This past Tuesday marked the 30th annual NBA Draft Lottery. In short, it is a process that decides the order of the first 14 picks in the upcoming draft while using a system quite similar to a traditional lottery, involving four-digit codes for each team. Now that the order is set, in what is a two-part series, I will be projecting which players I think will (not should) be taken at each spot in the top-14 while also offering analysis on their fit with the respective team. So, with your intrigue now at its peak, let the mocking begin.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky, 6’11”, PF/C
For Minnesota, this pick will be narrowed down to two options: the very raw, yet incredible two-way upside of Towns or the sure-handed offense but defensive question marks that come with Duke center Jahlil Okafor. While reports may have head coach/GM Flip Saunders favoring Okafor as of now, I eventually see that tone being shifted during pre-draft workouts where Towns can showcase his athleticism. Though raw, Towns possesses a go-to jump hook, mid-range game, and ability to face up that is rare for his size. He is an elite rebounder on both ends, and on defense, he is an absolute monster, posting per-40 averages of 4.3 blocks and 12.7 rebounds per game. Towns is the ideal modern NBA big man with his athleticism, passing skills and an ability to run the court with ease. Pairing him with the athletically-gifted Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine would give the Wolves a scarily dynamic trio as they build for the future.
Los Angeles Lakers: Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 7’0”, C
Is he the best fit alongside last year’s pick, power forward Julius Randle? No. Is he the highest player on my board at this pick? Certainly not. But at the end of the day, I do not see Mitch Kupchak and Co. passing on the opportunity to potentially add to the franchise’s lineage of great big men. Yes, there are legitimate qualms about his defense, but these mostly lie with effort. If Okafor lands with the Lakers, it would be up to the defensive-minded head coach Byron Scott to keep him motivated on that end. Make no mistake about it, though: Okafor is the most talented low-post scorer to come out in the last decade. And while he may not ever ascend to superstardom in a league where back-to-the-basket centers have grown outdated, he can certainly be a centerpiece on offense for Los Angeles going forward.
Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State, 6’5”, PG/SG
Here is where the draft gets interesting. It is nearly definite that Philly goes guard here, but which? Emmanuel Mudiay (my No. 2 player overall) offers an enticing blend of athleticism and ability to get to the rim while Russell is an elite college scorer who effectively plays low to the ground with unique play-making ability. In the end, I think the Sixers go with the more proven scorer in Russell. What Russell lacks in elite athleticism, he makes up for with craftiness and high basketball IQ. His SportsCenter Top 10 worthy passes showcase offensive instincts which are simply unteachable. Like Okafor, there are questions about his defense, but the thought of Russell running the pick-and-roll with athletic big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid is an opportunity that will prove itself too enticing for the Sixers to pass on.
New York Knicks: Emmanuel Mudiay, Guangdong, 6’5”, PG
Emmanuel Mudiay is the mystery man of the draft after foregoing college and instead playing professionally in China. Mudiay offers great upside as a lead guard who can attack the basket with John Wall-esque quickness and possesses a solid frame to make an immediate impact defensively. Let’s face it, the Knicks need an infusion of talent at just about every position, and while I could certainly understand the considerably “safer” picks of Willie Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow, I ultimately do not envision the Knicks passing on the opportunity to draft a player who could legitimately end up as the best of this class. Outside of his perimeter shooting (35 percent on the season), which is mendable, I have no frets about Mudiay’s ability to excel as a lead guard at the next level. It is a guard’s league and the Knicks are in need of a backcourt player who can take the ball-handling pressure off of Carmelo Anthony whilst being a lockdown defender on the other end, luckily this is what Mudiay offers.
- Orlando Magic: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7’0”, C
Let’s give the Orlando Magic credit, it was not too long ago that they traded away their franchise centerpiece Dwight Howard for a few draft picks and unknown commodities. Now, though, they have a roster composed of some of the best young talent in the league. Willie Cauley-Stein is an ideal addition to that core. As a team that already hones two ball-dominant guards in Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, what the Magic need is a player that is able to make an impact without the ball on the inside. Cauley-Stein can do just that, as he scores primarily on lobs and putback. Where he will really make his impact, however, is on the defensive end. Cauley-Stein possesses a strong, yet rangy frame, rare-for-his-size athleticism and NBA-level instincts that make him well-suited to be Orlando’s defensive anchor. Combine this with the fact that he played for three years at Kentucky and you have one of the more seasoned, pro-ready players in the draft.
- Sacramento Kings: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7’1”, PF/C
The Sacramento Kings would have loved to land Cauley-Stein or Mudiay here but they receive a more-than-nice consolation prize in Porzingis. Deemed by some scouts as a top-three player in the draft, the long, sharp shooting big man has the potential to be the steal of his class. In drafting marksman Nik Stauskas last year, the Kings were looking to address their lack of perimeter shooting. This project remains unfinished, though, as the team ranked in the bottom three for three-pointers made per game last season. As a fantastic outside shooter at power forward — a position that has been dry for Sacramento since the Chris Webber era — Porzingis is a fantastic fit. His shooting could open up the middle for big man DeMarcus Cousins without taking away touches. Factor in Porzingis’ combination of size, athleticism, high basketball IQ and ability to protect the rim and you’ll find he is much more than just a three-point specialist. If he is able to develop a bigger frame and a few strong moves in the post, he would be an absolute steal at six.
- Denver Nuggets: Justise Winslow, Duke, 6’6”, SF
Despite drafting Gary Harris last year and still having Danilo Gallinari on the roster, the Denver Nuggets could seriously use a young, dynamic player on the wing. As unrefined as his skills may be, Winslow can certainly fill that void as he offers some of the best defensive versatility in this draft with an offensive game that is not too far behind. Coming in, Winslow’s foot speed and solid frame should allow him the ability to guard at least three positions. Unlike most, I am not too concerned about his perimeter shooting as he posted a 41 percent clip from beyond the arc in college and improved consistently over the season. What is troublesome, however, is his in-between game. Winslow can get to the basket and finish through contact with ease but struggles to score between 10 and 20 feet. Yet with his unrelenting work ethic these issues can and likely will be fixed down the line as he develops into a top two-way player in the league.