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NBA Mock Draft: Projecting busts, steals and value picks

The NBA Draft will be delayed until October, but it’s still fun.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft was supposed to take place in June, but the whole pandemic thing got in the way so we have to wait until October for the real draft. Still, the season is over for the eight teams who weren’t invited to the NBA’s Disney World campus, and surely those teams are looking at college tapes right now.

This is going to be a weird draft. Those at the top are considered extremely high variance, like LaMelo Ball can’t shoot and has yet to try on defense, Anthony Edwards looks an awful lot like Dion Waiters, and James Wiseman has played two college games and can’t work out for teams. Later on in the draft, there’s a litany of players who could have risen up draft boards, but workouts and scrimmages were canceled, so scouts can only use game tape.

For this mock draft, I used to simulate the lottery, so I’ll go with that draft order.

1. Chicago Bulls — LaMelo Ball, PG, Illawarra (Australia)

Ball is probably the highest ceiling player in the draft. He’s a 6’7 point guard with exceptional passing ability and has the length (6’10 wingspan) and basketball IQ to develop on defense. He’s also more athletic than his older brother Lonzo, who struggled to transition to the NBA. For Chicago, they jump from 7th to 1st, answer their critical point guard question, and finally have someone to run their offense.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves — Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC

This might be a reach, but if no one stands out as best player available, it would make sense for Minnesota to target a better fitting prospect. Okongwu is a defensive menace, a long and athletic big who rebounds and defends with tenacity. For a team with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell in tow, they need a defensive anchor to help their stars. As to the Okongwu’s offense, he’s still developing there, but he’s a good finisher and has some potential as a shooter.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers — James Wiseman, C, Memphis

Wiseman projects as a good starting center in the NBA, but it’s easier position in the league to fill with average talent. Case in point, these Cavaliers just traded a second round pick for Andre Drummond, a trade that would be unforeseeable two years ago. Even with Drummond on the roster, Cleveland should target Wiseman because he has Defensive Player of the Year potential, plus he’s plenty talented on the offensive end. If Cleveland thinks highly of young guards Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter, they could go with the player who best compliments them.

4. Golden State Warriors — Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton

If the Warriors don’t trade this pick — and that’s a huge if — they should look at the player tailor made for their play style. Obi Toppin, the consensus National Player of the Year, is a stretch big with explosive athleticism and polished offensive skill. He works best as a screen-setter, because he’s a threat both shooting off the pop or rolling to the rim. There’s no doubting his offense, but his defense becomes suspect. He’s not quick enough to hang with forwards and can’t defend the rim like a center. There’s a possibility he becomes a dynamic scorer who can’t play in crunch time because of his defense.

5. Atlanta Hawks — Anthony Edwards, SG/SF, Georgia

Edwards is a fantastic prospect, a power athlete who can create his own shot off the bounce or at the rim, plus he has the physical tools to be a good defender. The issue, however, is that right now he just chucks up shots and does little else. Some see Dwyane Wade in him, others see Dion Waiters. The talent is all there, it’s just whether or not he will be a winning player or an empty stats player.

6. Detroit Pistons — Killian Hayes, PG/SG, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany)

Right now, the Pistons are committed to Blake Griffin, 2019 first rounder Sekou Doumbouya, and restricted free agent Christian Wood. That’s all. Those players are all forwards, so I would expect Detroit to address their perpetual need for decent guard play. Killian Hayes makes the most sense, as he’s something of a sure bet to be a good NBA guard. The Frenchman probably won’t be a star, but he’s a solid scorer who can create plays off the bounce, he’s a smart passer and team defender, and he has good size (6’5 height, 6’8 wingspan) at the position.

7. New York Knicks — Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina

The Knicks have tried their best with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, but neither is a quality NBA point guard. Cole Anthony won’t be a quality point guard either, but there’s nothing stopping the Knicks from making the same mistakes time after time. Anthony is a hyped prospect who can get a bucket, but man, he struggles with turnovers, might not be able to separate against NBA length, and is a turnstile on defense. He’s a perfect fit.

8. Charlotte Hornets — Tyrese Haliburton, PG/SG, Iowa State

Tyrese Haliburton isn’t a prototypical guard prospect because he’s not super athletic and can’t create his own shot. He also has a funky shooting motion that needs ironing out, but he’s a still a 40%+ three-point shooter. Flawed he is, he is exceptional as a team player because of his intelligence and feel for the game. Put him on the floor and your team will improve. Haliburton might be best as a secondary playmaker next to another guard — like Devonta’ Graham or Terry Rozier — because he’s built to be very efficient within a low-usage role.

9. Washington Wizards — Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn

The Wizards have the worst defense in the NBA this year and their wing rotation certainly isn’t helping. Jerome Robinson is starting at small forward, which is, uh, not good. Okoro is still developing, particularly as a shooter, but even as a freshman he might be the best perimeter defender in this draft class. He’s definitely built for the NBA and could grow into a point-forward role.

10. Phoenix Suns — Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State

Vassell wasn’t on anyone’s draft boards entering the season, but now it’s hard to see him falling out of the lottery. He is low-risk prospect who should immediately contribute to winning basketball. Unlike most 3-and-D prospects, Vassell’s skills aren’t projected, he already has them in his bag. He has a quick, high release that makes him a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat, is an intelligent team player, and is developing his in-between game. He’s also a smart team defense and works his ass off on that end. Vassell looks like the surest bet in this draft and he would be an ideal fit on the Suns.

11. San Antonio Spurs — Deni Avdija, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)

Deni Avdija might still be a top-5 pick, but there are serious questions about his athleticism, the development of his jumper, and what exactly his role will be in the NBA. He’s a 3/4 tweener who will struggle against quicker player, and he’s never shot well from deep or at the free throw line. His best skill is passing, but he might not be good enough to be a heavy usage player. If his shooting develops, it unlocks his potential as a high-level role player (a la Nicolas Batum), but that’s a huge if.

12. Sacramento Kings — Aaron Nesmith, SG/SF, Vanderbilt

The Kings have a pair of solid wing scorers in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield, but both have an uncertain future in Sac Town. Aaron Nesmith is an elite shooter who, if healthy, should step in to be an instant-impact role player. He’s a wing who understands his role and works exceptionally hard at it, be it setting screens, moves the ball and plays smart defense.

13. New Orleans Pelicans — Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama

Lewis is a late riser who made huge strides as a sophomore. He’s fast a hell, excels in the pick-and-roll, and uses the threat of his speed to create space for his solid three-point shot. Lewis will be something of a project — he’s barely 170 lbs. and he’s still developing the mental part of the game — but he could be a really good player to eventually replace Jrue Holiday.

14. Portland Trail Blazers — Saddiq Bey, SF, Villanova

Most mock drafts have Portland choosing a guard, but they still believe Anfernee Simons (barely 21 years old) will be a long-term answer. Instead, Portland should look at the wings, where they have been laughably thin over the years. The best available is Saddiq Bey, who doesn’t fit Portland’s idea that draft picks shouldn’t contribute immediately, but they could really use his 3-and-D skill set. Bey is a knockdown shooter off the catch and uses his length and positioning to be a solid defender despite mediocre athleticism. There are players with higher upside, but Bey is most ready for the NBA.

15. Orlando Magic — Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky

Maxey is undersized (6’3) and can’t shoot from deep (yet), but he’s got game. With a quick first step, Maxey gets to his spots and has an elite in-between game, knocking down floaters and leaners with ease. Defensively, he’s an intense on-ball defender and is intelligent enough to play free safety. If his jumper develops, he could be a really good player, but if doesn’t he should still be a terrific bench option.

16. Timberwolves (via Nets) — Patrick Williams, SF/PF, Florida State

Drafting Patrick Williams will be risky, but not many players are as physical ready for the NBA as the 18-year-old wing. A purely development pick, Williams doesn’t yet have any one NBA skill besides his athleticism, but he’s a late-bloomer whose jumper looks workable. Maybe he’s out of the league in three years, or maybe he’s a starter on a contending team. I’m not going to pretend like I have any idea.

17. Boston Celtics (via Grizzlies) — Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis

One of the few teams that needs a center, the Celtics would love to have a big with his athleticism and motor. He’s not exactly polished, but he doesn’t have to be because he plays switchable defense and attacks the glass. He would be a fun bench option and have the potential to develop into something more.

18. Dallas Mavericks — Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford

The diminutive freshman might not be physically ready for the NBA, but he’s a lethal pull-up shooter and has excellent vision as a playmaker. He’s an upside player the Mavericks could develop under the tutelage of J.J. Barea, someone who could be a lottery pick if he stayed at Stanford this season.

19. Milwaukee Bucks (via Pacers) — Aleksej Pokusevski, C, Olympiacos B (Greece)

The Bucks tried their hardest to trade this selection at the deadline, but now that they have it they may as well swing for the fences in a weak draft. It would be fitting, then, for them to take a complete unknown from the Greek second division, just as they did with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the notoriously thin 2013 draft. Pokusevski isn’t going to be an MVP — Giannis was new to basketball and his develop was the best possible outcome of possibilities — but he could be worth the risk. The Serbian-Greek center is 7-feet tall with terrific shooting and moves like a wing, but he’s rail thin and needs years more experience to develop his overall game.

20. Brooklyn Nets (via 76ers) — R.J. Hampton, SG, NZ Breakers (New Zealand)

R.J. Hampton was a blue chip prospect who made the bold decision to play in Australia/New Zealand rather than college. The NBL is better than college ball, so Hampton has been exposed quite a bit. He’s got the quickness, some tricks in his bag, but can’t really shoot and doesn’t seem to have a good feel for the game. He could be a good combo guard later on, but he’s a project right now.

21. Denver Nuggets (via Rockets) — Zeke Nnaji, PF/C, Arizona

Zeke Nnaji is a difficult player to project at the next level. He’s a tremendous rebounder and finisher inside, and has the potential to develop a jumper. He’s also fairly weak, relies on his length to defend, and doesn’t have a good feel for team defense. He could be a great fit in Denver as an energy big who can cut to the rim next to passing bigs Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee.

22. Philadelphia 76ers (via Thunder) — Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL (France)

The 76ers thought they didn’t need a pure point guard behind Ben Simmons, but it turns out that they do (go figure). So instead of relying on Raul Neto, choosing someone like Theo Maledon could be smart. Maledon is a solid player right now, who may not have that high of a ceiling, but he’s a 6’4 combo guard who shoots well.

23. Miami Heat — Xavier Tillman, PF, Michigan State

My favorite under-the-radar player, Xavier Tillman is a genius team defender, a pro at setting screens (an underrated skill), and has some hidden polish to his offensive game. Comparing someone to Amir Johnson might not sound like a compliment, but it absolutely is. Tillman is probably going to be a second round pick, but for a creative team like Miami, he would be a worthwhile selection.

24. Utah Jazz — Josh Green, SG, Arizona

There’s a chance Josh Green is surprises folks with skills we didn’t see at Arizona, but there’s also a chance he’s just not that good. I really have no idea. I would bet on his defense and transition abilities transferring over, but he’s a developmental project for the rest of his game.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Nuggets) — Tyler Bey, PF, Colorado

Andre Roberson will be a free agent this season, and though he hasn’t played since a devastating knee injury in January 2018, the Thunder have missed his defensive presence. Bey isn’t nearly the defender that Roberson is — we of all people should know that — but he’s a much better shooter and overall offensive player. Bey would be an offensive project who can carve out a role as a switchable 3-and-D forward.

26. Boston Celtics — Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona B (Spain)

I doubt the Celtics keep all three of their first round picks — they already have five rookies right now — but if they do keep it they might invest in a draft-and-stash player. Leonardo Bolmaro isn’t a great athlete, but he’s quite skilled and large for his position. He still needs a year or two of development.

27. New York Knicks (via Clippers) — Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech

Jahmi’us Ramsey is a talented stand-still shooter who excels attacking closeouts. His combination of shot-making and athleticism is exciting, but there are questions about his how much he can do besides shoot, and even then, his jumper isn’t exactly proven. Time will tell if he’s worth a first round pick.

28. Toronto Raptors — Isaiah Stewart, PF/C, Washington

Even though center is the easiest position to find on the market, Isaiah Stewart is being slept on. He’s a monster in the post, has the strength in length to score against NBA defenders, and he might have a legit 3-point shot. His defense needs work and there are questions about his ceiling, but the very worst case scenario is that Stewart becomes a tone-setting bench scorer.

29. Los Angeles Lakers — Tre Jones, PG, Duke

The Lakers will be hunting for rotation players come free agency, but it doesn’t hurt to invest in someone who can be a top-flight backup point guard. The only pure point guard L.A. has is Rajon Rondo, who is a shadow of his former shadow.

30. Boston Celtics (via Bucks) — Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland

The Celtics already drafted a center, but Jalen Smith and Precious Achiuwa could compliment each other now and in the future. While Achiuwa is an undersized power athlete, Smith is a lanky 3-and-D big. He’s a bit stiff and might struggle to hang on the perimeter, but his development this season is quite encouraging.