As Monday night's NCAA National Title game caught the attention of the basketball world, especially with Kris Jenkins' awe-inspiring game winner, many of the players previously gunning for that spot have decided to focus their attention on the NBA Draft. However, compared to past seasons, there's more uncertainty about the players that would be waiting to hear their names be called in mid-June. That's mainly due to the recent rules that allows college players to declare for the draft (if they don't hire an agent) and be able to test the waters. Those players would have until May 25th, 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine, to decide whether they want to go back to college or stay in the draft.
Although those new rules add of unpredictability about the players that will fill out the draft class, there's a crop of players that have either signed an agent or have the kind of draft stock where it would seem out of the question for them to return to school. That second criteria will be put in place in this piece, as we're going to be focused on the lottery portion of the NBA Draft. Although there will be more expansive Draft pieces in the future, this mock draft will introduce you to some of the bigger NBA Draft prospects and also the needs of each lottery-bound squad.
Brandon Ingram - 6'9, 196, SF, Duke
In the remaining three months until the NBA Draft, there will be a abundance of debate on who should be the #1 pick: Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. While that debate is definitely warranted, as both Ingram and Simmons are phenomenal prospects that could end up being perennial All-Stars throughout their NBA career, Ingram just seems like the better fit for the 76ers. Ingram is an incredibly 6'9 forward with solid off-the-bounce moves and a quick stroke that allowed him to shoot 41% from beyond the arc. Those skills in addition to his potential as a flexible defensive option that could defend multiple positions should allow him to make an immediate impact on the 76ers.
That kind of positional flexibility combined with his perimeter skills gives him an edge over Ben Simmons. However, Simmons is definitely more advanced than Ingram in terms of rebounding and facilitating, the 76ers don't necessarily need a player with those skills. The 76ers should be getting 2014 lottery pick Dario Saric, who's a 6'10 forward that has displayed abilities as a facilitator and rebounder while having a sharp perimeter jumper.
Perhaps the most important advantage that Ingram has over Simmons is that the Duke forward has had a large amount of success against some of NCAA's most brutal defenses. The headline of that statement is Ingram putting up a 25 point on 10-15 performance against Virginia, which had the 5th best defense in NCAA per KenPom's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Alongside that, Ingram had other noticeable performances: 20 points vs. North Carolina (22nd best defense), 24 points vs. Oregon (39th best defense) and 19 points vs. University of Miami (48th best defense).
Ben Simmons - 6'10, 225, PF, LSU
Considering his long-term status as the top prospect in this year's draft class, combined with the Lakers being in desperate need of young talent, it would be strange to say that Simmons wouldn't exactly be the best fit for the team. However, that has a ton of merit to it as there would be some questioning about whether he and Julius Randle would be able to play alongside each other. Neither Randle or Simmons have any kind of outside game, as much of their offense rests on cuts and just simply working around the rim. That could cause some issues with their young backcourt, as Clarkson and/or Russell might struggles with cutting to the paint with it being clogged by Simmons and Randle
However, due to his incredible size and endless athleticism, Simmons could bring a lot of athleticism to a post-Kobe era Lakers squad. Although there's concern about his fit with Randle, Simmons does has a bunch of potential as a huge on-ball facilitator, in a similar mold to Bucks' youngster Giannis Antetokounmpo. Simmons has an incredible court vision and ability to find teammates, whether he's working on the perimeter or cutting to the paint. That could work out well, as both Russell and Clarkson have experience with working as off-ball guards. The 6'10 forward can take control of the Lakers offense and work it to both Russell and Clarkson, who are solid perimeter shooters.
While there were concerns about his aggressiveness and "will to win" on a disappointing LSU squad, Ben Simmons continued to showcase an ability to get to the rim and score whenever he desires. The 6'10 Simmons looks like a PG when he's handling the ball as he moves with an awe-inspiring amount of fluidity and quickness for someone his size.
3. Phoenix Suns
Jaylen Brown - 6'7, 225, SF, California
After Simmons and Ingram are picked, there's a clear second tier of NBA Draft prospects. California forward Jaylen Brown joins European prospect Dragan Bender and some other notable college prospects (Dunn, Murray and Hield) in that 2nd tier players. At least for Brown, that isn't exactly the worst thing as the 6'7 forward already showcased himself to be an elite on-ball cutter during his freshman season. With an impressive NBA-ready frame, Brown has plenty of potential as a small ball forward as he's too quick for most forwards while being able to overpower most guards.
