If the NBA Finals left you wanting more, you’re not alone. It might take a while to come down from the high we got from that epic Game 7.
For the third straight year, an Australian has walked away with a ring, giving us reason to be proud and Delly an excuse to celebrate.
It’s also fuelled the debate on where LeBron James belongs among the NBA’s greatest ever.
If you’re wondering who the next great player may be, you don’t have to wait long, as the 2016 NBA draft is less than 48 hours away. There’s certainly been some movement in the top 10 that we didn’t see coming just a few weeks ago.
Workouts are now complete as the 14 green room invitees head to New York City. Team needs are pretty well defined, but there is still little certainty after the top two. The rumour mill is in full swing and as we’ve seen the past few years, there are no certainties come draft night.
Here to make sense of it all is Downtown’s 2016 NBA mock draft 3.0.
Pick 1 – Philadelphia 76ers (Needs: PG, SG, SF, talent)
Selection: Ben Simmons, SF/PF, LSU (Rank in previous mock draft: 1)
Controversy still surrounded Simmons the week of the draft. Tracy McGrady took a shot at him as did Stu Jackson, who questioned the way Simmons has “handled himself” and his “body language.” Fortunately for Simmons, Brett Brown is having none of it. “He comes from strong values. I don’t worry about those sort of conspiracy theories that at times surround Ben,” Brown told a Philadelphia radio station this week. “You can’t make up the history that I have had with their family…He’s in a position to be selected first and we’re in a position where the ping-pong ball fell our way, and we have an opportunity to choose him.” The Sixers are comfortable and they finally had the opportunity to meet with Simmons in Cleveland ahead of Game 6, coming away saying it’s the start of “building a relationship.” Simmons, who is being mentored by LeBron, also finally worked out for the Sixers on Tuesday. It has since been reported that they’ve told him they’re going to take him with the first pick.
Pick 2 – Los Angeles Lakers (Needs: SF, C)
Selection: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke (Previous: 2)
The stars seem to have aligned nicely for Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family in terms of Brandon Ingram being a great fit for their roster. The Lakers currently have a gaping hole at small forward, the position Ingram will play in the NBA. His pre-draft routine is focused on adding bulk and his length and skillset have led to many Kevin Durant comparisons. Ingram however, doesn’t want to be the next anyone. He will pick up moves from others, but wants to be the best he can be so kids will want to be like him someday. Plenty of fans in Southern California will be doing just that once he puts that purple and gold cap on his head.
Pick 3 – Boston Celtics (Needs: SG, PF, C)
Selection: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence (Previous: 6)
Just days out from the draft and this is still possibly the hardest pick to predict. In many ways the draft begins here. There are some who’ve risen into the discussion here, like Jaylen Brown and Marquese Chriss. Danny Ainge may still trade the pick, perhaps to the Sixers, who covet Kris Dunn. If Ainge keeps it or can’t move it, he’ll be deciding between Brown, Chriss, Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, Dragan Bender and Dunn. While Dunn does not fill a positional need for the Celtics, he may be the guy they’ve got their sights on. With his length (6-foot-4 with a 6-10 wingspan), he can defend either guard position, which could be a great fit next to Isaiah Thomas. His backstory was covered yesterday in my draft series and while he hasn’t worked out for the Celtics, his proximity having played at Providence means they’ve been keeping an eye on him anyway. Dunn has also provided his medical records to the Celtics, so he’s definitely in play. He’s clearly the best two-way guard prospect in this draft and Ainge could take him and figure out the rest later.
Pick 4 – Phoenix Suns (Needs: SF, PF)
Selection: Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington (Previous: 8)
He’s been threatening to move up draft boards and now it’s happened. Chriss is considered to have the most upside of any lottery pick and coupling that with his freakish athleticism and shooting range, it’s no wonder he’s risen so fast. The Suns are in desperate need of a power forward, so they’ll likely choose between Chriss and Bender here. While Bender’s shooting range is further along, he also comes with a lot more risk given his limited sample size of play with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Chriss’ athleticism is a better fit for the pace the Suns will play and he is looking like a home run here.
Pick 5 – Minnesota Timberwolves (Needs: PG, SF, PF)
Selection: Jaylen Brown, SF, California (Previous: 7)
Brown is another whose stock has climbed of late. He’s listed at pick three in some mocks but I still think his lack of offensive polish will hold him down a couple of spots. If you’re asking “What can Brown do for you”, at pick five he is someone Tom Thibodeau will love. His toughness, defensive skill and NBA-ready body are traits the Timberwolves need, plus the three-spot is probably their weakest right now. He’ll help on the boards, get to the line and be able to run in transition with Andrew Wiggins and co.
Pick 6 – New Orleans Pelicans (Needs: SG, PF, C)
Selection: Dragan Bender, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv/Croatia (Previous: 4)
If you watched this week’s Game of Thrones episode, you’ll agree that everything is easier when you have a Dragon (or three). There is only one available in this draft though and while he could go higher, Dragan Bender likely won’t fall past the Pelicans here. Yes, Anthony Davis is a power forward, but he’s spent a lot of time at the five when Ryan Anderson is on the floor and Bender could become Anderson’s replacement. Like Daenerys’ dragons, by now we know what the skillset is, but we’re not sure exactly how far it can take him and the team that drafts him. His sample size has caused a little concern, hence the mini slide, but the potential is still there. Whether those big wings belong to a Dragon or a Pelican, they will be well utilised for years to come.
Pick 7 – Denver Nuggets (Needs: SG, SF)
Selection: Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky (Previous: 5)
Murray may be getting a little queasy from all the movement up and down draft boards. He’s been as high as three and briefly discussed at pick one and is now more in the five-eight range on most boards. Murray’s a combo guard which is fine in the modern game and he has the size to play the two-spot offensively. However, his defence has been picked apart recently which will scare teams in the top half of the lottery. It’s possible he falls lower than Denver, however I think his upside still puts him slightly ahead of Hield. In Denver, he could compete for the starting two-spot with Gary Harris and make a nice pairing with Emmanuel Mudiay, as both could play on or off the ball.
Pick 8 – Sacramento Kings (Needs: SG, PF)
Selection: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma (Previous: 3)
I covered the perception of upside in my draft series piece about Hield. While I believe Buddy will continue to improve, NBA front office personnel are less inclined to take that risk and see the younger prospects more favourably as a result. Hield is still the best shooter in the draft, is NBA-ready and will not fall past the Kings here. In fact, the Kings are almost praying that he falls to them now. They whiffed with Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas at the two-spot in recent drafts and still desperately need three-point shooting. Buddy and Boogie—sounds good, doesn’t it?
Pick 9 – Toronto Raptors (Needs: SG, PF)
Selection: Henry Ellenson, PF/C, Marquette (Previous: 10)
The crop of power forwards in this range is proving difficult to separate. Ellenson, Domantas Sabonis, Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, and you can even throw Jakob Poeltl into that mix. They each bring something slightly different to the table and I could see all but Davis being attractive to the Raptors here. As I’ve noted previously, the Raps don’t need someone to contribute right away given they’re already Eastern Conference contenders, but finding a better option at the four would be an added bonus with this pick. Ellenson seems like the best complement to Jonas Valanciunas out of the bunch. He is offensively talented, a strong rebounder and can hold his own defensively, plus he can slide over to centre when JV sits. Ellenson is not the best athlete of the bunch, but the Raptors don’t play a particularly fast pace anyway (ranking second last in the league) and his stretch game is exactly what they need.
Pick 10 – Milwaukee Bucks (Needs: PG, SG, C)
Selection: Dejounte Murray, PG/SG, Washington (Previous: 11)
Murray is another with a broad draft range. His size is very appealing at 6-foot-5 with a 6-11 wingspan and his talent level, while still unharnessed, is certainly attractive. The Bucks are clearly not enamoured with Michael Carter-Williams, who may be on the move for the second time in his short career. Murray could be his replacement. He has great instincts, knows how to get into the paint to create for himself or teammates or get to the line, has active hands defensively and could play either guard position. He does need to improve his shooting and add some bulk to his 170-pound frame, but that’s like other young prospects. Russell Westbrook’s scouting report out of UCLA was very similar in that regard. I’m not saying Murray is the next Westbrook, but he’s looking like the third best point guard prospect in this draft.
Pick 11 – Orlando Magic (Needs: PG, PF)
Selection: Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky (Previous: 9)
The next of the stretch fours to come off the board will be either Sabonis or Labissiere. For Orlando, Labissiere’s shot-blocking ability may give him the edge. Frank Vogel got the best out of Myles Turner last year, putting him in situations where he could utilise his shot-blocking even when overmatched physically, while offensively he found pick-and-pop situations for him frequently. Skal has a similar skillset in many ways, so having Vogel directing him should prove a good fit. As I’ve said previously, I think his game is better suited to the NBA and his upside is intriguing enough that he’d be hard to pass on here. He has all the tools to be an effective stretch four and may take some time to develop, but the Magic are OK with that given their young core.
Pick 12 – Atlanta Hawks (Needs: PG, SG, C)
Selection: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah (Previous: 12)
With this pick moving from Utah to Atlanta, it will be interesting to see how the Hawks play this. There’s lots of talk that they’ll deal the pick along with pick 21, but there’s also talk that Al Horford could be next to be moved. Schroder will run the show now so they could look for depth behind him, but I think they take best player available. It’s clear that Poeltl is the best Centre prospect in this draft and he could still find his way to Toronto (9th) or Milwaukee (10th), but if he’s available here, the Hawks will take him as the best player available. When I first profiled the likely draft prospects in March, I compared Poeltl to two current NBA players; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bogut (pre-injury). Poeltl has soft-hands like Gasol and sees the floor and protects the rim like Bogut (his alumnus from the Utes). Poeltl may not be as good as either of them, but for the Hawks, he’d provide depth behind Horford, could be their future five man if Horford goes, or at worst he’s a trade chip. He’ll be effective at the pro level and if he can improve his jump shot, he could end up being a steal at pick 12.
Pick 13 – Phoenix Suns (Needs: SF, PF)
Selection: Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga (Previous: no rank)
The son of Arvydas is one of the big risers on draft boards and I’ve seen him as high as eighth in mocks. He’s the third in that crop of stretch fours I listed, but could easily be the first. His father was known for being a giant while passing like a guard, but Domantas is a little different. At 6-foot-10 with just a 6-11 wingspan, he relies more on his motor and shooting to be effective. His major strength is on the boards where he is among the best per-minute rebounders (offensive and defensive) in the draft. He hit a solid 35.7 percent of three-pointers, an impressive 64.1 percent from the field and even made his free throws at 76.9 percent. Sabonis will be a high-energy stretch four in the mould of a young Luis Scola or even a little like a healthy Terrence Jones. Sabonis has worked out for several teams in this range, including the Suns, and he’d give them depth up front behind Tyson Chandler, Alex Len and Marquese Chriss.
Pick 14 – Chicago Bulls (Needs: PG, C)
Selection: Wade Baldwin IV, PG, Vanderbilt (Previous: no rank)
With Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah likely leaving the Windy City, the Bulls will jump on Poeltl or Ellenson if they fall as depth behind Robin Lopez, but in this scenario they’re going with a point guard. Derrick Rose is now a Knick and even though they have Jerian Grant, Jose Calderon and Spencer Dinwiddie now, I’m not convinced any of them are starter worthy. Baldwin is the next best point in the draft here just ahead of Demetrius Jackson and Tyler Ulis. Baldwin is big point guard at 6’4” and 200lbs, so body wise, he’s good to go. He also has a crazy 6’11” wingspan which helps him wreak havoc defensively and wrack up steals. Baldwin sees himself (not Dejounte Murray) as the next Russell Westbrook and isn’t afraid to tell people. “I’m trying to be Russell Westbrook with a pinch of a higher basketball IQ,” Baldwin told ESPN.com after a workout recently. His combine tests were very similar to Westbrook’s and he expresses a desire to be as competitive as Russ. “I’m the most competitive guy when it comes to competition. Especially when it comes to basketball, I’m coming for your head.” Maybe he’s the next Derrick Rose? Whoever he becomes he should be a great fit next to Jimmy Butler, so opponents beware; Baldwin is coming for you.
Next Best: Furkan Korkmaz (G/F, Turkey), Deyonta Davis (PF, Michigan State), Malachi Richardson (SG, Syracuse), Demetrius Jackson (PG, Notre Dame), Juan Hernangomez (PF, Spain), Timothe Luwawu (G/F, France), Cheick Diallo (PF, Kansas), Malik Beasley (SG, Florida State), DeAndre Bembry (G/F, Saint Joseph’s), Thon Maker (F, Australia), Tyler Ulis (PG, Kentucky), Denzel Valentine (G/F, Michigan State), Ante Zizic (C, Croatia)
There’s less than 48 hours until Australia has another reason to celebrate. Ben Simmons and 59 other young men will realise a lifelong ambition when commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum call their names on Friday morning.
Will one of them be lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy next June? Let’s find out.
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