The quest for 29 teams to start closing the massive gap between themselves and the champion Golden State Warriors begins with the rapidly approaching NBA draft June 22.
When the goal is trying to dethrone a destructive behemoth full of players in their prime, big moves must be pondered and then, if all goes right, executed. So don’t be surprised if draft night is full of trades and general chaos. Wouldn’t that be exciting?
Until then, we can only work around the draft order as it is currently structured. To that end, here is the second edition of the 2017 Denver Post NBA mock draft:
1. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn), Markelle Fultz, 6-4 PG, Washington: The Celtics are the rare contender that gets to add an impact player before free agency rolls around. Fultz would immediately provide another playmaker and scorer in the backcourt, something Boston sorely missed in their Eastern Conference finals loss to the Cavaliers. He may be the safest selection in this draft, and he’s sitting at the very top.
2. L.A. Lakers, Lonzo Ball, 6-6 PG, UCLA: As the draft has crept closer, more and more reports have surfaced suggesting the Lakers are strongly considering options other than Ball. Magic Johnson and Co. surely should be closely examining the potential impact of small forward Josh Jackson and point guard De’Aaron Fox. But Ball continues to look like the best option for a team that may not yet be sold on D’Angelo Russell as its point guard.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (from Sacramento), Josh Jackson, 6-8 SF, Kansas: The 76ers could pair Jackson with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric to quickly make up one of the league’s most intriguing groups of young players. Philly needs an upgrade at point guard — I’m not of the mind that Simmons will play there long-term — and that would make De’Aaron Fox or Ball an intriguing choice in this spot. But Jackson offers more positional versatility, and that fits the mold the 76ers are forming.
4. Phoenix Suns, De’Aaron Fox 6-4 PG, Kentucky: While it’s easy to look at the talented trio of Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight and think the backcourt is the last place Phoenix should look with its first round pick, Fox’s upside may be too much to pass up. If it’s quickly apparent he fits in seamlessly alongside Booker, who the Suns believe is a future star, then Phoenix could seek a trading partner for Bledsoe.
5. Sacramento Kings (from Philadelphia), Jayson Tatum, 6-8 SF, Duke: The Kings need a point guard. Fox would be a great fit here, but my hunch continues to be that the Kentucky guard will be gone before the Kings make their pick if they stay in the No. 5 spot. If that’s the case, the Kings could wait to enhance their backcourt with the No. 10 pick and go with Tatum at No. 5. Tatum averaged 16.8 points during his freshman season at Duke and could provide some scoring punch at the wing spot Sacramento needs.
6. Orlando Magic, Dennis Smith, 6-3 PG, N.C. State: If Smith were two inches taller, he’d probably be a top-three pick in this draft. He has some of the hallmarks of a star at the position, starting first and foremost with his toughness. You can see a little bit Kyrie Irving in the way he finishes at the rim. A little Chris Paul in the way he changes pace and dictates the tempo. On top of that, he has above-the-rim explosiveness. This spot is higher than a lot of draft predictions have Smith, but I think he possesses the tools that could make him the star the Magic desperately needs.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves, Jonathan Isaac, 6-11 PF, Florida State: The Timberwolves, much like the Nuggets, are searching for a versatile interior presence to add alongside their franchise center. Isaac can guard the perimeter, shoot from range and has the athleticism to protect the rim. He would pair favorably alongside Karl Anthony-Towns on both ends of the floor. (He wouldn’t look bad playing next to Nikola Jokic either.)
8. New York Knicks, Malik Monk, 6-4 SG, Kentucky: The Knicks, at this point, are building their future around Kristaps Porzingis, and I envision Monk running back door all day and catching dimes from the Knicks’ big man. He can score in bunches, drawing a similar profile to Jamal Crawford. It’s why I don’t place too much concern on Monk’s relatively thin frame.
9. Dallas Mavericks, Frank Ntilinka, 6-5 PG, France: If Ntilinka is the guy for the Mavericks, they’ll be crossing their fingers the Knicks don’t first jump at the idea of pairing another European player with Porzingis. There is still some mystery to Ntilinka’s game, but with the Mavericks still at least another year away from trying to make any contending push, they’ll have time to mature the 18-year-old guard.
10. Sacramento Kings (from New Orleans), Lauri Markkanen, 7-0 PF, Arizona: You have to think there is a good chance the Kings will try to make some kind of deal with two of the first 10 picks in an attempt to move up a couple spots and grab the point guard they want. If they are picking at No. 10, Markkanen gives them a player with promising offensive skill to place alongside the defensive-minded Willie Cauley-Stein at center.
11. Charlotte Hornets, Donovan Mitchell, 6-3 SG, Louisville: Mitchell may be one of the draft’s biggest sleepers. Few had him pegged in the lottery at the end of the spring, but word is that he has impressed at workouts with his length (he’s 6-3 but has a 6-10 wingspan) and athleticism. An all-ACC defensive team selection as a sophomore last season, Mitchell could be a good backcourt complement to star guard Kemba Walker.
12. Detroit Pistons, Zach Collins, 7-0 PF/C, Gonzaga: There may not be a lot of basketball evidence to support selecting Collins this high. He played just one season at Gonzaga, came off the bench and was relatively unknown until a strong run through the NCAA Tournament put him on the map. But the potential upside of a player who protected the rim at a high level in a small sample size could very well land him in the lottery.
13. Denver Nuggets, OG Anunoby, 6-8 SF, Indiana: If Anunoby was a player being considered in the top 10 of this draft, the major knee injury he suffered during his sophomore season at Indiana might given pause. But at No. 13, his upside as a versatile defensive-minded player who could impact areas of need for the Nuggets could be worth the risk. His ability to guard multiple defensive positions could be a major boon off the bench for a Denver team that needs major help on that side of the ball.
14. Miami Heat, Luke Kennard, 6-6 SG, Duke: The NBA’s premium on outside shooting will ensure J.J. Reddick makes big money as a free agent this season. It’s the same reason Kennard, who scored 19.5 points per game as a sophomore and shot 44 percent from 3-point range, could be a lottery selection. There are questions about his defense, but the Heat is as likely as any team to maximize his potential on that end.
15. Portland Trail Blazers, John Collins, 6-10 PF, Wake Forest: Collins, who visited with Portland last week after he worked out with the Nuggets, has a strong motor for his size, runs the floor well and is highly efficient when he gets to the rim. A power forward who could finish with consistency off feeds from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum could be a strong frontcourt complement to Jusuf Nurkic.
16. Chicago Bulls, Justin Jackson, 6-8 SF, North Carolina: This may be a low prediction for a player who averaged 18.4 points and led his team to a national championship back in April, but concerns about both his slight frame and perceived inability to create his own shot could be factors that prevent him from landing in the lottery. Still, the Bulls would be lucky to grab a player with a lot of strengths and a proven record of consistency as a scorer in the middle of the first round. Even if he just becomes a scoring option off the bench, that would be good value at this spot in the draft.
17. Milwaukee Bucks, Jarrett Allen, 6-11 C, Texas: It is going to take time for Allen to be a contributor for a team on the offensive end. He said as much while visiting with the Nuggets last week. But he has good defensive instincts and the requisite length to be a disruptive player defensively on the interior. The upside is that Allen continues to develop his game and is a viable option as a starting center should Greg Monroe leave the team as an unrestricted free agent following next season.
18. Indiana Pacers, Harry Giles, 6-11 C, Duke: Are two ACL injuries since 2013 too big of a gamble to take? Or is the talent and upside of the versatile big man and former top-ranked high school player in America too much to pass up? These are the major questions about Giles teams considering him must weigh. You don’t win in the NBA without stars, and at this spot in the draft the reward part of the equation could be too much to pass up for the Pacers.
19. Atlanta Hawks, T.J. Leaf, 6-10 PF, UCLA: Leaf has the look of a player who won’t have problems scoring at the NBA level. He can knock down jump shots at all spots. He’s a capable finisher with both hands and he runs well in transition. If the Hawks lose Paul Millsap in free agency, they’ll need to replace some of his scoring in the frontcourt. Leaf, who averaged 16.3 points per game at UCLA as a freshman, could be the answer.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (from Memphis via Denver and Cleveland), Ike Anigbogu, 6-10 C, UCLA: It’s hard to imagine the Trail Blazers keeping all three of their first-round picks in this draft, but should they be selecting at this spot, Anigbogu has good athletic upside that makes you think who could be a viable option to backup Nurkic at the center spot at some point.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder, Tyler Lydon, 6-10 SF/PF, Syracuse: The Thunder need secondary scorers wherever they can find them to take some of the pressure off Russell Westbrook. Lydon, who shot 47 percent from 3-point range over two college seasons, would provide the ability to stretch the floor and keep Westbrook’s assist total rising when he attacks and kicks out.
22. Brooklyn Nets (from Washington), Justin Patton, 7-0 C, Creighton: The young big man could very well go higher in this draft, but there is some concern about his shooting and ability at the NBA level. Still, he made a huge leap after redshirting his first season at Creighton, and that offers intrigue the Nets shouldn’t pass up.
23. Toronto Raptors (from L.A. Clippers via Milwaukee), Terrance Ferguson, 6-7 SG, Adelaide (Australia): The Dallas product, a former high school teammate of Emmanuel Mudiay, struggled as an 18-year-old last year playing a physical game in Australia. The learning curve will likely continue early in his NBA career, but Ferguson has good size and physical tools for the position and would have time blossom without needing to play a big role in Toronto.
24. Utah Jazz, Bam Adebayo, 6-10 C, Kentucky: Adebayo is an intriguing blend of strength, size, speed, athleticism and desire that could make him a big steal late in the draft. His offensive game needs polish, but his effort and ability to affect the game without scoring would give him the chance to make an immediate impact off the bench. He could back up Rudy Gobert but could also play alongside the team’s franchise center.
25. Orlando Magic (from Toronto), Anzejs Pasecniks, 7-2 C, Latvia: Forget his fellow countryman, Porzingis. Pasecniks has said he wants to be the next Pau Gasol. If he becomes anything close to the NBA champion from Spain, the Magic would have the draft’s biggest theft.
26. Portland (from Cleveland), Semi Ojeleye, 6-7 SF, SMU: After averaging 19 points per game as a junior at SMU, Ojeleye has proven he can be a productive offensive player in a variety of ways. He could be a prototypical “three and D” player at the NBA level, which gives him good value as a selection late in the first round.
27. Brooklyn (from Boston), Derrick White, 6-5 PG/SG, Colorado: Since I have the Nets grabbing a center with their initial selection in the first round, White would be a logical choice to complete a strong two-pick run. The Nets desperately need a player who can score and make plays on a consistent basis out of the backcourt. White has continually proven — during his senior season at CU and the pre-draft process — that’s exactly the player he can be in the NBA.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (from Houston), Isaiah Hartenstein, 7-0 C, Germany: The left-handed big man can space the floor as a shooter from outside and showed an ability during the last Euroleague season to score off the dribble and defend at the rim. If the Lakers are lucky enough to rid themselves of Timofey Mozgov’s massive contract, Hartenstein could be a natural replacement.
29. San Antonio Spurs, Ivan Rabb, 6-10 PF/C, California: Rabb has a lot of work to do on his perimeter game before he can be a productive offensive player in the NBA. Good thing the Spurs know a thing or two about player development.
30. Utah Jazz (from Golden State), D.J. Wilson, 6-10 PF, Michigan: If the Jazz can get Wilson to become more relentless as a rebounder, and pair that with his ability to stretch the floor and knock down 3-pointers, he could become a prototypical “stretch four” who could provide options off the bench.