It’s that time of year again. The Finals have ended with some fresh blood sitting atop the championship throne. And just like that, the race to get back there begins. With draft night approaching, it’s time to do a mock draft…or in some cases, mock the draft. Keep in mind, this mock draft is a little different than others. It’s an amalgam of what I think should happen, what I think will happen, and who I think will screw it up. Let’s get down to business….
1) Minnesota Timberwolves- Karl Anthony Towns (Kentucky) – Even though Towns has become the consensus number one, in a lot of ways, his potential for stardom is being completely undersold. He is a uniquely good athlete for his size. He is a strong post defender, and a decent help defender and rim protector. His defense in the pick and roll needs some work but he’s certainly not a liability there. His biggest strength is his ability to score inside. He’s also a very skilled passer. His post moves are simple, but effective. He also has the ability to step out and hit a perimeter jumper. The potential is certainly there to expand his range and did I mention he shoots 80% from the free throw line? Only a moron would pass on Towns and Minnesota President Flip Saunders is anything but.
2)Los Angeles Lakers- Jahlil Okafor (Duke)- This is where the intrigue licks in. Okafor spent the better part of this past season as the consensus #1 pick in this draft. Then, the NCAA tournament happened. Okafor got exposed for being a poor defensive player and a weak free throw shooter. As the pre-draft process has moved forward, the smokescreen and hype machine has left Okafor in its wake. Concerns are starting to emerge about Okafor’s work ethic, motor, ability to keep weight off. Any and all of these things could pop up, but Okafor is who he is. You will rarely see a kid with his size exhibit the kind of footwork in the low post he has. He has a lot to learn on the defensive end but he’s only 19. With work, the free throw shooting can improve too. Laker GM Mitch Kupchak shouldn’t overthink this. Okafor isn’t perfect but neither is anyone else he’s going to select.
3) Philadelphia 76ers- Emmaunel Mudiay (Congo) – Odds are Hinkie doesn’t take Mudiay here but I think that’s a mistake. Mudiay is the best athlete in this draft. Between his size and speed, he’s the type of transition player that will thrive in the up tempo nature of today’s NBA. He also will be a plus defender on the all the second he steps onto an NBA floor. His shooting needs a lot of work but he’s got an outstanding work ethic. Odds are Hinkie selects D’Angelo Russell here, which isn’t a bad pick, but I wouldn’t want to be the guy who passes on Mudiay. Also, I’m not buying the Kristaps Porzingis hype coming from Philly. Philly GM Sam Hinkie plays it close to the vest. If he was as sweet on Porzingis as the whole world would have you think, no one would know about it.
4) New York Knicks- D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State)- This would be the ideal scenario for the Knicks mostly because it will mitigate the potential soap opera that may occur in the Knicks war room in case Russell is gone and Mudiay is the best pick on the board. This is the highest draft pick the Knicks have had in 30 years, since they drafted Patrick Ewing 1st in 1985. Their president Phil Jackson has made it clear that his first criterion in the player they select is said player’s ability to fit within his Triangle Offense. If Russell is there, it’s not an issue. He’s a dynamic offensive player who could succeed in any system. He’ll never be the defender Mudiay is now, but he’s undoubtedly further along on offense. Mudiay’ skill set isn’t ideal for the Triangle Offense, but he’s an extremely rare athlete that is just cause to alter the system. If Russell is gone and Jackson is going to pass on Mudiay, would their owner Jim Dolan intervene at Isiah Thomas’ urging? Nothing is out of play for these Knicks, but this entire off season would draw great ratings as a fictional cable drama.
5) Orlando Magic- Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia)- The winner of the 2015 NBA Draft Mike Mamula Workout Warrior Award is Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is an intriguing prospect in that he’s 7’1”, shots threes well and blocks shots. He’s also a good athlete who runs the floor well with a long wing span that he uses well on the defensive end. His big weakness is rebounding. Needs to get stronger also. Although Porzingis is in the conversation at 2, 3, and 4. He’s a poor choice at any of those spots because of who would be left on the table to select him. However, he’s a great fit to Orlando at 5. With Nic Vucevic, a post big who scores inside, rebounds, like an animal, but couldn’t guard a crosswalk, Porzingis will fit in very well on both ends of the floor.
6) Sacramento Kings- Justise Winslow (Duke)- Winslow should be there for Sacramento and although they drafted smaller wings the last two years in Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore, this is a player they can’t pass on. He’s an excellent player in transition; He defends very well on the perimeter. He’s a premium athlete who can flat out score. We normally like our wings to be a little bigger but Winslow plays bigger than his 6’5” size. Plus, with their new head coach George Karl and his compulsion to play up tempo, Winslow would fit in really well. This would be a tremendous bargain at 6.
7) Denver Nuggets- Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)- The Nuggets recent head coaching hire of Michael Malone will certainly have an influence over this pick. Yes, the Nuggets drafted a very promising young big man last season in Jusef Nurkic. However, as good as Nurkic can be, he’s not the athlete Cauley-Stein is and will never be as good a pick and roll defender, which is essential for a big man in today’s NBA. Cauley-Stein’s head coach at University of Kentucky, John Calipari does a particularly good job teaching his big men how to be effective defenders on the perimeter in pick and roll switches. Cauley-Stein needs a ton of work on his offense and his rebounding ability is still a little suspect, but he’ll anchor Malone’s defense and Malone does a great job in developing young big men (see, Cousins, DeMarcus).
8) Detroit Pistons- Mario Hezonja (Croatia)- If Hezonja goes to Detroit here, this will be a marriage made in heaven. He can shoot it well from deep. He’s 6’8” and he’s a premium athlete. His defense needs work but all the tools are there. He plays with an angry edge and can be a tad difficult to get along with but he reminds me of a bigger version of Drazen Petrovic. Detroit President and head coach Stan Van Gundy will love this kid. He is one of my favorite players in this draft.
9) Charlotte Hornets- Devin Booker (Kentucky)- The Hornets have been starved for perimeter shooting the past few years. It would only make sense that they take one of the best shooters in the draft. He defended well enough in college to be considered a legitimate “3D” guy. He’s not much of a threat off the dribble but if he lands in Charlotte, he doesn’t have to be. If you haven’t heard, there’s a premium on three-point shooting in today’s NBA, which gives a prospect like Booker added value.
10) Miami Heat- Stanley Johnson (Arizona)- This will be the first big mistake of the lottery. Pat Riley is looking for a wing player to give him some youth and depth behind Dwyane Wade (and yes, he will be back) and Luol Deng. Johnson is a good athlete but he’s not a great finisher. Miami is going to draft him on the hopes of him doing more than what he’s capable of at this stage. That will hurt his development. Johnson is not a star but has a chance to be a decent NBA player if developed properly. My fear is that Miami asks too much of him, considering the fact that Johnson has a tendency to force shots that combination could land him on the bench and the Heat need to do more than that with this pick.
11) Indiana Pacers- Myles Turner (Texas)- Turner is an intriguing prospect because of his size and unique shooting ability. He’s an ideal pick and pop guy in today’s spacing dominant NBA. He’s also a legitimate rim protector. The questions that arise about Turner are relative to his strength, but he’s only 18 years old. With Pacer center Roy Hibbert likely to opt out of his contract, they certainly have a need and they have the luxury of developing Turner some with a capable guy behind Hibbert in Ian Mahinmi. This would give Turner a year or two to improve his strength and learn the league. Turner is the type of upside project that the Pacers hierarchy would embrace.
12) Utah Jazz- Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) – Here’s the next mistake. Kaminsky was a wonderful college player but it’s fair to question both his strength and athleticism on an NBA level. Wisconsin’s employed a system in the slower college game that masked Kaminsky’s weaknesses and accentuated his strengths. He’ll get exposed in the NBA. It won’t be incredibly damaging for Utah because he’ll only be their 1st big off the bench and the one skill they want the most from him, his perimeter shooting, will still help them. Nonetheless, it’s naïve to believe Frank the Tank will be more than a slightly below average NBA player
13) Phoenix Suns- Bobby Portis (Arkansas) – Portis was the reigning SEC player of the year. He’s a prospect who isn’t great at anything but isn’t weak at anything either. Portis has great size and is a very effective on both ends of the floor. He has a good face up game and is very mobile defending pick and roll on the perimeter. He needs to improve his post-game on both ends and his rim protection as well. However, the notion that Portis doesn’t have a ton of upside because he’s not an off the charts athlete is faulty. He’s a very hard worker with size and lots of talent. For Phoenix, quality size, like Portis is exactly what the doctor ordered. He’ll fit beautifully in a big man rotation with Markieff Morris and Alex Len.
14) Oklahoma City Thunder- Cameron Payne (Murray St) – Payne is a dynamic lead guard who can score and excels in the pick and roll. Although he’s not an off the charts athlete, he’s a tenacious defensive player. He’ll need to work some on his shot selection, but he can help an NBA team immediately. He is a very good fit on the Thunder because he can not only play for Russell Westbrook when Westbrook sits, he can play with him as well.
15) Atlanta Hawks- Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) – Dekker is exactly the kind of wing the Hawks need. He’s long for a wing and in today’s NBA, can absolutely double as a stretch four. He’s a good spot up shooter, although not much of a creator off the dribble. He’s a versatile defender as well. The Hawks are in danger of losing Demarre Carroll to free agency. They got very thin on the wing in the playoffs after losing both Kyle Korver and Thabo Seflolosha to injury. Dekker would be a terrific fit if they’re lucky enough to be able to draft him.
16) Boston Celtics- Trey Lyles (Kentucky) – If Lyles is available, Boston GM will be the cat that ate the canary. Lyles is a big versatile forward who has ideal size for a stretch four, even though he needs some work on his three point shot. He has a very good face up game and can score in the post as well. He needs work defending in space ad has to learn how to take much better advantage of his enormous wingspan on the perimeter. Nonetheless, he has the kind of upside that makes him an absolute bargain if he’s there for Ainge and the Celts at 16.
17) Milwaukee Bucks- Kevon Looney (UCLA) – Looney is a very raw athlete but has the type of physical profile and requisite athleticism that is attractive to Jason Kidd and company in Milwaukee. He’s an active long defender. Although he can hit a mid-range jumper, he needs a ton of work offensively. However, if you look at the long rangy defenders that the Bucks have (Antetokounmpo, Carter-Williams), Looney fits right in. On top of that Looney is a native of Milwaukee. There’s something being said for coming home.
18) Houston Rockets- Tyus Jones (Duke) – Jones is a really good fit in Houston. He’s a pure point guard in the truest sense. He takes care of the ball well and is very good at finding open teammates. He’s definitely a little small and needs work on his positional defense. He has a habit of gambling too much. Nonetheless, the Rockets need help at point guard and it will only benefit them to have someone who can set up their vast array of weapons.
19) Washington Wizards- Kelly Oubre (Kansas) – Oubre falling this far has more to do with the quality depth in this draft and less to do with Oubre as a prospect. Oubre shoots well enough and defends well enough to be a 3D guy in the NBA, the exact type of wing that teams covet in today’s up tempo three point happy NBA. He has a freakishly long wingspan for a 6’7” player and he knows how to use it on the perimeter. He shot 37% from behind the arc last season, which can certainly improve. He needs to get stronger and add some weight but that will also come with growth. Oubre won’t be a star, but he will be a Danny Green type of role player. At the 19th pick, that would be a nice job for Washington.
20) Toronto Raptors- Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) – Harrell is a tad undersized for a low post big forward, but in a league that’s getting smaller, he could be very productive. He’s an animal on the offensive glass in the Tristan Thompson mold, albeit smaller. He’s also a capable on the ball defender and is good on the help side as well. His perimeter game needs a lot of work as does his free throw shooting, but there’s no doubt that he’s an NBA athlete. With Amir Johnson being a free agent for Toronto, they could do a lot worse than replace him with Harrell.
21) Dallas Mavericks- Rondae Hollis Jefferson (Arizona) – Jefferson is one of the better athletes in this draft. He’ll be a capable defender on an NBA level his first day in the league with the potential to be elite. He’s excellent in transition and attacks the rim with aggressiveness. His big weakness is that he’s not a good perimeter shooter. If he could ever develop that skill, he could be a devastatingly good player with his athleticism and ability off the dribble. Al Farouq Aminu is a free agent for the Mavericks. If they decide not to pay him, Jefferson can replace a decent portion of that skill set.
22) Chicago Bulls- Jerian Grant (Notre Dame)- For all the bluster from the Bulls hierarchy that their former head coach played his stars too much, specifically Derrick Rose, they never prioritized adding a backup to him that could replace a decent percentage of his scoring. Grant certainly would fit that bill. The beauty of Grant is that he could just as easily play with Rose as much as he can replace him. He’s got very good size for a combo guard and has the potential to be a capable defender. The shot selection needs work, but if he lands with the Bulls, he should get better shots than he ever saw at Notre Dame with the wide open offense new Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is going to employ.
23) Portland Trailblazers- Justin Anderson (Virginia) – Anderson is a classic example of a prospect that does a lot of things well but doesn’t excel at one particular skill. Nonetheless, he is another one of those #D prospects that excels in the league today. He’s a physically strong player. He worked extremely hard to improve his shooting year over year and is a versatile defender. This would be a terrific bargain for Portland here and could end up being important if they lose Wes Matthews in free agency.
24) Cleveland Cavaliers- Terry Rozier (Louisville) – One of the Cavs biggest issues in this year’s NBA finals was not having a capable backup point guard when Kyrie Irving went down. In theory, they figured it would be Lebron James, but we all saw how enormous that burden was on James. Rozier would be a very nice fit in Cleveland. He’s more of a combo guard than a point guard but his ability to score will be a great asset on the floor with James. Of course he’ll need to improve his shot selection or he’ll get the Mario Chalmers treatment from James. He also can defend point guards, which will also fit well with how the Cavs evolved this past year.
25) Memphis Grizzlies- Rashad Vaughn (UNLV) – Vaughn is a really good wing prospect with a mountain of upside. He can shoot from the perimeter, create in the pick and roll and has potential to be a very good perimeter defender. The issue with Vaughn is that he’s one of the youngest players in this draft. The Grizzlies have the time and the luxury to be patient with him.
26) San Antonio Spurs- R.J. Hunter (Georgia St)- Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich loves his job, his championship rings, his family, and fine wine, but do you know what he loves almost as much? He loves a shooter. Hunter can shoot it from almost anywhere. Scoring and hitting shots will not be his problem in the NBA. His issues will be on the defensive end. He needs to get stronger and become a smarter more disciplined on ball defender. He’s a hard working kid who could use to land on a team that will take some time to develop him.
27) Los Angeles Lakers- Norman Powell (UCLA)- The Lakers are smart enough to realize they wouldn’t be drafting Kobe’s replacement in Powell, but they will get an athletic bench wing who can score and plays with high energy. He gives a lot of effort defensively and is good in transition. Powell needs work on his shooting and his size works against him, but he certainly has the potential to be a productive rotation player.
28) Boston Celtics- Dakari Johnson (Kentucky) – Johnson comes right out of the Calipari Big Man Factory. Johnson is not skilled offensively, but he can be a threat in the pick and roll. He’s no terribly athletic but he understands how to defend and he is a very, very large man. His lack of athleticism will hurt him a little on the perimeter but he exhibits an understanding of positioning that will serve him well. Boston could use some size and Johnson can be a productive bench big man.
29) Brooklyn Nets- Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse) – A kid like Christmas drops on draft boards because he’s 23 years old. There’s no crime in drafting a guy who has already improved. Christmas has good size and is very athletic and strong. He’s a good defensive player and certainly plays with NBA level physicality. He’s a little limited offensively, but nonetheless can be a productive rotation big man and potentially a starter on a good team. One of the biggest mistakes personnel executives make believes that players are done improving at 23 years old. With the Nets shopping Mason Plumlee hard, a physical bench big would be a good addition.
30) Golden State Warriors- Travis Trice (Michigan St) – Trice has very good point guard skills and is a very good shooter. The big issue with Trice is size and there are legitimate questions about his ability to defend on an NBA level. He was a good defensive player on college and it could possibly translate, but his size makes it harder. The Warriors love their shooters. With their team and structure, Trice could have a chance to thrive in a bench role, if the Warriors even keep this pick.
Keep an eye on potential 2nd rounders, Cliff Alexander (Kansas), J.P. Tokoto (North Carolina), Michael Frazier (Florida) and Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming).