As it does each year, the NBA has invited a selection of this season’s top prospects to attend the 2014 NBA Draft. Although the League has abandoned the practice of confining the young players to a so-called “green room” (a place that likely could have passed for the arena in The Hunger Games, except with disdainful stares and ostentatious displays of passive-aggressive disbelief in place of bows and arrows and whatever those mutant dog things were), attendance at the Draft still means equal parts honor and anxiety for this year’s 21 invitees.
Think back to your first day at your current job and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that it entailed. Now add a room full of all the hiring managers at the jobs you didn’t get, and a national audience of people ready and waiting to make fun of your wardrobe and speech patterns. Fun.
But what if it worked the other way? What if these bright young talents were in control of their own destinies instead of being subject to the whims of the tankers and misfits that typically hold all the cards on Draft Day? What if, in brief, the 21 teams that hold first-round picks this year had to sit and sweat it out in front of an audience of millions while the players invited to the Draft sat in air-conditioned conference rooms with their personal braintrusts and chose where they wanted to play?
With a draft order based on Chad Ford’s Top 100 (ESPN Insider required) and a focus on four primary factors related to team desirability (clarity of path to individual playing time and success, clarity of path to team success, quality of coaching and organizational player development, and geographical/market desirability), I give you the 2014 Inside-Out NBA Draft.
1. Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas
Joel Embiid’s foot injury makes Wiggins the closest thing this draft offers to a can’t-miss prospect, and Wiggins has spared us the need for any great inference here. The Canadian prodigy has gone on the record saying that he wants to play for his hometown Toronto Raptors.
Wiggins’ fit north of the border is not merely superficial; he can share the wing scoring load with DeMar DeRozan, defend the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, benefit from the budding brilliance of Kyle Lowry at the point, and watch Jonas Valanciunas grow into the type of big that can command double-teams and make life easier for a developing outside shooter.
Wiggins slides into a team that is already the class of an aging division in a weak conference and has faith that Masai Ujiri will handle the rest. It’s an ideal situation for Wiggins personally and professionally, and it’s worthy of the first overall pick.
2. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Nobody in this draft is a better bet to score lots of points in the NBA than Jabari Parker. It’s his trademark skill and it means his ideal situation should have him headlining a young core with depth in both the backcourt and the middle, but without a proven volume scorer.
Luckily, just such a perfect basketball fit (next to Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors) exists in a place where Parker, a Mormon, could develop into a transcendent local celebrity and an NBA superstar at the same time. With the second pick in the 2014 Draft, Jabari Parker selects the Utah Jazz.
3. Dante Exum, PG, Australia
Dante Exum is this year’s token international man of mystery. A prodigious athlete with a build that fits either guard position, Exum’s top priority should be to find a situation that will let him grow into the role that best suits him, rather than one where he is immediately pigeon-holed as a franchise-changing floor general.
Ideally, the right team would get him plenty of repetitions at both the 1 and the 2 in a high-functioning offense, would have a great point guard to show him the ropes and groom him as his eventual successor, and would offer the kind of stability and patience necessary to develop an admittedly raw talent. Also, a history of of success with international players could go a long way. And, just sort of spitballing here, but it would be cool if there was a team like that who was also looking to replace another Australian combo guard who they were about to lose in free agency.
This is too easy. Dante Exum grabs the San Antonio Spurs with the third pick. He is immediately presented with the 2021 Finals MVP award.
4. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Picking fourth, Embiid might have the most intense need to find the right situation of any projected lottery pick this year. An absolute freak, it’s almost impossible to imagine a team that couldn’t use a healthy Embiid’s combination of top-end athleticism, elite defending, and a developing perimeter game. Health is, of course, the big question mark, so he picks a team with a legendary training staff and enough frontcourt depth to ease him into his role once he’s ready to return.
With the fourth pick, Joel Embiid selects the Phoenix Suns. Note: Embiid also considered the Chicago Bulls, until he Googled “Derrick + Rose + Return + Timetable + Local + Media + Opinions.”
5. Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Noah Vonleh is the draft’s answer to modern art: look at him for long enough and you can convince yourself that you’re seeing just about anything you want. Long, skinny forwards with more skill than strength can invoke Anthony Randolph or Jonathan Bender just as easily as Kevin Garnett or Lamar Odom.
Raw, “project” types arguably maximize their odds of blossoming into stars if they enter into low-pressure situations with strong, supportive veteran cores. With this in mind, Vonleh decides to go somewhere with a winning culture that can bring him along as a role player and attempt to groom him for stardom behind a skilled big that offers as good a protoype for Vonleh’s development as anyone in the league. And if Chris Bosh leaves next summer, major minutes open up for him. With the fifth pick, Noah Vonleh selects the Miami Heat.
6. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Smart had really been hoping that the Suns would drop to him, but Embiid’s desire for their injury-healing fairy dust snuffed out that option. Unlike the players above, who based their decisions largely on the ability to fit a need on a good team or play in places where they could be groomed for superstardom, Marcus Smart will do well to pick based on offensive system.
Shaky jumper aside, Smart’s offensive game is mature enough that he can look past the need for a great mentor and focus on finding a fast-paced offense that can both get him the ball in transition and benefit from the fastbreak opportunities he’ll generate from what are sure to be gaudy steal numbers.
He wants options on the perimeter and in the post to create spacing for him in the half-court. He wants a front office that will not rest until it has sweet-shooting wings open in each corner on every possession for him to find off the drive and kick. He wants a team whose incumbent point guard is the subject of considerable trade speculation and whose primary scorer would command the opposition’s best perimeter defender every night. A Texas native, Smart wants, and with the sixth pick chooses, the Houston Rockets.
7. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
If draft busts were determined by the same system as the winner on The Bachelor, Anthony Randolph likely would be standing somewhere holding one final rose while Vonleh and Aaron Gordon stared at him in horror, sweat streaking down their tantalizingly long arms.
Gordon’s closer comp may actually be Joe Alexander, a far bigger bust than Randolph and a player who once almost universally inspired the sentiment that “I’m not really sure what he can do well in the NBA … but it seems like it should be something.”
Gordon’s best bet is probably to find a team that could develop him as a tough, athletic defender of both forward spots. That would allow him to establish himself as worthy of playing time before worrying about whether he’s capable of much on the offensive end. Seems like the post-Deng and soon-to-be post-Boozer Chicago Bulls fit the bill from a personnel perspective. And we know they have the right coach for the job.
8. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle wanted the Rockets to fall to him here. They value interior efficiency and toughness over the eye test, and he would have boasted a more refined offensive game than his primary competitors for frontcourt minutes. With Houston off the board, Randle has a decision to make between some vastly different options.
His game has some Zach Randolph to it, and the welcoming arms (and unwelcoming elbows) of Memphis’ Grit ‘n Grind surely would prove alluring. But with Randolph himself reportedly up for an extension, the NBA-ready Randle would be justified in worrying about how long it might be before he can command starting minutes in the Memphis frontcourt. There are some other great win-now situations on the board (Oklahoma City and the Clippers, especially) but they present similarly difficult paths to playing time at the 4.
Randle’s best bet, then, is to latch on to a promising young core that has the roles of point guard and interior defender taken care of but needs a post presence to anchor its offense. If Minnesota trades Kevin Love, that’s a reasonable option, but there’s a better one: a team with an aggressive GM, a perfect complement to Parker at the five, and a wide-open division and conference. With the eighth pick, Julius Randle selects the Philadelphia 76ers.
9. Dario Saric, PF, Croatia
This all broke very nicely for Saric. A highly skilled, very intelligent international combo forward, Saric wants a pre-packaged good team with something of a void at one forward spot and a couple of stars already in the lineup. He wants a point guard that can get him the ball in good spots and an offense that can capitalize on his skills for creating good spacing and moving off the ball. He wants a coach that knows how to deploy his pieces and a market with opportunities for international exposure. And he wants a team that already is good enough that they won’t rush him along or trade him if he takes another season or two to develop in Europe. Picking ninth, Saric could not have asked for much more than the Los Angeles Clippers.
10. Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Gary Harris is a classic, versatile 2-guard prospect. He’s nobody’s pick to become a superstar but he defends well, plays smart, unselfish offense, and hits his threes at a decent clip. He should look for a good team that has some minutes available at the 2, develops talent well, and won’t need him to be a major volume scorer. There’s a perfect option still on the board. With the tenth pick, Harris plops a Gary Harris cap on the head of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
11. Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
With an argument as the best pure shooter in the draft, Stauskas can step in on day one as a role player on a really good team. It looked like he’d have his pick of several such situations until the Bulls, Clippers, and Thunder all disappeared right before his spot in the Draft. Stauskas is perfectly fine with this, because there’s a team still on the board that has an excellent point guard, bigs that can collapse defenses into the lane, and an elite defender both on the wing and in the post to cover for his defensive shortcomings. Mike Miller is dead, long live Mike Miller. Stauskas picks the Memphis Grizzlies.
12. Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
McDermott just saw a run on the remaining good teams seemingly confirm his destiny as a volume scorer on a bad NBA team, at least in his early years. He is untroubled by this development. He cares not for your playoff berths and promising young cores. Doug McDermott is here to score points.
And while I’m not sure whether there’s a delicate way to discuss the extent to which Doug McDermott could become a cult hero in Boston, it’s very easy to see him leaping at the opportunity to immediately become the best scorer next to a wonderful, unselfish point guard for a well-run organization whose historical cache takes a back seat to no one’s.
McBuckets grabs the Boston Celtics with faith that more help is coming soon. He and Jared Sullinger average 87 points per scrimmage against each other in training camp.
13. Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Just as you can count on one overbearing gazillionaire briefly throwing his hat into the ring during every presidential election, you can count on each NBA draft producing one toolsy point guard from a small college that nobody is totally sure how to rate. This year, that guy is Payton, a long, strong blur who might not actually be able to score points in the NBA.
That sounds a little bit like Rajon Rondo once did (Awesome!), and also a little bit like Shaun Livingston once did (Less Awesome), and also sort of like Marcus Banks once did (Not At All Awesome), and somewhat like Leon Wood once did (You Don’t Know Who Leon Wood Is).
Payton needs a situation that offers patience (not the Lakers), a need at point guard (not Denver, Minnesota, Atlanta or Cleveland), promising young teammates on the wing and in the middle (not Charlotte), and an encouraging history of developing raw, young players (not Sacramento). That leaves him with two options: Milwaukee (to play with Giannis, Henson, and Sanders) and Orlando (to develop with Oladipo and Vucevic). Milwaukee only barely cleared a couple of the hurdles listed above and Brandon Knight proves enough of an obstacle to justify Payton in choosing better weather and no state income taxes. He elects to play for the Orlando Magic.
14. Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA
LaVine is perhaps a touch less athletic than Payton (although he can LEAP); he’s bigger and a more polished scorer but has further to go in mastering the other elements of the point guard position. His decision here boils down to one question: “Who’s afraid of Kendall Marshall?”
A player with LaVine’s compendium of strengths and weaknesses could ask for no better pair of tutors than Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, neither of whom would have reason to view the 19-year-old LaVine as a legitimate threat and each of whom would serve as ideal prototypes for different aspects of LaVine’s game. Add that to the lure of the bright lights, the fact that the UCLA product already has fans in the area, and the relatively uninspiring collection of alternative options left on the board, and it’s hard to see as iffy a commodity as Marshall convincing LaVine to wander outside of southern California. He chooses to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
15. James Young, SF, Kentucky
Physically, the 18-year-old Young is a protoype scoring wing with monster upside. Statistically, his performance as a freshman was spotty and he’s likely a few years away from tapping his potential.
Like many of the players in this draft, he should be looking for a young core with a strong point guard and a two-way interior presence. The Pistons would actually make a very nice landing spot for the Michigan native but, as they lack a first-round pick, they are unavailable in this draft. Atlanta is a decent option and remains available, but its core players are mature enough that Young is unlikely to peak while they are still in their primes. Denver has a ton of pieces but their revolving-door-athletic-wing-lottery system might carry some risk for Young if he’s slow to develop.
He instead decides to join Kyrie and Waiters on the perimeter and model his game after Luol Deng. He selects the Cleveland Cavaliers.
16. Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Ennis has six options on the board and first divides them into groups based on their incumbent point guard situation: the Timberwolves (Rubio), Nuggets (Lawson), Hawks (Teague), and Hornets (Walker) have talented young floor generals who likely aren’t going anywhere. That leaves the Bucks and Kings, for whom Brandon Knight and Isaiah Thomas, respectively, run the offense.
Both of those guys are young and have shown some flashes but both are sort of tweeners and neither would pose a major roadblock should Ennis develop the way that many believe he can. It’s very close to a toss-up, but Ennis opts for the more stable situation in the weaker conference and selects the Milwaukee Bucks.
17. Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
This otherwise deep draft is actually quite uninspiring in the middle, meaning that there has been no great run on ideal landing spots for centers prior to Jusuf Nurkic’s turn to pick. Still, the teams left on the board are, on the whole, already surprisingly strong in the middle.
The Hawks have a couple of talented Europeans already in the fold and the presence of Al Horford and Paul Millsap could be viewed as either an opportunity or an obstacle for Nurkic. Al Jefferson is 29 but has the kind of game that suggests he could play forever, scaring Nurkic away from the otherwise tempting Hornets. The Kings already have DeMarcus Cousins in the middle and, as tempestuous as Boogie’s tenure has been, he’s simply too good and too young for Nurkic to cast his lot in Sacramento with much confidence. That leaves the Nuggets, who have committed long term to JaVale McGee, and the Timberwolves, who have commmitted long term to Nikola Pekovic, one of the players to whom Nurkic is most frequently compared.
There just isn’t a perfect choice on the board for Nurkic, so he selects the Atlanta Hawks, knowing that he’ll have two excellent veteran bigs to learn from and that it’s unlikely both will still be around by the time Nurkic can truly emerge.
18. Adreian Payne, PF Michigan State
Payne is a very skilled, very athletic stretch four who could succeed in the pretty near future if he finds the right system. And, while stepping into Kevin Love’s shoes could certainly prove intimidating, the Minnesota Timberwolves have obviously made excellent use of their sweet-shooting soon-to-be-former power forward. The 23-year-old enters with every opportunity to get big minutes at the four after any Love trade is consummated and, presuming the Wolves get a decent haul from the trade, he could be a member of a very exciting young core right away. No matter what Love brings back, you could do worse than to have Ricky Rubio looking to get you open shots for the next decade.
19. T. J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
The Kings, Nuggets, and Hornets remain on the board for Warren, a skilled tweener who would do best to join a team that can carve out some minutes for him at both forward spots in the hopes that he develops into a valuable role player. The Durham product and N.C. State standout likely will look first at his hometown team here, but would probably not love the fit.
Warren excelled as a high-volume penetrator last year but struggled with his outside shot; that might make it tough for him to supplant the more athletic Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward and, even when he got on the floor, he might find a fairly clogged lane waiting for him (Kemba and MKG are penetrators, Al Jefferson is Al Jefferson).
His remaining options are both out West; one of them already has a glut of young players taking up minutes at the three. The other is the Sacramento Kings. He’ll back up Rudy Gay in his contract year and see what happens after that.
20. Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Just the Nuggets and Hornets are left for Shabazz Napier to pick from and, honestly, that’s not such terrible news. Picking this late, Napier will land on a team that will at least be competitive in the early part of his career and since Napier is this high in the draft more for what he already is than what he has a chance to become, he might be able to chip in pretty quickly.
Basically, he’s left to pick between two places where he can step in and win the backup point guard job. He can join another championship UConn point guard in Charlotte but his similarities to Kemba Walker might prove more hindrance than poetry; neither will ever be a classic ball-distributing one and Napier’s minutes could be limited by the likely lack of synergy in their games.
Ty Lawson is a different story; Napier could have real success playing off of him as a scorer when he’s not spelling him as his backup. He elects to challenge the somehow-already-thirty-year-old Nate Robinson for his job on the Denver Nuggets.
21. Rodney Hood, SG, Duke
All things considered, this worked out pretty well for Hood. He’s an outstanding shooter — perhaps the best in the draft — and a Duke product. He stays in North Carolina and joins a team that’s desperate for a young outside threat to develop alongside Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Hood closes out the Inside-Out Draft by joining the Charlotte Hornets.