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The NBA Draft Combine in Chicago has come and gone, with it being a welcome return to “normalcy” (to a certain extent) after last season’s threadbare pre-draft calendar. In addition to 5-on-5 action, athletic testing and interviews, some agencies held their pro days for clients in the Windy City. Team decision-makers have a little more in-person information to work with this time around, but it remains to be seen just how much that impacts the draft process.
As for how the first round will shake out, that’s up for debate. While Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is viewed as the prohibitive favorite to go first overall, the feeling is that there’s a top-4 in the class with Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs being the others. And with teams such as Houston, Golden State, New York and Oklahoma City having multiple first-round picks at their disposal, draft night has the potential to be a bit wild. Below is our first mock draft, with this one consisting of the first round. Future mocks will be expanded to include all 60 selections.
1. Detroit: PG Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Cunningham is considered by many to be the best available player in this year’s draft, and with good reason. He’s a capable scorer at all three levels, a solid playmaker and offers up some positional versatility on the defensive end of the floor. If there was a concern at Oklahoma State it was the turnover count, as Cunningham averaged 4.0 per game, but that’s something that can be addressed as he gains experience at the pro level. The Pistons did select a point guard with one of its first-round picks in last year’s draft, with Killian Hayes being the seventh overall pick. But taking the “best available player” is of the utmost importance in a two-round draft, and it isn’t as if Cunningham can’t play off the ball if need be. We’ve still got a month until draft night, so a lot can change, but it would be a shock if someone other than Cunningham were the first overall pick.
2. Houston: PF/C Evan Mobley, USC
First and foremost, the Rockets are likely thrilled that they were able to hang onto this pick as it was only top-4 protected. Now comes the task of picking a player capable of helping with the team’s rebuild, as Houston struggled mightily after James Harden was traded to the Nets. Adding Mobley, a 7-footer capable of playing at either the four or the five depending upon the matchup, would give Houston a needed boost in its rebuild. A plus defender who protects the rim and moves well in ball-screen situations, Mobley is also playing on the perimeter offensively. While he will need to add some muscle, that’s an area that can be improved through the combination of a professional strength and conditioning program and his body’s natural maturation process. Houston could also consider Green here, but the former USC standout should be the pick.
3. Cleveland: SF Jalen Green, G-League Ignite
The Cavaliers have important decisions to make this offseason regarding Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen, as the former is extension-eligible and the latter will be a free agent. Cleveland did select a wing with its lottery pick last year, taking Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, but he’s further along as a defender than as a scorer. Green is the opposite. Not known for his defensive ability, the G-League Ignite standout is a bona fide scorer. Cleveland finished dead last in the NBA in scoring offense and 28th in offensive efficiency. Regardless of what happens with Sexton this offseason, Koby Altman will need to address this via the draft and free agency. Selecting Green would be a good first step.
4. Toronto: PG Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
While the Raptors would have a bit of a logjam at the point, especially if Kyle Lowry is re-signed, Suggs would be the best available player at this point in the draft. And it isn’t as if the Raptors have been unwilling to use multiple point guards on the the court at the same time. Suggs is a very good decision-maker with the ball in his hands, which can be credited partially to his being a highly-recruited quarterback before going all-in with basketball. Very good in the pick-and-roll game, the biggest concern for the Gonzaga standout may be his inconsistency as a perimeter shooter. That should improve with time and continued work, and landing in Toronto would give him room to grow. And even if Lowry were to move on, Suggs would have a very good mentor to learn from in Fred VanVleet.
5. Orlando: SF Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite
Orlando’s rebuild won’t be a “quick fix” by any stretch of the imagination, which may give them a bit more leeway when it comes to committing to a younger prospect. Kuminga is a high-level athlete who can defend both wing positions, but he is a work in progress offensively. Jonathan Isaac should be good to go for the start of next season, and that along with the presence of other young players such as Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton and Chuma Okeke would give Kuminga some room as far as skill development were concerned.
6. Oklahoma City: SF Scottie Barnes, Florida State
During his lone season at Florida State, Barnes served primarily as the point guard for one of the nation’s best teams. At 6-foot-8 he was a handful for opponents, especially on the defensive end at the point of the Seminoles’ full-court man-to-man defense. There’s still work to be done as a perimeter shooter, but Barnes would be landing in a situation where he can serve as a supplementary playmaker to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And given the combination of athleticism, length and toughness, he would be a nice supplement to Aleksej Pokusevski on the wing.
