After disappointing seasons, teams sent representatives to the NBA Draft Lottery with their fates hinging on a couple of ping-pong balls coming out at the right times. With a shakeup in the top four spots, here’s how the first round could shape up, with some changes from my first mock draft.
1) Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns, C Kentucky
Minnesota got its wish and won the lottery and No. 1 pick for the first time ever, a spot they’ll likely hold on to with the potential to land arguably the most moldable and talented player in the draft class – Karl-Anthony Towns. At 6’11, 250 pounds, it’s likely that this WildKAT is done growing, but could still get bigger – a scary thought.
It’s clear that the Timberwolves could use someone in the center position, and pairing Towns together with the rising Andrew Wiggins might be a successful recipe if veteran point guard Ricky Rubio can maintain his health. Not saying Minnesota instantly turns into a contender, but there’s no way they’ll perform worse than they did this year.
2) Los Angeles Lakers – Jahlil Okafor, C Duke
Where there were tears in New York, there were cheers in L.A. after it was announced the Lakers owned the second pick. A few folks think D’Angelo Russell could be headed west, but for me it’s tough to pass on Okafor. His height is the same as Towns, except he has 20 pounds on him right now (270 vs. 250) and has an offensive skill set comparable to that of Tim Duncan.
Defensively, Okafor has some warts but could turn into a beast with some improvement and the right coaching. Kobe could be gone after this season (huge emphasis on could), and fans are still waiting to see how Julius Randle will respond to coming back from a broken right tibia that has kept him out since late October. Though there are many plausible options at the No. 2 spot, L.A. would be wise to go with the Chicago native.
3) Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell, PG Ohio State
Russell is definitely the most coveted guard in this draft class. His performances at Ohio State proved that even as a freshman he had incredible playmaking abilities and a sweet stroke. The Louisville native chose to forego a return to the Buckeyes and push his luck in the draft – and something tells me he won’t run into too much trouble, unless you count being on Sam Hinkie’s roster trouble, which I understand.
Nevertheless, Russell has handles and vision like very few others in the class. After Philly waved goodbye to Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, a spot opened up that only a player like Russell could even attempt to fill, and it looks like he’ll get his chance.
4) New York Knicks – Emmanuel Mudiay, PG Guangdong Southern Tigers
After originally planning to attend SMU in Texas, Mudiay pulled a 180 and decided that it would be best to earn some cash while playing instead of heading to a university. (There were rumblings of eligibility issues as well.) Therefore, Mudiay sought his international options and ended up with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. Unfortunately, Mudiay suffered an ankle injury in December that hampered his appearances but certainly hasn’t hurt his stock.
Mudiay has a variety of skills and at 6’5, 200 pounds, is plenty big for his position. His ability to handle the ball in combination with his pure scoring is what makes him an attractive prospect, and if New York chooses to keep the pick, it’s easy to see why his name could come off the board at No. 4.
5) Orlando Magic – Justise Winslow, SF Duke
I love Justise Winslow. He has size, a great motor, a national title and the ability to contribute right away on a roster that has plenty of minutes available. Orlando drafted Aaron Gordon last year hoping to add size to its roster, but Gordon suffered a fractured bone in his left foot in November that limited him to only playing around 50 games.
With Winslow, Orlando can front one of the youngest and most impressive groups in the league led by Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Gordon and of course the ex-Blue Devil. It’s unclear whether Winslow would immediately jump Gordon in the lineup, but it’s matter-of-fact that as the draft gets closer, Winslow’s stock is only going up.
6) Sacramento Kings – Willie Cauley-Stein, C Kentucky
I don’t think there’s any doubt in WCS’s mind that he’s a talented young man, and who can blame him after hearing Larry Legend call him a “$100 million player.” Another Wildcat who’s making the jump to the pros, Cauley-Stein brings rim protection, size, defensive versatility and serious dunking ability to a Sacramento team begging for help for DeMarcus Cousins.
The 7-footer has shown his strength and ability to work around the rim and can play the backup role just fine. Teams below the Kings are dreaming of a player like him being available later on down the line – but if the Kings are wise they’d squash those dreams quickly.
