‘Tis the season to be mock drafting, and the BBALLBREAKDOWN staff is ready to tackle the difficult task of anticipating where the best young prospects end up. Following the results of the NBA Draft Lottery, some of our staff got together and collaborated on a mock selection for the 14 lottery picks.
Enjoy version 1.0 of the mock draft, compiled by experts Brandon Jefferson, Morten Stig Jensen and Adam Spinella. Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for more updates as the tectonic plates of the draft process continue to shift.
1. Boston Celtics – PG Markelle Fultz, Washington
Danny Ainge struck gold with a lottery win, putting the Celtics in the driver’s seat for the next six weeks of the draft and trade market discussions. The win-now Celts (currently scratching and clawing for everything in a series against the dreaded Cavaliers) have the option of trading this pick to one of several teams reportedly shopping their superstars for a players that potentially lofts them into the same talent-level as Cleveland. With speculation that Jimmy Butler or Paul George are targets, we’ll be hearing plenty of trade speculation around this pick for the coming weeks.
If Ainge decides to hang onto the pick and keep a game-changing prospect with the first pick, Fultz is a no-brainer. He’s an efficient scorer, lightning quick and dynamic in many ways. Fultz has a massive 6-foot-10 wingspan for a point guard, making him a candidate capable of playing alongside Isaiah Thomas for stretches. His elite scoring, gifted athleticism and limitless upside make him the best point guard draft prospect since John Wall. The only way Fultz doesn’t go first in this draft is if some team enamored with Lonzo Ball trades up to snatch Ball and leap over the Lakers. But Boston shouldn’t consider anyone else. It’s either a trade for a superstar or Fultz. — Adam Spinella
2. Los Angeles Lakers – PG Lonzo Ball, UCLA
3. Philadelphia 76ers – SG Malik Monk, Kentucky
The Philadelphia 76ers entered the lottery with the likely outcome of getting two top five picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. They left with possibly the worst slot of any team in the top five. With Fultz and Ball likely to go first and second, that leaves a crowded group of Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk as the next best options in this draft. Jackson and Fox don’t really fit well with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as those two need to be surrounded by shooters to get the most out of their talents and shooting isn’t the strength of either. Tatum and Smith Jr. are more isolation-heavy players and, while talented, they aren’t great fits next to Simmons and Embiid either.
That leaves Monk, and he fits in Philadelphia like a glove. He’s an athletic, cocky gunner — if that’s not someone Sixers fans will love then there’s no hope for them. With Brett Brown all in on playing Simmons at point guard, Monk being an undersized two guard is null and void. Monk can defend point guards while Simmons gets the actual duty of running the show on offense. I can close my eyes and see Simmons driving and kicking to a flaring Monk, or Embiid kicking it back out to Monk off a double team in the post. — Brandon Jefferson
4. Phoenix Suns – SF Josh Jackson, Kansas
The Suns are a young team looking for best available player that compliments their current nucleus. After Ball and Fultz are taken off the board, the difference between some of the wings and guards left on the board isn’t that great. While the decision between Tatum and Jackson was a difficult one here, the defensive prowess of Jackson won out. GM Ryan McDonough and coach Earl Watson seem to prefer a switching scheme, and Jackson makes the most sense as a wing in that structure. The scoring ability Tatum possesses gave slight reason for pause, but defense is a larger issue for the Suns. Jackson’s offensive splits look solid coming out of college, but without some improvement to his ball skills he may struggle to be a guy that can create his own shot at the next level.
Additionally, Jackson’s jump shot needs to develop, and there are some serious red flags about his personality and hyper-competitiveness that need to be investigated further. If he gets past the Sixers at three, his ability in the open court and aptitude to defend multiple positions make him a difficult target to pass up. — Adam Spinella
5. Sacramento Kings – PG De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Fast as the wind, tough as nails and a certain positive to culture, Fox is a home run pick for the Kings. Playing in a conference with such strong point guard play, General Manager Vlade Divac knows he needs to address perimeter defense this offseason and Fox is a massive step in the right direction. His physical tools — elite lateral quickness, great size and length and impressive instincts — are all the best among point guards available outside the top two picks. Offensively, Fox is a decent table-setter but is best as a lightning-fast scoring guard. He is a blur in transition and has such a good fist step with the ball that it’s virtually impossible to keep him out of the paint.
Fox has some weaknesses that stand out. He can’t reliably go right, his jump shot is erratic and teams will sag off him in the half-court, limiting his effectiveness. With time, all of those hindrances can be quelled with hard work, a trait many boast is one of his most appealing. The Kings need a franchise point guard and likely won’t find one at the 10th pick, so they need to grab one here. I like Fox’s culture-defining intensity and overall speed better than the sheer athleticism of Dennis Smith for the Kings. — Adam Spinella
6. Orlando Magic – SF Jayson Tatum, Duke
The Orlando Magic have been one pick away from a superstar in just about every lottery they didn’t win. This year they watched their pick drop from fifth to sixth as the Sacramento Kings jumped over them. Yet, unlike in years past, there will be a talented player still on the board when it’s their turn to pick. In this scenario, that player is Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Tatum has a pro-ready game. He showed a great feel for playing out of the post and in the mid-range for a freshman. By season’s end, he was the engine for the Blue Devils, expanding his range out to the three-point line. Tatum is a solid rebounder, makes his free throws and, with some seasoning, could turn into a solid defender.
Jonathan Isaac was a tempting pick, but his lack of offensive development made me cautious as they have been down the under-developed offensive player route before (Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton). A point guard could also get some consideration here, but Tatum is thought by some to be one of the two best players in this class and getting a player like that at six is too good to pass up. With Orlando in limbo recently, he could be just the jump start that this franchise desperately needs. — Brandon Jefferson
7. Minnesota Timberwolves – F Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
Isaac is a bit of a difficult prospect to peg. He doesn’t really have a true position, but as a seven-foot forward with good ball skills and efficient scoring pedigree, it’s easy to see the appeal he has. The biggest question for Isaac, an analytics darling with a sweet outside stroke, is if he can be a go-to scoring threat. If some team sees that in him during a workout or when watching film, he could be a top-four pick. His upside is really that high.
Minnesota would make for the perfect landing spot for Isaac, who would make the ideal frontcourt mate next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Isaac doesn’t need to be more than a fourth option on offense early in his career, and his pick-and-roll defensive upside works well within the blueprint of Tom Thibodeau’s team dynamics. As someone that plays both forward spots, Thibs can employ several types of lineups that include their best players, and that type of versatility is a coach’s dream. There was some thought given to Markkanen here, but with Minnesota’s need for defense and versatility, Isaac was too much to pass up. — Adam Spinella
8. New York Knicks – PG Dennis Smith Jr., NC State
We’re getting down with the Triangle! Just kidding (sort of). What the New York Knicks need more than anything right now is talent, especially in the backcourt. With their pick dropping a slot, all Phil Jackson can do is wait and see who falls to him. At this point in the draft, having a player like Dennis Smith Jr. fall into their lap is a godsend. Smith is an ultra athletic point guard in the mold of a Steve Francis and would be a great pick-and-roll partner for disgruntled star Kristaps Porzingis. He would also quell the crazy idea of bringing Derrick Rose back to New York. Smith will be an instant fan-favorite in the Big Apple with his highlight-reel dunks and insane athleticism.
Frank Ntilikina and Smith were both strong considerations here. Ntilikina’s game is a better fit for the triangle offense as he can play on or off the ball and is a knockdown spot-up shooter and better defensively. However, Smith has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him feel like the more appropriate pick for New York. — Brandon Jefferson
9. Dallas Mavericks – F/C Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
10. Sacramento Kings – F/C Harry Giles, Duke
Since the top of the lottery is very point guard heavy, the Kings grabbed their major position of need with the fifth overall pick. That gives Divac and company some flexibility at 10 to take the best player available. While Ntilikina had some appeal, there was no reason to take another lead guard and crowd the backcourt. Instead, we swung for the fences on Harry Giles, the uber-athletic big man with a load of questions about his knees and long-term stability. If he pans out and regains some of the form that led him to being a top prospect coming out of high school, he could be the single most talented player in this draft.
