2017 NBA Draft Guide
The NBA Draft kicks off tonight, and with the way the last 72 hours have gone, we should be in for a crazy night! Sixty new players will find homes and many more will end up on Summer League rosters. Jimmy Butler will have 4,000 rumors about him but he won’t go anywhere and Phil Jackson may just trade away the one thing he has done right since getting to New York (Porzingis!). So without further ado, let’s get drafting!
First Round Half-Mock
1. Philadelphia 76ers (via BOS): Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
The 76ers moved up from the third pick and all it is going to end up costing them is likely the Kings pick in 2019. Meanwhile, Danny Ainge continues to stockpile picks like he is in some sort of asset Cold War. This makes a ton of sense from the Sixers perspective because Fultz and Lonzo Ball were really the top prospects that fit best in their lineup. Fultz is the real deal and should pair perfectly alongside Ben Simmons. This team still has a long way to go, but they seem to have the pieces to start moving forward.
For those who say Fultz was unable to elevate Washington past nine wins and that somehow makes Fultz bad…stop. I have watched UW basketball for years, so don’t blame Fultz for not making Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle stars. He took over games and people complained he was doing too much, then he deferred and people said he needed to be more aggressive. This is just noise from people looking for a knock on him. That team was depleted by the early departures of Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, and the program as a whole has been underperforming for years. Washington likely would have won less than five games and gone winless in the Pac-12 without Fultz, so for the love of God, stop.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
So the Lakers shipped the 2014 #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell (plus Mozgov and his awful contract) to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez, who is a top center (sometimes) on an expiring deal, and the 27th pick in the draft this year. Sure Russell has struggled mightily his first two seasons in The Association, but that seems like a very small return. What this does do is pave the way for the Lonzo Ball-era to begin in Los Angeles. Or they could take Josh Jackson just to troll Boston. I do think the pick will be Ball though, as he can gel with whatever superstars that the Lakers are determined to land one of these days.
I’m going to use a phrase to describe Ball that often has negative connotations around it, but I mean it in a very positive way. Lonzo Ball is a game manager. He gets everything going and he just makes everyone around him significantly better. He gets results without really forcing anything or having to take risks. I will say I am worried about his shot, primarily his release point, but as a pass first point guard he should be ok. There is also the red flag of He Who Must Not Be Named, but I don’t believe that will dissuade the Lakers from this pick.
3. Boston Celtics (via PHI): Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Josh Jackson is the better fit and has been the rumored pick here, but I am in the Jackson-doubter camp. It is not that I don’t think Jackson will be good, I literally have him going with the next pick, I am just not overly impressed by him. Tatum is a crafty scorer from the wing that only got better as the year progressed. Considering the Celtics literally took a small forward with the third overall pick last year, this makes Tatum a tough pick fit-wise. I could honestly see Danny “Wheelin’ and Dealin’” Ainge trade down again with a team like Sacramento that may want Tatum, Jackson, or Fox.
4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, F, Kansas
Like I said, Josh Jackson’s “fall” lands him at fourth overall. I may be wary of him, but teams clearly aren’t and he will go in the 2–4 range. Jackson is pretty much the ideal small ball four, and is a very good rebounder, grabbing 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. He is also an excellent defender already, so that should be enough to get him on the floor consistently. My worries come on the offensive side, where he too often relies on a poor shot because he can’t create his own. There are also the off-court red flags for Jackson as well, from his short time at Kansas. The Suns could target De’Aaron Fox and move on from Eric Bledsoe, but they probably want someone to supplant TJ Warren at the SF spot as well.
5. Sacramento Kings (via PHI): De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Fox falling to the fifth pick speaks to the ridiculous depth in this draft. Any of these top five picks would probably go first overall in any other draft, but the depth makes someone like De’Aaron Fox fall to the Kings. Fox is my favorite of the point guards in this draft, and that is saying something. Fox is fast on the floor and can distribute with ease. The biggest knock is obviously his lack of outside shooting, which makes the John Wall comp an easy one. Sacramento need a floor general so badly because Ty Lawson and Darren Collison are just a depressing combination at this point.
6. Orlando Magic: Dennis Smith, PG, NC State
Dennis Smith is probably the biggest unknown stock-wise amongst the top picks. Some say he is a top-five lock (seems unlikely at this point) or he may slide out of the top ten (also seems unlikely). Meanwhile, the Magic have been a complete mess since the Dwight Howard trade in 2012. They have finished last in their division every year since the trade, they’ve never finished higher than 11th in the East, and have only topped 30 wins once (35 in 2015–16). They have some young players, but none of them but Terrnace Ross has shown much of anything and that was with the Raptors. Evan Fournier is the best player they have, but obviously they are going to need a massive overhaul to start competing again. Smith is an explosive athlete, probably best evidenced by him tying the NBA vertical record with a 48-inch vertical. He can also score when you need him to. The biggest question marks surround his mentality and focus. If the Magic can reign him in a bit, than Smith can be the first piece in actually getting this team off the ground.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
I could easily see Isaac going higher than this, but for now he falls to a Timberwolves team that would be more than thrilled with this scenario. Isaac is the embodiment of a “3-and-D” player and would be a nice partner next to Karl Anthony-Towns. Isaac is the rawest of the prospects taken so far, but that upside is something that could get him taken higher. He could develop more of a “go-to” scoring mentality, but with Andrew Wiggins, KAT, and Zach Lavine around him, he may not have to.
8. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
Knicks fans probably would prefer Malik Monk over a lesser-known international prospect, but Frank Ntilikina will fill the hopefully soon-to-be-vacated point guard spot in New York. The first thing Ntilikina will give you is defense. He uses his long arms (almost 7' wingspan) to stay in front of his man. He also is similar to Lonzo Ball in that he is another pass-first guard looking to make the play for others. Part of that could be due to his lack of consistent shooting, but he can get inside and create space with his body size. Speaking of his body size, that is one thing he will need to work on. He will definitely need to add some more muscle to deal with the physicality of NBA defenders.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
Monk puts the word “shooting” in “shooting guard,” almost to a fault at times. He can get going at any time and you can just see when he flips that switch. The forgotten shot of the epic Kentucky-UNC tournament game is Monk going over two defenders to hit the game tying-three. In real time that shot made me unconsciously yell “nuh uh” in my living room. He can hit the big time shots almost with ease and his stroke is great. The obvious thing with volume shooters is if they are off than they are off, and Monk can be susceptible to that. He had duds at Florida (11 points on 28.6% shooting) and at Texas A&M (6 points on 20% shooting), but he went over 20 points on 50%+ shooting on ten different occasions for Kentucky, and went over 20 with 40%+ shooting on six more occasions. Monk would slide right into the two spot next to Seth Curry and make Wesley Matthews a sixth man or make Monk the sixth man in a Lou Williams-type role. Dallas were 16th in the league in 3P% this past season, despite taking the sixth most per game. So if you’re shooting a lot of threes, why not take one of the purest shooters in the draft?
10. Sacramento Kings (via NO): Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Markkanen’s stock has fallen as we have gotten closer to the draft, but he still is a lottery pick and I still expect him to go in the top ten. He is your prototypical stretch four, but he will need to bulk up to become a better rebounder and defender. I’ve ragged on the Kings for a few years for continually drafting big men, but with Boogie Cousins in New Orleans now, they need help badly at the power forward spot. They particularly need help on the offensive side, with Skal Labissiere’s 8.8 points per game leading the way for the Kings big men. Markkanen would also pair nicely with the defensive-minded Willie Cauley-Stein.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Luke Kennard, G, Duke
Luke Kennard may be one of the biggest year-to-year transformations I have witnessed in my (albeit short) time watching college basketball. I’m also 85% sure he grew like six inches. He averaged 11.8 points in his freshman year, but this year that jumped up to 19.5 points and he was a unanimous First Team All-ACC selection. His one vote for Most Improved Player is absolutely criminal. Most impressive about his rise is that his usage rate only rose from 21.4% his freshman year to 24% this season. Between Grayson Allen’s continual antics and Duke’s freshman class flopping hard, Kennard can get lost in the shuffle, but he really was the story of the season for me. He doesn’t offer much in terms of defense, but with Marco Belinelli getting shipped to Atlanta on Tuesday, there is a lot of room for a shooter at the shooting guard spot in Charlotte.
