There’s always a shocker or two high in the NBA draft.
Some years, it’s Anthony Bennett going No. 1 overall due to injury concerns for higher-rated prospects. Some years, it’s a team trading out of a top-five slot to gain multiple picks or a veteran player. Relatively unknown players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, and Georgios Papagiannis go much higher than expected. Better-known prospects like Deyonta Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Kevon Looney end up hanging out in the green room for way too long.
Mock drafts tend to coalesce around some truths as workout season wears on: There is a finite set of players almost everyone will have in their top 10, for example. But on draft night, something goes wacky. Chaos slips its way into the order, and teams start making surprising and weird decisions (some of which pan out).
This is our attempt to discern what could go wacky in the 2017 NBA draft. What if what we thought we knew is wrong?
1. Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
Well, we all think we know the Celtics will pick Fultz, and this is almost assuredly not wrong. Fultz is, by all accounts, the single best prospect available. He checks every physical box, he checks every skill box, and he seems to be a good kid. It’s a bonus that he has an existing relationship with Isaiah Thomas, who he will be drafted to co-star with or supplant, depending on your vision for Boston’s future.
Could chaos strike the No. 1 pick? Some would suggest a trade — for Paul George or Jimmy Butler — could unleash holy hell on the top of the draft. But those teams would almost assuredly pick Fultz, too. In theory, the Celtics’ brain trust could fall in love with Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, or another prospect. But the player everyone thinks will go No. 1 most of the year usually goes No. 1, including seven out of the past eight top picks (everyone but Bennett).
2. L.A. Lakers: De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Here’s the chaos.
Many of us are presuming the Lakers will pick Lonzo Ball at No. 2. Perhaps they will. This has been suggested as some sort of destiny (including by yours truly) given Ball’s SoCal roots, his family’s deep interest in landing with the Lakers, and the exciting style Ball plays that hearkens back to Showtime. It’s all very neat.
It’s all a little too neat.
The world isn’t that neat. Notice that nearly all of the Ball-to-the-Lakers energy we’re seeing is coming from the Ball side of the equation, not the Lakers’ side. Players can’t will themselves to be drafted by certain teams, no matter how many TV shows their fathers do.
What would be a greater brushback by the Basketball Gods than for Magic Johnson, in his first draft running the Lakers, to pick someone else?
By the way, Fox is quite possibly the better prospect here. He has better physical tools and, in case the good people of Southern California forgot, he dominated Ball in the tournament.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Jackson, F/G, Kansas
If the Lakers pass on Ball for Fox, the question becomes whether the Sixers immediately leap on Ball or stick with the prospect they likely would have talked themselves into at this point: Josh Jackson. Also key is determining how Ball would fit with (or not) a point-forward like Ben Simmons and a scoring big man like Joel Embiid. Philadelphia needs guards but wouldn’t want to neuter its two best assets in the process.
4. Phoenix Suns: Jayson Tatum, F, Duke
If the Lakers and Sixers pass on Ball, now we need to see how far he could fall. He won’t be working out for any teams this low — he’s apparently only working out for L.A. and Philadelphia, not even Boston — but there’s plenty of tape on him from UCLA. The Suns’ front office is in a precarious position after the weirdness accidental rebuild before the current deep rebuild. Ball would have more upside than anyone, but perhaps Phoenix — which already has backcourt studs Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker — goes with the surer bet at a need position.
5. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
Surely the Kings would take Ball if available ... right? Well, maybe. Or maybe they’d fill a crucial, gaping hole for a defensive-first wing with excellent physical tools and lots of upside. Sacramento appears to be setting up to nab Fox if he’s available; perhaps that focus on Fox convinces them Ball is more hype than reality, since Fox vs. Ball appears to be a polarizing debate in draft circles.
6. Orlando Magic: Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
The Magic have hired Jeff Weltman and John Hammond to run the front office. Weltman worked under Masai Ujiri in Toronto, and Hammond has been enamored with international prospects in Milwaukee. On paper, the French point guard Ntilikina looks like a potential star. He can shoot the lights out and has good defensive size.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Lauri Markkanen, PF/C, Arizona
Ball would be an interesting fit in Minnesota, but Tom Thibodeau picked Kris Dunn a year ago. A better bet might be the perfect front-court pal for Karl-Anthony Towns in the modern NBA: A legit 7-footer who can shoot from anywhere on the floor.
8. New York Knicks: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
Finally, Lonzo Ball finds a home in the chaos draft! LaVar Ball and Phil Jackson deserve each other.
Jokes aside, this could be a wonderful fit in the short and long terms. Carmelo Anthony hasn’t historically fit with ball-dominant guards, but one presumes Ball will take some time to adjust to NBA speed and physical demands, which should give Melo plenty of offensive opportunity in the short term. Giving Kristaps Porzingis a generous guard who also stretches the floor would be a lovely gift.
More than all that, the Knicks deserves an exciting point guard for the first time since 1990-never. The city that gave us Linsanity for an all-too-brief spell would go nuts over Lonzo.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
Rudy Gobert has made 7’2 French centers cool again. While the league is largely eschewing big men and valuing shooting over all else, having a game-changing defensive anchor is still critical. We also may overrate the Mavericks’ need to pick up a high-end point guard in the lottery. Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry are pretty good.
Jeanne is a both a tremendous sleeper option and a top candidate to completely disappear for the last three weeks of workout season as some team makes a promise.
10. Sacramento Kings: Dennis Smith, PG, N.C. State
If the Kings pass up a point guard at No. 5, there might be one left at No. 10, whether it be Smith or Ntilikina. Is it wrong that Smith reminds me of Monta Ellis? The Kings have been trying to sign Monta Ellis for years, so ...
11. Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
While we’re comparing prospects to mercurial guards, Monk reminds me of J.R. Smith without the shoelace-untying, NC-17 Twitter photo urges. He’s a ball of fire who lashes out with buckets at the right time, but can otherwise blend in a little bit.
12. Detroit Pistons: Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
Anigbogu should go higher than his UCLA teammate T.J. Leaf. Jeanne has the best length in the draft class, but Anigbogu is up in the top 10, and Stan Van Gundy loves hard workers who don’t demand the ball.
13. Denver Nuggets: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Something my colleague Ricky O’Donnell has wondered is how all these danged big men in the 2017 draft will shake out given the league’s move toward the perimeter. My theory is that this shift is already baked into our read of the draft class. In other words, in the old, pre-Warriors and Rockets NBA, Allen — a long 7-footer with scoring touch — would be an easy top-five pick. That he might not get chosen in the lottery reflects the league’s changing value of talented big men.
The right big men — those who can stretch like Markkanen or those who can defend the rim and perimeter like Jeanne and, in theory. Allen — still have lots of value in the modern NBA.
14. Miami Heat: Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Latvia
Is Pasecniks that sort of big man? It’s hard to say. Porzingis’s countryman is a 7’2 rim-runner who has shown an outside stroke in limited opportunities. He’s a bit on the old side for a lottery pick at 21, but the Heat appear to be building for the near-term unlike most teams down here.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: Ivan Rabb, PF/C, Cal
The Blazers have three picks in the first round: Nos. 15, 20, and 26. They do not have a ton of roster spots, so chances are there will be some sort of trade and/or stash pick. Outside of that, this might be a good spot for Rabb, who went back to Cal and suffered for it. Rabb has tools Portland could use, and the Blazers have shown an affinity for Cal products (Allen Crabbe) and Oakland natives (Damian Lillard). What is a mock draft if not a reading of irrelevant tea leaves?
16. Chicago Bulls: OG Anunoby, F, Indiana
The Bulls love grinders, and no one in the draft grinds like Anunoby, who is perhaps the top wing defender prospect outside of Isaac. Anunoby would also fit Chicago’s apparent desire to never sign a shooter again.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton, C, Creighton
The Bucks have lots of defensive talent. Patton is more of an old-school big man finisher who just gets buckets upon buckets. Patton’s too good to be a sleeper, but he could certainly pan out more quickly than most (if not all) of the bigs taken over him. It will be interesting to see where Patton goes in relation to Wake Forest’s John Collins and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins. Patton feels like a better bet.
