Each and every May, as the final four teams vie for an NBA title, the lower half of the league prepares itself for the fate of their future via the hands of a sometimes unpredictable lottery. The NBA Draft Lottery can be cruel to teams that “tanked” their previous season but hope to land the next big talent who the collegiate ranks have to offer.
This season’s draft lottery, however, was kind to the worst two teams in the league as next June’s draft looms. Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers were terrible over the course of the 2015-16 season, but their lackluster performance on the court paid off on Tuesday when the two teams received the top two picks in the draft. In a class that features a bevy of strong players, it’s tough for these lottery teams to go wrong with their selections.
For the Lakers and 76ers, though, landing the top two selections ensures each of them a potential superstar in Duke’s Brandon Ingram or LSU’s Ben Simmons. While Simmons and Ingram are sure to go off the board first (in which order is up for debate), the rest of the top 14 lottery selections in the draft could go a number of ways. Here’s our NBA mock draft, detailing where we think the top, young talent will land on June 23, though.
1. Phildelphia 76ers – Brandon Ingram, Duke
It’s sort of a toss up for the 76ers with their first No. 1 selection since 1996 — when they drafted one Allen Iverson. Ben Simmons would make sense as a forward with passing, rebounding, defensive, and scoring ability, but Ingram makes a bit more sense given Philadelphia’s roster.
Ingram would complement the likes of Jahlil Okafor (another Duke product) and provide a legitimate scoring threat for the 76ers to build around. Not a lot has gone right for Philadelphia basketball of late, but selecting Ingram in the draft would be a step in the right direction.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Ben Simmons, LSU
Not only does the color scheme make sense for Ben Simmons and the Los Angeles Lakers, but the fit on the team does as well. Simmons would provide a potential future superstar for the Lakers to build around in the post-Kobe Bryant era. He would also mesh nicely with the likes of other young Lakers in D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. This is as can’t-miss a talent as the draft has seen in several seasons and with the right coaching, Simmons could be the next great in Laker lore.
3. Boston Celtics – Jakob Poeltl, Utah
The Celtics received this high selection thanks to that Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade with the Brooklyn Nets, and now they’ll have a chance to add to their exciting roster. Boston has pieces in Isaiah Thomas and others, but adding a force down low in the draft would make a lot of sense. Jakob Poeltl was terrific for the Utah Utes last season and his 7-foot-0, 248-pound frame would give the Celtics the rebounding force they need to advance further in the playoffs next season.
4. Phoenix Suns – Henry Ellenson, Marquette
The Suns, despite their struggles last season, do have some talent on the perimeter in Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker. They need help in the interior and the draft is a great place to find that help. Henry Ellenson is one of the top big men in the draft and could provide immediate assistance to a team that struggled on the glass last season. Ellenson wouldn’t propel the Suns into playoff contender status, but he certainly would improve the roster right away.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – Kris Dunn, Providence
One of the most NBA-ready prospects in the entire draft, Dunn is a perfect fit for a Timberwolves team ready to win as early as next season. With the dominant force of Karl-Anthony Towns down low, the scoring ability of Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine at the wing positions, and the presence of new coach Tom Thibodeau, Dunn has the scoring and passing ability to compete for Rookie of the Year honors as point guard of this exciting, young team.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Anthony Davis needs a complementary star in New Orleans if he ever wants his Pelicans to be a consistent contender in the loaded Western Conference. National Player of the Year Buddy Hield fits that build with ease. His unlimited range coupled with Davis’s freakish athleticism would make the Pelicans quite dangerous on a nightly basis. New Orleans may find themselves back in the playoffs next season with Hield on hand.
7. Denver Nuggets – Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Picking well-coached players from Michigan State is usually a good idea, and the addition of one of the best college basketball players from last season in Denzel Valentine would make a ton of sense for a Nuggets’ team in the process of trying to build a team worth following.
8. Sacramento Kings – Jamal Murray, Kentucky
DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best big men in the NBA and drafting a scoring guard like Murray would be the perfect addition for a team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Plus, the Kings seem to love players from Kentucky (Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein are already in town).
9. Toronto Raptors – Dragan Bender, Croatia
One of the best international players in the class, Dragan Bender could step in and provide another inside presence for a Raptors’ team that has become a force in the Eastern Conference. Kristaps Porzingis worked out for the Knicks last season, so picking up a European big man in the draft shouldn’t worry anybody. The 7-foot-1 Bender is highly touted and would be a steal at No. 9 (even if he is just 17 years old).
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
Milwaukee has length in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe, and others, but adding Labissiere still wouldn’t be shocking for the Bucks at No. 10. The Kentucky product should develop into an efficient scorer with time and be a shot blocking machine at the next level.
11. Orlando Magic – Jaylen Brown, California
One of the most highly-touted freshmen throughout the season, Brown is a talented forward who could easily go in the top five of this draft. He could replace the talent of Tobias Harris (who was traded to Detroit in the middle of the season) and complement a young roster that includes Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Victor Oladipo.
12. Utah Jazz – Domantas Zabonis, Gonzaga
The Jazz were right on the verge of the postseason this year, missing the tournament on the final day of the regular season. They have a talented roster with pieces in play led by Gordon Hayward, but adding a rebounding and scoring threat in 7-footer Domantas Zabonis could be the perfect addition to get Utah over the hurdle next season.
13. Phoenix Suns – Malachi Richardson, Syracuse
Known for his play in helping the underdog Syracuse Orange reach the Final Four this year, talented freshman Malachi Richardson would be a surprising inclusion in the lottery. However, the Suns would be the perfect team to gamble on Richardson’s talents, given their need for talent across the board. It’s a reach, but if Phoenix nabs him, Richardson could turn into one of the better players of this class.
14. Chicago Bulls – Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Finally, we have the Chicago Bulls, a team that finished outside of the playoffs for the first time in several seasons this year. This team still has Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and others on their roster to make them a contender to get back into the postseason fold next season. Adding a talented point guard in Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis could help them achieve just that — especially with Rose’s injury history.