The first two picks of Thursday's NBA draft are—at least seemingly—set. The Philadelphia 76ers have narrowed their focus to LSU's Ben Simmons, and the Los Angeles Lakers will happily take Duke's Brandon Ingram with the second pick.
Not all that much really changes, even if Philly flip-flops and takes Ingram. The Lakers would simply skip to the podium and keep Simmons in purple and gold. Barring some sort of cataclysmic event, Simmons and Ingram are coming off the board No. 1 and No. 2.
After that? Pure chaos.
No one knows quite how the Boston Celtics will handle things. There is a steep drop-off after Ingram on most boards, with players No. 3-8 all having generally the same grade. The Celtics could grab the highest upside in Marquese Chriss or Jaylen Brown, go for the semi-sure thing in Kris Dunn or send the pick as part of a package for a veteran.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford tried to suss out the biggest narratives in his latest mock draft. Here is a look at how his picks played out and analysis of the most notable moves.
Chad Ford Mock Draft
|1||Philadelphia 76ers||Ben Simmons, F, LSU|
|2||Los Angeles Lakers||Brandon Ingram, F, Duke|
|3||Boston Celtics||Jaylen Brown, F, California|
|4||Phoenix Suns||Marquese Chriss, F, Washington|
|5||Minnesota Timberwolves||Kris Dunn, G, Providence|
|6||New Orleans Pelicans||Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky|
|7||Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks)||Dragan Bender, F/C, Croatia|
|8||Sacramento Kings||Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma|
|9||Toronto Raptors (via Denver Nuggets)||Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Gonzaga|
|10||Milwaukee Bucks||Dejounte Murray, G, Washington|
|11||Orlando Magic||Skal Labissiere, F/C, Kentucky|
|12||Utah Jazz||Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah|
|13||Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards)||Henry Ellenson, F/C, Marquette|
|14||Chicago Bulls||Wade Baldwin IV, G, Vanderbilt|
|15||Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets)||Furkan Korkmaz, G, Turkey|
|16||Boston Celtics (via Dallas Mavericks)||Deyonta Davis|
|17||Memphis Grizzlies||Malachi Richardson, G, Syracuse|
|18||Detroit Pistons||Thon Maker, F, Australia|
|19||Denver Nuggets (via Portland Trail Blazers)||Ante Zizic, C, Croatia|
|20||Indiana Pacers||Juan Hernangomez, F, Spain|
|21||Atlanta Hawks||Ivica Zubac, C, Bosnia|
|22||Charlotte Hornets||Denzel Valentine, G, Michigan State|
|23||Boston Celtics||Cheick Diallo, F, Kansas|
|24||Philadelphia 76ers (via Miami Heat)||Malik Beasley, G, Florida State|
|25||Los Angeles Clippers||DeAndre Bembry, F, Saint Joseph's|
|26||Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder)||Patrick McCaw, G, UNLV|
|27||Toronto Raptors||Guerschon Yabusele, F, France|
|28||Phoenix Suns (via Cleveland Cavaliers)||Timothe Luwawu, G/F, France|
|29||San Antonio Spurs||Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame|
|30||Golden State Warriors||Damian Jones, C, Vanderbi|
Most Notable Selections
Brown Ascends to Top 3
McCollum and the Blazers Snapped Postseason Losing Streak for "Jennifer"
Stars Invest in Plant-Based Food as Vegetarianism Sweeps NBA
The NBA Got Some Wild Techs This Season
Jarrett Allen Is One of the NBA’s Hottest Rim Protectors
Wade's Jersey Swaps Created Epic Moments This Season
Westbrook Makes History While Honoring Nipsey Hussle
Devin Booker Makes History with Scoring Tear
29 Years Ago, Jordan Dropped Career-High 69 Points
Bosh Is Getting His Jersey Raised to the Rafters in Miami
Steph Returns to Houston for 1st Time Since His Moon Landing Troll
Lou Williams Is Coming for a Repeat of Sixth Man of the Year
Pat Beverley Has the Clippers Stealing the LA Shine
LeBron Keeps Shredding NBA Record Books
Young's Hot Streak Is Heating Up the ROY Race with Luka
LeBron and 2 Chainz Form a Superteam to Release a New Album
Wade's #OneLastDance Dominated February
Warriors Fans Go Wild After Unforgettable Moments with Steph
Eight Years Ago, the Nuggets Traded Melo to the Knicks
Two Years Ago, the Kings Shipped Boogie to the Pelicans
ASG Will Be Competitive Again If the NBA Raises the Stakes
According to Ford, the Celtics "continue to explore every option." That's a sign of a team that's not enamored with any of the available prospects. Boston would likely prefer to package the No. 3 pick for a veteran star; Ford and Marc Stein reported the team has interest in Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler.
As of now, though, the Celtics land a guy whose game closest resembles Butler in this class. Brown is a developing 19-year-old built like a grown man. There are quite a few players in this class who will need extra weight and strength to survive. Not Brown. He measured at just under 6'7" in shoes and has a wingspan that nearly reaches seven feet on a 222-pound frame.
His one-season stop at Cal was riddled with disappointment. The Golden Bears reached only the first round in the NCAA tournament despite having one of their best recruiting classes in history. The inconsistent play of Brown and Ivan Rabb was at the center of their issues. Brown finished with averages of 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds, shooting 43.1 percent overall and 29.4 percent from three.
The lack of jumper is the biggest hindrance to his success. He has a DeMar DeRozan-like ability to get to the free-throw line and a better-than-advertised game off the dribble. But NBA defenses are just going to sag back and beg him to beat them with mid-range jumpers. Teams were already doing it at Cal; only five of Brown's two-point jumpers last season were assisted, per Hoop-Math.com.
His field-goal percentage on twos: 30.4 percent.
The Celtics would be banking on their ability to develop Brown's jumper. If they even turn him into an average jump shooter, the floor of his potential is a Jae Crowder type.
A rare high-floor, high-upside pick.
Buddy Falls to No. 8
The idea that Buddy Hield is a guaranteed superstar in the making has fallen by the wayside since the college season ended. It was never rooted all that much in realism. Hield is a skilled offensive player but one with glaring flaws anyone could see once they stopped being mesmerized by his brilliant shot-making.
Let's start out with the defense. It's nonexistent. Hield is being billed as a gritty senior leader, but he basically punted one end of the floor for his entire college career. The weight he was carrying offensively last season excuses that somewhat. It doesn't explain Hield's below-average play on that end before he was competing for National Player of the Year awards.
But the biggest concern with Hield is his lack of ability to create shots for himself off the dribble. There was a J.J. Redickian quality to his game. He would run off screens and get a head start to the rim rather than starting the offense himself. More than two-thirds of his threes were assisted, per Hoop-Math.com, and he struggled when asked to create for himself inside the arc.
Hield shot 36.9 percent on (mostly unassisted) two-point jumpers, about 9 percent less than his three-point rate. All of this has made the likelihood the Celtics grab him at No. 3 highly unlikely.
That said, the Kings would be thrilled if he were still sitting there at No. 8. Hield is the reliable secondary scorer and floor spacer the Kings need around DeMarcus Cousins. He can fit in right away as their starting 2, a position Sacramento filled last season with a clown car of replacement-level players. The Kings won't help their putrid defensive identity by drafting Hield, but they can make this work if they focus on the right types of players in free agency.
Valentine, Ulis Sliding Due to Injury Concerns
Denzel Valentine was, at least early in this process, a top-10 player for me. My affinity for him as a player hasn't waned a bit.
He is the exact type of versatile wing you want in today's NBA. He shoots the lights-out, creates for himself and others off the dribble and plays tough defense despite being a below-average athlete. While going head to head against NBA athletes would help negate some of those skills, Valentine posting a nearly 6'11" wingspan at the combine lent itself well to him staying solid defensively. In certain small-ball lineups, Valentine might be able to use his length to slide between defending the 2-4 positions.
Outside Hield's superior athletic ability, there was never really any tangible reason he and Valentine were separated by a vast chasm on NBA draft boards. It was actually Valentine who walked away as the AP Player of the Year. And it's Valentine who has the more versatile skill set as an offensive player.
Unfortunately, it's also Valentine who has a potentially degenerative knee condition. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders compared his knee to that of Danny Granger, who went from being an NBA star at 28 to barely scraping himself off the bench at 30. Granger still had what amounted to a solid five-year prime, but it's understandable teams are scurrying away.
Concerns over Valentine's ability to hold up over an 82-game season have slipped him all the way to No. 22 with the Charlotte Hornets. This is around the point where he becomes an absolute steal. If you get five years of starter-worthy production out of a non-lottery pick, you're doing better than the mean. Valentine is going to find NBA success as long as he's healthy.
Injuries are also a factor for Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis, who finds himself outside the first round for the first time in the process. Kyler reported Ulis is dealing with a hip injury that could need surgery. For a player who already ranks among the smallest guys (5'10", 149 lbs) to enter the NBA, even the slightest inkling of injury troubles will send teams scurrying.
Ulis will probably make teams regret their decision. It seems all these small guys with elite skills—Ulis would be a top-eight guy if he were three inches taller—do. But it's really beginning to look like he'll be available at the top of Round 2.
All combine stats via NBA.com.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter