With the 2016-17 NBA regular season in full swing and the college season commencing over the past weekend, it is time to take a look at the fountain of youth that annually replenishes the league’s talent pool, also known as the NBA Draft.
“To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth,” said Pulitzer Prize & Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck.
The Sirens are calling, so which franchise will fall for their song? This year’s talent is increasingly alluring, so let’s take a look at where the talent may potentially land. For the purposes of this mock draft we will be using the NBA preseason vegas odds for the draft order as a proxy, although admittedly a team like the Lakers most likely will not end up in the top 3 of the lottery based on their play so far this season. Each lottery selection will be accompanied with some analysis of the prospects potential fit with the team selecting him, while the rest of the first round will just have the draft pick accompanied with a short blurb and the player’s career projection.
1. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): Josh Jackson, Kansas Freshman, SG/SF 6-8, 200 lbs. 19 yrs old
The best case scenario for Danny Ainge and the Celtics as they own Brooklyn’s pick. With the first pick in the draft, the Celtics select the athletic wing out of Kansas. Josh brings the prototypical measures every franchise looks for in a wing player. Ainge will be looking for a player who can immediately step into the lineup and differentiate himself, as the Celtics are in position to compete immediately. Over the past few seasons Ainge has drafted and acquired a plethora of guards with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart expected to still be on the roster. The recent acquisition of Al Horford solidifies the front court and there is no big man at the top of this draft class with the ceiling or versatility that Jackson provides.
A wing combination of Jaylen Brown and Josh Jackson allows the Celtics to have advantages in defensively versatility and athleticism all over the floor. They both play with a certain edge and reckless abandon that will positively challenge Coach Brad Stevens. As with Brown, Jackson will need to continue improving his jumpshot to become a star in the league, but without any other glaring weaknesses, Celtics fans will be excited to see him in green.
NBA Career Projection: Andrew Wiggins
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jayson Tatum, Duke Freshman, SF 6-8 200 lbs. 18 yrs old
The Lakers might be disappointed with Josh Jackson going first, but GM Mitch Kupchak will be glad to snag another Coach K product in consecutive drafts with the second overall pick, especially since this pick is top-3 protected and would otherwise fall into the hands of the Sixers. Tatum and Ingram would not be duplicative players, and instead they should work well on the floor together, especially in small-ball lineups. Tatum plays within the flow of the offense and brings a smooth versatile set of offensive skills combined with length and awareness on defense. If he can improve his handle and range, the additional positional versatility would raise his value. The Lakers have an affinity for players in his mold, with Ariza and Deng coming to mind. With Russell handling PG duties the Lakers may shy away from drafting another ball dominant guard like Fultz, Smith, or Fox. Lonzo Ball would be an interesting option, however, if he continues to show improved marksmanship at UCLA, his athleticism and off-the-ball play could allow him to function perfectly next to D’Angelo.
NBA Career Projection: Tobias Harris
3. Phoenix Suns: Harry Giles, Duke Freshmen, PF 6-10, 240 lbs. 18 yrs old
Is this Suns team sticking with the PG combination of Bledsoe and Knight? If so, there just isn’t a spot for yet another one, although that is probably the direction they should go considering the talent in this draft. A trade of either Bledsoe or Knight should be expected before the draft, but it cannot be guaranteed. Assuming both are still on the roster the Suns would select Duke big Harry Giles. Harry is entering this season with injury concerns, having already had three major knee surgeries. As troubling as that may seem for any kid at the top of the draft, a productive freshman season would resurrect his value and remind everyone of why his name has been ringing out for several years as the next cream crop big man. The Suns have recently drafted Bender and Chriss but Harry is a very different kind of PF. With Tyson Chandler aging, they will need a physical player that will do the dirty work; box out, clog the paint, stay aggressive near the rim on both ends. Giles runs the floor and is extremely agile for a kid with his frame and should immediately contribute defensively, which is the biggest priority for a Suns team that can score 110 points every night but can’t prevent teams from dropping 120.
