The NBA draft is days away, and as teams around the league make their final evaluations, it’s interesting to speculate about who’s going where. This mock draft is based completely on my opinions, meaning that more than anything, it’s a thought exercise.
This is not based off of the opinions and reporting of Chad Ford or Jonathan Givony¹, it is what teams ought to do, not what they will do. Ford and Givony have much more insight into team thinking than I, so such an article wouldn’t be worth my time.
In general, I believe in taking the best player available, however, it’s important to define exactly what that means. Players do not exist in a vacuum, and what may be a great situation for one player may be a terrible one for another. Thus, I believe in taking the best player available, while taking into account the factors that compose a given situation.
For example, let’s say Team X is going to draft a point guard. If they are choosing between two guards of comparable quality, they have to take into account how the guards will operate in their system. If the team’s offense is completely based around the pick and roll, they should look for guards that have that skill set, even if it means drafting a player that may be slightly “worse” than another.
Similarly, if a team is loaded at a specific position, taking a player at that position may mean either the player doesn’t get minutes or they have to play out of position, thus limiting their potential. You have to take the best player, but the player has to make sense for the team, otherwise they won’t be able to reach their potential in terms of impact and production on the court.
Without further ado…
1. Minnesota Timberwolves:
C, Kentucky, 7’0 250 lbs
This is an easy one. In fact, this is the easiest pick of the entire draft, and it seems like the Timberwolves agree. For my money, Towns is the best player in this draft hands down. I think Towns is such a great talent that even if a team in position to draft him already had a quality center, they should take him anyway because he’s such a special talent.
Plus, he’ll look great next to Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins.
Towns simply doesn’t have a weakness. Some say he may not be quite strong enough to handle post bullies, or that he’s only a good athlete, not a great one, but that’s all smoke and mirrors. Towns has unbelievable combinations of typically dichotomous traits, such as size and athleticism, strength and skill, and finesse and toughness.
Apparently Kentucky coach John Calipari had to force Towns to play down low when he first got to Lexington which is mildly concerning, but as long as his future coach stays on him, he has almost no red flags as a prospect.
Towns was extremely productive at Kentucky, and was above average in just about every important statistical category. Right from the beginning Towns was a dominant rebounder (12.7 Reb/40) and rim protector (4.2 Blk/40) and as the year progressed he began to show more and more of his offensive game.
Towns is very skilled offensively for a player with his size and defensive ability. He has solid fundamentals in the post, he can get out and run in transition, and he can dribble and pass better than most, if not all centers. To top it off, he’s an 81% free throw shooter with the potential to develop a jump shot given time.
After this year’s NBA Finals turned into a small-ball slugfest, many people have wondered aloud whether or not there is a place for slow-footed rim protecting centers in a fast paced series like that. However, Towns is the best of both worlds. In a series where Timofey Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are too big and plodding to play, Towns would be the kind of player a coach would be afraid to take off the floor. He should be the No. 1 overall pick, period.
2. Los Angeles Lakers:
G, Ohio St, 6’5 190 lbs
To me, this is another easy pick. There has been a lot of debate surrounding who deserves to be taken No. 2 overall, but in the end, I think Russell is closer to Towns than he is to the rest of the field.
D’Angelo Russell has all the necessary tools to be a point guard at the NBA level, and I think he’s actually underrated by most draft analysts as a consensus top-4 pick.
First of all, Russell is an absolute monster physically.
This graph shows the relationship between wingspan and eventual NBA performance² for all college point guards taken in the first round of the NBA draft between 2002-2010 (after 2010 it’s hard to gauge how players have turned out).
As you can see, there is a noticeable upward trend. At the combine, Russell’s wingspan was almost 6’10 (or 82 inches), which would be the 2nd largest wingspan in the database after Rajon Rondo. Standing at 6’5, Russell would measure as one of the NBA’s biggest point guards from day one.
Russell dominated at Ohio St, averaging 22.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals per 40 minutes in his only season. While it’s natural for the eyes to gravitate toward his scoring and assist totals, his rebounding numbers stand out as particularly impressive.
Shockingly enough, college rebounding was the single most correlative variable with future NBA performance that I found for point guards. There have been a lot of murmurs around the league about using rebounding as a tool in projecting point guards, but it hasn’t caught on in the mainstream media for obvious reasons.
Whether rebounding is an indicator of athleticism, aggressiveness or something else entirely, it matters, and D’Angelo Russell was really good at it.
Stylistically, Russell is exactly the type of point guard teams are looking for in the “modern NBA”. That essentially just means he’s amazing-and amazingly versatile- offensively.
Russell is an exceptional pick and roll point guard who can do it all: He can pull up, he can finish and he can pass, and he can do all three of them really, really well.
He might actually be the most dynamic pick and roll passer and the best pull up shooter in the entire draft. People don’t realize it, but D’Angelo Russell took 231 threes last season (almost 7 per game) and shot 41% on those attempts, with a large portion of those attempts coming off the dribble. Throw in the fact that he’s No. 1 in projected WARP on Kevin Pelton’s Statistical Big Board (Insider only) and it seems obvious that Russell is bound for NBA success.
He may not be an elite athlete or a stellar defender, but D’Angelo Russell is an offense unto himself, and he should be the No. 2 pick. Personally, I want to see him go to the 76ers, but acting as the Lakers’ GM, I can’t let him slip away.
3. Philadelphia 76ers:
PG, Guangdong, 6’5 200 lbs
This is where things start to get messy, as after Towns and Russell are off the board, I think there are a number of different ways teams could decide to go with their picks, but if I’m the 76ers in this situation, I think Mudiay is their best option, although conventional wisdom would probably disagree.
To me, it simply makes no sense for Philadelphia to take Jahlil Okafor unless they plan on trading him, which, for the purposes of this mock draft, I’m not going to assume. Not only do they already have two young, talented big men on their roster, but the 76ers are trying to play at a ridiculously high pace with an offense that rarely posts up.
Even if they didn’t already have two bigs it wouldn’t make sense for them to take a player like Okafor. To me, Emmanuel Mudiay is much better suited to their style of play, and he could come in and start right away³. His jumper is still very much a work in progress, but his ability to drive and create offense is definitely something the 76ers love/need. The videos and pictures of him that have surfaced since workouts started have been really impressive.
There is some concern due to the fact that we didn’t see him play college basketball last season, but I’m not worried. He was a top-3 prospect heading into the season and he played well in China. Big, strong lead guards are extremely valuable, and I don’t see any red flags that would lead me to believe his ceiling is lower than we thought heading into the season. Mudiay is not a reach at No. 3 for Philadelphia.
4. New York Knicks:
C, Duke, 6’11 270 lbs
I know what you’re thinking: finally, Jahlil is off the board at No. 4. Surprisingly enough, I actually like Jahlil as a prospect and I think he’ll be a good NBA player, he just happens to fall to the Knicks. It seems like he’s probably headed to LA on draft night, but here, the Knicks will happily snatch him up at No. 4.
New York may be one of the few teams that could fully utilize Okafor’s post prowess, and I think this is a good fit for both sides. Jahlil is lower on my board than most because of his well-noted defensive struggles4 but he’s still a very interesting, one of a kind player. His efficiency at the rim is truly amazing and he’s absolutely huge (6’11, 7’5-7’6 wingspan, 270 lbs); It’s not unrealistic to think that he could be the league’s best post up player in 4-5 years. He’s a high usage, high efficiency player5 in the paint. That’s a rare combo.
While this may be low for Okafor, it’s a good match and I think it makes sense.
5. Orlando Magic:
SF, Duke, 6’7 220 lbs
This was a difficult decision. Ultimately, Winslow is the pick here because I think he is a good fit with both the current Magic roster, and the structure of the team going forward. A trio of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Justise Winslow along with Aaron Gordon (he might play PF) gives Orlando a great group of athletic, versatile, defensive minded players to build around on the perimeter6.
Winslow does all the little things that help teams win, and he has a great basketball IQ. Those sound like squishy, qualitative traits, but Winslow is a great chemistry guy and as a young team, these are the types of players you want to bring in. Winslow has huge potential as a 3-and-D wing with good size and athleticism as well. He rebounds, passes, and handles well for his position, and he’s just an all around quality player.
Winslow may not have the kind of star power that transforms a franchise, but he’s the type of player that every single team in the league can use, and it’s hard to go wrong with a guy like that. He’s a great fit in Orlando, and I really like this pick.
6. Sacramento Kings:
PF, Seville, 7’0 230 lbs
Porzingis will almost certainly go higher than this on Thursday night, but I’m much lower on him than most. This would have been a tough decision if he had not been such a good fit in Sacramento.
Perhaps more than any other player in this draft, Porzingis really needs to go to the right team. If he doesn’t, I worry about his NBA career. His European statistics are good, and he projects well to the NBA, but I am very concerned for a number of reasons. I’m going to evaluate two statements that follow Porzingis around to make these points.
Statement No. 1: Porzingis has the potential to be a stretch four who is also really good on the defensive end.
This statement may be partially true, but I am not buying the defensive hype here. I think people may be seeing what they want to see, or looking at his “potential” because of his size and length, but this is idealistic.
First, Porzingis is not a good rebounder, especially on defense. He isn’t strong at all down low, and he’ll have a very hard time keeping big power forwards off the glass. He averaged around 6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes over all of his games this year. To provide context, that was less than Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre and Justise Winslow, who all averaged over 7 per 40. Jahlil Okafor is getting ripped for his defensive rebounding and even he almost got to 7 per 40. Granted, Porzingis played in a tougher league, but he’s also older than all of these players, and he’s just not that physical inside. I see no reason to believe he’ll be a good NBA rebounder.
Second, Porzingis is not a very good shot blocker. Again, he averaged similar shot blocking numbers to Jahlil Okafor, who is getting ripped for his defense. Porzingis has length, but he’s just not a natural shot blocker, and he won’t stop driving NBA players.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, Porzingis does not seem to have a good feel for the game defensively7. Obviously we don’t have enough information to truly make this determination yet, but from what I’ve seen, it feels like Porzingis is always a step behind on defense. He does not have good instincts or awareness, and he is not yet a capable help defender, especially because he is so thin. He can also get bullied on post ups, which could become a problem.
Ultimately, it seems like Porzingis is a below average NBA defender right now, and I think his upside is probably as a net-neutral defensive player, not a two-way stud.
Statement No. 2: Porzingis is a skilled big man.
Just because Porzingis is a good shooter and a solid athlete does not make him skilled. I will concede that he is a good straight-line driver for his size and that he does have basic moves, but he is not a good passer at all, he does not have a high basketball IQ on offense, and he does not have any type of post up game.
Maybe in time he will grow into these Dirk comps, but for now he is not effective with his back to the basket and cannot move his defender to create space.
For these reasons, I am very skeptical of Porzingis, and I think the hype is out of control. However, there is a reason that I have him at No. 6 and not No. 20, and that is that he is an absurdly good shooter. He can spot up, he can shoot off the pick and pop, he can come off screens and launch threes, and he can even shoot off the dribble. He has a quick release with a high release point and a fluid motion.
Shooters like this are very rare, and that alone is enough to give him value. This is a great fit for the Kings because they have DeMarcus Cousins in the middle to defend, rebound and draw attention in the paint offensively (assuming he doesn’t get traded), and they could really use a stretch 4 to give him more room to operate.
Additionally, George Karl is one of the league’s most flexible, innovative offensive coaches, and he may be one of the few coaches that can unlock the key to unleashing Porzingis’ talent. Not many coaches would adjust their offense to run a big man off screens, but Karl might be one of the few that is flexible enough to try.
Overall, Porzingis is a concerning prospect to me in many situations, but oddly enough, I think the Kings may be the team in the top-7 that gives him the best chance at NBA success8.
7. Denver Nuggets:
C, Kentucky, 7’1 240
Recent reports indicate that a foot problem may cause Willie Cauley-Stein to drop a few spots in the draft, but the exact nature of the injury seems unclear, and I don’t know if I totally buy this as something that will affect his long-term prospects.
This article, though it is drowning in ads, gives some insight into the mind of the Nuggets’ new head coach Mike Malone, ironically articulating the same strategy he got fired for not running in Sacramento. There, with DeMarcus, it didn’t make sense, but in Denver, it absolutely does.
After trading Timofey Mozgov, the Nuggets’ center rotation was bordering on ridiculous, with players like Jusuf Nurkic, JJ Hickson and Darrell Arthur all getting starts at various times during the season.
Willie Cauley-Stein is a perfect up-tempo rim protecting big man. Cauley-Stein can switch, hedge and even trap on the pick and roll or he can drop back and block shots at the rim making him an extremely valuable swiss army knife-like weapon on the defensive end. He would give them extra defensive flexibility that is only possible with a player like him on the team.
Cauley-Stein’s only defensive weakness is rebounding, but with Kenneth Faried behind him (at least for now), it should be covered up nicely.
Cauley-Stein doesn’t give you much on offense, and they might need to get creative with the spacing, but the Nuggets have a hole in the middle, and considering their new coach and offensive philosophy, Cauley-Stein is as good as they can do with this pick.
8. Detroit Pistons:
G/F, Barcelona, 6’8 200 lbs
Mario Hezonja is quickly gaining a reputation as this draft’s cockiest player, which may or may not be a good thing, I haven’t totally decided.
Either way, Hezonja supposedly has all the major features of a star NBA wing. He’s got great size, he can shoot the lights out, and he’s an impressive athlete. At this stage he gets most of his points outside the paint, but he has deep range and he can spot up or shoot off the dribble. He has the requisite athleticism and effort to be a good defender as well, although he doesn’t show it all the time.
The Pistons do need a prototypical NBA wing player, and Hezonja falling to them here is a nice get. This pick makes sense, and while Hezonja is definitely somewhat of an unknown, his talent is worth taking a risk on here.
9. Charlotte Hornets:
G/F, Arizona, 6’7 240
Stanley Johnson allegedly won’t work out for Charlotte9, which poses a problem for them, but since none of the players are working out for me I didn’t hesitate to pencil him in here.
There’s a lot of chatter circulating about how great of a fit Devin Booker is here because of his shooting ability, but I don’t buy that at all. Charlotte needs a good perimeter player more than they need a “shooter”. Obviously taking a player who can’t shoot at all would be a nightmare for them, but you don’t take a significantly inferior player just because he can shoot. That’s how you end up with Jimmer. Not all good shooters are good players.
Devin Booker is a decent player and I think he’s a mid first-rounder, but I wouldn’t even consider him with a top-10 pick. He’s not athletic or skilled with the ball. He’s a shooting specialist; a role he played to perfection this year at Kentucky. Short arms, slow feet and extremely low steals & blocks totals don’t bode well for his defensive potential. I’ll be surprised if he’s an average NBA defender.
This graph illustrates the relationship between NBA shooting guard performance and their college Steals/40. It is one of the more important factors for shooting guards, and I think in general analytics types look at college steals to analyze athleticism and general defensive ability.
Devin Booker has one of the lowest steal rates I’ve seen for a shooting guard, as he averaged just .8 Steals/40 minutes. In fact, he performed pretty poorly-statistically speaking-across the board, with very low rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, and free throw totals. He scored and he made threes, but not much after that.
On the other hand, Stanley Johnson is a physically dominant player who filled up the stat sheet at Arizona. College production is generally a critical factor in my evaluation of players, and while it is just one factor in a aggregate analysis, a player like Devin Booker who can only compensate with his shooting is always going to fall below a player like Stanley Johnson.
The biggest knock on Johnson over his freshman season was his inability to finish at the rim. Obviously this is a problem, but he did shoot a lot of free throws, and there wasn’t a lot of space to operate in Arizona’s offense. I’m interested to see what he can do in the NBA where the floor is more spread out. Overall, he played pretty well offensively at Arizona, and I think he has both the physical tools and the talent necessary to improve.
Johnson is probably an NBA caliber talent, and although his shooting is still a little bit of a question mark, he proved himself capable this season, and when you consider his very high defensive potential I think this is a good pick for Charlotte here.
10. Miami Heat:
SF, Wisconsin, 6’9 220 lbs
I had never really liked Dekker throughout his career at Wisconsin, but over the last few weeks I’ve really found myself warming up to him. He’s the kind of player whose team can make or break him in terms of his value, but either way I think he’ll eventually find his way to a team that can utilize his skill set.
There are two main reasons why I think Dekker is going to be a quality NBA role player. First, I think he has NBA level talent. This seems obvious, but it’s a pre-requisite to any of his other skills mattering at all. Secondly, I like him because he’s smart. He makes the right play and he moves the ball really well. He’s a good cutter and he’s got a great feel for when to go and when to space the floor from the perimeter. This is a good basic combination for an NBA role player.
I am concerned about his shooting, but I think he has a good enough stroke to eventually develop a reliable shot from behind the arc. He may never be a deadeye shooter, but as long as teams respect his jumper he’ll be fine. Dekker’s 2pt% has been unbelievable throughout his career (64% this last season), which gives me confidence in his scoring ability at the next level.
Dekker would be a great fit in Erik Spoelstra’s offense, and his unselfishness will make him a popular teammate. As long as he has the ability to keep up with NBA players (not a given) he will be fun to play with, and he will be a very reliable player for a long time. This is not a flashy pick, but Dekker has a chance to be a very useful player.
11. Indiana Pacers:
PG, Murray St, 6’2 180 lbs
Cameron Payne is another player I’ve just recently come around on. When he initially started rising up draft boards I was skeptical, but after doing more research I think he’s a solid NBA prospect.
This was one of the hardest picks to decide on throughout this process, partially because this Pacers team might look a lot different next season than they do now, and it’s impossible to know what they’re thinking. Roy Hibbert and David West both have player options for next season, and it seems like we won’t know their intentions until after the draft. The Pacers have seemed to waffle on their commitment to Hibbert in particular, and if they have decided not to bring him back, Myles Turner might be the logical pick here.
However, whether or not West and/or Hibbert return next season, Indiana needs someone who can make plays and create offense. They have consistently struggled on that side of the ball for years, and now more than ever they need to add a dynamic element to the team.
Cameron Payne could be what they’re looking for, as he was an electric passer-scorer for Murray St last season in a very high-usage role. He’s crafty with the ball and he’s a good shooter, both spotting up and off the dribble. He’s not a great finisher, but he can get into the paint and loft floaters over the big men or distribute.
Payne may not be ready to compete from day one, but eventually he might be a guy that they can rely on to catalyze consistent offensive action, which is something they are missing right now. It’s hard to say for sure if Payne is even an NBA talent, but I think he’s worth picking for the Pacers here.
12. Utah Jazz:
PF/C, Wisconsin, 7’1 230 lbs
I have to say, I really like this pick. Utah’s offense has undergone a radical reconstruction since Quin Snyder took over for Tyrone Corbin, and it seems like it’s for the better. They are putting an emphasis on both the pick & roll and ball movement to generate good looks.
This is the kind of system that Kaminsky can thrive in. He’s a very skilled player that has good range on his jumper, and is a threat to score or pass when attacking closeouts-a unique feature for a player his size. From a more holistic perspective, Kaminsky easily led the NCAA in PER last season at 35.7, and ranks 5th in projected WARP in Kevin Pelton’s Statistical Big Board.
However, Kaminsky isn’t a good fit just anywhere. His place in the NBA is probably as a role player, and he will need to play alongside a rim protector to hide his defensive shortcomings (He has a very short 6’11 wingspan). Luckily, the Jazz have two such players, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Favors may not be a true center, but he can certainly hold down the fort against hybrid bench lineups while Gobert sits.
The perfect situation for Kaminsky would be to come off the bench for a team that will put him in the pick and pop, move the ball around, and play him beside rim protectors to hide him on defense. Kaminsky and the Jazz are a perfect fit. They would be lucky to have each other.
13. Phoenix Suns:
C, Texas, 7’0 240 lbs
This pick is really about the value for the Suns. I’m not totally confident in Alex Len as an NBA center, but really I have Turner here because I think he is the best player remaining by far.
In his freshman season at Texas, Turner was dominant on the defensive glass (9.4/40) and as a shot blocker (4.7/40). These are genuinely big numbers, and it seems like Turner has a lot of defensive potential at the NBA level. When you take into account his huge frame (7’0, 7’4 wingspan), it’s not hard to imagine him carving out a really solid NBA career.
While Turner is not very skilled offensively and he doesn’t have a post game, he has shown that he can shoot the ball (especially from mid-range), and he shot 84% from the free throw line last year. This kind of touch might allow him to play a little bit at the 4, but either way it’s always valuable to have another capable shooter on the floor.
Texas probably wasn’t a great team for Turner to play on, but last season he showed that he has the ability to shoot a little bit and defend at a high level. I think this would be a great pickup for the Suns at No. 13, and he easily could’ve gone higher.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder:
PG, Duke, 6’2 185 lbs
I really like Tyus as an NBA prospect. He does have definite weaknesses (finishing, defense), but he also has definite strengths (Basketball IQ, passing, leadership) that I believe outweigh them. He has a good wingspan for his size (6’5), and he proved that he has a reliable jump shot in his arsenal, along with a mix of floaters, runners, and other crafty shots around the rim. He had decent 42/38/89 shooting splits last season.
Overall, Tyus really had a great season at Duke. He had one of the best Assist/Turnover ratios in the country and he consistently showed up when it mattered the most.
Interestingly enough, team wins can be an important predictor of a point guard’s future NBA success10, and Tyus racked up a lot of them this past year at Duke. Obviously Tyus had a ton of help along the way11, but he was a huge part of their success, and they wouldn’t have won the national championship without him.
Had Scott Brooks been retained as head coach I probably would have chosen someone else for the Thunder, but with Billy Donovan likely bringing some form of his spread pick and roll offense to OKC, Tyus is the perfect choice.
Jones is a pick and roll tactician with an amazing feel for the game (the best in the draft), and a knack for being 2 steps ahead of the defense. Some would say that he has what you can’t teach, and you can see why when you watch him play. He’s undersized and he’s not a great athlete, but he belongs in the NBA, and he would be a great backup/backcourt mate for Russell Westbrook in this new offensive scheme. This would be an excellent pick for the Thunder.
This (finally) concludes my mock lottery. If you made it this far, congratulations. You can like my Facebook page here12 for occasional updates and/or follow me on Twitter @The_Reversal for opinions and articles. Feel free to leave a comment, I will respond to questions/opinions.
¹Although I am undoubtedly influenced by them, as we all are.
²This is based on a subjective score I assigned each player. Obviously that’s not ideal, but it’s hard to get a single number that encapsulates a player’s true value and ability as an NBA player. It’s not a perfect system, but Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry are 10s, Mike Conley is an 8.5, and Acie Law is a 2, so I feel like there is some validity here, although I admit the data should be approached with caution.
³I’m not sure that’s the type of player they want, and I’m not sure playing with that roster would be good for him, but come on, at some point they’re going to have to get some talent in there….right?
4This is an interesting problem. Jahlil is obviously a talented player, but there is a discussion to be had about the role of a center within today’s NBA landscape. If Jahlil can’t protect the rim or consistently be relied upon to pull down defensive boards, it is imperative that he plays alongside a power forward that can pick up some of the slack. The problem is that not many of those guys exist, especially when you consider that Jahlil is best utilized on offense alongside a power forward that can shoot. Unless Serge Ibaka and Okafor become a package deal, I’m not sure how this is going to work. He is a true enigma; whoever drafts him has to pray that he develops defensively.
5He’s somewhere in the high 70’s around the rim, and he shot over 66% from the floor overall, averaging 17.3 ppg. Pretty incredible stuff.
7Or offensively, for that matter.
8This statement has never been said before, and may never be said again. If this were to actually happen, I have a feeling this might come back to haunt me.
9Honestly, I don’t blame him. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to go to Charlotte either.
10Point guard was the only position that featured a positive correlation with their college team’s wins
11Does he get extra points for recruiting????
12I’d really appreciate it!