Four months into the college basketball season, we're no closer to identifying a clear-cut No. 1 prospect than we were when the season booted up in November. It's unclear who will hear their name called first when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces the first pick this summer.
What has become abundantly clear as the scouting process has evolved, however, is that the top of the draft is significantly weaker this year compared to last year's draft. There is no prospect the caliber of Zion Williamson (and quite clearly no one close after he's run roughshod over the NBA in his rookie.) There's not even a Ja Morant-level player. In terms of top-end talent, the class is considered one of the weakest in nearly a decade.
And because of that, the race for the No. 1 pick remains wide open. There's a strong international talent pool -- led by Illawara Hawks guard LaMelo Ball -- pushing to become No. 1 in the eyes of talent evaluators. There's also a tantalizing pool of college players, led by Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman, who are fimly in the hunt. But it's clear right now that teams are split on who is the No. 1 prospect. So barring a meteoric rise from one of the draft-eligible players in this class, team fit and need will likely be more critical than year's at the top of the draft. And so that's where we start: at No. 1, where the Golden State Warriors are projected by SportsLine to finish with the worst record and best chance No. 1 pick this summer. (Finally, that franchise stumbles into some good fortune.)
Team needs are taken into consideration for this mock draft, but not the end-all be-all in this mock draft given that the NBA season is still ongoing and free agency has yet to play out. The dominoes will inevitably fall and shake things up. But here's how we project things as they stand now:
Round 1- Pick 1
Memphis • 7'0" / 244 lbs
Adding a 7-foot-1 center in James Wiseman who can be a defensive anchor on the back end of the Warriors defense is too tantalizing to pass up when you have Curry, Klay and Draymond in place. And while Wiseman's shooting range may limit his upside in the short-term, what he can bring in the here and now as a rim-protector and lob threat is exactly what the Warriors need. There's still plenty of untapped potential here, too.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Georgia • 6'4" / 229 lbs
Anthony Edwards has a special combination of athleticism and shot-creation. And with it, he'll be hugely productive at the NBA level much like he's been at the college level. Even with the Cavs taking guards in the lottery the last two years, Edwards could slide in the mix off the ball and be productive as a scorer and defender with his meaty 6-5 frame.
Round 1 - Pick 3
The Knicks finally -- finally! -- get their lead guard. LaMelo Ball is a dynamic offensive weapon whose playmaking and passing is preternatural. New York should be targeting him. Even with his efficiency struggles in the NBL as a scorer, I'm buying his shot long-term and feel the deficiencies he has on defense will be made up for tenfold on offense. He's my No. 1 prospect in this class.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Iowa State • 6'5" / 175 lbs
A broken wrist cut short Tyrese Haliburton's season just 20 games in, but that was enough of a sample size for me to buy into him as one of the best lead guards in this class. He's a terrific 3-point shooter with a tight handle, he makes great decisions with the ball in his hands, and he's a pesky defender who uses his long frame to his advantage. All of that to me is worthy of a selection in this range, where we know the Pistons will likely be looking for a lead guard.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Tyrese Maxey SG
Kentucky • 6'2" / 191 lbs
Put the ball in Tyrese Maxey's hands and let him cook in Minnesota. He's a dangerous straight-line driver who can get to the rim at will and has good touch when he arrives. Additionally, he's a really good perimeter defender who plays with relentlessness -- the type of prospect who'd fit well alongside D'Angelo Russell. The only glaring wart in his game is the 29.1% 3-point shooting this season, which feels anomalous given his fluidity and smooth stroke but cannot be ignored.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Cole Anthony SG
North Carolina • 6'2" / 190 lbs
It took him a few weeks, but Cole Anthony has returned to form after a knee surgery sent him to the sidelines for nearly two months earlier this season. He's now averaging 24.0 points, 6.3 assists and shooting 60% from 3-point range during UNC's three-game winning streak. Given Charlotte's current state, Anthony would be a homerun from this position to give the Hornets a guard with instinctive scoring ability who can distribute at a high level with the right supporting cast.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Israeli forward Deni Avdija has a unique combination of shot making, ball-handling and passing that should earn him a selection well before the end of the lottery passes. He's earning believers with the way he's played for Maccabi Tel Aviv of late as well as he continues to show off his 6-9 frame with more consistency and more opportunities. He's a safe pick for the Bulls at No. 7 here, someone who can give them a reliable starter at the forward spot and develop into a secondary creator. I've liked what I've seen from him running out in transition and making quick reads with the ball in his hands.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Isaac Okoro SF
Auburn • 6'5" / 225 lbs
Okoro falls to the Hawks and all of Atlanta rejoices. He gives them another valuable defender with great smarts and feel who can impact winning without adding much value offensively. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has long referred to him as a senior despite his freshman status -- a nod to how advanced he is physically and mentally at this stage of his basketball career.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Southern California • 6'8" / 245 lbs
It's hard to find value these days in big men, particularly those who don't stretch the floor. And yet Okongwu is one of the few exceptions given the way he defends the rim so well. Thrice this season he's had games with four or more blocks, and he's always impacting shots with his go-go gadget arms and ability to read plays. He's also shown off some impressive post moves and can really score it in the paint. I think all of that combined with his mobility makes him a great bet for Washington to solve its center spot long-term.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Hayes could wind up being the biggest steal in the lottery this year. He's improved tremendously as a scorer and facilitator with Ulm, and he's added a killer stepback reminiscent of James Harden. I'm buying stock and think I probably have him too low at No. 10 -- a tremendous value for a Suns franchise that should be looking PG in a PG-heavy draft class.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Obi Toppin PF
Dayton • 6'9" / 212 lbs
As president of the Obi Toppin Fan Club, I'll be shocked if he drops this far. He's an athletic marvel who scores it efficiently and stretches the floor for a top-five Dayton team that can't stop winning. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that his defense is far from a strength of his. And at 22 years old, it's fair to wonder if it will be anything other than average in the NBA.
Round 1 - Pick 12
A hip injury ultimately ended RJ Hampton's season overseas with the NBL just 15 games in. And during those 15 games, he was often inefficient offensively. Still, he's a guy to bet on given his big frame, defensive motor and scoring upside.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Vanderbilt • 6'5" / 215 lbs
A foot injury in January likely ended Aaron Nesmith's sophomore season just 14 games in, but he acquitted himself extremely well before then, making 52.2% of his shots from 3-point range -- the third-best rate among all players in Division I this season. He's a plug and play wing who would give the Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard another weapon on the perimeter.
From Memphis Grizzlies
Round 1 - Pick 14
Saddiq Bey SF
Villanova • 6'7" / 215 lbs
Danny Ainge has placed a premium value on long wings who can switch everything and knock down shoots. That's essentially the prospect definition of Saddiq Bey. He's a 45.1% 3-point shooter this season who, with his 6-8 frame, is capable of guarding 1-4.
From Brooklyn Nets
Round 1 - Pick 15
Washington • 6'9" / 192 lbs
Washington has lost 10 of its last 11 and Jaden McDaniels has done nothing to help his stock during that stint as inconsistencies have continued to mar his freshman season. But with a 6-9 frame and positional versatility, he's a guy outside the lottery Minnesota would be smart to gamble on as a project.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Theo Maledon's improved substantially overall as a shooter in EuroLeague play, averaging 39.1% from 3-point range and 45.6% from the floor while boosting his assist numbers a good bit in the process. Given his size and speed he should be able to meld into New Orleans seamlessly with his ability to play either guard spot.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Nico Mannion PG
Arizona • 6'2" / 188 lbs
The way Nico Mannion initiates offense and reads and manipulates defenses is the main reason he'll be a lock for the first round. His basketball smarts are off the charts. He's gone through a slump throughout most of February but is still in contention to be a lottery pick. In Orlando where point guard depth is scarce, he could provide stability behind Markelle Fultz.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Isaiah Joe SG
Arkansas • Jr • 6'5" / 180 lbs
A knee injury and subsequent aggravation of that injury has dinged Isaiah Joe's stock a bit overall, but he remains one of the best sharpshooters in this draft class. If he opts to declare and is able to stay healthy, he should start getting looks late in the first round for teams like Oklahoma City in search of bench shooters.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Washington • 6'8" / 250 lbs
Throwback-style bigs like Isaiah Stewart -- who makes much of his bones in post-up situations -- have largely been weeded out from the NBA. But his energy, production and flashes of shooting are all reasons he should be able to find a role at the next level. Dallas could invest here and groom him into a better shooter while using his talents early as a rebounder and post presence.
From Indiana Pacers
Round 1 - Pick 20
Josh Green SG
Arizona • 6'5" / 210 lbs
The sheer production of Josh Green this season won't jump out at you. But his athleticism certainly does. And when you factor in the fact that he's playing alongside two other likely first-round talents, it's easy to see why he could -- and I believe will -- pop when cast in a different role. He does all the little things quite well and affects winning -- something the Bucks are currently very much doing already at quite a high level.
From Philadelphia 76ers
Round 1 - Pick 21
Michigan State • 6'8" / 245 lbs
From rebounding to screening to blocking shots, Tillman does all the non-flashy things that make him an exciting prospect. And for a team looking to add a solid rotation player, Tillman could be a huge boon -- especially when the 3-point stroke picks up and becomes more reliable.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Tre Jones PG
Duke • 6'1" / 185 lbs
The defensive impact and instinctive leadership Tre Jones brings to the table is appealing. The jump shot and his offense on the whole is not. That's the predicament with Jones. He may be closer to a backup than an NBA starter. But for Miami looking to add depth, this could be an enticing late-first round addition to keep it in Eastern Conference contention.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Arizona • 6'9" / 240 lbs
A long and wiry prospect, Zeke Nnaji's value is in his scoring ability around the rim and capability to bring down just about any offensive rebound within his vicinity. His energy is limitless and his motor runs hot. If the 3-point shot was a bit better he'd be ten or so spots higher.
From Houston Rockets
Round 1 - Pick 24
Texas Tech • 6'3" / 195 lbs
Jahmi'us Ramsey is second among all Big 12 freshmen in 3-point percentage -- his bankable NBA skill being his shooting impact. Still, there are questions about his handles and decision-making with the ball in his hands. But for a Denver franchise looking to stack shooters to surround Nikola Jokic, he could be a good pickup given his quick release and consistency with which he knocks down shots.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Memphis • 6'8" / 235 lbs
Precious Achiuwa's been efficient for Memphis as its go-to big man without James Wiseman. He rebounds well, impacts the game as a shot-blocker and has an athletic, energizing style that's made him a force. That production is mostly limited to within the arc, though, as his handles are loose and his perimeter skills are raw. Nonetheless, on a Boston team with plenty of chefs he could cook as a backup big with room to grow into something more in time.
From Denver Nuggets
Round 1 - Pick 26
Duke • Fr • 6'10" / 270 lbs
Vernon Carey's a hybrid of the old and new-school style big with some added pizzazz. I'm concerned about how he'll hold up if he's tasked to guard on the perimeter, but his scoring, rebounding instincts and nimble feet are worth a late-first for an OKC team that may need depth at the position.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Florida State • 6'7" / 227 lbs
Toronto's scouting and development is tops in the league: it found Pascal Siakam, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher, among others. One could reasonably believe Patrick Williams could be next on that list. Because despite his overall raw skill set, he's teeming with talent and athleticism. If developed and channeled correctly he can become a dynamo two-way weapon.
From Los Angeles Clippers
Round 1 - Pick 28
Florida State • 6'5" / 195 lbs
After grabbing a lead ball-handler at No. 3 in LaMelo Ball, the Knicks come back here and smartly snag him a weapon at No. 28. Devin Vassell is a lethal 3-point shooter with a good frame who projects as a 3-and-D wing with a high ceiling. He's second in the ACC among all freshmen, sophomores and juniors in 3-point percentage this season.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Michigan State • 6'1" / 185 lbs
Cassius Winston isn't a flashy athlete who projects as an NBA All-Star, but he's a winner -- a point guard who can competently run an offense, execute in the pick and roll, and knock down shots at a high rate. He ranks in the 96th percentile this season as a spot-up shooter, too, and the amalgamation of all of that would seemingly make him an ideal fit alongside LeBron James.
From Milwaukee Bucks
Round 1 - Pick 30
Kentucky • 6'3" / 193 lbs
The way Ashton Hagans defends the perimeter at such a high level, he should be able to contribute in the NBA -- at least in some capacity -- fairly early. And while the jumper is inconsistent and the 3-point accuracy is a huge question mark, the Celtics could find value in adding him as a defensive specialist with upside to bring in and groom for the future.