The Thunder and Kings came away as the big winners of this year’s draft lottery last month, moving up into the top 4. Meanwhile, pre-draft workouts are in full effect, trade rumors are swirling, and teams are constructing their contingency plan. And with that, it’s time for our Hoops Distillery mock draft, using the official NBA draft order. But this time, as opposed to making one pick per team and moving onto the next, I take time to explore different scenarios that lottery teams may face on draft day.
Although the national media is focusing on the tough choices to be made with the top 3 picks (logically, with Chet, Paolo, and Jabari), I’m equally interested in teams that might move up or down (and for that case in and out) of the draft. Teams like the Thunder, Spurs, and Grizzlies all have multiple 1st round picks, plus 2nd round picks, but do not necessarily have the roster spots for so many new guys. This should create greater chance of movement during the draft. Other teams like the Sixers, Lakers, and Jazz don’t have any 1st round picks and might want to trade into the draft, while teams like the Pistons, Kings or Pacers may want extra picks to build up their rosters.
Equally important to factor in are the many veteran players rumored to be on the trading block, including Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremi Grant, Gordon Hayward, Russell Westbrook, Duncan Robinson and Christian Wood, as well as teams that may need to make a consolidation trade, packaging a few players to get a higher level starter, such as the Hawks and Grizzlies. With more teams pushing for the play-in tournament these days, trading picks or young guys for an established veteran will be enticing for teams looks to fast track their progress (or to appease impatient owners). I tried to take all of these factors into account in making my picks and analysis.
This is a great opportunity for the Magic to add top flight talent once again, but also quite a lot of pressure to get the pick right. And in this draft, with Banchero, Smith, and Holmgren, that may be even more of a challenge than most years. In terms of team needs, power forward and center are low on the list, but with such a young team the Magic are better off taking the best player available. That being said, the need for an alpha scorer will be critical to them returning to playoff contention. Based on his all-around versatility offensively and defensively, Jabari is the right pick here. He’ll help the Magic from day one with elite defense on opposing wings and provide knock down shooting that will open up space for the Magic’s playmakers. Jabari’s strong character and work ethic should also give Orlando confidence that his game will continue to evolve to what should be an all-start level.
Proposed closing lineup: Fultz, Suggs, Wagner, J. Smith, Isaac = top 10 defense
Why not Chet? Chet would be a solid pick as well, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be a #1 offensive option which is what Orlando desperately needs. And if he is able to develop his game to be at that level, it will take time to strengthen his game and his body. It’s hard to tell if Orlando’s front office has that much patience.
Why not Paolo? While Paolo may be the most capable to help Orlando’s offense next season, he is best with the ball in his hands–a guy you run your offense through, and they already have that in Franz Wagner, plus a guard trio of Suggs, Fultz and Anthony who also need the ball. Paolo is also the worst of the three defensively.
IF: the Thunder, Rockets or Kings try to trade up for #1 to get the guy they want
THEN: they should consider trading down based on the package coming their way which would have to include the others teams top 4 pick this year + a young player or more future 1st(s). As Boston showed in 2018 with the Fultz/Tatum draft day deal, it can be a win-win situation to trade down.
This is what we know about OKC: they have a dozens of picks in the next few years, they already have great playmakers in SGA and Giddey. This is what we assume: they won’t want to be too good too fast so that they can increase the odds of having a high lottery pick again next year, since rumor has it they desperately want Victor Wembanyama. If they can roll out a lineup with Chet, Wemby and Poku in October 2023, NBA Twitter may breakdown! As for this pick, Chet is perfect for them because they don’t have to rush his development and already have versatile players in their lineup who can help create shots for him, reduce the amount of wear and tear on him from big centers, and let him do unicorn stuff all over the court, while improving what was already a very solid defense.
Why not Paolo? Although OKC would benefit from Paolo’s scoring and immediate impact, they already have playmakers who need the ball in their hands which means they may not be able to take full advantage of his talent. And as we said, they will be looking to tank next year, not win a couple of extra games where Paolo gets hot and drops 35. Plus, they won’t like that he is a minus on defense.
