The golden rule in the NBA scouting community is never overreact to a single game. Evaluations should be made not just over the course of one night or even one season, but as many years as possible. This is why events like the Nike Hoops Summit have become marquee scouting destinations: the sooner you can start constructing the picture of a prospect, the better.
Want another scouting best practice? Games that pit elite talents against each other matter more. It’s at the intersection of those two rules that we present a new mock draft in the wake of De’Aaron Fox’s thorough dismantling of Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16.
Fox didn’t just outplay Ball, he buried him: 39 points on 20 shots with the season on the line. For his part, Ball finished with 10 points and eight assists and rarely looked special.
Yes, Ball drops a couple spots from last week, but we’re also still taking the long view into account. I have been writing about this class of freshmen since they were juniors in high school, and I’m linking all of my old work in here. We’ll begin with my first mock draft for this class, from the day after the 2016 NBA draft:
The 2017 NBA draft should be loaded. It's not too early to get excited, from June 24, 2016.
1) Boston Celtics - Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
The only way Fultz was losing his stronghold on No. 1 in this draft was if Lonzo Ball led UCLA on an inspired run all the way through the tournament. Markelle, how do you feel about the Bruins’ Sweet 16 loss?
— Markelle Fultz (@MarkelleF) March 25, 2017
Fultz as the first pick might be the only thing close to a consensus at this point in the draft process. Think of him as the Karl-Anthony Towns of guards: great positional size, no apparent holes in his game, and appears to be everything you want in the future face of a franchise. Just think: three years ago, he couldn’t even make varsity at DeMatha Catholic as a high school sophomore. It’s been a wild ride for Fultz, and it’s just getting started.
Markelle Fultz should have NBA scouts giddy after destroying U18 FIBA Americas, from July 27, 2016.
2) Los Angeles Lakers - Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
The truth is that Ball was never the consensus pick at No. 2. Jackson is just as worthy of consideration in this spot.
The tiebreaker goes to fit: the Lakers already have two quality young guards in D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. L.A. could use a versatile forward who sets the tone defensively and raises the team’s floor athletically. In that regard, Jackson is a great fit.
The Kansas freshman also went out with a whimper in the Elite Eight, but he was brilliant in the NCAA tournament before that. He’d be a great complement for Brandon Ingram’s length and shooting ability at the opposite forward position. NBA teams will have to investigate his troublesome episode where he allegedly attacked a teammate’s ex-girlfriend’s car.
Josh Jackson is the blue-chip recruit who could be a college superstar right now, from Oct. 6, 2015.
3) Phoenix Suns - Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State
Surprise! There’s a pick that shocks everyone in just about every NBA draft. Why not try to predict it?
The Suns already have Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Tyler Ulis, so they don’t really need Ball here. What Phoenix could use is a hybrid forward with shooting ability and a high defensive ceiling. Isaac is raw, but so were Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. It’s worth taking a gamble on his upside in this spot.
4) New York Knicks - Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
It’s not an overreaction to say that Fox exposed Ball to some degree. Ball struggled to contain his elite speed on defense and had trouble creating his own offense when he had the ball.
Still, Ball goes over Fox here because of his vision, feel, and shooting ability. Imagine Kristaps Porzingis with a truly special passer. This would make Madison Square Garden the place to be.
Basketball has never seen a player like superstar recruit Lonzo Ball, from March 31, 2016.
5) Orlando Magic - De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Is Elfrid Payton good enough to bypass taking Fox here? I’m gonna say no. Like Payton, the question with Fox is his jump shot, but he brings so much else to the table that he’s worth taking here.
Fox will immediately be among the NBA’s fastest players. He projects as a killer in transition, a quality defender, and a good playmaker. Ask Lonzo how talented he is.
Tall point guards are the future of basketball, from July 17, 2015
6) Philadelphia 76ers - Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
Monk to Philadelphia is so obvious that I’m tempted to stay away from it (I had Isaac here last week). It’s hard to deny the fit, though. With Ben Simmons at the controls, the Sixers need athletes and shot makers around him. Monk is exactly that.
Kentucky’s Elite Eight loss to North Carolina gave us a peek at the full Monk experience: He went 15 minutes in the second half without scoring, then hit two amazing threes to tie the game before Luke Maye’s buzzer-beater. He’s a joy to watch.
5-star recruit Malik Monk wants to be more than a mixtape legend, from July 21, 2015.
A man’s world: the birth and evolution of Brand Malik, from July 29, 2015, by Evin Demirel
7) Sacramento Kings - Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Smooth, polished, and versatile, Tatum is the type of big wing every NBA team needs right now. He probably won’t fall this far, but the Kings deserve to catch a break at some point this century.
5-star recruit Jayson Tatum has the basketball world in the palm of his hand, from June 9, 2015.
8) Minnesota Timberwolves - Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Markkanen is going to be an extremely interesting test case in this draft. On one hand, shooting has never been more valuable, and Markkanen provides potentially elite shooting as a 7-footer. On the other, he’s a major question mark defensively and doesn’t rebound much.
I had him pegged to the Wolves last week too, and I still like the idea of a Towns-Markkanen front court. If he turns into bigger Ryan Anderson, that’s still a pretty great player.
9) Sacramento Kings - Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Again, ideal scenario for the Kings: First they get a top talent on the wing, then one of the best point guards available. Smith could very well go in the top five, but someone has to fall.
