As we collectively observe the aftermath of the chaotic, yet glorious firestorm of emotions that was the culmination of the 2016 NBA season, we are also vacillating over into draft season. The order is set, as is the stage for a wild and hectic night in Brooklyn. Here is how I envision the ideal 1st round playing out.
#1: Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, PF/SF, LSU
The 76ers have all but said that either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor will be traded in order to make room for a player like Simmons. While the crowded Sixers frontcourt, which includes Noel, Okafor, Joel Embiid, and Croatian newcomer Dario Saric, Simmons' superstar potential is too good to pass on. While even I have suggested that Brandon Ingram represents a better fit for the 76ers, I've since changed my mind due to the observation of how truly unique and special Ben Simmons can be. The Sixers should grab him at #1.
#2: Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
The small forward position in Los Angeles remains vacant. Nick "Swaggy P" Young is a complete clown who can't be trusted with a starting spot, let alone a place on the team. This vacancy will allow Ingram to slide right into the starting lineup. Ingram's offensive game is remarkably refined for an 18 year old. Ingram's versatility is also boundless, as he can man multiple positions, though he is a natural small forward. He will need to add a ton of weight and strength, but should he do that, Ingram is an reservoir of untapped offensive potential.
#3: Boston Celtics: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
The Celtics are in prime position to makes some noise in the Playoffs, as their young talent looks ready to explode into stardom. Some added scoring is needed to turn them into contenders. Avery Bradley is a nice player, but Hield's shooting prowess could immediately take this team to the next level. The shooting is what will be talked about, but Hield's ability to take it to the rim and finish is vastly underrated. The defense isn't there, however, and that could be problematic when going up against the stable of elite guards the East boasts. That being said, the current starting lineup could be extremely tantalizing for Boston.
#4: Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender, C, Croatia
Porzingis-mania hit New York after the overnight success of Kristaps Porzingis. This has led to a renewed belief in the quality of developmental European big men. Bender finds himself being snatched up by the Suns at #4. They have Tyson Chandler and the failed project that is Alex Len ready to help the team in the immediate future, but Bender could be a long term solution. The shooting is there, as is the basketball IQ and passing ability. The normal question about how he will adapt to the physicality of the NBA is there, but i believe he will add strength to succeed in the NBA.
#5: Minnesota Timberwolves: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
This Timberwolves and the young talent they have looks ready to take the next step. New Coach Tom Thibodeau reportedly loves Kris Dunn, and for good reason. Dunn is both an explosive athlete and a natural scorer. though he doesn't fit the mold of a traditional point guard, his passing ability, pesky defense, and skill at penetrating prove otherwise. He can also shoot the 3 very well. Ricky Rubio's passing and Dunn's scoring can defiantly coexist, though Dunn has superstar potential. With Rubio, Dunn, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins all together, watch out for the T-Wolves.
#6: New Orleans Pelicans: Jaylen Brown, SF/SG, California
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were considered by many to be a massive disappointment. To avoid falling into that same category, the backcourt, which is full of question marks, needs a major upgrade. Eric Gordon is on the market, and Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will be soon after. Brown is a great slasher and finisher at the rim who can get to the free throw line, offers good defense, and has a high basketball IQ. He has a great motor, and is a remarkable athlete for his size and age. His jump shot needs improvement, but his fit as a 3 with Holiday, Evans, and Davis alongside him could turn the Pelicans into a team that could make some noise in the west.
#7: Denver Nuggets: Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington
Chriss has skyrockted up draft boards, and with good reason. He is a natural, explosive athlete that can already rebounded at a fantastic clip. While he needs refinement with regards to his offensive game, he can shoot the 3 very well and score from a variety of distances and angles. He established himself as the best rim protector in the Pac-12. Chriss is in the same boat as Brandon Ingram in that he needs to add strength and add a more physical element to his game. The Nuggets would be taking a huge risk in taking the boom-or-bust Chriss, but the boom would be enough justification for picking him at 7.
#8: Sacramento Kings: Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky
The Kings will be jumping for joy if Murray falls to them at 8. Murray's shooting may cause some to assume that he is simply a 3-point shooter and nothing else. However, Murray could just as easily star as a point guard as he could as a shooting guard. Murray's ball handling and skill to get the ball in the basket is almost unparalleled in this draft class. His defense isn't there at all, however, and the motor is also very inconsistent. However, Murray refined offensive game could enable him to either be an immediate contributor as a 6th man or starting. On a Sacramento team bereft of offensive star potential outside of DeMarcus Cousins, Murray could team with him to solidify the team's future for years to come.
#9: Toronto Raptors: Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga
The Raptors were very close to knocking the eventual champions, the Cavaliers, out of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. One of the biggest reasons why was the physical play of their big men, most notably Bismarck Biyombo. With Biyombo now a free agent, the Raptors could add a big man with the 9th pick. Sabonis is a traditional, rugged, back to the basket center with fantastic finishing ability and rebounding prowess. Sabonis' work rate and motor are off the charts. A common criticism is a lack of supreme athletic ability. Sabonis' rugged, rebound-centric game would give the Raptors another big guy they could use to form a terrific Eastern European tag team between him and Jonas Valanciunas.
#10: Milwaukee Bucks: Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette
Ellenson grew up in Wisconsin and played his home games at Marquette at the Bradley Center. He won't have to move far. Ellenson is the prototypical stretch 4. Ellenson can stroke it from deep, and he boasts a great midrange shot. He moves exceptionally well for a 6-11, 240 pound forward. He isn't a soft, jumper-centric big guy that so many NBA 4s and 5s have evolved into. His physicality in the low post has helped in the creation of a great low post game. The rebounding isn't elite, but its passable. His defense will be an issue, as he was exposed by the more athletically gifted forwards in the NCAA. With Greg Monroe on the trading block and Giannis Antetokounmpo moving to the back court, the Milwaukke kid should be a great addition in Milwaukee.
#11: Orlando Magic: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah
Poeltl may be seen by many as an upside pick, but i believe that Poeltl's game is conducive to Frank Vogel's style of basketball. Poeltl is aleadry an elite rim protector, and his shot-blocking and offensive rebounding prowess are rivaled by none in the draft class. He is remarkably nimble for a big guy, and has high a basketball IQ. The rawness of Poeltl is evident with regards to his offensive game, as refinement in that area is necessary. Frank Vogel's brand of basketball centers around tall, physical big men (see Roy Hibbert and Myles Turner). Nikola Vucevic is already established in Orlando, but Poeltl and Vucevic could form a lethal tandem.
#12: Atlanta Hawks: Malachi Richardson, SG, Syracuse
I have played against Malachi several times in middle and high school, so i know just how unbelievable and transcendent he can seem at times. That isn't to say he is without flaws. He is extremely streaky, and doesn;t get to the rim as easily as some of the other guards in this class. He does, however, go into states where he can't miss no matter where he shoots from. Richardson plays with a fire and a motor, and he translates that motor into great defense and shooting. The Hawks need dynamic scorers, and Richardson fits the bill.
#13: Phoenix Suns: Denzel Valentine, SF, Michigan State
Reports that Valentine's knees have significant damage will cause him to slide. However, I believe the Suns can end that slide at 13. You won't find a more versatile player in this draft class than Valentine. He can play 4 positions and he can play them all well. Though his primary position is the 3, Valentine has the court vision and passing ability of a point guard. Valentine isn't an elite athlete, which can lead to some drawbacks and limitations on his overall ceiling. Valentine's floor is very low, and can carve out playing time in the Suns' lineup.
#14: Chicago Bulls: Deyonta Davis, PF/C, Michigan State
Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are likely headed elsewhere. The center position is in dire need of an injection of youth. Davis played in the shadow of Denzel Valentine, but is a fantastic prospect in his own right. Davis plays in much the same way as Marquese Chriss. He is super long and extremely athletic, but is very much a project. His rebounding and shot blocking are advanced, but his offensive game needs refinement. Davis has so much to work with that a coach like Fred Hoiberg would be salivating to mold him into a NBA big man.
#15: Denver Nuggets: Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky
Labissiere's freshman year was an unmitigated disaster. He struggled to get playing time and was ineffective when he was given time. Labissiere plays as if he's 6 feet tall rather than 7 feet tall. He can shoot, handle, and run the floor. He needs MAJOR improvements in the low post both offensively and defensively. he also needs to toughen up and fight for rebounds, something he never did at Kentucky. Labissiere is the drafts ultimate boom-or-bust prospect. The Nuggets have the front court depth to withstand him not panning out, but would welcome a new star if Labissiere evolves into that.
#16: Boston Celtics: Timothe Luwawu, SG/SF, France
The Celtics and Nuggets will likely be in the market for draft-and-stash international prospects. Luwawu is a very rigid prospect. He is going to shoot and play fantastic defense. he does it so well that those skills alone can earn him a spot in the league. He can earn time as a 2 or as a 3, but can guard almost anyone on a court regardless of size. Luwawu is not very physical or versatile, however. The market for 3-and-D guys is only getting bigger, and Luwawu has a chance to become one of the best at his particular craft.
#17: Memphis Grizzlies: Dejounte Murray, PG, Washington
At 6-5 and 190 pounds, Murray certain doesn't have the frame of a traditional point guard. He probably will have to stick at the point guard spot because of his lackluster shooting. What Murray can do is penetrate, finish at the rim, and rebound well for a point guard. He is very creative passer that should translate in the NBA. Mike Conley is now a free agent, leaving the Grizzlies with a major hole in the backcourt. Murray's penetrating ability and distribution skill should make the transition to the NBA easy.
#18: Detroit Pistons: Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina
The Pistons snuck into the playoffs as the 8 seed, and are a few tinkers away from making some real noise. Johnson could be a good place to start. Andre Drummond is obviously awesome, but Marcus Morris leaves something to be desired. Johnson is a double-double machine with quickness and explosive leaping ability. While he won't offer much outside of the paint, and needs to put on strength, Johnson is an athletic big man who can rebound and play defense, and Stan Van Gundy can't get enough of them.
#19: Denver Nuggets: Juan Hernangomez, PF, Spain
When you hear he phrase "European Big Man", Hernangomez is likely the type of player you are thinking of. A classic stretch 4, Hernangomez's best assets are his 3 point shot and his passing ability. As is the case with so many other Europeans, he needs to add weight and develop a low post game that would be effective in the NBA. With 3 first round picks, Denver can afford to stash him oversees while his game matures into something that could succeed in the NBA, because he already has a respectable shot and athletic ability.
#20: Brooklyn Nets: Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame
One of the most underrated prospects in the draft, Jackson is the best distributing point guard in this draft. Everyone around Jackson is made better by his leadership and smart decision making. He can score when called upon as well. His range is by no means elite, but he is effective from close range and mid range and from several angles and degrees of difficulty. It's no secret the Nets want a point guard, and Jackson could be the catalyst for long-term success in Brooklyn
#21: Atlanta Hawks: Wade Baldwin, SG/PG, Vanderbilt
With Jeff Teague gone, the Hawks will need to replace his scoring somehow, as Dennis Schröder is more of a distributer than scorer. Baldwin fits the bill. My nickname for him is "Jamal Murray Lite". They are both strong combo guards with good 3 point shots and fantastic court awareness and vision. Baldwin is a much better defender, however. He will have to overcome pervasive maturity and leadership questions, however. The bottom line is that the Hawks would love a player of his caliber to fall to pick #21.
#22: Sacramento Kings: Furkan Korkmaz, SG/SF, Turkey
Immediately, we know Korkmaz is going to shoot the 3 well. He has one of the best 3 point shots that I've seen in a while from a region that produces many great shooters. Even a cursory look at Korkmaz reveals his biggest weakness, however. He needs some CARBS. ASAP. His remarkably skinny frame limits him on the defensive end as well with the variety of his shot selection on the offensive end. Should the Kings bulk him up, he could be that extra spark they need to advance into the playoffs.
#23: Boston Celtics: Cheick Diallo, PF, Kansas
If you want to talk about a project or a raw player, Diallo is as raw as they come. After struggling to pick up offensive sets at Kansas, Diallo was frozen out of the lineup. The Celtics have the coaches to get the most out of the MVP of the McDonalds All American Game. He is long and athletic, and defends and rebounds well. he can finish above the rim with ease. However, he needs to be taught, several of the more refined and nuanced aspect of playing the position, as his offensive game is nonexistent. Diallo has so much to work with that the #23 overall pick could be a good place to pick him at.
#24: Philadelphia 76ers: Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
Ulis is one of the few Kentucky prospects who stayed after his freshman year, and that decision really helped his stock. His speed makes it seem that he is better suited for the 100 meter dash than the NBA. Ulis is a blur with and without the ball. Ulis can shoot and defend surprisingly well. Size is a big hurdle. How big? I am the exact same height and weight as Tyler Ulis, and I'm not exactly a sleeper NBA prospect. If Ulis can bulk up to around 170 or 180, his speed and shooting will allow him to be a successful point guard.
#25: Los Angeles Clippers: Thon Maker, C, Australia
Thon Maker, International Man Of Mystery, was first introduced to the world through his otherworldly high school mixtape. This tape showed that Maker is very fluid athlete with shooting range and a high motor. Maker will not be the point-forward shown in his mixtape, so he will have to learn a low post game. Sitting behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin under the tutelage of Doc Rivers is certainly an optimal landing spot for the uber-talanted Maker.
#26; Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State
The Sixers would earn nothing but glowing praise from me if they complete the trinity of first round picks with Beasley, a freakish athlete with natural scoring ability. He struggles handling the ball, but will likely improve in that department when drafted. His defense is often overlooked, but is just as much an asset to his style of play as his shooting. The Sixers desperately need dynamic, explosive scorers, and Beasley is the best one left.
#27: Toronto Raptors: Malcolm Brogdon, SG, Virginia
With their 2nd pick, Toronto should grab a high character, versatile guy like Brogdon. While a master of none, Brogdon is a jack-of-all-trades. His calling card is his defense, which is supremly tough and physical, but he can shoot the 3 exceptionally well. Brogdon is a coaches dream. He is a quick study, versatile, and durable. The Raptors are so close to breaking through into the NBA Finals. By adding Domantas Sabonis and Brogdon, they are that much closer to the title.
#28: Phoenix Suns: Gary Payton II, PG, Oregon State
His father was known as "The Glove". The younger Payton is certainly following in Dad's footsteps in that regard. Payton will probably be among the league leaders in steals per 48 minutes. He is also an elite rebounder for his size and position. Offensively, he is limited, which is the biggest reason Payton is having difficulty break into the first round. the Suns have their guard situation figured out, but the addition of a stopper like Payton could be the miracle cure for their defensive woes.
#29: San Antonio Spurs: Stephen Zimmerman, C, UNLV
Tim Duncan has to retire eventually, right? Though Boban Marjanovic, in all his glory, looks like the most immediate replacement, Zimmerman is absolutely gushing potential. He is yet another big man who needs to add weight, but is very refined and polished with regards to his offensive game. His defensive struggles have stemmed from an inconsistent motor and a lack of strength. Gregg Popovich is to big men what Bruce Arians is to quarterbacks, so Zimmerman lands in the ideal place for him to develop.
#30: Golden State Warriors: AJ Hammons, C, Purdue
The Warriors need for a tall, physical big man was evident during their loss in the NBA Finals. Hammons' 7-1, 280 pound frame will certainly solve that problem. Hammons is very nimble for his size, as his soft touch around the basket shows. He can pull down rebounds at a rate that was better than almost all in the Big 10. While Hammons likely won't become an immediate contributor, Hammons' frame and skill should warrant plying time on a team without a player like him.
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