NBA Career Projection: Derrick Favors
4. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington Freshman, PG/SG 6-5 190 lbs. 18 yrs old
This would be a no-brainer for Bryan Colangelo. The Sixers have obvious holes at both guard and wing positions and Fultz would be the first piece to the puzzle. Embiid and Simmons are the two pillars of the franchise right now, which means Colangelo must build around them with players that complement their skill sets. Fultz is the best fit next to Simmons in this draft class, as he brings the ability to play off the ball effectively. Furthermore, his size and aggressiveness helps him get to the rim and score in a variety of ways. Markelle will be able to control the offense in Washington and gain much-needed confidence. He brings a package of skills that should seamlessly integrate itself to any NBA offense, as he has the size, strength, handles, and scoring ability to play either backcourt position. Until Simmons improves his scoring skills, Fultz will relieve a considerable amount of pressure from his shoulders. His competitive nature and confidence will take over and he will gladly take on a larger scoring role in the offense. Expect Coach Brown to run the offense through the post, and Embiid will also become a more willing passer when he sees Fultz cutting and flashing to the rim. If Fultz improves his consistency from deep it will be hard to see him drop past the first or second pick in the draft. However, he is a streaky shooter and may need to show 3-point range in order to be taken that high.
NBA Career Projection: Dwyane Wade
5. Sacramento Kings: Dennis Smith, N.C. State Freshman, PG 6-3 190 lbs. 18 yrs old
Expect PG’s to start coming off the draft board quick early in the first round. Smith is the type of floor general that could would be the first lead guard off the board in most drafts, but in this mock he comes off right after Fultz and drops to the Kings fifth overall. Although only 6-3 with a moderately sized frame, Smith doesn’t have an imposing figure on the court. He does have a strongly built lower body though, and his explosiveness is immediately evident. He has all the intangibles required from a modern NBA floor general: quickness, smooth handles, ability to get his own shot, unselfish and willing passer, and excels in both half-court sets and transition play. Smith lets the offense come to him and doesn’t force the issue. He brings a certain swag that is very reminiscent of a similarly built Stevie Franchise. Smith’s effort on the defensive end will make him an immediate contributor for the Kings even if he struggles on offense with his shot at first. Shooting concerns aside, scrappy defensive play and an aggressive approach taking the ball to the rim when lanes open up for him will be the keys for him being an impactful player in the league.
NBA Career Projection: Steve Francis
6. Denver Nuggets: Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg France, PG 6-5 180 lbs. 18 yrs old
The Mudiay project in Denver isn’t working out so far. The peaks and valleys of the Nuggets boils down to their inconsistent play at PG. Ntilikina will not be the short-term answer, but the Nuggets are known for taking shots at sleeper picks in the draft and their recent track record has been positive. Frank really looks like the type of player they would take a chance with and let him start his career as a reserve under Mudiay, hopefully to one day surpass and replace. Ntilikina has not played extensive minutes yet, leaving questions about his ability to run an offense. On a positive note, his shooting has improved over the past season. He will need to add weight to his lanky frame, which is a positive because the tools are there for him to be a freak two-way combo guard.
NBA Career Projection: Dante Exum
7. Orlando Magic: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Freshman, PG 6-3 175lbs. 18 yrs old
The Magic are a roster mess of puzzle pieces that don’t seem to really fit together. What is the best way to bring a team together? Draft a glue guy at the PG position. Elfrid Payton has been disappointing and is best served as a backup. A lot of scouts and fans project Fox as the heir apparent to John Wall in the NBA, as another Calipari PG prodigy that excels in the open court and slays defenders with speed and agility with the ball in his hands. Calipari has warned against comparing the two players though, as Fox is more of a floor general and uses his speed as a change of pace while Wall can stay in fifth gear for a full game.
NBA Career Projection: Brandon Knight
8. New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo Ball, UCLA Freshman, PG 6-6 190 lbs. 19 yrs old
Anthony Davis is locked in with a long-term contract in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean there is no pressure to get him a running mate that will relieve some of the scoring load from his broad shoulders. Buddy Hield was supposed to be that player this season but there are questions as to whether he will ever develop true combo guard skills and as of right now he is a rookie shooting guard that can’t make a shot. Ball is an extremely explosive athlete with handles and a shot. His whole career he has been in a fast-paced freelance offense where he has proven capable of excelling in transition. Lonzo looks to have put on some weight to his long frame, which will go a long way toward pleasing coaches who will want him to be productive on both ends of the floor.
