It's a refrain repeated often, but the worst place for an NBA team to reside is arguably the middle of the pack. It's great if you're contending for an NBA title, of course, but it's not so bad if you're one of the worst teams in the league, as the grass could be greener on the other side in a few years thanks to some high draft picks.
However, the teams in the middle could be in trouble. They aren't good enough to compete for a title, but they aren't bad enough to obtain a halfway decent chance at a top pick. It's an odd conundrum, one that makes for some "interesting" decisions by teams who may or may not want to compete near the end of the season.
Here's a look at a new NBA mock draft, in addition to three potential fits in the top nine. Note that the lottery portion of the draft will not be set in stone until Tuesday, May 15.
NBA Mock Draft
1. Phoenix Suns: Arizona C DeAndre Ayton
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Real Madrid PG/SG Luka Doncic
3. Dallas Mavericks: Duke F/C Marvin Bagley III
4. Atlanta Hawks: Michigan State F/C Jaren Jackson Jr.
5. Orlando Magic: Missouri SF/PF Michael Porter Jr.
6. Chicago Bulls: Texas C Mohamed Bamba
7. Sacramento Kings: Duke C Wendell Carter
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics): Oklahoma PG Trae Young
9. New York Knicks: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns): Villanova SF Mikal Bridges
11. Charlotte Hornets: Texas Tech G/F Zhaire Smith
12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons): Missouri C Jontay Porter
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Alabama PG/SG Collin Sexton
14. Denver Nuggets: Ohio State SF/PF Keita Bates-Diop
Remaining First-Round NBA Draft Order
15. Washington Wizards: Texas A&M C Robert Williams
16. Phoenix Suns (originally via Miami Heat): Villanova PG Jalen Brunson
17. Milwaukee Bucks: C Mitchell Robinson (Chalmette High School)
18. San Antonio Spurs: Cedevita Zagreb SF Dzanan Musa
19. Atlanta Hawks: Miami SG Lonnie Walker Jr.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (originally via Oklahoma City Thunder): Michigan State SF/PF Miles Bridges
21. Utah Jazz: Kentucky SF/PF Kevin Knox
22. Chicago Bulls (via New Orleans Pelicans): Boise State SF Chandler Hutchison
23. Indiana Pacers: USC PG/SG DeAndre Melton
24. Portland Trail Blazers: Nevada SF Caleb Martin
25. Los Angeles Lakers (originally via Cleveland Cavaliers): Cincinnati SF Jacob Evans
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Creighton SG Khyri Thomas
27. Boston Celtics: Villanova F/C Omari Spellman
28. Golden State Warriors: UNLV C Brandon McCoy
29. Brooklyn Nets (originally via Toronto Raptors): IMG PG Anfernee Simmons
30. Atlanta Hawks (originally via Houston Rockets): Duke SG Gary Trent Jr.
Marvin Bagley III and the Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks finished last in the NBA in rebounding differential (minus-4.5). Also, at some point, legendary 39-year-old power forward Dirk Nowitzki will retire after a phenomenal career, leaving a space in the frontcourt.
With the Mavs picking up point guard Dennis Smith Jr. in last year's draft, it's time to look toward the paint, and Duke big man Marvin Bagley III could be a great fit. The 6'11" superstar shined for Duke in his one season there, averaging 21.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He would instantly start for the Mavs and provide a much-needed boost on the boards.
Furthermore, Dallas could use some more offensive energy. Smith provides that in heavy doses, as the 20-year-old averaged 15.2 points per game and seemed like he was good for one highlight-reel dunk per night. However, offensive production has been hit or miss for the rest of the roster, and no player on the team averaged more than 18.9 points per night (small forward Harrison Barnes).
Teams can get away without having a player post 20 or more points per game if they are tough on defense or having a deep rotation, but the Mavs don't have either right now: Of note, Dallas was just 23rd in offensive efficiency and 18th on defense.
Bagley could come in and be the focal point of the team's offense (much like he was at Duke), and he and Smith would form a tough duo for opposing defenses.
Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the New York Knicks
As New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina's rookie season developed, it was clear that he may be a better fit at shooting guard than point guard.
Here's what Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News had to say about the matter in a March 3 article:
"As scouts have noted for months, Ntilikina isn't quick enough with his dribble to play point guard in the NBA—at least not at this stage of his development. It hinders his playmaking abilities. On defense, Ntilikina's length allows him to defend shooting guards—leaving Jeff Hornacek with the option to play the Frenchman alongside Burke or Mudiay."
The Knicks tried out two new point guards at the tail end of the season: Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke. Mudiay showed some flashes, but he struggled shooting the ball, making just 36.8 percent of his field goals. On the other hand, Burke was one of the few bright spots on the team near the end of a dreary season, most notably when he posted 42 points and 12 assists against the Charlotte Hornets.
Burke averaged 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his final 10 contests, so he deserves a chance to be the Knicks starter at the point next year. However, that closing stretch shouldn't preclude the Knicks from taking a shot at someone else in this year's draft, as it is arguably the team's biggest need.
New York should consider Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who filled up the box score for the Wildcats by averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He also shot well from the field (48.4 percent overall, 40.5 percent from three-point range).
The Knicks should also consider Oklahoma's Trae Young or Alabama's Collin Sexton (if they are there), but the team sorely needs a steady, willing distributor at point guard.
Texas C Mohamed Bamba and the Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have a young core in Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen that they can build around, but they need at least another wing and a center to complete that nucleus. Preferably, the center is a defensive juggernaut, especially considering that the Bulls finished 28th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency.
Enter Mohamed Bamba of Texas, who NBADraft.net compared to one of the best defensive centers in the NBA (Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz). As Jason King of Bleacher Report noted in a November 8 feature, Bamba has a ridiculous 7'9" wingspan, which certainly helped him block 3.6 shots per game in his lone year at Texas.
For the season, he averaged 12.5 points and 10.5 boards in 30.2 minutes en route to helping lead the Longhorns to the NCAA tournament.
Bamba would almost certainly join the Bulls rotation right away and could even find himself starting by the end of the year. Robin Lopez is a free agent after the 2018-19 season and saw his minutes significantly curtailed by the end of the year as the Bulls entered tank mode. Although Lopez is one of the more entertaining players in the game, he'll likely have a new home sooner rather than later.
The Bulls have signed Cristiano Felicio to a long-term deal, but he might be best suited as one of the first bigs off the bench (he had a below-average PER of 12.5 last season). He did show some promise in a few starts, but the Bulls can't let a player like Bamba get past them when he would help alleviate significant defensive needs.