The NBA Draft lottery took place last night, and for the second year in a row, the worst team in the league was rewarded with the top pick. After a few years of dismal play in hopes of getting the top pick, Philadelphia finally got it, though this isn’t exactly the draft you’d want the top pick in. After very good showings from many in last year’s lottery, this year’s potential lottery has few players that you will get excited about. The good news is it is a very deep draft, and as we move out of the lottery into the early-to-middle second round, there is still NBA talent.
My first mock draft is done using team needs in a very basic way, and I’ll get into them deeper as we get closer to the draft. Like every year, there will likely be a lot of trade talk, especially since four teams (Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, and Denver) have three first round picks apiece, but that’s not taken into consideration here.
Philadelphia is on the clock.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, PF, LSU – It’s probably fifty-fifty right now whether Philadelphia will take Simmons or Brandon Ingram at the top spot, and the team may not come to a firm decision until right before the draft. While I like how Ingram would fit with the current Sixers’ core, I still think that if you are in the top spot, you take the best player available, and that’s Simmons. His problems with perimeter shooting are well-known, and his demeanor down the stretch last season didn’t win him any fans, but he is a unique talent with his ability to see the floor, handle the ball, and pass for his size. Defensively, it may cause some issues if he has to defend on the wing, but having two potential rim protectors in Nerlens Noel and, hopefully, Joel Embiid, could help there. Simmons’ preference seems to be Los Angeles, so it will pay to watch how it plays out in the next month.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke – I wasn’t a fan of the D’Angelo Russell pick at number two last year, and became less of a fan as the season went along, but it would be really hard for the Lakers to mess this one up, taking whichever one of Simmons or Ingram that Philadelphia passes on. In this scenario, Ingram ends up in Los Angeles, giving them something they sorely need, an athletic shooter on the wing, who can also get to the rim. He still needs to work on developing his body, and while having long arms, he’s not a very good defender, unless in position to block a shot, but there is a lot of potential here for Ingram to be the Lakers’ go-to guy for the future.
3. Boston Celtics: Dragan Bender, PF, Croatia – Missing out on one of the top two spots was a tough break for Boston, who could have really used either Simmons or Ingram, and my first inclination is that they should look to shop this pick for someone who could help them now. If they choose to keep the pick, Bender could be a good project for Brad Stevens and staff. Bender has great size, and good skill for his age, but he just hasn’t had the court time he has really needed yet to make a big jump. Getting into the Celtics’ system should help him acclimate to the NBA game, while developing both his game and physically.
4. Phoenix Suns: Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette – Like Boston, Phoenix also has multiple first-round picks, and may consider a deal here for the right player, but if not, getting a power forward who can stretch the floor could be a priority. With Bender off to Boston, and no other player standing out as the best available, Ellenson would be a good choice here for the Suns, giving them a big man who can play inside and out, help on the boards, and shows a good feel for the game.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jamal Murray, SG, Kentucky – With Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins leading the way, the Timberwolves have one of the most exciting young cores in the game right now. Zach LaVine made some strides last year as a shooter, but the team can use some more players who can knock it down from deep. Like LaVine, Murray can be mistake-prone, but if you limit him to working to get open from behind the arc, he can be effective as a shooter. Another option could be to shore up the point guard position behind Ricky Rubio with Kris Dunn, but getting more shooting could be a priority.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence – Jrue Holiday has only one year left on his current deal, so the Pelicans could look to find their point guard of the future here in Dunn. A strong defender and excellent in transition, Dunn could create scoring chances on both ends of the floor, plus he has the passing ability which could continue to help Anthony Davis shine, as long as Dunn can cut down on his mistakes. Perimeter shooting has been an issue for Dunn, though he has looked good at times.
7. Denver Nuggets: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma – Denver added their point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, in this spot last season, and they can add some much-needed long-range shooting next to him by taking Hield here. Second-year player Gary Harris made some strides last season, but the team still shot around 33 percent from long-range on the season. Hield has NBA-range already, has shown constant improvement during his college career, and should be ready to contribute immediately. Like Boston and Phoenix, Denver also has three first-round pick and may also explore a trade here.
8 .Sacramento Kings: Wade Baldwin IV, PG, Vanderbilt – Things have been a mess in Sacramento for a while now, but the hiring of Dave Joerger to be head coach, could get things moving in the right direction. I don’t see much of a chance that Rajon Rondo is re-signed, and Baldwin may be the kind of point guard who can kick start the offense, with his ability to get out and push the ball, knock down threes, or get to the basket. He can have some control issues, but coaching could help, and he has a lot of potential on the defensive end, exactly what Joerger will want.
9. Toronto Raptors: Jaylen Brown, SF, California – There is a chance that DeMar DeRozan will sign somewhere else next season, so there will be a need for the Raptors to add some depth on the wing. Brown didn’t really shine as a freshman, and his lack of perimeter shooting can be concerning, but he is a strong-bodied slasher who can get to the basket and draw contact. He’s not an instant solution to replace DeRozan, but the potential is there for him to step in down the line.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah – Greg Monroe hasn’t really seemed to gel with Jason Kidd’s offense and defense, but Poeltl has the potential to step in and help on both ends. He has above-average potential as a rim protector, and though not the most athletic player, he is skilled on the offensive end, comfortable in the pick-and-roll, and can make an impact on the offensive boards.
11. Orlando Magic: Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky – The Magic are another team with an exciting young core, but there are still some holes to fill, and shoring up the defense around the basket is one major area. Nikola Vucevic still has a few years left on his contract, but he doesn’t bring a major defensive presence, especially as a rim protector. The Magic could look at either Labissiere or Deyonta Davis here, though Labissiere may fit in a bit better offensively with his ability to step out and knock down jumpers, allowing him to draw defenders away from the basket. Major flaws in his game were exposed during his one year at Kentucky, but there is still a lot of raw potential here, especially if he becomes a bit more aggressive.
12. Utah Jazz: Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State – The Jazz enjoyed a breakout season from Rodney Hood last year, and with a solid group of young players, aren’t too far from getting back to the playoffs. The point guard position has been a concern, and even though Dante Exum will be back, he’s not exactly a quality player yet. They could consider a point guard here, but will probably roll the ball with Exum, so they could look to add shooting and defense. Valentine fits the bill on both of those, plus is a very good playmaker in his own right, so even if you don’t play him at the point, he can still create when he has the ball. He is also a very good rebounder for his size, and should fit in seamlessly with his mature attitude and work habits.
13. Phoenix Suns: Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington – With their second lottery pick, Phoenix can go in a variety of directions, though Chriss may be the best player available at this point. Though I already have them taking Ellenson at number 4, Chriss brings a more athletic forward who also has the potential to spread the floor with his shooting, but is also a threat to score in transition. He isn’t as polished yet as Ellenson, but will be a good player to develop and monitor over the next couple of years.
14. Chicago Bulls: Deyonta Davis, PF/C, Michigan State – We’ve probably seen the end of the Noah/Gasol duo in the Chicago frontcourt, so it’s time for the Bulls to look to their frontcourt of the future. They added a quality piece in Bobby Portis last draft, and Davis can be the athletic rim protector they will need going forward. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but even one season at Michigan State made him a much better defender, and I think he can be a force on that end in the long term.
15. Denver Nuggets: Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey – This is Denver’s second pick in the first round, and adding even more shooting, though looking long-term a bit, could help them here, especially with no other real stand out players. Korkmaz has good size for the shooting guard spot, and he’s shown a good shooting touch, and a bit of versatility to his offense. Still just 18 years old, Denver can let him stay over in Turkey for a bit to gain more high-level experience.
16. Boston Celtics: Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga – This is Boston’s second pick of the first round, and after taking a long-term project in Bender at number three, they can add a frontcourt player who could contribute right away. Sabonis is a physical power forward who can be a force around the basket and on the boards, something that Boston will need to take another step forward in the Eastern Conference.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame – Mike Conley has been with the Grizzlies since the start of his career, but he’s a free agent now, and could command more than Memphis wants to pay going forward. With that possibility, they should take a long look at Jackson, who impressed on both ends of the floor during his three seasons with the Irish. Even if Conley is convinced to come back, Jackson will immediately provide better depth at the position than Memphis has had.
18. Detroit Pistons: Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State – The Pistons have a strong nucleus of young players, led by Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, and Tobias Harris. Caldwell-Pope, especially, has made strong improvement, though will be a free agent soon, and, if he continues to improve, could command a great deal of money. You can never have enough shooting, and even with Caldwell-Pope sticking around, Beasley provides a young shooter with a lot of potential to make an impact off the bench.
19. Denver Nuggets: Timothe Luwawu, SF, France – This will be Denver’s third pick in the first round, and assuming they haven’t swung a deal to give up any of them, they can look to add some long-term depth on the wing, especially with Gallinari being a constant injury risk. Luwawu has good size for an NBA wing, with long arms, and a constantly improving offensive game. Playing at a fast pace in Europe, he could eventually become a good transition mate for Mudiay and company, though he still has to polish up some of the rough edges in his game, especially handling the ball and creating shots off the dribble.
20. Indiana Pacers: Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky – While I’m not a big fan of taking Ulis this high, the point guard class is lacking a bit once we get to this point, and Indiana could really use some help behind George Hill. Ulis may be small, but he is tough, and showed a lot of improvement as a sophomore, building on his ability to control his team’s offense. He is adept at the pick-and-roll, and can cause chaos for the defense with his ability to disappear behind screens. He hasn’t shown a lot of consistency from long range, and will need to get stronger for the NBA game. Ulis knows how to play tough defense and can pressure the ball well anywhere on the floor.
21. Atlanta Hawks: DeAndre’ Bembry, SF, St. Joseph’s – The Hawks are facing a few question marks this off-season with Al Horford and Kent Bazemore both free agents. Bembry could eventually slide into Bazemore’s spot, and has some similarities to his game. Bembry is a hard-nosed defender on the wing, and can be a versatile scorer inside the arc. He needs to work on his long-range shooting, but that could come with some more experience.
22. Charlotte Hornets: Damian Jones, C, Vanderbilt – Charlotte is another team facing a lot of questions with free agency this season, but in any case, they still could use some help in the paint on the defensive end. Jones was inconsistent during his time at Vanderbilt, but he is a strong defender around the basket and a good shot-blocker. His offensive game needs work, but he can be a force on the offensive boards, and if he can avoid foul trouble, on the defensive end as well.
23. Boston Celtics: Ante Zizic, C, Croatia – This would be Boston’s third pick in the first round, barring any deals they make. Zizic has good size, works hard, and is just 19 years old. He’s not ready to come to the NBA now, so Boston can leave him over in Europe to gain more experience, especially with his offensive skills, and hopefully moving up to better competition.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Dejounte Murray, PG, Washington – Yes, Murray may give Sixers’ fans flashbacks to Tony Wroten, and there are a good deal of similarities, both good and bad. Murray has good size for the point guard position, sees the floor well, and is a high-level athlete. He isn’t much of a shooter, and his decision-making could be mind-boggling. Murray could be a disaster at the NBA level, but if brought along slowly, he could turn into a good NBA point guard.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Ben Bentil, PF, Providence – Adding Jeff Green didn’t work out for the Clippers probably as well as they hoped, but the team is still in some need of some forwards who can stretch the floor with their shooting. Bentil can score in a variety of ways, including knocking down the three, plus playing alongside Kris Dunn, he has become very good about getting out and running the floor in transition. He’s not a very good defender, and is built more like a small forward than a power forward, but there is a lot of value for him here near the end of the first round.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Malachi Richardson, SG/SF, Syracuse – With their third pick in the first round, Philadelphia could look to add some depth on the wings, especially after passing on Ingram at number one. Richardson came along late for Syracuse last season, but he showed in the NCAA Tournament that he can use his athletic ability well to score in a variety of ways. This late in the first round, he’s a solid pick for the Sixers to develop over the next few years.
27. Toronto Raptors: Stephen Zimmerman, PF/C, UNLV – While the Raptors are set in the middle next year with the combination of Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo, they can still use a big man who can stretch the floor a bit with his shooting and passing ability. Zimmerman’s freshman season was a disappointment in some ways, but there is a lot of potential on both ends of the floor with size and skill. He will need to work on becoming a bit more aggressive and he should be a better rebounder for his size, but some playing time in the D-League should help.
28. Phoenix Suns: Juan Hernangomez, PF, Spain – This is Phoenix’s third pick in the first round, and I would expect them to take a player they can leave overseas for a bit longer. Hernangomez is a skilled power forward, with the ability to step away from the rim a bit, and he has played a good amount of minutes overseas already. He could be ready to come over in a year or two at the rate he is developing.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina – With Tim Duncan’s future still up in the air, Johnson can at least add some athleticism to the frontcourt. While not the most skilled offensive player, he has improved a lot over the past few years, and his ability to run the floor and rebound could make him a very good value this low in the first round.
30. Golden State Warriors: Patrick McCaw, PG/SG, UNLV – As the league’s dominant franchise right now, the Warriors can look to the future a bit when drafting in this last spot. They got Kevon Looney here last year, and now they can look for some potential help on the wing in the athletic McCaw. While maddening to watch at times, McCaw showed potential as a shooter, passer, and slasher, but his decision-making process seemed a bit of whack. A great candidate for Santa Cruz to turn into a pro-ready player.