Pre-March Madness First-Round Mock Draft (Tankathon Order)
- Sacramento Kings- Chet Holmgren (C/PF, Gonzaga, Freshman)
March Madness is going to be as crucial for the NBA Draft as it has been in a long-time. A huge majority of the potential lottery prospects will be in the tournament and there doesn’t seem to be a clear #1 pick in the NBA Draft community. Things can change, but Chet Holmgren is my clear top prospect coming into the tournament. Sure he is skinny, but he is tough as nails. At 7’1″ and 19 years old, he is one of the best defensive and rim protecting prospects we have ever seen. He has an unusually smooth handle, he is the most efficient finisher in college basketball, he has a high IQ, and he shoots over 41% from deep. There is nobody with Chet’s upside in this draft. Chet would add much needed defense and floor spacing next to De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. He could also become the final piece before Sacramento takes off, sort of like the Timberwolves when they added Anthony Edwards to Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
Draft Comparison: Kevin Garnett with Kristaps Porzingis shooting
2. San Antonio Spurs- Jabari Smith (PF, Auburn, Freshman)
This would be a rare situation for San Antonio to be in, that franchise hasn’t even had a top 10 pick since drafting Tim Duncan first overall in 1997, despite this likely being its third consecutive season in the lottery. This is a spot where some teams could still easily get its top prospect in the draft, so there may be no constellation prize. Jabari Smith does have questions as a finisher, shot creator, and passer, but he is the best shooting big prospect I can remember. With his height, ability to pull up, and shoot on one dribble, it is hard to not envision him average over 20 PPG at some point his career… fairly quickly. Not to mention, he is a fantastic perimeter defender with agile feet, and he has high character. San Antonio helped develop the shot creation ability for Kawhi despite his stiffness, if they do the same for Smith, they might have their new franchise player.
Comparison: Rashad Lewis+
3. Charlotte Hornets- Paolo Banchero (PF/C, Duke, Freshman)
If the Kings, Spurs, and Hornets crack the top three in the draft lottery, that would be crazy, but the flattened odds make it possible and there has seemed to be minimal movement the last two years, so that may be coming soon! Charlotte would wish Chet Holmgren fell to it because its rim protection is a big issue, and the other prospects are funky fits next to Miles Bridges, but you take the talent. To me, Paolo Banchero is still a top two prospect. Despite not being explosive, he is a fluid athlete who can create his own shot in the half court and transition, he can get his from the paint and mid range at will, and he is a fantastic passer for his size. He is truly a mismatch nightmare. There is a ceiling defensively with Miles Bridges and Paolo Banchero in your front court, but you need to take the talent now and figure out the fit later when you are trying to get talent around Lamelo Ball.
Comparison: Prime Pistons Blake Griffin
4. Portland Trailblazers- Keegan Murray (PF, Iowa, Sophomore)
The Portland Trailblazers are in a weird spot where they have multiple lottery picks and cap space, and they want to quickly load up the roster in one off-season set up for Damian Lillardfor success quick. With this in mind, a player who fits a positional need and is ready to play makes a lot of sense for them. Keegan Murray hasn’t been mocked this high very often, but he has been the best and most complete player in college basketball. As a 6’8″ forward, you can put him all over the court because he can defend multiple positions, put the ball on the floor, finish around the rim, he has a high IQ, and he shot over 40% from deep on the season. Even though he is a sophomore, he will be 22 years old when next season begins, but he is ready to win right now and has real upside with the way he has developed so quickly. He would start for Portland immediately and help them win.
Comparison: Kyle Kuzma/Grant Williams
5. Houston Rockets- Jaden Ivey (PG/SG, Purdue, Sophomore)
The Houston Rockets were hopeful for a potential dynamic Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green back court for years to come. Unfortunately, KPJ hasn’t broken out the way many hoped and his intangibles concerns flared at times during the season. Plus, that back court hasn’t been a seamless fit. With Jaden Ivey being the best player available, Houston is not in position to pass on him. Jaden Ivey has that mesmerizing quickness and explosion on a fiery 6’4″ body that looks a lot like Ja Morant at types. He is a creative shot maker when he gets to his right hand, he is a solid passer, he is a good shooter off the catch, and he has defensive tools. What keeps him outside the top three for now is because he doesn’t go to his left hand enough and it is to be seen if he can be an alpha of your franchise like a Ja Morant. Nonetheless, he is a big time talent who would thrive next to Jalen Green.
Comparison: De’Aaron Fox
6. Orlando Magic- AJ Griffin (SF, Duke Freshman)
The Orlando Magic haven’t had lottery luck for years, and this would be another unfortunate result. On the bright side, there is not much separation between 2-8 this year and they still very well may get a franchise player here in AJ Griffin. AJ’s volume numbers won’t blow you out of the water, but he is shooting 50% from the field and 47% from three and he showed real shot creation when given the chance (having four other potential first rounders as teammates limited his touches). Duke also was easing him in early in the season from his leg injuries. He has a stout 6’6″ frame with a 7 foot wingspan, he is arguably the best shooter in the draft, he is a smooth creator, and has unreal defensive tools. His upside will be weighted by how much explosion and quickness he recovers from his lower body injuries in high school. If his athleticism returns with little health concerns during the Draft Combine, his stock could rise.
Comparison: Jaylen Brown
7. Detroit Pistons- Johnny Davis (SG, Wisconsin, Sophomore)
The Pistons have seen Cade Cunningham emerge into the franchise-caliber talent most of us expected before the draft in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, Killian Hayes, the seventh pick two years ago, has not panned out and should have a questionable long-term outlook. Johnny Davis would be a fantastic back court mate next to Cade as he is arguably the best shot-maker in the draft who can really take the pressure off of him. On top of that, Davis would fit Detroit period with his high-level intensity, motor, and defense. The depth of this draft at the top really shows with Davis falling here at seven.
Comparison: Devin Booker/Jalen Suggs
8. Oklahoma City Thunder- Jalen Duren (C, Memphis, Freshman)
Despite being one of the worst teams in the NBA, the Thunder have one of the best young trio of guards in star Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Tre Mann. On the other end of the spectrum, they have no big with long-term NBA potential. Jalen Duren is not in the tier of a Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero, but he is easily the most physically gifted big with his 6’10” height, 7’6″ wingspan, and 250 pounds of pure muscle. On top of that, he is agile, strong, and incredibly explosive. Duren’s physical tools have helped him be one of the best defensive bigs in the draft with his switchability and rim protection. His lack of scoring versatility is what prevents him from being a top-notch prospect, but he is a day one lob threat, while also being a promising passer in the short-roll. He would be very much elevated by Josh Giddey.
Comparison: Robert Williams
9. Indiana Pacers- Shaedon Sharpe (SG, Kentucky, 18-years-old)
Shaedon Sharpe has a unique situation. He left high school a year early. He was mainly mocked to go in the 2023 draft as there wasn’t a ton of buzz about his eligibility this year. But after a January report by Draft Express, it is now expected he will become eligible for the 2022 draft as he will turn 19 this year and supposedly graduated high school a year before the draft. As a prospect, there is some mystery as we have only seen him play in high school, but he was the #1 player in the class of 2022 in the ESPN 100. At a certain point, you can’t let a bulky 6’6″ 200 pound guard with incredible explosiveness and three-level scoring potential slip too far, nonetheless, especially with what we are seeing with Anthony Edwards. Indiana takes a risk at #9, but the upside is too immense to pass up on.
Comparison: Anthony Edwards
10. New York Knicks- Ty Ty Washington (PG/SG, Kentucky, Freshman)
The New York Knicks was one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season. Their lack of playmakers and efficient creators is a reason why that has been the case. This draft lacks franchise-level floor generals, but Ty Ty Washington is the closest thing to that. Even so, he is more of a combo guard, but he dropped 17 assists in the first game he was asked to be the true point guard, so his playmaking, especially in the pick and roll, is very promising. On top of that, he can play next to RJ Barrett with his shooting off the catch and low maintenance style. Plus, he has a 6’9″ wingspan and projects to be a good defender. Washington wouldn’t change the fortunes of this Knicks franchise, but a good, resectable, high-level complementary piece is what he would give them.
Comparison: Jordan Poole with better passing
11. Memphis Grizzlies (Via. Los Angeles Lakers)- Benedict Mathurin (SF/SG, Arizona, Sophomore)
The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the best teams in the best teams in the NBA, and among the elite teams, Memphis may have the most room to improve with potentially three first round picks and the sixth most cap space going into the offseason. If this pick does convert to Memphis, the rich would get richer. The Grizzlies are deep in basically everything, so they take the best player available in Bennedict Mathurin. Mathurin is one of the most athletic wings in the draft with his explosion,length, and broad shoulders. He is dynamic in transition and is one of the hardest players to stop in college when he is flaming threes, despite his minimal shot creation. Mathurin’s physical tools, shooting, and intensity would be another great addition to Memphis’ talent pipeline.
Comparison: Gerald Green/Warriors Andrew Wiggins
12. Portland Trailblazers (Via. New Orleans Pelicans)- Ochai Agbaji (SG, Kansas, Senior)
The one mistake scouts often make is underestimate dominant college basketball players who happen to be older prospects in the draft. In the past two years, Desmond Bane and Ayo Dosunmu have been primary examples of that. Ochai Agbaji has been on the NBA radar for a long time, and now he has taken the corner, emerging as both one of the best shooters and scorers in the country. On top of that, he is a talented athlete with untapped defensive potential. With the way Desmond Bane is playing in Memphis, it would be surprising to see teams overlook the closest thing to him in the draft. With the selection of Keegan Murray, that would imply they are pursuing win now players, and Agbaji would add to that.
Comparison: More athletic Desmond Bane
13. Washington Wizards- Kennedy Chandler (PG, Tennessee, Freshman)
With Spencer Dinwiddie gone, there aren’t any point guards on the Wizards roster with starting potential. This is a weak point guard draft, but there is a lot to like about Kennedy Chandler late in the lottery. He may be small, but he is incredibly quick, feisty, creative, and has a fantastic handle. There are questions about Chandler’s shooting at his size, but he can get to the hoop at will and hit an open jumper. Chandler’s intensity and smarts makes him a winning player and would add to that Wizards culture that needs it.
Comparison: Ish Smith/Rajon Rondo
14. Atlanta Hawks- Jaden Hardy (SG, G-League Ignite, 19-years-old)
Coming into the season, Jaden Hardy was in the mix for the first overall pick. I deeply considered having him as my top prospect coming into the season, but it has gone the other direction. Hardy is now shooting 35% from the field and 27% from deep. He has struggled heavily, but some young players take longer to adapt to professional leagues than others. Hardy is still averaging 17.7 PPG and has shown fantastic moments of three-level-scoring. Atlanta still desperately needs a secondary shot maker, and Hardy has the best chance of becoming that out of anyone on the board. Jonathan Kuminga and LaMelo Ball have figured out their efficiency in the NBA after not in their respected professional leagues. Why can’t Hardy?
Comparison: Anfernee Simmons
15. Oklahoma City Thunder (Via. Los Angeles Clippers)- Jeremy Sochan (PF/SF, Freshman)
The Thunder found their franchise big in this mock, wing depth would now be beneficial. Jeremy Sochan has a big body with incredible defense and intriguing offensive versatility. He would be a good add to the Thunder young core.
Comparison: Nicholas Batum
16. Houston Rockets (Via. Brooklyn Nets)- Walker Kessler (C, Auburn, Sophomore)
The Rockets have a lot to be excited about with Alperen Sengun as a potential starting big, but there is certainly questions about what he will do defensively. Walker Kessler isn’t a great shooter or overly athletic, but he has been an historically great shot blocker this year and would add that element to that young roster.
Comparison: Cole Aldrich
17. San Antonio Spurs (Via. Toronto Raptors)- Nikola Jovic (SF, Mega Basket, 18-years-old)
The Spurs were major winners in the trade deadline because they finally committed to a rebuild by acquiring two additional first round picks. The organization does have a reputation of liking foreign prospects, and they should be fond of Nikola Jovic: a 6’10” wing with exceptional playmaking versatility and ability to shoot off the catch. There is not one international prospect with Jovic’s offensive upside.
Comparison: Tony Kukoč
18. Minnesota Timberwolves- Mark Williams (C, Duke, Sophomore)
The Timberwolves have become one of the most balanced and entertaining teams in the league this year. Yet, there is clear size and rebounding deficiencies with that roster that need to be addressed. Mark Williams would give Minnesota an athletic, 243 pound seven footer with a 7’7″ wingspan who can eventually fill those voids with his shot blocking and rebounding, while being a lob-threat.
Comparison: Poor Man’s Rudy Gobert
19. Indiana Pacers (Via. Cleveland Cavaliers)- Caleb Houstan (SF, Michigan, Freshman)
Caleb Houstan was considered a consensus top 10 prospect going into the season. After a rough start for Michigan, he fell off the radar, but he has quietly had a strong season for Michigan. As a freshman, he is now averaging 10.5 PPG and 36.6% from deep, which is very solid in the big 10. On top of being a good shooter with good size, he is also a good team defender and awesome passer. Houstan will be a really good role player in the NBA.
