NBA Mock Draft 7.0: The final mock before the draft starts

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We’re now less than 48 hours removed from the start of the NBA draft, so here is the latest NBC Sports projections for who will be the best fit for the teams drafting them.

1. New Orleans — Zion Williamson, Duke

2. Memphis — Ja Morant, Murray State

3. New York — R.J. Barrett, Duke

I’m not really breaking new ground with any of these picks. Frankly, I would be shocked if this went any other way on Thursday night. We all know that Zion is the top prospect in this draft. We also all know that Morant and Barrett are, depending on who you ask, the second and third best prospects in this draft. They are closer than the consensus would have you believe, but Memphis looking to replace Mike Conley longterm with the impact that an all-NBA point guard can have on an organization makes Morant the obvious fit.

Either way, here is a full scouting report for each of those three players:

4. New Orleans — Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

This is the flash point for the 2019 NBA Draft, and it is the case for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is the presence of Garland.

There are some teams out there that believe Garland is the player with the highest ceiling that is not among the top three picks. He’s a terrific shooter that can play on or off the ball, knows how to operate a ball-screen and has the ability to create shots for himself in isolation. It’s not a perfect comparison — comparisons never are and ignore anyone that tells you otherwise — but if Garland maxes out his ability, he’ll could end up being C.J. McCollum-esque. Garland also plays the point, and there are a number of teams that are looking to add a point guard in this draft, and with the point guard crop falling off after Coby White, there is an incentive for those teams to try and move up, especially if they are one of the teams that believes Garland will be the best of the rest.

And New Orleans has an incentive to move the pick, too. Not only do they already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on the roster, but if they can drop down a few spots in the draft while adding picks — either later in this draft or in future drafts — it makes more sense. They’ll be able to draft in a position of need without really seeing the quality of the prospect they end up with being affected; the difference between whoever gets picked fourth and the players at the back end of the lottery is not all that great.

So I’m leaving Garland slotted as the No. 4 pick for now.

I just don’t know who is actually going to be drafting him.

5. Cleveland — Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

There are a couple of reasons why I think it makes the most sense for the Cavs to pick Culver. For starters, I think that he fits nicely alongside Collin Sexton, as I believe his future is as a secondary playmaker. Sexton is more of a scorer at heart, and adding the shot-creation and pick-and-roll ability of Culver would give John Beilein more options to initiate offense.

I also think that Culver fits in nicely with the kind of player that Beilein has had the most success with in recent years. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, even a guy like Jordan Poole. They’re wings that were capable of creating in isolation while also thriving in ball-screens, which is where Culver does his best work. If Garland ends up going fourth, the smart play for the Cavs to make is to pick Culver.

(Here is the full scouting report on Culver.)

6. Phoenix — COBY WHITE, North Carolina

What Phoenix needs is obvious: A primary ball-handler that can be used alongside Devin Booker. The ideal pick, then, is probably Garland, but White wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. He’s lightening quick in transition, he has three-point range and he is deadly off of the dribble. His shooting ability would also allow him to play off the ball, which fits with Booker, who has developed into more of a lead guard than many expected him to be. The concern here is that White is not known for his playmaking ability and can, at times, be ball-dominant. That is not ideal, and it would make some sense for the Suns to trade down if they can find someone willing to part with a veteran guard that fills their needs.

7. Chicago — De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

Chicago, like Phoenix, needs a point guard, as neither Zach LaVine nor Kris Dunn appear to be the longterm answer at the position. With Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. already on the roster, they certainly don’t need to target big men in this draft. So Chicago will have some choices to make. They can trade up to get a guard they want to target. They can trade down to add assets if they believe they can land a free agent to bolster their backcourt. Or they can take the best available player, which, in this case, would be Hunter.

He’s the best two-way wing available, he will be able to contribute immediately and there’s a chance that his ceiling as a scorer is higher than some believe. I think that he’ll likely end up being somewhere between DeMarre Carroll and Trevor Ariza, with a real chance of developing into an all-star down the line.

(Here is the full scouting report on Hunter.)

8. Atlanta — Cam Reddish, Duke

This is yet another pick that could every well end up being involved in a trade, as the Hawks have three picks between 8-17 and six picks in the top 44. Packaging two of their first rounders to jump up into the top five to snag Culver or Hunter seems like a very real possibility. Whatever ends up happening, eight seems like the floor for Reddish, who has a world of potential but spent his one-and-done season at Duke finding myriad ways to make people question it.

(Here is the full scouting report on Reddish.)

9. Washington — Sekou Doumbouya, France

Who knows.

The Wizards still are in front office limbo, as interim GM Tommy Sheppard will be running the draft this year. They have a thin roster loaded with aging veterans, a star in Bradley Beal that could end up being shipped out and an ailing John Wall, who is recovering from a torn Achilles. The position of need for them is on the wing, and Doumbouya is probably the guy with the highest ceiling in that spot, but there are plenty of options for them in this range — Nassir Little, Rui Hachimura, P.J. Washington, etc.

10. Atlanta — Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Hayes is a project. He’s big, he’s athletic, he has great hands, he’s mobile and he’s in theory a guy that will be a terrific rim-running, lob-catching, rim-protecting five to pair with Trae Young. He fits alongside John Collins, too. But he’s raw, he’s super-young in basketball years (he didn’t even start in high school until his senior season) and he has yet to prove himself a quality rebounder. This also could end up being a pick that is traded by the Hawks, but for now, let’s send Hayes to the A.

11. Minnesota — Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

I understand why there will be some hesitancy when it comes to drafting Clarke. His jumper is not something that can be trusted. He’s 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds and more or less limited to playing the five in the NBA. He’s not a great passer. His efficiency, elite athleticism, shot-blocking feel and basketball savvy should make him a useful player in the NBA, but he needs the right fit.

Minnesota is that fit. He can be slotted alongside Karl Anthony-Towns, who will have the size to allow Clarke to guard opposing four and has the perimeter ability to keep the paint from getting too crowded. Clarke will also provide the Wolves with defensive cover, as KAT is not exactly known for his desire to play on that end of the floor. He can step into the league right away and contribute, and for a team that really isn’t that far away from being in the playoffs, there’s value there.

12. Charlotte — RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Charlotte needs to fill a hole at the four, and there are plenty of options in this range. Clarke and Doumbouya could both drop while Nassir Little and P.J. Washington are still on our board. But Rui makes sense to me here. He fits the Charlotte profile of drafting players that have had a ton of success at the collegiate level — he was an All-American this past year — while also having A) elite physical tools and B) plenty of room to grow. Remember, he grew up in Japan playing against totally outmatched competition. His first year at Gonzaga was spent trying to learn to speak English. He needs to continue to develop his shooting, and learn how to play defense, but he has the stroke and the athleticism to, in theory, do both.

13. Miami — P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

Washington makes sense in Miami. He can compliment Bam Adebayo in the frontcourt, and he has the length and defensive ability to guard multiple positions. He’s continued to develop as a shooter and he is more athletic than he looks at first glance. His ceiling is limited, but I do think that he is the kind of player that will be a solid rotation piece for a decade in the NBA. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic called him the next Patrick Patterson, and I’m going to steal that comparison because I love it. Getting P-Patt at 13 is solid value in this draft.

14. Boston — NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

With the news that Al Horford is going to opt out of his contract, the Celtics will be in the market for bigs that can defend and space the floor. There are a number of them in this range — Mfiondu Kabengele, Goga Bitazde, Bol Bol, even someone like a Nic Claxton. But the Celtics also have picks at No. 20 and No. 22, and it’s likely that at least one of those four will still be on the board then. So I’m going with Little here, who is the kind of hard-nosed wing that Brad Stevens seems to love. He was a top three prospect in the class before an up-and-down season with North Carolina, but some of that was due to simply being a weird fit with Roy Williams’ system. He’s worth the risk.

15. Detroit — Tyler Herro, Kentucky

The Pistons have Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. They need a wing, and there are plenty to choose from in this range — Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kevin Porter Jr. For my money, Herro is the best of the group. He’s a big-time shooter with a developing off-the-dribble game, he’s wired to be a shot-maker and he’s tougher defensively than he gets credit for. I also think he has a higher ceiling than the rest of that group, save Porter.

16. Orlando — NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

The Magic need shooting, they need backcourt help and they need someone that can help take some of the playmaking load off of Markelle Fultz, as the former No. 1 pick looks to restart his career in Orlando. Alexander-Walker makes perfect sense, as he has the size and length to defend multiple positions, thrived in ball-screens under Buzz Williams this past season and has proven to me as adept as a spot-up shooter as he is as a creator.

17. Atlanta — MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State

If Atlanta ends up making a trade in this trade, there’s a real chance that the No. 17 pick is the one they move. At that point, all bets are off, so I’ll slot Kabengele in here, because I think that he is underrated in terms of his longterm potential, he is developed enough that he can play a role immediately and he fits with the teams that the Hawks would likely be trading with to move up in the draft — New Orleans and Cleveland.

If Atlanta ends up shipping off the No. 10 pick and Minnesota picks someone other than Clarke at No. 11, then I can see the Hawks ending up with Clarke here. He’d fit well alongside John Collins, he’d boost their defense and he would be a terrific lob target for Trae Young.

18. Indiana — ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

An Indiana schoolboy legend turned Hoosier that goes to play for the Pacers is just too good of a story, isn’t it? There are some very real reasons to be concerned about Langford’s upside — namely the poor perimeter shooting and the fact that he is right-hand dominant — but he spent the season playing through a thumb injury that required surgery. He’s a risk, but at No. 18, it’s a low-cost risk that could return value, both on the court and in ticket sales, if he maximizes his upside.

19. San Antonio — GOGA BITADZE, Georgia

The Spurs have some solid pieces on their perimeter, but with an again LaMarcus Aldridge anchoring their frontline, it’s time for a rebuild there. Enter Bitadze, who was impressively productive in the Euroleague and whose combination of shot-blocking and floor-spacing is intriguing.

20. Boston — BOL BOL, Oregon

I have my doubts about Bol’s future as a pro, but it’s not because I don’t see the potential there. He has a ton of red flags, as detailed in this scouting report, but he is also a 7-foot-2 center that is a lights-out three-point shooter and an elite rim-protector when he is engaged. This is also the kind of organization that will A) take a risk on a guy with red flags and B) has proven to be a place where players can develop. He needs their culture more than any other prospect in this draft.

21. Oklahoma City — Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Oklahoma City badly needs to add shooting, and Johnson may just be the best shooter in this draft. He’s a finished product, as he is already 23 years old, but he stands 6-foot-9 and can will immediately contribute to a team that needs all the floor-spacing they can get. This is also a pick that has been rumored to be on the market.

22. Boston — KEVIN PORTER JR., USC

Like Bol Bol, Porter is an extremely high-upside player that has myriad red flags. He missed six weeks with a mysterious thigh injury. He was suspended on a road trip due to what sources close to the program said was a long list of relatively small problems that kept building up. He’s immature, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad person. With the right infrastructure and influence around him, he could thrive, and if that happens, his ceiling is as the best scorer in this draft. He is that talented.

I don’t expect Boston to end up with both Bol Bol and Porter, partly due to the fact that I can see the Celtics being active on the trade market, but both players would make perfect sense on that roster.

23. Memphis — KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

Johnson doesn’t have one elite skill, but there are plenty of things that he does well: He’s a willing defender if not an elite athlete. He’s a good-not-great shooter. He’s a capable straight-line driver. He’s tough. He’s versatile. He may not be the kind of a player with a super-high ceiling, but he has a floor because of how well-rounded he is. He’s good value this late in the draft.

24. Philadelphia — Ty Jerome, Virginia

I love Jerome’s toughness, shot-making ability and savvy in running ball-screens. He’s not a great athlete, but he makes up for it because of how smart he is, and it’s hard to imagine a guy that spent three years playing under Tony Bennett being a liability defensively. More importantly, he’s excellent at running off of screens and knocking down jumpers. He can be everything that Landry Shamet was for the 76ers before getting traded.

25. Portland — K.Z. Okpala, Stanford

Okpala plays a position of need for the Blazers, and while he struggled late in the season, he’s has the size, length and fluidity to project as an effective big wing down the road. Drafting him here means that you trust in his jumper, which fell off of a cliff in the last six weeks of the college hoops season.

26. Cleveland — NIC CLAXTON, Georgia

Claxton has quite a bit of upside, as he’s something of a late-bloomer that has been the biggest riser throughout the draft process. Outside of SEC nerds, I’m not sure how many people actually knew about this guy before February. He’s going to need to add some weight and continue to develop his perimeter ability, but his athleticism and versatility makes him easily projectable as a forward down the road, not just a center. Drafting Claxton is like chasing the next Pascal Siakam, and if he pans out, he could end up being the best value pick in this draft.

27. Brooklyn — Grant Williams, Tennessee

I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.

He’s precisely the kind of player that would be ideal to get into this Brooklyn organization.

28. Golden State — Dylan Windler, Belmont

I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a complimentary. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team, and the Warriors have had a lot of success finding college guys that can fill a specific role for them in the late-first and second round.

29. San Antonio — LUKE SAMANIC, Serbia

For all the reasons that Bitadze makes sense in San Antonio, Samanic does as well.

30. Milwaukee — Eric Paschall, Villanova

Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

Associated Press
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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.