NBA Mock Draft 2017: End-of-January Update
The level of play among 2017 NBA draft prospects is rising with only six weeks left until March Madness.
Meanwhile, the fall of the Los Angeles Lakers and rise of the Philadelphia 76ers has shaken up the projected lottery order.
In terms of strategy, teams like the Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic are going to have difficult decisions to make regarding whether to select the best player available or value fit.
Injuries have also become a theme, as two potential first-rounders have been ruled out for the season after hurting their knees.
Draft order based on NBA standings heading into Monday's games. Draft-pick trades were accounted for.
1. Boston Celtics (via BKN): Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, 6'4", Freshman)
NBA teams won't enjoy defending an Isaiah Thomas-Markelle Fultz backcourt. And general manager Danny Ainge won't pass on the chance to build it.
Averaging 29 points over Washington's last five games, Fultz has been putting on offensive clinics despite receiving little help from his teammates.
The Huskies' lousy 9-12 record won't come into play during Ainge's evaluation on Fultz as a long-term prospect. Incredibly skilled with 6'4" size, long arms (6'9 ¾" wingspan) and high-level athleticism, there aren't any questions concerning how his scoring or his playmaking ability will translate from college to the pros.
Unless Ainge can't resist the charm of UCLA's Lonzo Ball—whose floor game and point guard leadership will be enticing—the Celtics will draft Fultz on June 22 to add another source of firepower.
2. Phoenix Suns: Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, 6'6", Freshman)
We're only at No. 2 and have reached a pivotal point in the draft where a key debate takes place regarding strategy: Does general manager Ryan McDonough see a best player available, or does he opt for the prospect who'll best fit the team?
UCLA's Lonzo Ball is widely viewed as the consolation prize for the lottery runner-up who's unable to land Markelle Fultz. But with Eric Bledsoe having a career year, Devin Booker a rising star and Brandon Knight under contract until 2020, drafting Ball would create a backcourt logjam (the likes of which the Suns always seem to have).
Then again, McDonough took point guard Tyler Ennis in the 2014 first round despite already having Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
Kansas' Josh Jackson represents the better fit, but if the Suns value Ball as the superior long-term prospect, that's whom they'll take. He's more likely than any other prospect to help change the franchise's luck and direction.
3. L.A. Lakers: Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, 6'8", Freshman)
The Los Angeles Lakers keep their pick if it lands inside the top three. Otherwise, it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers.
But as of Monday, the Lakers are projected to select third, where Kansas' Josh Jackson, North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. and Florida State's Jonathan Isaac deserve consideration.
Jackson and Brandon Ingram should eventually be interchangeable at the 2 and 3 positions based on their handles and playmaking ability. The Lakers defense also ranks last in NBA efficiency, per ESPN.com's Hollinger Stats, and Jackson is clearly the top defensive prospect among the remaining options worth taking.
But it's his offensive versatility and flashes that push Jackson into the top-three mix. He's already an established passer and slasher, and his jumper has now connected on eight of 14 threes over Kansas' last three games.
We could be talking about the most well-rounded two-way player in the draft if his shooting ever clicks.
4. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr. (N.C. State, PG, 6'3", Freshman)
The Dallas Mavericks won't pass on the chance to land a star point guard via the draft.
Dennis Smith Jr. isn't as big or as long as Markelle Fultz, nor does he dish like Lonzo Ball. But athleticism and advanced skills make it easy to buy into his 19 points and 6.5 assists a game.
His quickness and his explosiveness are also on par with some of the NBA's most potent ball-handlers. Smith's scoring attack consists of downhill drives off change of speed/direction and confident pull-up jump shooting.
Despite going through an occasional off game, he strengthened his case Jan. 23 with a 32-point eruption against Duke. Scouts got a glimpse of his ability to take over and carry a team.
With Deron Williams in the final year of his contract, look for the Mavericks to draft Smith and immediately appoint him their long-term starter.
5. Philadelphia 76ers: Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, 6'10", Freshman)
Kentucky's Malik Monk will keep the Philadelphia 76ers intrigued, but they'll have trouble passing on Jonathan Isaac's upside.
The versatile 6'10" forward—who's averaging 16.2 points over Florida State's last five games—would bring ball-handling, scoring and shooting to Philadelphia's wing, as well as another towering ceiling to the roster.
Along with the mismatch size and versatile skill set, Isaac plays both hard and smart, showing the willingness to fight inside for boards (12.8 per 40) and fit within the Seminoles offense (21 points per 40 minutes on 21.9 percent usage).
Isaac also offers lineup flexibility in Philadelphia. He could play the 3 alongside Ben Simmons at the 4 and Joel Embiid at the 5. Or head coach Brett Brown could move Isaac into the small-ball 4 role when Simmons takes over at the point.
6. Miami Heat: Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, 6'3", Freshman)
If Dion Waiters continues producing at his current rate, he'll be a good bet to opt out of his contract after the 2016-17 season. The Miami Heat could then quickly replace him with Malik Monk, who's averaging 21.7 points and drilling three triples a game for Kentucky.
Monk's starting to resemble a more complete scorer as of late, as opposed to the one who only settled for jumpers earlier in the year. He's had more hard drives and floaters over the past two weeks and has even flashed some playmaking ability with at least four assists in three of the Wildcats' last five games.
Monk is a 6'3" 2-guard who still leans heavily on perimeter shooting, so the height of his ceiling is debatable. But a combination of elite athleticism and shot-making skills will undoubtedly translate to offensive firepower in Miami.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Frank Ntilikina (France, PG/SG, 6'5", 1998)
The Minnesota Timberwolves will look at Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox but pass on adding another point guard who can't shoot. And though Arizona's Lauri Markkanen will be attractive, he'd be a downgrade defensively up front.
The Wolves have a handful of exciting offensive weapons but rank No. 23 in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com.
The MVP of December's U18 European Championships, Frank Ntilikina plays both backcourt positions at 18 years old against pros in France's top division. And at 6'5" with monster length and strong focus, he projects as the top guard defender in this draft.
He's also knocking down 40 percent of his threes on the year after hitting 17 of 29 attempts at the U18s. The Wolves could wind up valuing Ntilikina's defensive versatility and shooting. It's not ridiculous to think he could wind up being a better player than Providence product Kris Dunn alongside Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins.
8. Orlando Magic: De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, 6'3", Freshman)
Elfrid Payton has improved, but De'Aaron Fox's ceiling is still higher.
Even if the plan is to re-sign Payton long term, it couldn't hurt to add another two-way playmaker. Either way, Fox will be in the discussion for best player available, and the Magic aren't in position to pass on talent.
Fox's speed, quickness and athleticism seem guaranteed to translate to breakdown penetration and points in the paint. At the least, he'll give Orlando another table-setter who puts pressure on the defense and can apply ball pressure at the other end.
He'd be in the top-three-overall mix if he could only shoot—Fox is now 7-of-41 on three-pointers.
9. New Orleans Pelicans: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, 7'0", Freshman)
Lauri Markkanen has a case for best shooter in the draft, having hit 50.5 percent of his first 107 three-point attempts.
The success isn't fluky, either. Markkanen shot 40.6 percent from three during 33 FIBA games dating back to 2013. Along with a fluid, convincing stroke, he's also flashed ball-handling skills and the ability to score on the move.
He'd draw top-five consideration if he didn't project negatively on defense, where he's totaled 10 blocks and seven steals through 684 minutes.
With Anthony Davis there to help mask Markkanen's limitations, New Orleans could be a mutually beneficial fit.
10. Sacramento Kings: Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF, 6'8", Freshman)
Limited playmaking ability and erratic shooting raise questions concerning Jayson Tatum's transition and NBA fit. He won't be good enough to be a featured rookie and struggles to offer much playing off the ball.
But Tatum's ball-handling and scoring ability are advanced. And at 6'8" with a pro's body and enough athleticism, his one-on-one game could translate and eventually carry him to second behind DeMarcus Cousins in the Sacramento Kings' offensive pecking order.
Don't count on much passing or facilitating from Tatum, whose game mirrors Harrison Barnes' or even Rudy Gay's. But his isolation attack could wind up being worthy of No. 2-option touches in the offense.
11. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, 6'7", Freshman)
Team president Phil Jackson used the term "upside" when praising Kristaps Porzingis just after the 2015 draft. Miles Bridges will intrigue the New York Knicks if that word is still a priority during their hunt.
Right there with Malik Monk in terms of explosive leaping ability, Bridges makes easy plays above the rim others can't. And at 230 pounds, his strength and quickness could cause problems at today's NBA small-ball 4 position.
Whether Bridges can develop into a valued NBA scorer will come down to how much he sharpens his ball skills and perimeter game.
This late in the lottery, fit won't factor into Jackson's decision, which he'll make based strictly on talent. The Knicks' roster could look completely different by 2018 (or June), anyway.
12. Portland Trail Blazers: Justin Patton (Creighton, PF/C, 7'0", Freshman)
The Portland Trail Blazers will go big without any obvious wings to draft in the lottery. Justin Patton's breakout looks for real, when you take into account his consistency, particular skills and NBA-caliber tools.
Averaging 14 points per game on 71.4 percent shooting, Patton is highly effective around the basket off dump-downs, lobs, pick-and-rolls and putbacks. And he's flashed impressive footwork and touch via both hands while playing with his back to the basket.
If his five of 11 three-point makes are a sign of more to come, Patton is going to be one difficult inside-out cover.
He'll likely need a few seasons to toughen up inside, but long term, he has exciting offensive upside for coaches to unlock.
13. Milwaukee Bucks: Harry Giles (Duke, PF/C, 6'10", Freshman)
Teams are going to pass on Harry Giles, who'll look risky with two ACL tears leading to limited reps and production.
From Giannis Antetokounmpo to Thon Maker, the Milwaukee Bucks have shown a willingness to gamble. They'll roll the dice again in 2017 with Giles on the board and no other can't-miss names left.
Giles has been active when on the floor, averaging an impressive 15.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, but the 8.7 fouls he's committing in that time have kept him from building any offensive rhythm. He is high-motor competitor with top-notch athleticism when at full strength, and the Bucks will bet on his durability and his explosiveness returning while his skill set improves.
14. Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb (California, PF/C, 6'11", Sophomore)
The Detroit Pistons will go best-available-player at No. 14, where Ivan Rabb stands out. Tools and production say he's a safe option anywhere outside the top 10.
At 6'11", he's averaging a 15.6-point, 10.7-rebound double-double and shooting 52.8 percent while commanding frequent double-teams. Rabb should be able to give Detroit a finishing target off dump-downs and pick-and-rolls, as well as an active presence under the boards, regardless of whether his post game takes off.
If Rabb can continue to strengthen his back-to-the-basket skills and face-up repertoire (one-dribble drives, 15-foot jumpers), he has starting big-man upside to hit.
15. Denver Nuggets: Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF/C, 7'0", 1998)
The Denver Nuggets have a strong track record drafting overseas, and they'll continue to build on it with Isaiah Hartenstein in 2017.
He's been on the radar for the past few years and won't be docked much for a lack of playing time and production with Zalgiris in Lithuania. Hartenstein is an athletic 7-footer with an array of skills, including three-point range, high-level passing, ball-handling ability and post footwork.
His offensive versatility and scoring ability immediately stand out under the NBA scouting lens.
The fact he's registered at least an 18 rebounding percentage in every year since 2014 is also assuring. The physical transition shouldn't pose any issues for Hartenstein. He'll just need to keep improving his jumper, face-up moves and defensive IQ.
16. Charlotte Hornets: Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF, 6'10", Junior)
Johnathan Motley has put himself in the top-20 mix with an improved offensive game and a monster rebounding rate (19.2 percentage).
He's had a few enormous showings in January, including a 32-point, 20-board line against Texas on the 17th and a 25-point game against Texas Tech last Wednesday. Strength, length and athleticism help Motley stand out, but his post moves, mid-range touch and production take his stock higher.
The Charlotte Hornets need a wing but won't reach on any at No. 16. Motley brings physicality Frank Kaminsky doesn't and versatility Roy Hibbert can't offer.
17. Chicago Bulls: John Collins (Wake Forest, PF, 6'10", Sophomore)
Coming off his fourth consecutive 20-point game, John Collins is on the rise and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.
He's emerged as one of the ACC's most productive and exciting bigs. Collins' bounce and activity level have translated to 98 buckets at the rim through 21 games the season, per Hoop-Math.com. But he's also looked comfortable shooting in the mid-range and threatening while operating out of the post.
At No. 17, the Chicago Bulls value his athleticism and knack for making plays off the ball. But there appears to be a new plane Collins can reach if he continues to strengthen and expand his offense, which is generating a whopping 27.8 points per 40 minutes.
18: Indiana Pacers: TJ Leaf (UCLA, PF, 6'10", Freshman)
TJ Leaf will produce his way into the top 20, despite physical limitations concerning his strength (225 lbs) and quickness.
He's too skilled at 6'10", with an offensive game tailor-made for today's NBA. Shooting 48.8 percent from three and averaging 2.6 assists per game (high for a big man), Leaf offers both playmaking and shooting at power forward slot.
Defending starting-caliber bigs will be a challenge, but the Indiana Pacers will wind up valuing Leaf's polish, high energy and fit, which his offensive versatility creates.
19. Denver Nuggets (via MEM): Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SF, 6'7", 1998)
Using their second first-round pick, the Denver Nuggets could afford to gamble with Terrance Ferguson of Australia's National Basketball League.
He hasn't produced much, but he's earning minutes against pros overseas. The athleticism, quickness and shot-making ability he flashed out of high school hasn't gone anywhere either.
Ferguson is 6'7" with foot speed, big leaping ability and a projectable jumper, and the Denver Nuggets could see a three-and-D floor with room for his offense and ball skills to grow.
20. Washington Wizards: Edrice 'Bam' Adebayo (Kentucky, C, 6'10", Freshman)
The Washington Wizards will call on Bam Adebayo to inject some power and bounce to their frontcourt.
They won't ask him to create or score. Instead, they'll value him for his ability to finish high above traffic and give the offense easy baskets off dump-downs, lobs, transition and putbacks.
Washington shouldn't count on much passing, shooting or defense from Adebayo, who's totaled 19 assists through 21 games, made 61.7 percent of his free throws and shown questionable instincts in pick-and-roll coverage. But there won't be many bigs in the league who can match his destructive mix of size, strength (260 lbs) and explosiveness.
There is an energy role waiting for him in Washington, where Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson and Marcin Gortat spend most of their time below the rim.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tyler Lydon (Syracuse, PF, 6'9", Sophomore)
The Oklahoma City Thunder rank No. 29 in league three-point percentage (32.5) and could look to address their struggles by adding Tyler Lydon.
10-of-20 from deep over Syracuse's last four games, Lydon has deep range and a quick release off screens. And though he's not a threatening shot creator, he's shown the ability to attack closeouts and make plays on the move.
Throw in athleticism that translates to exciting finishes and shot-blocking (1.5 per game), and Lydon appears to bring enough as a role-playing stretch 4.
22. Atlanta Hawks: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, PF, 6'9", Freshman)
The Atlanta Hawks will likely go big in the draft with Paul Millsap expected to opt out—according to ESPN's Chris Haynes—and Kris Humphries, Tiago Splitter, Mike Scott and Mike Muscala each entering free agency.
Raw with obvious talent, Robert Williams is a project worth taking in the 20s. He lacks offensive skills, but his tools, athleticism and motor should lead to high-percentage finishing, rebounding and rim protection.
Averaging 12 boards and 4.1 blocks per 40 minutes, Williams projects as a high-activity big around the rim. Upside kicks in if he starts knocking down mid-range jumpers and using the jump hook as a weapon for go-to offense.
23. Toronto Raptors: Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, 6'6", Sophomore)
Luke Kennard put on a show with a 30-point second half against Wake Forest on Saturday.
Averaging 20.2 points, shooting 59 percent inside the arc and 46.9 percent behind it, he's consistently torched defenses despite lacking great quickness or athleticism.
Kennard compensates with a money jumper, which he knocks down off deep spot-ups, screens and pull-ups. And though not a blow-by driver or an explosive finisher, he's a threat to stop-and-pop or find teammates off the dribble.
He'll have trouble defending starting-caliber guards, but the Toronto Raptors will ultimately value Kennard's shot-making and passing in a supporting role.
