There’s been a lot of activity in the days leading up to the draft, culminating with some trades that included a lottery pick and altered some draft strategies along the way.
There were three clear tiers that emerged while evaluating all the prospects available for selection on Thursday night. The top two have been established for quite some time now, and there’s not much left to say about them that hasn’t been discussed at length in other outlets. This draft really starts when the Celtics are on the clock at #3, and what they do will shape how the rest of the Top 10 unfolds. Boston and Kris Dunn will be the two things to keep an eye on when you watch the draft, as there’s a number of teams that seem to be attempting to wiggle their way into the Top 5 to select the Providence point guard, and Boston appears to be a willing trade partner.
There will likely be quite a few trades that occur as the draft is in order, so ultimately this mock draft will be rendered meaningless, but it should be helpful in providing some insight as to what ranges in the draft players will go.
1. Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons (F LSU)
There's a legitimate debate to be had for selecting Brandon Ingram over Simmons at the top spot, and the latter drew a lot of criticism during his lone season at LSU. However, the Sixers desperately need a playmaker, and Simmons can fulfill that role better than Ingram. Skeptics will argue that while Simmons was highly productive at LSU, he didn't affect winning or impact the program to the level expected considering his talent level and hype.
2. Los Angeles Lakers - Brandon Ingram (F Duke)
Don't let the shooting percentages between Simmons and Ingram fool you, the Duke wing is a significantly better shooter than his LSU counterpart. Fairly or unfairly, Ingram often gets compared to another lanky string-bean shooter who's won an MVP award and is currently playing in the Western Conference Finals. Ingram got off to a slow start last season, but validated his hype as the season went along. The Lakers will be ecstatic to get either one of the two who fall to them, as they'll be getting a star to jumpstart what should be a short rebuild after the #mamba era.
3. Boston Celtics (via Nets) - Dragan Bender (F/C Maccabi Tel Aviv)
Bender is one of the biggest question marks in this draft. Teams have to do a lot of projection when determining who they'll pick, but Bender requires more projection than the average prospect. Should the Celtics take the leap with Bender, fans will be hoping they're getting Kristaps Porzingis and not Andrea Bargnani. While those comparisons may be lazy, because hey, it's easy to compare all the unknown Euros to one another, those two players demonstrate the legitimate range of outcomes for Bender.
4. Phoenix Suns - Jaylen Brown (F California)
Phoenix uses the first of their three first round picks to take an explosive athlete to lock down their small forward position. Brown still has a lot of room for growth in his game and he has to make some serious strides with his jump shot, but he'd be devastating in an up-tempo offense. Brown has all the physical tools to be a great player, but needs to land in a spot with a franchise that will be patient with him.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves - Buddy Hield (G Oklahoma)
Hield seems like a great fit to slide into the lineup with a young and promising team that already has two strong building blocks in place with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves have plenty of great athletes on their roster, but are in need of more shooting which Hield provides in spades. Although Hield is slightly undersized for the shooting guard position, I don't envision him having too many difficulties getting his offense. Drafting Hield also allows the Wolves to slide Zach Lavine into the 6th man spot which should be a great role for him.
6. New Orleans Pelicans - Kris Dunn (G Providence)
Kris Dunn is one of the safest choices in this draft class, and he has the physical profile to be a dominant point guard in the NBA. While he needs to continue improving his jump shot and reduce his turnover rate, Dunn provides a well-rounded skillset and knows how to impact the game on both ends of the floor. The Pelicans should sprint to the podium if he's available when it's their turn to pick. Pairing the dynamic point guard with Anthony Davis should help make them a perennial playoff team.
7. Denver Nuggets (via Knicks) - Jamal Murray (G Kentucky)
Will Barton was a pleasant surprise for the Nuggets last year and became a valuable sixth man in the rotation, but this team still needs more wing-scoring and Murray can provide that in spades. While he lacks the explosive athleticism of some of the elite prospects, Murray is a reliable scorer and can also play some point-guard. This would allow him to spell Emmanual Mudiay and gives the team another ballhandler.
8. Sacramento Kings - Marquese Chriss (F Washington)
Chriss is a physically gifted athlete, and his traits allowed his draft stock to rise over the last two months. He could certainly go much higher than this, but if he’s still around at number eight for Sacramento, they should definitely consider taking him to pair with DeMarcus Cousins (although Cousins may not have a long term future in Sacramento). Chriss is definitely a project, but he also has one of the highest ceilings in this class.
9. Toronto Raptors (via Knicks and Nuggets) - Domantas Sabonis (F/C Gonzaga)
Sabonis is the most NBA-ready big man in this draft which will appeal to a Raptors franchise that had a respectable playoff run in the 2015-16 season. This team is not in rebuilding mode, and will want to find an instant contributor with their Top-10 pick. Sabonis will be able to slide into the rotation and provide good minutes immediately, while also providing some cover should the Raptors not re-sign Bismack Biyombo after he played himself into a bigger contract during the postseason.
10. Milwaukee Bucks - Dejounte Murray (G Washington)
At 6’5” with a 6’9.5” wingspan, Murray fits the physical mold of what the Bucks look for in their players—long athletes that can be disruptive on the defensive end. Michael Carter-Williams has been up and down throughout his career to date, and the Bucks might be better off taking Murray and handing him the starting point guard job. Murray is adept at playing at an uptempo pace on offense, and the Bucks certainly need an infusion of tempo to their offense which was difficult to watch at times last season.
11. Orlando Magic - Skal Labissiere (F/C Kentucky)
The Magic have some pretty significant interior needs despite the presence of Nikola Vucevic on the roster. Labissiere can add rim-protection provided he gets stronger, and also help stretch the floor as a four-man, which the Magic desperately need. Labissiere had a disappointing season at Kentucky, and I’m not personally enamored with him, but the traits that once made him a projected top pick in this draft are still there, they’ll just take more work to develop.
12. Atlanta Hawks (via Jazz) - Jakob Poeltl (C Utah)
The Hawks just acquired this pick from the Utah Jazz in a three-team trade that sent Jeff Teague to Indiana, George Hill to Utah, and Utah’s 12th pick to Atlanta. If the Hawks end up keeping this pick, look for them to add a center. Atlanta rolled with a PF-C combo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap last year, and while both players are certainly talented, neither one of them should be logging heavy minutes at the center position for another season. The 7’1” Austrian will provide rim protection and a back-to-the-basket threat which the Hawks have lacked for some time now.
13. Phoenix Suns (via Wizards) - Deyonta Davis (F/C Michigan State)
If Sabonis falls to 13, expect Phoenix to sprint to the stage with his name on their second draft card of the night. However, in this scenario, Sabonis is off the board and the Suns still have needs in their frontcourt. Davis surprised some when he declared for the draft following his freshman year at Michigan State, and he could have used another year on campus to develop as a scorer. However, he has the athletic ability to be a modern NBA power forward and can be an impact rebounder immediately.
14. Chicago Bulls - Wade Baldwin IV (G Vanderbilt)
The Derrick Rose era seems to be nearing its end in Chicago, with the homegrown former-MVP set to become a free agent next summer or be traded beforehand. (*Update, the Bulls have traded Derrick Rose, Justin Holliday, and a 2017 second round pick to the Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant). Grant becomes the de facto starting point guard for the Bulls, but they should look to the draft for a second option as they’re still thin there. Baldwin will likely never reach the heights that Rose once reached, but his selection helps continue the transformation of the back court. Baldwin will be expected to fill a 3-and-D role as a rookie, and the team must hope that he can grow into something more as his career develops.
15. Denver Nuggets (via Rockets) - Henry Ellenson (F/C Marquette)
There’s a couple of spots inside the lottery where Ellenson could go as every team is looking to add a stretch big man in the modern NBA. #15 feels like the latest Ellenson would go, and at this point his value would be too great to pass up for the Nuggets. Ellenson’s game compares very favorably to Kevin Love, and the Nuggets should be pleased to add that skillset to their frontline.
16. Boston Celtics (via Mavericks) - Furkan Korkmaz (G/F Anadolu Efes)
Korkmaz shows a high basketball IQ and decent shooting ability, but he still needs a lot of development before he can be relied upon as a consistent rotation player. The Celtics have a large stockpile of picks, so can afford to wait on Korkmaz if he isn’t ready to contribute right away.
17. Memphis Grizzlies - Malachi Richardson (G Syracuse)
Richardson burned hot and cold for most of his lone year at Syracuse (mostly cold until the NCAA tournament), but true shooting guards are getting harder to find for NBA teams which makes Richardson a rare commodity. While not an elite athlete, Richardson has an enormous wingspan and demonstrated against Virginia in the Elite Eight that he has game-changing offensive ability.
18. Detroit Pistons - Taurean Prince (F Baylor)
Prince has an incredible backstory, and after knowing what he’s already overcome in his life, it’s hard to bet against him succeeding at the next level. Less than 10 years after he and his father were homeless, Prince is on the doorstep of the NBA. A lineup featuring Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, Andre Drummond, and Taurean Prince would be a lot of fun to watch, which is something that hasn’t been said about Pistons basketball in a really long time.
19. Denver Nuggets (via Trail Blazers) - Timothe Luwawu (G Mega Leks)
I don’t expect the Nuggets to hang on to all three of their first round picks, but if they do, Luwawu would be a really nice pickup to add to their wings. He may not ever be a star, but he could be a better version of Thabo Sefalosha. That would have a lot of value considering the direction the NBA game is headed.
