We are smack dab in the middle of NBA mock draft season. Because we don’t yet know the lottery order, we’ve gone with a chalk order (the worst record gets the top pick, the second-worst gets the second pick, and so on). Teams anxiously await lottery night (which occurs during the Conference Finals) as the ultimate prize this year, Victor Wembanyama, projects to be a once-in-a-generation talent and will immediately improve the outlook of whichever team is fortunate enough to land him.
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With maybe the easiest decision in the history of the NBA Draft, the Pistons select the best prospect since LeBron James: Victor Wembanyama. The 7-foot-5 big man from France looks like Rudy Gobert on defense and Kevin Durant – if he grew half a foot – on offense. Like LeBron and Durant, Wembanyama should ascend to the top of the NBA quickly and have whichever team drafts him set up to contend for championships by the end of his rookie contract. A Pistons core of Wemby, Cade Cunningham, and Jaden Ivey would make for one of the better two-way teams in the Eastern Conference before long.
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If the Rockets end up at no. 2, their decision with this pick might come down to whether they believe they can persuade James Harden to return to Houston this offseason. If they can, then that may cause them to lean toward a wing who can play off of Harden, i.e., Alabama’s Brandon Miller. But for the purposes of this mock, let’s assume that the 76ers make a deep playoff run and Harden stays put, so the Rockets decide to take the best player available: Scoot Henderson. Henderson oozes athleticism reminiscent of a young Russell Westbrook. If the Rockets add him, they will need to sign or trade for some veterans and put Scoot in a position to thrive – even if that means moving on from some of their talented, but immature youngsters like Kevin Porter Jr.
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Amen Thompson over Brandon Miller might seem like a bit of a surprise, given that Miller appears to be in the mix for the no. 2 pick, but Amen has just as high of a ceiling as Miller and seems like a San Antonio Spurs kind of player. Amen, whose brother Ausar will also be selected in the early lottery, is a 6-foot-7 point guard who will enter the NBA as one of the best athletes in the league. Although he took an unconventional route to the league through the Overtime Elite program and didn’t face the level of competition some of the other top prospects did, it doesn’t take much to envision him being a special rim-attacker in the NBA. Add in his playmaking ability and the Spurs could have a foundational piece for the next decade.
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The Hornets would be thrilled to see Brandon Miller’s name still on the board at pick no. 4. Standing 6-foot-9, Miller has all of the makings of becoming a star wing scorer in the NBA. He can attack downhill. He’s got a silky smooth jumper (38.4 percent from three last season), he has solid vision and playmaking skills, and a sense of the moment. After a story leaked about his alleged involvement in a tragic shooting on Alabama’s campus, he had the best game of his career, dropping 41 points and making both the game-tying and game-winning shots in an overtime win on the road against South Carolina. Assuming his legal situation clears up and the questions about his character are adequately addressed, Miller would be a great fit in Charlotte with his ability to space the court and be the go-to scorer, allowing LaMelo Ball to be the primary playmaker and secondary scorer – his optimal role.
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While he doesn’t really fit into Damian Lillard‘s timeline, if the Blazers select Amen’s brother, Ausar Thompson, they’d have two incredibly athletic wings to build around for the future (along with Shaedon Sharpe). In terms of athleticism, this would be akin to the Raptors having Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady back in the day. Ausar has a similar build to his brother and, while he doesn’t possess the exact same explosiveness as Amen, he’s close. Plus, he’s a better scorer than his brother and probably a little more NBA-ready at this time. As much as Portland should be thrilled to land a Thompson brother, there’s always a chance that this pick is traded for a win-now player to give Lillard one last shot at contending, so keep an eye out for a rebuilding team to potentially move up for this pick.
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The Magic will likely have two lottery picks thanks to the Nikola Vucevic trade and, if they possess pick nos. 6 and 11, could very well package both to move into the top five. If they stay put, Anthony Black could be a really nice fit with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner because of the way his game should complement the two. At 6-foot-7, Black is a big guard who does a little bit of everything – he defends his butt off, he’s a ball-mover and playmaker, and he knows how to use his size to his advantage around the basket. Adding him into the mix of jumbo athletes the Magic have at most positions would create even more mismatches against opponents.
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While there may never be another Draymond Green, Walker is probably the closest thing we’ve seen to Draymond proxy in a while. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Walker is strong enough to battle big men but quick enough to move laterally with guards. He also has decent feel for the game on offense, so he could potentially be a nice pick-and-roll partner for Tyrese Haliburton. Assuming the Pacers don’t trade Myles Turner this offseason, Walker and Turner would pair nicely as their respective strengths would cover for one another’s weaknesses.
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This might be my favorite pairing of the first round – a listless franchise and the most overrated prospect in the draft. I’m sure Villanova’s powerful small forward, Cam Whitmore, will be a fine NBA player, but forgive me for asking why the hell is this guy generating lottery buzz? Did anyone watch him this past season when he averaged 12.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG on a team that went 17-17 and missed the NCAA Tournament? He’s clearly talented and possesses NBA athleticism, but his lack of production on a blah college team makes me skeptical that he could be the type of franchise player a team hopes to draft when it picks in the top 10. Then again, the Wizards seem to enjoy winning 30-40 games per season, and Whitmore won’t change that, so maybe it’s a perfect fit.
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Though it wouldn’t shock me if the Jazz took a swing on a high-risk, high-reward prospect like Alabama’s Nick Smith, never underestimate Danny Ainge‘s ability to acquire white guys. All jokes aside, Kansas wing, Gradey Dıck, actually makes a ton of sense here for the Jazz. He’s a great shooter (40.3 percent from three), he’s big (6-foot-8, 205 pounds), and he’s competitive as hell. If he hadn’t grown up in Wichita, Kansas, he would have one thousand percent played for Duke. He projects to be an ideal three-and-D wing in the NBA, and Utah’s best move is to continue to accumulate players like him that fit the modern, spaced-out NBA.
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After trading their best wing defender, Dorian Finney-Smith, in the Kyrie Irving deal, the Mavericks will almost certainly select a three-and-D wing here. UCF’s Taylor Hendricks project to be just that. As a freshman, the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 15.1 PPG and 7.0 APG with an impressive 39.4 percent three-point stroke. His length, athleticism and willingness to defend at the college level should translate well to the NBA. While he probably won’t be a star, the Mavs already have their two stars and simply need defense and shooting around them, and Hendricks checks both of those boxes.
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The Magic need shooters. They were 25th in the NBA in three-pointers and 24th in the NBA in three-point percentage. Enter Jordan Hawkins. Anyone who watched him during March Madness knows that he’s got an absolute laser from deep – one of the purest jump shots you’ll ever see. The UConn sophomore, who averaged 16.2 PPG with 41-39-89 shooting splits, would be an ideal floor spacer for Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz, and could develop into a JJ Redick-type of threat from the outside.
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OKC Thunder: Nick Smith
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OKC is playing with found money in this draft having already crushed the past two drafts (Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams) and getting Chet Holmgren back (the no. 2 pick in last year’s draft missed the entire season with an injury after playing very well in the Summer League). So why not take a big swing on a prospect with a strong pedigree who struggled during an injury-riddled freshman season in Nick Smith here? Smith was ESPN’s no. 3 prospect going into the season, but only played 17 total games and never got into rhythm at Arkansas. If he pops, the scoring guard could be a great combo guard to play alongside Giddey and SGA – both of whom have the ball in their hands a fair amount.
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With Fred VanVleet set to be a free agent, the Raptors could very well be in the point guard business in this coming draft. Even if FVV stays, Cason Wallace could be the answer at the position in the long term as he has many qualities that Masai Ujiri seems to covet – he’s a rugged defender who has positional versatility. He projects to become something in between Kris Dunn and Jrue Holiday (the latter of which would be an absolute best-case scenario). Wallace would fit in well with Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
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With 31-year-old CJ McCollum starting to show some signs of age, the Pelicans may look to find a prospect with some scoring pop from the guard position. Keyonte George could easily be that guy at no. 14, but the Pelicans must develop him into a more consistent player. At his best, the freshman from Baylor could go off for 20-30 points, which he 12 times last season. But at his worst, he could score under 10 points, which he did 10 times last season. If Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram ever stay healthy at the same time, the Pelicans’ offense will put constant pressure on the defense, which will open up opportunities for a guy like George, who can create his own shot, to punish mismatches from the perimeter.
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If the Hawks determine that it’s time to move on from Trae Young this offseason, which I think would be the right move if they could get a solid return, they would want to bring in some more versatile guards like Indiana’s 6-foot-5 point guard, Jalen Hood-Schifino. In his only college season, Hood-Schifino was extremely inconsistent, but when he had it going – like the time he had 35 points and seven rebounds in an upset win over Purdue – he displayed the entire package you could ask for in a scoring guard. He’ll need to improve his shooting in the NBA, but the skills are certainly there.
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Utah Jazz (via T’Wolves): Rayan Rupert
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Rayan Rupert is the type of home run swing prospect the Jazz can afford to take a gamble on with three picks in the first round. The French swingman played an injury-abbreviated season for the New Zealand Breakers this past year and flashed some two-way potential with his 7-foot-3 wingspan and aggressive approach to defense. He’ll need to expand his offensive game and shoot the ball better, but his mechanics are good enough to see a pathway to him becoming a good shooter.
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LA Lakers: Jett Howard
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There’s a good chance that the Lakers ultimately deal with this pick for a veteran and make this pick for another team. However, if the Lakers hold onto the no. 17 pick, they’ll be looking for shooting, which is exactly what the 6-foot-8 Michigan product brings to the table. Howard averaged 14.2 PPG on 36.8 percent three-point shooting this past season. The son of Juwan Howard, Jett, also displays a good feel for the game and has an advanced arsenal of dribble moves and bucket-getting skills and could really develop into a legitimate secondary scorer in the right situation.
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Despite being the youngest player in this draft class (he was actually the top 2023 prospect, but reclassified and attended South Carolina), G.G. Jackson has the hard-working, harder-playing traits that the Miami Heat covet. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound athletic forward has all of the skills, moves and game that could make him a stud in the NBA. Alas, he also displayed some immaturity and often struggled to put the complete package together while playing on a pretty miserable team. At this point in the draft, though, you can take some chances on raw talent, get it into your program, and try to develop the most out of it.
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Let’s try the whole super athletic, first-round center thing again for the Warriors. The last one – James Wiseman – wasn’t ready to adapt to the Warriors style of play quickly enough to get consistent minutes, so why would Dereck Lively II? For one, Lively wouldn’t have the same pressure being the 19th pick as Wiseman had being the second pick. Second, Lively’s NBA skill is shot-blocking, so he should be able to continue excelling in protecting the rim at the next level with his 7-foot-1 skinny-athletic frame. If the Warriors don’t want to wait around to develop Lively, they can always trade this pick for some depth as well.
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Houston Rockets (via Clippers): Noah Clowney
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If the Rockets go with Scoot Henderson at the top of the draft, expect them to look at some of the intriguing big men that should be available around this point in the draft. Alabama’s Noah Clowney is the type of energetic big man that any team could use, plus he has some upside as an offensive player that maybe wasn’t on display much since Brandon Miller was such an offensive focal point for the Crimson Tide. Clowney, who stands 6-foot-10, also seems like the type of player who will come in, play hard, not demand touches, and do his job, which is something the Rockets desperately need.
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With the first of their two consecutive picks, the Nets should consider Ohio State’s two-guard, Brice Sensabaugh. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is an absolute bucket-getter and excellent shooter (40.5 percent from three), but will need to expand on the rest of his game. Fortunately, the Nets have a ton of good wings to help him focus on his strengths early in his career as he learns to compete on defense in the NBA. With Seth Curry and Joe Harris getting a little older, Sensabaugh could be a solid fit for the Nets moving forward.
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Brooklyn Nets: James Nnaji
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With the second of their first-round picks, the Nets will take a swing on a big man with a lot of potential, but little production: James Nnaji. The 6-foot-10 Nigerian big man with an insane 7-foot-7 wingspan has a whole lot of defensive potential. He’s strong, athletic and can even more fairly well on the perimeter. While he doesn’t have much ability on offense beyond being a lob threat, there are still minutes for guys like that in the league. Moreover, the Nets could really use some big men to support Nic Claxton.
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If the Blazers and Damian Lillard decide to make another run at contending, they’ll need NBA-ready players, so a mature, developed wing-like Illinois’ Terrence Shannon would make sense here. Shannon is a stout 6-foot-6 athlete who began his college career as a great defender at Texas Tech, progressed into a solid offensive player at the end of his career in Illinois, scoring 17.2 PPG his final season. He would provide some nice balance to the Blazers’ offense-oriented guards.
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Having a little fun here obviously, but then again, why wouldn’t the Kings consider drafting their stud rookie Keegan Murray‘s brother? Kris Murray is essentially a left-handed, poor man’s version of Keegan, which is still a rotation-level forward in the NBA. The Kings are a team on the rise and will need to accumulate cheaper rotation players as some of their younger stars command larger contracts, so Kris makes sense from that standpoint. In addition, the team’s other starting forward, Harrison Barnes, is set to become a free agent this offseason, so there could be a hole at the position.
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The Grizzlies will always desire shooting to fill in around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., so expect them to look for a three-and-D wing here like Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther. With Dillon Brooks possibly coming off the books, they’ll need more depth at wing. Strawther tore up the nets this past season, shooting 40.6 percent from three on 5.3 attempts per game. He also is a cold-blooded killer as seen by his game-winning three-pointer against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. And we know Memphis loves them some competitors.
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Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Dariq Whitehead
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Despite being one of the top recruits, if not the top recruit, in his class, Dariq Whitehead barely got any run at Duke, missing games at the start of the season with a foot injury and then only getting about 20 minutes per game after returning. The Pacers would be betting on the Whitehead’s pedigree with this pick. At 6-foot-7, he has the size and athleticism to get his shot off in the NBA, and he shot really well from behind the arc despite not getting a ton of looks (42.4 percent on 3.5 attempts). Anything that adds spacing on the court for Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin to penetrate would help.
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Charlotte Hornets (via Nuggets): Sidy Cissoko
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The lowly Hornets might as well swing big here and draft a player with some significant upside like the G League Ignite’s Sidy Cissoko. Cissoko, a 6-foot-7 swingman from France, has a surprisingly strong feel for the game, but is inconsistent and lacks some necessary NBA skills like shooting (only shot 30.4 percent from three this past season). Still, when you watch his highlights and see him slashing to the basket for big dunks and making touch passes to his teammates for easy baskets, it’s hard to not see some serious potential, making him worth the late-first-round pick.
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As a Huskies fan, I’d selfishly like to see Andre Jackson return to Connecticut for his senior season and try to hang another banner. However, if he keeps his name in the draft, he’d be an interesting chess piece for Will Hardy and the Utah Jazz. Jackson excelled in the Draymond Green role for UConn this past season – playing a point forward role on offense with a variety of dribble-handoffs and pick and rolls (as both the ball-handler and roll man at times), and harassing the other team’s best scorer on defense. He’ll be one of the best athletes in this draft class and just needs a coach who knows how to continue to unlock his unique skill set.
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With their third pick in the first round, the Pacers decide to take a baller: Jaime Jaquez Jr. Nothing about this guy’s appearance or athleticism jumps off the screen at you. Yet, if you watched UCLA at all the past three years, he was usually the best player on the court. He simply knows how to play basketball. His footwork is impeccable, and he has a good midrange game and can make plays for his teammates. He has some athletic shortcomings, but there are plenty of rotation players who have stuck around the NBA for several years with elite fundamentals and a high basketball IQ.
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Colby Jones might be a strong rotation player hiding in plain sight. The 6-foot-6 wing from Xavier is simply a solid all-around player, who competes on defense and does the little things that help a team win. While he wasn’t a star in college, he was highly productive (15 PPG, 4.3 APG) and efficient (37.8 percent from three). Ty Lue and the Clippers like to deploy a number of well-rounded players like Jones in their rotation like Terance Mann and Eric Gordon. Jones could be a steal this late in the draft.