2013 NBA Mock Draft 3.0
Everyone has an opinion on Shabazz Muhammad. He's selfish. He's one-dimensional. He can't play a role. Yet as the draft inches closer, more and more team executives are concluding that the UCLA freshman may be too good to pass up. At least in this draft, anyway.
"Does he have a ceiling? Probably," an Eastern Conference executive said. "But it just seems like people are looking to find things wrong with him. You can't expect that he is going to be a superstar, but he is going to be able to score. And how many guys in this draft can you say that about?"
You can read more about Muhammad in next week's Sports Illustrated. By then his stock will undoubtedly have fluctuated again as more lottery teams get a look at him. For now, he is back in the top 10 of SI.com's Mock Draft.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Nerlens Noel
While many rival executives still expect the Cavaliers to tab the defensive-minded Noel, NBA sources said it's far from a lock. Sources said Kansas guard Ben McLemore has fans in the Cavs' front office and his candidacy is gaining momentum, even with last year's top pick, No. 4 Dion Waiters, playing the same position. McLemore, along with another likely lottery pick, Victor Oladipo, is reportedly set to work out with the Cavs before the draft. For now, Noel keeps the top spot. He's a 7-foot defensive menace who will solidify the middle, either at power forward or center, and fortify a defense that ranked last in opponents' field-goal percentage (47.6) this season.
2. Orlando Magic - Ben McLemore
Like several teams at the top of the draft, Orlando is listening to offers for the No. 2 pick, according to a source. The team is also seriously considering multiple players at this spot, including Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo. But the expectation is still that if McLemore is on the board, the Magic will take him. Incumbent shooting guard Arron Afflalo has three years and $23 million left on his contract, but it will be difficult for the Magic to pass on McLemore, a Ray Allen-type shooter with superior athleticism.
3. Washington Wizards - Otto Porter
Porter was scheduled to work out for the Wizards on Friday, and unless he is a disaster, he's the likely pick. Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo will get some consideration, but it would be shocking if the Wizards passed on Porter, a versatile forward with an excellent mid-range game who will slip right into a young core headlined by guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.
4. Charlotte Bobcats - Alex Len
The Bobcats badly need a big man to shore up the frontcourt of a team that ranked last in points in the paint (25.3 per game), 23rd in opponent points in the paint (39.5) and 27th in rebounding (40.3). Oladipo will get strong consideration, but two team executives believe that Len -- a physical center who rebounds well, protects the paint (2.1 blocks) and can play with his back to the basket -- is on the rise, despite the fact that a stress fracture in his left ankle will keep him out of individual workouts. And remember this: New coach Steve Clifford has an excellent reputation when it comes to developing big men.
5. Phoenix Suns - Victor Oladipo
Why could Oladipo slip? Perimeter shooting, and the fact that several NBA talent evaluators are skeptical that he will be effective enough at the NBA level. "One year as a consistent shooter scares the crap out of me," an Eastern Conference executive said. Oladipo was one of the biggest stars at the combine, and teams that interviewed him came away impressed with his maturity. He is renowned for his work ethic, and while those questions about his jump shot linger, teams love his athleticism and bulldog defensive mentality.
6. New Orleans Pelicans - Trey Burke
The Pelicans were to begin working out players Friday, and coach Monty Williams told reporters recently that the team wouldn't be drafting for a specific position. Still, Austin Rivers did little last season to suggest he is the long-term solution at point guard, and though Greivis Vasquez was effective, he may not be the answer either. Burke is the kind of dynamic playmaker/scorer the Pelicans need to boost an offense lacking in weapons.
7. Sacramento Kings - Anthony Bennett
Several NBA executives believe Bennett has the biggest upside in the draft. "He's ridiculously talented," a Western Conference general manager said. "There's a superstar in him." The rebooting Kings can afford to snap up the best player on the board, and that's Bennett. He is an explosive athlete, has a credible back-to-the-basket and face-up game and legitimate three-point range (38.3 percent last season). He's something of a tweener, but Sacramento may not want to risk letting this type of talent slip away.
8. Detroit Pistons - Michael Carter-Williams
With Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the Pistons are solid up front. Detroit took Brandon Knight at No. 8 in 2011, but Carter-Williams, arguably the best pure playmaker in the draft, could be too good to pass up. The Shaun Livingston comparisons are easy to make -- how many 6-foot-6 point guards are there to compare him to? -- but two executives said they liked Livingston's potential coming into the draft better. Still, Carter-Williams has superior point-guard instincts, and if he can harness his size and improve his jump shot, he could develop quickly.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves - Shabazz Muhammad
Muhammad is easily the most polarizing player in the draft. Team analytics guys hate him because all he can do is score, but top executives like him because he can score. Minnesota could use a shooter here, but an offense that ranked 25th in points scored per possession can use a guy who can fill it up. Going to a team with a strong coach in Rick Adelman and an established superstar in Kevin Love will help Muhammad adjust, too.
