Updated 2016 NBA Mock Draft Following Early-Entry Eligibility Deadline
With the early-entrant deadline having passed for the 2016 NBA draft, scouts and executives will have their hands full over the next two months.
Now that players are allowed to return to school up to 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine in May, we've seen an abundance of prospects put their names in to test the waters.
The most notable underclassmen who will return include Indiana's Thomas Bryant, Duke's Grayson Allen, California's Ivan Rabb, Arizona's Allonzo Trier, Syracuse's Tyler Lydon and Florida State's Dwayne Bacon.
Among first-round-caliber prospects who've declared, I expect Syracuse's Malachi Richardson, North Carolina's Justin Jackson and Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes to head back to school before the June 23 draft.
The draft order is based on current NBA standings and accounts for all previous trades. Players are projected based on their college/international production, proven skill sets, future potential and how they might fit with specific teams.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons (LSU, PF, Freshman)
I've had Ben Simmons going No. 1 through all the end-of-the-season turbulence. Nothing changes for me if the Philadelphia 76ers win the lottery.
After all the losses and draft picks that have raised more questions than expectations, new management won't overthink this. Simmons' ceiling is All-Star-level high, but it's also within sight.
At 6'10", 240 pounds, and coming off a year in which he averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 56.0 percent shooting, Simmons' production suggests he's closer to being NBA-ready than Duke's Brandon Ingram, while his versatility highlights unique potential.
Ingram offers plenty of upside of his own, but he's 190 pounds and shot 44.2 percent from the field. He'll give the Sixers something to think about for sure—I just can't see new general manager Bryan Colangelo passing on Simmons.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram (Duke, SF, Freshman)
If the odds hold up and the Los Angeles Lakers land a top-two pick, they shouldn't have too stressful of a decision to make.
Unless Croatia's Dragan Bender has one of those Kristaps Porzingis-like eye-opening workouts, L.A. will take either Simmons or Ingram—whoever falls into its lap.
There is a decent chance management may even hope Simmons goes No. 1. The Lakers have a hole at small forward and finished last in three-point percentage. Ingram is the better fit with the Lakers then.
He's also just 18 years old with a nearly unmatchable mix of 6'9" size and 7'3" wingspan for a perimeter player.
3. Boston Celtics (via Nets): Buddy Hield (Oklahoma, SG, Senior)
Croatia's Dragan Bender would make a ton of sense here if Buddy Hield didn't seem like such a sure thing—and one who'd fill a specific hole in the Boston Celtics lineup.
The Celtics take plenty of threes (No. 11 in attempts), but they rank No. 28 in three-point percentage. Hield is coming off one of the most impressive shooting seasons in recent memory, having hit four threes per game, shot 45.7 percent from deep and registered an unheard-of 66.5 percent true shooting percentage, per Sports-Reference.com.
It may be tough to pass on a 25-point scorer for an international benchwarmer averaging 4.5 points and 12.1 minutes. Plus, Bender may not even work out for NBA teams, per basketball reporter David Pick.
If you're president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, you're not just coveting Hield's production and efficiency. It's the work he put in to improve his game that highlights his coachability and potential to keep getting better.
Bender's ceiling is higher on paper, but I'm not sure Ainge passes on a proven shot-maker with Hield's credibility and image as a competitor.
4. Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender (Croatia, PF, 1997)
The Phoenix Suns, who look like they found a gem in Devin Booker, will be hoping Hield goes in the top three. That allows Dragan Bender to fall. And this team could really use a power forward with some upside.
Scouts have been watching Bender's versatility blossom since Eurocamp 2013. At 7'1", he blends center size with forward mobility and just enough bounce. But it's his shooting stroke, skill level and basketball IQ that set him apart. He's made 38.5 percent of his threes and has showcased impressive passing and ball-handling control over the years.
Bender also offers some intriguing defensive potential between his size and lateral foot speed.
No longer a draft-and-stash prospect, according to David Pick, the 18-year-old Croatian will look to come straight to the NBA. California's Jaylen Brown will get consideration from the Suns, given the team's need for a big wing, but look for Phoenix to take the bigger home run swing on Bender.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jamal Murray (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
The No. 25 three-point shooting team in the league should already have Jamal Murray highlighted on its board. He's a shot-maker coming off a freshman season in which he hit 113 threes and 40.8 percent of his attempts.
