The Timberwolves could reasonably go any number of ways with the first pick. But, at this point, I think the most likely scenario has them taking the prospect with the highest upside — which is, in my opinion, LaMelo Ball. I can acknowledge it’s not a perfect fit. But it’s still the best option for a franchise that’s struggled to become relevant in the Western Conference even with an All-NBA talent like Karl-Anthony Towns in the middle. Towns has been in Minnesota five seasons and only played in five playoff games. That’s awful. So perhaps Ball can be the key to changing that because, even though his shot-selection leaves a lot to be desired, the 6-foot-6 guard can already see things offensively, and do things offensively, that 99.9% of prospects his age cannot do. And that’s why it’s reasonable to conclude the good far outweighs any bad — and predict that LaVar’s youngest son has the talent to develop into an All-Star many times over.
In previous versions of this mock draft I’ve had the Warriors selecting James Wiseman with the No. 2 pick. And they might actually do it (if they actually keep the pick, which remains undetermined). We’ll see. But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes to spend the No. 2 pick on a traditional center when Golden State knows its most-effective lineup includes Draymond Green in the middle. So now I’m on board with the Warriors instead taking Anthony Edwards, the big, strong and athletic guard from Georgia who averaged 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in his one season with the Bulldogs — but only shot 40.2% from the field and 29.4% from 3-point range. In other words, he was incredible in spots, but largely up and down and inefficient, for a team that was projected to miss the NCAA Tournament when the season was canceled. All things considered, Edwards was a little underwhelming. But the potential for stardom remains, in part because he’s already physically mature despite being just 19 years old. The explosiveness he possesses, especially in transition, will serve him well while playing on or off the ball. And his special combination of size and quickness would allow him to guard three positions for a Golden State franchise trying to win big now.
The Timberwolves securing the No. 1 pick probably ended any real chance of James Wiseman going first overall because of the presence of Karl-Anthony Towns — but it’s hard to imagine him falling past Charlotte if he’s available here because he’s arguably the best prospect available and definitely somebody who fills a need. Are there questions connected to Wiseman? Of course. His decision to quit the Memphis team the week before Christmas, becoming the first healthy college player in history to quit midseason to “prepare for the NBA Draft,” was not popular with some NBA front-office executives because they immediately wondered what kind of person would quit on his teammates midseason while healthy, especially when Zion Williamson refused to do it the year prior at Duke even when prominent voices were encouraging him to shut it down after he suffered a knee injury. So, yeah, there are some concerns. Regardless, Wiseman is simply too physically gifted to ignore in a draft lacking top-end talent. And if things break correctly, he could prove to be a franchise center and overwhelming presence for at least the next decade.
Obi Toppin is a former zero-star recruit who earned CBS Sports National Player of the Year honors after averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 63.3% from the field and 39.0% from 3-point range this past season. He’s a super-athletic forward who dunks everything — he actually led the nation in dunks — and consistently makes jumpers in pick-and-pop situations. Yes, the fact that he’s already 22 years-old is an issue worth taking into account. But it will not — or, at least, it should not — overshadow the idea that Toppin has a chance to be the most impactful player selected in this draft. In Chicago, he could easily play with Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter and immediately become another weapon for Zach LaVine and Coby White.
Deni Avdija, a former Most Valuable Player of the FIBA Under-20 European Championship, should be the first non-American international prospect to come off the board. He’s a 19-year-old Israeli who performed well for Maccabi Tel Aviv in games leading up to the season being suspended — and then again after the season resumed. At 6-9, he’s tall enough to play power forward and skilled enough to play on the wing. And his shooting has noticeably improved. So, according to most evaluators, Avdija now projects as a likely top-five pick — one who would actually be a nice fit in Cleveland with Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in the backcourt.
Onyeka Okongwu mostly operated off the national radar this past season because he played for an unranked team on the West Coast. But he was fantastic rather quickly — averaging 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 61.6% from the field. He’s the main reason USC won 16 of its first 20 games and would’ve been in the NCAA Tournament if the NCAA Tournament had been played. Is he an undersized big? Yes, probably. But he’s an undersized big who can play multiple positions. And, either way, the NBA is now littered with undersized bigs. So even though Okongwu wasn’t thought of this way coming out of high school, it’s now reasonable to call him the second-best big prospect in the draft, one who could play, no problem, in Atlanta alongside John Collins or Clint Capela.
Isaac Okoro was only a borderline top-40 prospect coming out of high school in Georgia. But he quickly emerged, at Auburn, as one of college basketball’s best freshmen this past season. The 6-6 wing averaged 12.9 points and 4.4 rebounds for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers, who started 15-0 overall and finished 24-4 when Okoro was healthy and available to play. Auburn was just 1-2 without him in the lineup. So, in other words, he was a real difference-maker on both ends of the court. Okoro’s athleticism and ability to shutdown opposing wings, thanks to unusually great defensive instincts for a 19 year-old, are, undeniably, his best attributes. And because Detroit could use a high-upside player who impacts winning in a variety of ways, Okoro should be the pick here provided he remains available outside of the top six.
The Knicks slipping to eighth in this draft is just deflating for the franchise. So unlucky. There’s nothing good about it. New York went from dreaming about LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards to selecting … Killian Hayes? On my board, at this point, he’s the best available option. The 6-5 prospect is an American-born lead guard who was raised in France. So he’s technically an American-born international prospect, one who has been playing professionally in Germany. He didn’t turn 19 years-old until July. So Hayes is one of the youngest players in this draft. But, despite that, he has a high basketball IQ and reputation of somebody who just really knows how to play. Early this past season, Hayes turned the ball over a little too much, which is less-than-ideal for a primary ball-handler. But his assist-to-turnover ratio improved as the season progressed. So his ability to take care of the ball is not a real issue. Shooting is, though. Hayes shot below 30% from 3-point range this past season. That’s not good enough from that position. But if he improves on that, and the guess here is that he will in time, Hayes will have a chance to live up to the hype that has him projected by basically everybody to go in the lottery.
Tyrese Haliburton, like Obi Toppin, is a good example of a mostly unheralded high school prospect who became a statistical monster in college. The 6-5 sophomore averaged 15.2 points, 6.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 50.4% from the field and 41.9% from 3-point range this past season before suffering an injury in early February that ended his college career. So he’s a lead guard with size who consistently makes shots. And there’s not a franchise in the NBA, Washington included, that couldn’t use a player who can reasonably be described that way.
The more I talk with front-office executives, the more I’m convinced Saddiq Bey has a chance to be a steal in this draft — especially if he slips out of the top 10. The 6-8 forward was merely a sub-125 recruit in the Class of 2018, the least-heralded prospect in Villanova’s four-player class. But he quickly developed into an intriguing prospect who averaged 16.1 points (while making 45.1% of his 3-point attempts) this past season for a Villanova team that shared the Big East title. He’s versatile on both ends and an ideal wing prospect for the modern NBA.
The ceiling on Memphis’ season was lowered drastically when James Wiseman quit, but it’s hard to argue that Precious Achiuwa didn’t personally benefit at least statistically. The super-athletic forward averaged 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds — and was the only freshman in the sport to average a double-double. He’s terrific in transition, effective around the rim, comfortable away from it and capable of guarding smaller players in space. All of that, combined with a tremendous motor, should be enough to make Achiuwa a lottery pick even though there are legitimate questions about whether he’ll ever be an effective offensive player or anything other than a small-ball center.
Aaron Nesmith only played 14 games as a sophomore at Vanderbilt before suffering a season-ending foot injury. So the sample size is on the smallish side, which isn’t ideal. But it can’t be ignored that the big-scoring guard made 52.2% of the 115 3-pointers he attempted last season. That’s an incredible percentage that should translate well at the next level, where perimeter-shooting has never been more valued. Beyond that, Nesmith has great size for his position. He’s 6-6. So he can maybe guard three different positions at the next level — though his lateral quickness would need to improve for that. His ability to create shots on his own, to be an effective shot-creator, needs to improve as well. But a player with size who can really shoot it is an attractive option in the modern-NBA, especially for a franchise like Sacramento that presently has just an average 3-point shooting roster.
Devin Vassell’s numbers (12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) don’t jump off the screen, but that has more to do with playing at Florida State than anything else. The Seminoles had four players who averaged between 9.2 points and 12.7 points last season. So Leonard Hamilton’s team was balanced at the top, possibly to the detriment of Vassell. Either way, what’s important to note is that the 6-7 guard made 41.7% of his 168 3-point attempts over the past two seasons. And what that suggests is that he’s a two-way wing who can sink jumpers reliably, which is among the reasons he makes sense for a New Orleans franchise that needs to surround Zion Williamson with as many shooters as possible.
The fact that Kemba Walker is 30 years old and coming off of a disappointing postseason might have the Celtics looking at point guard options with this pick. If so, the best one available is probably Kira Lewis, who will still only be 19 years-old on the night of the draft. For what it’s worth, his first college coach, Avery Johnson, absolutely loves him as an NBA prospect. That’s a good sign, I think. And another good sign is that Lewis was really productive as a sophomore — averaging 18.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds for an Alabama team that finished 60th at KenPom. Beyond that, he made 48.8% of his 3-point attempts in the Crimson Tide’s final seven games. So it appears Lewis can be a reliable, and perhaps terrific, perimeter shooter and thus a nice addition to Brad Stevens’ Celtics.
Around this time last year, Cole Anthony was widely considered to be a candidate to be selected first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. Now there’s no guarantee he’ll go in the top 20 because front-office executives are all over the place when it comes to projecting what Anthony will be at the next level. Will he become a big-scoring lead guard who impacts winning like Damian Lillard? Or will he be an inefficient scorer who produces empty stats for irrelevant teams? Some think the former. Some think the latter. As always, time will tell. But Orlando should be looking at point guard options with the 15th pick. And, if the Magic go that direction, Anthony makes as much sense as anybody and could ultimately prove to be a real steal just outside of the lottery.
R.J. Hampton’s decision to skip college and play professionally for a team based in New Zealand last season contributed to the G-League creating a program for elite prospects — and then aggressively pursuing them. So he’s already made an impact on the sport, for better or worse. And let the record show the former five-star recruit was respectable in the NBL. He averaged 8.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. So Hampton skipped college, made a little money, and now he should be a top-20 pick based on his ability to play either guard spot and beat opponents off the dribble with a great first-step. Does his shooting need to improve? Yes, undeniably. The mechanics have long been a little off. But Hampton spent time in recent months with former NBA Rookie of the Year Mike Miller and reportedly reworked his approach. So that’s an encouraging development and among the reasons Portland could use the 16th pick to add some backcourt depth that might help decrease the workload for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Not all legitimate NBA prospects who return for their sophomore seasons actually help themselves from a draft-stock perspective — but Smith definitely did. The 6-10 big added strength, improved his field-goal percentage by 4.6 points, his 3-point percentage by 8.0 points and averaged more points, rebounds and blocks than he did as a freshman. The result was Maryland winning a share of the Big Ten title and Smith solidifying himself as a real first-round option. At the next level, Smith will likely play both the 4 and 5 — point being he could theoretically play in lineups with Karl-Anthony Towns as long as he continues to improve as a shooter and becomes a reliable perimeter threat.
Tyrese Maxey enrolled at Kentucky with the reputation of a straight-killer — somebody who could go and get 25 on just about anybody. And, in the season-opener, he looked the part. The 6-3 combo guard got 26 points in that November-win over Michigan State and showed lots of the things that made most assume he’d be UK’s leading scorer. But, for much of the season, Maxey was inconsistent. He played more minutes than any other Wildcat. He took more shots than any other Wildcat. But Maxey was only third on the team in scoring. He shot just 42.7% from the field and a mere 29.2% percent from 3-point range. So Maxey’s one year in college was a little disappointing relative to preseason expectations. But, regardless, he’s still mostly projected as a top-15 pick because he does have elite-scoring attributes, presumably can be a better perimeter shooter than he showed at Kentucky, and is really good at finishing inside the arc in creative ways, mostly with an elaborate floater package. So, sure, there are questions here. But if Maxey reaches his potential he should be getting buckets in the NBA for a long time.
Patrick Williams is probably more of a long-term investment than he is an instant-impact rookie considering he’ll barely be 19 years old on the night of the draft. He’s a project. But the 6-8 forward measures well and was a key piece on a Florida State team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title. He performed strongly down the stretch while scoring in double-figures in five of the Seminoles’ final seven games. So, again, it’s possible he won’t help an NBA team much next season. But what Williams could become in a year or two is enough to generate attention in the back half of the first round, where somebody will be getting a player with enough upside that the decision to select him could pay off provided that the franchise that selects him is patient enough to wait on the return.
There’s nothing too flashy about Tre Jones. He doesn’t create many highlights nor is he a great shooter. But he remains a terrific run-the-team point guard who really defends on one end of the court, and really creates opportunities for his teammates on the other. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.4 assists last season — and actually shot it well enough from the perimeter down the stretch to get his 3-point percentage up to a respectable 36.1. So there’s enough good stuff about him to make him a real option here for Miami, especially considering Goran Dragic is 34 years-old and entering free agency.
Theo Maledon missed time with an injury while playing professionally in France last season and was mostly underwhelming — although, in fairness, he played better as things progressed. But the talent that made him an interesting prospect at a young age — he was the youngest LNB All-Star in history — still exists. So Philadelphia, which is no longer committed to playing Ben Simmons at point guard, should seriously consider Maledon with the 21st pick, if he’s available, because he would add a skilled lead guard to the roster Doc Rivers is inheriting.
Isaiah Stewart was perhaps the only good thing about Washington’s wildly disappointing season that culminated with the Huskies finishing last in the Pac-12. The 6-9 center led his team in points (17.0), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (2.1). He was great — but how well will it translate at the next level? That’s the question. And, for what it’s worth, scouts acknowledge guarding in space could be a problem. But Stewart’s high motor, incredible production, and better-than-some realize skill set should keep him in the top 20.
Josh Green was one of three possible first-round picks on Arizona’s roster this past season, which is among the reasons it was surprising that the Wildcats only finished tied for fifth in the Pac-12 standings. But some of it was tied to the freshman’s inconsistency. The 6-6 wing showed flashes at times. He got 24 points in an early win over Pepperdine. He got 19 in the regular-season finale against Washington. But the truth is that Green is, at the moment, more advanced defensively than offensively, and there are real concerns about his ability to put the ball on the floor and pass it. So while his athleticism and toughness should get him picked somewhere late in the first round, the questions attached to Green could theoretically push him outside of the top 30, where somebody would be getting an explosive athlete and jumper but one who still needs to improve as a playmaker and passer.
Nico Mannion only shot 32.7% from 3-point range this past season, which obviously isn’t great for a lead guard who has the ball a lot. But he’s still an interesting talent because of his ability to make reads and run an offense. Is he athletic or physically impressive relative to current high-level NBA point guards? Not really. And that’s a concern. But, in the simplest terms, I’m a believer in Mannion just figuring it out and working to find a long-term role in the league, and the Bucks could stand to add a traditional point guard to the roster led by two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounpo.
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Jaden McDaniels’ freshman season did not go well. He was a disappointing team’s most disappointing player — one who led the Pac-12 in fouls. At one point, the 6-9 forward even got benched by his coach, Mike Hopkins. So it was just bad stuff on top of bad stuff on top of bad stuff. If McDaniels slips to the second round, that will be why. But Oklahoma City has so many first-round picks in upcoming drafts courtesy of the Clippers than the Thunder can afford to take a big swing on a naturally gifted prospect like McDaniels. If it’s a miss, so what? But if it turns out well, it could be the type of thing that expedites OKC’s rebuild in the post-Billy-Donovan era.
Boston has three first-round picks and almost no room on its roster. So the Celtics will either have to make some trades or stash a pick or both. And that’s why Leandro Balmaro might be a great option here, if he’s available. He’s already committed to staying in Barcelona next season. So the 6-8 forward could be a draft-and-stash for a franchise that will be trying to return to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Vernon Carey would’ve been a top-10 pick if he were born 20 years earlier. But with unathletic centers devalued and sometimes unplayable in today’s NBA, there are a lot of things working against the Duke star even though he was the best freshman in college basketball this past season while averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for a team that finished fifth at KenPom. Will he be played off the floor by certain opponents in certain situations? Yes, that seems likely. But I’m still convinced there’s a place for him in the NBA. And spending a late first-round pick on a wildly productive one-and-done player (who was also a heralded high school prospect) seems like a sensible move.
Cassius Winston is perceived to be limited because he’s small and not the best athlete. He’ll never measure or test great — and that’ll turn some franchises away. But he’s smart, great in pick-and-roll situations and someone who has proven to be a high-level shooter in all four years of college by making 43.0% of the 602 3-pointers he attempted in his four-year career. So he’s perfect for a Lakers team that needs point guard help and could always use another shooter to help make LeBron James’ job easier.
Fred VanVleet is an unrestricted free agent who is about to get PAID. So the Raptors might need to prepare to replace him. If so, they could do a lot worse than to select this draft’s VanVleet, i.e., a physically underwhelming point guard who really knows how to play, evidencing being that he won at a high level in college. And that player is Malachi Flynn. Is he tall and/or explosive? No. But Flynn really does have a lot of the same attributes that have helped VanVleet carve out a better-than-anybody-expected career. So I’m a believer in the former San Diego State All-American.
Zeke Nnaji was only a borderline top-40 prospect coming out of high school — but he emerged as the biggest surprise of Arizona’s freshman class. The 6-11 forward was Sean Miller’s most productive player, one who averaged a team-high 16.1 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. He was a terrific part of an underwhelming team. Going forward, the best-case scenario has Nnaji developing into a power forward who can create space, rather than trying to be a full-time center, because he’s not really a rim protector. We’ll see how that goes. But the fast-developing prospect deserves real consideration this deep in the first round.