By Matt Straub
Despite there being so many fewer picks and fewer needs per team, doing an NBA mock draft is nearly impossible because there’s so much more movement among the picks. The NFL Draft this year was remarkably stable early, making it a bit easier to guess who was going where. This year’s NBA Draft could have three trades in the Top 10.
Will that stop me from picking for every team? Of course not. However, since it is so hard to pick the draft because of the trades, we’re using the picks as guides and starting points for discussion. For example, the Knicks at four might take a different player, but the person I have there is indicative of the situation New York will find itself in.
The Knicks pick fourth in a three-stud draft, making the first crucial step in their rebuilding effort a tricky one. We’ll go over all the possibilities which could make this a very bad night for New York or, less likely, a good one. New York is one of those teams who represent the theme of this draft: volitality. New York could have a huge night which kicks off a great summer, springing the team back to prominence quickly. Or it could be a bad night which makes the rest of the summer more difficult. New York, the Lakers, Boston and Indiana all could go from also-rans to contenders this summer, but each needs to start the process tonight.
So let’s look at the draft with less of an eye on who goes where as the potential directions teams will taek and what their decisions mean.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Who they’ll take: Karl-Anthony Towns (C, Kentucky)
In today’s NBA, big players who can back up and shoot a little bit are hot commodities. If you can find a big who has some range and can play defense, you grab him. He has some personality quirks which show how young he is and he needs some time to grow on and off the floor, but he’s the total package.
Who they should take: Towns
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Who they’ll take: Jahlill Okafor (C, Duke)
Okafor has the chance to be just as dominant as Towns, but in a different way. The Lakers have a much more old-school approach to the game than some other teams, which makes Okafor a perfect fit here. While Towns is a shooting big, Okafor wants to post you up near the basket and beat you. His defense must improve, but he’ll be an offensive force. He also can be used in today’s 3-point happy offenses, since he will draw double teams and is smart enough to see the floor and pass to open men. With Julius Randle coming back from injury, the Lakers have a strong front line and could be back in the mix as soon as this coming season.
Who they should take: Okafor
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Who they’ll take: D’Angelo Russell (G, Ohio State)
One of the reasons an NBA mock draft is so hard despite there being so few players and picks is because of the existence of the 76ers. They try and load up on picks every year, freeing them to take risks on guys who could stay overseas for years or are injury prone. They show utter contempt for their fans who would like to see an NBA team in their pretty new uniforms and to experts who rip them for wasting picks on guys who might not ever play for the, or who will at least be years away from stardom. Worse, they make it impossible for us mockers to figure out the next few picks because they could go any direction. The talk they’ll take Kristaps Porzingis, a big man who may or may not ever be a real NBA player, makes sense considering the team making this pick and Joel Embiid’s recent inury setback. The Sixers, however, can’t be that dumb. At some point, you need to take a guy you know is going to come in help the team on the floor, not your 2022 fantasy keeper league roster. Russell is a talented guard who does a little bit of everything and can make an impact in November. If the Sixers don’t take him, they just don’t care if they ever win.
Who they should take: Russell, or any or the remaining prospects who could actually be an NBA player soon
4. New York Knicks
Who they’ll take if they keep this pick: Kristaps Porzingis (PF, Croatia)
This would be a disastrous scenario for the Knicks, who are hoping Philly does something stupid and leaves one of the big three in this class for them to grab. They would probably prefer to trade this pick for a lower one and a proven player, but if the top three plays out this way, this pick gets less appealing. There are a number of similarly-ranked players available a few picks down who teams will view as safer than the unknown foreigners many have pegged for this range, making the need to trade up much less. If Philly doesn’t take Russell the Knicks will likely grab him and be thrilled, though they could get to trade down with a team who wants him. The other scenario here finds a team trading up to this spot for a specific player who would be a bit of a reach, but who could be taken here because the Knicks are a team willing to part with the pick. The Celtics, for example, could jump up here and grab Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS is my pick for four, but most analysts have him rated a little lower, making him a reach here. Still, if you have a guy picked out and this is the spot you can get him, I don’t mind “reaching” to get your guy. If the player you want is there, grab him, forget what others think. The disastrous year in New York should have led to a new star coming to town. Instead it probably leads to a disappointing trade and a role player showing up to MSG.
Who they should take: Cauley-Stein
5. Orlando Magic
Who they’ll take: Mario Hezonja (SF, Croatia)
The Magic might make this pick at four or even three, but by all accounts this is the player they want. He’s a pretty big guy who can shoot, but we won’t know if he can do so against NBA players until we see him for real.
Who they should take: Cauley-Stein
6. Sacramento Kings
Who someone will take here: Willie Cauley-Stein (C, Kentucky)
This is the third pick in the top 10 which very possibly could be made by someone else. The Kings are thinking about trading star center DeMarcus Cousins, who doesn’t get along with coach George Karl. Cousins is a little wild, but he’s also a hell of a player. If the board falls this way, teams like the Celtics could come calling to get Cauley-Stein, who could singlehandedly change the league’s sudden penchant for shooting. In the finals Cleveland went small because it felt it couldn’t have its center switch on screens and end up on a guard. Willie can guard any position thanks to his incredible combination of size and speed. He’s not as valuable as the two bigs at the top of the draft, but he might be the most unique player in the draft. The Kings might keep him and use him to guard the people Cousins can’t to form a super frontcourt, but it’s more likely the Kings trade this pick to Boston, New York or the Lakers. If the Lakers pick here they could take a guard like Emmanuel Mudiay.
What the Kings should do: Get a new owner
7. Denver Nuggets
Who they’ll take: Emmanuel Mudiay (G, China)
At least he isn’t as unknown as many foreign prospects are. He’s American and was going to go to SMU but didn’t think he’d get in. SMU coach Larry Brown, who spent many years coaching in the NBA, says Mudiay, who he had recruited, would have been the top pick in the draft if he had spent the year in college. Instead he’s an unknown commodity, but at least teams saw him in high school. This is one of the two biggest risk-reward picks in the first round.
Who they should take: Mudiay
8. Detroit Pistons
Who they’ll take: Justise Winslow (F, Duke)
The Pistons are said to badly want Hezonja, but he wants Orlando and Orlando wants him, so I don’t think Detroit can get him. Instead they’ll take another wing and one who can affect the game on both ends.
Who they should take: Winslow
9. Charlotte Hornets
Who they’ll take: Devin Booker (SG, Kentucky)
Another easy one. Booker was the forgotten man on the loaded Wildcats team which nearly finished the season unbeaten. Charlotte needs shooting and Booker is a shooter. Of course, this is the NBA Draft AND this team is run by Michael Jordan, so they’ll probably go in a totally different direction.
Who they should take: Booker
10. Miami Heat
Who they’ll take: Myles Turner (PF, Texas)
The Heat have three choices. Fill a need on the wing, but in this scenario Winslow is gone and I don’t think Sam Dekker is ready for a win-now team like the Heat. They could take a four, which is their other need, which is what I think they will do and should do, or they could try and trade down. I think they take the power forward they need, and Turner is the best of the bunch. If they do go wing, it’s Dekker or Stanley Johnson.
Who they should take: Turner
11. Indiana Pacers
Who they’ll take: Cameron Payne (G, Murray State)
Like the Knicks, the Pacers have a chance to get better incredibly quickly. Like the Knicks, they need everything to go right to do so. Paul George will be back next year and hopefully healthy, meaning the Pacers don’t need a wing. They could go Frank Kaminsky here now that David West seems gone, but having their star back allows them to be more risky with their pick. The Pacers are run by Larry Bird, so they have to love shooters.
Who they should take: Dekker
12. Utah Jazz
Who they’ll take: Trey Liles (PF, Kentucky)
The Jazz are the team who will screw up the middle of people’s mocks since they could go so many ways. They need everything, as their current roster isn’t nearly as good as they think it is. Liles would be a nice get at the four and another piece to a big puzzle for the Jazz.
Who they should take: Liles
13. Phoenix Suns
Who they’ll take: Sam Dekker (SF, Wisconsin)
This is a kid who made a ton of money during the NCAA Tournament, when he showed some versatility to go with his shooting prowess and toughness.
Who they should take: Dekker
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
Who they’ll take: Stanley Johnson (SF, Arizona)
The Thunder are going to get Kevin Durant back, Russell Westbrook with full confidence and health, and a lottery pick to use. Many have them pegged on Payne, but he’s gone in this scenario. Tyus Jones is where I would go, but if they don’t like him this high, a wing who slipped a bit past where he was projected to go and provides a bit of insurance if Durant leaves next summer is a good fallback plan.
Who they should take: Tyus Jones
15. Atlanta Hawks
Who they’ll take: Frank Kaminsky, (F, Wisconsin)
First, a word on the team which should be here, the Nets. Brooklyn went for broke a couple of years ago, trading for the ghosts of Celtics past and giving up their future to try and win a title over the past two seasons. They didn’t, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are gone, and they owe next year’s likely lottery pick to Boston. Even worse, they have to switch spots with Atlanta this year, which didn’t seem too bad until the Hawks shocked everyone, won 60 games, and earned pick 29. Now the Nets can only sit back and watch. It’s Brooklyn, so maybe they can get a free agent somehow, but I don’t think so. Things are actually bleaker in Brooklyn now than in New York, where the Knicks could start a turnaround if they pull something off tonight or Philly screws up ahead of them. As for the Hawks, they stand to lose a big or two, and Kaminsky slipping this far gives him a perfect landing spot. He goes and contributes on a good team he doesn’t have to carry.
Who they should take: Kaminsky
16. Boston Celtics
Who they’d take if they were drafting here: Bobby Portis (PF, Arkansas)
One of the most likely scenarios to happen tonight is the Celtics getting rid of this pick. How high up they get will affect the entire board, but they should be able to get into the lottery with some of their treasure trove of picks and young, tradable players. They could be a trade partner with the 76ers, Knicks, Kings, Nuggets or Heat.
Who they should take if still here: Kelly Oubre
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Who they’ll take: Kelly Oubre (SF, Kansas)
The Bucks are in a tough spot, and not just because Jason Kidd is their coach. There isn’t a great combination of need and value here for them, so look for them to take the best player available or trade down a few spots.
Who they should take: R.J. Hunter
18. Houston Rockets
Who they’ll take: Tyus Jones (PG, Duke)
The Rockets have a GM who thinks he knows all who I could never tell how to draft, so I don’t dare put a lot of analysis in here and risk insulting the Billy Beane of basketball. Jones would give the second unit some good leadership and handling.
Who they should take: Jones
19. Washington Wizards
Who they’ll take: Kevon Looney (PF, Washington)
The Wizards getting a power forward here is a consensus move, and Looney might be the only one left here. If they think Paul Pierce is leaving, they might think wing, however.
Who they should take: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
20. Toronto Raptors
Who they’ll take: R.J. Hunter (G, Georgia State)
He helped ruin my bracket, he can shoot, and the Raptors have enough needs to just take the best guy left.
Who they should take: Hunter
21. Dallas Mavericks
Who they’ll take: Delon Wright (G, Utah)
The Mavs miss out on Hunter in this scenario, and are in big needs of guards. Rajon Rondo didn’t mesh with Rick Carlisle and Monta Ellis just opted out. If they can’t get Hunter, Wright is an underrated guard who can help down the line.
Who they should take: Trade up for Hunter
22. Chicago Bulls
Who they’ll take: Jerian Grant, (PG, Notre Dame)
The Bulls, apparently sick of contending, are starting over from the top down. This deep in the draft, however, they can’t get a game-changer, so they have to fill a need. Grant is a tough guard who I think is a great fit here.
Who they should take: Grant
23. Portland Trail Blazers
Who they’ll take: Rashad Vaughn (SG, UNLV)
The Blazers made the first big trade of draft week, getting rid of Nicholas Batum to try and make room under the cap to keep LaMarcus Aldridge. Getting more backcourt help is easier here than getting someone who could replace “LA” if he leaves, so that’s where Portland goes.
Who they should take: Montrezl Harrell
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
Who they’ll take: Joseph Young, (SG, Oregon)
The Cavs desperately need an outside shooter who LeBron James can kick the ball out to after he drives. More importantly, they need the shooter to not be J.R. Smith. So this is as good a shooter as is left.
Who they should take: Trade up for Hunter
25. Memphis Grizzlies
Who they’ll take: Justin Anderson (SF, Virginia)
Anderson was put on this earth to play for Memphis. The only thing which could prevent this marriage is someone taking the defensive wiz sooner. Anderson is getting better offensively, and would be much higher if he had stayed healthy this year.
Who they should take: Anderson
26. San Antonio Spurs
Who they’ll take: Montrezl Harrell (F, Louisville)
The Spurs always end up with the right guy for them despite always being way down in the draft. Their magic powers work again, as they get the next Ken Faried/Dennis Rodman to take some minutes load off of Tim Duncan.
Who they should take: Harrell
27. Los Angeles Lakers
Who they’ll take: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (SF, Arizona)
He’s too good to be going this low, but later in the draft teams might try to get a need as the difference between talent levels lessens. This is a good fit for need and skill.
Who they should take: Hollis Jefferson
28. Boston Celtics
Who they’ll take: Anthony Brown (SG, Stanford)
A big wing who can shoot from three? Yes please. If Boston is still picking here, this is the guy. I’d love for them to take a shot at Robert Upshaw, but he has too many off-court problems to go in the first round.
Who they should take: Brown.
29. Brooklyn Nets
Who they’ll take: Terry Rozier (PG, Louisvlle)
The rebuild won’t be easy, and it starts with a young guard who can be molded and try to someday replace Deron Williams, who I think eventually gets traded.
Who they should take: Rozier
30. Golden State Warriors
Who they’ll take: Olivier Hanlan (SG, Boston College)
There aren’t many shooters left this late, and the Warriors only want shooters.
Who they should take: Get Brown if they can find a way up a few spots or if he falls