It’s unfortunate to say this – but the NBA appears to be much more interesting now that the Golden State dynasty seems to have hit a wall with injuries and the potential departures of the injured Kevin Durant and possibly Klay Thompson. While the top three picks appear rather set in stone, I expect some trade activity starting at #4 in my mock NBA Draft Lottery:
1. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Zion Williamson (PF, Duke)
A slam dunk for the Pelicans franchise which, assuming new GM David Griffin manages it correctly, should be a prime Western Conference contender within 3 years. Zion projects as an All-Star talent and potential top-10 player in the league in several years IF he can remain healthy.
2. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Ja Morant (PG, Murray State)
I like Morant a lot and all…but I would’ve seriously considered R.J. Barrett here if I were the Grizz. Morant had Dame Lillard-level upside also coming from a small school…but Barrett also has superstar written all over him at the next level. Morant to Memphis is essentially a lock though which means Mike Conley’s long tenure with the team will likely be over (and a trade to Utah is likely happening soon).
(WEDNESDAY AM UPDATE: Conley to Utah is official…nice move for both sides).
3. NEW YORK KNICKS: R.J. Barrett (SF, Duke)
As mentioned about, Barrett has superstar written all over him…and will make the Knicks infinitely more exciting this coming season. Why is New York flirting with Darius Garland when they’re already full of guards and need a pure scorer like Barrett?
4. CHICAGO BULLS (projected trade with New Orleans via LA Lakers): Darius Garland (PG, Vanderbilt)
To make this move up three spots, the Bulls also give New Orleans their unprotected 1st rounder next season – another coup for David Griffin. Chicago has a promising young core and needs a true PG to add to the mix. Garland played only five games in college but the upside is there. It’s a deal that would make sense for both sides.
5. ATLANTA HAWKS (projected trade with Cleveland): De’Andre Hunter (SF, Virginia)
The Hawks swap picks 8 & 10 to the Cavs in order to take Hunter, the star of this year’s National Champions. Atlanta is the only team Hunter has worked out for so this seems like a match made in basketball heaven.
6. PHOENIX SUNS: Coby White (PG, North Carolina)
White has the potential to be a dynamic point guard in the NBA…but not right away. Look for the Suns to sign a veteran to start over the 19 year old who is only one year removed from high school. I love the pick though – not that it fully makes up for taking Josh Jackson over De’Aaron Fox two years ago…but White has a Fox-like potential to me (just not right away).
7. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (projected trade with Chicago): Jarrett Culver (SG, Texas Tech)
The Pelicans move down, pick up an extra 1st round pick, and take the player they coveted at #4…talk about a dream scenario for New Orleans. Culver should go ahead of Hunter as both are similar players though most NBA draftniks believe Culver possesses the bigger upside.
8. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (projected trade with Atlanta): Cam Reddish (SF, Duke)
With the first of their two top-10 picks via the projected trade with Atlanta, the Cavs take a high upside wing who needs more seasoning but has the potential to become a future All-Star if all goes according to plan.
9. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Sekou Doumbouya (PF, Guinea)
Honestly I’ve never even seen tape of this guy but apparently he’s extremely raw with a ton of potential for the rebuilding Wizards and their lackluster frontcourt.
10. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (projected trade with Atlanta via Dallas): Nassir Little (SF, North Carolina)
The Cavs take another wing player from a North Carolina school two picks after taking Reddish. Under this scenario, new coach John Beilein adds another raw talent whose shooting touch has impressed during pre-draft workouts.
11. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Brandon Clarke (PF, Gonzaga)
By drafting the 23 year old Clarke, Minnesota gets an NBA-ready forward who will step in as a solid role player in his rookie season.
12. CHARLOTTE HORNETS: Jaxson Hayes (C, Texas)
Charlotte grabs the very raw Texas center who needs at least a year or two of seasoning before playing a substantial role. Ironically the Hornets have a dearth of big men who are free agents after next season…
13. MIAMI HEAT: Rui Hachimura (PF, Gonzaga)
The Heat are in the midst of salary cap hell and while they desperately need a wing, seeing the very talented Hachimura fall to them is a bit of a gift. The former Gonzaga star blossomed last season and has proven to be a dynamic athlete on the floor.
14. BOSTON CELTICS (from Sacramento via Philadelphia): Tyler Herro (SG, Kentucky)
The Celtics had a lot higher aspirations for this pick (i.e. top 5) before Sacramento was actually halfway decent this past season. I believe they’ll draft at least one wing player with their first two picks and the 19 year old Herro is one of the better shooters I saw in college basketball last season. He very well might be a 3 point contest champ within a few seasons.
Looking at the Suns other pick, #32, if they could end up with ASU’s Lu Dort, I think it would be an absolute home run for a team who needs some Devin Booker insurance. I have my doubts as to whether he’ll slip to the second round…but Suns GM James Jones shouldn’t pass on the ASU freshman if he drops that far.