7. Golden State (from Minnesota): PG Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Thanks to Minnesota falling outside of the top-3, the Warriors have two lottery picks to work with. Do they keep both, move one, or move both? For the sake of this mock we’ll operate under the assumption that the Warriors will not make a move, and Mitchell would be a good fit. A much-improved perimeter shooter, his ability as a defender is what sticks out here. While Golden State was certainly a prolific offensive team during its run of three titles in four years, they were also quite good defensively. Adding Mitchell to the mix would certainly help in that regard.
8. Orlando (from Chicago): SG Keon Johnson, Tennessee
Not only are the Magic very young in the aftermath of trades that sent Aaron Gordon to Denver and Nikola Vucevic to Chicago, but they’ve also had issues with the injury bug in recent years. And a lot of those injury issues have been on the wings, so loading up on young talents at those spots wouldn’t be the worst idea. Johnson, while a bit raw offensively, is arguably the best athlete in this year’s draft class. And given the status of the Magic roster, they can afford to take some time with the former Volunteer. The combination of athleticism and defensive chops would make for a solid building block as Johnson begins his professional career.
9. Sacramento: SF Franz Wagner, Michigan
With the De’Aaron Fox being the focal point of the Kings’ rebuild, adding players who can play off of him is key. A versatile forward who has room to grow as a perimeter shooter, Wagner would fit that mold. Also, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward was also one of the Big Ten’s best defenders during his time in Ann Arbor. Given the question marks in the frontcourt, it’s possible that Kings go “big” with this pick. That being said, Wagner’s positional versatility is too much to pass up in this slot.
10. New Orleans: PG/SG Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers
The Pelicans did select a point guard in last year’s draft, taking Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr., and it’s certainly possible that Lonzo Ball will be re-signed. That being said, Giddey is a versatile guard who can be used either on or off the ball. At 6-foot-8 he has the size to be effective on the wing, serving as a secondary playmaker. This all being said, it would not come as a surprise if New Orleans used this pick in order to add a veteran who can help the team crack that postseason ceiling sooner rather than later. Given the reports from earlier this month regarding Zion Williamson, New Orleans could be up against the clock when it comes to improving the roster.
11. Charlotte: PF/C Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
The post has been an area of major concern for the Hornets, and they’ll need to address it if they’re to be a playoff team next season. Jackson, who can be used at either the four or the five depending upon the matchup, would help in that regard. In his lone season at Kentucky the 6-foot-10 Jackson averaged 2.6 blocks per game, proving to be one of the best defenders in the SEC. While not an elite offensive weapon, Jackson can be effective in ball-screen situations playing off of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball.
12. San Antonio: PF/C Alperen Sengun, Besiktas
While the Spurs have an effective defensive big in Jakob Poeltl, the team’s allotment of posts is lacking when it comes to offensive potential. Sengun, who averaged 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for Besiktas this past season, would help change that. Listed at 6-foot-10, 243 pounds, he would offer good size in the post. One of the youngest prospects in this draft class, there could come a point down the line where we revisit the draft and wonder if Sengun wasn’t rated high enough.
13. Indiana: SG James Bouknight, UConn
A new era is set to begin in Indiana, as Rick Carlisle has returned to the Pacers for his second stint as head coach. Injuries and a lack of compatibility with Nate Bjorkgren did in the Pacers this season but, on paper, this should be a playoff team. Bouknight, one of the most gifted offensive players in this class, would give the Pacers needed scoring punch off the bench if he’s still on the board. Some may be scared away by his 3-point percentage, as Bouknight made just 32% of his attempts in two seasons at UConn. But it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the offensive responsibilities were for Bouknight to shoulder, due to UConn’s lack of consistent scoring options. That can impact the quality of shots that a player gets, and this wouldn’t be an issue with the Pacers.
14. Golden State: SF Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
As noted above, it is anyone’s guess if the Warriors will hold onto their first-round picks. If Golden State stays here Kispert would be a good fit, even with his struggles during the latter stages of Gonzaga’s run to the national title game. He tested well at the NBA Draft Combine, and it isn’t as if the 6-foot-7 wing forgot how to shoot. With the Warriors, the ability to play off of that team’s elite shooters would get Kispert cleaner looks. And he holds his own on the defensive end of the floor, as well.
15. Washington: PF Kai Jones, Texas
The Wizards’ frontcourt rotation is likely to look much different than it did during the team’s first-round series against the 76ers. Alex Len and Robin Lopez will both be unrestricted free agents, and Thomas Bryant should be good to go after missing most of this season with a torn ACL. Operating under the assumption that Washington will guarantee Daniel Gafford‘s contract for next season, there’s still a need for another big who’s considered to be a plus defender. Jones made just 14 starts in his two seasons at Texas, but he graded out quite well when it comes to his defensive rating. He’ll need to get a little stronger, but the combination of athleticism and rim protection would make him a solid fit in the nation’s capital.
16. Oklahoma City (from Boston): SF/PF Jalen Johnson, Duke
Johnson didn’t play much basketball during his time at Duke, appearing in 13 games before deciding to leave the program and begin preparations for the NBA Draft. While some have opined that the exit will be viewed as a “red flag” when it comes to how Johnson is evaluated by team decision-makers, he should still be a first-round pick. How long Oklahoma City’s rebuild takes will depend upon what Sam Presti does with his stockpile of draft picks. But if OKC goes the “slow and steady” route, picking a player like Johnson who boast long-term potential would make sense. He’s comfortable playing out on the perimeter, and brings a little more bulk to the table than Aleksej Pokusevski.
17. Memphis: PF/C Usman Garuba, Real Madrid
Garuba is a bit of a project offensively, but he showed himself to be a more than capable defender for Real Madrid. While considered to be a frontcourt player in this draft class, he was also used to defend on the perimeter and was anything but a liability. That versatility should serve Garuba well early on, and Memphis can exercise some patience when it comes to his development. Given the Grizzlies rotation being loaded with young perimeter options, it’s difficult to envision them going small in this spot.
18. Oklahoma City (from Miami via LA Clippers, Philadelphia and Phoenix): SG/SF Trey Murphy, Virginia
3-and-D wings are of high value in today’s NBA, and Murphy fits that mold. In three seasons at Rice and Virginia, he shot 40% from beyond the arc with an average of more than five attempts per game. His scoring slipped a little during his lone season at Virginia, but that was a product of the pace at which the Cavaliers play more than anything else. Listed at 6-foot-9 Murphy boasts good size for a wing, and he holds his own athletically as well. We’ll see if OKC makes use of all three of its first-round picks, or if the team looks to make a move for a veteran who can accelerate the team’s rebuilding project. That being said, Murphy would make for a good fit if the Thunder hold onto this pick.
19. New York: SG Moses Moody, Arkansas
The Knicks stand to have some significant holes to fill on the perimeter this offseason, as Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock are among the veterans who will be free agents. Some could very well return, but even if they do, there’s a need for more 3-and-D wing depth. Moody shot just 35.8% from three in his lone season at Arkansas, but the free throw percentage (81.2%) could be a sign that better days are ahead in that regard. And playing off of Julius Randle, who averaged a career-high 6.0 assists per game last season, could result in cleaner looks for Moody.
20. Atlanta: PG Sharife Cooper, Auburn
The Hawks clearly have their franchise point guard in Trae Young, but adding some depth behind him wouldn’t be a bad idea. Cooper, whose season began late thanks to the NCAA having questions about his status as an amateur, was electric for the Tigers. In 12 games he averaged 20.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists per. That being said, the shot selection and decision-making will need some refining if Cooper is to be an impact player at the next level.
21. New York (from Dallas): PG/SG Jared Butler, Baylor
The Knicks did sign Luca Vildoza late in the regular season, but the team is still in need of an answer at the point. Butler, who helped lead Baylor to a national title, would certainly help matters. The concern is that the his medical was flagged by the NBA while at the Combine, so Butler was unable to do any on-court work. So long as he gets the all-clear, Butler stands to be a quality addition who’s capable as both a scorer and distributor while also being a plus defender.
22. LA Lakers: SG Chris Duarte, Oregon
Due to the fact that Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted) will all be free agents this offseason, and the team’s marquee stars aren’t getting any younger, the Lakers need to add players capable of contributing immediately. Duarte, a 6-foot-6 guard who shot better than 42% from three while averaging 17.1 points per game as a senior, certainly fits that mold. Not only did Duarte score in an efficient manner, he was also a solid facilitator and defender for the Ducks. Provided the Lakers don’t try to move this pick in exchange for a more established player, Duarte would be a good fit here.
