NBA Draft Early Mock Lottery
As Zaza Pachulia clinched Golden State’s ticket to the Finals with a controversial closeout and LeBron James dominated the Eastern Conference once again, the NBA Draft Lottery revealed the order of the first 14 selections in this year’s NBA Draft. And although we still have a 2016-17 champion to crown, it’s never too early to look ahead and predict where each prospect will land come June 22.
- Boston Celtics- Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
Yes, Lonzo and Lavar Ball have not been quiet about their preference to play in LA. And yes, Lonzo has even refused to work out for the Celtics prior to June’s draft. However, these feelings shouldn’t just be one-sided. With Isaiah Thomas already leading the charge, the last thing Boston needs is another playmaker at the point guard position, like Ball. Thus, the behavior of Lonzo or his father shouldn’t even have an affect on who the Celtics pick once draft night comes.
Rather, the reigning 1-seed in the East should target Washington’s Markelle Fultz, whose athleticism and one-on-one scoring capabilities better compliment that of Thomas. He’s not a perfect fit, and it will still be tough to split ball-handling duties, but Fultz seems to be the best option here if the Celtics were to keep the number one selection.
2. Los Angeles Lakers- Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
The absolute dream scenario for both the Ball family as well as the Los Angeles Lakers may finally come true. Lonzo Ball could be the best prospect in this draft, and the one most likely to become a franchise player for years to come. Most athletes coming out of college have a score-first mentality, with a majority of their so-called potential emerging from their athleticism. But Lonzo is different. He isn’t just a terrific athlete or a fantastic scorer; he’s a basketball player. He knows how to lead a team, as represented by his 7.6 assists per game that was tops in the nation last season.
So, while Fultz is the better fit in Boston, Ball could very well be the better player five or ten years down the road. The guys that succeed in professional sports aren’t the ones who were the most athletic or had the best stats in college; it’s the greatest leaders, the ones who outsmart the opposition. Yeah, Lonzo Ball may not go number one in the draft. But when all’s said and done, I don’t think he’ll mind much, and neither will LA.
3. Philadelphia 76ers- Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
While the Sixers didn’t exactly make a playoff push this past season, they did uncover one thing: Joel Embiid is a keeper. And when Ben Simmons returns next year, they’ll add the playmaker they need to pair with their elite seven-footer. Now, it’s time to surround that duo with shooting, and a ton of it.
At this point in the draft, the best two prospects available are one-and-done small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson out of Duke and Kansas, respectively. De’Aaron Fox is the exact opposite of what they need (a guard who can’t shoot) while Malik Monk is a perfect fit that just isn’t talented enough overall to warrant being picked over Tatum or Jackson.
Thus, the 76ers have two clear options here. And even then, Tatum seems like the obvious choice. While Jackson may have had a better three-point percentage this past season (37.8% compared to Tatum’s meager 34.2% from downtown), the former Duke Blue Devil shot far better from the free-throw line (84.9% compared to Jackson’s cringe-worthy 56.6%), a stat that has proven to be a much better predictor of shooting success in the NBA.
Therefore, Jayson Tatum better be ready to leave Durham, North Carolina for good and begin to Trust the Process.
4. Phoenix Suns- Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
With Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker making up the perimeter and 2016 draft picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss crowding the frontcourt spots, the Suns could really use an additional wing on their rebuilding roster. And if the Sixers take Jayson Tatum, that leaves Josh Jackson as the best prospect on the board.
The 6’8” forward is an athletic freak, someone who can dominate on both sides of the ball and whose explosiveness is an outstanding fit alongside Phoenix’s shooter-heavy offense. He may never be a true threat from the outside, but that isn’t needed in a unit that already has a three-point marksmen in Booker and two developing stretch-fours with Bender and Chriss.
The Suns are certainly a long way from contention. Nevertheless, by adding someone like Josh Jackson to an already extraordinarily young roster, they’re building a team that could be a powerhouse for years to come.
5. Sacramento Kings- De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
The Sacramento Kings honestly need help everywhere, so they might as well start with the position that runs it all. De’Aaron Fox definitely has his weaknesses, such as a 24.6% three-point percentage that would make Rajon Rondo cry, but he also has excellent size (6’4”) and athleticism at the point guard position.
2017 has been a big year for Sacramento, as the franchise finally decided to move on from the DeMarcus Cousins era. However, that also means the team has to now rebuild from scratch. Therefore, this selection has nothing to do with need, and everything to do with best player available- which is Fox.
Nonetheless, based on the incompetence of Vlade Divac and company in years prior, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings completely disregard all common sense and ruin this mock draft right here.
6. Orlando Magic- Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
Orlando was 29th in three-point shooting this past season at a pitiful 32.8% clip, leading to an offense that also ranked 29th in the Association. Thus, Malik Monk seems to be the perfect insertion.
Monk was one of the nation’s best shooters and most explosive scorers this past year, averaging 19.8 points per contest on 45% shooting from the floor, 39.7% from three, and 82.2% from the free-throw line. In addition, the Arkansas native’s 42-inch vertical at the draft combine proves that he has NBA-ready athleticism to go along with that sweet shooting touch.
The Magic are a team that doesn’t seem to have a sense of direction right now. But with Malik Monk in the mix, they would at least have an elite prospect to start building around.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves- Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State
Following the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as head coach last spring, many thought that the Timberwolves would finally make the leap into the postseason. However, that was far from what really occurred, when the team massively disappointed and people began to wonder if their talent would ever translate to the standings.
Looking at the rankings, Minnesota’s offense was respectable, placing 10th in the league. However, their defense was horrid at a lowly 27th. So, while Lauri Markkanen may seem like the clear pick here as a stretch-four to pair along with Karl-Anthony Towns, it is Jonathan Isaac who would truly fix the problems Minnesota has.
Isaac is a small-forward in a center’s body, a 6’10” freak of nature who can guard all five positions and still has the shooting ability (34.8% from three, 78% from the line) to become a formidable outside threat alongside Towns in the frontcourt. But it’s the Florida State aum’s defense that truly makes him the best selection, someone who can transform the T-Wolves into the up-and-coming contender that the NBA really needs right now.
8. New York Knicks- Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Ignoring their current chaos regarding Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks’ roster still needs a lot of work. And point guard is likely where they will start.
No matter if they keep Porzingis in the Big Apple or not (which they should), or whether they deal away Carmelo or not (which they also should), New York desperately needs a primary ball-handler to run the offense. Insert Dennis Smith Jr.
The 6’3”, 195-pound point-guard has the skills and the physical tools to match up with nearly any prospect picked above him. Despite being just over a year removed from ACL surgery, Smith still looks like one of the most explosive athletes in this draft class while also knocking down nearly 36% of his threes last year.
However, NC State finished a lackluster 9-9 in the ACC and 22-14 overall in 2016-17, leading to the firing of head coach Mark Gottfried, and many have questioned their point-guard’s effort on the defensive end of the floor. Nevertheless, Smith showed enough talent to even be considered at #1 overall just a few months ago, and would be a great pickup by the Knicks to replace the far-from-2011 version of Derrick Rose.
9. Dallas Mavericks- Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
With Dirk Nowitzki’s career coming to an end very soon, why not select his Finland-born clone? Lauri Markkanen is the best stretch-four the 2017 draft has to offer, a true seven-footer who shot 42.3% from three-point land this past year along with 83.5% from the line.
He may be a defensive liability at the pro level, but so was Nowitzki for much of his career. In addition, similar to his German counterpart, the former Arizona Wildcat will bring elite shooting to any team that takes a chance on him. And for a Dallas offense that ranked just 25th in efficiency this past season, that added scoring threat is much needed.
10. Sacramento Kings- Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
Frank Ntilikina is most definitely one of the more unknown prospects entering the 2017 NBA Draft, which makes an even better case as to why the Sacramento Kings will end up selecting him. I do have the Kings already taking a point guard at #5 in De’Aaron Fox, but who says the team can’t pick two guards to start off the post-DeMarcus Cousins era?
