This draft, more so than most drafts in recent memory (I can only recall last year’s draft with any ease, and also the 1984 draft which is more something I know about and the 2003 draft), has great thorough talent lying the top eight players. It’s a remarkably deep group percolating with all kinds of global basketball goodness. We’ve got hyphens (Karl-Anthony, Cauley-Stein, Hollis-Jefferson), Euros (Kristaps, Hezonja), mano a mano positional intrigue (Towns vs. Okafor, Mudiay vs. Russell, Hezonja vs. Justise), and a pair of storied franchises (Lakers and Knicks) that could throw the whole thing out a whack with their maverick decision making ways. There’s Morey and Hinkie, the fence swinger and extra long looking visionary.
What’s best as a fan though is that there’s excitement. Everything I listed above is tossed into a big ass draft mixing bowl and stirred up into prognosticatory basketball goodness. And Adam Silver and ESPN’s talking heads will serve it up to all of us over the course of three to four hours (or however long the draft is these days) on a random Thursday night in high summer.
Below is the second annual Dancing with Noah mock. It’s weird and unsophisticated, but sprinkled with tasty little surprises throughout. This wasn’t a one-man show. My friends Rex Tredway, Hamilton, Bug, and Maahs joined for the bulk of it. And a couple Twitter personalities repped their teams below so special thanks to Justin Faudree and Jacob Greenberg.
Now let’s draft ……..
1. Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns as drafted by Rex Tredway
It’s not a done deal yet, but Karl-Anthony Towns seems to be ahead by a nose in the two horse race to become the first to cross the stage on June 25th. The T-wolves have the luxury of deciding which big man to build the franchise around, but with this decision comes pressure. Flip Saunders has been touting Jahlil Okafor since well before his team secured a victory in the lottery, but the T-wolves’ front office seems set on Towns. Is Towns the best fit? Is he the best compliment to Nikola Pekovic in the frontcourt? Or is he just the safest pick? When you hold the first pick you dream of Lebron, Duncan, and Ewing, but what keeps you up at night is Joe Smith, Kwame Brown, and Greg Oden. Get some rest, Flip.
2. Los Angeles Lakers, Jahlil Okafor as drafted by Bug
It’s been 10 years since the Lakers struck gold with a quality big man in the draft when they selected the eclectic Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in 2005. It didn’t last long, but they have two titles to show for it. With Jahlil Okafor the Lakers get back to their roots with a dominant low post force. Some like to critique his defensive presence and motor, but are the Lakers really going to roll with the Ed Davis/Robert Sacre/Jordan Hill poop sandwich for another season? Even Jim Buss can’t fuck this pick up.
3. Philadelphia 76ers, Emmanuel Mudiay as drafted by Hamilton
In the last two drafts the Sixers have acquired players who ended their collegiate seasons in travel gear. This time why not go with a guy who didn’t play college ball? Emmanuel Mudiay spent the year in China with the Guangdong Southern Tigers where he put up roughly 18, 6, 6. All I know about Chinese basketball is this happened, but I’m guessing Mudiay’s numbers were a bit inflated by the comp. In any case, he did travel a nation playing basketball for money and – what’s that? D’Angelo Russell did too? Oh … well, good on ya, D! But did you play with a 24 second shot clock? No? Okay, that seals the deal for Philly. Mudiay is the guy.
4. New York Knicks, D’Angelo Russell as drafted by Fendo
While the ghost of Isiah Thomas haunts the hallways of MSG, Phil Jackson’s chilling in Montana no doubt smoking peyote and tweeting three-point philosophies and Jimmy Dolan’s subconsciously scheming new and diabolical ways to break the hearts of loyal Knick fans. But even ghosts, hallucinogens, and incompetents aren’t enough to convince the Knickerbockers to pick Trey Lyles. The decision comes from above and when it reaches the ears of Derek Fisher, he’s giddier than he was that time Billy Hunter was ousted: D’Angelo Russell is the choice and maybe the best player in the entire draft. Only thing is, Phil, Dolan, Melo, and Isiah were bickering over the pick on an MSG conference line when it was mysteriously delivered to Adam Silver. Jonathan Abrams is hatching the oral history as we mock.
5. Orlando Magic, Kristaps Porzingis as drafted by Maahs
After an amazing showing in Las Vegas against Antoine Tyler, Kristaps Porzingis rose towards the top of every team’s draft board. All joking aside there’s a lot to like about the 19-year-old Latvian prospect and his draft workout. “The Zinger” has the rare combination of mobility, shooting touch, and size (7’1″ with a 7’6″ wingspan to be exact) that has tantalized scouts for years. With a ceiling of a Dirk/Kirilenko/Schrempf and a floor of Tskitishvili/Vesely, Porzingis’ fate will be determined by his growth under Scott Skiles. Yikes. Hopefully Skiles and Co. have a plan in place to develop young Porzingis on and off the floor – different than Skiles’ usual plan of having his team hate the coach after three years.
6. Sacramento Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein as drafted by Maahs
He’s the next Tyson Chandler, we know, we know. Every mocker has endlessly compared Willie Trill Cauley-Stein to Tyson Chandler, but WTCS’ ability to defend on the perimeter is what will eventually set him apart from Chandler. And while it took seven years for Tyson Chandler to become Tyson Chandler, WTCS will be able to make an immediate impact on the defensive end. Like most Kentucky guys in the draft (not named Harrison), he has some offensive skills that weren’t on display during last season’s undefeated run. Getting a Kentucky running mate and finally some front court help should provide for a less cantankerous version of Boogie in the 2015-16 season (assuming he’s still on the team and that’s even a possibility under Coach Karl).
7. Denver Nuggets, Mario Hezonja as drafted by Fendo with input from Justin Faudree
I crept into the bowels of my Twitter contacts to speak with noted Europhile and Denver Nuggets guru, Justin Faudree. We weren’t able to go as deep into the conversation as I had hoped, but what became clear was Mario Hezonja’s uniqueness and the intertwining of his place in this draft relative to Justise Winslow. The Nuggets are filled with fresh new faces all eager to make a splash. Playing it safe (Winslow) isn’t winning the hearts and minds of the Nuggets faithful, but going in on a Croatian shooter/athlete with major Chase Budinger potential is the kind of balls to the wall move the people of Denver demand. Who needs defense when you’ve got the Rooster, Mario, and stay high Ty Lawson?
8. Detroit Pistons, Justise Winslow as drafted by Hamilton
You don’t hear Winslow’s name mentioned with Detroit at #8 too often because he’s not expected to be sitting there when Stan Van makes his choice. There’s not a team in the NBA that wouldn’t benefit from his defensive willingness and attack-the-basket mentality. As good as he was for Duke last year, he’s damn young and may just be scratching the surface of what he can become. The Harden comparisons are too easy (left handed, uses a Euro step on the drive, gets to the line) and totally neglect the possibility of him being an elite wing defender. The knocks on him are shooting ability and focus. Both those things can improve with time in the NBA and SVG won’t accept anything less.
9. Charlotte Hornets, Trey Lyles as drafted by Bug
Jordan’s Hornets are on the clock, and there isn’t enough space allowable to mention all of the holes on this roster of ragamuffins. MJ was hoping for Cauley-Stein to fall to them to be their defensive anchor after Big Al skips town in a year (or sooner), but he is long gone. As Golden State showed with their championship run, versatility can be a major advantage. With that thought fresh in the minds of all NBA executives, the Hornets go with one of the most versatile players in the draft, Trey Lyles. Lyles came to Kentucky penciled in to play backup PF/C behind lottery picks Towns and Cauley-Stein, but injury forced him into action as a SF playing out of position. Lyles took the position change in stride, and steadily improved as the season progressed. At 6-10, 240, Lyles has the ability to play SF with a big lineup, or slide over center with a small ball lineup. Lyles isn’t great at any one skill, but he can do a bit of everything very well.
10. Miami Heat, Stanley Johnson as drafted by Rex
There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to drafting. You either select the “best” player: the guy at the top of your draft board. Or, you draft to fill a need: the guy who fits the best. If you’re the guy who can check both those boxes with one pick, well, you might be Pat Riley. With the selection of Stanley Johnson you get a wing with tremendous upside. An elite athlete who already plays solid D, which seems to be much harder to teach in today’s NBA then developing a 3-point shot (37% at Arizona) and also hits the boards (6.5 RPG). Aside from the upside of Johnson on the court they also draft their way into leverage over both Wade and Deng’s player options.
11. Indiana Pacers, Cameron Payne as drafted by Rex
Roy Hibbert is headed out the door and David West turns 35 this year so the Pacers have to take a big man right? A seven-footer from Texas? The pick has to be Myles Turner right? Not in this mock my friends. The Pacers have plenty of holes to fill on a roster that was completely exposed in a season largely without Paul George. A playmaking PG who averaged 20 and 6 could be just what the Pacers are looking for this upcoming season. I mean, they’ve talked about a more up-tempo style next year and is Rodney Stucky (if he re-signs) really the guy who you want running the show?
12. Utah Jazz, Myles Turner as drafted by Bug
Once the Jazz decided to ship Enes Kanter out of town, they drastically improved into one of the best defenses in the league down the stretch. Utah’s glaring need is an upgrade in the shooting department (Burks, Burke and Dante Exum shoot at an insanely terrible clip), but the departure of Kanter last season leaves them a bit thin on the front line. With this pick, the Jazz select Myles Turner out of Texas. The 6-11 Turner provides reinforcements for both needs. Don’t let Turner’s size and position fool you, he sported an 84% stroke from the charity stripe and is capable of knocking down the deep ball. The big payoff for Utah will be Turner’s defensive presence. Averaging 2.6 bpg in only 22mpg at Texas, the young big man will fit right in with the defensive tone established by Gobert and Favors late in the 2014-2015 season.
13. Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker as drafted by Hamilton
Devin Booker has a clear NBA level skill in his shot. Despite being picked after 3 of his UK teammates in this draft, there were several games during the 14-15 season in which he was their best player. Dude came up with timely 3s when his offensively-challenged team needed them. I clearly remember when his pops played for Mizzou and it makes me feel old as hell. But I digress. Like most NBA teams nowadays, the Suns want to spread the floor. This pick gets at that desire. Shooting ability isn’t just about making them – the threat is often enough to make an impact on games. Booker’s called light in the frame and below average athletically, but this is a make or miss league with a premium on the 3 pointer. When a guy can make ‘em like he does there’s a place for that late in the lottery.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as drafted by Fendo
At this point the draft has drifted into some sort of quality-driven fourth tier of player and with a new coach in place, an elite team that was damned by injuries in 2015, and Sam Presti’s model that may or may not have plateaued, OKC’s in a queer spot. Who’s calling the shots and does it even matter? What do you give the team that already has everything? We guess depth and a future and by we I mean me, Billy D, and Presti. In our dreamy imaginary war room with me dialing in from Seattle and representing the spirit that allowed this franchise to come into existence, our selection is narrowed down to three: Cam Payne, Kelly Oubre, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. We agree Oubre’s ceiling is the highest, Payne is the best player today, and Hollis-Jefferson the most complementary player to the Thunder’s present day roster. Offense just isn’t a problem with this collection of talent and Presti’s keen on Donovan replicating the Kerr/Blatt first year successes. Fellow Seattleites shun me for canoodling with the OKC brass, but mock draft duty calls and I reject their jeers and criticisms. Give us the hyphen, the defense, the Hollis-Jefferson. [After the fact, it becomes clear to me that Cam Payne was already off the board for this pick. Thus I wasted imaginary conversation time stressing about whether he’d be a good fit or if he’d just end up putting OKC in a tight situation like Harden and Reggie Jackson. Presti should’ve told me.]
15. Atlanta Hawks, Bobby Portis as drafted by Maahs
After all the warm and fuzzy feelings of the regular season were gone, the injury bug and lack of depth ultimately doomed the Atlanta Hawks during the post season. With Paul Millsap and Demarre Carroll hitting free agency the Hawks are in desperate need of wing and post help. Portis, a lean 6’11”, provides immediate depth and his ability to hit the mid-range jumper will fit nicely into Coach Bud’s pace and space philosophy. With an offensive game similar to Chris Bosh, Portis will eventually be able extend is range to the 3 point line.
16. Boston Celtics, Kelly Oubre as drafted by Maahs
At 6’7” Oubre has the length, fluidity, athleticism, and look of your prototypical NBA small forward. A streaky shooter, Obure had a tendency to get lost on offense in his lone year at KU. And while he doesn’t yet excel at one specific thing, he projects to be at least a solid player in the league. Being a solid NBA player isn’t a bad thing, the Celtics current roster is full of them. Danny Ainge adds another high ceiling glue guy in the hopes of landing a max player or using them as future trade assets.
17. Milwaukee Bucks, Frank Kaminsky as drafted by Fendo
Frank the Tank or whatever they’re calling this mass of American-born Diaw-styled basketball goodness is the perfect fit in the rapidly developing cerebral nerve center of these Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond are high fiving in the Bucks war room as visions of Kaminsky occupying high posts and running weird pick & rolls with Giannis and Jabari and Khris dance in their heads. The League Pass darlings of 2015 look poised to carry the momentum forward in ways the Suns only wish they could’ve done the year before.
18. Houston Rockets, Jerian Grant as drafted by Hamilton
Houston rolled into the WCF with Jason Terry’s corpse starting at PG. There are few nights off in the NBA and even fewer at PG in the West. Whether the Rockets bring Jet back (they shouldn’t bother) they need younger legs behind Pat Beverley (assuming they retain his services). Jerian Grant’s the answer at #18. He’s got good size (6’4, 200), can shoot it, and played in an up-tempo offense at Notre Dame. That size coupled with defensive quickness gives him a shot to contribute in his first year. That’s what a team like Houston needs. As the son of former NBAer Harvey Grant and brother of Sixer SF Jerami, he knows what life in the league is all about. That matters too.
19. Washington Wizards, Montrezl Harrell as drafted by Bug
The Wiz have their backcourt locked down for the foreseeable future, but their frontline is a little long in the tooth. Nene, Gortat, and Humpries are all in their 30s now, and Nene will soon be a free agent. Washington came roaring out of the gates early in the season, but they hit a wall and one has to think that old legs was a factor. Although a bit undersized, Harrell is one of the strongest and most athletic players in this draft. He should provide some toughness on the frontline and bring a ton of energy to a team that seemed to fade down the stretch last season. Montrezl has an improving jumper and will need to continue improving in that area to make a name for himself, but there is always a spot in the league for an athletic big man that plays his ass off every night.
20. Toronto Raptors, Sam Dekker as drafted by Bug
Masai Ujiri and crew were pleasantly surprised to have Sam Dekker fall in their laps at #20. Coming off of an electric tournament run, Dekker had scouts buzzing and being a lottery pick seemed to be a lock. The Raptors are in need of more production from both forward spots and Dekker is the top player left on their board. He gives the Raps some versatility with the ability to play both forward spots and even provide some mismatches at the four like he did at Wisconsin. Enough about Sam though…is anyone else rooting for his girlfriend to be in the green room with him?
21. Dallas Mavs, RJ Hunter as drafted by Hamilton
The Mavs (or Macs as the autocorrect on my phone prefers to call them) need a starting PG. They won’t find one here, but will be in the mix for every free agent like they are each summer. What they can find here is some shooting on the wing. Despite an odd release on his shot, at 6’5” RJ Hunter should be able to get clean looks and spread the floor when placed with the right (star) players – players Mark Cuban is certain to throw big money at in a post-Dirk world. Dallas will find itself in transition soon and having a specialist like Hunter under rookie contract during a retool makes sense from where I sit.
22. Chicago Bulls, Christian Wood as drafted by Bug
The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg as their new coach to help open up the offense a bit and to unleash the Bulls deep talent. Unless a trade goes down, the Bulls don’t have many spots open in the rotation. There isn’t anyone left at this point in the draft that will contribute right away, so the Bulls decide to go with a developmental pick and take Christian Wood out of UNLV. Wood is high-energy forward that can run the floor like a gazelle. He also puts his length to good use on the defensive end where he averaged 2.6 blocks per game in his sophomore season for the Rebels. Wood has good mechanics on his jumper (73% FT) which has many GMs believing he can develop into a solid stretch four in the pros. The Bulls have the luxury of letting Wood develop his rail thin 6-10, 215 frame while he learns from watching Pau and Noah for his first couple years. He enrolled at UNLV at only 17-years of age, so Christian is one of the younger players in the draft at 19. Wood himself likens his game and skill set to Giannis Antekounmpo, and the Bulls are happy to allow him the opportunity to meet that potential.
23. Portland Trailblazers, Justin Anderson as drafted by Hamilton
Portland has the worst luck when it comes to injuries. Or maybe they’re cursed. Who can tell for sure? You’re well aware of the injuries so it’d be a waste of my precious time to list them. If you’ve noticed a theme in my picks, it’s because there is one for the most part – wing players who can shoot. A basketball team can never have too many guys who can shoot from the outside. That’s never been truer than it is in today’s NBA. Portland has gotten squat from its bench in the last couple years which makes their injury situation impossible to mitigate. In Justin Anderson Portland gets everything it wants: a young athletic shooter capable on both ends who also missed games due to injury. A perfect fit indeed.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers, Rashad Vaughn as drafted by Fendo
Everything floating in LeBron’s powerful orbit screams NOW NOW NOW. But David Griffin (with the approval of D. Gilbert) has to at least acknowledge that a future exists, that tomorrow is right around the corner and what was NOW has become then. With that layman’s barstool philosophy driving him forward, he recognizes the need for someone who can be cultivated, developed, groomed into a legit pro. “Aim high, Griffin” is what he says as a stares intently into his own eyes in the mirror, sure to remind himself that, “You brought LeBron James back and now you’re drafting the next Bradley Beal. You’re the toast of Cleveland, Mr. Griffin.” Is it still a lie if it’s the truth in your reality?
25. Memphis Grizzlies, Tyus Jones as drafted by Maahs
With some of the top wing players already gone, the Grizzlies select the best player on their board in Tyus Jones. Injuries to Mike Conley are mounting each year, and the Grizz could use depth at PG beyond the 1-2 punch that is Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih. What Jones lacks in size or athleticism he makes up with poise, leadership and clutch shooting. Joining a franchise that values “playing the right way” over wingspans (drink) and athleticism, Jones will do just fine.
26. San Antonio Spurs, Kevon Looney as drafted by Maahs
With no viable Euro options on the board, the Spurs are forced to select a stateside player in the first round for the second consecutive year. A classic stretch four, with the ability to play some SF, Looney works hard on the glass and is a good decision maker on offense. Smart player, hard worker, good shooter…GO SPURS.
27. Los Angeles Lakers, Terry Rozier as drafted by Fendo
The Lakers have long treated the draft the way frivolous people treat lightly used, but still valuable goods — easily discardable. Meanwhile, thrifty NBA teams are using the draft the way savvy shoppers use garage sales and coupons. But these Lakers have been embarrassed into figuring out the new world of fiscal politics. But it’s weird because Kobe’s the last holdover to the good old days when the sex appeal of LA and the purple and gold was enough to finangle Pau Gasols and Chris Pauls (never forget). With a nod to their frivoulous past as Jerry Buss speaks sweet whispers into the thick El Segundo air, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are inexplicably compelled to hand over the keys to #27 to the Mamba who promptly picks the kid most frequently labeled “fearless” in this draft: Terry Rozier. Never one to shy away from self-congratulations, Kobe makes his pick, then proceeds to tweet out a string of hardcore hashtags #ThisisNOW #LetitFly #CompetitionisEverything #LittleMamba #DwightisSoft #MambaMambaMambaMambaMamba…
28. Boston Celtics, Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez as drafted by Hamilton
Boston went with wing player in KU swingman Kelly Oubre earlier in this round. For this pick they’re going big and Euro. Guillermo Hernangomez might never come over to the NBA. If he does, he’ll be big and strong and Spanish. With multiple picks in the next two drafts Boston doesn’t have much risk in this pick and may be able to move his rights as part of a trade in the future. That, my friends, is value right there.
29. Brooklyn Nets, Delon Wright as drafted by Bug
Still reeling from the KG/Paul Pierce trade that backfired, the beleaguered Nets are stuck in the shadows of luxury tax hell. Deron and Joe Johnson appear to be a shell of their former selves and the team depth is gutted from the over-inflated salaries of their fading stars. Based on Paul Pierce’s interview back in April, the Nets need an influx of players that give a damn. The best guard on Billy King’s (yes, he still has a GM job somehow) board is Delon Wright out of Utah. Delon is the younger brother of NBA veteran, Dorrell Wright, so he has an idea of what it takes to make it in the league. He was the engine behind the Utes surprising Sweet 16 run this past season. He has great size for a PG at 6-5, and he uses his length to cause havoc on the defensive end (2.1 spg). If Delon can get some more consistency with his outside jumper, he could end up being one of the steals in this draft.
30. Golden State Warriors, George de Paula as drafted by special guest Jacob Greenberg
Unsurprisingly, the Warriors aren’t super attached to the 30th pick — what with winning the NBA championship and all — and most reports suggest that they’d happily give this pick away in a David Lee-centric trade in order to obtain some salary cap relief. But the Warriors have had some luck at #30 in recent years (Festus Ezeli went 30th in 2012), and other championship teams have found value at the end of the first round. If they do keep the pick, they may go with George de Paula, a 6’6” point guard out of Brazil. The last combo guard the Dubs drafted didn’t work out — rest in power, Nemanja Nedovic — and the Warriors already are pretty loaded at the guard spot. That said, the Warriors aren’t exactly thirsting for depth at the moment; he could go to the Santa Cruz Warriors to develop, or he could be stashed overseas until needed. And if Barbosa sticks around another year, those two could become the focal point of a potentially entertaining (and marketable) Brazilian cohort. But again, I’ll be very surprised if the Warriors have this pick (and David Lee; godspeed you loaf of Wonder Bread) by the end of the day on Thursday.