7) Denver Nuggets – Mario Hezonja, SF Croatia
Not much has changed for the Nuggets in this scenario, and I think Hezonja remains their best option at this point. After leaving FC Barcelona in the Euroleague, he has impressed scouts with his size (6’8, 200 pounds) and shooting ability and remains the best foreign prospect this year.
Hezonja has quality work ethic and a hot hand, and backing up Danilo Gallinari would be a good spot to get some minutes and make a case for himself in the league. I expect the Nuggets to look his way if he’s still available.
8) Detroit Pistons – Kristaps Porzingis, PF Latvia
I think this is where the draft can get really fun. The Pistons have a bad draft history with international picks as of late (think Darko), but Porzingis can change the tone. At 6’11, the Latvian big man has solid range and can also put it on the floor. He’s still working on his skill set, but one thing that should translate well from the international game to the NBA is his shot.
Detroit has Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe up front, but could lose Monroe to FA, leaving a void that Porzingis could step straight into. If he can run the floor half as well as Monroe and provide valuable offense, he’ll be well worth the top 10 pick.
9) Charlotte Hornets – Stanley Johnson, SG Arizona
After a not-so-successful try at Lance Stephenson, the Hornets are left with only free agency and the draft to improve their backcourt. Lucky for them, Stanley Johnson is a solid talent at the No. 9 pick. He’s 6’7, 242 lbs and bodies up to physical challenges that leads to his aggressive offensive style. He’s a true competitor with the ability to impact Charlotte right away, and there’s not much more they could ask for there.
Charlotte is weak at the guard spot, and if the team is looking for a dead-eye shooter, Johnson isn’t their man. However, if he can step up his consistency and add defensive playmaking to his arsenal, the Hornets could have a steal.
10) Miami Heat – Devin Booker, SG Kentucky
Previously, I had the Heat going with a big man (Frank Kaminsky) at the 10-spot but can see them going smaller with a guy like Booker. After a year at Kentucky, Booker has shown his ability to shoot the ball and defend despite his 6’6, 195-pound frame.
He needs to improve his off-the-dribble game, but since Miami has an aging set of players on the wing, specifically Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng, he could provide enough to convince them he’s worth the pick.
11) Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner, C Texas
I had Turner here last time and have him here again for good reason. He’s huge at 7’0, 239 pounds, but he could still gain a little bit of strength. Roy Hibbert hasn’t been as mobile for Indy as they want, and Turner could step into this role well. He’s improving his shot continually and is working on his offensive post presence, two things Indy would need from a future big man.
Hibbert is unsettled in Indiana and David West is getting up there in age, so the Pacers need a player like Turner if they’re to provide Paul George with enough to contend year after year. It’s no secret both Larry Bird and Frank Vogel can be critical if you aren’t getting the job done, but Turner can fit the bill if he stays healthy and develops his skills.
12) Utah Jazz – Kelly Oubre, SG Kansas
Another one-and-done at Kansas, Oubre succeeded enough with the Jayhawks to make himself a healthy lottery prospect, although he’s still raw and is an upside pick. Averaging just over nine points and five rebounds in Kansas’ short-lived (by its standards) season, Oubre still managed to show scouts that he can shoot and run well for his size. He’ll continue to work on his handles and creating off the dribble, as well as consistency.
The Jazz could use some help on the wing, so Oubre would be a nice addition if he pans out.
13) Phoenix Suns – Frank Kaminsky, PF Wisconsin
Kaminsky had a great run at Wisconsin, and it’s hard to argue that there’s another player who improved as much in four years as he did. Bo Ryan did well to work Frank the Tank into a shooting big who can crash the boards and hold his own defensively, impressing most in his senior year run to the National Championship Game.
He’ll need to get stronger and quicker as well moving into the pros, but he still shows promise, especially on offense with his elite skills as a big man. Phoenix will take someone like Kaminsky at the power-forward spot for depth purposes, and he’s a good selection this late in the lotto.
14) Oklahoma City Thunder – Cameron Payne, PG Murray State
Payne has impressed many in his pre-draft workouts, and coming from Murray State, he hasn’t made as much noise as he should have. After running the Racers’ offense, his basketball IQ has come to fruition well and he has shown his capabilities as a floor general. He’ll need to step up his offensive game and likely get stronger, but OKC could use someone like him as a backup.
Russell Westbrook loves his minutes, no question, but adding someone like Payne could help give OKC some depth and maturity at the point-guard spot. Payne is a great pick if he’s still around.
15) Atlanta Hawks – Sam Dekker, SF Wisconsin
Dekker to Atlanta just makes sense for where they are in the draft and what he can give that team. An athletic wing who can fly high and provide great energy off the bench, Dekker has impressed with his ability to create going to the rim along with his finishing ability. He’s not the most consistent of shooters, but he’s dynamic when he gets hot.
The Hawks already have DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha, but Carroll will be an unrestricted free agent and Sefolosha is a role player recovering from a broken leg. Even if Carroll returns, Dekker would be a solid player for depth in Atlanta.
16) Boston Celtics – Bobby Portis, PF Arkansas
After Boston somehow became a playoff team this year (thanks, Brad Stevens), they have the chance to add to a frontcourt led by Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller – and Bobby Portis is their best option. He’s another big who can shoot well both inside and out of the post, but isn’t the most athletic of defenders, though his size works to his advantage.
Portis has shown good shot-blocking ability and may be exactly what the Celtics needs in terms of youth and depth going forward. He’s a hustle player and a good rebounder, and that’s exactly what Stevens would like.
17) Milwaukee Bucks – Trey Lyles, PF Kentucky
Where I previously had Kevon Looney, a power forward out of UCLA, I can see Lyles sliding down and being a solid pick for Milwaukee and Jason Kidd. Another UK one-and-done, Lyles showed a strong work ethic and was effective despite often playing out of position. He didn’t always see consistent minutes, but working behind Giannis could help an athletic big get even more athletic.
Like many, Lyles will need to get stronger and finish better at the rim, but again, those are things that can develop – unlike size, which he has. If no one chances on him earlier, he’d be a fantastic pick at No. 17.
18) Houston Rockets – Jerian Grant, PG Notre Dame
One of my favorite players in the draft, Grant brings a different set of skills than most to his future NBA team. Much like Victor Oladipo out of college, he’s explosive, talented on both ends of the floor and extremely athletic. His feel for the game can be questionable at times, but for the most part he’s an excellent leader and will work harder than many of his competitors.
Houston has Jason Terry, who’s set to retire any day now, and the still-impressive Patrick Beverley at the point-guard spot. (Beverley is a restricted free agent this summer and will be in line for a raise.) Adding Grant would provide depth and another option for someone who can pass to Harden or take some pressure off the MVP runner-up as a ball handler. I’d enjoy seeing the ND grad make the move to Texas.
19) Washington Wizards – Kevon Looney, PF UCLA
Looney has the potential to go higher in the draft, but Washington would be a solid fit if he drops. He has an incredible reach of 9’2 and a 7’4 wingspan to accompany that at just 6’9, 222 pounds. He’s tough and can stretch inside and out, although he needs to show he can hit the NBA three-pointer.
The Wizards could use Looney to increase their frontcourt depth after a particularly poor set of performances from Nene during the playoffs. Looney is versatile and would be a nice stretch 4 for Washington.
20) Toronto Raptors – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF Arizona
Previously thought to be a fringe first-round pick, RHJ has stepped up his stock working well off the dribble and in transition especially. He’s an elite defensive player and may be the best wing defender in the draft.
The Raptors will prioritize bringing back Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, and if they can pull that off, drafting a player like Hollis-Jefferson is a perfect option.
21) Dallas Mavericks – Delon Wright, PG Utah
Another prospect who didn’t make a whole lot of noise coming out of school, he’s worth it approaching the late first round and has the experience necessary to make the next step easier. He’s quick and good defensively, something Dallas could use after the failed Rajon Rondo experiment, though he would be just a piece of a complex puzzle.
With Rondo leaving town, the Mavericks need some help at point guard. While Wright isn’t a good shooter, he’s strong in many other areas and could fit right in nicely.
22) Chicago Bulls – Tyus Jones, PG Duke
Chicago needs depth at the guard spot, and the uncertainty surrounding the head coaching position (mainly who will replace Tom Thibodeau) means that the draft might be the better option for player addition as opposed to free agency.
Jones was underrated and perhaps underappreciated by those outside the sphere of Cameron Indoor (until the Final Four at least), but he’s a natural point guard and has a solid feel for the game. He can improve his scoring all-around, but would be a good addition this late in the first round.
23) Portland Trail Blazers – Montrezl Harrell, PF Louisville
Due to the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge may be more apt to leave than not, drafting a power forward would be necessary for Portland to continue to contend. Harrell is explosive, strong and excellent both on defense and on the boards, but can lose his head if the game gets too hot.
Portland could use that sort of aggression on both ends of the floor, and he could fit well helping on the offensive glass, where the Blazers are just so-so. Only time will tell what the future holds for Portland, but Harrell could be a helping bit.
24) Cleveland Cavaliers – Justin Anderson, SF Virginia
Anderson is a rare talent out of Virginia, staying three years to grow into the defensive stalwart he has been for the Hoos. At 6’6, 231 pounds, he’s extremely athletic and improved his range this last year. Cleveland shouldn’t expect him to be incredibly prolific off the dribble, but should everyone stay, they won’t need a whole lot out of the rookie small forward right out of the gate.
Given time to grow within his role, Anderson could be the experienced forward that a team like Cleveland needs coming off the bench. Depth never hurts, and Anderson is a solid player.
25) Memphis Grizzlies – R.J. Hunter, SG Cleveland State
I had Hunter going to Cleveland last time around, but think the Cavs will opt for someone with a little more size. If Hunter is still available for Memphis, though, they’d be getting a great shooter with excellent range who adds something to every aspect of the game. He’s creative, competitive and unafraid to challenge his opponents both off the dribble and in spot-up situations, something Memphis could really use.
The Grizzlies have a good setup already, but unless they’re trading their pick for experience, Hunter would be a solid pick here.
26) San Antonio Spurs – Christian Wood, PF UNLV
Another solid power forward, Wood established himself as an elite defender for the Runnin’ Rebels and has a good motor. He’s athletic and can cover where his defensive strengths don’t, but he needs to work on his offense.
San Antonio could use the depth in the frontcourt, and with the impending retirement of the Big Fundamental coming sooner than later, Wood would be a good place to start.
27) Los Angeles Lakers – Rashad Vaughn, SG UNLV
The Lakers are iffy in more places than one, but with an additional pick late in the first round, it could be beneficial to go small after going big (Okafor). He’s a good shooter with deep range, something L.A. really needs. He doesn’t always have the best shot selection and wasn’t exactly the best teammate at UNLV, but he could make a good impact off the bench.
Kobe would hopefully be able to squash any attitude beefs, and if Nick Young isn’t around for the long term, it might be best to go with Vaughn.
28) Boston Celtics – Jarell Martin, PF LSU
Like the Lakers, Boston benefits from a second first-round pick and could get a backup to their backup power forward choice of Bobby Portis. Martin isn’t as big as some in the class, but is athletic and can play down low if Boston needs him to do so. He runs the floor well, is fairly consistent in terms of finishing at the rim and is just a few steps away from becoming a steal at this point.
Boston could use a hybrid SF/PF with its frontcourt depth issues, and Martin fits the bill if he’s still around.
29) Brooklyn Nets – Terry Rozier, PG Louisville
Rozier is another good option late in the first round for teams looking for guard help, like Brooklyn. He’s scrappy, strong and is longer than you think. Rozier can penetrate and finish well, but his aggressiveness has led to turnovers and inconsistency.
30) Golden State Warriors – Robert Upshaw, C Washington
Andrew Bogut is a key to the Warriors’ defense but is injury prone, while Festus Ezeli is nothing more than a backup. So, the Warriors could look for more help at center by nabbing Upshaw. The big man carries some risk because of character issues, but he’s also one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft because of his size and athleticism.
The Warriors could go a number of directions should Upshaw be taken earlier, but he certainly wouldn’t be a bad option for depth and potential upside down the road if he falls.