Up until 2014, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t need to look forward to the NBA Draft. For the past three seasons, however, it has been the highlight of each respective year.
Just like a year ago, the Lakers will not even know if they have their first-round pick until the day of the NBA Draft Lottery, which falls on May 17 this year. Unlike last season, though, the odds of the team retaining their pick this year are considerably lower since it is top-three protected, as opposed to the top-five protection in 2015.
With Los Angeles at 9-39 on the season, they currently have the second-worst record in the league, behind only the 7-40 Philadelphia 76ers, who would get the Lakers’ pick if it ends up fourth or lower. If the season ended today, the Lakers would have a 19.9 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick and a 55.8 percent chance of staying in the top-three.
A lot can and likely will change between now and the end of the season, but it’s never too early to try and predict how the draft will unfold. Here’s a look at how some things might shake out.
This draft order is based on league standings as of January 27, 2016.
1. Philadelphia 76ers – Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
I was a bit surprised that the Sixers took Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis last year. Either way, they were adding to the frontcourt logjam that they already had, but the latter can space the floor a little bit. That’s why they should go with Ingram. His potential is through the roof on both ends and can stretch defenses out with his perimeter shooting, allowing the Philadelphia big men more room to operate and open up more offensive options with Mike D’Antoni on the staff now.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Ben Simmons, PF, LSU
This pick is a no-brainer. Basically, the team that has the No. 2 pick is taking whoever is left of Simmons and Ingram after the first selection. Simmons is not an ideal fit because of a lack of an effective jump shot. But he can do pretty much everything else at a high level, and they would be reuniting old high school teammates in Simmons and D’Angelo Russell. Not to mention still getting arguably the most talented prospect in the draft.
3. Boston Celtics (Via Brooklyn) – Dragan Bender, PF/C, Israel
This is where the draft really begins. After the first two picks, everything is up in the air. Boston has a good three-guard rotation with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas, and they just signed Jae Crowder to a new deal. David Lee and Amir Johnson could be gone this summer, so Boston gets a big man to fill in, though it might not be right away. A lot of upside comes with Bender, and he could certainly be worth the wait.
4. Phoenix Suns – Jaylen Brown, SF, California
The Suns are a mess right now, but they need help on the wing. When healthy, they have a good young backcourt in Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, plus Tyson Chandler is going nowhere at center with that ridiculous contract. Brown still struggles with his jumper, but he’s a good athlete that finishes at the rim extremely well and can create plays with dribble penetration. Additionally, he could be a very good defender at the next level.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky
Minnesota has such a fun and talented young core in place. This might be a reach to some people, but this is merely a pick based on the upside that comes with Labissiere. He runs the floor like a gazelle, which would be perfect with the likes of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Also, he has a smooth jumper for a big man, which means him and Towns could adequately provide floor spacing together. Skal is a bit raw right now and needs to add strength, but could be a fantastic player in a few years.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah
New Orleans’ options at center right now are atrocious. Poeltl is so solid on both ends of the floor, and looks like he could contribute from day one. His game has improved tremendously during his sophomore season. He is averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game. Even more impressive is his 62.9 shooting percentage. He could ease some of the burden off of Anthony Davis’ shoulders.
7. Denver Nuggets – Kris Dunn, PG, Providence
Denver selected what they hope to be their point guard of the future last year in Emmanuel Mudiay. Here, they get his backcourt running mate for years to come. A case could easily be made for Dunn being the third best prospect in this draft class, but the teams ahead of Denver don’t have a glaring need for a guard, except for New Orleans (Eric Gordon is set to be a free agent), but they need an upgrade at center in the worst way. Dunn does a bit of everything for Providence, pouring in 16.9 points, 7.1 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. Getting him at No. 7 would be a steal for Denver.
8. Milwaukee Bucks – Jamal Murray, PG, Kentucky
The Bucks are a strange team to draft for. They have a collection of talent in their frontcourt. For their backcourt, they wisely just re-signed Khris Middleton and traded for Michael Carter-Williams. I’m not a huge fan of the latter. Murray is a solid three-point shooter and scorer with a foundation of point guard skills to build off of. Him and Middleton together would give their budding frontcourt a lot more space to work with.
9. Utah Jazz – Diamond Stone, C, Maryland
The Jazz are another team that has a young core group of talent already in place, and are merely drafting for depth at this point. With Stone, they get a backup for big man Rudy Gobert. The freshman has good physical tools with his size, length and frame, but needs some polishing. With Utah, he will have time to figure things out while coming off the bench.
10. Sacramento Kings – Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma
Rajon Rondo has had somewhat of a resurrection this season in Sacramento, and he is set to hit the open market this summer. If he bolts, the team still has Darren Collison at point, but here they get backcourt help. Hield is averaging 25.9 points per game on 53 percent shooting, including a ridiculous 52.3 percent from three. He has taken a massive leap this season for the Sooners. Hield is already 22 and only 6-foot-4, but that shouldn’t scare teams from taking him too high.
11. Orlando Magic – Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame
Orlando has a young point guard in Elfrid Payton, but they have young talent at pretty much every position. The drawback with Payton, though, is his perimeter shooting. The Magic won’t have to worry about that with Jackson, who has connected on 39.2 of his three-point shots this season en route to 16.6 points (50.4 percent shooting) and five assists per game.
12. Washington Wizards – Ivan Rabb, PF, California
Rabb is the “other” California freshman this year, with Jaylen Brown garnering the majority of the spotlight. However, the former has looked more impressive at times this season. Rabb has a high-motor and great activity level, especially on the glass. Every time I’ve watched him play this season, he also was extremely effective in pick-and-roll action, thanks to his ability to catch passes in traffic.
13. Toronto Raptors (Via New York) – Henry Ellenson, PF/C, Marquette
Ellenson is a really intriguing prospect. He has legitimate size at the power forward position, runs the floor extremely well and has shown on several occasions the ability to step out and knock down threes. Toronto’s only power forward option on the books beyond this season is Patrick Patterson.
14. Charlotte Hornets – Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey
Kemba Walker is having a sensational year for Charlotte. By taking Korkmaz, the Hornets help out their point guard by getting him an outstanding shooter on the wing. If Korkmaz can fill out his frame, he has the physical tools to be very good, utilizing his three-point shot as his primary weapon.
15. Denver Nuggets (Via Portland) – Cheick Diallo, PF, Kansas
At this point, Denver has some good young pieces at every position. Kenneth Faried recently signed a contract extension and probably is not going anywhere anytime soon. Diallo started late with the Jayhawks because of eligibility issues, but has made a strong impact, especially by flashing his potential on defense. When Faried exits games, the Nuggets could bring in another high-energy guy to frustrate opponents with Diallo.
16. Indiana Pacers – Stephen Zimmerman, C, UNLV
Zimmerman is an intriguing prospect. He has legitimate size for the position and a surprising amount of mobility and athleticism for a big man. Indiana took Myles Turner last year, and because of his ability to knock down midrange jumpers, these two could coexist pretty well. Plus, Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill are off the books after this season.
17. Denver Nuggets (Via Houston) – Wade Baldwin IV, PG, Vanderbilt
I would imagine Denver would look to trade one of these picks, or maybe both to move up. But if they keep this pick after selecting Dunn and Diallo, they might get a little insurance at point guard here with a 46.4 percent three-point shooter, since they would likely be taking a third-string player if they draft another position.
18. Detroit Pistons – Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland
Brandon Jennings will be an unrestricted free agent, leaving the Pistons with just Reggie Jackson to initiate the offense. I really like Trimble, and was extremely impressed watching his game at North Carolina earlier this season. He might not have the highest ceiling, but he does so many things well already and looks like he can contribute from the outset of his NBA career.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (Via Miami) – Timothe Luwawu, SG/SF, Serbia
Like most international prospects, you have to worry about when exactly they will come over to the States. The Sixers, however, are a little more patient than other teams. Will they give Ish Smith some more burn as the point guard in D’Antoni’s offense next season? If so, they still need help on the wing with Ingram, and they get that with Luwawu. The only question is: When?
20. Boston Celtics – Damian Jones, PF/C, Vanderbilt
If Bender doesn’t come to the NBA right away, Jones could be the backup plan to help add a little depth to the frontcourt. He is averaging a solid 13 points (55.2 percent shooting) and 6.9 rebounds per game in just 25 minutes per game.
21. Boston Celtics (Via Dallas) – Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State
Like Hield has done with Oklahoma, Valentine has taken quite the leap in his senior season for the Spartans. To start the year, it seemed like he was flirting with a triple-double just about every game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he creeps his way up the draft board as June draws closer.
22. Memphis Grizzlies – Caris LeVert, SG, Michigan
The story seems to be the same with the Grizzlies every year: Good defensive team that goes through far too many stretches where they can’t score. That’s where LeVert comes in, considering scoring is his specialty (17.6 points per game), and he’s even dishing out 5.2 assists on average as well.
23. Chicago Bulls – A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue
Heading into the season, the Bulls had a massive logjam with their power forward and center positions. They will be facing a different situations at season’s end with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol having expiring contracts. The team reportedly wants to bring Gasol back, but he will be 36 years old this year, so they certainly need to inject some youth at the position.
24. Atlanta Hawks – Domantas Sabonis, PF/C, Gonzaga
Sabonis probably needs the right system to fully excel in the NBA, and head coach Mike Budenholzer employs one that is player-friendly. Sabonis could be a good fit in Atlanta as a big man off the bench.
25. LA Clippers – Juan Hernangomez, SF, Spain
The Clippers really have three options right now at small forward: Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson. One seems to be doing fine playing on a good team (Johnson), one hardly ever gets to play (Stephenson), and the other is a dinosaur. They have to add talent at the three.
26. Toronto Raptors – Taurean Prince, SF, Baylor
Prince is quietly having a solid year for Baylor. He’s averaging 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. With DeMar DeRozan set to likely be a hot commodity during free agency, Toronto may need to add talent on the wing just in case.
27. Phoenix Suns (Via Cleveland) – Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
Jackson has shown noticeable improvement during his sophomore year with the Tar Heels. He won’t ever be a go-to guy, but could be a very serviceable role player that could fit in well with Phoenix because of his ability to play away from the basketball. I’d like to see his three-point shooting become more consistent, but his activity makes up for that often times. Also, even during his freshman season, he has always had a knack for making big plays at key points in games.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (Via Oklahoma City) – Zhou Qi, C, China
Naturally, when you stockpile as many draft picks as Philadelphia has over the past few years, you have an abundance of youth on the roster. Qi has a lot of potential with his offensive skill set, but he will need time to add strength to his narrow frame. This would be a good draft-and-stash option for the Sixers.
29. San Antonio Spurs – Paul Zipser, SF, Germany
Zipser is a versatile offensive player, and you know the Spurs love international prospects. He’s a streaky shooter, but San Antonio seems to know how to turn just about anyone into an adequate perimeter shooter. He could prove to be the perfect role player under Gregg Popovich.
30. Golden State Warriors – Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
Really, the Warriors just need to find a way to bring back their impending free agents and then I’m not sure they even need this pick. However, here they get a shooter that certainly doesn’t shy away from big moments.
31. Philadelphia 76ers – Sviatoslav Mikhailiuk, SG, Kansas
I’m not going to lie, I had to copy and paste his name and I’m still not sure it’s spelled correctly. Good luck to either Adam Silver or Mark Tatum on pronouncing his name whenever he gets drafted. All kidding aside, Mikhailiuk has a lot of offensive potential and he is still very young (turns 19 in June). A bit of a project put could pay dividends later on.
32. Los Angeles Lakers – Malik Newman, PG/SG, Mississipi State
Whoever drafts Simmons is going to need to bolster the roster with shooters in order to fully utilize his abilities. Getting a shooter on the wing would be ideal, but in this spot, the Lakers would have to reach for one because it is slim pickings in this range. Newman has shown his sharpshooting ability this year (42.3 percent from deep), and I think fans would welcome a new backup point guard so that Marcelo Huertas is no longer a thing in Los Angeles.
The Lakers drafted two seniors in this range last year (Larry Nance, Jr. and Anthony Brown), so they could certainly go that route again this year. If they decide to pass on Newman and look for the older prospect, another guy I like is Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith. I believe he has the physical tools to play small forward at the next level, though he still needs work. His three-point shot has continued to progress (39.6 percent this season) and he is a good athlete. Could be a guy to keep an eye on.