24. Utah Jazz: OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, 6'8", Sophomore)
With a second first-round selection coming later (at No. 30), the Utah Jazz can gamble at No. 23.
Despite suffering a season-ending knee injury, OG Anunoby still warrants first-round consideration, assuming the medical reports don't indicate permanent damage.
Prior to going down, his athleticism, length and quickness fueled defensive specialist potential. And though he wasn't a productive scorer, his shooting stroke looked fluid enough to eventually threaten in spot-up situations.
Coming back as a junior would be risky for Anunoby: Struggling upon his return would destroy his draft stock. I'm betting he'll look to sell his long-term potential in 2017 and that one team in the 20s takes the bait.
25. Brooklyn Nets (via BOS): Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, 6'8", Junior)
Averaging 21.4 points over North Carolina's last seven games, Justin Jackson keeps getting stronger during his breakout season.
He's already hit 61 threes after totaling 63 over his first two campaigns combined. Jackson's shooting stroke looks like the real deal. And with an advanced floater game and passing ability, he's become a much more complete forward in year No. 3 at North Carolina.
Forced to swap picks with the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets will just be happy to land a rotation player at No. 25. Jackson looks poised to carve out a role with his shot-making and high-IQ offense.
26. Toronto Raptors (via LAC): Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, F, 6'7", Senior)
Jaron Blossomgame's jumper has finally come to life and lifted his overall offensive attack. He just hit four triples en route to 25 points against Pittsburgh on Saturday and has now knocked down nine of 14 threes over Clemson's last three games.
He'd already been crushing defenses inside the arc, shooting 60.1 percent on two-point attempts. Blossomgame generates offense with explosive drives, improvisation in the lane, post work and cuts. And with a strong, physical frame, he has the tools to guard both forward positions.
The Toronto Raptors will look to groom him into a quicker small-ball 4 and hope his shooting eventually clicks.
27. Houston Rockets: Cameron Oliver (Nevada, PF, 6'8", Sophomore)
Lacking depth at power forward, the Houston Rockets could go after a sleeper out of the Mountain West.
Making 2.2 threes and blocking 3.6 shots per 40 minutes, Cameron Oliver offers a rare mix of shooting and rim protection that should help him draw late first-round interest. Having more than doubled his assist rate from a year ago, he's also improved as a passer.
An explosive athlete, Oliver's particular strengths are valued. He'll have the chance to carve out a bench role in the right situation.
28. Trail Blazers (via CLE): Dwayne Bacon (Florida State, SF, 6'7", Sophomore)
Dwayne Bacon moves into the first-round discussion with a perimeter game that's made enough progress.
He's already hit 39 threes after converting 32 his freshman year. Bacon has a good-looking stroke and the ability to create jumpers inside the arc, though he's still at his best attacking and slashing.
Without much passing or defensive potential, he'll look to carve out a role as a scoring and shot-making specialist.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Hart (Villanova, SG, 6'6", Senior)
The San Antonio Spurs will value Josh Hart's maturity and potential to thrive in a supporting NBA role. He lacks explosiveness and a core strength but covers enough ground with his shooting, passing and defense.
His 18.7 points, 3.4 assists, 1.9 threes and 52.6 percent mark from the field are also all career highs.
Of all the seniors, Hart appears to have the best shot at replicating the Milwaukee Bucks' Malcolm Brogdon's success as a jack-of-all-trades.
30. Utah Jazz (via Golden State) : Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 6'9", 1995)
The Utah Jazz will go back to France for another big man with their second first-round pick.
At 6'9", 250 pounds, Mathias Lessort has emerged as one of the most productive young prospects in LNB Pro A, averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game.
With a powerful upper body and quick feet, Lessort puts pressure on the interior defense by running the floor and crashing the glass. And he's shown he can score while playing with his back to the basket, where he uses his strong frame to create space and jump hook to finish over the shoulder.
Utah will grab Lessort and hope he develops into a frontcourt energizer behind fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert.
Stats accurate heading into Tuesday's games and are via RealGM.com or Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. All height and weight information via DraftExpress or school bios unless otherwise noted.
Jonathan Wasserman covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @NBADraftWass