NBA Mock Draft 5.0: Chriss shoots up, Ellenson tumbles in latest projections
Did you see Ben Simmons playing soccer-basketball last weekend? What about Jakob Poeltl stepping out and draining threes from all over the floor? How about Marquese Chriss nearly hitting his head on the rim? It's officially June, and magic is happening in empty gyms all across the country. Breathe it in.
Yes, we're currently in the middle of the NBA Finals, but the draft is coming sooner than anyone realizes. We're less than three weeks out from June 23. If the Finals go six or seven games, we'll have less than a week before the dust settles and Ben Simmons is on stage with Adam Silver. That's why we're here today. The Finals are cool, but the mocks don't stop.
Some notes before we jump in:
• The projections in these mock drafts are based on buzz and value and team needs, not sources. More than anything, this is an excuse to spend way too much time discussing the draft.
• For a straight-forward ranking of this year's prospects, check out Jeremy Woo's big board over here.
• We'll go in depth for the lottery, and then run through the rest of the picks a little quicker, because all of this is very much in flux over the next three weeks.
• Five players who were very difficult to leave out of the first round, and will probably end up somewhere in the mix three weeks from now: Malachi Richardson, Malcolm Brogdon, Juan Hernangomez, Ivica Zubac, Ben Bentil.
• If someone in Serbia knows where I can buy a Mega Leks uniform (including warmups), please get in touch.
Let's do this.
I'm still not sure the Lakers will keep this pick all the way to opening night next year. If they're able to trade Ingram (and other pieces) for a superstar that helps them lure someone like Kevin Durant, they could contend as early as next season. Or, if that illuminati vision of the future fails, they could keep things simple and take the perfect rookie to finish off the rebuilding process. We'd all fall in love with Luke Walton, D'Angelo Russell, Ingram, and the Baby Lakers. Either way, Ingram is great, and the future is bright. Praise Mamba and all his stealth tanking miracles.
Bender is a 7-footer and actually looks natural moving in his giant frame, and hey, that's a skill! He's capable of switching on defense and hitting from the perimeter, both of which would make him an excellent fit under Brad Stevens down the road. He'll take some time to develop, but the Celtics are one of the few teams in the lottery that has the luxury of patience. Most importantly for Danny Ainge and his itchy trade trigger finger, this keeps them flexible. While guys like Marquese Chriss and Jamal Murray and Kris Dunn are all good enough to make certain teams fall in love with them, Bender is the one prospect after Simmons and Ingram that just about every team would find enticing later this summer.
The Pelicans need real help for next year, so Buddy Hield could make sense, too. But even as a 22-year-old, Buddy will take time to adjust to the NBA. Murray gives the Pelicans the benefit of shooting that could help the same way Hield would, plus an offensive ceiling that could eventually make him a legitimate perimeter star next to Anthony Davis. It's a gamble—at 19 years old, he'll have to get much better on defense, and he struggled creating his own offense against Indiana's NBA-caliber athletes in the NCAA tournament. Still, the Pelicans need to bet big to get Brow some real help. At the very least, he can't be worse than Austin Rivers.
Buddy Hield's ceiling probably resembles something like J.J. Redick, running off screens, knocking down jumpers, and playing passable defense. Of course, there's just as of a good a chance he'll look something like Jodie Meeks, someone who was better than people remember at Kentucky, and had a few streaky years of modest success before injuries set him back in Detroit the past two years. For Denver, it's worth betting that he's closer to Redick. He'd be perfect compliment to everything Emmanuel Mudiay. And assuming this team isn't looking to make the playoffs immediately, he'll have a year or two to learn defense and improve his ballhandling as he grows into the NBA.
It'll take a few years for him to materialize into the player who had people excited coming into Cal, but after a disappointing freshman year, giving him to Dave Joerger to develop is probably one of the best-case scenarios possible for him. Brown's built like a tank and he's got the athleticism to turn into a great defender—Joerger can help him get there.
The Bucks could go a number of directions here—Wade Baldwin, Poeltl, Denzel Valentine, Deyonta Davis—but Luwawu is the choice that should scare the rest of the East more than any of them. First of all, his dunk-per-highlight ratio is off the charts here. Second, this picture makes me wish I had season tickets to the Mega Leks this year. Third, he's 6'7" with a 6'11" wingspan, and he can hit threes. If Giannis is playing point guard and defending power forwards, imagine a backcourt with Khris Middleton and Luwawu playing next to Jabari Parker. Don't they have to at least try this? How can we make them try this?
Davis is raw, but the size and athleticism alone makes him worth the gamble. I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but if you're trying to understand why Davis is a lottery pick, compare Davis's college numbers as a Michigan State freshman—7.5 ppg, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 18 mpg—to what Steven Adams did his freshman year at Pitt: 7.2 ppg, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 24 minutes per game. I'm not saying he'll turn into the monster that Steven Adams became in the playoffs, but even if he gets close to what Adams did in the regular season, he could be a defensive anchor and a starter for 10 years. For a Magic team that's struggled with interior defense ever since Dwight Howard left, it's a gamble worth taking.
He's got surprising athleticism, he wins dunk contests, and some of the pull-up threes in this video are pure evil. He projects as a Rudy Fernandez-type shooting guard who can provide scoring off the bench. He's also only 19 years old, so he could possibly be drafted and stay overseas next year before coming over in 2017—a timeline that would make a lot of sense for a young Jazz team. Utah could also opt for Wade Baldwin or possibly Denzel Valentine, but I'm Team Furkan for life.
Ellenson's gone much higher in some of the past mock drafts, but this feels closer to where he'll end up. He's got good size and his shooting should be able stretch the floor as a four or five, but what sets him apart from someone like Dragan Bender, for instance, is his lateral movement on defense. He may struggle in switches, and he won't protect the rim right away. He probably projects as something like a poor man's Kevin Love. While that may not be a top five pick, he's worth it late in the lottery.
I put Wade Baldwin sixth in the first mock draft we did. It was ridiculous at the time, but I love him. He plays excellent defense, he shoots well (42% from three in two years at Vandy), and at 6'4" with a 6'11" wingspan, he is well-suited to spend the next 10 years harassing the best point guards in the NBA. Obviously, the Bulls have Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler holding down the backcourt now, but assuming one of them is headed out within the next year, investing in a replacement would be a smart move.
Skal is tied with Jaylen Brown for "Player whose lottery pick discussion disgusts college basketball fans the most." However... He's still 19 years old, and if he can add weight, he's got the skills to be a two-way stretch four/five that looks like Channing Frye with better defense. This kind of project may be too risky for the Nuggets at No. 7, but if he's still available at 15, he makes a ton of sense.
He's got great size as a three, plays hard and his three-point shooting should improve. Vince Carter can't play forever, Matt Barnes is Matt Barnes, and someone has to take the Grit 'n Grind torch from Tony Allen. Send Taurean Prince to Memphis. He's a basketball linebacker. The Grindhouse needs him.
This is probably a crazy reach—along the lines of "Wade Baldwin, top-six pick"—but Cordinier's highlights got me excited. He can shoot, he's athletic, and at 6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan, he's got solid size as a two-guard. Areas to improve include hair, defense, and strength, but he's only 19 years old, so all of that's expected. He has all the tools to grow into a starter or valuable rotation player. The Nuggets have had success drafting and stashing in the past (Jokic!), and with three first-round picks this year, it'll probably make sense to go route at least once more. There are plenty of Euro big men available, but I vote for the French teenager version of Iman Shumpert.
He's a smooth, athletic two-guard who came out of nowhere this year in much the same way that Marquese Chriss did at Washington. He's a good example of someone who won't be a star but could definitely grow into a starter—the second half of this year's first round is full of these players. The Pacers may also consider Tyler Ulis or Malachi Richardson here, but for a team that just spent eight months counting on Monta Ellis, investing in a long-term three-point shooter in the backcourt seems like a good idea.
Jones has all the tools to grow into a starting center, but an underwhelming year at Vandy hurt his stock a little bit. Still, there's a lot to work with, and with Al Horford's future uncertain, a big man makes sense. Even if the rumored trade for Nerlens Noel goes through, putting Jones with the Hawks excellent development staff is a smart investment.
Note: Draft season isn't really real until you spend 10 minutes trying to choose between Ante Zizic and Ivica Zubac highlights. I went with Zizic, who looks rangy and athletic, while Zubac seems like a more traditional back-to-the-basket center. In any case, what happens at 23 with Boston depends entirely on whether they plan on keeping 3 and 16.
This is the smartest, simplest way to win back the good will of the basketball universe after The Process divided us all. Right? America needs a reason to love the Sixers again, and everyone can agree on Tyler Ulis. Especially if the trade for Jeff Teague goes through and Ulis isn't asked to do too much next year.
On the one hand, it's truly insane that wingspan and measurements can swing a player from the second round to the first. On the other hand, 6'5" with a 6'11" wingspan. That's outrageous. He can't shoot, but he got to the rim at will as a freshman last year, and he has a higher ceiling than almost anyone this low in the draft. Considering the Clippers trade a new first–round pick every year, drafting for high ceiling is a good idea while they're actually here.
He's got excellent size as a wing, and he got lost in college in part because UNLV's season spiraled after they fired the coach halfway through the year. If he can develop a three-point shot, he could turn into a legitimate NBA starter. He'd be a potential steal for Toronto this late in the draft.
He's 6'9" with a 7'4.5" wingspan. It doesn't even matter what happened at Kansas. I have absolutely no problem pinning his underwhelming year on Bill Self. Someone will bet on Diallo as a junior Biyombo—high-energy, shot blocking, rebounding—and honestly, 28 is probably the lowest he could go.
Imagine a spin-off of John Henson, but instead of shot blocking, he shoots threes at 40% as 19 year-old. He needs to add strength, but as a giant stretch four, he seems like exactly the type of draft pick who could haunt the league in San Antonio four years from now.
Every mock draft ends with Caris LeVert in Golden State. These are the rules. Did you see Shaun Livingston in the Finals last night? That's the future. Other possibilities include Ben Bentil, A.J. Hammons, or Malachi Richardson, but everyone knows what the Warriors are doing at 30.