NBA Mock Draft Entering the NCAA Tournament
With the NCAA tournament field set, a number of NBA prospects will be playing for position in the 2017 draft over the coming weeks.
Last year, Syracuse's Malachi Richardson, Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis, Baylor's Taurean Prince and St. Joseph's DeAndre Bembry used the postseason to improve their stock.
UCLA's Lonzo Ball, Duke's Jayson Tatum and Kansas' Josh Jackson could all wind up playing deep into March. The same goes for Kentucky, whose point guard made a big leap up this week's board.
That jump winds up forcing another high-profile point guard to fall, which could lead to some interesting decisions from teams in the No. 6-10 range that are already set at the position.
1. Boston Celtics (via Nets): Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG, Freshman)
Get used to seeing Markelle Fultz being pegged to the Boston Celtics until the May 16 lottery night. Even if UCLA's Lonzo Ball creates magic in the NCAA tournament, he just can't match the full-service package of scoring, playmaking and athleticism that Fultz offers.
Fultz gets a pass for missing the NCAA tournament, as nobody could have saved this year's Washington Huskies. He finished his lone college campaign as the only freshman in 25 years to average at least 20 points and five assists while shooting over 40 percent from three.
Athleticism, tools, skills and poise suggest those numbers will translate to the NBA. If the Celtics can't land another star without trading this pick plus multiple rotation players, they'll likely keep it, select Fultz and look to build one of the league's most dangerous backcourts.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG, Freshman)
The Los Angeles Lakers have young assets across the board from guard to center. They'll call on Lonzo Ball to bring them together and maximize all of their talent.
That's ultimately what Ball's sales pitch revolves around—the ability to improve a team's offensive efficiency with quick, intelligent decision-making that results in better shots, more flow and ball movement. He'll have chance to further sell his leadership during a potential NCAA tournament run.
The addition of Ball in L.A. means moving D'Angelo Russell to shooting guard, where he can focus more on scoring, his biggest strength.
3. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
Duke's Jayson Tatum has strengthened his case to the point where he's worth considering at No. 3. But superior upside and fit should tip the scale in Josh Jackson's favor.
The Phoenix Suns are already equipped with a pair of volume scorers in Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. They'll value Jackson's transition game, passing and defensive versatility between Booker and their bigs.
Kansas couldn't even get by TCU in the Big 12 tournament without Jackson, who was suspended one game for hitting a parked car and fleeing the scene. The Jayhawks' loss speaks to his value and impact.
He'll eventually have some questions to answer during interviews about off-the-court trouble, but talent, reputation and youth should help Jackson avoid being red-flagged.
4. Orlando Magic: Jayson Tatum (Duke, SF/PF, Freshman)
A huge ACC tournament from Jayson Tatum has seemingly created a gap between him and the next-best prospect. He averaged 22 points through four games, showcasing his signature, advanced one-on-one skills.
Evan Fournier is currently leading the Orlando Magic in scoring with 16.9 points per game, which suggests the team desperately needs an offensive upgrade. That's especially true after Orlando sent its second-leading scorer, Serge Ibaka, to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline.
Magic management will ponder selecting Malik Monk here, but defensive tools, versatility and playmaking give Tatum the edge. He's a candidate to rise into the top three with a strong NCAA tournament.
5. Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
The Philadelphia 76ers should have had eyes on Malik Monk all season. They desperately need a high-scoring 2-guard, and Monk's skills couldn't complement Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid much better.
The Sixers will heavily value his ability to score off transition, screens and spot-ups. He'd benefit from Simmons' passing and all of the attention Embiid draws in the post.
Having been relatively consistent all season, averaging 20.4 points on 45.7 percent shooting and 40.3 percent from three, the cold month Monk is having shouldn't set off any alarms.
6. Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
Fresh off a dominant SEC tournament, De'Aaron Fox is strengthening his draft case with wins, clutch play and shooting improvement.
After scoring 20 points against Georgia, 28 against Alabama and 18 against Arkansas over the weekend, Fox has now made a three-pointer in six straight games, creating optimism about the one area of his game that's held him back.
The Sacramento Kings, who need a point guard with Darren Collison and Ty Lawson both set to become unrestricted free agents, will ultimately buy Fox's athleticism, consistency, record and potential to improve his jumper. It may even cost a top-five pick to grab him if he keeps shooting well and winning.
7. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina (France, PG, 1998)
There could be 29 other teams who like Dennis Smith Jr. over Frank Ntilikina. But if New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson is serious about adding players who fit the triangle, the Frenchman will likely be high on New York's board.
Unlike Smith, a ball-dominant scoring playmaker, the 6'5" Ntilikina offers more versatility at both ends of the court. He's converting 40.6 percent of his threes in France this season, and he also projects as the draft's top defensive guard thanks to his quickness, instincts and length.
Offensively, Ntilikina spends more time off the ball with Strasbourg. That type of flexibility could allow the Knicks to draft him and still go after a lead guard like Jrue Holiday in free agency.
With questions over Smith's leadership, losing record and shooting, the Knicks will pass, just as they did on Emmanuel Mudiay in 2015. Instead, they'll favor Ntilikina for his superior tools, two-way potential, maturity and fit.
8. Sacramento Kings (via Pelicans): Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State, PG, Freshman)
The Sacramento Kings' front office will likely debate between Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox and NC State's Dennis Smith Jr. in the coming months. But the decision-makers must also talk about the possibility of adding both, as the Kings could find themselves in a situation where their best player available (at No. 8) is a point guard even if they already grab one two picks earlier.
Selecting two point guards would be acceptable in today's positionless NBA, but either way, the Kings aren't in a spot where they can afford to pass on talent for need. A Fox-Smith backcourt would be intriguing given their athleticism and ability to put heavy pressure on defenses. The Kings could experiment playing small with both together, or they could look to deal one for a wing or big man.
By picking Fox sixth and Smith eighth, Sacramento will be looking to stockpile assets and sort them out later. The Kings could also draft Smith here in hopes there will be demand for him from point guard-needy teams.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Jonathan Isaac is likely high on the Minnesota Timberwolves' board due to his hypothetical fit between Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
In 2017-18, the Wolves would value his defensive versatility more than his offense, which has sputtered at times this season. He's blocked shots, comfortably guarded the perimeter and rebounded at a strong rate. But with three-point range, ball-handling ability and some one-on-one game, Isaac's long-term scoring potential is equally intriguing.
With Jayson Tatum and De'Aaron Fox on the rise, Isaac has slipped a bit. It won't bother the Wolves, who could have him ranked in their top five.
10. Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, PF/C, Freshman)
Lauri Markkanen has relocated his stroke after a rare cold stretch entering March. He hadn't fallen down boards regardless.
Markkaken, who's shooting 43.2 percent from deep on the year, had already solidified himself as perhaps the draft's No. 1 shooter. The Arizona freshman is coming off an enormous game over the weekend in which he hung 29 points on UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament.
He happens to jump out as the best prospect available, but he's also particularly intriguing for the Dallas Mavericks. The idea of Dirk Nowitzki mentoring and grooming Markkanen—a similarly made stretch big man—is hard to ignore.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, PF, Freshman)
Miles Bridges would give the Charlotte Hornets a shot of athleticism and versatility up front.
Bridges puts pressure on the rim with his explosive leaping ability and motor, but the key to his success will be his jumper. His 38.8 percent mark from three is encouraging, while his 68.7 percent clip from the free-throw line raises flags. He becomes a difficult cover if his three-point efficiency is the more accurate indicator.
In the meantime, Bridges would give the Hornets easy buckets off transition, drives and finishes. He has also proven to be a fine perimeter defender. The upside kicks in when he becomes a consistent shooter.
