With the draft set to take place tomorrow, I wrote up my draft based upon who I think the best player available is at each spot while slightly taking into effect the fit of the player for the given team. For the teams picking high, fit matters less (based on their lack of talent), however it does play a role. I also do not claim to be an expert but have studied the top candidates thoroughly while attempting to find the best fit for my favorite team, Philly (who have an awesome draft central). So let’s do it:
1) Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl Anthony-Towns (Center, Kentucky). Recent news just broke that Minnesota has informed Towns he will be the number 1 pick and it absolutely makes sense. Towns is an incredible physical specimen who should have great success in this league. His offense at Kentucky got better and better as the season went on, even while playing limited minutes due to Kentucky’s platoon system. He handles the ball well and moves like very few 7 footers can. He has even shown the ability to shoot the 3 ball, but he should look to work on his low post game before upgrading his jumper. If he can make a living down low and then expand outside, he has the potential to be dominant on offense. But perhaps his greatest strength is on defense. He will have to play more physical at the NBA level, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he is a 1st team All-Defensive player some day in the future. He and Andrew Wiggins should lock down opposing teams defensively for years to come. Minny is looking like they got themselves a great young core going forward.
2) Los Angeles Lakers: Jahlil Okafor (Center, Duke). Okafor was the presumed #1 going into the preseason and had a terrific freshman year as he led Duke to a national title. Scouts awe over Jahlil’s ability to score in the low post. An old-school throwback player, Okafor excels at catching the ball with his back to the basket and scoring with an abundance of low post moves. He finishes with both hands down low, and should make a living in the post in the NBA. However, he’s not in the ACC anymore and won’t be playing against below average D-1 talent on a nightly basis, so don’t expect him to dominate right off the bat in the NBA. Defensively, Okafor is known for drastically below average play. He needs to seriously work on his game on this side of the ball if he wants to become a All-Star. Part of it looks to be lack of concentration, which is concerning, but also means he has some of the tools needed to be successful. If he can become even an average defender in the NBA he should be able to anchor the LA frontcourt. The old method of building teams was from the inside out, and adding Okafor to a frontcourt with last year’s lottery pick, Julius Randle. Would certainly fit that blueprint. That combination could be deadly offensively, especially if Jahlil can master a mid range jumper. I could see LA going for Russell here also, but they shouldn’t reach for anyone else.
3) Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell (Point Guard, Ohio State). Russell is hands down the best scorer in this draft. He can get to the basket and finish as well as shoot the 3, although he’ll need to continue to improve his shot from distance. Perhaps his best asset is his court vision, which is second to none. He thinks multiple passes ahead and is a brilliant distributor. He led an Ohio State team that vastly lacked talent to the second round in the NCAA tourney; teams honed in on him by throwing double and triple teams, which shouldn’t happen on the NBA level as much. If he ever gets a decent teammate that can hit a shot around him, he will be deadly on offense. Defensively he was a liability, but with his wingspan and competitiveness, he should be able to overcome his college shortcomings and be at least an average defensive player in the NBA. His supposed, “lack of athletic ability” is way overblown, so I think he’ll be fine. He is a perfect fit alongside Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid (although who knows if Embiid will ever play). Sidenote: If Philly selects someone not named Russell, Okafor, Towns, or Hezonja, I may quit being a fan. Mudiay may be slightly acceptable.*If you are looking for a great article on what NBA scouts and officals have to say about the top 3 prospects, you have to check out this article. Gives a great inside look.
4) New York Knicks: Mario Hezonja (Small Forward, Croatia). This has to be one of the most bold picks of the draft. I’m almost 100% certain that Super Mario will not be picked by New York, but he should. I would bet most people have the Knicks taking Mudiay, but not me. I think Mario is a clear notch above Mudiay. I would even lump him in with Okafor and Russell. For those of you that are unfamiliar with him, he is a 6 foot 8 inch small forward/shooting guard that is spectacular to watch. He’s athletic, can shoot, pass and score with relative ease, albeit against god knows what type of competition in Croatia. He looks like a guy who could go in and help a NBA team immediately. I’m not sure how he would fit with Carmelo, but are the Knicks really in a spot to be drafting for need? If you answered yes, then stop reading this, pull up the Knicks roster and look at their record. I actually think New York will try to trade out of this spot. If one of those top 3 guys slips to them, they take him without question.
5) Orlando Magic: Kristaps Porzingis (Power Forward, Latvia). I’ll be honest on this one, I do not know much about Porzingis other than his stock is rising rapidly. I’ve heard talks of him going as high as number 2, but also that Orlando is very interested in him. It makes sense if you look at their roster, they have good young players across the board except at Power Forward. Peyton was a very solid rookie point guard last year (although drastically needs help shooting), Oladipo has been arguably the best player from that dreadful 2013 draft class and will be a mainstay at shooting guard, Gordon should slide to the small forward spot and still has great all round potential (sort of like a poor mans Andre Iguodala… can’t believe I just said that) and Vucevic has been a very solid young center for them the past two seasons averaging a double-double on a nightly basis. This pick makes sense and from what I hear he is probably the most talented player on the board at this point.
6) Sacramento Kings: Emmanuel Mudiay (Point Guard, China). Apparently Mudiay’s chances at going top 3 in this draft disappeared after his rumored terrible workout with the Lakers. The concerns from that workout were the same concerns that the rest of the league has about him: an inability to shoot. He’s inconsistent with his motion and it looks really bad at times. However, his athleticism is through the roof. From what I’ve seen/heard, he’s closer to the old Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook than he is to say a Mike Conley. I already mentioned how defenses in Croatia may not be great, but the defenses in China are non-existent, which makes him one of the biggest question marks in the draft. We know the kind of talent that the top guys went against, but we have no clue what kind he was going against. Regardless, his knack of getting to the rim and distributing are unquestionable. He could be a very good fit for George Karl alongside Demarcus Cousins, except recent reports suggest Cousins may be done in Sacramento.
7) Denver Nuggetts: Justise Winslow (Small Forward, Duke). At this point, I think Winslow is the best available and a steal at 7. He was a vital part of the Duke squad that won the national championship. In fact, his play down the stretch was key. He makes his living as a very solid two way player. Defensively he has the potential to be a lock down wing in the NBA, while guarding multiple positions. Offensively, he is still a work in progress, and desperately needs to work on his shot. If he can develop as even a midrange shooter, he could be a very good player in this league.
8) Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson (Small Forward, Arizona). Johnson is a terrific defender and plays a very physical style of basketball. He should be a great rebounder in the NBA, and he can shoot the three ball very effectively, making him an attractive player at number 8. Pair him next to Reggie Jackson and Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond down low and you have the workings of a pretty good squad, especially in the East.
9) Charlotte Hornets: Devin Booker (Shooting Guard, Kentucky). Booker is another product of the Kentucky platoon squad. Charlotte just traded away their big time free agent shooting acquisition of last year in Lance Stevenson, so Booker is highly needed for this Hornets squad. Booker is a lights out shooter who has legit NBA range. There’s always room for shooters in this league and Booker should fit nicely on the Hornets spreading the floor for Big Al and Kemba.
10 ) Miami Heat: Sam Dekker (Small Forward, Wisconsin). While I don’t necesairly think Dekker is the best player available here (that might go to Cauley-Stein), I do think that he fits Miami well. They probably have their point guard and center of the future in Dragic, and Whiteside, respectively. Wade could walk in free agency and they still have Luol Deng, but they could still use some help out on the wing. Dekker doesn’t shoot the ball as well as other players in this draft but he is one of the best athletes in this class and has handles the ball great for a wing. He finds multiple ways to score and is a decent distributor that should help Miami right off the bat.
By Peter Gumas
Image: Okafor Guarding Russell
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : G&G Sports