- With the NBA Finals in the books, it's time to turn our attention to draft season. Rumors and reports are whirling and all eyes are on Lonzo Ball and the Lakers at No. 2.
The Finals are over, and the NBA draft is a little more than a week away. Rumors are flying everywhere, workouts are happening all over the league, and whether it's Luke Kennard dazzling general managers in California or Malik Monk putting on a show for Phoenix, everyone is dominating in empty gyms.
Markelle Fultz has worked out for the Celtics, and Lonzo Ball has worked out for the Lakers. They are still the projected as our top two, although subsequent reports indicate that the Lakers weren't blown away by Ball, so that pick is looking shakier as draft day approaches. Beyond the Celtics and Lakers, the rest of the lottery could go in a dozen different directions. That's what makes this fun!
So forget the Finals. Focus on what's important, like the rumor that Dennis Smith put up a 48-inch vertical in Los Angeles over the weekend. It's time for another mock draft.
1. Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington | Freshman
Fultz will be the number one pick. There's an outside chance that Boston trades out of the top spot—why is Sacramento sniffing around? Would anyone else put together a blockbuster?—but assuming the Celtics stay at No. 1, this is an easy decision. A guard who fits at either backcourt spot, Fultz has the highest floor of any prospect in the draft, and he probably has the highest ceiling as well. Related: Here is the No. 1 pick standing in front of decades' worth of Celtics banners, reminding you that the NBA universe will always be unfair.
2. Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA | Freshman
This is where the draft gets interesting. The Lakers have so many different variables on the board for the next two years—D'Angelo Russell trade? Julius Randle extension? Paul George's free agency? LeBron in 2018?—that forecasting their thinking for the next two weeks becomes nearly impossible. For now we'll stick with Lonzo here. He'll be brilliant in transition wherever he goes, and if his outside shooting at UCLA last year continues in the NBA, he'll be a star. Whatever happens, there will be 10,000 rumors about this pick over the next week, and I'm ready for all of them.
3. Sixers: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke | Freshman
If the Lakers stay conventional and go with Lonzo, then it's up to the Sixers to decide the rest of the lottery. Again, we'll be getting a steady stream of rumors with this one. The Sixers will flirt with any number of players, not to mention trade offers from all corners, including rumors of 5 and 10 coming from Sacramento. But here's to betting that Bryan Colangelo will go with Tatum in the end. Tatum has the highest floor of anyone outside Fultz, and his skilled game could be a decent fit next to Ben Simmons. I'm not sure this would be the smartest play, and I'm not sure I'd try to max Kyle Lowry, either. But Philly is ready to start winning as soon as possible. Tatum can help that cause more than anyone else at three.
4. Suns: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas | Freshman
Pairing Devin Booker with De'Aaron Fox is a tempting idea, and it'd be consistent with the working organizational philosophy in Phoenix ("But what if we build the whole team out of Kentucky guards?"), but that's probably too easy. Plus, Josh Jackson is too good on both ends to pass up if he slides to four. In that case, here's to betting that Phoenix stays committed to Eric Bledsoe and grabs a two-way swingman to complement Booker's offense with a new-age Iguodala who can play every game at 120 MPH. Jackson's jumper will be a work in progress, but if he finds a team that doesn't need him to carry the offense, he could be a lot of fun.
5. Kings: De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky | Freshman
Fox is interesting. The people who like him think that getting him with the fifth pick would be a major steal, and the people who worry about his jumper would probably say that picking him over Dennis Smith would be a big mistake. Sacramento likes him, though. He'd fit well next to Buddy Hield, and he's got the sort of energy on the court and personality off the court that can help change the culture of a team that hasn't mattered in a decade. The Kings probably shouldn't trade 5 and 10 to take Fox at no. 3, but getting him here would be a big win.
6. Magic: Dennis Smith, PG, NC State | Freshman
The Magic haven't had a coherent identity in several years, so I'm worried about sending Smith here. If you asked, "What's the NBA version of NC State?" I'm pretty sure the answer is Orlando. Likewise, there are choices to make elsewhere on the roster that'll go a long way toward determining exactly what the Magic want from this draft. Elfrid Payton probably isn't the answer, though, and while the team transitions to new management under John Hammond and Jeff Weltman, it would make sense to grab the player with the best chance at stardom. At 6, that's Smith.
7. Wolves: Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State | Freshman
It seems like Isaac will go off the board somewhere in the 5-10 range, because he doesn't have the ceiling of some players above him. But where players like Tatum, Smith, Jackson, and even Ball have questions that'll complicate their progress as franchise-changers, Isaac's a much safer bet to become a helpful third star. He's got the height and length to project as a stretch-five in certain lineups, and he'd be equally effective as a stretch four. As the NBA game gets smaller, faster, and generally stranger, Isaac is the kind of Swiss–Army Knife role player who should be really valuable on a good team. For a Minnesota team that already has the stars—Wiggins and Towns—he'd be a wonderful steal.
8. Knicks: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky | Freshman
Monk will struggle on defense, and it'll probably take him another year or two before he adds enough weight to finish at the rim and score consistently in the NBA. But even with those qualifiers, he's probably one of the most underrated players in this draft. This would be a win for New York. Everyone was falling in love with De'Aaron Fox a month ago, and now Dennis Smith is getting that love, but Monk's ceiling is just as impressive. He's got unlimited range on his jumper like Jamal Murray, but he's a more explosive athlete, with better instincts as a scorer. If anything, playing next to De'Aaron Fox might have held him back a little bit. With more opportunities in the pick-and-roll and less bodies clogging the lane at the next level, Monk will be very, very dangerous.
9. Mavericks: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France | Age: 18
The closer we get to June 22, the more it looks like this is an eight-player draft. Frank Ntilikina has intriguing tools and in theory he could blossom into a great defensive weapon for Rick Carlisle—that's why we're projecting him here—but he's largely unproven beyond a standout run through the FIBA 18-Under tournament. We'll see. There's a chance he turns into a star in five years and makes any doubters (me) look stupid. For now, his projections as a three-and-D point guard remind me of Isaac's future as a forward, except that Ntilikina's playing a position where defense is less valuable and explosiveness is almost a prerequisite for relevance.
10. Kings: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona | Freshman
It's a risk for a team to bet its only lottery pick on Lauri Markkanen's future. He's a year or two away from being strong enough to play consistent minutes at the next level, his defense is a giant question mark, and his scoring off the dribble is a work in progress. There are too many unknowns to justify taking him in a lottery that's full of talent everywhere else. Still, he's such a good shooter at seven feet tall that he could be unguardable if he gets more comfortable a few years down the line. All of which is to say, I understand other teams passing. But if the Kings can grab a rookie like Fox and take a flier on Lauri Markkanen as either a) Ryan Anderson off the bench, or b) something much scarier in four years, it'd be a home run.
11. Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville | Sophomore
Mitchell is one of the best athletes in the draft and he'll be an excellent defender wherever he lands. His outside shooting isn't great (35% on 6.6 attempts per game) but he improved significantly from his freshman year (25%), all while assuming more point guard responsibilities. Skeptics would say that he was never that impressive at Louisville, and Mitchell's become a classic case of someone scouts and draft nerds have talked themselves into based solely on combine testing and theoretical potential. And they might be right! But in theory: Donovan Mitchell is another version of Avery Bradley, or maybe a stronger Malcolm Brogdon. Either player is someone I'd want in the lottery.
12. Pistons: Zach Collins, PF, Gonzaga | Freshman
Collins only played 19 minutes a game as a freshman, but he's mobile, he can protect the rim, and he's got good touch in the lane and out to three point range. Some GM will take him in the lottery, and that GM will then get Collins' per-40 Gonzaga averages tattooed across his chest: 23 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks. Meanwhile ... Stan Van Gundy is currently trying to trade Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, and he may want to start grooming a new center sooner than you think. If Detroit keeps this pick, maybe SVG can get a tattoo.
