Two brief notes:
1.This is a mock draft based on what I think teams will do, not what I think they should do. My personal rankings of the top 14 prospects in the draft are available on the “big board” post.
2.This is obviously a pre-draft lottery mock, thus the draft slots are not finalized. For example, the Lakers are currently slotted at #4, but in actuality their odds of landing in that slot (9.9%) are the lowest of any of the top 5 spots (5th is highest at 37.3%) where they can still keep their pick. Thus, some teams actually have greater odds of finishing in a different slot by the very design of the lottery system, but even so, the current pre-lottery order is used.
1.Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl Towns
The Wolves allow opposing teams to shoot a league high 57.8 FG% at the rim per NBA.com Stats, a ghastly figure. Towns affords the Wolves much needed rim protection defensively. Offensively, Towns’ potential as a floor-spacer combined with his passing ability aids Wiggins’ post up game and creates more spacing for Rubio’s drive and kick game in pulling a big man out of the lane. Overall, Towns is as a superior roster fit than Okafor and serves as a building block next to franchise cornerstone Wiggins.
2.New York Knicks: Jahlil Okafor
The Knicks are one of the handful of teams in the lottery where selecting Okafor makes sense from a scheme perspective, as New York plays at the third slowest pace in the league and emphasize half court execution with triangle principles. While I believe Phil Jackson favors Towns, in this instance with Towns off the board he’ll be inclined to go big over small, and Okafor’s passing ability out of the post should appeal to Jackson. There is also talk of this pick potentially being moved (see Cousins), but I’m not sure the Knicks have the surrounding pieces to get a deal of that magnitude done.
3.Philadelphia 76ers: Emmanuel Mudiay
With Michael Carter-Williams’ departure, this selection likely comes down to Mudiay or Russell. This methodology for choosing Mudiay is based on precedent under Hinkie and schematically what kind of a team the Sixers want to be under Brown. For the former, Hinkie has demonstrated an affinity for athletes with size and wingspan (Noel, MCW, Grant, McDaniels). Mudiay at 6’5 with a solid frame fits this mold physically. As for the latter, even though Brown has noted philosophically that he favors transition offense and pace over any other component of the game, including defense, the Sixers have developed a defense first culture this season(though admittedly based mostly on current personnel limitations). Mudiay projects as the best open court lead guard in the draft with his speed and athleticism, and is the superior defensive prospect to Russell, giving him the edge over the sharpshooting Russell (though I have Russell rated higher).
4.Los Angeles Lakers: D’Angelo Russell
Some may object to Russell here because of Clarkson’s emergence over the latter half of the season at lead guard, but Russell is in a different class of prospect, not to mention he possesses an entirely different skill-set. Furthermore, Russell’s size and shooting ability enables him to play off the ball as well, thus LA can implement two guard lineups with he and Clarkson when the defensive matchups allow it.
Overall, in this scenario the selection comes down to Russell (or Mudiay if Philadelphia opts for Russell), Winslow or Cauley-Stein. LA’s free agent plans could also play an instrumental role in this selection. For instance, if their plan entails signing Rondo, Winslow may get the nod here. If they get indications Love would be amenable to signing there (if he opts out), Cauley-Stein could serve as the best roster fit. There are a lot of question marks here, but the aforementioned three players constitute the realistic potential player pool to choose from.
5.Orlando Magic: Justise Winslow
Winslow fits the prototype player Magic GM Rob Hennigan has shown an affinity for in the draft: a tough, defense first athlete with high character (see combination of Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo). With Tobias Harris’ upcoming free agent status and Mo Harkless falling out of favor somewhat with the franchise, Winslow looks like a natural wing replacement fit in Hennigan’s draft mold. Winslow can impact a game significantly without touching the ball offensively, which should be appealing to an Orlando team with a backcourt that largely need the ball to succeed. The Magic are in a precarious situation because they need rim protection but also floor spacing, rendering a very specific kind of player necessary to slide in next to Vucevic on the front line. Both Myles Turner and Kristaps Porzingis may garner some attention here in providing that specific set of skills (Cauley-Stein would be huge defensively but would significantly hinder spacing), but both have question marks (Turner with medical, Porzingis with NBA readiness). Taking a sure thing and best talent on the board in Winslow here looks to be the safe bet.
