• Gregory Alcala

2017 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

That awful excuse of a NCAA championship game between the University of North Carolina and Gonzaga is in the history books, and though that game signals the end of the college season, its best players aren’t finished making news. The next step for UCLA’s former star LaVar Ball, I mean Lonzo, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and a bunch of other great players poised to occupy the lottery is the NBA Draft 2017. Using Bleacherreport’s draft order, here’s another mock draft following the NCAA season.

1. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets) – Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6’5”, 186 lbs.

The rich get richer. Boston already boasts Isaiah Thomas, also known as “IT4”, , Jaylen Brown, last year’s third overall pick, defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, fueling their run toward the postseason as a top seed. Fultz ranked sixth in the NCAA in scoring, with 23.2 ppg, and profiles, overall, as a smooth all-around premier guard. He’s a little bit of a tweener at this point and will most likely be a shooting guard at the next level. This past year, the Huskies went 9-22, 11th in the Pac-12, while Fultz beefed up his draft stock to No.1 overall pick and that’s what scouts are questioning. How committed is he? According to fanragsports.com, one NBA scout said: “If you are transcendent as a number one pick type, you have to raise the level of others.”

2. Phoenix Suns – Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6’6”, 190 lbs.

I can’t lie. Lonzo Ball’s explosion onto the scene is the only reason I learned that a placed called Chino Hills exists. Fultz had a great year, no doubt about it, but this college basketball season belonged to the head Ball, not LaVar, despite his father’s boisterous behavior. Lonzo led the nation in assists, averaging 7.7 per game, complemented by 14.6 ppg and 6.0 rebounds. Lonzo doesn’t look to score. He would rather find his teammates and get everyone else involved. He can jumpstart his offense whenever he decides to do so, with a subtle, but quick, step-back trey or use his deft ball-handling to crossover his opponent and explode to the rim. He also excels at moving without the ball, as Lonzo has been on the receiving end of several alley-oops this past season. Lonzo is a can’t miss talent, reminds me a lot of Jason Kidd in several ways. Thing is, if a team drafts Lonzo, the package will include LaVar, so enjoy the best burger in the world with lackluster fries. It’s hard to pass up on a great burger though, honestly.

3. Los Angeles Lakers – Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6’3”, 200 lbs.

If the Lakers end up with the third overall selection,it’s tough to find a mock draft out there that predicts they will select someone other than Kansas’ Josh Jackson with this pick. And I get it. Jackson’s potential as a two-way player is massive, but why would the Lakers draft him with Brandon Ingram in the fold? The rookie has made strides in the second half of the season, improving his shooting efficiency and taking on defensive responsibilities, like guarding Paul George, according to the latimes.com. That’s why I believe Malik Monk will call LA his new home. Lakers’ guard D’ Angelo Russell needs shooters and Monk has no problem launching from deep. Monk averaged 19.8 ppg for the Wildcats, leading them to the Elite 8 before they loss to the eventual champion, North Carolina. Monk’s athleticism is Russell Westbrook-like and in a town that boasts theatre, Monk has a knack for big-shot making where there is drama.

4. Orlando Magic – Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6’3”, 195 lbs.

In his third NBA season, Elfrid Payton isn’t providing the type of production that head coach Frank Vogel and the front office expect from their starting point guard on a team that was projected to compete for a playoff spot this season. The Louisiana native is averaging 12.7 ppg, 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game. According to fansided.com, Payton was benched in favor of C.J. Watson in early January and thrived off the bench, opposed to the starting lineup, where he struggled, prompting Vogel to make the lineup change in the first place. No disrespect to the serviceable Watson but Payton can’t be a starting point guard in this league and lose his spot to a role player. Enter Fayetteville’s own Dennis Smith Jr. Smith spent just one year at the failing NC State but the high-flying guard did enough to cement his status as a lottery pick. With not much to work with offensively, Smith, a freshman, led the team in scoring, recording 18.1 ppg, while shooting 45 percent from the field. He was the show excelling at attacking the rim, and creating for himself and others. Smith averaged 17 points against ranked opponents. This is a potential perennial all-star who will put the magic back in the Magic, but there are concerns about his ability to run a team and defense.

5. Philadelphia 76ers – De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6’3”, 187 lbs.

I’ll believe a 6’10” point-forward running the lead guard position when I see it, but until Ben Simmons actually plays a game for the Sixers, let’s look at reality. I like T.J. McConnell since his Arizona days, but it’s hard to compare his ceiling to the likes of what Fox could be in Philly. It was Fox who led Kentucky with 39 points, in a 86-75 win to knock out Lonzo Ball and UCLA, in the Sweet 16, to reach the Elite 8. He outplayed the consensus, best overall point guard in the draft, and I think that means something, even if it’s one game. Fox has speed, flair, a good handle on the ball, loves the open court but his greatest skillset might be one of the key reasons he’ll be gone by the fifth pick in the draft;defense. Fox limited Ball to a miserable 10-point game, on 5-16 shooting, which doomed UCLA’s chances of advancing. In a league dominated by point guards, Philly will have no problem sending the Fox to close out on Steph Curry threes or neutralize IT4’s dribble penetration.

6. New York Knicks – Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6’8”, 205 lbs.

Ughhh. The Knicks need a lot of things, like focus, direction, pride, heart, hunger--I can go all night. One of the players in this draft that represents some of those words is Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Like Carmelo Anthony, whose days in New York are numbered, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s also mature for his age and he’s going to need that, especially playing in Madison Square Garden, where former players are getting dragged out of the arena and the owner of the team is sizing up fans. Outside of the mental, Tatum is the total package. He gets it done on both ends. His offensive game has NBA written all over it, able to score without the ball, attack the rim and post up for quick spin drives or fade-away jumpers. Like Melo, he’s a good isolation player as well. And on defense, Tatum is good in man-to-man situations and can cover ground if beaten by penetrators, with his length to bother and alter shots in the paint. He might have some trouble in the post, at only 205 lbs., but he’ll fill out in time. Overall, the Knicks would be lucky to have an all-star caliber starting three in Tatum and adding him to a front-court that boasts Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis sounds special.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6’10”, 209 lbs.

So I actually agree with Bleacher Report’s suggested pick for the Wolves. The Tom Thibodeau led Wolves aren’t exactly stopping anybody on defense, giving up 106.6 ppg (ranked 18th), and Isaac doesn’t necessarily beef up Minnesota’s front-line, but he does provide an imposing figure in the paint alongside Karl Anthony-Towns. The kid has a 7’0” wingspan and swatted nearly two shots a game during his one and only season for the Seminoles. As a stretch-four, Isaac, of course, needs to put on some weight, but his versatility as a perimeter player, who can create his own offense and shoot over nearly everyone, will help him score early on in his rookie season. On defense, Isaac will have problems holding his ground in the paint and boxing out, just due to weight alone. At seven, this is a great pick for the Wolves.

8. Sacramento Kings – Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6’8”, 207 lbs.

For some reason, Rudy Gay has had a hard time finding a permanent NBA home. Although he is back in Sac-town after the team traded him to the Toronto Raptors in 2013, I doubt he’s the long-term answer at the three for the Kings. As a veteran, he can provide leadership, guidance and serve as the bridge to the future and that could be Josh Jackson. He’s one of those prospects that the teams above could regret passing on due to his upside. Another two-way player, Jackson effects both ends of the floor pretty evenly. On offense, his jumpshot needs some tweaking but showed improvement later on in the season, shooting 39 percent on catch-and-shoot situations via draftexpress.com. He can push the ball up the court after grabbing defensive rebounds and finishing strong on the end of fast-breaks. He does a good job moving without the ball and is a consistent threat to finish alley-oops when his defender isn’t looking in a half-court offense. He isn’t afraid to bang downlow and throw his body around when driving to the rim. He invites contact. Defensively, he takes pride in defending other top players and can guard positions one through four. Jackson has good timing and anticipation in terms of interrupting the passing lanes and can cover ground easily with his quickness. He has trouble scoring off-the-dribble, which is noticeable in the video below, despite his success against Texas Tech. The Kings will get a competitor in Jackson.

9. Dallas Mavericks – Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7’0”, 230 lbs.

Dirk Nowitzki can’t play forever so drafting Lauri Markkanen here makes perfect sense. Markkanen is pretty much, Kristaps Porzingis 2.0 with more meat on his bones heading into the draft. No matter how many times I see it, it’s still fascinating how someone of Markkanen’s size can put the ball on the floor from the three-point line and drive into the teeth of the defense to score. That’s what Markkanen does. He can shoot the three-ball (42 percent) just like Porzingis and Nowitzki, so there are obvious pick-and-pop plays here that he can benefit from, and he has the size, maybe not the explosiveness to make things interesting at the rim, in challenging bigs. He needs to bulk up to handle the physicality at the NBA level and needs to get better at keeping guys in front of him, especially with all the great stretch-fours in the league today. According to sportsdaydallasnews.com, Markkanen recently went to watch the Mavs play when they visited the Phoenix Suns. He also got to talk to Nowitzki at some point. Looks like the Mavs have already made the pick.

10. Sacramento Kings – Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France), 6’5”, 196 lbs.

Darren Collison’s deal is up this summer and Ty Lawson was signed for just one year. The Kings need a point guard and Frank Ntilikina is the last elite point guard of the loaded crop that consumes the lottery. He’s long, has a wingspan of nearly sevenfeet, has great size for a point guard, and uses that size to see over the defense and find teammates. He’s not the next Tony Parker, but has a lot of Giannis Antetokounmpo in his game. And when you watch Antetokounmpo today, you see a fire in his eyes, an aggressiveness that just wasn’t there before. It’s what his coaches at SIG Strasbourg want to see more, of via nytimes.com, and at the next level he’s going to need that edge to compete. Ntilikina can cause havoc as an on-ball defender. He’s willing, has active hands, gets down in his stance and uses those hands as a shield to protect the crossover, while sliding his feet over to stay ahead of opposing point guards. When he is beaten, Ntilikina can cover a lot ground fast with his long strides and is threat for chase down blocks. Offensively, he needs to continue to develop his ball-handling as he has trouble getting by defenders at times but is an explosive athlete and an improving shooter.

11. Charlotte Hornets – Miles Bridges, Michigan State, 6’7”, 230 lbs.

No disrespect to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but Miles Bridges could give him a run for his money as a scorer. And I think that’s why the Hornets will select the offensive minded Bridges, in contrast to their defensive-minded starting small forward. There’s an aggressiveness that’s attached with Bridges’ game that I like. He rebounds the ball like he means it, uses his strength to go up strong and can shoot from outside fairly well. His toughness and assertiveness on offense translates to the other end of the court. At 6’6””, scouts aren’t sure if Bridges is a three or a four because of his height.His game resembles a four that can face-up, as opposed to that of a true shooting guard, according to draftexpress.com. Bridges needs to improve his shooting and needs to continue working on creating for himself off the dribble. He’s too small to be a four, so if he is going to be a starting caliber small forward he needs to master all that comes with being a premier perimeter player.

12. Detroit Pistons – Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6’11”, 224 lbs.

Probably one of the more slept on players in this draft that nobody has heard of. Allen has a nose for the ball and is always around the basket. His 7-foot-5 wingspan allows him to snatch rebounds out the air and aids him in finishing at the rim with hook shots and floaters. He can shoot the midrange jumper and has range out to the three-point line. Defensively, despite being lanky, Allen stands his ground and uses his length to block shots rather than jump and take fouls.

13. Denver Nuggets – Justin Patton, Creighton, 7’0”, 226 lbs.

Not a fan of Roy Hibbert at all. Mason Plumlee, althougha nice player, is playing out of position as a a center. Patton, on the other hand, is. He can shoot the three on occasion, but this is a back-to-the-basket center with a couple of low-post moves at his disposal. Patton will need to rebound the ball better than 6.2 per game, which is how many he averaged this past NCAA season and should average more blocks in the league with the traffic coming his way. He’s an imposing figure and could be a load to deal with in the paint because of his size. If he gets stronger and fills out, teams will hate playing Denver.

14. Miami Heat – Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6’9”, 223 lbs.

Time to show an Orangeman some love. Lydon is the kind of scorer that the Heat need in the front-court. He’s a stretch-four but he can mix it up down-low. He’s quick to the ball and doesn’t take too long to get his shot off in the post. He’s probably one of the better shooters in this draft as far as bigs are concerned and was Syracuse’s bread-and-butter last year. Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters need another threat on the perimeter and Lydon can bury treys in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Lydon’s presence will also help provide those driving lanes for Waiters, Dragic,Justise Winslow and so many others to penetrate and score.

Information and statistics courtesy of espn.com, bleacherreport.com, fanragsports.com, landof10.com, latimes.com, orlandomagicdaily.com, draftexpress.com, cbssports.com, youtube.com, nbadraft.net, sportsday.dallasnews.com, nytimes.com, and thesmokingcuban.com.

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