Markelle Fultz has been the No. 1 overall pick in every mock draft we’ve done this season. He’s become the consensus top talent in this class and looks like the type of player who can be a franchise cornerstone for a decade.
There might only be one scenario where Fultz *wouldn’t* be the No. 1 pick.
The Lakers “appear to be enamored with (Lonzo) Ball,” according to ESPN’s Chad Ford. If the Lakers win the lottery when the ping pong balls are finally let loose on May 16, it’s possible Ball goes No. 1 and all of Southern California is suddenly outfitted in $500 shoes.
We’ve been randomizing the draft order in the weeks leading up to the lottery, and the Lakers wound up at No. 1 this time. Magic Johnson is strangely confident the Lakers will be keeping their draft pick — it goes to the Sixers if it falls outside the top three. Maybe he knows something we don’t.
1. Los Angeles Lakers — Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
The dual point guard look has become one of the biggest trends in college basketball over the last few years. UConn won a national title with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright in the backcourt, as did Duke with Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, as did Louisville with Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, as did Villanova with Jalen Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono.
Pairing Ball with D’Angelo Russell would bring this experiment to the NBA. The reason it has a chance to work for the Lakers is because both players have great size and rare outside shooting ability for big lead guards.
There’s a long history of tall point guards struggling to shoot, from Ricky Rubio to Shaun Livingston to Emmanuel Mudiay. Ball and Russell are different. Theoretically, this gives the Lakers a backcourt with two players skilled enough to be primary ball handlers, who can shoot, pass, and initiate the offense from anywhere on the court. They both also have the size and length to defend multiple positions.
A new big three of Ball, Russell, and Brandon Ingram would rejuvenate the Lakers under Magic Johnson and Luke Walton. With all three on rookie contracts, it would also give the front office some room to maneuver for a top free agent. Paul George, anyone?
2. Orlando Magic — Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
Lonzo’s Lakers would get all the attention, but the Magic jumping up to get Fultz would be just as big of a story. After five years of listless rebuilding following the Dwight Howard trade, Orlando would finally have a franchise talent capable of turning the team around.
Fultz would draw some serious Penny Hardaway comparisons as a smooth lead guard with great size who can score all over the court. Ball might go No. 1 in this mock, but make no mistake: Fultz is the best player in this class. He should be one of the NBA’s top point guards for years to come.
3. Boston Celtics — Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
The Celtics should think long and hard about Jonathan Isaac in this spot. In the end, Jackson’s motor, mindset, and versatility give him the edge.
The Celtics surprised some people last year when they took Jaylen Brown at No. 3. Brown’s efficiency left a lot to be desired in his one year at Cal, but Boston saw a player who had the physical tools to be the type of two-way wing every team wants. He proceeded to turn in a nice rookie season.
Picking Jackson would be doubling down on the same thinking. Boston would suddenly have a ton of lineup flexibility with two big, athletic wings who are both only 20 years old.
4. Phoenix Suns — Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Tatum can score. He’s great from mid-range, capable from the three-point line (34.2 percent) and made 85 percent of his free throws. What’s worrisome is that he had a lot more turnovers (76) than assists (62). His ceiling will ultimately rest on if he learns to read the game better and improves his playmaking ability. Either way, Tatum is getting buckets.
5. Philadelphia 76ers — Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
The Sixers already have two cornerstones in the frontcourt with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Now they need to add young talent to the perimeter. Preferably a knockdown shooter who can run off screens and spot up while Simmons handles the ball. Preferably a high-level athlete who can get out in transition and run the break when Simmons pushes it. For those reasons, Monk is an easy pick in this spot.
Philly will have to think about Isaac, too. He offers more size and defensive versatility. The question is whether Isaac is better off at the four or the three in the NBA. With the way the game is trending, he looks like a four (or even a five). That pushes Monk over the top.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves — Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
This would be the dream scenario for the Timberwolves. If Isaac falls to Minnesota’s spot, Tom Thibodeau should turn in the pick as quickly as possible.
Isaac is a big (6’10), quick forward with a developing three-point stroke. Slot him in next to Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, and suddenly Minnesota has athletes and shooters everywhere who can play both ends of the court. This should be the last lottery pick the Timberwolves need for a while.
