The eternal question in the NBA draft is fit vs. best player available. There are arguments to be made for either side, but in this week’s mock draft we’ll be focusing exclusively on fit.
How does that impact this mock draft? For one, it’s pushed traditional big men down the board, with Justin Patton falling all the way to No. 29 and Ivan Rabb slipping to the second round. It also places a premium on shooting, as Malik Monk rises up to No. 3 and UCLA’s T.J. Leaf sneaks into the end of the lottery.
It’s hard to believe with the NBA Finals still in full swing, but the draft is just over three weeks away. If you think the Warriors are making basketball a formality in the present, there’s nothing better to do than lose yourself in the hope of the future. This draft class is going to be a lot of fun. Let’s mock.
1. Boston Celtics - Markelle Fultz, G, Washington
The best fit for the Celtics was always going to be the best long-term prospect. That’s Fultz. Boston already has a team that finished as the No. 1 seed in the East and reached the conference finals. Now they’re thinking bigger, and the best way to get there is playing the long game. Fultz will be the first major piece of that plan.
My thoughts on Fultz are well documented: He can be a franchise cornerstone at point guard in the mold of a bigger Kyrie Irving. If you didn’t see him play at Washington, don’t worry about it. No one is going to care about what he did as a college player when the Celtics are competing for championships in a few years ... unless the Warriors are still together.
2. Los Angeles Lakers - Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
This will be the most debated pick of the draft. The Lakers are apparently giving serious consideration to both Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox, but Lonzo Ball remains the favorite. I think it’s the right pick: Ball may never average 20 points per game, but he’s a basketball genius who will help the Lakers win games.
Ball simply thinks the game two steps ahead of everyone else. He should make life so much easier for D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram by cranking up the pace and getting them the ball in positions to score. This could quickly become one of the best young trios in the league for the Lakers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers - Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
As I’ve written before, the Sixers hold the keys to the draft at No. 3. I do not think Malik Monk is the third-best player in this draft — I’d give that honor to Josh Jackson — but there’s no denying how well Monk fits Philadelphia. He looks like the ideal running mate for Ben Simmons: A young guard who can hit shots all over the court and has the athleticism to run with him in transition. He’ll always be small for an off-guard, but who cares? He fills the Sixers’ biggest need both positionally and skill-wise.
In the end, I still would probably take Jackson, but in the “fit” mock draft, Monk is an easy pick.
4. Phoenix Suns - Josh Jackson, G/F, Kansas
The Suns should jump all over Jackson if he’s still on the board with the fourth pick. He’s the ultimate gamer who sets the edge on both ends of the floor with near-elite athleticism and unparalleled competitiveness. He’s also an unselfish player who can handle and the pass the ball like a guard. The Suns already have scorers in Devin Booker and T.J. Warren and one of the game’s most underappreciated point guards in Eric Bledsoe. Jackson fits this roster seamlessly.
5. Sacramento Kings - De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
The Kings were roundly panned for their return in the Boogie Cousins trade, but think of it this way: If Sacramento kept Cousins, it’s like they have lost their first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls by finishing outside of the bottom-10. Instead, the Kings have a shooting guard they love in Buddy Hield and two top-10 selections. I’m going to argue that, ultimately, it’s pretty decent haul.
Now the Kings have to make these picks count in a way they’ve been unable to do since .... they drafted Cousins. Fox would be an easy choice. He has A+ speed, competes on both ends of the floor, and should grow into at least an average shooter. The Kings need a new face of the franchise and Fox can be just that.
6. Orlando Magic - Jayson Tatum, F, Duke
More than anything, the Magic need some starpower that’s been missing since the Dwight Howard trade. Tatum is the best bet to provide it. He’s a crafty and versatile scorer who should be averaging more than 20 points per game in his prime. He’s the most advanced scorer in this class next to Fultz and would be a great building block from an Orlando team under new management.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves - Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
The Wolves have the ultimate building block in place with Karl-Anthony Towns. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine both just averaged more than 20 points per game in what should have been their senior year of college. Minnesota might have the brightest long-term future in the league (..... next to the Warriors), but they need one more piece. Isaac is the ideal fit.
