The NBA Draft was always technically an option for Hamidou Diallo. But it was still a bit surprising when the 18-year-old guard declared, if only because he had previously stated he wouldn't.
Simply put, he changed his mind.
So now Diallo has an interesting choice. Does he remain in the 2017 NBA Draft -- where scouts I've spoken with suggest he's likely to be selected in the 20s? Or does he play next season at Kentucky and then enter a weaker 2018 NBA Draft -- where he could be a lottery pick?
There are pros and cons to both options.
It remains unclear what he'll do.
But, for now, I'm projecting Diallo to remain in the 2017 NBA Draft and go 24th to the Jazz. He would add athleticism to a backcourt that doesn't have much of it. And he could develop into a star who plays next to Gordon Hayward for many years to come.
|Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington: I'm not sure anything will ever keep LeBron James from winning the Eastern Conference and advancing to the NBA Finals. But a backcourt featuring Fultz and Isaiah Thomas could be scary good -- and good enough -- someday. Long story not so long, the 6-foot-4 point guard is the best prospect in this draft -- a one-and-done athlete who averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range at Washington.|
|Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas: Jackson didn't get the attention some other freshmen got this season -- and he wasn't even the best player on his team. (That was Frank Mason.) But the 6-8 wing was tremendous while averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his lone college season. He's an elite athlete who projects as a high-level contributor on both offense and defense.|
|Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA: The idea that his signature shoe costs $ 495 is obviously absurd. But don't let that overshadow the fact that Ball could be the face of the Lakers for years to come. The 6-6 point guard averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds while completely transforming UCLA in one season. Perhaps he could do the same for the Lakers.|
|Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State: T.J. McConnell is a great story and a nice player. But he's not the type of point guard who will ultimately make The Process seem worth it. Philadelphia needs an upgrade at that position, plain and simple. And Smith would be an upgrade in every way. He averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds in one season at NC State. Imagine him starting next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for many years down the road.|
|Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky: The Magic shot 32.8 percent from 3-point range this season, which ranked next-to-last in the NBA. So they need shooting in the worst way. And Monk could provide it. The athletic combo guard made 39.7 percent of his 3-point attempts this season while averaging a team-high 19.8 points for a Kentucky squad that won the SEC and made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Why he doesn't use his athleticism more to get into the lane consistently remains a mystery. But if Monk ever does that, he could develop into an All-Star.|
|Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke: Tatum should in time become a high-scoring wing at the NBA level. The 6-8 athlete averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds -- after missing the first eight games of the season with a foot injury -- and ultimately helped Duke win the 2017 ACC tournament. The only thing missing, right now, is a reliable 3-point shot that scouts believe can be developed.|
|De'Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky: The Knicks are a mess and in need of basically everything -- including the point guard help that Fox would bring. At 6-4, he has nice size for the position and is super-fast with the ball. He was sensational in Kentucky's Sweet 16 win over UCLA while finishing with 39 points. And though his 24.6 3-point percentage is a concern, it's neither something that can't be improved nor the type of thing that'll prevent him from going in the top half of the lottery.|
|Frank Ntilikina, PG, France: Neither Darren Collison nor Ty Lawson is under contract for next season, meaning the Kings would be wise to address their point guard situation. That's why Ntilikina makes sense. He's a big and strong point guard who signed his initial professional contract at the age of 15. He would likely go higher in a different draft without Fultz, Ball and Fox ahead of him in the pecking order. So there's some value here.|
|Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona: Marrkanen is a modern-day stretch-4 who shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range this season. It's hard to imagine him slipping outside of the top 10 and, frankly, I won't be surprised if he ends up going in the top five. Either way, wouldn't it be cool to watch him work under Dirk Nowitzki for a year or two?|
|Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State: The Kings could take Isaac, explore his potential as a part-time small forward, play him next to Skal Labissiere, and now we're talking about something interesting. Sacramento would then have a young core of Isaac, Labissiere, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein and -- based on this mock draft -- Ntilikina. Those are some nice pieces that could someday return the Kings to the playoffs.|
|Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina: Jackson shot a career-high 37 percent from 3-point range this season, which greatly enhanced his NBA stock. He's a talented wing and national champion who should be able to contribute immediately at a position where the Hornets could use someone who can stretch the floor with his shooting ability.|
|Zach Collins, PF, Gonzaga: Collins is the first one-and-done player in Gonzaga history and could work well playing next to Andre Drummond. The 7-foot forward shot 47.6 percent from the 3-point line on the season -- and finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in the Zags' national semifinal win over South Carolina. Those numbers and that performance on such a big stage helped secure a place in the top 20 of this draft, guaranteed.|
|Justin Patton, C, Creighton: Patton is the rare one-and-done redshirt freshman. He's a 7-foot forward who averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 25.3 minutes while helping Creighton stay ranked for much of the season despite the loss of Maurice Watson. He's a work in progress, sure. But he's also a player with an undeniably high ceiling.|
|OG Anunoby, SF, Indiana: Anunoby suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, which will cost him with some franchises. But the 6-8 wing remains a lottery talent and should be evaluated as such. He's probably a top-10 pick if not for the medical setback. His ability to guard multiple positions could make him special in time.|
|TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA: Leaf averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 46.6 percent from 3-point range this season. He was overshadowed by his teammates at UCLA but still a statistical monster. He's a perfect stretch-4 for the modern-day NBA. Damian Lillard could use him in Portland the way Kyrie Irving uses Kevin Love in Cleveland.|
|Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia: Ferguson, as expected, was inconsistent while playing in Australia this season. But that shouldn't affect his standing with NBA scouts too much. He only shot 31.3 percent from 3-point range in 30 games. Not good. But that's not an accurate reflection of how well the former Arizona signee can actually shoot from beyond the arc.|
|Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville: Mitchell had a breakout season and averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds for a Louisville team that won 25 games. He's an undersized but strong shooting guard with above-average athleticism who could fit nicely next to Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.|
|Jarrett Allen, C, Texas: Allen was a better prospect than player in his one year at Texas. But the 6-11 athlete was consistently good from February on and showed flashes of why he's worthy of being selected in the top 20. He and Myles Turner would give the Pacers two nice young bigs to build around -- with or without Paul George.|
|John Collins, PF, Wake Forest: Collins was ranked 230th in the Class of 2015, according to 247Sports. But he still developed into a player who averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds this season and emerged as a legitimate NBA prospect. In other words, he's one of this draft's most surprising stories and the type of thing Wake Forest coach Danny Manning can use to influence recruits going forward.|
|Harry Giles, PF, Duke: At some point somebody will take a flyer on Giles and rationalize it by stating he would've been a top-five pick a year ago. Will Giles ever become what so many projected him to become -- i.e., the next Chris Webber? Honestly, I'm not sure. But he might. So he's worth a gamble in the 20s.|
|Luke Kennard, SG, Duke: Oklahoma City shot a league-low 32.7 percent from 3-point range this season, which is obviously something Kennard could help improve. The 6-6 guard was among college basketball's biggest breakout stars this season while averaging 19.5 points and shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range for Duke. Russell Westbrook's ability to draw defenders would lead to open looks for Kennard. And the numbers suggest open looks for Kennard tend to lead to easy points.|
|Ivan Rabb, PF, California: Rabb returned to California for his sophomore season in part so that he could improve his stock. That didn't really happen. But he's still a first-round talent and intriguing prospect. The 6-11 forward averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds this season for a Cal team that was likely one or two wins away from making the NCAA Tournament|
|Tyler Lydon, SF, Syracuse: Lydon shot 40.0 percent from 3-point range in two seasons at Syracuse and averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds as a sophomore. He'll be a stretch-4 in the NBA and should be capable of cracking a rotation as a rookie thanks to that reliable jumper.|
|Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky: Diallo is a 6-5 shooting guard who is an explosive athlete with good skills. He would probably be a lottery talent in next year's draft. So if you can get him now in the 20s, why not?|
|Rodions Kurucs, SF, Spain: The Magic have two first-round picks. So they could use this one on a draft-and-stash option. Kurucs, a 19 year old from Latvia, is a solid candidate for exactly that.|
|Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA: What Anigbogu lacks in offensive skills he makes up for with tenacity and toughness. He's a raw but interesting prospect who is still only 18 years old.|
|Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue: There has to be a place in the NBA for anybody who produces at the high-major level the way Swanigan did this season. The 6-9 forward averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds for the outright Big Ten champions and was a consensus first-team All-American. And the fact that he shot 44.7 percent from 3-point range suggests he's equipped to step away from the basket at the NBA level too.|
|Semi Ojeleye, SF, SMU: Ojeleye started his college career at Duke, where he was just a bit player. But the 6-7 forward was tremendous at SMU this season. He averaged 19.0 points and 6.9 rebounds while leading the Mustangs to American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles.|
|Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany: Hartenstein was reportedly just OK at the Nike Hoop Summit and thus didn't do much to enhance his reputation with NBA scouts. Still, it's hard to imagine him not going somewhere in the first round. And San Antonio's history with international prospects suggests he would fit nicely in that organization.|
|Josh Hart, SG, Villanova: Not every junior who returns for his senior year actually improves his reputation with NBA scouts. But Hart did. He averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range for a Villanova team that was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.|