Let’s face it, most who try and predict the NBA Draft this early get some right — and plenty wrong.
Virtually no one had Zion Williamson projected ahead of his Duke teammate, RJ Barrett, prior to the start of last season, or Ja Morant as the second overall pick. While it’s difficult to predict the draft before the games get going, we’ve taken a stab at it based on watching these guys enough and also talking to more than a dozen NBA executives who have started their homework.
And yes, there are a couple of surprises in here that you won’t see anywhere else.
1. Charlotte Hornets – James Wiseman, 7-1, 240, PF, Fr., Memphis, DOB: March 31, 2001
Memphis Head Coach Penny Hardaway, who previously coached Wiseman in high school and AAU ball, compares him to Chris Bosh. The likely one-and-done has a 7-foot-6 wingspan, runs the floor well, blocks shots and has an evolving offensive game. Wiseman has all the tools to become a star in the NBA at some point, and is the early front-runner for the No. 1 spot.
2. Washington Wizards – Cole Anthony, 6-3, 190, PG, Fr., North Carolina, DOB: May 15, 2000
He’s going to put up huge numbers as a freshman in Chapel Hill — partially due to necessity and also because he is more than capable. Anthony is a guy who is wired to score, but can also facilitate. He’ll thrive in Roy Williams’ system, which will give Anthony the freedom to push the tempo and make plays for himself and his teammates in transition.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Anthony Edwards, 6-5, 225, SG, Fr., Georgia, DOB: Aug. 5, 2001
Edwards is a big, strong, explosive and athletic guard who can score at all three levels, although his strength is getting to the basket and using his body to finish. The Georgia native stayed in-state for college and should put up big numbers.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – Isaiah Stewart, 6-9, 250, C, Fr., Washington, DOB: May 22, 2001
This may be a tad high, but Stewart is big, has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, plays with a high motor, and is also athletic and able to step out and make mid-range shots. Stewart is a ferocious player who brings a toughness to the table every time he steps on the court.
5. Phoenix Suns – LaMelo Ball, 6-6, 170, PG, Illawarra (NBL), DOB: Aug. 22, 2001
He’s a tremendous talent with his ability to score, and don’t forget about his court vision. LaMelo is capable of making his teammates better virtually whenever he wants, but he needs to cut down on the flash and learn to make simple plays. He’ll also need to improve his defense, but the youngest Ball brother has lottery talent and there’s no disputing that.
6. New York Knicks – Theo Maledon, 6-5, 175, PG, ASVEL (France), DOB: June 12, 2001
Arguably the top international prospect, Maledon won’t blow you away with any one aspect of his game, but he does everything well. He’s got good size, is quick, can make teammates better and can also defend. He’ll play in the EuroLeague this season, which will help him prepare for the NBA.
7. Chicago Bulls – Jaden McDaniels, 6-9, 200, F, Fr., Washington, DOB: Sept. 29, 2000
McDaniels is a high-upside guy, one that may take some time but has the skill level to become a star down the road. He’ll need to put on some weight and become more consistent with his effort and production, but the lanky forward can stretch the defense and also put it on the floor. NBA guys are intrigued with his potential.
8. Atlanta Hawks – Deni Avdija, 6-9, 215, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), DOB: Jan. 3, 2001
He’s bouncy, creative with the ball off the bounce, and just knows how to play. He plays above the rim, rebounds well and can really pass it. The question is whether his shot is consistent enough.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder – Jalen Smith, 6-10, 225, PF, So., Maryland, DOB: March 16, 2000
Look for “Stix” to make a big jump this season with the departure of Bruno Fernando. Smith is an athletic big man who has good hands, quick feet and thrives in transition. OKC just needs to go with the best guy on the board, and Smith has no shortage of upside.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ayo Dosunmu, 6-5, 185, PG, So., Illinois, DOB: Jan. 17, 2000
He’s got all the tools: the size for the point guard position, the athleticism, the speed, the court vision and also the ability to defend. He can also make shots from the perimeter. Dosunmu will need to do a better job of taking care of the ball and improving his decision-making.
11. Detroit Pistons – Trendon Watford, 6-9, 235, F, Fr., LSU, DOB: Nov. 9, 2000
He’s exactly what the NBA guys want these days: a versatile forward who can score on all three levels. Watford is long (7-foot-4 wingspan) and can shoot it, put it on the floor and finish.
12. New Orleans Pelicans – Matthew Hurt, 6-9, 215, F, Fr., Duke, DOB: April 20, 2000
Hurt has a versatile offensive game, with the ability to shoot it from deep, put it on the floor and also score it around the basket. He’ll need to improve his strength and defense.
13. Sacramento Kings – Scottie Lewis, 6-5, 185, SG, Fr., Florida, DOB: March 12, 2000
Lewis is a guy who can be a lock-down defender down the road, and he certainly looks the part — long, smooth and athletic. When his shot is falling, he looks like a high-lottery pick, but he needs to make it with more consistency.
14. Indiana Pacers – R.J. Hampton, 6-5, 185, G, New Zealand Breakers (NBL), DOB: Feb. 7, 2001
The versatile guard opted to play for the Breakers instead of going to college, and he’ll need to work on his body and also on his consistency with the perimeter shot.
15. Toronto Raptors – Tyrese Maxey, 6-3, 195, G, Fr., Kentucky, DOB: Nov. 4, 2000
Maxey would give Toronto a combo guard who can put the ball in the basket. He’s not an elite shooter, but more of a slasher who can play both on or off the ball.
16. Dallas Mavericks – Kahlil Whitney, 6-6, 210, F, Fr., Kentucky, DOB: Jan. 8, 2001
He’s a big, strong wing who doesn’t shoot it with consistency yet, but can be a big-time defender and is also able to put it on the floor and get to the basket.
17. Orlando Magic – Nico Mannion, 6-3, 185, PG, Fr., Arizona, DOB: March 17, 2001
Mannion really knows how to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. Can shoot it from deep, and he has a good feel for the position. The Magic are still searching for that franchise point guard.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn) – Tyrese Haliburton, 6-5, 175, PG, So., Iowa State, DOB: Feb. 29, 2000
He’s got the size, the poise and the basketball IQ that NBA execs love. His upside may not be quite as high as some others, but Haliburton makes the right decisions, has good length with a 7-foot wingspan and also shot it well from deep as a freshman.
19. Miami Heat – Josiah Jordan-James, 6-6, 210, G, Fr., Tennessee, DOB: Sept. 5, 2000
Long and versatile guard who can really run a team and pass the ball. He has terrific court vision, can penetrate to the basket and also defend. He’ll need to become a better perimeter shooter, but Jordan-James does just about everything well.
20. San Antonio Spurs – Wendell Moore, 6-6, 215, SF, Fr., Duke, DOB: Sept. 18, 2001
He’s extremely long (7-foot wingspan), plays with a high motor and can really defend. Moore is a more than adequate scorer as well, but still has to work on his perimeter shot.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via Golden State) – Precious Achiuwa, 6-9, 225, F, Fr., Memphis, DOB: Sept. 19, 1999
He’s a big, strong and athletic forward who should get plenty of attention from NBA execs this year playing alongside James Wiseman on the frontline. Achiuwa will need to improve his decision making.
22. Portland Trail Blazers – Reggie Perry, 6-9, 250, PF, So., Mississippi State, DOB: March 21, 2000
He had an up-and-down freshman season, but look for the strong, athletic forward to have a breakout year. Perry is a double-double candidate every night with his ability to rebound at a high rate.
23. Boston Celtics – Jordan Nwora, 6-8, 220, SF, Jr., Louisville, DOB: Sept. 9, 1998
Nwora might have remained in the draft last season if not for an injury that kept him out of the combine and team workouts. Nwora has the size and can really shoot it from deep, but he’ll need to improve his ability to make plays off the dribble.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver) – Killian Hayes, 6-5, 215, G, ratiopharm Ulm (Germany), DOB: July 27, 2001
He’s a big, strong guard with no shortage of feel for the game. Hayes is a lefty who is an average athlete, but can really pass it and knows how to play.
25. Utah Jazz – Tre Jones, 6-3, 185, PG, So., Duke, DOB: Jan. 8, 2000
The younger brother of Tyus can really defend and run a team, but he’ll need to show that he can make shots. Tre is athletic and brings a similar high IQ to the table. The question is whether he can project as more than just a backup point guard at the next level.
26. Houston Rockets – Josh Green, 6-6, 210, F, Fr., Arizona, DOB: Nov. 16, 2000
The athletic forward from Australia might come out of the gates slow after missing the entire summer due to shoulder surgery. Green has the potential to be an elite defender. He’ll need to show he can make shots from the perimeter to become a lottery pick.
27. Los Angeles Lakers – Obi Toppin, 6-9, 220, PF, Redshirt So., Dayton, DOB: March 4, 1998
Terrific athlete who is just scratching the surface of what he can become. Toppin only played one season of varsity ball in high school, and redshirted his freshman season at Dayton. He’s got the length and athleticism, and had nearly 100 dunks last season.
28. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia) – Quincy Guerrier, 6-7, 220, SF, Fr., Syracuse, DOB: May 13, 1999
The Montreal native can really score. He’s got an NBA-ready body for a wing, and he’s able to create his own shot and get buckets from the perimeter.
29. Los Angeles Clippers – Derek Culver, 6-10, 255, C, So., West Virginia, DOB: May 24, 1998
He has all the physical tools. It’s just a matter of him being consistent — both on and off the court. Culver is a quick, athletic and powerful big man who can run the court with ease. He also rebounds well.
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee) – Vernon Carey Jr., 6-10, 270, C, Fr., Duke, DOB: Feb. 25, 2001
He’s a highly productive interior player, but more of a below-the-rim guy. Carey is a big-time rebounder who can dominate in the paint, but is limited athletically.