There was a time when the 2017 draft was thought to be the deepest in years. But does it have the star power from previous drafts like 1984, 1996, or 2003? I don’t think so. Once you get past the consensus best player, each and every prospect has a pretty glaring flaw. That isn’t to say that this draft is weak or shallow; far from it actually.
However, draft scouting is rarely a perfect science. Some players will be over hyped, and some teams will be kicking themselves for letting other prospects drop down the board. The aim of this mock draft is not to compare prospects to current players or tally the number of future Hall of Famers. Predicting career arcs is a futile exercise, but we can reasonably project where a player will go based on roster fit and the state of the team. Without further ado, let’s give it a try.
#1: Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz – G – University of Washington
The rich get richer. Boston already has a star point guard from the University of Washington in Isaiah Thomas, but in fellow Huskie Markell Fultz they can add a player who could one day be even better.
There isn’t much that Fultz can’t do on offense. He’s an explosive athlete who attacks the rim and finishes through contact. In his lone season at Washington Fultz averaged 23 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks on 47/41/65 shooting splits. The low free throw percentage is somewhat concerning, but his form isn’t broken by any means. He’s a quintessential modern point guard with size and a knack for scoring. He oozes star potential.
Defensively Fultz’s effort comes and goes. Perhaps he was conserving energy for offense, but he will need to focus and exert himself on defense much more in the NBA. Being just 19 years old, Fultz has plenty of time to grown and round out his game, and Boston would be a good landing spot for him to improve. Assuming that the Celtics re-sign Isaiah Thomas, there won’t be huge pressure on Fultz to contribute right away. The Celtics already have a great team and they’ll be able patiently let him mature.
#2: L.A. Lakers: Lonzo Ball – G – UCLA
The most polarizing player in the draft goes to the most polarizing team. Lonzo (more specifically his father, LaVar) has been outspoken about his desire to play for his hometown team. The Lakers, in the midst of a rebuild, can’t afford to pass up such a highly regarded player.
Ball is another player representing a shift towards a modern style of point guard. He spaces the floor despite his awkward shooting motion. Ball shot 41% from deep with the Bruins and hit plenty of shots well beyond NBA range. Whether he can get that shot off in the NBA remains to be seen.
But the most appealing part of Lonzo’s game is undoubtedly his passing. At UCLA he was a force on the fast break. He is comfortable grabbing a rebound and immediately pushing the ball up the court to exploit the defense before they can set up. He has tremendous touch and vision on his passes and made all of his teammates at UCLA better.
However, Lonzo is not without his flaws. He’s not a great individual defender, although he does force steals and blocks by helping and rotating assignments. He’ll have to bulk up to check stronger guards (Lonzo is listed as just 190 lbs.). And while he excels in transition, he’s not as transcendent in a half court setting. At UCLA he ran plenty of plays in the pick and roll, but his passing in those sets needs work. Most of his points come from deep threes or cutting towards the basket. That’s a valuable skill, but it’s fair to wonder how effective he’ll be creating offense for himself especially off the dribble. He also doesn’t get to the line as much as you’d like (only 2.7 attempts per game). If he can’t create offense for himself, he might have to adjust to a secondary ball handling role.
No prospect is perfect. When you scout a player it’s easy to point out their deficiencies, but it’s hard to ignore Lonzo’s strengths. His game should translate well to a league that emphasizes pace and space. The Lakers are a good fit and won’t require him to be a primary scorer. He may not be the next Magic Johnson, but Lonzo Ball projects to be a very good player.
#3: Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Jackson – F – Kansas
The Sixers have a lot of choices at this spot. But I don’t think they should over think this pick. Josh Jackson projects to be a two way force which fits the Sixers’ identity quite well.
The best aspect of Jackson’s game is his defense upside. He’s quick and plays with intensity. He also rebounds well on both ends for a wing. Although he played the 4-spot at Kansas, he projects as a wing in the NBA. Athletically, that shouldn’t be a problem. Jackson has solid footwork and lateral quickness to hang with uber athletes at the next level. He already has an NBA caliber physique and should only get stronger as his career goes on. He needs to get smarter and break some bad habits on defense, but the upside on that end is massive.
Admittedly, he has work to do on offense. Jackson finishes above the rim and aggressively attacks the basket, but his outside shot will obviously need some work. He has a tendency to push the shot instead of going straight up. His free throw shooting is troubling as well (just 56% in college). Landing on the Sixers, a team that places a lot of emphasis on player development, will be good for him. If he can knock down enough shots to merely force the defense to respect him, he should be a net positive player on offense.
The best argument for Jackson to Philadelphia is his fit on defense. A lineup with Simmons/Covington/Jackson/Saric/Embiid would be a long and disruptive team to play against. They can switch, pass, and outmatch teams athletically. The Sixers could go off the board and pick a shooter, but that makes sense in 2018 or 2019 when they have multiple 1st round picks. For now, they should play it safe.
#4: Phoenix Suns: Jayson Tatum – F – Duke
Still not many surprises to this point. The Suns already have a talented backcourt (Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Bandon Knight) and young, intriguing big men (Marquese Chriss, Dragen Bender, and Alex Len). Jayson Tatum fits as a high upside small forward who can help on offense right away.
Tatum is already a very polished player on offense. Mostly through isolation plays, he handles the ball well for a 6’8” player and glides to the basket. He has a smoothness to his game that is very enjoyable to watch when it’s going well. He’s shown that he can shoot from anywhere in any scenario; catch and shoot, pull up, and with his back to the basket.
This isn’t to say that he doesn’t need work. His outside shot can be streaky and is mostly on when he’s wide open. He’s also not the most explosive athlete. There is a genuine question as to whether he can create for himself on offense against better athletes.
He has tools to be a good defender, but needs to get smarter and put in equal effort to what he exerts on offense. He’ll also need to start playing within a more structured offense. Tatum is good in isolation, but that only has so much value in the modern NBA. To reach his ceiling, he’ll have to pass more and make his shots count. If he can round out his game, he could be the best offensive player from this draft class.
#5: Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox – G – Kentucky
After trading away DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings found some back court help in the form of Buddy Hield. He may not be Steph Curry, but he showed a good knack for scoring last season. To round out that backcourt, the Kings take the lightning fast De’Aaron Fox from Kentucky.
Fox has been rising on draft boards ever since he scored 39 points against Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16. He’s probably the fastest player in this entire draft and fits the modern archetype of a point guard. He’ll have to bulk up (listed as just 171 lbs.) but his speed and quickness should be an immediate asset. Fox strikes a good balance between scoring and playmaking, both in the transition and half court setting. His shot needs some work, particularly from deep, but he has all of the tools to be an effective point guard.
#6: Orlando Magic: Malik Monk – G – Kentucky
The Magic are in a tough position. They don’t have a potential superstar on their roster and it’s hard to imagine that they’ll get one at #5. However, they can bolster their 3 point shooting which was second worst in the entire league last season.
Monk showed at Kentucky that he has NBA caliber range and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. But to categorize him merely as a 3 point specialist is incorrect. He’s somewhat undersized for a shooting guard, but he’s quick and an explosive leaper. He also has good touch on floaters near the basket. He needs to polish his all-around game, especially on defense, and his frame will force him away from the shooting guard role that he played in college. But there aren’t many players that can score in bunches like Monk. Should the Magic decide to move on from Elfrid Payton, Monk could be a scoring point guard of the future if he irons out his game.
#7 Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac – F – Florida State
A player like Isaac would fit on most teams, but Tom Thibodeau is sure to love him for his defensive upside. Isaac is 6’11” with a 7’1” wingspan, and projects to be a great modern defensive player who can switch onto any position. He’s shown versatility on offense too; good percentages from the line and near the basket, and solid form from the outside. He glides up and down the court with smooth footwork and long strides. He’s comfortable handling the ball but long enough to finish lobs on backdoor cuts. He may not be a first offensive option, but the Wolves already have Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns. Isaac is a bit of a project, as he’ll need to get stronger to play the 4 spot, but the basis of a very good player is already there.
#8: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Jr. – G – N.C. State
Derrick Rose wants the max this summer, but will the Knicks give it to him? I think they’ll opt to draft his replacement instead. Dennis Smith is a freak of an athlete that finishes well near the basket. His shooting and natural instincts as a point guard need work, but he’s physically ready for the NBA right now. And frankly, his stock might be higher if he had better teammates around him at N.C. State. His upside is sky high, and the idea of a pick and roll game alongside Kristaps Porzingis should have Knicks fans excited.
#9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen – F/C – Arizona
Dirk Nowitzki won’t be around forever. In Markkanen, the Mavericks might have his heir apparent. Markkanen is a sharpshooter (he shot 42% from deep in his lone season at Arizona) and agile for his size. Although he projects as a center, he can space the floor alongside Nerlens Noel. His defense needs work, but Dallas was already a fairly good team on that end. As the lowest scoring team in the league, the Mavs will welcome Markkanen’s skill set.
#10: Sacramento Kings: Justin Jackson – F – UNC
With Rudy Gay likely opting out in favor of free agency, the Kings have a void to fill in the small forward spot. Justin Jackson might not have huge upside for a top 10 pick, but he’s a smart and well-rounded player who defends well despite being limited athletically. He improved his outside shooting in a big way last season at UNC where he also collected a lot of big game experience. I think that he can make an immediate impact on the rebuilding Kings.
#11: Charlotte Hornets: Donovan Mitchell – G – Louisville
The Hornets have some nice pieces in place so it’s hard to peg down a need for them. But as it stands, their core has the ceiling of a 45 win team at best, and that’s not an ideal place to be in the NBA. They should be looking for star potential. I think they’ll go with Mitchell, a dynamic scorer out of Louisville. He’s explosive and aggressive, particularly in transition. That’s perfect for Charlotte, who got just 9% of their scoring from the fast break, third worst in the league. Mitchell could form a solid backcourt with Kemba Walker, and likely has a higher ceiling than Jeremy Lamb. Although the Hornets’ backcourt is somewhat crowded, it gives Mitchell time iron out the kinks.
#12: Detroit Pistons: Frank Ntilikina – G – Strasbourg (France)
The Pistons took a step back last year after reaching the playoffs in 2016. Reggie Jackson hasn’t totally lived up to the billing, Andre Drummond hasn’t become a strong enough defensive presence, and they could lose Kentavious Caldwell Pope to an offer sheet. Here I think they’ll shore up their backcourt future with Ntilikina, a high upside guard from France. He is long with good defensive instincts and pretty smart for such a young player. He won’t blow you away athletically, but his shooting form is solid and he benefits from being so young. The upside is huge, and the Pistons can’t afford to pass that up at 12.
#13: Denver Nuggets: OG Anunoby – F – Indiana
Scoring wasn’t a problem for Denver last year; defense was. Here they can acquire one of the best prospects on that end in this draft. Anunoby is long, strong, and quick enough to stay on the perimeter. He won’t contribute a lot on offense right away, but projects as a good target for lobs and dunks. That should fit in well with Denver’s fast paced offense.
#14: Miami Heat: Zach Collins – C – Gonzaga
James Johnson was a revelation last year as a small ball center, but he’s due for a new contract this summer. The Heat can solidify their shot blocking when Hassan Whiteside goes to the bench with Collins, an agile young center who made a name for himself this season at Gonzaga. He also has some upside on offense; good touch near the basket and able to score through contact. He’ll need to become a lot more disciplined (he fouled out of the National Championship against UNC), but the Heat seem like a great landing spot to mold the young center into an impact player.
#15: Portland Trail Blazers: John Collins – F – Wake Forest
The Blazers have a crowded roster as is, but also have 3 picks in the first round. A trade is definitely possible to free up cap space, but ultimately I think they’ll focus on project players in this draft. John Collins fits that mold. He scored in bunches in college, but he’ll need to learn and work on his shooting before he makes that kind of impact in the NBA.
#16: Chicago Bulls: Luke Kennard – G – Duke
The Bulls are in a strange place. They have a foundational star in Jimmy Butler, but without another great player they won’t be competing for more than a first round exit. I could see them trading into the top 10, but in the event that they stay at 16, I think they’ll try to bolster their scoring which was in the bottom third of the league. In this spot, Luke Kennard checks the boxes. He’s probably the best pure shooter in this draft and smart enough to contribute from day one. Kennard is not an exceptional athlete, but he’ll beat you with smarts and hustle. That absolutely has a place in the NBA.
#17: Milwaukee Bucks: Ike Anigobu – C – UCLA
The Bucks were a big surprise this year, led by their budding super star Giannis Antetokounmpo. But they also have other good young players across the lineup. Malcolm Brogdon and Kris Middleton form a solid backcourt, and Jabari Parker and Thon Maker have the makings of a strong frontcourt. Despite their size and length, they need help on the glass. Only the Mavericks were a worse rebounding team than the Bucks. To solve this, I think Anigobu is a good fit for them. He’s a great athlete and works his ass off on the boards. He’s a bit raw, but on a team like Milwaukee he can ease his way into the lineup while working on his game.
#18: Indiana Pacers: Jawun Evans – G – Oklahoma State
This will be an important draft for the Pacers. They need to take a big step forward to convince Paul George to stay in town. Jeff Teague was a bit of a disappointment last year. He’s a free agent, and the Pacers might not want him back. One of the problems for Indiana in recent years has been finding secondary scoring when opponents take away Paul George. They need someone who is confident, able to take the ball and simply get buckets.
I think Indiana will move on and select Evans, who might have the highest upside of any player remaining at this point. He’s a creative ball handler who finishes well at the rim despite his size. And he’s not a slouch on defense either thanks to his long wingspan. His size could be a problem, but the Pacers need to take a chance or move up to get an impact player.
#19: Atlanta Hawks: Caleb Swanigan – F – Purdue
The Hawks have a lot of expiring contracts, so it’s hard to nail down an exact need. On their roster, Dennis Shroder impressed during the playoffs and Kent Bazemore is making too much money to be traded. Paul Milsap plans to opt out, but could re-sign. Will the Hawks give a 32 year old a max contract? Should they hesitate on that front, they’ll need scoring from their frontcourt. Swanigan would be a good choice here; he can score well and space the floor and has the length and strength to be a good defender down the line. He’ll have to adjust to the pass-heavy system that the Hawks run, but Swanigan is a bruising presence that should be able to contribute.
#20: Portland Trail Blazers: Harry Giles – C – Duke
Festus Ezili’s first year in Portland didn’t work out like fans wanted. He suffered an Achilles injury and never played in 2016-17. Thankfully for Portland, the late season acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic propelled them to the postseason. He could be their center of the future, making Ezili expendable. He’s only under contract for another year so he could provide some cap relief as a trade asset. Grabbing some insurance would be wise. In Harry Giles they can add high upside defender who’s agile for his size. The real question for Portland here is will they overlook his troubling injury history? He tore his right ACL, MCL, and meniscus all at once in 2013, tore his left ACL in 2015, and needed arthroscopic procedure on that left knee in 2016. That’s a long list that likely pushes Giles down the board for a lot of teams. But I think that Portland, with three first rounders, can take the chance.
#21: Oklahoma City Thunder: T.J. Leaf – F – UCLA
The Thunder made a shrewd trade last year, picking up Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from the Bulls to solidify their bench. Gibson is a solid defender who can take over minutes from Nick Collison, but won’t contribute very much offense. T.J. Leaf fits as a big man who can space the floor and run in transition with Russell Westbrook. The Thunder were also the worst 3 point shooting team in the league, another area that Leaf can help in.
#22: Brooklyn Nets: Bam Adebayo – C – Kentucky
Poor Brooklyn. They would be picking first in this draft had Billy King not traded away their future. On the bright side, they have two late first round picks. With their first choice, I’d guess that they’ll be looking for defense in this draft to bolster that 2nd worst unit in the league. Bam Adebayo from Kentucky should help; he’s a physical freak and agile on the perimeter for a big man. He doesn’t do much on offense, but his viciousness in throwing down dunks should give Nets fans something to cheer about.
#23: Toronto Raptors: Jarrett Allen – C – Texas
The Raptors can’t seem to get over the hump in the playoffs. This offseason looms as they have 4 expiring contracts, all of whom are key players. They might not be able to retain Serge Ibaka, so another big man who can block shots will be a need. Jarrett Allen wasn’t great at that in college, but he showed flashes and has a massive wingspan that should help his transition into the NBA. He’s a bit raw, but can play behind Jonas Valanciunas in the immediate future.
#24: Utah Jazz: Justin Patton – F/C – Creighton
Rudy Gobert is a stud, but the Jazz will need a backup moving forward. Boris Diaw is 35, and Derrick Favors is more of a power forward. Patton is an intriguing prospect; smooth on his feet and runs the floor pretty well for someone that size. He is fairly good in the pick and roll, which is a good skill to have in the modern NBA.
#25: Orlando Magic: Isaiah Hartenstein – C – Zalagris Kaunas (Lithuania)
Wingspan: 7’2 1/4″
Serge Ibaka didn’t work out very well in Orlando, but the Magic would still be smart to add a big man who can stretch the four. Hartenstein is a very skilled big man who played in Lithuania last year. He’s smart on offense, has an outside shot, and has the measurements that you’d want for a modern center.
#26: Portland Trail Blazers: Ivan Rabb – F – California
More help on the boards for the Blazers. Rabb is an agile big man with good rebounding instincts. Offensively he’s still limited, but there’s certainly value in having an energy rebounder off the bench.
#27: Brooklyn Nets: Terrence Ferguson – G – Adelaide (Austrailia)
Wingspan: 6’8 3/4″
The 19 year old played professionally in Australia last season, and there’s something to be said about professional experience. Ferguson is a natural shooter who’s shown flashes of attacking the basket and reliable defense. He’ll have to bulk up to check NBA shooting guards, but all of skills should translate to the NBA.
#28: Los Angeles Lakers: Jonathan Jeanne – C – SLUC Nancy (France)
Wingspan: 7’6 1/2″
Ivica Zubac was a nice story last season, but he’s one of the few useful centers that the Lakers have. Timofey Mozgov’s signing was, umm, ill-advised. Adding another center who can contribute will help. Jeanne is massive with upside tailor made for the modern game. He’s fairly comfortable handling the ball and shooting from outside. Imagine Lonzo Ball running the fast break, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram filling the outside lanes for open threes, and a 7’2” center trailing the play and diving towards the basket. I think that Lakers fans will like the sound of that.
#29: San Antonio Spurs: Thomas Bryant – F/C – Indiana
The Spurs should plan for life after Paul Gasol. Thomas Bryant is raw, but the physical potential is huge. He’s comfortable posting up, if not very efficient, but he can score near the rim, crash the boards, and run in transition. The tutelage of Greg Popovich seems like the perfect scenario to get the most out of the young center.
#30: Utah Jazz: Dillon Brooks – F – Oregon
I fully expect Utah to bring back Gordon Hayward, but on the off chance that he leaves, the Jazz need forwards who can create offense. Brooks can, albeit in a limited way at this time. He’s improved across the board in almost every way during his three years at Oregon. But he is a bit of a tweener. Will his scoring acumen translate to a league with better athletes?
All player measurements are taken from DraftExpress.com