The NBA season is more or less reached the halfway point, meaning teams really should've figured out if they're playoff or championship contenders. If they aren't, their attention should be looking forward to next season and rebuilding and restocking their talent. The best way of doing that for a non-playoff team is through the NBA draft, a place where a team's next 20 years of basketball can be decided. Since we are already getting to that point now, here is my first 2016 mock draft, which I will do every 3-4 weeks. Enjoy and leave your opinions in the comment section or tweet me: @BradWinter12.
*Apologies if some stats aren't up to date. I wrote the first few selections a couple days before the rest.*
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, F, LSU
Let's not overthink this here.
Although the Sixers have a desperate need for shooting and have a crammed frontcourt containing Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, along with Dario Saric coming along next year (all of whom can't shoot), Ben Simmons is by far and away the best prospect on the board. While he doesn't seem like a great fit on the Sixers roster, when you have a chance to take a once in a lifetime talent, you have to do it, this is the chance Sam Hinkie has been waiting for.
Simmons has been compared to LeBron James and Magic Johnson, if you were to watch just two minutes of an LSU game, you would see why. He is long, big and athletic, at 6'10'', 225 lbs, with a wingspan of 7'0''. He uses all of these attributes with precision. With his length he is able to lockdown anyone on the college basketball scene, from point guard through center. His long arms make him a shot blocker, as well as someone that is easily able to rack up steals (almost 2 per game). On offense his height and athleticism mean that he is able to finish at the rim with ease, according to Hoop-Math, he is shooting 78.6% at the rim, great for someone who spends a lot of time on the wing. To go along with this, he is a fantastic rebounder, averaging 12.6 per game.
What makes Simmons such a great NBA prospect to me is his level of maturity. If he was on an NBA team right now and you didn't know anything about him, you would believe me if I said he was a 10 year veteran, that's how advanced he is for his 19 year old self. When you watch Simmons not only is he the most talented player on the court, but he is LSU's leader. Constantly bringing his troops together, telling them what to do, putting his arm around his teammates and telling them everything's going to be alright. Not only this, but he is so unselfish. Simmons is averaging 5.3 assists per game and although that doesn't stand out, that's because Simmons doesn't always make the final pass, but he makes the right pass and he puts it on the money every time. If his teammates aren't scoring, Simmons can go the other way, flick a switch and put up as many points as he wants, just like against North Florida, where he dropped 43 points on 15-20 shooting. Simmons, using those long limbs and intelligent, is also able to draw a lot of fouls, extending his arms on most drives. He averages nearly 8 free throws per game, on 75% shooting from the stripe.
The only issue that Simmons has is his shooting touch. He only makes 33% of his two point jumpers and has only attempted three three point shots. However, he has everything else on the basketball court, all of which should transfer to the NBA.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
The Lakers' need for a defensive big man is more pressing than a scoring wing here, but what the Lakers need more than anything is the best player available, a go to scorer and someone with superstar potential. Brandon Ingram ticks all those boxes.
Ingram has averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds, on 48% shooting and 39% from three. In the last 10 games, Ingram is averaging 19 points on over 50% shooting and 45% from deep. He has been excellent for Duke, as their second leading scorer, only behind Grayson Allen. Ingram's 6'9'' height, gigantic 7'3'' wingspan and athleticism have drawn him comparisons to Kevin Durant. With his shooting touch, from three, ability to pull-up and knock it down from mid-range and natural instincts, you can certainly see why.
The way that Ingram has played in Duke's system makes himself seem like a perfect Lakers player. Grayson Allen takes a majority of Duke's shots and because of this, Ingram has had to spend a lot of his time off of the ball. On Byron Scott's Lakers this is likely to be the same case, with both D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson expected to be the primary ball handlers, even if Ingram comes on board. Since Ingram has been excellent at that so far this season, it seems he would fit right in.
Ingram is not only an offensive player either. His length and athleticism make him seem like he has great potential at NBA level on that side of the ball. If we include his defense and assume his offense will carry, his NBA career could end up being better than that of Kevin Durant's, with a possibility of higher upside with his defense, even if that sounds silly.
3. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets): Jaylen Brown, SF/SG, California
My beloved Boston Celtics are in an advantageous position. After receiving this pick from the Brooklyn Billy Kings in the brilliant Pierce/KG deal, the Celtics are probably going to make the playoffs and have a top 3 pick, a chance to draft the game changing superstar they so sorely need to help them get into the realms of championship contention. The Celtics have had one of the league's best defenses this season, so their focus should be on improving their 19th ranked offense in terms of efficiency.
While most experts have tipped the Celts to pick Dragan Bender here. The incredibly skilled Bosnian has a lot of offensive skills and defensive potential, including a three point stroke that is miles better than Brown's, something that the Celtics sorely need to improve upon (28th in three point percentage). Seemingly Bender would be a perfect fit in Boston, but with the Celtics, I think they should go superstar or bust with this pick. Bender, while being a very talented player with a smooth skillset, I think that his destiny is being the second best guy on a championship team at best. He would be a great complimentary piece, but not a superstar on himself, which is what the Cs need. They need someone that in the playoffs they can toss the ball to and just ask him to get a basket. While he is still extremely raw and unproven, Brown is the player on the board with that potential.
Brown's an athletic freak, he has hops like no one else in college basketball at the moment. He is 6'7''-ish with a 7'0''-ish wingspan, an absolute freak of nature when you include his athleticism. Much like Ben Simmons, Brown hasn't shown much of a stroke yet. But Brown is seemingly more willing to take jumpers, with nearly 60% of his total field goal attempts being jump shots. Brown is only converting in the high twenty percent range on these, but from what he showed in high school and at various events, he just isn't burying them yet at Cal. Also, Brown's fundamental's are as solid as they come. He hops into most shots and has a consistent enough release to provide hope for that part of his game.
Brown's 15 points, on 48% shooting may not scream superstar to you, but his athleticism, ferocious dunking ability, finishing at the rim and in transition (shooting 72.1% at the rim), his upside defensively and his potential to be a good jump shooter make him seem like a top notch prospect for the Celts to go after if they are looking for a game changing superstar to slot into their collection of super-duper role players.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Dragan Bender, PF, Bosnia and Herzegovina
While Bender's complimentary skillset doesn't quite fit the Celtics' needs, the Timberwolves would welcome him with open arms.
While not much of an athlete, Bender makes up for it with his 7'1'' height and guard like skills that make him such an intriguing prospect. Bender has shown the ability to do stuff that we've really only seen from a handful of players in the NBA. He's already mature and composed enough that he isn't always looking for his own shot, searching for open teammates to hand off slick dimes to. Bender is also a very good shooter, making around half of his three point attempts this Euro League season, because of this he will be an extremely effective stretch four at the next level. If you rush to close out on him though, he is smart enough to attack the close out and use his deceptive speed to attack the rim.
Defensively, his height has made him surprisingly solid on that side despite the myth that Europeans can't defend at the NBA level, we've seen it from last year's fourth overall pick (ZINGER!!!) and we may see potential on that end with Bender too.
As I mentioned earlier, Bender looks like more of a glue guy and a great secondary or tertiary option within an offense to me. He hasn't got much of a chance with former European champs, Maccabi Tel Aviv thus far, but the talent that scouts have seen from him on multiple occasions remains.
With Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns already in place, Bender would fit it seamlessly. He would help to fix the Wolves' struggling shooting stats (last in both threes made and attempted) and could play next to the Goliath of Towns. Towns and Bender are fine defensive players and would be near impossible to score on a few years down the track. Offensively, both can create space for each other, with Bender being able set both Wiggins and Towns up for open shots and dunks.
5. Phoenix Suns: Ivan Rabb, PF, California
The struggles of the Phoenix Suns have been well documented.
In 2014, they were the toast of the town, being everyone's second favorite team. They played with so much energy in their high pace, two point guard system that garnered the attention from experts all around the country. They won 48 games that year and with draft picks galore and cap space to burn, were expected to improve.
Which didn't happen.
They instead signed Isaiah Thomas, who alienated the backcourt rotation and ended up kicking himself out, as well as Goran Dragic, not to mention the Lakers' pick too, for essentially, Brandon Knight. A decision that seems horrible nearly a year on and a decision that will likely cost the Suns another 3-5 years of rebuilding. In the most recent offseason, they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge, even trading away one half of the Morris twins and signing Tyson Chandler to a ridiculous 4 year deal that has crippled their cap space, just to impress Aldridge's crew. Of course LA instead went to San Antonio, which looks like a significantly better choice. Now, the Suns are left with a young, exciting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe (out for the season) and Brandon Knight, some nice prospects on rookie deals that include Devin Booker, the massive Chandler contract and the violently unhappy Markieff Morris.
It seems pretty clear to me that the Suns need a fresh start. I think that begins by building around their backcourt rotation of Bledsoe, Knight and Booker, by drafting the highest upside frontcourt player left on the board. That happens to be Cal's Ivan Rabb.
Scouts love Rabb's nose for the ball and his great hands. He's always in the right place and the perfect time, while the ball seems to stick to his soft mits. Apart from this, Rabb is a fantastic athlete, with a great looking frame. He's got NBA height at the power forward position and has worked on his upper body strength, looking tougher and more comfortable inside in each game.
Rabb's hops give him defensive upside and has already proven to be a shot blocker at College level, with 1.3 per game in just 26 minutes of action. His great hands make him a magnet for the ball, able to pull down rebounds with ease, per 40 minutes, he averages 13 per contest. Offensively, he has shown the ability to make mid-range shots, making 75% on free throws and 45% of his two point jump shots, as well as some promissing upside with his back to the basket.
I think it can be said that Rabb's upside would make a great replacement for Markieff Morris and a future partner in the frontcourt with the developing Alex Len. I can already see the Bledsoe/Rabb lobs forming in my head....
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
It has been a season from hell in New Orleans. After firing Monty Williams, his replacement, Alvin Gentry, has been awful. Their already bad defense, has plummeted to second worst in efficiency, while their offense remains mediocre. This is despite having Anthony Davis!
So, as I mentioned earlier in the week, the Pelicans can actually make this situation work, as long as they play out the rest of the season, don't get desperate and go for the eighth seed, they are in a great position to reload around Anthony Davis. That starts with the draft, where they will have an unusually high selection.
With Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson both coming off the books this year, along with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans the year after, the Pelicans will be interested in drafting just about anyone here as long as they are the best talent available. But I think that finally sorting out the backcourt that they clumsily tried and failed to put together in 2013 (Holiday, Gordon, Evans) should be their priority, with Davis and a boatload of centers already tying up a lot of their cap room.
This brings me to Kris Dunn, easily the best point guard in the class and a player that is perfectly suited to the new NBA. His height, speed and general athleticism all stand out at a glance. At 6'4'' and 220, Dunn has ideal size for a point guard and despite being that big, it doesn't affect his play around the court. He still blows past defenders on drives to the rim and is able to soar above when he gets there.
The most fascinating part of his game is the pick and roll. Dunn has shown ability to be a great pick and roll ball handler at the next level and would be a great compliment for Anthony Davis who needs a pure point guard who isn't always looking for his own shot. Dunn is averaging 6.7 assists, most of which come from attacking brilliantly off of the PnR.
Dunn's defense (2.9 steals) is also a huge stock riser. He has been able to lock down, body up and nick balls away from ball handlers with ease in the last two years at Providence and with his size and instincts, will be an effective NBA defender.
His jump shot still has some ways to go, but when you factor in that his comparison, John Wall, is about at the same level as him, you can see how he can succeed right away in the pros. His NBA readiness is also intriguing for the Pels, especially if they want to consistently make the playoffs and not lose the prime years of their game changing superstar, Anthony Davis.
7. Denver Nuggets: Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette
Let's cut straight to the chase. Henry Ellenson is not a great defensive player. His instincts aren't great and doesn't seem like he'll be a rim protector in the NBA, even though he has the size and wingspan to be one.
However, everything on the other side of the ball is about as good as you'll find in this draft class.
Ellenson's jump shot is perfect for the new age NBA. He has great touch from the outside and because of this projects as a stretch four. Despite only draining a quarter of his three point attempts this season, he has a great looking stroke and is always willing to shoot them, putting up more than three per game. He also is a fantastic mid range shooter. Whether if it's off the pick and pop, a spot up or a fadeaway, Ellenson can do it, shooting 43.4% from mid-range this season. Around the basket, Ellenson's massive frame, soft touch and advanced footwork make him a sure thing and that's without using his array of post moves that have drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. Another area that many love about Ellenson's offensive skillset is his work off of the dribble. Ellenson has a great handle and blows by opposing bigs for easy baskets, with his surprisingly nimble feet. Ellenson is so good with his dribble that for Marquette he often takes it from coast to coast, building up a head of steam, quite like what Draymond Green does for the Warriors.
The Nuggets have some nice young center depth in Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne, but their other big man spot is yet to be decided. Kenneth Faried is constantly in trade rumors and does not provide any floor spacing whatsoever. In addition, he, along with Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are the last remaining pieces of the last era of Nuggets basketball. The selection of a stretch four like Ellenson would allow Denver to vary their strategies as well as being able to deal Faried.
8. Portland Trail Blazers: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah
The Trail Blazers have their backcourt and wings in place for the future. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless make for an interesting core going forward that will need improvement, but not a revamp. Their frontcourt however, needs a face lift. Meyers Leonard is as weak as they come defensively and is about to become a free agent, Noah Vonleh hasn't shown much sign of development, while Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee, while being decent players, don't inspire much going forward. They need to beef up here, so I'm taking Jakob Poeltl from Utah.
Poeltl is arguably the best defensive player in the draft. After two years at Utah, he boasts an impressive defensive rating of 90 (according to Sports-Reference), while being able to swat away 3 blocks per 40 minutes. An addition of someone like Poeltl would strengthen the league's 7th least efficient defense. Poeltl's length and athleticism make him a fantastic rim protector and defensive backbone. He is also quick enough to switch on pick and rolls without giving up too much, something that teams are looking for more and more from their bigs. He's also an above average rebounder, snatching 13.5 rebounds per 40.
If it were just these qualities, Poeltl would probably go top 20, lottery if extremely lucky. This would've been the case if he declared last season. But Poeltl waited one more year and that decision is paying off big time. Poeltl's scoring is soaring to new heights, averaging 16.3 points on 64% shooting. He's a good finisher around the rim, on lobs and putbacks, as well as being a constant pick and roll finishing threat. Poeltl has also flashed some new post ability, showing a new array of moves ad footwork that he just didn't in his freshman season. In addition, Poeltl's 44% shooting on two point jumpers is encouraging for his expanding offensive game.
Poeltl's skillset could see him go higher, as more teams are looking for athletic bigs that can stretch the floor, with Poeltl continuing to show off his range of abilities, look for him to rise up the board in the months leading up to the draft.
9. Utah Jazz: Wade Baldwin IV, PG, Vanderbilt
The Jazz suffered a setback in their quest to become Western Conference contenders when Dante Exum went down with an ACL tear during the offseason. The Jazz love his length, defense and offensive potential, they view him as a game changing player for years to come. His injury has really hurt the Jazz this season, their point guard play hasn't been good, Raul Neto and Trey Burke have struggled to carry the load, especially offensively and haven't been able to fulfill their team's potential.
While Exum is their point guard of the future at the moment. However, the frontcourt logjam of the Stifle Tower, Derrick Favors, Jeff Withey, Trey Lyles and Trevor Booker sees no reason go there. The wings of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood make for interesting viewing and no immediate need to draft there either. So, what's the problem with doubling up on possible future starting point guards? We don't know whether Exum going to be any good, or if he's going to return at full health and also, with his 6'6'' size, Dante's future could lie at the two guard, if Utah decide to go to a faster pace. Therefore, drafting a point guard seems like a viable option, especially when it's a player as good as Wade Balwin IV.
Baldwin has avoided the limelight this season. Many mock drafts don't include him in the lottery, or anywhere near the lottery, proving that some people just don't see the talent that this guy possesses. At a glance, his stats are underwhelming, 14 points and 4 assists, but a deeper dive into his stats, physical tools and tape reveal that he is a fantastic prospect.
Baldwin's 6'3'' height and 6'10'' wingspan is unbelievably impressive for a point guard. With those long limbs, he is difficult to get past defensively and can make plays by just sticking his arms out. He can keep up with anyone too, with his blinding speed.
Offensively, Baldwin is no slouch. Although his play making and decision making isn't quite there (2.9 turnovers), he makes strong drives and gets fouled a lot, showing off his IQ, averaging 6 free throw attempts per game (he had 13 in his most recent game). For an athletic, defensive point guard, he is also an alright shooter already. His three point stroke is clearly already there, shooting at 46% with 3 attempts per game. This shows his ability to play with Dante Exum, as he could play off-ball and allow Exum to handle and create, at least to start off with.
Make sure, whatever you do...do not sleep on this man!
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Skal Labissiere, C/PF, Kentucky
Once labelled as Ben Simmons' main rival for the top pick, Skal Labissiere has fallen a long way since then.
His 7 points and 3 rebounds for Kentucky, on 51% shooting don't warrant a top 10 selection, but the upside that he showed in high school and before his Kentucky days, is well worth it.
Labissiere has been weak inside for John Calipari. His 3 rebounds shows this. His stick thin body struggles to get position inside and often gets out-muscled on both ends. This, above all else has stopped us from seeing the true potential within big Skal. At 7'0'', Skal has the height and length to be a rim protector in the pros. This combined with his athleticism makes him a fine defensive prospect. He has offensive talent to burn as well, with a smooth jumper, decent footwork and an array of post moves well past his years. The problem remains, we haven't been able to see any of that from Labissiere so far.
Skal's potential makes him the perfect pick for Milwaukee. The Bucks have struggled this season. New signing Greg Monroe, along with the return of Jabari Parker has caused their defense to plummet from second in efficiency to a putrid 26th. Labissiere gives them their center of the future, someone that can protect the rim and play with Jabari Parker long term. His offensive skillset would help a Bucks offense stuck in the 20th century. His ability to stretch the floor would help out big time.
The potential that a frontcourt combination of Giannis, Jabari and Skal offers way too much on both sides of the ball to pass up. This is all as long as Skal starts to improve and show us what he promised.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Diamond Stone, C, Maryland
Not only does he have the best name in this entire draft class (fun fact: when you google Diamond Stone, you get actual diamond stones), he is also one of the best centers in the draft class.
Stone is a specialist, offensively he projects as a good, potentially great offensively. Around the rim, Stone has a touch unlike anyone else in the class. He manages to use his bulking body to navigate his way through the lane with ease, shooting 73.3% at the rim. Stone's offensive game extends away from just the lane too, he has shown a solid jump shot (making over 40% of his 2 point jumpers) and is shooting 80% at the charity stripe, something he showed big time in his 39 point show against Penn State, in which he went to the line 25 times, making 19. In that game he also went 10-15 and looked comfortable as Maryland's primary offensive option, something he rarely does.
Everywhere else on the court is a little bit of a question mark. He needs to use his body more defensively and on the boards (only 5.5 per game, granted in just 20 minutes). His athleticism, or lack thereof is concerning for his future on defense, but as long as he is surrounded by the right pieces he should be fine.
This place could be in Charlotte, where enough of Steve Clifford screaming at him could get him to turn around his ways on that end of the floor. Hell, he did it for Al Jefferson! Speaking of big Al, he is entering free agency this year and is almost certain to leave. He has been largely injured this year and in the time he has had, hasn't produced. A young center is exactly what the Hornets need, someone they can develop alongside Frank Kaminsky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker. Someone that can be what big Al was for them in 2013-14, someone that can take up space in the paint and be a force around the rim, being able to force the defense to collapse.
12. Orlando Magic: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
Orlando's benching of Victor Oladipo worked wonders. Once Scott Skiles realized that Elfrid Payton and VO can't play together, the floor opened up and it has been brilliant for the entire Orlando offense. However, that offense still ranks 26th in efficiency and needs to be turned up a couple of notches, especially with incumbent starting shooting guard, Evan Fournier, heading towards free agency. Not only does the Orlando offense suck as a whole, but their three point shooting which they tried to improve by adding Channing Frye into the starting lineup still ranks bottom 10 in threes made.
Enter everyone's favorite player, Buddy Hield.
In his senior year at Oklahoma, Hield has exploded into what has to be the lead in the NPOY race, despite an amazing freshman year from phenom Ben Simmons. I mean he is on track to be apart of the 50/50/90 club, something that is barely ever seen in college basketball and hasn't ever been seen in the NBA. Hield is not only shooting at ridiculous rates, but is averaging 26 points per game and has led Oklahoma to the #1 ranking.
Hield is one of the most NBA ready prospects in this class, his deadeye shooting will surely carry over, at least if he's open. Hield can shoot and score in any way possible. Whether if it's coming off screens, off the dribble or in transition, Hield is as deadly as they come.
Whether his destiny is to be a situational shooter or a real NBA scoring threat, Hield's college resume alone is enough for him to be a first round player and possibly a lottery pick, especially when a team like the Magic need shooting this badly.
13. Washington Wizards: Deyonta Davis, PF, Michigan State
The Wizards are courting Kevin Durant so that rules out addressing the small forward position and the John Wall/Bradley Beal backcourt means that a guard selection is unlikely here too. This means that a big man will be the obvious pick for the Wizards in this draft class.
Deyonta Davis has flown under the radar at Michigan State. As a player that is most certainly not a go to scorer, Davis has continued to impress in other areas. Davis has a fantastic body (6'10'' and 245 pounds) with athleticism that is rarely found with a player that size. In limited action (18 minutes per night), Davis is doing a lot, especially on the boards and defensively. He is averaging over 11 boards per 40 minutes and has been a brick wall defensively, showing off a strong presence inside, with his 2 blocks per game (remember, just 18 minutes!) and ability to guard smaller players with his speed.
On the other side, Davis is a work in progress, but on a busy Michigan State team he has been able to get a lot of easy looks around the rim which he has finished with ease. His mid range game is also coming along quite nicely and is willing to shoot more of them each game, especially since he is making 53% of all 2 point jump shots.
Davis' fit on the Wizards is questionable, but his energy would provide immediate help come playoff time and his jump shot, while still a work in progress would help the Wizards balance out their front line of brutes and bangers down low.
14. Toronto Raptors (via New York Knicks): Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky
While most have UK's Jamal Murray going higher, I feel that I have put him in the perfect spot to succeed here with the Raptors. In such a great spot for them to continue their charge towards the top of the Eastern Conference, with no real power forward left that is a great fit, I see the Raptors taking a scorer that can contribute right away.
Murray is exactly that, he is a gifted scorer with a streaky, but smooth touch from outside. He's got a vast offensive repertoire too. He can handle the ball going towards the basket where he finishes without too much difficulty, can stop on a dime and hit it from 17 feet easily or can come of screens and be a set shooter. He does all of this without being a great athlete, something that is extremely impressive in this day and age.
His defensive can be questionable at times, as he loses focus, but in other instances has been brilliant, staying in front of his man and making life simple for his big men around the rim.
The main issue I have with him is his position. As you can see I have him listed as a guard, without any real preference to which slot. At 6'4'', that seems more of a point guard's height, but his lack of athleticism, determination to be a scorer first and lack of decisive playmaking turns me away from that and in turn must make him a two guard, regardless of his height. One would have to worry though, when someone like the 6'7'' Klay Thompson comes to town, what would a coach do with Murray out on the floor?
The Raptors could also need a talented scorer like Murray if free agent to be, DeMar DeRozan leaves in July. The Lakers, Knicks and Nets are all thought to be interested and I'm sure many more will be too, as he is having easily his best season to date. Murray, if he can get it all together, will be a fitting replacement as long as his development and transition to showtime goes swimmingly.
Follow me on Twitter: @BradWinter12
- Chris Lollis likes this