The Finals ending in five games for the first time since 2014 provides a bit of a cushion before the NBA Draft, but the big night is less than a week away.
While the majority of RotoWire’s draft coverage has focused on projecting what we think will happen, we’ll now take a look at what we, and the rest of the fantasy basketball world, want to happen.
For the purpose of this exercise, only realistic -- well, at least mostly realistic -- scenarios will be considered. Markelle Fultz going to Denver at 13 would sure as hell be beneficial for everyone, but unless Fultz goes full Laremy Tunsil at 6:55PM on Thursday, that’s not happening (and even if that did somehow happen, would he even fall out of the top three?).
How a player fits in the long term will be considered, but more weight will be given to immediate production potential -- in other words, where can Prospect X have the best possible fantasy season as a rookie?
Let’s get to it.
1. Boston Celtics
Josh Jackson, F, Kansas
The Celtics are the rare high-lottery team without glaring needs, so Danny Ainge has full license to take the best player available. In all likelihood, that will be Markelle Fultz, but as long as Isaiah Thomas is a Celtic, Fultz won’t have a clear path to the type of minutes point guards of his caliber have traditionally received as rookies. John Wall and Derrick Rose each saw more than 37 minutes per game in their first season, and while Kyrie Irving came in a bit lower (30.5 per game), even that number seems optimistic for Fultz in Boston, despite the fact that he’ll also spend time off the ball.
With that in mind, the best fantasy
fit for the Celtics might be a wing player. Boston was as deep as any team in the NBA last season, but Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson are both unrestricted this summer, and restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk will likely cash in elsewhere. Boston has a pair of intriguing international prospects -- 2016 first-rounders Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele -- who are expected to contribute next season, but until they step foot on an NBA court it’s unclear just how ready they’ll be.
Other than Fultz, Jackson is probably the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft. An elite athlete who projects as a three-position defender, Jackson is essentially Jaylen Brown with a better feel offensively and higher-level passing instincts. The knock on Jackson is he’s old for his class, but that wouldn’t stop him from going No. 1 overall in more than one draft in the last decade.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Markelle Fultz, G, Washington
A versatile center is the Lakers’ biggest need, but this draft class doesn’t include a Karl-Anthony Towns or a Joel Embiid. Of course, Los Angeles has plenty of other issues, and drafting Fultz would shore up a young but talented backcourt for the foreseeable future.
I’m not ready to give up on D’Angelo Russell yet, and the presence of Fultz would give the Lakers a pair of swing guards who could, in theory at least, play both backcourt spots interchangeably. Outside of Russell, Jordan Clarkson is the only other guard on the roster currently under contract next season. That will change after free agency, but the path to Fultz playing 30-35 minutes per game is much clearer in LA than it is in Boston.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
For the sake of this article, let’s assume the Sixers are, indeed, enamored with the idea of Ben Simmons: point guard. That rules out Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox, two guards who don’t project as great off-ball players right away. There’s a case to be made for Jayson Tatum, but Robert Covington and Dario Saric are already key pieces on the wing. With sincere apologies to Nik Stauskas and Jerryd Bayless, Philadelphia doesn’t have any “key pieces” at shooting guard.
Perhaps the most explosive scorer in any major conference as a freshman, Monk has the unteachable ability to take and make tough shots from all over the floor. With a skinny frame and relatively unimpressive measurables, Monk carries some bust potential, but he makes up for it with top-tier athleticism and better defensive effort than he’s given credit for.
Monk probably won’t be an overly efficient player as a rookie, but he’d fill an immediate need for Philadelphia and would compete for a starting spot on a roster in desperate need of backcourt offense. Last season, the Sixers’ highest-scoring guard (Stauskas) ranked 129th in total points scored.
4. Phoenix Suns
Lonzo Ball, G, UCLA
In this scenario, the Suns would either trade 27-year-old Eric Bledsoe in an effort to get even younger, or move him off the ball and push Devin Booker to small forward. Regardless, Ball would be given the keys to what would instantly become one of the five most entertaining offenses in the league.
Ball’s size and supernatural vision are tantalizing, and with a shooter like Booker -- a minor
upgrade over Bryce Alford -- on the wing, he becomes all the more dangerous. No matter where he lands, Ball will face a steep learning curve, but Phoenix would give him the best opportunity to progress at his own pace without the burden of immediate team expectations.
5. Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox, G, Kentucky
At No. 5, one of the more likely scenarios is also the most sensible. The Kings could certainly use Jayson Tatum’s scoring on the wing, but finding a long-term franchise point guard is a more pressing concern.
With Buddy Hield-Ranadive seemingly entrenched at shooting guard for the foreseeable future, Fox’s defensive abilities would mesh well with Hield’s score-first mentality, and he’d be given the reins to an offense void of playmakers. Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are set to be unrestricted free agents, leaving Garrett Temple and Arron Afflalo as the only guards under contract next season (Langston Galloway has a player option). Even in the highly unlikely event that Collison and Lawson are retained, Fox would instantly leap both players on the depth chart with the Kings finally embracing a rebuild.
Fox could struggle to score as a rookie if his jumper is as shaky as it was at Kentucky, but landing in Sacramento would entail a large enough workload to rack up ample assists, rebounds and steals numbers.
6. Orlando Magic
Jayson Tatum, F, Duke
The Magic have done nothing but tread water since the departure of Dwight Howard, and six years later the future of the franchise remains murky, at best. A few woefully shortsighted moves and a series of bad drafts cost Rob Hennigan his job, but his fingerprints are still all over a roster stocked with mostly mediocre talent.
The Magic will give strong consideration to Jonathan Isaac if he’s on the board, and a point guard -- likely Dennis Smith or Frank Ntilikina -- could also be in play if the organization isn’t fully sold on Elfrid Payton’ mildly resurgent 2016-17 campaign. But neither Smith nor Ntilikina are knockdown shooters -- Payton’s glaring weakness (27.4% 3PT last season) -- so a scoring wing makes sense for a team that ranked fourth-last in scoring and second-last in offensive rating last season.
Like Monk, Tatum won’t be able to fill it up as effortlessly at the NBA level as he did in college, but if he lands in Orlando he’ll be a darkhorse candidate to lead all rookies in scoring. With prototypical size, length and athleticism for an NBA three, Tatum would immediately slide into the starting lineup at small forward, teaming with Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier in what would be a reasonably fun wing rotation.
Gordon showed encouraging flashes after the All-Star break, but he’s probably never going to be a No. 1 option offensively, and Fournier and Ross, despite being relatively young, are what they are at this point. Tatum would represent Orlando’s best chance at a perennial 20-point-per-game scorer, and on a team with low expectations would have an opportunity to be an immediate fantasy producer -- mostly as a scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter -- as a rookie.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
Minnesota has two of the 10 best offensive players under 25 in the league, but the Wolves were eaten alive defensively last season, allowing 106.7 points per game while throwing up the NBA’s fourth-worst defensive rating. Isaac is exactly the type of switchy forward Tom Thibodeau could use alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, relieving Towns -- and to a lesser degree, Gorgui Dieng -- from chasing smaller stretch-fours around the perimeter.
In Minnesota, Isaac wouldn’t be asked to pull a ton of weight offensively -- less than ideal from a fantasy perspective -- but it would be foolish for any team to entrust a large scoring burden to Isaac right away. The freshman had a tendency to disappear, at times, last season, and of all the elite one-and-dones in this draft, Isaac has the most room to improve, offensively. That makes him difficult to project as a rookie, but his length and versatility on the other end should be enough to keep him on the floor regardless of where he lands.
8. New York Knicks
Dennis Smith, G, North Carolina State
Let’s assume, in a stroke of unrestrained competence, the Knicks don’t try to re-sign Derrick Rose. In that scenario, finding a point guard becomes even more of a priority. Smith isn’t the perfect fit for the triangle, but he’s the best talent available and his prime lines up with that of Kristaps Porzingis.
Of course, history suggests the Knicks will bring back Rose or go shopping for a veteran point guard in free agency. Ultimately, it depends on how realistically management views the team’s chances to compete (hint: not great) next season. If the Knicks accept a Porzingis-led rebuild and Smith lands in New York, he’d conceivably be handed the starting job, even if he’s not quite ready. The same couldn’t be said for Lauri Markkanen or Frank Ntilikina.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Donovan Mitchell, G, Louisville
A few months ago, Mitchell was a mid-20s prospect, but a strong showing at the Combine boosted his stock to the point that he’s a near-lock for the lottery. Dallas has plenty of needs, and while Zach Collins and Lauri Markkanen might be better real-life fits, they would have to contend for minutes with veterans Dirk Nowitzki, Nerlens Noel and Dwight Powell.
That’s not to say Mitchell wouldn’t face any resistance -- Wes Matthews, J.J. Barea and Seth Curry are still under contract -- but Dallas had one of the shallowest backcourts in the league last season, and Mitchell’s ability to play and defend both guard spots would be a reprieve for the NBA’s lowest-scoring team in 2016-17.
10. Sacramento Kings
Zach Collins, F/C, Gonzaga
After nabbing Fox at five to solidify the backcourt, the Kings address a frontcourt that committed a ton of fouls and allowed the third-highest shooting percentage at the rim (67.8% FG) last season.
Willie Cauley-Stein has his moments, and Skal Labissiere’s late-season mini-breakout was a nice surprise, but would you really bet that either of those guys turn into an All-Star? Me neither.
Collins didn’t start a game at Gonzaga, but he showed enough in fewer than 18 minutes per game to become the Zags’ first ever one-and-done. A legit seven-footer with soft touch around the rim and advanced shot-blocking skills, Collins also flashed the ability to step out beyond the three-point line, something Cauley-Stein doesn’t offer. If Sacramento accepts a rebuild as it should, Collins could be in position to play more minutes as an NBA rookie than as an All-American college freshman.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Frank Ntilikina, G, International
Ntilikina is a tough prospect to place in this context, as he probably won’t be ready to be a major contributor regardless of where he lands. Barring offseason moves, the Hornets’ seven-man rotation is virtually set. Charlotte could certainly shop Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb or one of its redundant big men, but if we’re to assume the roster remains relatively constant, Ntilikina would have an opportunity to step in as the backup to Kemba Walker. Last season’s No. 2, Ramon Sessions, has a $6.3 million team option
this summer, while Brian Roberts and Aaron Harrison are both unrestricted.
With hopes of returning to the playoffs next season, the Hornets might not be in the business of developing a project player, but Ntilikina has to go somewhere, and more NBA-ready prospects like Justin Jackson, Luke Kennard and John Collins wouldn’t necessarily have cakewalks to fantasy-viable workloads right away, either.
12. Detroit Pistons
Justin Jackson, G, North Carolina
The Pistons have made it clear this pick is up for grabs, so there’s a good chance whichever prospect comes off the board at 12 won’t be going to Detroit. Nonetheless, if the Pistons can’t find a deal, one of either Jackson or Luke Kennard would make sense, from a fantasy perspective.
As it stands right now, Detroit is locked into at least two more years of: Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic and Marcus Morris -- not to mention the $16 million in welfare checks owed to Josh Smith over the next three seasons. After a woefully underwhelming year, virtually the entire roster will be available to the highest bidder this summer, but regardless of who’s back, the Pistons need to add shooting after ranking 26th in three-point attempts and 28th in three-point efficiency last season.
Depending on what happens with restricted-free-agent-to-be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit could have a hole to fill at shooting guard. While Jackson wouldn’t simply absorb Caldwell-Pope’s 33 minutes per game, he’d virtually have to be a rotation player, unless Detroit makes significant additions via trade, which, again, is a real possibility.
13. Denver Nuggets
John Collins, F, Wake Forest
The Nuggets already have their building block in Nikola Jokic, and the young backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris carries plenty of promise. While Collins doesn’t have superstar potential, he’s still relatively early in his development as a late-blooming prospect, and he’d be a nice fit alongside Jokic up front. With Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur all under contract next season, Collins wouldn’t be a massive impact player in Year 1, but unless he ends up in Brooklyn that’s going to be the case no matter what.
14. Miami Heat
Lauri Markkanen, F, Arizona
Markkanen probably won’t fall this far on draft night, but Miami would be a perfect destination for the seven-foot sharpshooter. Markkanen struggles defensively and is an average-at-best rebounder for his size, but Hassan Whiteside would help mask those deficiencies, with Markkanen providing much-needed spacing for a team that started Luke Babbitt 55 times last season.
Markkanen could face a steep learning curve in Year 1, but his outside shooting should translate well, even if he’s a major work in progress on the other end.