SALT LAKE CITY — Let’s face it, picking the NBA Draft is a crapshoot. It all makes so much sense a day or two before the draft, but all it takes is one unexpected pick or trade to blow the whole thing up.
Or one bad choice by a picker.
For me last year, it was Mo Bamba. For some reason I decided he would be taken No. 2 by the Sacramento Kings, who took Marvin Bagley like everyone else expected. Bamba didn’t go until No. 6 by the Orlando Magic.
As a result, my whole draft board was a mess and I ended up with just two correct picks out of 30 — No. 1 Deandre Ayton to Phoenix and No. 4 Jaren Jackson to Memphis (that’s 6.7 percent for those who are counting). I did have Luka Doncic going to Dallas at No. 5, but he was actually drafted No. 3 by Atlanta and traded to Dallas.
While other, more qualified selectors did better, none of the top ones did better than 33 percent.
Of the five other mock drafts we compared in the Deseret News last year — ESPN, CBS Sports, SI.com, Sporting News and USA Today — none got more than 10 of 30 correct (SI.com). Two got nine correct, one eight and the other, five. That was USA Today, which made an even worse No. 2 pick than I did — Missouri’s Michael Porter, who ended up not going until No. 14.
Sometimes, I’ve done OK. In 2014, I hit the jackpot by projecting the Jazz to pick Dante Exum, when few mock drafts had the Australian falling to No. 5. The following year, when the Jazz picked 12, I went with UCLA’s Kevon Looney and then felt embarrassed when he fell all the way to the No. 30 pick to the Warriors.
That was the year the Jazz took Trey Lyles, who had a good first season, but is now buried on the bench at Denver. However, now Looney, who has been a key cog in the middle for Golden State when he’s healthy, appears to have a brighter future than Lyles (although Jazz fans will forever be grateful for being able to send Lyles in the trade to get the draft pick for Donovan Mitchell).
Last year, I really considered going with Grayson Allen, but put him two slots higher at No. 19 to San Antonio, and instead chose Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova. However, he was snapped up at No. 17 by Milwaukee.
This year, the first three picks look pretty certain and most folks have the same six or seven players after that, in various orders. When you get down to No. 23, where the Jazz were going to pick before Wednesday's blockbuster trade, anything can happen.
The Jazz had several intriguing possibilities, including Eric Paschall, a 6-foot-7 forward from Villanova, who was a childhood friend of Donovan Mitchell’s and one of the few seniors expected to go in the first round, or Washington’s Matisse Thybulle, a defensive specialist, who local fans saw up close the past couple of years when he came to the Huntsman Center and who played havoc in the Huskies’ NCAA win over Utah State.
I was going with another Pac-12 player in KZ Okpala, a 6-foot-10 wing player from Stanford, who is a bit of a late bloomer, a versatile player who showed his athletic ability with the Cardinal and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
Here’s a look at our first round, fully expecting to get more than two correct this time around:
- No. 1 NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson, 6-6, Duke — No question on this one. Only question is, how big of a star will he end up being?
- No. 2 MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, 6-3, Murray State — Before this season, no one had heard of this guy, who played in the Ohio Valley Conference, but he looked like the real deal with his NCAA Tournament performance.
- No. 3 NEW YORK: RJ Barrett, 6-7, Duke — Unless the Knicks get an irresistible trade offer, they’ll be happy to grab the Blue Devils’ standout, who could develop into a star.
- No. 4 NEW ORLEANS (via Lakers) Darius Garland, 6-3, Vanderbilt — The talented guard has been moving up draft boards and several teams have been rumored to want this pick.
- No. 5 CLEVELAND: Jarrett Culver, 6-7, Texas Tech — One of the best overall athletes in the draft, Culver could thrive in Cleveland, which needs plenty of help.
- No. 6 PHOENIX: Coby White, 6-5, North Carolina — The Suns need help on the guard line and White is the best available.
- No. 7 CHICAGO: Sekou Doumbouya, 6-9, France — He’s a raw talent, but the Bulls may want to take a chance on a guy who may have a high ceiling.
- No. 8 ATLANTA: Cam Reddish, 6-8, Duke — The third Duke player taken in the first round. Question: How did the Blue Devils not win the NCAA title?
- No. 9 WASHINGTON: De’Andre Hunter, 6-8, Virginia — The Wizards would be thrilled to take a guy who played just down the street for the national champions.
- No. 10 ATLANTA (via Mavericks): Jaxson Hayes, 7-0, Texas — Last year everyone picked Mikal Bridges to go No. 10 and he did. This year, everyone has Hayes going here, so I’ll join the club.
- No. 11 MINNESOTA: Rui Hachimura, 6-9, Gonzaga — One of two lottery picks for the Zags, Hachimura has an all-around game that would fit well with the T-Wolves.
- No. 12 CHARLOTTE: Brandon Clarke, 6-8, Gonzaga — After failing with Zag Adam Morrison all those years ago, Michael Jordan gets it right this time with Clarke, a shot-blocker who may end up a better pro than Hachimura.
- No. 13 MIAMI: PJ Washington, 6-8, Kentucky — A stretch-four is a valuable commodity in the NBA and the big man has proved he can shoot outside.
- No. 14 BOSTON (via Kings): Bol Bol, 7-2, Oregon — With three first-round draft picks, the Celtics can take a chance on a guy who seems fragile but is an excellent shooter for his size, which he has a lot of.
- No. 15 DETROIT: Tyler Herro, 6-6, Kentucky — The combo guard is a good shooter, which the Pistons can use.
- No. 16 ORLANDO: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6-6, Virginia Tech — The combo guard is known as a streaky shooter, who saw his assist total rise substantially last year.
- No. 17 ATLANTA (via Nets): Nassir Little, 6-6, North Carolina — His numbers weren’t great for the Tar Heels, but he may be a better pro than collegian.
- No. 18 INDIANA: Romeo Langford, 6-6, Indiana — A former lottery “lock,” the swingman could fall all the way to the hometown Pacers.
- No. 19 SAN ANTONIO: Goga Bitadze, 6-11, Republic of Georgia — If the Spurs take him, that could mean fewer minutes for ex-Ute Jakob Poeltl in the middle.
- No. 20 BOSTON (via Clippers): Mfiondu Kabengele, 6-10, Florida State — He’s a late bloomer, who is athletic and can shoot outside well for his size.
- No. 21 OKLAHOMA CITY: Cameron Johnson, 6-9, North Carolina — One of the older players in the draft at 23, he’s also one of the best shooters, going 46 percent from 3-point range last year.
- No. 22 BOSTON: Keldon Johnson, 6-6, Kentucky — He’s said to already have an NBA body at age 19 and though his shooting is questionable, he showed Utah he could shoot with five first-half 3-pointers and 24 points in a win over the Utes.
- No. 23 MEMPHIS (via Jazz): KZ Okpala, 6-10, Stanford — He showed flashes at times with the Cardinal and his versatility could make him a solid player in the league.
- No. 24 PHILADELPHIA: Eric Paschall, 6-7, Villanova — After being overshadowed by future NBA picks for three years, he broke out this year and the hometown Sixers should be happy to grab him.
- No. 25 PORTLAND: Kevin Porter Jr., 6-6, USC — The former five-star prep star has lottery talent but is a question mark after a so-so collegiate season.
- No. 26 CLEVELAND (via Rockets): Ty Jerome, 6-6, Virginia — A good spot-up shooter who has a national championship ring.
- No. 27 BROOKLYN (via Nuggets): Bruno Fernando, 6-10, Maryland — The Nets need inside help and Fernando fills the bill.
- No. 28 GOLDEN STATE: Matisse Thybulle, 6-5, Washington — The best defensive player in the draft gives the offensive-minded Warriors some extra defense.
- No. 29 SAN ANTONIO (via Raptors): Nicolas Claxton, 6-11, Georgia — He’s been moving up draft boards but needs to improve his shooting.
- No. 30 MILWAUKEE: Luka Samanic, 6-8, Croatia — He’s a good 3-point shooter and solid overall player.