10. Portland Trailblazers - Cody Zeller
Zeller worked out in Portland for 45 minutes last week, with Blazers owner Paul Allen in attendance. He picked up some momentum from the combine, and it's unlikely he will slip out of the top 10. Teams still want to see how advanced his perimeter game is in workouts, but his tremendous athleticism and productivity in college are impressive. The Blazers are set at power forward, but with the dwindling number of power centers in the NBA, a Zeller-LaMarcus Aldridge frontcourt would have enormous offensive potential.
11. Philadelphia 76ers - C.J. McCollum
The Sixers need size, but McCollum -- who played his college ball in Pennsylvania -- could be too good to let get away. There are questions about McCollum's NBA position, and though he has often been compared to Damian Lillard, Lillard's point guard skills were more advanced coming out of college. Still, McCollum is a pure shooter whose percentages improved in each of his last three seasons. With Evan Turner up for a contract extension, McCollum could provide insurance in case Turner's price proves too high to pay.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors) - Kelly Olynk
The Thunder need low-post scoring and Olynyk is the most accomplished scoring big man in the draft. There are questions about Olynyk's strength and concerns about how, after three years at Gonzaga, he will match up with bigger, more physical defenders. But there is no denying Olynyk's offensive skills. He has a variety of moves in the post and showcased guard-like perimeter shooting at the combine.
13. Dallas Mavericks - Dario Saric
The Mavs have one of the best international scouting departments in the NBA, spearheaded by GM Donnie Nelson and personnel executive Tony Ronzone, and Saric is considered the top foreign talent in the draft -- if he stays in it. Saric's agent says he is pulling out, but because he has not filed the paperwork to withdraw -- and because an NBA source told SI.com that there is still a strong possibility he stays in -- he remains in the Mock Draft. (The deadline to withdraw is Monday.) Saric is a smooth, mobile big man one executive describes as "the best passing big in the draft," with point-forward potential. Saric can play behind Dirk Nowitzki now and be groomed to replace him later.
14. Utah Jazz - Dennis Schroeder
Rumors around the league persist that Schroeder has an early first-round promise, and the Jazz make as much sense as any team. An Eastern Conference scout described Schroeder as "a miniature [Rajon] Rondo." At 19, Schroeder has natural point-guard instincts, superior speed and an improving jump shot. Several teams in the 20s would love for Schroeder to fall, but don't expect him to get past too many point-guard-starved teams.
15. Milwaukee Bucks - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The Bucks are likely to need help in the backcourt, where Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent and Monta Ellis can opt out of the final year of his contract. Caldwell-Pope made huge strides as a sophomore, surging up a few teams' draft boards late in the season. He's more of a prototypical 2-guard, which will give new coach Larry Drew a traditional option even if the undersized Ellis returns.
16. Boston Celtics - Gorgui Dieng
With or without the core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- two players who may not be in Boston when training camp opens -- the Celtics need size. Dieng, 23, has a defensive reputation (he was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season after averaging 2.5 blocks and 9.4 rebounds), but his offensive game is better than most think. Dieng is a strong passer with a decent mid-range jump shot. Scouts also say he is one of the best screen men in the draft, a skill that Rajon Rondo will appreciate.
17. Atlanta Hawks - Mason Plumlee
If Josh Smith departs as a free agent, the Hawks could move Al Horford to power forward -- his more natural position -- and search for a more traditional center. They will go hard after Dwight Howard this summer, but Plumlee, an athletic 7-footer who has developed a solid low-post game, is someone Atlanta can develop.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets) - Sergey Karasev
Karasev shut down his workouts last week and headed back to Russia, a clear indicator that a team in the first round has promised to pick him. Karasev is NBA-ready, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound swingman coveted for his versatility and superb catch-and-shoot skills. He faced quality competition in the PBL, Russia's top league, and reportedly looked sharp at the Nike Hoops Summit in April.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers) - Steven Adams
Adams is a project; the consensus among executives is that he will spend most or all of next season in the D-League, where he can get used to the speed of an NBA-level game. But Cleveland isn't thinking title next season and it can afford to be patient because Adams oozes potential. At 7 feet, 254 pounds, with a wingspan of 7-5 and enormous hands(9.5 inches long, 11 inches wide), Adams is a physical specimen with extraordinary athletic ability who showed nice range for a big man at the combine.
