Brett Brown extended a fist after the Lakers were called for the second pick last Tuesday night, a selection that assured the Philadelphia 76ers would claim the top overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft.
After three years of failure defined by a total of 199 losses and the second-worst record in NBA history this season of 10-72, earning the No. 1 pick was the most rewarding wish the coach could hope for while under the bright lights of the lottery stage in New York City.
With the NBA-favorite Colangelo regime in town, the luck changed for the Sixers, who won themselves a choice between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram in one of the NBA’s weirdest and most fun evenings.
The draft order came up chalk, with the Sixers finally receiving the lottery win that eluded them during the Sam Hinkie era. The Los Angeles Lakers also kept their pick, avoiding the potential disaster of two teams jumping them in the lottery, a scenario with a probability just under 45 percent, in which case they would’ve had to sacrifice their No. 4 pick to Philadelphia.
Despite the lack of excitement on lottery night, knowing the fixed order allows us to start putting together a more accurate mock draft. I’ll give a choice of 1A or 1B — a worst-case pick scenario and a possible trade for each team in the top three — along with a normal mock for the rest of the lottery.
1) Philadelphia 76ers
1A: Ben Simmons
The Sixers have to be keyed in on Ben Simmons in the pre-draft process. While Ingram won’t be a disaster pick, Simmons is the exact type of player they’ve been looking for during this entire process. Whether or not he reaches his ceiling, that ceiling is a perennial all-star, and there’s no reason to pass that up because of a season with mixed results at LSU.
The Simmons-Embiid pick and roll is the Sixers’ best shot at having a truly un-guardable play in their arsenal, and Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric are not of the ilk to throw that away. Finding a team to take those two in return for established role players would be an easy feat, with the Celtics being a team that was already rumored to have interest in Okafor during the trade deadline.
Simmons would force the Sixers to clear out an overcrowded front court, but Bryan Colangelo seems intent on roster change anyway, making Simmons an even clearer choice.
1B: Brandon Ingram
If they get cold feet, Ingram won’t be an atrocious pick, as he will allow the team to stay together. If Saric turns out to be an immediate threat on offense and he and Ingram rain threes around further-along-than-we-thought Embiid and Okafor post-ups all season, then this pick doesn’t look half bad.
Ingram would most likely start at shooting guard alongside Embiid, Saric and Robert Covington in a lineup that has to look promising to Sixers fans with three potential Rookie of the Year candidates.
Considering that Simmons may force his way to Los Angeles — an unlikely but imaginable scenario — Ingram is a decent plan B for the Sixers.
Worst Case: Kris Dunn
While Dunn is a solid player and point guard is a position of need for the Sixers, he is certainly not worth the top pick. They could trade back with a team like the Celtics, Suns or even the Timberwolves depending on what they were looking for in return, but with such a perceived gap between Simmons, Ingram and the rest of the draft, this seems unlikely.
Separated into two groups: trading down in the draft and trading for a star.
Trading down: (Celtics) Sixers get pick No. 3, pick No. 16, pick No. 23, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Celtics get pick No. 1; (Suns) Sixers get pick No. 4, pick No. 13, Devin Booker, PJ Tucker and Suns get pick No. 1; (Timberwolves) Sixers get pick No. 5, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine.
Each of these trades gives the Sixers a credible way to build their backcourt while still maintaining a value based approach and getting a good deal of bang for their buck. My favorite deal would probably be some form of the one with the Suns, as Booker and Dunn could combine for a really skilled backcourt and Tucker would provide a veteran who could actually contribute to this Philadelphia team.
Trading for a star: Sixers get Paul George and Pacers get pick No. 1, Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel; Sixers get Jimmy Butler and Bulls get pick No. 1, Nerlens Noel and Jerami Grant.
These are the two names (George and Butler) that have been thrown out a lot since the end of the season, and both fit huge holes in both the Sixers roster and [[the]] rebuilding project. If the Pacers or Bulls were to agree to a version of these offers, probably excluding only Joel Embiid, the Sixers should be quick to accept.
2) Los Angeles Lakers:
1A: Ben Simmons
The Sixers taking Ingram is still the best case scenario for the Lakers, who desperately need another source of efficient offense to pair with D’Angelo Russell. Simmons would be a bit of an awkward fit while Russell has the ball in his hands, but two players with that kind of passing ability on the same team causes the heart to flutter.
Luke Walton would have his centerpieces of the future, and though it might not be enough to save Jim Buss’ job, drafting Ben Simmons would bring stability back to “Lakernation.”
1B: Brandon Ingram
If the Sixers make the correct pick, the Lakers are left with another easy choice as they’ll snatch up Ingram and allow Randle to stay in the starting lineup. While Randle is certainly worthy of a bench role with Simmons on the team, him running pick and roll with Russell, surrounded by capable shooters in Ingram and Clarkson, is the beginning of a productive offense.
Ingram may well be better than Simmons if he hits all his ceilings, and he is a year younger than the Australian native, but the likelihood that he reaches his peak seems less compared the young man who came close to averaging 20, 10 and five in his freshman season in college, albeit on a sorry LSU team.
In the long term, an Ingram and Russell duo may even be able to play with one another in the backcourt in a super tall lineup that could baffle defenses with skill and size. Ingram’s ability to play three different positions will drastically help the Lakers embrace contemporary NBA basketball.
Worst Case: Buddy Hield
The Lakers maybe become enamored with the college stardom of Buddy Hield, either one of the obvious picks really disappoints pre-draft and the Lakers pass on a star to draft a guy who doesn’t fit with either Clarkson or Russell. However, this scenario is unlikely as scouts have had Ingram and Simmons pegged as the one and two picks for months.
Potential trades: D’Angelo Russell and pick No. 2 for either Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Demarcus Cousins or James Harden. While the Pacers, Bulls, Kings and Rockets will probably choose to keep their developed stars, if any team shows interest in a deal, the Lakers should jump at the opportunity and hope they can use it to entice Kevin Durant or another top-line free agent.
3) Boston Celtics:
1A: Dragan Bender
Bender is a solid consolation prize for Boston, fitting the mold of a rangy, shot-blocking four who appears fully equipped to one day have a potent offensive game. While young and undeveloped, according to RealGM.com, Bender shot over 36 percent on 1.92 three pointers per game, solid numbers considering he played only 12 minutes per contest with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2015-16 season of international competition.
His steal and block percentages sit at 2.17 and 6.17, respectively, for the same international competition this year via RealGm.com, numbers that would place him toward the top of the league for a big man in both categories according to Basketballreference.com. Bender is also a good athlete and should be able to play the three through five positions in time, which could be important to the mobile defense the Celtics are trying to construct.
If Bender shows the ability to combine what could be an unsolvable offensive game with adaptable defense, his ceiling becomes much higher. Brad Stevens is the perfect coach to develop the seven-footer’s unique game, and Bender would finally give Boston a prospect with star-level ceiling.
Assuming he’s there at three and there’s no trade offer from the teams mentioned in the Lakers section, Danny Ainge would be a fool to pass on such a perfect talent for the innovative team he’s creating.
1B: Marquese Chriss
The Celtics don’t have a great second option here, as guards are what this draft has to offer despite the fact that Boston has a roster full of them. Kris Dunn is probably the third or fourth best player in this draft, but Dunn’s talent isn’t daunting enough to blow up one of the cheapest and deepest backcourts in the NBA.
Jamal Murray can shoot the heck out of the ball, but his other NBA level skills are lacking to say the least, making his ceiling far too low for the No. 3 pick. Though Buddy Hield showed a well-developed game in his senior year, his measurables weren’t impressive enough to allow him to play comfortably at the three in small ball lineups, something else that would clog up the C’s backcourt.
Thus, if the Celtics are going to pass on Bender, they should do it for the player with nearly the most potential in this draft, Marquese Chriss. No player in this draft — not Ben Simmons, not Brandon Ingram, nobody — will blow your mind on certain plays like Marquese Chriss. His jumping ability, speed and nose for the ball give him the potential to be a real force in the NBA.
