2017 NBA Mock Draft: Lottery Edition

Mock drafts are always a fun exercise. You get to be the GM for every team in the league, without any actual knowledge of these front offices. This includes the joy of researching each team, trying to their determine key players, and identifying areas they could improve. The real fun though, is researching the prospects. There are some talented prospects in this class, with more than enough to fill out the first round with rotational players if not starters.

I have no inside information, outside of the tidbits I find during player and team research, so all of these draft choices are based on the thoughts and opinions of yours truly. And I’m not doing trades because the Knicks would end up with the #1 pick for Carmelo and a bag of rocks cause Markelle Fultz is that damn good.

  1. Boston Celtics – 53-29, 1st in the east, Lost 1-4 ECF to Cavs

Key Players: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk

Free Agents: James Young, Gerald Green, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk

Positions of Interest: Athletic Big, Scoring Guard

Boston was young team buoyed by the greatness of Isaiah Thomas but realized quickly that Isaiah Thomas is not good enough to get past LeBron James and the Cavs. The big question here is do they trade their assets in an attempt to get past LeBron or do they wait him out with Jaylen Brown and their next 2, top-5 picks. I agree with the sentiment that these rookies won’t be the piece to get them over the hump but with their current roster construction, will mortgaging assets for Paul George or Jimmy Butler leave their roster with enough to get past LeBron? I say take the best player available and continue to develop this roster. As the young players improve, the team will improve. A 53-win team with a #1 overall pick is a dangerous proposition. Adding Markelle Fultz, the consensus #1 player, will give this team even more backcourt depth and flexibility with Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. With the trio of Smart/Bradley/Thomas up for free agency in the summer of 2018, adding Fultz also gives you an insurance policy if not an outright upgrade at the guard position.

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Sean M. Haffey – Getty Images
  1. Los Angeles Lakers – 26-56, 14th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle

Free Agents: Metta World Peace, Tyler Ennis, Thomas Robinson, Nick Young

Positions of Interest: Athletic Center, Playmaking Wing

Los Angeles is another young team however, they were not buoyed by veteran excellence. Instead, they were hamstrung by their veterans, Loul Deng and Timofey Mozgov. In the future, their minutes should be distributed to younger, more promising talent in Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr and Ivica Zubac. The clearly upgradeable roster spot for LA is center. Distributing minutes to Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac and Timofey Mozgov isn’t what you want to do going into the season. The problem for the Lakers is there is not a center prospect worth a top-5 pick in this draft. If Demarcus Cousins was still available that would be in serious play in this spot but since he isn’t, the Lakers decide to upgrade their backcourt with Lonzo Ball. He can slide into the PG spot next to D’Angelo Russell and allow Russell to take a more natural role as a combo, scoring guard. Lonzo will give LA a young, 3-headed monster at guard and the most important skill he should provide is unselfishness. The Lakers have plenty of projected finishers. Between Clarkson, Russell, Ingram and Randle, LA has enough prospects that hunt for their own shot. LA needs more playmakers to allow Luke Walton to successfully employ his pace and space offense.

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Josh Jackson (Getty Images)
  1. Philadelphia 76ers – 28-54, 14th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington

Free Agents: Alex Poythress, Sergio Rodriguez, Tiago Splitter

Positions of Interest: Shooter, PG, Athletic Wing

Philadelphia is in a weird place. With Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid and Robert Covington, not to mention Jahlil Okafor, the frontcourt is STACKED with prospects. However, Embiid has played 31 games in his first 3 seasons (regardless of how awesome those 31 games were), Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season, and Okafor sucks and was born 20 years too late to succeed in the NBA. The backcourt is comprised of Nik Stauskas, TJ McConnell, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson. Literally any of the guard prospects would be upgrades over this crop of talent but their roster is still really weirdly constructed so it’s not as easy as picking the best guard available. With rumors of Ben Simmons initiating the offense, the need for a traditional PG wanes a bit. This brings in to picture 3 different options: Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox. If I am Philly, I take Josh Jackson. The defensive versatility, playmaking ability and size that Josh Jackson brings will allow you to get creative with your lineups. Imagine a lineup including Simmons, Jackson, Saric, Covington and Embiid. The length, size and playmaking ability on the court will be difficult to deal with. If Embiid picks up where he left off defensively, then he and Jackson can make a dynamic inside, outside defensive duo and more than make up for teammate defensive liabilities. The issue Jackson creates is a lack of shooting but I think that’s better addressed in free agency.

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Jayson Tatum (Mark Dolejs – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Phoenix Suns – 24-58, 15th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis, Jared Dudley

Free Agents: Alex Len, Alan Williams, Ronnie Price

Positions of Interest: Athletic Wing with Size

Phoenix is in an interesting place. They drafted Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the top-10 last season to be their big men of the future. Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker make up their backcourt of the future (Bledsoe more present than future but I digress). Jared Dudley provides great wing depth but Phoenix has to be dying to get an athletic, playmaking wing to facilitate and play defense while Booker, Bledsoe and their young big men do the bulk of the scoring. This would be the perfect spot for Josh Jackson but Philly got the luck of the draw there. The consolation prize: Jayson Tatum. He’s the only other top tier small forward in this draft and unless they’re willing to take a minor step back trading Eric Bledsoe, to acquire another athletic Kentucky PG, he’s the only option available.  If Eric Bledsoe can become a more willing playmaker, a Booker-Tatum offense pairing could be extremely dynamic. The only question will be can they defend any NBA-level wing, on any court anywhere.

Fox & Monk
De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk (Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Sacramento Kings – 32-50, 12th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Buddy Hield, Willy Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere

Free Agents: Darren Collinson, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans

Positions of Interest: PG, SF

Sacramento has a sneaky good future. With Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collinson and Ty Lawson all coming off the books and two top-10 picks in this draft, this team is in a great place. However, because of the young investments on the roster at the center position (Willy Cauley-Stein/Georgios Papagiannis) they don’t have the luxury of back-to-back “best player available” selections. Instead they take the best player at 5, and attack either the PG or SF position on the second time around at 10. Sacramento should sprint to the podium to secure De’Aaron Fox as Buddy Hield’s backcourt running mate of the future. This allows De’Aaron to have his NBA Malik Monk and Buddy Hield gets a primary ball handler, facilitator and defender. De’Aaron won’t be able to immediately guard the opposing team’s best guard but that will surely be one his larger roles as his body matures. With Fox orchestrating an offense including Hield’s shooting, Cauley-Stein’s athleticism and Papagiannis’s… whatever he brings, this team could be good in a few years. However, this is the Sacramento and if anybody could find a way to flush away 2 top-10 picks and a healthy future, it’s the Kings.

  1. Orlando Magic – 29-53, 13th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, uh Nikola Vucevic, maybe Bismack Biyombo

Free Agents: Jodie Meeks, Jeff Green, Damjan Rudez, Patricio Garino

Positions of Interest: Athletic wing, Lead guard

Orlando always seems to be stuck in limbo. Their good luck is often followed by bad luck and over the last few years it has only been bad luck. While I don’t think the Elfrid Payton experience has worked, it’s worth another year to maximize the tank for 2017-18 (Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon deserve to be together). Honestly, the entire roster is available for turnover aside from Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier (and I guess Bismack…). This is a team that has consistently drafted terribly and traded 1 of their 2 productive draft picks for Serge Ibaka, who was then traded for Terrence Ross… who is kind of like Victor Oladipo except not as good. They should honestly just take the best player available and continue listening to offers for every player on this roster. And don’t crowd that forward spot up too much. Michael Porter Jr, here we come. This year’s pick should be Malik Monk. He gives them a moveable offensive piece that immediately fills Jodie Meeks vacated role. He or Fournier could potentially run point against sub units that would give you a solid 1-2 punch without begin too much of a defensive liability. Plus imagine the in-game dunk-offs between him and Aaron Gordon.

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Jonathan Isaac (Melina Vastola – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Minnesota Timberwolves – 31-51, 13th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Karl Friggan Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine

Free Agents: Brandon Rush, Shabazz Muhammed, Omri Casspi, Adreian Payne

Positions of Interest: Shooting, Athletic PF

This is a match made in basketball heaven. If Jonathan Isaac makes it to 7, Minnesota will pounce and could boast a devastating collection of youth and athleticism. Karl Friggan Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine are an embarrassment of riches as is but throw in a 6’11 forward with a solid 7’1 wingspan and elite defensive instincts. Also pair him with an alien 7-footer that can destroy teams offensively but is still learning the finite details on defense. Throw in a couple of uber athletic wings with damn near 7-foot wingspans that have some defensive lapses every now and again but can fill it up from anywhere on offense. And top it off with a 6’4 bulldog at point with elite athleticism and solid defensive instincts and that concoction is a team that should be in the playoffs next year, regardless of coaching. I could take over opening night and should be able to win 48 games with this roster. Karl Towns will be the best center in the league next year. LaVine and Wiggins should push each other for that sidekick spot next to KAT, which could also lead to their detriment but with 2 defensive stoppers playing alongside, there should be enough shots to go around. If you can move a possibly disgruntled Rubio and add a couple of veterans to fill out the roster, this team could be in contention for the Northwest division crown. If not, then everything not initialed KFAT may be for sale to the highest bidder. I believe more in the former. Fool me once, shame on me. But fool me twice Minnesota… just know that my wrath is far-reaching.

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Dennis Smith Jr. (Grant Halverson – Getty Images)
  1. New York Knicks – 31-51, 12th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony, Billy Hernangomez

Free Agents: Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Sasha Vujacic, Ron Baker

Positions of Interest: Guards, Athletic wings, Athletic big

Ah, MY New York Knicks. Picking 8th overall in the 2017 NBA draft. Could’ve had higher but they love winning the last 3-4 bullshit games at the end of the season to feel better about themselves. No! Lose Dammit! I wanted Markelle Fultz. But alas, I may have to cope with Dennis Smith Jr. which I do not have even the slightest problem doing. He’s the most athletic guard in this draft and will be an immediate boon to Kristaps Porzingis who will finally get a competent running mate. While Dennis’s jumper is a few years away, he has elite explosiveness and quickness, can attack the basket at will and push the break in transition. His downhill mentality on a Kristaps pick-and-pop would be lovely. Him cutting off of backside action while Carmelo operates out of the high post and finishing at the rim. He will bring athleticism to the position that pre-injury Rose could have. His above the rim mentality would make him an immediate fan favorite and the MSG crowd does something to players with swagger. If DSJ can make it in New York, it’ll be exactly what Kristaps and the NYK have needed. With the current roster in place around them, I think explosive and competent PG play could be enough to elevate them to the eight-seed conversation. If New York can trade Melo then this team will be heading toward a top 5 draft lottery finish. If you ask me, almost everyone in NY but Melo would prefer that. Step 1. Draft Dennis Smith Jr 8th overall. Step 2. Trade Carmelo and stay the hell away from the 8th seed.

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Lauri Markkanen (Christian Petersen – Getty Images)
  1. Dallas Mavericks – 33-49, 11th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry

Free Agents: Nerlens Noel

Positions of Interest: Lead guard, Scoring big

With Nerlens Noel enter free agency (Mavs expected to do everything in their power to retain him) the Mavs go into an offseason with only 1 sure thing on their roster: Harrison Barnes at SF. That’s not the best sure thing in the world. Dirk Nowitzki is about to do a retirement tour to celebrate his 20th season in the league. His knees only have so much left to give. They paid Dwight Powell handsomely to be an athletic big off the bench but that doesn’t have any long-term potential. This is a roster full of veterans that needs a rebuild in the worst way. Wesley Matthews will give them 30+ minutes at SG but no one is really happy about it. Seth Curry FINALLY got a job but he always seems to piss someone off and get cut so he’s no sure thing. Do you really want me to start on JJ Barea or Devin Harris, who both were out of the league at various points? Or the other end of the spectrum with Yogi Ferrell and Jarrod Uthoff, who were also out of the league. I didn’t think so. This feels borderline cruel because I’d hate to have to be the tall white guy to replace Dirk but why not draft a tall sharpshooting white guy. Lauri Markkanen will give the team ample shooting to play next to Nerlens in a 4-out, 1-in or a spread pick and roll system. This would also solidify the Mavs frontcourt for the next 4 years, which with Harrison, Nerlens and Markkanen isn’t that bad. In a couple of years, they may be ready to make the playoffs. But first they need to finally crap out, lose 60 games and be in line to draft a PG of the future next year. Something tells me they’re going to sign a 28-year-old PG this offseason. Fuckin’ Mavs

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina
Justin Jackson (Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Sacramento Kings – 32-50, 12th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Buddy Hield, Willy Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere, De’Aaron Fox

Free Agents: Darren Collinson, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans

Positions of Interest: SF

Here we go again… Sacramento needs a wing this time around. Wings at this point are slim pickins’ but if Sacramento really wants to run and gun, they should take a flier on Justin Jackson. He’s a scorer, that just what he does. He has a thin frame but he has a solid shooting form and more than enough range to compliment Buddy Hield. Adding Justin Jackson and De’Aaron Fox would give Sacramento a young and dynamic roster moving into the future. The hope is that Jackson can settle into a complimentary role next to Fox and Hield. He’d be the Harrison Barnes to their Steph and Klay… terrible analogy but you get the picture. Sacramento honestly gets shafted by the lack of wing depth here. Luke Kennard is another option but he’s a much greater defensive liability than Jackson. Jackson at least has the wingspan and athleticism to eventually become a neutral defender. If he becomes a prototypical 3&D player (think current form Courtney Lee), Sacramento will be ecstatic about the 2016-17 NBA season and draft. Trading Boogie may have been the first real step toward competitiveness in a long time in Sac-town (god that looks as terrible as it sounds). And this roster would definitely be picking top-5 again next year.

  1. Charlotte Hornets – 36-46, 11th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky

Free Agents: Brian Roberts

Positions of Interest: Scoring wing, Athletic big

Charlotte is stuck in the middle. After a lackluster follow-up to their 2015-16 playoff team, Charlotte is again fishing in the mid-to-late lottery, praying to hit on a player here or there. Kemba Walker obviously anchors them offensively and plays above expectations on defense. Michael Kidd Gilchrist their defensive anchors at the 3 and if he ever figures out his jumper, will be an exciting contributor for the Hornets. Nicolas Batum had a down season after signing his $100+ million re-up with the Hornets. If he bounces back he can provide consist minutes at either spot on the wing. Frank Kaminsky helps man the middle by committee with Cody Zeller and Miles Plumlee (forming what I like to call the Great White Wall). Marvin Harrison is still living off of his UNC hype and had a decent contract season 2 years ago. Yeah… this roster could use an upgrade just about everywhere. I’d love to see them roll the dice on an athletic wing with scoring potential. Most of the high-end talent is gone by this spot, but a tantalizing prospect is sure to slip through the cracks. Donovan Mitchell fits that exact criteria as a tantalizing athletic wing with scoring potential. He’s 6’3 with a crazy 6’10 wingspan and springs for feet. His game needs some refinement but he adds an instant ball-handler and eventual shot maker. This also allows Batum to take a more natural role as a facilitator and defender while Kaminsky, Mitchell and Kemba handle the brunt of the scoring. This is a potential playoff team with a bounce back season from Batum, so adding Mitchell is a cherry on the potential sundae.

  1. Detroit Pistons – 37-45, 10th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Stanley Johnson, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson(?)

Free Agents: Beno Udrih, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock

Positions of Interest: Lead guard, Athletic wing

Detroit is trying very badly to trade their two best players, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Well depending on who you ask those are the two best players. The very likely trade is Reggie Jackson, so the bigger need here is a PG. Drummond is a good, young center that Detroit could (*should) be kept in Detroit because athletic 7-footers aren’t as easy to find as you think. However, PGs tend to be a dime a dozen in today’s NBA (unless you’re the Knicks). And because of the depth of PG in this draft, French wunderkind Frank Ntilikina (Knee-La-Key-Na) is available. He’s 6’6, incredibly lanky, can play either guard spot, defend either guard spot and already has a good jumper. IF (really big if here) Frank gets past NYK and Dallas, he should be earmarked for Detroit. Detroit could find immediate minutes for him at either wing spot with Kentavius Caldwell-Pope a restricted free agent and Reggie on the chopping block. He’s not a ball dominant player so he should immediately mesh with Stanley Johnson and Tobias Harris as a supplemental player. Honestly, if Ntilikina had a pinch of athleticism then he’d be a top 3-pick but his methodical pace runs counterculture to the increasing pace of today’s NBA. But at pick 12 Detroit will gladly take a quality two-way wing, capable of sliding between point and shooting guard effectively.

  1. Denver Nuggets – 40-42, 9th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried, Gary Harris

Free Agents: Roy Hibbert, Mason Plumlee, Mo Williams

Positions of Interest: Athletic wing, Athletic big

Denver found a diamond in the rough in Nikola Jokic. He was a 2nd round pick in 2015 and has become a triple double machine. As a 7-foot playmaking center, Jokic can put the ball on the deck, pass from anywhere on the court, shoot 3s and has a pretty damn refined post game. Basically, he’s poised to become an offensive dynamo over the coming season. This past season he averaged 17/10/5 on 58% from the field and 32 % from 3. He also posted 6 triple doubles at the tender age of 22. He’s a superstar in the making. His running mate of the future will most likely be Jamal Murray. He’s a confident scoring guard, which works well with Jokic’s passing ability. The young guns are flanked by veteran talents in Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried that give the team talent across all positions. Gary Harris and Juan Hernangomez provide Mike Malone with 2 young chest pieces that should continue to develop into solid players. Gary Harris started 56 games last season and averaged 15/3/3 on 50% from the field and 42% from 3. Their team is chocked full of athletic offensive talent but their leader in defensive win shares in the 2017 season, Mason Plumlee, is a free agent. Since Denver acquired him late in the 2017 season, one would believe he will be retained this offseason. I think it’d be foolish to let him walk with an ascending roster that could be playoff ready as soon as 2018. Denver has lots of depth and should take a flier on OG Anunoby. He’d provide Denver an athletic specimen at the wing that will run in transition, finish at the rim and defend the opponents best wing player. Because of Denver’s aforementioned depth, he wouldn’t be expected to play much in 2017 which will allow him optimal time to recover from his left knee injury. He’s also insurance for Wilson Chandler who is sure to opt out of his 2018 player option cause NEW TV MONEY YALL!

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Zach Collins (Greg Nelson – Sports Illustrated)
  1. Miami Heat – 41-41, 9th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson

Free Agents: Chris Bosh, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Dion Waiters

Positions of Interest: Shooting, Athletic big

Miami is always in a weird spot because their roster is in constant flux. The only things that feel nailed down are Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson are young pieces that could be dangled for an all-star caliber player or cap space to allow more flexibility in free agency. The team is almost assuredly going to break the bank to bring back James Johnson and Dion Waiters and with Chris Bosh’s contract coming off the books this offseason they will make a play for Blake Griffin or Gordon Heyward. This team could look completely different next season, which makes this pick extremely difficult. But if I’m in this situation, I take best player available and figure it out later. The best player currently available is Zach Collins. The 7-footer from Gonzaga is a pretty polished offensive player, with solid playmaking ability a ripe age of 19. He’s not an amazing rim defender but understands help defense and verticality. Collins will be able to slide between small ball center and traditional power forward. He drops this far solely because the teams above want guards and wings. Because of that, Miami gets a top-10 talent at the bottom of the lottery.

– Be the player that you want to be

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