The NBA off–season has been going strong for just 10 days, and it already looks like half the league has lost its mind. There's a new rumor every hour. There are 8-10 stars who could conceivably change teams in the next few weeks (or hours), and every basketball fan in the world has spent the last four days compulsively refreshing Twitter. It's been wonderful. This week's entertainment is our reward after surviving the playoffs, and tonight it should get several measures crazier. It's time for the NBA draft.
We've been putting together mock drafts since the dead of winter, and now that it's the end of June... I have almost no idea what will happen. That's true in any year, but it feels twice as true today. There are at least eight or nine potential All-Stars among this year's lottery prospects, and there's very little separation among any of them. Half the picks in the top 10 have been mentioned in fairly serious trade rumors (Lakers, Celtics, Suns, Kings, Wolves). Plenty of teams on the outside of the lottery are looking to jump into the mix for this year's stars, while others are looking to trade the All-Stars they already have. It's going to be a mess tonight. That's my only official prediction.
And I can't wait! So while the Pacers try to trade Paul George, while Danny Ainge tries to paint another masterpiece, while Phil Jackson listens to Porzingis offers, and while Knicks fans debate the most effective form of mass protest, here is one final update to our 2017 NBA Mock Draft.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington
Fultz is the best prospect on the board. He's got the highest floor of anyone in the draft, and his ceiling is something close to James Harden. He's been called the Karl-Anthony Towns of point guards, because he can do almost anything you'd need from a point guard. His defense is a question mark, but if his effort waned at times during Washington's season, he's still got the tools to be excellent on that end. What I'm interested in now: how does he respond to last weekend's trade? Apart from his defensive focus, the only other real questions about Fultz concern his intensity and competitiveness. I'm not sure if those criticisms were ever fair. But if Fultz ever needed more motivation, Boston gave it to him this week.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
The Lakers may trade for Paul George later today, but here's to betting they won't have to part with the No. 2 pick to get him. In that case, they'll go Lonzo. I'm not totally sold on his jumper, his defense, or his ability to score in the halfcourt. But if his outside shooting is as reliable as it was in college—he shot 41% from three at UCLA—his floor looks like a bigger, better-shooting version of Ricky Rubio. That's a pretty good place for the conversation to start. He has one of the highest ceilings in the draft, and it sounds like Magic and the Lakers are sold.
3. Boston Celtics: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
The second the Celtics finished the Fultz trade, the whole league began wondering what kind of trade Danny Ainge was planning. For his part, Ainge has claimed that the player they liked at No. 1 should be available at three, and maybe it's that simple. Most have assumed he's talking about Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum. But if the Celtics are actually planning on keeping the player they draft Thursday, I bet it will be Isaac. Tatum's ball-stopping game would be a clunky fit next to potential superstar imports like Gordon Hayward or Jimmy Butler, while Jackson's high motor and sketchy shooting makes him such an Ainge pick, he may actually be too much of an Ainge pick. Isaac has as high a ceiling as either one if his offense evolves. As a baseline, his defensive skills and floor-stretching ability should make him a nightmare of a secondary star. So with the Celtics controlling the rest of the lottery, this is a gut feeling. If there's a trade, Josh Jackson goes three. If the Celtics stand pat, Isaac is the choice.
4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas
The Suns are another team that's fielding offers from every corner of the league. But if Josh Jackson slips to four, they should stay put and keep this simple. Phoenix can score just fine with Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, TJ Warren and (in theory) Marquese Chriss. Jackson is the player who can help fill in the gaps. He dunks everything and defends multiple positions, and he'll make a surprising number of plays as a passer. Think younger, bigger Andre Iguodala. He's great as cutter off the ball, and as teams try to guard Booker and Bledsoe, he could wreak havoc. Jackson has flaws if he's your best player, and I'm not sure why other teams seem to like him as a potential cornerstone—Phil Jackson reportedly mentioned him in Porzingis talks—but in Phoenix, he'd be perfect.
5. Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky
The Kings have wanted Fox so badly that teams have tried to coax them into trading both first-round picks to move up and get him. That's a bad idea. Someone take away Vivek's phone until the fifth pick, and just let this happen on its own. A few weeks ago I spent the day with Fox for this profile, and concluded two things: 1) Fox is probably the biggest gamble in the top 10 because of his jumper, but 2) his ceiling is as high as anyone available, including Fultz. He spent the beginning of his freshman year battling nagging injuries and struggling to assert himself, but over the second half of the year he became a different player. He was impossible to keep out of the lane, and he was relentless on defense. As he gets stronger, his speed will only get more dangerous, and if he gets even a half-decent jumper, he's a superstar.
6. Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum, Duke
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 good, and it's not hard to imagine his outside shooting coming around in the next few years. Apparently he's already shown plenty of perimeter progress in workouts. 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. For Orlando and the new management tandem of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, they need everything. 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.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dennis Smith, NC State
If the Wolves can't land Isaac, they should take Smith. Either they can keep him—as a supercharged version of the lottery pick they wanted Kris Dunn to be—or they can auction his services to the highest bidder. Smith 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, and he's got a chance to be as explosive as Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, and every other point guard we've seen anchor offenses over the past few years. Put him in the spread pick-and-roll and he could be a nightmare. Whether it's Minnesota or someone else making this pick, Smith shouldn't slip any lower.
8. New York Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky
In the craziest 96 hours of rumors the NBA has seen in several years, it's only right that it ends with the Knicks looking crazier than anyone. So, the caveat here is that New York could change the entire draft depending on what Phil does with Porzingis, and what he gets back. But at No. 8, Monk is a win regardless. He 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. 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. Dallas Mavericks: Frank Ntilikina, France
The Mavs recently hired Ntilikina's coach to help with their summer league team, and if Dennis Smith is off the board, French Frank looks like the pick. Ntilikina has some of the most intriguing tools we've seen from any point guard in recent memory. He's big (6'5"), he's got a massive wingspan (reportedly close to 7'1"), and he shoots the three well. In theory he could blossom into a valuable weapon over the next few years, like a 3-and-D point guard. But he's largely unproven beyond a standout run through the FIBA 18-Under tournament, and it will take a few years for him to get comfortable. I'm not totally sold. His projections as a defense-first 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 on offense is almost a prerequisite for relevance.
10. Sacramento Kings: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
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 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 it'd be a home run if the Kings can grab a rookie like Fox and take a flier on Markkanen as either a) Ryan Anderson off the bench, or b) something much scarier in four years, particularly with Dave Joerger around to coach him on defense
11. Charlotte Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
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 over 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: Mitchell is another version of Avery Bradley, or maybe Malcom Brogdon after several steroid cycles. Either player is someone I'd want in the lottery.
12. Detroit Pistons: Zach Collins, Gonzaga
Collins only averaged 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. The combination of his skills and rim protection could be enough to land him higher in the lottery, but if he falls this far, he'd be a good investment for a Pistons team that's currently debating whether it's time to move on from Andre Drummond.
13. Denver Nuggets: John Collins, Wake Forest
The Nuggets don't have any obvious needs, and they've drafted so well that they have more intriguing prospects than they can play. Maybe they'll keep it simple. Of everyone past the top 12, Collins seems like the safest bet to be a productive NBA player. He's still 19 years old, and while he can't stretch the floor right now, he was excellent all year in college basketball. 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, he'll have a role anywhere he lands, and agonizing about his floor-stretching limits might be missing the point.
14. Miami Heat: Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jackson can contribute early, and maybe earlier than anyone else in the top 15. He's got less upside than others in the lottery, but think of him as a poor man's Otto Porter. He won't lock anyone down on defense, but he's long enough to bother teams, and his herky-jerky offense is equally confounding for defenses. Provided his shooting improvement continues, he'll contribute wherever he lands. The Heat are just outside the range that'll feature potential All-Stars, so maybe betting on a future role player is the smartest play here.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: Jarrett Allen, Texas
The Blazers feel like a dark horse in the Paul George sweepstakes, and they could also move picks in a bid to dump salary, so I don't want to put too much stock into their needs with any of these three first-round picks. Nevertheless, if they stay here, Allen has a ton of upside. He's got a massive 7'5.5" wingspan and he's fairly mobile. He's still raw and he may be a year or two from playing meaningful NBA minutes, but the Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic as a placeholder for the next few years. Grooming Allen behind him could pay off down the line.
16. Chicago Bulls: Luke Kennard, Duke
If the Bulls intend to run it back with Wade, Butler, Rondo, and Hoiberg... For the love of God, they need shooting. Next to Markkanen and Monk, Kennard is one of the three best shooters in the draft. He's also effective as a scorer off the dribble, and his offense can help anyone. Bulls fans will have all kinds of Doug McDermott PTSD if this is the pick—and Kennard will face similar defensive struggles—but given Chicago's needs, Kennard is the one player in this range who could really help.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton, Creighton
Patton is big (6'11", 7'3" frame), mobile, and he's got touch out to three-point range. 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, and there's little doubt that he'll eventually settle into regular NBA minutes. Part of me would rather the Bucks sell high on Malcolm Brogdon and try to trade up in this draft—Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, or Donovan Mitchell could be awesome next to Giannis—but if they stay put, look for the Bucks to go for someone with a high floor. Patton fits the bill.
18. Indiana Pacers: Terrance Ferguson, Australia
The Pacers are facing all kinds of uncertainty at the moment, and if rebuilding is coming, it makes sense to bet on upside. Ferguson is a phenomenal athlete and a streaky shooter in the J.R. Smith mold. He looked overwhelmed during most of his time playing pro basketball in Australia this past year, but if he can improve over the next few years and stay like 30-40% more focused than J.R. has been for most of his career, there is real star potential.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Bam spent most of the college basketball season as a fixture in first-round projections, but a rough tournament saw him slip. He's been surging back up various mocks in recent weeks. His shooting is what's caught teams off guard—for example, there's more skill on display in this DraftExpress video than we saw in four months at Kentucky. The Hawks are staring down Paul Millsap's free agency and they just traded Dwight Howard; a big man makes sense. And while Adebayo was a fringe first rounder when he was seen strictly as a rim runner, the possibility of perimeter skills might make him too hard to pass up here.
20. Portland Trail Blazers: O.G. Anunoby, Indiana
If he's healthy, O.G. Anunoby is probably the best defensive prospect in the entire draft. The odds of him turning into the next Kawhi are slim, but even if you could only draft a defense-only version of Kawhi, that's worth a top 20-pick, right? The questions will be health-related after Anunoby suffered a season-ending injury at Indiana, but this low in the draft, he's got enough upside to justify the gamble.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: DJ Wilson, Michigan
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 one of the exceptions. He's a 6'10" forward who's twice as valuable given the direction of the league, and he'd be a nice option for an OKC team that's been searching for credible wings for years.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Harry Giles, Duke
Giles has one of the widest range of outcomes of anyone in the draft. He was the best player in this draft class as recently as two years ago, and it wouldn't totally shock me if a team gambled on his upside in the late lottery. I'd also understand if his injury history over the past two years pushes him to the early second round. But his workouts have reportedly been impressive—more so than his final few months at Duke—and there's probably too much potential for him slip much lower. In the post-KG trade nuclear winter, the Nets have been very good at using their leftover picks to take smart risks. This would be another one.
23. Toronto Raptors: TJ Leaf, UCLA
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. As much credit as Lonzo Ball gets for the transformation of UCLA that we saw this year, Leaf was almost as critical. He's a good shooter (46%) and he moves well in the open floor, and he can stretch the floor but still put real pressure on the defense. He's exactly the kind of role player a playoff team like the Raptors could use.
24. Utah Jazz: Semi Ojeleye, SMU
Ojeleye is another forward who fits with the recent trends of the NBA. He shot 42% from three at SMU, he can handle the ball in space, and at 22 years old he's got an NBA frame that should allow him to contribute immediately as a combo forward off the bench. Teams have loved him in the interview process, and the Jazz have generally valued intangibles. This feels like the right fit.
25. Orlando Magic: Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Bradley's shot blocking wasn't great in his limited minutes for Carolina this season, but if that will keep him out of the lottery, it shouldn't keep him out of the first round. He's got the body and athleticism to turn into a dependable fifth starter as a center, and finding starters in the 20s is valuable. The Magic, as noted above, need everything as they try to turn things around. Bradley can help.
26. Portland Trail Blazers: Anžejs Pasečņiks, Latvia
I can't pretend to be a Pasečņiks expert, but this workout video is impressive, and he should land somewhere in the 20s. He's mobile, he's massive, and he's got good touch on his jumper. He'll be an enticing option for teams that don't necessarily need a rookie to matriculate to the league next year. If the Blazers keep all three of their picks, they'll fit that description.
27. Los Angeles Lakers: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
Who knows whether L.A. will be making this pick for themselves or the Pacers, but this feels like the right range for Lydon. He projects as a sort of poor man's Ryan Anderson. He's 6'10" and he'll be able to launch threes over almost anyone. He probably won't be able to do much else, but as a role player late in the 20s, there's enough skill to make him worth a pick late in the first round.
28. Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart's offensive ceiling is limited, but he can knock down open looks, and he'd be able to defend either guard spot. He's also got a high basketball IQ that'll allow them to work in a number of different roles for a good team. Hart would make sense for the Lakers if they keep this pick. Or, if L.A. flips this to the Pacers, he'd be a nice stabilizing presence for an Indy team that's starting all over.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Bell, Oregon
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-foot 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 Dwayne Dedmon regardless. Adding an extra big man who can actually contribute will be crucial, and Bell might be the safest bet available from 20-40.
30. Utah Jazz: Jonah Bolden, Australia
An Australian who moved to the U.S. as a senior in high school, Bolden has a ton of skill at 6'10", and he'd be a nice gamble for Utah as a potential stretch-four. Or maybe the Jazz look to Frank Jackson? He's a Utah native and a guard who showed flashes of explosive scoring down the stretch at Duke. Or go after Kyle Kuzma? He's not quite a stretch-four, but he was very productive at Utah and he's got room to expand his game. Or maybe they'll just trade 30 and 24 to the Pacers and rent Paul George to help recruit Gordon Hayward. Anything's possible this week. Enjoy the draft.