The Los Angeles Lakers have every incentive to lose right now. Instead, Luke Walton’s team keeps winning with blatant disregard for its lottery chances.
The Lakers won their fourth straight game on Sunday night when D’Angelo Russell beat the Minnesota Timberwolves at the buzzer. This recent streak dropped their odds of winning the lottery from a 19.9 percent to 15.6 percent. L.A.’s pick goes to the Philadelphia 76ers if it lands outside the top-three. If that happens, the Lakers also owe their 2019 first-rounder to the Orlando Magic.
If the Lakers do land in the top-three, they get to keep both picks.
The future of the league’s premier franchise is directly tied to the whim of ping-pong balls. We know the NBA hates tanking, and the Lakers haven’t done it in spite of their best interests. Will they be rewarded for their competitive spirit?
In this mock draft, they are. The order here was determined by ESPN’s lottery machine, and it landed the Lakers at No. 1 on the first spin. Just for fun, I replayed it a second time, and the Hornets got the top pick with just a 0.7 percent chance. The Lakers, meanwhile, lost both picks by finishing No. 5.
1. Los Angeles Lakers - Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
The dream scenario for the Lakers would set up a fascinating decision at No. 1: Consensus pick Markelle Fultz vs. hometown hero Lonzo Ball. ESPN actually has the Lakers taking Ball in this scenario. The smart money is still on the allure of Fultz being too much to pass on.
Fultz has no apparent weaknesses in his game. He has great size, shoots well from the outside, thrives in the pick-and-roll, and is capable of making game-changing plays on defense. Just check out our compilation of his best chase-down blocks from earlier this year:
2. Boston Celtics - Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
The Celtics don’t have a guard on the roster with Ball’s combination of size, shooting, and elite basketball IQ. He would be able to play with Isaiah Thomas or run the show when Thomas is on the bench.
Josh Jackson wouldn’t be a bad option, either. Boston hit on Jaylen Brown a year ago, and Jackson would let them go all-in on athletic, two-way wings. Ball’s shooting ability gives him the tie-breaker.
3. Philadelphia 76ers - Josh Jackson, SF, Philadelphia
Yes, the Sixers need shooters if Ben Simmons is going to be their primary creator. Yes, shooting is still the biggest hole in Jackson’s skill set even after a hot stretch to close the year boosted his three-point percentage to a respectable 37.8 percent. Jackson simply brings too much else to the table at a position of need for Philly to pass on him.
The Sixers defense improved from No. 25 to No. 15 this season, and adding Jackson would be another step towards becoming an elite defensive team. He has the athleticism to get out in transition and run with Simmons. His passing ability will help him play with two other stars, too. NBA teams will have to investigate a troubling episode where he allegedly attacked a teammate’s ex-girlfriend’s car.
4. Phoenix Suns - Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Tatum was just starting to hit a groove when Duke was upset by South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He was the best player in the ACC tournament — scoring 19 or more in every game during the Blue Devils’ title run. As a former top recruit, NBA scouts have been tracking him for years. For the most part, he lived up to the hype as a college freshman.
5. Orlando Magic - Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
The Magic have lacked an identity since trading Dwight Howard in 2013. Smith could change that. At his best, Smith is the type of lead guard who looks like he’s shot out of a cannon. Strong, fast, and explosive around the rim, he could give Orlando the jolt it’s been seeking for years.
6. New York Knicks - De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Throw the Triangle in the trash and let De’Aaron Fox run wild. The Kentucky point guard is the fastest player in this draft. He has the potential to be one of the best defenders and playmakers, too. His three-point shot is an obvious flaw, but he proved capable of putting up big numbers without one. His dominance of Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16 was arguably the most impressive individual performance of the season.
7. Sacramento Kings - Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State
If the Kings kept DeMarcus Cousins, there was a good chance their first-rounder would have gone to the Chicago Bulls as a pick falling outside the top 10. Instead, Sacramento will have two top-10 picks it badly needs to nail to rejuvenate the franchise post-Boogie.
Isaac would be a great start. The 6’11 wing has quick feet and a developing three-point stroke. He projects as a super role player with the potential to grow into something even more.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves - Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
The Wolves have a lottery pick at point guard (two, actually), shooting guard, small forward, and center. All they’re missing is a power forward. Markkanen is a 7-footer who doubles as one of the draft’s best shooters. He could provide necessary driving lanes for Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine while Karl-Anthony Towns helps him out on the defensive end.
9. Dallas Mavericks - Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
Monk runs hot and cold, but when he’s on he’s arguably the most electric scorer in this class. His 47-point performance against North Carolina — aided by eight three-pointers — stands out as one of the highlights of the college season. Dallas has plenty of minutes available in the backcourt and could even start to groom Monk as a point guard for down the road.
10. Sacramento Kings - Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
The Kings go to France for an 18-year-old point guard who looks like he could project as a 3-&-D prospect in the vein of George Hill or Patrick Beverley. Pairing him with Isaac in the top 10 would give the Kings length and athleticism at two positions of need.
