Winners and Losers from the NBA Draft

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

The NBA Draft featured some surprises this year. Luka Doncic was traded from the Hawks to the Mavericks for Trae Young, the Knicks took Kentucky’s Kevin Knox with the 9th pick, and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. fell to the Nuggets with the 14th pick. But, as always, there were winners and losers from Thursday night. Let’s tell some of their stories.

Winner: Phoenix Suns

The Suns are a pretty obvious choice here. They took DeAndre Ayton, the best player in this draft and an uber-talented 7’1″ big man who can play like a guard, with the first pick in the draft. Without doing anything else, the Suns would have had a good night. Instead, they decided to do more when they traded their 16th pick, Zhaire Smith, to Philadelphia in exchange for Mikal Bridges, the 76ers’ 10th pick.

Granted, while Bridges has several areas of his game to clean up, he is a versatile player who can shoot and defend. He’ll find a role with the Suns while Ayton is tasked with becoming one of the faces of a franchise that has won 68 games in the past three seasons. It remains to be seen what a young core of Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton can accomplish together, but the Suns can use anything they can get at this point.

While their general manager, Ryan McDonough, has an up-and-down draft record (he took Dragan Bender the year after drafting Devin Booker), the Suns should be very happy with what they did on Thursday. Now comes the part that has been much easier said than done in Phoenix: winning.

Loser: Michael Porter, Jr.

Before the 2017-18 college basketball season, Michael Porter, Jr. was widely considered the top prospect in this year’s draft. He had the size and athleticism to play in the NBA, as well as tangible skills that he would get to show off in his one year at Missouri… or so we all thought.

Porter was sidelined for much of the season with a back injury and even though he came back for the team’s conference and NCAA tournament games, he was clearly not at full strength, as he shot just 9-29 in those two games. He was bypassed on draft boards by other healthy college players, like Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young, and others. Despite these concerns, though, there are not many current concerns with Porter’s health.

So why would this combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant still be on the board for the Nuggets with the 14th pick? The answer is simple: teams are worried about his potential back problems, both now and down the road, and don’t want to deal with that. Of course, the things that had people excited about Porter in the first place are still there, but it’s fair to ask questions about how his back will affect his overall health moving forward. After all, there’s a reason why someone who is this talented would fall all the way to the end of the lottery, and it has nothing to do with him putting his own name in the same conversation with two of the league’s ten best players.

Winner: Orlando Magic

This may come as a surprise because you probably haven’t seen “Orlando Magic” and “winner” in the same sentence since 2009.

The Magic didn’t do anything particularly special on Thursday; there were no trades up or down the board and they didn’t reach when they made the 6th pick. However, they did something they haven’t been very good at recently: take the best player available with their selection.

That person happened to be Texas’ Mo Bamba.

As you’ve heard from about 732 different outlets, Bamba has a 7’10” wingspan, which is relevant because it’s longer than those of Rudy Gobert (7’9″) and Anthony Davis (7’5″). Let’s remember that Orlando’s GM is former Bucks general manager John Hammond, who drafted some incredibly long players in Milwaukee without the stipulation that they all fit together. That being said, Bamba may have the highest upside of anyone in this year’s draft, and even though it may not seem like a lot, Orlando should be happy that they took someone like him with their first-round pick.

Loser: Washington Wizards

What, exactly, were the Wizards doing the other night?

Washington is a team that, without a word alive, can be competitive with anyone in the Eastern Conference at any time. They’ve had many a near-miss in the playoffs the past few seasons, and they always seem to be one of those teams that can never quite live up to the talent they have on the roster. It would seem, then, that they would need to take a game-changer with the 15th pick, or at the very least, someone who is ready to contribute to the roster right away. Zhaire Smith, Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker, or Grayson Allen all could have fit this bill.

Instead, Washington took Oregon freshman Troy Brown.

Granted, Brown could be a very good player down the line. But the Wizards are trying to build for right now (we think) and probably should’ve taken someone who would have been more impactful this season. It’s not just me saying this, either; Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld has been reluctant to declare that Brown can crack the rotation. Part of that has to do with a Washington roster that will bring back ten of its players, but a significant portion of that has to do with Brown himself.

Nobody knows where the Wizards are going. The Wizards may not know, either.

Winner: Adrian Wojnarowski

Let’s be real; you just came here for the Woj Bombs.

Wojnarowski is ESPN’s best NBA insider; think of him as the sport’s Adam Schefter. One of his recent specialties has been tipping picks on draft night before commissioner Adam Silver announces them live on ESPN. In a surprise to no one, the NBA didn’t exactly love reporters like Wojnarowski revealing these picks before their official broadcast could. So, as a result of a direct appeal from the NBA, the four-letter network announced that its insiders (mainly Wojnarowski, who was lured to ESPN from Yahoo last summer) would not be tipping picks this year. This was an edict that caused some controversy.

It was also one that our guy Woj raised a defiant middle finger to:

Woj is the best reporter in the NBA, and there’s a reason he’s so popular. Wouldn’t you like to go to work, have your boss tell you not to do something, find catchy euphemisms for the thing you’re not supposed to be doing, and get away with said thing?

We all would love to do that, but there’s a reason we can’t all be Woj.

2016 NBA Mock Draft/Big Board

I’m sure you probably forgot about it with the NBA Finals going to seven games, but the NBA Draft is this Thursday in Brooklyn. This draft promises to be interesting on a number of levels, with a deep international pool and can’t-miss prospects at the top of the class.

I’ll start things off with my big board; it consists of 54 players, most if not all of which will be drafted Thursday night.  Here it is, followed by an explanation of a couple of rankings that might jump out at you:

  1. Brandon Ingram
  2. Ben Simmons
  3. Buddy Hield
  4. Jamal Murray
  5. Dragan Bender
  6. Jaylen Brown
  7. Kris Dunn
  8. Marquese Chriss
  9. Deyonta Davis
  10. Furkan Korkmaz
  11. Henry Ellenson
  12. Malik Beasley
  13. Dejounte Murray
  14. Denzel Valentine
  15. Domantas Sabonis
  16. Jakob Poeltl
  17. Skal Labissiere
  18. Demetrius Jackson
  19. Timothe Luwawu
  20. Ivica Zubac
  21. Malachi Richardson
  22. Taurean Prince
  23. Ante Zizic
  24. Patrick McCaw
  25. DeAndre’ Bembry
  26. Wade Baldwin IV
  27. Tyler Ulis
  28. Brice Johnson
  29. Thon Maker
  30. Rade Zagorac
  31. Stephen Zimmerman
  32. Juan Hernangomez
  33. Paul Zipser
  34. Guerschon Yabusele
  35. A.J. Hammons
  36. Cheick Diallo
  37. Caris LeVert
  38. Ben Bentil
  39. Zhou Qi
  40. Isaia Cordinier
  41. Diamond Stone
  42. Malcolm Brogdon
  43. Wayne Selden
  44. Chinanu Onuaku
  45. Jake Layman
  46. Juan Hernangomez
  47. Gary Payton II
  48. Georgios Papagiannis
  49. Isaiah Whitehead
  50. Damian Jones
  51. Pascal Siakam
  52. Fred VanVleet
  53. Kay Felder
  54. Yogi Ferrell

A couple of things to explain here.  Number one, I put Brandon Ingram at #1 on my board, and I did this for a variety of reasons.  The obvious one is that he’s a far, far better shooter than Simmons.  Simmons will have to get a jump shot if he wants to be successful in the NBA, at least offensively.  While he often looks to get his teammates involved, a la LeBron James or Magic Johnson, his shot needs an awful lot of work.  I also really like Ingram as a defender, and I think this makes his value as a wing skyrocket.

Another thing I should really address is Buddy Hield’s presence at #3.  While this sounds hyperbolic (and maybe it is), Hield is the best shooter the draft has seen since Steph Curry came out of Davidson in 2009.  Hield’s career progression kind of reminds you of Curry’s; he was a four-year student-athlete at Oklahoma and wasn’t recruited by more basketball-rich schools because of his lack of athletic ability.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I think Hield is going to be really good in the NBA; his work ethic enables him to continue to improve, even at 22, and he should be able to contribute right away to whichever team takes him.

With all of that being said, it’s time for our first-round mock draft.  If this tweet is any indicator, I should be getting about two of thirty of these picks right:

So that’s nice.  In any event, let’s give it a shot.  Here’s my 2016 mock draft.  Let’s hope it doesn’t go up in flames.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The pick: Ben Simmons


The only other logical pick for the 76ers here would be Brandon Ingram.  Simmons and Ingram are the two best players in this draft, and it’s a pretty big gap between two and three.

The most impressive part of Simmons’ game, other than his athleticism, is his passing ability.   Watch this play against Florida in January.  Pay close attention to how he looks off the defender and whips the pass into the paint for a shot under the basket:

In watching that play, it’s easy to see why the comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson have rolled in.  However, he’s not nearly a perfect player; as previously stated, he actually cannot shoot.  He’s probably not even shooting with the correct hand, so maybe a Tristan Thompson-esque change from his left hand to his right is forthcoming.

Also, if he is to have any other weakness, it’s that he’s not that great in the post.  His post game will need to become more advanced if he is to play the three or four in the NBA.  Other than that, he’s a really good passer and rebounder, one who could and probably will be highly productive at the next level.

Philly needs literally everything in the draft and free agency, so getting Simmons at 1 is a very good start.


2. Los Angeles Lakers

The pick: Brandon Ingram


Another very easy call here.  If the 76ers by chance pick Ingram over Simmons, then the Lakers would take Simmons at 2.

Ingram is another very interesting player at the top of the draft. He’s kind of a prototypical NBA wing, and as you can see from this highlight reel, he can really do a little bit of everything.

Personally, I like Ingram a little more than Simmons because his skill set better fits the NBA game.  He’s a good shooter (41% from three last season) and his shot should improve with time and repetition.  He also has lots of potential defensively and can become elite when he adds more strength.

The obvious knock on Ingram is that he’s thin as a rail.  That he is (6’9″, 190 lb.), and he will initially have trouble guarding stronger players in the post.  He’s also very raw and could become a far better finisher, especially in traffic.  Ingram has stated that he wants to eat lots of calories in order to bulk up, and he will have to fill out his frame in order to flourish in the NBA.

However, history has shown that he can still be on the thin side and succeed.  In watching him play, he reminds me of Kevin Durant, and I mean every word of that statement.

The Lakers will get Ingram or Simmons here.  Not a bad consolation prize at all.

Ingram Comparison: KEVIN DURANT

3. Boston Celtics

The pick: Dragan Bender

F/C/Croatia (last played for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli BSL)

This is where I could see the draft getting very crazy.  The Celtics could do any number of things with this pick (including trade it) and there are several players they could take at 3.

The guy I have them taking is Dragan Bender, the slightly mysterious, physically imposing big man from overseas who is projected to go in the top-5.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, Bender is this year’s Kristaps Porzingis, for better or worse.

Bender’s game is a little bit of an enigma; he is a decent shooter who has shown that he can step out to the three-point line every once in a while.  He’s also a very good passer, particularly out of the post, which should help him against over-aggressive defenses.

But there are some apparent weaknesses: he’s not a great defender and his fundamentals are very poor.  His shot is also very inconsistent and he only shot 25% from three for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season.

Nonetheless, he projects as a solid NBA player.  Maybe he’ll be a solid unicorn as well.

Bender Comparison: VLADE DIVAC

4. Phoenix Suns

The pick: Jaylen Brown


Jaylen Brown is one of the most intriguing players in this draft. Brown is extremely athletic, the type of player who should be able to strive in Phoenix’s up-and-down system.

You can see the apparent athletic gifts Brown has in this dunk against UCLA:

Brown is an athletic specimen, but he doesn’t have that much more to offer other than his athletic ability and his defensive game; the two have a symbiotic relationship.  He doesn’t have very many advanced dribble moves and is only really a straight-line driver in the half court.  He also doesn’t have much of a jumper at this stage in his development, so going to a system that doesn’t require very much of him offensively will be very important.

Brown is incredibly raw, but he won’t be 20 until the season begins.  If he goes to the right place, he could develop into a really good player.  He has one of the highest upsides in the draft and he should be able to improve once he gets to the NBA.

Pheonix might be the place for him to do that.

Brown Comparison: METTA WORLD PEACE

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

The pick: Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield may not be the best player in the NBA Draft but he was the best player in college basketball last season.  That has to count for something, right?

Hield has no limits to his shooting range and, just as importantly, possesses a very quick trigger.  Watch how quickly he gets this shot out against Kansas in February:

Hield was the best shooter in the game, and he got that way because of his insane work ethic.  Just listen to this account from ESPN’s Dana O’Neil:

Hield […] tries to get between 300 and 500 shots a day outside of practice. And that’s on the days he’s feeling good about himself. When he feels like he’s off, he’ll push himself into the 500 to 700 range.

500 to 700 shots per day.  That’s absurd, but it at least partially explains why Hield has gotten so good.  The other part is sheer, natural talent, which he has a lot of.

His athleticism is what hindered him going into college and it will again in the NBA.  But if his work ethic is any indication, Hield can make himself into one of the best players in this draft and one of the best shooters in the league.

And the Timberwolves will reap the benefits at 5.  That is unless they deal the pick, of course.

6. New Orleans Pelicans

The pick: Kris Dunn


Kris Dunn is one of the few locks in this draft; at 22, he’s also one of its oldest players.  This kind of eats away at his upside, but it’s abundantly clear that Dunn is the best point guard in this year’s class.  It isn’t that close, either.

As for his fit in New Orleans, it would probably be a really great place for him to go.  He would step in immediately as the team’s starting point guard, but that’s not the best part of a potential Dunn-Pelicans union.  New Orleans started four different point guards over the course of last season; Dunn would solidify the position and, at worst, give the team another option.

There’s also the appeal of what Dunn brings to the table.  He’s one of the most athletic players in this draft and this helps him on both ends of the floor.  He isn’t as good of a decision-maker as you would think and his jump shot isn’t that great, but these things could still improve with time.

In the meantime, he’s an already solid defender who should get even better in the NBA.  Also, his athleticism and his ability to pass should help him acquiesce with star big man Anthony Davis; needless to say, prepare for a poor man’s version of Lob City in the French Quarter.

Dunn is the perfect fit for the Pelicans, and he’s one of the few sureties of this draft.  He may be a little overrated, but he’ll still have himself a solid career in the NBA.

Dunn Comparison: VICTOR OLADIPO

7. Denver Nuggets

The pick: Jamal Murray


Jamal Murray is one of the best pure shooters in this year’s draft class.  Watch him shoot this three from deep against Louisville early in the year:

Murray is a certified scorer, having put up 20 per game on an offensively stacked Kentucky squad. He’s also a good decision-maker and a solid passer. His greatest gift, though, is not on the offensive end.

Murray is one of the best defenders in this year’s draft, and even though his lack of athleticism will hurt him at the next level, his effort and energy will help him compensate for this weakness. Even though he’s not big enough to guard wings, he should be able to have success against guards, which is critical for a Nuggets team that allowed 105 points per game last season. Denver also ranked 26th in three-point percentage (33.8%) last year, so Murray is basically the epitome of everything they need right now.

He’s far from a perfect player, but Jamal Murray is a player you would want on your team; he makes effort plays that help his team win games.  Hopefully for the Nuggets, drafting him will help them improve from their 33-win mark of a season ago.

Murray Comparison: WESLEY MATTHEWS

8. Sacramento Kings

The pick: Marquese Chriss


This is where the draft starts to turn a little bit upside down.  I have the Kings taking the riskiest player in this draft at 8: Marquese Chriss.

Chriss is only 18 years old and won’t turn 19 until next month. If you watch him play long enough, his age and inexperience show.  He doesn’t bring very much to the table offensively, although he does have a pretty good jump shot.  Also, his defensive game needs quite a bit of work, and his effort is questionable at times.  He will have to prove that he’s mature enough for the NBA, and I’m not convinced that he is right now.

The selling point for Chriss is his extraordinary upside.  He may be the most athletic player in the draft and his quickness could help him become a good defender if he works at it.  He’ll have to do that in addition to proving that he’s mature beyond his years. My guess is that he’ll be headed to the D-League to start his career.

Someone will take a risk on him in the top 10, and I think the Kings will be that team.

Chriss Comparison: JOSH SMITH

9. Toronto Raptors

The pick: Deyonta Davis

F/C/Michigan State

Davis is a very solid defender and could become a very good NBA rim protector in his development.  The NBA is chomping at the bit to have another one of those, as SB Nation’s Kevin O’Connor writes:

Davis wasn’t expected to be a one-and-done prospect but he rose quickly in college. At this point of the draft process he’s a likely lottery pick. But NBA teams are drooling for more bigs that can protect the rim, switch screens, and rebound, so Davis could surge up the charts as the draft approaches. Just like he always has.

Davis has risen in the draft process, as his athleticism and rim protection make him appealing to teams looking for a little more punch defensively.  The Raptors are going to need that punch in the future, as sudden playoff hero Bismack Biyombo is due for a massive raise from his $2.81 million salary of a season ago.  He’ll get that raise, but it may not be from the Raptors.

Davis is not much of a jump shooter at this stage of his development; he does have the potential to step out from midrange eventually.  He’s kind of an inconsistent player, but he’s also still a teenager learning the fundamentals of the game. He should be able to improve as he learns how to play basketball, and he could become one of the best players in this draft.

His upside is abundant, which should appeal to the Raptors, who are looking to dethrone the Cavs in the Eastern Conference.  That may not happen, but drafting Davis with the 9th pick would be a prudent decision for them.

Davis Comparison: JORDAN HILL

10. Milwaukee Bucks

The pick: Furkan Korkmaz

F/Turkey (last played for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League)

Furkan Korkmaz is one of the unknown players in this year’s class.  His skill set, though, allows him to translate in the NBA right away.

I’ll admit this: I wasn’t able to see quite as much of him as I might have liked.  What I did see of him grabbed my attention, to say the least.

For example, Korkmaz is a very solid shooter with exceptional form.   When watching him play, you immediately hearken to watching someone like Klay Thompson, a shooter with perfect form and a very quick release.  Even though Korkmaz may be more of a forward in the NBA, he’ll be playing the type of game that Thompson does now.  His shooting could help several teams; that’s where the Milwaukee Bucks come in.

The Bucks shot just 34.5% from deep a season ago and have struggled in three-point shooting for the past several years.  The team made an effort to resolve this problem by drafting UNLV sharpshooter Rashad Vaughn a season ago; Vaughn shot threes at a 29% clip last season.

Drafting Korkmaz could go a long way toward fixing this problem.  He has told teams that he’ll be coming over right away and he could provide immediate shooting help for a Bucks team that could use it.

The Bucks are close to contention; taking someone who could help address their biggest flaw can’t hurt.

Korkmaz Comparison: KLAY THOMPSON

11. Orlando Magic

The pick: Henry Ellenson


Marquette’s Henry Ellenson has recently drawn some comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki.  When he plays, it’s easy to see why; they possess very similar sets of skills and body types.

Ellenson’s abilities are very diverse: he’s an improving shooter and can mix it up in the post as well.  He can also shoot off the dribble, as this play from the Big East Tournament shows:

Ellenson can do many different things offensively. His major weakness, however, is his defense.  The main reason why he struggles so much defensively is his athleticism, which is another similarity he shares with Dirk.  Ellenson is simply a slow player, but the Magic could use his skill set to their advantage.

Consider this: new head coach Frank Vogel seems to really like big men.  He cultivated the careers of Roy Hibbert and Myles Turner in Indiana, and he doesn’t really like to play at a very fast pace.  That style of play will be perfect for Ellenson, as the team will only rely on his shot-making ability and offensive game.

Even if he isn’t the next Dirk, Ellenson will still be able to help many teams.  The Magic are definitely one of them.

Ellenson Comparison: DIRK NOWITZKI

12. Atlanta Hawks

The pick: Dejounte Murray


Just like his Washington teammate, Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray is a potentially high-risk, high-reward player.  The Hawks probably were not in the market for backcourt help before this week.  However, they are now, as Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports:

The Hawks could definitely use another guard in their system. Murray is that guy.

He is one of the better scorers in the draft; the problem comes in his efficiency, or lack thereof.  He consistently forces up bad shots and will need to improve his shot selection at the next level.  His defense is also lacking somewhat, but he can improve this skill.

The Hawks probably wouldn’t be asking very much out of Murray, at least to start.  Why they are drafting him has everything to do with his offensive ability, as he could give the Hawks a diverse set of talents.  Atlanta needs to be willing to wait for them to develop, though, as Murray is very raw and needs time to realize his potential.

Even if he goes to the D-League to start his career, Murray may be able to help Atlanta offensively for years to come.  Just don’t expect it anytime soon.


13. Pheonix Suns

The pick: Skal Labissiere


At this time a year ago, Skal Labissiere was regarded as one of the top players in this draft.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Labissiere’s 2015-16 collegiate season at Kentucky was one of the most singularly disappointing campaigns in recent memory.  It wasn’t all his fault; he didn’t receive a ton of playing time and didn’t get the repetitions needed to improve his overall game. He needs to improve exponentially, but you can see why teams are excited about him.

For example, his height and exceptional reach potentially make him one of the best rim protectors in this year’s class.  This play against LSU in early March shows a glimpse of his potential:

At 7’0″, Labissiere could reasonably play center in the NBA.  That being said, he still has a long way to go in many areas; he has little to no offensive game and would probably be off to the D-League to start his career.

While that is true, some teams are salivating over him because of his upside.  At just 20 years old, he does not possess the competitive experience of his peers.  Having grown up in Haiti and lived through the 2010 earthquake, Skal has been through a lot.  Luckily for him, he’s about to realize his NBA dream.

I would be willing to take a chance on Labissiere near the end of the lottery, and I think the Suns would as well.

Labissiere Comparison: HASSAN WHITESIDE

14. Chicago Bulls

The pick: Jakob Poeltl


I will be very honest with you: Jakob Poeltl does not thrill me. I’ve wanted to like him throughout this process, and I don’t think he’s going to be a bad player in the NBA.

But having watched him several times during the season and in the NCAA Tournament, I wasn’t blown away by him.  He’s a very true center and really doesn’t possess any ability to play the 4. Also, he doesn’t have great athletic ability or an advanced offensive game to make up for it.  This lack of offensive prowess hurt him in his NCAA Tournament matchup against Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis; if you don’t want to see the highlights, Poeltl got destroyed.

Nevertheless, the Bulls might need a center this summer. Joakim Noah is a free agent and a shell of his former self. While the team is trading point guard Derrick Rose to the Knicks, the lack of a true center is their biggest need right now.

So even though I see several issues with Poeltl’s game, I think he’d be a solid pickup for Chicago.  He’s not overwhelmingly good like some scouts think, but he’ll be a solid choice for the Bulls at 14.

And really, solid is all Chicago can ask for.

Poeltl Comparison: ANDREW BOGUT

15. Denver Nuggets

The pick: Denzel Valentine

F/Michigan State

The Nuggets’ second pick of the first round is a little bit more simple.  They’ll likely take the best player available here: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

Valentine should probably be a lottery choice.  The reason he would be available here is because of concerns about a knee injury, as reported by BasketballInsiders:

Word is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine may have a fairly significant knee issue, so much so that one team sort of compared him to former Indiana Pacers All-Star Danny Granger, who came into the league with a degenerative knee condition and struggled every year to play 82 games. League sources said it’s still likely he will get drafted in the first round, but his stock looks to be a tough one to lock in with so many teams believing his knee will be a problem.

I’d say that’s an issue.  But if Valentine can stay healthy, he’ll be one of the most effective players this draft has to offer.  As a very good passer and shooter, he could immediately step into the point forward role that many have talked about Ben Simmons assuming.

With the Nuggets, taking Valentine should be the obvious choice. Given all of Danilo Gallinari’s injury concerns, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have his replacement ready in case they flare up again?  This is the pick they should make.

Hopefully, Valentine proves to be more like Jared Sullinger than Danny Granger.

Valentine Comparison: GORDON HAYWARD

16. Boston Celtics

The pick: Ante Zizic

C/Croatia (last played for Cibona Zagreb of the Croatian League)

If the Celtics are serious about being players in free agency for Kevin Durant and others, then their best option is to pick a draft-and-stash international player.  Enter Ante Zizic, a center from Croatia.

Zizic is an interesting player and one of the best rebounders in the draft.  He likely will not be coming to the States this year, so the Celtics won’t be paying him.  They will retain his rights, though.  

At just 19 years old, Zizic was exceptionally productive in Croatia; he posted a 25.7 PER in just one season in the league. Zizic’s productivity should mean that he’ll fare well in the NBA. He won’t be here this year, but his rebounding, defensive, and scoring ability should have him in demand on draft night.

And with the Celtics looking to save all the money they possibly can, they’ll be willing to wait for his skill set to make its way across the Atlantic.

Zizic Comparison: NIKOLA VUCEVIC

17. Memphis Grizzlies

The pick: Malachi Richardson


Perhaps no player in the first round of this draft helped his stock through the draft process more than Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson.  Richardson had one of the best performances at the Draft Combine in mid-May, which undoubtedly led him to keep his name in this year’s class.

The reason the Grizzlies are taking him here is because… they said so.  Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and The Vertical reports the following:

The Grizzlies are enamored with the Syracuse wing, and he could be a fit here. They could really use the perimeter shooting he offers and has some upside.

The Grizzlies have essentially promised Richardson he will be taken here if he isn’t before then.  Richardson would offer the Grizzlies a bevy of skills, from his outside shooting to his athletic ability.  He’s a pure scorer, and that has precluded him somewhat from becoming a better passer and decision-maker.

Richardson really needs to improve his shot selection to stick in the NBA.  He has a tendency to take poor shots, particularly early in the shot clock.  If he can curb this habit and become a better passer, he’ll become a good player in the NBA.

But for now, he’s good enough to get a promise from Memphis at 17.

Richardson Comparison: PAUL PIERCE/MANU GINOBILI

18. Detroit Pistons

The pick: Domantas Sabonis


Domantas Sabonis is a very interesting player.  As a pure power forward, he doesn’t possess very much athletic ability or a consistent three-pointer at this phase.  However, he can give a team a legitimate offensive threat off the bench, one who could step out to midrange or put it on the floor and get to the basket.

As I said earlier, Sabonis absolutely slaughtered Jakob Poeltl in their second round NCAA Tournament game.  Go to around 0:42 of the video if you want a true sense of Sabonis’ offensive expertise and dominance of the Utah center on that particular night:

Sabonis’ stock is somewhat difficult to pin down. While I could completely see him being taken in the lottery, I could also see him falling out of it.  He doesn’t have a ton of upside and his biggest progression in the NBA will be his improving perimeter jumper.  He’s not that fast and not really athletic.

But he makes hustle plays, ones that win games and keep him in demand.  Also, his father, Arvydas, played in the NBA for seven seasons, all of which came after his 30th birthday.  His dad was a very intelligent player, and Domantas is too.

Detroit has been looking for a talented backup big man since their deadline deal for Houston’s Donatas Motiejunas fell through.  Stan Van Gundy will get what he wants in Sabonis.

Sabonis Comparison: DREW GOODEN

19. Denver Nuggets

The pick: Wade Baldwin IV


Wade Baldwin has been shooting up NBA Draft boards with comparisons to Russell Westbrook.  Yes, that Russell Westbrook.

Baldwin has also shot up big boards because of his performance in interviews.  He’s said all of the right things in the draft process and teams don’t really seem to care if he himself actually believes them.

Baldwin’s biggest calling card at the NBA level will be his athleticism.  Watch him get away with a travel and get up for the dunk at the Maui Invitational in late November:

Needless to say, Baldwin’s athletic ability will help him bring a lot to the table for NBA teams.  He could become a good defender if he wants to be; that’s a big if, but it could be a major asset in his game.  He’s also a dangerous shooter from deep, having shot 42.2% in two years at Vanderbilt.  His jumper is somewhat inconsistent, but it’s easy to see why some teams are absolutely drooling over him.

For the Nuggets, Baldwin is another guard in a crowded backcourt that includes Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay. There’s always the possibility that Mudiay doesn’t work out as the team’s starting point guard (he ranked 375th in the NBA in PER last season), so Baldwin should make for a solid insurance policy.

Hopefully for him, he can rise even higher than this before Thursday night.

20. Indiana Pacers

The pick: Brice Johnson

F/North Carolina

So, Larry Bird, you want to play a little faster?  Okay, you have your guy.

Johnson is really athletic.  Like, so athletic that his max vertical is 38 inches.  In watching dunks like these, I’m convinced that figure should be even higher:

Johnson would be the perfect fit for new coach Nate McMillan’s (and Bird’s) system.  He would be ideal as a rim runner and a finisher who could throw down putback dunks.  He wouldn’t be asked to do very much and has a legitimate dunk contest future.

If the Pacers get that Brice Johnson, they should be more than happy.

Johnson Comparison: BRANDAN WRIGHT

21. Utah Jazz

The pick: Timothe Luwawu

F/France (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian Basketball League)

Some mock drafts see Timothe Luwawu landing in the lottery. Mine does not, as I don’t see very many teams that need help at the wing.

Luwawu is a good player, one who almost entered the draft a season ago.  His most translatable NBA skill is his jump shot, as he is a very good jump shooter for a small forward.  His other impressive skill is his defense, as he is one of the best defenders in the draft, even if his consistency lags behind.

Luwawu has not been playing competitive basketball for a very long time, and he still has room for improvement.  He is 21 years old, but he still has some upside left.

The Jazz seem to like defensively-inclined, athletic players. Luwawu will give that to them, and while he isn’t quite ready to assume a larger role right now, he should become a very good player in the NBA.  The one issue with Utah’s current construction is that Gordon Hayward could very well be traded; Luwawu could go a long way toward replacing him.

The Jazz trade down and get their man, regardless of whether or not Hayward stays.

Luwawu Comparison: P.J. TUCKER

22. Charlotte Hornets

The pick: Malik Beasley

G/Florida State

Malik Beasley is one of my favorite players in this draft.  He makes his teammates better.  He’s unselfish.  He goes after loose balls with reckless abandon.  He gives 100% at all times.

And then there are the obvious tools be brings to the table.  His athleticism is off the charts and he is able to finish dunks with authority both in transition and the halfcourt.  As a defender, he is very solid, and his athleticism and development will definitely help him improve on that end.

The Hornets may be in the market for a backup point guard. Jeremy Lin has a player option for next season and figures to demand more than the $2.1 million he made this year.  Beasley would be a cheaper solution, one who could give the Hornets some minutes behind Kemba Walker.

Beasley would be a backup plan for Charlotte, but he’d be a very good one.  He would give an effort and energy that would be infectious.  He’d also give the Hornets good defense, and he’s only getting better on that end.

This would be a home run for the Hornets if they could land Beasley.  It might even be the biggest steal of the draft if it happens.  I totally believe that.

Beasley Comparison: ZACH LAVINE

23. Boston Celtics

The pick: Rade Zagorac

F/Serbia (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian Basketball League)

The Celtics have another pick, and the common sense solution is another draft-and-stash player: Rade Zagorac.

Zagorac is a player with good size for a wing (6’9″) and noteworthy athletic ability.  At just 20 years old, he’s still got a lot of room to improve, and staying to play in Serbia for at least another year or two should be beneficial to his development.

I know it sounds crazy that the Celtics would take three international players in the first round.  It probably is; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the C’s deal at least one of their first-round selections.  They have eight in total, so there will be plenty of other opportunities to improve their team.  I could definitely see them trading one or more of these picks to acquire assets to help them win now.

If they keep the pick, I have them taking Zagorac.  That is a very big if.

Zagorac Comparison: TRAVIS OUTLAW

24. Philadelphia 76ers

The pick: Demetrius Jackson

G/Notre Dame

I may have said this earlier, but the 76ers have a ton of needs. The biggest one is probably the point guard position, and even though they’re going to take Simmons with the first pick, they could use some serious guard help.

So it would only make sense that they take the best guard available in Demetrius Jackson.  Jackson would be able to help the Sixers almost immediately as a passer, finisher, and shooter. His offensive game is generally undeveloped but he should be able to step in and contribute right away.