Brown has an impressive motor with the ball in his hands, as a quick first-step and solid handles has allowed him to be an effective cutter that can either work to the left or right. While there's still plenty of work that he needs to do in terms of refining his perimeter jumper, Brown has some potential in that area as he shot 30% during the regular season.
The sky is the limit for Brown, if he's able to improve on that perimeter stroke, as his natural athleticism, speed and fantastic frame gives him a bevy of potential on both ends of the court. Similar to his flexibility on the offensive end, Brown has a bevy of potential on defense, as his length allows him to defend against perimeter players, while his natural strength gives him potential to body up against most forwards. That kind of defensive flexibility would make him a welcomed addition for a Suns team that currently ranks 27th in the league in Defensive Rating, as they're allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions.
Dragan Bender - 7'1, 216, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Thanks to a 2013 trade that had them deal Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to an incredibly desperate Nets team, the Celtics hold Brooklyn's first round picks for the next two seasons. In this year's draft, there really isn't a player that can really immediately help this playoff-bound squad, but Dragan Bender definitely has the highest upside. The 7'1 Bender is the epitome of a stretch big, as Croatian big is shooting 41% in his limited role with Maccabi Tel Aviv. For a player his size, he has a pretty solid stroke with a quick and smooth release.
Perhaps more important than his potential as a stretch big is just how incredibly quick he is. Bender definitely realizes how fast he is for a man his size, as he seems to love to move around off-ball for cuts or to come out of absolute nowhere for offensive rebounds and putbacks. He actually might be at his best as a rebounder when he's moving around as even Euroleague bigs have easily taken advantage of his slim frame. However, his quickness and genuine hustle should allow him to be a solid rebounder in a similar mold to Kristaps Porzingis as he builds on his frame.
Bender will definitely have time to do that as he won't turn 19 until the start of the 2016-17 season. While he's currently in the 2nd year of a seven-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the 7'1 prospect does have an NBA out in his contract for this summer. Would be intriguing to see what direction the Celtics would go when it comes to Bender, as his perimeter shot and hustle gives him some of the traits that Brad Stevens would absolutely love. However, his extremely slender frame gives some doubt about whether he'd last through an entire 82 game NBA season. Nevertheless, The Celtics seem like an ideal fit for Bender, as he'll be able to grow and progress in one of the best systems in the NBA.
Henry Ellenson - 6'10, 231, PF, Marquette
Although there are definitely better prospects on the board at this stage, Ellenson's fit with Timberwolves is just too ideal. His potential as a stretch big that can also work as an on-ball cutter gives him the kind of offensive versatility that would be a great fit alongside future All-Star big Karl-Anthony Towns.
Much of Ellenson's intrigue revolves around his skill as a shooter. While his 28% 3-point percentage isn't necessarily that appealing, the eye-test would say that he's better than what the numbers say. He has an incredibly quick and smooth jumper that he can launch whether he's working catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble, which is a pretty great thing for a freshman big. That stroke combined with his impressive skill as an on-ball cutter should allow him to be a pretty solid pick-and-roll big in the NBA.
An area where Towns will really need to help Ellenson out is on the defensive end. That fluidity he displays on the offensive end is non-existant defensively, as Ellenson had struggles even keeping up with Big East bigs. There really hasn't been any proof that he can guard either bigs or wings, which means that he'd have to be hidden until he can establish himself. That shouldn't be too much of an issue for Minnesota as both Towns and Andrew Wiggins are pretty solid defenders that have the skill-sets to have them to be able to defend against multiple positions. Despite those clear issues, Ellenson could implement himself as a solid offensive weapon that the Wolves can put alongside their solid crop of young, talented players.
6. New Orleans
Jamal Murray - 6'5, 201, PG/SG, Kentucky
Despite the continued success of All-NBA big Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are in a rough situation because they don't really have anyone besides him, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans that they can build around. Although players like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are both really solid players, their future status with the team remain uncertain. Gordon is incredibly unreliable to stay healthy while Ryan Anderson has never been a great fit with the Pelicans and has constantly been the center of trade rumors.
Kentucky sharp-shooter Jamal Murray might be the best fit for a talent-hungry Pelicans squad. The 6'5 freshman guard absolutely tore up the SEC during his lone season at Kentucky. Putting up 20 PPG on 45% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc, Murray quickly established himself as one of the best scorers in the country. Whether he's working off the dribble or from catch-and-shoot.. Although Murray isn't the most athletic or the best ball-handler, he does have success with driving to the paint on closeouts as he displays a certain amount of fluidity around the rim,.
Those skills should allow him to have make an instant impact as the sheer presence of Anthony Davis combined with the PG skills of Holiday should give Murray some opportunities to shine as a rookie. His lack of athleticism and struggles as a defender could prevent him from having a bigger role inside the Pelicans rotation, Murray's work as a perimeter shooter gives him a ton of potential with a team with an All-NBA big (Davis) and a solid facilitating PG (Jrue Holiday)
Buddy Hield - 6'4, 215, SG, Oklahoma
Throughout his senior season, Buddy Hield has been able to defeat any of the stigma that would usually apply to an undersized 22-year-old shooting guard by just being an absolute offensive machine. With a 50/46/88 split-line, Hield was able to combine that amazing efficiency with an unbelievable amount of offensive production, as he averaged an NCAA-best 25.3 points per game. A lot of that production came from beyond the arc, as Hield has incredible confidence in his jumper as he can either shoot it off-the-dribble or from catch-and-shoots. That confidence allows him to shoot while being in the midst of heavy pressure.
Alongside that perimeter acumen, Hield has continued to progress into a more well-rounded offensive weapon. During his senior season, Hield has made some significant improvements as a ball-handler. Hield looks comfortable with going around screens and hitting mid-jumpers. He's also become a much better cutter, While he isn't extremely athletic, Hield makes up for it by being a solid ball-handler that's able to change directions and speeds on a dime. Those trait allowed him to shoot 64% from inside the paint, according to Hoop-Math.
Hield's undeniable ability as a perimeter threat and improvements as an on-ball threat should allow him to be a nice weapon with the up-and-coming Nuggets team that already has a lot of solid young talent. The one thing that the Nuggets don't have is a perimeter threat. Currently, the best three-point threat in their starting 5 is Danilo Gallinari, who's shooting 36% from beyond the arc. The addition of Hield will give them a much needed perimeter threat. Alongside that, Hield will create some more depth in their young back-court that features Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris and Will Barton.
Kris Dunn- 6'4, 205, PG, Providence
Aside from Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn might have the most NBA-ready frame. While that's partially due to him being a 22-year-old junior (redshirted in 2013-14), Dunn's muscular 6'4 frame combined with a terrific 6'9 wingspan makes him appealing to NBA scouts and GMs before he even steps on a court. Nevertheless, it's how Dunn uses that frame on both ends of the court that makes him into an ideal Kings prospect
With Rajon Rondo entering the off-season as an unrestricted free agent, Kris Dunn might be the best option to replace him as the team's go-to facilitator. Putting up 7.6 assists per 40 minutes, Dunn has been one of the best facilitators in college basketball for the last two seasons. Dunn does a lot of that damage in the pick-and-roll as he's paired up with fellow draft prospect Ben Bentil. Working with Bentil, Dunn was able to use his bigger frame to see over the frame and find cutters. Alongside that, Dunn was also confident with facilitating while he's working off-the-dribble.
That cutting ability also lead Dunn to be a fantastic playmaker as he used that athleticism and ball-handling ability to get to the paint on a consistent basis. Dunn can comfortably work either to the left or right end of the paint, which in combination with his speed makes him into an extremely dangerous cutter. Even if he doesn't decide to put in a vicious dunk, he can move back and hit a nice mid-range jumper. In fact, Dunn's improvement as a jump shooter, whether it's mid-range or perimeter, was one of the most significant parts of his junior season. Shooting 37% from beyond the arc, Dunn's path towards becoming a capable perimeter threat would give a team like Sacramento faith that he could continue progressing as a player.