Dave Joerger’s mouth must be salivating from a defensive perspective knowing his roster now includes big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Giles, two seven-footers that can switch onto guards and contain them on the dribble. It’s a huge weapon and a unique calling-card that can elevate a team like the Kings into contention earlier than their roster might be ready. It’s a big if based on Giles’ health, but his upside is definitely worth the chance. — Adam Spinella
11. Charlotte Hornets – SF Justin Jackson, North Carolina
The Charlotte Hornets are a hard team to figure out. They’re like a slightly more stable version of the Orlando Magic. They have a decent collection of talent, but there’s no true superstar on that roster. The lottery once again spurned the Hornets as they stayed at their spot and made it unlikely that they’ll be able to select that superstar they’re missing. In his place, Justin Jackson comes in — Charlotte loves their former North Carolina greats — and adds another dutiful player to their roster. Jackson’s ability as a shooter should help space the floor more for the Hornets. Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky are capable of getting a team to the playoffs. Adding in Jackson bumps them up slightly in the pecking order of middling Eastern Conference teams.
Several other big men were tempting, but I don’t think Queen City needs another Zeller-type player (Zach Collins). A high-upside pick like Donovan Mitchell or Hamidou Diallo was also an option, but we all know that Michael Jordan isn’t a fan of gambling (wink, wink). Jackson is the steady get, and one the franchise should be happy with. — Brandon Jefferson
12. Detroit Pistons – PG Frank Ntilikina, France
A rare combination of positional fit and best prospect available, the Pistons snag a legitimate long-term starter at the point in this version of the mock draft. Ntilikina is a large unknown, showing flashes of elite athleticism and defensive potential during his time for Strasbourg this past year. He’s a solid three point shooter off the catch and has some nifty playmaking skills. Like any young international prospect that plays against unproven competition, adjusting to the speed, physicality and overall intensity of the NBA game are huge unknowns for Ntilikina. If his jump shot was a bit faster and his decision-making as a lead guard a tad better, he’d have no chance to fall outside the top 10. A talent and a body type like his doesn’t come along every day.
Detroit offers him a breeding ground to improve and wait behind Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith for the time being. With his sheer size and athleticism, we could see some Dante Exum-esque two-guard lineups at some point if Ntilikina figures it out quickly and earns NBA minutes. If he falls to 12th in the draft, his talent and upside is hard for the Pistons to pass up. — Adam Spinella
13. Denver Nuggets – SF O.G. Anunoby, Indiana
What type of draft pick makes sense for a team with some of the worst defense in the league? A versatile athletic wing that can defend multiple positions, of course! Anunoby is a surefire lottery pick when healthy, and the questions about his knee shouldn’t be enough to dissuade a team like the Nuggets from pulling the trigger on the perfect piece for their roster. Anunoby is an explosive athlete that can play in the open court around Jokic leading the break. His cutting ability to score as a slasher compliments the spread-out style the Nugs run on offense.
Most of all, Denver needs defensive depth on the wings. Anunoby’s ability to draw a top assignment would lighten the burden felt by other guards and forwards, and could go as far as to help limit the amount of attacks Jokic must quell at the rim. He may not play a ton as a rookie, but not many lottery picks are certain to be instant-impact guys. Give him a couple of years and he’s a perennial All-NBA Defensive team type of guy. — Adam Spinella
14. Miami Heat – PF John Collins, Wake Forest
John Collins and the Miami Heat is a weird mix, primarily due to Collins’s inability to shoot from long-range, which doesn’t fit well with the other perimeter-limited Hassan Whiteside. However, Collins is an efficient scorer around the rim, and while he isn’t a three-point shooter, that doesn’t mean he can’t drain a mid-range shot. Being able to come off the bench and provide the Heat with instant offense, not to mention elite rebounding, does have its advantages.
There might be better fits to Miami than Collins, but his talent, athleticism and overall clever play offers something Miami drastically need: A high level of talent that could grow into something more. At the 14th slot, it’s difficult to imagine finding someone better, so they’ll go with best available and ride from there. — Morten Stig Jensen
Check back in with our crew here at BBALLBREAKDOWN as the draft season progresses for more draft coverage and updated versions of mock drafts!
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