The Warriors are up 2-0 in the Finals and we’re exactly 15 days from the NBA draft. Last season, we saw one of the most successful rookie classes ever with the likes of Mitchell, Tatum, Simmons (he’s “technically” a rookie), Kuzma, Markkanen, and more. There’s a lot to sort out over the next few weeks, but, until we crown a champion, here are my projections for the first round of the draft.
1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona
All the speculation of a player other than Ayton needs to be put to rest. He has the physical tools to go down as one of the best centers ever, and, paired with Devin Booker, could reignite the Suns franchise. The Suns picked a good time to be bad.
2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke
Many mock drafts have Doncic going at number two, but I’m high on Bagley. He averaged a double-double at Duke and his left hand could present problems for defenses. Like Ayton, he’s an athletic big man. If he develops a jump shot, he could really stretch the floor for the kings.
3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic, SG, Slovenia
The Hawks should be overjoyed if Doncic falls to three. He is one of the best international prospects ever, and the Hawks can use all the help they can get after finishing with the worst record in the East this season. The backcourt of Doncic and Schroder has potential to be a respectable duo.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State
Jackson could be the most raw player in this draft. He didn’t dominate college basketball like many believed he would, but he was a defensive presence with three blocks per game. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he’s too talented for the Grizzlies to pass up.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr., PF, Missouri
Is the back going to be ok? Time will tell, but Porter told the media a few weeks ago that he’s the “best player in this draft.” With Nowitzki’s time in Dallas coming to a close, it’s time to find the next superstar to pair with Dennis Smith. Porter is capable of creating his own shot and getting to the rim and injuries are the only thing holding him back.
6. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
Young took college basketball by storm and has drawn comparisons to Steph Curry, but can he transition to the NBA? The red flag would be how poorly the Sooners played down the stretch. It would be a risky pick for the Magic, but almost a no-brainer given the Magic’s need, the fact that Young has the ability to explode on any given night, and that he would draw tons of fans.
7. Chicago Bulls: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
The Bulls desperately need center help, and this seems like the perfect fit if Bamba is around at seven. He recently worked out for the Bulls and reportedly sees a good fit in Chicago. Pairing Bamba with Markkanen would create a young backcourt with loads of potential.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
The draft is the last place Cavs fans are looking to right now. Their team is down 2-0 in the NBA Finals, and when the Finals are over, win or lose, the focus shifts to where LeBron will end up. Collin Sexton was one of the best finishers in college basketball, a la a certain point guard who used to be in the Land.
9. New York Knicks: Wendell Carter Jr, C, Duke
The Knicks haven’t had a winning season since 2012-2013, and their best chance at success is coming off of a torn ACL. Carter nearly averaged a double-double on a loaded Duke squad. He doesn’t have the offensive talent Bagley does, but he’s a well-rounded player that can contribute to the Knicks.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
Philly doesn’t have a glaring weakness, but Walker could add a young wing to play with Simmons and Embiid. Belinelli and Redick can still knock it down from deep, but they’re climbing in age and Walker is a talented replacement.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova
The best two-way player in the draft, Bridges knows what it takes to be a winner after his two championships with Villanova. He’s an older prospect, which usually raises a red flag these days, but Bridges is a top-ten 3-and-D player that will pair nicely with Kemba Walker.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M
It’s looking more and more likely that DeAndre Jordan is gone after this season, and who better to replace him that Williams? Williams, like Jordan, played his college ball at A&M. He has a weak outside game, but can finish short range and block shots. The Clippers know what they’re getting in Williams.
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State
Returning for his sophomore season, Bridges had championship aspirations in year two. The Spartans came up short in the tournament, but Bridges is an immense talent that shot 39% from three. The Clippers could get two good talents back-to-back.
14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander finished his career at Kentucky with ten consecutive double-digit scoring games and was a key contributor to the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 run. He can finish at the rim, has proven to be a good passer, and should add good depth to the Nugget backcourt.
15. Washington Wizards: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky
Two Kentucky players in a row, Knox was the most talented player on the Wildcats last season, and he’s only 18 years old. He has to develop handles, as he was primarily a spot-up shooter for the Wildcats, but his mid-range game is excellent and should be open playing with John Wall.
16. Phoenix Suns: Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State
I have the Suns taking Ayton, a freshman with little experience, and now Bates-Diop, one of the oldest players in the draft. This is a slight reach for a 22-year old, but the former Big Ten Player of the Year can create his own shot and is versatile on both ends.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech
This is a project pick—Smith is still very limited on the offensive end, but he is a freak athlete and can blossom into a solid perimeter defender for the Bucks. He is somewhat of an unorthodox player as a shooting guard who isn’t known for shooting, but I see him contributing down the road for the Bucks.
18. San Antonio Spurs: Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova
A classic Popovich pick—DiVincenzo increased his draft stock rapidly over the course of the tournament, and with an aging Ginobili and Green, the Spurs need help at shooting guard. DiVincenzo is smart, experienced, and will fit in well with the Spurs’ scheme.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State
Since Keita Bates-Diop was unavailable, I went with what I believe is the next best option in Hutchison. A lesser known prospect from out West, he went from 3.1 PPG his freshman year to 20 his senior year, showing he can develop and get better wherever he plays.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton
Like Mikal Bridges, Thomas is a two-way player and could add a special talent to an already-loaded roster. He shot 41% from downtown last year, something that the T-Wolves were missing last season.
21. Utah Jazz: Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia and Herzegovina
A 6’9” scorer playing on a team that overachieved and reached the second round of the playoffs without Gordon Hayward? If I’m a Jazz fan, sign me up. He’s young and will have to adapt to the NBA style, but there’s potential here.
22. Chicago Bulls: Jacob Evans, SF, Cincinnati
The Bulls get two picks in the first round centered on defense. Evans isn’t a franchise-changer in the way Bamba is, but he can still contribute effectively for Fred Hoiberg after leading the Bearcats in scoring last season.
23. Indiana Pacers: Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland
Huerter had one of the best performances at the combine—the Pacers finished 25th in the NBA in three pointers made per game and Huerter’s 42% three-point shooting should boost that number.
24. Portland Trailblazers: Troy Brown, SG, Oregon
Brown’s potential was muddled by a very average season from the Ducks. Make no mistake, this 5-star freshman has loads of talent ready to be unleashed in the NBA, and gets to play behind one of the best backcourts in the NBA in McCollum and Lillard.
25. Los Angeles Lakers: Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA
“But they just picked Lonzo Ball last year!” Yes, but I think there are two reasons Ball could be traded: to bring in a superstar or to rid themselves of the Lavar Ball saga. Either way, Holiday is a scoring point guard that not only has three-point range, but NBA blood as well in Jrue and Justin Holiday.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
We’re not sure how the Markelle Fultz experiment will pan out, but one thing Philly will get with this pick is leadership. Brunson knows what it takes to win, and he’s already older than Fultz and a month younger than Simmons. He’s not the greatest athlete, but the 76ers could use his leadership.
27. Boston Celtics: De’Anthony Melton, SG, USC
Melton would have the privilege of playing for arguably the best coach in the league in Brad Stevens and could work his way into the rotation behind Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. The defensive-minded Melton would fit right in with the defensive-minded Celtics.
28. Golden State Warriors: Jerome Robinson, SG, Boston College
What more could the Warriors possibly need? Robinson is another good-sized guard who can knock it down at over 40% from deep and can learn from some of the greatest to ever do it.
29. Brooklyn Nets: Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
The Nets stink, and Allen is the perfect player to light a fire under this team. Brooklyn has a lot of young talent (some of whom are younger than Allen), and although Allen probably won’t have as much success in the NBA than he did in college, he has the fight and desire to be great.
30. Atlanta Hawks: Jevon Carter, PG, West Virginia
One of my favorite players to watch in college, Carter was a do-it-all player for the Mountaineers. He wouldn’t start for the Hawks, but if Lloyd Pierce needs a spark off the bench or the opposing point guard is on a run, Carter is the perfect guy to call on.