Ntilikina has similar size to Fox (6’5”) and is also an above-average defender, but something that the international star does have that Fox lacks is an outside shot. Last December, the French phenom sunk over 58% of his three-point attempts in the FIBA U18 European Championships, and has made 52% of his shots from downtown over the course of his entire season (27 games).
So, even though they will have already taken De’Aaron Fox in the top five, Ntilikina would still be a nice complement as an equally athletic guard who can actually be a threat from the outside.
11. Charlotte Hornets- Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
The Hornets already have a nice trio on the perimeter in Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. However, their frontcourt- made up of Marvin Williams and Cody Keller -is another story. And at #11, the best big left is Zach Collins.
Although he did not start during his freshman season at Gonzaga, playing behind 7’1” mammoth Przemek Karnowski, Collins left a large impression on NBA scouts when he was on the floor. The seven-footer sank over 47% of his threes last year (10/21) while also averaging 1.8 blocks/game in just over 17 minutes per contest.
Charlotte disappointed in 2016-17, falling to the 11th seed in the East after a 6th place finish the year prior. But with Collins defending the rim on defense and spreading the floor on offense, the team could be back in the playoffs come 2018.
12. Detroit Pistons- Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
The Pistons have a plethora of problems, from a center that can’t seem to improve after his $100 million payday to a point guard whose knee injury has left him a far different (and worse) player. However, there is another issue, and this one lies on the statsheet.
Detroit ranked 28th in three-point percentage this past season. And in Stan Van Gundy’s offense, where outside shooting is essential, that number is simply unacceptable. Luke Kennard, meanwhile, can solve that dilemma. The sophomore out of Duke led his team with 19.5 PPG while shooting 43.8% from downtown and 85.6% from the free-throw line.
Kennard likely doesn’t have the athleticism to become a star in the NBA. However, he does have the potential to be a JJ Redick or Kyle Korver type player, which is exactly what the Motor City needs.
13. Denver Nuggets- OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
The Nuggets must have one major focus entering this draft, and that is defense. Denver had the fourth most efficient offense this past season behind only Golden State, Cleveland, and Houston. However, their defense was second-to-last, ahead of only the LA Lakers.
OG Anunoby isn’t the most skilled player on the offensive end, but his defensive capabilities are exactly what the Nuggets need. The 6’8” forward has received comparisons to Draymond Green, and their similarities aren’t far fetched. Anunoby has the size- and the wingspan at 7’2” -to defend multiple positions. The London native also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks over the first 16 games of his sophomore year before a knee injury cut his season short.
There are certainly a ton of risks that come with selecting Anunoby. For one, he will not contribute much on offense early on, and if he can’t make up for that deficiency with excellent defense then he will become an afterthought rather quickly. Secondly, that knee injury is definitely something to watch out for, especially since it’s Anunoby’s athleticism that makes him who he is.
Nevertheless, Denver needs some defensive help badly, and Anunoby is the one guy who can provide a huge impact on that side of the court from day one.
14. Miami Heat- Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
Miami, even after a horrid 11-30 start, came within a single game of knocking out the Bulls and claiming the East’s final playoff spot this past April. Erik Spoelstra has proved his worth as a coach, and the Heat actually look like a team that can remain competitive without any of their “Big 3”. However, there are still some major holes to fill entering next season.
The team’s defense, anchored by Hassan Whiteside, was superb, ranking 5th in the Association. Their offense, though, could use improvement, as the unit placed 17th in offensive efficiency and 11th in three-point shooting. Nearing the end of the lottery, the top prospects are mostly off the board, leaving guys that will more than likely be backups for a few years before they garner some real playing time. One of those guys still available, though, happens to be the Player of the Year of college basketball’s most competitive conference.
Justin Jackson led UNC with 18.3 PPG, and was one of the most influential factors in the team’s 2017 title run. The swift forward also averaged 19.5 points per contest in the NCAA Tournament, dropping 22 and 16 in North Carolina’s two Final Four games.
Jackson isn’t an exceptional shooter nor is he an incredible athlete, but he is solid enough at both to be a good-but-not-great NBA wing. He probably will not become the next Dwyane Wade in South Beach, but he would still be a nice addition to a franchise trying to recover from the departures of their three 2010 free-agent prizes.