The 2017 NBA draft had a lot to live up to. From the moment the 2016 draft ended, the hype started to build for next year’s crop of talent. Now only three weeks away from the lottery, it’s fair to wonder what we really know about this draft.
Washington freshman Markelle Fultz has emerged the consensus pick at No. 1. Fultz leads a strong crop of guards, with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina of France all projected to go in the lottery.
Ball has become the draft’s biggest name and most polarizing talent. He’s a transcendent passer with superior basketball IQ, but there are real questions about his ability to create offense in halfcourt settings. The NBA team that lands him would be wise to mimic how UCLA constructed its roster around his gifts.
The last variable left is the lottery, which will be held on May 16. Until then, we’re randomizing the order using ESPN’s lottery machine.
1. Philadelphia 76ers — Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
Throw a parade for Sam Hinkie, dress the Rocky statue in a Sixers jersey and send Markelle Fultz a cheesesteak. Getting the No. 1 pick and the Lakers’ pick (more on that later) is the dream scenario for the Sixers and it represents, at long last, the end of The Process.
Joel Embiid has proven he’s going to be a superstar if he can stay healthy. Ben Simmons has that type of ceiling, too. Adding Fultz could give Philadelphia a homegrown big three that would potentially be on par with what the Warriors once built by drafting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Fultz — at 6’5, with elite scoring instincts out of the pick-and-roll and a sweet jumper — would be a cornerstone anywhere else. In Philly, he could just be another piece of the puzzle for the team with the league’s brightest long-term future.
2. New Orleans Pelicans — Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
The Pelicans sit at No. 10 in the lottery standings with just a 1.1 percent shot at landing the top pick. If their pick doesn’t land in the top three, it goes to the Kings as payment for the DeMarcus Cousins trade. It would take a miracle for New Orleans to make this selection, but Lonzo Ball would be a perfect fit if it happens.
Anthony Davis and Cousins deserve a point guard with special vision and passing instincts. Ball would help supercharge an offense that finished No. 26 in efficiency this season. Find a couple shooters on the wings and the Pelicans could turn their fortunes around quickly.
3. New York Knicks — Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
The Knicks would simultaneously be bummed to see Fultz and Ball off the board and thrilled to jump up from No. 7 to No. 3. The next best thing to a franchise point guard is a young two-way wing like Jackson. He can set the tone defensively and also give the Knicks someone to attack the rim when they have the ball. If he continues to grow as a ball handler and passer, Jackson could be a borderline All-Star talent.
4. Boston Celtics — Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
The Celtics showed how much they value two-way potential when they picked Jaylen Brown at No. 3 last year. Isaac would be another move in that direction. He has quick feet for a 6’11 forward and can hit a catch-and-shoot jumper. His defense should be a safe bet and his offense could make him a star if his skill set continues to develop as he gets older and stronger.
5. Phoenix Suns — Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Tatum is a professional scorer. His ceiling will depend on how he grows as a playmaker. He was considered to have potential as a creator on the grassroots circuit, but his numbers at Duke (76 turnovers, 62 assists) left a lot to be desired.
6. Philadelphia 76ers — Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
This would be an ideal situation for both the player and the team. Add Monk to a core with Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz, and suddenly Philly has an entire starting lineup of elite athletes who can create their own shot all over the floor. The rest of the NBA will officially be put on notice if this happens.
7. Orlando Magic — De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
The Magic have been incredibly stale since the Dwight Howard trade in 2012. Fox could change that. He plays both ends of the floor as hard as anyone in this draft. He’ll be one of the fastest players in the league for the moment he plays his first game. He also just has a way of making winning plays. That’s been missing from the Magic for years.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves — Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Markkanen is a special shooter at 7 feet tall. He has a quick release and can score in the pick-and-pop or running off a screen. Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine will appreciate the driving lanes.
9. Sacramento Kings — Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Failing to get the Pelicans’ pick after trading Cousins would be a disaster for the Kings. On the bright side, Smith is a potential top-five talent who fills their biggest position of need. The explosive 6’2 guard has drawn comparisons to Eric Bledsoe.
10. Dallas Mavericks — Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
Ntilikina is an 18-year-old point guard who projects as a versatile defender and capable spot-up shooter. It feels like Dallas has been looking for a point guard since the heyday of Jason Kidd. Ntilikina has the potential to grow into the role.
11. Charlotte Hornets — D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan
Wilson is currently projected to go No. 34 on DraftExpress, so yes, this is the most ambitious projection of this mock. But hear me out: Zach Collins feels redundant with Cody Zeller on the roster, as does OG Anunoby with Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist already entrenched. Wilson offers a rare combination of shooting and shot blocking in an athletic 6’10, 240-pound frame. He could be a riser after the combine.
12. Detroit Pistons — Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
The Pistons are in no position to pass on the best talent available. Collins offers two-way potential at the five, and could even become a match next to Andre Drummond if he continues to develop his jump shot.
13. Denver Nuggets — OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
Denver drafted a pair of scoring guards in the first round last year in Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley. Anunoby would give them a versatile defensive complement who could switch screens and check big wings. He tore his ACL in January and his offensive skill set is unrefined, but he projects as the best defender in this class when he’s healthy.
14. Miami Heat — Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Allen was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American who flew under the radar a bit at Texas. That’s mostly because the Longhorns fell way short of preseason expectations and finished just 11-22. Allen’s combination of length (7’5.5 wingspan) and foot speed makes him worth the investment at this point for Miami.
15. Portland Trail Blazers — Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide (NBL)
Ferguson committed to play for Sean Miller at Arizona before opting to turn pro in Australia. He put up an underwhelming statistical year in the NBL, but he has the tools to be drafted in the top 20. The 6’7 wing is an explosive athlete who can stroke three-pointers. His ultimate success in the league will be determined by his defense.
16. Chicago Bulls — Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
The Bulls have a type in the draft. They prefer college veterans to one-and-dones. They value winning pedigrees. The same formula that led Chicago to Denzel Valentine last year could attract them to Justin Jackson, who broke out as a shooter and scorer in his junior year at UNC.
17. Milwaukee Bucks — Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton blossomed into one of the best two-way centers in the country as a redshirt freshman at Creighton this season. He shot 67.6 percent from the field, but his best value comes on defense. He’d be another long, quick athlete for the Bucks’ fleet.
18. Indiana Pacers — Harry Giles, PF/C, Duke
Giles was projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick coming into this season before more knee trouble slowed him down in his only season at Duke. He’s essentially a medical decision at this point. If he can get back to the form he showed as a recruit and stay healthy, Indiana could have a major steal here.
19. Hawks — John Collins, PF/C, Wake Forest
Collins is a great scorer and rebounder with question marks defensively. Atlanta could use another young big man to groom behind Dwight Howard.
20. Blazers — Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany
Hartenstein is a big body (7’1, 250 pounds) who moves well and plays hard. If his face-up game comes around, he’s going to be a problem.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder — Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia
Kurucs is a 6’8 wing who can do a little bit of everything on the court. He’s a draft-and-stash option who could one day grow into a contributor at a premium position.
22. Brooklyn Nets — Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
Anigbogu was UCLA’s other-other freshman. He’s a springy 6’10 center whose best value comes from blocking shots and catching lobs. He’s drawn comparisons to Rockets center Clint Capela.
23. Toronto Raptors — T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Everyone thinks of a Leaf as a shooter, but he only hit 27 threes (at 46.6 percent) all season. More than anything, he’s a scorer. He led UCLA with 16.3 points per game this and is also capable of doing this:
24. Utah Jazz — Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
If Mitchell decides to go back to school, he could vault Louisville to the top five in the preseason polls. There’s also the chance some team falls in love with his elite athleticism at the draft combine and he gets a spot in the late first.
25. Orlando Magic — Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
He can shoot the ball from three and won’t back down on the glass. The Magic front court has needed a floor spacer for years and he can fill that role.
26. Portland Trail Blazers — Kostja Mushidi, SG, Belgium
The 6’5 Mushidi impressed at the Nike Hoop Summit by knocking down threes and creating his own offense in the halfcourt.
27. Brooklyn Nets — Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State
Morris is a Pure Point Guard in every sense. He set records for assist-to-turnover ratio in his four-year career at Iowa State and also grew into a dependable scorer.
28. Los Angeles Lakers — Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
Rabb regressed a bit as a sophomore at Cal, but he still projects as a quality role player with good touch around the basket and the foot speed to stay with guards.
29. San Antonio Spurs — Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Kennard is an elite shooter who can score all over the court. He could go 10 spots higher than this. It would be extremely Spurs if he fell this far.
30. Utah Jazz — Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
Swanigan led college basketball in double-doubles this season and also developed into a really good three-point shooter. Your pie-in-the-sky NBA comp here is Kevin Love.