There is no off-season for mock drafts. That’s the good news. The depressing side of the coin is that there’s no tangible reward for getting things mostly correct. You know, outside of the pride and joy it brings. Can’t buy anything with feelings, though.
There’s little debate over who will go first in June’s NBA Draft. What comes after Zion is less clear. Here is how I see things playing out, barring trades, which are sure to happen.
Zion Williamson, DUKE: There’s no use in overthinking it. The 6-foot-7, 290 pound forward could end up playing any of the five positions. His enormous body will mean immediate impact. It’s been a long time since a physical specimen like this entered the league and picking him first overall is a no-brainer. The Knicks would get him on a rookie contract and potentially pair him with Kevin Durant. While this may not make them favorites in the East, it would put every available Tri-State Area butt in the Garden seats.
R.J. Barrett, DUKE: Yes, the Cavs took Collin Sexton early last year and Barrett represents a similar player. But passing on a sweet-shooting 6-7 guard who can create his own shot and facilitate an offense at such a high level so early would be tough to do. The lefty proved his mettle (22.6 points/game) against the toughest collegiate competition last year.
Ja Morant, MURRAY STATE: Recent scuttlebutt has the Suns preferring Morant over Barrett because of the recent track record of point guard trouble in the desert. Morant is far more refined and a better passer than his Duke counterpart, and could really help Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton take the next step.
Jarrett Culver, TEXAS TECH: Ideally, the Bulls would like a point guard. They’ll have to decide if they want to go best-available player or fulfill a need here. My gut says they opt for the former Texas Tech forward who led the Red Raiders on a deep NCAA Tournament run. Culver is a dynamic two-way player, something that will scratch the grit-minded front office and coaching staff right where they itch.
Bol Bol, OREGON: Okay, hear me out. Bol played but nine games with Oregon and has serious injury baggage. That’s the bad. The good is that the dude is 7-foot-3 with even longer arms and is a knockdown shooter. There is no other player in the draft like him. Pairing him with Trae Young would mean stretching the court to absurd levels. High-risk but also high-reward.
DeAndre Hunter, VIRGINIA: The 6-foot-7 forward showed his versatility during the Cavaliers’ national championship run, getting buckets from inside, outside, and from mid-range. He’s an NBA-ready defender who may not have the highest ceiling but is solid in all aspects.
Coby White, NORTH CAROLINA: Broke Michael Jordan’s freshman scoring record in Chapel Hill. Could be more of a score-first guy, but in today’s NBA, having a ball handler who can either push or shoot a stepback three with confidence is huge.
Cam Reddish, DUKE: The Grizzlies plan to move on from Mike Conley and embrace a more wide-open version of basketball. Pairing a pure shooter with Jaren Jackson Jr. would be a solid 1-2 punch. There are concerns about his toughness and streakiness, but the upside is too high to ignore.
Darius Garland, VANDERBILT: Like Bol, there are serious question marks. The 6-foot-2 guard played all of four games before being sidelined with an injury. He’s an incredible off-the-ball shooter but could have size issues at the next level.
Brandon Clarke, GONZAGA: At 23 years old, he’s seasoned, which is a mixed bag. The one thing Clarke, who improved his stock greatly in his senior year, has is an uncanny ability to finish at the basket with contact. He has the heart of a Glue Guy in a Lottery Pick body. A rare combination — and a perfect one for the No. 3 option of a championship team.
Nassir Little, NORTH CAROLINA: It’s always a fool’s errand to read LeBron James’ mind but the Lakers have to pick somebody. This 6-foot-7 physical freak had a slightly disappointing freshman year but has the raw talent and tools ripe for molding. He seems like a project James would willingly take on and mold and, at the least, could be a viable backup.
P.J. Washington, KENTUCKY: Marvin Williams is entering a contract year and last year’s pick, Miles Bridges, didn’t exactly fulfill expectations during his rookie campaign. Washington can bang down low and shoot from the outside, and possesses a high basketball IQ.
Rui Hachimura, GONZAGA: This 6-foot-8 forward possesses the best of both worlds. He has three years of seasoning at a basketball factory and is relatively new to the sport, meaning his development could have sky-high potential.
Sekou Doumbouya, FRANCE: Has youth on his side and the capacity to become a new-age, two-way power forward in the NBA. The Celtics could use him in concert with Al Horford and maximize what both do well. Having an energetic sub who can guard and switch on everything is of vital importance and something contending teams lust after.
Jaxson Hayes, TEXAS: Detroit has shown interest in building with the bigs and Hayes could be the replacement for Andre Drummond should the franchise seek to move on. The 7-foot-1 center is an elite rim defender and lob finisher — which suits the offensive system.
Romeo Langford, INDIANA: Immense talent and showed real potential during his freshman season. The interesting part about the 6-foot-6 guard is that he was willing to shoot floaters, get to the hoop, and work on the mid-range game. He did shoot less than 28 percent from the college three-point line, which is a problem.
Talen Horton-Tucker, IOWA STATE: This 6-foot-4 guard has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. The Magic are the NBA team most fascinated by length. Horton-Tucker is a bit of a project but this is a franchise that prides itself on taking big chances in the draft.
Kevin Porter Jr., USC: This is a pick playing with fire. Porter never showed any consistency during college and is rumored to be cantankerous and bad for team unity. But the dude has talent and if he can be convinced to put it all together, he could be a weapon. Part of the reason he’s so intriguing is the ability to create his own shot in lots of different ways.
#19 San Antonio Spurs
Keldon Johnson, KENTUCKY: Gregg Popovich always has his own way of doing things, and predicting it is tough. Johnson is 6-foot-6 and shot 38 percent from behind the arc. He’ll have to improve defensively but, then again, so will a lot of these rookies.
Mfioundu Kabengele, FLORIDA STATE: The Celtics could take another top interior defender here, one who can also put the ball in the basket with reliability. A more realistic outcome is that the team trades one one of these first-round picks to a team desperate to move up.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, VIRGINIA TECH: Can play on and off the ball and, most importantly for the Thunder, score by creating his own shot. Struggles at time to make the right decision but, then again, this is a team led by Russell Westbrook.
Carsen Edwards, PURDUE: With two new big men in tow, the C’s will look to the guard position and someone who can provide instant offense. Anyone who saw Edwards play knows he has unlimited range and a high motor. He’s low to the ground, stout, and could really provide high PER.
KZ Okpala, STANFORD: The Jazz aren’t afraid of development and taking players who fit their system. As a sophomore, this 6-foot-9 forward scored 16.8 points/game and showed a willingness to rebound in traffic. He also shot over 37 percent from deep.
Ty Jerome, VIRGINIA: I am not sure there’s a better fit in the draft. The Sixers need a backup point guard and another spot-up shooter to play the J.J. Redick rule. Jerome is deceptively athletic and brutally efficient. Him catching on with a ready-made team will put him in a place to succeed.
Goga Bitadze, REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA: A 19-year-old perimeter shooter who stands 7-feet tall, Bitadze will surely see his stock rise as the draft approaches. He could end up being a fringe lottery pick. Portland could be interested here as an insurance policy on Jusuf Nurkic, who will be coming back from a catastrophic leg injury.
Grant Williams, TENNESSEE: The Tennessee forward is a bit of a tweener, which now isn’t the worst thing to be in the NBA. He’s an accomplished scorer and rebounder, with strength and a reliable 18-foot shot. He may never be a star — but could be an immediate starter and contributor.
Cameron Johnson, NORTH CAROLINA: A gifted scorer who won’t blow anyone away athletically, Johnson got plenty of seasoning in college and could be an off-the-bench player.
TYLER HERRO, KENTUCKY: Herro is excellent off screens, will play with a spaced floor, and can facilitate. There’s a lot to like here and the Warriors will likely have to fill the void left by Klay Thompson. Herro obviously won’t do that, but could go a long way in helping.
Bruno Fernando, MARYLAND: This guy has a fantastic attitude and an imposing body. He provides something a little different than the existing Spurs big men, and this team loves to have diversity of lineups.
Chuma Okeke, AUBURN: A combo guard who was playing out of his mind before injuring his ACL in the NCAA Tournament, Okeke is a combustible scorer. He’s also fearless and used to playing in a perimeter-oriented offense, which the Bucks employ.