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2016 NBA mock draft: Ben Simmons might not be the first pick after all

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Turns out Brandon Ingram could be a better fit at the top for a lot of NBA teams.

Original photo by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 draft had it all: franchise-changing big men like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, cornerstone point guards like D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, two-way wings like Stanley Johnson and Justise Winslow. We've spent all week celebrating the NBA's fine rookie class. Now it's time to let you know who has next.

The 2016 draft isn't considered as strong as its predecessor, but there's still so many exciting young talents expected to declare. This draft will again have a strong international flavor with players from Australia, Croatia, Austria and Haiti expected to be taken in the lottery. And on the brink of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 1 pick still feels up in the air.

LSU's Ben Simmons has been the projected top pick since the preseason, but Duke freshman Brandon Ingram has spent the last two months making a strong case for himself. Simmons is faster, stronger and an incredible shot creator. Ingram is longer and a much better three-point shooter. There's no wrong answer in this debate.

If you haven't been paying much attention to college basketball until now, consider this your primer on who to watch in March.

1. Philadelphia 76ers - SF Brandon Ingram, Duke

Ben Simmons still has the inside track to be the No. 1 pick, but it's close enough at this point that might come down to fit. If the 76ers finally get the lottery luck they've been missing the past two seasons, Ingram makes more sense for a few reasons:

  • Philadelphia already has an extremely crowded front court and a major need for help on the wing. Simmons' complete lack of an outsider jumper means he's more of a power forward than a small forward.
  • Simmons' projects as a playmaking four ... and the Sixers already used a lottery pick on a similar player a couple years ago in Dario Saric, who could make his NBA debut next season. If the Sixers go with Simmons, they likely have to move multiple recent lottery picks to address their needs on the wing and in the backcourt.
  • The Sixers need shooters in the worst way. Philadelphia is No. 11 in three-point attempts per game but No. 24 in three-point percentage at 33.6. Shooting might be the strongest part of Ingram's game right now.
It still feels like most teams would take Simmons at No. 1 overall, but the Sixers could be an exception.

2. Los Angeles Lakers - PF Ben Simmons, LSU

Can Julius Randle and Simmons play together? It won't matter if the Australian is still on the board when the Lakers pick. The Lakers desperately need star power, and Simmons' combination of size, elite athleticism and special passing ability gives him the draft's highest ceiling. If he figures out that jumper, the sky is the limit.

3. Phoenix Suns - SF Jaylen Brown, Cal

This is where things get interesting. Phoenix has a top-five pick (Alex Len) and a big free agent contract (Tyson Chandler) invested in the front court. It has two high-priced point guards in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. The need for a wing gives Brown the edge here over players like Dragan Bender and Kris Dunn.

Brown is far from a finished product (he currently has 91 turnovers to 59 assists), but he has the ideal blend of size and athleticism for an NBA wing. He's starting to put it all together at Cal, and should be great in transition from the moment he enters the league. This is another player whose ceiling depends on his ability to figure out his jump shot.

4. Boston Celtics (from Nets) - PF Dragan Bender, Croatia

It will be easy to build up Bender as the next Kristaps Porzingis, but that really isn't a fair comparison. Porzingis is a better athlete, a better shooter and has five inches of length on Bender. That's OK. Bender is still a great prospect in his own right as a 7-footer who does a little of everything. Brad Stevens will find a way to bring out the best in him.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - PF Henry Ellenson, Marquette

This might seem a little high for Ellenson, but he would give the Wolves something they don't currently have on the roster: a stretch four next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Dunn and Ricky Rubio have similar skill sets, Gorgui Dieng fills the need for a traditional five (sorry Jakob Poeltl) and Zach LaVine makes the selection of Jamal Murray unnecessary.

Ellenson is a gifted scorer, a tremendous rebounder and is making strides with his three-point stroke. Paired with Towns, Minnesota would have a great young front court in place.

6. New Orleans Pelicans - SG Jamal Murray, Kentucky

Poeltl and Dunn continue to fall because New Orleans already has a point guard in Jrue Holiday and so much invested in the front court. What the Pelicans could use is a shooter and playmaker in the backcourt, which makes Murray a nice fit. New Orleans probably feels ready to move on from Eric Gordon, and Murray makes that possible. He's been on fire from three-point range in SEC play and looks like a lottery pick despite his athletic limitations.

7. Denver Nuggets - SG Timothe Luwawu, France

A power forward like Skal Labissiere or Ivan Rabb will be tempting here, but the NBA is becoming a wing's league and that gives Luwawu the edge. At 6'7 with a 6'11 wingspan, he has the size, athleticism and speed pro teams want out of a two-way wing. He'd give Denver plenty of lineup versatility alongside Will Barton and Danilo Gallinari.

8. Sacramento Kings - PG Kris Dunn, Providence

This would be the perfect fit for both the player and the team. With Rajon Rondo set to enter free agency, Sacramento could use another lead guard. Dunn isn't a great shooter, but he's a quality playmaker and defender with nice length. Watching Dunn operate the pick-and-roll with DeMarcus Cousins would be a lot of fun.

9. Milwaukee Bucks - C Jakob Poeltl, Utah

The Bucks have three great young wings as the foundation of the franchise. Now they need to complement them. Poeltl, an athletic center who can get it done on both ends of the court, would be a nice fit. Milwaukee has fallen from No. 2 to No. 22 in defensive efficiency, and Poeltl could help correct that. It's safe to say the Greg Monroe experiment hasn't gone as planned.

10. Toronto Raptors (from Knicks) - PF Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

Labissiere was supposed to compete with Simmons for the No. 1 pick, but his freshman season at Kentucky was disaster before the calendar turned to March. In his last two games, Labissiere has looked like the special prospect he was supposed to be. Toronto could use another active body in the front court, and there's still hope for Labissiere to turn into the LaMarcus Aldridge clone he was once expected to become.

11. Orlando Magic - PF Ivan Rabb, Cal

Orlando's post-Dwight Howard rebuild has produced a young starter at every position. What do you give a young team that has no glaring holes? We'll go with a potential super role player like Rabb, who can swing between either front court spot and provide athleticism, rebounding and finishing ability.

12. Utah Jazz - PG Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

Another perfect marriage of player and team. Utah badly needs a lead guard, and Jackson is a small but explosive lead point guard with a nice shooting stroke.

13. Phoenix Suns (from Wizards) - SG Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Valentine has improved his NBA stock more than any player in the country this year. He'll be a below average athlete for an NBA wing, but he's incredibly skilled. He's the first college player to ever average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists since the NCAA started tracking all of those stats. A great passer, shooter and creator, Valentine just makes everyone better.

14. Detroit Pistons - SG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Stan Van Gundy appears to have his starting lineup in place, but he could always use another shooter. Hield has had an incredible senior season for Oklahoma and might have the best pure outside stroke in this draft.

15. Denver Nuggets (from Rockets) - PF Deyonta Davis, Michigan State

Houston loses this pick if they make the playoffs, so Denver is rooting for them to grab the No. 8 seed. Davis might need a couple years to develop, but he projects as an athletic two-way player in the front court who would give Denver similar energy to Kenneth Faried with a lot more defense.

16. Boston Celtics (from Mavs) - SF Taurean Prince, Baylor

At 6'7, 220 pounds, Prince can swing between the three and the four with the ability to knock down a three-pointer. Boston would like his versatility.

17. Chicago Bulls - SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey

Former first-round pick Tony Snell looks like a bust, Mike Dunleavy is turning 36 and Doug McDermott only shines on one end of the floor. Chicago could still use help on the wing. Korkmaz is a fluid 6'7 two guard with a nice offensive skill set who could rise into the lottery as the draft approaches.

18. Denver Nuggets - PG Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt

Yes, Denver already has its point guard of the future in Emmanuel Mudiay, but Baldwin's elite length (6'10 wingspan) allows him to either play alongside or backup Mudiay. The key is making sure his three-point percentage (43.6 percent) doesn't fall off.

19. Indiana Pacers - F Paul Zipser, Germany

Indiana is all-in on its new spread attack, but we already know Paul George doesn't love playing the four. Indiana's objective should be finding someone who can take that burden away from him while still being able to stretch the floor. At 6'8 with a nice shooting stroke, Zipser could do the job.

20. Charlotte Hornets - SG Grayson Allen, Duke

Allen fits the type Charlotte usually targets in the draft as a super productive player from a major school. He's a great athlete and a 42 percent three-point shooter on a high volume of attempts. It's fair to worry about his ability to finish over length at the next level.

21. Atlanta Hawks - C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

Al Horford is about to enter free agency, and Jones would be a solid contingency plan. He has all the tools NBA teams look for in an center, he just needs to put it all together more consistently.

22. Philadelphia Sixers (from Heat) - PG Gary Payton II, Oregon State

GPII didn't always look like a future NBA player, but he's become one of the best two-way guards in the country as a senior at Oregon State. For a Sixers team that feels like it's eternally in search of help at point guard, he'd be a good fit.

23. Memphis Grizzlies - SG Isaia Cordinier, France

Here's a sentence you could type for the last five years: the Grizzlies need shooting. Cordinier is a shooter. Easy as that.

24. Boston Celtics - C Cheick Diallo, Kansas

Diallo could be the steal of the draft. He's been buried on Kansas' bench all year but there's a reason he was a consensus top-10 recruit entering this season. He's very long, very fast and has a developing offensive game. My comparison: Nerlens Noel with a higher offensive ceiling.

25. Los Angeles Clippers - SG Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

Brogdon is a tremendous defender blessed with long arms who has led Virginia in scoring three years in a row. He could be another steal.

26. Toronto Raptors - SG Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Newman's freshman season didn't go as hoped, but again: there's a reason he was a blue chip recruit. He's undersized for a two-guard, but he's a pure shooter who could draw comparisons to someone like Ben Gordon. Imagine if he stayed in school four years like Buddy Hield.

27. Philadelphia Sixers - F Juan Hernangomez, Spain

Described as "the revelation of the Spanish League", Hernangomez can swing between forward positions at 6'9, 220 pounds and fill it up from all over the court.

28. Phoenix Suns (from Cavs) - C Diamond Stone, Maryland

Stone is a great post scorer who has some similarities to Jahlil Okafor. He could go much higher than this, but slow-footed centers who aren't great on defense bring their own set of problems. This would be a great value pick for Phoenix.

29. San Antonio Spurs - PG Monte Morris, Iowa State

No one in college basketball takes better care of the ball than Morris. He'll fit right in with the Spurs.

30. Golden State Warriors - SF Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida

Golden State gets all of the shooters.

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