20. Chicago Bulls - Allen Crabbe
The Bulls ranked 29th in three-pointers made and 21st in long-range percentage this season, and Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson could all be gone this summer. Enter Crabbe, who has legitimate NBA range. Crabbe's three-point percentage last season was his lowest in three seasons at Cal, but he shot well at the combine, has good size for his position and has shown an ability to use screens well. It's worth noting that the Bulls have an excellent track record at the back end of the first round (Taj Gibson at No. 26 in '09, Jimmy Butler at No. 30 in '11).
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors) - Jamaal Franklin
If the Jazz snap up Schroeder early, they can grab a potential backcourt partner in Franklin here. Franklin, San Diego State's leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season, can do a little bit of everything. He doesn't shoot three-pointers particularly well, but he plays with energy and is a solid defender.
22. Brooklyn Nets - Shane Larkin
The Nets would love a big man like Gorgui Dieng to slip this far. Brooklyn has Deron Williams signed to a long-term contract at point guard, but Larkin is a quick, change-of-pace point guard who could be groomed to back up the three-time All-Star. Larkin is a phenomenal athlete -- he topped the combine in the three-quarter-court sprint (3.08 seconds) and vertical leap (44 inches) -- and an excellent ball handler who projects to play well in the pick-and-roll. He is one of several point guards who should be on the board here.
23. Indiana Pacers - Reggie Bullock
The Pacers face a big offseason decision on Danny Granger, who could be traded to free up some money and/or fortify the backcourt. That could make swingman a position of need for Indiana. Bullock didn't exactly receive a ringing endorsement from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who said he was more worried about Bullock going to the NBA than any of the 11 other players who left early under him. But Bullock is a very good shooter who rebounds well for his position.
24. New York Knicks - Jeff Withey
The Knicks desperately need young, active big men and Withey fits the bill. Withey is a skilled defender who is athletic enough to play either power forward or center. He doesn't create much offense for himself, but the Knicks' offense revolves around Carmelo Anthony. If Withey can rebound, defend and finish around the rim, he could be a steal for New York.
25. Los Angeles Clippers - Pierre Jackson
Jackson took a risk last month when he showed up in New Jersey at an organized group workout composed mostly of second-round-level picks. But he was one of the best players at the workout, impressing with his speed and half-court efficiency. Jackson is undersized, but with Eric Bledsoe likely on the trading block, Jackson offers the Clippers insurance.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis Grizzlies) - Rudy Gobert
Someone in the first round will take a flyer on Gobert, who has slipped on many teams' draft boards the last few weeks after being considered a lottery-level talent. Gobert is impossibly long at 7-2 with a 7-8½ wingspan and a 9-7 standing reach, both combine records. He didn't show much offensively at the combine, though, and has struggled in workouts amid concerns about his lack of post moves and slender frame. If new president Flip Saunders fears losing restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic this summer, Gobert's defensive potential could make him enticing here.
27. Denver Nuggets - Lucas Nogueira
Nogueira has been quietly rising on several teams' draft boards. Scouts love his rebounding and shot-blocking potential, as well as his ability to play in the open floor. "He runs like a deer," a Western Conference executive said. "When he puts some weight on, he's got the potential to be a starting center." The Nuggets like to play up tempo, and Nogueira is someone they can develop in that mold.
28. San Antonio Spurs - Tony Mitchell
It's tough to get a read on what direction the Spurs will go here. They could opt for a raw international talent such as Greece's Giannis Adetokunbo or France's Mouhammadou Jaiteh, someone they could stash overseas for a year or two years like Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter or Luis Scola. Or they could opt for someone who can play right away. Mitchell doesn't fit the Spurs' mold -- he admitted he didn't always play hard last year at North Texas -- but he is a 6-9, 236-pound man-child with undeniable inside-out skills and tantalizing talent (he compares himself to Denver's Kenneth Faried). Those abilities could make him worth the risk.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Richard Ledo
The hunt for a replacement for James Harden could continue with Ledo, one of the draft's biggest mysteries. Ledo missed all of last season because of academic issues after bouncing around several high schools. But his shooting ability is undeniable and Oklahoma City, with plenty of talent in place, can afford to be patient with a player two executives said has starting potential.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat) - Giannis Adetokunbo
New Suns GM Ryan McDonough has a sharp eye for talent -- as an assistant GM in Boston he was a strong advocate for the Celtics drafting Avery Bradley in 2010 and acquiring Rajon Rondo in a draft-night trade in 2006 -- and he will need that eye here. The Suns have holes everywhere, so position isn't really relevant, and they can afford to be patient with a prospect like Adetokunbo, who will need a few years to develop. There are concerns about the level of competition Adetokunbo has faced -- one NBA executive likened it to Division-III talent -- but a strong performance at Eurocamp last week has scouts intrigued by his point-forward potential.