Indiana junior Victor Oladipo has played his way toward the top of the 2013 NBA Draft.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With the first pick in the NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take two Tylenol and a pint of something at least 86 proof.
Having the first pick in this NBA Draft is like having the first seat in the C boarding group on a flight from Miami to Seattle. There's not one player who is making LeBron James squirm.
There are only a bunch of guys who are making the Cavaliers squirm. Dan Dakich and Will Perdue are both working this draft for ESPN. They've heard the same stories I have heard:
Pick up the phone and call the Cavaliers. They're ready to deal.
Basketball is a game of percentages. If you cannot trade the pick, you take the player least likely to make you look foolish.
That is not Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, who has a surgically repaired knee, an undersized upper body and no chance to score from outside 8 feet.
That is not Alex Len of Maryland, who would not be picked first in a draft of returning players in the ACC.
The percentage play is Victor Oladipo of Indiana. His strengths – athleticism, versatility, tenacity and character – are all qualities that will be strengths in the NBA. His questions – consistent shooting stroke, turnovers – are all things that can be fixed with more work.
"You could put him on the floor tomorrow and have confidence he'd do the job on the defensive end from Day One," Perdue said.
Oladipo has never flinched from extra work. He remembers that both major recruiting services failed to rank him among the Top 100 prospects nationally three years ago.
NBA teams also remember that Oladipo was once ranked 144th in his class. That makes some general managers flinch. If Oladipo had been rated higher coming out of DeMatha High School, there would be fewer questions. That's silly. But that's also true.
"They wonder what so many college coaches missed and if Oladipo can keep shooting the ball as well as he shot it last season," one NBA scout said.
Quit wondering. Oladipo is the best percentage pick. He improved every season at Indiana. He can guard several positions. Some guys travel with a posse. Oladipo travels with an IU degree, something he earned in three years.
"The arrow is pointing up for him," said an NBA scout. "He's very well thought of. He gives the maximum effort every day in practice and he gives everything he has in a game."
Cleveland has one reason not to take Oladipo. The Cavaliers have a guy, Dion Waiters, who plays his position. Sorry. A backcourt rotation of Waiters, Oladipo and Kyrie Irving would be a force, not a problem.
Unlike Noel or Len, Oladipo will be ready from the first dribble.
"I don't see how you can take Noel if you're the Cavs," Perdue said. "You don't have the luxury of waiting until December for a guy who might or might not be ready. How do you sell Noel to your fan base right now?"
Ditto for Len. Ask Dakich. He worked one of Maryland's games during the National Invitation Tournament.
"I remember he looked good warming up," Dakich said. "I remember he looked good shooting the ball. I remember he looked good handling the ball. But I don't remember him doing anything in the game. I really don't."
Noel will likely be taken no later than second by Orlando. He'll certainly be gone by the time Charlotte follows Washington with the fourth pick.
Noel will block shots. He will make steals. He will defend. Anything beyond that will be a bonus – after he gets healthy.
"I think he was really coming on before he got hurt," an NBA scout said. "It's important to him. He wants to do it. He's serious and plays without a purpose."
Cody Zeller of Indiana will be the third local player selected. I like Zeller going to Portland with the 10th selection, but I'm also aware Minnesota general manager Flip Saunders leans on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo for advice. That puts Zeller in play for the Timberwolves.
"He'll play 12 years in the league and be a good player," said one NBA scout.
"Maybe," he said. "One day.
"Zeller will make an adjustment. He'll figure out what he can do and what he can't do and who he can do it against. He has a good head on his shoulders. He'll listen. Players will tell him right off and he'll be smart enough to listen."
Gorgui Dieng worked out for the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday. The Nets draft 22nd. Brooklyn is wishing, hoping and praying that Dieng will be available. But Dieng won't make it to New York. Either Atlanta (picks 17 and 18) or Chicago (20) will summon Dieng first.
"He's capable of moving his feet and doing a great job on defense," one NBA scout said. "There are a lot of teams that place great value on interior defenders with good reason.
"He can pass the ball. Rick (Pitino) did a great job of growing his game. He was a willing student. It was a happy marriage."
That will be the end of the local first-round picks. One NBA scout told me that Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin "seemed lost" when he worked out for his team. Goodwin is destined for the second round and serious time in the NBA Developmental League.
Louisville guard Peyton Siva has started to show up in more mock drafts as a second-round selection. One has him going to Indiana, which chooses 53rd. That's an interesting projection because Siva passed on a group workout with the Pacers Monday.
Siva will learn his future Thursday night. So will Noel, Oladipo and the others.