Isaac is a 6’10 forward with great quickness and developing shooting ability. He has the potential to grow into a defensive stud at the four between Towns and Wiggins and also stretch out the opposing defense with his jumper. He could be a super role player in the right system. Minnesota is exactly that.
8. New York Knicks - Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
I would take Dennis Smith Jr. over Ntilikina, but I’m not sure the Knicks would for one reason: Ntilikina looks like a better fit in the Triangle, which Phil Jackson has been adamant about bringing back. A Triangle point guard (word to Ron Harper) needs good size, shooting ability, and a willingness to move the ball. Ntilikina checks those boxes. One concern: He’s still only 18 years old. Knicks fans will have to be patient with him.
9. Dallas Mavericks - Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Smith is a strong, explosive point guard who thrives taking the ball to the rack. The best part about this fit is he’ll be great with the spacing Dirk Nowitzki provides. The worst part about this fit is Dirk won’t be around forever.
10. Sacramento Kings - Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
If the Kings take Fox at No. 5, it’s going to be paramount to get shooters in the front court. There is none better than Markkanen, a Finnish 7-footer with an ultra-quick release and soft touch who hit 69 threes at a 43.2 percent clip. If Fox is indeed Sacramento’s first pick, the Kings should be praying for Markkanen to fall to No. 10.
11. Charlotte Hornets - Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
This is both an on-court and off-court fit: Jackson should pull in local fans as a three-year star for UNC and he also fills Charlotte’s biggest need for a backcourt scorer next to Kemba Walker. Jackson’s improvement as a three-point shooter has to be for real for him to justify this slot in the draft.
12. Detroit Pistons - Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
If this were a big board, I’d have Collins at either No. 10 or No. 11 alongside Ntilikina. The problem is it’s hard to find a fit for him in the late lottery. The Hornets already have Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic and the Heat have Hassan Whiteside. I think Detroit works because Collins could either play with or behind Andre Drummond at the start of his career. He’d give Detroit a more skilled option at center.
13. Denver Nuggets - OG Anunoby, F, Indiana
I’ve had Anunoby to Denver for most of the year. His defensive ability and versatility should complement Denver’s two long-term building blocks well: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. If Denver were up higher in this draft, Jonathan Isaac would be an even better fit because of his superior mobility. If Denver attempts to trade up on draft night, Isaac would be a great target.
14. Miami Heat - T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
Miami at No. 14 was the most difficult pick of this mock draft for me. It feels like they could go in any direction. Leaf gets the call here because we know Erik Spoelstra demands shooting in the front court. Ideally, Whiteside should be able to cover up some of Leaf’s defensive shortcomings.
15. Portland Trail Blazers - Terrance Ferguson, SG/SF, Adelaide (NBL)
The Blazers are in a fascinating position in this draft: three first-round picks with roster that has high priced veterans at almost every position. In a perfect world, Portland would be able to find a small forward and power forward who defend and stretch the floor. Ferguson could fill that need at the three. He’s a major athlete with lots of potential as a shooter.
16. Chicago Bulls - Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
The Bulls front office has gone on record saying they don’t love the idea of playing Jimmy Butler at point guard, but it’s probably the team’s most pragmatic solution. If Chicago were to commit to Butler running the point on offense, it would need to find someone who could defend point guards and add some supplemental playmaking. Mitchell can do just that while also doubling as one of the best pure athletes in this draft. If you want an upside comp for Mitchell, think Avery Bradley.
17. Milwaukee Bucks - D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan
Will the Bucks continue to go with high-risk, high-reward draft picks now that former GM John Hammond is in Orlando? If so, Wilson could make sense. In a way, he’d be insurance at power forward after Jabari Parker tore his ACL for the second time. He could also potentially play with any pairing of Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Thon Maker to give Milwaukee a bunch of switchable athletes with versatile offensive games.
