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How will everything shake out at Thursday night’s NBA draft in Brooklyn?
Here’s our mock draft for Round 1:
1. Magic: Jabari Smith, F, Auburn
I would take Duke’s Paolo Banchero here (more on that coming up), but I certainly see the appeal of Smith as a fluid, 6-foot-10 athlete with an elite jumper. He shot 42 percent from three-point range on 5.5 attempts per game and 79.9 percent from the free throw line as a freshman at Auburn. He has the athleticism, lateral quickness and length to become a dominant perimeter defender. Orlando has some solid pieces but needs a No. 1 offensive option. Smith’s jumper alone gives him the potential to score 20-plus points per game in the NBA early in his career.
2. Thunder: Chet Holmgren, PF/C, Gonzaga
I don’t think Holmgren will ever become a dominant scorer in the NBA, but I do think he’ll make winning plays all over the floor. I see him as Kristaps Porzingis with a much better motor, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He’s going to make trail threes and act as a playmaker from the high post, and he has the timing and instincts to protect the rim on the defensive end. His frail 7-foot, 195-pound frame is unique to say the least. I can see a world where he struggles to guard in space against NBA wing athletes and gets bullied in the post. But he’s competitive as hell and I think he’ll figure it out.
3. Rockets: Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
Banchero is the best offensive player in this draft. It speaks to how much the game has changed that he isn’t the slam dunk No. 1 pick. He’s 6-foot-10, 250 pounds and can create shots for himself and his teammates at will. Banchero isn’t a knock-down shooter like Smith, but he has a much better handle, is a better passer and has a stronger body to get to the rim. I think he’s a mix of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Webber on the offensive end. He’s going to need to commit himself defensively, but he’s got All-NBA talent. I can see him averaging 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in the NBA, and those guys don’t grow on trees.
4. Kings: Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
Whether the Kings keep this pick or trade it, I think Ivey’s going fourth. He has too much talent as an athletic freak who can get downhill to go any lower than this. He’s a 6-foot-4 jet who averaged 17.3 points last season and shot 35.8 percent from three-point range. He’ll make incredibly difficult step-back threes and throw down highlight-reel dunks. The Ja Morant comparisons aren’t fair because he’s not nearly the passer Morant was coming out of Murray State. But now that he’s freed from Purdue’s two-big lineups that clogged up the paint, Ivey’s ability to attack the rim can really shine. I don’t love the fit with the Kings alongside De’Aaron Fox, so I could see this pick available for a trade.
5. Pistons: Bennedict Mathurin, G, Arizona
I won’t be surprised if Detroit tries to trade up one spot to take Ivey, perhaps using guard Killian Hayes as a sweetener. I love the potential fit with Ivey alongside Cade Cunningham. But if Ivey is off the board for Detroit, Mathurin makes a lot of sense as a strong, 6-foot-6 shooting guard who averaged 17.7 points and shot 36.9 percent from three-point range as a sophomore at Arizona. Mathurin has some feistiness to his game and is an explosive athlete. He’d give Detroit some real punch on both ends of the floor.
6. Pacers: Keegan Murray, F, Iowa
Tyrese Haliburton is one of the best passers in the NBA and Murray would give the Pacers an excellent scoring forward to pair with their new lead guard. Murray exploded seemingly out of nowhere as a sophomore at Iowa, stepping into the offensive void left by Luka Garza to average 23.5 points with startling efficiency — 55.4 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from three-point range. He’s already 21 years old, but any concerns about his lack of ceiling can be mitigated by his ability to get his shot off at 6-foot-8 and his maturity on both ends of the floor. Murray is going to be a good pro for a long time.
7. Trail Blazers: Jeremy Sochan, F, Baylor
This is where the draft really opens up. I won’t be surprised if Portland uses this pick for a veteran who can offer more immediate help for Damian Lillard. But if the Blazers keep this pick, Sochan makes a ton of sense as a potentially dominant defender. Portland’s issue for years has been its inability to get stops, and the 6-foot-9 Sochan has the quickness, length, and motor to become an All-NBA defender within a few years.
8. Pelicans: Shaedon Sharpe, G, Kentucky (kind of)
With a roster loaded with talent, the Pelicans are in the perfect position to take a big swing. Sharpe sat out his freshman season at Kentucky, but his potential as an athletic, sweet-shooting, 6-foot-5 guard makes sense for New Orleans. He can develop while Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum shoulder the offensive load. If he becomes an elite NBA marksman, the catch-and-shoot opportunities will be endless in New Orleans.
9. Spurs: Johnny Davis, G, Wisconsin
The Spurs could use another offensive threat to pair with Dejounte Murray and Davis has shades of DeMar DeRozan as a mid-range scorer. Like Murray, Davis exploded as a sophomore in the Big Ten, averaging 19.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. His shooting percentages weren’t great — 42.7 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from three-point range — but he was asked to carry a tremendous load for the Badgers. Davis plays with intensity on both ends of the floor and could form a dynamic two-way backcourt with Murray.
10. Wizards: Dyson Daniels, G, G League Ignite
It appears Bradley Beal is staying in D.C. and the 6-foot-7 Daniels makes a ton of sense as his backcourt running mate. The 19-year-old Australian stuffed the stat sheet in his first season in the G League, averaging around 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. Daniels projects as a pass-first playmaker and defensive stopper, two things the Wizards desperately need.
11. Knicks: Jalen Duren, C, Memphis
Mitchell Robinson doesn’t seem like the long-term answer at center for the Knicks. Duren gives New York one of the best athletes in the draft at any position, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound man-child who can protect the rim on defense and throw down lobs on the offensive end.
12. Thunder: AJ Griffin, F, Duke
Oklahoma City needs shooting, and the 6-foot-6 Griffin may be the best wing shooter in the draft, making 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. There’s a school of thought that Griffin may have untapped offensive potential, since his role at Duke was largely to stand in the corner while Banchero, Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach initiated the offense. Griffin has a strong NBA body, but he’s missing the “D” part of “3-and-D” right now and has to improve on that end of the floor. He’s had knee and ankle injuries already, which could scare some teams away.
13. Hornets: Mark Williams, C, Duke
Williams has a ton of potential and looks ready to step in right away as an NBA rim protector. He was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, using his insane 7-6.5 wingspan to block 2.8 shots per game. He’ll also be sensational catching lobs from LaMelo Ball and will finish everything around the rim; he shot 72.1 percent from the floor last year. Williams isn’t going to be a primary offensive option, but he doesn’t need to be to make an impact for Charlotte.
14. Cavaliers: Malaki Branham, G, Ohio State
Collin Sexton’s future in Cleveland is uncertain and the Cavaliers could use another perimeter scorer to pair with Darius Garland. Enter the 6-foot-5 Branham, who shot 49.8 percent from the floor and 41.6 percent from three-point range as a freshman for the Buckeyes. He’s a potential three-level scorer who could give the Cavs some punch off the bench as he learns the NBA game.
15. Hornets: Nikola Jovic, F, Serbia
The Hornets may not have room for two rookies, considering neither of their first-round picks from last season (James Bouknight and Kai Jones) were able to break into the rotation. Jovic, a 6-foot-11 point forward with tantalizing offensive skills, makes sense as a draft-and-stash prospect. The Hornets can let him develop overseas and see how his game grows over the next couple of years.
16. Hawks: Ousmane Dieng, F, New Zealand Breakers
I won’t be surprised if Dieng goes several spots higher than this, but Atlanta could be a nice landing spot as the Hawks look to reshuffle the deck around Trae Young. The 6-foot-10 forward from France is going to need some seasoning, but his potential as a two-way wing could allow the Hawks to move on from John Collins.
17. Rockets: Tari Eason, F, LSU
The 6-foot-8 Eason can bring some much-needed defense to go with the offensive trio of Banchero, Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun. Eason averaged 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in only 24.4 minutes per game as a sophomore at LSU, using his quickness and 7-foot-2 wingspan to get into passing lanes and create turnovers. Offensively, Eason has a knack for bullying his way into the paint and getting to the free throw line. He’s also a sensational athlete in transition.
18. Bulls: Ochai Agbaji, F, Kansas
Agbaji improved in each of his four years of college, leaving Kansas as a national champion and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He’s a tailor-made 3-and-D wing at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. Agbaji became a deadly, high-volume three-point shooter, making 40.7 percent of his 6.5 attempts per game as a senior. He’s not a shot creator, but he’ll make winning plays on both ends of the floor.
19. Timberwolves: Jalen Williams, F, Santa Clara
Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt, both defense-first players, got a ton of playing time in Minnesota last season. Williams could give the Timberwolves some more offensive punch from the wing. He’s a smooth scorer and playmaker who developed from an unheralded high school recruit into a star in the West Coast Conference. The 6-foot-6 Williams averaged 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range last season.
20. Spurs: EJ Liddell, F, Ohio State
The Spurs need help in the frontcourt and Liddell makes sense as a cerebral, 6-foot-7 power forward who can bring toughness, rebounding and shot-making. He’s not going to score effectively in the post like he did in college, but Liddell is now comfortable spacing the floor, shooting 37.4 percent from three in his junior season. The Grant Williams comparisons make a lot of sense.
21. Nuggets: Dalen Terry, G, Arizona
The Nuggets have a lot of offensive weapons. What they don’t have is much perimeter defense. Terry can change that in a hurry as a 6-foot-7 quick-twitch athlete who should be able to guard one through three in the NBA. He’s not much of a scorer yet, but he’s an excellent playmaker. He’s going to be a glue guy early in his career with clear starting point guard potential down the road.
22. Grizzlies: Jaden Hardy, G, G League Ignite
Memphis has another first-round pick coming up at No. 29, so the Grizzlies can afford to take the gamble here. Hardy was a consensus top-five high school recruit, but his flaws were magnified playing in the G League. He was an inefficient scorer, shooting just 37.9 percent from the floor (not the three-point line) on his way to 19.8 points per game. But at 6-foot-4 with undeniable shot creation skills, Hardy could provide Memphis with instant offense off the bench. It might take a while, though.
23. Sixers: Christian Braun, F, Kansas
I don’t think there’s better than a 10 percent chance that the Sixers actually keep this pick, so they’re likely drafting for someone else on Thursday night. In the unlikely event that the team keeps No. 23, Braun makes a ton of sense as a 3-and-D wing who would give the Sixers some much-needed athleticism and nastiness at small forward. Braun was a major reason the Jayhawks won the national title over North Carolina, crashing the glass for 12 rebounds and locking up UNC star guard Caleb Love in the second half. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range as a junior and has no shortage of swag. Sixers fans would love him and opposing fans would hate him.
24. Bucks: TyTy Washington Jr., G, Kentucky
Milwaukee needs to develop a backup to Jrue Holiday, who seemingly had to play nearly every minute in the playoffs for the Bucks to survive. Washington is a big point guard at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds and played better on the ball than off it at Kentucky. If he had been allowed to play a pure point guard role last season, he may have gone in the lottery. He’s not the fastest guy, but he uses his strength and frame to get to his spots. He actually reminds me of a young Holiday in a lot of ways, so he’s got a perfect guy to learn from at the NBA level.
25. Spurs: Gabriele Procida, F, Italy
It wouldn’t feel right to have the Spurs make three picks and not take at least one international guy. Procida is an intriguing wing scorer, a big-time vertical athlete at 6-foot-7. The Spurs can continue letting him develop overseas and hope that they have a diamond in the rough when he’s ready to come over.
26. Rockets: Blake Wesley, G, Notre Dame
Houston could be getting a steal here because Wesley can really score. At 6-foot-4, he looks like a slightly bigger version of Tyrese Maxey, who Wesley has said is someone he patterns his game after. Like Maxey, Wesley has a lightning-quick first step and can finish from seemingly impossible angles. He didn’t shoot well at Notre Dame (40.4 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three), but he was carrying a heavy offensive load on a team that needed him to get buckets. If he proves to be even an average NBA shooter, his driving ability is going to make him a legitimate offensive weapon.
27. Heat: Kendall Brown, F, Baylor
Miami could use more athleticism on the wing and Brown is on the short list of best athletes in this draft. He’s solidly built at 6-foot-8 and an impressive mover both vertically and laterally. If you only watched him in transition, you’d think he was a top-five pick. He’s breathtaking and doesn’t lack skill, showing off Euro steps to beat the last line of defense. The issue is that his feel for the game is completely lacking and he doesn’t offer much of anything in terms of half-court shot creation. But I could see him thriving within a couple of years in Miami’s system as a dogged perimeter defender and energy guy. You can’t teach the athletic ability.
28. Warriors: Jake LaRavia, F, Wake Forest
What do you get the team that has everything? The Warriors have a big-time scorer off the bench in Jordan Poole and an incredible athlete in Jonathan Kuminga. They don’t have anyone quite like the 6-foot-8 LaRavia, who is a skilled connector and glue guy and showed off the tools to be a switchable defender this season at Wake Forest. He reminds me of Memphis’ Kyle Anderson, who plays at his own pace and has an excellent feel for the game.
29. Grizzlies: Andrew Nembhard, G, Gonzaga
Memphis may lose backup point guard Tyus Jones in free agency and Nembhard could fit right in as his potential replacement. He’s bigger than Jones at 6-foot-4 and is a rock-steady floor general. Nembhard isn’t flash, but he won’t make a ton of mistakes with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 3-to-1 last season at Gonzaga. He shot 38.3 percent from three-point range and 87.3 percent from the three-point line, two things you love to see from a point guard.
30. Nuggets: Walker Kessler, C, Auburn
DeMarcus Cousins isn’t the long-term answer for Denver to back up Nikola Jokic. Kessler gives the Nuggets some much-needed rim protection if he’s able to move well enough to stay on the floor in the NBA. I’m not sure which way it will go, but the 7-foot-1 Kessler has undeniably special instincts as a shot blocker, swatting 4.6 shots per game last season at Auburn.