Adam Silver, presiding over his first draft since becoming league commissioner, was given a predictably warm reception—and after years of David Stern being booed (and his wonderfully defiant response to that booing), that kind of reception was somewhat disappointing.
Anything but disappointing, however, was Silver’s touching gesture to Baylor standout Isaiah Austin. Austin had long been considered a first-round prospect until being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a medical condition that makes it too dangerous for Austin to continue playing basketball. Silver called Austin up to the podium, making him the NBA’s honourary pick, while his peers gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. There weren’t many dry eyes left in the building.
With the first overall pick—their third in four years—the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Andrew Wiggins. The Cavaliers had reportedly wavered between picking the Kansas Jayhawk phenom and Duke’s Jabari Parker, but eventually settled on the Vaughan, Ontario native. Wiggins fulfills a glaring need for the Cavaliers at the small forward position. Although there have been question marks about his ball-handling and his tendency to drift in and out of games, Wiggins is an elite athlete who is already a lockdown defender that will give opposing small forwards fits with his length and speed.
Next up, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker—a player they’ve been coveting all summer. Parker is, first and foremost, a scorer and will give the Bucks’ anemic offence a much-needed boost. The Duke standout possesses all the intangibles you’d want out of a high draft pick—he’s a leader who won’t be intimidated by playing in the NBA. The only knock on Parker is that many people feel he’s going to be too slow to guard his position. At 255 pounds the Chicago native is very heavy for a small forward.
With the third pick the Philadelphia 76ers selected the most talented player in this year’s draft, Joel Embiid—Embiid has been compared by more than one expert to NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon. Embiid was the consensus number one for months until back injuries and a recent stress fracture in his foot saw his stock take a hit—nothing alarms NBA teams more than injured big men. But for the Sixers, Embiid makes perfect sense. They have no interest in winning next season and can take their time with the Cameroonian centre.
The Orlando Magic picked next and they selected Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. Gordon has been compared to Blake Griffin. He’s an excellent shot-blocker, rebounder and defender. But like Griffin when he first entered the league, Gordon is going to have to work on his outside shot and free throw shooting.
With the fifth pick the Utah Jazz selected one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft, the 18-year old Australian, Dante Exum. Exum opted out of attending college in the States and most scouts have just seen film of his games, as opposed to personally seeing him in action. Exum is a huge guard who can play both backcourt positions, and he has a lightning-quick first step—he’s already being compared to Kobe Bryant.
The next two players selected, by the Celtics and Lakers respectively, will start their rookie years with a chip on their shoulders—both men feel like they could’ve gone higher. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was selected sixth overall by the Celtics. If the combo guard had declared after his freshman year last season, he would surely have gone first overall. The Lakers picked Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, who looked like a top-three pick at one stage until a foot injury scared off a few teams. Randle has the best post-up game in his draft class and is already an elite offensive rebounder. Scouts have compared him to Zach Randolph.
The Sacramento Kings had the eighth pick and they selected the second Canadian in the top-10, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas. Stauskas was the best pure shooter available in the draft, but he also possesses a nifty off-the-bounce game to compliment his elite catch-and-shoot abilities. The Mississauga, Ontario native gives the Kings some much-needed floor-spacing in the backcourt.
Noah Vonleh, a power forward who can stretch the floor and was predicted by many to be a top-five pick, fell to the Charlotte Hornets. Vonleh’s face-up game should be the perfect foil to Al Jefferson’s back-to-the-basket skill set. Point guard Elfrid Payton, a ferocious defender and excellent playmaker, was picked next by the 76ers—much to the chagrin of incumbent guard Michael Carter-Williams—but he was almost immediately flipped to the Orlando Magic for the twelfth pick, Dario Saric.
Doug McDermott, Creighton’s scoring sensation—the fifth leading scoring in NCAA history—went next. McDermott was initially picked by the Denver Nuggets, but the Nuggets traded him to the Chicago Bulls for the 16th and 19th picks in the draft. McDermott can score from anywhere on the floor and should give the Bulls’ offense a nice shot in the arm.
The final two lottery picks were Zach LaVine—quite possibly the most athletic player in this year’s draft—selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves (he didn’t look too pleased) and T.J. Warren, whose style should be a perfect fit on the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns.
Elsewhere, Shabazz Napier, a key part of UConn’s championship winning team—and a LeBron James favourite—was drafted by the Hornets, then promptly traded to the Heat. Napier’s selection has been interpreted as the first of a succession of moves carried out by the Heat’s front office to placate LeBron and convince him to re-sign in Miami.
The shock of the first round was undoubtedly the Toronto Raptors selecting the little-known Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick. The Raptors had hoped that Canadian Tyler Ennis would fall to 20, but the Suns snapped up the Syracuse guard with the 18th selection. Caboclo has been described as the “Brazilian Kevin Durant,” but ESPN’s Fran Fracilla described him as “two years away from being two years away.” Masai Ujiri and the Raptors organization disagree, however. Caboclo will fight for a spot on the roster as early as next season.
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