11. Charlotte Hornets - Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State
What is Miles Bridges in the NBA? Is he reliable enough on both ends to be a 3-&-D wing? At 6’6, is he big enough to be a small-ball four? Some team in the lottery will look at his elite athleticism and bet he can figure it out either way. Bridges should be one of the best dunkers in the league the minute he enters it.
12. Detroit Pistons - Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
Collins was thought to be on the fence about returning to school before Gonzaga’s run to the championship game. Now he’s a likely lottery pick if he decides to come out. His six blocks against South Carolina in the Final Four showed his defensive potential. On offense, he’s a developing shooter and capable post scorer.
13. Denver Nuggets - OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
It’s going to take a leap of faith for someone to draft OG Anunoby after his ACL tear in January. The Nuggets are in prime position to make it. Denver drafted a pair of scoring guards last year in Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley. They have a superstar at center in Nikola Jokic. What Denver needs now is a versatile athlete who can defend multiple positions and cover up mistakes. Anunoby could be that type of player.
14. Miami Heat - Harry Giles, C, Duke
The Heat’s training staff is one of the best in the league. That could make them willing to roll the dice on Giles, the former top recruit who was slowed down by repeated knee injuries in his one year at Duke. If Giles can stay healthy, he could be a major steal at this point in the draft.
15. Chicago Bulls - Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
Jackson fits the mold of the type of player the Bulls like. He’s a college veteran who grew as a shooter in his junior year and was the catalyst for North Carolina’s run to the national championship. He’ll need to prove his three-point shot is for real and that he can defend stronger, more athletic wings at the next level.
16. Portland Trail Blazers - Kostja Mushidi, SG, Belgium
Mushidi looked great at the Nike Hoop Summit last week, lighting it up from three-point range and showing an ability to create off the dribble. It seems like there’s a top pick from Mega Leks every year and he gets the honor in this draft.
17. Indiana Pacers - Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide (NBL)
Ferguson had a rough year playing professionally in Australia, but he’ll get drafted somewhere around here because of his athleticism and shooting ability. T-Ferg hit 7 of 11 threes in last year’s Nike Hoop Summit and can also windmill from the free throw line. Here’s proof:
18. Milwaukee Bucks - D.J. Wilson, PF/C, Michigan
No one has Wilson rated this highly, but that didn’t stop the Bucks from drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker. At 6’10, 240 pounds, Wilson hit 41 threes (at 37.5 percent) and blocked 51 shots for Michigan as a junior. If Milwaukee is looking for an insurance policy for Jabari Parker, Wilson might be worth a shot.
19. Atlanta Hawks - Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
The Hawks are in prime position to develop a young center with Dwight Howard having two years left on his contract. Jarrett Allen gets the edge here over Creighton’s Justin Patton and Wake Forest’s John Collins because he projects as the best two-way player of the three. Allen is raw, but it’s hard to find a young big man with his combination of quickness and length.
20. Portland Trail Blazers - Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C, Germany
NBA scouts got a good look at Hartenstein at last week’s Nike Hoop Summit, where he finished with 10 points in the game. He’s a big body with a developing face-up game.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder - John Collins, PF/C, Wake Forest
Collins is a super-efficient scorer around the rim who could give the Thunder a cheaper alternative to Enes Kanter.
22. Brooklyn Nets - Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
Rabb was supposed to be one of the best players in the country as a sophomore. Instead, his numbers barely rose from his freshman year while his shooting percentage tanked. It’s hard to know what to make of him in this draft, but a spot in the 20s feels fair.
23. Utah Jazz - Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
Mitchell has one of the most difficult stay-or-go decisions in this draft. If he comes back, Louisville could be the preseason No. 1 with championship aspirations. NBA teams might fall in love with his athleticism at the draft combine, too. This is one to monitor.
24. Toronto Raptors - Rodions Kurucs, SG, Barcelona II
A draft-and-stash option who could potentially turn into a 6’8 wing shooter.
25. Orlando Magic - Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
When everyone expected Grayson Allen to be the best player in America, he wasn’t even the best shooting guard on his team. Kennard is an assassin scorer who will find a role in the league as a shooter.
26. Brooklyn Nets - Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State
The Assist-to-Turnover Ratio Gawd was a beloved figure in college basketball. Nets fans should like him, too.
27. Portland Trail Blazers - T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Lonzo Ball got all of the attention for UCLA this year, but Leaf quietly led the Bruins in scoring. Portland could use a frontcourt shooter.
28. Los Angeles Lakers - Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
Lydon can really shoot the ball and he’s also a feisty rebounder. The sophomore would be a good value in this spot.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton is late blooming center who turned into a potential first-rounder after a redshirt season. He moves well for a big man and should make defense his calling card.
30. Utah Jazz - Bonzie Colson, PF, Notre Dame
Colson makes up for his lack of height (6’5) with a 7-foot wingspan and 43 percent shooting from deep. He’s a high IQ player who dominated the ACC this year. It wouldn’t surprise anyone who watched him at Notre Dame if he carved out a role in the league.