2016 NBA Mock Draft: Predictions for Prospects Poised to Shake Up 1st Round

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2016

Jan 3, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies forward Marquese Chriss (0) holds the ball as USC Trojans forward Bennie Boatwright (25) defends during the first half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

There's more than one wild card in the 2016 NBA draft who could shake up the first round. 

The draft class is light on guys who can make an impact right away, but it's full of players with tantalizing potential. In essence, there isn't a whole lot separating the top tiers of talent in this draft, and a sense of unpredictability is the result. 

Looking at the first-round landscape, there are plenty of prospects who could create a ripple effect because they either slide down draft boards or a team falls in love with them and takes them early. 

Here's a look at a complete projected first round along with the players who could completely destroy these projections because their stocks are simply too hard to nail down at this point. 

2016 NBA Mock Draft
1.Philadelphia 76ersBen SimmonsFLSU
2.Los Angeles LakersBrandon IngramFDuke
3.Boston Celtics (via BKN)Buddy HieldGOklahoma
4.Phoenix SunsDragan BenderF/CCroatia
5.Minnesota TimberwolvesKris DunnPGProvidence
6.New Orleans PelicansJaylen BrownSFCalifornia
7.Denver Nuggets (via NYK)Jamal MurrayGKentucky
8.Sacramento KingsMarquese ChrissFWashington
9.Toronto Raptors (via DEN)Skal LabissiereF/CKentucky
10.Milwaukee BucksDejounte MurrayGWashington
11.Orlando MagicJakob PoeltlF/CIowa
12.Utah JazzDeyonta DavisPFMichigan State
13.Phoenix Suns (via WAS)Malachi RichardsonGSyracuse
14.Chicago BullsWade BaldwinPGVanderbilt
15.Denver Nuggets (via HOU)Henry EllensonF/CMarquette
16.Boston Celtics (via DAL)Timothe LuwawuG/FFrance
17.Memphis GrizzliesDemetrius JacksonPGNotre Dame
18.Detroit PistonsDomantas SabonisF/CGonzaga
19.Denver Nuggets (via POR)Furkan KorkmazG/FTurkey
20.Indiana PacersDamian JonesF/CVanderbilt
21.Atlanta HawksIvica ZubacCCroatia
22.Charlotte HornetsDenzel ValentineG/FMichigan State
23.Boston CelticsBrice JohnsonF/CNorth Carolina
24.Philadelphia 76ers (via MIA)Tyler UlisPGKentucky
25.Los Angeles ClippersTaurean PrinceSFBaylor
26.Philadelphia 76ers (via OKC)Ante ZizicCCroatia
27.Toronto RaptorsThon MakerFAustralia
28.Phoenix Suns (via CLE)DeAndre' BembrySFSt. Joseph's
29.San Antonio SpursStephen ZimmermanCUNLV
30.Golden State WarriorsMalik BeasleyGFlorida State

Dragan Bender

The story of Dragan Bender is a tale as old as time as far as the NBA draft is concerned. He's a mysterious European 7-footer with range and athleticism. It seems like there's one every year—and every year, they're one of the draft's biggest wild cards. 

Bender's ceiling appears to be Boston. The draft truly starts to get interesting when Boston gets on the board. If we can draw any conclusions from Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge's comments, per ESPN's Chris Forsberg, then Bender could very well be in play:

Chris Forsberg @ESPNForsberg

Celtics workouts today included four 7-footers. Said Austin Ainge: "We need size and we'll scour the world for it as a league."

Meanwhile, it doesn't look like it will take long for him to get snatched up if the Celtics opt to go another route. Chad Ford of ESPN believes that when the Phoenix Suns go on the clock at No. 4, their decision has been whittled down to either Washington's Marquese Chriss (more on him later) or Bender. 

The narrative surrounding Bender is familiar. At 7'1" with a smooth shooting stroke and the lateral quickness to develop into the kind of defender who can switch on pick-and-rolls, he could be the futuristic big whom teams are going to covet. 

Ultimately, that's going to be enough to get a team in the top five to pull the trigger despite the risk he could be the next Jan Vesely or Darko Milicic. 

Bender's selection will inevitably cause someone who is more well-known to college basketball fans slide out of the top five. 

Marquese Chriss

Upside. Potential. Length. If it's an NBA draft buzzword, you can probably use it to describe Chriss. 

The potential is easy to see. He'll turn 19 in July. He's 6'10" with a 7'0" wingspan, shot 35 percent from three-point range and possesses the kind of athleticism that has NBA teams believing they can mold him into an impact player.

In a draft class that's low on guaranteed difference-makers, the opportunity to develop Chriss is even more enticing. Chriss' shooting ability paired with the athleticism gives him the tools to become the rare big who can both spread the floor and protect the rim on the other end. 

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report touches on Chriss' rise up draft boards in the video below:

It's not safe to start chalking up the All-NBA selections for Chriss quite yet, though. There's a reason Chriss' rise is coming in June and not back in March. Chriss' game is still extremely unrefined. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports pointed out his basketball IQ as something that still needs plenty of work:

Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie

Need to stop mythologizing Marquese Chriss. Dude is a great athlete who can shoot but doesn’t know how to play. Maybe it works, maybe not

Then the question becomes just how high teams are willing to draft a guy who projects as a total boom-or-bust prospect. According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Chriss has a legitimate chance to be taken at No. 3. 

While that doesn't seem to be out of the realm of possibility, there are a lot of players who are much more likely to hit in the top 10. That's why he falls to No. 8 in these projections. 

Malachi Richardson

Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Malachi Richardson (23) drives to the basket against North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II (2) during the second half in the 2016 NCAA Men's Division I Championship semi-final game at NRG Stadium
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Another player who seems to be peaking in terms of draft stock at the right time is Malachi Richardson. The Syracuse guard is a polarizing prospect who seems to be going up draft boards as we near the actual selections. 

Richardson can be polarizing because he ignites the debate between scouting and analytics. Richardson looks the part of an NBA wing. He's 6'6", 200 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan. He can handle the ball and has shown the ability to both make plays for others and create his own shot. 

Then there's the numbers. Richardson had the worst true shooting percentage of anyone in Draft Express' top 100 prospects in this class.

However, according to ESPN's draft projections, Richardson has just a 10 percent chance of becoming an NBA starter based on historical data and Richardson's size, weight, age and play in college. He ranked just No. 31 in the class according to the metric. 

That doesn't appear to be where teams have him valued. Richardson has canceled workouts with teams in the later first round, and Ford of ESPN believes it creates a situation where he's going somewhere between the 10th and 21st pick:

It looks as if his agent is confident that Richardson is going somewhere in the late lottery or slightly later. The Jazz (No. 12), Suns (No. 13), Nuggets (No. 15 and No. 19) and Hawks (No. 21) have gotten workouts. It sounds as if the Bucks (No. 10) will get one as well.

Agents do this all the time. They get what are called 'soft promises' from teams that basically say, 'If the draft plays out the way we think it will and if we keep the pick, we'll take your guy.' If agents get multiple soft promises, they often choose to limit a player's workouts.

Analytics continue to take on an expanding role in the league. Still, there are those out there who still trust their instincts over what the numbers say. The fact that Richardson could still wind up in the lottery despite the numbers' support is just another reason that this draft is going to be a volatile one.