The 2016 NBA draft is upon us! To take advantage of our staff’s many team allegiances, we decided to put together a mock draft. Come with us on this voyage of hope, misery, and “I can’t believe you picked Bender.”
No. 1: The Sixers select Ben Simmons
Can’t shoot, Rich Paul machinations, couldn’t get LSU to the dance, can’t shoot.
Sure. But, come on …
After all these Sixers drafts in which taking the best talent on the board — betting on potential — netted the team an injured comedian, a Euro project who stayed in Europe, and a center who doesn’t defend, it feels really weird to want to … bet on potential? Maybe this is Sam Hinkie’s parting gift: I am more interested in possible greatness than the assured goodness. The process never ends. — Chris Ryan
No. 2: The Lakers select Brandon Ingram
There’s no need to overthink this. Not only is Ingram the most talented player left on the board, he’s a great fit with the young core the Lakers already have in place. He’s an elite scorer who can space the floor, move the ball, and slide between multiple positions on defense, which is important next to Julius Randle. — Jonathan Tjarks
No. 3: The Celtics select Dragan Bender
Brad Stevens’s willingness to get weird and Marcus Smart’s frothing desire to make players feel bad about themselves were the keys to a stunning Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks series back in April, wherein Smart played incredible defense against the much bigger Paul Millsap. When you have a 6-foot-4 gargoyle capable of guarding all five positions on the floor, it allows you to draft a young, still-developing 7-foot-1 Croatian who plays nothing like Smart, but, in a sense, completes him.
On offense, Bender’s perimeter ability allows for driving lanes and post-up opportunities for Smart, who will likely be eating up Evan Turner’s minutes next season. On the other end, we’re looking at two polar opposites in physique with a similar potential in pick-and-roll defense. This is more than just inverting the basic floor plan. Stevens has the opportunity to turn his chessboard into a Ouija board. Want to get weird? Unleash the Dragan. — Danny Chau
A quick word from Bill Simmons
I can’t believe you picked Bender for the Celtics.
“Hey, Bill’s show premieres tonight, he’s gonna be busy, there’s no way he will read this chain before we publish tomorrow. Let’s do a Ringer Mock NBA draft and have the Celtics pick a kid third overall who played 8 minutes a game for Maccabi last year and doesn’t have a single play on YouTube that’s not a 3-pointer or a fast-break dunk in a game when his team is down by 28 points.”
You guys all suck.
No. 4: The Suns select Marquese Chriss
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Part of what made the shockingly good 2013–14 Suns so memorable was how openly the team embraced past eras of Suns history through the dual small-guard lineups and the free-flowing run-and-gun offense. Now, 14 years after taking Amar’e Stoudemire with the no. 9 overall pick, they have a chance to draft their next raw-talent gamble, and it looks like Chriss is all for it. The Suns have time to grow together. Devin Booker was the youngest player in the league last year, and Chriss enters the draft as one of the youngest prospects. There is a strong market for reboots, and Phoenix would be wise to capitalize on it. — Chau
No. 5: The Timberwolves select Kris Dunn
The clouds have parted, the sun is shining, and the Minnesota Timberwolves may make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Enjoy it, world!
Stocked with “the best young roster in the league,” the Wolves don’t need to take a big chance in this draft. They’ve got Tom Thibodeau, back-to-back Rookies of the Year Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and Human Dunk Machine Zach LaVine. Sure, the Wolves still have needs. But they’ve got the cap space and assets to sign or trade for a proven NBA shooter, another big man to compliment KAT, and a personal shopper for Thibs (“No, Tom, you can’t spend $50 million on tracksuits and Throat Coat”).
That’s why, with the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Wolves should go with Kris Dunn. He’s a proven point guard with scoring chops, his physical defense will only get better under Thibs’s tutelage, and he can learn a lot from watching Ricky Rubio manage the floor. Dunn is a solid bet, and, if he can handle some gentle criticism from KG, he should fit in just fine. — Megan Schuster
No. 6: The Pelicans select Buddy Hield
The backcourt situation in New Orleans is pretty dire right about now. Eric Gordon’s probably out of here this summer, and Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will be free agents next year. The Pelicans need someone who’s going to contribute a lot and contribute immediately, so a mature, athletic scoring guard like Buddy Hield — who they’ve been linked to for months now — makes perfect sense. Let Jrue pull the strings and put Hield on the weak side while Anthony Davis does his pterodactyl thing (extend Jrue for two more seasons while you’re at it). I don’t want to get too optimistic, but that kind of sounds like a 7-seed? Provided Dell Demps doesn’t go rogue and trade this pick to Atlanta or something. — Micah Peters
No. 7: The Nuggets select Jaylen Brown
The Nuggets are sitting in a hammock at the no. 7 spot, ready with binoculars to observe the chaos of picks no. 3 through 6. They’ll happily waltz into the wreckage and pick up the one left over with the highest upside. Picking Brown would reaffirm the Nuggets’ commitment to malleable tweener forwards. He may not have a reliable jump shot, but he’s one of the most athletic players in the draft and will be able to draw fouls with his slashing ability even at the NBA level. He would be an interesting addition to a number of interchangeable defensive lineups the Nuggets could deploy next season. Oh, and the lobs from Emmanuel Mudiay would be ridiculous. — Chau
No. 8: The Kings select Jamal Murray
Picking eighth sucks. All the guys I like for the Kings (Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown) are gone, so now I have to roll the dice on a guy who can’t run an offense or play defense. But hey, he can shoot, right?
Is Jamal Murray Nik Stauskas 2.0 or Jimmer Fredette 2.0? Boy, I can’t wait to find out. Murray will fit right in with the Kings’ terrible history of drafting guards. But it’s not like taking another one-dimensional college scorer can make my night sweats any worse! So I’ll do what I assume Vlade Divac does on draft day: just take some hot prospect out of Kentucky and call it a night. And in all fairness, does it even matter who the Kings draft here? Welcome to Sacramento, Jamal! — Riley McAtee
No. 9: The Raptors select Timothe Luwawu
You know what? The Raptors can take this pick, cover it in gravy, and … probably use it to select the kind of low-cost building block that makes up the structure of any sustainably successful NBA franchise.
Back in 2013, the Knicks traded this selection (along with the expiring career of Marcus Camby and the sunk cost of Steve Novak’s 2012 season) to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani. And well, the Knicks eventually got the version of Bargnani who was worth such a haul — it’s just that his name is Kristaps Porzingis. The Bargnani deal was a disaster at the time and its impact cratered even deeper when the guy belly flopped into the Garden floor after trying to dunk over two Sixers from the free throw line, but without it, I’m not sure New York is ever quite bad enough to land the long-limbed Latvian angel. So, thanks Masai Ujiri.
Oh, and you get Luwawu because as we recently learned, a team with DeMar DeRozan in its starting five isn’t ever getting past LeBron. — Ryan O’Hanlon
No. 10: The Bucks select Denzel Valentine
The Bucks are a beacon of promise. There’s youth (Greg Monroe, 26, oldest player on current roster), a freak, a Gatorade sponsorship, and lots of assets with high trade value around the league. John Henson’s 7-foot-5 wingspan and versatile rim-protecting ability comes to mind. What they don’t have, though, is a reliable presence to settle frantic sets, especially with Giannis Antetokounmpo running the point exclusively next season. Still holding out hope for Jason Kidd, player-coach. But until that day comes, the Bucks need another shooter who can serve as a secondary ball handler. Insert Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, and you have vision (7.8 assists per game in his senior season), and a 22-year-old pinpoint passer from a powerhouse program, and he just so happens to have real handles. Concerns about his knees may hold him back from going this early, but Valentine on the floor with waves of raw length and athleticism surrounding him is a scary proposition. If it’s too high to take Valentine here, this team could go big, literally, and draft a flier like 19-year-old (?) Thon Maker in the same vein as the Antetokounmpo selection in 2013. — Tate Frazier
No. 11: The Magic select Jakob Poeltl
The Magic spent most of their four-year rebuild collecting assets with no regard for fit — that’s not a terrible thing, but it’s time for that to end. They’ve got a decent core of talent, but the strategy left them with massive holes like interior defense, one that will almost certainly be addressed with this pick. Poeltl would be able to carve out a sizable role on a team that needs someone to bail out Nikola Vucevic, a good all-around big who struggles to protect the rim. He would also be able to contribute now, something that can’t be said for some of the raw centers who would be available at this pick (sorry, Skal!). New coach Frank Vogel will see how badly poor defense and rebounding cost the past two coaches in Orlando, and Rob Hennigan finally has to add a piece or two to try to make the playoffs now. If Poeltl develops into the athletic big he could, he would not only save the Magic at the defensive end but would change the outlook of their oftentimes disjointed offense. — Kevin Clark
Another quick word from Bill Simmons
Tjarks, take Bender at 12, this is where he’s supposed to go.
No. 12: The Hawks select Domantas Sabonis
The Hawks are probably going to trade this pick for a veteran, but if they keep it Sabonis would be the perfect fit for Mike Budenholzer’s system. While he’s not a great outside shooter, Arvydas’s youngest son is a big man with a high basketball IQ who is very comfortable operating out of the high post and making plays for others. He’s a hard-nosed player who will fight for rebounds and add a level of physicality the Hawks front line needs. — Tjarks
No. 13: The Suns select Malik Beasley
The Suns’ most common lineup last year involved Ronnie Price, Devin Booker, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len, and Tyson Chandler. One reason Devin Booker was so impressive in his rookie season was watching him navigate through the Suns’ negative space and thrive as a scorer anyway. Eric Bledsoe’s return helps some, but Phoenix needs as many confident shooters as it can manage if the Suns are going to continue to trot out big men like Chandler and Len. Malik Beasley has a similar skill set to the more highly touted Jamal Murray, but with strong athleticism and good defensive instincts. He has a metal rod in his right leg. As a result, he calls himself Iron Man. The Suns medical staff thinks to itself: We can go further. — Chau
No. 14: The Bulls select Wade Baldwin IV
One door closes and another opens. With Derrick Rose’s stunning departure from the Bulls franchise, there is an open seat at lead guard. Baldwin sounds like a golfer, but is built like a superhero. At 6-foot-4, he’s got ample size for the point guard position, and with a wingspan and hand size that would be the envy of some centers in this draft, there is no telling what kind of havoc he could create on the defensive end. He is not a ball-dominant 1, and has proven himself a good shooter off the ball, which will continue to allow Jimmy Butler to explore his creativity. A Baldwin-Butler duo might be the most chiseled backcourt pairing in the league. — Chau