It's late January, and the NBA draft is roughly five months away. But these early mock drafts—in the middle of winter, when nothing is certain, nobody's talking about the draft, and nothing really matters—these are the ones that separate the casual users from the full-blown draft addicts. A January mock draft is strictly for the people who still still wonder why Qyntel Woods never made it. For everyone who remembers Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Maciej Lampe just as often as they remember Darko Milicic.
Also, most importantly, this draft class is too good to wait. It's time to sketch out an early hierarchy here. So put on your Mega Leks jersey. Let the journey to June 22 begin.
Some notes up front:
• The draft order will obviously change after the lottery, and even as the standings evolve, so team needs are only loosely accounted for until later on in the year. The order below is current as of Jan. 26.
• I'm not a scouting expert, just a lifelong draft nerd who keeps an eye on this stuff throughout the year. I couldn't do this without the relentless scouting of Draft Express, the guys at the Ringer, and most importantly, all the heroes churning out highlight packages on YouTube every week.
• Most of these notes are based on first impressions after watching these guys for the past two months, reading about everyone, and talking to a handful of NBA people who have studied them more.
Alright, let's get into it.
1. Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington | Freshman
Certain draft prospects have signature traits that dominate the conversation—like Malik Monk's scoring, Lonzo Ball's passing—but Fultz is good at everything. He's explosive, but he plays under control. He's got great size for a point guard, and a jumper that's already fairly reliable (42% from three on the year) for someone his age I've heard multiple scouts call him the best guard prospect the NBA's seen since John Wall, with a game that looks a lot like what James Harden's doing in Houston this year. He'll need to improve his effort defensively, but with a nearly 6'10 wingspan, he's got the tools to be excellent on that end, too. All of which is to say: there are people who love Lonzo Ball and maybe there will be good arguments for Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson come June, but Markelle Fultz should be the number one pick.
2. Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA | Freshman
If Fultz is the best point guard prospect of the decade, Lonzo Ball is the most interesting. First, everyone agrees he's an incredible passer. But among NBA people, I've heard him called a taller Kendall Marshall, and Ricky Rubio with a jumpshot, while others see a skinnier Jason Kidd. It's quite a spectrum. Against Kentucky, he was locked up by De'Aaron Fox, which may have validated some fears about whether he's athletic enough to dominate at the next level. The questions there are real, and can't be totally dismissed. That said, he's the smartest, craftiest player on one of the best college teams in the country, and he's 6'6". Both his intelligence and his size give him a great shot at mitigating weaknesses and finding a way to pick defenses apart in the NBA. Couple his passing with the ability to knock down open looks and extend defenses with the occasional deep bomb, and here's to betting he's the second guy off the board by the time June arrives.
3. Suns: Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State | Freshman
There are five or six different players who have a convincing case as the third-best prospect behind Ball and Fultz, but let's go with Isaac for the moment. He's gigantic at 6'10" and comfortable on the perimeter. He plays hard, and he's averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per-40 minutes for FSU this year. His jumper isn't great yet—35% from three—but it's decent enough now to imagine him becoming real perimeter threat in a few years. All of it makes him harder and harder to ignore as the season unfolds. Compared to the other wings who'll be vying for this spot—and who currently outrank him on most boards—Isaac's a better shooter than Josh Jackson, he's more athletic than Jayson Tatum, and he's bigger than both of them. There is a lot to like, and if FSU keeps winning, his stock will continue to rise.
4. Heat: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke | Freshman
Tatum will probably be drafted somewhere in the top five strictly because he can get to the rim and has a jumpshot, and at 6'8" and 220, he looks like a future superstar. His offense is technically refined beyond his years, and he's been regarded as one of the best players in this class for the past few years. Outside of Fultz, he might have the highest floor of anyone in the lottery. That said, his offensive repertoire is pretty robotic, and his athleticism is decent, but not great. I understand anyone who thinks he can be a star, but I tend to think his ceiling is lower than some of the other guys in the lottery.
5. Mavericks: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas | Freshman
Look at these Kansas highlights and you will fall in love. Josh Jackson is a monster. In a different era, even a few years ago, he'd go as high as No. 1, and certainly no lower than three. He's got excellent size and athleticism, surprising passing instincts, and he's a terror on defense. The problem is a broken jumpshot, and how much that will complicate an NBA roster around him. Raw power and athleticism are awesome to watch, but hard to build around, that may affect the way teams approach Jackson in the draft.
6. Wolves: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona | Freshman
It's early, but so far Lauri Markkanen of Finland is my favorite player in the top 10. He's got some nifty moves around the rim, he's surprisingly decent off the dribble and on pull-ups, and at 230 pounds he's sturdier than I expected when I heard "7-foot three-point specialist." Mostly, I'm excited for a giant scorer from Finland, just so we can yell "FINNISH THEM" during NBA fourth quarters. He's taking nearly five threes per game for Arizona and hitting 50% of them, putting up 17 points and eight rebounds per night. If he can find a way to hold his own defensively in the NBA, he will be a star.
