Welcome to the First Annual Dueling Mock Draft. For this, we've picked who we think will be best at each spot, regardless of what we think will actually happen.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Derek Simshauser: Karl-Anthony Towns, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’11”, 250 lbs.
This is a no brainer here, for both me and the Wolves. Towns is the best prospect in this year’s draft class. He is developing offensively, but has a solid post hook and a consistent mid range jumper that he can rely on to score. Defensively, he is mobile enough to guard 4’s and big and strong enough to protect the rim and block shots (4.3 blocks/40 minutes).
For the Timberwolves, he will provide a great foundation for the future playing alongside Andrew Wiggins. Though there will be questions as to what to do with Nikola Pekovic, but Towns is too good of a prospect to pass up on. Also, don’t forget the impact playing under future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett will have.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Justin Lynch: Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke, 6’11”, 270lbs.
Okafor is the best pure post scorer in the draft in several years. His great footwork and huge hands combined with his myriad of post moves make him almost impossible to cover one-on-one in the post. Even in today’s pace and space NBA, Okafor will be of value due to his ability to pass out of double teams. He will be able to find open shooters on the perimeter and can punish a defense that way.
Many question his defensive ability. He is not a very good post defender and got burned when he was taken out onto the perimeter (most notably by Frank Kaminsky in the title game). He will be a liability in pick and roll coverage due to his average athleticism. Despite some questions, Okafor is too good offensively to pass up on at number two.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
DS: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7’1”, 220 lbs.
I really didn’t want to make a Sixers joke, but it works too perfectly here. Porzingis is the quintessential Sam Hinkie pick, a classic case of “wait, this foriegn guy is coming over and will be really good. Don’t fire me yet!”
That said, Porzingis is still a 7-footer with three point range. He runs the floor well and can finish at the rim. His main issue is his lack of strength. At only 220 lbs, he needs to fill out if he wants to bang with NBA centers. Though the 76ers used the number three overall pick last year to select Joel Embiid, a set back in the foot injury that forced him to miss all of last year, might cause him to miss all of next season. The 76ers are no longer able to build with Embiid as a definite going forward.
Porzingis is very intriguing for the 76ers because of his potential to play with Nerlens Noel. Noel is a big without a reliable jump shot, forcing him to play mostly around the low-mid post. Porzingis’ ability to shoot the three will allow the 76ers to space the floor around Noel in the middle, while still allowing the 76ers to use Noel’s athleticism to stay with smaller players on the defensive end, and have Porzingis in the middle as the rim protector. The 76ers will most likely have a golden opportunity to shore up their frontcourt by taking Porzingis at 3.
4. New York Knicks
JL: D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State, 6’5”, 193 lbs.
The Knicks have been linked to several players in the draft, but I have them settling here. Russell is a 6’5” combo guard who can knock down the three (41.1%). He is a good ball-handler and is good at creating openings and shooting in traffic. He averaged 19.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, and 5 apg in his only season with the Buckeyes. The offensive load he had to carry hurt his effort defensively, which is where most of the concerns about him lie. He also has a thin frame that he will have to grow into in the NBA.
The Knicks are in a position where they need to draft the best player, while still keeping in mind their ability to attract free agents. The Knicks need to draft someone who can contribute right away and will not be a huge project for them because of their potential to land a top free agent. Russell’s game is more polished than that of Willie Cauley-Stein and Emmanuel Mudiay, though his ceiling may be lower.
5. Orlando Magic
DS: Willie Cauley-Stein, Junior, Kentucky, 7’0.5”, 242 lbs.
I’ve probably changed my stance on Cauley-Stein about 20 times, but I’ve settled here: he is super athletic and one of the premier defenders in the draft, and there will always be a spot for him in the NBA. He uses his length and jumping ability to contest and block shots near the basket, but is also able to step onto theperimeter and guard smaller, quicker players. He is good at diving to the basket and finishing above the rim. He is limited offensively, with few post moves, but he has reportedly been working on his outside shot. Regardless of how his shot progresses, once he learns the nuances of the pick and roll he will be at least serviceable offensively.
The Magic have Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo as the building blocks of their backcourt. Both are very strong defenders, but without the presence of a rim protector, the Magic finished 23rd in total defense. Putting Cauley-Stein behind them will give their defense the boost it needs to be one of the best in the league. They will still struggle to score, but Cauley-Stein’s potential is too much to pass up on for the Magic.
6. Sacramento Kings
JL: Emmanuel Mudiay, Chinese Basketball Association, 6’5”, 200 lbs.
Mudiay is a big guard standing 6’5” with a 6’8” wingspan. He is elite athletically, though not on the John Wall/Russell Westbrook level, but then again who is? He uses his combination of quickness and dribble moves to get by defenders and get into the paint. He is good at finishing around the basket, as well as finding the big guy diving or spot-up shooters on the perimeter. He is solid defensively and will only get better. The main gripe about his game is his lack of jump shot. The development of his shooting will determining how successful he is in the league, but even without a reliable and consistent jumper, he will be able to contribute in the league.
The Kings need to start to building around Boogie Cousins and Mudiay could be the next step in that direction. Ben McLemore showed promise this season, but he does not project to be the second best player on a title contender. Mudiay will be able to facilitate the offense and provide quality minutes defensively. Putting shooters around Mudiay is key while his shot develops, which makes McLemore a good guy to pair with Mudiay in the backcourt.
7. Denver Nuggets
DS: Justise Winslow, Freshman, Duke, 6’6.5”, 222 lbs.
The Nuggets are desperately trying to trade Ty Lawson and move up in this draft, but, assuming they wind up in the seven spot, Winslow should be the choice. Winslow will allow the Nuggets to put Randy Foye back into a more limited role and will improve the team defensively. After Jusuf Nurkic’s promising rookie season, the Nuggets will look for players who will complement him. Winslow is a versatile wing who will defend at a high level and should develop into a consistent three-point shooter. Him and Nurkic are two good building blocks for the future of the Nuggets.
If the Nuggets can land Winslow at 7, they will be celebrating in the war room. As a player who’s been rumored to go as high as 4, he’s the perfect high upside guy for a Nuggets team that is looking to rebuild.
8. Detroit Pistons
JL: Stanley Johnson, Freshman, Arizona, 6’6.5”, 242 lbs.
The Pistons' recent trade for Ersan Ilyasova will most likely push Greg Monroe out, especially with Reggie Jackson’s free agency looming as well. Assuming the Pistons keep Jackson and play him alongside Brandon Jennings, the Pistons will need a bigger, wing defender to handle Eastern Conference perimeter guys like Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Lebron James. Adding Johnson will also allow Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to come off the bench in a role more suited to his game.
9. Charlotte Hornets
DS: Mario Hezonja, Croatia, 6’8”, 215 lbs.
Thanks for this Justin. I know you wanted to take my boy at 8. By all accounts, Hezonja thinks the world of his abilities. His cocky attitude may clash with the Hornets’ organization (cough cough Lance), but his talent is true. He is the best perimeter talent in the draft, someone who can spot up, as well as shoot off the dribble. He's played on the best European Team for several years, so he's not afraid of the spotlight. There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be one of the best players from this draft.
The Hornets need a wing to play alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is a very good defender, but is extremely limited on the offensive end. Hezonja is perfect for the Hornets because of his ability to stretch the floor and score the ball. He will take some of the onus offensively off Kemba Walker and space the floor for Al Jefferson down low. Hezonja has question marks defensively, but if a talent like him drops this far, the Hornets would be remiss to not take advantage of it.
10. Miami Heat
JL: Devin Booker, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’6”, 206 lbs.
Booker will stretch the floor for the Miami Heat and should provide some depth at the two or three spot. Assuming everyone returns, Booker will be able to grow around veteran players on a good team. However, this situation is unique because Booker will likely play big minutes because Dwyane Wade likes to rest during the regular season to save himself for the postseason. Booker will not wow anyone athletically, but if he can knock down the NBA-three at a high rate, he will be valuable for the Heat right away.
If the Heat look to make a run at the postseason, Booker’s high floor will make him an appealing target. He is linked to the Hornets at 9, but if he makes it to the Heat he will have a clear role from the start. Projecting further down in his career, he could develop into a Klay Thompson-esque player, who thrives as a knockdown shooter when surrounded by distributors. Booker may never develop an off-the-dribble game, but in this changing league, he has a clear niche.
