2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Picks 5-10)
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – PF, Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 19 years-old, 7’0, 230 lbs
Markkanen would be a great fit in Dallas long-term, playing alongside the defensive minded Nerlens Noel, but I doubt the Wolves will pass up on a talent like this with the sixth pick. The Finland native is averaging 15 pts and seven rebounds a game on a stacked Arizona team primed for success in the NCAA Tournament this month. Markkanen, like Isaac, can score in a variety of ways, highlighted by his outside shooting. He shoots 42 percent from three and shoots 52 percent in 2-pt field goals and he can put the ball on the floor, post-up and wreak havoc on the offensive boards. Sounds a lot like Kristaps Porzingis right? First time I saw Markkanen play, I saw Porzingis 2.0. With head coach Tom Thibodeau running the show, Markkanen will have to defend and that’s where his problems start. According to NBA.com, the Wolves rank 23rd in overall team defense. The league is full of talented stretch-4’s and defensively, Markkanen will have to adjust to the strength, skill and speed that he will see on a nightly basis. Fortunately for Markkanen, his size will be a welcomed addition to the Wolves frontline alongside Karl Anthony-Towns as the two can develop a strict no layups policy in the lane for all incoming drivers, especially in the Western Conference.
Here’s a healthy display of Markkanen’s game:
7. Sacramento Kings – SF, Jayson Tatum (via Pelicans), Duke, 19 years-old, 6’8, 205 lbs
This is almost a given. Book it. Signed sealed; delivered. The Kings sent the best big-man in the game, DeMarcus Cousins, with Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first and second round pick in 2017. The Kings rid themselves of the pressures of trying to build around Cousins, to which they failed as Isaiah Thomas is shining in Boston, Nik Stauskas is with the Sixers, Ben Mclemore has regressed and Hassan Whiteside, who is establishing himself in Miami. In receiving Hield, the Kings pick up a crucial piece to their rebuild and their starting SG of the future. Tatum, as the seventh pick, could solve the Kings long-term issues at the three. This is a potential All-Star caliber forward in this league. As an offensive talent, Tatum is NBA ready and has all the moves. There’s some Melo in his game as Tatum can excel in iso-situations but note that he is a willing passer and can play within the offense as well. He can create his own shot, post-up and is effective from mid-range and behind the arc. He also runs the floor well and defensively can guard ones through threes which should result in immediate playing time and defensive assignments against star opponents. To defend against the Kevin Durant’s of the world, Melo, Paul George and Kawhi Leonards, Tatum is going to have to bulk up like most of the kids in the top ten. And adding some muscle to his frame will also aid Tatum in finishing inside with contact. According to nbadraft.net, Tatum tends to over dribble and settle for deep contested shots and just by watching his highlight reel against Virginia below, if he’s on, he’s going to launch it with confidence.
8.New York Knicks – PG, De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 19 years-old, 6’4, 187 lbs
I recently read this article on theringer.com by Jason Concepcion of the best point guards in the Knicks organization of the last 10 years. It’s a great read but as a Knicks fan, it’s a reminder and a symbol of the inconsistency this franchise has subjected its global fan-base to. In this draft, the Knicks, projected to select from 8-15, have a chance to change their fortunes and finally draft a PG who can stick around for years to come. I am making this pick with the mindset that president of basketball operations, Phil Jackson will not be around following this season but even if he is, Fox has to be the choice if he falls to the Knicks. Jackson has publicly stated that his “Triangle Offense” doesn’t need a premier PG, using examples, Kobe Bryant and Michael as the convincing argument. But this is a new day. The game today is about the lead guard and when you think about the NBA Finals last year, Kyrie Irving for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors were key components of their respective teams making it to the championship round. It’s time to make the right decision here and Fox looks like the real deal. His jump-shot could use some work, but it’s the same thing the media criticized John Wall about, when he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. And that’s the kind of talent Fox possess. He reminds me of Wall and I refer to him as Sonic “the Hedgehog” for obvious reasons. He’s fast. He can advance the ball and put pressure on the defense going coast-to-coast for easy scores and and-1’s at the rim with his athleticism. Derrick Rose has given the Knicks that element this season, but with his AWOL act and questionable late game decision-making this season, I doubt the Knicks will grant him the huge contract he’s looking for. Fox is the answer. Defenses have trouble staying in front of him because he makes quick decisions with the ball in his hands, whether he’s setting up a crossover to drive to the bucket or dish-out to open shooters on the perimeter. The video below is a taste of what Fox can do on a good night and with a young roster, led by the Unicorn, Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and possibly Justin Holiday, Fox can help assist the youth movement if the Knicks elect to hit the reset button following another lost season.
9.Dallas Mavericks – PG, Frank Ntilikina, France, 18 years-old, 6’5, 190 lbs
Every year, there is an international prospect in the draft that scouts say would be drafted higher if they elected to play in college. This year, it’s a point guard and his name is Frank Ntilikina. He plays for Strasbourg, in Frances top division-LNB Pro A and has been a pro since the age of 15. As a youngster on a pro-team of grown men, Ntilikina played sparingly but showed up big-time in the FIBA U18 European Championships last December. He averaged 15 pts, 2.8 rebs and 4.5 assts a game on 50 percent shooting, highlighted by a 23 and 9 performance in the semifinal round against Italy and 31 point explosion versus Lithuania in the Championship game. He earned MVP honors and pretty much orchestrated France’s offense for the most part. He’s a big guard with a near 7-foot wingspan, capable of shooting over mostly anyone at the one and is very unselfish, almost to a fault. He plays under control, is fundamentally sound and also excels on the defensive end, because of the ground he is able to cover and his ability to get in the passing lanes on the perimeter. There are questions about his jump-shot and lack of aggression on the offensive end, with Jonathan Tjarks of theringer.com stating that he doesn’t attack the rim enough in the half-court offense. He also has problems breaking down defenses despite having a good handle. For an international prospect, the lack of fire is a general, over-used critique that varies by the player so I wouldn’t be too concerned. We’ve all seen what Giannis Antetokounmpo has evolved into and Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t back down from his counterparts. We’ll see.
10. Sacramento Kings – PF, Robert Williams, Texas A&M, 19 years-old, 6’9, 237 lbs
I like Robert Williams. He’s arguably the best defensive big in the draft averaging 2.5 blocks a game with the ability to guard one through five. He’s engaged on the defensive end, has a great motor, and rebounds with authority. Williams is averaging a near double-double in 11.9 pts and 8.2 rebs a game and recently recorded 20 points and 13 rebounds against the University of Kentucky. His free-throw shooting is suspect at 59 percent for the season and that seems to be one of his few flaws. He does a little bit of everything particularly well but needs to enhance his low post game to be a dominant force on both ends. Fortunately for the Kings or whoever gets the opportunity to draft the Louisiana native, Williams is the type of player that wants to get better and knows he has a long road ahead of em. In his last 10 games, Williams is averaging 14.5 pts and 10.9 rebs, featuring three straight 18 pt performances against LSU, Missouri and Florida, two of which were double-doubles. In 31 games, Williams has posted 14 double-doubles. He profiles as a Kenneth Faried type with a higher ceiling.
*I have noticeably left Josh Jackson out of my top ten. His off-court troubles concern me and I don’t know if teams will be willing to put up with his behavior, especially when there are other options.