The Philadelphia 76ers finally won the NBA lottery, yielding them the number one pick in an exciting draft. As such, our resident lottery/draft expert Jeff Berest is back with his series of mock drafts. Enjoy!
1. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons, PF, LSU
Yes! ‘The Process’ worked – hooray! It took three long painstaking seasons but the Sixers finally won the lottery, more importantly winning the opportunity to draft [potential superstar] Ben Simmons.
Now, many people may believe there should be a true debate as to if the Sixers should go Simmons or Brandon Ingram, but there should be absolutely no discussion of the sort. The name the Sixers submit to the commissioner on June 23rd will read “Simmons, Ben”, and I am certain of this. Forget the Sixers drafting for need and selecting a shooter like Brandon Ingram, that is literally the only thing he does better than Simmons. Bryan Colangelo (aka not Sam Hinkie) will take Simmons and have his glut of frontcourt players and figure the rest out later. We haven’t seen a type of skillset like Simmons’ to come out of the draft since LeBron James. LEBRON JAMES! That right there should settle any internal debate you may have about the pick. A player who is 6’10″ and who can handle the ball and facilitate the offense like Simmons, on top of being able to create for himself and finish beautifully at the rim is just too good to pass up.
Before the season Simmons was the de facto #1 pick, but because of an ugly campaign with LSU, this debate with Ingram was created. I don’t care about his perceived immaturity or lack of competitive spirit. The kid made a terrible decision to go to LSU and was surrounded by truly amateur talent, yet he still dominated and averaged almost 20 and 10. Simmons is the building block the Sixers have been searching for over the past three years, and if Joel Embiid can get back on the court that’ll make two building blocks and this Sixers rebuild will be officially over. I’m also sure Brandon Ingram will be a very good player in this league, but in my mind, Simmons undoubtedly has not only a higher ceiling, but a better chance of becoming the next elite NBA player.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
Lucky for the Lakers they didn’t embarrassingly have to cede their 1st round pick to the Sixers on national television after a season in which they won only 17 games. The Lakers were also fortunate that they weren’t jumped by the Celtics or any other team, because that would’ve taken them out of the Brandon Ingram sweepstakes. The 2016 NBA Draft is the most top heavy class I can remember in recent years. After Simmons and Ingram there is a very VERY steep drop off in talent, so landing in the top 2 was a major coup for the Lakers – Thanks, Byron Scott!
Ingram is an elite scorer, who stands at a lean 6’10″ and has deep range. He is a matchup nightmare on the wing and possesses the length to be a bothersome defender. He typically gets a comparison to Durant because of that thin frame and ability to shoot from deep, but he has a long way to go before he becomes KD. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have the potential to become “KD-lite”. Ideally, you’d like to see Ingram handle the ball better, and it will be interesting to see in the NBA if he chooses to just be mostly a jump shooter or if he rounds out his game and relies on his ability to get to basket as well.
The Lakers would now have a formidable group of young talent to build from in Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle.
3. Boston Celtics – Dragan Bender, PF, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Danny Ainge will probably be looking to deal this pick but if he cannot do so, I think he will be forced to take Bender. Outside of Bender his options are all guards, like Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, and Buddy Hield. But where will the minutes be for say, Murray, who would have to play in a rotation with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Evan Turner. Bender is somewhat of an unknown but I believe there’s a consensus that he may have the highest ceiling and potential of any player outside of Simmons and Ingram. It might take a few years to unlock that potential but that may be worth it for the Celts. Jamal Murray isn’t pushing Boston over the precipice and launching them into the Conference Finals anytime soon. The Celtics have the time to nurture Bender and maybe get lucky with him. It also helps that that down the line they also have more unprotected Brooklyn picks to play with.
Bender isn’t going to be a replicant of Kristaps Porzingis and have immediate success (most likely). But he is awfully talented on the offensive side of the ball and the Celtics need to add to their frontcourt that is dependent on guys like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. Ainge would definitely like to move this pick and add NBA talent that can help now (maybe a Jahlil Okafor swap??), but Bender is an interesting gamble worth taking.
4. Phoenix Suns – Jamal Murray, SG, Kentucky
The Suns could really use another wing player or big to pair with Alex Len, but they’re in this 2nd tier which is very guard heavy. If the Suns still want to configure their roster around three combo guards well they are truly in luck, because Jamal Murray is there for the picking. To me, Murray is the best available at this point – and one thing this could do for Phoenix is make Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight expendable. Which would be good if they could shed one of those big contracts and then work with a backcourt that included Murray.
If you take and Murray and combine that with assets from a Knight/Bledsoe trade that’s probably not a bad haul for the 4th pick. The Suns also have some flexibility because they have the 13th pick, so drafting for need isn’t the way to go here. I wouldn’t be shocked if a guy like Denzel Valentine vaulted up the board here and the Suns nabbed him, but it’d be hard to pass on a shooter like Murray who can also handle the ball like a PG. If the Suns can maneuver their current roster a bit, Murray makes more sense. But even if they don’t they’re adding a quality talent regardless.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
I think Ricky Rubio is a fine player, regardless of his shortcomings offensively. But as a really big fan of Kris Dunn, he could be the one to vault this Minnesota team. Rubio is a great facilitator and a good perimeter defender, but that’s about it. He isn’t very athletic and outside of his passing ability nothing really wows you. Kris Dunn is relentless at attacking the rim and watching him it’s easy to see glimpses of a player like John Wall or Derrick Rose. His jumpshot isn’t great either and he isn’t the passer Rubio is, but his wow factor at times is off the charts. If I’m Minnesota, I would really have to measure what my allegiance to Rubio is going forward. He’s got a decently high cap number and a history of injuries, and there are many who believe that he has simply peaked and this is the best version of him we’re going to see.
Now I’m not saying Dunn is going to be the caliber of player John Wall is, but he has a slight chance to be that. So if I’m Minnesota I take him here, instead of going with maybe a safer pick in Buddy Hield. They have Wiggins, LaVine, and Muhammad who can fill it up, I’m not sure Hield makes them that much better. I’d take a flyer on Dunn, and see if you can move Rubio. I can’t see Dunn’s floor being worse than what Rubio already brings you, but his upside is way higher.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
I personally have a hard time saying that Buddy Hield actually has the potential to be a great player in the NBA. Outside of his incredible range, which should translate, I have doubts about his ability to beat NBA defenders off the dribble and create for himself like he did at Oklahoma. He can definitely be a solid piece, but don’t expect what he did at Oklahoma to carry over to the NBA. There’s probably not much that separates him from Murray except for that Buddy is already 22 years old.
The Pelicans #1 priority is to get back into the playoffs and put as much talent around Anthony Davis as possible. So I doubt the Pellies would get frisky and take a Jaylen Brown or Skal Labissiere here and see if they can develop. Buddy is probably the player most likely at this point in the draft to help them right away. Eric Gordon has moved on and a backcourt of a (healthy-ish) Jrue Holiday and Buddy Hield is not a bad duo, and gives NOLA another good scoring option. Buddy probably won’t be a good defender at the NBA level, but neither is anyone else on this Pelicans team, so he should fit right in. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valentine were to go here either.
7. Denver Nuggets – Denzel Valentine, SF, Michigan State
If you look at the Nuggets roster it really has a lot more overall talent than some of the other teams that finished in the bottom 10 this year. They have some pieces to build around like Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic, not to mention guys who’ve been there like Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets haven’t been relevant in the Western Conference in quite some time and they really don’t have any immediate needs to fill; they simply should take the best player available who will be able to help them right, and that’s Denzel Valentine.
Valentine may not have the elite athleticism a player like Jaylen Brown may have, but his instincts and basketball IQ are off the charts. At 6’8″ he has the ability to handle the ball and create for himself and his teammates. He’s never going to be a guy who averages 20 PPG or does anything extremely well, but he is a necessary glue guy who can do a lot of everything and his leadership skills have been praised by all scouts and coaches. Normally you don’t take this type of player in the top 10, but because of the weak depth in this year’s class there’s no way you could fault the Nuggets for taking Denzel.
8. Sacramento Kings – Jaylen Brown, SG, California
The Kings are…well…the Kings. Last year they completely mishandled the draft and reached for Willie Cauley-Stein, who isn’t awful but doesn’t really fit with DeMarcus Cousins. I’m having a hard time seeing them take a guy like Labissiere or Jakob Poetl here as well. Henry Ellenson is a better fit with DeMarcus Cousins – and this is just a gut feeling, but I can’t see the Kings taking Ellenson. Jaylen Brown could potentially be much higher on some teams draft boards because of his elite athleticism and his potential to maybe turn into a star if he develops a jumpshot and starts to round out his game.
Outside of Rudy Gay, the Kings are generally weak on the wings and if they feel like Dave Joerger can work with Brown and turn him into a player it’s very much worth the risk at #8. Ellenson is more ready to contribute next year, but his ceiling isn’t necessarily as high as Jaylen Brown’s. And considering the future picks owed to Chicago and Philadelphia, the Kings might be better off swinging for the fences.
9. Toronto Raptors – Skal Labissiere, PF, Kentucky
Toronto is still reaping the benefits of the Andrea Bargnani trade and are picking in the top 10 even though they are currently in the Eastern Conference Finals. Before the season started a lot of experts had Skal Labissiere as the #2 prospect overall next to Ben Simmons. He proved at Kentucky that he is much further away from being a finished product than initially thought. Although, recently at the combine and individual workouts he has been lauded for his shooting touch and two-way game. Skal can be an asset on defense as a rim-protector but has the athleticism and range to also play PF and in the NBA.
This tends to happen in many professional sports drafts where guys like Labissiere who are originally thought of as top prospects might slide during the year because of average performances. Then, in the evaluation process, the stock begins to rise again after his talent level reemerges when you’re comparing to others. Of course he won’t be going #2, but during his struggles at Kentucky some even though he could go late 1st round. But now that scouts and NBA teams can see his potential he will surely begin to push back up draft boards.
Toronto could really use a forward to pair with Jonas Valanciunas in the frontcourt and although Ellenson is a more polished product, Toronto is the type of team to usually take the pick with more potential. It will undoubtedly take at least a year for Skal to develop and figure out the NBA game, but his upside as a two-way player is undeniable.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette
The Bucks may not have an immediate need for a PF like Henry Ellenson, but it just works out too perfectly that the boy from Wisconsin who also went to Marquette gets taken by the Bucks. The Bucks could really use a PG after the MCW experiment failed, but maybe Giannis really is their PG of the future, who knows? I think Jakob Poetl is probably the pick the Bucks should make because they are dying for a true center and rim protector. But Ellenson would be very hard to pass up.
The Bucks defense is an Achilles heel and Ellenson certainly won’t fix that. But he’s just another versatile player that the Bucks can integrate into their rotation. He has ability to shoot from range and has a polished post game. The Bucks may have a hard time finding minutes for Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker, John Henson and others, so some corresponding moves could possibly be made, and that’s where the Bucks could add another PG or center.
11. Orlando Magic – Jakob Poetl, C, Utah
The Orlando Magic have done an admirable job gathering some quality talent and assets over the past few years, but one thing that it hasn’t translated into is playoff appearances. And plainly, that is because they get their teeth kicked-in every night on the defensive side of the ball. Nikola Vucevic, although a terrific scorer, is a sieve on defense. Aaron Gordon is their only real quality defender.
Jakob Poetl may not be a position of need because you’ll have to find a way to work him and Vucevic together, but they’ve gone as far as they can with Nik as a rim protector and anchor of the defense. Poetl is a great defender and is actually a nice post player with good touch. The Magic could possibly take a wing player or maybe a PG to push Elfrid Payton, but by nabbing Poetl Orlando can finally stop being an embarrassment on defense night after night.
12. Utah Jazz – Wade Baldwin IV, PG, Vanderbilt
The Jazz are another lottery team that has a lot of talent and can definitely make a push to the playoffs next season, although many expected them to contend this season. Dante Exum was out for the season so there are still question marks on whether he is a productive NBA player. Rodney Hood turned out to be a gem in the late 1st round, and combines with Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert to form a great core. Whether Exum is the PG of the future or not, Wade Baldwin is an interesting fit here. Last year the Jazz took Trey Lyles, so I don’t think they take another big man here and crowd the frontcourt more. Baldwin is a great shooter and is built in the mold of a George Hill type, as maybe not a conventional PG but a combo guard who can still facilitate the offense when needed.
Between Baldwin and Exum (either way) you have your starting PG, as well as a combo guard off the bench who you can play small with as well. It’ll be up to the Jazz to develop Baldwin, but he’s not a bad pick here at the 12 spot. Baldwin is also extremely long for his size and should be able to defend not only the PG position well, but SGs also.
13. Phoenix Suns – Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington
After taking Jamal Murray at 4, the Suns now go a little bold and take a shot on Marquese Chriss, a late bloomer who really caught everybody’s eye at Washington this season. He has the makings of a prototypical NBA stretch-4 and that is something the Suns should be interested in. He has the ability to shoot out to the three point line, has a solid post game, and is a very good athlete with bounce who can defend the paint as well. Chriss is still very raw, but with good coaching and some patience could develop into a very solid contributor for Phoenix.
14. Chicago Bulls – Timothy Luwawu, SF, France
The Bulls are dying for another wing player to pair with Jimmy Butler and Luwawu might be that guy. Luwawu has a perfect skillset for an NBA wing and can play both the 2 and 3 at 6’7″. One of his knocks was his three point shooting, but in France this year he raised his % to almost 40. He has the basketball instincts and IQ that should allow him to play in the NBA right away. He is also an above average passer for his position and his defense is one of his best attributes which should translate. He needs to improve his handle and make sure his shooting this season was not an anomaly, but at 14 this is the range where the risk is worth it for the Bulls.
15. Denver Nuggets – Deyonta Davis, PF, Michigan State
16. Boston Celtics – Taurean Prince, SF, Baylor
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey
18. Detroit Pistons – Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga
19. Denver Nuggets – Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame
20. Indiana Pacers – Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
21. Atlanta Hawks – Malachi Richardson, SG, Syracuse
22. Charlotte Hornets – Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State
23. Boston Celtics – Cheick Diallo, PF, Kansas
24. Philadelphia 76ers – Dejounte Murray, PG, Washington
25. Los Angeles Clippers – DeAndre Bembry, SF, St. Josephs
26. Philadelphia 76ers – Patrick McCaw, SG, UNLV
27. Toronto Raptors – Malcolm Brogdon, SG, Virginia
28. Phoenix Suns – Ante Zizic, C, Croatia
29. San Antonio Spurs – Isala Cordinier, SG, France
30. Golden State Warriors – Damian Jones, C, Vanderbilt