However, this is another situation where the team could deal its late-first round draft pick.  The Sixers have been in “active discussions” with other teams about trading the pick and it would make complete sense if they did.  Philly could use some shooting to surround Simmons and could include this pick in a package with one of their many, many, many big men.

So if Philly holds on to the 24th pick, they’ll take Jackson.  My guess is that they won’t.

Jackson Comparison: ERIC BLEDSOE

25. Los Angeles Clippers

The pick: Patrick McCaw


You’ll never believe this, but the Los Angeles Clippers have a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.  Even better, they haven’t traded it away.  Yet.

Team President Doc Rivers has made some questionable decisions during his tenure that have seriously sabotaged head coach Doc Rivers.  Late first round draft picks have not been among them, but Rivers has a questionable history when it comes to personnel decisions.

And, let’s face it, the Clippers could be on the verge of blowing up their roster in a nuclear manner.  In deciding what to do about many of the team’s soon-to-expire contracts, Rivers will have to decide who to keep and who to get rid of; he’ll have to decide on the futures of players such as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and J.J. Redick rather soon.

Patrick McCaw might be a part of the Clippers’ (soon-to-be-revamped?) roster.  McCaw is an intriguing player best known for his athleticism and finishing ability.  He struggles defensively and with his shot but he has the potential to stick in the league.

The Clippers need to take advantage of this opportunity.  It’s not every year that you get to have a first-round draft pick.  Well, not for them, anyway.

McCaw Comparison: KEVIN MARTIN

26. Philadelphia 76ers

The pick: Taurean Prince


This is another pick that the 76ers will likely trade.  I really can’t see any way the team keeps the pick unless it drafts an international player.  What I can do is tell you a little about Taurean Prince.

Prince grew up in San Antonio and his parents separated early in his life.  Long story short, he bounced from home to home without finding a permanent one.  He went back and forth between both of his parents and wasn’t able to find full-time shelter until going to college at Long Island University, only to transfer to Baylor.  CSN Philly has his full story if you’re interested in reading it; you really should give it a look.

That puts things in some good perspective and it shows that Prince won’t be fazed at all by playing in the NBA.  As a player, Prince is a very good athlete who excels at the defensive end. He’s not a great offensive player but he has some potential left to improve.  He does have NBA range from deep and could become this draft’s “three-and-D” player.  But the most important thing he’s about to become is an NBA draft pick, fulfilling his dream of being in the league.

If he does nothing else in basketball, he will have gotten much farther than anyone could have expected when he was going from house to house as a child.

Prince Comparison: DEMARRE CARROLL

27. Toronto Raptors

The pick: DeAndre’ Bembry

G/St. Joseph’s

DeAndre’ Bembry is probably the best offensive player left at this point in the draft.  The Raptors could use a little offense, even if it comes at the end of the first round.

Bembry is capable of throwing down in transition and has a good body for a guard.  He’s also a very good ball-handler who is able to make advanced dribble moves to get to this shot.  He is a certified scorer, having averaged nearly 18 points per game over the past two seasons.

However, his weakness is his jump shot and how it has regressed since his freshman year at St. Joe’s.  Inexplicably, Bembry’s three-point percentage dipped from 34.6% in his freshman year to 32.7% in his sophomore year and finally to 26.6% this past season.  Bembry will have to fix his shot if he’s going to have a successful NBA career.

The Raptors will take the best available player here and take a chance on DeAndre’ Bembry.

Bembry Comparison: JAE CROWDER

28. Phoenix Suns

The pick: Thon Maker

C/Sudan (last played for Canada’s Athlete Institute)

This is the ultimate low-risk, potentially high-reward pick. Actually, there’s little to no risk in taking Thon Maker with the 28th pick in the first round.

Maker is a rarity in today’s NBA Draft: a player who came straight out of high school into the draft.  Maker was able to do this because he actually graduated high school in 2015, the same year Simmons, Ingram, and every other one-and-done player did.  However, Maker decided to stay in high school as a post-graduate student, therefore fulfilling the minimum age and schooling requirements (one year out of high school) for entry into the NBA Draft.  Maker is poised to become the first player to be drafted into the NBA straight out of high school since 2005, the last year of the league’s old eligibility rules.

As a player, Maker is incredibly raw; he never played college basketball and has very little competitive experience.  His best skill is his rebounding ability, a talent crafted from his effort and elite size (7’1″, 220 lb.).  He is also a good defender and could become a rim protector with time.  The other clear upside with him is that he’s 19 years old and could get a lot better with NBA coaching.

There’s a reason why picking Maker is a perceived risk; teams won’t know what they’re getting until the Summer League (Maker did not play in any 5-on-5 games at the Draft Combine). However, there is something to be said for the possibility that he could be the player with the highest upside in this draft.  Maybe, at the end of the first round, a team will take a minimal risk on Maker.

He really is two years away from being two years away.  After that, we’ll see where he is.  But he’s going to be drafted, and I think the Suns would take a risk on him at 28.


29. San Antonio Spurs

The pick: Ivica Zubac

C/Bosnia and Herzegovina (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian League)

You’re probably keenly aware of the San Antonio Spurs’ history of digging out international talent.  From Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Fabricio Oberto to international hero Boban Marjanovic, the team has been brilliant at finding good international players and developing them into solid NBA players.  This pick will be no different.

Ivica Zubac is a very talented player who would fit perfectly into the Spurs’ system.  He’s a great passer, particularly for a center, and he has a very good, balanced skill set offensively.  He reminds me an awful lot of Marc Gasol; unfortunately, he reminds me of Gasol in some negative ways, too.

The two have a lot of things in common, but their biggest similarity is their shared foot problems.  Zubac plays fairly low to the ground and his broken foot, suffered in 2014, is the reason why.  Add that on to a knee injury suffered last year and you get a picture of a somewhat crippled big man whose injury problems may get worse before they get better.

It’s the ultimate Spurs pick, though.  R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich have done a great job with international picks; they even have a couple stashed away in other countries.  They would be more than receptive to taking Zubac or another international player at 29, so don’t be surprised if and when they do.

And don’t be surprised if their pick becomes a future all-star, either.

Zubac Comparison: MARC GASOL

30. Golden State Warriors

The pick: Cheick Diallo


Let’s face it; the Warriors really can’t make their team better through the draft.  They have the reigning unanimous MVP (Steph Curry) and two other stars (Draymond Green and Klay Thompson) on the payroll.  They’re doing pretty well for themselves.

And, according to Chris Broussard and his sources, they’re trying to make another splash in free agency:

That would shake up the NBA, to say the least. You could basically pencil in the Cavaliers and the Warriors for next year’s Finals if this happens.  I think that would surprise just about everyone. Anyway…

A logical and interesting choice here would be Kansas’ Cheick Diallo.  Diallo showed flashes of being a solid player last year at Kansas but played very limited minutes.  He made a name for himself at the Draft Combine and left his name in the draft off the heels of his performance there.  He’s extremely raw on both ends of the floor and would need extensive time in the D-League before coming to the NBA.  Going to the right situation is crucial to his development.

Golden State is that perfect situation.  I think they might take a risk on him at the end of round one.

Diallo Comparison: TRISTAN THOMPSON

What did I get right and wrong?  Leave a comment below or tweet me!

The Great Debate: Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons?

Photo Credit: Mark Dolejs/USA Today

The NBA Draft is less than a month away, which is kind of unbelievable.

While it is unfair to judge this early in the process, it would be fair to assess this year’s draft as top-heavy.  Many, including myself, believe that the two best incoming rookies are LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram.  Most also would agree that there’s a large gap between the second and third-best players in the draft.  The 76ers and Lakers, respectively, have the first and second picks. Philadelphia’s choice will be real simple: the consensus #1 in Simmons or the younger, higher-upside, riskier choice in Ingram.

Let’s make a case for either as the #1 pick, starting with Simmons.  I’ll preface everything I am about to say with the fact that, at this time last year, I viewed D’Angelo Russell as the best player in the draft.  We all make mistakes.

The Case For Ben Simmons

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle/USA Today

The appeal with Simmons is obvious: he can play all five positions, rebound like a forward, pass like a guard, and run the floor like a wing.  On the surface, he’s one part LeBron James and another part Magic Johnson.  The latter seems to know something about this:

If you don’t believe Simmons is a freakish talent, there’s photographic evidence to prove it.  Take a look at this play from LSU’s late-January tilt against Oklahoma.  Watch Simmons identify the lack of backside help, blow by Khadeem Lattin, and rock the cradle like it’s nothing:


He’s a very intelligent offensive player, one who uses his athletic ability and length to overpower smaller, weaker defenders.  He needs to learn how to shoot (more on that later) but his athleticism, rebounding, and passing make him, in the minds of many, the undisputed top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

And it’s easy to see why; we haven’t seen anything quite like Simmons in a long time, and it’s difficult to compare the Aussie to just one past or present NBA player.  If I were to guess, he’s equal parts of Lamar Odom, Blake Griffin, and LeBron.  He possesses Odom’s passing ability and creativity, Griffin’s rebounding ability, and LeBron’s can’t-miss athleticism.  He has the potential to be a special player, but his skill set is one unfamiliar to many.

That shouldn’t prevent us from appreciating him, though.  And it shouldn’t prevent him from reaching his full potential, either.

The Case for Brandon Ingram

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today

Ingram’s case is rooted less in the now and more in the potential of what he could become later on.  Ingram came into Duke very shortly after turning 18 and improved greatly on both ends as the season went along.  While he had more talent around him in Durham than Simmons did at LSU, Ingram’s steady improvement and promising upside make him a potentially high-reward, albeit somewhat high-risk, pick at one.

The main difference between Ingram’s game and Simmons’ is that the former is able to consistently knock down shots from deep.  That being said, he can get up when given the space, as he did against Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament:


Ingram is easily the best two-way player in the draft, one who really competes on both ends.  He’s ready to contribute right away defensively and should be able to handle most threes and even some fours.  He’s an extremely athletic, long wing who will fit perfectly in today’s NBA and most teams’ systems, as well.  If there’s one knock on him, it’s that he’s:

  1. incredibly raw
  2. too thin to handle NBA physicality

After watching Ingram play several times and studying tape on him, I came to the conclusion that he reminded me of Kevin Durant. Yes, that’s a lofty comparison and it doesn’t mean he will become the player KD is, but their styles of play are very similar.  He weighs under 200 pounds, but as ESPN’s Ian Begley points out, he’s working diligently to fix this problem as quickly as possible:

Ingram’s potential is off-the-charts.  That’s why Philadelphia should take him with their first overall pick.

The Verdict

We’ve dissected the case for each player to go first overall on June 23. In my view, Ingram and Simmons are 1 and 1a; it’s hard to go wrong either way.  That being said, I do have to pick one over the other, and even though they are very close talent-wise, I’ll take Brandon Ingram by a hair.  Here’s why.

For one thing, I like his fit in most NBA organizations.  There aren’t many systems in which he would not be able to find a role, as his talent at both ends gives him the versatility to succeed.  This isn’t to say that Simmons is not versatile, but he is multi-talented in a slightly different way.  For example, he was asked to handle the ball more in college than he likely will in the NBA.  Ingram, on the other hand, worked more off-the-ball at Duke, getting open off screens and the penetration of Duke guards.

On that note, Ingram is a far better off-ball player than Simmons.  He plays very instinctually on offense and knows how to get open.  The LSU forward isn’t there yet, but he has to learn how to shoot first.

Don’t think that Simmons’ inability to sink a jump shot won’t hurt him at the next level.  Defenses will be more likely to sag off him, preventing him from building momentum toward the rim and, in turn, creating offense for his teammates.  He’s also not even shooting with the proper hand; learning to shoot with his right hand and not his left could help him improve.  But he absolutely has to get better from outside of the paint, and this will likely be the next step in his development.

The other factor that has been much discussed recently is Simmons’ interest in playing for the 76ers.  As Nick DePaula of The Vertical reported before the Draft Lottery, outside elements beyond fit and need may be at play:

The thinking from Simmons’ camp is straightforward and simple: It’s the Los Angeles Lakers or bust.

As it stands, Simmons has five-year endorsement offers from adidas and Nike. Adidas is offering a $10 million deal that also includes a $2 million signing bonus and a $1 million incentive bonus for being named Rookie of the Year. There are also several other on-court performance triggers that would provide Simmons with elevated marketing, extra resources and possibly his own signature shoe should he play at an All-Star level.

I’ll be honest: the shoe endorsement opportunities and off-court distractions are somewhat significant, but they should not be non-starters in Bryan Colangelo’s decision.  However, if Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul, expressly state that the prospect will refuse to play for the team, then Philly has to either take Ingram or trade down for more assets.  The 76ers are in a difficult position with this pick, especially if Simmons’ demands force their hand.

For these and other reasons, I would take Brandon Ingram over Ben Simmons if I had the #1 overall pick.  It’s a tough choice and one that will dictate the future of the 76ers for years to come, but I think that Ingram will continue to improve and validate his very high upside.

But it’s a very difficult decision, one I’m very happy I don’t have to make.

2015 NBA Mock Draft/Big Board



The NBA Draft is taking place next Thursday, June 25, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.  There has been a lot of buzz around this year’s draft for its fast risers (Cameron Payne, Kristaps Porzingis) and its droppers (Justise Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay).  There are other sources of intrigue in the draft that are unique to this year; we’ll explore those later.  For now, let’s start with a big board of 50 players that should all be drafted on Thursday.

  1. D’Angelo Russell
  2. Karl-Anthony Towns
  3. Jahlil Okafor
  4. Justise Winslow
  5. Emmanuel Mudiay
  6. Willie Cauley-Stein
  7. Mario Hezonja
  8. Stanley Johnson
  9. Kristaps Porzingis
  10. Myles Turner
  11. Cameron Payne
  12. Trey Lyles
  13. Sam Dekker
  14. Tyus Jones
  15. Bobby Portis
  16. Frank Kaminsky
  17. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  18. Devin Booker
  19. Kelly Oubre
  20. Montrezl Harrell
  21. Delon Wright
  22. Jerian Grant
  23. R.J. Hunter
  24. Terry Rozier
  25. Justin Anderson
  26. Kevon Looney
  27. Caris LeVert
  28. Cliff Alexander
  29. Kris Dunn
  30. Jonathan Holmes
  31. Jarell Martin
  32. Robert Upshaw
  33. Rashad Vaughn
  34. Christian Wood
  35. Jordan Mickey
  36. Chris McCullough
  37. Nikola Milutinov
  38. Rakeem Christmas
  39. Andrew Harrison
  40. Joseph Young
  41. Dakari Johnson
  42. Michael Qualls
  43. J.P. Tokoto
  44. Olivier Hanlan
  45. Brandon Ashley
  46. Cedi Osman
  47. Pat Connaughton
  48. Michael Frazier II
  49. Ryan Boatright
  50. Larry Nance Jr.

You probably realized that my number one choice is not the common one.  Rest assured, I can explain myself.  I wrote this article in late May about why Russell is the best player.  Another thing that I probably should explain in putting Justise Winslow at 4.  Sure, we’ve all seen him take a jump shot and it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but no one in this draft plays harder than he does.  He may get hurt because of it, and his career may very well be shorter for it, but I want a player like him on my team for his competitiveness.

A player you saw that I probably put very low is Kristaps Porzingis.  While I think that his upside is fantastic, he needs quite a bit of time to develop, and he needs to go to a system that will allow him to play his unique game and an organization that gives him time to develop.  I believe that the rest of the board does well to explain itself, and that parts of it will be explained more fully in the mock draft section of this article.

Now to the fun part: the mock draft.  The mock draft will cover the first round in its entirety, and will provide which player is being drafted, who is drafting them, a brief description, and a pro player comparison for each drafted player.  Who’s going where?  Who’s rising? Who’s falling?  I don’t know, but I’ll take my best guess here.  So, here goes, my official 2015 NBA Mock Draft.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The pick: Karl-Anthony Towns


It’s entirely possible that the Timberwolves could draft Jahlil Okafor at #1.  The problem, however, is the contract of starting center Nikola Pekovic which makes Minnesota give up $12 million per year.  This, coupled with weakness at the 4 position force the T’Wolves to go with Towns here.  It’s not a guarantee, however.  Towns is a good jump shooter who can also bang on the glass.  His athleticism limits him, but he is still strong enough to back down NBA bigs.

Towns’ defense can improve, but he is a rather mobile big man who can move around, especially in the paint.  Here is a block that he had against Mississippi State:

If you thought that dunk attempt was absolutely terrible, you’re right.  However, Towns has potential on defense and as a rebounder.  His strength will allow him to improve in this regard, and his high basketball IQ can’t hurt either.

Towns has some issues in the post, especially with making moves there.  Also, he gets into foul trouble on D and has a tendency to help when he shouldn’t. However, even though he can play very inconsistently at times, he has the potential to be a big-time NBA two-way big man.

Towns Comparison: DERRICK FAVORS

2. Los Angeles Lakers

The Pick: Jahlil Okafor


I don’t have a ton of confidence in this pick materializing.  The Lakers basically have three directions they could go in with this pick:

1.  Draft for their biggest need (a big man) and take Okafor

2.  Draft a running mate for Kobe Bryant in what is likely his final season and take D’Angelo Russell or…

3.  Go bananas and draft Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis is a jump shooting 7-footer out of Latvia that was minimally heralded until recently. However, he has shot up draft boards with his impressive workouts.  However, this would be an awful fit for the Lakers because he needs at least 3 years to develop into a consistent, productive player and more likely 5 years to realize his full potential. The Lakers don’t have that much time, and they don’t want a third shoot-first backcourt player; they take Okafor. Okafor, as you may already know, is the top center in the draft.  He is excellent at running the floor and can also excel in a halfcourt set.  His defense can improve as well, and he can give more effort at that end.  He will be a great offensive rebounder in the pro game, and I feel that this is his best skill in the pros. Also, his footwork is something to behold, and this has made him draw comparison to Al Jefferson. Also, he has great strength that manifests itself in absurd finishes like this one:

However, Okafor is a somewhat overrated defender, and his effort is very inconsistent at that end.  He is also very slow, and his footwork cannot bail him out of every situation.  He is very inexplosive, which does not help his prospects as a good NBA defender. However, he is one of the best all-around players in the draft, and I see the Lakers taking him at #2.


3. Philadelphia 76ers

The Pick: D’Angelo Russell

G/Ohio State

The Philadelphia 76ers unveiled new uniforms a week before the draft. This is often done to show a new direction, a new attitude for a franchise.  The team does the best thing to change the attitude and fortunes of the franchise by taking the draft’s best player.  Just ask him:

Russell has some issues with his jump shooting and his athleticism, and these will force him to adjust parts of his game at the next level.  He also doesn’t have the ability to finish with his right hand right now, and he needs to develop that.  However, he is the best player in the draft for his scoring prowess and his high basketball IQ.  He also rebounds very well for his position and makes plays others cannot because of his excellent size.

Nonetheless, Philly gets an unselfish, all-around point guard who can, at worst, replace the scoring of the departed Michael Carter-Williams.  This team still has a ways to go, which starts and ends with the health of big man Joel Embiid, but this is an awesome start.

Russell Comparison: DAMIAN LILLARD

4. New York Knicks

The Pick: Emmanuel Mudiay

PG/Republic of Congo (played for Guangdong Tigers of Chinese Basketball Association in 2014-15)

Okay, I have no clue where this pick is going. Knowing the recent history of the Knicks, whatever they do still has a good chance of not working out. Look at what the team put on its website on June 1, showing its complete ineptitude from top to bottom:

Yes.  That is a real thing.  If you click the link, you actually get “highlights”, but you may be better served getting a 404 error. Anyway, there are so many directions this pick could go.  One clear option is to trade down in the draft, as they are enthralled with Murray State guard Cameron Payne and enamored with Kentucky forward Trey Lyles too.  They see both as logical fits for the Triangle offense.  Another is to see the team draft Porzingis or Russell, if they are available.  While Mudiay is not the best fit for the Triangle, if the team stays with this pick, this is who they’re going with. This is also good for team president Phil Jackson, who clearly does not care about 3-point shooting:

Hopefully, if the Knickerbockers take Mudiay, all will be goink great by this time next year.


5. Orlando Magic

The Pick: Mario Hezonja


Hezonja is another enigmatic international player, and much like Porzingis, experts are split on him. Here is an excerpt from an SBNation piece that describes Hezonja’s attitude very well:

Hezonja constantly talks trash to the opponent. He showboats after three-pointers. He hangs at the rim after dunks. And about those dunks: he absolutely never passes up the opportunity to do a windmill or a double clutch when he’s rumbling down the floor in transition.

Here’s Hezonja not stopping with his team up 19 points with five seconds left on the clock. He should just run out the clock, but no. Instead, he’d rather establish himself as the alpha and put an exclamation point on Barcelona’s playoff victory.

And this is the video in which Hezonja throws down the hammer on Unicaja’s season:

Hezonja’s greatest gift is his athleticism, and he is a good jump shooter who is very dangerous from outside.  His arrogance (or confidence, depending on how you view him), is what stands out to many.  he takes shots he probably shouldn’t, but that’s who he is.  He has the confidence/arrogance of a Kobe Bryant.  It will remain to be seen whether or not he is actually that good, but my guess is that he’s not.

Hezonja Comparison: BEN McLEMORE

6. Sacramento Kings

The Pick: Kristaps Porzingis


This is probably lower than you’ve seen Porzingis in any mock draft recently.  However, I still see him going to Sacramento and not Orlando.  The reason is simple: I don’t see the Magic giving up on Channing Frye and his 4-year, $32 million contract after year one.  I also don’t see the Magic giving up on last year’s #4 pick, Aaron Gordon, and his potential to grow into a potential starting power forward in the NBA.

The Kings, however, are a different story; while the Magic could use a power forward, a power forward is absolute necessity for the Kings.  At their best last season, they were starting Jason Thompson.  While they had success at the beginning of the season with him in the lineup, he only averaged 6 points per game and had a PER of 10.23, which ranked him 68th among power forwards.  This is the position where they need the most help; at points last year, Rudy Gay was pressed into playing it.

The Kings need him not just to fill a role but also to serve as a running mate for star big man DeMarcus Cousins.  Cousins has been one of the best centers in the NBA over the past 5 seasons, but has had no help in the frontcourt.  This pick may change that, and in the process, give the Kings a 7-foot shooter who can space the floor and give Boogie room to operate in the post.

Going to Sacramento will allow Porzingis to screw up, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. The team should and will give him time to learn the game, and if he goes to Sacramento, we will look back on this as a thoroughly solid pick for a rebuilding team.

Porzingis Comparison: DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS

7. Denver Nuggets

The Pick: Justise Winslow


The Nuggets go with a hard-nosed wing player that can help the team knock down its 3rd worst ranking in opponent points scored (105). Winslow plays excellent defense and has the best motor in the draft. Check out this play against Notre Dame in February that shows both his defense and his hustle:

That play is the reason that I had him at 4 on my big board.  A player with his hustle, work ethic, and motor will always have a place in the NBA, and while he just does not have a great jump shot, his defense will be his meal ticket to a successful NBA career.  This is the type of player that new Nuggets head coach Mike Malone should love to have on his team; a player that serves as a great example to the rest of the Nuggets, the same ones who quit on Brian Shaw, and a player that can help change the culture to a losing organization.


8. Detroit Pistons

The Pick: Stanley Johnson


Johnson can step in as a quality stretch 4 who can play solid defense and knock down some threes. What is most important to the Pistons in this draft is protecting against a potential Greg Monroe departure, and while trading for Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova helps in that regard, having an additional wing/stretch 4 can never hurt, especially considering that Tayshaun Prince is a free agent nearing the end of his career.

Ross Comparison: TERRENCE ROSS

9. Charlotte Hornets

The Pick: Cameron Payne

G/Murray State

Cameron Payne is one of the fastest rising players in this year’s NBA Draft, and people have come around to his game in recent weeks.  Why? Because he belongs.  Charlotte will take him here as another backcourt body as well as a good player to compliment Kemba Walker.

After the Lance Stephenson trade, some draft experts think that it is a given that Charlotte will go with a 2-guard at #9.  Count among these ESPN draft guru Chad Ford:

This is a perfectly logical assumption to come to. But I doubt it will happen for one simple reason: neither of those players are 9th pick in the draft talents. They could possibly get to that point down the road, but they are both still risky selections.  Payne can step right in and give Charlotte spacing, shooting, and shot creation right away.  An added positive is that while he only stands at 6-2, his game allows him to play some 2-guard, which will allow him to get playing time even when Kemba Walker on the floor.  He is a much better fit for this team than many pundits realize.

Payne Comparison: MIKE CONLEY

10. Miami Heat

The Pick: Willie Cauley-Stein


Do the Heat believe in mid-season revelation Hassan Whiteside?  Is Dwyane Wade coming back to Miami?  Those are the two questions that will dictate who gets taken here.  My best guess on those two questions is no to the first and yes to the second.  I answer the second question in the affirmative, even though Flash is already addressing his Heat days in the past tense:

However, this slip can just as easily be attributed to nervousness or simply misspeaking on air and not as a statement of fact.  This may very well be an ignorant viewpoint, but I can’t visualize D-Wade in another uniform; I still don’t see him playing in a city not named Miami.  However, no one ever saw LeBron James in a Heat uniform before 2010 either, so anything is possible.

The pick of Cauley-Stein here is also based on a possible lack of organizational belief in breakout center Hassan Whiteside.  At points last year, Mr. Whiteside drew comparisons to one of the best shot-blocking big men of recent NBA memory:

However, he also made plays like this one against Kelly Olynyk and the Celtics in March:

While Whiteside is under contract for next season, plays like the last one may temper Miami’s belief in his ability to maintain his composure at times.  They can still bring in another center to push Whiteside in camp.  Another center would also allow the Heat to see which player is better and worth keeping.  This pick would set up a clear competition in which two men enter and only one survives long term with the organization.

Finally, how could you refuse big Willie’s style and his wardrobe decisions?  He even has his own clothing line, and if this is on it, I may invest.

Cauley-Stein Comparison: TYSON CHANDLER

11. Indiana Pacers

The Pick: Frank Kaminsky


The Pacers may or may not need a big man this offseason.  Roy Hibbert has a player option for next year, and Luis Scola is not under contract for next season.  This pick is also one that is made in the interest of improving the team on the offensive end. While the Pacers ranked tied for third in the league in points allowed last season (97), they were ranked but 24th in the league in points scored (97.3).  If Kaminsky winds up in Indiana, he can develop a niche as a floor-spacing big man who can knock down threes and do some ball-handling as well.

Kaminsky’s greatest asset unique to him is his incredible footwork.  Look at him clown Jahlil Okafor with a genius spin move on this play in ‘Sconnie’s Title Game loss to Duke:

He is a player that is very smart and makes few mistakes with the basketball in his hand.  He is maybe the most versatile player in this year’s draft, and can handle the ball and even create his own shot on occasion.

However, he will struggle to defend NBA big men, a fact that was painfully obvious in the Title Game when Frank the Tank struggled to hold down Okafor in the post.  His lack of explosiveness also hurts him in this regard, and more athletic bigs may take him to town.

However, even though he basically is what he is as a player, he is a nice fit in the Pacers’ struggling offense.

Kaminsky Comparison: KELLY OLYNYK

12. Utah Jazz

The Pick: Myles Turner


The Jazz are in a good position with their frontcourt. They already have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the fold, and they will occupy the starting spots at the two big positions.  Favors is a gifted offensive player who can also do a good job on the glass. Gobert’s all-around game is still coming along going into his third NBA season, but he is a flat-out athletic freak:

The Jazz are a team looking to potentially sneak into the playoffs next year in the still-stacked Western Conference, and this is a pick that can help them fortify their identity as a defensive, rebounding team.  Little-known fact: the Jazz allowed the least points per game in the NBA last season (94.9).  This team could become a poor man’s version of the Grizzlies of recent years, and having another big man in the fold will help them to realize this potential.

Turner is one of if not the best rebounding big man in this year’s draft, and he also has a vastly improved jump shot and face-up game.  He can get knocked around by stronger bigs in the paint, but his frame should fill out some.  He is the obvious choice here.

Turner Comparison: BROOK LOPEZ

13. Phoenix Suns

The Pick: Kelly Oubre


I’m going to make this clear from the jump: I don’t love Oubre’s game.  He has a tendency to take poor shots, especially jumpers, and he is not an overly willing passer.  He’s not a great jump shooter, and, as you may be able to guess, his basketball IQ and feel for the game have lots of room for improvement.  However, he does things like this, and you can tell that there is room for him somewhere in the NBA:

The place where there is clearly room for him to play is in Phoenix.  He is a great fit here, where is excellent athleticism and his prowess in transition will help the Suns’ high-powered attack.  The Suns played the third-fastest pace in the NBA last season, only trailing the two best teams in the West, Golden State and Houston.  While Oubre needs a lot of work in most of the other areas of his game, he doesn’t need work here.

Phoenix is a place where Oubre can go and maximize his potential.  This is the one team in the lottery that he can go to and immediately flourish. Their high-powered offense and up-tempo system will maximize his strengths (athleticism, defensive potential, transition play) and minimize his weaknesses (feel for the game, jump shooting, consistency).  This is the perfect fit for him, in all areas of the game.

Oubre Comparison: WESLEY JOHNSON

14. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Pick: Sam Dekker


This is a team that has very few needs on paper. However, they would like to have insurance against another year or more of injuries to Kevin Durant. Not to panic Thunder fans, but the history of the NBA seems to suggest that foot injuries don’t go away, but foot injuries have largely occurred in big men (Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Yao Ming).  However, the Thunder were two different teams last season: the one with KD and the one without him.  They were 18-9 when Durant played last season and 27-28 when he didn’t suit up.

The Thunder were left to starting either Kyle Singler or Andre Roberson at that position without Durant. I feel that Dekker can and will be a better player than both of them, and can step in and contribute off the bench when Durant is playing.  This is a team competing for a title, and they get to fill a need and draft a luxury, both in one shot.

Dekker is a versatile offensive player who can do a little bit of everything on that end of the floor.  He is not the best defender, but he can either defend the perimeter or the post there.  His jump shot can be erratic and has a stupid high arc.  While he drained this one to send Wisconsin to the Final Four, you can see that the shot is in the air for nearly 2 seconds:

He shot 50% from three in the tournament, but turned in an 0-6 performance in the National Championship Game; his jumper finally regressed to the mean.  That always happens to shooters that are mediocre or worse; they struggle to stay hot and their shot comes crashing down to Earth sooner or later.  However, Dekker belongs in the NBA, even if his jump shot may hit the ceiling once or twice.  He will be a role player to start, and could develop into a decent starter someday.

Dekker Comparison: CHANDLER PARSONS

15. Atlanta Hawks

The Pick: Trey Lyles


Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic are all free agents this summer.  They probably should all stay in Atlanta, especially if the #1 thing they care about is winning.  However, if the Hawks cannot protect all of them, and that is likely, Lyles is a safe, obvious choice at 15.  Of course, the Knicks could trade down for him, but the Hawks could use his face up game and offensive versatility here.

Lyles is a tweener defensively, and he struggles to guard bigger power forwards in the post.  His best work on defense comes when he is guarding small forwards and wings, and if he can guard NBA wings with success, he can have a nice career.  His frame needs to fill out to have success, especially on the glass, but he has the potential to get better and make a career for himself.

Lyles Comparison: DAVID WEST

16. Boston Celtics

The Pick: Bobby Portis


Portis, in my view, is one of this year’s draft’s most criminally underrated players.  He realizes this too, as profiled in this BasketballInsiders piece:

“I play mad,” Portis said. “I play very angry because when I’m sitting in the locker room before a game, I imagine my opponent slapped my Mom. That’s why I play mad. Now, I have to bring it to him because he slapped my Mom… I’ve created this thing that I do now where I get mad so I can go out there and have a productive night.”

Portis knows this is somewhat strange, telling reporters with a smile, “I am crazy.” But there’s no arguing with the results. His pre-game ritual certainly worked in college, as he averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals as a sophomore at Arkansas. Not to mention, he shot extremely well from the field (53.6 percent) and three-point range (46.7 percent).

The 20-year-old power forward is an interesting and versatile prospect. He studies Kevin Garnett, trying to mimic aspects of Garnett’s game and, most notably, his intensity.

Yes.  Kevin Garnett.  While he does not have Garnett’s overall game, he does have the intensity of KG.  His motor is something awesome, and he keeps plays alive with it.  His motor aids him in making winning plays, those that make the razor thin difference between winning and losing.

He also plays like Garnett with his faceup game.  His agility helps him to take bigger, less spry defenders off the bounce, and his decent, still developing jump shot keeps those same defenders honest.  His basketball IQ is also very high, and he makes the easy, simple play, which goes a long way in the NBA. Mark my words: Bobby Portis is going to have a long, successful career in the NBA.  Don’t believe me?  Just watch.

Portis Comparison: TAJ GIBSON

17. Milwaukee Bucks

The Pick: Devin Booker


Booker is an intriguing player whose best skill at this point in his career is his jump shooting.  Take this quote from a CBS Philadelphia article from his college head coach, John Calipari:

Unprompted, Coach Cal compared Booker to one of the NBA’s ascending shooting guards, who just happened to win the NBA Championship on Tuesday night.
“You’re talking about a big guard, who can shoot, Klay Thompson-ish,” Calipari said of Booker. “That’s what he looks like. The league now is create a rotation defensively and take advantage of that rotation. Well, with him out on the court, either you don’t let him get it and it’s four-on-four or you do let him get it and he’s looking quick three, pull-up elbow, teach him to finish at the rim, he’s pretty good. Again, the league at his size, he ends up guarding somebody 6 [foot], 4 [inches], 6 [foot], 5 [inches].”

Let me put this out here before the people reading this go crazy: He isn’t Klay Thompson.  Sorry.  He’s one of the best shooters in the draft, and he is the youngest player in the draft.  (He will turn 19 on October 30th, which is around the time when the 2015-16 season will start).  However, he will not gain added mobility with age, and his athleticism is not very good either.  He can become a good player in the NBA, but he isn’t Klay Thompson.

The Bucks need him for his offense and 3-point shooting.  Even though they ranked 7th in the league in shooting from beyond the arc (36.3%), they struggled to score points (97.9 PPG, T-21st).  These facts were painfully apparent in their first-round series against the Bulls, in which they shot 30% from 3 and failed to average 90 points per game.  Milwaukee also has a good deal of cap room with the trade of Ersan Ilyasova, and they could be gearing up for a big summer in free agency.  Don’t count out the possibility of the Bucks signing or trading for a marquee player, and possibly using Booker to do this.

Booker will be a solid NBA player.  His three-point shooting will help whichever team he goes to.  But he isn’t Klay Thompson.

Booker Comparison: DANNY GREEN

18. Houston Rockets

The Pick: Delon Wright


Wright gives the Rockets a solid defensive point guard the likes of their current starting point guard, Patrick Beverley.  When Beverley went down last season, backup Jason Terry performed admirably in his presence, and even got in a crossover against the league MVP:

However, Terry is in his contract year, and testing free agency once more is an option for Jet.  Another option for him is to retire, which is also very possible.  Wright gives the Rockets an NBA-ready point guard that can become a contributor right away off the bench.

Wright’s most translatable skill to the NBA right now is his length and his defense.  He also has a high basketball IQ and he got to the free throw line consistently at Utah.  However, he is not quick or fast, and his jump shot needs a good deal of improvement.

Wright Comparison: ELFRID PAYTON

19. Washington Wizards

The Pick: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson


Last year, Paul Pierce anchored the small forward spot for the Wizards.  While he had a solid year, he averaged the lowest points per game of his career (11.9) and at 37 years old, he may not have much left in the tank.  However, he had a little bit left for the playoffs:

After the game, the Truth said this when asked whether he called bank on the shot:

That quote is entirely appropriate for the discussion of the Wizards pick at 19.  If Pierce calls game on his Hall of Fame career, the Wizards need a body to put in the rotation behind presumed starter Otto Porter. The Wizards are clearly gearing up for the summer of 2016, however, as the organization and its fans are pulling out all the stops to get him back to his hometown:

In the interim, however, Hollis-Jefferson will give the Wizards the gift of his outstanding athleticism and motor.  For the Wizards, he can be an excellent role player, providing energy and effort off the bench for a team trying to take the next step in the Eastern Conference.  He is also a very versatile defender. However, his jump shot can do a good deal of improving, and he needs to improve it to augment his athleticism and hard work both on the glass and defensively.

Hollis-Jefferson Comparison: KAWHI LEONARD

20. Toronto Raptors

The Pick: Tyus Jones


This is another criminally underrated player in this draft.  Draft experts are lower on Jones because of his very limited mobility.  However, he took, and made, enormously big shots all year long, like this one that spelled the beginning of the end for Wisconsin in the National Title Game:

The point here is that Jones has historically been a clutch player who has a history of winning.  He is also an excellent passer who always gets the ball to his teammates at the right time, in the right place. Jones is also a good shooter, which always helps at the next level.  However, he will have to rely on his jumper in the pros, as he will struggle to create his own shot.  The lack of athletic tools limit Jones’ upside as well, and he will be a backup in the league for at least his first year in the league.

This is a good fit for the Raptors because they are at risk of losing the 2014-15 6th Man of the Year award winner, Lou Williams, to free agency.  Williams, a guard, is an unrestricted free agent after this season. They will definitely look to get him back, but will also take Jones on account of the possibility that he may not be back.

I believe that Jones’ ability to create for others and shoot will make him a good player in the NBA.  His very high basketball IQ will not hurt either, and this will give him a long prosperous career.


21. Dallas Mavericks

The Pick: Monterzl Harrell


The Mavericks need a little bit of everything is this year’s offseason, and they would like to have it in the form of youth.  Harrell is a good place to start, as his athleticism, rebounding, and mobility, especially for a big man, are ready to be showcased at the next level.  His defense could use improvement, and while his athleticism makes up for some of these errors, he could use improvement with this as well as his rebounding.

The Mavericks were the oldest team in the league last season (average age: 29.5 years old) and they desperately need youth.  Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire are free agents.  Dirk Nowitzki is nearing the end of his stellar career.  Additionally, key bench player Charlie Villanueva is also a free agent.  The point I’m trying to make here is clear: the team needs to get younger, in a hurry.

Harrell is a player who, despite his mistakes, will be an outstanding energy big, especially for a team like the Mavericks, who are looking to win a title.  His feel for the game and decision making can greatly improve, but going to a team like the Mavericks will help out his career a ton.

Harrell Comparison: AMIR JOHNSON

22. Chicago Bulls

The Pick: Terry Rozier


The Bulls may very well need a backup point guard again this offseason, as Aaron Brooks is an unrestricted free agent and Kirk Hinrich has a player option.  Rozier seems to be the logical choice in this spot, and the Windy City is a very good fit for him.

Rozier is a high volume scorer who also has the ability to find open teammates.  While is shot selection can suffer at times, his ability to create his shot is a very translatable skill for him going into his rookie season.  Another skill of his is his defense, as he is a pick-pocket-er who will swipe the ball away from unsuspecting ball handlers.  He is a sneaky good choice at pick #22.

Think about this: the backup point guard on the Bulls has prospered every year since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.  Players such as C.J. Watson, Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin, and Aaron Brooks have all seen increases in offensive production.  This is for one simple reason: Derrick Rose’s inability to avoid the injury bug, especially with his knees.  If the Bulls take Rozier, remember his name; he could be pressed into more action than some would think.

Rozier Comparison: TREY BURKE

23. Portland Trail Blazers

The Pick: Kevon Looney


Guess what: LaMarcus Aldridge may very well be leaving the Pacific Northwest this summer.  Rumors have pegged Aldridge as going to either the Spurs or Mavericks in free agency, and league executives believe Aldridge will leave, accroding to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:

Will Love sign it? He’s repeatedly said that he intends to be with the Cavs next year and into the future. The issue is that almost no one in the league believes it yet, so he will be courted on July 1. Of all of the high-profile free agents this summer, executives still believe Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are the likeliest to be willing to change teams.

That clears the way for Portland to go with a power forward, making UCLA’s Kevon Looney a sensible pick.  Even though he is not a very good athlete and does not have much strength to knock around NBA big men in the post, he is a very good offensive rebounder and defender.  This play shows his rebounding prowess, although you can begin to detect a lack of lift on his part:

There is no way on Earth that Looney will be able to replace Aldridge, assuming he leaves.  However, he can give the Blazers defense, which, even though it ranked 12th in the league in points allowed (98.6), could use improvement, especially considering that Portland plays the Thunder four times a year and would like to win another division title next year. Their work will be cut out for them without Aldridge, however.


24. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Pick: R.J. Hunter

SG/Georgia State

The Cavaliers need some help for LeBron James.  In Miami, the self-proclaimed best player in the world had shooters such as Mike Miller, James Jones, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers to turn to when he was bottled up.  Without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving in the NBA Finals, however, there was little to no floor spacing with players such as Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert.  They, along with J.R. Smith, hit some key threes, especially in the series’ first three games, but went cold in the last three games.

Georgia State shooting guard R.J. Hunter will change that.  He can shoot the lights out at times, and, although he is inconsistent, he can help the Cavs space the floor in some limited minutes off the bench.  On the off chance that James Jones or Mike Miller leave, he can help to replace them.  J.R. Smith also has a player option, and he may not be back either.

Hunter is a knockdown shooter who can also play a little in the pick and roll.  You know what that means in the NBA though: he’ll be used as a knockdown shooter.  Check out this three that he drained in the team’s first round NCAA Tournament game to sink heavily favored Baylor:

While he is thin as a rail and will get kicked around defensively, the jump shooting he provides is his greatest asset.  He can be streaky as a shooter and will have some bad misses from time to time, but can really help the Cavaliers space the floor better than they did at times last year and in the NBA Finals.  This is the easy choice here.

Hunter Comparison: GARY NEAL

25. Memphis Grizzlies

The Pick: Jarell Martin


The Grizzlies have not one but two aging big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.  It also doesn’t help that Gasol is a free agent, and a prized commodity at that.  With Randolph nearing the end of his career, it would help the Grizzlies greatly to have a backup power forward, especially if Randolph becomes susceptible to injury like he was in 2011-12. However, Martin is a far different player than the Grizzlies are used to having.

Martin is a sick athlete that runs the floor in transition and makes spectacular highlight plays on a regular basis.  Have a look at a dunk he threw down against Florida, in a college basketball game that counted.

Martin’s athleticism is everything in his game, which is why his overall game needs a lot of work. His defense is extremely questionable, as is his effort at that end.  His basketball IQ is not very high, and he is prone to ball watching on defense and taking tough shots on offense.  However, he is a project, one that will allow Randolph to finish his career without looking over his shoulder.

Martin Comparison: JEFF GREEN

26. San Antonio Spurs

The Pick: Nikola Milutinov


The Spurs have had other-worldly success in terms of drafting international players.  This chart demonstrates this fact:

1999: Manu Ginobili

2001: Tony Parker

2002: Luis Scola

2003: Leandro Barbosa

2004: Beno Udrih

2005: Ian Mahinmi

2007: Tiago Splitter

2008: Goran Dragic

2009: Nando de Colo

That isn’t too shabby.  Players such as Scola, Barbosa, Udrih, Mahinmi and Dragic had to be let go because the Spurs simply didn’t need them.  The team’s contract situation is also good, provided Ginobili and Tim Duncan decide to come back, which they most likely will.  The rest of the team, with the exception of Parker, Boris Diaw and Splitter is also under contract, but few if any of the role players are likely to leave.

This pick can very easily become what is known as a draft-and-stash pick, especially considering how interested San Antonio is in LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.  Milutinov is a solid jump shooter, especially from inside the arc, a good transition player, as well as a great passer from inside the paint.  He is a typical Spur.  However, this pick is not about what Milutinov gives the Spurs; it’s about what he doesn’t take from them; a roster spot.

Milutinov Comparison: MEYERS LEONARD

27. Los Angeles Lakers

The Pick: Justin Anderson


The Lakers have this pick from the Houston Rockets after last summer’s Jeremy Lin trade.  They could go in a couple of different directions here, as this is simply a luxury pick with which the Lakers could fill out the roster.  With Okafor already in the fold, they are likely to go with Virginia’s Justin Anderson, who will provide them depth at small forward just in case Wesley Johnson leaves in free agency.

While Johnson had one of the best years of his career (out of necessity), he cannot be counted upon to do the same again due to the returns of Kobe Bryant and Joseph Randle and the Lakers’ #2 draft pick.  Anderson can provide depth behind Johnson, even though he has stayed remarkably healthy over the course of his career.

However, the Lake Show may be on to something with a late-round pick.  As Umair Khan of the Wizards-centric website “Bullets Forever” writes, Anderson may be the league’s next great “3-and-D” player off the bench:

He has all the tools you want out of a “3 and D” prospect, but with some baggage as well. I think it’ll take a year of seasoning and learning the intricacies of an NBA defense, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he stepped in from day one and made an impact either. There’s rough edges, but he’s also a prospect with good size and athleticism and with NBA range on his shot.

This sums up Anderson’s game perfectly.  He can be a decent three-point shooter and rebounder with good athleticism.  He needs time, but he could be a stealthily good choice for L.A. at 27.

Anderson Comparison: AL-FAROUQ-AMINU

28. Boston Celtics

The Pick: Jerian Grant

PG/Notre Dame

The Celtics acquired this pick in the Doc Rivers trade from two drafts ago.  They don’t have very many needs this year, although Grant can fill a need that may not appear to exist, but still does.

The C’s may very well be in need of a backup point guard.  After trading Rajon Rondo on December 10, 2014, Boston was forced to use Phil Pressey as their backup point guard, and his real numbers and per 36 minutes numbers were not very good.  The organization tried to assuage this need by trading for Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, but the team was only playing three guards consistently; Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley.  They could use a fourth guard, and specifically a point guard, to fill this need.  Grant fits the bill perfectly.

Grant is an excellent passer who creates for others by using his elite size and passing ability.  He also has the ability to knock down some jump shots, but not with regularity.  His defense is good and can even still improve a little bit.  He will struggle to finish in the NBA, and will need to develop his jumper and range to combat this, but he is a good fit for the Celtics here.

29. Brooklyn Nets

The Pick: Cliff Alexander


This is one of those picks where the team has little if any wiggle room with their cap situation and decides on a player because it has nothing to lose. This is why Alexander is going here.  The Nets have nothing to lose (or gain, for that matter) and they are taking a player with good potential who can step in a make a contribution.  This is Cliff Alexander’s potential, right here:

Alexander is also an excellent rebounder who moves very well for a big man.  He also has grown-man strength, and uses in screens and back downs. However, he has a poor feel for the game and is extremely foul-prone on defense.  He was also held out of action after February 23 after it was learned that his mother took out a loan for Alexander’s pro career, so there is not a ton of tape on him.

However, the Nets will cross their fingers and hope for the very best on this pick.  It’s all they can do.

Alexander Comparison: DANTE CUNNINGHAM

30. Golden State Warriors

The Pick: Chris McCullough


The Warriors have very few needs coming off their first NBA title since 1975.  However, the Warriors are shopping David Lee, and there is a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless, that jack-of-all-trades Draymond Green leaves in free agency.  McCullough is simply protection against this happening, and nothing more.

McCullough has a tendency to run the floor, and he is very agile in transition.  He can become a good shooter, especially as a face-up player.  He fits the Warriors system perfectly; wide open, fast-paced and quick-firing.

Where McCullough falls short is his defense, where he is not overly tough or physical, for that matter. His lack of strength hurts him on the glass and in the post.  He will have to fill out to have a career in the NBA, but the potential is there.  Also, he tore his ACL this past January, which is one giant red flag.

McCullough Comparison: UDONIS HASLEM

D’Angelo Russell is the Best Player in This Year’s NBA Draft

The NBA Draft is just about exactly a month away and mock drafts and big boards are abound.  Many mock drafts have either Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky power forward Karl-Anthony Towns going #1 overall. Many big boards say the exact same thing: Either Towns or Okafor is the best player in the draft.  Personally, I would take Towns over Okafor for various reasons, but I really don’t think that’s the conversation we should be having here.  I think that the best player in the draft is neither Towns or Okafor: It’s Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell.

First, let’s look at Russell physically.  Russell is tall for a point guard, at 6-foot-5.  While his frame is only at 180 pounds right now, that should fill out over time.  While these are positives, there is one large, glaring negative with Russell: athleticism.  He does not get high off the ground, and some see this as the one trait or quality that will serve to doom his career.  However, he realizes this, and he plays as a low to the ground player, with a solid mid-range jumper and floater game.  Also, his basketball IQ is through the roof, routinely seeing plays before they develop and making the simple play.

Second of all, Russell is easily the most offensively polished player in the draft.  He is a pretty good post player, occasionally using his size to post up smaller guards.  Also, he has the potential to be a very good shooter in the NBA. While his shot is streaky, he can develop it; what also helps is that he’s just 19 years old.  He’s a versatile scorer, too, using all aspects of his offensive game to score.  He is also an incredibly unselfish player who passes to open teammates.  Along these lines, he is a very good rebounder, and after getting a rebound, he uses his IQ and unselfishness to push the ball ahead in transition, which creates a chance for open teammates at the other end.

What will hold him back, as I mentioned earlier, is his lack of explosiveness and athleticism.  Because of this, he consistently avoids contact at the rim and relies far too heavily on his floater.  He will most likely also struggle against size and shot blocking defenders at the NBA level, which will force him to take too many jump shots.  Taking too many jump shots, however, will force him to work hard on that shot, which has the potential to get much better. Also, he has lapses on defense.  He is too often caught watching the ball on defense and sometimes lacks the effort necessary on an every-night basis in the NBA.  However, this should improve with time and repetition, and Russell has the upside and potential to be a good defender at the next level.

Finally, the biggest positive that goes along with Russell is his swagger and confidence.  When he was asked at the NBA Draft Combine why teams should be interested and/or draft him, he said succinctly:

He’s right.  On an Ohio St. team that struggled at points last season, he was willing to shoulder the load on offense to try to get his team back into the game.  While his game isn’t all the way there yet, that’s okay, because no player in the draft’s game is.  Some may say that Towns is the best player in the draft, but he is really inconsistent in all areas of his game, and while not an unproven player, is a bigger risk who will take much more time to develop.  Some may have Okafor at #1 on their boards, he is not a great defender and is in-explosive, just like Russell.  Those people can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class.  In most mock drafts, Russell is going to Philadelphia at #3.  This is the perfect situation for him, and he has the potential to blossom there.  Actually, he has the potential to blossom anywhere he goes.  I think of him as a less explosive version of Damian Lillard; can score in bunches while setting up teammates all the while.  People who favor Okafor or Towns can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class.

And here’s why: he’s the best player in the draft.

Analyzing What the NBA Draft Lottery Results Mean for the Draft

Last night, the NBA held its annual ping pong tournament Draft Lottery in New York.  While the 76ers had the possibility of acquiring three lottery picks, they will only be held to one because the Lakers held their top-five protected pick (moving up to #2) and the Heat held their top-10 protected pick (staying at #10).  The Sixers acquired the third pick, however, while the Knicks fell to #4 after having the second best chance at the first overall slot. Orlando rounds out the top five, which was expected because they had the fifth best chance for #1 to start off with. So what does this all mean?  Well…

The Timberwolves, sitting at the top of the draft, are in an unenviable position.  While they have a great problem in choosing between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, they have an interesting and difficult decision to make.  Do they draft the Power forward in Towns and leave the oft-injured and somewhat under-performing Nikola Pekovic in an center?  Or, do they draft the center in Okafor and potentially leave the aging and regressing Kevin Garnett to haul a heavy load playing in what will likely be his last season in the NBA?  Also, does the Big Ticket decide to come back?  If he doesn’t, and Okafor is the choice, who plays the four?  Again, it’s a good problem to have if you’re Minnesota, but it’s  problem nonetheless.

The Lakers are sitting at two, and while their choice seems like a no-brainer, it is actually more of a trick question than you think.  While it seems as if they would take whoever the T-Wolves don’t in front of them between Towns and Okafor, I think they could make it a surprise with this pick.  With no point guards on the roster headed into next season (no, I’m serious) except for Jordan Clarkson, they could, and I emphasize could, take either Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally would have played at SMU this season and turned them into a championship contender, or Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell here.  It’s a stretch, but not a huge one.  A much bigger stretch would be fast-rising Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, who has made waves for his shot creating and three point shooting.  The Lakers need almost everything here, however, and Byron Scott has his own personal vendetta against 3-point shooting, so no Porzingis here.  After all, I don’t really think he fits the Lakers anyway, but on a team with Nick Young and Kobe Bryant taking all the shots, who does?

At three, look for the 76ers to go point guard.  The expected choice here and what seems to be the common sense one is Russell.  He is one of if not the most polished offensive player in this year’s draft, and could have a season like that of Michael Carter-Williams two years ago.  This works out perfectly for Philly, if Russell or Mudiay are available, and there’s no reason to think why at least one of them wouldn’t be there.  However, if Towns of Okafor are avaiable, they most likely would not be taken here, as the last thing the Sixers need is big men.  Again, this is a great position for Philly to be in here; with potentially no Towns or Okafor available here, they can still get their point guard of the future, whoever that may be.

This is just the first three picks.  The rest of the night is a litany of fun, trades, and booing that gives us plenty to salivate over until October.  Until then, we wait for the draft.  I hope to do a mock draft at some point, but the Playoffs will have to hold us over until then.