If this year’s postseason was any indication, there aren’t many squads that are anywhere near the level of Golden State or Cleveland, but the draft is a good way to help close the gap–especially with neither of those teams owning a first-round pick this year. Only a small percentage of rookies typically make an immediate impact, but this year’s class is deep and full of guys who look like potential studs.
With that in mind, here’s a look at my first-round projections, as well as a breakdown of the first couple of picks:
2017 NBA Mock Draft
|7||Timberwolves||Jonathan Isaac||Florida State|
|9||Mavericks||Dennis Smith||NC State|
|12||Pistons||Justin Jackson||North Carolina|
|20||Blazers||John Collins||Wake Forest|
|26||Blazers||Jawun Evans||Oklahoma State|
1. Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
The Celtics are in an interesting position in that they already have a roster good enough to advance to the conference finals but also have highly valuable assets in the form of this year’s top pick and the Nets’ pick next year, which is likely to be another lottery selection.
As such, a trade is a potential option here. The C’s are obviously in win-now mode, and shipping some of their young pieces plus an elite pick for a superstar like Jimmy Butler is something that often gets mentioned, but according to the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson, the Celtics wouldn’t deal this pick in February without protections, so it’s highly unlikely they do so now that they’re set in stone at No. 1.
Assuming they keep the pick, Fultz makes the most sense.
While it may create a bit of a backcourt log-jam, Fultz’s ability to play both guard positions makes it a lot easier for Brad Stevens to sort out the rotation. He’s versatile enough to play the 2 next to fellow former Husky Isaiah Thomas, while he can run the show when IT goes to the bench.
There are 96 minutes to go around at the two guard positions, and something like 35 for Thomas, 31 for Fultz, and 30 for Avery Bradley comes out to a potentially killer guard rotation for Boston. A Thomas-Fultz combo could be unstoppable offensively, while a Fultz-Bradley backcourt has the potential to be extremely disruptive on the defensive end.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
It’s difficult, but forget about all the Lavar Ball theatrics and predictions and ridiculous comments. Forgot about the guarantee of his son playing for the Lakers and the circus that is likely to follow. From an on-court perspective, Lonzo Ball is a tremendous fit for the Lake Show.
Bringing in a true point guard with a pass-first mentality is exactly what the Lakers need, and that’s what they’ll get with Ball, who helped UCLA to the 20th-fastest tempo and second best adjusted offensive efficiency last season, per Ken Pomeroy. There are concerns about his defense and his jump shot, but having one elite skill at this age–as he does with his passing and court vision–can take you a long way.
Inserting Ball at point guard allows D’Angelo Russell to play a more comfortable role as a scorer, while the Lakers’ young guys like Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac should all benefit from having a pass-first player running the offense.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk, SG, Kansas
Every draft has some sort of surprise near the top. Josh Jackson is the assumed pick at this spot, and a good argument can even be made for him going No. 1 overall, so this would certainly classify as a surprise.
The Sixers, though, need an infusion of scoring, shooting and athleticism in the backcourt. With T.J. McConnell and Gerald Henderson at the guard spots last year, they ranked last in offensive rating and 25th in three-point percentage. Ben Simmons, who is expected to step in at point guard, certainly stands as an upgrade for the team’s offense, but they will still need someone to help stretch the floor, as the LSU product is generally considered a poor outsider shooter.
Enter Monk, who can be streaky but can also heat up faster than a microwave:
My personal opinion would be to take Jackson at this spot, as his ability as a two-way player is awfully compelling. But this is a prediction, and you have to think one of the most offensively-challenged teams in the league takes a long look at the most explosive scorer in the draft.