18. Indiana Pacers: Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
Solid wings are always in demand, and Louisville’s Mitchell fits the bill on paper and in what we’ve seen of him. The big question mark is whether he can become a better long-range shooter in the faster, longer NBA. He hit 35% on six attempts per game as a sophomore. He needs to be better to stick in the NBA unless he becomes a lockdown defender (which would be a real stretch at his size).
19. Atlanta Hawks: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia
Ferguson has much better size than Mitchell, but NBA teams haven’t been super willing to spend high picks on Americans who spurn college basketball to play internationally. (Brandon Jennings, the best example, probably fell five picks because he played in Rome instead of Tucson. Emmanuel Mudiay appeared to slip after choosing China over a Big 12 school.)
But decision-makers probably will love that Ferguson went to Adelaide and fit into a role where he wasn’t the superstar. Players taken in the mid-first — even in a good year — aren’t immediate stars and may never become starters. Being able to find a role and excel within it is a big draw. Ferguson has, to some extent, proved he can do that.
20. Portland Trail Blazers: Tony Bradley, C, North Carolina
Here’s a big bet: Bradley will go before Justin Jackson, because upside still matters. The leading mocks have Bradley in the second round after his decision to leave Carolina as the school’s first one-and-done since Marvin Williams. But the fact that he left tells me he has first-round promise. It might as well be from a team with three first-round picks, as well as needs up front.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Harry Giles, C, Duke
Giles is the other eyebrow-arching ACC freshman to enter the draft. After a disappointing season marred by slow injury recovery, he’s getting a nice workout season bump in the draft press. It’s hard to find a better upside pick than a former No. 1 recruit landing in the mid- to late-first almost entirely due to injuries.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Frank Jackson, PG, Duke
All right. One more surprise ACC one-and-done: the somewhat mystifying but altogether promising Jackson. There are strong indications Jackson will go in the first round. Why? He apparently signed with an agent during the NBA Draft Combine and withdrew from the second day of activity there after showing out on Day 1. Someone fell in love.
23. Toronto Raptors: Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana
Yet another big man — and in our chaos draft we’ve left the poor Collins twins* in the green room. Bryant isn’t yet 20 and has spectacular length. Even better, he showed an ability to hit outside jumpers as a sophomore.
* Zach and John Collins are not twins, and in fact may have never met.
24. Utah Jazz: Justin Jackson, F, North Carolina
You know what you’re getting with Jackson, and that’s sometimes perceived as a bad thing in the draft, where upside and potential reign. But some teams like knowing what they’re getting, and the Jazz are one of them.
25. Orlando Magic: John Collins, PF/C, Wake Forest
One Collins twin down! This one gets buckets but doesn’t have an outside jumper or defensive tools. He’s not a modern NBA power forward, but he has enough length to play center. He’s probably a career reserve, but teams need good reserves too!
26. Portland Trail Blazers: Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
There has been a run on Collinses! Some mocks have Collins going in the top 10, and he probably does have a better chance at having a good NBA career than a number of guys above him in this mock. But it’s a struggle to imagine what a successful NBA career looks like for a guy like Collins — not particularly agile or fast, no real record of a great outside stroke, not someone who scores at will against even smaller competitors, clunky handle — in the modern league.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Let’s clear out the green room! Turn out the lights, Luke.
28. L.A. Lakers: T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
How resentful would the Ball family be if T.J. Leaf got picked by the Lakers but Lonzo didn’t?
29. San Antonio Spurs: D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan
Death, taxes, and the Spurs getting a steal in the NBA draft. Wilson is a top sleeper candidate (along with Jeanne, if he counts). The fact that he’s from Sacramento is only part of that equation.
30. Utah Jazz: Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia
The Jazz almost assuredly need to trade or stash one of their two first-round picks. He’s DraftExpress’s No. 3 international prospect. One presumes there’s a reason for that!