The NBA draft is an event that gets a lot of people excited, but some may argue that the lottery is all the more gripping. Not only does this determine the draft order for all the teams that missed the postseason, but it also gives an idea of where the top prospects may end up starting their professional careers.
This year’s draft class is stacked with amazing talent from top to bottom and just figuring out where each player will end up, let alone find a team on which they can or will succeed, is incredibly hard to predict. Just the same, it’s fun to play psychic and draft fever is slowly starting to sweep the nation.
Thus, let’s have a look at the 14 lottery picks and see just who is going to end up playing where, and of course why.
1. New York Knicks- Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky, Freshman
This year’s draft has one question so far: will Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns go first overall? Assuming that my beloved New York Knicks win the top pick, it’s a near-certainty that Towns will be playing at Madison Square Garden next year.
This is also assuming that team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher decide to keep the triangle offense going, and Towns has the necessary size for his position in such a system at 7’0″, 250 pounds. He’s still young at just 19 years old and will need time to learn the ropes, but he still uses his size well in the low post and keeps his turnovers to a minimum. Pair him with an effective experienced big guy at the 4 to complement him, and Towns can easily be the man to bring the Knicks out of the cellar and back to serenity.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves- Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke, Freshman
The Timberwolves currently have something of a logjam at center, with veteran Nikola Pekovic constantly injured and 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng showing great potential, but not really as the go-to center that head coach Flip Saunders would like star-in-the-making Andrew Wiggins to have.
Enter the 6’11”, 275 pound Okafor. Not only does he work the paint aggressively and demand the ball, but he is fresh off winning a national championship with the Blue Devils. Okafor also posted 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game his freshman year, shooting an eye-popping 66.4 percent from the field.
To say that he’ll put up similar numbers in Minnesota is tough to say, but he’s still an improvement at the position as Dieng is starting to look more and more like a trade chip and Pekovic’s health becoming a constant question mark. It may take Okafor time to adjust from the fast-paced college game to the slower pace of the pros, but his ceiling is still high enough that it’s harder to justify NOT taking him at this position than it is passing on him.
3. Philadelphia 76ers- De’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State, Freshman
Now that the Sixers have decided that former Syracuse Orange Michael Carter-Williams is not the man they want running the point, having traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks back in February, selecting Russell to take over at the position is the only move that makes sense.
Like Carter-Williams, Russell is a point guard with size at 6’5″, 180 pounds. The major difference between the two is that Russell has a more developed offensive game and can actually make jump shots consistently, not to mention pass and rebound with Russell Westbrook-like capabilities. In his first season with the Buckeyes, he averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and five assists per game, plus 1.6 steals while shooting 45 percent from the field.
The only obstacle in the Sixers selecting Russell is simple. He hasn’t officially declared for the draft yet. Though the possibility remains that he’ll stay in school for another year, it’s hard to see him saying no to the idea of going pro when his draft stock is this high. If picked by Philly, he’ll immediately be able to make an impact.
4. Los Angeles Lakers- Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong (China)
Mudiay was originally going to play for Hall of Famer Larry Brown at Southern Methodist before opting to head overseas, and it appears he was 100 percent correct in making that decision. Though he only appeared in 12 games for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), he still managed to average 18 points, 6.3 rebounds and five assists per game while also shooting just under 48 percent from the field.
Enter the Lakers, a team that desperately needs a dynamic point guard who can electrify the crowds as future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant nears the end of his career. Mudiay could help shoulder the scoring load and take some of the pressure off of Bryant, not to mention use his unique size at 6’5″ 200 pounds to drive past opposing players and make matchups tough while playing defense.
Moreover, the last time the Lakers had a point man with size was when Earvin “Magic” Johnson was on the team, and his presence ultimately led to five championships. Mudiay won’t bring the same results immediately and will need to work on his jump shot in order to be a complete NBA player, but the rest of the tools are there in terms of what he needs to help bring Los Angeles back to success. Picking him will not only make the team better next year, but for many seasons to come.
