kevin Durant, one of the best scorers in the game, as a mentor on the Thunder.

30. Phoenix Suns - Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia

The case for Saric: The Suns need pieces, period. Saric has been all over the place on online mock drafts, ranging from lottery pick to end of the first round. In this case, he arrives to Phoenix as one of the top international prospects who could step in and contribute right away off the bench, most likely as a small forward.

Have a question, comment, or your own mock draft? Leave a message underneath in the comments section!