1. Philadelphia 76ers – Markelle Fultz, Washington
The Celtics’ motives behind this trade are a little more complex and layered, but for the Sixers it was really quite simple. The process has been trusted, and now it’s finally time to get a little better. Or maybe a whole lot better. They feel as though Fultz can help them immediately and also blossom into a superstar. If he, Simmons and Embiid all pan out, they could be a contender in five years or so. In my opinion, Fultz will be a very solid starter but never a true superstar. He has some Jamal Crawford and some James Harden in him, which is like a pickup superhuman, but I’m not sure he’ll be efficient enough or consistent enough defensively to be by far the best player out of this class.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Lonzo Ball, UCLA
At this point, I’m pretty sure the average basketball fan knows more about LaVar Ball than Lonzo. I’m not entirely sure how that happened. It’s probably a bit of LaVar’s unconventional brilliance combined with Americans’ thirst for anything remotely over the top. For as obnoxious as LaVar is, though, Lonzo is every bit as good. He’s the real deal. I’d be extremely surprised if he ends up being a bust. His natural passing ability reminds me of Steve Nash’s and Jason Kidd’s. He’ll need to bulk up, improve his defense and become a better finisher around the rim, but I think he will. I expect that in his prime he’ll be a 16-point, 8-assist, 4-rebound kind of guy. If the Lakers take Ball, which it looks like they will, that might mean D’Angelo Russell is out the door, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing for Lakers fans. Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle in 2018 is a pretty decent core for the future.
3. Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum, Duke
When the Sixers-Celtics trade surfaced Saturday night, I was out with some friends and they screamed in frustration when they heard the news. They had no idea why the Celtics would do such a thing, but I reassured them that it’s all for the best. Here’s why: Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are not much worse, if not as good as or better than Markelle Fultz. Jackson is uber-athletic and could become a really good defender. He can play the 3 or 4, and if he develops a reliable jumper he’ll be an all-star in no time. But that’s not who I think the Celtics will take. I’ve been saying all along that Tatum should be their guy, so this trade made me nod my head because I speculate Danny Ainge sees it the same way. Here’s what you need to know about Tatum. First off, and most importantly, he’s really good. Like really, really good. He can shoot the 3, beat you off the dribble, pass and block shots. He’ll need to work on his defense and rebounding, but those are things you can teach. He reminds me a little bit of Paul Pierce, in that he plays at kind of an off pace. He’s a capable high flyer like Jackson, but that’s not really his game. He’s got the old man game, and I think he can come off the bench and contribute right away for the Celtics like Jaylen Brown did last year. In my opinion, Brown and Jackson are too similar. I think Tatum gives them a wing scorer, which is something they really need whether Jae Crowder stays or goes.
4. Phoenix Suns –Josh Jackson, Kansas
To me, this pick is a no-brainer. Fultz, Ball, Tatum and Jackson are the four best players in this year’s class, and I think the Suns have to operate under a best-available mindset. They actually have some really good building blocks for the future, but they’re not anywhere close to contending right now. Bring in Jackson, get him minutes off the bench right away and help him improve. My best comparison for him is a rich man’s Justise Winslow, but Suns fans will be relieved to see that he’s a lot more versatile offensively. It appears as though his jumper’s not quite there yet, but in fairness he had Frank Mason, Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham around him at Kansas, so there wasn’t much of a need to shoot. I think he can be a 17-point, 7-rebound, 3-assist, 1.5-steal guy for a long time, and I could see him being the third or fourth best player on a championship contender later in his career.
5. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Fox is a fitting name for this fleet-footed point guard. He has incredible speed, and his first step will help him get by slower point guards at the next level. His midrange game is money, and he’s a terrific passer. The Kings need a lot of things, but one of them is a steady point guard. Fox can be just that. When he was at Kentucky and Malik Monk was in a rut, Fox would often take over games. He was the one who frequently willed them to victory both against SEC teams and in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a bit skinny, but don’t confuse that with weakness. He’s tough, physical and has a knack for making big-time plays. Pair him with Boogie Cousins and you’ve got yourself a dynamic duo. Oh, wait…
6 . Orlando Magic – Dennis Smith, NC State
It’s always funny how we try to find an NBA comparison for every elite college player. I’m guilty of it, too (who am I kidding? I love it), but sometimes it can be a bit much when they’ve never played a professional game. In this case, though, I think neglecting to compare to Smith to Chris Paul would be a mistake. Paul’s an all-time great, but Smith could end up being that as well. They have very similar builds, and they both have a natural feel for the game. This is a point-guard heavy, top-heavy draft, and Smith is one of the more underrated of the bunch. He has a really nice mid-range game, and he’s a player I could see averaging a double-double someday if the cards fall into place. Smith may not be as explosive as some other guys, but he’s steady and doesn’t have many weaknesses.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
Pairing Isaac with Karl-Anthony Towns could be a recipe for success for the Wolves. They’re getting closer and closer to making the playoffs, but they need another rim protector to go alongside Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Isaac is a human springboard. He reminds me a little bit of Aaron Gordon, with maybe a bit more upside as a shot blocker. Some people disagree on this, but I feel as though the Wolves are too good to be bad much longer. I predicted they wouldn’t make the playoffs last year and was right, but I think that changes this year. With Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Towns, they’re set 1 through 5. Isaac could be a spark off the bench right away and eventually slip into that 4 spot if Dieng is traded.