NBA Career Projection: Jimmy Butler
9. Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky Freshman, PF/C 6-10, 250 lbs. 19 yrs old
Bam Bam is aptly nicknamed by his mother, as he is a no-nonsense big who will do all the dirty work. Reminds me of Kenneth Faried but with a bigger frame. A Whiteside-Adebayo interior will successfully deter opposing offenses from penetrating the paint. If he develops a mid-range game he very may well end up getting drafted earlier, but that is a very big if. Meanwhile, if he shows minimal improvement on the offensive end, teams may consider his upside to be limited and he could drop out of the lottery entirely.
NBA Career Projection: Bismack Biyombo
10. New York Knicks: Ivan Rabb, California Sophomore, PF 6-10 220 lbs. 19 yrs old
Rabb physically doesn’t stand out, as he isn’t tall or wide and will need to get stronger to bang in the post. Regardless of those concerns, he has been an extremely productive player in college and has a definable scoring ability. Ivan is not an explosive athlete but he has an incredible feel and understanding of the game on both ends. He seems like a player Phil Jackson would like to pair with Porzingis, as he will like the IQ on offense and his awareness on defense. I feel like Rabb is a player some may expect to go this high while others may expect a fall to the second round.
NBA Career Projection: Carl Landry
11. Chicago Bulls: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Freshman, SF 6-11 200 lbs. 19 yrs old
Isaac offers an interesting package of height, length, shooting, and positional versatility. As of right now, his stock is really high based on the projection of him being a spread-4 in the league. This means he will need to prove that his shooting is no fluke as he is essentially a SG who had a very late growth spurt of six inches. Right now he is still growing into his body and really lacks strength and explosiveness. The progress he makes defensively during his freshman season will go a long way in showing whether he can be an NBA starter or an offensive spark off the bench.
NBA Career Projection: Channing Frye
12. Milwaukee Bucks: Malik Monk, Kentucky Freshman, PG/SG 6-4 185 lbs. 18 yrs old
Malik Monk is the type of player that would fit into any NBA system. On offense he is an unselfish but very capable scorer and distributer. He would immediately fit in comfortably as a shooting guard on most first units in the league as a secondary ball handler. The Bucks would really lean on Monk’s floor spacing and shooting ability. As long as Giannis continues to improve, Monk would eventually project as the starting PG on this roster with his role to handle the ball when Giannis is off the ball, and to space the floor when Greek Freak is running the offense. Although perhaps slightly undersized at the SG position, his strength and agility allows him to defend both backcourt positions. The combination of Monk, Middleton, and Antetokounmpo would be a terror on defense #MMA
NBA Career Projection: Eric Gordon
13. Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Freshman, PF 7-0 225 lbs. 19 yrs old
The product out of Finland may be a complete mystery to many, but he will be able to show his skills in Arizona this season. This will go a long way in telling us whether the buzz surrounding him is real. He has the size, shooting, and skill to perhaps eventually replicate some of what Dirk does for Dallas. The expectation is not that he will become a transcendent hall of fame player, but he has a set of skills that are reminiscent of a really young Dirk. Considering the success the Mavs had with developing Dirk, it would be prudent to follow the same patience with Lauri and work on his post game. If he can excel inside and out then his offensive production may mitigate any limited ceiling he has on defense.
NBA Career Projection: Dirk Nowitzki
14. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges, Michigan State Freshman, SF/PF 6-6 225 lbs. 18 yrs old
Tom Izzo has a knack for taking young kids and turning them into NBA players. The same should apply for Bridges, who projects to be a versatile wing. Expect Izzo to run much of the offense through Miles similarly to what we saw with D.J. Valentine the last few seasons. Bridges brings a lot more explosion to the rim with a quick first step and elite athleticism, along with good size and strength. Where he will need to improve is his handle, court vision, and giving consistent effort. When all is said and done, Bridges’s value may vault him into the top-10 if the Spartans have a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
NBA Career Projection: Harrison Barnes
15. Minnesota Timberwolves: OG Anunoby, Indiana Sophomore, SF 6-8 215 lbs. 19 yrs old
Totally a Tom Thibodeau type player. Kawhi projection is lofty, but he is built in that defensive and freakish mold.
