Not all NBA drafts unfold according to plan.
Teams vacillate between potential choices. They consider moving up in the order. They consider moving down. They try consolidating picks, hoping to acquire a superstar.
Seldom do most—or even some—of the most popular surprise scenarios come to fruition, but such scenarios are still possible.
Thus, it's our responsibility as loyal hoops addicts to cycle through any possible draft-day curveballs, however unlikely, that would make the biggest lasting impacts on the June 23 proceedings and/or the resulting NBA landscape.
Sixers Reach for Kris Dunn at No. 1
Kris Dunn to the Philadelphia 76ers? Over Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons? Preposterous.
Or maybe not.
"Dunn is a super-athletic point guard in the mold of John Wall," Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher said. "He's exactly what the 76ers need and would be a great fit. They just don't have the gumption, I'm told by league sources, to take him No. 1, even though the feeling is he could ultimately be the best player among the three."
Bucher also noted that the Sixers are trying to move Jahlil Okafor for the Boston Celtics' No. 3 overall pick, which would allow Philadelphia to take Dunn at No. 3 without passing on Ingram or Simmons. Philly, per Calkins Media's Tom Moore, is still favoring Simmons:
Philly could even part ways with Nerlens Noel, albeit in a deal that could possibly torpedo its interest in Dunn, according to Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania:
Trading one of Noel or Okafor is a must at this point. Simmons only compounds a frontcourt logjam that will soon include Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. There isn't enough space in the rotation—or on the floor—for all of them to flourish.
That's why Ingram's name remains in the top-pick conversation, even if he isn't the favorite. He fills an immediate need for Philly, just like Dunn.
And if the Sixers can't line up suitors for any of their incumbent bigs, they may draft for need over assumed talent. Just think about how that would affect the draft.
Bleacher Report's draft guru Jonathan Wasserman has Dunn going No. 6 to the New Orleans Pelicans in his latest mock draft. All hell will break loose if he instead goes to the Sixers at No. 1. That would send Ingram and Simmons into the Los Angeles Lakers' (No. 2) and Celtics' waiting arms.
If Philly selected Dunn at No. 3 after possibly dealing Okafor to Boston, it would still be reaching. In addition, Dunn's possible ascension would impact where at least one other premier prospect would fall.
Would Buddy Hield drop out of the top five, since neither the Phoenix Suns (No. 4) nor the Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 5) need a guard to move the offensive needle? Would the Pelicans target another wing, like Jaylen Brown? Or would they perhaps hope Dragan Bender slips to No. 6, should the two best ball-handling guards, Dunn and Hield, come off the board?
It doesn't matter how or when the Sixers select Dunn. If they somehow get him, the rest of the top 10 will feel the repercussions.
Dragan Bender Transcends Projections
Bender's climb up the draft ranks over the last year is legitimate. It doesn't hurt that Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis has put sweet-shooting European bigs with a defensive pulse on the NBA map.
But while Bender has settled into a spot inside the top five of this year's prospect pageant, ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton argued that he should—and could—go higher:
I think there's a case to be made that even No. 4 is too low for Bender. ...
Bender's consensus projection is for 3.5 WARP—second in this year's draft behind Ben Simmons. Nobody else is above 3.0, with Brandon Ingram at 2.9. Murray (2.6) and Dunn (2.3) are far below Bender.
While Bender is unlikely to help quite as much right away as the guards, particularly the 22-year-old Dunn, if teams are patient I think he's got a much better chance of becoming a star.
Both the Celtics and Lakers can use another body in the middle, and Bender, though a project, has the chops to be an upgrade on both sides of the floor.
He shot 36.9 percent from three-point range in 28 appearances for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli Basketball Super League (BSL) this past season, per RealGM, and is already a better passer than Porzingis. He isn't a prototypical shot-blocker, which won't change in the NBA until he packs on more muscle.
But he can guard an array of positions, having flashed an ability to close out shooters or pick up ball-handlers off the dribble:
The Celtics have invested ample time into scouting Bender; team president Danny Ainge even made the trip overseas to watch him, per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg. The same goes for the Lakers and general manager Mitch Kupchak, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com.
It's the latter team that has an opportunity to muck up projections. The Lakers are forever draft-day wild cards. It's never clear whether they'll pick for trades or for keeps.
Most expect them to take whoever the Sixers leave on the board between Ingram and Simmons. But Kupchak wouldn't pigeonhole the Lakers into a particular selection after the draft lottery, per David Aldridge of NBA.com:
If you look at our depth chart, you can make an argument that we need a player in the frontcourt. We need a big. Jordan [Clarkson] is a free agent and we'd like to sign him. D'Angelo [Russell], we're very high on, and we have Lou Williams. I think we're more set in the backcourt than the frontcourt. Two days after the Lottery, that's where we are. In six weeks, we'll see.
Simmons is a no-brainer if he's still available. At 6'10", with his defensive skill set, he will thrive as a power forward, and perhaps even as a small-ball center.
Ingram, a 6'9" combo forward, might be a sure thing as well. But the Lakers already have Clarkson (a restricted free agent) and Russell, not to mention Williams and Nick Young. On top of that, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith already has them poaching DeMar DeRozan, who holds a player option, from the Toronto Raptors in free agency.
If the Lakers feel they can fill the small forward slot over the summer on the market and Simmons is in Philly (as anticipated), rolling the dice on Bender will become a viable option. Ingram would then slip to Boston.
Suddenly, the Celtics would find themselves with an NBA-ready prospect who would likely fetch more than Hield or Bender on the trade market. That, in turn, may increase the odds of Boston using Ingram and its war chest of other first-rounders and prospects as superstar bait. It might also make the idea of pushing forward with the current core more appealing.
It's tough to tell exactly what will happen elsewhere if the Lakers shun conventional wisdom and grab Bender. But that sense of the unknown speaks to the gravity of this surprise.
Boston Finally Shares the Wealth
Speaking of the Celtics' trade aspirations, they once again have the picks, prospects and reasonably priced contracts to flip draft night on its head.
It's just a matter of whether they'll turn those assets loose.
“Right now, we’re trying to become a better team as fast as we can without selling out," Ainge told WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche in May, per CBS Boston. "We want to become a more significant team this upcoming year, and at the same time we want to build something that is sustainable for a long period of time."
Spoken like a man who's ready to throw together another low-ball offer for Jimmy Butler.
Seriously, though, the Celtics can assemble a competitive package for Butler. Or DeMarcus Cousins. Or Blake Griffin. Ainge can contact Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird, inquire about Paul George's availability and probably not be laughed off the phone.
Possible ramifications of any such blockbuster deal are vast. Another team will own some of Boston's picks, including No. 3, and will perhaps gear up for an unplanned rebuild under such a scenario. That would shake up mock drafts everywhere, depending on the trade partner.
Oh, and the Celtics, in this hypothetical, would have a star—much to the dismay of the Sixers, who would need a different team to overpay for Okafor.
Denver Dances Up the Ladder
"With the No. 7, 15 and 19 picks in the first round," Aldridge wrote, "Denver could certainly make a big push to move up with any combination of those picks if there's a top-five talent to be had."
Dangling some of those selections—most likely No. 7 and 15 to start—will get the Nuggets a phone call with any team holding a top-five choice outside Philly. And if they could sneak into that range by seducing one of the Lakers, Celtics, Suns or Timberwolves, the Nuggets would be positioned to reach for whoever they please.
That's the luxury of having a rebuilding roster without a glaring hole.
Denver has its point guard of the future in Emmanuel Mudiay; more than enough wings and swingmen in Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris; and its 4-5 rotation is set with Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic, plus some Gallinari sprinkled in at power forward.
Gobs of cap space this summer will afford the Nuggets further license to swing for the fences. They have the means to carve out max room and can spend that money on proven safety nets if they wish to chase wins.
So if they jump into the top five, would they dare take Jamal Murray before the Timberwolves? Might they try out a Hield-Mudiay backcourt?
If the Lakers gamble on Bender, would the Nuggets be liable to move heaven, earth, multiple first-round picks and another wing (Barton, Gallinari, etc.) for a crack at Ingram?
Basically, our best shot at witnessing utter anarchy in the top five lies with a team lurking outside it.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @danfavale.