11. Indiana Pacers
DS: Myles Turner, Freshman, Texas, 6’11.5”, 239 lbs.
The Pacers roster is in limbo with Roy Hibbert being ushered out and David West with the option to leave this offseason (he has a one year player option worth $12 million). The Pacers are centered around Paul George, but little talent surrounds him. With George Hill still under contract, there is more need for the Pacers to grab a big. Turner is not very athletic, yet he has a good shooting stroke and should be able to stretch the floor for the Pacers who hope to play a more up-tempo style this season. That said, I personally love Turner, but I might be a touch biased towards him. I really truly believe he’s LaMarcus Aldridge, just because he’s a tall, lanky 4 who played for UT-Austin. Either way, I love him for the offense-starved Pacers.
12. Utah Jazz
JL: Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin, 7’1”, 231 lbs.
The national player of the year does not project to be an NBA MVP, but he will still be able to contribute in the league. Kaminsky is a scorer (18.8 ppg on 54.7/41.6/78 shooting splits) and will be at his best in the NBA taking bigger guys on the perimeter. He can hit the three or take you off the dribble. His biggest questions are defensively because of his lack of athleticism and strength. He will not be a plus rim protector and he will have trouble staying in front of play-making four’s.
The Jazz need someone who can come in for Gobert or Favors and stretch the floor and provide some offense. They will lose defensively by taking one of those two off the floor, but a change of pace and some added offense will be important for the Jazz who hope to develop their young guys and start competing in the loaded Western Conference.
13. Phoenix Suns
DS: Bobby Portis, Sophomore, Arkansas, 6’10.5”, 246 lbs.
Portis carried the Razorbacks this season with 17.5 points/game and 8.9 rebounds/game on 53.6% shooting. He has the ability to step out and hit a 15-18 foot jumper, which gives him promise in the pick and pop game. He is not very athletic (31.5 max vert at the combine) but he plays hard and should be a good guy to play behind Markieff Morris in Phoenix.
The Suns have been missing a defensive presence in the frontcourt. Portis has great height and length (7’2’’) for the power forward spot, and can develop into a superior rebounder. If he can add strength, he will be a great addition to Phoenix for frontcourt depth.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
JL: Sam Dekker, Junior, Wisconsin, 6’9”, 219 lbs.
With Durant and Westbrook back to full health, the Thunder will need to again build up their bench scoring. Anthony Morrow was good for them this year, but Dekker is big enough to come in and play either forward position. He will stretch the floor for the Thunder, despite his likelihood to struggle defensively because he is a tweener. Dekker hit huge threes throughout the tournament and he could be a weapon off the bench for the Thunder if they make a deep postseason run. If Dekker falls to the Thunder, they should be pinching themselves. He’s an NBA-ready stretch 4. But knowing the Thunder, they’ll pick a D-leaguer so they can avoid paying him a salary.
15. Atlanta Hawks (From Brooklyn)
DS: Kelly Oubre, Freshman, Kansas, 6’7”, 203 lbs.
Oubre is a project and most likely will not be a big piece of the puzzle for the Hawks right away. However, the Hawks do not have much depth at the wing positions and Oubre would be able to thrive in a limited role shooting threes and slashing off the bench. Surrounding Oubre with a good, veteran locker room would be good for his growth and allowing him to learn the art of the three from Kyle Korver would do wonders for his shooting development. Also, you’re welcome for giving you Lyles on the next pick.
16. Boston Celtics
JL: Trey Lyles, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’10”, 241 lbs.
I appreciate you not taking my man Trey in what might be a good spot for him. My Celtics grabbing Lyles at 16 would be big. Trey Lyles played mostly the three for Wildcats in his only season in Lexington. He is not all that athletic, but he had a fair amount of success guarding smaller guys throughout the season. Moving back to the four spot will be good for him on both ends of the floor. He is good at putting the ball on the ground and getting to the basket or finding the open man diving to the rim.
With Bass on the way out and Sullinger unable to stay in shape, the Celtics need help at the four spot. Getting a guy like Lyles, who should develop into at least a 35-38% three point shooter would be big in their effort to space the floor and shoot threes. Lyles is a work in progress and will never develop into the best or second best player on a contender, but he is a good pickup for the Celtics at this point in the first round.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
DS: Justin Anderson, Junior, Virginia, 6’6”, 231 lbs.
The Bucks have built themselves on defense and Anderson will continue that trend. A member of one of the top defensive teams in the country (Virginia), Anderson will bring the intensity and athleticism (43” max vert at combine) needed to play defense the way the Bucks want to play it. Anderson also shot 45.2% from three this season. That number might not reflect the actual level of shooting that Anderson brings, but it is a step in the right direction for a Bucks team with few perimeter shooting threats.
18. Houston Rockets (From New Orleans)
JL: Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame, 6’4”, 215 lbs.
Full disclosure, I am a Notre Dame fan and watched way too much of Grant this season, so maybe I’m stretching a bit. Grant is a combo guard who can play against both guard spots defensively. He is athletic and moves well laterally. At Notre Dame, he took on much of the scoring load (16.5 ppg), but is also one of the best passers in this year’s class (6.7 apg). He has a unique ability to always find the open man, no matter where he is on the court. He is experienced and used to the spotlight. Though he is not the greatest outside shooter, he can improve in that area. The Rockets need help to backup Beverley and Harden, especially with uncertainty surrounding Jason Terry and Corey Brewer’s future.
19. Washington Wizards
DS: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sophomore, Arizona, 6’7”, 211 lbs.
I might be reaching here, but it’s for one of my favorite players in the draft. You already snagged my other favorite Zona swingman, so I’m getting my boy here. Hollis-Jefferson is the best perimeter defender in the class. He is long (7’2” wingspan) and athletic (38” max vert). However, he is a liability offensively. His role with the Wizards will be to defend multiple positions off the bench. Otto Porter is not ready for 35 minutes/game and Bradley Beal has had injury issues. Hollis-Jefferson will give them depth and a defensive presence.
20. Toronto Raptors
JL: Kevon Looney, Freshman, UCLA, 6’9”, 222 lbs.
Can’t say I personally like anything about Looney’s game but he has to get picked somewhere. Looney is long (7’3.5” wingspan) and is a good rebounder (9.2 rpg). He is not super athletic, but should be able to guard some perimeter players if switched onto them. He is not much of a threat offensively. With a developing jumper and almost no post moves, Looney is a work in progress. The Raptors played a lot of Tyler Hansbrough and with Amir Johnson hitting free agency, the Raptors need depth at power forward and Looney can provide it for them.
21. Dallas Mavericks
DS: Cameron Payne, Sophomore, Murray State, 6’1.5”, 183 lbs.
I actually can’t believe I’m making this pick. But the Mavericks need a point guard after the Rondo experiment failed. They should look for more of a perimeter shooting threat and, though a streaky shooter, Payne can provide that for them. Payne has a higher ceiling than Tyus Jones, the other potential pick at this spot, but he is more of a risk. Payne plays with good intensity, but is not ready to start at point guard in the league. Hopefully the Mavericks can grab someone to run their offense in free agency, but if not Payne can help them next season.
22. Chicago Bulls
JL: Montrezl Harrell, Junior, Louisville, 6’7.5”, 253 lbs.
Harrell plays with a high motor and defensive intensity. He can rebound well (9.2 rpg) and is athletic enough to guard multiple positions. He is very limited offensively but could develop into a replacement for Taj Gibson should they trade him this season. An issue for him could be his lack of size, but he makes up for it with his length (7’4” wingspan).
23. Portland Trail Blazers
DS: Rashad Vaughn, Freshman, UNLV, 6’5”, 199 lbs.
Vaughn is primarily a shooter (38.2% from three), though he scored well from all-around in his only season as a Rebel (17.8 ppg). He will be used by the Trail Blazers as a backup and someone who can come in and knock down a few shots. If Wes Matthews decides to leave in free agency, look for them to replace him in free agency than to find his replacement in Vaughn, who will need time to hone his skills.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
JL: R. J. Hunter, Junior, Georgia State, 6’6”, 185 lbs.
How the Cavs offseason will play out is a mystery right now, but what we do know is the Cavs need shooting. With Shawn Marion’s retirement, J. R. Smith likely opting out, and Iman Shumpert’s restricted free agency looming, the Cavs need security in the backcourt. Irving and Love will return which will provide more scoring, but the Cavs still lack the knockdown shooting that Hunter could provide. Hunter knocked down the biggest shot in the NCAA tournament, and he could be a good spot-up shooter in the Cavs Lebron-centric offense.
25. Memphis Grizzlies
DS: Terry Rozier, Sophomore, Louisville, 6’2”, 190 lbs.
At this point, I don’t really know any real prospects. So I’m just gonna pick the a guy I watched tear it up in the tourney. Rozier’s game is his length and quickness. Though only 6’2”, he boasts a 6’8” wingspan and posted one of the fastest sprint times at the combine (3.15 seconds). He works hard and will be able to come in off the bench and play tough defense for the defense-oriented Grizzlies.
26. San Antonio Spurs
JL: Jordan Mickey, Sophomore, LSU, 6’8”, 238 lbs.
I really didn’t know what to do here. There isn’t anyone this late that can help the Spurs and I didn’t want to research any foreign guys. Mickey averaged 15.4 points/game and 9.9 rebounds/game this season in Baton Rouge. He is explosive athletically (37.5” max vert) and has good length (7’3” wingspan) which helps make up for his lack of size. He will likely have little impact on the Spurs, but he could give them minutes during the regular season when they are trying to rest Duncan (assuming he returns for another season).
27. Los Angeles Lakers (From Houston)
DS: Tyus Jones, Freshman, Duke, 6’2’’, 185 lbs.
After selecting Okafor at number two and having Julius Randle return from a season-ending leg injury, the Lakers will look to sure up their backcourt. Jeremy Lin is not cutting it at the point guard position and Tyus Jones should be able to step in and provide quality minutes right away.
Jones won’t blow you away athletically, but he’s smart enough to know how to get the ball to his more gifted teammates in positions for them to score. Teaming him up with Okafor will also provide Okafor with a familiar face and help his transition to the NBA. Jones could develop into some sort of a Derek Fisher to Okafor’s Kobe. His shot is developing but there was improvement over the course of his freshman year at Duke. He also is not afraid of the spotlight, taking (and making) a number of dagger shots at Duke.
28. Boston Celtics (From L.A. Clippers)
JL: Christian Wood, Sophomore, UNLV, 6’10.5”, 216 lbs.
Wood has high upside and that is why the Celtics take him here. The Celtics are still several years away from competing and they can afford to draft and stash Wood as he grows as a player. Wood has NBA size, length, and athleticism, but he is young and needs to fill out his frame. He is raw offensively and needs time to develop his outside shot further (28.4% from three this season) and add other dimensions to his game. He will likely spend time in the D-league this year, but he could be someone that develops into a good NBA big. Yes, I didn't know any of that before reading his scouting report. I'm still not sure who this is.
29. Brooklyn Nets (From Atlanta)
DS: Olivier Hanlan, Junior, Boston College, 6’4”, 186 lbs.
Rather than try and guess a random draft-and-stash guy, I’ll pick someone who plays right down the road. Hanlan is a tweener in some aspects. He is not long enough to move up to shooting guard, but he is not athletic enough to hand with most point guards. He is a smart player with a knack for scoring the ball (19.5 ppg). In the NBA, he does not project to be much more than a bench scorer, but everyone needs a backup point and Hanlan should be good in that role.
The Nets are in a tough position and could draft for upside, but Deron Williams will likely be gone after the 2016-17 season and Hanlan could be a good leader for what will be a rebuilding, or at least turned-over, Nets team.
30. Golden State Warriors
JL: Delon Wright, Senior, Utah, 6’5.5”, 181 lbs.
Finishing off the mock, Wright will not provide the Warriors with much more than injury protection, should Shaun Livingston or Steph Curry go down. Wright is not a great shooter, but he has a quick first step and is a good distributer in the paint. He shot 50.9% from the field this past season, which is especially impressive due to the offensive load he had to carry. Wright is not an elite athlete but is solid defensively. He has little upside but can provide valuable bench minutes and, because of his versatility, have a long NBA career.
And that's all for the mock. If there's one thing to takeaway from the draft (other than Mario Hezonja's greatness), it's that the draft is completely unpredictable. Not only who goes where, but where talent is found. It's an exercise in uncertainty, but that's what makes it exciting year after year.