20. Indiana Pacers - Denzel Valentine (G Michigan State)
Pistons fans will probably be upset if their team passes on the Spartan hero when they pick at 18, but their loss would be the Pacers gain in this scenario. Valentine’s naysayers all point to his seeming lack of a position in the NBA, but a lot of people said that about Draymond Green a few years ago. Valentine knows how to play, and he’ll figure out how to make an impact for the NBA team that decides they want a baller.
21. Atlanta Hawks - Demetrius Jackson (G Notre Dame)
With Teague out of the picture and Dennis Schroeder earmarked to play a much bigger role next season, Jackson could be a nice choice for the backup PG spot in the rotation. Jackson plays with a lot of toughness and has explosive athleticism, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if he became one of the best players to emerge from this class.
22. Charlotte Hornets - DeAndre Bembry (G/F St. Josephs)
The Hornets need to add a rim protector, but they would be better off adding Bembry at this spot. His addition would add playmaking ability to a team that can become overly reliant on Kemba Walker. Bembry’s game allows coaches to employ him as a swiss-army knife of sorts. He’s versatile and athletic enough to guard multiple positions, while also being equally effective with or without the ball in his hands on the offensive end.
23. Boston Celtics - Cheick Diallo (C Kansas)
With their treasure trove of draft picks, the Celtics can use some on some high risk/high reward players. Enter, Cheick Diallo. Despite being nailed to the bench for the majority of the season in Lawrence, Diallo reminded scouts about his incredible upside during the NBA combine where he tested well athletically, and impressed during 5-on-5 play. He needs to land in an environment where he can be coached up without any serious expectations for his first few seasons. Learning under Brad Stevens may be the best thing that could happen to him.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (via Cavaliers and Heat) - Malik Beasley (G Florida State)
Beasley is another surprise one-and-done, but a close look at his college production revealed him to be an efficient scorer despite not being surrounded with as much high-level talent as some of the other players projected to go in the first round. A great athlete with the ability to score in a myriad of ways, Beasley could go much higher starting with the Bulls at #14. Expect this spot in the draft to be the back end of his range.
25. Los Angeles Clippers - Thon Maker (F/C Carlisle School)
Maker is one of the greatest unknowns in this draft, as he declared for the draft when most observers were expecting him to make a commitment to a college team next season. Similar to Diallo, the team that drafts him will be banking on his enormous upside rather than any production he’s actually shown on the court. With that in mind, the Clippers would make an interesting landing spot for him as he could develop by playing against the likes of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin in practice every day while not needing to produce on a team that has title aspirations. For the Clippers, it’s a worthwhile gamble if Maker turns into a star, and they don’t really miss out on much at this point in the draft should he not pan out.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Nuggets, Cavaliers, and Thunder) - Tyler Ulis (G Kentucky)
Concerns over his hip have caused Ulis to fall a bit, but he should still be a first round pick when the dust clears. It’s easy to overlook Ulis because of his size, but the guy is a stud. Despite playing with a slew of high-profile recruits during his two years at Kentucky, Ulis was often the player that stood out among all the future NBA players that hit the floor for Calipari. The Sixers could definitely use a true floor general, and Ulis should be the solution to the revolving door at the point guard spot in Philly.
27. Toronto Raptors - Juan Hernangomez (F Estudiantes)
Hernangomez fits the mold of the modern-day power forward, a common theme amongst the draft hopefuls on this list. The 20-year old Spaniard broke through to become an impact player in the ACB, widely considered the world's second-best league. Toronto needs a stretch-four, and Hernangomez would be a steal for them at this point in the draft.
28. Phoenix Suns (via Celtics and Cavaliers) - Ivica Zubac (C Mega Leks)
Zubac is a mobile 7-footer with good hands around the rim. However, he’s not cut from the mold of the many other European big men who can extend their range to the 3-point line as Zubac’s game is confined to the paint. At 19 years old, he still needs a lot more development and is a candidate to get stashed overseas for another year or two although his preference would be to come to the NBA as soon as possible.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Damian Jones (C Vanderbilt)
Jones is a raw product, but the Spurs have an excellent coaching staff that could mold him into a serviceable NBA player. He’s got great size and is a decent athlete, but he doesn’t seem to be a natural basketball player. He was very inconsistent throughout his college career, and didn’t make as much of a jump in his development as expected during his junior season. However, it’s hard to pass up the physical tools that Jones possesses.
30. Golden State Warriors - Brice Johnson (F/C North Carolina)
Johnson was an absolute stud for the Tar Heels during his final season in Chapel Hill. While he’s not necessarily a banger in the post, he showed that he’s more than capable of consistently scoring on the block while his shooting mechanics indicate he could be an acceptable mid-range shooter provided he continue to work on that aspect of his game. Additionally, Johnson is a very good worker on the offensive boards, and showed he can be a disruptive presence on the defensive end (although his film will also show that he loses focus from time to time on D). The Warriors would do well to never have Anderson Varejao play for them again, and Johnson would be a nice replacement at the end of the first round.