Brad Stevens would be a great coach to bring Chriss along slowly, and his potential shot blocking and controlled aggression fits seamlessly with Smart, Bradley and Crowder in a swarming Boston defensive unit. The Celtics are in no need of quality role players; they have a team filled top to bottom with guys who could easily find a spot on every NBA rotation. The Celtics are in need of true transformational talents, making Chriss an easy pick over the likes of Murray and Hield.
Worst case: trading the pick for a non-star
The worst case for the Celtics is Ainge getting antsy and trading away the pick because he doesn’t want to develop a raw player like Bender or Chriss. While Celtics fans certainly want to be in contention soon, there are nearly zero options better than choosing either one of the young swings in Bender or Chriss.
Jahlil Okafor’s name has been bandied about as a trade target with the No. 3 pick, and though his playmaking and ability to put the ball in the bucket would fit nicely with the Celtics, Bender and Chriss each offer a much more reliable path in the years to come. Stevens loves players who can toggle between the wing and big man positions, and at the three spot in the draft he should have his choice between two superior options.
Trade options: Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors in a “who says no” offer.
Bender and Chriss certainly hold the talent to be better than those two, but the uncertainty they get there is substantial. Hayward and Favors immediately make the Celtics more serious in the East and up Boston’s free-agent profile considerably.
4) Phoenix Suns: Marquese Chriss
They will be hoping Dragan Bender falls to them, and it wouldn’t be a surprising outcome to see the Suns attempt to trade up with the Celtics. There is a huge hole at the four and on the wing in Phoenix, making Jaylen Brown an option as a project pick and Chriss a sneaky candidate once again.
Assuming Bender goes third, the Suns should go with Chriss, as he could potentially offer a more athletic option next to the plodding Alex Len in a future frontcourt. If Bledsoe is able to step up his defensive consistency and Len can develop better verticality at the rim, Chriss could be the defensive star that can mask Brandon Knight and Devin Booker on the wing.
5) Minnesota Timberwolves: Buddy Hield
Hield is the perfect fit for the Timberwolves, and it would be a dream for Minnesota fans if he were to fall to them at the No. 5 pick. With Rubio still the point guard of the future, accumulating shooting should be the priority for the Wolves around him and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Hield and Murray are the two best shooters in the draft and will present Tom Thibodeau with a difficult decision as Murray could develop into a secondary ball handler, allowing the mercurial UCLA product Zach LeVine to stay at his natural two-guard position in the long term.
Thibodeau will be interested in moving this developing team along, and Hield offers the best chance to solidify the shooting guard position for Minnesota, and, along with progress from Tyus Jones, the entire backcourt.
6) New Orleans Pelicans: Jamal Murray
An ideal course of events for the Pelicans, with Murray they grab their Eric Gordon replacement as well as an insurance plan for Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans are still in desperate need of bigs to play with Anthony Davis, but unless Bender or Chriss fall to them, there aren’t many viable options at six.
Murray would provide a nice offensive option for Alvin Gentry, and his young age finally gives the Pelicans another lottery ticket after doing their best to rid themselves of all the ones they had at the start of the Anthony Davis era. Jaylen Brown could also be an interesting option for similar home-run potential reasons, though their need for shooting will outweigh the need for wing depth. Kris Dunn might be the best pick if Holiday is going to leave in a season, but the desire to win now will eschew the Pelicans from drafting the Providence star.
7) Denver Nuggets: Jaylen Brown
On a team filled with promising young players, Denver can afford to roll the dice on the raw Cal product Jaylen Brown to be its wing of the future. While his and Mudiay’s shooting might be untenable together on the court, the thought of those two cloaking the perimeter defensively has to strike fear into the minds of GMs around the league.