13. Nuggets: OG Anunoby, F, Indiana | Freshman
Anunoby will be a excellent defender wherever he lands. While his offense is very much a wait-and-see situation, and he's coming off an injury that robbed him of most of his sophomore season at IU, the Nuggets can afford to be patient. Gary Harris made serious strides over the final two months of the season, Denver loves Jamal Murray's future as a scorer, while Nikola Jokic is currently flipping giant tires in Serbia, and will be a nightly triple double threat when he returns next year. There's a foundation in place regardless of what happens at 13. In that case, Denver should swing big with this one.
14. Heat: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke | Sophomore
The lottery feels a bit high for Kennard, but if his shooting is as impressive as it looked in this video, he'll have a place in the NBA for the next decade. Yes, I know, it's incredibly stupid to get swayed by workout videos. But we're all human, and Miami makes sense for Kennard. Whether we're talking Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow on the perimeter or Hassan Whiteside at the rim, the Heat have the chess pieces to help Kennard on defense, and they could use his shooting off the bench.
15. Trail Blazers: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina | Junior
Justin Jackson won't be as dominant in the NBA as he was for North Carolina this year, but he projects as the sort of small forward who fits well as the fifth starter on a playoff team. He can hit threes, he hustles, his defense will be solid, and his length will flummox teams on both ends of the floor. Think of him like Otto Porter on this year's Wizards, but on a rookie deal in Portland, instead of the max deal that Otto Porter's about to get in DC. It's a good fit.
16. Bulls: John Collins, PF, Wake Forest | Sophomore
On the one hand, this pick is perfect for the Bulls because Collins fits an NBA that stopped existing 10 years ago, and it would inspire millions of groans from Bulls fans who are sick of Gar Forman and John Paxson. On the other hand, Collins is still 19 years old, and he's incredibly productive for his age. He put up 19 and 10 in 26 minutes per game at Wake, including monster performances against Clemson (29 and 10), Duke (31 and 15), and Louisville (25 and 11) down the stretch in the ACC. If you believe that his offense will translate, agonizing about his floor-stretching limits might be missing the point. This draft thins out past the lottery, but Collins is one player who can be a real factor.
17. Bucks: Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA | Freshman
Anigbogu is probably the biggest wild card in the draft. He battled injuries at the beginning and end of his freshman year, and he played just 13 minutes per game. But his size alone makes him enticing. At 6'10" with a 7'6" wingspan, he's got the outlines of an excellent rim-running center who can anchor the defense and stay out of the way on offense. The Bucks need a guard more than a center, but they probably won't find a solution that makes sense at this point in the draft. Investing in Anigbogu could be the smarter play.
18. Pacers: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia | Age: 18
Another wild card: Ferguson's a streaky shooter with fantastic athleticism, and he was one of the top players in his high school class a year ago. But he had eligibility issues that complicated his matriculation to Arizona, and he struggled to make an impact playing pro basketball in Australia. Still, he has a higher ceiling than almost anyone in the bottom half of the first round. The Pacers could play it safe here and look for someone to help Paul George immediately, but I'm not sure they'll find many good options. In that case: Larry Bird was always very good at betting on upside and his own team's development program. Maybe Kevin Pritchard will continue the tradition.
19. Hawks: Justin Patton, C, Creighton | Freshman
Patton is big, mobile, and he's got touch out to the three-point line. He's a late bloomer who actually redshirted a year at Creighton before emerging this season, but there's a lot to work with for a team looking to groom a big man of the future. The Hawks could lose Paul Millsap this summer, and it's not clear that they'll want to keep Dwight Howard. Finding insurance for the front line should be a priority.
20. Blazers: Harry Giles, PF, Duke | Freshman
Everyone knows the story by now: Giles was the No. 1 recruit in this class for most of his high school career until knee injuries derailed him, and then he arrived at Duke, where injuries slowed him all over again. The red flags are pretty clear here. And yet, if he can stay healthy and rediscover some of the open-floor athleticism and explosion at the rim that made him a star to begin with, he'd be a major steal this low in the draft. Someone will roll the dice on him in this range, and the Blazers can afford to get weird if they keep all three picks.
21. Thunder: D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan | Junior
Wilson is a combo forward who can guard multiple positions, projects as an excellent pick-and-roll defender, and shoots the three fairly well. The second half of the first round is full of centers and forwards who don't totally fit with where the NBA is going, but Wilson is the exception. He's the 6'9" forward who's suddenly twice as valuable, and he'd be a nice addition for an OKC team that's been searching for a credible bench wing for what seems like a decade.