NBA Career Projection: Kawhi Leonard
16. Houston Rockets: Jarrett Allen, Texas Freshman, C 6-11 220 lbs. 18 yrs old
Harden loves dishing it to a rim-diving Clint Capela, and he will enjoy pick and rolls with Allen even more.
NBA Career Projection: Mason Plumlee
17. Washington Wizards: Isaiah Hartenstein, Zalgiris, PF 6-11 225 lbs. 18 yrs old
Hopefully they don’t still have IDPSD, otherwise known as International Draft Pick Stress Disorder, from the Jan Vesely selection.
NBA Career Projection: Chris Bosh
18. Denver Nuggets via Memphis Grizzlies: Terrance Ferguson, Adelaide, SG 6-7 180 lbs. 18 yrs old
Taking his talents to Australia instead of dealing with the NCAA. Hopefully his high-flying YouTube stock doesn’t go Down Under and he ends up in mile-high Denver.
NBA Career Projection: Terrence Ross
19. Indiana Pacers: Grayson Allen, Duke Junior, SG 6-4 185 lbs. 23 yrs old
Larry Bird will find a way to get his hands on Allen.
NBA Career Projection: Larry Hughes
20. Atlanta Hawks: Marques Bolden, Duke Freshman, C 6-11 250 lbs. 19 yrs old
Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard would like having another big man around to help clean up the paint.
NBA Career Projection: Timofey Mozgov
21. Oklahoma City: Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona 2, SF 6-8 190 lbs. 18 yrs old
Shot in the dark right now but someone to watch and fills a role for Thunder.
NBA Career Projection: Gordon Hayward
22. Detroit Pistons: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse Sophomore, SF/PF 6-9 200 lbs. 20 yrs old
Projects as a 3-and-D wing.
NBA Career Projection: DeMarre Carroll
23. Portland Trailblazers: Thomas Bryant, Indiana Sophomore, C 6-10 240 lbs. 19 yrs old
Blazers need a presence in the paint on the defensive end.
NBA Career Projection: Kyle O’Quinn
24. Utah Jazz: Jonathan Jeanne, Le Mans, PF/C 7-2 200 lbs. 19 yrs old
Gobert worked out pretty well, might as well double dip with French bigs.
NBA Career Projection: Dewayne Dedmon
25. Toronto Raptors: Ömer Yurtseven, NC State Freshman, 7-0 230 lbs. 18 yrs old
Turkish seven-footer who can shoot the 3.
NBA Career Projection: Mehmet Okur
26. Brooklyn Nets via Boston Celtics: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk Kansas Junior, SG 6-8 190 lbs. 19 yrs old
Prototypical NBA frame and skills, but will Coach Self unleash him?
NBA Career Projection: Kevin Martin
27. Toronto Raptors via Los Angeles Clippers: Alpha Kaba, Mega Leks, PF/C 6-10 240 lbs. 20 yrs old
Great name and taking on the baton of late first round pick from Mega Leks’ factory.
NBA Career Projection: Stromile Swift
28. San Antonio Spurs: Luke Kennard, Duke Sophomore, 6-5 200 lbs. 20 yrs old
Replace Manu with another smooth lefty.
NBA Career Projection: Beno Udrih
29. Cleveland Cavaliers: Devonte Graham, Kansas Junior, 6-2 180 lbs. 21 yrs old
Ready to step in for a team that needs a solid backup PG.
NBA Career Projection: Jordan Farmar
30. Utah Jazz via Golden State Warriors: Josh Hart, Villanova Senior, 6-6 200 lbs. 21yrs old
Experienced and productive guard with size and intangibles.
NBA Career Projection: Matt Barnes
There we have it. Adam Silver’s job is complete and Mark Tatum steps up to the podium for the second round. To be continued…