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2016 NBA mock draft: Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere lead the next pack of elite talents

The Kentucky center and LSU forward project as the top players in 2016.

A lot can change in a year. Just 12 months ago, Kansas commit Cliff Alexander was rated higher than Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns by almost every recruiting service. That's the danger with projecting NBA draft stock for a group of 18-year-olds before they ever play a college game.

Of course, NBA teams start scouting well before players enter college. Events like the Nike Hoops Summit and McDonald's All-American Game are loaded with pro scouts at both the practices and the games. The growth of grassroots ball means most of the blue chip players have already competed against each other for years.

With that in mind, we have the basis for our first 2016 mock draft of the year. The group features just two players with college experience in the top 10 in Utah sophomore Jakob Poeltl and Providence's Kris Dunn. Other than that? We're mostly projecting the top incoming freshmen to become the top pro prospects based off size, athleticism and the skill they showed on the AAU circuit.

For reference, here's what our early 2015 mock draft looked like a year ago. Please ignore the Wayne Selden spot.

1. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

Center, Freshman

Labissiere might not be as good as Karl-Anthony Towns, but he's the best possible replacement for him at Kentucky. Labissiere projects as the fever dream of the modern NBA GM, a big man who can both shoot from the perimeter and block shots. He lacks Towns' bulk to battle on the inside, but he might be even more athletic. Get acquainted with his incredible journey from Haiti and farcical recruiting backstory, because everyone will know it soon.

2. Ben Simmons, LSU

Forward, Freshman

With point guard skills packed in a strong 6'10 frame, Simmons was probably the only player in the recruiting class of 2015 who could have played in the NBA out of high school. He came to the United States from Australia in 2013 and committed to LSU a year later, mainly because his godfather David Patrick is an assistant coach with the Tigers. There will be questions about his outside shooting and defensive ability, but his combination of size and feel for the game is unparalleled for a player his age.

3. Dragan Bender, Croatia

Center/power forward

As a 7-footer with perimeter skills, Bender is the Kristaps Porzingis of the 2016 draft. With a name like that, how can he fail?

4. Brandon Ingram, Duke

Small forward, Freshman

Standing over 6'9 in with a 7'3 wingspan, Ingram's impossibly skinny frame and sweet shooting stroke is bound to draw comparisons to Kevin Durant. That's completely unfair to such a young and raw player, but ... even Ingram is inviting the comparison:

Ingram is nowhere close to Durant, not even at the same age, but he's still a nice prospect in his own right. As someone who doesn't turn 18 years old until September, Ingram was among the youngest players in the class of 2015. He'll likely play the stretch four for Duke next season, where he'll have the green light to fire from the outside for what's going to be another very young but talented Blue Devils team.

Don't look now, but Duke is producing as many one-and-done guys as Kentucky.

5. Jaylen Brown, Cal

Small forward, Freshman

Brown is what scouts would call a prototypical power wing. He has great size for an NBA small forward to go with elite athleticism. He has all the tools to be a great defensive player with a 7'0 wingspan. His biggest question marks will be shooting and ball handling. With Brown and fellow five-star recruit Ivan Rabb in the same starting lineup, Cal is going to have its most fun team since the days of Jason Kidd.

6. Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Center, Sophomore

Poeltl matched up against Jahlil Okafor in the Sweet 16 and held the Duke big man to six points. The Austrian 7-footer was one of the breakout freshmen of the last college basketball season, and Utah is counting on him being among the best big men in the country as a sophomore. One thing he needs to improve: that 44 percent free throw percentage.

7. Cheick Diallo, Kansas

Power forward, Freshman

At 6'10, 220 pounds, Diallo lacks offensive skill but has incredible speed with a motor that never quits. He has the potential to be a buzzsaw defender in the NBA, someone who could legitimately guard 1-5. He's likely more of a long-term prospect than an immediate impact player if he chooses to be a one-and-done. Coaches should love his style of play at every level.

8. Ivan Rabb, Cal

Center/power forward, Freshman

Rabb is a 6'11 human pogo stick who can shoot with either hand. His combination of speed and shot blocking ability would seem to fit perfectly in the direction the NBA is moving. He even showed off a nice face-up jumper as an amateur player. His main objective this season should be hitting the weight room. Again: Cal is going to be a blast to watch next season with him and Brown.

9. Jamal Murray, Kentucky

Point guard, Freshman

Murray announced his decision to reclassify from 2016 to 2015 and join Kentucky over Oregon earlier this week. It was considered a surprise commitment because it means he'll likely be playing off the ball in college even as he projects as a point guard in the NBA.

Murray bust onto NBA radars by scoring a game-high 30 points at the Nike Hoops Summit in April. He's a big and strong lead guard at 6'4 who can shoot from the outside and has a good feel for the game. With Murray, Labissiere and another five-star freshman in guard Isaiah Briscoe, the Wildcats will be appointment viewing for a draft fans once again.

10. Kris Dunn, Providence

Point guard, Junior

Dunn's decision to return to Providence was odd considering he was a likely top 20 pick in 2015 and now he'll turn 23 years old in the middle of his rookie season. The good thing is it shouldn't hurt his stock too much in a weaker 2016 draft. Dunn plays both ends of the floor, has high level basketball IQ and is a killer in the pick-and-roll.

11. Caris LeVert, Michigan

Shooting guard, Senior

LeVert played only 18 games as a junior after a foot injury ended his season, but still could have been a first round pick this year had he decided to come out. He should be the best senior in the country next season. He already has a good jump shot, a nice handle and an ability to create for himself and others.

12. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Power forward, Junior

In a world where Draymond Green is a starting center in the NBA Finals, why not draft Nigel Hayes? Hayes is only 6'7, but he makes up for it with a 7'3 wingspan. After not attempting a single three-pointer as a freshman, he turned into a 40 percent three-point shooter as a sophomore. He's also a smart player and tough defender with the bulk (250 pounds) to hold his own inside. There's a lot to like here.

13. Malik Pope, San Diego State

Forward, Sophomore

Can Malik Pope stay healthy? That's the question that's been dogging him the last few seasons. This is a player who missed his entire junior and senior seasons of high school with serious leg injuries. As a freshman, he was in and out of the lineup for San Diego State until late January, when he finally started to find his groove. Pope is a 6'9 combo forward who prefers to play from the perimeter. He has a nice shooting stroke, hitting nearly 41 percent of his three-pointers last season. There's a lot of potential here, you just hope he can stay healthy.

14. Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV

Center, Freshman

Zimmerman is a 7-footer set to attend UNLV after being considered among the best recruits in the class of 2015. He'll turn 19 in September, which means he's old for his class but could also mean he's more prepared to play college ball from day one. Zimmerman has a nice shooting stroke and showcased impressive athleticism in the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American Game. Could he be this draft's Cody Zeller? Is that a compliment?

15. Demetrious Jackson, Notre Dame

Point guard, Junior

Jackson is expected to be one of the best point guards in college basketball next season. He's earned the hype. The former McDonald's All-American will be the man at Notre Dame now that Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are out of the way. If he can maintain the outside shooting efficiency he's showed as a 43 percent three-point shooter last year, while also increasing his scoring volume, he could be one of the first point guards off the board despite his lack of size.

16. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Center, Junior

Jones has quietly gone from a fringe top 100 recruit to a potential lottery pick. He has nice size at 6'10, 240 pounds to go along with a soft touch around the basket. He averaged 14.4 points per game last year on 56 percent shooting. If those impressive numbers keep going up, he should be a first rounder.

17. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Point guard, Sophomore

Matthews averaged nearly 17 points per game last year for a revitalized Rhode Island program. He has great size and defensive potential for a point guard at 6'4, but struggles to shoot the ball efficiently from three-point range, making just 32 percent of the 6.5 threes he attempted per game last year.

18. Diamond Stone, Maryland

Center, Freshman

The five-star freshman is one reason Maryland looks like a juggernaut for next year. He's a throwback post scorer with a ton of bulk (250 pounds) and a soft touch around the rim. He doesn't have the fastest feet and will need to prove he can defend at the college level.

19. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

Power forward, Sophomore

Arvydas' kid has nice size for a power forward at 6'10, but lacks the outside shot NBA teams look for out of a modern day four. That's OK: he has a non-stop motor and is very athletic, making him a tenacious rebounder. Could he be the next Tristan Thompson?

20. Grayson Allen, Duke

Shooting guard, Sophomore

The Duke sophomore broke out in the national championship game with 16 points. He's a relentless attacker and very good defender despite his relative lack of size at 6'4 with a 6'6 wingspan. He's one of those rare players athletic enough to win a dunk contest and skilled enough to win a three-point shootout.

He should be the focal point of Duke's offense next year.

21. Daniel Hamilton, UConn

Shooting guard, Sophomore

Kevin Ollie's team should be back in the national picture next year, and Hamilton is a big reason why. He has good size for an NBA shooting guard at 6'8. He's a skilled passer and an improving shooter. If his three-point percentage ticks up past the 34 percent he shot as a freshman, the only questions about him will center on finishing at the rim and defending his position.

22. Justin Jackson, North Carolina

Small forward, Junior

The former McDonald's All-American enters his sophomore season as the top wing scorer on a loaded UNC team that could be preseason No. 1. He's a tall, long wing who does his best work from midrange. The next step: adding strength and improving his 30 percent three-point shot.

23. George de Paula, Brazil

Point guard

The 6'6 Brazilian point guard showed up at the combine this year, but pulled out of the draft at the last second. He is mostly known for having a 7'0 wingspan and massive hands. If he can improve his feel for the game and his jump shot, he has the tools to be a great prospect.

24. Zak Irvin, Michigan

Small forward, junior

Irvin is a 6'6 wing known as a shooter, but his three-point percentage slipped from 42.5 as a freshman to 35.5 as a sophomore. Still, everyone knows Irvin can shoot. If he improves his efficiency and shows an ability to make plays off the ball, he could be the Wolverines' second first rounder in this draft.

25. Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Shooting guard, Freshman

Newman was a top recruit and is projected to go much higher by most sites right now, but he's a small shooting guard (6'4 with proportional arms) who is mostly known as a gunner. Still: Malik Newman is a great scorer and certainly could go much higher than this if he puts up huge numbers for the Bulldogs. Think of him as being similar to Ben Gordon. We'll wait to see what his playmaking skills and defensive ability looks like before projecting him higher.

26. Isaac Copeland, Georgetown

Power forward, Sophomore

Copeland is a tall, rangy power forward who could be a breakout star in the Big East this year.

27. Thomas Welsh, UCLA

Center, Sophomore

Welsh was a McDonald's All-American who only played 15 minutes per game in his freshman year. Still, the 7-footer was one of three players with college experience to make the USA Basketball U19 team. That seems like a good sign for his development.

28. Melo Trimble, Maryland

Point guard, Sophomore

Maryland is going to be a powerhouse, which means Trimble should get plenty of exposure. The 6'2 point guard can get buckets with the best of them. He averaged 16.2 points per game on 41 percent shooting from three-point range as a freshman.

29. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse

Shooting guard, Senior

Gbinije is my pick to be the breakout senior of next season. He has a very good feel for the game, nice size for a wing at 6'7 and averaged nearly two steals per game last season. He'll be 23 years old next season, but he can play.

30. Troy Williams, Indiana

Small forward, Junior

Williams is a human highlight reel with great athleticism in a 6'7 frame. He averaged 13 points per game last year.