7. New York Knicks — De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
De’Aaron Fox struggles to shoot from three. He checks just about every other box. The Kentucky freshman has elite speed, an aggressive mindset defensively, and the ability to finish at the rim. Fox would form a devastating pick-and-pop game with Kristaps Porzingis.
8. Sacramento Kings — Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Smith has rare physicality for a lead guard. He explodes to the basket off a screen, can push with force in transition, and has better passing skills (nearly a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) than many realize. He’s a point guard in the vein of a young Derrick Rose or Eric Bledsoe. If he lasts until pick No. 8, it’s a testament to how strong the top 10 of this draft is.
9. Dallas Mavericks — Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
This would be fascinating on a number of levels. On one hand, Markkanen would get to learn from the greatest 7’0 shooter in league history, Dirk Nowitzki. On the other, he’d also have the burden of Next Dirk expectations whenever Nowitzki decides to hang it up. If Dirk can teach Markkanen his post game, it will all be worth it.
10. Sacramento Kings — Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky
And here’s our big surprise of this mock. DraftExpress currently has Diallo at No. 36. We put him at No. 20 last week. At this point, he might be more likely to pull his name out of the draft and return to Kentucky next year. But if stays in, Diallo does have the physical tools, and NBA drafts typically have one real shocker — think the Bucks taking Thon Maker at No. 10 last year.
The Kings can’t take another big man with Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, and Georgios Papagiannis on the roster. They filled their point guard need with Smith. Sacramento needs a wing here, and Diallo might be the most talented on the board if they’re willing to be patient.
Diallo has a great physical profile at 6’6 with elite athleticism. He’s a relentless rim attacker on offense with the gifts to one day turn into a stud defender. His shot will have to improve, as will his feel for the game, but Diallo has some ability that can’t be taught. Put him in the D-League for a year or two and the Kings could have a player.
11. Charlotte Hornets — Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
The Hornets have a stud at point guard in Kemba Walker, but Ntilikina is eight years younger and the best player on the board. The 18-year-old has great size (6’5), long arms, and a nice shooting stroke. He’s potentially the type of guard who could play on or off the ball on offense and defend either guard spot.
12. Detroit Pistons — Zach Collins, PF/C, Gonzaga
Collins never started a game at Gonzaga, but his breakout performance in the NCAA tournament leaves him as the best player on the board at this point in the draft. With Collins’ developing shooting ability, Detroit can pair him with Andre Drummond for a big-big front line few teams will be able to match up with. Collins would also give the Pistons a different look in the middle when Drummond goes to the bench. Stan Van Gundy might prefer a point guard in this spot, but Collins is probably too good to pass up.
13. Denver Nuggets — OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana
I’ve had Anunoby to Denver for weeks because I love the fit. The Nuggets already have an offensive superstar at center in Nikola Jokic. They have a scorer in the backcourt with Jamal Murray. What they need now is someone who can cover up the defensive limitations of those two players. Anunoby fills the void perfectly.
Taking Anunoby in the lottery is a risk because he tore his ACL in January and has a raw offensive game. He’s a decent spot-up three-point shooter already, but if he gets better in that area he’s going to have a long career.
14. Miami Heat — Terrance Ferguson, SG, Adelaide (NBL)
Ferguson was an Arizona commit a year ago as a five-star recruit who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit. He made the decision to play professionally in Australia, where he averaged only 4.6 points per game in 30 games. Still, there’s a reason he was so highly regarded out of high school: he has good size (6’6), great athleticism, and a nice shooting touch from distance. He’d be another nice young guard for Miami.
15. Portland Trail Blazers — Justin Jackson, SF, UNC
Jackson declared for the draft last year, but decided to go back to North Carolina for his junior year after scouts told him to work on his outside shot and athleticism. He answered both of those questions and led North Carolina to the national title in the process. Jackson canned 105 threes at a 37 percent clip last season after hitting only 63 threes at about 30 percent his first two years in school. Portland needs help on the wing and he should be able to handle early minutes.
