It’s that time of the year.
The picks are set, the order at the top is kind of in place, but with a draft that is filled with parity after the top 4 picks, smokescreen season will be in full effect. In this edition we will refrain from making trades because it’s a bit too early, but as draft day approaches and things begin to heat up we’ll start to dabble in some speculation ourselves.
I’m going to stick to the first round because I just didn’t have enough time to round out a top 60, but be sure to check out sites like The Stepien for more comprehensive coverage. So without further ado, here’s our first mock draft:
1. New Orleans Pelicans- Zion WIlliamson
There’s really not much to say here. Williamson is a generational talent and the only prospect where everyone agrees has multiple All-NBA’s in his future. David Griffin, who’s still fresh out of his hiatus already has one of the best hands in the league. If Davis stays, he will have the most explosive frontcourt in the league and an All-defense caliber guard in Jrue Holiday to try and get the team back in the playoffs. If Davis leaves, Griffin can commence a full teardown knowing the team already has their new superstar in the making. I’ve wondered if New Orleans would entertain trading this pick at all in the event a top 5 player would be made available to them (I.e LeBron James), but at this stage the most logical thing is to keep the pick and guarantee you have the leagues next great talent.
2. Memphis Grizzlies- Ja Morant
Morant seems like the obvious choice here for a Memphis team that’s transitioning into a full rebuild. Mike Conley will most likely be on his way out so the combination of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. looks very likely. Morant is a big guard with elite speed and feel for the game, he’ll have the ability to blend well with the floor spacing Jackson for years to come. A question for Morant and the Grizzlies will be his shooting, finishing, and on and off again defensive intensity. Morant has all the tools to fix these weaknesses, but he’ll at least need to prove to scouts and teams that he’s aware of them and willing to work on them.
3. New York Knicks- RJ Barrett
Knicks are in a pretty good spot in the draft and the idea of trading the pick should be a real possibility here. The selection at this spot feels simple. For all of Barrett’s warts (shooting, decision-making, playmaking, etc.) you won’t find a scout in the country who questions his work ethic. Barrett has great size to play on the perimeter, is ultra-competitive, attacks the rim ferociously, and is the type of character you want on a rebuilding team. There’s a chance he could fall with some poor performances in workouts, but this is ultimately his spot to lose.
4. Los Angeles Lakers- Kevin Porter Jr.
This is the first place where I really diverge from the consensus. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Porter Jr., and think he has the build and ability to be a high-scoring guard. The questions you here are mostly about his character and overall feel for the game. In games at USC, you could see at times he was a guy who floats and wasn’t always the most attentive defensively. Despite this, in the limited time he was able to show flashes of elite shooting and finishing. The key will be how coachable he is more than anything else. Porter Jr. is one of those guys that can go anywhere from being out of the league in 4 years to being a borderline all-star in that same frame so the interview and character assessments will be huge for him. However, assuming he checks those boxes, I don’t think his hometown team will pass on him.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers- Nassir Little
Little is another guy I think will impress in the workout and interview process because he’s an impressive athlete with good size, has sound shooting mechanics, and always comes off as an insightful person in his interviews. People are going to know what the hell happened in North Carolina and why he went from a for sure top 5 pick to coming off the bench. If the Cavaliers end up believing that role and fit are what held Little back, he could end up being at the top of their board as a strong two-way wing who may be able to defend 1-4.
6. Phoenix Suns- Coby White
The Suns will be missing out on Ja Morant who would have been a great pairing with Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, but they still make out well with the addition of Colby White. The Tar Hell freshmen made his mark as a defensive specialist coming into college but showed the world a better than advertised offensive game that though leaves something to be desired, shows a strong foundation that can be built on. White won’t be expected to come in and instantly be the lead guard who runs a bunch of PnR, Booker took on that role last year and he’ll be running a fair share of it in the future. For now, White can work as a jumbo-sized Patrick Beverly as he learns the ropes and along with Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton take on a heightened defensive role.
7. Chicago Bulls- Jarrett Culver
Culver has gained himself a lot of fans throughout the internet as a two-way wing who may be one of the few prospects with legit all-star potential. His ability to create out of the Pick and Roll and finish in the lane has been a welcome development, but leveraged with his ability to play off the ball where he’s an active body who cuts and rolls off screens hard gives more credence to his all-around potential. Showing he can be a legit perimeter shooter will be a key point throughout his workouts. His 30.4 3P% despite more attempts than his freshmen year wasn’t a great sign and though his FT shooting improved it was still average at 70.7%.
In Chicago he’ll be thrown into the pit with a backcourt that consists of Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine . He’ll have to earn every minute he gets but the potential trio of Culver-Markkanen-Carter are great building blocks.
8. Atlanta Hawks- DeAndre Hunter
Hunter had a fantastic year at Virginia and with it came his shooting up the draft board. At 6’8 with a 7ft wingspan, not only did Hunter take a leap as a potential creator on the offensive end to go along with his spot-up shooting, but he gave scouts another year showcasing his defensive ability. He’s a potential 5-position defender who has the IQ on both ends to add value to a playoff team today. Some much smarter people have him even higher than this, but I still have reservations on whether he can be anything more than a role player. That’s not an indictment, some of the most impactful players in the league are role players and Hunter will be the type of guy that can alter matchups in a potential series.
Atlanta would be more than happy to grab him. Adding Hunter to the trio of Young-Huerter-Collins gives the Hawks a needed glue piece who can continue building towards their mini-Warriors.
9. Washington Wizards- Darius Garland
The John Wall era in Washington
is could be coming to an end soon and the Wizards will have a chance to slowly usher in a new era with Darius Garland. Garland has drawn some rave reviews from scouts due to his ability to create shots off the bounce and his limitless range. He needs to fill out, but even then multi-positional defender doesn’t seem to be in his future. Offensively, the shotmaking ability is there but he still has some developing to do as a playmaker and will do well growing along another creator.
10. Atlanta Hawks- Cameron Reddish
In a fantastic stroke of good fortune, the Hawks will have the ability to add another multi-position wing in Reddish. The Duke product was never put in a great situation behind Williamson and Barrett but still didn’t show enough production to warrant his projected top 5 range. Reddish has a chance to turn some of that negative tide around in team workouts but the game tape still speaks a little too loud for me.
With that being said, Reddish is a 6’8 wing with a plus wingspan and ability to stretch the floor. He wasn’t always good defensively but he did play with a more consistent effort than he showed at high school and at times it looked like one of his key strengths. The Hawks will give him the ability to grow into a role and potentially be more of a ball-handler like he did in high school. Right now, the safest projection is a 3 and D player, but the potential to be more still lingers.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves-Brandon Clarke
This is a little high for some but the fit here wins me over. Clarke is the perfect frontcourt partner to Towns as a high-level defender who can defend across the board and cover some of Towns defensive shortcomings. Offensively, Clarke would be a nice glue piece that keeps the ball moving, sets hard screens, make plays as a “roll man,” and raise the level of those around him. You could argue that there are higher-upside players to take at this position and I wouldn’t disagree, but the Wolves need a Day 1 contributor and they’ll have one in Clarke.
12. Charlotte Hornets- Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Regardless of the latest rumors on Kemble Walker, the Hornets need to be looking for another dynamic playmaker. Alexander-Walker doesn’t necessarily pop out as a “star potential” prospect but he also has the foundation to get there. The blend of high-IQ, solid size, and a leap in shooting ability are the recipe of a player who can rise himself even further up boards.
In Charlotte, Alexander-Walker will have the opportunity to grow into playmaker role whether it’s behind Kemba Walker or starting as part of the rebuilding phase. Either way, the opportunity to see how far his ceiling will be there.
13. Miami Heat- Rui Hachimura
After a solid period of unashamed love for Hachimura the praise has become a lot more reasonable as legitimate questions about his upside continue to persist. Standing at 6’8 225ibs and plus-sized wingspan, Hachimura has the size and strength to be a 5-position defender with the right guidance. Offensively, there will be questions on how translatable his jumpshot is, but he did a great job in Gonzaga playing to his strengths, using his high-motor to wreck non-stop havoc in the paint, whether it was on the boards or scoring. Miami already has a player of a similar build in Bam Adebayo but with Hassan Whiteside on an expiring deal, the chances to completely modernize their front court for the future is appealing. Truthfully, a player like Romeo Langord or even trading back could make some sense here but Hachimura’s has the type of versatility and “Heat Culture” feel that makes him a compelling selection.
14. Boston Celtics- Sekou Doumbouya
After a slow start to his professional career overseas Doumbouya has turned the tide around hard and is starting to look like the modernized frontcourt player that scouts were hoping for. At 6’9 with a near 7ft wingspan, Doumbouya has showed strong ball-handling and functional athleticism on the offensive end which makes him a threat in face-up situations and transition. His jumpshot is still a work in progress but it’s vastly improved and is at a point where a few tweaks would give him a chance to be a solid shooter. Defensively, his lateral quickness is okay, but with his combination of size and athletic ability he has the chance to be a 5-position defender if he really hones in on understanding defensive schemes and opposing player tendencies. The Celtics could use another versatile piece in a frontcourt that largely looked underwhelming without Al Horford. Regardless of the direction of the team, Doumbouya would be a useful piece to get under the wing of guys like Horford and Aron Baynes.
15. Detroit Pistons- Romeo Langford
The question with Langford will be how much the surgery on his thumb played apart on his nightmare shooting season. There will be some who give him the benefit of the doubt and remember the deceptive athlete with deep range and the ability to rise above defenders in the lane. Others, will look at his underwhelming season in Indiana where he was inefficient, didn’t create for others, and was a floater defensively. The first step Langford needs to take is go into workouts and crush the shooting drills, then answer questions about his troubling season. Like most potential employers, Langford will strike a better note if his answers are blend of taking responsibility with honest analysis on his shortcomings. Anything defensive could raise questions about his awareness as a player. Detriot would be intriguing from a fit perspective since there’s a chance he could slot in as the backup point guard to start the year and theoretically provide the type of scoring punch that Ish Smith could never. The Pistons can even get a little wonky and see how a Reggie Jackson-Rome Langford-Luke Kennard trio looks on the floor. It’s not the most perfect fit, but just outside of the lottery there’s an argument to be made that Langford has the highest upside which is all that should matter to this Pistons team.
16. Orlando Magic- Keldon Johnson
Johnson is a multi-positional wing with an intriguing blend of functional athleticism, ball-handling, and motor. The Magic could use a dash of hot sauce in their group of length and Johnson provides that while also aligning well with Coach Clifford’s commitment to defensive intensity. If Johnson can show that his shooting from the perimeter wasn’t just a mirage, he’s another candidate i’d identify as someone who could move into the lottery.
17. Brooklyn Nets- Luka Saminac
The Nets have had some recent success drafting international and if Saminac gets this far I don’t think they’d hesitate to pull the trigger. The Latvian teenager has already turned some heads at the combine with a more filled out 6’11 frame and his blend of shooting and feel for the game. Saminac having great workouts and being open about possibly going back overseas for a year will raise him up boards.
18. Indiana Pacers- Tyler Herro
Herro is a baller. He can handle, shoot, create for others and despite his small frame has shown ability to anticipate and mirror guys well defensively. How transferable that will be in the NBA is yet to be determined. With the loss of Tyreke Evans and possibly Darren Collinson, the Pacers need to bolster their backcourt, Herro would be a great first step to just that.
19. San Antonio Spurs- Jaxson Hayes
Hayes is probably my biggest divergence from the consensus and it’s mostly a product of my personal bias against big men. Hayes does have potential as a rim-running and rim-protecting big who can step out on the perimeter and defend a few dribbles. Like most rookie bigs of his archetype he’s going to be a foul magnet and will be pushed around some on the boards. The Spurs make sense here because despite their reluctance to fully adapt to the modern game they can be a great place for a guy like Hayes to learn the ropes and maximize his potential.
20. Boston Celtics- Cameron Johnson
The 23-year old prospect has gained a lot of fans with his over 40% shooting from three. Personally, I think when it’s said and done he’ll get himself into the top 15 because his combination of size and shooting is just too valuable regardless of the potential upside. (The more I think about it, the more tempted I am to slot him to Orlando, but maybe for another volume).
In Boston, he fits the mold of the type of prospect who can excel on a playoff team. He plays a specific role and will be put in position to play that role with little pressure to play out of his comfort zone.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder- Matisse Thybulle
If you told me Thybulle went in the top 20 I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the draft and does have three years of average to above average shooting to contradict the 30.5 3P% mark he had in his final year. If Thybulle can come in and slide into the “3 and D” role, a lineup of Westbrook-George-Thybulle-Roberson-Grant could be one of the most versatile lineups in the league.
22. Boston Celtics- Jontay Porter
I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the consensus guide my opinions for better or worse, so I’m going to take a swing here. Porter has been a personal favorite of mine for awhile. In his lone year at Mizzou, Porter was the offensive hub who could make plays from the elbow, score in post, or shoot from three from either a stationary look or coming off curls which is rare for a guy his size. Defensively, despite his suspect lateral movement and short wingspan he had excellent feel and showed potential to move his feet in space and defend the rim. The translatability of the latter is still to be determined, but he does have the feel that gives me confidence in his ability to at least be in the right position. The Celtics rely heavily on Al Horford but have nobody else in the frontcourt that can remotely do anything he can. Porter has that skill-set and the rarity of having a guy over 6’9 who can be that complete is worth the reach here. It’s likely that his first year will be more about rehabbing and getting the muscles back in his leg than it’ll be about performing but the Celtics do have the luxury with Horford-Baynes-Williams to give him that time and allow him to learn the system.
23. Utah Jazz- Carsen Edwards
I think someone will take a swing Edwards in the first round because the scoring ability is real and will translate. How much is translates will be a direct correlation of his ceiling. Utah makes some sense here because they don’t have anyone outside of Mitchell who can get their own bucket plus they have the type of defensive unit that can support Edwards. Putting a strong scorer in a situation where you ask him to play to his strengths can lead to good things and the Jazz are well-equipped to provide Edwards that platform.
24. Philadelphia 76ers- Grant Williams
The way the Sixers have been built suggests that they may just look for the best spacer with this selection. However, I see Williams as a really good, cost-efficient glue piece. Being undersized at the combine really dimmed the shine from the Tennessee product, but a smart team is going to open the tape and pay attention to what he does well. On the tape, they’ll see a player that sees the game at high-level. That plays with a high-motor and understands his role. So much about this game is anticipation and Williams has shown enough to make me think he’ll be someone that outperforms his individual workouts and combine stuff. With big payments up ahead for the Sixers, finding deep do-it-all talent will be vital to Sixers advancing further into the playoffs and I think Williams could be that guy.
25. Portland Trailblazers- Bol Bol
Someone is going to take a chance on Bol Bol because his physical profile and shooting touch would make for a helluva get if it works out. The injury, questions of passion, and the general skepticism of players that big will scare some teams off who will have the potential to draft safer and highly valuable wings. With Meyers Leonard in a contract year, Enes Kanter out of the picture, and Jusuf Nurkic rehabbing from his gruesome ankle injury, there will be an opportunity for Bol to come into a situation that has a role for him and is known as one of the stronger cultures in the league. It’s a gamble, but at pick 25 it’s worth the risk.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers- Goga Bitzade
With Thompson entering the final year of his deal and a rebuilding mentality shift, the Cavaliers could bolster their frontcourt by bringing in the Georgia (country) native. Bitzade is 6’11 with a 7’2 wingspan that has shown an intriguing blend of interior scoring, rebounding, and feel which could shoot him up much higher than 26. Defending in space will be a concern but I don’t think it outweighs the potential he could provide offensively. I was conservative with where I placed him now so put a pin on him as a potential riser.
27. Brooklyn Nets- KZ Okpala
Okpala is an interesting player who at 6’8 has potential to grow into a playmaking wing, the ceiling on how high that can be is still pending. Okpala most likely won’t be able to shift down and defend bigger wings for a couple of years and he’ll need to show he can consistently hit NBA 3’s. He has some similar elements to Caris LeVert but I’m not as confident in shotmaking ability yet. He’s an intriguing piece that might be a worthwhile investment with Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, and Jared Dudley on the verge of or at the end of their contracts.
28. Golden State Warriors- Naz Reid
On a superficial level, this doesn’t seem like an ideal fit. Warriors are the most versatile team in the league and separate themselves as one of the teams that can switch 1-5 seamlessly. But the regular season is long, and the team has already shown that they don’t like to really use their best stuff during the marathon. Reid is an intriguing prospect that has shown the ability to handle the ball, shoot from range, and score in the post. Defensively, he has solid feet but would struggle defending in space. He’d also need to add some muscle and improve his technique, he tries to avoid taking any contact to his chest and against other dinosaur bigs will struggle to keep them out of the paint. He’s a project, but a skilled project. With Looney and Bogut most likely out the door, the Warriors will have the development minutes to spare for Reid and some of the greatest basketball minds to counsel him. It would come down to how willing the Warriors were to grooming young talent and how open Reid will be in his new role.
29. San Antonio Spurs- Talen Horton-Tucker
Horton-Tucker is a big-bodied guard/wing who adds value to winning. He’s a game tape player rather than an individual workout guy which will lose him some points. Add in the fact that he’s not a great shooter and doesn’t have stats that pop and he’ll lose a few more when he’s being sold to ownership. San Antonio is a really good fit for him because he’ll have the opportunity to work with one of best shooting coaches on the planet and he’ll be used by a coach who knows exactly how to exploit his strengths. This is the type of selection that will have other teams shaking their heads if it goes right.
30. Milwaukee Bucks- Dylan Windler
The Bucks dominated the NBA this year by surrounding Antetokounmpo with long range threats all over the floor and it led to a top offense. One of the underreported stats for that time is despite being at the top of the league in 3PA, they were a middle of the pack accuracy team.
Windler was a strong all-around player for Belmont who was used as the main shooter in the half-court. Defense and finishing around the rim will probably be some of his biggest question marks, but I think the real one to watch is how he reacts to what his role in Belmont was versus what he may be envisioned as he drops into the range of playoff teams. Can a player used to getting the ball a lot in a bunch of different situations keep up the same level of engagement and focus as a guys who stands a couple of feet beyond the 3pt line as a spacer?
If he does, the fit in Milwaukee will be flawless. As a guy who shot over 40% from three on about 7 attempts a game he’s going to make teams hesitate even more when they try to pack the paint around Giannis and will walk into some of the easiest shots in the league.
When it’s all set and done I think like Cam Johnson, Windler’s size and shooting is too much to fall this far but if he doesn’t look the part athletically it’s a possibility.