Comparison: Joe Ingles
20. Denver Nuggets- Kendall Brown (SF, Baylor, Freshman)
Getting as many high-IQ athletes and defenders around Nikola Jokic is always a major win. Kendall Brown isn’t a great shooter or creator, but he incredibly athletic, a great defender, and can move the ball in transition. There wouldn’t be any better matches between player and team in the draft than Kendall Brown and the Denver Nuggets.
Comparison: Isaac Okoro
21. San Antonio Spurs (Via. Boston Celtics)- Jean Montero (PG, Overtime Elite, 19-years-old)
With Patty Mills and Derrick White no longer on the Spurs, they could use a young backup guard next to Dejounte Murray. Jean Montero has played questionable competition, but he is an entertaining scoring guard who is developing as a shooter and passer.
Comparison: Dennis Schroader
22. Chicago Bulls- Christian Koloko (C, Arizona, Junior)
The Chicago Bulls are showtime offensively and have multiple elite defenders in the perimeter, but they are going to have major issues with interior defense with their lack of defensive bigs. Tristain Thompson was a good addition this year, but isn’t a long-term player, especially with his retirement rumors. Christain Koloko gives them an athletic 7’1″ big averaging nearly three blocks and shooting touch as a 74% shooter from the free throw line.
Comparison: Javale McGee
23. Milwaukee Bucks- Marjon Beauchamp (SG/SF, G-League Ignite, 21-years-old)
Jaden Hardy might be the most talented player from the G-League Ignite, but Marjon Beauchamp is the best player currently from the program. He is an athletic, high motor wing who can really defend and is showing growth as a shooter. Milwaukee would be getting a potential steal here.
Comparison: Mikal Bridges
24. Dallas Mavericks- Wendell Moore (SF, Duke, Junior)
The Dallas Mavericks could always use more playmakers with defensive tools around Luka Doncic. Wendell Moore would qualify as a strong wing who can facilitate, attack the basket, hit an open shot, and has defensive tools. Moore is a lottery talent and someone Jason Kidd should love to get his hands on.
Comparison: Bulkier Will Barton
25. Brooklyn Nets- Tari Eason (SF/PF, LSU, Freshman)
Tari Eason could easily be a lottery pick. He is a special athlete with strength, explosion, and speed. He is a fantastic, versatile defender, he can handle the ball in the open floor, and hit open shots. Tari Eason would be an awesome addition to an underrated Nets young core.
Comparison: Nassir Little
26. Memphis Grizzlies (Via. Utah Jazz)- Patrick Baldwin Jr. (SF, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Freshman)
Out of all the top high school prospects in 2021, Patrick Baldwin Jr. has been the most disappointing. With his 6’10” frame, shot making tools and excellent shooting stroke, you would think he would dominate mid-major competition, but he did the opposite. He showed flaws with his motor, defense, playmaking, and physicality, while having durability concerns. Nonetheless, that talent is still inside of him and Memphis has the time to wait for it.
Comparison: Kevin Knox
27. Miami Heat- Dyson Daniels (SG/PG, G-League Ignite, 19-years old)
The Miami Heat always seem to find the diamonds in the rough, Dyson Daniels feels like a Miami Heat. He has excellent size, he is a smart, he is a good team defender, and he has excellent touch around the basket. His versatility on both ends will get him on an NBA court fairly quickly.
Comparison: Kyle Anderson
28. Golden State Warriors-Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA, SG/SF, Junior)
It must be nice for the Warriors to not have to worry about the lottery anymore, it isn’t like they don’t find talent everywhere in the draft anyway. Jaime Jaquez Jr. may not be a great shooter or athletic, but he is strong, intelligent, good passer, good scorer, and a high-motor defender. Jaquez has a winning mindset that would complement what the Warriors already have.
Comparison: Gordon Hayward-lite
29. Memphis Grizzlies- EJ Liddell (PF, Ohio State, Junior)
Speculatively, Memphis probably won’t keep three firsts, but this is a type of player who feels like a Grizzly. Liddell is undersized, but he plays hard on both ends, he can drive straight-line, and space the floor. He is one of the best players in college basketball, and Memphis has had their success drafting older college prospects.
Comparison: PJ Washington
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (Via. Phoenix Suns)- Ismael Kamagate (C, Paris, 21-years-old)
The Thunder already drafted a high quality big in the lottery here, but when someone with the upside Ismael Kamagate has, you take him. He isn’t playing insane competition, but he is athletic, long; a good rim protector, rebounder and has flashes as a shooter and passer. These tools he has makes him arguably the best International big in the class.
Comparison: Clint Capela/Chris Boucher
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