16. Chicago Bulls — Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
The Bulls need to put the ball in Jimmy Butler’s hands and surround him with as many athletes and shooters as possible. Mitchell would be a good fit because he could defend point guards and also give Chicago some badly needed athleticism. He’s as explosive as anyone in this draft:
17. Milwaukee Bucks — Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Kennard is one of the craftiest scorers in this draft class. He made 43.8 percent of his threes as a sophomore at Duke and also finished the year with an astronomical 62.9 true shooting percentage. He’d be a weapon when defenses collapse on Giannis in Milwaukee.
18. Indiana Pacers — Harry Giles, C, Duke
The Pacers have to be prepared for life without Paul George. One way to do that is to swing for the fences with this draft pick on a player who could turn into a star — if he stays healthy and regains the form he once showed as the top recruit in the country. Harry Giles is a gamble, but he could have a big payoff for Indiana.
At his best, Giles was a mobile big man who could finish around the rim and challenge shots with his 7’3 wingspan. Knee injuries robbed him of that athleticism in his only year at Duke, where he looked like a shadow of his former self. As long as he can stay healthy, Giles is worth the risk outside of the lottery.
19. Atlanta Hawks — Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
The Hawks have a young point guard in Dennis Schroder and drafted two wings in the first round last year with DeAndre’ Bembry and Taurean Prince. They’re in position to take a big man with upside and let him develop for two years behind Dwight Howard. Allen gets the nod over Justin Patton and John Collins here because he’s the best athlete of the three. Allen has all the tools to be a two-way center, he just needs a little seasoning.
20. Portland Trail Blazers — T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Leaf would give the Blazers the type of scorer and shooter in the frontcourt they don’t have right now. His career will ultimately be determined on if he can hold his own defensively.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder — D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan
The Thunder need to surround Russell Westbrook with more athletes who can play both ends of the floor. Wilson could be just that. He hit 41 threes at a 37 percent clip this year while also blocking 57 shots. Pairing him with Domantas Sabonis would give OKC a new look in the frontcourt when Steven Adams is on the bench.
22. Brooklyn Nets — Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton shot 67.6 percent from the field as a redshirt freshman while also showing signs as a rim protector. The Nets are in a position to find a new big man to groom behind Brook Lopez.
23. Toronto Raptors — Wesley Iwundu, SF, Kansas State
It’s going to be a long summer for Toronto after getting swept by LeBron James and the Cavs. At this point, the Raptors might as well keep loading up on potential two-way wings to give them some more lineup flexibility moving forward. Iwundu is a big wing with a good feel for the game who should earn his paycheck on the defensive end. If his shooting comes around, he’ll be a steal.
24. Utah Jazz — Rodions Kurucs, SF, Latvia
The Jazz have had a lot of success with international players recently. Kurucs would be useful as a big wing who can shoot it whether he comes over next season or not.
25. Orlando Magic — Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
If the Magic add Fultz and a shooter in the frontcourt, this draft is going to be a huge success. Lydon didn’t a ton of publicity this year playing for a Syracuse team that missed the NCAA tournament, but he’s a good shooter and a tough rebounder who could give the Magic a dimension they don’t have right now.
26. Portland Trail Blazers — Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
Anigbogu has drawn comparison to Clint Capela as a rim runner who can catch lobs and challenge shots. He has the type of athleticism Portland currently lacks at center.
27. Brooklyn Nets — Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State
Evans is a skilled passer, shooter, and ball handler who lacks size. He could give the Nets an extra gear on offense.
28. Los Angeles Lakers — Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky
Bam’s combination of strength and explosiveness made him a five-star recruit and a natural fit at Kentucky. He needs to improve as a shot blocker and keep working on his perimeter shot, but he should have a future in the league as a rebounder and energy guy off the bench.
29. San Antonio Spurs — John Collins, PF, Wake Forest
Collins is a really good offensive player. He’s an efficient scorer around the rim, a willing offensive rebounder, and plays with a non-stop motor. Defense and shooting range are the two question marks.
30. Utah Jazz — Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
Swanigan blossomed into a 44.7 percent three-point shooter this season while also leading the country in double-doubles. He’ll always have trouble defending in space in the NBA, but his ability to own the glass and score inside-out will be big at the next level.