5. Orlando Magic- Kristaps Porzingis, PF, CB Sevilla (Spain)
With a glaring hole at power forward and not many college studs at that position who can be justified such a high pick, it makes sense for Orlando to search overseas in this case. Their search could very well lead them to Porzingis, who’s 7’1″, 225 pound frame could lead the team to use a Twin Towers approach in the front court, with Nikola Vucevic already manning center.
Porzingis, originally from Latvia, is primarily a pick-and-roll player who can also hold his own with a jump shot. In order to succeed in the NBA, he’ll need to put on some weight as well as improve his low post game. On top of that, there is no guarantee that he’ll immediately leave Spain and join whichever NBA team selects him. Regardless of that, he is the best man for Orlando to pick at this position and if the team is patient with him, the results will speak for themselves.
6. Sacramento Kings- Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky, Freshman
Sacramento is a team that has been on a long road back to glory, having missed the playoffs every year since 2006. Now that veteran George Karl is the head coach and star player Rudy Gay has been extended, the tools are in place for the Kings to take multiple steps forward in the coming years, and selecting Lyles will only help them achieve that goal.
Blessed with size and athleticism at 6’10”, 250 pounds, Lyles showed in college that he could play both small and power forward, moving the floor with cat-like grace and managing to stand out on a team full of stars. He only averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but the talent is there and he can succeed on the professional level with patience.
Lyles will play power forward if Sacramento picks him, so he’ll need to up his rebounding game as he adjusts to playing against men of greater or equal size. However, that will not stop him from ultimately succeeding as Karl coaches a dribble-drive game very similar to that of Lyles’s college coach, John Calipari. Thus, with minimal adjustments necessary, all signs point to Lyles succeeding in central California.
7. Denver Nuggets- Mario Hezonja, G/F, FC Barcelona (Spain)
Denver currently has a logjam of talent at every position, so GM Tim Connelly will be looking to draft someone that can take a year or so to develop before becoming a regular part of the rotation. It just so happens that Croatian swingman Mario Hezonja fits this profile perfectly.
Though only 20 years old, Hezonja can do it all. He drives to the basket, plays solid on-ball defense and can also nail jump shots in catch-and-shoot situations. The only problem with him is that he has shown a bit of an attitude at times, and that won’t fly in the NBA. He’s also a bit skinny at 6’8″, 215 pounds, and he’ll need to beef up if he is to succeed as a winger on the next level.
But it’s like I said. Denver is pretty crowded at every position now, so the chances of Hezonja playing impact minutes immediately are slim, and that’s assuming Connelly chooses to bring him to Denver immediately instead of stashing him in Spain for a year or two. Either way, depending on who the team’s next coach is and whether or not Hezonja comes to the States next year, this is a solid pick for Denver.
8. Detroit Pistons- Justise Winslow, G/F, Duke, FreshmanJamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports
Another freshman comes off the board as Detroit opts to go with Duke’s Justise Winslow, who in this mock has fallen a little lower than some may have expected. Just the same, the Pistons need an explosive player who can score as well as play defense, and Winslow is just that.
In his lone season with the Blue Devils, Winslow averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. For someone just 6’6″, 225 pounds, those rebounding numbers are impressive. He’d likely be asked to focus on his scoring game in Detroit, being the third head of the monster that could feature himself, point man Reggie Jackson and center Andre Drummond (assuming Greg Monroe leaves in free agency), with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope acting as the shooter.
This is all situational, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Winslow is a great slasher who can also hit the occasional three, making him all the more attractive as a prospect. He’ll need time to learn, as every rookie does, but his upside is so tremendous that any potential bumps in the road will be worth the patience as the final product could be too good to be true.
9. Charlotte Hornets- Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona, Freshman
Back in 2012, Charlotte (then the Bobcats) selected Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick with the hopes that he’d become a slashing scoring forward that could lead the team to regular playoff contention. Unfortunately, though he has shown he can compete in the NBA, it’s obvious that he isn’t suited to be a starter and that’s why the new Charlotte Hornets should take Stanley Johnson at this position.
In a draft class full of talented underclassmen, Johnson could very well be the most explosive of the bunch. In Arizona’s run-and-gun system, he showed that he could do everything from scoring (13.8 PPG) to rebounding (6.5 RPG) and also played great on-ball defense. On a team like Charlotte, his disciplined approach is exactly what is needed at the three.
