Predictions and analysis in anticipation of the upcoming NBA Draft on June 23rd …
1. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons, Freshman (PF), LSU
No surprise here, as the Sixers grab the best player in the draft in LSU big man Ben Simmons. Compared to LeBron James by many, Simmons shares many of the point-forward attributes that James has. Despite measuring 6-10 and weighing 225 pounds, Simmons is more of a point guard than a power forward. He has great vision on the court, as he averaged just under five assists in his freshman year, and he can also rebound, as he averaged a tick under twelve rebounds. Simmons is no slouch when it comes to scoring, as he averaged nineteen points a game this past season in Baton Rouge, and shot 56% from the field.
The only knock on the Australian native is the absence of a three ball in his game, as he attempted only three the whole season. However, he’ll have plenty of time to develop one in the upcoming years, and given his skills, scouts do not question his ability to do so. One might question his fit in Philly, as the Sixers already have Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid residing in their frontcourt. Despite this glut of big men, GM Bryan Colangelo appears ready to trade one, as their have been numerous rumors surrounding a potential trade of Okafor to the Celtics for the third overall pick in this year’s draft. Unless anything drastic happens between now and June 23, Simmons will be the first name called and will be headed to the City of Brotherly Love.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Brandon Ingram, Freshman (SF), Duke
The first two picks of the draft, regardless of who ultimately ends up owning them, will be Simmons and Ingram. Often compared to Thunder star Kevin Durant, Ingram may actually have more potential than Simmons, but there is also more risk associated with him. Remember Durant when he was chosen second overall in the 2007 draft, but many people questioned his ability to play in the grown man’s league that is the NBA due to his lack of strength? Durant was the only draft prospect that could not bench press 185 pounds, which raised questions about his strength. Enter Ingram. Measuring 6-9 and weighing 195 pounds, his size is almost identical to Durant’s back when he was taken by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Like Durant, Ingram can shoot the lights out, whether it be from mid-range or from behind the arc, where he shot an impressive 41% in his freshman season. Also like Durant, he has the potential to be a great defender, but is not there quite yet because of his lack of strength. He is also efficient, as he shot a respectable 44% from the field. And to put the cherry on top, he also has a shy personality just like the Thunder star. If Brandon Ingram can develop to be a player anything close to Durant, he is absolutely worth taking with the second pick in this year’s draft, and gives the Lakers another building block for their rebuild. If they choose to trade the pick in exchange for an established star, as has been rumored, he will be ready to help there as well.
3. Boston Celtics – Buddy Hield, Senior (SG), Oklahoma
In one of the most historic college basketball seasons by a player in recent history, Oklahoma two guard Buddy Hield improved his draft status from a likely second round pick in last year’s draft to a lottery pick in 2016. It’s no secret to what changed. Hield shot an unbelievable 45% from three point land in his senior year, up from 35% in his junior season. This helped his overall field goal percentage, which improved from 41% to 50% in the 15-16 season. Hield can also handle the ball, defend, and rebound.
The only knock on the Bahamas native is his size. Standing at 6-4, Hield is a tad undersized for an NBA two guard. However, he has shown that this lack of height is not a problem for him. In terms of an NBA comp for Hield, James Harden has been thrown around as his ceiling, although Portland combo guard CJ McCollum sounds more reasonable. Just like Hield, McCollum can shoot the lights out, and can also play the point when needed. As of today, the Celtics still own this pick, and if they keep it, Hield would add some much needed shooting to the Boston squad. Although do not be surprised if Danny Ainge flips this pick for a player like Jahlil Okafor.
4. Phoenix Suns – Dragan Bender, Age 18 (PF/C), Croatia
The man named Dragan is the biggest wild card of the lottery this year. We all saw what happened with Kristaps Porzingis this past year. Taken with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft by the Knicks, he was booed by Knicks fans when it was announced at the Barclays Center. Many fans wanted Justise Winslow or Emmanuel Mudiay, but Phil Jackson swung for the fences and selected Porzingis. The Latvian big man took New York by storm in his impressive rookie season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. There was a lot of risk associated with Porzingis, and the same is true for Bender. The seven foot Croatian big man shares many of the same attributes with Porzingis. He is a tall stretch four that could eventually play the five as he gets stronger. He does just about everything well on offense.
One of the biggest problems with Bender is that he simply has not played that much professional basketball over the last year. He averaged only twelve minutes per game while playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season. The most important part of the pre-draft process for Bender will be the individual workouts. Teams will be able to get a better picture of Bender’s ability there which will help him immensely if he performs well. Do not be surprised if Bender puts himself into consideration for the third pick if he does so. At this point, Bender carries a lot of risk, but he also has a ton of potential. Many will compared him to Kristaps Porzingis, but Bender is more similar to Bulls combo forward Nikola Mirotic, as he is not as much of a shot-blocker or interior presence that Porzingis is currently. The Suns have their center of the future in Alex Len, but they have a need at the four, which is where Bender comes in. Phoenix can afford to take a risk here, as they have two other first round picks this year.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jamal Murray, Freshman (PG/SG), Kentucky
The T-Wolves appear to have their five building blocks for the future in Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns. At first look that is a great starting five with tons of potential, and it is. However, there is one thing that it lacks, three point shooting. The only one of those five with a three point percentage in the 15-16 season above 35% is Zach LaVine. The T-Wolves shot 33% from three point land this past season, which ranks 25th in the league. To put it simply, they need more shooting. Enter Jamal Murray.
The Canada native shot an impressive 40% from behind the arc in his freshman season with the Wildcats. Due to the presence of Tyler Ulis, he played mostly two guard, but he has the ability to play either position. Murray is a good defender and rebounder for his size. He is not the fastest player, but he is not slow either. The biggest issue with him that may cost him a few draft spots is his ability to play point guard. Some scouts question his ability to play the position given his limited experience there at Kentucky. A good NBA player comparison for Murray is newly-hired Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. Like Hornacek, Murray can play both guard positions, and he can also shoot the three efficiently. Tom Thibodeau may like to bring Zach LaVine off the bench in an instant offense role, which would allow Murray to start at shooting guard alongside Ricky Rubio, or down the road, Tyus Jones.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Kris Dunn, Junior (PG), Providence
32 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 8 steals vs. Harvard. 11 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 6 steals vs. Brown. 16 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, 1 block, and 3 steals vs. Hartford. These are just three of the stat lines from Dunn’s junior season, and there are many more like them. Dunn can truly do it all. Standing at 6-4, he has great size for a point guard. He averaged 16 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in his junior season. Often times Dunn played second fiddle to big man Ben Bentil, who he often set up, which makes his scoring numbers even more impressive.
The biggest risk associated with Dunn is his injury history, as he redshirted his sophomore season following a season-ending injury. Dunn also needs to be more consistent with his three point shot, although he did improve this past year when he shot a respectable 37% from behind the arc. Lastly, he also does need to become less turnover-prone, as he averaged 3.5 in his junior season. Dunn reminds many scouts of John Wall, although he is not quite as explosive as the Wizards star. Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson might be a more reasonable comparison, as he is also a tall point guard who can do a little bit of everything. Dunn has a ton of potential, and the Pelicans should not hesitate to select him with the sixth pick. They do already have Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, however both a very injury-prone and neither are true point guards, as Holiday is more of a two-guard and Evans has played at the two and the three throughout his career.
7. Denver Nuggets – Jaylen Brown, Freshman (SG/SF), California
Jaylen Brown was one of the most highly-recruited players in his class coming out of high school. Some call his freshman season a disappointment, and while it was not perfect, it was still a good one by most accounts. Brown does most of his work on offense in transition right now, and will need to develop a much more consistent three pointer in the coming years, as he shot a rough 29% from there during his freshman year. Despite his subpar shooting, Brown’s athleticism is a force to be reckoned with. While he can improve his shooting, his athletic ability is something that simply cannot be taught.
Besides his shooting, the main facet of his game that Brown struggled with at Cal was his ball handling. Often times he would try to do too much when he had the ball in his hands, which led to many unnecessary turnovers. Brown has all the physical tools in the world, but to take the next step in the NBA he will need to work on the small things. Brown most closely compares to former NBA star Jason Richardson. Some remember Richardson for his superb athleticism and dunking skills in his prime, while others recall his three point marksmanship toward the end of his career. Denver is loaded in the frontcourt with big men Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Jusuf Nurkic. They could use a stretch four type player, but at pick number seven, the best player available with the most potential is Jaylen Brown. Selecting Brown would give the Nuggets a backcourt with tons of upside with Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Will Barton, and the rookie from Cal.
8. Sacramento Kings – Domatas Sabonis, Sophomore (PF/C), Gonzaga
Since the Kings selected DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, how many of their draft picks are still on their team? The answer is two, Ben McLemore and Willie Cauley-Stein. McLemore has yet to reach his potential, and while WCS looked good in his rookie year, Sacramento has been horrendous with their draft picks in recent years. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has a history of quickly firing his employees, as the Kings have had six head coaches since the beginning of the 2009 season, including the newly-hired Dave Joerger. One would have to think Vlade Divac is constantly fearing for his job under an owner with a quick hook when it comes to firing. Therefore, it is likely he chooses to go the safe route with this year’s first round pick. Domatas Sabonis is about as safe as they come.
Sabonis comes from a basketball family, as his father, Arvydas, was a first round pick in 1986 and played for the Portland Trail Blazers for eight seasons. Sabonis was quite productive for the Bulldogs in his two years there. In his sophomore campaign he averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. Sabonis is a highly-skilled post player who often outworks opponents for baskets. On defense, he is a work in progress. While not very athletic, Sabonis was able to hold his own in college due to his work ethic and high energy play. He is not a shot-blocker, and probably never will be, but he makes up for his subpar defensive abilities with his exceptional offensive skills. Sabonis reminds many scouts of Argentinian big man Luis Scola, who came into the NBA strictly as a low post scorer, but recently has developed an above average three point shot. Like Sabonis, Scola is not athletic, but he holds his own defensively due to his hard work. This serves as a perfect pick for Sacramento because, while Sabonis might not have all the upside in the world, he is a safe pick who will complement Willie Cauley-Stein’s abilities. Sabonis and WCS are opposite players, as Sabonis is a skilled low-post scorer, while Cauley-Stein is an athletic shot-blocker who is a pest defensively with a limited offensive game. Should the Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins, as has been rumored, Domatas Sabonis and Willie Cauley-Stein would give the Kings a formidable frontcourt duo for the future.
9. Toronto Raptors – Marquese Chriss, Freshman (PF), Washington
Prior to the 2016 college basketball season, not many had heard of Marquese Chriss. According to ESPN, Chriss was the 60th ranked player in the 2015 recruiting class. This would seem to be a low ranking for a player projected to be selected in the lottery of the 2016 draft. However, the big man was a late bloomer, as he did not start playing organized basketball until high school. Therefore, his name was unfamiliar to most recruiters. He was not at all expected to leave Washington after his first year, but after a stellar freshman campaign where he averaged 14 points, 5 rebounds, a block, and shot 35% from behind the arc, it made sense for him to do so, especially since he fits the mold of a stretch four that every team in the league covets nowadays.
Chriss likely will spend the majority of his rookie year in the D-League, further developing his skills. The 18 year old big man is the perfect player for the Toronto Raptors. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri has shown he is not afraid of taking risks in the draft when he selected Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo with the twentieth pick in the 2014 draft. ESPN famously scrambled to show a grainy highlight tape of Caboclo dunking and hitting a three, as the announcers were dumbfounded by the pick. While Chriss is not as raw as Caboclo was at the time, he will likely not play in many contests for the Raptors next season. This is an advantage for the Raptors because they are known to have one of the best developmental league teams in the Raptors 905, who recently developed shooting guard Norman Powell. After spending most of his time with the 905 to begin the season, Powell ended the year starting many games in place of the injured DeMarre Carroll, and impressed many. Toronto’s biggest need is at the four, and Marquese Chriss seems like the perfect pick for them given their knack for selecting players with tons of potential, but limited experience.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Jakob Poeltl, Sophomore (C), Utah
Jakob Poeltl was a breakout player in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, where he showed promise of being a two-way star one day in the NBA. While he may never be a “star,” he still projects to be a productive NBA center. Poeltl vastly improved from his freshman to sophomore year, as he went from averaging 9 points a game to 17 points a game, and also improved his rebounding from 6 a game to 9. An underrated part of his improvement is his free throw shooting, where he improved by 28%, from 44% to 68%. It is not out of the question that Poeltl could further improve his shooting as he gains more experience. The Austrian native has a knack for scoring in the post, although he has not yet developed much of an arsenal of post moves.
One of the best parts of Poeltl game is his mobility, which is above average for a player his size. He compares most closely to Warriors big man Andrew Bogut, who while not needed as an offensive threat, is one of Steve Kerr’s best defenders. Poeltl served as a defensive anchor for the Utes, which is something that the Bucks lacked last season. For the majority of the season, Jason Kidd started Greg Monroe at center, and while Monroe delivered on the offensive end of the court, he did not do Milwaukee any favors on the defensive end. Monroe has never been much of a defender, which has been okay for most of his career given his superb offensive game. It was also passable when he started alongside Andre Drummond in Detroit, as Drummond possesses the defensive game that Monroe does not. This past season, the Bucks started Jabari Parker at the four, who is not much of a defender. Kidd made it clear that he was looking for more defense when he chose to start Miles Plumlee at center over Monroe for the last few months of the season. The Bucks may choose to move on from Monroe this offseason. Regardless, Poeltl is a great fit for them at pick number ten given their need for a defensive anchor in the middle.
11. Orlando Magic – Skal Labissiere, Freshman (PF/C), Kentucky
To call Skal Labissiere’s freshman season a disappointment would be an accurate statement. After being ranked the number two recruit in the 2015 class, the Haiti native averaged a measly 6 points, 3 rebounds, and a block per game. One would expect those numbers out of lowly-recruited bench player, so it is clear why Labissiere’s season was disappointing by most accounts. However, in retrospect it was probably unfair to expect a lot out of him given he missed his junior year of high school, and is still relatively new to the US.
Despite his uninspiring freshman season, this pick is all about potential. Labissiere teased what he is capable of in a few games this season. Against NJIT, he scored 26 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and blocked two shots. Against LSU, he scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked six shots. And in the NCAA Tournament against Stony Brook he scored 12 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and blocked six shots. Labissiere has a very laid-back personality, which seemed to negatively affect in him in his freshman year because at times it appeared he lacked intensity while on the court. He was also quite foul-prone, as he committed three fouls per game while averaging only fifteen minutes per contest. Labissiere reminds many scouts of Channing Frye, a big who excels at shooting the three. However, he is more athletic and has the potential to be much more of a defensive presence than Frye is.
He will most likely spend the majority of his rookie season in the D-League, but his potential to develop as a stretch four that teams covet nowadays is enough to justify the Magic taking him with their first round pick. This pick makes even more sense because after trading away Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, Orlando has a need at the four, as Ersan Ilyasova likely is not the future there, but he can play until Labissiere is ready.
12. Utah Jazz – Furkan Korkmaz, Age 18 (SG), Turkey
The average NBA fan has never heard of Furkan Korkmaz, but that will soon change. One of the top international prospects in this year’s draft, Korkmaz is a prolific scorer. He shot a tad under 50% from the floor in the U19 World Championships, and was equally impressive from behind the arc as he was inside. Standing at 6-7, Korkmaz has great size for a shooting guard, and he is also quite athletic. One of the most impressive parts of the Turkey native’s game is his leadership, as he has shown numerous times that he is willing to take full responsibility for the outcome of his team’s games, whether they be a win or a loss. His maturity stands above the rest of the players at his age.
The only real places where improvement is his defense, where he will need to add weight in order to compete with NBA players. However, being just 18, he has plenty of time to do so. He is very much alike current Magic guard Evan Fournier, who came into the league as an established scorer from France, but has needed to improve his defense to stay competitive. The Jazz are in an unique position for a lottery team, being that they have players at every position that are part of their future. Therefore, they can afford to go with the best player available/an overseas player that may not come over to the US immediately. Furkan Korkmaz fits this description. While not quite ready to play in the NBA, he has a ton of potential.
13. Phoenix Suns – Denzel Valentine, Senior (SG/SF), Michigan State
Remember those crazy Kris Dunn statlines from earlier? Well, Denzel Valentine takes those to the next level. In his senior season, he averaged 19.2 points, 7.8 assists, 7.5 rebounds, a steal, and three threes per game. Add those to his superb shooting percentages, as he shot 46% from the field, 44% from behind the arc, and 85% from the free throw line, and you have just as complete of a player as you are going to get. He won enough Player of the Year Awards that there are too many to list here. Valentine’s basketball intangibles are off the charts, as is his court vision.
He is a decent team defender, but is not very athletic, which will hurt him while trying to stay in front of NBA athletes. His defense in the only real weakness of his game, as he does everything else exceptionally well. It is not clear whether he will guard shooting guards or small forwards in the NBA, as he is undersized to play the three, but has a tough time guarding athletic guards. His age (23), will turn some teams away. The development of former Spartan Draymond Green is something that should help Valentine on draft day, as he possesses many of the skills that Green has shown in Golden State. While he does have skills reminiscent of Green, his size lines up more with a player like Danny Green, who is a better defender, but cannot fill up the stat sheet nearly as much as Valentine.
One of the Suns’ biggest needs lies at the three, and Valentine serves as a perfect player for them because he represents more of a sure thing than Dragan Bender, who they could take with the fourth pick. While many will question Denzel Valentine’s ability to translate his college play to the NBA level, there is one sure thing, his numbers were no fluke last year.
14. Chicago Bulls – Malik Beasley, Freshman (SG), Florida State
After being ranked the 28th best recruit in his class, Malik Beasley exceeded expectations in his freshman season at Florida State. He averaged 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, shot 47% from the floor, and 39% from behind the arc. Beasley is extremely energetic, both on offense and defense. He also shows a ton of effort on the defensive end. While he is quite lively on the defensive end, he tends to be a bit too wild sometimes, often going for steals rather than staying in front of his opponent. He also does not excel at creating for others, which as a shooting guard, he should be better at.
His size (6-5), is not ideal for his position, but his athleticism makes up for it. Beasley has the potential to develop into a “3 and D” type player in the NBA, much like current Mavs guard Wesley Matthews. With all the trade rumors surrounding the Bulls and their star player, Jimmy Butler, it would be a smart move for Chicago to grab Beasley here.