What happens when two college basketball writers attempt to predict the future of professional franchises, while occasionally ridiculing each other about how bad a job they’re doing?
Behold: The first-ever Shot Takers mock NBA Draft.
In all seriousness, Dana O’Neil has finished a raucous trip around the high school graduation circuit. I somehow have time in my day that is not occupied by youth sports. So we figured we’d use what we know about college hoops — which is, you know, something — and do what we do best: tell other people what they should do, while trying to again prove which one of us is smarter. Draft SZN is right in our wheelhouse, when you think about it.
We’ll run through a full first round of selections, alternating picks as we go. And Dana is on the clock.
Dana: The world needs more mock drafts, Brian. Or at least more like ours, where not only is there ridicule, but also a tacit admission that we are basing this on our own opinions, and not a whole lot more. Like no conversations with insiders or even a real look at good fits. Just picks.
So here we go.
1. Orlando Magic — Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
Dana: With that in mind, Orlando, you are taking Chet Holmgren. Plenty of people want to say what Holmgren isn’t, or isn’t yet, and I get it. He is my son’s spirit animal (because my 18-year-old son is 6-3 and 155 on a good day). But I watched Holmgren play an awful lot this year, and his skill set and talent are simply too unique to bypass. Come at me, Hamilton.
2. Oklahoma City — Jabari Smith, Auburn
Brian: Orlando is a place of magic and wonder and amusement park rides featuring various mythical beasts. Chet should feel right at home. In the meantime, the Thunder take advantage of your dice roll by selecting the best pro prospect in this draft. Impeccable shooting stroke. Size and athleticism and willingness to defend multiple positions. Still only 19, which means all the wrinkles can and likely will be worked out over time. The people of OKC can celebrate my genius over a Rye’d Or D’IPA from Anthem.
3. Houston — Paolo Banchero, Duke
Dana: Listen, Smith is going to be a great pro. I can’t argue that, and certainly he’s more ready-made. But I believe your gloating will be tempered soon enough when Holmgren hushes all of you skeptics. I will stand by my bold choice. And … that said, I’m playing it safe with Banchero here. Could I argue pushing Jaden Ivey here? Sure. But Banchero is the smart and obvious pick. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s good.
4. Sacramento — Keegan Murray, Iowa
Brian: I know Ivey is everyone’s prediction here. And I think Ivey will be a heck of a pro. I also see a roster with De’Aaron Fox on it, and while I tend to think you can’t have enough big guards, I’m also leaning on my aforementioned genius to avoid redundancy and build a more complete team. The guy with size and scoring ability at all levels fits in anywhere. Plus, I bet the Kings trade this pick and all of this is meaningless.
5. Detroit — Jaden Ivey, Purdue
Dana: Many, many thanks for leaving Ivey here, Brian. Not just because his athleticism is silly ridiculous, but as a complement to Cade Cunningham? Chef’s kiss. Ivey can get to the rim, which means Cunningham doesn’t have to do everything alone, and because Cunningham is a great shot-maker already, Ivey will have time to develop his mid-range jumper. Win-win.
6. Indiana — Shaedon Sharpe, Kentucky (kind of)
Brian: I was about ready to call for your theoretical firing as theoretical Pistons GM had you not gone with Ivey there. You theoretically live another theoretical day. Moving on: What was your favorite Shaedon Sharpe college basketball memory, Dana? Was it the time he was in warmups, or … the time he was in warmups? Anyhoo, it’s the NBA. The Pacers are in a position to take a why-not flier, because it’s a long road back whether they miss on Sharpe or not.
7. Portland — Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona
Dana: Sharpe’s college career, I mean, it does just leave a person nostalgic, doesn’t it? This is why the NBA will confound me forever. I’d love to argue with you and say, why would they take him? Based on what, exactly? But you’re 100 percent right. It’s the NBA. As for me, I was tempted to kind of go wild card here (though I won’t spill my wild card), but how can you pass up Mathurin if you’re the Trail Blazers and trying to put this thing back together? He’s athletic, a more than average shooter. Just makes sense. I think?
8. New Orleans — A.J. Griffin, Duke
Brian: First, I must note that I have now moved my draft offices to my deck, where we have new and comfy chairs. It is possible I may be a virtual GM who literally gets caught napping in this exercise. Second: You’re probably not welcome in the Big Easy anymore after that selection. Some voodoo priestess in a swamp wearing a Zion jersey is cursing you at this very moment. To offset the disappointment, we go with Griffin on the premise that he can shoot and that the Pelicans have enough, otherwise, as Griffin gradually improves everything else.
9. San Antonio — Jalen Duren, Memphis
Dana: You are an inspiration. I just looked outside at my deck and thought, “Why am I in here again?” Greetings. Anyway, you also may not be welcome in New Orleans. I can’t argue Griffin’s ability to shoot, but he’s struggled with knee injuries. And after the Zion fiasco, can NOLA fans stomach another Duke player who may miss time? As for Duren, I’m still not sure how someone that physically gifted can be only 18. A 7-5 wingspan? Like how?
10. Washington — Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
Brian: Not sure that actually explains why Duren was the pick, but I’ll assume you’re saving that material for the press conference. In our nation’s capital, meanwhile, the defense is … not good. It is bad defense, that these Wizards play. So this was an extremely tough call. Do you go with rim protection or someone who, eventually, might lock up guys at three or maybe even four spots, depending? I decided to effectively make a non-decision here and just go with an older guy with a championship pedigree who won’t need a ton of shots running with Bradley Beal and will bust his ass defensively, even if he’s not going to be elite on that end.
11. New York —Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
Dana: I no longer feel the need to explain myself to you, sir. But if you insist, I went with Duren because he’s NBA ready and Jakob Poeltl is in his last year of his contract. Kind of like the Wizards, Davis cannot solve all that ails the Knicks, but he’s a terrific shooter and creator, which should help a team that ranked dead last in the put-the-ball-in-the-hoop category this season.
12. Oklahoma City — Dyson Daniels, G League Ignite
Brian: Second pick I’m making for the Thunder here, which, of course, is exactly what fans of this franchise want to see. (They may force the team to move back to Seattle by the time I’m done with them.) Our NBA Draft guru Sam Vecenie has Ousmane Dieng here in his most recent mock, and I’ll defer to Sam on evaluating international prospects every day of the week. I can’t stay awake to catch the end of 9 p.m. (CT) tipoffs, let alone Australian NBL games. But we took care of size and scoring with Jabari Smith, so let’s add another dose of high-ceiling defensive potential with Daniels.
13. Charlotte — Mark Williams, Duke
Dana: I saw Australian NBL games live and in person when I went to write about RJ Hampton. Does that count? OK, so sometimes you don’t need to be clever — especially if you peruse a few other people’s draft boards and find 100 percent consensus, as there seems to be with Williams and the Hornets. It makes sense. He’s a traditional big man, a great rim protector and the perfect match for LaMelo Ball.
14. Cleveland — Malaki Branham, Ohio State
Brian: Nope, no need to be too cute by half with that pick: Charlotte will have had eyes on Williams all year, and then those eyes probably popped out of their sockets with Williams’ official measurements. And, hey, let’s stick with a theme here. Branham shoots and scores. If geography means anything, this franchise has as good a read on Branham and why he came so far, so fast for Ohio State. And Cleveland could use a guard or two. Makes a lot of sense.
15. Charlotte — Jeremy Sochan, Baylor
Dana: Do you think Michael Jordan will hire me? I think Michael Jordan should hire me. Sochan is the player I wanted to be daring and take with the seventh pick but chickened out. I honestly think he’s going to be fantastic wherever he lands, but he also happens to suit the Hornets very well. He’s wildly versatile offensively, already terrific defensively with a ton of upside. Give me a ring, MJ. Let’s talk.
16. Atlanta — Ousmane Dieng, New Zealand Breakers
Brian: As regular readers of this here website might know: I am terrible at drafting. Any draft, of anything. So, one, I was going to pick Sochan here because we probably made a very large mistake of not picking Sochan earlier. Our oversight there won’t age well. But, naturally, you scooped him up first. And now as I peruse the Hawks’ roster, I see a glaring need for some help defensively but also not a whole lot of playing time available, because I want to give the minutes to my young core and continue growing them. So I’m thinking I grab a high-potential piece who sits on the end of the bench for a couple seasons and is then ready to contribute when Trae Young and Co. enter their prime years. Have I ever seen Ousmane Dieng play basketball for, like, a minute? I have not. In other words: This is definitely the wrong idea, because I always have the wrong idea.
17. Houston — TyTy Washington, Kentucky
Dana: Your record does, in fact, speak for itself. Not kindly, I’d add. So this could be fun. As for me and my continued brilliance, I’m going to operate under the assumption that Washington will follow in the footsteps of other Kentucky guards and be even better as a pro than a college player. I know his numbers deteriorated later in the season, but I also know he had some injuries and lots of things deteriorated late in the season for the Cats.
18. Chicago — Tari Eason, LSU
Brian: The Chicago Bulls always pick the Tari Eason of the draft. This is immutable NBA Draft law. Whatever the guy’s name is, wherever he is from, no matter who is in charge of this franchise, the Bulls will pick the Tari Eason of the draft. This year’s Tari Eason is Tari Eason. Therefore the Bulls will pick Tari Eason.
19. Minnesota — E.J. Liddell, Ohio State
Dana: You sound a bit beaten down about the Bulls, Brian. Am I reading those tea leaves, correctly? So Liddell is a grown-up, which always seems like a wise choice to me. Also, he can switch defensively and protect the rim, which is a nice addition for Karl Anthony-Towns.
20. San Antonio — Blake Wesley, Notre Dame
Brian: The Bulls are gonna Bulls. Chicagoans know this. Moving along: Remember, Dana, when you said we were doing this without any insider information? Ha! You fool! Behold my insidery-ness: A person who may or may not be Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told me recently that Wesley had a very good workout for San Antonio. And, actually, Wesley does project as a very Spurs-ish guard, at least in my mind. Have I just guaranteed that Blake Wesley will not be picked by the San Antonio Spurs? Probably yes!
21. Denver — Jalen Williams, Santa Clara
Dana: We said there would be no knowledge, Brian! What are you doing, soliciting insight? Although it is Brey. Well, I’m standing by my own rules, and just doing this blind (while reading lots of other draft boards). Williams, from what I know (or have read) has created a lot of attention for himself thanks to his combo defensive skills and offensive versatility. That especially suits the very position-less Nuggets.
22. Memphis — Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee
Brian: What do you get the team that has everything? Someone who doesn’t have to play a ton right away but, in an ideal world, winds up outperforming the doubts and gives you lottery-level value in the 20s. This might still be too early for Baldwin, given how off-the-rails his lone college season became. The Grizzlies have other picks, including another first-rounder, with which they can make this gamble. But there’s also not a franchise-killing downside to a move like this. And, well, I get to do what I want. So there.
23. Philadelphia — Nikola Jovic, Serbia
Dana: Is The Process still a thing? I don’t even know anymore. I long ago stopped trying to honestly understand the Sixers. Seems an easier place to operate. And operating from that point, I’m going to go with a player that makes people in Philly will go, “huh?” and might actually be a really good choice. Not that I can say I’ve seen him play, but from what I heard he suits the NBA perfectly.
24. Milwaukee — Walker Kessler, Auburn
Brian: And there are those who believe you have your fingers on the pulse of all things Philly basketball. Little do they know how little you know about The Process, with your mind clouded by Taylor ham somewhere on LBI. As for the Bucks … can I trade out of this predicament? Anyone want the 24th pick? I can throw in some New Glarus Moon Man as a sweetener, because this seems harder than it should be. The Bucks need someone to help right now. Over the long haul of the regular season, they were top five in 3-point shooting, the best defensive rebounding team in the league and more or less comfortably in the top half as a collective defensive unit. I kind of want to go with Jaylin Williams here, for glue-guy-with-size purposes. But my gut says it’s slightly too early for Wiliams and the Bucks have only one pick, so they’re maybe looking for more of a known quantity? And we know Kessler can block shots, for a team that didn’t do that in great volume last season.
25. San Antonio — Jaden Hardy, G League Ignite
Dana: No give-backs. You’re stuck with it. So I’m going with the idea of the Spurs as sound franchise, looking to develop in the long term. Hardy is just 19, and the structure of San Antonio, by all accounts, will be good for him. He’s got a decent shot and good handle but room to grow in both.
26. Dallas — Dalen Terry, Arizona
Brian: I can sort of see the logic there. Part of me thinks Wesley and Hardy as consecutive picks in the 20s would be unnecessarily redundant. But the former is definitely a willing passer, and the latter is definitely score-first, so maybe it works. I suppose I’ll allow it. As for the Fightin’ Doncics, it’s probably going to be a backcourt piece here unless they’re beyond certain Jalen Brunson will re-sign. Terry has similar length to Doncic, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. If I have two 6-7 or 6-8 guys who can run the show, I feel pretty good about matching up with anyone most nights. Also considered Kennedy Chandler here, but I’m not sure Jason Kidd will buy into a 6-foot guard surviving in this league.
27. Miami — Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee
Dana: Well, I’ll subscribe to it. Take that, Jason Kidd. And look, I don’t know what they list Kyle Lowry at these days, but I know Kyle Lowry. He’s not huge. And he’s done alright with the Heat. Frankly, the knock on Chandler — about his less than reliable jumper — is the same question that dogged Lowry coming out of Villanova. And again, he turned out just fine.
28. Golden State — Kendall Brown, Baylor
Brian: Kennedy Chandler in Miami? That I can see, for the aforementioned philosophical reasons and also because the Heat can take a chance on a guy who’s probably getting picked lower than he should, if we’re going on talent alone. Think I’m going to stick with that general approach here, for the team on the other side of the country that doesn’t have a ton of holes. I watch the Warriors, and my first instinct is to add size. Plenty of big wings to choose from, including more polished prospects. Probably too early to snag some of the true bigs left out there. I make the upside bet with value here; Brown is big and bouncy enough to do a lot of the little things early on, even if his offense doesn’t rate quite yet.
29. Memphis — Caleb Houstan, Michigan
Dana: He must have known something to decline the combine invite, right? As you mentioned before, the Grizzlies are in a position to take a gamble or two, so why not give Houstan a go? There’s a hint of something there, with the jumper, and with a chance to develop and grow, maybe this works. Or maybe it won’t. I am at the point of befuddlement.
30. Oklahoma City — Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest
You’re befuddled just now? Houstan is landing somewhere in the first round, for sure. Who knows where. But we had to get him in here because clearly he has a promise, so thanks for taking care of that. As for the final selection here, we’ve got a reported trade, with the Nuggets snagging another first-round pick in a deal with Oklahoma City. A mystery! Who does Denver covet, believing he will be there at No. 30? Or is this a play to trade both firsts to move up or acquire a veteran? Part of me wonders if this is G League prospect MarJon Beauchamp, as the starting rotation is locked in and solid when healthy. But maybe it’s someone who blew the braintrust away in workouts. Of those players, LaRavia makes sense as a plug-and-play rotation piece who can be effective on both ends, including as an asset to improve a pretty porous defense.
So that’s it, Dana. We have mocked, and now the readers can mock back in the comments. But I don’t know. I feel pretty good about our keen eye for talent. In fact, I’m not sure The Athletic should’ve let us do this, what with all the lucrative player personnel job offers that will come our way.
Dana: Yes. I figure Michael Jordan will be calling as soon as this thing is published. Heck, I may be in the draft room.
(Top photo of Chet Holmgren: Kyle Terada / USA Today)