The Philadelphia 76ers will be picking first in this year’s NBA Draft, realizing a three-year tanking process that finally netted them a top-2 pick and which caused many basketball analysts to nearly lose their minds talking about how to end the scourge of tanking once and for all.
Well, it’s simple. I’ve gone over this before, but I’ll do it one more time to illustrate how much better the NBA draft process could be with a few simple changes.
Reduce the number of lottery teams
Letting every single team in the lottery is stupid. What does the NBA get out of the chance that some team that missed the playoffs by only a game or two has a chance to jump up and steal the top pick? Has anyone ever been excited by this prospect in the past? No. When the Magic got the top pick the year after they got Shaq, everyone was pissed. When Cleveland got the top pick despite the presence of truly horrific teams like Philadelphia, the Lakers and Sacramento, all it did was extend the time it was taking those teams to rebuild. Allowing some 11th or 12th team to jump up into the top 3 serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Get rid of it and limit the lottery to only the very worst teams in the league.
Get rid of the weighted lottery
Do you want to end tanking? Go back to the system where each team (now only the really bad teams since you limited the number of lottery teams) gets one ping pong ball. If you’re really bad, you get one equal shot at the top couple of picks (let’s call it 5 for the sake of argument – you can make the dividing line wherever you want. I favor a formula so that the number of lottery teams isn’t predetermined but is calculated based on record). Does the NBA get anything out of a 9 win team getting more chances than a 16 win team? Yes, it gets teams that lose on purpose to BE the 9 win team instead of the 16 win team. It also punishes teams that are starting to improve by moving them down out of the lottery the second they show a little life. With no weighted lottery, there’s every reason for a team to try to win 20 games instead of trying to lose 70. That ends tanking right there, and with a limited lottery, it ensures that only truly bad teams that need the help get a crack at the top picks.
Create a second lottery for the “best of the rest.”
This is purely optional, but if you want to inject a little more intrigue and drama into your draft season, why not have a second lottery that gives teams a chance to move up into the top 10, but not the top 5. I’d be fine with that, and it would make the draft lottery interesting to a larger pool of teams (you don’t have to make the cutoff teams that didn’t make the playoffs, you could include the bottom seeds or the bottom half of the playoff bracket or whoever you want).
If you want to imbue the NBA Draft with a little of the oomph that characterizes the NFL Draft, change the way trades are made and announced so that you know who’s picking whom on draft day. The confusion surrounding teams making picks for other teams invariably spoils my appreciation of NBA Draft night, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Simplify the system so that if someone makes a trade, everyone knows what got traded and to whom.
There you have it. My humble proposals to improve the NBA Draft. Now on to the Mock Draft and the future stars of the NBA!
1. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: BEN SIMMONS, SF (6’10”, 240 LBS, LSU)
Scouting Report: Prototype point forward with a triple-double skill set. Tremendously gifted athlete who has unlimited potential as a 19-year-old freshman. Has drawn (unfair) comparisons to LeBron James. Some question concerning his commitment although his reputation is of outstanding character.
I’m a little torn on whether you take the multi-talented big guy or the big time shooter, but the reality here is that this is a two-person draft and you shouldn’t really wind up going wrong either way. Simmons has tremendous size, athleticism, and skill. He’s the closest to a sure thing you’re going to find in this draft.
2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS: BRANDON INGRAM, SF (6’9”, 190 LBS, DUKE)
Scouting Report: Elite length. A terrific shooter with range to the NBA 3 point line. Can attack the basket. Can get his own shot. Needs to add strength and bulk in the NBA or he will get pushed around. Needs to work on his defense.
Ingram may not have quite the upside of Ben Simmons, but there are two pieces of good news for the Lakers here. First, Ingram’s best skill – shooting – is one that’s in great demand right now in the NBA. Second, Ingram fits their roster almost perfectly. The Lakers will not mind at all if the Sixers leave Ingram to them.
3. BOSTON CELTICS: JAMAL MURRAY, SG (6’4”, 205 LBS, KENTUCKY)
Scouting Report: Polished player. Can play both guard positions. Has shooting range out to the NBA 3-point line. Natural scorer. Gets burnt taking chances on defense. Lacks elite athleticism.
The Celtics will move this pick to a motivated buyer as they believe there’s an opening in the Eastern Conference to move into the top 3 with the addition of a veteran talent (they’re right about that). That said, there is a lot of talent available at #3 and the Celtics should think about using the pick instead of dealing it, as I don’t think they’re all that close to being a championship contender and could use an additional infusion of young talent before they go looking for that final “missing piece.”
4. PHOENIX SUNS: DRAGAN BENDER, PF (7’0”, 220 LBS, BOSNIA)
Scouting Report: Prototype stretch 4 with a big wingspan, drawing obvious comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis. Smart and versatile – can play any frontcourt position. Excellent ballhandler. Needs to add strength. Needs to become a more consistent shooter.
At just 18, Bender is part of a promising crop of a new type of Euro-player who is more ready for the physicality of the NBA postgame while retaining the flair and ball movement of the international game. It doesn’t hurt that he fills a huge need for Phoenix, who will be thrilled if Bender lasts to #4.
5. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: BUDDY HIELD, SG (6”5”, 215 LBS, OKLAHOMA)
Scouting Report: Explosive scorer. Good shooter. Good length. Smart, mature player. Lacks ideal height. Can be turnover prone.
The T’Wolves have loaded up their roster with hyper-athletic players like Andrew Wiggins, Zach Levine, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Now they should be looking to add a natural scorer who can benefit from the havoc being wreaked by their freakishly gifted lineup. Everyone saw Hield carry the load for the Sooners in the NCAA this year. He can do that on the next level too.
6. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: KRIS DUNN, PG (6’4”, 220 LBS, PROVIDENCE)
Scouting Report: Extremely quick player with terrific size for his position. Plays defense like nobody’s business. Good vision. Runs an offense well. Can be turnover prone. Shot selection must improve.
Whatever New Orleans was trying to do when they acquired Jrue Holiday, it’s time to move on from that and build strictly around Anthony Davis. Kris Dunn is the best point guard in this draft, and he will have a field day setting up Davis. If Holiday can actually stay healthy for a change, the Pelicans look even better, as they’ll have two athletic ball-handling guards who can defend either position in the backcourt and can score from anywhere on the floor. I happen to love Kris Dunn and I think this pick is a steal at #6.
7. DENVER NUGGETS: MARQUESE CHRISS, PF (6’10”, 235 LBS, WASHINGTON)
Scouting Report: High risk/high reward pick with freakish athleticism. Prototype “3 and D” player who can protect the rim and drain the NBA 3-point shot. Needs to add strength. Gets in foul trouble. Rebounding numbers are below what you’d expect for a player with his size and athleticism.
NBA front offices can’t seem to resist the raw prospect with outrageous athleticism, perhaps filling in the blanks in their minds of what such a player could do once he has a polished game. The trouble is, a polished game is no sure thing, and to me Marquese Chriss looks like this year’s version of Bismack Biyombo, an athletic wunderkind who will take a half dozen years to develop into a modest producer on the court.
8. SACRAMENTO KINGS: JAYLEN BROWN, SG (6’7”, 225 LBS, CALIFORNIA)
Scouting Report: Athletic wing who thrives slashing to the basket and drawing contact. Excellent defender. High NBA IQ. Ball handling will be an issue, especially if he plays the 2. Needs to improve his jump shot.
Things work out well for the Kings in this scenario, who have to be hoping for either Brown, Hield or Jamal Murray to fall into their laps. They clearly need some talent out on the wing and Brown is one of the players who would truly fit their needs.
9. TORONTO RAPTORS: SKAL LABISSIERE, C (7’0″, 215 LBS, KENTUCKY)
Scouting Report: Long, athletic big man who can run the floor. Good shot blocker. A terrific shooter with NBA range. Needs to add strength. Does not have a good low post game. Needs to add bulk. Has had some trouble adapting to transition coming from Haiti.
Toronto has very little talent up front and could certainly use more. Skal Labissiere may look like a small reach at #9, but do you really want to pass up a Kentucky big man in favor of some other guy with slightly better measurables? Neither do I. Neither will the Raptors.
10. milwaukee bucks: dejounte murray, sg (6’5″, 183 lbs, washington)
Scouting Report: Versatile, athletic combo guard with terrific handles. Playmaker who can get to the basket or set up teammates. Good defender. Not an elite shooter. Needs to cut down on turnovers.
If the draft shakes out the way I have it here I would expect the Bucks to trade this pick in favor of a more shooting-oriented player like Furkan Korkmaz of Turkey or Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Murray is a gifted combo guard who can stuff a stat sheet. If the Bucks do pick him, it could be an indication that they’re ready to move on from Michael Carter-Williams.
11. Orlando magic: Jakob poetl, c (7’1″, 240 lbs, Utah)
Scouting Report: Long athletic big man who can rebound and block shots. Runs the floor well for a player his size. Soft hands. Finishes well. Has a mid-range game. Needs to add strength. Needs to develop a low post game.
The Magic simply must come out of this draft with a rim protector, and while Poetl is not a prototype in this regard, he is way ahead of Nik Vucevic in the defense department. Orlando has to acknowledge that Vucevic’ defensive shortcomings are not going to simply go away and that despite his double-double potential, he costs them too much on the defensive end night in and night out to remain a starter. Poetl may be that player. If not, they’ll need to find someone who is.
12. utah jazz: henry ellenson, pf (6’11”, 245 lbs, marquette)
Scouting Report: Versatile big man with an array of offensive talents. Good low post game. Has range out to the 3-point line. Passes well. Not very athletic. Not a top tier defender. Needs to add some strength to compete at the next level.
Ellenson’s appeal to the Jazz is rather simple. They are lacking a viable stretch 4 option and while Ellenson is not limited to that style of play, he can certainly fit the bill. A bit of a poor man’s Kevin Love, Ellenson’s offensive potential are the major part of his upside, while his ceiling is clearly limited by his ability to overcome athletic deficiencies, especially on the defensive end. To his credit, Ellenson had a good motor in college and certainly will not fail for lack of trying.
13. phoenix suns: furkan korkmaz, sg (6’7″, 180 lbs, turkey)
Scouting Report: Offensive minded player who can score from anywhere on the floor. Very coachable. Good shooter with 3-point range. Good ball handler who can play both guard positions. Needs to add significant bulk and strength at the NBA level. Struggles against stronger players on defense. Needs to demand the ball.
With two picks in the top 13, Phoenix will either go big-small or small-big. If they actually wind up with Bender and Korkmaz, as I’ve outlined here, they will have secured the top two international prospects available in this year’s draft. Korkmaz shows tremendous potential given his extremely polished offensive game at just 19 years of age.
14. chicago bulls: domantas sabonis, pf (6’10”, 240 lbs, gonzaga)
Scouting Report: Strong, physical big man. Plays with high energy in the post. Outstanding rebounder. Runs the floor well. Good passer. Deceptive range. Lacks ideal length. Lacks ideal athleticism. Needs to show consistency on the perimeter.
I would not be surprised if the Bulls are a team that moves – either up to go after a more top tier type prospect or down since the players they are likely targeting are mostly reaches in the teens. The other question is whether the Bulls bolster a front court that is facing defections or goes after a point guard to try to more firmly close the door on the Derrick Rose era and move ahead in the Jimmy Butler era. All of this uncertainty makes the #14 pick a potential source of intrigue.
15. denver nuggets: malik beasley, sg (6’5″, 190 lbs, florida state)
Scouting Report: High motor player with great athleticism. Good shooter with range. Can defend multiple positions. Finishes well. High upside. Needs to improve his ball handling. Needs to be able to create his own shot. Lacks ideal size and length for an NBA wing player.
Denver has three first round picks, which means they can afford to take a player who won’t contribute right away – either a “pick and stash” type who plays a year in Europe or a younger player who will take time to develop. Beasley, Florida State’s dynamic scoring freshman, is in the latter category. The Nuggets are also a good candidate for a move up or down by packaging their picks since they definitely won’t be looking to add three rookies all at once.
16. boston celtics: deyonta davis, pf (6’10”, 240 lbs, michigan state)
Scouting Report: Athletic big man with ideal length. Excellent rebounder and shot blocker. Decent range on his shot. Good finisher. Needs to add strength at the next level. Not an offensive option in the post. Still very raw.
This really is the year of the multiple first round pick. Boston, Denver, Phoenix and the 76ers all have three first rounders to use. As a result, these are the teams that can invest in “raw material” – young players with intriguing physicality or skills but who need experience, polish and in some cases simple physical maturity to contribute. Michigan State has a stellar track record when it comes to high-energy big men, but Davis will take a while to yield dividends at the NBA level.
17. memphis grizzlies: brice johnson, pf (6’10”, 210 lbs, north carolina)
Scouting Report: Terrific athlete with good size. Smart player who takes good shots. Good quickness. Good rebounder. A dependable player who contributes on both ends of the floor. Needs to add strength and bulk. Not a big contributor in terms of a perimeter game. Can sometimes struggle getting into foul trouble.
Zach Randolph ain’t getting any younger, and Brice Johnson is one of those quiet contributors who doesn’t demand the spotlight but who does a dozen different little things that help his team win. In many respects he’s an ideal Memphis Grizzly, fitting the mold of so many of the players already on their roster.
18. detroit pistons: wade baldwin iV, SG (6’4″, 202 lbs, vanderbilt)
Scouting Report: Right blend of size and skill set to be an NBA combo guard. Attacks the basket. Quick hands on defense. Good court vision. Improving shooter. Needs to improve his ball handling. Lacks point guard instincts when bringing the ball up. Will sometimes take bad shots.
The Pistons need to improve their backcourt depth, particularly at the 1. Baldwin would be an intriguing pick if he falls this far, although questions remain if he can be an effective point, even in the combo guard role off the bench. He certainly can defend either backcourt position. If the Pistons have their doubts, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine would be a hometown choice and rumors have Detroit enamored with Australian big man Thon Maker, this year’s draft wildcard.
19. denver nuggets: thon maker, C (7’1″, 215 LBS, AUSTRALIA)
Scouting Report: Big frame which will accommodate the bulk he will need at the next level. An impressive combination of size, skill and athleticism. Good shooter with range out to the 3. Effort player on defense. Needs to add strength. Has “ducked” NBA scouts, leading to speculation that he may be a bust waiting to happen. Classic high ceiling/high bust factor prospect. Has no experience playing competition above high school level.
The Nuggets are a likely landing place for Thon Maker, this year’s big draft mystery from Australia. Look for him to land somewhere with a team that a first rounder to burn (other teams rumored to be interested are, not surprisingly, Boston & Philadelphia). Maker can run the floor and handle the ball impressively for a seven footer, and could turn out to be something truly special, but the lack of intel on him will (and should) scare away teams that need to find an impact player for the upcoming season.
20. indiana pacers: ante zizic, c (6’11”, 230 lbs, croatia)
Scouting Report: Good length. Excellent rebounder. Runs the floor well. Tough. Good free throw shooter. Good shot blocker. Lacks ideal size. Still learning the game. Only an average athlete.
The Pacers are looking for frontcourt depth, and part of their decision-making process at this spot in the draft will likely be which player is certain to play in the NBA in the upcoming season. Zizic is, and he’s also reasonably valued at #20. If Indiana goes another way, look for them to address the back court, getting point guard depth or possibly trying to add a combo guard.
21. atlanta hawks: malachi Richardson, sg (6’6″, 200 lbs, syraucse)
Scouting Report: Ideal size and length for an NBA wing player. Good athleticism. Streaky shooter who can light it up when he gets hot. Plenty of upside. Ball handling must improve. Inconsistent scorer. Shot selection must improve.
Teams often covet what they don’t have. Malachi Richardson is somewhat the opposite of what Atlanta already has in its backcourt. More significantly, this is a player who could really be something special a few years down the road. I have him as great value at #21 and don’t share the concerns of some that he is “old” (age 20) for a freshman. So what?
22. charlotte hornets: denzel valentine, sg (6’5″, 210 lbs, michigan state)
Scouting Report: Versatile player who can potentially play the 1, 2 or 3. Excellent shooter. Take charge type player who will be a leader on the floor and in the locker room. Lacks athleticism. Uncertain how his game will translate at the next level.
The Hornets always seem to take what I would dub the “wrong guy” when they draft. I’m not sure how Valentine’s game will translate, and I don’t think he’s a good fit for a team like Charlotte that needs to continue to upgrade its overall level of talent.
23. boston celtics: timothe luwawu, sg (6’7″, 205 lbs, france)
Scouting Report: Good size and length. Has the athletic ability and skills to be a “3 and D” type player in the NBA. Quick first step. Good rebounder for a backcourt player. Needs to add strength. Must continue to improve as a shooter. Must improve as a defender. Needs to show consistent effort.
In reality, there’s no way the Celtics add three rookies to their roster and have minutes ready for all three, but if they were to walk away from this draft with Murray, Davis & Luwawu that would certainly be quite a haul. I don’t think the Celtics’ roster is good enough right now and their apparent belief that they need only to add another veteran to be legit contenders is, in my opinion, misguided. They’d be better served to infuse the team with young talent, something players like this would definitely do.
24. philadelphia 76ers: deandre bembry, sg (6’6″, 205 lbs, st. josephs)
Scouting Report: Explosive, athletic player. Excels in transition. Gets to the basket and finishes. Smart player. Good passer. Has the ability to defend multiple positions. Needs to add strength. Very inconsistent shooter. Inconsistent defender.
Who knows what the Sixers are going to do. I hear they’re now planning on using Ben Simmons as a point guard. Even if they’re not, they’re already adding Joel Embiid and Dario Saric to this year’s roster before they make even one pick. Versatile home-town favorite DeAndre Bembry can play multiple positions and has a lot of upside, but may not see a whole lot of playing time right away.
25. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: tyler ulis, pg (5’10”, 149 lbs, kentucky)
Scouting Report: Lightning quick. Classic floor general type point guard. Sets up teammates well. Great court vision. Undersized for the NBA. Needs to add strength. Will be challenged defensively on a nightly basis by bigger players.
Ulis makes good sense for the Clippers, where he can back up Chris Paul and will have a variety of good players to pass to. In addition, the Clippers can’t continue to trot out Austin Rivers as their primary back up at the point. Ulis would be a much better fit.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: demetrius jackson, pg (6’1″, 194 lbs, notre dame)
Scouting Report: Quick and athletic pass-first guard. Makes players around him better. High basketball IQ. Good defender. Needs to improve as a passer. Undersized for the NBA. Needs to add strength. Needs to establish consistency as a shooter.
Whatever the Sixers plan on doing this year, they had hell-fired better come out this season with an actual point guard running their offense or fans will be ready to revolt. The sickeningly unwatchable brand of basketball Philadelphia trotted out last year wasn’t due to an overall lack of talent (although they were lacking a bit) and it wasn’t because they were overtly coming out and “tanking.” Teams have been tanking for 30 years in the NBA. No, the Sixers sucked every kind of ball there is last year because they had no freaking point guard. I would be thrilled if they got a hold of Jackson, a vastly underrated but quite talented point guard who is only slightly undersized at 6’1″. Jackson would likely fare very well in a system where another player (Ben Simmons) saw a lot of action as the primary ball handler.
27. toronto raptors: juan hernangomez, pf (6’9″, 225 lbs, spain)
Scouting Report: Ideal blend of size and skill for the NBA “stretch 4.” High effort player. Added needed bulk without losing athleticism and mobility. Reliable shooter. Good pick and roll player. Does not have a true low post game. Needs to add variety to his offensive game. Needs to improve defensive discipline.
I know I have the Raptors going big earlier in the first round, but they need depth in their front court and Hernangomez gives them something they lack – a potential stretch 4 – just as their earlier pick, Labissiere, gives them the rim protection they lack.
28. phoenix suns: cheick diallo, pf (6’9″, 220 lbs, kansas)
Scouting Report: Good speed. Good length. Terrific rebounder. Good timing when block shots. Good interior defender. Lacks an offensive game. Needs to add strength. “Hands of Stone.” The overall game needs polish.
With three picks in the first round, look for Phoenix to take a project player at this slot. Diallo has some impressive skills and easily has the frame to add bulk for a prototype NBA body at the 4, but there’s no way he’s ready for prime time yet, and he’s a likely D-League player this season where he can bulk up and work on his game. That will suit the Suns, who won’t have room for him yet anyway.
29. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: ivica zubac, c (7’1″, 265 lbs, bosnia)
Scouting Report: Great size and length. Mobile for a big man. Plays in the post. Uses his strength to back people down. High basketball IQ. Draws contact. Not very athletic. Can’t stretch the floor. Only an average defender and rebounder.
Whatever the drawbacks are with Ivica Zubac, he seems like the type of “raw material” that goes into San Antonio and comes out a contributing member of a 5-man unit. The Spurs are aging in their front court and need to add depth. I’m confident they can find a good role for a player with Zubac’s considerable size and skill set.
30. Golden state warriors: TAUREAN PRINCE, SF (6’8″, 220 LBS, BAYLOR)
Scouting Report: Versatile player who can guard multiple positions. “3 and D” player that is coveted in the NBA. Smart defender. Needs to add strength. Not a great ball handler. Needs to improve at creating his own shot.
Golden State might be looking at some free agent losses at the 3, and could use depth overall. Prince is a 3/4 who can shoot the 3 and will fit right in with the Warriors scheme.
Featured image via The Comeback