NBA Mock Draft: Justin Jackson Trending Up After March Madness Breakout
The NCAA tournament has brought out the best in a number of prospects looking to improve their stock for the NBA draft.
Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox made a strong case to rise, but will he? Questions over his jumper will give top-five teams a whole lot to think about.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's Justin Jackson is still building his resume with a Final Four run to cap off his breakout season.
The draft order and lottery odds have also become just as interesting as the prospects themselves. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who are projected to pick No. 8, only have two more wins than the Orlando Magic, who are projected to pick No. 4.
The tiers are mostly set, but expect the board to remain fluid from now until workouts, all the way up to the draft.
1. Boston Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, Freshman)
Markelle Fultz was still the popular pre-tournament answer among scouts when asked about the nation's top prospect. If he was No. 1 on boards before March Madness, he'll still be there today and likely June 22.
He's the most complete guard in the field, with tools, athleticism, volume production and efficiency to back up all the potential. He won't absorb much blame for Washington's 9-22 season. And despite questions regarding how he'd fit in the Boston Celtics' deep backcourt, they won't cause general manager Danny Ainge to pass on the best available player.
The Celtics will keep Isaiah Thomas as lead guard and slide Fultz to the 2, a position he's also built to play, which could result in management shopping Avery Bradley for a big.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, Freshman)
The Los Angeles Lakers have already begun to prepare for the potential arrival of Lonzo Ball. Coach Luke Walton moved D'Angelo Russell to shooting guard, where he's performed well.
Between Ball's signature basketball IQ and ball movement and Russell's scoring and shot-making, it's easy to picture them thriving together, playing to their strengths. Ball should change L.A.'s identity and help expedite the development of Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Ivica Zubac.
His final game at UCLA wasn't a memorable one, but that's just it—by June, the Lakers and everyone else will have already forgotten about it. He had been too good and consistent all year.
3. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
It won't be shocking to see the Phoenix Suns consider Josh Jackson even if they wind up winning the lottery.
They are already loaded in the backcourt and have two exciting young bigs (Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender) to develop. Jackson would fit right in between at the wing.
He struggled during Kansas' loss to Oregon in the Elite Eight, but even an off day didn't stop him from tallying 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. It's that versatility that makes him more attractive than Duke's Jayson Tatum and Florida State's Jonathan Isaac.
With his elite athleticism and unique playmaking ability, Jackson has more to offer during those games when the jumper won't fall. He's also flashed similarly intriguing scoring potential, which we just saw against Michigan State in the round of 32, when Jackson pumped in 23 points off step-backs, fallaways and post moves.
4. Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF/PF, Freshman)
Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox will be enticing, but adding another point guard who struggles to shoot won't look like the answer for the Orlando Magic. They also have Elfrid Payton playing the best ball of his career and a major need for offense on the wing.
High-level scoring ability from the 3 and 4 spots—where Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon each average fewer than 12 points per game—should move the needle in Tatum's favor. He'd give Orlando a shot-maker and go-to option capable of creating his own looks, something Ross and Gordon have struggled with during their careers.
Kentucky's Malik Monk will pop up during conversation in Orlando's war room, but the 6'8" Tatum has the edge at No. 4.
5. Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
With Joel Embiid in the middle, Ben Simmons expected to facilitate and Dario Saric suddenly a key piece up front, the Philadelphia 76ers' search radius should be narrow. It won't take long before it zeroes in on Malik Monk.
The 76ers need his scoring and shot-making, particularly next to Simmons, who isn't a shooter. Monk is streaky and converts in bunches, but his ability to connect on jumpers off screens, spot-ups and transition—without the one-on-one dribbles—bodes well for his fit alongside Simmons and Embiid.
He had a rough final month of the season, but overall, after watching him average 19.8 points and 2.7 threes, the Sixers won't question Monk's offensive potential.
6. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina (France, PG/SG, 1998)
Frank Ntilikina will draw boos from New York Knicks fans hoping for Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox, but that won't stop president Phil Jackson. It didn't in 2015 when he passed on NCAA stars Justise Winslow and Willie Cauley-Stein for a Latvian project.
Public comments from Jackson and coach Jeff Hornacek—which have highlighted the team's need for adding defensive-minded and triangle-offense fits—seem like a warning the team can use to justify taking Ntilikina.
The Frenchman fits the description of the player New York wants. Though he isn't as fast or explosive as Fox, he's 6'5", potentially over seven inches longer and far more versatile. With extreme length and lateral quickness, he immediately jumps out as the draft's premier backcourt defender. He also plays both guard positions in France and shoots 41.1 percent from three.
New York will question Fox's jumper and ability to work off the ball. Ntilikina gives the Knicks flexibility with both their offense and free-agent recruiting.
7. Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
As exciting as De'Aaron Fox was in March, particularly during that 39-point explosion over UCLA in the Sweet 16, the lack of shooting success will make it difficult for him rise into the top five.
The Orlando Magic have Elfrid Payton (a point guard with similar strengths and weaknesses) playing well, while Fox's fit with Ben Simmons in a Philadelphia 76ers lineup raises questions. Fortunately for the Sacramento Kings, the New York Knicks could overvalue Frank Ntilikina for his triangle-friendly projection.
Looking for their next lead guard, the Kings could steal Fox, whose quickness and athleticism are on par with the NBA's best. He even made nine three-pointers over his final 10 games, a sign his jumper may actually work.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
The Minnesota Timberwolves can fill a need with Jonathan Isaac, who'd add pick-and-roll defense at the 4 alongside Karl-Anthony Towns.
Isaac did a nice job this season protecting the rim (2.3 blocks per 40 minutes) and guarding the perimeter. But there is also plenty of offensive upside for Wolves coaches to unlock.
Though it came in flashes, Isaac, a 6'10" combo forward, showcased ball-handling skills, one-on-one scoring and three-point shooting (31 threes). He also rebounded at a strong 16.7 percent rate, despite his skinny frame.
Minnesota can stick with Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn at point guard and take Isaac to address the hole up front.
9. Sacramento Kings (via Pelicans): Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State, PG, Freshman)
The Sacramento Kings won't go into the draft expecting to come out with two point guards, but that's what could happen if they're forced to choose between Dennis Smith Jr. and Arizona's Lauri Markkanen.
Assuming they rank Smith in a separate (higher) tier, they'll take him as the best player available and worry about shaping the roster later. With no team identity, the Kings are just looking to acquire talent and assets.
A Fox-Smith backcourt is also intriguing, given the speed, explosiveness and firepower defenses would have to deal with. Between the two, they could put constant pressure on the rim. In the meantime, the Kings would move Buddy Hield into a sixth-man role best suited for his game.
Consider Smith a traditional top-five talent who'll slip due to a deep point guard class and too many duds at North Carolina State.
10. Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, Freshman)
Late in the lottery, the Dallas Mavericks will view Lauri Markkanen as the best player available, but it's difficult to ignore how seamlessly he'd slide in as Dirk Nowitzki's eventual replacement.
Either way, having just averaged 15.6 points to go along with 69 threes at a 42.3 percent clip, his shooting stroke and scoring potential should look attractive to anyone at No. 10.
Nerlens Noel also happens to jump out as the ideal big to pair with Markkanen, who operates around the perimeter and struggles in rim protection.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Once Lauri Markkanen comes off the board, there is a gap between Miles Bridges and the next-best option.
Bridges also happens to look like a fit with the Hornets, who use Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky at power forward. Strong and explosive with three-point range and defensive quickness, Bridges' ceiling towers over each of Charlotte's 4s and bigs.
Despite losing to Kansas, he finished the year on a high note, scoring 22 points against Josh Jackson in the NCAA tournament after returning from an early-game injury. There are questions about his 6'7" size, but athleticism, production, toughness and passion makes it easier to overlook.
12. Detroit Pistons: Justin Patton (Creighton, C, Freshman)
Justin Patton needs time, but without any guards or obvious NBA-ready names available, the Detroit Pistons swing for upside at No. 12.
Any ground he lost in the draft discussion in March he'll make up for during workouts. Patton, a fluid, run-and-jump athlete with 6'11" size and long arms, has flashed eye-opening glimpses of post footwork, ball-handling and shooting.
It could take a few years for Patton to tie everything together, but Detroit should show a willingness to wait. He also makes it easy for the Pistons to blow up the roster and trade Andre Drummond if needed, a move they reportedly explored before the deadline.
13. Denver Nuggets: Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF, 1998)
The Denver Nuggets have a long history of drafting abroad, from Juan Hernangomez and Emmanuel Mudiay to Nikola Jokic and Evan Fournier. They'll do it again at No. 13 with Isaiah Hartenstein, who'll add more versatility to Denver's frontcourt.
He's flashed enticing offensive potential with three-point range, passing ability and scoring at the rim. He's also impressed defensively with his ability to block shots and guard away from the basket.
Hartenstein had a strong U18 European Championships in December and a few big games with Zalgiris in February. Though his minutes in Lithuania are limited, the Nuggets will look past the minimal production. He's been on the radar for years and should only improve his draft position during workouts, where his tools, athleticism and skills will stand out.
14. Chicago Bulls: Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, Junior)
The Chicago Bulls shouldn't be picky about position or fit. They just need to acquire more assets to build for the future, having added veterans over the summer and gone backward as a franchise.
At No. 14, it's worth finding out if Justin Jackson's scoring and shooting will translate. Averaging 18.2 points on the year and 19.8 during four NCAA tournament wins, he's emerged as one of the draft's most compelling upperclassmen. With Oregon up next for North Carolina in the Final Four, Jackson still has time to strengthen his case.
He's even averaged 4.3 assists during March Madness and just helped hold Kentucky's Malik Monk to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
If the Bulls wind up re-engaging in Jimmy Butler trade talks, the addition of Jackson could make it easier for Chicago to pull the trigger.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: TJ Leaf (UCLA, PF, Freshman)
TJ Leaf finished his freshman year with terrific numbers: 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 61.7 percent shooting and 27-of-58 from three. He looked good for the second time against Kentucky, most recently going for 17 points and seven boards during UCLA's NCAA tournament loss.
His ceiling looks capped by defensive limitations, but the Portland Trail Blazers won't be expecting a superstar at No. 15.
Leaf's ability to stretch the floor, create off the dribble and pass fits alongside Jusuf Nurkic, who anchors the paint.
16. Indiana Pacers: Jarrett Allen (Texas, C, Freshman)
The Indiana Pacers can grab Jarrett Allen to pair with Myles Turner, who together could give the team 48 minutes of rim protection.
Sporting a massive 7'5 ½" wingspan, Allen brings strong defensive tools and developing offensive skills, having averaged 16.2 points during conference play. He still lacks polish, but he has a back-to-the-basket game and promising shooting touch in the mid-range.
It's still possible he returns, but given the likelihood of his being on every team's first-round board, positive feedback from NBA evaluators should convince Allen to leave.
17. Miami Heat: Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 1998)
After spending the year playing in Spain's second division, Rodions Kurucs has officially been moved up, having just made his debut for Barcelona's senior team in Euroleague.
He stands out under the NBA scouting microscope with athleticism, 6'9" size, ball-handling skills and shooting range. A scorer with promising defensive tools and foot speed, he's been viewed as one of the more intriguing young European wings.
Without any must-have prospects left, this is a good spot on the board to draft-and-stash a potential two-way wing overseas.
18. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins (Wake Forest, PF, Sophomore)
Except for Dwight Howard, every other big man for the Atlanta Hawks will be entering free agency over the summer. Management will have a handful of power forwards to choose from at No. 18, but none were more productive than John Collins, who averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in just 26.6 minutes.
An exciting athlete, he dominated opposing ACC front lines all season, and that's without advanced skills the Hawks will hope he adds over time.
Still, he's proved to be a threatening post scorer and mid-range shooter, and though coaches must work on his defensive awareness, Atlanta will just value his ability to rack up easy buckets and put constant pressure on the glass.
19. Milwaukee Bucks: Donovan Mitchell (Louisville, SG, Sophomore)
Outside of the top 10, there aren't many guards worth considering in the first round. Donovan Mitchell is one of them, given his breakout scoring year, elite athleticism and defensive potential.
With Tony Snell and Jason Terry entering free agency and Rashad Vaughn averaging 3.2 points, the Bucks could target backcourt depth and additional firepower. Mitchell projects as a spark capable of putting up points in bunches with confident shot-making and drives.
For a team looking to add a sixth-man weapon, his microwave offense fits the job description. Look for his name to heat up during workouts and interviews, two areas he should excel in during the predraft process.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (via Grizzlies): Harry Giles III (Duke, PF, Freshman)
With three first-round picks, there isn't a team in better position to gamble on Harry Giles III than the Portland Trail Blazers. At No. 20, they wouldn't be passing on anyone who's can't-miss, anyway.
Doctors will have to give Portland some assurance that no long-term damage is done to his surgically repaired knees. But assuming Giles receives a clean bill of health, it's worth finding out if his explosiveness will return and skills can improve.
In limited minutes at Duke, he still shot 57.7 percent and averaged 13.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. At the least, Giles should be able to carve out a role giving Portland easy baskets, second-chance points and energy.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SF, 1998)
Terrance Ferguson wasn't able to show much playing limited minutes in Australia's National Basketball League, but he'll look more convincing during workouts.
Ferguson aces the NBA eye test for a wing with 6'7" size, dunk-contest athleticism and a shooting stroke that connected on seven threes during the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit.
It's difficult to get excited about Doug McDermott's long-term potential in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder rank No. 28 in long-range percentage. At No. 21, it's worth taking a chance on Ferguson's three-and-D potential.
22. Toronto Raptors (via Clippers): OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)
DeMarre Carroll has been underwhelming, Bruno Caboclo still hasn't shown anything and P.J. Tucker is entering free agency. That could make OG Anunoby more attractive to the Toronto Raptors, assuming doctors declare his knee OK to invest in.
Before going down late in the season, Anunoby had established the reputation for being an elite defensive prospect with blazing foot speed, extreme length and explosive athleticism. Instead of settling on a lower-ceiling prospect at No. 22, general manager Masai Ujiri could look to gamble on Anunoby's recovery and shooting stroke improving.
