Cleveland continues to aggressively shop this pick, according to sources, but one executive said the Cavs "have completely overvalued it." It's looking more and more like Cleveland will keep the pick and, despite speculation that it will take everyone from Ben McLemore to Victor Oladipo to Alex Len, league sources expect Noel to be the guy. 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.
A source confirmed an ESPN.com report that McLemore has looked sluggish in recent workouts but, the source said, "That doesn't take away from the year he had last season." Several executives believe that the prototypical 2-guard has "All-Star potential." The Magic have been talking with the Clippers about a deal that would send Eric Bledsoe to Orlando for a package headlined by Arron Afflalo, but Los Angeles prefers to keep Bledsoe for now in hopes of landing a bigger offer, a source said. 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.
Porter has no plans to work out for Charlotte, a sign he is confident he will be a top-three pick. Anthony Bennett and Oladipo will get some consideration, but it would be shocking if the Wizards pass on Porter, a versatile forward with an excellent mid-range game who will slip right into a young core headlined by John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Bobcats badly need a big man to shore up a frontcourt that ranked among the worst scoring and rebounding units in the league this season. The defensive-minded 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 has kept him out of individual workouts. And remember this: New coach Steve Clifford has an excellent reputation when it comes to developing big men.
The Suns have their eyes on everyone, and Oladipo will get a long look here. But several NBA executives believe that Bennett has the biggest upside in the draft. "He's ridiculously talented," a Western Conference general manager said. "There's a superstar in him." Phoenix is short on stars -- short on a lot, really -- so the Suns 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 the Suns have holes everywhere. He will find a place to play.
Why could Oladipo slip? Perimeter shooting, and the fact that several NBA talent evaluators are skeptical that he will be effective enough. "One year as a consistent shooter scares the crap out of me," an Eastern Conference executive said. There are mixed signals out of New Orleans as to whether the organization believes Austin Rivers is the long-term solution at point guard. Drafting Oladipo when Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams are still on the board would be a clear sign of the team's faith in Rivers. 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.
A source said Shabazz Muhammad had an excellent workout with the Kings last week, and is in consideration here. Still, landing Burke, an accomplished scorer and underrated playmaker, would solidify the point guard position in Sacramento, and that may be too good to pass up. Expect Carter-Williams to be in the mix, too.
Some guesswork here, as Muhammad won't work out for the Pistons until Monday, three days before the draft. But Detroit has a desperate need for scoring and Muhammad can do that right away. There is top-pick talent in Muhammad (whom you can read more about in this week's Sports Illustrated), a physical, 6-6 swingman with terrific reflexes and an array of moves around the rim. Muhammad told me last week that he is patterning his game after James Harden. If he turns out to be anywhere close to the player Harden is, he will be a steal.
The Wolves could opt for a natural shooting guard like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but McCollum, who worked out with Minnesota this week, is a dangerous combo guard in the mold of Damian Lillard. McCollum lacks Lillard's point-guard instincts, but the Wolves don't need a natural playmaker with Ricky Rubio around. What they need is a shooter, and McCollum is as good as they get.
Zeller worked out for Portland for 45 minutes two weeks ago, with Blazers owner Paul Allen in attendance. Zeller 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.
Everyone knows Adams is a project, one who will be best served spending all of next season in the D-League getting used to the speed of an NBA game. But Adams' workouts have general managers drooling. "If he were as good as the sum of his parts, he would be in the mix for No. 1," an Eastern Conference executive said. Philadelphia needs a big man and new GM Sam Hinkie, a disciple of Daryl Morey in Houston, could make a play for a high-risk/higher-reward big man.
Pick acquired from Raptors via Rockets: 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 he will match up with bigger, more physical defenders after three years at Gonzaga. 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.
Let's be clear: Dallas is actively trying to trade this pick. The Mavs want to keep as much cap space as they can to make a run at Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul, and the guaranteed money a rookie makes eats into that flexibility. If Dallas keeps the pick -and Carter-Williams, who will be in the mix in the top 10, is still on the board, expect the Mavs to snap him up and groom him as the point guard of the future.
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The Jazz badly need a point guard, and Schroeder and Shane Larkin are the best of the remaining bunch. Rumors around the league persist that Schroeder has an early first-round promise, and the Jazz make as much sense as any. 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.
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 is opting out to become an unrestricted free agent. 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.
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. Plumlee is an athletic 7-footer with good hands who should be more effective offensively playing alongside Rondo, who can get him plenty of open looks around the rim. He's also considered a highly intelligent big man, and if Garnett stays, Plumlee would benefit from playing a season (or more) with one of the best defensive bigs in the game.
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. 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.
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Pick acquired from Rockets: Worth noting here: The Hawks are exploring several options, including trading one or both of their back-to-back picks and/or using a pick on a player they can stash overseas. One executive told me after my last Mock Draft that Nogueira will rise quickly as the draft gets closer. 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."
Pick acquired from Lakers: Karesev shut down his workouts last week and returned to Russia, a clear indicator that a team in the first round has promised to pick him. Karasev is an NBA-ready 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.
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).
Ledo missed all of last season because of academic issues after bouncing around several high schools. There are legitimate concerns about Ledo's maturity, and several executives have told me that they fear how outside influences will affect his career. But the kid can shoot. Utah isn't in win-now mode, so they can afford to wait for Ledo to develop.
The Nets would love a big man like 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. And is there any better role model than new coach Jason Kidd?
The Pacers are likely to bring back David West, but he will be 33 next season and Tyler Hansbrough isn't considered a long-term solution at power forward. Mitchell is enigmatic -- 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). His abilities could make him worth the risk, especially for a team that loves to play physical.
The Knicks desperately need young, active big men to protect an aging front line and replace it down the road. 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, and New York is in a position to take a risk like this. 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.
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Adetokunbo created a lot of buzz after a strong performance in Europe last week, but there are still plenty of concerns. Adetokunbo's representative have been telling teams he is a point guard, a position no one thinks he can play. There are also concerns about the level of competition Adetokunbo has faced -- one executive likened it to Division III talent -- and if he is strong enough to defend NBA forwards. Still, Adetokunbo has great point-forward potential, even if he has to be stashed overseas for a year or two.
Pick acquired from Memphis: If the Wolves grab a shooter at No. 9, look for them to go big here. Withey is a skilled defender who is athletic enough to play either power spot. He doesn't create much offense for himself, but he can finish around the rim and should get some easy looks playing with Rubio.
It's unclear whether new GM Tim Connelly will want to pay what it takes to keep Andre Iguodala. If Iguodala walks, Franklin is a nice safety net. 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.
Hardaway is slowly creeping up several teams' draft boards, as executives who have spoken to him have come away impressed. He is a very good shooter -- a skill the Spurs covet -- who can score in transition. He needs to work on his ball handling and defense, but San Antonio has enough depth that it can be patient with Hardaway over the next few seasons.
The Thunder have the second pick in the second round, too, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them grab Muscala, an offensively gifted big man with an accomplished college résumé, with one of them. Muscala is a little light (230 pounds) and isn't especially athletic. But he can make the perimeter jump shot and was an excellent rebounder in college. If Muscala had not laid an egg in the NCAA tournament opener against Butler, it's likely he would be solidly entrenched in the back of the first round.
Pick acquired from Miami: Phoenix needs a wing scorer and Bullock, who connected on 43.6 percent of his threes last season, has NBA range. 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 from anywhere on the floor who also rebounds well for his position.
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