18. Indiana Pacers - Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Kennard shot up all the way to No. 11 in the most recent DraftExpress mock after the Hornets watched him at his pro day. His shooting ability is certainly going to be attractive to a lot of teams, but ultimately questions about his defense could keep him out of the lottery. If he’s still available at No. 18, the Pacers should jump all over him. Indiana’s future is clouded by the Paul George situation, but adding shooters is wise regardless of whether PG13 sticks around or not.
19. Atlanta Hawks - Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
Allen to Atlanta would be a great situation for both the player and the team. Allen would be able to spend a season or two developing behind Dwight Howard while Atlanta gets a great value at No. 19 on a player who has the talent to go in the late lottery. Allen is long and mobile and has flashed offensive skill. One of the more interesting position battles of this draft is him vs. Justin Patton.
20. Portland Trail Blazers - Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
Kurucs is a good pick for a team with three first-rounders because he could be a draft-and-stash guy as a rookie. He’s got good size, a promising shooting stroke and reportedly high basketball IQ. Portland should be thrilled to have the chance to draft him at No. 20.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder - Sterling Brown, SF, SMU
OK, so this would be a bit of a reach. Brown didn’t even get invited to the combine and is projected to go No. 47 on DraftExpress. However, that No. 47 is up 12 spots from where he was last week. Everyone needs 3-&-D wings and Brown looks like one. He hit at least 44 percent of his threes in his last three years at SMU and also has good size at 6’6 with a 6’9.5 wingspan. He’s the younger brother of former Lakers guard Shannon Brown.
22. Brooklyn Nets - Harry Giles, C, Duke
Giles to Brooklyn is an ideal fit. The Nets might as well swing for the fences with their two first-round picks. Giles was once the top recruit in America and considered a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick before repeated knee injuries tanked his stock. Still just 19 years old, Giles just need to stay healthy for this pick to be worth the risk.
23. Toronto Raptors - Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C, Germany
A big man who can hit the glass and play solid positional defense, Hartenstein would be a quality addition to Toronto’s front court whether they keep Serge Ibaka or not.
24. Utah Jazz - Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU
Is Ojeleye a 3-&-D wing or an undersized stretch four? Either way, he’d help a Utah team that got good production out of veterans Boris Diaw and (especially) Joe Johnson this season. Those guys won’t be around forever. Ojeleye provides similar three-level scoring ability that should make him a good fit in Utah.
25. Orlando Magic - Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State
If the Magic get a big scorer like Tatum with their first pick, a floor general like Evans makes sense at No. 25. Evans is short, but he’s tough and really skilled. He helmed the most efficient offense in college basketball last season at Oklahoma State and drew CP3 comparisons in the process. That might have been going a little overboard, but there’s still lots to like about his game.
26. Portland Trail Blazers - Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
If the Blazers keep all three first rounders, it would make sense to target a stretch four with one of them. Lydon can be that guy. He broke out as a freshman during Syracuse’s unlikely run to the Final Four, but slipped under the radar this year in large part because Cuse missed the tournament completely. He’s a tougher rebounder than his reputation would suggestion, but shooting is the foundation of his game.
27. Brooklyn Nets - Derrick White, G, Colorado
White is a nice pick at this point in the first round because he doesn’t really take anything off the table. He can play either on or off the ball because he does a little bit of everything: shoot, pass, and dribble with enough athleticism to compete at this level.
28. Los Angeles Lakers - John Collins, PF, Wake Forest
John Collins vs. Ivan Rabb is another super interesting draft battle. Collins is the superior scorer and rebounder but it feels like Rabb has a more all-around game. Either would be a great choice for the Lakers at No. 28, but we’ll go with Collins because he’s better at what he does well.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Justin Patton, C, Creighton
Patton could easily go 15 spots higher than this, which means of course he’ll slip to the Spurs.
30. Utah Jazz - Frank Jackson, G, Duke
Frank Jackson’s dad was a Utah state senator. Frank went to state powerhouse Lone Peak High School. You gotta take the local boy, Jazz.