Sunday, June 18, 2017

2017 Lottery Mock Draft

It's NBA Draft week! Now that I've had a few days since the Warriors triumphed over the Cavaliers in the Finals, I've refocused my attention on this year's prospects, and now there is already a blockbuster trade at the top. Reminiscent of the last time they held the #1 pick in 1980, the Celtics are trading down to #3 and surprisingly only getting one future first round pick from the 76ers to do so, reportedly either the Lakers' 2018 pick if it lands in the 2-5 range or the Kings' 2019 pick. That's an intriguing pick protection that provides both sides a fair chance at next year's star studded draft since LA's young squad could improve or toil at the bottom of the pack again, and it's not too exorbitant for Philly to move up and get their guy. Now that they had him in for a workout and medical check yesterday before finalizing the trade, I think it's time for a mock draft of how the Lottery portion of the draft will play out before trades really affect the back half of the first round.

1. 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington PG/SG

Those LA and Sacramento picks that Sam Hinkie acquired are two of the best assets in the league given the state of those franchises, and now Bryan Colangelo is cashing one of them in to get into position for the clear-cut top prospect, who should fit in perfectly with his new team. With the variety of skills Fultz possesses, he's like a longer, more explosive C.J. McCollum: capable of playing on or off the ball to drain shots from all over the floor while also being an unselfish playmaker. Physically, he might not be quite the same level athlete as Dwyane Wade, but he displays similar capabilities with his 6'4", 195 lb frame and 6'10" wingspan as he blocks shots at a surprising rate and snakes through defenses. Although he has a ton of potential on defense, he still needs to show a more committed consistency on that end of the floor, so I'm curious who the fifth starter will be with him, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Robert Covington. Most would assume Dario Saric takes that spot given his upside and strong end to the season, but I'd like them to explore having him as a high usage 6th man in favor of potential 3-and-D wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. They both shot 31.1% from deep as rookies, but TLC saw his percentage go up to 33.0% over 19 games as a starter and wouldn't need the ball in his hands as much as Saric. They could have Simmons run the offense as the point guard with Fultz helping him as the secondary facilitator around Embiid's inside/outside game as Covington and TLC spot up, and although I may sound like a broken record, a player like Simmons allows for versatile lineups defensively. Having a swingman like Luwawu-Caborrot in the lineup provides a 6'7" perimeter defender for the opposing team's best small while Covington can guard the most threatening forward, and then Fultz and Simmons can match up on the lesser threats. Of course, the most important thing is that this young core stays healthy because they have the potential to become something special as they develop together.
2. Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA PG

This pick may not be as cut and dry as it once seemed, but I still think it ends up being the choice. Ball is the #2 player on my board and could become a superstar in his native Southern California with his infectious passing falling right in line with what coach Luke Walton wants to run. At first, I wasn't the biggest fan of the comparisons to Jason Kidd since he already has a more effective, albeit unorthodox, jumper and may never bulk up enough to become the strong defender that the future Hall of Famer was, but the DraftExpress deep dive made me more of a believer. Although there are still some defensive hesitations, especially in a back court with either D'Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson, Ball should pair well with each of them offensively since he doesn't need to be ball dominant to be effective. The other contender for this pick, Josh Jackson, is somewhat trickier of a fit since he's probably best as a small forward given the questions about his outside shooting, and that's where I think their only untouchable piece, Brandon Ingram, is also best suited unless he somehow packs on enough weight to become a stretch four. And then there's the pursuit of star small forward and SoCal native Paul George, who has apparently made his intentions clear to Indiana today. They'd be better off waiting to sign him outright next summer rather than give up assets to acquire him now, but it would take a bit of salary cap maneuvering with the Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov contracts if they want to keep Julius Randle's Bird Rights available. However, since the young power forward could be available, maybe they try offering a package centered around him and Russell to get PG13 now in order to entice another star to come. All of which is to say that Ball likely fits in better with what they currently have and what they'd like to pursue.

3. Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Duke SF/PF

For all of the talk of Josh Jackson being in the discussion for Boston at #1 because he's a Danny Ainge type of player, I think that's mostly conjecture at this point, especially since he hasn't even worked out for them. I've thought all along that Tatum's skill set would appeal to them more since he is more of a pure scorer, a better rebounder, and a bit bigger with further room for growth being a year younger. Despite not being the same kind of bouncy athlete, Rudy Gay is whose game I thought of right away with Tatum: a big wing who can play as a small ball four once he gets stronger, more of a shotmaker than a pure shooter, a capable passer who can get to the rim but not a natural creator, and an inconsistent defender who shows flashes of being a plus on that end. That kind of player should fit in well with this current core, and as I alluded to in that piece last month when suggesting a trade down, moving down two draft slots creates almost $1.4 million more cap space for them to use in their pursuit of a max player this summer. Now, they have just about enough room to sign a Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin if they waive Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey, renounce the rights to all of their free agents, and keep Guerschon Yabusele stashed overseas again. This could all backfire if they strike out in free agency and Fultz vastly outperforms whomever they take here, but adding this sliver of cap space and adding to their treasure trove of extra first round picks is worth the calculated risk, especially if they truly think Fultz is in the same tier as Tatum (notice the report below mentions four prospects rather than the usual Big 3 of Fultz, Ball, and Jackson). There's even the possibility that they moved on this deal now in order to move this new LA/Sac pick along with some other combination of their extra picks for Jimmy Butler or George now as an extra recruiting tool, so it's obviously still early to judge this trade.
4. Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas SF

After Lottery night, I thought it would be Tatum in this spot as the best player available and a nice upgrade over T.J. Warren, but I love the pairing of Jackson with star shooting guard Devin Booker if he ends up falling here. You could flip flop this and the Lakers pick with Ball also a nice fit, but I think this would be a better scenario for the Suns since they already have Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ulis, and Brandon Knight in the fold, which should also eliminate De'Aaron Fox despite their love affair with Kentucky guards. I've already gone a bit into how Jackson could be an Andre Iguodala type of player with his athleticism, defense, passing, and shaky shooting, and I think those skills combined with his aggressive competitiveness could bring out the best in this young team.

5. Kings: De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky PG

Things could end up playing out perfectly for Sacramento since they need a point guard, and Fox is a top talent. He's as quick as his name suggests, and with his thin frame, left handedness, pesky defense, and feel for the game, he reminds you a bit of Mike Conley. At 6'3", 170 lbs with a 6'6.5" wingspan, he's a bit longer and more dynamic of an athlete, however, so he could almost be compared to Russell Westbrook coming out of UCLA when he was thought of as a potential lock down defender. He can collapse a defense with ease to create for others or finish himself with pull-ups, floaters, and drawn fouls. Even if he has to work on his 3-point shot and decision making, a hyper-active defender who can wreak havoc in transition and put pressure on the defense in the half court would be quite the boon for Buddy Hield and their young bigs.

6. Magic: Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State PG

This is where the draft could turn since Orlando has new management in place and a bunch of nice young players but no stars. I'm putting Smith here since he has the highest upside remaining, and although Elfrid Payton had a strong second half of the season once they finally put spacing around him, he is entering the last year of his rookie deal. Although he's not exactly my favorite prospect, Smith isn't far behind Fox and might have shown more of his skills if he were on a better team than this Wolfpack squad that got Mark Gottfried fired. He's even more athletic despite coming off a torn ACL and has shown an improved jumper that led to 35.9% shooting from deep, even drawing a Damian Lillard comparison from the Dunc'd On podcast. Although I might still lean more towards Derrick Rose, both comparisons also extend to poor defense, however, and he'll have to become more consistent as a playmaker for others to reach his potential. If Frank Vogel believes he can coach up these flaws to at least adequate levels, then I think Smith is the pick over Jonathan Isaac, who would form an intriguing forward duo with Aaron Gordon but lacks offensive polish.

7. Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State SF/PF

Isaac might not last this far, but I love this potential fit as Minnesota needs 3-and-D forwards. I liked the Ringer's Marvin Williams comparison since he has the length, fluid athleticism, and shooting well-rounded offensive potential that made Williams the #2 overall pick and most recently earned him a $54.5 million contract now that he's found his niche as a stretch four in Charlotte. With his excellent rebounding and active defense, Isaac is probably best suited for that kind of role in the modern NBA, as well, but I think he could get some minutes as a mismatch three since that's what he grew up as before a 6 inch growth spurt led to his 6'10", 205 lb build with a 7'1" wingpan. That would give Tom Thibodeau the option of a huge defensive lineup of Rick Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Isaac, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns if he's committed to the twin towers look, and then Zach LaVine could serve as an explosive sixth man who replaces Dieng in crunch time. Or Dieng could just come off the bench to provide more spacing since Isaac can do a little bit of everything offensively but is just a solid shooter at this point and doesn't excel in any one area yet. If he's off the board, then Lauri Markkanen or Malik Monk could be the choice as sweet shooting prospects at power forward or guard.

8. Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky SG

Given the uncertainty around the franchise, it's hard to pinpoint what direction they might go in here. Frank Ntilinkina might be exactly what Phil Jackson wants out of his point guard in the Triangle, but is that really the offense they're going to stick with down the line? If they trade Carmelo Anthony to rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis, what kind of pieces will they be getting back as a foundation? I think they just go best player available here, and given some overlap between Markkanen and Porzingis, I think Monk wins the toss up. He's undersized as a shooting guard, but he has shown some potential as a passer, possibly enough to give him a look as a potential point guard down the line. With the success Booker has had as a pick and roll maestro in Phoenix that wasn't displayed at Kentucky, Monk get the benefit of the doubt and be given the keys to the car to make plays with proper NBA spacing. I think his floor is a Ben Gordon type player who fluctuates between being a starter and a sixth man, but his explosive athleticism gives him the upside of someone like Bradley Beal or a young Ray Allen. Standing at a little over 6'3", he'll likely always have to be paired with a big point guard that can guard wings to be a starter on a good team, but perhaps if he gets stronger he can become a more versatile defender with his 6'6" wingspan. In any case, he knows how to get buckets, and with his violent attacks of the rim and propensity to hit the big shot, there's no doubt he'll land well within the top-10.

9. Mavericks: Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France) PG

Speaking of big point guards that can guard wings, I wonder if Ntilikina might be better off viewed as more of a combo guard based on his 6'5" stature and estimated 6'11" wingspan. He is certainly a good enough athlete, shooter, and defender to be a full time two if his natural skills as a creator don't improve further. It is of course worth trying him as a lead ball handler with his upside at that position, and playing with Dirk Nowitzki will help his growth since the future Hall of Famer has been making point guards look good for about as long as Ntilikina has been alive (these prospects born in 1998 certainly make you feel old). Maybe the young Frenchman settles in as a Jrue Holiday type of player, but even if he moves to the wing, a 3-and-D shooting guard that can also operate as a secondary facilitator is a very valuable player. Just look at the $70 million contract Kent Bazemore got last summer, and in honor of the recent 30 for 30, Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies, you can compare him to how important Michael Cooper was to those LA championship teams. There's a case to be made for Markkanen as an eventual successor to Dirk, but I think this pick is a point guard, whether it be Ntilikina or Smith if he falls.

10. Kings: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona PF/C

This should be the floor for how far Markkanen drops with Orlando likely in play up at #6, and although Sacramento has some interesting interior options with Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, and Willie Cauley-Stein, you can always use a stretch big like this. An excellent shooter who stands 7 feet will always be compared to Dirk, but even if he doesn't meet those lofty expectations due to inferior rebounding and craftiness inside, he can definitely have a long career like his fellow Wildcat Channing Frye. Markkanen will help his guards right away as a pick and pop threat, and his shooting can be used in a variety of ways around the perimeter with his solid athleticism and quick release. While I don't think he has the bulk or length to give more than spot minutes at center, he should hold up fine defensively as a four thanks to that same mobility that makes him so deadly on offense. It would be nice if he can develop something of a post game to go along with his ball skills inside the arc, but overall he should be an efficient scorer who doesn't hurt you on the other end. Depending on who the Kings pick up at #5 and who is left here, I could also see them going for a guard like Smith or Ntilikina or forwards like Isaac, OG Anunoby, or even Justin Jackson.

11. Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville SG

After underachieving this year, this solid Charlotte team is in good position to nab someone who can contribute right away to get them back into the playoffs. Maybe they realize they sell out for someone with star potential given the status of their team, but at this spot I think Mitchell is the best player for them as a potential two-way shooting guard that they could really use since Nic Batum is more of a three and Jeremy Lamb and Marco Belinelli have their limitations. Barely standing at 6'3" in shoes but with a 6'10" wingpan, he has a unique build at 211 lbs to go along with his dynamic athleticism. Despite some physical differences, I like The Ringer's Gary Harris comp in terms of the role he can fill as a defensive combo guard that is a solid shooter and passer. If he continues to develop as a pick and roll operator, he could take some of the offensive load off of Kemba Walker or be the focal point of the second unit.
12. Pistons: Zach Collins, Gonzaga PF/C

I could see Collins go in the picks before this with Mitchell landing here instead, especially since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is hitting restricted free agency and could theoretically have his role replaced by the combo guard, but with Andre Drummond apparently available in trades, I like the upside of the Zags big man here. Collins was hyper efficient off the bench as a freshman, and if he returned to school and showed this level of effectiveness in an expanded role, I think he could have become a top-5 pick because when you're around 7' tall with a 7'1" wingspan and these kind of skills, you'll always be in demand. I think he's a better prospect than Domantas Sabonis, who went 11th in last year's weaker draft after being in a similar situation at Gonzaga, due to hitting a few more 3's and more potential as a shot-blocker. He needs to become a more disciplined defender as foul trouble contributed to his limited minutes, but with his mix of solid size and athleticism, I think he can defend either big man spot. Shooting 74.3% at the line and hitting 10 out of 21 3's is a good sign of his potential as an outside threat, and if he continues to hone his skills, particularly as a passer, his two-way game could resemble Pau Gasol, making him the potential steal of the draft.

13. Nuggets: OG Anunoby, Indiana SF/FF

With so many young offensive talents already on the roster, Denver can afford to take a chance on potentially the best defender in the draft despite his knee injury in January that's rumored to have been a torn ACL. The good news is that Anunoby is somewhat young for a sophomore, not turning 20 until later this summer, and his rise from a lightly regarded recruit shows his dedicated work ethic. At a little under 6'8" with a sculpted 232 lb frame and a wingspan over 7'2", he could potentially guard one through four with a chance at even guarding centers as he gets stronger, and he has displayed passable offensive skills. As a powerful finisher at the rim who has also shot 27 of 74 (36.5%) on 3's in his 50 game career, he could be used as the roll man or a spot up shooter around the pick and roll. There's even a semblance of a bullying post game if a wing is guarding him, and I'd expect him to be used mostly as a four, although he could get by as a three like Isaac. He's like a bigger Al-Farouq Aminu, and his activity as a shot-blocker and in the passing lanes would be a nice fit next to Nikola Jokic at center.

14. Heat: Justin Jackson, North Carolina SF

Miami can go in a variety of ways this offseason, both in the draft and free agency now that Chris Bosh's contract is off their books and Dion Waiters and James Johnson are hitting free agency, but I think they could use another long wing with some length, especially with some uncertainty around Justise Winslow. After going for the big fish like Hayward and Griffin, the latter of whom I think they have a sold shot at, I think they'll look at guys like Gay or Danilo Gallinari as combo forwards to be upgrade over Luke Babbitt, who is also a free agent, while looking to retain their own guys at the right price. Although I could see them looking for a cheap backup center or point guard, drafting Jackson could be a fit in a variety of ways thanks to the growth in versatility he's shown over his three years as a Tar Heel. The easy comparison has always been Batum given their similar physical traits, and now that he's developed into more of a consistent shooter, passer, and defender, that is a reasonable expectation of the player he could become. He still needs to get stronger, but thanks to the bulk he's already added and rounding out his game in those areas, he could conceivably get minutes as a big guard or a stretch four with his length (6'8" and a 6'11" wingspan) and quickness. He's not a top athlete, but he has good footwork and moves extremely well without the ball. Despite settling a bit too much on his effective floaters rather than finishing through contact, his scoring instincts have been on display throughout his career, and on the other end, he took on more challenges with the opposing teams' perimeter threats as he progressed. If his drastic increase in 3's, which set a Carolina record en route to being named ACC Player of the Year, is for real, his solid defense, scoring, and playmaking make him a plug and play wing at 22 years old, with The Ringer's Matt Barnes comp as his floor.

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