Kris Dunn is still the best player on the board, but the Nuggets have Mudiay and creating a logjam at the point doesn’t seem to be in their best interest. Henry Ellenson could fit nicely next to Nikola Jokic and Jusef Nurkic, but more athleticism is probably warranted in an ideal four-five pairing.
8) Sacramento Kings: Kris Dunn
Another best-case scenario — this time for the Kings — Kris Dunn is an exquisite replacement for Rajon Rondo and would hopefully save Sacramento from doling out a big contract to the assist gorger. Dunn would finally give the Kings a young and talented option at point guard, and his consistent defense will be a welcomed addition for new coach Dave Joerger.
Dunn has the ability to compete from day one and should pair perfectly with Cousins for a revamped Kings season in the new arena. Vlade Divac should have his heart set on the Providence talent with any player mock-drafted above him being a solid consolation prize.
9) Toronto Raptors: Denzel Valentine
With most of the big potential guys off the board (Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender), the Raptors should go with a player who can solve many of the issues that are causing them to crater against Cleveland.
Valentine was a solid three-point shooter in his final two collegiate seasons, with a free throw percentage above 80 percent via Sports-reference.com, suggesting that he’ll be able to continue that production in the NBA. Valentine is also a suburb passer, providing a cure for the Raptors’ inability to move the ball on offense. He gives them some DeMar DeRozan insurance as far as ball-handling, and even if they bring back the USC alumni, Valentine could still perform immediately in a role off the bench.
10) Milwaukee Bucks: Deyonta Davis
The Bucks are in need of a center to play with their young guns on the wing, and so far Greg Monroe has not fit the part. Davis’ ability to protect the rim and potential to be a solid rim runner make this a good value pick for the Bucks. He’s still young enough to have dominant upside, and his defensive potential is what the Bucks need next to Jabari Parker who may possibly be a terrible defender his entire career.
Though Jakob Poeltl might be the better player in a vacuum, Davis’ athleticism makes him a better fit for the switching of the Bucks run on defense. If his jumper continues to develop, he could even play some spot minutes alongside Greg Monroe, covering up the big man’s defensive weaknesses.
11) Orlando Magic: Skal Labissiere
Labissiere gives the Magic another shot at blue-chip talent, and if he were to pan out, he is a perfect fit next to either Aaron Gordon or Nikola Vucevic. His shooting would open the floor for both big men, and his potential shot blocking would cover up for Vucevic’s defensive failures.
The Magic hope to do well in free agency, and with Frank Vogel’s impact on a young, improving roster they should be back in the playoffs next season. The Magic have a great young core two to four players deep, ergo they can aim high for a guy who many had ranked as the presumptive No. 1 pick going into the college season.
12) Utah Jazz: Wayne Baldwin IV
An impressive ball handler who plays with energy, Baldwin was one of the most prolific overall college players statistically in 2015-16 according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com. Baldwin gives the Jazz depth in Exum’s first season back from a torn ACL, and if both players improve their shot somewhat, they could play together in a lineup with two capable, aggressive ball-handlers.
While shooting guards Furkan Korkmaz and Malachi Richardson possibly offer a wider range of potential and give Utah the ability to amass depth on the wing. Point guard was the biggest issue for the Jazz last year and they should look to address that problem with another young building block.
13) Phoenix Suns: Henry Ellenson
The Suns grab a talented prospect in Ellenson, who may well go in the top ten, but they seem too slow on defense and may be defined as too one-dimensional at the four to warrant such a high selection. That said, the young power forward is very skilled, has a decent shooting touch and, at nineteen years old, could develop into a steal at the 13th spot for Phoenix.
14) Chicago Bulls: Jakob Poeltl
Poeltl is a great fit for a semi-rebuilding Bulls team in need of a replacement for the free-agent Pau Gasol. The center out of Utah has a short standing reach and wingspan, along with an old-school game that makes him undraftable in the top 10. In a defined role, however, he could develop into the big body that Nikola Mitotic needs alongside him in order to be effective. If Poeltl can continue to refine his body and give arduous effort while on the floor, the Bulls could end up with the best center in the draft with the final lottery selection.