Brandon Ingram has unseated Ben Simmons for No. 1, but that isn't the only major move in our NBA Mock Draft 2.0.
The Final Four begins in Houston on Saturday night, but after two weekends and 64 college games, the bulk of the NCAA tournament is behind us. It's not even March anymore! It's officially spring. There will be Masters commercials on TV this weekend. Soon, it will Opening Day in baseball. Then, the NBA playoffs will be here. But first ...
It's time for an update.
SI's NBA Mock Draft 2.0. There's been nothing but college basketball for three weeks now, and it's time to take another look around. The order here is set according to Thursday's NBA standings. Let's do this.
(* indicates a team has inherited the pick via trade)
Ingram should be the No. 1 pick. How could you watch that Oregon game and not think he's the best prospect in basketball? He's a much better scorer than Ben Simmons, he's a more fluid athlete, and given his freakish length, he should turn into a better defender. Simmons, for his part, is a fascinating player whose NBA position remains unclear. It will be fun to see how he evolves. But let's be clear: Ingram's not the choice because his fit in the NBA is simpler than Simmons. It's not because of how the NBA is played now, or how valuable wings are. He's just a better prospect. The debate for No. 1 would be more interesting if Ingram were the raw freshmen we saw in November, but he's already further along than anyone expected. And there's so much more room for him to grow.
A few weeks ago, I compared Simmons's NBA future to what Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing in Milwaukee. Giannis is much better on defense than Simmons will ever be, yes, and his frame alone gives him advantages that Simmons won't have. But the key here is imagination and patience. It took the Bucks almost 2.5 years to figure it out with Giannis, and there were all kinds of nights when the jumper looked hopeless, the fit looked awkward, and his future was unclear. Then, he turned into a monster. That's what's possible with Simmons. He may not have the physical cheat codes of Giannis, but his skills are equally outrageous for someone his size. The two biggest questions: 1) Will he be given the time to develop without the whole world freaking out after every bad game? 2) Will he inherit a coaching staff that's smart enough to get creative with the offense? Giannis had both luxuries, but with Simmons it may be trickier. In any case, he played high school basketball with D'Angelo Russell, and I’m glad he’s going to L.A. here, because D'Angelo needs a friend right now.
How far along are you in your Dragan Bender studies? Has the techno from this highlight mix seared itself into your brain yet? Did you relive Day 1 at Eurocamp? Have you seen him score 43 points vs. Bologna? In that one he's playing in an airplane hanger against what appears to be a team of middle schoolers, but all the tools are there. And the bottom line is this: He can theoretically protect the rim, and he can definitely shoot threes. Those are the two most valuable skills in basketball right now. He's still young, and will need to get much stronger in the NBA, but the skills alone will make him very difficult to pass up once you get past Ingram and Simmons. In Phoenix, his perimeter game could be a nice long-term fit next to Alex Len. And with Devin Booker's emergence along with a healthy backcourt returning next year, there's a chance that grabbing Bender at the top could make this whole miserable year worth it.
A good reminder here that the NBA draft makes no sense. Brown looked awful in Cal's first round tournament loss, he didn't look much better in the handful of other Cal games I saw this year, and he will still go in the top 10, and possibly the top 5. In fairness, he has star potential, but it will take a few years, and there's no guarantee he gets there. But he's above Buddy Hield, a better player, because if you're drafting in the top 5, you may as well search for an All-Star. Even if there's only a 30% chance Brown becomes a Jimmy Butler-type wing, the upside probably wins out over someone like Hield, who's best-case scenario is J.J. Redick. Anyway, at No. 4, the Celtics can afford to bet big and be patient.
Everything we just said about the draft still applies, however ... another rule of the NBA draft is that teams constantly overvalue the NCAA tournament. Hield was a fringe top-10 pick before the tournament, and after the past two weeks, he's closer to the top five. He is 22 years old, sure, and NBA people will likely hold that against him. He also struggles to create for teammates, and he doesn't really attack much off the dribble. These are the criticisms. I would counter by showing you the hoop that Hield grew up shooting on in the Bahamas, and reminding you not to overthink this. Buddy Hield is awesome. Also, if age works against him, that's fine. But it should also matter that he's drastically improved his game over the past few years—look at the shooting percentages. The ability to evolve is a good sign for his NBA career. As for the Wolves? If they believe in Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio in the backcourt, they should add a complementary shooter to come be their J.J. Redick. If they don't, they should take one of the next two players.
Murray is a combo guard who scouts love, and his jump-shooting could fit nicely in an offense where Anthony Davis draws half the defense to create open looks. There is at least some worry about how he'll look against NBA athletes—he's not as quick as most lottery pick guards, he has trouble turning the corner against defenders with real length. This was all on display in Kentucky's loss to Indiana. Still, there's plenty of skill to make this a win for the Pelicans. Side note: Remember, Murray reclassified to the class of 2015 last June, allowing him to attend college a year early, and be drafted this year. Had he waited, there's a good chance he'd be behind one or all of De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky), Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Malik Monk (Kentucky), and Dennis Smith (NC State) ... four high school guards attending school next year, all of whom have star potential and could be in the lottery as early as next year. So, great decision by Jamal Murray and his parents. And, basketball is in a weird place.)
After we mentioned the unfair Westbrook comparison in the first mock, a scout told me Dunn is, "John Wall, but with B+ athleticism instead of A+." I like that. Sounds a little too much like Tyreke Evans for me to be comfortable, but still. Dunn is the type of player who can help teams right away. And he was so much fun to watch at Providence this year that it physically hurts to send him to Sacramento, so hopefully he moves around by the next time we do this.
Now we get into project territory. This is the good stuff. Ellenson has incredible size, moves well, and can shoot threes. You have to think if he were from Slovenia instead of Wisconsin, he'd be a lock for the top five. As it stands, he will need to fill out his frame to succeed, but his ability to stretch the floor next to Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic could be a nice long-term solution in Denver if Kenneth Faried moves on.
This will be a tough call for the Bucks. Jakob Poeltl is on the board, and he could be a good fit as a long-term center. Demetrius Jackson is on the board, and he could be a good fit for the Bucks' backcourt. On the other hand, Jason Kidd just announced that Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing point guard next season. This frees up Bucks management to get creative. If Giannis is playing point guard ... why not throw out two giant shooting guards in Khris Middleton and Timothe Luwawu, a French guard who can shoot threes and has enough length (6'11" wingspan) to swallow any opposing point guard? He will take longer to develop than Poeltl or Jackson, but if America wants the Bucks to get as scary and weird and unfair as possible, they should take Luwawu.
Chriss caught a lot of people off guard at Washington this year. He was not a McDonald's All American, and he didn't even crack the top 50 of ESPN's recruiting rankings. Then he showed up in Seattle and averaged 13 and 5 in 24 minutes per game, on 53% shooting and 35% from three. His trajectory is basically the polar opposite of Skal Labissiere, the other player the Raptors could consider here. I like Chriss more. His biggest weakness at Washington was foul trouble, which is the single easiest weakness to fix. He's only played basketball for five years, and while he's still very raw—remember, we're in Project Territory—his ceiling is high. Could he have used another year in college? Definitely. But if he ends up with a good team that can afford to develop him, he has the potential to be one of the bigger steals in this draft.
The Magic could definitely use a point guard, but what the Magic really need is a center who can anchor the paint on defense without hurting the offense. That is Poeltl. He struggled in Utah's loss to Gonzaga, but he's still good enough to safely plug into an NBA starting lineup for the next six or seven years. In Orlando, Nikola Vucevic hurts them on defense almost as much as he helps on offense. If Poeltl falls this far in June, the Magic should grab him.
It is probably too early to start busting out hardcore draft clichés like "motor", but Rabb plays hard. He's young, too, with room to expand his game. If he played another year or two he would probably dominate college basketball. Still, every time I watched Cal to see Jaylen Brown, Rabb wound up looking more impressive. Even if you don't think he'll be a starter, he could be a perfect third big man on a good team. He's a power forward in the most traditional sense—plays down low, not tall enough to call him a center—and for a Suns team that spent the end of the year starting Tyson Chandler alongside Alex Len and expecting it to work, maybe traditional is good.
Based on the dinner dunk/Darth Vader dunk contest alone, I would take Furkan over anyone but Brandon Ingram. As we said in the first mock, he's described as a less arrogant version of Rudy Fernandez, with better defense. Also, this week I was searching for a follow-up to the dunk contest video, and I discovered a YouTube wormhole full of Furkan Korkmaz remixes. Initially, it appeared to be an elaborate scheme for the Turkish pop industry to capitalize on NBA draft buzz. It turns out... there is a Turkish DJ named Furkan Korkmaz. Can you prove it's not the same Furkan? I can't.
There are so many questions in Chicago right now, but whichever direction they choose to go this summer, it makes sense for the Bulls to invest in the rim protector of their future. Bobby Portis is the perfect modern power forward to play inside and outside, and as raw as Davis is—Project Territory!—his size could make him an ideal long-term fit next to Portis.
A better showing in the NCAA tournament could have solidified a spot in the lottery, and possibly taken him into the top 10. On the other hand, Valentine's shooting and passing would be a great fit for a Denver team that's already brimming with talent. I want good things to happen to the Nuggets, and Denzel Valentine will be a good thing wherever he ends up.
Jackson is also a candidate for the Nuggets, who leaned heavily on Jameer Nelson as the year unfolded. In either Boston or Denver, Jackson could be a fun third guard. And given how impressive he was throughout Notre Dame's tournament run, there's still a chance he jumps into the top 10 as we get closer to the draft.
Tyler Ulis is going to be stolen by a smart team. That is the only truly important draft analysis I have in 2016. The Nuggets appear to be pretty smart, and they've got a bunch of fun young players going forward. If Ulis's stock has now become too high for him to slide to the Spurs, pairing him with Jusuf Nurkic is the next best thing.
On one hand, any fan could have watched the Indiana-Kentucky Sweet 16 game and told you Skal needs another year in school. On the other hand, what if he went back to Kentucky and struggled even more? With two years of underwhelming evidence, it would be much harder for scouts to talk themselves into the future. This is the Terrence Morris dilemma—although you'll be glad to know that Morris eventually found a lucrative career overseas. In any case, if the Pacers are stuck this low, they will definitely swing for the fences. And Labissiere has the widest range of outcomes of anyone in this draft. Nobody would be shocked if he went in the top 10, or if he went back to Kentucky, or if he slid all the way to the 20s.
Like Ivan Rabb, Sabonis lacks many of the buzzwords that drive scouts wild this time of year. He's not that long. He doesn't shoot threes. Can he protect the rim? Probably not. He's not crazy athletic, either. He plays hard, though, and he's extremely skilled. And he's gotten much better in just two years. After getting erased against Duke in last year's NCAA tournament, this year he did that to Jakob Poeltl. Half of the players in this draft will end up disappointing teams, but wherever he goes, Sabonis will probably be a pleasant surprise.
So, putting him in the top 10 of the initial mock draft may have been a stretch. Everything else is still true, though: 6'3" with a 6'10" wingspan. Excellent defense. And ... offense that tailed off just enough toward the end of the year to put him in the second half of the draft, with teams that actually know how to develop him. Given the tools, he'd be a steal for the Grizzlies here.
Diamond Stone has the same issue as Skal. He could probably use another year in school, but there's no guarantee that he'd dominate and boost his stock. As it stands, he's like a quasi version of Jahlil Okafor—dominant low-post offense, defensive liability—except we never quite saw the dominant offense in college. Will it be enough to land him somewhere in the first round? Probably. Beyond that, his future is up in the air.
First of all, there's a decent chance Jerry Colangelo would make this pick just to prove that he's officially in charge now. Score settling aside, Brogdon's three-and-D potential, plus his ability to contribute early, would make him an excellent fit in Philly. He's going to be a solid rotation player on a good team. The Process-trusters don't know they need this, but that's because if you live your life with Tony Wroten and Isaiah Canaan for long enough, eventually, you think that's what you deserve. And speaking of Tony Wroten ...
A 6'5" guard ... possibly left a year too early ... can't shoot from the outside ... good in traffic and can finish at the rim ... As someone who always believed in Wroten, I am definitely ready to believe in Dejounte Murray. Did you know he's being mentored by Jamal Crawford? And he just signed with LeBron's agency? And his nickname is "Baby Boy?" I'm in. And after watching what the Hawks have done with Tim Hardaway, Jr., Mike Scott, and Kent Bazemore in the past two years, I really believe the development staff in Atlanta can turn anyone into a rotation player.
Pairing Allen with Redick and Chris Paul would be such an astounding achievement in trolling, it might make me a Clippers fan. And for what it's worth, Allen is a better NBA prospect than he's gotten credit for. He's a good athlete, and his ball-handling is good enough to give him a decent combo guard potential off the bench.
At this point in the draft, most teams will be opting for Europeans. If the Raptors are looking for a long-term project, though, Jones is a center who entered the year with lottery potential, and fell down the draft boards in part because of how disappointing Vanderbilt's season was. This low in the first round, he will be worth a gamble.
In the NBA, Johnson will bring a reliable 15-foot jumper to help space the floor, play incredibly hard and rebound like crazy. If the Sixers can come away from this draft with Brandon Ingram, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brice Johnson, the immediate future gets so much more fun. Then Hinkie and Colangelo can spend the rest of the summer carpet bombing the Lakers front office with e-mails offering Jahlil Okafor for D'Angelo Russell. Trust. The. Process.
Do you have a Stephen Zimmerman take? Did you watch UNLV this year? I love the draft, but it's April. I don't love the draft enough to dig deep for a Stephen Zimmerman opinion in April.
The best part about any Spurs draft pick is plugging that player into the future three years from now, when the team belongs to Kawhi, LaMarcus, Kyle Anderson and Boban. Throw Hernangomez in there, too. Go Future Spurs.
Fair warning, every mock draft we do is going to end with Caris LeVert going to Golden State to become the heir to Shaun Livingston's throne. That's just how it's going to be. Until next time...