With the NBA Trade Deadline behind us and the season winding down, it is time for teams to look towards the future, and there’s no event more important to the development of franchises and players than the draft. Who will be the next franchise altering player? Who will be the biggest steal of the draft? Who will be the biggest bust? Although we won’t know the answer to those questions for a very long time, here’s my first mock draft, predicting the order of what is looking like a very unpredictable draft.
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1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, F, LSU
I mentioned previously that this will be a very unpredictable draft, but the number one overall pick is Ben Simmons’ to lose. Since the beginning of the college basketball season, the 2015 number one overall recruit has been predicted by pretty much everyone to go first overall and rightfully so. Simmons is getting comparisons to LeBron James due to rare combination of height and passing ability he possesses. Simmons is averaging 19.6 points and 11.8 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a freshman at LSU. In a seven game stretch earlier in the season, he recorded rebounding numbers of 16, 20, 14, 18, 14, 14, and 12.
At this point in the “process” that Sixers general manager, Sam Hinkie, has referred to, the 76ers should just take the best player available. There is no doubt that Simmons has franchise altering potential, and if they end up with the first overall pick, the 76ers would be getting a player that can do everything on the basketball court (his shot does need a lot of work though).
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
Calling the Duke Blue Devils’ season up to this point inconsistent would be like calling Stephen Curry a “quality” shooter, a colossal understatement. However, Brandon Ingram has really made a name for himself in the world of collegiate basketball. After Ben Simmons at number one, the second pick was up for grabs, but Ingram has not only taken a massive lead for the second pick, but has challenged Simmons at number one. Ingram has received Kevin Durant comparisons due to his “unique combination of size, length, fluidity, ball-handling ability and body control” (Draft Express). With scoring averages of 17 PPG and .406 three-point percentage, Ingram has put his scoring ability on full display this season.
The Lakers have a great young core to build around after the departure of legendary Kobe Bryant. To go along with guards Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell and power forward Julius Randle, Ingram will fit perfectly at the three and give Lakers fans something to cheer about even though their future may seem bleak after Kobe.
3. Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
The Phoenix Suns are have an atrocious season. After losing guard Eric Bledsoe for the season to a torn meniscus and the firing of head coach, Jeff Hornacek, the Suns’ season rapidly went downhill. They don’t have a true power forward anyone would feel comfortable starting, so why not pick the versatile power forward who has a real chance to be a heck of a player in this league.
At 7-1, Bender has incredible size, but what is even more impressive is his ball-handling. In international play, Bender would get the ball in transition and has the ability to go coast-to-coast and finish or find his teammate for a layup. Another impressive aspect of Bender’s game is his offensive versatility. With an improving jump shot, a solid post game, and with potential as a slasher, Bender can score in a multitude of ways. The Suns could really use someone they can rely on at the power forward position.
4. Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown, SF, California
After being the second overall recruit last season, Jaylen Brown has gone under the radar a little this season, but is still putting up fantastic numbers and showing scouts his potential as an NBA wing. His athleticism, rebounding, and defense make him a desirable pick in June’s draft.
Boston has Jae Crowder at small forward right now, but with Evan Turner entering free agency this summer and a lack of wing depth off the bench, Brown is a logical pick. Also, the Celtics have been in ongoing talks about acquiring big men (a big weakness) such as DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, which will most likely continue this summer. The Celtics also have three first round picks, so they can just take the best available player—Jaylen Brown— and address more needs later in the first round.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
Kris Dunn has been one of the best, if not the best, point guard in college basketball this season. Constantly approaching triple-doubles, Dunn has been asked to do everything for Providence, averaging 16.4 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.7 RPG, and 2.9 APG. Dunn also has elite size for a point guard, standing at 6-4 and weighing 220 pounds. He will also be 22 years old when the draft takes place, and as one of the older players in the draft, Dunn will be able to come in and contribute immediately.