In lieu of more prescient analysis, here’s a sick dunk he threw down as the exclamation point in a win over Duke:
That's it for Mark Gottfried and also Dennis Smith Jr. We hardly knew you: pic.twitter.com/uwsv079ICb— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) March 7, 2017
10) Dallas Mavericks - Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
The 18-year-old is a 6’5 guard who projects as a potential 3-and-D guy. The Mavericks will take it.
11) Charlotte Hornets - Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State
Miles Bridges is a human highlight reel. Don’t believe me? Here’s his highlight reel:
5-star wing Miles Bridges has John Calipari and Tom Izzo fighting over him, from June 16, 2015.
How Draymond Green sparked Michigan State's best recruiting class ever, from March 30, 2016.
12) Detroit Pistons - Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
The best NBA prospect at the Final Four is Jackson, a junior who needed three years to improve his three-point shot and unlock his NBA potential. Jackson has made 101 threes this year at a 38 percent clip. His first two years he combined to make 63 at about a 29.7 percent rate.
Justin Jackson has grown into the star North Carolina was waiting for, from Feb. 9, 2017.
13) Chicago Bulls - Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
If the Bulls are serious about letting Jimmy Butler run the show as the de facto point guard, Mitchell would be a nice fit next to him. He could defend opposing points, act as a secondary handler, and inject some desperately needed athleticism into an old and slow roster.
Donovan Mitchell has grown into the star guard every great Louisville team needs, from March 8, 2017.
14) Denver Nuggets - OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
When Anunoby was healthy, Indiana beat North Carolina and Kansas and briefly looked like a Final Four contender. When he tore his ACL in January, the Hoosiers lost 10 of 15 to close the year and ended up firing Tom Crean. Anunoby still has a long road ahead offensively, but he’s a potentially special defender who could play four (five?) positions if he reaches his ceiling.
How OG Anunoby went from an undiscovered recruit to a March Madness sensation, from March 23, 2016.
15) Miami Heat - Harry Giles, PF, Duke
Giles tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus going into his sophomore year of high school. He tore the ACL in the other knee during the first minute of the first game in his senior year of high school.
There was a time when Giles was the top recruit in the country and touted as a possible No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. Injuries prevented him from looking like that type of player as a freshman at Duke. If doctors determine his knees aren’t a huge injury risk going forward, he’s worth a gamble in the middle of the first round.
16) Portland Trail Blazers - Rodions Kurucs, SG, Barcelona II
Portland could use a big wing with shooting ability, and Kurucs supposedly fits the bill.
17) Atlanta Hawks - Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
Collins was once the third-string center at Bishop Gorman High School behind transferring Duke big man Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman of the Orlando Magic. It’s becoming obvious he’s the best player of the three at this point. He’ll have one of the most interesting stay-or-go decisions in this class. With the Zags in the Final Four, he might get enough of a publicity boost to test the waters.
18) Milwaukee Bucks - Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide (NBL)
Ferguson is this year’s former five-star recruit who chose to play professionally instead of going to college. He’s a high-level athlete and a good three-point shooter who reminds me of Terrence Ross. Arizona could have used him against Xavier in the Sweet 16.
19) Indiana Pacers - Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Kennard profiles as an elite three-point shooter. He was one of the most efficient scorers in the country this season.
Luke Kennard saved Duke's season by emerging as a superstar, from Feb. 22, 2017.
20) Portland Trail Blazers - Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
An efficient scorer around the rim whose biggest questions will come at the defensive end. He probably wishes he would have declared for the draft last year as a possible lottery pick.
Robert Williams, if you’re reading this, there’s still time!
21) Oklahoma City Thunder - Wesley Iwundu, SF, Kansas State
Iwundu will make his money on the defensive end, but he’s also a good passer and a capable ball handler. If he turns into even an average shooter, he could be a major sleeper.
22) Toronto Raptors - Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany
DraftExpress says the German 7-footer “has a big frame, is extremely fluid and skillful creating his own shot from the perimeter." Sounds good to me. He’ll probably go higher than this.
23) Utah Jazz - Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU
Strong forward who can score from all three levels. He can also do this:
24) Orlando Magic - Jaron Blossomgame, SG, Clemson
A potential 3-and-D guy for a team that needs them.
25) Brooklyn Nets - Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
Lydon is a stretch four who is tougher than he looks. He’s one of my favorite sleepers in the late first round.
26) Brooklyn Nets - John Collins, C, Wake Forest
Collins put up huge numbers as a sophomore at Wake Forest under Danny Manning. There are serious questions about his defensive ability, but he’s worth the risk for the Nets at this point.
27) Portland Trail Blazers - Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
If there’s one pie-in-the-sky comp I want to believe in, it’s Swanigan as Kevin Love. He led the country in double-doubles this year and quietly turned into a 45 percent three-point shooter. Long love Biggie.
28) Los Angeles Lakers - T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Profiles as a stretch four who will need to get a lot tougher defensively.
29) San Antonio Spurs - Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State
A great four year college player who lacks top athleticism but rarely makes mistakes and is a capable shooter. This is an incredible stat:
Monte Morris, Iowa State, career 748 assists 157 Turnovers.— Andrew Mitchell (@DruMitchell33) March 12, 2017
30) Utah Jazz - Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky
Big, strong, and athletic, Bam could find a niche as a roll man in the league.