NBA Mock Draft 2016: Updated Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2016

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - MARCH 12:  Ben Simmons #25 of the LSU Tigers plays against Jalen Jones #12 of the Texas A&M Aggies in an SEC Basketball Tournament Semifinals game at Bridgestone Arena on March 12, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

With second-round playoff series beginning in earnest and both remaining first-round series being decided Sunday, more than half of the NBA is officially looking toward its offseason.

Coaching vacancies are quickly filling, and the draft combine looms large. Scheduled for May 11-15 in Chicago, this year's combine had 162 eligible applicants. There are only 60 draft spots. You can see where this may be a problem.

Many of these names are players who are merely taking advantage of the NCAA's looser eligibility guidelines. Players are now allowed to retain their college eligibility until May 25, provided they do not hire an agent. They are also allowed to have one individual workout per year and enter their name in the draft as many times as they want.

The list of players who received combine invites should begin leaking at any time. Once the NBA actually releases a full list, we should get a better idea of who actually has a chance of being taken in June. For now, let's take a complete look at how the first round would shake out if it kicked off today. 

Mock Draft 

1Philadelphia 76ersBen SimmonsFLSU
2Los Angeles LakersBrandon IngramSFDuke
3Boston CelticsDragan BenderPFCroatia
4Phoenix SunsHenry EllensonPF/CMarquette
5Minnesota TimberwolvesJamal MurrayPGKentucky
6New Orleans PelicansBuddy HieldSGOklahoma
7Denver NuggetsJaylen BrownSG/SFCalifornia
8Sacramento KingsKris DunnPGProvidence
9Toronto RaptorsSkal LabissierePF/CKentucky
10Milwaukee BucksJakob PoeltlCUtah
11Orlando MagicDenzel ValentineSGMichigan State
12Utah JazzDomantas SabonisPF/CGonzaga
13Phoenix SunsFurkan KorkmazSGTurkey
14Chicago BullsDemetrius JacksonPGNotre Dame
15Denver NuggetsMarquese ChrissPFWashington
16Boston CelticsDejounte MurraySGWashington
17Memphis GrizzliesDiamond StoneCMaryland
18Detroit PistonsTyler UlisPGKentucky
19Denver NuggetsTimothe LuwawuSGFrance
20Indiana PacersWade Baldwin IVPGVanderbilt
21Atlanta HawksDeyonta DavisPFMichigan State
22Charlotte HornetsDeAndre' BembrySG/SFSaint Joseph's
23Boston CelticsThon MakerPF/CAustralia
24Philadelphia 76ersCaris LeVertSGMichigan
25Los Angeles ClippersMalik BeasleySGFlorida State
26Philadelphia 76ersCheick DialloPFKansas
27Toronto RaptorsTaurean PrinceSFBaylor
28Phoenix SunsMalachi RichardsonSGSyracuse
29San Antonio SpursGuerschon YabuselePFFrance
30Golden State WarriorsStephen ZimmermanPF/CUNLV

Top 30 Big Board

1Ben SimmonsFLSU
2Brandon IngramSFDuke
3Jamal MurrayPGKentucky
4Dragan BenderPFCroatia
5Kris DunnPGProvidence
6Henry EllensonPF/CMarquette
7Buddy HieldSGOklahoma
8Jaylen BrownSFCal
9Denzel ValentineSG/SFMichigan State
10Skal LabissiereCKentucky
11Jakob PoeltlCUtah
12Domantas SabonisPF/CGonzaga
13Furkan KorkmazSGTurkey
14Marquese ChrissPFWashington
15Demetrius JacksonPGNotre Dame
16Tyler UlisPGKentucky
17Deyonta DavisPFMichigan State
18Diamond StoneCMaryland
19Timothe LuwawuSFFrance
20Dejounte MurrayPGWashington
21Wade Baldwin IVPGVanderbilt
22DeAndre' BembrySG/SFSaint Joseph's
23Caris LeVertSGMichigan
24Thon MakerPF/CAustralia
25Stephen ZimmermanCUNLV
26Malik BeasleySGFlorida State
27Josh HartSGVillanova
28Ante ZizicCCroatia
29Taurean PrinceSFBaylor
30Malachi RichardsonSGSyracuse

Draft Storylines to Watch

Is The No. 1 "Debate" Really a Debate?

For me as an evaluator, no. Ben Simmons is the best player in this draft and will remain atop my board through June. There's no player with a higher upside. His combination of size, athleticism and basketball IQ is generational stuff—the type that draws LeBron James comparisons and no one laughs.

"I've watched him a lot, but I've watched him way before he showed up at Baton Rouge," James said in December, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. "I've been on him for probably three or four years now, and he's an unbelievable talent."

James and Simmons also have a longstanding relationship that's carried over to business, with the LSU product signing with agent Rich Paul. 

