With March right around the corner, the NBA playoffs on the horizon and the trade deadline long gone, draft season is fast approaching, and the only thing we can do is prepare for it. The picture is far from complete, but we have Zion Williamson at the top, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish behind him, and a rather large mess after that. One thing it’s fair to say right now: it’s not a great year to be drafting in the middle of the lottery, and parsing through that group of players is going to be an ongoing challenge for everyone. A month from now, there should be a much clearer picture, but here’s how things are shaking out at the moment.
As always, our mock draft projects what the draft might look like if it took place on a given day. For our own evaluation of the available players, check out our most recent big board, which is a fluid list of this year’s top 80 prospects. As the draft gets closer, the two lists might diverge a bit further, with this one focusing on creating an accurate picture of how teams might behave on draft night.
The sequence of teams in this version of the mock draft is based off of Basketball Reference’s playoff projections as of Feb. 26, which can be found here.
Suns: Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 285 | Freshman } Last Mock: 1
Williamson’s minor injury hiccup does nothing to impact his status atop the draft, and at this point, it would be stunning if anyone else was selected first. Watching Duke play without him should help quantify his direct impact on their success. Not only is he a prolific offensive engine who facilitates transition play, but he’s provided a ton of cover defensively, and the overall breadth of his ability should render strict positional concerns irrelevant. He will be one of the NBA’s best athletes from day one. And when looking at the pieces the Suns already have in place—a potentially elite perimeter scorer (Devin Booker), a physically dominant center (Deandre Ayton) and a slew of young wings, it’s easy to see Williamson slotting in and helping trigger a substantial turnaround. Adding him to the mix could make Phoenix one of the league’s most dangerous young teams.
R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 200 | Freshman | Last: 4
Give Barrett real credit for adapting his game in a tangible way over the course of the season: he has taken a big step forward with his willingness to make plays for teammates, and has made Duke even more dangerous. While at his core, he remains a shoot-first, ball-dominant player, it’s at least easier to envision Barrett as an effective part-time playmaker at the NBA level. That multi-dimensionality helps strengthen his already-firm case as a top-three selection. His lack of a creative handle and an inconsistent jump shot are reasons for concern, but the Cavaliers can afford him freedom to develop and make mistakes, and he would become the most substantial building block on that roster as their rebuild continues.
Knicks: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 175 | Sophomore | Last: 2
Although Dennis Smith Jr. seems to be benefitting from his change of scenery, the Knicks will need to go best available at this position in the draft. This underscores the fact that the gap between Morant and the rest of the lottery is rather wide. As New York prepares to court big-name free agents and potentially revamp their roster, asset value should be paramount, and so Morant becomes an obvious choice, no matter what they end up doing with him. His historic season isn’t a simple case of mid-major dominance—watch him play for 10 minutes, and it’s readily apparent that Morant wins games with his brain as much as with his athleticism. Noting his court vision and strong handle that facilitates quick changes of speed and direction, Morant has a chance to be a special player. Expect his jump shot to improve in consistency as he gets stronger, and expect him to put the work in to maximize his ability.
Bulls: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 3
While Reddish’s performances continue to aggressively vacillate between promising and lackluster, his skill set does create a relatively clean pathway to a useful NBA role, even if the overall perception of where his ceiling lies has flatlined a bit. His positional size, potential to become a plus jump shooter, room to grow as a playmaker and chance at defensive versatility are all still attractive. The biggest concern NBA evaluators have expressed with Reddish is consistency, and whether he is wired for high-level contributions on a nightly basis. Based on his talent and what he could bring to the table, he will at least be afforded ample opportunity to figure it out. For now, Reddish still feels like the answer at No. 4, and the Bulls have enough young talent that he’d be allowed to develop without a ton of immediate pressure.
Hawks: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Sophomore | Last: 7
Picking fifth is probably the most difficult juncture in this draft, based on the way the talent curve begins to flatten out, and there’s not a correct answer or a consensus right now. Using the state of Atlanta to inform this decision—armed with (likely) two top-10 picks, a potential franchise guard (Trae Young) a high-level young shooter (Kevin Huerter) and a dynamic athlete up front (John Collins)—it’s okay for the Hawks to focus on hitting a double or triple with this first selection. In a deeper draft, it would be hard to justify Culver this high, but with the understanding he could become a valuable role player and be able to play off of good passers, his well-rounded skill set makes sense for Atlanta. He is not an elite athlete or jump shooter, both of which ostensibly limit his upside, but what he’s done for Texas Tech hasn’t gone unnoticed by teams. In a situation like this where he’ll have less offensive responsibility, he could flourish.
Grizzlies: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 170 | Freshman | Last: 9
That Garland, who has been out since November with a torn meniscus, might climb this high is partially due to need—the Grizzlies will eventually move on from Mike Conley—but also a reflection of how fickle this range of the draft appears at a glance. Garland’s deep shooting and potential to playmake and initiate in a ball-screen focused offense makes him an intriguing target here. He relies on change of pace to compensate for lack of explosion, and his lack of physicality may hamper his upside, but he has the overall chops to become a useful NBA guard. The adjustment may be steep, but the Grizzlies would probably do well to take a chance here. If Memphis can play its way out of the top eight, this pick will go to the Celtics, but it’s looking likely they end up having to keep it.
Wizards: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | Sophomore | Last: 13
While Washington is dealing with John Wall’s long-term absence (and longer-term contract), it seems unlikely the Wizards will blow everything up. All things considered situationally, using this pick to add a readymade role player in Hunter feels like a safe move. While he’s unlikely to be a star and needs to be able to play off of his guards, Hunter would give the Wizards some much-needed immediate defensive flexibility. Provided his jumper develops and he can become a bit more dynamic scoring the ball, he has a chance to stick around in the league for a long time. There’s a chance he benefits from playing outside Virginia’s more rigid offensive system, as well. The overall fit here makes sense, and Washington can play it safe while also getting some immediate value as they try and return to the postseason.
Heat: Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 5
Little has become one of the more polarizing players in the draft, and while there’s still a good chance he’s a top-ten pick, it’s become less clear how strong a bet he is to actually return that type of value. He has terrific physical tools, enough touch to think his shot improves, and as a late-blooming prospect with a good work ethic, he’s the type of person teams will feel okay gambling on. Critics have justifiably harped on his demonstrable lack of feel and struggles acclimating to the college game. A team like the Heat with a positive player development record would be a nice fit for him long-term—get him into peak shape, and the hope is he becomes a dynamic transition player and eventually adds something on defense. But right now, his lack of a quantifiable NBA-ready skill raises real concerns. He should be seen as more of a project.
Hawks (via Mavericks): Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Height: 6’11” | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 10
After using their first lottery pick in responsible fashion, the Hawks would be in position to take a bigger swing here, with Hayes making sense as a developmental big who can finish and protect the basket. He’s still sort of a rough outline, but compares favorably in some ways to Jarrett Allen, who also came out of Texas with questions attached and has exceeded expectations early on with the Nets. While Hayes is not a dynamic scorer and has a long way to go in that regard, his natural ability as a defender and overall profile is plenty attractive as a development project. The Hawks wouldn’t ask too much of him right away, and should be able to create the right type of perimeter spacing to maximize Hayes up front.
Hornets: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 215 | Freshman | Last: 6
Langford has fallen into a similar boat with Nassir Little relative to preseason expectations, and while his counting stats are passable at face value, his impact (or lack thereof) has to be considered within the context of Indiana’s ongoing struggles. He brings solid athletic tools and a pedigree to the table that will likely keep him in the lottery mix, but it’s fair right now to question whether that’s been fully earned. If Langford can get his jump shot to a workable place, commit to playing defense and tighten his handle, he has a chance to become a starting-caliber wing, but there’s reason to doubt whether he can score efficiently enough to cut it long-term. Regardless, it won’t be surprising to see a team take the leap, and the Hornets could gamble on his upside here.
Pelicans: Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 230 | Age: 18 | Last: 12
In this later part of the lottery, Doumbouya remains an intriguing long-term play, particularly as so many hyped-up college players have struggled. There’s some hope that he’s starting to turn a corner with his adjustment playing Pro A in France, and from a talent perspective he will certainly warrant looks here. He’s still learning to bring consistent effort, but his upside is legitimate as a player who could space the floor, rebound and defend multiple positions. Doumbouya isn’t necessarily going to be a star, but it’s not hard to see him developing into a useful player. New Orleans will be in position to select for upside in the lottery as they prepare for life without Anthony Davis.
Lakers: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga