1. Philadelphia- Ben Simmons (LSU)
It has become trendy to point out his flaws, but Simmons was arguably the best player in college last year. After the departure of former GM Sam Hinkie, it’s less likely that the Sixers will make an unexpected pick. The native of Australia scored 19 per game at LSU and the 4.8 assists per contest show his affinity for getting teammates involved. Instead of reporting to the combine, he has been working on his long-range shooting in preparation for NBA defenses. There’s no doubting his athleticism: this is a guy who racked up 20 rebounds in a single game back in November.
2. LA Lakers – Brandon Ingram, SF (Duke)
Given how many titles the Lakers used to win, there is a surprising amount of excitement about the rebuilding franchise lately. There’s also a trust factor involved with Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke’s program, and Ingram is regarded as a surer bet than some other potential lottery selections. The word is that he is comfortable with the NBA three-point line and the Lakers lack depth at Ingram’s natural position.
3. Boston – Marquese Chriss, PF (Washington)
The Celtics are said to be shopping their first pick, but otherwise they may go with Chriss who is rising rapidly on draft boards. His only year at the University of Washington showcased his immense potential. Chriss blocked at least one shot in 27 out of 34 contests and has plenty of offensive skill as well. He’s a forceful finisher with solid footwork and good range for a big man. Chriss even chipped in the occasional trey while scoring 13 per game, although he is unlikely to imitate Steph Curry at the next level.
4. Phoenix – Dragan Bender, PF (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
The Croatian can play either forward spot, but at 7’1” he is just as likely to become a center. Bender has been playing sporadically for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, which has made him more of a mystery than comparable American players. There are several compelling reasons to scout him, including 37% three-point shooting and tenacious perimeter defense. Bender is just 217 pounds which makes guarding post players difficult, but he’ll certainly add bulk over time. The knock on him is that he’s a work in progress, but there is also tremendous potential here for a Suns team that won’t contend immediately anyway.
5. Minnesota – Kris Dunn, PG (Providence)
The Timberwolves are rumored to be trading Ricky Rubio. Dunn may well be the solution for a team that would need a quick, dynamic ball handler. While Dunn drew criticism at Providence for occasionally wild play leading to turnovers, he’s terrific on the fast break and a superb defender, averaging 2.8 steals. Dunn is also a scorer with range and improved finishing ability. Even better, he ranked second nationally in assists and can rebound very well for his position. With all those assets and great bounce in his step, Dunn should be the first point guard taken.
6. New Orleans – Jamal Murray, SG (Kentucky)
The Canadian Murray can also play the point, which is an element that excites NBA brass. He shot over 40% from three-point range at Kentucky on a large volume of attempts. The 19-year-old also averaged 20 points which is a real accomplishment for an efficient shooter in the college game. Not everyone is sold on his future as a point guard, but he’ll be a contributor nonetheless. Murray distinguishes himself on the glass and has proven that he can deliver in big moments. The Pelicans have interest, but he might not even be available when Adam Silver says they’re on the clock.
7. Denver – Jaylen Brown, SF (California)
Brown’s a cerebral player. He wants to know the reasoning behind basketball strategy rather than just executing plays. That rankles some in the sport, but in a way it’s also refreshing. His midrange game can be inconsistent, but he has a knack for getting to the basket and is a defensive ace against a variety of positions. Brown can read defenses well and has mastered the transition game whether the situation requires a lead pass or an emphatic slam. The Nuggets could use a wing of his caliber.
8. Sacramento – Buddy Hield, SG (Oklahoma)
Hield took home the Naismith Award as the NCAA’s most outstanding player, and scoring 25 points per night for Oklahoma didn’t hurt his cause. He already boasts NBA range on his three and great instincts with the ball using either hand. Hield made major strides to improve his game and by his senior season shot over 45% behind the arc. While not a defensive standout, he flashes the tools required to keep opposing guards in check. This is one player who did himself a favor by staying in a Sooner uniform as long as possible. Hield does many things well and his 6’5” frame is only a small downside in the scheme of things. I’ve heard the Kings are absolutely grabbing him if he falls this far.
9. Toronto – Henry Ellenson, PF (Marquette)
The Raptors could use a big man, and the former standout fits the bill. Ellenson already has a reputation as a scorer and I’ve seen some pundits place him as high as #3 on the board. Ellenson gets to the line often, making 14-16 during a game against Butler in which he finished with 32 points. He can run the floor and use a variety of moves off the dribble. Ellenson may want to work on his post game and he’s not blessed with premium athleticism. However, he is a capable rebounder and can rack up blocks in bunches. Overall, he’s a very mature player and should be able to stretch NBA defenses.
10. Milwaukee – Jakob Poeltl, C (Utah)
Poeltl hails from Austria and in fact will be the first Austrian ever to appear in the NBA. He distinguished himself very quickly playing for the University of Utah. In fact, Poeltl took home Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year honors for 2016 in just his second season stateside. He’s agile for a big man with good control of his body on both ends of the court. Poeltl seems more comfortable facing the basket than playing a true post game. The center’s star potential has been questioned in some circles, but it’s hard to quibble with 2015-16 averages of 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks.
11. Orlando – Skal Labissiere, PF (Kentucky)
Labissiere once survived a major earthquake in his native Haiti, so he should appreciate the big payday to come as much as anyone. At Kentucky, he averaged just 15 minutes per game and even the team drafting him will admit he’s a project. Nevertheless, the 7’0” Labissiere can already impact the game by blocking shots and has range on his jumper even though he rarely got the chance to show it in game situations. From the sound of it, Labissiere will be happy to get away from temperamental coach John Calipari. There is bust potential here, but the Magic might decide they have the patience to develop someone with such a high ceiling.
12. Utah – Dejounte Murray, PG (Washington)
Murray represents a second Washington Husky who could break into the lottery. Despite some uneven play, he managed to score 16 per game during his lone season in Seattle. There’s certainly a wow factor to his game, including a preternatural ability to exploit the pick-and-roll. He already figures to be a plus defender but needs work on his perimeter shooting. Murray is a wizard with the ball but can harness that dribbling skill within system play. Some scouts believe he lacks the playmaking ability required to play the point, but in that case he figures to thrive at shooting guard. A rehabbing Dante Exum might make Utah consider adding Murray to the fold.
13. Phoenix – Domantas Sabonis, PF (Gonzaga)
Boston is interested in drafting Sabonis with their second pick, but I no longer believe that he will last that long. The Suns can remake their frontcourt in short order by selecting the Croatian out of Gonzaga. Sabonis has the pedigree, and his rebounding ability really jumps off the page. Even if he’s not the passer his father Arvydas was, there’s ample evidence that he can score enough to be effective. Sabonis is a hard worker and is comfortable facing the hoop or in the post. While not an elite defender, he shouldn’t be a liability on that end either. With a little polish to his midrange game, Sabonis can be a steal here.
14. Chicago – Furkan Korkmaz, SG (Anadolu Efes)
Basketball is doing very well in Turkey, and Korkmaz is the nation’s latest export. The Bulls would be unlikely to pass on him here, as he is possibly the best marksman in the class. Chicago would have the option of letting him play another season for his club Anadolu Efes. Considering that they barely missed the playoffs, it could be beneficial to give him NBA experience instead. Korkmaz is particularly adept at generating turnovers and turning them into transition buckets. He’s shifty off the dribble but is more of a jump shooter than a slasher. That strategy tends to work when you make over 42% of three-pointers in league play. Korkmaz will need to adjust to defending NBA guards, but he is capable of making the jump.
photo via llananba