7. Magic: Dennis Smith, PG, NC State | Freshman
Look, nobody in the world loves stocky, shoot-first point guards more than me. If they have a questionable jumper, even better. So it's with a heavy heart that I express skepticism that Dennis Smith is a top-three player in this draft. Yes, it feels like blasphemy after Smith came up huge against Duke less than 72 hours ago. On a related note, he might be the best ACC dunker since Steve Francis at Maryland. But he's small relative to most of today's guards, and he's probably the worst defender in the lottery. What he did against Duke was awesome, but it was also a reminder that a jumper is crucial to Smith being the player people say he is. The problem has been consistency—he was 4-of-6 from three against Duke, and 1-of-10 in the two games prior. If he can hit shots consistently, he's Kyle Lowry for the next 15 years. I'm just not sure I'd feel comfortable betting on that leap with a top-three pick.
8. Sixers: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky | Freshman
Monk is a version of Smith that's been updated for the modern NBA: less dunks and playmaking, but more pull-up threes. That may make him more valuable, and his shooting alone gives him a high floor in the NBA. For a team like Philly, he'd be perfect playing off Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. He can create his own shot, or if Ben Simmons is initiating offense, he'll be able to catch-and-shoot just the same. Think about the way CJ McCollum operates in Portland—including some iffy defense—and that's what Monk could bring to the table in the next few years.
9. Pelicans: De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky | Freshman
Fox is ninth here, but he's still got legitimate star potential, which speaks to how good this draft is. As a college point guard he's flat-out excellent, and he may be good enough to leapfrog Smith by the time the draft gets here. He's better than Smith defensively, and while his shooting's even worse—17% from three at the moment—it's less important for a player who beats you with passing, elite size and blinding speed that takes him right to the rim. The question is how much of the speed and quickness advantage will be maintained to the NBA, and how that'll affect his ability to hide his weaknesses. Is he Elfrid Payton, or John Wall? If Fox can land somewhere in the middle of those two, he'll be a borderline All-Star.
10. Kings: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France | Age: 18
Apologies, I do not have Ntilikina takes yet. It's January. This New York Times feature was enjoyable, though. Ntilikina plays for Vincent Collet, the former French National Team coach and former coach of Tony Parker, while Romeo Travis, high school teammate of LeBron James, is one of his teammates. Sidenote: I would be pretty into this pick for the Kings, just to see Boogie's reaction when Vlade drafts an 18 year-old from France who's averaging four points per game.
11. Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State | Freshman
I've been a Miles Bridges believer since Draymond was Facetiming him from the NBA Finals. The faith only deepened when I saw the Miles Bridges Dunks Over His Mom! YouTube video. But if everyone else knew Bridges could dunk, nobody was prepared for him to shoot 42% from three-point range (on almost five attempts-per-game). He was hurt for the month of December, but he's averaging 16 and 8 for Michigan State, and he's got an NBA body. He had 33 and 7 in a loss to Purdue this week. If the jumper is real and continues through March, it's going to be tough to keep him out of the lottery.
12. Blazers: Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky | Freshman
The top 10 of this draft will be dominated by point guards who have clear star potential, but the teens will feature a number of big men with more mystery. Start with Adebayo—nicknamed "Bam" for knocking over a table as a one-year old, which I learned from this fantastic Brian Hamilton feature from this week's SI—who's at worst a rim-running center, but with the potential to diversify his offense down the line. As an agile big guy with solid length, he's got skills that could help any NBA team, but it's hard to say what else he might do. We'll learn more as the season unfolds, starting with Kentucky-Kansas Saturday.
13. Pistons: Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany | Age: 18
Hartenstein appears to have carved out a spot in the top half of the first round. As for Detroit: it'll be interesting to see where the Pistons go in the draft. They've got young players at every spot in the rotation, but the roster has been underwhelming all year. This is definitely the draft to find a point guard if Stan Van Gundy's looking for some flexibility behind Reggie Jackson, but if they can't land in the top 10, their best options may be elsewhere.
14. Bucks: Jarrett Allen, Texas | Freshman
Allen struggled through the first month or two of the season, but a) he definitely has the best afro in this draft, and b) he's begun to get rolling over the past few weeks. He had 22 points, 19 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a loss to Kansas last weekend. While Texas has struggled all year, there's a chance Allen could do enough down the stretch to turn himself into a clear first round pick. Or, if he stays another year, Texas has a top-10 recruiting class next year, including a five-star point guard in Matt Coleman, and the top of next year's draft won't be nearly this loaded. On the other end of the spectrum ...
15. Nuggets: Harry Giles, PF/C, Duke | Freshman
I'm not sure why Harry Giles decided to play college basketball this year. He entered the year as a consensus top-10 pick, even after multiple knee injuries. Then, after electing to have preseason surgery, he was held out indefinitely. And honestly, I'm not sure why he decided to come back at all this year. He was always going to be heavily scrutinized, and now he's being scrutinized as he rehabs in real games, while adjusting to a college game that's a little awkward for big men. There just wasn't much upside to playing this year; as he's struggled over the past few weeks, his draft stock has taken a hit. That said, he was extremely skilled in high school, and his ceiling is still fairly high if he can get healthy. If he slips this far in June, he'd be worth a gamble.
16. Bulls: Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M | Freshman
Williams is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds for Texas A&M, and he's still pretty raw, and at 6'9", he appears undersized. It's his length that makes him intriguing. With a 7'4.5 wingspan, he's averaging 2.4 blocks in 22 minutes per game, and he's mobile enough to run the floor. As a long-term protect, he's got a lot of potential as four of five in the small-ball era.
17. Hornets: Justin Patton, C, Creighton | Freshman
Patton is another center with mysterious upside. Patton was unheralded coming out of high school in Nebraska, and he actually redshirted his freshman year, which I didn't even know was possible anymore. Now, at 20 years old, he's been productive on both ends, and he's averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds for a Creighton team that's spent much of the college basketball season in the top 10.
18. Pacers: Ivan Rabb, PF, California | Sophomore
Rabb's been solid for Cal, and he'll be solid as a rotation player in the NBA, but he hasn't had the dominant year that some expected when he announced he was coming back to school. Still, as a low-ceiling, high-floor power forward option, he'd be a good option as talent begins to thin in the second half of the first round.
19. Wizards: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia | Age: 18
His NCAA eligibility was complicated because of issues with his high school, so instead of attending Arizona, he's played the year in Australia for the Adelaide 36ers. He's a pure shooter at 6'7", and there will be plenty of interest come June. It's hard to imagine him slipping past the top 20. Watch this video if you're interested in Ferguson highlights, Australian basketball announcers, and lots of assists from NBA Summer League Hall of Famer Jerome Randle. And with that, we'll speed through the 20s...
20. Nuggets (via Grizzlies): Jaron Blossomgame, SF, Clemson | Senior
One of the best names in recent draft history, he was on the first-round bubble before returning to Clemson for his senior season. He's struggled shooting after hitting 44% of his threes last year, but he'll be in the mix again this year, particularly if jumper improves down the stretch.
21. Hawks: Edmond Sumner, PG, Xavier } Sophomore
He's got great size at 6'5", he's been productive for the past two seasons at Xavier, and he's something of a sleeper next to all the freshman guards in this draft. And—stop me if you've heard this before—if he can improve his jumper he could be fantastic at the next level.
22. Thunder: TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA | Freshman
I'm not ready to totally buy into his NBA future, but every time I watch UCLA, TJ Leaf is almost as impressive as Lonzo Ball.
23. Nets (via Celtics): Donovan Mitchell, G, Louisville | Sophomore
He's the leading scorer on a good Louisville team that plays some of the best defense in the country. As a scrappy third guard sent to harass people off the bench, he could be a fun addition to an NBA rotation.
24. Raptors: Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse | Sophomore
He hasn't been quite as good as some hoped in his sophomore season, but his combination of size and shooting will likely land him a spot in the first round if he leaves school.
25. Jazz: Justin Jackson, F, North Carolina | Junior
He's 6'8" and he's shooting 39% on nearly six threes per game. He won't be a star, but as a potential role player there's a lot to work with.
26. Raptors: Kobi Simmons, PG, Arizona | Freshman
Simmons is still pretty raw and could probably use another year in school—particularly as a point guard competing against the rest of this class—but he's got great physical tools, and he was terrific against UCLA last weekend. If he leaves early, someone should take a chance on him.
27. Blazers: Dwayne Bacon, SG, Florida State | Sophomore
Bacon can score, and his shooting's improved since he averaged 15 points per game as a freshman last year. He's the best player on a very good Florida State team, and he'll be in the first-round mix if they can continue rolling through March.
28. Rockets: Alec Peters, Valparaiso | Senior
He's averaging 24 and 11 for Valpo, and as you can see from these Kentucky highlights, he's super skilled around the rim. At 6'9", he's also a 41% three point shooter over the past four years. Ryan Anderson part two! Donatas Motiejunas and Ryan Anderson had a baby!
29. Spurs: OG Anunoby, G/F, Indiana | Sophomore
Kawhi Leonard comparisons were unfair last year when he was considered a potential lottery pick, and after an up-and-down start to the year, a season-ending knee injury has complicated his draft stock. Now, please, watch the Spurs steal him and actually turn him into Kawhi Leonard.
30. Jazz (via Warriors): Josh Hart, G, Villanova | Senior
Four-year senior, winner throughout his career, not great at anything, but good at almost everything. Perfect Jazz pick.