Minnesota may actually be a good fit for Murray, who'd play to his strengths in a lineup with go-to scorers already in place. He doesn't create a lot of separation one-on-one, but he thrives at shooting off screens, in deep spot-ups and in transition.
At 6'4", 207 pounds, with a proven jumper and unlimited confidence, he should be capable of providing the Timberwolves lineup with an immediate punch of offense. He projects as a third option or microwave sixth man capable of putting up points in bunches.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Kris Dunn (Providence, PG, Junior)
With Kris Dunn on the board, the New Orleans Pelicans can bring in their point guard of the future, move Jrue Holiday to the off-guard slot (or sixth man) and let Eric Gordon walk in free agency.
The thought of Dunn—a terrific ball-screen playmaker—running pick-and-rolls with Anthony Davis should be awfully enticing. Dunn is at his best creating open looks for teammates, both in the half court and transition, where his speed, shiftiness and acceleration light up.
He also gives New Orleans a pesky perimeter defender capable of pressuring opposing ball-handlers and forcing turnovers.
Dunn has the chance to be special if he can clean up his decision-making and improve his shooting accuracy. Regardless, his floor should still reflect a mid-level starting NBA point guard.
7. Denver Nuggets (via Knicks): Jaylen Brown (California, SF, Freshman)
It took him longer than most to enter his name, but Jaylen Brown eventually declared, and chances are he'll be the second wing off the board in June.
The argument against Brown is that he struggles to shoot and create. But the argument for him should lead to someone pulling the trigger in the top 10. You just can't teach his physical tools (6'7", 225 lbs, 7'0 ½" wingspan) and explosive bounce, while his handle and jumper can improve.
The Denver Nuggets should take Brown at No. 7 with a draft-the-best-available-player approach. He'll struggle as a rookie, but he could give Denver early minutes due to his strength, athleticism and toughness.
He's got a chance to become a Jimmy Butler-type of two-way wing if he can sharpen his ball skills over the next few seasons.
8. Sacramento Kings: Marquese Chriss (Washington, PF, Freshman)
At No. 8, nobody available screams "must-draft" or "safe bet." That makes this a good spot to gamble on upside.
Marquese Chriss won't compete for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, but his high-flying athleticism, off-the-charts coordination and encouraging perimeter game fuel enticing NBA potential.
The predraft process should act as a springboard for Chriss. He'll shine during testing at the combine, while his bounce and jumper are workout-friendly.
This late in the lottery, the Sacramento Kings aren't likely finding Rajon Rondo's replacement or an immediate upgrade to Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins or Willie Cauley-Stein. Chriss is a potentially exciting long-term play in a draft that doesn't appear to offer many.
9. Toronto Raptors: Henry Ellenson (Marquette, PF, Freshman)
The Toronto Raptors need a power forward, and arguably the most skilled one in the draft is still available. Henry Ellenson's offensive game seems tailor-made for today's NBA. At 6'11", 245 pounds, he hit 30 threes, made 42.7 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, and pulled in 9.7 rebounds per game.
He's flashed range and accuracy as a stretch big and pick-and-pop shooter. And he's willing to throw his body around inside, where he's also shown he can score with his back to the basket in the post.
Ellenson isn't super quick around the perimeter and doesn't project as a rim protector. Chances are he won't ever become a defensive asset.
However, he's made a strong case for himself by demonstrating polished, inside-out versatility—and averaging 17 points as a freshman.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga, PF/C, Sophomore)
He isn't oozing upside, but Domantas Sabonis' competitiveness and expanding offensive game are highly convincing.
You get the impression his floor is a rebounding specialist: Sabonis pulled in 14.8 boards per 40 minutes in 2015-16 thanks to a terrific nose for the ball, textbook technique, a strong frame and a live motor.
But he's also developed into a polished post-scorer capable of converting with both hands. And he raised his free-throw percentage to 76.9 percent last season. Sabonis even hit five threes, flashing stretch 4 or 5 potential.
At 6'11", 240 pounds, with quick feet and touch, he should be capable of logging minutes at both power forward and center.
11. Orlando Magic: Timothe Luwawu (France, SG/SF, 1995)
With Victor Oladipo having arguably regressed and no qualified backup 2-guard on the roster (assuming Mario Hezonja plays the 3), the Orlando Magic should be looking at Timothe Luwawu.
He's a three-and-D wing whose jumper improved dramatically, though he's struggled with shooting consistency and two-point scoring efficiency.
Still, at 6'7" with long arms, quick feet and above-the-rim bounce, Luwawu has traditional two-way tools for the position. And he's hit 2.1 triples per game while flashing playmaking potential out of pick-and-roll situations.
12. Utah Jazz: Jakob Poeltl (Utah, C, Sophomore)
You have to wonder if the whooping Jakob Poeltl took in the NCAA tournament could knock him down the board. He didn't see many NBA-caliber bigs during his two years at Utah, and Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis really took it to him in the round of 32.
However, Poeltl's improvement this year was undeniable. He took his footwork and touch to different levels. Even his hands looked softer.
At the same time, he shot 64.6 percent and averaged 9.1 boards.
Poeltl doesn't stretch the floor, and if his limited length and low two blocks per 40 minutes translate to shaky rim protection, his value would take a major hit. But with 7'0" size, excellent mobility, strong finishing ability and a fairly polished post game, Poeltl's floor is high.
13. Phoenix Suns (via Wizards): Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey, SF, 1997)
With three first-round picks, the Suns are a candidate to draft and stash Furkan Korkmaz at No. 13. His minutes have been down, and at 18 years old, he'll need another year developing with Anadolu Efes. But Korkmaz's 6'7" size, effortless bounce and lethal three-point stroke clearly reflect future NBA potential.
Long term, he projects as a transition weapon and shot-maker in the half court, though in doses, we've seen him handle the ball and knock down shots off the dribble.
Korkmaz isn't much of an attacker (he's taken 15 free throws all year) and will have to rely heavily on his jumper. But he's been efficient (48 percent from the floor, 17 turnovers in 43 games) and offers an NBA-friendly blend of athleticism and shooting.
14. Chicago Bulls: Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame, PG, Junior)
Demetrius Jackson passes the NBA eye test with a strong 201-pound frame and showtime bounce. He's a physical, tough ball-handler with a convincing track record as both a shooter (career 38.1 percent from three) and decision-maker (335 career assists to 170 turnovers).
Though capable of making all the right reads and passes, Jackson's scoring and shot-making are ahead of his playmaking. His first step isn't as explosive as his last around the rim.
But between his strength, hops, high skill level and poise, Jackson looks the part of an NBA guard. And the Chicago Bulls could use another one.
15. Denver Nuggets (via Rockets): Denzel Valentine (Michigan State, SG, Senior)
After making an upside play at No. 7, the Nuggets could go a safer route at No. 15. Limited burst and athleticism keep Denzel Valentine's ceiling in check, but his proven shooting range and passing skills should work well in a supporting role.
Valentine hit 100 threes in back-to-back seasons and just finished second in national assist percentage, per Sports-Reference.com.
The Nuggets could use another shot-maker, as well as a backup ball-handler, something Valentine may also be able to give them in spurts. But for the most part, he'd split minutes with former Michigan State teammate Gary Harris at the 2-guard position.
16. Boston Celtics (via Mavericks): Taurean Prince (Baylor, SF, Senior)
Taurean Prince's physical tools and versatility help create the perception he's one of the safer picks outside the lottery.
He shot at least 36 percent from three in each of his final three seasons. And at 6'8", 220 pounds, he's quick and strong enough to guard 3s and small-ball 4s.
Prince's shaky one-on-one game was exposed at times throughout the year, but in the pros, he should be able to play to his strengths as a three-and-D role player.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Malik Beasley (Florida State, SG, Freshman)
Malik Beasley has already put together a strong NBA case. He's both productive (15.6 points per game) and efficient (47.1 percent), plus he's flashed highlight-reel explosiveness and a 38.7 percent three-point stroke.
But he should be capable of rising even further over the next two months.
Beasley passes the eye test with 6'5" size, top-shelf athleticism and a promising jumper. Shot creativity isn't a strength at this point, but that won't show up in workouts.
A tough 2-guard with defensive potential and lateral quickness, Beasley could become a target for a Memphis Grizzlies team that needs another backcourt weapon.
18. Detroit Pistons: Tyler Ulis (Kentucky, PG, Sophomore)
During four losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first round of the NBA playoffs, Steve Blake (too old), Spencer Dinwiddie (too unpolished) and Jodie Meeks (injured) totaled eight points combined for the Detroit Pistons.
This team needs a backup point guard or another shot-maker coming off the bench. Tyler Ulis, a strong decision-maker, passer and shooter, could be a nice complement to Reggie Jackson.
A tremendous season from Ulis, in which he averaged 17.3 points and registered a 7-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, made it easier to overlook his 5'9" size in lieu of his skills and basketball IQ.
19. Denver Nuggets (via Blazers): Skal Labissiere (Kentucky, PF, Freshman)
Having already snagged Jaylen Brown and Denzel Valentine, the Nuggets could draft and stash Skal Labissiere in the NBA Development League with their third first-round pick.
He needs another year of reps to build his confidence and body, having played just 567 minutes and only totaling five more rebounds (113) than personal fouls (108). But with 6'11" size, bounce, post moves, shooting touch and shot-blocking ability, there is still first-round potential worth trying to unlock.
Considering they have three picks in the top 20, the Nuggets would make sense as a team that can afford to gamble on Labissiere. He's a boom-or-bust option no matter where he goes in the draft.
20. Indiana Pacers: Deyonta Davis (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)
With Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill entering free agency and Lavoy Allen the team's top big off the bench, the Indiana Pacers should look to add a power forward or center.
In time, Deyonta Davis should be capable of logging minutes at both frontcourt positions. At 6'10", 240 pounds, with length and impressive lateral foot speed, Davis can play down low and even guard some 4s around the perimeter.
He projects as a defensive-minded big who rebounds, blocks shots (3.9 per 40 minutes) and finishes, though we did see flashes of offensive upside on back-to-the-basket moves and the occasional mid-range jumper.
21. Atlanta Hawks: Ivica Zubac (Croatia, C, 1997)
Ivica Zubac won't be attending the NBA combine, according to Sportando.com. Instead, he'll be competing in meaningful playoff games for Mega Leks after being limited to friendly exhibitions (ineligibility following move from Cibona) since January.
Zubac found the radar last summer with Croatia during the European and World Championships. At 7'1", 265 pounds, he's physical and mobile with excellent hands and footwork around the basket.
The Atlanta Hawks will have some uncertainty to deal with in their frontcourt, considering Al Horford will be a free agent and Tiago Splitter hasn't been much help. Over a year younger than Vanderbilt's Damian Jones and 25 pounds stronger than UNLV's Stephen Zimmerman Jr., it's not crazy to think the Hawks could rank Zubac as the top big man left on the board.
He'll look to come right over and play in the NBA next year as a rookie.
22. Charlotte Hornets: Patrick McCaw (UNLV, SG, Sophomore)
Things start to get cloudy once we reach the 20s. Nobody stands out as a must-draft prospect. During the predraft process, I wouldn't be surprised to see shooting guard Patrick McCaw gain some support and move into the first-round conversation.
He checks a number of boxes the NBA traditionally values: 6'7" size for the position, a three-point shooting stroke (68 threes, 36.6 percent from three) and playmaking ability at both ends of the floor (3.9 assists, 2.5 steals per game).
McCaw is notably skinny (185 lbs), but he's flashed some attractive versatility and the production to back up intriguing potential.
With draft talent drying up here, the Charlotte Hornets, who need to upgrade their off-guard position, could take a flier on McCaw, a possible sleeper.
23. Boston Celtics: Stephen Zimmerman Jr. (UNLV, C, Freshman)
Stephen Zimmerman Jr. will have the chance to rise up boards after flying mostly under the radar as a freshman. With 7'0" size, above-average athleticism and touch, which the numbers don't quite show, he could turn some heads during testing and workouts.
Despite entering the year with questions concerning his interior toughness, he managed to average an encouraging 13.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes.
He only logged 680 total minutes on the year, so he'll likely need reps next season in the D-League. But Zimmerman's inside-out versatility seems designed for today's NBA. He's a long-term project worth taking outside the lottery in a weak draft.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (via Heat): Wade Baldwin IV (Vanderbilt, PG, Sophomore)
The 76ers need to start building their backcourt and could look at Wade Baldwin IV late in the first round. From his monster physical tools (6'3", 194 lbs, 6'10" wingspan) and athleticism to his passing (5.2 assists per game) and three-point shooting (over 40 percent each year at Vanderbilt), he looks like the top point guard prospect on the board.
Baldwin's transition game, defense and jumper are tough to argue against. It's possible Vanderbilt's offense even held him back from making the best possible sales pitch.
There may be some questions about his demeanor and decision-making, but Baldwin passes the eye test, and he should settle into the league as a defensive-minded backup ball-handler at the very least.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre' Bembry (Saint Joseph's, SG/SF, Junior)
DeAndre' Bembry is one of those prospects offering steal potential if you believe the idea he's only a jump shot away. A terrific athlete, unusually sharp playmaker and active rebounder with defensive tools, Bembry could offer strong value this late if his percentages ever rise.
He's capable from outside, having hit 120 threes in three years at Saint Joseph's. At 21 years old, there is still time left for his jumper to improve.
Otherwise, his transition game, two-point scoring and passing are the real deal. He can create his own shot in the post, explode to the rack in line drives, plus find teammates off screens and penetration.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Thunder): Dejounte Murray (Washington, SG, Freshman)
There aren't too many exciting guards for the 76ers to choose from outside the lottery. Dejounte Murray will be worth a look with one of the team's two picks in the 20s.
A 6'5" scoring combo guard, Murray averaged 16.1 points and 4.4 assists as a freshman while sharing a backcourt with Andrew Andrews, who averaged 20.9 points and 4.9 assists of his own.
Murray took advantage of Washington's uptempo pace. Still, he's lightning in transition and a constant threat to get into the paint, where he's showcased a wide array of floaters, runners and layups.
He's a bit wild and isn't much of a shooter, but the 76ers won't find any perfect prospects this late in the draft.
27. Toronto Raptors: Cheick Diallo (Kansas, PF/C, Freshman)
Cheick Diallo wasn't able to make much of an impression during his one-and-done year at Kansas.
He did show off that live motor and active athleticism, which translated to 13.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 40 minutes. Diallo's blend of size, length, quickness and bounce generates activity around the basket. And he could offer the versatility to guard both 4s and 5s.
He projects as an energizer capable of making plays without needing any run to him. He may even have a better-than-advertised mid-range jumper.
Just don't expect Diallo to see many NBA minutes as a rookie. The D-League awaits him.
28. Phoenix Suns (via Cavaliers): Ante Zizic (Croatia, C, 1997)
Ante Zizic continues to rack up the production overseas, having double-doubled in three of Cibona's last four games. His agent also recently announced that the 19 year old now has a buyout in his contract this summer, meaning teams could bring him over right away.
He's arguably the most productive and easily the most efficient international prospect on the first-round radar given his 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game on 64.7 percent shooting from the floor.
His projected role in the NBA already seems clear: Zizic is a high-energy big man who brings toughness under the boards and soft hands around the basket, where his developing low-post game has become another selling point.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Thon Maker (Athlete Institute, PF, 1997)
There are questions concerning Thon Maker's NBA fit. His skinny frame can be easily moved inside, and though capable of handling the ball and making open jump shots, he's not sharp or fluid enough to be considered a perimeter player.
Maker's value lies within his energy and motor as a fairly athletic 7-footer. He runs hard and competes around the basket, where his relentless approach translates to easy buckets, second-chance points and blocked shots.
He'll spend next year in the D-League, but at No. 29, Maker is a project worth taking on for a San Antonio Spurs team that always seems to maximize talent.
30. Golden State Warriors: Brice Johnson (North Carolina, PF, Senior)
Teams may hesitate on a big who doesn't protect the rim or stretch the floor as a shooter. But Brice Johnson's bounce, motor and nose for the ball should still hold NBA value.
He projects as an interior energizer who'll run the floor, finish and rebound. Johnson's pro employer will ask him to inject a front line with some life and activity.
Adding an everyday mid-range jumper, which he occasionally flashed, would help boost his NBA value.