Dwight Howard, PF, SW Atlanta Christian (Ga.)
If Tracy McGrady were sticking around and the Magic wanted to win right away, Emeka Okafor would be the smart pick. But if they are really going to trade McGrady and start rebuilding, Howard has the bigger upside.
Emeka Okafor, PF, UConn
If you were starting an NBA franchise — which the expansion Bobcats are — you could do a lot worse than a big man like Okafor as the first major piece.
Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, Arizona
Iguodala, an ultra-athletic 6-foot-7 swingman, has been compared to Scottie Pippen for his versatility, court vision and defense. Given that the Bulls had such success with the real Pippen, why not take the second coming? As a bonus, he also fills a positional need for the Bulls.
4. L.A. Clippers
Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria Central High (Ill.)
It seems like a no-brainer that the Clippers will select a point guard, but the question is which one between Livingston, Devin Harris and Ben Gordon. Harris and Gordon would be fine picks, but the 6-foot-7 Livingston has the most upside.
Luol Deng, SF, Duke
The Wizards are set in the backcourt, but they could use plenty of frontcourt help. A big man like foreigner Andris Biedrins could make sense, but a versatile and talented small forward like Deng is too good to pass up.
Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
The Hawks are in serious rebuilding mode, so why not take a chance on a high schooler with a world of athleticism and potential? They’ve got plenty of time to let this big-time leaper develop. Plus, Smith is a native of Georgia who’d be a hometown favorite.
Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin
After trading Stephon Marbury midway through last season, the Suns need to find their point guard of the future to distribute the ball to Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson. Harris or Ben Gordon could be the choice.
Ben Gordon, PG, UConn
The Raptors need a point guard and a center, but all the centers in this draft are projects. Adding Gordon to a nucleus of Vince Carter, Jalen Rose, Chris Bosh and Donyell Marshall could help get the Raptors turned around in a hurry.
Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
Philly has a lot of holes to fill, and at this point Childress qualifies as the best available talent. His height and length would make him a good fit with Allen Iverson.
Luke Jackson, SG/SF, Oregon
The Cavs need a wing man for LeBron. We originally had Kirk Snyder penciled in here, but Jackson’s outside shooting ability is a better complement.
11. Golden State
Andris Biedrins, PF, Latvia
The Warriors need size, and Biedrins is the rare foreigner who actually likes to play in the paint. Even better, he’ll give Golden State a big man who can block shots and rebound, something they’ll sorely need after likely losing center Erick Dampier in free agency.
Pavel Podkolzine, C, Russia
The Sonics have Jerome James, Vitaly Potapenko and Calvin Booth at center, so picking a 7-foot-5 giant in Podkolzine both fills a need and gives Seattle a player with a huge — literally — potential.
Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
Snyder qualifies as the best player available, but he also fills a need for the Blazers at the two-guard. He’s a strong, athletic slasher who can do a little of everything.
Sergey Monya, SG/SF, Russia
Monya is a big, athletic swingman who is ready to contribute right away. Word is, the Jazz absolutely love him and can’t gamble that he’ll be there at No. 16 because the Celtics also like him.
Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield High (Calif.)
Celtics GM Danny Ainge reportedly loves Swift, and for good reason. He’s a legit 7-footer with great post moves, excellent shot-blocking ability and good passing skills. Given the dearth of talented centers in the NBA, Swift could develop into a big-time weapon.
Jameer Nelson, PG, St. Joseph’s
The conventional wisdom is that the Jazz will go with big man Rafael Araujo or forward Kris Humphries here, but doesn’t a tough and experienced point guard like Nelson just seem like a great fit with Jerry Sloan’s Utah Jazz?
J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.)
Remember what we said about the Hawks back at pick No. 6? Same thing applies here. If the Hawks end up with the two high schools Smiths out of this draft, it might take a few years to bear fruit, but it could be a huge payoff. Both are extremely athletic with a huge upside.
18. New Orleans
Kris Humphries, SF/PF, Minnesota
Humphries’ stock is on the rise, and he could go even higher. But if he slips, the Hornets would be wise to take him off the board here. He’s strong, a good scorer, tough rebounder and can play either forward spot to help out the Hornets’ depth.
Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
With a core of Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant, the only thing the Heat are missing is a center to man the middle. Araujo is big, tough, talented and fits the bill, though he could easily go much higher.
Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
This might be a tad high for Martin, but it fills a need for Denver at shooting guard, and Martin’s athleticism and scoring ability would be a good fit next to Carmelo Anthony. Martin may not be a household name, but he was second in the NCAA in scoring this past season at 24.8 points per game.
Peter John Ramos, C, Puerto Rico
If the Jazz secure a swingman and a point guard with picks No. 14 and 16, as we’ve predicted, they’ll need to go big here. And at 7-foot-3, Ramos is plenty big with a huge upside.
Sebastian Telfair, PG, Lincoln High (N.Y.)
The Blazers (who have reportedly acquired this pick from New Jersey) seem sold on Telfair and could even use the No. 13 pick on him if they think he’ll be gone before this spot. Telfair has plenty of critics, but if he falls here, Portland will have itself a steal.
Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss High (Miss.)
Jefferson is another high schooler the Blazers reportedly like. And when you have three first-round picks, you can afford to swing for the fences on a high-reward guy like this 6-foot-9 man-child.
Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil
Last season, the Celtics lacked rebounding, toughness and energy. Enter Varejao, who brings all of those to the table. Although he’s not a great scorer, he’ll add energy and hustle to a team that really needs it.
Dorell Wright, SG, South Kent Prep (Conn.)
If the Celtics go big with their first two picks, they can afford to take a flyer on a high-flying swingman who’s still pretty raw. Frankly, we’re not completely sold on Wright, but at this point in the draft, there’s nobody with more potential left on the board.
David Harrison, C, Colorado
When you want to compete in the West, you need size. And with Vlade Divac slowing down and Chris Webber’s injury problems, the 7-foot Harrison is nice insurance for the Kings.
27. L.A. Lakers
Sasha Vujacic, PG/SG, Slovenia
Who knows what the Lakers’ needs will be after all the dust settles this summer, so they’re probably best served going for a versatile player who’s the best available at this point. That would be Vujacic, a 6-foot-7 combo guard who’s been compared to Brent Barry.
28. San Antonio
Viktor Khryapa, SF, Russia
The Spurs have become arguably the most foreign-friendly team in the NBA, and they don’t yet have a player from Russia. In all seriousness, Khryapa is the best player available and also fills a possible need for a team with its top three swingmen — Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Hedo Turkoglu — facing free agency.
Ha Seung Jin, C, South Korea
The Pacers are set at pretty much every position except center, since they prefer to play Jermaine O’Neal at power forward. Ha is a project, to be sure, but at 7-foot-4 he might be a worthwhile project for a team with few immediate holes to fill.