4 for 4?

Could UNLV’s Bennett become another unexpected Piston?

Brandon Knight
The Pistons didn't expect Brandon Knight to be available when they drafted him. Could something similar happen in the 2013 draft?
Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)
(Editor’s note: Last in a recurring series that previews the 2013 NBA draft.)

There was a time when the draft was as simple as analyzing the available talent and figuring out which player offered the most talent at the best fit for your roster.

That day might not have ended the moment the salary cap came to be, but the evolution of a world governed by a cap has made it inevitable that talent and fit are no longer the sole considerations.

That trend is likely to be only hastened by the onset of new and more punitive luxury tax consequences for the 2013-14 season. Two types of teams, with that in mind, figure to go into Thursday’s draft intent on avoiding having a 2013 first-round draft choice on their opening night roster: teams like Dallas and Atlanta, perhaps, who’d like to create maximum cap space; and teams facing stiff tax bills who’d like to trade out of the first round altogether.

As soon as teams exercise their No. 1 pick, a “cap hold” affects their ability to spend in free agency. It ranges from $4.4 million for the No. 1 pick to $880,600 for the No. 30 pick. (At No. 8, where the Pistons will pick, the cap hold is $2.2 million.) If a team drafts a player who intends to remain or play outside the NBA for at least next season, it can wipe the cap hold off of its books by declaring that intention to the league.

All of which makes any attempt at a mock draft especially futile, but – what the heck – here goes anyway:

  1. Cleveland – The Cavs have thrown a wrench into the past two lotteries, taking Tristan Thompson No. 4 in 2011 and Dion Waiters at the same spot in ’12. As recently as last week, other teams believed the Cavs were sincerely considering six players. But after passing on Jonas Valanciunas two years ago and Andre Drummond last year, can the Cavs pass on the consensus best big man again? Nope. So pencil in Nerlens Noel at No. 1.

  2. Orlando – There is a persistent rumor that the Magic and Clippers will execute a deal that involves ex-Piston Arron Afflalo and LA point guard Eric Bledsoe as the principals. If that’s the case, there’ll be a hole at shooting guard that the Magic will fill with Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

  3. Washington – Just as the Pistons have anchored their frontcourt for a decade via the last three drafts, so have the Wizards nailed down their backcourt by taking John Wall in 2010 and Bradley Beal in ’12. They have significant investments in Nene and Emeka Okafor up front and spent a 2011 lottery pick on Jan Vesely. The marriage that works is with Georgetown small forward Otto Porter, who agrees with the parallels others make to Tayshaun Prince.

  4. Charlotte – The Hornets, despite spending lottery picks on Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, could be looking to fill any position. But if one of the two big men the Cavs are pondering at No. 1 is still on the board at No. 4, he becomes the logical pick. That makes it likely that Alex Len is the pick here.

  5. Phoenix – The Suns have a new GM and a new coaching staff in place, so it’s best not to overthink this one. There might not be one player on the roster management sees as a long-term building block. Ben McLemore is widely considered one of the few players in this draft with superstar potential, so he’s the pick.

  6. New Orleans – A center to pair with Robin Lopez to allow Anthony Davis to become a full-time power forward, or perhaps a small forward would make sense. But if Len, Noel and Porter are gone, the dropoff to the next players at those spots is too severe. So Michigan’s Trey Burke looks like a nice fit next to Eric Gordon in New Orleans’ backcourt.

  7. Sacramento – There’s been a clean sweep in Sacramento – new owner, new GM, new coach. Nobody has any confidence they know what they’re thinking behind closed doors. But new coach Mike Malone is coming from Golden State’s staff, where he saw the value of Steph Curry’s scoring and ability to stretch defenses with his shooting range. The closest thing to that in this draft is C.J. McCollum.

  8. Detroit – With Burke and McCollum gone in this scenario, the only point guard left considered a top-10 pick is Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams. But the best talent left, by the consensus of best guesses, is UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett. Take him by a nose over Carter-Williams, Cody Zeller, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Shabazz Muhammad.

  9. Minnesota – Ex-Pistons coach Flip Saunders is now the top decision-maker in Minnesota and both he and T-wolves coach Rick Adelman are offensively inclined. Minnesota had the league’s worst 3-point shooting last season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a high-caliber athlete who showed deep shooting ability on a bad Georgia team.

  10. Portland – The Trail Blazers are now built around LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and the reigning Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. Portland got a decent return from 7-footer Meyers Leonard with the 11th pick a year ago, but might well take another center this year. New Zealander Steven Adams is an impressive physical specimen and a worthwhile pick at this spot.

  11. Philadelphia – The 76ers are due some good karma after last summer’s trade that cost them Andre Iguodala, Nic Vucevic and No. 1 pick Mo Harkless in exchange for Andrew Bynum, who never played a game for them and might never as a free agent to be. Getting Cody Zeller at No. 11 would be a very good stroke of fortune.

  12. Oklahoma City – The Thunder could be focused on the frontcourt, where Kendrick Perkins could be an amnesty candidate and Nick Collison isn’t getting any younger. That could cause them to take a long look at Kelly Olynyk or Mason Plumlee. But the Thunder have a history of taking players who fall to a point where they represent the greatest value, and under this scenario that player is Michael Carter-Williams, who offers some insurance in the event of complications in Russell Westbrook’s ACL rehabilitation.