12. Detroit Pistons: Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
The Pistons are in a weird spot with their roster. They have an established starter at every position on their roster assuming they pay SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, yet they only won 37 games this past season. Do they blow it up and go in a different direction? Or, do they try and add some pieces and push for a low seed in the Eastern Conference? Neither is great but they have to do something because as we’ll get to in a minute, rebuilding and competing simultaneously doesn’t work.
Collins is a player who can fit into Detroit’s plans no matter which way they go. In his lone season at Gonzaga, Collins averaged 10 points, six boards and almost two blocks (1.8) in just 15 minutes a night. He also was a key piece in Gonzaga’s run to the national championship and could have possibly led them to a title had he not been in foul trouble late in the final (which is a recurring problem of his). He also showed a decent stroke from outside, hitting threes at a 47.6% clip on 21 attempts. It’s a small sample size but shows a skill that is becoming a necessity in today’s game. Collins can be a quality backup right away in the league, and can easily develop into a starter if Detroit move Andre Drummond for assets. Regardless, the Pistons will likely go best player available here, and that is Collins.
13. Denver Nuggets: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
I have had a draft crush on Justin Jackson since his freshman year at UNC, so I am a bit higher on him than others. The Nuggets have quietly gathered a very young and exciting roster and look poised for the future with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Jackson could start right away if Danilo Gallinari chooses not to re-sign or he can be a stalwart in the second unit. Jackson’s biggest question mark is if his outside shooting really has improved, or if his 37% three point shooting this season was an anomaly. As we have covered, outside shooting is a must in today’s NBA, so if teams don’t think he has truly improved there he could slide. I think he has (he took more threes this season than his previous two combined) and there is reason he won ACC Player of the Year. Jackson also has the “winning pedigree” that everyone now craves after leading the Tar Heels to the national championship win in April.
14. Miami Heat: Donovan Mitchell, G, Louisville
Mitchell is a combo guard who still hasn’t quite learned how to play the point guard position. His best asset is his tenacious defense, and it may just get him drafted in the top ten. Miami nearly snuck into the playoffs, and with Justise Winslow returning they should be in contention for one of the lower seeds. With that, the Heat likely will be going BPA, and Mitchell offers great value here. Dragic is the starter right now at point guard for Miami, but at the two the Heat have Dion Waiters who probably will become a free agent and Tyler Johnson and his truly baffling contract. The forced retirement of Chris Bosh continues to leave the Heat front court rather thin behind Hassan Whiteside, so someone like Texas’ Jarrett Allen or Wake Forest’s John Collins could be a strong possibility too.
15. Portland Trailblazers: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Speaking of thin front courts, the Blazers depth chart of big men is full of injuries and unfulfilled potential. Jusuf Nurkic was a revelation after coming over from Denver, but he was limited to just 20 games due to injury. Meyers Leonard is solid but average, and everyone else is bleh. Allen has loads of potential, but he needs to vastly improve his basketball IQ. He can try to do too much and be flashy and it often doesn’t end well. He has the potential to be a floor spacer, but for that to happen he will need to work a lot on his three point shot because it is UG-LY right now. But at 19 years old it is hard to ignore the immense upside he offers in the long-term for a team with amazing guards and an abysmal front court.
16. Chicago Bulls: OG Anunoby, SG/SF, Indiana
I did a bit more than a lottery mock draft for the sole purpose of blasting the Bulls here. I said in last year’s NBA Draft Awards that the Bulls were in denial about where they were as a franchise, and that they should deal Jimmy Butler and start over or make a splash in free agency. Here we are a year later, Jimmy Butler is still on the block and the Bulls owe Dwyane Wade $24 MILLION next season. They were lucky to grab the eight seed and are slowly becoming one of the more dysfunctional teams in the league. In the mighty words of Ron Swanson, “Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.” Take note Bulls because you are going nowhere fast.
Anunoby’s stock is a bit of a mystery leading up to the draft, and that is partially to do with his injury situation and because of his perceived “regression” in a couple areas. He suffered a knee injury in January that ended his season after averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 16 games. There have been projections of him going as high as the Nuggets or falling all the way to the second round. I think his two-way potential is too much to pass up and he should see his name called early on Thursday.
Since I only did a half-mock draft, I felt I should highlight three players I love and three players I am wary of, that were not covered in this piece so far. For each group of three I opted to do one player who is basically a first round lock, a second rounder, and a borderline undrafted player. Since I’m in a good mood we will start with the players I love and don’t think are getting enough love from other analysts.
First Round: DJ Wilson, PF, Michigan
Wilson got onto my radar kind of late, not catching my eye until tournament time, but once he did I liked what I saw. Wilson was a bit out of position playing the five for the Wolverines, but as a stretch four I love him. He probably is not quick enough to play the three but as a 6'11" PF who is comfortable out on the wing (at least offensively), he may get off to a better start than the highly touted Lauri Markkanen.
Second Round: Kobi Simmons, PG, Arizona
Simmons may be the forgotten freshman phenom of this last class. After going to Arizona as a five-star recruit from Georgia, Simmons was lost in the headlines behind Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, and fellow freshman breakout star Lauri Markkanen. Simmons never really established himself with the Wildcats and averaged just 8.7 points and 2.0 assists in 23.5 minutes a night. That is part of the reason so many were surprised to see Simmons stay in the draft. However, I see a point guard who knows how to score, has ideal size, and is still just 19 years old. He will need to add more weight (he weighed in at 166 pounds at the combine) and he will need to learn how to become a better distributor, but he has a lot of upside to offer in the mid-to-late second round. I’d love to see a team like New Orleans, Philadelphia, or New York grab him late and give him time to develop into a quality guard.
Undrafted: Eric Mika, C, BYU
Mika has three things working against him, that will likely cause him to go undrafted. First, is his age. Mika served the traditional two-year mission for the LDS church, so he is already 22 years old as a sophomore. Second, he put up gaudy stats (20.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.9 blocks), but did it in the somewhat weak West Coast Conference. Now the WCC is not some pushover conference; Mika faced tournament teams Gonzaga and St. Mary’s twice and averaged 22.5 points and 9.3 boards in those contests. BYU also played a pretty tough non-conference schedule that featured USC, Colorado, Princeton, and Illinois. In those four games, Mika averaged a double-double (24.3 points/10.5 rebounds) added 2.5 assists and recorded over a block per game. So Mika played better in bigger games. The last thing holding Mika back is his size. He is 6'10", so he is undersized for a center, and he also lacks physical strength. He never attempted a three-point shot at BYU, so a move to the four is somewhat unlikely given the game’s transition. Mika never quits though and he should catch the eye of some team and potentially earn a contract out of the Summer League.
First Round: TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA
There is just something about Leaf that I don’t completely trust. He was great in his lone season at UCLA! He averaged 16.3 points on 61% shooting, grabbed 8.2 points, and had 2.4 assists. Part of me worries though that all that success may have been due to Lonzo Ball. I would have loved to see Leaf stay one more year and prove that he can do it by himself, but he made the right decision for him to come out now. Leaf needs a lot of work on the defensive side as well, especially defending on the perimeter. I would love Leaf as a late first round pick or early second rounder, but with his current projection in the late teens, I have cause for concern.
Second Round: Caleb Swanigan, C, Purdue
If it was twenty years ago, Swanigan would be a first round lock. But I just don’t see a place for him in the game today. He is big and although he shed some serious weight, he still is nearly 250 pounds. With the run and gun style so many teams are adopting, I just don’t think Swanigan can ever be more than a backup. But I guess in the second round that is all you can really hope for.
Undrafted: Isaiah Briscoe, G, Kentucky
Speaking of players that just don’t have a place in today’s game, Briscoe will have a hard time trying to make a roster. His FG%, eFG% and true shooting percentage are all below 50%, his three point percentage is below 30% and his free throw percentage is sub-70%. He did average a respectable 4.2 assists a game, but did so with a loaded roster over two seasons. To make matters worse for Briscoe, an ankle injury kept him out of many of his final draft workouts. All these factors point to Briscoe not hearing his name called Thursday, and barring a drastic shooting turnaround, he probably will never play many meaningful NBA minutes.
Draft coverage starts at 7PM on ESPN tonight and should feature numerous trades, quite possibly involving some very big names. After that, undrafted players will be looking to grab Summer League spots with teams. And we are only two weeks away from the start of Summer League in Orlando, where we will get our first look at these players with their new teams. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@Rookie_Rhino) for updates and instant analysis!