Minnesota was throwing current point guard Ricky Rubio around in trade talks at the trade deadline, showing that they are not convinced that Rubio is the right point guard for them. And with Zach LaVine hovering between point guard and shooting guard, the Timberwolves could use another option at point guard to go along with their tremendous young core.
6. Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky
Jamal Murray is putting up a scoring clinic for the inconsistent Kentucky Wildcats. Averaging 19.9 PPG on .412 shooting from three, Murray has put up games of 33 points twice and 35 points once. With a superb jump shot, fantastic ball-handling skills, and the increasing ability to take defenders of the dribble, Murray has been an unsolvable puzzle for opposing defenses.
Although Denver is sitting at 23-36, they have some quality players to build around. Small forward, Danilo Gallinari is a fantastic scoring, Kenneth Faried is a great rebounder but hasn’t really lived up to his five year-$60 million deal, and Emmanuel Mudiay is an impressive point guard to build around. However, Gary Harris is the starting shooting guard for Denver. Murray could come in right away and compete for a starting position or can provide some depth off the bench at both guard spots for the Nuggets.
7. New Orleans Pelicans: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah
Jakob Poeltl, standing at 7 feet tall, is your prototypical NBA big man. He is a tremendous shot blocker and post defender and a solid finisher around the rim. However, almost all of his buckets come right at the rim, but he is improving his post game offensively and has a lot of time to improve it further. His defense alone would be reason to draft him in the top ten.
Jakob Poeltl is the best available player at this pick and New Orleans could use another center to play next to Anthony Davis. Omer Asik is a suitable player, but not the kind of player you want starting and has a pretty hefty contract. Poeltl is a solid fit next to Davis, but still needs to improve his offensive game a little.
8. Toronto Raptors: Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette
Henry Ellenson is a mobile big man with a solid outside jump shot. He’s got great feet when in the post and can score with both hands down low, making him a handful defensively. His defense does have to improve a little though.
The Raptors are the second best team in the Eastern Conference, led by guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and center Jonas Valanciunas. Although DeRozan is a free agent, Toronto looks like the clear frontrunner to retain him this summer. Ellenson would be a great fit for the Raptors. Having Valanciunas inside and Ellenson outside along with Lowry and DeRozan would make Toronto even more lethal offensively.
9. Milwaukee Bucks: Ivan Rabb, PF/C, California
Ivan Rabb is a tremendous athlete and rebounder, which are his two biggest strengths. At 6-10 with a 7-2 wingspan, Rabb is perfect size for an NBA power forward. His length and jumping ability allows him to block a lot of shots, and he is improving as a perimeter defender. Rabb is a very good finisher, but still needs to improve offensively.
The two biggest holes in the Bucks line-up are point guard and center. They have a solid, young group of players on the wing, including SG Khris Middleton, SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, and PF Jabari Parker, and they thought they found an answer at center when they singed Greg Monroe in the offseason. However, Monroe was benched in favor of Miles Plumlee. The Bucks are also the fifth worst rebounding team in the league this season based off of total rebounds per game, and Ivan Rabb is a superb rebounder.
10. Sacramento Kings: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
Buddy Hield, the likely NCAA Player of the Year, has made incredible strides in his career at Oklahoma. Hield built on a solid NCAA Tournament last season and continued to impress NBA scouts, soaring on draft boards. His quick three-point release and knock down shooting has propelled Oklahoma up the polls and his draft stock to the top 10.
It is really hard to predict which direction the Kings should go in this draft because of the volatility of their roster. Rajon Rondo is a free agent this offseason and they have been in trade talks all season with players like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, and others as well, and I’m assuming these talks will reemerge in the offseason. Offense is not the Kings main weakness, but Hield is too good of a player to pass up on with the number 10 pick in the draft.
11. Orlando Magic: Diamond Stone, C, Maryland
The Magic have a solid young core like a few of the teams in the top ten, so the player they choose here will likely come off the bench. Diamond Stone is a 7 foot, 255 pound beast in the paint. He’s versatile offensively, showing his ability to back down opponents as well as hit the mid-range jumper. Stone could come in right away and help the Magic’s bench, which is 19th in the league in scoring.
12. Phoenix Suns: Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky
Skal Labissiere’s freshman campaign at Kentucky has not gone as expected. One of the top recruits coming out of high school, Labissiere had monstrous expectations, but has seen his minutes dwindle and his draft stock plummet. However, his potential is worth gambling on, and Phoenix can afford it with three first round picks. With a magnificent backcourt of Bledsoe and Knight, the Suns should look to build up their front court, and a seven footer with a great shooting stroke is worth the risk.
13. Utah Jazz: Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame
Demetrius Jackson shows some similarities to former Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant in terms of athleticism and exceptional playmaking. The Jazz are close to competition with the emergence of Rudy Gobert and constant production from Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. However, point guard play has been suspect for the Jazz. Raul Neto has led the charge at point most of the season, but recently acquired Shelvin Mack has taken over the starting role. 2014 fifth overall pick, Dante Exum, tore his ACL over the summer and could become a tremendous point guard in the league, but for now, the Jazz could use some insurance at point guard.
14. Detroit Pistons: Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey
Detroit made a big acquisition at the deadline, acquiring Tobias Harris from the Magic. With outstanding play from PG Reggie Jackson and C Andre Drummond, the Pistons are in position to contend in the East shortly. Korkmaz is an outstanding shooter and has good size for a SG at 6-6. He could contribute tremendously off the bench as a sharp shooter, something every team in the league would love to have.
15. Denver Nuggets: Timothe Luwawu, SG/SF, France
With three first round picks, Denver can afford to take a player who is still a work in progress. Luwawu has potential to be an extraordinary two-way player in the NBA. He’s great in transition but still has to further develop his offensive game. However, at the least, Denver is getting an NBA ready defender. Denver is in the bottom third of the league in defensive rating, so Luwawu could a fantastic addition for the Nuggets.
16. Denver Nuggets: Deyonta Davis, PF, Michigan State
The freshman from Michigan State has flown under the radar a bit because of the fact that he’s playing on the same team as player of the year contender, Denzel Valentine. Davis has a lot of potential and is a great rebounder and Denver could use some reinforcement down low.
17. Charlotte Hornets: Damian Jones, PF/C, Vanderbilt
Charlotte has a solid point guard in Kemba Walker, but can use help at any of the other positions. Jones is the best available player at this pick and with center Al Jefferson entering free agency this summer, the Hornets could use another scoring big man. Jones is a tremendous athlete and his scoring potential makes him a fine replacement for Big Al.
18. Chicago Bulls: Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State
The Bulls, when healthy, have a fantastic starting five. However, the fans as well as the front office is beginning to lose faith in wing Tony Snell. The Bulls would love to find another wing player who can score, defend, and facilitate to bring off the bench. Denzel Valentine, a player of the year candidate for Michigan State is one of the most versatile players in the country and could do wonders for the Bulls when they go through scoring droughts with their bench in.
19. Boston Celtics: Stephen Zimmerman, C, UNLV
After taking Jaylen Brown earlier in my mock draft, the Boston should address their need for front court players here. Zimmerman, a true seven-footer, is a solid finisher in transition and is good offensively from inside and outside the paint. Zimmerman has potential to be a real difference maker for the roaring Celtics.
20. Indiana Pacers: Wade Baldwin, PG, Vanderbilt
Baldwin is probably the best available player at this point in the draft which is a reason alone to draft him. The Pacers could also use help at point guard with only George Hill and Joe Young currently manning the position. Baldwin has amazing physical tools for a point guard, standing at 6-3 with a 6-10 wingspan. Baldwin was not known as a great shooter in high school but is shooting .430 from behind the arc. His physical tools, playmaking ability, and defensive potential makes him an excellent choice with the twentieth pick in the draft.
21. Philadelphia 76ers: Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland
Another team with multiple first round draft picks, the Sixers already took Ben Simmons first overall and need to address a monumental weakness at point guard. In a “point guards league,” the Sixers are relying on Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan to man that position. With big men Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor currently on the roster, the 76ers should be desperately trying to get a young point guard in this draft, but who really knows what Sam Hinkie has planned.
22. Atlanta Hawks: Domantas Sabonis, PF/C, Gonzaga
Sabonis is known for strength, toughness, and rebounding, but still has to work on his offensive game. The Hawks are another hard team to figure out because after finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, they are sitting at fifth and dangled PG Jeff Teague and PF Paul Millsap in trade talks. Sabonis could help fill the shoes of center Al Horford if he chooses to leave in free agency or Millsap if they continue to reach out to other teams about a possible trade.
23. Boston Celtics: Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina
Brice Johnson is a tremendous athlete, finisher, and offensive rebounder. With a young, athletic team, the Celtics love to get in transition, averaging the sixth most transition points in the league. With previous picks of Jaylen Brown, Stephen Zimmerman, and now Brice Johnson, the young Celtics would be a transition juggernaut.
24. Memphis Grizzlies: Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State
A team known for defense in recent years, the Grizzlies could always use some more scoring on the wing, and Malik Beasley is one of the best scorers in this draft. It still remains to be determined whether or not he will enter the draft this season, but Beasley is such an efficient scorer that any NBA team would love to have on their team.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Taurean Prince, SF, Baylor
Even with the addition of SF Jeff Green at the trade deadline, the Clippers could still use some help at the small forward position, especially with Paul Pierce’s time in the league winding down. Prince has good size and is extremely athletic, and he also adds a solid outside shot.
26. Toronto Raptors: Caris LeVert, SG, Michigan
I have Caris LeVert, the shooting guard from Michigan, here with the 26th pick, but after being shut down for the rest of the season because of a lower leg injury, LeVert could fall into the second round by the time the draft is here. If healthy though, LeVert can do it all. He is so good at ball-handling and facilitating that some scouts believe he could play some point guard in the NBA. At 6-7, he has great size for a shooting guard, as well as a terrific shot from deep. If DeRozan leaves the Raptors in the offseason, LeVert could be a fantastic replacement for him, but even if DeRozan stays, LeVert can provide the Raptors with some great play off the bench at either guard positions.
27. Phoenix Suns: Dwayne Bacon, SG, Florida State
Like his teammate Malik Beasley, Bacon may not come out of college just yet. Bacon has great size for a shooting guard at 6-6 and is a great scoring from outside and on penetration. The Suns could use more depth at shooting guard, and it is always helpful to bring solid scorers off the bench.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
After a breakout game in the National Championship game last season, Grayson Allen has been on a tear this season for the inconsistent Duke Blue Devils. Allen has shown off his ability to shoot from the perimeter as well as his athleticism. The 76ers could use a lot of help in the backcourt especially offensively, and Allen could provide a substantial amount of relief offensively for them
29. San Antonio Spurs: Zhou Qi, C, China
Qi stands at an incredible 7-2 with very long arms and large hands, but is only 209 pounds. He is versatile offensively, but will definitely have trouble finishing against NBA centers at only 209 pounds. However, the Spurs can wait for Qi to grow physically and get older, making it worth the gamble.
30. Golden State Warriors: Cheick Diallo, PF/C, Kansas
After being a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, eligibility issues delayed his college career, and Diallo has only been a minor piece for the top ranked Jayhawks. However, Diallo is a tremendous athlete and it’s not like the Warriors are in desperate need for an amazing draft pick because of their loaded roster. If Diallo can live up to some of the expectations loaded onto him in high school, Diallo could be a perfect fit for the Warriors.