Late Friday afternoon, the NBA draft got real. That’s when multiple reporters broke the news of a Celtics-76ers trade that would send Markelle Fultz to Philadelphia, give Boston an even bigger war chest of assets, and leave the rest of the NBA stunned. A little more than 24 hours later, it was official. So before we dive into the mock, we should address the most important question of the week: What the hell just happened?
For the Celtics, it was a gamble on three levels. To begin with, they now have more first–round picks over the next few years than they have open roster spots. It certainly seems like the Celtics are betting they’ll be able to flip these picks for a star somewhere along the line, and it’s risky. The Celtics are coming off an era of bountiful Nets picks, and while every year they’ve been the center of superstar trade rumors, an actual trade has yet to materialize. Maybe that changes this week?
The deal was also implicitly a bet against Fultz. If Danny Ainge thought Fultz was a potential cornerstone, it’s hard to imagine they flip that pick. Think back to this quote from Wyc Grousbeck in the days following the lottery. It came as Grousbeck explained why a trade at No. 1 was unlikely. “If you’re drafting No. 1,” the Celtics owner said, “And you make the pick well—you do really draft a transcendent player—you’ve got that player for five or six years as they build up before the max money even kicks in.” A month later, it looks like the Celtics decided Fultz wasn’t a transcendent player.
Most importantly, this was a bet on the team the Celtics already have, and the options they’ll pursue this summer. Instead of taking Fultz and grooming him as a long-term building block, they now have assets to chase a star in a trade, who they’ll presumably pair with Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas, and possibly Gordon Hayward. It’s a bold play, and it’ll like be a year or two (or five) before we can decide how to grade this. For now, if there’s one Celtics criticism that sticks, it’s this: How did they only get one extra pick?
And that brings us to Philadelphia. For the Sixers this was a home run. Fultz fits perfectly next to Ben Simmons. He eases the burden on him to anchor the offense and provides an off-ball shooter, and all of it should make last year’s No. 1 pick even more dangerous.
For that reason alone, Fultz had crazy amounts of value to Philadelphia. And, again: all it took was one protected lottery pick to trade up? Whether it’s the Kings’ 2019 first or the Lakers’ pick in 2018—the conditions are outlined here—the deal is an incredible win. Philly could’ve sent both picks to Boston and it would’ve made sense. Instead they keep an extra lottery pick, and find the perfect player to move them to the next phase of the rebuild. It was great weekend for Sixers fans.
And now it’s Monday. There are Paul George rumors sweeping the league, nobody knows what the Lakers will do at No. 2, nobody knows whether the Celtics will keep this pick, and the rest of the lottery is deeper and more unpredictable than it’s been in years. We made it through the predictable NBA playoffs. This week’s chaos is our reward.
Time for the penultimate mock. Here we go.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington | Freshman
Fultz is the best prospect on the board. He’s got the highest floor of anyone in the draft, and his ceiling is something close to the James Harden. He’s been called the Karl-Anthony Towns of point guards because he can do almost anything you’d need from the point guard. His defense is a question mark—and his effort waned at times during his lone season at Washington—but he’s still got the tools to be excellent on that end. What I’m interested in now: How does he respond to the trade? Apart from his defense, the only other real question surrounding Fultz is about his intensity and competitiveness. If he needed more motivation, Boston just gave it to him.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA | Freshman
I’m not totally sold on his jumper, his defense, or his ability to score in the halfcourt. On the other hand, if his outside shooting is as reliable as it was in college—he shot 41% from three at UCLA—his floor looks like a bigger, better-shooting version of Ricky Rubio. That’s a pretty good place for the conversation to start. Magic Johnson and the Lakers will spend the next few days deciding whether to enter the Paul George sweepstakes, and they’re easily the most interesting team to watch this week. We’ll see if they actually pick at No. 2 on Thursday. If they do, Josh Jackson’s workout was reportedly a dud, and dreams of Lonzo in Luke Walton’s offense will be tough to resist.
3. Boston Celtics: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas | Freshman
This is another wild card. Jayson Tatum would probably be the best fit next to Jaylen Brown, but are we sure the Celtics intend on keeping this pick? For his part, Jackson is a great athlete who plays extremely hard. He can’t shoot, but he can dunk everything and defend multiple positions, and he’ll make a surprising number of plays as a passer. Think young Iguodala. A year ago, Danny Ainge told SI, “Listen, I like the Jae Crowders, the Marcus Smarts, the Avery Bradleys. I do gravitate to those types of players, the Tony Allens, Delonte Wests.” Jackson is that type of player. And just as important: he’s probably got the highest trade value of anyone outside Ball and Fultz, so we’ll put him here for now.
4. Phoenix Suns: De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky | Freshman
A few weeks ago I spent the day with De’Aaron Fox for this profile, and concluded two things. 1) Fox is probably the biggest gamble in the top 10 because of his jumper, but 2) his ceiling is as high as anyone available, including Fultz. He spent the beginning of his freshman year battling nagging injuries and struggling to assert himself, but over the second half of the year he became a different player. He was impossible to keep out of the lane, and he was relentless on defense. As he gets stronger, his speed will only get more dangerous, and if he gets even a half-decent jumper, he’s a superstar. All of which is to say: if Jackson and Ball are off the board, it makes sense for the Suns to bet the next 5-7 years on Fox and Booker.
5. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State | Freshman
I’m not sure if Isaac’s ceiling is as high as some of his peers in the lottery, only because he doesn’t project as a player who can anchor an offense. But where players like Tatum, Smith, Jackson, and even Ball have questions that’ll complicate their progress as franchise cornerstones, Isaac’s a much safer bet to become a secondary star. Think Harrison Barnes, but 6’11”, with shot blocking. He’s got the height and length to project as a stretch-five with the right lineup around him, and he’d be equally effective as a stretch-four. As the NBA game gets smaller, faster, and generally stranger, Isaac is the kind of Swiss–Army Knife role player who should be really valuable on a good team. If Fox and Ball are off the board, he’d be a fun weapon for Dave Joeger and the Kings.
6. Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke | Freshman
Tatum might be the most polished player available in the top 10. He’s got excellent iso skills in the halfcourt. His jumper’s not quite a weapon yet, but the mechanics look good, and it’s not hard to imagine his outside shooting improving over the next few years. He can play either the three or the four, and while I’m not totally sold on his ceiling as a superstar, he’s got a pretty high floor. For Orlando and the new management tandem of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, they need… everything. Anything. The entire roster is either a problem or a question mark. In that case, it makes sense to grab at least one player they can definitely build around. Tatum fits.
7. Minnesota Timberwoves: Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona | Freshman
Lauri Markkanen is probably not the next Dirk, but calling him the next Ryan Anderson might be selling him short. He’s a 7-footer and he’s probably the best shooter in the draft. That skill will translate wherever he lands, and at the size, there’s almost no way to guard him as a shooter. The question is: What else can he do? Can he rebound? Who can he guard? And how much will he be able to do off the dribble? If he can quiets some of those concerns over the next few years, his ceiling is as high as anyone outside Fultz, Ball, and Fox. And even if Ryan Anderson is the most realistic outcome: pairing Finnish Ryan Anderson with Karl-Anthony Towns and running pick-and-pops for the next seven years could be really, really fun.
8. New York Knicks: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky | Freshman
This would be a big win for New York. Monk will struggle on defense, and it’ll probably take him another year or two before he adds enough weight to finish at the rim and score consistently in the NBA. But even with those qualifiers, he’s probably one of the most underrated players in this draft. Everyone was falling in love with De’Aaron Fox a month ago, and recently Dennis Smith has been getting that affection, but Monk’s best-case scenario remains just as impressive as either one. He’s got unlimited range on his jumper like Jamal Murray, but he’s a more explosive athlete, with better instincts as a scorer. If anything, playing next to Fox might have held him back a little bit. Monk will be very, very dangerous.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith, PG, NC State | Freshman
Players like Smith are why this draft is considered so strong. The top three isn’t that much better than most years, but it’s rare to find someone this talented this low in the lottery. Smith spent most of his high school career as the top point guard prospect in this class. Then a knee injury derailed his senior season, while “going to NC State” derailed his lone year at NC State. Still, he’s an incredible athlete and a great scorer. I’d draft him top 10 off the Duke game alone. The two big questions: can he play defense? Can he shoot consistently from the outside? The first one may not matter—at least half of the current crop of All-Star guards are bad on D—but the second one is what’ll determine whether he really turns into a star.
10. Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilinka, PG, France | Age: 18
Frank Ntilikina has intriguing tools. He’s big (6’5″), and he’s got a massive wingspan (reportedly close to 7’1″). In theory, he could blossom into a great defensive weapon over the next few years, like a 3-and-D point guard. But he’s largely unproven beyond a standout run through the FIBA 18-Under tournament, and it will take a few years for him to get comfortable. For now, his projections as a defense-first point guard remind me of Isaac’s future as a forward, except that Ntilikina’s playing a position where defense is less valuable and explosiveness on offense is almost a prerequisite for relevance. For the Kings, this would be an underwhelming pick in a draft full of star point guards, and it’s why we can’t totally rule out a trade up before Thursday.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville | Sophomore
Mitchell is one of the best athletes in the draft and he’ll be an excellent defender wherever he lands. His outside shooting isn’t great (35% on 6.6 attempts) but he improved significantly over his freshman year (25%), all while assuming more point guard responsibilities. A skeptic might say that a) he was never that impressive at Louisville and b) Mitchell’s a classic case of someone draft nerds have talked themselves into based solely on combine numbers and theoretical potential. And they might be right! But in theory: Donovan Mitchell is another version of Avery Bradley, or maybe Malcom Brogdon after years of steroids. Either player is someone I’d want in the lottery.
12. Detroit Pistons: Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina | Junior
Jackson can contribute early, and maybe earlier than anyone else in the lottery. He’s got less upside than the names above him, but think of Jackson as a poor man’s Otto Porter. Provided his shooting improvement continues, he’ll contribute immediately wherever he lands. Related: Stan Van Gundy may not have the patience for a project. The Pistons have bigger questions to answer elsewhere—Is Andre Drummond good? Does the whole team hate Reggie Jackson?—and without any clear solutions to those problems available at 12, it may make sense to take the one guy that can definitely play.
13. Denver Nuggets: Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga | Freshman
Collins only got 17 minutes per game behind Przemek Karnowski at Gonzaga, but he was terrific when he played. His per-40 averages are outrageous: 23 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks. He can shoot threes (47.6%), and he’s fairly mobile. Against South Carolina in the tournament, he put 14, 13, and six blocks in 23 minutes. He could go higher in the lottery, but if he falls this far, he’d be an interesting gamble for the Nuggets. Denver needs someone who can protect the rim next to Nikola Jokic but give him space on offense, and Collins could fit the bill.
14. Miami Heat: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke | Sophomore
Next to Markkanen and Monk, Luke Kennard is one of the three best shooters in the draft. Miami is a team that could use the help stretching the floor on offense. Likewise, the Heat have pieces on the perimeter (Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow) and inside (Hassan Whiteside) to help hide Kennard’s weaknesses on defense. Kennard could be a very solid role player for a good team, and depending on what happens later this summer, the Heat may be closer to that category than we realize.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas | Freshman
He spent most of the year overshadowed by bigger freshmen stars on better college teams, but Allen quietly got much better as the year unfolded at Texas. He’s got a massive 7’5½” wingspan and he’s fairly mobile. He’s still raw, and he may be a year or two from playing meaningful NBA minutes, but he’ll get drafted top 20 because of Myles Turner flashbacks alone. The Blazers don’t have many big men beyond Jusuf Nurkic, and Allen would be a smart project for the future.
16. Chicago Bulls: O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana | Sophomore
Anunoby is probably the best defensive prospect in the draft. While his offense is very much a wait-and-see situation, and he’s coming off an injury that robbed him of most of his sophomore season at IU, he probably has the most upside of anyone past the lottery. He doesn’t fill any hole on the current Bulls roster, but there was a time when Gar Forman and John Paxson routinely stole great players in the middle of the first round. Maybe OG could be another.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Harry Giles, C, Duke | Freshman
Giles is another player coming off an injury who could turn into a steal with the right health and the right team. Milwaukee needs a point guard, but the answer won’t be available at 17, and they probably won’t find much value on the wing, either. That leaves any number of big men to choose from, and Milwaukee has a history of gambling on draft night. Yes, GM John Hammond isn’t there anymore, and GM Jon Horst has been on the job for less than a week, but let’s say they keep tradition alive and swing big.
18. John Collins, PF, Wake Forest | Sophomore
The Pacers have bigger questions before Thursday, but Collins makes sense if he drops this far. He’s still 19 years old, and while he can’t stretch the floor right now, he was incredibly productive for his age. He put up 19 and 10 in 26 minutes per game at Wake, including monster performances against Clemson (29 and 10), Duke (31 and 15), and Louisville (25 and 11) down the stretch. If you believe that his offense will translate, agonizing about his floor-stretching limits might be missing the point.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Justin Patton, C, Creighton | Freshman
Patton is big (6’11”, 7’3″ frame), mobile, and he’s got touch out to three-point range. He’s a late bloomer who actually redshirted a year at Creighton before emerging this season, but there’s a lot to work with for a team looking to groom a big man for the future. For Atlanta, Paul Millsap is a free agent, Dwight Howard is 31 years old, and it makes sense to start investing in some options for the future.
20. Portland Trail Blazers: T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA | Freshman
Leaf probably won’t be good enough on defense to start at the next level, but he’s so skilled as a passer and shooter that he’ll have value wherever he lands. Compare Leaf to someone like Ivan Rabb. Both have weaknesses that limit their ceiling, but Leaf’s strengths are a much better fit with the wide-open game that’s being played all over the league. The Blazers probably won’t keep all three first-round picks, but Leaf would have value either in Portland, or as a low-cost attachment to whichever ghastly contract Portland’s trying to dump in two weeks.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan | Sophomore
Wilson is a combo forward who can guard multiple positions, projects as an excellent pick-and-roll defender, and shoots the three fairly well. The second half of the first round is full of centers and forwards who don’t totally fit with where the NBA is going, but Wilson is the exception. He’s the 6’10 forward who’s suddenly twice as valuable, and he’d be a nice addition for an OKC team that’s been searching for a credible bench wing for what seems like a decade.
22. Nets: Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA | Freshman
Anigbogu is the most mysterious prospect in the first round, and I love him for it. He played sparingly and averaged just 4.7 points in 13 minutes per game at UCLA, in part because he battled injuries for most of his freshman year. But he’s 6’10” with a 7’6″ wingspan, he moves well, and he could grow into a monster of a shot-blocking, rim-running big man over the next few years. Brooklyn has Brook Lopez entrenched for now, so the Nets can afford to be patient with any potential replacements.
23. Toronto Raptors: Anzejs Pasecniks, C, Latvia | Age: 21
The Raptors have a ton of questions to answer this summer—beginning with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka in free agency, and continuing with Jonas Valanciuanas, who’s perpetually on the brink of being traded. As things get crowded and expensive, a potential draft-and-stash option may be more attractive in this spot. Pasecniks is mobile with good touch on his jumper—at least according to this workout video—and he’d be a decent option in this spot, particularly if Valanciunas isn’t sticking around long term.
24. Utah Jazz: Isaiah Hartenstein | F/C | 19 Years Old | Germany
Hartenstein’s got good size and good athleticism, and he’s fairly comfortable as a big man operating in space, all of which makes him an good fit for the new NBA, particularly as a change of pace off the bench. I’m not sure whether he’ll matriculate this year or stay an extra year in Europe, but the Jazz roster could be getting more expensive this summer, so the potential flexibility could make him even more attractive.
25. Magic: Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State | Sophomore
Evans undersized at 5’11”, but he’s quick and creative, and he was a nightmare in the pick-and-roll at Oklahoma State. Those skills translate in the NBA. At worst, he’d be a fun spark off the bench. At best, his shooting improves—37% from three last year—and catches up with his ability to create off the dribble, and he becomes a real steal late in the first. The Magic could use any and all sparks, so Evans could be a fun gamble here.
26. Portland Trail Blazers: Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia | Age: 19
Ferguson is a phenomenal athlete and a streaky shooter in the J.R. Smith mold. If he can improve over the next few years and stay like 30-40% more focused than J.R. has been for most of his career, there is real star potential. With three firsts, the Blazers have the flexibility to take risks with some of these picks.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU | Junior
It’s true, in a post-Billy King world, Brooklyn has nothing better to do than swing for the fences with these picks in the 20s. But at some point the Nets also need good players, not just projects. Ojeleye is a two-way wing who shot 42% from three, and he’s got an NBA frame that’ll allow him to contribute immediately as a combo forward. Put him in Brooklyn and give him 25 minutes a night, and let’s see if we can make Nets games slightly less depressing.
28. Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Hart, PG, Villanova | Senior
Hart’s offensive ceiling is limited, but he can knock down open looks, and he’ll be able to defend either guard spot for a team that’s had apocalyptic defense for the past three years. He’s been compared to Malcolm Brogdon over and over again, and it makes a decent amount of sense. Both defend, both shoot, and both bring basketball IQ that helps mitigate athleticism limits. As the Lakers get better and play meaningful games, what Hart does well will only be more valuable. As for next year, he’d be sneaky valuable as a stabilizing presence on a team that’s still got one of the youngest rotations in the NBA.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Bell, PF, Oregon | Junior
Bell is one of the best defensive prospects in the draft, and probably the best pick-and-roll defender of any big man on the board. What he lacks in size at forward (6’8″), he makes up for with wingspan (7’0″) and excellent foot speed. The Spurs’ cap sheet could be getting tight if they try to add Chris Paul or George Hill this summer, and they’ll likely lose Dwayne Dedmon regardless. Adding an extra big man who can actually contribute will be crucial, and Bell might be the safest bet available from 20-40.
30. Utah Jazz: Jonah Bolden, PF, UCLA/International | Age: 21
An Australian who moved to the U.S. as a senior in high school, Bolden has a ton of skill at 6’10”, and he could be a nice steal as a stretch-four. He left UCLA after one year redshirting and one unspectacular season, but he bounced back with an impressive season in Serbia this past year. He wasn’t a huge name on draft boards until about three weeks ago, and now he’s on the fringe of the first round.
And so, on Monday before the draft, the Jonah Bolden timeline is a very important reminder that the NBA draft is the best. Enjoy the week.