The NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone, and everything went accordingly, for the most part. The league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves walked away with the No. 1 pick, and one major curveball was thrown, which we’ll get to later.
But it’s now officially NBA Draft season! Cue your buddy and favorite writer JB getting excited, because it’s time to play Soothsayer and try and predict something that will happen in the near future.
Thus, I present to you my second NBA mock lottery, just over a month after the first. That said, let’s get crackin’!
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Minnesota needs to find an upgrade in the middle over the oft-injured Nikola Pekovic, and the 19-year-old Towns is the perfect fit for head coach Flip Saunders’ system. He was an integral part of the Wildcats’ march to the Final Four this year, and averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest on 56.6 percent shooting his freshman season.
In terms of skills at his position, Towns has them all. He’s a great low post presence at 6’11”, 250 pounds, and will be a fantastic rebounder and scorer in the paint if he can slightly improve his conditioning. Long story short, the stage is set for Minnesota to hit a home run in picking Towns, so hopefully the team jumps at the chance.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Not even five years after the second Phil Jackson era came to an end, and the Lakers are what I like to call a mess-and-a-half. Thus, in their case, rather than draft on need, I’m going to have them take the best player available.
At No. 2, that player is Okafor, who at 6’11” is a phenomenal scoring center that can hopefully bring back memories of the Showtime Era of Magic & Kareem. The young man from Chicago averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on an excellent 66.4 percent shooting en route to helping the Blue Devils to a national championship, and upped his value this draft season in getting in better shape once the season wrapped up.
Okafor is going to need to improve his low post skills on the professional level, as he didn’t really need to use his back-to-the-basket game in the fast-paced ACC and was also one of the biggest bodies in college basketball last year. Once he works on that and can go toe-to-toe with stronger centers, he has all the tools to be a great NBA star.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
The lowly Sixers are next on their list, and hopefully a floor general will help them get back on the winning track. Russell is the best man in that department, and brings great size to the position at 6’5″, 180 pounds.
Russell also ups Philly’s chances in the scoring department, as he is a fine scorer himself. The lefty posted 19.3 points and five assists per contest for the Buckeyes last season and shot 45 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc. Once he learns to slow down and not rely so much on his jump shot, utilizing his passing abilities and figuring out how to get teammates like Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid (health pending) involved, he’s going to be something special.
4. New York Knicks: Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Guangdong Southern Tigers, China
Since the Knicks will be missing out on the top two big men in the draft, expect team president Phil Jackson to chase interior help in free agency and use the fourth pick to bring in a guard who can both create scoring opportunities for Carmelo Anthony and get involved in the scoring department himself.
That man is Mudiay, who de-committed from a scholarship at Southern Methodist to go play in China. He only appeared in 12 games for Guangdong, but posted averages of 18 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists over 31.5 minutes per game. He has excellent size at 6’5″, 200 pounds and would instantly be a breath of fresh air to the long-suffering Knicks fan. If Mudiay is available at No. 4, to see the Knicks pass on him would be a major shock.
5. Orlando Magic: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Baloncesto Sevilla, Spain
Orlando’s biggest hole is at the 4, so look for GM Rob Hennigan to go big and create something of a twin towers situation alongside center Nikola Vucevic. At No. 5, the best option there is the Latvian Porzingis, who has great height and length at 7’1″, 220 pounds.
Porzingis has played his entire professional career in Spain, and averaged 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 48 games for Sevilla last season. Assuming he is taken with the fifth pick, and there are some who think he can go higher, Magic fans and management MUST be patient with him. He’s too skinny for the NBA at this point and will need to bulk up in the weight room, and his defensive abilities aren’t where they should be.
But that can all be fixed with coaching, and Porzingis is talented enough that he’s worth a shot at No. 5.
6. Sacramento Kings: Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
The Kings would benefit from moving Rudy Gay back to the 3 next year, as he doesn’t really have the size for power forward at 6’8″, 230 pounds, so selecting the tall 4 in Lyles with the sixth pick makes sense for them. Lyles only averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game at Kentucky last year, but has better size for frontcourt depth at 6’10”, 235 pounds.
Granted, Lyles isn’t a phenomenal athlete and only made about 49 percent of his shots last year, but his ceiling is high enough that he is worth drafting with the intent of SLOWLY developing over the next couple of years. Once he improves his defense and interior game and doesn’t try to show off his jump shot, he can easily become a solid power forward who can contribute on both sides of the hardwood.
7. Denver Nuggets: Justise Winslow, G/F, Duke
The Nuggets are still in the hunt for a head coach, so determining just what direction they’ll go in on draft day is a tough call. Given how the team has a glaring hole at the 2 and could use some help at the 3 as well, I’m going to peg them as the team that snags the dynamic Winslow, who plays with the tenacity and fire of someone much larger than his 6’6″, 225 pound frame.
Simply put, Winslow is an excellent slasher who can contribute in multiple ways on offense and is a solid defender as well. He posted 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and just over a steal per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point land.
Granted, the Nuggets have second-year shooting guard Gary Harris on the roster as well as small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, so Winslow would have to earn his minutes if he were to end up in the Mile High City. But the rule of the draft is that when in doubt, draft the best player available and assuming the first six picks go according to prediction, Winslow will be the best man at No. 7.
8. Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona
Detroit desperately needs help on the wing, and Johnson is the most athletic option at that position. Strongly built at 6’7″, 245 pounds, he averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game and shot 44.6 percent from the field and 37 percent from long range.
Just what kind of player Johnson will be on the professional level remains to be seen. His athleticism is off the charts, but a lot of his college numbers can be attributed to playing in Arizona’s fast-paced offense. Moreover, Detroit already has solid (albeit not great) scoring options in guards Brandon Jennings, Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
A lot will depend on what his coach decides to do with him, but one thing is certain. Whatever role Johnson ends up playing, he will absolutely thrive.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
The Hornets need a player who can score points and jumpstart their offense, and Booker is someone who can easily do that. He averaged 21.5 minutes per contest as the top guy off the bench for the Wildcats this past season, and posted 10 points per game on 47 percent shooting over that stretch. Booker also made 41 percent of his threes.
He has perfect size for the 2 at 6’6″, 206 pounds and would be an instant upgrade over Charlotte’s current options at the position in Lance Stephenson and Gerald Henderson. So long as Booker opens himself up to coaching and learns how to diversify his game beyond dunking and shooting threes, he has all of the tools to become an effective NBA shooting guard.
10. Miami Heat: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
If there’s one thing that Miami has been lacking for years, its a center that can play significant minutes and be more than just a big body in the middle that makes life difficult for opposing players.
Granted, Cauley-Stein is quite big at 7’0″, 240 pounds, but he plays aggressive defense to the point where it wouldn’t just be a great idea for Miami to pick him at No. 10, but they should be required to do so. He only averaged eight points per contest over three seasons in Lexington, but also posted 6.2 rebounds 2.2 blocks per game.
Simply put, if Miami is going to contend in the post-LeBron era, they need to shore up their defense. Cauley-Stein provides plenty of that, so he only makes sense at this position.
11. Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner, C, Texas
Since the past two years have proven that Roy Hibbert is not worth the contract extension he signed back in 2013, the best thing the Pacers can do is draft a big man they can develop over the next two years in hopes of ultimately being Hibbert’s successor. Enter Turner, who has excellent size at 6’11”, 240 pounds and posted 10.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest in his lone season with the Longhorns.
Turner is a great pick here because he truly is a project player. He’s only 19, and needs to improve his conditioning and overall strength so that he can indeed compete on the NBA level. On top of that, he likes to show off his jump shot and while he does have a good one for a big guy, coaches are going to want him to become more of a traditional center with strong rebounding and low post moves.
Thus, with two years to work on just that and adjust to the pros, Turner is a great option for Indy as Hibbert plays out the remainder of his deal.
12. Utah Jazz: Mario Hezonja, SF, Barcelona, Spain
The Jazz played well down the stretch last season, going 19-10 after the All Star Break, so it’s not as though they’ll be picking to fill an immediate need in the starting five. Thus, I predict them going for depth and taking an athletic wing in the Croatian Hezonja.
Like Myles Turner, Hezonja is a project player. He has size at 6’8″, 215 pounds, but isn’t a strong athlete and only averaged 5.9 points over 15.5 minutes per game last year. However, he’s an excellent long-range shooter and isolation player, though he needs to work on being able to create his own shot.
Give him a couple of years either riding the pine or stashed in Europe, and Hezonja can become a solid role player in the NBA, maybe even more. So long as people are patient with him, he’s got potential.
13. Phoenix Suns: Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
Phoenix has always been a team about playing at a fast pace and scoring a ton of points, so drafting a player like Dekker who can do it all offensively makes perfect sense for them. The 6’9″, 220 pounder from Sheboygan, Wisconsin only averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 33 percent from long range his junior season, but he turned on the afterburners in the NCAA Tournament.
In helping the Badgers reach the championship game, Dekker averaged 19.2 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting an excellent 58.2 percent from the floor and making a highly impressive 43 percent of his threes. With the Suns needing a small forward and Dekker able to play at a high tempo, he can succeed in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s system, and quickly.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder: Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas
The Thunder could very well be heading toward a rebuild if star player Kevin Durant opts to play elsewhere following next season, so having a solid draft pick could mean whether or not the team bounces back quickly. In this case, I have them taking the dynamic Bobby Portis out of Arkansas.
Portis is a big dude at 6’11”, 242 pounds, but showed incredible versatility in both the paint and mid-range to the tune of 17.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in his sophomore season with the Razorbacks. He’s a face-up player with a solid motor, and he doesn’t shy away from standing and banging in the paint despite his having a decent outside shot for a larger player.
The odds of him getting big minutes as a rookie are slim, but the fact remains that Portis is still a special player. Put him in OKC with a head coach in Billy Donovan who knows the SEC and will develop him accordingly, and the payoff could be of jackpot potential.