The top of the lottery
For this NBA mock draft, we’ll be going with a draft order for the lottery based on current odds and projections (and the tiebreakers). The lottery has gone absolutely according to plan once in the previous 34 years since it was instituted in 1985, so there is a chance — however small — it will end up in this order.
The New York Knicks get their guy in Zion Williamson, the freshman sensation at Duke who was the consensus national player of the year as well as being named the top freshman in the country and won the Karl Malone Award as the nation’s top power forward.
Think of Williamson as a generational Charles Barkley, a bit undersized at first glance for the 4 at 6-foot-6, but at 280 pounds with athleticism to burn, Williamson will be just fine at the NBA level.
Williamson is an explosive dunker, but that’s not all he brings to the table — not even close.
Williamson missed five games with a knee injury but averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks in 30.0 minutes per game for the Blue Devils, shooting 68 percent overall and 33.8 percent on 2.2 attempts per game from deep.
Staying in shape is a primary concern for Williamson with his bulk. It’s the one potential red flag for a guy who looks to be one of the best prospects to come through the pipeline in years.
This could change, as the Cavaliers are believed to have gotten their point guard of the future in last year’s draft with Collin Sexton.
But Ja Morant has checks in a lot of the important boxes. He’s got great handles and can pass and finish at a high level. He exploded onto the scene with a huge sophomore year at Murray State, averaging 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 36.6 minutes per game.
He shot 36.3 percent on 4.8 deep tries a game, a big improvement over his 30.7 percent mark as a freshman, and hit 49.9 percent overall. He’s also a solid foul shooter at 81.3 percent on 8.2 attempts a game.
The questions for Morant will have to do with level of competition — the Ohio Valley Conference isn’t exactly a premier league.
The Phoenix Suns could change their dynamic by adding R.J. Barrett, a player who began the college basketball season as the favorite to go No. 1 overall before Zion Williamson exploded onto the scene.
Barrett put up 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 35.3 minutes per game as a freshman at Duke, shooting 45.4 percent overall, but a disappointing 30.8 percent on 6.2 triple tries a night.
But Barrett certainly has the size to be a combo wing at the 2-3 positions and would allow the Suns to commit to Devin Booker as a scoring point guard.
The Chicago Bulls invested heavily in Zach LaVine, but Jarrett Culver is a wing prospect with terrific length who got better at creating shots for himself and others while playing a significant amount of time at the point as a sophomore.
Culver was the Big 12 Player of the Year and led Texas Tech to its first-ever Final Four appearance while averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.5 minutes per game.
He shot 46.1 percent overall, but only 30.4 percent on 4.2 3-point tries per game and his jump shot will need some refinement, as he’s got a very slow and methodical delivery at this point.
Hunter can play the wing or go to the 4 and would give the Hawks a dynamic set of forwards.
He’s just about NBA-ready as a defender already and can guard wings or bigs. Hunter blew up as a sophomore after coming off the bench as a freshman, averaging 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 32.5 minutes per game while shooting 52 percent overall and 43.8 percent from deep on 2.8 tries per game.