POSTED: Jun 12, 2014 4:43 PM ET
Two weeks before the NBA Draft, and things have turned very eventful.
Joel Embiid made a long-awaited visit to Cleveland, the team with the No. 1 pick, to work out for the Cavaliers and undergo the all-important audition with the team medical staff. There was as a report that Julius Randle, the best power-forward prospect and a strong candidate for the top five on June 26, requires foot surgery that will sideline him for summer league, at least.
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This news came just after potential lottery picks Dario Saric and Jusuf Nurkic, the two best players coming out of Europe, were on opposing sides in the Croatian League finals in the Zagreb arena named after Drazen Petrovic, on the 21st anniversary of Petrovic's death, in an underwhelming showing for Nurkic.
What has already been months of intense buildup to draft night just got better, with the final weeks devoted to individual workouts and front offices gathering to formulate plans for the selections themselves. This is getting good.
The latest read heading toward June 26 and the floor of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, following the adidas Eurocamp in Italy and based on conversations with executives and scouts from around the league:
The call belongs to Cavs doctors as much as Cavs management. A healthy Embiid, cleared from the fractured back that ended his one-and-done college career early, is probably No. 1 with room to spare, so he moves back into the top spot unless bad news surfaces in the final weeks before Cleveland is officially on the clock.
Parker is the most NBA-ready top prospect, without the same high ceiling as the others but also without the same risk. That could become the deciding factor for a general manager who likes job security. Plus, some teams see Parker as a power forward, an added appeal for the Bucks with Giannis Atetokounmpo coming off a promising rookie season at small forward.
The son of former Bulls, Rockets and 76ers guard Mitchell Wiggins improved in the second half before exiting the tournament with the much-publicized 1-for-6 shooting against Stanford. Teams still see great upside, with the stunning athleticism as a starting point, while acknowledging Wiggins is partly a victim to massive preseason hype. There are also concerns about not playing hard all the time.
This is as much about Orlando's belief in whether Victor Oladipo can really become a point guard or it should call off the experiment and put Oladipo at shooting guard, his natural position. The problem is, Exum, for all the hype, is no clear answer. Some teams see him as more of a combo guard, or even more shooting guard, than playmaker. The Magic could dodge the entire problem and take one of the power forwards to partner with Nikola Vucevic.
Utah is in a tough spot, with point guards and power forwards on the board and Trey Burke and Derrick Favors on the roster and soon after a big financial commitment to Favors. But Randle, with a physical presence and a nonstop motor, has a chance to be special. Take him as the best player and consider trade possibilities, even with the report that he will need foot surgery and miss summer league.
Vonleh can play physical inside or step outside and hit shots from the perimeter, a promising start after one season as one of the fast-risers on the board. That offensive versatility is one reason some teams like him more than Randle. Vonleh is going in a very good direction.
A guy who does a lot for a team that needs a lot. Gordon's lack of perimeter game is a concern for someone who might play small forward, but he is an elite athlete who should grow into being able to defend multiple positions, only plays hard and has an advanced feel for the game for someone who doesn't turn 19 until about six weeks before training camp.
Smart will be a physical force, has a chance to be very good defensively and has a great attitude, but the team that takes him will have to see true point guard through an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.8-2.6 on a college squad with other NBA prospects. Some front offices do see it.
A small forward who can shoot joining a roster with non-shooter Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the position? Sold. McDermott has range and the experience of four years in college. The lack of athleticism will hurt on defense and in his ability to create on offense.
He shot 47 percent overall, 44.2 percent on threes, packed a lot of experience in pressure situations into two college seasons - the Big Ten Player of the Year checks a lot of boxes anyway, but especially for the 76ers. Philly needs shooters, and shooters with deep range, and would have a new running mate in the backcourt for Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams.
A strong possibility for the 2013 lottery before withdrawing late, Saric has very good instincts and can play in transition or halfcourt. The concerns are that he is turnover prone and has an inconsistent shot.
Hood went from Mississippi State to sitting out last season as a transfer to pushing into lottery contention as a catch-and-shoot specialist with three-point range. The 42 percent from behind the arc and 80.7 percent on free throws draws attention.
A solid pick for someone in the teens and especially for a team that might have to find a new power forward The 41 points in the Spartans' tournament opener, while suffering from mononucleosis, was merely the public notice to the masses. Payne showed an expanded offensive game all season and added muscle, the kind of upward trajectory front offices love to see. He already has the athleticism.
Maybe Phoenix goes for the bold strike and moves Kristaps Porzingis all the way into the lottery and lets a rising star at power forward spend another year overseas. Harris' stock took a hit as a shooting guard who went from 45.6 percent from the field as a freshman to 42.9 in 2013-14 and from 41.1 percent on threes to 35.2. He has good strength and can get to the rim, even though a little undersized.
Hairston finished his season with the Texas Legends at 21.8 points and 32.3 minutes in 26 games, reinforcing his standing as a first-rounder who can score from the perimeter or go hard to the rim. Teams will look hard at his background after being suspended by the NCAA, in part over some acquaintances.
This is too low for the best true point guard available, though without physical wow factor of Exum or Smart, but it's tough to find a team with a pressing point guard need around 10 to 14 if the Magic choose Exum near the top. Ennis won over front offices and went from prospect for the future to the immediate impact of one of the best freshmen in the country with steady play and composure beyond his years.
Nurkic does not show star potential, but he is on an upward trajectory of improvements, a consistent physical presence and good energy. More importantly for his draft stock, he is the second-best center in the draft, a strong selling point. The Celtics could use a long-term starter there.
If the Suns keep all their picks, this spot screams draft-and-stash, with Porzingis a slight favorite over Clint Capela. Porzingis is 18, already making a contribution for a team in Spain in the second-best league in the world and moves very well for a big man who could keep growing.
He moved well into the first round with good showings in France, then pushed into lottery contention by flashing mobility to go with the size and toughness inside. The Bulls don't need three rookies on the roster, with the No. 16 pick and the possibility of Nikola Mirotic finally coming from Europe, when the idea will be to win in the playoffs. A nice prospect who could spend another season overseas is an ideal outcome here.
The chance to let LaVine develop behind Lowry is worth strong consideration amid questions from teams whether he is a true point guard. UCLA didn't play him there last season, but LaVine, an electric athlete, insists that is his true position. If he proves it, there is a real big upside.
For depth, because Oklahoma City seems to be in decent shape at small forward with that Durant guy. Without any consistent three-point range, Warren can score in bunches, has nice instincts and does damage on the boards. That makes him a nice boost for the bench, even if shooting guard is the pressing position need. That can be addressed later in the first round or, better, by acquiring a veteran via trade or free agency.
Though he doesn't have ideal athleticism, Young will be a nice scoring addition for any team. Memphis in particular can use the points, and especially from the perimeter. Playing when defenses have to pay so much attention to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside would be a good way to break into the league.
Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown called him a human stat sheet. McDaniels scores, rebounds and blocks shots as a mega-athlete who will be able to use those physical gifts to overcome the size disadvantage waiting for him in the frontcourt in the pros.
Payton has good size, ball skills, defends and experience with the United States under-19 national team last summer. He didn't face top competition much in 2013-14, and when he did: 6-for-19 against Baylor, 3-for-11 against Louisville, 9-for-20 against Creighton. The jumper has been a question all along.
He can handle the ball for a forward, is versatile, has good size and a nice feel for the game. A lack of athleticism that will hurt his ability to create and defend, though, and some teams see the possible future role as a point forward oversold because NBA defenses will take away a lot of what made him effective in college.
Few players at any position would be more prepared to handle the expectations of Miami's win-now approach after four years in a championship program that produced other NBA talent. Napier plays fearless with composure and heart. He improved as a distributor as a senior, an important development since he would never be good enough as a scorer to make an impact.
Harvey's son/Horace's nephew, a reserve for the Orangemen, scores, rebounds and has the kind of wingspan and athleticism that indicates he could become a standout defender. If the Suns don't trade the pick and don't use No. 18 for a player who will stay overseas next season, it's a virtual lock this one will be used on an international prospect as a stash pick.
McGary is expected to begin working out for teams next week as part of his recovery from a serious back injury. If he does well in the limited looks, unlike most players on the bubble for the first round who usually visit a lot of teams, and the medical reports go well, he has a chance to be part of a big-man rotation. The Clippers have been looking for more than a stop-gap as a third big for years.
Oklahoma City has obvious issues at shooting guard, with Thabo Sefolosha having quickly played his way from years as a starter to somewhere near the end of the bench by the Western Conference finals. Adams may be the third UCLA player taken, yet could turn out to be the best, thanks to scoring instincts in transition or haldcourt and a tenacious attitude.
He went from being a key part of the U.S. team that won the under-19 world title to helping to lead Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen, an ideal platform for a power player on the rise. Stokes is slightly undersized but uses strength and a long wingspan to rebound at a high rate, especially on the offensive boards, and score inside.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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