22. Nets: Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State | Sophomore
Glass half-empty: There's a chance that Jawun Evans is too small to succeed on either end of the floor in the NBA. Glass half-full: he's an explosive playmaker who was dominant in the spread pick-and-roll at Oklahoma State, and wherever he goes, that skill should translate at the next level. If he can finish at the rim and his outside shooting becomes more of a weapon, he could be really dangerous. Think of it like this: his floor is John Lucas III on the 2011 Bulls, and his ceiling is something like Kyle Lowry. Do it, Nets!
23. Raptors: Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Latvia | Age: 21
24. Jazz: Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse | Sophomore
The Jazz are another team with off-season uncertainty clouding their draft calculus. They are facing an an eventual contract extension for Rodney Hood, plus the free agencies of George Hill, Joe Ingles, and (gulp) Gordon Hayward. Likewise, there aren't many options in the 20s who look like they'd fill an obvious Jazz need. Tyler Lydon could be a fit, though. Think of him as a poor man's Ryan Anderson, and then imagine how well Ryan Anderson would fit next to Rudy Gobert. It's worth a try.
25. Magic: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas | Freshman
Allen could go 10 spots higher than this in two weeks, and he could also slip to the second round. He sort of got lost in this shuffle among this year's star-studded freshmen during a lost season at Texas, but over the final two months of the season he blossomed into one of the better young big men anywhere. Orlando decision-makers will have to figure out what the hell they're trying to do with their frontcourt, but taking a flier on Allen this low would be a good idea regardless.
26. Blazers: T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA | Freshman
T.J. Leaf probably won't be good enough on defense to start at the next level, but he's so skilled as a passer and shooter that he'll have value wherever he lands. Compare Leaf to someone like Ivan Rabb. Both have weaknesses that limit their ceiling, but Leaf's strengths are a much better fit with the wide-open game that's being played all over the league. The Blazers probably won't keep all three first round picks, but Leaf would have value either in Portland, or as a low-cost attachment to whichever ghastly contract Portland's trying to dump in two weeks.
27. Nets: Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU | Junior
It's true, in a post-Billy King world, Brooklyn has nothing better to do than swing for the fences with these picks in the 20s. But at some point the Nets also need good players, not just projects. Ojeleye is a two-way wing who shot 42% from three, and he's got an NBA frame that'll allow him to contribute immediately as a combo forward. Put him in Brooklyn and give him 25 minutes-a-game. We can't let the Celtics get another number one pick.
28. Lakers: Josh Hart, G, Villanova | Senior
Speaking of teams that need good players...the Lakers could use Hart. His offensive ceiling is limited, but he can knock down open looks, and he'll be able to defend either guard spot for a team that's had apocalyptic defense for the past three years. He'll probably get compared to Malcolm Brogdon 800 times in the next two weeks, and it makes a decent amount of sense. As the Lakers get better and play meaningful games, what Hart does well will only be more valuable. As for next year, he'd be sneaky valuable as a stabilizing presence on a team that's still got one of the youngest rotations in the NBA.
29. Spurs: Jordan Bell, F, Oregon | Junior
Jordan Bell is one of the best defensive prospects in the draft, and probably the best pick-and-roll defender of any big man on the board. What he lacks in size at forward (6'8"-ish), he makes up for with a 7'0 wingspan and excellent foot speed. The Spurs cap sheet could be getting tight if they try to add Chris Paul or George Hill this summer, and they'll likely lose Dewayne Dedmon regardless. Adding an extra big man who can contribute will be crucial, and Bell is the safest bet available from 20-40.
30. Jazz: Frank Jackson, G, Duke | Freshman
Jackson's a guard who struggled to get comfortable at Duke until late in the year, but he's got a good NBA frame, and he's an excellent athlete. He also starred throughout his high school years playing in Utah, so maybe it's time to go home? The Jazz have all kinds of questions in the backcourt going forward, and if Jackson can improve his playmaking skills over the next few years, he could be an answer.