23. Houston (from Portland): SF Ziaire Williams, Stanford
While Williams certainly had his moments during his lone season at Stanford, he was a bit of a wild card as far as production is concerned. While that isn’t the most glowing endorsement of a draft prospect, the potential is there for him to be a productive wing at the next level. At 6-foot-10 Williams has good size for a small forward, and he’s a better shooter than what he showed at Stanford. The Rockets are in a position where they can afford to take the long-term approach with a prospect like Williams, due to the status of the team’s rebuild.
24. Houston (from Milwaukee): SG Cameron Thomas, LSU
Houston will have three first-round picks, which could open the door for GM Rafael Stone to make a move for a proven veteran. But it would not come as a surprise if the team looked to stockpile young talent, and the Rockets have a need for capable scorers. Thomas, who led the SEC in scoring and was a first-team all-conference selection, would certainly fit that mold. Averaging 23.0 points per game, Thomas shot 40.6% from the field and 88.2% from the foul line. The field goal and 3-point (32.5%) percentages weren’t great, but in a system with better spacing those numbers are likely to improve.
25. LA Clippers: PG/SG Tre Mann, Florida
The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Mann is a versatile perimeter player who’s capable of playing either on or off the ball. Andrew Nembhard‘s transfer to Gonzaga meant that Mann had more playmaking responsibilities on his plate this past season, and that likely improved his draft prospects. A first-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, Mann was one of the conference’s most-improved players. As we’ve seen with the Clippers in this postseason, positional versatility was one of the reasons why Tyronn Lue’s team reached the Western Conference Finals. Adding Mann to the mix, especially with Reggie Jackson due to be a free agent, would only help in that regard.
26. Denver: PG/SG Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Denver’s biggest issue in the postseason was its lack of perimeter depth, thanks to the team being hit extremely hard by injuries. And with it not being known if Jamal Murray (torn ACL) will be healthy enough to play when next season begins, this is an area that the Nuggets will have to address this offseason. Obviously that can be done in free agency, but they can also add a guard in the draft. Dosunmu would fit the mold, as he’s a more than capable playmaker with the ball in his hands. And given his experience, as the former Illinois standout played three seasons of college basketball and was a much-improved shooter as a junior, he stands to be a good fit for a team that reached the conference finals in 2020.
27. Brooklyn: PF Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
Does Brooklyn even hang onto this pick? Or will it be used to bolster the rotation behind stars Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving? Jeff Green and Blake Griffin will both be unrestricted free agents this summer, so adding a young forward wouldn’t be the worst idea if the Nets hold onto the pick. Robinson-Earl, one of three players to win Big East Player of the Year honors this season, improved his scoring by more than five points as a sophomore while shooting nearly 50% from the field overall. Robinson-Earl will need to get better as a perimeter shooter, but his ability as a rebounder and positional defender would make him a positive asset for a contending team.
28. Philadelphia: PG Jaden Springer, Tennessee
The biggest question that the 76ers will need to answer this offseason is whether or not they believe that Ben Simmons will be the team’s point guard for years to come. Everyone said the right things int he aftermath of the 76ers’ exit from the postseason, and Simmons will sit out the Olympics in order to work on his shot. But even if he remains the answer there’s still a need for additional depth at the point. Springer, who shot 43.5% from three during his freshman season, will need some time when it comes to playmaking at the NBA level. But with Simmons, Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton all under contract for the foreseeable future, Philadelphia can afford to take its time with Springer’s development.
29. Phoenix: PF JT Thor, Auburn
Thor is the latest example of what a good showing at the Combine can do for a player’s draft prospects. An inconsistent shooter during his lone season at Auburn, the 6-foot-10 forward showed off an improved form (and efficiency) during his workouts in Chicago. It’s also worth noting that he averaged 1.4 blocks per game, so there’s some defensive production to be had as well. The Suns don’t lack for young, versatile forwards, but it never hurts to add another one when you get the chance. And that depth puts Phoenix in a position where they can be a bit more patient with a player like Thor.
30. Utah: SG Quentin Grimes, Houston
Grimes also performed well in Chicago, building on the much-improved offensive game and solid defensive work that he showed throughout a season that culminated in Houston’s first Final Four appearance since 1984. Averaging 17.8 points per game, Grimes shot 40.3% from three with an average of 8.3 attempts per. Utah’s lack of athletic 3-and-D wings was exposed in their second-round series against the Clippers, and adding Grimes to the mix would be a solid first step in addressing that deficiency.