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.

Gregg Popovich: ‘The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help.’

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Gregg Popovich was always going to speak out on the protests and anguish in our nation right now — and those thoughts were never going to fit in 280 characters.

Popovich, coach of the Spurs and USA Basketball for the Tokyo Olympics, called up Dave Zirin of The Nation and laid the blame for a lot of what we are seeing on President Trump and the White House. Below is simply a taste:

“The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes. That’s why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change…

“It’s so clear what needs to be done. We need a president to come out and say simply that ‘black lives matter.’ Just say those three words. But he won’t and he can’t. He can’t because it’s more important to him to mollify the small group of followers who validate his insanity. But it’s more than just Trump. The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help, because that’s what leaders do. But he can’t do anything to put us on a positive path, because he’s not a leader.”

Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies. He has never been shy when speaking about his feelings on President Donald Trump (read his entire quote at The Nation, he focuses on the president), but in this case, he speaks for many Americans of all walks of life, and of all ethnicities, who see a leader who stokes divisions rather than seeking to unify and heal.

Many NBA players have spoken out in the wake of George Floyd’s death and a number of them have led or participated in protests around the nation. What Popovich said speaks to a lot of what those players are feeling and saying themselves.

NBA coaches and teams have stepped up with statements, as have team owners — including Michael Jordan — saying this cannot be about just words, there needs to be action toward change. What that action will look like in three months, or six, or a year, is an excellent question. But this time, around the NBA (and maybe around the nation), there seems to be a real sense they do not want this message and momentum to fade.

Jerami Grant: Not leaning toward taking $9,346,153 player option with Nuggets

Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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The Nuggets have their starting point guard (Jamal Murray), shooting guard (Gary Harris), small forward (Will Barton) and center (Nikola Jokic) locked up a combined 11 more seasons.

The big question comes at power forward.

Paul Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Michael Porter Jr. has shown promise. And Jerami Grant holds a $9,346,153 player option for next season.

Jerami Grant on “Posted Up with Chris Haynes,” via Quenton S. Albertie of Nugg Love:

I’m definitely not leaning towards picking up the player option.

Grant appeared bound for a raise. He’s a good finisher who active seeks opportunities at the basket and has improved his 3-point shooting. His versatile defense is valuable in any system. And he has the track record of hard work that should make teams comfortable investing in the 26-year-old.

But the NBA’s coronavirus-caused revenue decline presents a major variable. We’ll have to see where the salary cap lands. If the wrong teams have space, Grant could be stuck with just the mid-level exception, which – depending on the cap – could be less than $9,346,153.

In any cap environment, Denver has optionality. Millsap is still solid, though at 35, it’s unclear how many more good years he has left. Porter is exciting, though he’s still raw, and health remains a concern. Another impending unrestricted free agent, Mason Plumlee plays in plenty of two-center lineups with Jokic.

The Nuggets – who just traded a first-rounder for him – surely want to keep Grant. But they have other options, which gives them leverage.

Grant’s leverage comes with declining his player option and exploring unrestricted free agency. He’s setting that stage now.

Report: One last push for NBA to return with all 30 teams

Thunder owner Clay Bennett
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The NBA has 30 teams.

Some teams don’t want that forgotten as the league heads toward resuming with just 22 teams.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Near the end of the NBA’s Board of Governors call on Friday, Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett delivered an impassioned soliloquy on why the league and owners needed to consider the competitive and financial plights of smaller market teams that could be left out of the season’s summer resumption in Orlando — and the potential symbolic power of all 30 teams gathering there to play as one united association.

As the NBA moves toward a plan of inviting 22 teams re-start a truncated season in late July, sources told ESPN, Bennett spoke of exhausting ways to accommodate non-playoff teams still wanting to play. He wondered: was there a way to safely bring all 30 teams?

The inequities facing smaller markets had to shape the league’s thinking, Bennett suggested. Nine months without games – March to December — could have an impact on developing players, cultivating sponsorships and selling tickets in markets where franchises struggle to gain a hold.

For those teams left out of the playoffs, there has already been dialogue on the possibility of mandatory summer training camps and regional fall leagues of four-to-five teams that could bridge the lengthy gap between seasons, sources told ESPN. Those are ideas many teams consider vital, and there’s an expectation that the NBA will raise possible scenarios such as these with the Players Association, sources said.

The financial elements of the plan are significant for the league too — with the 22-team format worth several hundred million dollars more in revenue than 16-team straight-to-playoffs plan would, sources said.

The irony: Bennett moved the Thunder to small-market Oklahoma City from larger-market Seattle.

Get past that, and he has a point: Ideally, all 30 teams would finish their seasons. That’s how the season was originally designed. It’d be nice if it could be completed that way.

But it’s also important not to become consumed by that goal in the face of other – sometimes competing – concerns.

The more teams playing, the higher the risk of coronavirus spreading. It’s that simple. In the NBA’s setup, maybe there’s negligible safety difference between 16 teams and 22 teams and 30 teams. That’s worth exploring. But increasing the number of teams increases the risk.

Of course, increasing number of teams also increases revenue. Just as 22 teams will draw more money than 16 teams, 30 teams would draw more money than 22 teams (if safe). That can’t be ignored.

It’s not as if this is a huge departure from normal, though. At this point in the season, many teams begin several months without meaningful games. Fix the tanking issue in normal times. Especially now, it seems absurd to recall teams just for games the organization prefers to lose.

This also isn’t simply a market-size issue. The Knicks, Warriors and Bulls are among the teams outside the top 22. Sure, there’s room for consideration for teams that aren’t resuming. But it’s not as if they’re just small-market teams left to wallow.

Plus, an extended period without basketball is an all-too-convenient concern all of a sudden. Where was that rallying cry while owners held lockouts? Owners canceled games to serve their greater objectives then. It’s a reasonable consideration now, too.

Mandatory summer training camps won’t help eliminated teams sell sponsorships and tickets. Those camps might not even have much value in team building. With contracts generally shorter now, so many players are heading into free agency. For impending free agents on finished teams, protecting their health is most important – not practicing with a team they won’t necessarily stay with.

There are no perfect answers here. NBA commissioner Adam Silver must decide on the least-bad option. It’s perfectly fine if that doesn’t include all 30 teams.

How many teams will make 2020 NBA Playoffs?

Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan vs. Kings
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The NBA could resume with 16, 20, 22 or 30 teams. The league is weighing playing more regular-season games, jumping straight to the playoffs, holding a play-in tournament and even drawing for a group stage. The most important thing is finding the proper format for this unprecedented season interrupted by coronavirus.

But that still leaves a question: How will playoff inclusion be determined?

Importantly, that affects which teams participate in the lottery. The whole point is to give every non-playoff team and only non-playoff teams a shot at the top picks in the draft.

A few notable streaks are also on the line:

San Antonio and Sacramento are in that tightly grouped 9th-12th range in the Western Conference (with the Pelicans and Trail Blazers). Phoenix has the league’s 21st-best record.

The postseason could simply include just the normal 16 teams. But the alternative formats open other possibilities.

It appears most likely 22 teams will resume, though it could be 20. Either scenario could include a play-in tournament – with an unspecified number of teams. Maybe four, maybe six, maybe some other number. Though the name – “play-in” – suggests those teams wouldn’t be considered playoff teams unless advancing, that’s not an official designation. The first NCAA Tournament games each year are commonly called play-ins. But teams that lose those games are considered to have made the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA has formally called that round “Opening Round,” “First Round” or “First Four.” The NBA could do something similar.

Though momentum has appeared to stall for a group phase, that format posed the most uncertainty about which teams would be deemed in the playoffs. Would all 20 participating teams? Just eight teams would advance to a tournament (the equivalent of the second round of a normal playoffs). Would only those eight be considered playoff teams? Would the league designate the third- and fourth-place finisher in each group as playoff teams after the fact to reach 16 postseason teams? It’d be weird to “make the playoffs” only after getting eliminated.

But the NBA has had plenty of variance on this throughout its history.

We’ve grown accustomed to 16 teams making the playoffs, the system in place since 1984. But in 1984, there were just 23 teams. So, nearly 70% of the league made the playoffs.

The league has since expanded to 30 teams. So, just 53% of teams make the playoffs now.

Only two periods have seen a lower proportion of the league make the playoffs. From 1971-1974, just 47% of teams (8/17) reached the postseason. From 1981-1983, just 52% of teams (12/23) reached the postseason.

It wouldn’t be ahistorical for the NBA to include more than 16 teams in this year’s playoffs.

Here’s a history of the percentage of teams that have made the playoffs each year (blue). The orange lines represent how that would compare to various scenarios this season – 8, 16, 20 and 22 postseason teams:

Obviously, eight playoff teams would be a major outlier. But having 20 or even 22 playoff teams wouldn’t.

Like with many issues right now, the NBA had latitude and must just decide where to draw the line.