By: Justin Lynch
Note: This is who I believe each team should take.
1. Phoenix Suns: Luka Doncic
Though everything is pointing towards the Suns selecting Ayton with this pick, that’s not what this mock draft is about. Luka Doncic is a superior prospect, and the Suns should take him first overall.
Ayton’s big-man game will be effective in the NBA. He will score points in bunches, for sure. But the league doesn’t value Ayton in the way it did. Perimeter-oriented players with positional versatility and outside shooting are what every team needs. This even more so when the player in question can be a primary ball handler who can see over defenders, like a quarterback sees over his offensive line. And there aren’t many to go around, especially in this draft.
Both Ayton and Luka have their defensive questions. Luka may simply not have the footspeed, and though Ayton’s issues are more timing, feel, and awareness, he too may be a step slow on the perimeter. Bigs who don’t shoot threes and don’t protect the rim need to be transcendent in other ways, and Ayton could be. But Luka is the more complete prospect. A fiery, but heady guard who can play with or without the ball, Doncic will make good teams great and bring his teammates to a new level, while playing the role of second (or third) fiddle scoring-wise. Booker, Jackson, and Doncic are young, versatile, and have enough shooting and athleticism to make it work. Ayton can make the good, Luka can make them great.
Alternative Move: The Suns seem like they are all-in on DeAndre Ayton, but if they really need a big man to fill out their core it should be Jaren Jackson. Call up the Kings or the Hawks (or even the Grizzlies) and see what they would be willing to do for the first pick. Danny Ainge’s trade back last year worked out, and though it won’t work out every time, if the Suns could snag Jaren Jackson at three as well as the 19th pick and DeAndre Bembry from Atlanta or Bogdanovic from Sacramento, it would be worth it. And it would save them some money, which could be crucial when they start chasing max-level free agents.
2. Sacramento Kings: DeAndre Ayton
Drafting for fit is always tricky, but drafting for upside can be even trickier. Though I have Jaren Jackson as a better prospect than Ayton, Jackson does not have the upside Ayton has. Sans their 2019 pick, the Kings need to swing for the fences here, and hope that Ayton becomes a franchise piece like Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid.
De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Buddy Hield are all solid, and improving. Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere, and Justin Jackson could make a leap. Probably not, but maybe. Jaren Jackson will be a great role player, a potential third wheel on a title contender, but Ayton has higher hopes. There is risk in taking him, but the Kings need someone to take them out of their misery, and Ayton offers their best chance.
Dream Scenario: Already happened! They moved up into this spot and now get either Ayton or Doncic. They shouldn’t mess around with anyone else.
3. Atlanta Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr.
With John Collins’ emergence last year, the Hawks don’t need Jaren Jackson. That doesn’t mean he isn’t the best player available.
Jackson protects the rim (5.5 blocks/40 min), hits threes (40% on three attempts/game, 80% FT), and can switch across every position. His ceiling was stymied by Tom Izzo playing him out of position and alongside the lane-clogging Nick Ward, but Jackson still managed to show some promise off the dribble.
He isn’t a top-tier passer, an explosive leaper, or a monster rebounder. But he is also one of the youngest players in the draft (he won’t turn 19 until September), and will have time to improve his body and decision-making.
The Hawks can stagger him and Collins, so one of them is always on the court and they never have a lane-clogging big on the floor. Also for this very reason they should be able to play together for stretches. How this will work in the long-term is a question. Would a team with two bigs, even if they are versatile, have enough playmaking, quickness, and shooting? Time will tell, but these type of players are so valuable that even if they can’t play together, trading one of them for someone who fits better shouldn’t be an issue.
Marvin Bagley is an option here. He is a good fit next to Collins and a higher upside pick than Jackson. I just see Bagley as too big a risk when Jackson is still on the board. The Hawks need stars, but they are still early in this rebuild, and can’t risk whiffing here, especially with later picks in this first round to potentially get a little more daring.
Dream Scenario: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mohamed Bamba
The Grizzlies are in a tough spot. They are old, cap-strapped, and potentially sans their first round pick next year. Michael Porter is an option here, but Bamba is safer and has only slightly less upside.
Bamba is athletic, but I worry that he is a step slow on the perimeter. His size and the lack of spacing in college made this moot, but the NBA could be a different story. If he struggles in the pick-n-roll and can’t figure out his shot, he has a clear ceiling. But if he can get quicker, learn how to keep guys in front, and switch across everything defensively, he will be a perennial first team all-defensive player.
Offensively, he showed flashes. His poor free throw and three point shooting cause concerns, even though he’s been touting his new, quicker release in his pre-draft campaigning. He is on the skinny side and doesn’t have great touch or post moves, causing his post-ups to be inefficient. My guess is he never develops into much offensively, but all he has to do is make defenders respect his shot on the perimeter and roll hard to the basket to cause issues.
Marc Gasol can help Bamba in his development, and even though the fit is a bit strange in the short-run, the Grizzlies should be thinking long-term.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr.
I have no idea if he’s healthy. But assuming he gets back to his former self, Porter is the pick.
Porter measured in at 6’11” at the combine. He shoots threes with confidence, has a nice, quick release, and can score from anywhere, using his size to beat smaller defenders and quickness to beat bulkier ones.
The Mavericks are facing an uphill climb, but still they may never pick this high again in their current rebuild, grabbing a high upside player makes sense. Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes will take some of the scoring load off Porter initially, allowing him to grow at his own pace. Rick Carlisle will keep his bad shots to a minimum and force him into becoming more disciplined.
Porter is the best scorer in the draft, and one of the only players outside of the top two that could realistically become a star. Defensively, Porter could face some difficulties. It remains to be seen whether or not he is quick enough, though he has been guarding the perimeter his whole playing career. We’re also not sure about him in the post, and at 6’11” you better believe he’s going to be down there.
Still, he was the best player on the floor in the McDonald’s game (which doesn’t matter) and the Nike Hoop Summit (which matters slightly more), and one of the best players on Team USA U18. He needs to become more efficient, lose the bad shots, and gain ball handling and athleticism.
Porter has a high bust potential given his shot selection, defensive inconsistencies, and injury history, but if he figures it out he will be worth it. The Mavericks should take a chance.
6. Orlando Magic: Wendell Carter Jr.
Carter’s high-floor, medium-ceiling trajectory may not be exactly what the Magic, who are ever in pursuit of a star, need, but he fits with their roster and won’t bust. Carter’s three point shot is coming along, and he is solid in the post. Playing with Bagley in college cramped the paint and forced him out of position. Though he isn’t the type of athlete to take advantage of newfound space on the court, Carter will still see his game blossom in a way that it couldn’t at Duke.
Carter’s 7’4.5” wingspan will help his shot blocking traits carry over to the NBA, but he will struggle on the perimeter. He isn’t slow in transition, but he is not a capable lateral defender at this point. This is Carter’s biggest (and maybe only) weakness. If Carter can slim down, get quicker, and keep guys in front. He will be the steal of the draft. If he can’t switch, he will get run off the floor.
For the Magic, Carter’s rim protection will help fortify the backend of a defense anchored by the length and athleticism of Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. If Carter can switch, these three will have the size to cause serious issues for opponents. Carter should be good enough offensively to fit anywhere in time, his rebounding is an added bonus, and his passing and basketball IQ will make those around him better.
Dream Scenario: Michael Porter Jr.
Other Options: Trae Young and Marvin Bagley seem to be the other options here, as players beyond them start to have limited upside unless you take someone with a lot of uncertainty around them (Zhaire Smith, Lonnie Walker). But the Magic can’t whiff here. Bagley and Young have serious downsides that the Magic shouldn’t bother with.
7. Chicago Bulls: Marvin Bagley III
If I had to pick one guy out of the consensus top-7 of this draft to bust it would be Bagley. With that said, the Bulls have a long way to go and can take risks at this point in the draft.
Offensively, his shot is a work in progress. He has fine mechanics, but struggled to hit shots when there was a defender in same zip code as him, and he shot poorly from the free throw line. If he can shoot with consistency, he will be a true scorer. He is decent enough off the bounce to attack slower defenders who get just a little too close outside, and he can dive into the lane and finish above the rim. He finished well around the rim in college, despite never using his right hand, and has a decent jump hook.
Defensively, Bagley isn’t very good, but he has the athleticism to defend smaller players, even if he didn’t show much of it at Duke. He isn’t a rim protector. Maybe I am undervaluing Bagley and his potential, but he seems like Julius Randle 2.0. Left-dominant, athletic, good rebounding, threat-in-transition big who just can’t do the things that are most valued today. He may need to play alongside a three-point shooting, rim protecting big man.
The Bulls need to make sure they find him some playing time. Omer Asik, Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen, Cristiano Felicio, Robin Lopez, and (maybe) Noah Vonleh are threats to Bagley’s playing time. The Bulls need to bench or find new homes for everyone not names Portis, Markkanen, and Bagley to make sure he develops.
The Bulls could try Trae Young here, but his defensive and athletic deficiencies scare me more than Bagley’s concerns, even accounting for the Bulls needing guards and wings more than bigs.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Brooklyn via Boston): Trae Young
Assuming LeBron leaves, the Cavs will be rebuilding. Young offers them high upside in the second half of the lottery, and the Cavs will use him right away.
Young will be dynamic offensively. He is an incredible shooter and passer, and can be the focal point of a great NBA offense. His defense is just so bad. He’s thin and undersized, and sometimes can’t even put up much of a fight. The Cavs should give him a chance, and see if he can develop into passable defensively, but if he can’t, he will be tough to play come playoff time.
9. New York Knicks: Mikal Bridges
Bridges isn’t a high upside pick. He rarely creates off the dribble, plays in isolation, or becomes the go-to scorer. But he may be the safest player in the draft. Bridges is a knockdown three-point shooter and a long, versatile defender.
The Knicks will need stars to play with Porzingis, but they may need to come from next year’s draft or (more likely) free agency. Bridges will make any team he is on better. The Knicks could try for higher upside picks, but whiff here and Kristaps is that much closer to leaving. The Knicks will get a solid player to pair with the emerging Ntilikina, and they can regroup from there.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from Lakers): Lonnie Walker IV
Walker may not be the plug-and-play prospect that Mikal or Miles Bridges could be, but his scoring upside makes sense for the 76ers.
The Process has worked for the 76ers, but they lack go-to scoring. Hopefully Markelle Fultz fills in that gap next year, but even then, the Sixers will need more help. Joel Embiid is a monster, but playing through his post game is inefficient, and though Simmons may be a perennial all-star starting next year, he isn’t someone who can create with the game on the line.
Walker may be able to. Walker is a capable shooter who has the athleticism to attack off the bounce and the length to finish around the basket. He can pull up from midrange for jumpers and floaters. His vision needs some work, and he needs to become a better ball-handler, but he has the instincts to be a really good scorer, likely as a 6th-man off the bench. The Sixers saw what happened with their lack of creators last season, they would be smart to take someone who can get his when needed.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox
The Hornets are an absolute mess and have no reason not to reach for the stars here, especially considering how valuable wings are.
Knox is 6’9” with a 7-foot wingspan is isn’t even 19 yet. Knox has made huge strides over the past year. In the McDonald’s game and the Nike Hoop Summit his shooting form was ugly, he couldn’t dribble, and he was lost. But this season at Kentucky he shot 77% from the line and 34% from three on a solid number of attempts.
But a lot needs to go right for Knox. His shot translating is the prerequisite for his NBA success. He needs to become quicker and stronger attacking the rim, and work on his footwork to become a more true scorer. Defensively, he could eventually become a multi-positional stopper given his natural athleticism, strength, and length. But right now he’s too slow against wings and too small against bigs.
Knox is a huge risk, but his youth and upside make him worth it. The Hornets have no realistic plan to contention right now. They haven’t even begun the tear down, nevermind the rebuild. The Hornets have plenty of time, they shouldn’t balk at a project.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (from Pistons): Miles Bridges
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Clippers have only two players with guaranteed money on the roster after next season: Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams. That means they are essentially working with a tabula rasa. Bridges and SGA are both 6’6”, but have very different skill sets. Bridges is a scorer with three-point range and a physicality and athleticism to his drives. SGA is more finesse, a smart, slippery penetrator and passer who excels finding weaknesses in PNR coverage. Together, they give the Clippers the start of a dynamic, versatile team with high-character upside players.
SGA needs to become a better shooter for this to work out well, and I’m not sold it could happen, but either way he can be a lead guard off the bench. Bridges needs to become a better defender and work on that end to make up for his lack of size. The Clippers could instead opt for high-upside plays like Zhaire Smith or Troy Brown, but getting nothing from these picks would be a disaster. Whether the Clips plan to blow it up, attract high-level free agents, or toe the line for a couple more years, Bridges and Gilgeous-Alexander will be able to contribute and develop.
14. Denver Nuggets: Collin Sexton
The Nuggets are promising, but are in a bit of a tough spot. Murray, Harris, and Jokic probably don’t have what it takes to be the best three on a title contender, and as they start handing out big deals, their cap flexibility to get another (younger) Paul Millsap-caliber player will disappear. Thinking the Nuggets should swing for the fences here is reasonable, and may even be the better option.
But Sexton is the best player available, can contribute right away, and brings a fiery, desperate mentality that this Nuggets team needs. Sexton will hold guys accountable on defense, attack the rim on offense (a skill the Nuggets lack), and force everyone to match his intensity.
Sexton is only 6’1.5” but has a solid wingspan (6’7”). He has only an okay jumper, and will struggle when switched onto bigger, stronger players (similar to Terry Rozier this postseason). He is probably best suited as an overqualified, energy scoring guard off the bench.
15. Washington Wizards: Elie Okobo
The Wizards tried out Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson last year behind Wall and neither worked out. Okobo will give them solid minutes as backup point guard, but also can slide into the other guard spot and spot up next to Wall.
Okobo will be 21 when the season starts, so he isn’t necessarily a young prospect. Nor is he the most athletic. But at 6’3” with a 6’8” wingspan, he has decent size and length and a good outside shot. The Wizards are another team that could reach for the stars here, especially with Wall, Porter, and Beal under contract for at least the next three seasons, but grabbing a solid player who could really develop into an upper-tier third guard off the bench will take pressure off their stars and offer more lineup flexibility and spacing.
16. Phoenix Suns (from Miami): Khyri Thomas
Reminder: I have the Suns selecting Luka Doncic 1st overall
The Suns could use a big, but they already have Bender and Marquese Chriss, and would be smart to get them on the court as much as possible. Thomas willd solidify their young, athletic backcourt. At 6’4” with a nearly 6’11” wingspan, Thomas is the two-time Big East DPOY. He is simply a menace on that end of the floor, and has the length to switch in the league.
Thomas is already 22 years old, but is very developed. He shot over 41% from deep and nearly 80% from the line. He can work out of the PNR, but is best suited as an off-ball spot up shooter and straight-line attacker. Thomas finishes around the rim and is a good (not great) rebounder for his size.
With Doncic and Thomas, Phoenix will be bringing in two ready-to-rock, smart guards who can knock down shots. This will create more spacing for Jackson and Booker drives, and offer more flexibility in smaller lineups. The Suns have enough ball handlers as it is, adding Thomas gives them a 3-and-D threat who can attack when given his chance.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Kevin Huerter
The Bucks have a mishmosh of talent and should take someone here who can fit regardless of the direction of the team.
Huerter is 6’7” and change with a knockdown jumper. Other than Trae Young, he is the best shooter in the draft. He has underrated ball handling and solid passing skills, and could act as a backup guard or wing. Huerter tested very well athletically at the combine, and though he isn’t particularly long, if he can pack on some muscle, he will be able to hold his own defensively, even on most switches. The Bucks need to surround Giannis with shooters and smart players. Huerter is both. Lineups of Brogdon-Giannis-Middleton-Huerter-Jabari could be fun, albeit not the most deadly in transition (this assuming Jabari comes back). The Bucks are in a tough spot cap-wise, they would be good to grab an impact player right away, despite limited upside.
18. San Antonio Spurs: Zhaire Smith
The Spurs are headed for a rebuild, assuming Kawhi is traded, and they should be ecstatic Smith is still on the board here. Smith is freakishly athletic, an incredible rebounder at only 6’4”, and a long, versatile defender.
Offensively, Smith is mostly a mess. He has an ugly jump shot with limited range and a shaky handle. But he is so athletic that he can get by people anyway. Smith and Dejounte Murray will give the Spurs two high-upside players who are/could be excellent defensively. The shooting is an issue, but the Spurs have some of the best shooting coaches in the league (see Kawhi Leonard). Murray and Smith would be a great start to the rebuild, especially considering their lack of high picks.
19. Atlanta Hawks (from Minnesota): Josh Okogie
Reminder: I have the Hawks selecting Jaren Jackson 3rd overall
At almost 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan and still 19 years old, Okogie is incredibly fast, strong, and athletic. Okogie shot 38% from three and 82% from the line, which bodes well for his NBA shooting future.
Okogie is definitely more of an off-ball threat right now, but may get a chance to do more in Atlanta. Dennis Schroeder and Kent Bazemore are still around, but Okogie can get minutes right away. The Hawks have young bigs and young wings, they would be smart get a young guard as well, especially one who can switch on defense.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Oklahoma City): Jerome Robinson
The Wolves could be slim at the guard spots with Teague and Tyus Jones entering the last year of their deals (Teague could opt out). Jerome Robinson can help as a scorer off the bench. He is a good shooter with decent size and athleticism. Thibs will coach him into a solid defender. He already has the tools.
21. Utah Jazz: Anfernee Simons
Simons is entering the league straight from high school and is a huge risk. Simons is a scorer with an improving outside shot. He has NBA jumping ability, but will be a work-in-progress overall. The Jazz aren’t necessarily a team with the time or inclination to wait out a project like Simons, but their cap situation is not ideal for them grabbing a max-level free agent. Hitting on Simons is their best chance to have a third star with Mitchell and Gobert.
22. Chicago Bulls (from New Orleans): Troy Brown Jr.
Reminder: I had the Bulls select Marvin Bagley III at 7th overall
The Bulls should try to grab Brown because of his youth and basketball IQ. Brown is a good playmaker with good awareness, despite lackluster athleticism and shooting. He’s yet to turn 19, so the Bulls can mold him and hope that his skills and athleticism spark with NBA training and coaching. He doesn’t have the raw talent of Anfernee Simons, but he has more polish at this point. The Bulls could be getting a steal if they develop him properly.
23. Indiana Pacers: Chandler Hutchison
Hutchison is athletic, a good scorer, and an improving shooter. The Pacers are going to need stars to pair with Oladipo, and they have the cap flexibility to do it, but Hutchison could provide bench scoring and some floor spacing when needed. He needs to get stronger and quicker, and is already 22, but the Pacers should take a chance to see how good he can become.
24. Portland Trail Blazers: De’Anthony Melton
Melton missed this last season due to the FBI investigation, but he showed promise in his freshman year. He is a good defender, and has had the last year plus to fix his shot with eyes on the NBA. The Trail Blazers could look a lot different sooner rather than later. Melton’s defense, effort, and (hopefully) jump shot should allow him to be useful on whatever Portland team we see in the near future.
25. Los Angeles Lakers (from Cleveland): Robert Williams
Williams falls because of how many good bigs there are in the NBA and how much wings are at a premium. But the Lakers need a big, and Williams can help. He’s only 6’9” but has a 7’5” wingspan. He could be quick enough to switch the perimeter and will be a threat on lobs offensively. There are a lot of guys like Williams in the NBA, but Lakers don’t have one.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Jacob Evans
Reminder: I had the 76ers take Lonnie Walker IV 10th.
The Sixers need to continue filling out their wing spots and grab more 3-and-D players. Evans is 6’5.5” with a 6’9” wingspan and will provide defensive versatility, toughness, and IQ to the Sixers. He can knockdown open shots, as well.
Embiid, Saric, Simmons, and Fultz is the current core, and their just isn’t enough on the wing. Adding Lonnie Walker and Jacob Evans to Robert Covington gives them more versatility, and if they’re lucky, so will Paul George.
27. Boston Celtics: Rawle Alkins
With Smart potentially out the door or returning on a qualifying offer and Terry Rozier entering the last year of his deal, the Celtics should look for some backcourt help. Alkins plays smart and hard, is a strong defender, and can hit outside shots. He is ready to contribute right away, though he likely won’t on a deep Celtics team. Fast forward a year or two and Alkins could be a nice cap-controlled bench contributor on a team with title aspirations.
28. Golden State Warriors: Jalen Brunson
I’m not super into the idea of “winning” players. So much of that is circumstance and surroundings, and I don’t think it carries over much. But Brunson has been on the winningest college basketball team since he arrived at Villanova, so the transition to the NBA’s powerhouse would be seamless. Brunson is a smart, capable player who won’t make mistakes when entrusted. He can knock down open shots, distribute the ball, and work hard on both ends. He won’t be a great defender, but they’ll only need him for spurts. The Warriors are trying to get younger while still stocking their team with playoff contributors. Brunson fits the bill.
29. Brooklyn Nets (from Toronto): Trevon Duval
Duval has everything except a jump shot, and he couldn’t show it because Carter, Bagley, and Javin DeLaurier cramped the paint at Duke. Duval is hyper-athletic, a good passer, and a superb ball handler. The Nets pretty much have nothing. Why not take a shot?
30. Atlanta Hawks (from Rockets): Isaac Bonga
Reminder: I had the Hawks select Jaren Jackson 3rd and Josh Okogie 19th.
Bonga is a 6’9” point guard from Germany. He is super long and athletic. He can handle the ball and make plays in the PNR. His instincts as a playmaker are there, and his defensive versatility is enticing. But he can’t shoot at all. He won’t turn 19 until after the season starts. The Hawks should throw him out there and see what he can do, while revamping his jumper. The Giannis comparisons will be there for obvious reasons, and if Bonga becomes even 75% of Giannis this will be a steal.
Second Round Players to Watch