Even if that improvement isn't immediate, Dunn should still make an instant impact with Sacramento mainly due to his skills as a pick-and-roll guard. While those skills were a joy to watch when he was working with Ben Bentil, that enjoyment will be a lot bigger as Dunn would have an opportunity to work with DeMarcus Cousins. That type of partner should give Dunn open jumpers as the defense would focus on Cousins.
Jakob Poeltl - 7'1, 248, C, Utah
In a current NBA landscape where a 6'7 Draymond Green is arguably the best center in the NBA, the need for a traditional center like Jakob Poeltl might be going the way of the dodo bird. A lot of bigs (i.e Roy Hibbert) seemed to quickly become irrelevant due to their inability to keep up with the faster pace of the modern NBA. However, Poeltl will probably be able to avoid that kind of situation as he's very mobile for a 7'1 big. That mobility is evident by him working inside a pick-and-roll as he moves with a lot of quickness when he rolls his way to the paint. Poeltl's definitely effective in that role, as he shot 69% from around the rim, according to Hoop-Math.
Another facet in which Poeltl was effective from inside the paint was through his work on the offensive glass. Averaging 3.7 offensive boards per 40 minutes, Poeltl has a real nose for the ball as he's very aggressive when it comes to boxing out. That kind of aggression is also apparent on the other end of the court as Poeltl averaged a solid 1.6 blocks per game during his sophomore season. More important than that is his potential as a pick-and-roll defender. While isn't as quick as fellow Pac-12 big Ivan Rabb, he has displayed an ability to go out to the perimeter and help hedge on a cutting wing.
Although the 51-24 Toronto Raptors won't use the Draft to find another starter, the addition of Poeltl will help them add some more depth to their front-court. Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson are the only front-court players that have a guaranteed contract for next season. That need for depth would make them smart to draft a big like Jakob Poeltl, that has the potential to be a pretty solid two-way big. His success as a pick-and-roll big combined with the solid fundamental work that he displays defensively could allow him to be a solid fixture inside the team's 2nd unit for years to come.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
Timothe Luwawu - 6'7, 205, SG, Mega Leks
Although I try to have a good amount of subjectability with my work, I definitely have a ton of excitement about this potential pairing as a Bucks fan. With Giannis, Parker, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks already have a nice crop of athletic players with lanky wingspans, but there's definitely some work that needs to be done. Especially with the recent news of Giannis working at PG, there's a definite need for a player that can be positioned between Giannis and Khris Middleton.
Mega Leks wing Timothe Lwawu might be the most ideal fit for that given position. Standing at 6'7 with a 6'11 wingspan, his frame would allow him to fit in smoothly alongside a solid wing like Khris Middleton. Like Middleton, a lot of Luwawu's appeal revolves around him being a physically gifted wing that can work from the perimeter while also being a solid defender. While it would be great to find a prospect that exhibits one or even two of those traits, Luwawu has the tools to be kind of "swiss army knife" that a young team like the Bucks would be ecstatic to have.
For the Bucks, the most useful part of Luwawu's overall game would be his perimeter jumper, as the Bucks are currently averaging 15.5 three point attempts per game, which is the lowest amount in the entire league. The addition of Luwawu would help that out as he shot 37% from beyond the arc. Besides that, Luwawu can get to the rim on a consistent basis due to his quick first step and athleticism. Unlike a lot of young guards, Luwawu can effectively finish around the rim with either hand,which could allow him to be a dangerous threat.
The addition of Luwawu would give the young and talented Bucks squad yet another weapon. Playing alongside Middleton and Giannis, who are both solid facilitators, Luwawu would either have open perimeter looks or opportunities to work as an off-ball cutter. That kind would be great for Luwawu as he can grow and progres as a player without having a lot of attention and pressure be put on his shoulders, as their Big 3 of Giannis, Parker and Middleton would have the majority of the team's offensive load.
11. Orlando Magic
Ivan Rabb - 6'10, 220, PF, California
After spending the last 4 off-seasons deeply entrenched in the lottery, the Orlando Magic don't really have any huge holes. They're really at the point where they have a crop of solid young talent but just want to wait and see how they mesh together. With that said, the drafting of Ivan Rabb gives the team a young prospect that has potential to be an extremely flexible small ball center.
That small ball label is due to Rabb being a fantastic athlete that moves around the court like a wing. There's a certain fluidity and quickness that he exhibits, whether he's motoring his way in transition or working off the pick-and-roll. Rabb's motor is endless and he constantly battles on the offensive glass (averages 3.9 offensive boards per 40 minutes) or going out to the perimeter to defend wings.
While that constant motor and athleticism gives him potential as a solid 3rd big, Rabb has some things to work out if he wants to become an NBA starter. For starters, he really needs to add strength as some of the bigger Pac-12 bigs were able to bully him inside the paint. While his genuine hustle will help a bit, he'd need to add a lot more muscle on his body if he thinks that he can work against the NBA's best in an 82 game season. Alongside that, Rabb is going to have to develop more of a jumper, as nearly all of his offense comes through offensive rebounds or drives to the rim.
Given the Magic's reliance on Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic as their starting front-court of the future, Rabb will have an opportunity to work out this kinks in a smaller role. That should be good for Rabb, as he'll be able to start his NBA career as that kind of instant energy big off the bench, which really fits into his style of play.
12. Phoenix Suns
Marquese Chriss - 6'9, 225, PF, Washington
With the Phoenix's second pick (courtesy of the Washington Wizards), it wouldn't be a bad idea to find somebody that can fill into that stretch 4 role. For the last few seasons, Markieff Morris had that role but numerous amounts of off-court issues led to them dealing him to the Wizards for this lottery pick.
Former Washington forward Marquese Chriss has the potential to be that replacement plus a lot more. Chriss is definitely that prototypical "boom-or-bust" player, as his traits might allow him to be one of the breakout players in this year's draft, while his relative inexperience could lead to major issues if a team gives him too much too soon.
The traits that could allow him to be one of the breakout in the draft includes: outstanding athleticism, quickness, solid post-up touch and a solid shooting stroke that can spread out to the perimeter. The combination of perimeter shooting (shot 35% during his freshman season), and athleticism gives him potential to be an outstanding pick-and-roll threat. Once Chriss has any kind of opening when he's moving to the basket, he's a menace to the opposing team. His soft hands and outstanding leaping ability allows him to lay down explosive alley-oops whenever he desires. Alongside that, Chriss is capable of using his explosive leaping ability on offensive boards, as he averages a pretty solid 4.0 offensive boards per 40 minutes.
However, Chriss is still an incredibly raw prospect as he's only played competitive basketball since he was a high school freshman. That inexperience is evident on the defensive end, as he really doesn't show a lot of effort on the defensive end. While his 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes would tell otherwise, he looks lackadaisical as he loses focus as an off-ball defender and doesn't show a lot of effort on the defensive glass.
The Suns will be put to the task of trying to refine the overall game of Marquese Chriss. While that undoubtedly will be a bunch of work, the pay off could be massive as Chriss exhibits the traits to be one of the most lethal offensive weapons in this year's draft class.
13. Houston Rockets
Denzel Valentine - 6'6, 223, SG, Michigan State
At this point in the draft, especially for a playoff team that has the opportunity to pick in the lottery, you tend to see teams focus more on which players can quickly get into their rotation and help them out. Denzel Valentine could definitely be that player for the Celtics as he has all of the tools to be a solid 2nd unit leader. Standing at 6'6, Valentine made his mark as one of the best college players in the country (won AP Player of the Year) due to all-around offensive excellence. Averaging 19.2 points, 7.5 boards and 7.8 assists per game on 46% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc.
Working as a point forward, Valentine became such a lethal pick-and-roll player due to that solid frame, perimeter shooting and genuine feel for the game. That frame gives him an opportunity to oversee the floor which would give him the opportunity to easily flnd a cutter or an open perimeter shooter. The defense definitely shouldn't keep their attention away from Valentine, as he has an outstanding shooting stroke which stretches out to the NBA 3-point line.
On a Rockets team that's been in a ton of disarray this season, the addition of Denzel Valentine could be a more immediate help than most lottery picks would be. The reason behind that is the sheer amount of offensive versatility that he exhibits on a game-by-game basis. That level of versatility would allow the Rockets to depend Valentine to contribute in a lot of different ways (facilitating, perimeter shooting, on-ball cutting) which would add a bit of stability for a team that really needs it.
14. Chicago Bulls