A 2016 NBA Mock Draft just one day after the 2015 NBA Mock draft? Before free agency? Yup, we do this every year. Last year’s predictions were actually decent – nine of the 14 guys we had in the lottery were taken in the top 20, and only three of the players projected into the lottery didn’t get selected.
14. Portland Trailblazers – Jaylen Brown, SF, California. Extremely highly on him as a college player. Should be a star in the Pac-10. Explosive, lives to dunk on people. But at 6-foot-6, I’m not sure he yet has the shooting to be a true wing in the NBA.
13. Boston Celtics – Malik Pope, SF, San Diego State. Smooth wing player who took a backseat to a few seniors last year, and is poised to really blow up as a sophomore. Nice, long defensive player, emerging offensive talent.
12. Dallas Mavericks – Dragan Bender, Israel. Only 17 years old, he’s a 7-foot-1, 215-pound project who ultimately will play Stretch 4. Mark Cuban stashes him for a year during the transition from Dirk to the lottery and then quick bounce-back? Unless of course they’re able to land some big names in free agency. Bender could be the Porzingis of the 2016 draft, and soar into the Top 3 a year from now.
11. Brooklyn Nets – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG, Kansas. The buzz out of Kansas practice last season was that the 6-foot-7 Mykhailiuk was ballin’ and he’s expected to help the Jayhawks be in the Title hunt next season. Here’s a nice read on him.
10. Utah Jazz – Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah. Picked up Trey Lyles to backup Derrick Favors, and Poeltl could be a nice backup for Rudy Gobert. Poeltl might have a little Kaminsky in him. Next season, the Jazz should settle on a point guard – Burke or Exum, but keep an eye on Hanlan – and target the playoffs in 2016-2017.
9. Toronto Raptors – Kris Dunn, PG, Providence. Could have entered the 2015 draft, but is staying a year probably in hopes of improving his shooting (35 percent on just 77 3-point attempts). Big, tough point guard who is the antithesis of Kyle Lowry.
8. Indiana Pacers – Dwayne Bacon, SG, Florida State. I’m overly bullish on Bacon, but 6-foot-6 SGs who can slash and shoot are where the NBA is headed, maybe for the next few years. Such a fan of Bacon, I think FSU is a Final 4 sleeper.
7. Phoenix Suns – Daniel Hamilton, G/F, Connecticut. The Huskies never meshed last year after losing Shabazz Napier, and with Ryan Boatright graduated, look for Hamilton to emerge as a major star. His coach, Kevin Ollie, will tell anyone how dominant Hamilton can be. His brother Jordan was a scoring machine at Texas; expect Daniel to improve on his 38/34 shooting. Bledsoe, Booker, Hamilton? Not bad.
6. Toronto Raptors (via New York Knicks) – Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga. Great genes, strong inside game, and don’t be surprised if he makes the leap from very good freshman (averaging 21 minutes per game) to outstanding sophomore. Shot 66 percent from the field, but wish he had a 3-point shot like his father developed. [Details on how Toronto got that pick here.]
5. Charlotte Hornets – Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke. Highly-recruited wing should be the best player on Duke next season. Nice showing in the McDonald’s All-American game. Good enough to push MKG to the bench by his 2nd season?
4. Sacramento Kings – Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland. Too high? Love his all-around game, and could lead the Terps to the Title. Is he a less athletic Baron Davis?
3. Denver Nuggets – Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky. He’s the best center entering college this year, no doubt about that. Nurkic is a nice player; Labissiere has a much higher ceiling, should be a 1st team All-American with the Wildcats. Maybe he’s playing alongside DeMarcus Cousins?
2. Minnesota Timberwolves – Malik Newman, G, Miss. St. Was only the 8th rated player coming out of high school, and won’t be surrounded by much talent at Mississippi State, but the word is he’s a tremendous shooter, we know he’s deadly off the dribble and how many 7-footers are the Timberwolves going to draft, anyway?
1. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons, F, LSU. Entirely best-case scenario come September 2016: Okafor, Simmons, Noel, Embiid all healthy and are the team’s Top 5 players. No, I don’t know how all the big men will work. How could anyone? For financial reasons, sounds like Saric may hold off until 2017.
So yes, for now, I’ve got the Pistons, Heat and the Magic in the Eastern Conference playoffs next season, with Boston, Toronto (!) and Brooklyn falling out. In the West, I’ve got Dallas and Portland – two 50+ win teams – falling out and Oklahoma City and the LA Lakers in the playoffs. I’m guessing that the Lakers make all the right moves in free agency, and the Raptors, Nets, Celtics, Mavericks and Blazers don’t.