Won’t be surprised if they pick: Jaden Ivey
IF: Orlando takes Chet Holmgren at #1
THEN: Thunder should either take Jabari Smith or listen to offers to trade down, especially if they have Shaedon Sharpe, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray or someone like Dyson Daniels in the same tier with Smith and Banchero.
In contrast to the Magic and OKC, Paolo fits in nicely with Houston since they need to keep adding young talent in the front court to compliment Jalen Green, and can definitely utilize his playmaking ability. Many will argue that a core of Green and Banchero will never be good enough defensively to do much damage in the playoffs. This is certainly valid, but Houston is too early in their rebuild to worry too much about that. And although the media and fans focus on championship rings, Rockets ownership has always seemed equally focused on selling tickets and continuing their strong marketability in China.
IF: Sacramento offers Davion Mitchell + #4 for #3 in order to get Banchero for themselves
THEN: assuming Houston is a big fan of Mitchell and not interested in KPJ at point guard long term and have one of Keegan Murray, Jaden Ivey, or Dyson Daniels rated in the same tier as Banchero, they should take this offer and make the pick at #4–or they could also look to trade down again with the Pacers, Knicks, Hornets or Pelicans to grab more assets.
Sharpe is this year’s mystery man in the draft after reclassifying, then sitting out for Kentucky this season. Scouts know his game from his prep days and it’s safe to assume he will impress in individual workouts. That should be just enough to warrant the Kings swinging for the fences on his all-star upside at shooting guard. We know the Kings desperately want to make the playoffs next season, but Sharpe may be able to get pro reps on the fly as 4th option to Fox, Sabonis and Barnes while providing them with more scoring punch and athleticism immediately.
IF: anyone in the top 3 is willing to trade down
THEN: the Kings should jump on it! Paolo or Chet would fit nicely with their core
IF: team owner, Vivek Ranadive, overrules GM, Monty McNair, making him pick a win-now player
THEN: McNair is better off going with Keegan Murray or Dyson Daniels
IF: Detroit offers Jeremi Grant for #4
THEN: Kings should say no, but, sadly, Ranadive may make them say yes. It’s doubtful that any rational NBA exec (or fan) would think that spending $90-$110m on Fox, Grant, and Sabonis will result in deep playoff runs
The Pistons are in a good spot here. Although it seems like a huge loss to drop in the draft lottery, at #5 they’ll have the opportunity to take whoever they have highest on their board out of Sharpe, Ivey or Murray. Plus, they have Grant to shop around to get more assets or trade up. Ivey and Murray are both available here and either would fit in nicely, and benefit greatly, from playing with Cade Cunningham. Of the two, Ivey would make their offense more explosive and dynamic with his uber-athleticism. He could play on or off the ball, get out in transition, and help to open up a lot of space for himself and others if he can consistently hit the three ball.
IF: Ivey gets picked in the top 4
THEN: Pistons should take whoever wasn’t picked from Sharpe, Banchero, Jabari or Chet
IF: Sacramento takes Murray, leaving Pistons with a choice of Ivey or Sharpe
THEN: boring answer, but they should take whichever of the two they have rated higher on their board based on all of the additional intel that isn’t available to the public
It’s hard to tell if the Pacers have a head start on their retooling after what seems like a highly successful Haliburton trade heist, or if they are still stuck in between rebuilding and winning until they can rid themselves of Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, and possibly Myles Turner. Both might be true. In either case, Murray will fit nicely as one of the best players left on the board, plus a good fit at a position of need. He’ll give them much needed help as a wing scorer and defender, while being an ideal running mate with Haliburton.
IF: the Lakers offer Russell Westbrook for Hield and Brogdon + 2 future 1st round picks
THEN: Pacers take it and then look to buy out Westbrook
IF: Rick Carlisle suddenly realized he left a championship caliber team to join a rebuilding team and decides to ‘fake’ retire to get out of Indy
THEN: Pacers pivot and hire Kenny Atkinson to maximize player development over the next three years
IF: the Pacers pick Dyson Daniels
THEN: it may mean (1) they are trading for a starting forward and don’t want Murray, (2) they are truly looking at best player available and don’t mind taking their time getting back to the playoffs, or (3)
Jeremy Sochan seemed like the most logical pick for the Blazers here, who have needed a strong presence at forward for years. But after hearing the rave reviews of Daniels workouts, plus his 2-inches of growth to almost 6’8″ with shoes, he now has to be the pick. That is, assuming the Blazers don’t trade out of the draft which is sounding like a strong possibility with Jeremi Grant, Malcolm Brogdon, and Julius Randle all on the menu. At 6’8″, Daniels can easily be a wing creator which is a huge position of need for Portland. He can also help fill the ballhandling and playmaking gap leftover from the CJ McCollum trade.
IF: Pistons off the Blazers Jeremi Grant or Indiana offers Malcolm Brogdon for #7
THEN: Portland, on paper, need to win now to satisfy Damian Lillard, so Grant seems like a worthwhile gamble while Brogdon does not. Grant is a year younger and much less injury prone, while providing an instant answer at forward, improved team defense, and potent perimeter offense in combination with Dame and Anfernee Simons (who still needs to be resigned)
IF: new hire, Mike Schmitz convinces Joe Cronin to trade Dame for the #1 pick to grab Chet Holmgren
THEN: Blazers fans will have instant PTSD flashbacks to Sam Bowie and Greg Oden which could result in violence, anxiety or depression
IF: Daniels has already been picked
THEN: Blazers should go with Murray, Sochan, Ben Mathurin or one of Jalen Duren/Mark Williams (if they are thinking of moving on from Jusuf Nurkic)
IF: the OG Anunoby rumor is true and he forces his way out of Toronto?
THEN: the Blazers should go for it, as long as the price isn’t excessive. Almost every team in the league would love to have someone like Anunoby on such a reasonable contract, and he still has some untapped offensive upside that the Blazers would welcome with open arms
On the surface, the Pelicans are in a great position after overachieving in this year‘s playoffs. They made a smart trade with the Blazers for CJ McCollum and Larry Nance, who both made a huge difference in the postseason. Plus, they seem to have hit on all of last year‘s draft picks. Yet, their success still rests on the health, production, and longevity of Zion Williamson. Because of this and Zion’s contract situation, they have a very challenging decision to make: work to help Zion get healthy and back in good shape, banking on him being your franchise player or trade Zion and bring back a package of players and picks that could set them up for next season and in the future. Assuming they choose the former, Mathurin happens to be a great fit at shooting guard, providing reliable shooting and straight line slashing that should make the Pels offense even more dangerous as a compliment to their big three. Mathurin also may have quite a bit of defensive upside based his combination of strength, size, speed, and athleticism.
IF: Zion asks to be traded
THEN: Pelicans shouldn’t settle for anything less than an all-star caliber player in return (see Bradley Beal) or a high upside young talent (see RJ Barrett)
IF: the Blazers or Pacers pick Mathurin
THEN: Pelicans should look at Daniels, Sochan, or Malakhi Branham
As usual, it’s tough to have a pulse on what the Spurs may do. They are so rarely in the lottery, and when they were last year, they shocked everyone with Josh Primo at #12. Will Pop keep coaching? Do they want more young players on their roster? We shall see. But in the meantime, what we do know is that Dejounte Murray has emerged as a two-way, all-star level player and Devin Vassell seems ready to make a big jump in the upcoming season. Yet, with all the prospects on their roster the Spurs have been without an alpha dog scorer since DeMar DeRozan left. This is why Johnny Davis makes a ton of sense here. His ability to create shots and hit tough ones would be a perfect compliment to their existing core. Davis plays hard, is happy to share the ball and is a tough-nosed defender–all things that the Spurs highly value.
IF: Johnny Davis has already been picked or the Spurs plan to go after a shooting guard via trade or free agency (see Zach LaVine)
THEN: San Antonio should look at Sochan, Mathurin or either one of Duren or Williams as long-term options at center
IF: the Spurs don’t want to make all three of their first round picks
THEN: they should give a call to the Sixers, Lakers, Jazz, Suns or Celtics–none of whom have a 1st rounder in this draft
Won’t be surprised if they pick: AJ Griffin or Jalen Duren
The Wizards are another team in a tough position–stuck in between rebuilding and building around Bradley Beal. Assuming the rumors are true, and Beal does resign, it makes little sense for the Wizards to add another young player to their roster. Instead they will look to trade this pick with a couple players as part of a package to get a point guard like Jalen Brunson….or maybe even…(gulp)…Kyrie Irving. The Wizards may actually be an interesting trade partner for the Pistons if they like the idea of pairing Beal with Jeremi Grant. Combining Grant, Beal, and Kuzma would make for a potent offensive trio. If they do feel like they can sign a veteran point guard via free agency (see Ricky Rubio), they have the luxury of taking the best player available here which is most definitely Jeremy Sochan. Although he is a bit redundant with the versatility and skill set of Deni Avdija, they would still be best served to take him as the best player available and help continue to develop his game. His defensive versatility and playmaking skills for his size are excellent. An improved shooting stroke should give him starter upside. And if he develops quickly, he could be a key part of the Wizards getting back into the playoffs sooner than later.
IF: Beal asks to be traded
THEN: Wizards should go after Zion and pair him with Porzingis to form the most fragile and interesting front court combo in years. It may not win games, but it would sell tickets and jerseys
Won’t be surprised if they pick: TyTy Washington, Jalen Duren
With a glaring need at point guard and rumored target Jalen Brunson most likely resigning with the Mavericks this off-season, the Knicks will have to choose whether to fill that hole in the draft, free agency, or via trade. With the regression of Julius Randle‘s game last season, the Knicks would be smart to continue drafting high upside players and focusing on player development. TyTy Washington would give the Knicks, what they hope could be, their point guard of the future. And while it may be tempting to start Immanuel Quickley at point, he seems better suited as a 3rd guard/microwave scorer off the bench. Washington is a solid shooter with a great floater game, similar to Quickley, who makes very good decisions with the ball and can provide leadership. Whether he starts this year or next, he should eventually replace Derrick Rose and be a solid starter. The Knicks will take a hard look at Duren and Williams here as options at center, but their need for shot creation and shooting is too important right now and fans are tired of the team’s dice rolls on semi-broken down, veteran point guards. That said, they may have an opportunity to trade up with the Blazers or trade down by dealing with the Hornets, who should be willing to trade 13 and 15 to move up and have their choice between the centers.
IF: Randle has a nervous breakdown anticipating another season of never-ending media and fan scrutiny
THEN: find a way to trade him for the Blazer’s #7 pick or maybe even D’Angelo Russell or Westbrook–then start Obi Toppin in his place
IF: Tom Thibodeau plays Barrett 47 min per game to secure the 12th seed
THEN: fire Thibodeau ASAP and bring in Juwan Howard as head coach, and someone who can focus on player development and attract free agents
IF: Charlotte is game to trade 13 + 15 for 11
THEN: Knicks should look to add a point guard like TyTy or Dalen Terry and also a center like Duren or Williams or a shooter like Branham
Won’t be surprised if they pick: Jaden Hardy, Jalen Duren
The Thunder who have already taken Holmgren with the 2nd pick have various options here. They can trade out of the draft for another young player, cash and/or future picks or take the best player available once again. In this case, making the pick seems like the best option as AJ Griffin has dropped to number 12 and has been widely considered a top 7 or 8 prospect. Griffin, who many believe is still not fully recovered from multiple knee surgeries, are hoping that he will regain some of the elite athleticism that made him one of the top high school prospects in the nation. After posting stellar shooting percentages at Duke, Griffin has a ready-made skill that he can bring to any team. And with the playmaking of SGA and Giddey, he will immediately put that shooting to good use with many open looks from three. At 6’6′ with a strong physique, he will most likely be better suited to play PF in the near term, which is a position of need for the Thunder.
IF: a team calls for the pick because they want Griffin, Duren, Branham or Mark Williams
THEN: Sam Presti should hang up and make the pick. The amount of quality guys on the board is too high here, and cost control is always nice as the Thunder continue to take swings at drafting future stars. Plus, the Thunder definitely don’t need more draft picks
IF: the Lakers hire Magic to convince Presti to take Westbrook back, but only offer Kendrick Nunn, THC and a guaranteed $10m/year President of Basketball Operation position with the Lakers
THEN: Presti should send a kind thanks, no thanks
The Hornets, who are rumored to be after one of the top centers in the draft, may trade up to make sure they get one. If either one of Duren or Williams is available here, they will be very happy. Given the choice of the two, they should opt for Williams. Although Duren is the more physically imposing player and is younger than Williams, they will worry about Duren having a lower floor due to his lack of offensive game. Duren may prove to be a DeAndre Jordan-style vertical lob threat and enforcer on defense, but Williams may have the offensive upside of a Jarrett Allen, as he has shown flashes of some touch from the outside which the Hornets would gladly welcome to open up driving lanes for LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges. In addition, we’ve seen what Williams can do on defense to block and alter shots, aggressively protect the rim, and even switch onto smaller players, as needed
IF: both Duren and Williams have already been picked
THEN: the Hornets should look to deal some combination of Hayward, Rozier, or Oubre for a center like DeAndre Ayton or Myles Turner, or look for another short term fix like Derrick Favors or Richaun Holmes or look at signing a free agent like JaVale McGee or Isaiah Hartenstein
The Cavs overachieved last season and have franchise pillars Evan Mobley and Darius Garland in place for the long haul. While Isaac Okoro should tenaciously study the manuscript of Marcus Smart‘s ‘How I Evolved My Offensive Game‘, the team did pick up Caris LeVert which helped their offensive attack towards the tail end of the season. Not knowing if they the team can come to an agreement with Collin Sexton on a new deal or if they want to extend LeVert makes it important to draft a guard or wing scorer as insurance, and Branham fits the bill perfectly. After a breakout season at Ohio State, Branham provides a versatile scoring threat who can hit tough shots facing the basket or posting up. He’s also a solid defender and hard worker–both traits that should win him immediate playing time in a Cavs lineup that should be playoff bound once again.
IF: the Cavs have any chance of resigning Ricky Rubio
THEN: they should do it if the price is reasonable! Rubio was the key to their team chemistry and had a huge impact on Garland’s development last season. That being said, the days of overpaying vets like Rubio and Love will soon be coming to an end as the young guys start to get second contracts, so they may have to convince Rubio to take a discount, but in return give him more years
IF: Sexton asks for a contract that is completely unreasonable
THEN: Cavs should focus on a sign and trade deal to make sure to get something in return. Apparently the Pistons and Pacers are highly interested, but may opt to give Sexton an offer sheet rather than be a trade partner
The Hornets are back on the clock here at 15 and it seems doubtful that they’ll actually make this pick. They already have a lot of youth on their team and may be better off packaging one of their two 1st’s with a player or two to upgrade their roster. On the other hand, the youth they have isn’t that impressive (see James Bouknight and Kai Jones), they may not want to resign Oubre to the money he’s looking for, and they may lose PJ Washington in free agency. If they can hit on this pick with at least a rotation level role player it could help quite a bit in the long run in terms of cap management/roster building. After this year’s playoffs, the ‘in style’ position that is most likely to be copycatted is the Grant Williams/PJ Tucker archetype which combines an undersized but very strong forward with a high basketball IQ, three point range, and the possibility of slowing down Giannis in a playoff series. Liddell fits this mold well. He is a smart, high-motor guy who plays hard and is a proven scorer–a combination that would work well on almost any team’s roster, but especially here as they fill a possible void left by Washington.
IF: Nets call asking for a package of Rozier, Oubre and two 1sts for Ben Simmons
THEN: Hornets should think long and hard about accepting and then rush to collect intel as fast as possible about Simmons actual mental health situation before accepting
IF: Indy calls and offers Brogdon for Hayward in a ‘always injured/change of scenery’ veteran swap
THEN: Hornets should take the deal. Brogdon is younger and his contract goes a year longer to 2025, and he is exactly the type of veteran leader that could stabilize their roster and mentor the young guys. It’s still highly questionable if Brogdon would like to be in Charlotte, starting all over again with a young team.
Fanspo.com (mock draft simulator)