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

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2016

Thon Maker is one of the biggest names ready to shake up the 2016 draft.
Thon Maker is one of the biggest names ready to shake up the 2016 draft.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

In hindsight, most would not have believed some of the wild things that happened in last year's NBA draft.

If someone had slapped a bold prediction on the table saying four players from the Kentucky Wildcats would go off the board in the lottery, one might have scoffed. Then Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker did just that.

If someone said the first player to skip college to play in China and then enter the draft would be a top-seven pick, well, yeah right, right? Then Emmanuel Mudiay came off the board at No. 7.

It goes on and on. But the lesson is rather simple: No bold prediction is too crazy ahead of Thursday's 2016 NBA draft, unless it's blatantly impossible.

With such an understanding in mind, here's a look at an updated mock with some notable predictions after the jump.

2016 NBA Mock Draft

1.Philadelphia 76ersF Ben Simmons, LSU
2.Los Angeles LakersSF Brandon Ingram, Duke
3.Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn)PF Dragan Bender, Croatia
4.Phoenix SunsSG Jamal Murray, Kentucky
5.Minnesota TimberwolvesSF Jaylen Brown, California
6.New Orleans PelicansSG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
7.Denver Nuggets (via New York)F Marquese Chriss, Washington
8.Sacramento KingsPG Kris Dunn, Providence
9.Toronto Raptors (via Denver)C Jakob Poeltl, Utah
10.Milwaukee BucksC Thon Maker, Orangeville Prep
11.Orlando MagicPF/C Deyonta Davis, Michigan State
12.Utah JazzF Henry Ellenson, Marquette
13.Phoenix Suns (via Washington)C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
14.Chicago BullsG Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
15.Denver Nuggets (via Houston)SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey
16.Boston Celtics (via Dallas)SG Timothe Luwawu, France
17.Memphis GrizzliesPG Dejounte Murray, Washington
18.Detroit PistonsSG Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
19.Denver Nuggets (via Portland)G Caris LeVert, Michigan
20.Indiana PacersPF Brice Johnson, North Carolina
21.Atlanta HawksC Diamond Stone, Maryland
22.Charlotte HornetsPF Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
23.Boston CelticsF Paul Zipser, Germany
24.Philadelphia 76ers (via Miami)G Malik Beasley, Florida State
25.Los Angeles ClippersC Cheick Diallo, Kansas
26.Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City)F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
27.Toronto RaptorsF Taurean Prince, Baylor
28.Phoenix Suns (via Cleveland)C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
29.San Antonio SpursPG Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
30.Golden State WarriorsC Zhou Qi, China
Author's projections

Bold Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects

Zhou Qi Sneaks in the First Round

Upside will see Zhou Qi off the board in the first round.
Upside will see Zhou Qi off the board in the first round.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Chinese center prospect Zhou Qi made a huge splash at the scouting combine because, well, he's huge.

Qi measures in at 7'2" and 218 pounds, and according to the ESPN.com scouting report, posted averages of 17.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as of January.

At the combine, most of the NBA saw this incredible size in action for the first time, with the only major red flag popping up coming in the weight and strength category. That, and according to ESPN's Chad Ford, age might enter the conversation:

Chad Ford @chadfordinsider

Chinese big man Zhou Qi will remain in the draft. Tough to gauge his draft stock. Very talented but teams think he's older than listed age

If true, NBA teams will wind up having less time than anticipated to help Qi fill out his frame and develop into a player who gets significant minutes.

Still, he's the type of prospect a team with multiple picks or simply sitting in a position of luxury pulls the trigger on and hopes for the best. In the mock above, the Golden State Warriors roll the dice, hoping for a long-term solution at center—and as a bonus, Qi can consistently knock down shots from deep.

Most figure Qi falls out of the first round, with Ford slotting him 48th on his big board. But Qi's rare skill set will have him labeled as a first-round pick.

Thon Maker...Makes the Lottery

It seems many don't want to buy into the Thon Maker hype either. 

Maker has also taken an unconventional route to the NBA, but has a new-era skill set at center that teams simply cannot afford to ignore.

After somewhat breaking the draft process via a loophole and finding himself eligible anyway, Maker is an attractive target for teams in need underneath the basket because he comes in at 7'1" and 216 pounds and can shoot well from anywhere on the court.

Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com touched on a common theme surrounding Maker when talking about the Australian prospect:

Steve Kyler @stevekylerNBA

I don't see Thon Maker as viable for the Pistons. Stan does not have patience for that kind of development. https://t.co/kpg5BETSLu

Many teams seem to think it can happen both ways and get a high-upside player who won't need long to develop. It's rare and usually a line of thinking leading to years of misery.

Maker is a big project, no doubt. But the NBA draft is all about upside in a league where—unlike say, the NFL—the prospects are second-bit players to what a team can accomplish in free agency or via trade.

It's why Maker will still come off the board in the lottery. The Milwaukee Bucks pull the trigger in the above mock and let him grow alongside a core boasting Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Maker is a long-term investment, but based on the upside, a worthy one early in the round if he meshes well with a team's plans.

Marquese Chriss Completes Role as Biggest Later Riser

Marquese Chriss is the biggest late riser in the draft.
Marquese Chriss is the biggest late riser in the draft.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

It wasn't easy to find info about Washington's Marquese Chriss a few weeks ago. Now he has to deal with the stigma of being the most notable late riser in the class.

Why it took the hype machine this long to build up Chriss is hard to understand. He's 6'9" and 233 pounds with some of the most alluring upside in the class after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three-point range.

A June ESPN.com update took a stab at explaining the late rise:

Chriss has been in our top eight for the past few months. His combination of size, athleticism, shooting ability and shot blocking is rare. While he's still a major work in progress, the upside makes him incredibly attractive to teams outside the top two trying to hit a home run in this draft. The Celtics, Suns, Wolves, Pelicans, Nuggets, Kings and Raptors all have strong interest, putting his range at No. 3-9.

On the other hand, CBSSports.com's Matt Moore provided an idea for teams in love with Chriss' upside, but don't want to roll the dice right now:

Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball

Thing with Marquese Chriss: Target him for trade in the last year of his rookie deal or as an RFA instead of drafting him.

The only problem there is the team willing to make the initial investment might be unable to let Chriss go if he pans out. As the above mock shows, he's a stellar fit in Denver, where he joins a lineup already featuring Mudiay, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.

This upside and strong fit with various teams in the lottery means Chriss will land as the biggest surprise of the draft in the minds of those who turned away from the draft process down the stretch. 

For those who kept paying attention, Chriss will merely slot as the biggest late riser to cash in, making him one of the most notable rookies to watch all year long.

All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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