By Chris Molicki
Mock Drafts are always a fun exercise, but they don’t mean too much until the lottery has been completed. Now, with the Philadelphia 76ers acquiring the first overall pick and the rest of the order following suit, we have a better idea of who may go where. Let’s take a look at how things shake out after the lottery.
Philadelphia 76ers select Ben Simmons, LSU: Even though “The Process” may be dead, the Sixers will finally be able to get a home run pick. The debate of Simmons vs. Brandon Ingram may spill all the way to draft night, but the important thing to remember is this: both of these players project to have extremely successful careers in this league. However, while I believe Ingram will become a superstar, I think Simmons has the chance to be a transcendent talent. While comparisons to LeBron James may be premature, Simmons has the same kind of insane passing talent and vision that many big men don’t have. Plus he’s built well for the NBA and is a terrific rebounder. The mystery surrounding him is if he’ll learn how to shoot, but I believe that’s something that can certainly be taught to him by an NBA coach. Simmons is the kind of building block that Philly can build their team around, and I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t take him. Grabbing another big may mean Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, or Jahlil Okafor aren’t in the Sixers’ long-term future, but Simmons will likely be much better than all of them.
Los Angeles Lakers select Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram was pretty raw when he came to Duke, so it’s encouraging that he improved so much as the year went on. He’s got prototypical size and length for an NBA swingman, and his shooting ability is off the charts. The biggest gripe on Ingram is that he needs to put some weight on, but like Simmons’s shooting ability, that’s something I’m not too concerned about. He’ll get there. Ingram should slot in well with the Lakers’ current crop of young talent. Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell are likely their backcourt of the future, so Ingram can take some time to figure out whether the 3 or the 4 is his best position.
Boston Celtics select Dragan Bender, Croatia: The dream of Boston adding a prize like Simmons or Ingram is likely dead, but they still have a great opportunity here. The Celtics are a well-coached team that’s lacking star power, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them shoot for the moon here. And with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas locked up, they may decided to focus more on the frontcourt. Enter Dragan Bender, the top international prospect in the draft. Bender has excellent size and length, along with great passing ability and a promising future as a shooter. But he’s still extremely raw and skinny, and he’s limited athletically. For those expecting the next Kristaps Porzingis, you may be disappointed. But Brad Stevens may be able to turn him into a stud.
Phoenix Suns select Kris Dunn, Providence: The Suns have some intriguing players, but they’re not exactly sure how they all fit together. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe haven’t played together enough to determine if they’re a good fit. Alex Len has shown signs of developing into a solid center. And Devin Booker, the Suns’ most recent first round pick, flashed a lot of promise in his rookie year. I think Phoenix is nervous about the health of Knight and especially Bledsoe, and they’ll grab their point guard of the future here. Dunn is the kind of prospect that scouts drool at. He’s got size, athleticism, versatility, and potential. Everything is there for him to develop into a top NBA point guard. However, there are some warts on Dunn, and those will probably come up in his rookie year. He needs to become a better shooter, take care of the ball, and improve his pick and roll game. Dunn has some work to do, but the Suns have plenty of time to wait.
Minnesota Timberwolves select Jamal Murray, Kentucky: This was a tough pick between Buddy Hield and Murray, as Minnesota could really use some shooting to add to their dynamic young core. Ultimately, the Wolves go with Murray, the younger and more versatile prospect. A big-time scorer, Murray has the ability to light it up. Whether it’s shooting the ball or getting to the basket, Murray will excel. He’s an interesting prospect because scouts see him as someone who can play either guard position. He played mostly shooting guard in college and did very well off the ball, but he’ll need to put in time running the point. Right now, he isn’t a great playmaker or defender for a point guard, but the tools are there for him to improve on those two aspects of his game.
New Orleans Pelicans select Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Nobody is safe on New Orleans except for Anthony Davis. So why not grab the guy who can step in right away and help out their prized big man? Hield is an elite shooter who also has the tools to be a pretty solid defender. One knock on him is that he may have trouble creating his own shot, as well as shots for others, at the NBA level. However, the encouraging thing about Hield is that he’s improved in these areas over the course of his career, a good sign that he’ll continue to get better. Hield is one of the hardest workers in the draft, and he’ll do everything he can to reach his full potential.
Denver Nuggets select Jaylen Brown, California: The young and talented core in Denver is starting to take form. Emmanuel Mudiay, the team’s top pick last year, looks to be their starting floor general of the future. Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic form a versatile and physical frontcourt. Players like Gary Harris and Will Barton have shown nice improvements, while veterans such as Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and Wilson Chandler are still producing. Denver should take the best player available, and at this point, that player is Jaylen Brown. Brown is uber talented and has a knack for getting to the rim. He has great strength and speed for the NBA level. But his shot has a long way to go, and he looks like he hasn’t fully understood the game yet. Based on talent alone, he’s a good fit here with the Nuggets.
Sacramento Kings select Denzel Valentine, Michigan St.: The Kings have had their share of struggles with defense and maturity. That’s why it may be time for them to reach on a high character guy who can defend and has great versatility. Valentine has an extremely high basketball IQ and is a superb passer, especially for someone his size. He isn’t the most athletic player in this draft, but the intangibles are all there. I’d hate to see the Kings ruin Valentine, but they need a do-it-all player like him, especially with majority of their roster’s future up in the air.
Toronto Raptors select Marquese Chriss, Washington: Toronto is a rare lottery team that is only a couple of players away. And thanks to the Knicks’ stupidity, they still get a lottery pick. They’re currently in the Eastern Conference Finals, but you can see they still need help to break through as a true championship contender. The Raptors can go one of two ways: find some frontcourt help for Jonas Valanciunas or take DeMar Derozan’s replacement if you think he’s going to leave in free agency. I think they go the first route and choose Chriss as a nice compliment to JV. Chriss has insane athleticism, quickness, and explosiveness, along with a nice future as a small ball power forward. His 3-point shooting can help stretch the floor and give Valanciunas room to beast in the paint. While he’s very raw, Chriss has the potential to be the special player the Raptors need.
Milwaukee Bucks select Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Greg Monroe just doesn’t seem like he’s going to fit as the Bucks center for the future. Enter Poeltl, who has shown great ability to run the floor and finish around the rim. The Utah big man is still extremely raw and needs to work on his offensive skills and shot blocking ability. But in a few years, if he develops, Poeltl could be doing what Steven Adams is doing right now. And that would be a huge boost for the Milwaukee youth movement.
Orlando Magic select Deyonta Davis, Michigan St.: It’s important to remember that all drafts are not created equal. The players in the late lottery of this draft probably won’t be able to make meaningful contributions right away, the way those in the class of 2015 draft did. Davis is one of those players, who, despite his tantalizing athleticism and physical tools, is still very raw. However, he projects to be a fierce rim protector and paint defender, something the Magic haven’t had in a while. Orlando can pair him with Nikola Vucevic, or if they decide to trade Vucevic, move Davis to center to play with Aaron Gordon.
Utah Jazz select Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The search continues for Utah’s point guard of the future. This pick doesn’t mean that Dante Exum, is out, but there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding him. The Jazz are loaded in the frontcourt with Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert. Why not take a guy who’s proven he can be a true floor general? Ulis is fantastic at taking care of the ball and despite being under 6’, he can get to the rack as well. Demetrius Jackson, Wade Baldwin, and Dejounte Murray were considered here, but I’m not deterred by Ulis’ size (see Isaiah Thomas). His point guard skills should make him at the very least a solid backup to Exum.
Phoenix Suns select Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: With their second pick of the lottery, Phoenix will be thrilled if Sabonis falls here. The big man is a relentless rebounder, excellent post scorer, and gives 100% whenever he’s on the floor. He might not be extremely athletic and he’ll need to work on his mid-range game, but Sabonis is going to get boards and get buckets. Playing next to Len might not be his best fit, but he’s too much talent to pass up at the end of the lottery.
Chicago Bulls select Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey: Teams that have a ton of needs generally should take the best player available. Teams closer to contending with fewer holes should draft for fit. The Bulls are in the middle, a talented team with a lot of uncertainty that missed the playoffs. Joakim Noah is a free agent and Pau Gasol will likely join him. Players like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson could be on the trading block. And I think we can deem the Derrick Rose era over. Because of all of that, I think Chicago should select the best player available, and I think Korkmaz is just that. The swingman from Turkey is a dynamic scorer, who can put the ball in the hoop from anywhere on the floor. He’s got great athleticism and phenomenal shooting ability, things that will translate to the NBA. Most foreign prospects give teams hesitation, but I think Korkmaz is a pretty safe pick.