The NBA draft is all about adding talent.
And there are ways to do it beyond simply selecting a prospect in your designated draft slot.
Trades are always on the table, and they could come in even greater supply this summer. Between teams looking to recover from disappointing 2023-24 campaigns, and the entire league mindful of the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, conditions could be perfect for a trading frenzy.
We’ll get the hypothetical wheeling and dealing started here, as we’re putting together three deals to shake up the lottery portion of this mock first round.
As soon as the Spurs snagged the No. 1 pick, Victor Wembanyama could’ve started scouting the Alamo City’s real estate market.
This is the no-brainiest of no-brainers the basketball world has seen in decades. Wembanyama offers an upside unseen since…ever? It’s hard to talk about what his future holds without sounding as if you’re speaking in hyperbolic terms, but this league has never seen a talent like this.
He is 7’5″ with a sweeping 8’0″ wingspan, and he offers all of the normal interior strengths—shot-blocking, finishing, glass-cleaning—you’d expect from someone his size. Where his ceiling exceeds Earth’s atmosphere, though, is in all of the modern enhancements in his game, like handles, outside shooting and playmaking.
This draft really starts at No. 2 where the Hornets must decide between Miller and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson. Charlotte could go either direction if it sees a clear-cut best prospect between the two.
If the Hornets value Miller and Henderson roughly the same, though, they might let positional needs enter the equation. Since LaMelo Ball already resides in Buzz City, that could be what tips the scale in Miller’s favor.
“I think we can be a little bit picky and take into consideration not only the overall talent but also the position,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters.
It’s also possible Charlotte could simply view Miller as the superior prospect. The 6’9″, 200-pounder fits the coveted big wing scorer archetype. He can score from all over, defend multiple positions and create scoring chances off the dribble.
Orlando Magic receive: Anfernee Simons and No. 3 pick
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Harris, No. 6 pick and No. 11 pick
The availability of this pick might be the worst-kept secret in basketball. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe relayed, Portland is expected “to explore the kind of veteran help that pick—plus other players—might fetch for Damian Lillard.
While Blazers fans are surely dreaming of bigger names than those listed here, Portland doesn’t appear one player away from climbing the standings. Adding a pair of plug-and-play veterans in Carter and Harris would deepen this roster, and the club could explore additional opportunities by moving down the board.
Carter is a rock-solid center who can anchor the defensive end and juice the offense as a screen-setter, finisher and ball-mover. Harris is a top-shelf on-ball defender who just buried 43.1 percent of his long-range looks. Both would be effortless fits alongside Lillard (and, ideally, Jerami Grant).
Orlando, meanwhile, might be incentivized to pounce if Henderson slips this far. The Magic have a few intriguing options at point guard (Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony), but the hyper-explosive Henderson has a ceiling that sits several stories above the rest. Adding him and Simons to a core that includes Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner might give Orlando one of the league’s brightest long-term outlooks.
The Rockets clearly have an interest in launching themselves up the league standings this summer. With the 2024 first-rounder they owe the Oklahoma City Thunder holding only top-four protection, they have no incentive to stay down. That’s why names like James Harden, Khris Middleton and Jaylen Brown have been mentioned as potential targets, per Yahoo
Sports’ Jake Fischer.
It’s possible, then, Houston could shop this pick, but with consensus being this is a three-player draft at the top, the potential return in a trade doesn’t feel worth the risk. Not when Thompson seems like a such clear fit for this franchise.
The Rockets desperately need more defense and distributing, and those happen to be his greatest strengths. His playmaking could tie this team together, and his defensive approach could be nothing short of a culture-changer. Tack on explosiveness that even Jalen Green may not match, and Thompson has enough positives to outweigh the concerns about his outside shot.
The entire Motor City might still be reeling from this franchise’s misfortunes on draft night. The Pistons lost a league-worst 65 games this pastseason and only came away with the No. 5 pick to show for all of those defeats. That’s brutal—even with the recognition the Pistons will still get a good prospect in this spot.
