Thirty players will hear their names called as first-round selections at Thursday night’s NBA draft in Brooklyn.
We guarantee the mock draft below won’t nail all 30, and that trades will happen. But, with the aim of exploring potential fits and some of the near-infinite Round 1 possibilities, this is our first-round mock:
1. Magic: Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Auburn
Smith has a beautiful jumper that he can shoot easily and efficiently in a wide variety of situations. We like the sound of him developing alongside young guards Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton. Smith should also get good looks thanks to All-Rookie First Team selection Franz Wagner’s playmaking.
2. Thunder: Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
Holmgren is similar to Oklahoma City’s Aleksej Pokuševski in that he’s a skinny 7-footer with guard skills. He’s clearly a better prospect, though. Holmgren is a tremendous rim protector (3.7 blocks per game) and has strong instincts on both ends of the court.
3. Rockets: Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
In his one college season, Banchero lived up to much of the hype, recording 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest. He’ll enter the NBA with a more polished game than Jalen Green, last year’s No. 2 pick. If Banchero heads to Houston, making quicker decisions and firing more catch-and-shoot three-pointers likely would be key next to Green.
4. Kings: Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that “there are a lot of teams trying to get deals done with Sacramento so they can move up to select Jaden Ivey.” We’ll say the Kings themselves are the team that takes the Purdue sophomore. No, the fit isn’t ideal, but Ivey plays with turbo-button speed and force that could be especially fun to watch in transition with De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell.
5. Pistons: Shaedon Sharpe, Wing, Kentucky
Sharpe is an incredibly high-flying scorer who committed to Kentucky but never played for the Wildcats. Pistons.com’s Keith Langlois notes Detroit general manager Troy Weaver’s AAU background should be beneficial in assessing Sharpe. With a dependable core player in 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, perhaps the Pistons will be bold.
6. Pacers: Keegan Murray, F, Iowa
After averaging 7.2 points as a freshman, Murray poured in 23.5 per night as a sophomore. Tyrese Haliburton would presumably be an enjoyable teammate for him.
7. Trail Blazers: Bennedict Mathurin, SG, Arizona
Like Sacramento, the Blazers jump out as a team that may very well trade away a lottery pick. Mathurin’s best trait might be how he sprints around off-ball screens with velocity and fluidity to free himself for jumpers. That could be handy if he’s with a ball-dominant, attention-drawing player such as Damian Lillard.
8. Pelicans: Dyson Daniels, G, G League Ignite
While many big 19-year-old guards are inclined to run ahead of the pack and seek their own shots, Daniels generally plays with poise, control and unselfishness. He has a somewhat upright movement style, which helps with maintaining balance and enhances his passing vision but limits his ability to create separation off the dribble in the half court. Daniels’ shot is a concern — it’s stiff and arm-reliant, plus he doesn’t get it off fast — though he at least took open jumpers in the G League and showcased shooting touch with his floater. Whether or not Daniels’ jumper improves, every team could use versatile defense, and that’s one of the Australian’s greatest strengths. Daniels’ passing also might work nicely for scorers CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and, health permitting, Zion Williamson.
9. Spurs: Jeremy Sochan, F, Baylor
He surely won’t ever match Dennis Rodman, but Sochan has already sported plenty of bright hair colors and styles. When he’s out there, you’ll know. Another similarity with Rodman: He’s glad to play intense, irritating defense on anyone and is physically equipped to do it. Sochan came off Baylor’s bench and didn’t post huge numbers, but the top-10 buzz makes perfect sense. He shot just 29.6 percent from three-point range and 58.9 percent from the foul line, though the Spurs have a lot of faith in shooting coach Chip Engelland.
10. Wizards: AJ Griffin, Wing, Duke
The logic here is simple: Griffin’s a shooter (44.7 percent from three) and Washington could use more of those (bottom-five in the NBA last year in three-point percentage).
11. Knicks: Jalen Duren, C, Memphis
Duren played two seasons of high school basketball at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic before transferring to Montverde Academy. Dwight Howard entered the NBA as an exceptionally athletic 18-year-old with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and alluring shot blocking, rebounding and lob finishing potential. All those descriptors also apply to Duren, who will be just a few weeks older on draft night than Howard was in 2004. While Duren obviously isn’t destined to become as dominant as Howard, it’s rare that a comparison to a Hall of Fame-level player seems reasonable on the surface.
12. Thunder: Johnny Davis, SG, Wisconsin
Davis won Big Ten Player of the Year in his second season for the Badgers, averaging 19.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. Given OKC’s youth, it might be nice to add a productive, competitive player who cares about defense.
13. Hornets: Mark Williams, C, Duke
However Charlotte’s next head coach (it won’t be Kenny Atkinson) wants to play, Williams is an obvious target. The Hornets need to improve at center and on defense, and Williams’ standout skill is rim protection.
14. Cavs: Malaki Branham, SG, Ohio State
We’ve got the Cavs grabbing an Ohio kid as the final lottery pick. Branham’s comfort taking and making tough shots would be an attractive idea here next to 22-year-old All-Star point guard Darius Garland.
15. Hornets: Ochai Agbaji, Wing, Kansas
Agbaji is a stellar spot-up shooter who shouldn’t require jumpers dropping to stay on the floor. He’s about a year and four months older than LaMelo Ball.
16. Hawks: Tari Eason, F, LSU
Eason displayed special defensive talents at LSU. Offensively, Trae Young is the kind of star point guard who’d make the most of his cutting and athleticism.
17. Rockets: Ousmane Dieng, F, New Zealand Breakers
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor had Dieng at No. 9 in his latest mock draft and said he “continues to rise up draft boards,” so 17th might be too low. The smooth, 6-foot-10 Frenchman spent a season in the NBL’s Next Stars program. Two of the four rookies Houston picked up in last year’s first round were international players; the team traded for Turkish big man Alperen Sengun at No. 16 and took Spanish forward Usman Garuba at No. 23.
18. Bulls: Jalen Williams, Wing, Santa Clara
Even with second-round pick Ayo Dosunmu seizing a regular role, frequent injuries last season exposed the Bulls’ need to upgrade their depth. Williams’ well-rounded game should be appealing if he’s available.
19. Timberwolves: TyTy Washington Jr., PG, Kentucky
When you hear “Kentucky guard” these days, it’s fair enough if you assume the prospect in question is going to excel in the NBA. Whatever happens this offseason with D’Angelo Russell, Washington appears capable of carrying a high-paced, low-risk style (3.9 assists/1.6 turnovers per game) over to Minnesota. The Timberwolves had turnover problems during their chaotic first-round series loss to the Grizzlies.
20. Spurs: Nikola Jovic, F, Mega Mozzart
A center would be sensible here for a team thinking most about winning games next season. Though they managed to qualify for the play-in tournament last year, the Spurs shouldn’t be in that mode. Counting Zach Collins (non-guaranteed salary), Devin Vassell and Josh Primo (club options), San Antonio has only five players under contract through the 2023-24 season, per Spotrac. In that context, it would be easy to understand the Spurs drafting a tall, multi-skilled Serbian wing.
21. Nuggets: Dalen Terry, G, Arizona
Many of Terry’s 3.9 assists per game were tight-window highlight passes. Remarkably, the Pac-12 All-Defensive selection averaged just 1.4 turnovers. Terry taking a sliver of the facilitating burden off Nikola Jokic’s plate at some stage would be great for Denver.
22. Grizzlies: Blake Wesley, SG, Notre Dame
Memphis hasn’t needed to see anything resembling flawless college shooting in recent years to snag a prospect (Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr., Ja Morant, Ziaire Williams). It wouldn’t be stunning at all for the Grizzlies to take Wesley, a developing player with craftiness and explosiveness as a ball handler.
23. Sixers: E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State
The Sixers shouldn’t be entirely fixated on the present. They proved they weren’t last year by drafting Jaden Springer, who played much of his rookie year with the Delaware Blue Coats and will turn 20 years in September. But ultimately, the team would be justified in preferring immediate NBA readiness over unrefined talent. Joel Embiid is 28 years old, James Harden is 32, and the Sixers already have several young players they hope will keep improving such as Springer, Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed and Charles Bassey.
Liddell notched 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.5 assists his junior year. Those numbers will decline with far fewer opportunities to exploit size advantages in the post, but we don’t think Liddell’s adjustment is bound to be impossibly difficult. He’s steadily grown his offensive game and converted 37.4 percent of his threes last year, although the lack of arc on his jumper is concerning. Defensively, Liddell’s strength, agility and intelligence all suggest he’s capable of being flexible. Regardless of whether Liddell can be a successful small-ball five, earning early-career playoff minutes as a power forward and wing looks realistic.
24. Bucks: Walker Kessler, C, Auburn
After transferring from UNC, Kessler blocked 4.6 shots per game at Auburn and reached double digits twice. As a rookie, he could learn the nuances of NBA drop coverage from extremely intelligent veteran Brook Lopez.
25. Spurs: Jaden Hardy, SG, G League Ignite
A single inefficient season of professional basketball doesn’t negate all of the scoring tools that made Hardy one of the country’s top high school recruits. He gets off long-range shots, which could wind up being useful in San Antonio. The Spurs have consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in three-point frequency (28th last year, per Cleaning the Glass).
26. Rockets: MarJon Beauchamp, Wing, G League Ignite
Let’s go with back-to-back Ignite products and give Houston a promising defensive wing. Beauchamp has a knack for scoring without handling the ball — backdoor cuts, put-back dunks, running the floor — which would serve him well on the Rockets.
27. Heat: Kennedy Chandler, PG, Tennessee
Kyle Lowry went 24th back in the 2006 draft. Few 6-foot guards go on to make six All-Star Games, but it could be cool to see Chandler absorb how to best channel his defensive peskiness (and work around his lack of height) from the 36-year-old Lowry.
28. Warriors: Jake LaRavia, F, Wake Forest
The defending champions don’t desperately require anything. LaRavia did a bit of everything last season following two years at Indiana State, posting 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 steals per contest.
29. Grizzlies: Trevor Keels, SG, Duke
Many mock drafts have Keels as a second-rounder, but we imagine a team late in Round 1 might like the 18-year-old’s potential. Keels is very close to Thunder guard Lu Dort physically — exceptionally strong. It wouldn’t be surprising if he finds an offensive niche as a secondary playmaker who makes catch-and-shoot threes at an adequate clip.
30. Nuggets: Christian Braun, SG, Kansas
Braun’s 40-inch maximum vertical leap at the draft combine was one inch better than his teammate Agbaji. He’s competitive, shoots a pure jumper, and would likely have the highest odds of success on a playoff team seeking role players.