The best comparison to Brandon Ingram, the other contender for the No. 1 pick, may be Kevin Durant. Ingram didn't have the otherworldly freshman season at Duke that Durant did at Texas, but their skill sets match up in a lot of ways. Ingram has the same lanky build and unlimited range, knocking down 41 percent of his threes last season.

But the debate isn't as simple as James vs. Durant. Simmons and Ingram are not their doppelgangers; they're understandably lesser versions. Of the two, Simmons has the better chance of becoming a regular on All-NBA teams. His shot is broken, but everything else about his game is ready to go instantly. It's not hard to even draw some Giannis Antetokounmpo comparisons as a basement level for his career, especially if he finds a coach willing to let him handle the ball.

Ingram's rail-thin, was inconsistent at Duke and hasn't shown much defensive aptitude. There's no real "wrong" answer here; both will be very good NBA players. Simmons is just the better prospect, and we should all calm down on the debate. 

Where Does Thon Maker Go?

Maker is one of the most interesting draft prospects in recent memory. He's one of the four or five most well-known players in this class despite never playing a college game. The seven-footer ascended to national fame after a series of viral videos.

On YouTube, Maker looks like a basketball god. He dribbles between his legs, swats shots, strokes threes and throws down jams with ease. He looks like a real-life version of a Monstar, a player who general managers would sell their souls to have.

The reality is far different. Maker's much more of a project. Much much much more of a project. At 205 pounds, a brisk wind can carry Maker away. He makes utterly baffling plays on the floor at times; his basketball IQ is years away from even being average.

"Of the scouts I surveyed, one had him in the late lottery, several others in the mid 20s and one in the second round. That's a massive range," ESPN's Chad Ford wrote.

Had Maker been a part of the 2015 draft class, I don't think you could have justified taking him in the first round. But to be fair, the 2015 class is on pace to rank among the best in history if their rookie-year production is any indication.

The 2016 class is far weaker. Beyond Simmons and Ingram at the top, there are a lot of question marks. You have to squint a bit to find much beyond role players after the top 10, and even then you're looking at a bunch of fifth- or sixth-best players on a championship contender.

Maker's potential alone makes him worth a first-round flier in this class. There's probably a 30 percent chance it works out the way the team that drafts him wants. But some team with multiple picks will have enough guts to swing for the fences.

Where Do We Go After Simmons-Ingram?

Barring some freak injury between now and draft day, Simmons and Ingram are going to be the first two picks in some order. Even if one of the teams that winds up at No. 1 or No. 2 doesn't have a need on the wing, they're head and shoulders above their classmates. The NBA more than any other sport is a best-player-available league.

After them, that's where things get fun. Jamal Murray and Dragan Bender are the most regularly mentioned players in the No. 3 spot, but there's a real fluidity among Nos. 3-7 for me. None are surefire future All-Stars.

Murray's shot making and off-the-dribble creativity give him an advantage in today's NBA; there's just a real concern about whether he's quick enough for the next level. Bender is a fluid 7-footer who is going to draw a ton of Kristaps Porzingis comparisons—unfair ones given Bender is at least a year away from being an NBA contributor. Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn and even Henry Ellenson each have interesting cases to make over the next two months.

In all likelihood, the lottery will decide how these guys come off the board. Going simply by record as we are in this instance, the Boston Celtics are in an awkward spot. Their dream here is to land Simmons or Ingram. Either guy would fill their need for a wing and a potential star.

Here at No. 3 they're kind of stuck with a choice of Bender or Murray. Going Bender is the riskier of the two propositions, but he has the chance to really pay off down the line. The Celtics have one of the NBA's five best coaches in Brad Stevens and a patient infrastructure; there's no better fit for Bender. Going with Murray might also alienate Isaiah Thomas, who was the best player on a 48-win team this season.

If Murray doesn't go No. 3, he's probably falling all the way to No. 5. The Suns aren't in the business of creating another three-man logjam at point guard, so they're probably looking best big man available. Bender's a mortal lock for Phoenix if he's on the board, but Ellenson's a sleeper here in this scenario. He's something of a Kevin Love lite who got next to zero national recognition on a mediocre Marquette team.

Here's a fun list of how I see things playing out at No. 3, depending on the team:

How No. 3 Should Shake Out
Philadelphia 76ersJamal Murray
Los Angeles LakersDragan Bender
Boston CelticsDragan Bender
Phoenix SunsDragan Bender
Minnesota TimberwolvesJamal Murray
New Orleans PelicansJamal Murray
Denver NuggetsJamal Murray
Sacramento KingsJamal Murray
Toronto RaptorsDragan Bender
Milwaukee BucksJamal Murray
Orlando MagicJamal Murray
Utah JazzJamal Murray
Washington WizardsDragan Bender
Chicago BullsJamal Murray

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