Still 19 years old, time is on his side.
23. Orlando Magic (via Raptors): Tyler Lydon (Syracuse, PF, Sophomore)
Unless the Orlando Magic already have a different best player available in mind, Tyler Lydon stands out as an ideal fit.
The team ranks last in the NBA in three-point percentage, and none of its bigs can space the floor. Lydon never improved as a scorer or shot-creator, but his jumper looks like the real deal after connecting on 39.5 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.
Between his shooting and athleticism at the rim, that could be enough for Lydon to carve out a supporting role. Becoming more of a playmaking threat off the dribble takes his game and value to another level.
24. Utah Jazz: Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, Sophomore)
Luke Kennard struggled in the NCAA tournament, but two rough games won't wipe out a season full of volume scoring and high-level shot-making.
Relatively disappointing seasons from Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, plus Joe Ingles' impending free agency, could make Kennard extra attractive to the Utah Jazz.
At 6'6" with lethal shooting range (88 threes), craftiness, IQ and a competitive edge, there are enough reasons to look past Kennard's athletic and defensive limitations.
25. Brooklyn Nets (via Wizards): Ivan Rabb (California, PF/C, Sophomore)
Ivan Rabb looks poised to slip after putting up similar offensive numbers from last year, despite returning to a bigger role as a sophomore. His ceiling appears a few stories lower than what it looked like out of high school.
The Brooklyn Nets won't care too much at No. 25, especially considering their current power forwards are Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy and Andrew Nicholson. They should still feel good about Rabb's inside scoring and nose for the ball carrying over. And though we didn't see much outside shooting, Rabb does have a mid-range jumper for coaches to work with.
He'll have the chance to carve out a role as a post player, finisher and rebounder.
26. Brooklyn Nets (via Celtics): Edmond Sumner (Xavier, PG, Sophomore)
The 2017 first round offers star power in the top 10, but the talent starts to dry up in the 20s. That makes Xavier Sumner an interesting buy-low candidate for a team searching for upside.
The Brooklyn Nets, who have two first-round picks and a weak roster, are just the franchise to look at Sumner through a long-term lens. They did the same last year with Caris LeVert, who missed the second half of his senior year after suffering a foot injury.
As long as doctors expect Sumner to fully heal from his torn ACL, the potential reward tied to his tools and athleticism is worth the risk.
27. Portland Trail Blazers (via Cavaliers): Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 1995)
Mathias Lessort continues to produce overseas, making him easy for NBA teams to identity.
Averaging 13.1 points and 9.7 rebounds over his last seven games, he's been a high-activity big man in the middle, where he uses his 250-pound frame and feet to track down loose balls, finish and score with his back to the basket.
An NBA body, impressive mobility and motor suggest his low-post game, presence under the boards and defense can translate. He'll have the chance to stick in an energizer role behind Jusuf Nurkic.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets): Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF/C, Junior)
Johnathan Motley made significant improvements this year to strengthen his 2017 first-round case.
He nearly doubled his assist rate to 17.3 percent and finished with one of the top rebounding percentages (19.2 percent) among first-round prospects. Motley still looked limited to scoring within 15 feet, but his footwork, hands and mid-range touch remain promising.
Just searching for an additional contributor on a rookie contract, the Los Angeles Lakers can grab Motley for frontcourt depth behind Julius Randle and Ivica Zubac.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Bell (Oregon, PF/C, Junior)
Defense, toughness and athleticism should help Jordan Bell draw looks from playoff teams in the late first round.
They won't expect much scoring production from him, but coaches should feel good about Bell's ability to rebound, finish and protect the rim. He just blocked eight shots against Kansas in the Elite Eight after shutting down the much bigger Moritz Wagner of Michigan in the Sweet 16.
Without any enticing underclassmen available, the San Antonio Spurs can peg Bell as an energizer off the bench.
30. Utah Jazz (via Warriors): Caleb Swanigan (Purdue, PF/C, Sophomore)
At No. 30, filling a need won't be a priority for the Utah Jazz. Adding a body will be the only goal, and after averaging 18.5 points, finishing second in the nation in rebounding (12.5 per game) and improving his conditioning, Caleb Swanigan suddenly looks like a decent bet to stick.
The fact that he made 38 threes and now looks comfortable from behind the arc helps diminish concerns tied to his lack of explosiveness around the basket.
Scoring won't be his NBA calling card; instead, the Jazz will bring him in to own the glass, make open jumpers and covert in the post when a mismatch presents itself.
Draft order and stats are accurate heading into Tuesday's games and are via RealGM.com, Hoop-Math.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. All height and weight information via DraftExpress or school bios unless otherwise noted.
Jonathan Wasserman covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @NBADraftWass