- The NBA draft is only a month away! In our latest mock draft, we project how a loaded lottery could play out, including a 76ers-Kings trade that needs to happen.
The NBA draft is just one month away. That means first-round prospects will begin making their way through the workout circuit within the next week or two. It means that we're about to be inundated with 30 days of wild, mostly unfounded rumors. It means that all the YouTube scouting that was pathetic in February is now at least a little bit less pathetic. And most importantly, four weeks until draft night means that we are officially in the throes of mock draft season.
The order is set as of last week's lottery. The combine is behind us. The playoffs have been boring enough to make the draft look twice as interesting. It's time to dive in. But a few notes before we start:
• The most interesting segment of this draft comes from 2-10. Fultz is in his own category at the top, but beyond that, there's very little separation between some of the biggest names on the board. Everyone comes with questions, but there's also All-Star upside all over the lottery. Between now and June there will be plenty of talk about the how good this draft is, and I think the second half of the top ten is where the hype is validated. The third pick this year is about as talented as the third pick in most years. The eighth pick (Knicks!) could be much better.
• Given the note above, we'll go heavy on the top 10 or 11, and then keep descriptions briefer thereafter.
• Four players not in this first round who could definitely end up there in June: Tony Bradley from UNC, Tyler Lydon from Syracuse, Jordan Bell from Oregon, and Anzejs Pasecniks from Latvia.
• Four second rounders I really like: Cam Oliver from Nevada, Wesley Iwundu from Kansas State, Josh Hart from Villanova, and Tyler Dorsey from Oregon.
• We have a trade! In this version of the mock, the Sixers trade the No. 3 pick to Sacramento for No. 5 and No. 10. I'm not sure how I feel about trying to project trades in these mocks going forward, but for now, we'll mix it up. Life is too short to project the exact same order every week until the draft.
Now, Mock Draft 4.0. Let's do this.
Some of the talk surrounding Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball reminds me of the arguments people made about Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor two years ago. They are interesting foils for each other, fans have compared them all year long, and their rivalry is already pretty entertaining. That said, among scouts I've talked to, this has never been much of a debate. The same way KAT was the clear No. 1 pick very early in his lone college season, Fultz has been in a class of his own all along. He checks every box for a guard prospect. The biggest question isn't whether he'll succeed in the NBA, but what his success might look like. Had Boston landed anywhere else in the lottery, they would have thought seriously of trading this pick. At No. 1, Fultz is too good to pass up.
I wrote about some of my Lonzo concerns last week: I'm not totally sold on his jumper, his defense, or his ability to score in the halfcourt. On the other hand, if his jumper is as reliable as it looked this year—he shot 41% from three at UCLA—he's bigger, better-shooting version of Ricky Rubio. That's a pretty good place for the conversation to start. Likewise, while the Lakers will have some serious issues on defense if they start Lonzo and D’Angelo Russell, that backcourt could be fantastic playing off each other on offense. Two things are certain for now. First, nobody really knows what Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will do. They control how the rest of the draft shakes out. Second, even if everyone's flying blind with respect to L.A.'s thought process, the consensus still has Lonzo landing in L.A. We'll keep him here to be safe.
We have a trade! None of the players who make sense at three make sense for the Sixers’ roster. Jayson Tatum is a clunky fit next to Simmons and Saric, while Josh Jackson and De'Aaron Fox have questionable jumpers—not an ideal fit next to Ben Simmons and his questionable jumper. So why not flip this to Sacramento and bring back two top-10 picks? It makes sense for Sacramento, too. Fox is the best guard outside Lonzo and Fultz, and he may have the chance to be as good as either one. Of everyone outside Fultz, Fox is probably the safest bet to be very, very good. His defense will be relentless, and on offense he's got John Wall-speed coupled with a Mike Conley floater. If his outside shooting develops, he's a superstar. All of which is to say: the Kings have made a number of bad gambles in recent years, but this would be a good one.
This is my favorite fit in the draft. Jackson is a great athlete who plays extremely hard. He can dunk everything and defend anyone. He'd provide all kinds of help to a Suns defense that badly needs some dignity. He's also a decent secondary ballhander and a sneaky good passer who moves well off the ball. He’s a good fit for a team that already has Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker to weave through the defense. His biggest weakness is shooting, and that's why he's a little bit riskier as a potential franchise cornerstone. But wedged between shooters like Bledsoe, Booker, and possibly Marquese Chriss, the shooting limitations may not matter as much. Just let Booker cook and let Jackson maul people, and we can all love the Suns.
Monk needs to get stronger, and it takes a while for younger guards to learn how to score consistently in the NBA. I'm sure there will be nights next year when nobody can understand why he was a top 10 pick. Some of this explains why picking him at No. 3 may be a bit high for Philly. But he makes sense for the Sixers because of what he can be a few years from now. He's the most explosive scorer available in this draft. He's got great range on his jumper, and his feel for the game is super impressive. He's like this year's version of Jamal Murray, but he's also a much better athlete. Once he gets comfortable in the NBA, he'd be a perfect fit as a scoring guard orbiting Point Simmons.
Tatum might be the most polished player available in the top 10. He's got excellent iso skills in the halfcourt. His jumper's not quite a weapon yet, but the mechanics look improved, and it's not hard to imagine his outside shooting coming in the next few years. He can play either the three or the four, and while I'm not totally sold on his ceiling as a superstar, he's got a pretty high floor (Harrison Barnes). Meanwhile, for Orlando and the new management tandem of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, they need... everything. Anything. The entire roster is either a problem, or a question mark. In that case, it makes sense to grab at least one player they can definitely build around. Tatum fits.
This is my second favorite fit in the draft, and also the second time we're invoking Harrison Barnes. If Barnes’s offensive skillset is the floor for Tatum, it's probably the most realistic outcome for Isaac. But then you remember his size. What if Harrison Barnes was 6'10” with a 7’1” wingspan? That would be a nightmare of a role player to hand to Tom Thibodeau. He'll probably be most valuable as a four, but that's fine, because Karl-Anthony Towns is most valuable as a five. And with Towns and Wiggins handling the bulk of the scoring, turning Isaac loose as a high-motor floor-stretching shot-blocker makes the Wolves’ future look a lot more fun.
Smith has as high an upside as anyone in the top 10, and the Knicks will be thrilled if he falls this far. He spent most of his high school career as the top point guard prospect in this class. Then a knee injury derailed his senior season, while "going to NC State" derailed his lone year at NC State. Still, he's an incredible athlete and a great scorer. I'd draft him top 10 off the Duke game alone. With a team that spreads the floor and let's him run the pick-and-roll surrounded by shooters, he could be a terror. The two big questions: can he play defense? Can he shoot consistently from the outside? The first one may not matter—at least half of the current crop of All-Star guards are bad on D—but the second one is what'll determine whether he really turns into a star. Either way, for a Knicks team that hasn't had a great point guard this millennium, Smith is worth the gamble.
French Frank is the biggest wild card in the top 10. He played limited minutes for his team in France and scored a meager 5 points per game. It'll likely take a few years before he's ready to produce consistently in the NBA. On the other hand, he's 6’5” with long arms and quick feet, and at the very least he projects as a terrific perimeter defender. Offensively, he shot 42% on 1.6 threes per game this year, and he showed out down the stretch of the FIBA U-18 tournament this winter, where he hit seven threes and finished with 31 points as France took down Lithuania in the title game. That may not be enough to make him a top-five pick, but it's enough to make his upside worthwhile for a Mavs team that still doesn't plan on being in the top 10 very often.
This is probably too high for Mitchell, but I don't care. He's a great athlete who will be awesome on defense wherever he goes, and he's got the sort of streaky shooting that could make him even more valuable a few years down the line. Mitchell probably isn't an All-Star, but he's giving off some distinct Avery Bradley vibes. At worst, he's a more athletic Malcolm Brogdon. For the Sixers and this 10th pick (via our fake trade), he's another guard who'd be a perfect fit with Simmons, and potentially a perfect fit next to Monk, too. In any case, he's here because there's a significant drop-off after the top 9 potential All-Stars in this draft, and among everyone else, Mitchell is the most enticing role player.
Collins only got 17 minutes-per-game behind Przemek Karnowski at Gonzaga, but he was terrific when he played. His per-40 averages are outrageous: 23 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks. He can shoot threes (47.6%), and he's fairly mobile. Against South Carolina in the tournament, he put 14, 13, and 6 blocks in 23 minutes. For a Hornets team with no clear solutions up front, Collins would be a fairly exciting win at number No. 11.
Jackson can contribute early, and maybe earlier than anyone else in the top 15. He's got less upside than others here, but provided his shooting improvement continues, he's a starter wherever he lands. The Pistons have bigger questions to answer elsewhere—is Andre Drummond good? does the whole team hate Reggie Jackson?—and without any clear solutions to those problems available at 12, it may make sense to take the one guy that can definitely play.
Anunoby is a freak athlete who will likely spend the better part of the next decade harassing people on defense. He could've been a first round pick last year, too. He hurt his knee at Indiana this year so his stock is a little bit mysterious, and his offense is still a question mark. But the Nuggets don't necessarily need offense. If Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are the future, defense is the issue, and Anunoby can help quickly.
Markkanen could go much higher (Wolves at 7? Kings at 10?), and I’m a fan of his game. He's a killer shooter who will be compared to Ryan Anderson 800 times before the draft process is over. If Markkanen can diversify his offensive skillset, Ryan Anderson comps might be selling him short. But I'm worried about defense. Guards who don't play defense are not a huge problem. Big men who don't play defense make life more complicated for the entire team. That said, for a Heat team with Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow bookending the front court, it could work. Given the upside, the Markkanen experiment would be a no-brainer if he slips this far.
Anigbogu is the most unproven prospect in the top 20. He's like Zach Collins, but with fewer minutes, less skills, and less production. Still, his stock's been on the rise for a few weeks now, and I kind of love him as this year's most ridiculous draft mystery. And production aside—he got 13 minutes-a-game as he battled nagging injuries at UCLA—he's 6'10” with a 7’6” wingspan, and the raw tools are enticing. The Blazers don't have many options behind Jusuf Nurkic, so grooming a long-term alternative would make sense here.
He spent most of the year overshadowed by bigger freshmen stars on better teams, but Allen quietly got much better as the year unfolded at Texas. He's still raw, and he may be a year or two from playing meaningful minutes, but he will get drafted top 20 because of Myles Turner comparisons alone. The Bulls will have a number of big men to choose from here, and finding a Robin Lopez replacement seems like a smart play.
As you can see, past the top 10, there's a glut of raw, mysterious big men who will dominate the middle of the draft. Patton goes lowest of the first tier of big men, but I might like him the most. He's long and mobile, he can block shots, and he's got a soft touch on a jumper that could allow him to create space on offense. Can he turn into the Bucks big man that everyone always hoped John Henson would be? Let's find out!
The Pacers are in the Pistons category: there are enough bigger, scarier existential questions to make this pick a secondary concern. Given the confusion about the future with or without Paul George, let's give them John Collins, probably the most productive and skilled power forward in the draft. He can't really stretch the floor at this point, but that's OK, because he's awesome.