  13. Dallas – All signs point to the Mavericks dealing the pick, intent on creating as much cap space as possible. But if there is nothing offered that tempts anyone to move into this spot, the Mavs likely would be inclined to draft an international player and stash him overseas. Sergey Karasev is generally considered the best of the bunch.

  14. Utah – The Jazz have no long-term answer at point guard on the roster. They’re probably hoping that Carter-Williams falls to them, but have to be ready to go to a Plan B. Miami’s Shane Larkin, son of ex-Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, had a breakout sophomore season and tested extremely well athletically at the draft combine.

  15. Milwaukee – The Bucks might have to entirely rebuild their backcourt with Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick hitting free agency and Brandon Jennings a restricted free agent. Germany’s Dennis Schroeder enticed NBA scouts at the Nike Hoop Summit in April. He might not be ready to play next year, but having him in the pipeline would allow the Bucks to find a veteran stopgap for a season or two while grooming the athletically dynamic Schroeder to take over.

  16. Boston – Tough getting a bead on Danny Ainge’s thinking at this point, though it’s fair to guess that the Celtics are more in a rebuilding mode and likely will be looking to deal Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, despite the inherent hurdles in moving Garnett’s no-trade deal and Pierce’s bloated one. They drafted Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo last year, so maybe they’ll pass on the likes of Olynyk and Plumlee and roll the dice instead on Shabazz Muhammad.

  17. & 18 Atlanta – The Hawks, much like Dallas, would like to keep their payroll as lean as possible to make a bold pitch or two in free agency. There are still a number of international prospects who make sense in this range. So let’s put the mystery man, Giannis Adetokunbo, 18, from Nigeria by way of Greece, here at one spot and enormous French 20-year-old Rudy Gobert at the other.

  1. Cleveland – The Cavs have four of the top 33 picks and even if they wind up exercising all of them on draft night, it’s unlikely they’ll keep four rookies on next year’s roster. But if they keep this pick, adding a versatile wing athlete like Jamaal Franklin is a logical move.

  2. Chicago – The Bulls are facing a coming tax crisis and there is a school of thought that the most expedient way to avoid it would be to use the amnesty clause next summer on Carlos Boozer. That would give Kelly Olynyk a year to settle in before they’d need him to understudy Taj Gibson at power forward.

  3. Utah – Even if the Jazz take a guard with their pick at 14, don’t be surprised if they further fortify the backcourt with this pick – assuming they don’t move it first. Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. would be a nice option at shooting guard, where the Jazz are still waiting on Alec Burks to blossom two years after taking him in the lottery.

  4. Brooklyn – News that Brook Lopez had to have the screw implanted in his foot repaired following the playoffs had to be unsettling to Nets management and make them understand the need to have a ready-to-play option in place behind him. Gorgui Dieng, 23 and coming of a national championship run with Louisville, fits that description.

  5. Indiana – The Pacers could have used another perimeter scoring option in their tough playoff loss to Miami. Maybe management is banking on Danny Granger’s healthy return to fill that need. But Glen Rice Jr. would arrive off of a strong second half to his D-League season and fits with other eyebrow-raising picks – Paul George and Lance Stephenson come to mind – the Pacers have recently successfully engineered.

  6. New York – The Knicks are dogged by issues of age (Marcus Camby) and injury (Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler) up front. It’s no slam dunk they’ll find immediate help at this spot in the draft, but Duke’s Mason Plumlee comes to the NBA off four years at Duke and offers athleticism, size and rebounding prowess that a team filled with perimeter shooters could use.

  7. LA Clippers – One fallout of the Clippers’ moves since the season ended is apparent long-term concern how far they can go with DeAndre Jordan next to Blake Griffin up front. If they decide to move Jordan to upgrade at other positions, Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey offers many of Jordan’s attributes at a fraction of the price.

  8. Minnesota – If the T-Wolves get their shooter at the No. 9 pick, then they’d be more likely to pass on players like Tony Snell and Allen Crabbe here. Many believe that North Texas sophomore forward Tony Mitchell is one of the five best pure talents in this draft and that potential is hard to ignore at this point.

  9. Denver – Another tough one to read given the upheaval – new GM, new coach – and the uncertainty created by Andre Iguodala’s decision to opt out of his contract. I’ll go with one of the handful of scoring wings who figure to be available at this spot, North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock.

  10. San Antonio – Given the Spurs’ proclivity for taking international players, and South Americans in particular, coupled with Tim Duncan’s advancing age and the possibility of losing Thiago Splitter, 7-foot Brazilian Lucas Noguiera would be a logical option here if he’s still available. One complicating factor: Noguiera has reportedly signed to play in Spain beyond 2014. The Spurs might not mind.

  11. Oklahoma City – As Miami quickly learned once it assembled its big three, the Thunder know that to maximize the advantage created for them in the attention defenses must pay to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you can never have too much shooting. Cal’s Allen Crabbe, many believe, is the best deep shooter in the draft and a good value at this spot.

  12. Phoenix – If the Suns land McLemore at No. 5 (or Oladipo, should he slip that far), then they might be looking to address small forward at this spot. New Mexico’s Tony Snell is another strong offensive player who’d combine with McLemore to punch up the Suns’ 3-point attack.