The NBA Playoffs are in full swing, and for fans of teams on the outside looking in, their big night comes May 20th when NBA Lottery is held.
As the regular season began, Andrew Wiggins was seen as the clear cut first pick in this historically deep and strong draft, but his Kansas teammate Joel Embiid broke out and established himself as a viable option to teams drafting first overall that prefer a big. With the news of Embiid’s back injury, Wiggins has returned as the frontrunner to be the first overall pick but is not the shoo-in he was before.
This draft is unique in several ways.
There is a a top tier of elite prospects including Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Embiid. The next tier is deep as well with at least five prospects that could have been the top pick a year ago (sorry Cavs fans) including Julius Randle and Dante Exum.
After these top two tiers, there are plenty of great options for the late lottery and into the teens. Come draft night there should be a fair amount of wheeling and dealing.
We will update this Mock after the lottery results are known.
1. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas, 6’8″, 200 lbs
Wiggins is the safest bet to be the first pick. While Wiggins is still improving as a shooter and might not be dominant force some thought he would be a freshman, he is a great defender that will be very good in transition and finishing at the rim. According to several teams, they view Wiggins as the prospect with the most upside.
2. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke, 6’8″, 235 lbs
One scout I spoke to calls Parker one of the most polished elite prospects to enter the draft in years. While Parker is not the athlete that Wiggins is he has shown his scoring prowess and his game will translate to an immediate impact as a rookie. Parker is able to run an offense or play off the ball.
3. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas, 7’0″, 250 lbs
At the midway point of the season, Embiid seemed like the top NBA prospect as he was showing an impressive arsenal including the ability to face up and shoot from deep. What most scouts love about Embiid is how raw he still is having only been playing a few years. Before the draft teams will pay close attention to Embiid’s medical reports as his back issues have raised some red flags.
4. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, 6’9″, 250 lbs
Before Embiid supplanted Randle as the top big in the draft, scouts and executives around the league raved about Randle’s combination of size and athleticism. After an impressive freshman campaign highlighted by the Wildcats’ run in March, Randle is right on the cusp of the top-3. While Randle’s biggest wart is ball protection, that can be easily fixed, and its hard to imagine a team passing on him.
5. Dante Exum, PG, Australia, 6’6″, 185 lbs
Exum is the top international prospect in the draft. Any team looking for help at point guard surely will be intrigued by Exum’s size, athleticism, and basketball IQ. While he has not played against top competition, the pre-draft workouts could help push Exum even higher. Currently Exum is the top PG prospect in the draft and at 18 has plenty of upside.
6. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State, 6’4″, 220 lbs
One year ago Smart might have been the top pick in the draft but opted to return for a disappointing sophomore year, highlighted by on embarrassing on the court incident in the middle of the game. While most scouts I have spoken to said its a teachable moment for a young man, there will be some who might have reservations about Smart’s maturity. As a basketball player Smart is physical, athletic, and a competitor.
7. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona, 6’8″, 215 lbs
Looking at Gordon, it’s hard not to get excited about his potential as he is an athletic and explosive forward. From a size standpoint he is undersized for the 4, but as teams start to open up offensively they can create mismatches with Gordon’s athleticism. Gordon reminds me a lot of Blake Griffin, and I can see some team in the top-8 falling in love with his highlight reel dunks.
8. Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana, 6’10”, 240 lbs
Only 19 and blessed with excellent size and good athleticism, Vonleh rounds out the second tier of prospects after the top-3. Still raw offensively Vonleh has shown flashes of being able to face up and have an offense run through him. However, Vonleh’s immediate future in the NBA is on the bench and D-League as he develops and matures. Still will be hard to pass up for many teams.