Johnson won’t turn 19 until May and may struggle to adjust to a slower pace in the NBA, but the fact that he doesn’t rely solely on jump shots like in a traditional run-and-gun game and prefers to drive the lane speaks volumes regarding his overall potential. Give him some time and patience, and the tools to succeed are already there.
10. Miami Heat- Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky, Junior
There’s no other way to say this. The Heat are in desperate need of a center so that Chris Bosh can go back to his natural spot at power forward once he returns from illness. At 7’0″, 240 pounds, Cauley-Stein is the team’s best option at this draft position.
Though he won’t do much on the offensive end, Cauley-Stein has proven to be a phenomenal defensive presence in the middle and averaged 2.2 blocks per game in three years at Kentucky. With Bosh’s talents better suited to the 4 and guys like Chris Andersen little more than rotation players, having a big body in Cauley-Stein who can shut down the paint from start to finish and play significant minutes is not just a great pick for this team, but a near-perfect one.
11. Indiana Pacers- Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State, Sophomore
I look at Cameron Payne, and I immediately think of Damian Lillard. Here is a scoring point guard from a smaller program that didn’t get tons of national exposure during the season, but his overall talent has people talking and thus he is rocketing up draft boards.
Considering how the Indiana Pacers badly need a point guard who can stay healthy and be more of a leader than the incumbent George Hill, Payne is perfect for them. The lefty averaged 20.2 points, six assists and 1.9 steals per game for the Racers this past season, and also shot 45.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from long range.
He’ll need to rely a bit less on his jump shot in order to succeed on the professional level, but the fact that he’d already have a fine go-to guy in All-Star Paul George would allow him to focus on his passing during games and develop his scoring game as necessary. Should he be available when the Pacers pick, it’ll be hard to turn him down.
12. Utah Jazz- Kevon Looney, F, UCLA, Freshman
Like the aforementioned Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a team that is crowded at the positions where Looney can play. Just the same, Looney’s slashing abilities and strong interior defensive game make him an intriguing bench option for a team absolutely pining for some depth.
In his sole season with the Bruins, Looney posted 11.6 points and a team-best 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. He won’t provide much in terms of offense in the NBA but playing behind guys like scorer Gordon Hayward and big man Derrick Favors, he could be a rotational guy off the bench that ultimately redefines the word “pest” at 6’9″, 220 pounds. Given how Hayward and Favors’ current backups are the underwhelming Trevor Booker and soon-to-be free agent Jeremy Evans, Looney could be just the guy that Utah needs to inject some life back into the team.
13. Phoenix Suns- Kelly Oubre, G/F, Kansas, Freshman
Phoenix has always been a team defined by the ability to play a fast-paced game and score in bunches, but the lack of a definitive shooting guard the past few seasons has kept them from doing just that, though the run-and-gun offense has been there. Though he’d need some time to learn the system and refine his skills, Kansas’s Kelly Oubre is a nice fit for the team at this draft position.
Oubre only averaged 9.3 points per game in his lone season with the Jayhawks, but he has good size for the 2 at 6’7″, 200 pounds and is a natural shooter, always welcome in Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek’s system. All that Oubre has to do is round out his game in the mid-range and improve his ability to drive the lane and make high-percentage shots, and he’ll instantly make an impact. It may take him a year to do it, but the final results will be worth the wait.
14. Houston Rockets (from New Orleans)- Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin, Junior
Though Houston has played great basketball this season, it’s clear that they miss having a Chandler Parsons-type player who can be a phenomenal offensive presence in every way, shape and form. Thus, if Dekker is available this far down, GM Daryl Morey should jump at the opportunity to select him.
Similar in size to Parsons at 6’9″, 220 pounds, Dekker averaged just 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Badgers this year. However, in the tournament, he posted 19.2 points and shot an eye-popping 58.2 percent from the field and 43 percent from long range. He drives the basket well, and completes his scoring game with the ability to be clutch when it counts.
Dekker will need to learn to be more than just a shooter on the professional level, but he has a good head on his shoulders and already has a complete skillset. Once he learns how to balance it out, the sky is the limit.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports