2017 NBA Mock Draft: Projecting All 30 First-Round Picks in Early March
Scouting for the NBA draft intensifies in March. But the narrative has remained the same throughout the season: 2017's lottery picks will be strong.
This year's highly-touted freshmen continue to thrive, while it seems like a new upperclassman breaks out each month.
Wake Forest's John Collins did so in January. This month's riser comes from the ACC as well.
The Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers also became teams to watch by acquiring additional first-round picks at the recent trade deadline. Look for each franchise to think out of the box in the 20s.
Obvious first-round talents we're expecting to return include Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, Texas' Jarrett Allen, Gonzaga's Zach Collins, UCLA's Ike Anigbogu and Miami's Bruce Brown.
1. Boston Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, 6'4", Freshman)
The Boston Celtics could still shop their No. 1 overall pick for a star closer to the draft. But the idea of adding Markelle Fultz to score and dish on a rookie contract may be more attractive.
Fultz, who scouts widely view as the top prospect in his class, offers Boston another source of offensive firepower as well as a potential future All-Star. They'd presumably have to give up multiple assets to get one on the trade market, based on the reported talks for Paul George at the deadline with the Indiana Pacers.
Fultz's imperfect fit with the current Celtics' core shouldn't be a deterrent for general manager Danny Ainge, either, as he'd give head coach Brad Stevens options. Boston could play small with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Fultz, Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Or it could slide Bradley into the sixth-man role and shop Marcus Smart for a big.
Either way, Ainge won't pass on the perceived best player in the draft, a title Fultz has earned with exciting athleticism and per-game averages of 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
2. Phoenix Suns: Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, Freshman)
Based on the Phoenix Suns' current roster, there are better fits in this draft class than UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, but general manager Ryan McDonough won't prioritize need over talent.
The Suns have 18 wins and no definitive identity. Ball immediately helps fix the latter—Phoenix ranks No. 29 in assists—with his contagious passing that promotes ball movement and quick decisions.
McDonough would have to decide whether to play small (with Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker) or trade Bledsoe for a forward. But he'll worry about roster moves after he adds who he believes is the best player available at No. 2.
3. Los Angeles Lakers: Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
Consistency has helped Josh Jackson separate himself from the rest of the available prospects. It may even earn him serious consideration from the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns.
One of two players in the country averaging at least 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block, Jackson continues to showcase enticing versatility while improving his case as a shooter. He has now hit 19 of his last 37 three-point attempts.
To the Los Angeles Lakers, his playmaking is equally as appealing as his scoring ability. It should allow him to slide alongside Brandon Ingram on the wing.
4. Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF, Freshman)
Anxious to take the next step, the Orlando Magic, who rank No. 29 in offensive efficiency, pass on adding a rookie point guard (North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr.) to grab a scorer who can play alongside Aaron Gordon.
Jayson Tatum would give Orlando's lineup an additional shot-maker capable of creating his own offense.
Size suggests Florida State's Jonathan Isaac offers more upside, but for a franchise that needs a sure thing— the Magic have gotten little out of Mario Hezonja and dealt Serge Ibaka (who they traded last year's first-round pick for) for Terrence Ross at the deadline—the more polished, productive Tatum could be preferable.
His 1.5 threes per game and 87.5 percent mark from the free-throw line are promising numbers regarding his shooting development and potential.
5. Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Malik Monk's scoring and microwave shooting should be too enticing for the Philadelphia 76ers to pass up. He just went off again, this time against Florida on Saturday, when he poured in a ridiculous 30 second-half points and carried Kentucky to a win.
Monk has a captivating ability to take over stretches with high-level shot-making. It's something the Sixers could certainly use, seeing how neither of their current starting guards—T.J. McConnell and Gerald Henderson—average more than 10 points per game.
Philly will consider Dennis Smith Jr. here. But assuming head coach Brett Brown plans to run the offense through Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Monk, who thrives working off the ball, jumps out as too ideal of a fit.
6. Sacramento Kings (via Pelicans): Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State, PG, Freshman)
The best news for the Sacramento Kings: The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled since acquiring DeMarcus Cousins a few days before the trade deadline.
Sacramento benefits directly, as it now owns the Pelicans' pick.
Kings management will be salivating at the chance to grab Dennis Smith Jr., who'd give the team a high-upside playmaker to pair alongside Buddy Hield. The explosive, shifty Smith, who's averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 assists, projects as a scoring point guard, though coaches must look to monitor his hero-shot selection.
North Carolina State has lost eight of its last nine games, but its freshman ball-handler won't absorb much blame. Based on his numbers, athleticism and skill level, Smith seems like a lock to produce in the NBA. The question is whether the stats will be empty or meaningful.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF, Freshman)
Jonathan Isaac jumps out as both a best-player-available possibility and a fit between Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
He's been somewhat quiet compared to the other top forwards, but Isaac's smaller role and unselfishness are mostly to blame for his pedestrian numbers. The 6'10" combo forward has remained efficient while flashing inside-out versatility at both ends.
With three-point range, ball-handling skills, shot creativity and defensive quickness, Isaac projects as a mismatch if he can tie everything together. But the Wolves may wind up valuing his ability to defend the pick-and-roll the most.
8. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina (France, PG, 1998)
Defensive-minded, versatile, a promising shooter, mature—everything about Frank Ntilikina makes sense for the New York Knicks.
That may be a reason to project them taking someone else, given management's track record of defying logic. But based on who's available, the team's need for a guard and the flexibility he offers in free agency—Ntilikina plays both backcourt positions—a puzzle-piece fit should convince team president Phil Jackson to draft an international prospect once again.
Unselfish and coachable with a knack for making plays within Strasbourg's sets (not one-on-one), the Frenchman could also be viewed as an ideal cog for Jackson's triangle offense.
Playing his best ball since winning MVP during December's U18 European Championships, Ntilikina has scored a combined 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting in 50 minutes for Strasbourg IG over his past two games.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, Freshman)
Preparing for Dirk Nowitzki's possible retirement, the Dallas Mavericks won't resist drafting the player who most mirrors him.
A mobile, perimeter-oriented 7-footer, Lauri Markkanen brings lethal shooting (44.4 percent from three) and unique, face-up scoring ability for a 230-pounder. He'd offer even more value if he proves he can log minutes at both power forward and center, which would allow the Mavericks to play big (with Nerlens Noel at center) or small (with Harrison Barnes at the 4).
Between Markkanen's size, high skill level and lights-out shooting numbers, there's little risk tied to him. At the least, he'd give Dallas a reliable shot-maker and floor spacer.
His ceiling remains a question, though, as his totals of 12 steals and 12 blocks plus a 52.6 percent two-point mark highlight a lack of explosiveness, speed and physicality.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF, 1998)
Following a strong showing during December's U18 European Championships, Isaiah Hartenstein continues to build his case overseas. Before scoring a season-high 13 points in 26 minutes on Monday, he filled up the box score with eight points, nine rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block in 24 minutes during his previous game on Feb. 12.
The Portland Trail Blazers should ultimately be drawn to Hartenstein's offense, which includes more skill, physicality and versatility compared to Texas A&M's Robert Williams or Creighton's Justin Patton.
A powerful, athletic 7-footer with three-point range, face-up moves, unique passing ability and a strong rebounding motor, Hartenstein could upgrade one of the league's least threatening frontcourts. His potential to stretch the floor and work around the perimeter would complement Jusuf Nurkic's pound-it-in post game.
11. Chicago Bulls (via Kings): De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
With the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets set at point guard, De'Aaron Fox could slip to No. 11 if the New York Knicks opt for Frank Ntilikina. Chicago would then swoop in with the Sacramento Kings' pick, which the Bulls receive if it lands outside the top 10.
Chicago has a number of backup-caliber ball-handlers, including the newly acquired Cameron Payne, but none of their ceilings reach the height of Fox's. Fast and explosive, he puts pressure on defenses in transition and breaks them down in the half court off ball screens and penetration.
Fox manages to average 15.4 points on 46.2 percent shooting without a reliable jumper (10-of-53 from three, 32.2 percent on two-point jumpers). His playmaking and passing are good bets to translate based on his elusiveness off the dribble and vision.
Whether Fox develops into a high-end starter will come down to how his shooting stroke evolves.
12. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, PF, Freshman)
Looking for a jolt of frontcourt scoring, the Charlotte Hornets could zero in on Miles Bridges, an explosive small-ball 4.
His mix of power and bounce would complement Cody Zeller's finesse game. Bridges continues to shoot it well from three (40.8 percent), which is a key development given his lack of size for a traditional power forward. Along with elite athleticism and shooting potential, he has flashed glimpses of face-up moves and high-level passes, along with admirable passion and motor.
There are some questions about Bridges—he's prone to coughing the ball up (as evidenced by his 16.1 percent turnover rate), makes 64.3 percent of his free throws and only stands 6'6". But the upside is worth the risk for the Hornets at No. 12.
13. Milwaukee Bucks: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, PF, Freshman)
The Milwaukee Bucks need a guard but won't reach just to get one. Instead, they'll value Robert Williams' defense and 7'4" wingspan, which helps him average four blocks per 40 minutes.
Uncertainty currently looms over Jabari Parker, who recently tore the ACL in his left knee again and is coming up on the final year of his rookie deal in 2017-18. With Thon Maker getting reps at center, the Bucks could look to groom Williams into their power forward of the future.
An exceptional athlete at 237 pounds, Williams still relies mostly on his tools and explosiveness. He becomes a steal for the Bucks at No. 13 if he continues to develop as a mid-range shooter and low-block scorer.
14. Miami Heat: Justin Patton (Creighton, C, Freshman)
Center isn't a position of need in Miami with Hassan Whiteside in the fold, but a drop-off in talent from No. 14 to No. 15 could force the Heat to go big with Justin Patton.
There is just too much upside here to pass on, based on Patton's 6'11" size, athleticism, post game and face-up scoring potential.
At the least, he's a good bet to give Miami easy baskets off pick-and-rolls, dump-downs and rim runs. But the back-to-the-basket moves, flashes of ball-handling and occasional three-pointer says Patton could eventually develop into a well-rounded offensive threat. Since Miami could use a backup big behind Whiteside, it would take Patton as the best player available.
15. Denver Nuggets: Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, Junior)
Justin Jackson has played himself into the first round with a breakout junior year during which he's averaged 18.4 points and 2.7 threes per game while shooting 39.3 percent from deep.
He'll provide the Denver Nuggets with some insurance on the wing in case they lose Danilo Gallinari—who can decline his player option this summer to test free agency—or wind up trading Wilson Chandler.
Jackson and Jamal Murray could offer a dangerous one-two punch of shot-making in the middle of the lineup between non-shooters Emmanuel Mudiay and Kenneth Faried.
16. Detroit Pistons: Donovan Mitchell (Louisville, SG, Sopohmore)
The breakout continues for Donovan Mitchell, who has now recorded eight 20-plus-point games since Dec. 31.
Always known for explosive leaping ability, Mitchell's offense has started to click, particularly around the perimeter, where he's averaging 2.5 made threes this season.
At 6'3" without point guard skills, he projects more as a bench scorer or spark than the go-to option he's become at Louisville. That won't bother the Detroit Pistons, who need backcourt depth and shot-making behind Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
17. Chicago Bulls: Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF, Junior)
Johnathan Motley had a monster February, averaging 20.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 33.8 minutes across nine games.
He's taken his offensive game to new heights this year, backing up his 6'9", 230-pound size and 7'3 ½" length with sharper footwork and softer touch. A 18.9 total rebound percentage also ranks up there as one of the best among first-round-caliber prospects.
Looking for a big to replace the now-departed Taj Gibson (and possibly impending free agent Nikola Mirotic), the Chicago Bulls could bring in the soon-to-be 22-year-old Motley for some athleticism, length and scoring up front.
18. Indiana Pacers: John Collins (Wake Forest, PF, Sophomore)
Eleven straight games with at least 20 points have helped John Collins become one of the ACC's main attractions. The fact that he's an explosive leaper at 6'10" has also made him a coveted NBA prospect.
Collins has been dominant around the basket, where he consistently picks up easy baskets off pick-and-rolls, lobs and deep low-post seal-offs. He has also looked comfortable and effective shooting from different angles in the mid-range, knocking down 42.7 percent of his two-point jumpers.
You won't find many assist percentages lower than Collins' 4.2—he has totaled just 13 dimes in 28 games with a massive 31.0 usage percentage. But at No. 18, the Indiana Pacers just buy into his athleticism, production and scoring and rebounding potential.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Ivan Rabb (California, PF/C, Sophomore)
Given the Atlanta Hawks' need for backcourt depth, they could look at Duke's Luke Kennard at No. 19. But their need for bigs could be greater once free agency starts, as Paul Millsap is expected to opt out and Ersan Ilysaova, Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries will all become unrestricted free agents.
Ivan Rabb's floor is more attractive than his ceiling, which isn't as high as other bigs who can protect the rim, defend the perimeter or stretch the floor.
But between his tools (6'10" with a 7'2" wingspan) and production (he's averaging 14.6 points and 10.7 rebounds)—which he's earned with advanced post moves, motor and a nose for the ball—Rabb comes off as a low-risk bet to settle into a Tristan Thompson-like supporting role.
20. Oklahoma City Thunder: Harry Giles III (Duke, PF, Freshman)
The Oklahoma City Thunder could be the team to gamble on Harry Giles III, who's bound to make general managers hesitate with his past three knee surgeries and current per-game average of just 4.5 points.
The upside to Giles regaining bounce in his surgically repaired knees and improving his skills becomes worth the risk at No. 20. He's given Duke energy under the boards and serves as a high-percentage finisher around the basket. OKC will hope those are baseline-level contributions once he's ready to physically compete.
Flashes of post moves and mid-range touch hint at more offensive potential for coaches to unlock. The Thunder can stash him in the Development League to build up his reps and confidence in 2017-18.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (via Grizzlies): Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 1998)
The Portland Trail Blazers have three first-round picks and 12 players with guaranteed deals in 2017-18. At No. 21, they can draft-and-stash Rodions Kurucs, one of Europe's higher-profile teenage prospects playing for Barcelona's second team.
His athleticism and tools immediately pop out for a projected NBA wing. Intriguing three-and-D potential plus flashes of scoring should lead to first-round looks, even if Kurucs fails to log any minutes with Barcelona's senior squad.
After a season or two developing in competitive settings like the Spanish ACB and Euroleague, the Blazers could have a valuable asset to bring over.
22. Toronto Raptors: T.J. Leaf (UCLA, PF, Freshman)
With Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson hitting free agency this summer, the Toronto Raptors could favor arguably the top 4 on the board in T.J. Leaf, who'd bring versatility Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira can't offer.
Assuming the Raptors look to re-sign Serge Ibaka, head coach Dwane Casey could use Leaf off the bench to stretch the floor (24-of-52 from three), attack closeouts and pass (2.6 assists per game) and make energy plays at the rim.
Leaf's defensive limitations will keep teams from reaching for him, but at this point of the draft, his production and offensive skills are too strong to ignore.
23. Brooklyn Nets (via Wizards): OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)
Having just used a 2016 first-round pick on Caris LeVert—who missed a huge chunk of his final two years at Michigan due to foot injuries—the Brooklyn Nets already proved they're willing to gamble in the draft.
With two late-first-round selections, they'll view this pick as house money.
At No. 22, Brooklyn would bet on OG Anunoby fully recovering from his knee injury and eventually developing into a valuable three-and-D wing. Before going down, the Indiana product flashed unusual defensive versatility with 6'8" size, extreme length and foot speed to guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.
The Nets get a late steal if his shooting ever clicks (he shot 27-of-74 from three during his two-year career with the Hoosiers).
24. Orlando Magic (via Clippers): Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, Sophomore)
With their second first-round pick, the Orlando Magic buy into Luke Kennard's shot-making and crafty ball skills translating to points off the bench.
Averaging 19.8 points and 2.5 threes, Kennard projects as an offensive specialist. A lack of athleticism and defensive quickness could hold him to second-unit minutes for his career, but shooting, scoring instincts and passing should make it last.
Confident and competitive, he's emerged as both the surprise leader and top player for a loaded Duke team. Orlando could even rely on Kennard as a rookie with Jodie Meeks entering free agency and its other wings showing little signs of consistency.
25. Utah Jazz: Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SG/SF, 1998)
Terrance Ferguson didn't show much during a one-and-done season with the Adelaide 36ers in Australia's National Basketball League, but his high school accomplishments will earn him looks, which he can capitalize on during workouts with showtime athleticism and shooting.
He struggles with creating his own shot, but the hope is that he won't need to. A former McDonald's All-American who turned heads with his shot-making during FIBA play and at last April's Nike Hoop Summit, Ferguson will look to carve out an NBA career as a three-and-D wing.
26. Brooklyn Nets (via Celtics): Jordan Bell (Oregon, PF, Junior)
Overshadowed by bigger names at Oregon like Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell has slid under the radar. He'll have a chance to earn more attention during the postseason and the predraft process.
An explosive athlete with a live motor, Bell shoots 62.7 percent and averages 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes. Shooting a career-best 69.9 percent from the free-throw line, he may even have some mid-range touch to work with down the road.
Still, Bell's role in the pros will be no different from his one at Oregon, where he's asked to run the floor, crash the glass and finish around the rim.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets): Bam Adebayo (Kentucky, C, Freshman)
Without shooting range, strong rebounding numbers (14.3 total rebound percentage) or convincing potential in rim protection, Bam Adebayo could slip on draft night. The Los Angeles Lakers can grab him at No. 27 with their second first-round pick to give their center position a much-needed injection of bounce.
They'll target his strength and explosiveness for easy baskets.
Even if he never develops shooting range or defensive instincts, Adebayo can still hold value by becoming a high-percentage finisher and energizer.
28. Portland Trail Blazers (via Cavaliers): Kostja Mushidi (Germany, SG, 1998)
The Portland Trail Blazers will go abroad again if they still own their third first-round pick at No. 28.
Though athletically and physically above average for most teenagers, Kostja Mushidi should spend another year abroad sharpening his shot selection and jumper. Otherwise, in terms capability and potential, he has flashed eye-opening versatility at both ends, with the ability to score, create and defend the perimeter.
Mushidi could rise with a big showing at April's Nike Hoop Summit, assuming he participates.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Hart (Villanova, SG, Senior)
Josh Hart could sneak into the back end of the first round if enough underclassmen return to school. The San Antonio Spurs—one of the few teams in the 20s which still owns its pick—will be potential suitors.
Hart would fit in with the Spurs the same way Malcolm Brogdon has with the Milwaukee Bucks: A jack-of-all-trades guard, Hart can play to his strengths as an open shot-maker, opportunistic driver and passer—and away from his weaknesses as a shot-creator.
A high 27.4 percent usage rate and tiny 10.8 turnover percentage highlight extreme efficiency the Spurs will value. Hart is on pace to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor for the fourth straight season at Villanova.
30. Utah Jazz (via Warriors): Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 1995)
The Utah Jazz could look at Mathias Lessort as Rudy Gobert's potential backup.
Averaging 10 points and seven rebounds in LNB Pro A, Lessort has earned attention for his productivity, energy and NBA tools. A mobile, physical big at 250 pounds, he puts pressure on the rim by sprinting the floor, crashing the glass and diving to the hoop.
Turning 22 years old in September, Lessort could be an option for the Jazz to bring right over and use next season.
Stats accurate heading into Wednesday's games and are via RealGM.com, Hoop-Math.com and 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