Saturday, June 15, 2024

Sixers take a pure scorer at No. 16 in our 1st-round mock draft 

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How will the 2024 NBA draft unfold? Here’s our mock draft for Round 1 on June 26:

1. Hawks: Alex Sarr, PF, Perth Wildcats (Australia) 

This is likely to be an offseason of significant change for the Hawks, whose backcourt pairing of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray hasn’t led to consistent winning. The 7-foot Sarr has the chance to be what the Sixers hoped Nerlens Noel would become a decade ago, a switchable defender on the perimeter who can also become one of the NBA’s best deterrents at the rim.

Offensively, Sarr is far more skilled than Noel ever was, particularly with his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and drive to the basket. He reminds me of a young Pascal Siakam on that end of the floor. There’s All-Star potential here if Sarr can make three-point shots. If not, he still has a high floor because of the defense.

2. Wizards: Donovan Clingan, C, UConn 

The Wizards need everything, so why not take a player who can be the foundation of their defense for the next decade? Clingan is simply enormous — 7-2 with a 7-7 wingspan and over 280 pounds — but he moves extremely well for his size, as we saw in the NCAA tournament. He’s probably not ever going to step outside and shoot threes like Brook Lopez, but Clingan can gobble up rebounds at both ends of the floor and finish everything around the rim.  

3. Rockets trade pick to Nets in deal for Mikal Bridges

Nets pick Zaccharie Risacher, SF, JL Bourg (France) 

Brooklyn gets this pick, their own 2026 first-round pick back from Houston, a 2027 pick swap, Cam Whitmore, Steven Adams and Jeff Green in exchange for Bridges, who joins an exciting Rockets core alongside Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Fred VanVleet and Jalen Green. While Bridges would have been an ideal fit with the Sixers, Houston has more assets to entice Brooklyn to get a deal done.

The Nets can now make Risacher (pronounced “Reese-uh-shay”) one of the pillars of their rebuild, along with the future picks they have coming from Phoenix in the Kevin Durant trade. Risacher is a 6-foot-8 wing who can already do a little bit of everything and made an impressive leap as a three-point shooter this season for Bourg. He’s only 19 years old and the Nets have time to let him develop.

4. Spurs: Reed Sheppard, G, Kentucky

The Spurs need shooting around Victor Wembanyama. Nobody in college basketball shot the ball better last season than Sheppard, who made 52.1 percent of his three-pointers on 4.4 attempts per game.

While he played both on and off the ball at Kentucky, Sheppard showed the ability to be a lead ball handler, averaging 4.5 assists in under 30 minutes per game. A Sheppard-Wembanyama pick-and-roll could be lethal. And while bigger NBA guards will certainly test his ability to defend 1-on-1, Sheppard showed off incredible instincts as a help defender, piling up 2.5 steals per game.

5. Pistons: Matas Buzelis, F, G League Ignite

If you watched the Rising Stars competition during All-Star weekend this year, you saw why Buzelis was at the top of many draft boards entering the season. Buzelis helped a team of G Leaguers knock off a team of the NBA’s best rookies and sophomores (including Wembanyama) in a semifinal matchup, hitting a confident turnaround jumper over Brandon Miller to win the game.

At 6-foot-9, Buzelis is an outstanding all-around offensive weapon with unusually advanced ball handling and playmaking ability for his size. Detroit needs a wing who can score and Buzelis has a chance to be that guy, especially if his three-point jumper improves from the 27.3 percent he shot during the G League regular season. 

6. Hornets: Stephon Castle, G, UConn

Charlotte has needed a culture change for a while now. Castle could be the perfect fit as a 6-6 defensive menace who is also an excellent playmaker and decision maker. He reminds me a bit of Jrue Holiday, particularly with his strong frame and his ability to post up and find ways to score out of the dunker spot. There are no empty calories in his game.

Castle projects more as a complementary scorer at the NBA level, which pairs nicely with LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller. The knock on Castle right now is perimeter shooting. He made just 26.7 of his three-point attempts in his lone season at UConn, but he improved as the season went along, shooting 32.6 percent beyond the arc in Big East play. 

7. Trail Blazers: Dalton Knecht, SG/SF, Tennessee

Knecht is a fascinating story. He became a First Team All-American at Tennessee after two seasons in junior college and two more at Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference. He is a born scorer, able to make difficult, contested shots look routine. He’s one of those guys who can still make the shot when everyone on both teams knows he’s getting the ball.

Knecht shot 39.7 percent from three-point range on 6.5 attempts per game last season and scored over 30 points in 8 of his 36 games. The biggest issue for Knecht will come on the defensive end of the floor. If he’s at least passable on that end, his offensive abilities should make him an NBA starter.

8. Spurs: Nikola Topic, PG, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)

We’re going to see if Topic’s stock is affected by the news that he suffered a partially torn ACL in his left knee back in April. With two picks in the top 10 (they selected Reed Sheppard at No. 4 in this mock), the Spurs would have the luxury to be patient with Topic’s recovery.

At 6-foot-6, Topic is a big point guard who excels at manipulating the defense with his dribble. He has the ball on a string and is able to slither past defenders to score in the paint or find a teammate for an open look. He was the MVP of the U-18 European Championship last year when he led Serbia to the title. 

9. Grizzlies: Tidjane Salaun, F, Cholet Basket (France)

The Grizzlies could use a big wing to pair with their core of Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. Tidjane Salaun (pronounced “Tee-John Salon”) makes a ton of sense for Memphis in that regard, a 6-foot-9 forward who had a breakout season for Cholet at just 18 years old.

He’s sort of a deluxe “3-and-D” guy whose length and lateral mobility should allow him to eventually defend the best wings on opposing teams. He shot 33.1 from three-point range this season for Cholet on decent volume (4.3 attempts per game), a percentage that will need to improve to earn rotation minutes. Salaun also has some playmaking ability and brings more to an offense than simply standing in the corner and shooting threes.

10. Jazz: Ron Holland, F, G League Ignite

Utah appears to be in no hurry in its rebuild, so Holland makes sense as a developmental project with big-time upside if he hits. He’s a strong, physical defender who is also a sensational vertical athlete with a quick first step. He’s one of those guys who hopes you try to jump with him so he can dunk on you. He’s truly breathtaking in transition and reminds me of a young Jaylen Brown in terms of size and athleticism. 

Guess who drafted Jaylen Brown in Boston? Danny Ainge, who just happens to now be running the show for the Jazz. Utah feels like a great spot for Holland to figure out how to operate in a half-court offense, work on his shot and allow his athleticism to do the rest. 

11. Bulls: Devin Carter, G, Providence

Guard may not seem like a major position of need for Chicago with Coby White, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu already on the roster, but Caruso is entering the final season of his contract and the 6-foot-2 Carter fits perfectly as his eventual replacement.

Already regarded as an elite defender entering last season, Carter’s offense took a quantum leap, resulting in a stellar two-way campaign that ended with him winning Big East Player of the Year. Carter led the conference with 19.7 points per game, thanks in large part to a massive uptick in three-point shooting. He improved from 29.9 percent as a sophomore to almost 38 percent as a junior. Carter averaged 1.8 steals per game in each of the last two seasons and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him consistently near the top of the NBA leaderboard in that department for years to come.   

12. Thunder: Zach Edey, C, Purdue

Oklahoma City likes to play five-out with Chet Holmgren at center, but Holmgren’s limitations as a rebounder were exposed in OKC’s second-round playoff loss to Dallas. You know what can help with defensive rebounding? A 7-foot-4 behemoth who averaged over 12 rebounds per game in each of the last two seasons.

Edey also has great touch around the basket and can make a major impact in limited minutes early on while Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault figures out the best way to utilize him on both ends of the floor. It’s easy to envision lineups in which Holmgren slides to the four and operates on the perimeter while Edey patrols the paint. 

13. Kings: Rob Dillingham, G, Kentucky

Dillingham gets compared to Lou Williams a ton and it makes sense. He’s small at 6-foot-1, 164 pounds, but he is one of the most electric scorers in the draft, averaging 15.2 points in only 23.3 minutes per game his freshman season at Kentucky. He’s able to blow past defenders or step back and create space for threes, which he shot at a 44.4 percent clip.

If the Kings are unable to retain free agent Malik Monk, Dillingham should be able to step in and score right away. But at his size, opposing teams are going to hunt Dillingham relentlessly on the other side of the floor and see if he can hold up.

14. Trail Blazers: Cody Williams, F, Colorado

The younger brother of OKC’s Jalen Williams, Cody is significantly younger and less developed than his brother was entering the NBA. Cody played just one season at Colorado, emerging early in mock drafts because of his athleticism and ability to do a little bit of everything. He looks the part of a potentially great player, a smooth, fluid athlete at 6-foot-7 who can defend and handle the ball.

But is he a jack of all trades and master of none? He shot 41.5 percent from the three-point line but made fewer than one per game. He had a disturbing tendency to float for long stretches of games without making much of an impact, similar to one of the red flags about Andrew Wiggins in his lone college season. But at 14th overall, this is a good spot to take a shot on Williams’ potential.

15. Heat: Ja’Kobe Walter, SG, Baylor

Miami’s lack of perimeter shooting was exposed in its first-round playoff loss to Boston. Walter could help solve that problem. The 6-foot-4 guard is an excellent movement shooter. You’ll see him sprint around screens, quickly set his feet, and the shot is away before the contesting defender can reach him.

What makes Walter especially intriguing is his ability to drive a close-out. He was one of only 14 players in Division I — and the only freshman — to make at least 75 threes and 145 free throws. He made the third-most free throws in the Big 12 because he was able to attack those close-outs and draw contact at the rim.

16. Sixers: Jared McCain, G, Duke

I won’t be surprised if McCain goes several spots higher than No. 16, but in this scenario he falls to the Sixers much like Tyrese Maxey did four years ago. The 6-foot-2 McCain is a pure scorer and became the Blue Devils’ first freshman since Zion Williamson to have multiple 30-point games in the NCAA tournament.

He was more efficient than your typical freshman, shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 41.4 percent from three-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line on his way to 14.3 points per game. He also has an advanced mid-range game that could make him a three-level scorer. Maxey and McCain would be a small backcourt, but McCain is basically the same size as De’Anthony Melton and we’ve seen Maxey and Melton have plenty of success sharing the floor. 

17. Lakers: Tristan da Silva, F, Colorado

The Lakers could use some help on the wing and da Silva would fit in nicely as a 6-foot-8 player who can dribble, pass and shoot at a high level. The German native is already 23 years old and should be able to compete for rotation minutes right away. He shot 48.4 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers last season at Colorado and those are readily available playing with LeBron James. da Silva can provide secondary scoring and bring some playmaking savvy to a bench unit that needs it.

18. Magic: Tyler Kolek, PG, Marquette

Orlando has built a fun young team around Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner but badly needs more playmaking and shooting at the guard spots. The 6-foot-1 Kolek was the best floor general in college basketball at Marquette last season, leading the nation with 7.7 assists per game. He’s also a crafty finisher who shot 55.2 on two-point shots.

There’s a lot of T.J. McConnell in there, but Kolek is a significantly better 3-point shooter, making at least 38 percent in both of the last two seasons. Kolek will undoubtedly get hunted defensively, but the presence of Jalen Suggs in Orlando’s backcourt should allow the Magic to hide Kolek a bit on that end of the floor.  

19. Raptors: Yves Missi, C, Baylor

Toronto could use an athletic rim protector and the 6-foot-11 Missi fits that bill. Offensively, he’s a bouncy rim-runner in the mold of a young Clint Capela. Missi can fit in behind Jakob Poeltl on Toronto’s second unit and bring energy and rebounding to a team that needs both. He’s not much of a shooter, so hopefully Immanuel Quickley or Scottie Barnes will prove adept at finding Missi with lob passes to make the best use of his offensive abilities.

20. Cavaliers: Kyshawn George, SG/SF, Miami

As long as Evan Mobley remains a non-shooter, the Cavaliers will need to keep surrounding him with perimeter snipers. The 6-foot-7 George has the chance to play that role in the NBA after shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range as a freshman on 4.2 attempts per game for the Hurricanes.

There are some major red flags here, though. George barely tried to attack close-outs, shooting only 27 free throws in 31 games, while 130 of his 190 field goal attempts were threes. It’s a Sam Hauser-type profile, but those kinds of players can have a role in NBA rotations if they shoot over 40 percent from three and hold up defensively, which George did at Miami. 

21. Pelicans: Kel’el Ware, C, Indiana

Ware is a theoretical stretch-five, a 7-footer who shot 42.5 percent from three-point range last season, though the volume was low at only 1.3 attempts per game. He’s a big-time vertical athlete and an outstanding lob threat — like Dereck Lively II in Dallas. Even if the lob is somewhat off target, Ware has the dexterity and explosiveness to finish it.

He brings some post-up ability to the table as well, showing off a smooth turnaround fadeaway jumper. He’s also a decent passer, and it’s easy to envision him posting up and finding a cutting Zion Williamson. Defensively, he’s an adept shot blocker, but he’s lean. He’ll have to prove he can handle the physicality of opposing NBA centers to earn major minutes. 

22. Suns: Isaiah Collier, PG, USC

Collier was one of the country’s top-ranked recruits out of high school but struggled with poor efficiency and turnover issues in a rough season overall for USC. He’s built like an NFL safety at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and overwhelmed opponents at the high school level with his strength. That didn’t work nearly as well in college and the NBA is an entirely different beast altogether.

The Suns may provide one of the best possible fits because of the spacing provided by Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Grayson Allen. This is a good bet on a big-time talent who may have just been in a poor situation in college, especially with the 22nd pick. 

23. Bucks: Kevin McCullar, SG/SF, Kansas

The first season of the Giannis Antetokounmpo-Damian Lillard pairing was a decidedly mixed bag. The Bucks were the third seed in the East, but their defense wasn’t close to championship-caliber, falling from fourth overall in the 2022-23 season to 19th. Milwaukee is in desperate need of more two-way players and doesn’t have much cap space to pay them.

The 6-foot-5 McCullar could help in that regard. He’s a rugged defender and connective playmaker who could provide secondary scoring and crash the glass. He could become Milwaukee’s version of Josh Hart, a valuable glue guy who doesn’t need plays called for him but will find ways to chip in on both ends. 

24. Knicks: DaRon Holmes, PF/C, Dayton

I doubt the Knicks will make both of these picks, but trades in the 20s are extremely difficult to predict. So, we’ll go with Holmes here since the Knicks may lose Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency. Holmes has the skill set to become an excellent pick-and-roll partner with Jalen Brunson. He’s able to step out and make perimeter shots or roll to the rim and score.

Holmes is more fluid than Paul Reed but is similarly undersized to be a backup center at 6-foot-9. If he were two or three inches taller, he would probably be a lottery pick, but Holmes’ height makes him a bit of a tweener. 

25. Knicks: Carlton “Bub” Carrington, G, Pittsburgh

With their second first-round pick, the Knicks make a pure talent play with Carrington, who flashed some serious upside as a lead guard in his freshman season at Pitt. If you looked at his shooting percentages, you’d struggle to see why Carrington is a first-round prospect. He shot just 41.2 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from three-point range.

But he’s one of those guys whose upside is obvious when you watch him play. He’s a legit 6-foot-4 and is a silky-smooth ball handler who can get his own shot just about anytime he wants. Carrington excels at manipulating pick-and-rolls, finding the exact moment when the dropping big man is a little too far away and then pulling up to shoot. He’s also an excellent playmaker who will often drive with the intent to pass and puts it right on the money.

26. Wizards: Harrison Ingram, SF, North Carolina

Ingram plays like a bull in a china shop, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game last season at North Carolina despite measuring just over 6-foot-5 at the NBA draft combine. Ingram was often tasked with defending opponents’ best wings and projects as a switchable defender. He also shot the three-ball well last season for the Tar Heels, making 38.5 percent of his 4.6 attempts per game. The Wizards need to establish a more rugged identity and Ingram can be a piece of that puzzle.

27. Timberwolves: Johnny Furphy, SF, Kansas

Minnesota couldn’t make enough perimeter shots to beat Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. The 6-foot-8 Furphy would give the Timberwolves another three-point threat to keep defenses honest.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Furphy exploded onto the scene with a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double against Cincinnati in January. He made 36.5 percent of his threes in Big 12 play and tall wings who can shoot are always in demand.

28. Nuggets: KJ Simpson, PG, Colorado

Denver has the NBA’s preeminent playmaker in Nikola Jokic, but they could use a lead guard off the bench to fill the role Monte Morris held for so many years in the Mile High City. They only need to look 30 miles away to Boulder to find a pure point guard in Simpson.

Though he’s only 6 feet tall, he was incredibly productive in college, averaging 19.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists as a junior while shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range. His size will likely limit him to backup duties, but that’s all Denver would need from Simpson early in his career. 

29. Jazz: Bobi Klintman, F, Cairns (Australia)

The 6-foot-9 Klintman is from Sweden and played one season at Wake Forest before deciding to play professionally in Australia’s NBL last season. Physically, it’s striking how much he’s built like a younger Tobias Harris, with an ability to simply score over smaller defenders on drives. He’s good at driving close-outs but is a bit of an awkward finisher once he gets near the rim, often switching hands for no real reason. He shot 35.7 percent on threes in the NBL and should eventually prove to be a reliable catch-and-shoot threat. Fellow Scandinavian Lauri Markkanen is a good player for Klintman to watch and learn from in Utah as he begins his NBA career.

30. Celtics: Tyler Smith, PF, G League Ignite

The Celtics value shooting and spacing as much as any team in the NBA, and the 6-foot-9 Smith has the potential to bring that to Boston down the road. The 19-year-old shot 36.4 percent from three-point range in the G League last season and has nearly flawless form on his lefty jumper. Al Horford only has one more season left on his contract and the Celtics can groom Smith to become their next floor-spacing big man once he likely gets more seasoning in the G League. 

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