8. New York Knicks – Malik Monk, Kentucky
Monk could end up being the best or second best pure scorer in this draft, if everything goes according to plan. He has a really pure jumper and can create space for himself off the dribble. One concern I have is that he sometimes disappeared for long stretches in big games at Kentucky. He’s very streaky, which has its perks and downfalls. He reminds me of Devin Booker a little bit, with a hint of Quentin Richardson. His wingspan is only 6’0, which is interesting more than anything else. He could be a bit of a liability on defense, but he’s the kind of guy who will get burned on one play then poke the ball away for a steal and dunk on the next. The Knicks need help at most positions, but I think if Monk’s still there at 8 they’d be wise to take him. And if it’s wise, we know the Knicks will do it…
9. Dallas Mavericks – Zach Collins, Gonzaga
Collins looks more like a frat boy than a future NBA star, but that doesn’t mean he can’t ball. It was a classic example where he wasn’t most people’s radar as a surefire lottery pick in February, but when March rolled around and he went off in the NCAA Tournament everything changed. I like Collins. I think his ceiling is Kevin Love and his floor is Andrew DeClercq, but I suspect he’ll be somewhere in the middle. I think his best attribute is his touch around the basket, and his footwork is a close second. He’s pretty skinny, so if he wants to throw bows with legit 7-footers down low, he’s going to have to bulk up a bit to keep pace. He’s the kind of guy who appears unassuming, but then you look up and he’ll have 14, 6 and 2 in 17 minutes. Mark Few really trusted him in the Tournament, and if Few trusts him so do I. Dirk can’t play forever, so the Mavs might look for a big man to take his place. I’m not saying Collins will ever be that guy. No one can replace Dirk, but he might be a good place to start.
10. Sacramento Kings – Luke Kennard, Duke
Kennard was one of my favorite players to watch last year. He’s a rare mix of tough, skilled and savvy, and he can score at all three levels. His ability to finish around the rim is impressive. I’m not sure whether he’ll end up playing 1 or 2. He’s not a true point guard, but he’s a bit undersized for an NBA shooting guard. I suspect he’ll be a combo guard but mostly gravitate toward the 2, but he might get swallowed up trying to defend bigger, stronger shooting guards. I don’t see Kennard becoming a star, but I suspect he’ll be in the league a long time as a bench scorer and glue guy.
11. Charlotte Hornets – Frank Ntilikina, France
I won’t pretend that I watch every Strasbourg game in France. I’ve never seen Ntilikina play, but those who have say he’s versatile, has long arms and can score in bunches. The Hornets could use a combo guard to play behind Kemba Walker, and Ntilikina could be a nice fit.
12. Detroit Pistons – Lauri Markannen, Arizona
Markannen is a deadly shooter. He’s really a stretch 5, in essence, which is a rarity in the NBA. Picture a less clumsy Kelly Olynyk and you’ve got Markannen. He’s actually a better defender than one might think, and I’m pretty confident he won’t be a bust. He might have a little trouble creating his own shot, but I think he’ll get better at that with time. The Pistons have a lot of good pieces in place, and Markannen’s shooting touch could complement Andre Drummond’s lack of shooting touch and ferociousness quite nicely.
13. Denver Nuggets – OG Anunoby, Indiana
I think the some of the best available options at this point will be big men (John Collins, Harry Giles, Ike Anigbogu), but the Nuggets don’t need a big man. Nikola Jokic is the real deal, and I’d be surprised if he goes anywhere anytime soon. People forget the Nuggets weren’t too far from a playoff berth last year. They can’t really attract a marquee free agent quite yet, so they need to keep stockpiling assets and getting better. Anunoby is recovering from injury, but when he comes back he’s a weapon with supreme athleticism and a nice in-between game. He could develop into a lockdown defender, and I could see him being a really good sixth man down the road.
14. Miami Heat – Harry Giles, Duke
Pat Riley likes to think big, and Harry Giles is the definition of a guy oozing with potential. We didn’t really see a whole lot of him at Duke, but it was easy to tell why he was the top recruit coming out of high school. Not a top recruit; the top recruit. Injuries are a major concern, but when healthy he can definitely hoop. He has a pretty solid back-to-the-basket game and is a really smart defender and position rebounder. His agility concerns me. He consistently looked a little gimpy last year in limited action, but I hope he stays healthy in the NBA. I could see him becoming a Tristan Thompson-like player if things go according to plan.
15. Portland Trail Blazers – John Collins, Wake Forest
I could see John Collins emerging as one of the 5-10 best players in this year’s draft. His story was kind of interesting. He started off as really underrated, but then everyone talked how underrated he was, which made him overrated. In reality, he’s not a nobody and he’s not a once-in-a-generation player. I think he’ll be either a really solid starter on a bad team or a steady contributor to a playoff team someday. He’s long, has excellent footwork and boasts a high basketball IQ. He’s never really played with great players, so having Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum around to feed him inside is a beautiful prospect.
16. Chicago Bulls – Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
I’ve never been a big Donovan Mitchell guy. Nothing against him, but I just don’t see him becoming a star. I feel like his success was more a product of Rick Pitino’s coaching and having good players around him. That’s not to say I think he’ll be a bust. I just don’t see him becoming a star. His offensive game is somewhat predictable, and I think he’ll get swallowed up inside in the NBA if he tries to do what he did in college. He’s a solid shooter and athlete, but he’ll need to improve in both aspects in order to make the investment worth it.
17. Milwaukee Bucks – TJ Leaf, UCLA
Leaf’s an interesting one. I suspect he’ll be a solid 10 and 4 guy for a long time but never become a star or be out of the league. He’s an extremely talented offensive player and has every trick in the book scoring-wise, but he may be exposed defensively.
18. Indiana Pacers – Justin Patton, Creighton
Patton has tons of potential, and his length and athleticism could help a team out in a major way in the future. He’s got plenty of room to grow, so he could be a nice long-term project for the Pacers.
19. Atlanta Hawks – Ike Anigbogu, UCLA
He’s going to be a really good hustle guy and defensive-minded player. I don’t see him ever averaging more than 10 points per game, but he could get you 8 and 8, probably. At 6’10, he’s a bit short for a natural center, but at 250 he’s not quite mobile enough to be a 4, so that’s the only concern I have.
20. Portland Trail Blazers – Justin Jackson, North Carolina
The Blazers are set at guard and center, but they could use a wing to complement or replace Al Farouq Aminu. Jackson’s a natural scorer, but his ability to shoot over people in college may not be as much of an advantage in the NBA. He was a volume shooter on UNC’s national championship team, but I suspect he’ll have to become more efficient to last in the NBA.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Bam’s a fitting name for this bruiser, who found his niche for John Calipari as a post defender and rim protector. He’s a 7-footer, which helps, but he doesn’t really have much of an offensive game right now. If he gets a little better feel offensively and develops into the rim protector he’s capable of becoming, I could see him having a nice career.
22. Brooklyn Nets – Anzejs Pasecniks, Latvia
Wait, the Nets were awful last year. Shouldn’t they at least have a high pick? Hmm…Anyway, Pasecniks (whom I’ve never seen play) seems like a natural fit. He’s drawn some Kristaps Porzingis comparisons, and that turned out OK, so we’ll see.
23. Toronto Raptors – Tony Bradley, North Carolina
I think Bradley could be a steal for whichever team gets him in the mid-to-late first round. He played well when he got a chance last year, and anyone who plays on a national championship team has that going for them. Bradley’s back-to-the-basket game is solid. He’s got a long way to go, but the Raptors could be a good fit so he could learn from Jonas Valanciunas and fight for minutes with Pascal Siakam.
24. Utah Jazz – Isaiah Hartenstein, Germany
Let’s assume Gordon Hayward stays put for at least one more year. You have George Hill, Joe Ingles, Hayward, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert as your starting 5, which is quite good. Diaw and Joe Johnson will retire semi-soon, so that leaves a couple big holes at forward. The Jazz play extremely well together and play great defense, so they could use a wing scorer. Hartenstein seem to make sense here. The Jazz can bring him over now or wait a year or two until they need him and his game is more polished.
25. Orlando Magic – Jonah Bolden, Australia
I don’t know much about Bolden, but the Magic could use a wing scorer who can provide a spark off the bench. Supposedly he has a solid shot is an athletic playmaker.
26. Portland Trail Blazers – D.J. Wilson, Michigan
I really think the Blazers’ biggest weakness is wing scoring, and it can never hurt to draft two or three options and stick with one. Wilson burst onto the scene in the NCAA Tournament, and his stock has risen ever since. One thing I like about him is that he has an extremely smooth jumper for a guy his size. He’s super athletic, too, and I think he’ll last.
27. Brooklyn Nets – Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
I love Evans, and he was a main reason why I picked Oklahoma State to go to the Elite Eight last year. Wait, what? Yeah, I know. I’m stupid. Stop reading now. But anywho, I think Evans is legit. He’s supremely quick and could be a weapon in the pick and roll. The Nets need a lot of help all around, and he’s a guy who could come in right away and help as a playmaker and distributor.
28. Los Angeles Lakers – Ivan Rabb, California
I was really high on Rabb last year, too. I think he would have had a lot better year if he had better players around him. Rabb excels from 10-14 feet, and I could see him developing into a Myles Turner-esque player. He can block shots, move his feet and rebound, and I bet Magic likes him.
29. San Antonio Spurs – Frank Jackson, Duke
Jackson’s a winner, and the Spurs win. He’s a classic sleeper. Playing behind Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard will do that to you. I’m not sure if he’ll be a star, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t last. He reminds me of Deron Williams.
30. Utah Jazz – Jarrett Allen, Texas
It’s very possible Allen will be gone before here, but if he’s not I think the Jazz would have to take him. He’s a good post defender and solid finisher in the pick and roll.