The NBA season is winding down, which means it's time for some teams to accept the present and start looking toward the future. Luckily, we're here to lend a helping hand.
1. Which NBA team needs the No. 1 pick the most?
Fred Katz, ClipperBlog: Phoenix. Charlotte is bad, but at least it has some young talent at meaningful positions. Of the eight leading candidates to land the first pick, Phoenix has the second-most money on the books next season and the most money on the books for 2014-15. Meanwhile, they have no one on the current roster that could become close to a franchise player.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Has to be Charlotte. Despite Kemba Walker's breakthrough sophomore season and a strong start from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Bobcats are still years away from putting together a core capable of competing for a playoff spot. Charlotte needs star talent in the worst way, and unfortunately this year's draft may not offer it.
Brian Robb, Celtics Hub: Charlotte. A roster full of disenchanted veterans on inflated contracts combined with a number of recent draft picks with limited upside has this crew making a return visit to the bottom of the NBA standings again this season. With that kind of roster construction, they need a building block capable of developing into an All-Star more than anyone.
Jordan White, Hardwood Paroxysm: Charlotte. Kemba Walker is nice. Michael Kidd-Glichrist is nice. But nice isn't going to win any championships, or even lift a team out of the dregs of the league. The Bobcats need a star in the worst way possible. Unfortunately, there is no star in this class, but there is great talent nonetheless, and Charlotte could certainly use as much talent as it can get.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Charlotte. It's hard to believe the Bobcats began the season 7-5; their current record of 13-44 is the NBA's worst by several games. This team isn't as awful as last season's history-making version, but the Bobcats still need a major infusion of talent. What better way to get it than to win the draft lottery?
2. Who's the best 2013 NBA draft prospect?
Katz: Nerlens Noel. He's hurt, but a particularly weak draft class might mean he's worth the risk. Noel's defense isn't just about athleticism, it's about skill. He's a wonderful shot contester and rebounder. Those are skills that can translate well to the league if his knee fully recovers.
Pelton: Nerlens Noel. I'm concerned, but not necessarily deterred by Noel's torn ACL. Before the injury, he was one of the nation's best defenders, blocking shots nearly as frequently as Kentucky predecessor Anthony Davis. Not yet 19, Noel has the most potential of anyone in the draft.
Robb: Ben McLemore. The Kansas guard has the athleticism and ability to do a little bit of everything on the floor and that kind of versatility should translate well to the NBA game. He has to work on his consistency, but at just 19 years old, he's probably the best bet for any team with the top selection.
White: It's a tie between Ben McLemore and Nerlens Noel. McLemore's sweet shot and smooth game provides the most immediate impact to any team that picks him. Noel, on the other hand, has more upside, though teams will have to have patience, both with his development on offense, and his recovery from an ACL tear. By a hair, I'm giving it to Noel.
Winter: Victor Oladipo's meteoric rise to the top of draft boards comes with an asterisk. Nerlens Noel is injured, Ben McLemore is inconsistent and others are simply underwhelming. But that won't matter come next season, when Oladipo wreaks his persistent blend of two-way havoc on all NBA backcourts.
3. Who's the best under-the-radar 2013 NBA draft prospect?
Katz: Isaiah Canaan. Canaan is a player who a lot of people have forgotten about since Murray State has fallen off this season, but he fits the NBA point guard mold. Small conference guards who run a lot of pick-and-roll can find success in the NBA, especially those like Damian Lillard and Canaan who have quick releases and seemingly unlimited range.
Pelton: Kelly Olynyk. A week ago, I would have said Otto Porter, but his huge week for Georgetown -- 33 of his team's 57 points in a rare win at Syracuse and the game-winning bucket in overtime last night at Connecticut -- has blown up his draft stock. I'll try to stay ahead of the curve with Olynyk, a 7-foot Canadian who has blossomed after a redshirt year and is arguably the country's most effective scorer. Like Anthony Davis, Olynyk was a guard before a growth spurt, which gives him plenty of upside to explore as a pro.
Robb: Trey Burke. The sophomore plays bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame and displays a healthy mix of shooting and penetration abilities against a variety of tough defenses in the Big 10. Burke still has to work on his defense a bit, but any team drafting in the middle of the first round would be lucky to nab him.
White: Ray McCallum. He's everything you want in a point guard: steady, unselfish, a wonderful passer and a reliable shooter. While a four-year college career may once have been a taboo in the draft, the recent success of college-seasoned players such a Damian Lillard should shatter that stigma. He likely won't be a star, but he could be a solid starting point guard for quite some time.
Winter: Trey Burke is the NCAA's Chris Paul. Always in control and hyper-efficient, he's by far this draft's best combination of scoring and playmaking. Supposed physical limitations will keep him from the lottery, but count on Burke running the show for a good NBA team in the next several years.
4. Agree or disagree: The NBA should have an age limit.
Katz: Agree. But high schoolers should still be able to enter the draft. The NBA could move to MLB's system, which allows draft entry directly out of high school. If a high schooler doesn't enter, he must wait three more years. The NCAA also allows college baseball players to have "advisers," which could work for basketball, but that's a different debate.
Pelton: Agree. That's hard for me to say, because I personally believe that 18-year-olds should have the right to ply their trade professionally at the highest level and develop more quickly in the NBA. However, I think the age limit has been a success for the league because of the hype that has built around stars during their year in college, so I wouldn't change anything if I became commissioner.
Robb: Disagree. While it may be better for the NBA product, and some young players to get some additional seasoning before hitting the big time I don't like the limit. Players should have the right to declare for the draft when they see fit, especially given how much money colleges and the NCAA make off of showcasing their abilities.
White: Disagree. The aforementioned unfortunate case of Nerlens Noel is exhibit "A" of why the age limit is flat-out silly. Here is a player who more than likely would have been a lottery pick in last year's draft, thus securing his ability to support himself and his family, yet because of the age limit, he is forced to spend a year in school, which results in a career-changing injury that will likely cost him millions.
Winter: Disagree. A rule similar to baseball's "three years of college or none at all" makes most sense on the surface, but keeping even unproven commodities from the league is unfair and poses a laundry list of issues. Think Nerlens Noel, rehabbing a torn ACL sustained as an 18-year-old amateur, is glad he missed a year of earning potential?
5. Agree or disagree: The NBA should adjust the lottery system.
Katz: Disagree. Lottery controversy is actually a good thing for the NBA. Would people really care about a random envelope drawing if everything were routine? Fans love reasons to commish bash. Meanwhile, the lottery actually works pretty well as a combatant against tanking. Charlotte would've ended up with Anthony Davis in any other league last year. Instead, say hello to MKG.
Pelton: Agree. I don't consider it one of the league's most pressing issues, but taking into account a team's record over multiple years would discourage tanking while still delivering talent to the teams that need it most.
Robb: Disagree. The lottery as composed may have flaws, but it's fair to say nearly every kind of lottery system would have some sort of issue with it. The current system adds a fun element of intrigue for all non-playoff squads. As for those chronically bad teams, their front offices and not the lottery system is what should be changed.
White: Agree. The current system favors tanking. My favorite solution came from Sloan last year: award the first pick to the team that wins the most games after being eliminated from playoff contention. True, this could result in a different kind of tanking (such as a fringe playoff team tanking to just miss the playoffs), but at least this way the system rewards effort.
Winter: Agree. We endured worst-ever doldrums of tanking last season and are in for a similar stretch soon. Suggestions of a postseason tournament made up of the league's worst regular season teams -- with draft position contingent on contest performance -- seem unrealistic, but why not dare to dream?
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Pelton is an ESPN Insider. Fred Katz, Brian Robb, Jordan White and Jack Winter are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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