12. Portland Trail Blazers: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, PF/C, Freshman)
The Portland Trail Blazers found one big man to build around in Jusuf Nurkic. They could look to pair him with a more defensive-oriented 4 or 5 in Robert Williams, one of the draft's top athletes and shot-blockers.
Given his NBA physical tools and explosiveness, the Blazers should be willing to overlook his relatively paltry 11.8 points per game and raw skills. They'll value what he can bring with length, bounce and foot speed, and bank on his offensive game improving over time.
Even without much polish, Williams has remained efficient, consistently making his presence felt as a finisher, rebounder and rim protector. It's easy to see all three strengths carrying over into an energy role.
13. Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF, 1998)
With Chris Bosh's return from blood clots looking increasingly unlikely, the Miami Heat could target Isaiah Hartenstein for versatility at the 4 spot alongside Hassan Whiteside.
A capable shooter, great passer, low-post scorer and physical rebounder, Hartenstein brings a unique skill set to the table for a 7-footer. He'd be a natural complement to the rim-protecting Whiteside.
Hartenstein's minutes have been up and down since he returned from a strong showing during December's U18 European Championships, but he's still had some promising moments in a limited role. Between April's Nike Hoop Summit (assuming he's invited) and predraft workouts, Hartenstein's stock could spike again over the next few months.
14. Chicago Bulls: Justin Patton (Creighton, C, Freshman)
With the franchise spiraling downward, the Chicago Bulls will simply be searching for talent in the draft. Need, fit or developmental timetable won't factor into their hunt.
Justin Patton falls more on the project side, but his upside remains enticing. Athletic with 6'11" size, he's emerged as an enormous target and easy-bucket machine at the rim, shooting 69.4 percent from the floor. He has also flashed nifty post moves, passes and ball-handling, and though he isn't a consistent long-range shooter yet, he's opened eyes with eight three-pointers.
Robin Lopez isn't a long-term answer for Chicago and Nikola Mirotic, who's headed for restricted free agency this summer, has largely fallen out of the rotation. Patton gives Chicago a new big to build around in the frontcourt.
15. Denver Nuggets: Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 1998)
The available talent isn't so obvious outside the lottery. No remaining players look like sure things for the Denver Nuggets.
This franchise has been plenty willing to draft overseas, from Juan Hernangomez in 2016 and Emmanuel Mudiay in 2015 to Nikola Jokic in 2014, who's become the team's star. Just as they did with Jokic, the Nuggets could look to draft-and-stash Rodions Kurucs, an exciting prospect and athlete with Barcelona's second team.
A 6'8" scoring wing with shooting range and defensive potential, Kurucs may have an opportunity to see minutes and develop in the Spanish ACB next season.
16. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Jackson (North Carolina, SF, Junior)
Tony Snell is entering restricted free agency, and the Milwaukee Bucks have gotten little out of Rashad Vaughn. They could call on Justin Jackson, who's emerged as the next-most intriguing wing behind Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac.
Credit his improved shooting—Jackson has hit 90 threes through 34 games, looking fluid and confident on every release. But he's also sharpened his ball skills and shot creativity, leading to him becoming a greater threat off the dribble.
The Bucks can put Jackson on the same weight-training program they have Thon Maker on. Bulking up could improve Jackson's defense and chances of playing more minutes.
17. Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard (Duke, SG, Sophomore)
At No. 17, the Detroit Pistons will overlook Luke Kennard's athletic limitations and gamble on his shooting, craftiness and basketball IQ.
The risk is worth it this late. Much like Manu Ginobili, Kennard uses terrific footwork and acrobatic shot-making skills to compensate for limited explosiveness.
He's hit the 20-point mark 19 times this season and has made 44.3 percent of his 192 three-point attempts. The Pistons should ultimately value Kennard for his offense, which could be used in a bench role behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Leading Duke to a Final Four or national title will only help strengthen his stock.
18. Indiana Pacers: John Collins (Wake Forest, PF, Sophomore)
The Indiana Pacers could look at John Collins for frontcourt depth behind Thaddeus Young. Collins has emerged as one of the country's breakout players, having gotten Wake Forest into the NCAA tournament by averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds.
He's consistently taken it to opposing front lines, tapping into his bounce for easy buckets and mid-range touch for tougher ones out of the post. However, Collins struggles defensively, which casts a cloud over his production and keeps him from drawing looks in the lottery.
He'll look to keep strengthen his stock during predraft workouts and eventually carve out an NBA career as a scoring energizer.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Johnathan Motley (Baylor, PF/C, Junior)
The Atlanta Hawks will look to retool their frontcourt this summer, as Dwight Howard is their only big man guaranteed to be under contract for 2017-18.
Johnathan Motley brings an NBA body, length and athleticism to the 4 or 5, depending on whether Atlanta wants to play big or small. One of the draft's top rebounders, Motley has a strong nose for the ball, good hands around the basket, improved post footwork, face-up scoring ability within 15 feet and mid-range touch.
There isn't great upside with Motley, but his tools, production and development suggest his core strengths should translate. Just as the Hawks likely did last year with Taurean Prince, they should buy into Motley's role-player potential.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (via Grizzlies): TJ Leaf (UCLA, PF, Freshman)
Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh both average below double-digits in scoring. The Portland Trail Blazers could look to TJ Leaf for offense.
One of the most skilled bigs in the field, Leaf has consistently produced, flashing everything from three-point range and post moves to ball-handling ability. He isn't an explosive athlete, however, and defensive limitations could keep him from competing for starter minutes.
Regardless, the Blazers will value his shooting and playmaking as a stretch 4. His face-up and perimeter skills would complement Jusuf Nurkic inside.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Donovan Mitchell (Louisville, SG, Sophomore)
A breakout star in the ACC, Donovan Mitchell projects as a scoring spark capable of generating offense in bunches. He's also one of the draft's top athletes with promising defensive potential.
Knocking down 2.4 triples per game, Mitchell has improved significantly around the perimeter, which has allowed him to take over stretches for Louisville.
Streakiness and limited playmaking skills could hold Mitchell back from full-time minutes, but at No. 21, the Oklahoma City Thunder won't be picky. They'll value his upside for a guard and round out their frontcourt in free agency.
22. Toronto Raptors: Ivan Rabb (California, PF/C, Sophomore)
The Toronto Raptors could buy low on Ivan Rabb, who'll slip after failing to reach the NCAA tournament or add much to his offensive game.
He offers strong value in the 20s with NBA tools, rebounding instincts and polished skills within 15 feet. The inability to stretch the floor or protect the rim keeps his ceiling in check, but Rabb could thrive in a role that asks him to finish, crash the glass and score when fed in isolation.
Even if the Raptors re-sign Serge Ibaka this summer, they could still use Rabb for depth and insurance. Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker will all be free agents in July.
23. Orlando Magic (via Clippers): Allonzo Trier (Arizona, SG, Sophomore)
Projecting Allonzo Trier at No. 23 means expecting his stock to spike during the NCAA tournament.
He's returned as a more complete player in 2016-17, having already racked up 40 assists through 15 games after totaling 31 in 27 outings as a freshman. Along with the playmaking, he's now knocking down 41.4 percent of his threes and 80.0 percent of his 6.7 free-throw attempts per game.
The Orlando Magic, who rank No. 29 in the league in three-point percentage, will ultimately value Trier's shot-making off the bench. He's emerged as Arizona's leading scorer and a prospect to watch in the NCAA tournament. After averaging 20.7 points during the Pac-12 tournament, leading the Wildcats to the Final Four could help him draw a lot more attention.
24. Brooklyn Nets (via Wizards): Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers, SF, 1998)
The Brooklyn Nets could think outside the box and grab Terrance Ferguson from Australia's National Basketball League.
His role overseas wasn't big, but scouts had already seen plenty of Ferguson in high school, when he was a McDonald's All-American and the leading scorer at the Nike Hoop Summit.
With quick feet, exciting athleticism and a believable shooting stroke, the Nets will hope a three-and-D role winds up becoming Ferguson's floor. At 18 years old, there is still plenty of room for his ball skills and shot creation to improve.
25. Brooklyn Nets (via Celtics): Harry Giles III (Duke, PF, Freshman)
For the Brooklyn Nets, the potential reward tied to Harry Giles III is worth the risk this late.
On a positive note, he's remained healthy, efficient (58.4 percent shooting) and active under the boards, where he grabs 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes and registers a terrific 16.1 offensive rebound percentage.
The Nets may view Giles as an energizer to start and hope his offensive game improves with reps and added confidence. They could stick him in the Development League next season or even give him NBA rookie minutes, given how few long-term keepers are on Brooklyn's roster.
He showed some promising signs against North Carolina in the ACC tournament and will look to build on them over the next few weeks.
26. Utah Jazz: OG Anunoby (Indiana, SF, Sophomore)
With two first-round picks in the late 20s, it's worth gambling on OG Anunoby, who generated lottery buzz before injuring his knee and missing Indiana's last 14 games.
Prior to going down, Anunoby had established a reputation for being a defensive specialist capable of guarding ball-handlers, wings and forwards. His 27 three-pointers through 50 career games raised hope about his potential to become a shooter and eventual three-and-D player.
Otherwise, his ball skills are weak, and there have been questions about his motor. But if he returns to full strength, Anunoby's defensive ceiling is as high as anyone's in this draft.
27. Portland Trail Blazers (via Cavaliers): Bam Adebayo (Kentucky, C, Freshman)
Bam Adebayo could slip without any perimeter skills or convincing defensive potential. But his elite athleticism for a 260-pound big could still hold value to the Portland Trail Blazers off the bench.
He picks up easy baskets at the rim—off pick-and-rolls, dump downs, transition, lobs and putbacks—that other bigs can't deliver. Though not known for his scoring, he's offered flashes of promising jump hooks in the lane.
If he can show the Blazers he's capable of switching and guarding away from the hoop, he'll increase his odds of justifying minutes in Portland's rotation.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets): Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 1995)
The NCAA talent has started to dry up by No. 28. Now is a good time for the Los Angeles Lakers to use their first-round pick from the Houston Rockets on one of the most productive young bigs overseas.
Coming off a 20-point game Saturday, Mathias Lessort continues to make himself easy to identify, though at 6'9" and 250 pounds, it was never difficult to spot him. Strong, athletic and mobile, he generates offense by finishing, diving to the rim and crashing the glass.
Since he'll be 22 years old in September, the Lakers could look to bring him right over and replace Timofey Mozgov, who's fallen out of the rotation.
29. Utah Jazz (via Warriors): Josh Hart (Villanova, SG, Senior)
Villanova looks poised to make another deep NCAA tournament run, which would give Josh Hart one last opportunity to strengthen his first-round case.
He's improved in key aspects of the game, including shooting, playmaking and scoring. Though he isn't an explosive athlete or natural guard, there is a sense he can carve out a jack-of-all-trades supporting role.
Rodney Hood has seemingly plateaued, Joe Ingles is entering restricted free agency and Gordon Hayward is likely to opt out. The Jazz could look to load up on wings in the draft and hope one of their two first-round picks (Anunoby and Hart) pans out.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Jordan Bell (Oregon, PF, Junior)
Jordan Bell has made a case for himself as an energizer with his athleticism and activity.
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Bell regularly makes an impact without needing touches or plays drawn up. Averaging 11.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 62.1 percent from the field, Bell projects as a force around the basket, where he finishes, tracks down loose balls and protects the rim.
His tools, explosiveness and motor suggest those strengths can carry over. The San Antonio Spurs could see that and look to Bell for hustle play up front.
Draft order and stats are accurate heading into Tuesday'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