We are 50 days away from the NBA Draft, so why not do my first mock draft?
Will not entertain trades in this mock draft, even though I do believe the Warriors and Timberwolves will heavily shop the top two overall picks. We are most concerned with the Knicks so I’ll give you my best guess for the top eight picks.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Lamelo Ball
This would annoy the Warriors, who I think would take Ball at number two due to his ability to pass the ball, his switchable size on defense, and his ability to push the ball to ignite the fast break. Does Ball fit with D’Angelo Russell? No. But neither does Anthony Edwards (struggles too much defensively) nor James Wiseman (plays the same position as Karl-Anthony Towns).
I would imagine the Timberwolves will go with the tried and true principle of “when in doubt, pick the best player.” Ball plays a premium position and has elite skills few other players in the class have. Even if Ball doesn’t work as a companion to Russell and Towns, they can trade him later for a piece that does.
2. Golden State Warriors: Deni Avdija
The Warriors would love to trade down to somewhere between fourth and ninth overall to pick one of several players that could immediately compliment their stars. Tyrese Haliburton would be a great off-ball shooter, ball-mover, and defender; Onyeka Okongwu could be a rim protector, rebounder, and finisher inside that opponents have to respect; Devin Vassell would be a great three-point shooter and defender; and Isaac Okoro could help as a defender, cutter, and shot creator.
At No. 2? James Wiseman seems like a logical pick, but I wonder if the Warriors might worry about his mobility and ability to fit into their offensive and defensive schemes. Likewise, Anthony Edwards and his shoot-first, think-later style doesn’t seem to have the intangibles and play style that fit the Warriors.
So, why not Deni Avdija? He is a high-level passer and has flashed shooting ability, despite his poor career free throw percentage. He would fit in as a complimentary piece into the Warriors offense perfectly. He would struggle guarding athletic NBA wings one-on-one, but he is a strong team defender. He is a ball-mover that would fit perfectly in the Warriors culture.
3. Charlotte Hornets: Anthony Edwards
I can’t imagine Michael Jordan will pass on a wing with the scoring ability and athleticism of Edwards to pick someone like James Wiseman.
Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier can’t be a team’s top offensive options if they want to win a lot of games. Edwards seems like an obvious pick to me.
4. Chicago Bulls: Killian Hayes
The Bulls have a lot of options here. They have a new head coach in Billy Donovan and a new general manager in Arturas Karnisovas. If they believe Wendell Carter is a center, it doesn’t make much sense to draft James Wiseman. Zach LaVine is an extremely productive wing, and Lauri Markkanen has underachieved but is a talented stretch four, but the Bulls do lack a point guard.
But, do they see Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton as answers at that position? I bet they do and take the player with the highest upside: Killian Hayes.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: James Wiseman
The Cavaliers already have three young and talented guards in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr. Obi Toppin could be an option here, but with James Wiseman on the board, I can’t see the Cavaliers passing him up.
6. Atlanta Hawks: Onyeka Okongwu
With players like Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and Cam Reddish, the Hawks have plenty of talented guards and wings that can put the ball in the basket. They have high hopes for John Collins and Clint Capela as big men that they hope can be impact players, but they still need help in the front court.
They have two choices: they could draft Obi Toppin if they want to add some scoring punch, or they could go with Onyeka Okongwu if they want more a traditional interior rim-protecting big man. Given the Hawks’ struggles on defense last year, they will probably go with Okongwu.
7. Detroit Pistons: Tyrese Haliburton
The Pistons need a guard that can run an offense, and they will jump at the opportunity to add Tyrese Haliburton, the last top-tier point guard left on the board. Isaac Okoro is also an option here.
8. New York Knicks
This isn’t quite the worst case scenario for the Knicks. If Isaac Okoro and/or Devin Vassell were taken instead of James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu, the Knicks front office (and fans) would be breaking out the hard liquor. As I wrote about previously, the Knicks should avoid drafting a big man.
Okoro and Vassell would be the obvious choices here. Both players are good defenders, and while Vassell is the better shooter and team defender, Okoro is a better finisher and playmaker. Obi Toppin might be the most polished scorer in the draft, but his lack of defense should be disqualifying.
Some sleeper choices here could be Vanderbilt shooter Aaron Nesmith, Florida State wing Patrick Williams, Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, or North Carolina guard Cole Anthony. The Knicks should also investigate a potential trade down in this scenario, which could allow them to acquire another asset and a player in one of the lower tiers of the class.
Deciding between Okoro and Vassell won’t be easy. Both players have skillsets that can improve the Knicks. The big question for Okoro is whether he can develop a jump shot, which right now is virtually non-existent. For Vassell, his jump shot and defensive prowess on and off the ball gives him a very high NBA floor, but how much room for growth is there?
Vassell is the safer player, and he would be my pick, but I think the Knicks go for the player with slightly better physical tools and select Isaac Okoro out of Auburn.
Follow John Schmeelk on Twitter: @Schmeelk