NBA mock draft 2024: Updated projection with surprise No. 1 pick, new home for Bronny James

NBA mock draft 2024: Updated projection with surprise No. 1 pick, new home for Bronny James

The strength of an NBA draft class is typically evaluated on the star-power of its top picks and the depth of starting-caliber players below them. In that sense, the 2024 NBA Draft has been considered one of the weakest classes in recent memory from the very start the process. With college basketball, G League, and international play all underway, it still feels like the start of this cycle has presented questions than answers on both fronts.

Who will be the first player chosen in the 2024 draft? It remains wide open. At the moment, USC point guard Isaiah Collier, Perth Wildcats big man Alex Sarr, G League Ignite forwards Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis appear to be the front-runners in mainstream conversations. There have been a few breakout candidates early this season, headlined by Serbian guard Nikola Topic, Baylor wing Ja’Kobe Walter, and Kentucky freshmen guards Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham.

While the top of the class remains a mystery, it also feels like there’s little separation between players projected to go just outside of the top-10 and those currently tabbed as late first or early second rounders. There’s so much variance in the 2024 draft class that evaluators are going to have very different opinions on how it breaks down depending on their scouting philosophies.

Check out our first 2024 NBA mock draft from June, published the day after the 2023 NBA Draft. It’s time for an update, featuring a new No. 1 player who wasn’t even included in our initial projection in the summer. This is mock is more focused on player rankings, not fit. More analysis, after the table.

2024 NBA mock draft for Dec.

Pick Team Player Position From Year
Pick Team Player Position From Year
1 Detroit Pistons Nikola Topic Guard Serbia Born 2005
2 San Antonio Spurs Alex Sarr Big/Forward France Born 2005
3 Washington Wizards Ron Holland Wing G League Ignite Born 2005
4 Portland Trail Blazers Matas Buzelis Wing G League Ignite Born 2004
5 Memphis Grizzlies Ja’Kobe Walter Wing Baylor Freshman
6 Utah Jazz Isaiah Collier Point guard USC Freshman
7 Charlotte Hornets Rob Dillingham Point guard Kentucky Freshman
8 Chicago Bulls Stephon Castle Guard UConn Freshman
9 San Antonio Spurs Zaccharie Risacher Forward France Born 2005
10 Atlanta Hawks Kyle Filipowski Big Duke Sophomore
11 Portland Trail Blazers Donovan Clingan Big UConn Sophomore
12 New Orleans Pelicans Kel’el Ware Big Indiana Sophomore
13 Oklahoma City Thunder Garwey Duel Guard Providence Freshman
14 Miami Heat Reed Sheppard Guard Kentucky Freshman
15 Oklahoma City Thunder Ryan Dunn Forward Virginia Sophomore
16 Phoenix Suns Izan Almansa Big G League Ignite Born 2005
17 New YorkKnicks Cody Williams Wing Colorado Freshman
18 Houston Rockets Tyler Smith Forward G League Ignite Born 2004
19 Cleveland Cavaliers Bronny James Guard USC Freshman
20 Atlanta Hawks Terrence Shannon Jr. Wing Illinois Senior
21 Indiana Pacers Justin Edwards Forward Kentucky Freshman
22 Denver Nuggets Aday Mara Big UCLA Freshman
23 New Orleans Pelicans DJ Wagner Guard Kentucky Freshman
24 New York Knicks Kobe Johnson Wing USC Junior
25 Indiana Pacers Wooga Poplar Wing Miami Junior
26 Philadelphia 76ers Oso Ighodaro Big Marquette Junior
27 Milwaukee Bucks Tyrese Proctor Guard Duke Sophomore
28 Orlando Magic Kevin McCullar Wing Kansas Senior
29 Boston Celtics Trevon Brazile Big/Forward Arkansas Junior
30 Minnesota Timberwolves Bub Carrington Big Pittsburgh Freshman

Nikola Topic emerges to lead wide open race for No. 1 pick

Mega Basket is the Adriatic league team that once developed Nikola Jokic into an NBA draft pick. Now, the same program is home to the breakout star of the 2024 NBA Draft cycle in 18 year-old guard Nikola Topic.

Topic reportedly stands at 6’6 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s been masterfully handling starting point guard duties for Mega Basket despite being the team’s youngest player with an Aug. 10, 2005 birthday. His case for the No. 1 pick rests on his stellar production in the ABA: through 10 games, he’s averaging 18.9 points, 6.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game on 52 percent shooting from the field. He owns the third best Player Index Rating, popular overall performance metric in European basketball, in the league.

Topic’s signature skill is getting downhill and scoring at the rim. He has a remarkably quick first step to break the first line of the defense, and outstanding speed to separate when he hits top gear. He’s proved to be a skilled finisher at the rim this year, making 66.3 percent of his two-point shots without a refined floater or runner. It’s common to see him leave his defender in the dust and finish with an extension at the basket, or hit the breaks and create an open window as his defender flies by. Topic does not need a screen to generate a paint touch, but he’s still impressive in the pick-and-roll. He’s demonstrated an ability to get off the ball quickly as a passer and manipulate angles and pace to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.

He’s not a perfect player. Topic doesn’t really get into a stance and glide defensively as much as he mostly just stands there. He’s not agile enough to consistently get over screens, and can get taken out plays pretty easily. The Adriatic league is extremely physical and full of big, strong, older dudes, so it’s understandable to a certain extent. Just know no one is drafting him for his defense. Topic’s jump shot is also a big question mark. He appears more comfortable shooting off the dribble than the catch, showing a willingness to take the pull-up when teams go under screens. He doesn’t seem particularly engaged off the ball offensively, and must improve significantly in his set-up for catch-and-shoot attempts. After a hot start to the season from three, he’s 3-for-19 from deep in his last three games, moving him down to a 26 percent three-point shooter. Still, the fact that he’s shooting 84 percent from the free throw line is a positive sign for his future development as a shooter.

In an underwhelming draft class, Topic’s awesome production in the Adriatic league has positioned him as my early front-runner for the No. 1 pick. The success of Luka Doncic and Alperen Sengun has shown that dominating a European league at a young age in your pre-draft year is a major precursor for NBA success. Topic’s combination of size and speed for a lead guard helps him pass the eye test even without a plus jumper, and his overall production is the reason he deserves serious consideration for the first pick.

Alex Sarr has the best physical tools in the 2024 NBA Draft

Alexandre Sarr was viewed as a potential lottery pick coming into the cycle, but his breakout performance in two exhibition games against the G League Ignite in Oct. in front of NBA scouts vaulted him into consideration for No. 1 overall. While Topic’s case for the first pick is mostly based around his production, Sarr brings physical tools and upside that no other player in this class can match.

At 7’1 with a 7’5 wingspan, Sarr has freakish agility and coordination for a big man that leads to tantalizing moments on both ends of the floor. Defense will be the calling card early in his career. He brings a rare combination of ground coverage and rim protection that makes him look like the type of switchable big NBA coaches dream of. Sarr’s fluid hips and quick feet help him defend on the perimeter like an oversized wing, and his length and leaping makes him a fearsome shot blocker down low. It’s hard to get Sarr off balance given his comfortable changing direction, and he has tremendous recovery ability to clean up mistakes if he or a teammate gets beat.

Sarr will provide equally enticing flashes offensively, but there are more questions on how his game translates to the NBA on that end. Sarr’s best moments come with a big runway to attack the basket, where he showcases his comfort putting the ball on the floor and slashing to the rim. There’s potential in his jump shot, too: taking three-pointers is part of Sarr’s game, but his percentages from deep (31.3 percent) and from the foul line (58.8 percent) show he still needs work before it’s something he can rely on. Sarr is also a threat to hammer home a dunk as a roll man, and it would be nice to see him routinely play with more force rather than settling for midrange shots.

In his best moments, Sarr looks like a legit No. 1 overall pick oozing with game-breaking talent on both ends. There’s potential here for a two-monster who can defend all over the court and finish plays with a bang offensively. Teams will wonder if his jumper is more theoretical than practical, if he can rebound well enough to play center full-time, and if he has the decision-making chops to handle high usage. For now, the tools alone are worth betting on even if he’s still a bit raw.

Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis are still worthy top-5 prospects

Buzelis and Holland started this draft cycle at 1-2 on our preseason board as each made the decision to bypass college basketball for the G League Ignite. Buzelis’ ankle injury and Holland’s sloppy start have contributed to a nightmare 2-9 open to the season for the Ignite, but the two young wings are far from the program’s only problems. On-court fit issues and a constant stream of blowout losses has made it difficult to evaluate anyone in the Ignite’s stable of potential first round prospects, yet there’s still reason to believe Buzelis and Holland can end up close to where they began by the time the draft rolls around.

Holland was always a bet on motor and makeup after a stellar high school career that included a pair gold medal runs with USA Basketball and two state championships at Texas’ Duncanville High. The start of his season with the Ignite has shown he can no longer overwhelm opponents strictly with physicality, and still needs to seriously refine his skill set. Holland is struggling to shoot from the three-point line (25.7 percent on 3.2 attempts per game) and free throw line (63.6 percent). He has a loose handle in the halfcourt and isn’t a natural decision-maker with the ball in his hands, leading to 42 turnovers to 25 assists through the first 11 games. It will also be interesting to see where Holland measures, with most estimates putting him at 6’7 with a 6’10.5 wingspan right now, a tad smaller that originally suspected.

Holland has been significantly better over his last five games coming into Sunday night, averaging 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.5 stocks (steals+blocks) on 66.5 percent true shooting, reminding scouts why he’s still one of the top talents in this class. Holland still looks excellent defensively, collecting deflections and steals at a high rate, and using his strong chest to shine at the point of attack. Offensively, he can hammer cracks in the defense to get to the rim, showcasing impressive footwork on Eurosteps and second efforts for tip-ins. Scouts know he’s fun in the open floor, but he’s showing off some semblance of a pull-up jump shot in halfcourt situations. With wing stopper abilities defensively, a knack for winning 50/50 balls, and the potential as a slasher offensively, there’s still a lot to like about Holland’s long-term projection as one of the youngest players in this class with a July 2005 birthday.

Buzelis has only been back on the floor few games as he’s returned from injury. The sales pitch here starts with his combination of size (6’10) and perimeter skill. The Hinsdale, Illinois native is comfortable putting the ball on the floor, and shooting on both spot-ups and pull-ups. He should be a major threat attacking closeouts, with his best moments often coming on slashing drives to the rim. Buzelis still needs to add muscle to his frame to help him play through contact on both ends. Scouts will want to see how he processes the floor as a live-dribble passer and how much he’s able to compete defensively against older players as this season goes on. It isn’t easy to find players as big as Buzelis who can drive to the basket and also have real shooting versatility. He’s a top-five prospect in this class until further notice.

3 other draft prospects catching our eye so far

  • Ja’Kobe Walter, wing, Baylor: Walter looks like he has an easy translation to the NBA as an off-ball wing with deep shooting range and impressive point-of-attack defensive ability. At 6’5 with a strong frame and long arms, Walter is hitting 38 percent of his threes and 88 percent of his free throws so far. He’s money on spot-ups and can also run off screens to stretch the defense away from the ball. Defensively, he’s been able to cut off driving lanes and contest shooters without fouling, which helps him project as a plus on that end. Just don’t ask him to create with the ball in his hands: he has limited shake driving to the basket, and his 6.4 percent assist rate is extremely low for a potential top-10 pick on the perimeter. His upside may be limited by his lack of on-ball skill, but his defense and shooting make him a safe bet to be a contributor.
  • Rob Dillingham, G, Kentucky: Dillingham entered Kentucky out of Overtime Elite with a reputation for poor shot selection and sloppy decision-making. Neither looks true through his first nine games with the Wildcats. Dillingham has been an electric shooter from three so far — 51.4 percent on 37 attempts so far — showcasing deep range with rare confidence and comfort on pull-ups. The fact that he looks like a true point guard is even more surprising: Dillingham is whipping passes all over the floor while avoiding turnovers to give him 8.5 assists to 3.1 turnovers per 40 minutes to start the season. He’s so tiny that he’s basically a zero on defense, but his shiftiness, shooting, and careful facilitation is worth betting on, and a little reminiscent of Darius Garland.
  • Reed Sheppard, G, Kentucky: Sheppard has been another surprise freshman star for Kentucky, going from one of their lower-rated recruits (No. 79 in his class, per 247) to the team’s best overall player almost immediately. Sheppard will have a questionable NBA translation because he’s a small guard — reportedly 6’2 with a 6’3 wingspan — who doesn’t create much with the ball in his hands. Still, he’s incredible as a shooter and defensive player, with absurdly quick hands and advanced technique at the point of attack. How many players can he really guard in the NBA given his lack of size? Instead of asking what Sheppard can’t do, his play has been so impressive thus far that it’s worth investing in what he does well.

What about fit?

The draft board above does not consider team fit — it’s just my personal rankings. Since we already have a pretty good idea of the worst teams in the NBA, let’s dive deeper in the fit.

  • The Pistons need the best available player. I think that’s Topic, so he’s the pick at No. 1. There’s still hope for Cade Cunningham, but there’s no denying he’s been a disappointment given his expectations entering the league. With Cunningham having the size to slide off the ball, Detroit shouldn’t hesitate selecting an on-ball player like Topic if he’s the top prospect on the board.
  • The Spurs definitely need a point guard, but don’t have to reach for one. Isaiah Collier will be a popular pick to the Spurs given the team’s need for high level point guard play, but I’m a tad lower on Collier than consensus right now given his lack of shooting refinement, turnovers, and defensive question marks. The Spurs probably wouldn’t take Sarr here because he has a bit of positional overlap with Victor Wembanyama, but to me Sarr is pushing for No. 1 overall. Buzelis also feels like a good fit in San Antonio as a big wing who has some creation potential.
  • The Grizzlies could use a player to hit the ground running. The suspension to Ja Morant and injuries up and down the roster has exposed a lack of depth for Memphis — but you could say that for almost any team with this many rotation players missing. The Grizzlies could be primed for a big bounce-back season in 2024-2025, so a player who contribute immediately would be nice. I really like the fit of Walter here as a bigger two-guard who take on tougher defensive assignments and space the floor for Morant.
  • What about Bronny James? The USC freshman announced his return to the floor with a tremendous chasedown block in his debut. I’ve always been high on James as a powerful 6’3 off-ball guard with connector traits offensively, a reliable spot-up jumper with range, and hounding ability at the point of attack. It’s too bad he doesn’t have his father’s height, but there remains plenty of NBA utility in his game.

Articoli Correlati

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *