It’s officially just one month from the NBA draft, and with the combine passing by, draft season is in full swing. The prospects are now doing individual meetings with teams to try and give on final boost to their draft stocks before their names are called on draft night. This years crop of prospects isn’t the strongest, but there are a lot of intriguing prospects and wild cards in this years class.
- Philadelphia 76ers- Ben Simmons, Small Forward, LSU
The gap between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram for #1 is the smallest it has ever been, and Ingram seems to be gaining momentum as the draft draws nearer. The 76ers need the player that has the most potential to change the franchise that has been in the dumps long enough. Simmons’ playmaking and rebounding ability, along with his versatility will place him above Ingram. New management is already leaning towards Simmons, despite his inability to shoot and his questionable character that he showed in his one season at LSU.
The 76ers desperately need shooting, so Simmons fit with big men Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel will be questioned, but his ability to play four positions on the court can potentially ease the crowded court. Plus, with two more picks in the first round, Philly will have plenty of other opportunities to draft shooters.
2. Los Angeles Lakers- Brandon Ingram, Small Forward, Duke
Once Simmons is off the board, it should take the Lakers maybe 10 seconds to get their pick in for Brandon Ingram. There has been rumblings of the Lakers wanting to move this pick, but I would expect them to hang on to it and take the lengthy freshman. There’s no doubt he can fill up the basket, scoring almost 18 points a game at Duke, but he won’t solve the Lakers’ defensive woes, at least not right away. Ingram’s skinny frame will make him an easy target down low. However, is offensive ability and mismatch potential scream future All-Star when he’s in his prime.
The young core of Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson should provide some excitement for Lakers fans as they go into their first season without Kobe Bryant in 20 years.
3. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets)- Dragan Bender, Power Forward, Croatia
Getting the #3 pick was probably the Celtics’ worst nightmare. They miss out on the consensus top two prospects, especially Brandon Ingram, who would have been a huge pickup for Boston. This leaves the C’s with a handful of options to choose from, but no slam dunk picks remain. Buddy Hield is a tempting offer, but the Celtics don’t need anymore guards.
Bender certainly won’t start right away for Boston, but he should see regular minutes off the bench at both the power forward and center positions. He’s a better athlete than Kelly Olynyk and a better shooter than Jared Sullinger, giving him good value for Brad Stevens and his staff.
4. Phoenix Suns- Jaylen Brown, Small Forward, California
The first thing that NBA fans and scouts notice about Brown is his explosive athleticism and 6’7″ 230 pound frame. He’s a beast in transition and is at his best while attacking the rim. In his one year at Cal, he proved every scouting report on him right.
Alongside fellow freshman Ivan Rabb (who decided to stay at Cal), Brown showed off his hops, explosion, aggressive and attacking mentality and his defensive chops on the perimeter. Brown also showed that his jumper still needs a ton of work, but its not broken. His ball handling and play making also need work.
Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray may be enticing for the rebuilding Suns, but with his Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker already in place, Brown should be the pick.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves- Buddy Hield, Shooting Guard, Oklahoma
Buddy Buckets is the absolute perfect fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves have had the last two Rookie of the Year’s (Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns), but still lack a knockdown shooter. Wiggins and current guards Zach Lavine and Ricky Rubio can’t shoot, so Buddy would get plenty of minutes from day one.
While Hield doesn’t seem to be a great defender, he’s still an underrated athlete and is a tireless worker. He may not have All-Star potential, but a long career awaits Hield once he puts on an NBA jersey.
Minnesota already has an embarrassment of young riches to work with, they just need to learn how to play together. A potential fast break runout of Rubio, Hield, Wiggins and Lavine would be scary for opposing defenses.
6. New Orleans Pelicans- Jamal Murray, Shooting Guard, Kentucky
While looking at Jamal Murray’s game, I can’t help but think of Brandon Roy, you know, before the knee injuries that ruined his career. Just an all around smooth player, Murray can shoot it from deep and drive to the rim where he’s a solid, yet underrated athlete.
Murray caught fire for John Calipari over the last two months at Kentucky, and was part of a dynamic backcourt duo with Tyler Ulis. The Pelicans most likely won’t resign Eric Gordon, so Murray will have a chance to start right away alongside Jrue Holiday (if he can stay healthy) and superstar Anthony Davis.
7. Denver Nuggets- Marquese Chriss, Power Forward, Washington
A surprise one-and-done freshman, Marquese Chriss’ draft stock is based primarily on his athleticism at the power forward position, which gives him huge upside. He is a huge risk for any team that takes him, but the Nuggets are rebuilding, and with multiple first round picks they can afford to take a gamble.
Chriss’ game is still developing, but he has shown a solid touch from three as a big man. His posts moves are still basic and in the works, but the potential is there to be a star in the NBA.
Kenneth Faried has been on the trading block the last two seasons and JJ Hickson is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so Chriss could see more playing time than originally expected. With Chriss and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets could have two superstar athletes and basketball players as they continue to rebuild.
8. Sacramento Kings- Kris Dunn, Point Guard, Providence
The Kings are still trying to piece a team together around All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins, and Dunn is the next in line to give it a shot. A star at Providence, Dunn can be an impact performer from the jump and still has loads of potential to tap into.
He’s brilliant on both sides of the ball, specifically with his passing and stealing abilities. Dunn is a great athlete with plenty of speed and hops to get by opposing guards and finish over big men at the basket.
Rajon Rondo is a free agent and Dunn is the best player available at this point in the draft, so it should be a slam dunk pick for the Kings. Don’t be surprised if Dunn challenges for Rookie of the Year.
9. Toronto Raptors (via Denver Nuggets)- Henry Ellenson, Power Forward, Marquette
The Raptors could be inclined to pick a shooting guard here, with DeMar Derozan likely to opt out of his player option for next year, but there isn’t one worth taking right now.
The front court outside of Jonas Valancuinas is iffy, and the Raptors could use any help they can get to try and prepare themselves for life without Derozan.
Ellenson was a star on an average Marquette team and showed off his versatility on offense in his lone year in Milwaukee. He can shoot from deep, post up and even shows some nice ball handling ability for a 6’10” player. His defensive outlook is questionable, but the offensive skills are enough to push him up draft boards.
10. Milwaukee Bucks- Wade Baldwin IV, Point Guard, Vanderbilt
The Bucks desperately need backcourt help with guards Jerryd Bayless , OJ Mayo and Greivis Vasquez all being free agents, and with Michael Carter-Williams being terrible. Milwaukee has future pieces at every position on the court besides point guard and Wade Baldwin is the best available at this point in the draft.
Baldwin’s stock fluctuated all year, but he still provides good skill and potential down the line. He fits the modern profile of NBA point guards with 6’3″ height and crazy 6’10” wingspan that makes him a nightmare for opposing players on offense. Baldwin is a good shooter and can get to the rim with ease, but he’s not a particularly strong finisher around the basket.
The Bucks can afford to have him come off the bench for a year or two and develop, then plug him right in as a starter once Carter-Williams’ contract expires.
11. Orlando Magic- Timothe Luwawu, Small Forward, France
The Magic have little to no offensive ability as a team, and that prevents them from getting into the playoffs. Timothe Luwawu has improved his game greatly over the course of the last two years, especially with his three point shooting.
Along with that shooting ability comes top flight athleticism that helps him stay in front of players on defense on the wing, in transition, and when driving to the basket.
Luwawu needs to work on his creativity in terms of shooting off the dribble and ball handling, but the potential is there for him to be one of the better players in this class.
12. Utah Jazz- Denzel Valentine, Shooting Guard, Michigan State
The Utah Jazz are all set up front, but the backcourt could use some help. Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Dante Exum have either been injured or just not productive, and Valentine was a highly productive player in his senior season at Michigan State and was a threat to post a triple double every time out.
Valentine doesn’t figure to be a star down the line, but his versatility, shooting ability and playmaking ability should make him a solid backup and role player for many years to come.
13. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards)- Domantas Sabonis, Power Forward, Gonzaga
The current power forwards for the Phoenix Suns are Jon Leuer, Mirza Teletovic and Corey Jefferson…yikes. Clearly in the market for an upgrade, this should be a no-brainer for Phoenix. Sabonis could come in and start right away alongside Alex Len or Tyson Chandler.
Sabonis brings outstanding rebounding ability and solid post moves to any roster. Despite not being the greatest athlete, Sabonis improved his draft stock by showing off an improved shooting touch that extended to beyond the three point line.
His dad is a Hall of Famer for his work overseas, and while the younger Sabonis doesn’t have that type of upside, he should still be productive pro.
14. Chicago Bulls- Jakob Poeltl, Center, Utah
Chicago would love to go point guard here and start to groom Derrick Rose’s replacement, but there’s not a guard prospect here worth taking. Joakim Noah is a free agent and Pau Gasol is on his last legs, so new blood in the front court is a solid move.
Poeltl stepped up big time after Delon Wright went to the NBA, and his points per game went up from nine to just over 17 a game. Easily the best center in the draft, Poeltl strictly does his work in the paint with his back to the basket where he showed off some new and improved moves as a sophomore.
His ceiling is limited by a lack of athleticism and length that will expose him on the defensive end of things, but he should still bring toughness and power to any franchise in his prime.
15. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets)- Thon Maker, Power Forward, Sudan
After taking a gamble on Marquese Chriss at #7, Denver would love to get a sure thing here, but there aren’t any remaining at 15. Maker made big time headlines earlier this year when he announced he was declaring for the NBA draft out of high school, something that hasn’t been done in almost 10 years.He’s the biggest wild card in this draft, and it’s anyone’s guess where he goes.
On the court, Maker is a good athlete and can run like a gazelle for a 7’1″ player. He can shoot it well enough to make defenses respect him and also has a solid handle. But for those strengths, Maker has his share of weaknesses.
He’s right around 225 pounds, which is scary light for a person his height. He’ll get bullied on the post every time despite his length. He can’t post up and is just an extremely raw basketball player. He won’t see the court for at least two years while his game gets improved. Denver would be taking a huge risk with this pick, but nobody else has his type of upside, if he can tap into it.
16. Boston Celtics (via Dallas Mavericks)- Skal Labissiere, Center, Kentucky
Another reach pick, but this one actually fills a need. The Celtics desperately need a shot blocker, Labissiere brings that. Although he might not be ready to produce at a high level, if Labissiere can bring the energy that he did down the stretch last year, he could make his way into the C’s deep rotation.
Once considered for the top spot in the draft, the Haitian-born big man was a big disappointment for coach Calipari. He’s lengthy yet too light to play on the post, yet his shooting touch from mid range looks promising.
He’s another project in an overall weak class, but his strong upside will put him in the mid-first round conversation.
17. Memphis Grizzlies- Taurean Prince, Small Forward, Baylor
A tough two-way player, Taurean Prince is exactly the type of player the Grizzlies love to pick. He reminds people a lot of Jae Crowder (dreadlocks and all), as he is proficient at just about everything, but doesn’t excel in one category.
He’ll provide toughness on defense and solid three point shooting. Prince can also shift into a power forward role if his team wants to play small, which is becoming quite the trend in today’s NBA.
He may not ever be an elite forward, but his toughness and all around skill should make him a valuable part of any team he plays for.
18. Detroit Pistons- Deyonta Davis, Power Forward, Michigan State
Another unexpected one and done, Deyonta Davis was one of the bigger surprises for Michigan State all season long. The 6’11” power forward showed strong rebounding skills on both ends, using his quick reflexes and bounce to haul in misses.
While he might still be a bit rough around the edges, Davis showed progress in his post moves, even adding a couple new ones to his arsenal.On the defensive end, Davis is a talented shot blocker, once again using his hops and his length to get his rejections.
19. Denver Nuggets (via Portland Trailblazers)- Furkan Korkmaz, Shooting Guard, Turkey
One of the youngest available players in this years draft, Korkmaz is likely going to stay overseas for a couple of years, but that’s no issue for the Nuggets. Korkmaz is a gem in transition, where he can either take it to the rim and throw down a smooth dunk, or fan off to the wing and shoot a three.
His offensive potential is extremely high, but he still needs some work with his ball handling and needs to hit the weight room if he wants to become a better defender and finisher at the basket.
20. Indiana Pacers- Demetrius Jackson, Point Guard, Notre Dame
Jackson has drawn comparisons to current Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe, and for good reason. He’s not the biggest guard, but has explosive athleticism that makes him a menace on defense and a terror to try and cover off the dribble. Jackson is a pretty good, yet inconsistent shooter from deep, but his bread and butter is the pick and roll and attacking the basket.
Current point guard George Hill sucks and the Pacers need help with depth in the backcourt, and Jackson can step right in and provide solid minutes off the bench.
21. Atlanta Hawks- Damian Jones, Center, Vanderbilt
Al Horford’s free agency will be one of the biggest story lines of the NBA offseason, and all signs point to him leaving the ATL.
Jones was supposed to put up massive numbers as a junior, but his improvements were few and far between, which dropped his stock significantly. A pure back to the basket scorer, Jones uses his size and good athleticism at 7′ to bully opponents down low, block shots and bring in rebounds.
He may not be the ideal fit for an Atlanta team that likes to spread the floor, but he’ll be a solid anchor in the middle for the Hawks.
22. Charlotte Hornets- Malachi Richardson, Shooting Guard, Syracuse
Much like Atlanta, the Hornets are faced with the daunting task of replacing their center, but there is not center at 22 that can help Charlotte. Instead, they’ll try and build up their wing play, where Nicholas Batum and Courtney Lee are free agents.
Richardson blew up in the NCAA Tournament, especially against ACC rivals Virginia and UNC. He is a pure scorer with solid size and length for a shooting guard. He’s a bit streaky, but excels in getting off his own shot in one-on-one situations.
He needs to work on his ability to drive to the rim, finish with his left hand and fix the small hitch in his shot that makes him inconsistent If he can work on those skills, he could become a steal.
23. Boston Celtics- Malik Beasley, Shooting Guard, Florida State
Much like Richardson, Malik Beasley is a prominent scorer and solid athlete, but still needs work in a lot of areas. However, Beasley is more apt to drive to the basket and use floaters, eurosteps and other moves to get his shot off.
His stock rose steadily over the course of his freshman season, but his one-on-one scoring ability needs work, as does his defensive ability and effort. Beasley also checks in at fewer than 200 pounds and at 6’5″, he’ll need to hit the weight room.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (via Miami Heat)- Tyler Ulis, Point Guard, Kentucky
The 76ers can’t go wrong with any pick, but this pick should be one of the best in the draft. Ulis is tiny, just 5’9″, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in skill, instincts and toughness.
The best player on a stacked Kentucky roster, Ulis was the heart and soul for the Wildcats, as well as their floor general. His speed and shiftiness makes him a tough cover, and if he can get by his defender he can squeeze his way through holes or dish it out to an open teammate.
ULis is also very confident in himself, and he’ll need that swagger if he wants to make it in the NBA. The 76ers desperately need better guard play, and Ulis can provide that, along with great leadership to a young team.
25. Los Angeles Clippers- DeAndre Bembry, Small Forward, Saint Joseph’s
The Clippers have less depth than a kiddie pool, especially at the forward positions. Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute are free agents, and Paul Pierce is out of gas and should probably retire.
DeAndre Bembry was a star at Saint Joseph’s and put up gaudy numbers as a junior. He scored over 17 points per game on 47% shooting, brought in over seven rebounds a game and dished out 4.5 assists.
His NBA calling card will be his versatility and doesn’t come with many weaknesses. He can play three positions, provide good defense and is strong when taking the ball to the basket. Bembry lacks great athleticism and has a broken jumper than most likely won’t improve when he’s in the NBA, but he could develop into a Gerald Wallace type at his peak.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder)- DeJounte Murray, Shooting Guard, Washington
Another back court selection for Philly, DeJounte Murray can play either guard spot, and is super creative as a scorer. He reminds people of Jamal Crawford with his creativity as a scorer and as a passer. An aggressive scorer, Murray is super fun to watch when he’s hot, but he’s a bit inconsistent.
He’ll definitely have to get stronger, improve his decision making and shot from deep, but he looks like a solid producer off the bench.
27. Toronto Raptors- Cheick Diallo, Power Forward, Kansas
THE biggest disappointment in the NCAA, Cheick Diallo went from top 10 recruit to getting no minutes for Bill Self in his freshman season. Diallo declared for the draft and is hoping his physical tools will shoot him up draft boards.
Diallo has no skill as a scorer, and will get his points off of putbacks and lobs right at the rim. He has good mobility that could make him an average defender and his length and hops will make him a good shot blocker, but that’s about it.
A huge risk for any team, Toronto rolls the dice on a boom-or-bust prospect.
28. Phoenix Suns (via Cleveland Cavaliers)- Juan Hernangomez, Small Forward, Spain
Hernangomez has been on NBA radars for quite a while, and his production overseas as a 20 year old is something to be admired. He can play both forward positions with ease, which is Phoenix’s biggest issue.
The Spain native has shown ability too shoot from three, drive to the basket and finish above the rim. He’s also solid in the pick-and-roll and a roll man, where he shows good mobility.
Not strong defensively, Hernangomez needs to work on his post up defense, as well as his consistency from three if he wants to carve out an NBA role for himself.
He still might stay overseas for a year or two to work on his game, but that’s fine for a rebuilding Suns team.
29. San Antonio Spurs-Brice Johnson, Power Forward, North Carolina
An absolute beast at UNC as a senior, Brice Johnson finally delivered on his vast potential that made him a highly ranked prospect. Johnson is an explosive athlete, and a highlight waiting to happen, where he plays well above the rim and is a very strong rebounder.
However, Johnson isn’t very big for a power forward and his lack of length negates his athleticism on the defensive end. The other thing holding Johnson back is his inability to shoot, even from the mid range. He lives with 10 feet of the basket and doesn’t have polished post moves.
Tim Duncan might retire in the offseason, and the Spurs could use more athleticism even if he does stick around.
30. Golden State Warriors- Diamond Stone, Center, Maryland
If NBA teams took names into consideration when drafting, Diamond Stone would be the first overall pick without the blink of an eye.
Anyways, Stone was another piece on a stacked Maryland roster that made it to the Sweet Sixteen. An immovable object on the post, Stone is a typical post up scorer with solid moves down low. Using his big 6’11”, 255 pound frame, Stone also projects as a solid rebounder in the NBA.
Stone isn’t a great athlete, which limits him defensively as a shot blocker. He also has trouble staying on the court because of his lack of conditioning.
The Warriors can go for the “best player available” method because of their depth, but Stone could also become a valuable contributor down the line. Andrew Bogut is old, bad and a free agent in two years and Festus Ezili has a qualifying offer after this season, so Stone could see the court sooner than expected.
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