Among the many options Detroit can consider, Whitmore probably does best tight-roping between talent and fit. He could stand to tighten his handle and fine-tune his jumper, but otherwise his bag is plenty deep. He has one of the better first steps in this draft, jumps out of the gym and has the physical tools to be an impact defender on and off the ball.
The Pistons’ lone 20-point scorer this season was 34-year-old Bojan Bogdanović, whose poor timeline fit with the franchise makes him a favorite among trade-machine enthusiasts. Whitmore’s potential as a walking bucket and fit as an impact wing should have him headed to Detroit.
San Antonio Spurs receive: Jusuf Nurkić, Keon Johnson and No. 6 pick
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Keldon Johnson
After adding two potential starters by flipping the No. 3 pick, Portland could gain a third by luring Keldon Johnson away from the Spurs.
On the surface, Johnson looks a member of San Antonio’s core as a 23-year-old who just averaged 22 points per game. Yet, he may not be guaranteed a starting spot going forward, and after backtracking as an outside shooter (32.9 percent, down from 39.8), it’s possible he’s an inside-the-arc scoring specialist.
The Blazers are better positioned to make the most of him, since they’d have (at least) Lillard and (assuming he re-signs) Grant ahead of Johnson on the offensive pecking order. And should Portland ever need to pull the plug on the idea of winning big with Lillard, Johnson is young enough to keep around (ditto for Wendell Carter Jr. from our previous trade at No. 3).
The Spurs might see more value in the No. 6 pick—enough to both let go of Keldon Johnson and take on the remainder of Jusuf Nurkic’s deal. The Spurs have cap space to burn anyway, and they could lean on Nurkić to absorb some of the interior wear-and-tear that Wembanyama isn’t ready to handle. Maybe their famed developmental program could squeeze something of value out of Keon Johnson, too.
The big draw, though, is the pick, and here San Antonio would spend it on Ausar Thompson. Like his twin brother, Amen, Ausar has all of the physical tools to become an elite defender. He isn’t quite as good of a playmaker, but his shooting offers more room for optimism.
The Pacers might race to the podium if Hendricks makes it to No. 7. They have a glaring void at the power forward spot, and he could be the perfect prospect to fill it.
His fit with Myles Turner would be seamless. Both are impact defenders who offer both paint protection and the ability to switch on the perimeter. Like Turner, Hendricks would also be a great pick-and-choose partner with Tyrese Haliburton, since Hendricks can either pop out for jumpers or roll and finish at the rim.
Hendricks’ ceiling is hard to set, since he didn’t exactly face murderer’s row during his one-and-done season in college. (Houston was the only ranked opponent UCF faced.) With his skill set and motor, though, it’s easy to picture him becoming at least a rotation-quality three-and-D player with the chance to become (much) more.
The Wizards have needed help at the point guard position since John Wall went on the decline. They’ve needed defensive upgrades for even longer. The last time Washington had a top-15 defense—not a great unit, just an average one—was 2017-18.
Black would help the Wizards on both fronts. He reads the floor like a quarterback and can make every pass. At 6’6″, he can see over defenses and open lanes smaller guards just physically can’t. On defense, he’s a versatile chess piece who creates chaos off the ball.
His scoring potential is murky at best, as he’s had trouble both separating from defenders and shooting with any consistency. But if Washington runs it back with Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porziņģis, they should have enough scoring to offset Black’s limitations.
The Jazz were an active outside shooting team this season—ranking seventh in makes and fifth in attempts—they just weren’t a particularly accurate one. They connected on just 35.3 percent of their long-range looks (20th) and have a real need for spacers to prevent opposing teams from crowding Lauri Markkanen.
Dick could instantly buy them that breathing room. He has a strong argument for being the draft’s best shooter after converting 83 triples at a 40.3 percent clip. He also has the ability to launch in any situation, and he is constantly on the move.
He doesn’t have a lot of burst, but he can attack overzealous closeouts. He’ll also be targeted defensively for his lack of strength and quickness, but effort isn’t an issue on that end, and he knows where and when to rotate.
Phoenix Suns receive: No. 10 pick, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock and JaVale McGee
Dallas Mavericks receive: Deandre Ayton
The Mavericks need to turn this pick into an instant-impact player, and they might have that chance with Ayton, the No. 1 pick in 2018, seemingly wearing out his welcome in Phoenix. If the Suns are ready to move on, the Mavericks might be ready to pounce on a potential interior anchor who could be a productive pick-and-roll partner for Luka Dončić (and Kyrie Irving, he if re-signs).
“More than one NBA source said they expect Dallas to be a likely destination for Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton,” B/R’s Eric Pincus reported. “Dončić and Ayton share an agent (Bill Duffy of WME Sports) and are said to have a good relationship.”
If the Suns send Ayton out, they need to get depth in return. This deal would deliver it. Bullock is a three-and-D wing, Hardaway is an ignitable shooter and McGee, who spent the 2021-22 season in Phoenix, is a low-maintenance rim-runner. All three could crack the regular-season rotation.
It’s hard to say whether the same would apply to Walker, who could conceivably be shipped out to a third team for more immediate help. If he stayed with the Suns, though, he might find a niche as a versatile defender, interior finisher and willing passer.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (via Magic): Jordan Hawkins, SG, UConn
The idea of keeping this pick and using it on Hawkins would be similar to the strategy behind acquiring Wendell Carter Jr. and Keldon Johnson: getting players who can contribute now and grow into bigger roles whenever Damian Lillard departs. Hawkins’ outside shot is rotation-ready, and he’ll have chances to grow his off-the-dribble game.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cason Wallace, PG/SG, Kentucky
The Thunder have bigger needs than the backcourt, but they could still be in the business of taking the best player available. Wallace can fit the bill as a defense-first guard who can create for others and attack downhill.
13. Toronto Raptors: Nick Smith Jr., PG/SG, Arkansas
Toronto’s needs are tricky to identify without knowing its offseason approach, but it’s almost always best for lottery teams to go with talent over fit. Smith has plenty of that as an ignitable scorer with the handles to ditch defenders and the confidence to pull from anywhere.
14. New Orleans Pelicans: Keyonte George, SG, Baylor
The Pelicans have enough depth to absorb some risk and throw a dart at someone like George. His results at Baylor were up-and-down, but if he pans out, he could become a featured scorer who feasts on outside shots and point-blank chances.
15. Atlanta Hawks: GG Jackson, PF, South Carolina
The youngest player in this class, Jackson could get the developmental time he needs behind John Collins and Jalen Johnson in Atlanta. If the Hawks ace Jackson’s development, they could one day have an athletic scorer and plus defender.
16. Utah Jazz (via MIN): Dariq Whitehead, SG/SF, Duke
Time is on Utah’s side, so it can invest in Whitehead and hope the injury issues that bothered him at Duke will be put to bed following a second surgery on his right foot. He had a great shooting season (42.9 percent from deep), but Utah would be banking on him getting back the creation and athleticism he showed in high school.
17. Los Angeles Lakers: Jett Howard, SG/SF, Michigan
The Lakers saved their season by aggressively adding three-point shooting at the trade deadline. Spending this pick on Howard would further those efforts. He’s a 6’8″ shooter with a high enough IQ to create scoring chances for his teammates.
18. Miami Heat: Leonard Miller, SF/PF, G League Ignite
Miller might be more exciting in theory than reality right now, but the Heat could view him as their latest bargain-bin find. His consistency must improve across the board, but if it does, you’re talking about a 6’10” wing or big with handles, scoring touch, disruptive defense and an outside shot.
19. Golden State Warriors: Kris Murray, PF, Iowa
Murray isn’t the same caliber of prospect his twin brother Keegan was last year (No. 4 pick), but there is a similar rotation-ready blend of shot-making, transition scoring and defensive versatility. Golden State needs to expand its rotation with cheap contributors, and Murray could handle not insignificant minutes out of the gate.
20. Houston Rockets: Jalen Hood-Schifino, PG/SG, Indiana
If the Rockets practice patience with Hood-Schifino, he could make them look smart down the line. He was wildly inconsistent at Indiana, but when he had it rolling, he flashed playmaking, off-the-dribble scoring and disruptive defense.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via PHO): Brice Sensabaugh, SG, Ohio State
The Nets need to give Mikal Bridges more scoring help, and Sensabaugh already seems up to the task. He doesn’t have many layers to his game late, but scoring is an obvious strength. He netted an impressive 26.6 points per 40 minutes on 48/40.5/83 shooting.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Rayan Rupert, SG/SF, NZ Breakers
With back-to-back picks here, Brooklyn can take on some risk. Rupert has a limited track record and needs some serious seasoning on offense, but his defensive potential is enormous. He’s a high-energy stopper on and off the ball, and his 7’3″ wingspan only enhances that effort.
23. Portland Trail Blazers (via NYK): Dereck Lively II, C, Duke
The Trail Blazers could double up on the center spot and grab Lively, another Duke product, to back up Carter from our earlier trade at No. 3. Lively doesn’t offer much offensive skill, but his shot-blocking, rebounding and high-percentage finishing could get him into the rotation quickly.
24. Sacramento Kings: Colby Jones, PG/SG, Xavier
If the Kings are buying Jones’ improvement as a shooter (37.8 percent from three this season, 30.3 the two years prior), they could see him as a steal. He can play anywhere along the perimeter and fill all kinds of cracks as a defender, table-setter, decision-maker and, hopefully, shot-maker.
25. Memphis Grizzlies: James Nnaji, C, Barcelona
The Grizzlies could be in the market for size after losing both Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke to injury this season. Nnaji offers plenty of it at 6’10” with a 7’7″ wingspan. He plays with plenty of strength and effort, which help offset his lack of polish.
26. Indiana Pacers (via CLE): Maxwell Lewis, SF, Pepperdine
After addressing their hole at power forward earlier in the draft, the Pacers could spend this pick strengthening their wings. Lewis is a boom-or-bust dice roll as a lanky, 6’7″ wing with flashes of creation and shot-making but also defensive indifference and bad decision-making.
27. Charlotte Hornets (via DEN): Bilal Coulibaly, SG/SF, Metropolitans 92
Coulibaly is a long, sturdy defender who keeps hinting at having more offense than evaluators think. He can finish with a flourish and made big strides as a shooter this season.
28. Utah Jazz (via PHI): Noah Clowney, PF, Alabama
Clowney’s defense is good enough to get him in the first-round conversation, but he could solidify his spot by shooting well in workouts. He finished the season with just a 28.3 percent splash rate, but there were moments where he seemed capable of more.
29. Indiana Pacers (via BOS): Kobe Bufkin, SG, Michigan
Bufkin closed the season strong, and if he keeps trending up in the pre-draft process, he won’t last this long. If teams buy his shooting improvements and off-the-dribble flashes, they could squint and see All-Star potential in him.
30. Los Angeles Clippers (via MIL): Ben Sheppard, SG, Belmont
Sheppard’s strong showing at the combine might be enough for a win-now club like the Clippers to overlook his middling athleticism. Teams can question the competition he faced at Belmont, but they can’t question his production. As a senior, he averaged 18.8 points while shooting 47.5 percent overall and 41.5 percent from three.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.
A multi-lingual talent head, Allen is fluent in languages such as Spanish, Russian, Italian, and many more. He has a special curiosity for the events and stories revolving in and around US and caters an uncompromising form of journalistic standard for the audiences.