6.Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein
The Kings are in a similar situation as Orlando in needing rim protection and floor spacing on the front line to pair with Cousins, which again draws on the potential skill-sets of the aforementioned Turner and Porzingis. However, Sacramento wants to win now under new owner Vivek Ranadive, making an NBA ready player the likely recourse here if the pick is kept. Furthermore, new coach George Karl (and the Kings organizationally) favor an up-tempo, transition based style. Collectively, both of these facts point towards Cauley-Stein as the selection here. He’s a plug and play defensive ace who can cover Cousins on the back line and make rim-runs in transition, beating less mobile big men down the floor. Spacing will be a little cramped offensively, but Cousins can operate fine as a face-up player away from the basket, aiding that potential negative. There is also the Kentucky connection with Cousins and Cauley-Stein to help ease some of Cousins’ animosity with the franchise, assuming Cousins cares about such things.
7.Denver Nuggets: Mario Hezonja
This pick is somewhat contingent on who the Nuggets hire as head coach. If they retain Melvin Hunt or hire Mike D’Antoni, their system will be higher pace and require more shooting. If they hire a coach who favors half court execution (unlikely), that could shift their selection more towards the area rim protection. An up-tempo system fits the current roster construction best however, providing the necessity for more perimeter shooting. Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has shown an affinity for drafting foreign players such of Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne, and with how the current board has shaped up that international affinity and the best available talent aligns. Hezonja is an ace shooter with both superior athleticism and a more confident attitude than your typical European prospect. He’d afford Denver some wing versatility and desperately needed shooting. His defense, particularly off the ball, is still a work in progress, but he’s a capable offensive contributor from the off. Porzingis is also a definite possibility here, but the edge goes to the more NBA ready Hezonja.
8.Detroit Pistons: Kristaps Porzingis
Stan Van Gundy favors a 4 out, 1 in system, one of which the Pistons currently don’t have the personnel to employ with paint cloggers Monroe and Drummond paired on the front line. Drummond is the teams only surefire keeper, but the odds remain in favor of re-signing ball-dominant, pick and roll based Reggie Jackson. Thus, building around those two in pick and roll with Drummond the dive man, both non-shooters, requires floor-spacing at the other 3 positions. The Pistons could really use a bigger wing floor-spacer who defends, and they’ll have their pick here between Stanley Johnson and Kelly Oubre. However, a stretch 4 is also a need, and Porzingis has higher potential than the aforementioned two wing prospects. With how young the core of the team is and given how SVG wants to make his first real imprint on the team, bringing in a project like Porzingis makes sense here. Even if Monroe is re-signed, Porzingis would give SVG another personnel look.
9.Charlotte Hornets: Stanley Johnson
The Hornets have a plethora of young players in Kemba, MKG, Zeller and Vonleh, making the selection here based on need a chore when projecting in those pieces (mainly the latter two). The spacing-deprived Hornets desperately need shooting however, and given their young pieces the greater roster need is on the wing. Gerald Henderson was good for the Hornets this year as a defensive plus and off ball slasher, but he’s a midrange shooter who can’t consistently space out to the three-point line. Johnson here would give the Hornets a plus wing floor spacer and keep their defensive mentality intact. I have my reservations about Johnson based on numerous red flags (like his finishing ability at the rim), but he’s better as a shot-creator at this point than Oubre, which gives him the edge here. A sleeper pick not based on immediate need to also monitor is Myles Turner. Jefferson will likely opt in to his contract next year, but his status beyond that is up in the air. Turner would give the slower pace Hornets a spacing and rim-protecting threat at the 5, whereas both Zeller and Vonleh are more fours. Johnson should win out based on immediate contribution ability, but both Turner and Oubre are also in play here.
10.Miami Heat: Kelly Oubre
Riley could opt for Whiteside insurance in 2016 unrestricted free agency here by taking Turner ahead of time who could provide the Heat with pristine spacing if paired with Bosh for the slashing Wade and Dragic to navigate to the rim. However, assuming the Heat plan to retain Whiteside, selecting a not overly-versatile Turner as a backup here doesn’t make as much sense with a need area high upside prospect still on the board. The Heat have an aging Wade and Deng manning the perimeter, and could really use a spry young 3&D player to take some wear off each during the regular season. Oubre is not ready to be an immediate impact contributor, but the upside with the combination of his 7’3 wingspan and athleticism might be too tantalizing to pass up. Oubre can be eased into the rotation off the bench and gain the experience under Spoelstra to man the wing if Deng leaves in 2016. Even if the Heat trade for a backup guard such as Stephenson, a defensive wing who doesn’t need the ball is still a need area. As such, I expect this selection to come down to Johnson or Oubre, with Turner the long shot.
11.Indiana Pacers: Kris Dunn
The first real shocker in this mock. The Pacers desperately need perimeter shot creation and playmaking, even with Paul George back. George Hill is a very solid player, but he also might be best served playing off the ball more, and because he can guard multiple positions, he can be paired with another guard. Dunn is a playmaking guard who can really pass and penetrate, especially out of pick and roll. His long-range shooting is still a legitimate concern, but the overall talent is there. There is a reason the Pacers are always tied to playmaking point guards like Dragic: their offense is deprived of that much needed breed of player in today’s NBA. Dunn needs to reel in his turnovers, but he’s the best pure playmaker left on the board. As a solid defender who can press with his size, his skill-set will likely appeal to defense first head coach Frank Vogel. Overall, the Pacers are reportedly looking to push the pace more in the future, and that requires a guard like Dunn. Selecting the best talent on the board (in my opinion) in the slow-of-foot Turner would not make much sense. A trade back is also a possibility.
12.Utah Jazz: Myles Turner
The Jazz have a diverse array of young talent on their roster, with really only two positional need areas: a penetrating point guard with court vision (preferably one who can shoot) and a backup big man who can space the floor and fit next to Gobert and Favors. Exum was mostly reduced to spotting up in the corners his rookie year as part of the Jazz pass-driven motion scheme, but I’m still high on his upside as a drive and kick player. At this juncture in the draft, there is not an obvious lead guard fit either. Thus, this selection likely comes down to the three available big man floor spacers: Turner, Kevon Looney and Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky is the most skilled and the best passer of the three and perhaps fits the best next to both Gobert and Favors, but Turner has the highest upside in providing an incredibly rare package of rim protection and floor-spacing. The Jazz also play at a slower pace, more conducive to Turner’s more limited mobility. Convincing cases can be made for each of the three players here, and while I think Turner is best suited at the 5 spot, he can play some stretch 4, especially against bench lineups. I’ll go with the greatest upside here.
13.Phoenix Suns: Frank Kaminsky
Phoenix has young starting-level talent across every position with the emergence of Len and Warren’s promise as an off-ball ace finisher, rendering the selection here likely based on best available talent and depth. The Suns don’t have a lot of frontcourt depth behind Len and Morris after Plumlee’s departure at the trade deadline. Both Looney and Kaminsky are fits here in being mobile bigs in transition who can shoot, aiding Bledsoe’s dribble drive game, but Kaminsky gets the edge based on superior positional versatility. I have my reservations about Kaminsky as a starter in the league, but as a third big he offers a very scheme friendly skill-set to Phoenix.
14.Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevon Looney
The Thunder’s only real roster need is a 3 & D wing player. They have defensive oriented Roberson who can’t shoot and kills spacing, Morrow who is a lethal shooter but can’t defend, and Waiters (no description needed) under contract next year. If you morph together Roberson with Morrow that’s exactly the player OKC needs next to Durant and Westrbook (also of note: 29 other teams in the league could use such a player). Unfortunately, that player is not available at this selection. As such, the Thunder will likely just go best available talent. GM Sam Presti, similar to Hinkie, values length defensively (see Josh Huestis seletion), thus Looney’s 7’3 wingspan should be appealing to the Thunder. He also gives the OKC frontcourt some versatility if he can consistently knock down three point shots. With Kanter a restricted free agent and OKC right up on the tax line not even factoring in his new contract (likely in the $10M range), adding versatile frontcourt depth to Ibaka, Adams and McGary isn’t the worst thing here.