We’re already here. The 2010 NBA season concluded just a few days ago, and we’re already taking the first step toward defining the League for 2011. The easiest way to handicap tonight’s NBA Draft (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) is with your standard mock draft, but it’s rarely ever that simple: Odds are, picks and players will be traded throughout the night and things will end up looking a lot different than any of us predicted. That said, this mock is a combination of what we think teams should do, and what we think they will do:
1. Washington — John Wall, PG, Kentucky
The Wizards are banking on him to carry its franchise back to relevancy and title contention. Reebok is banking on him to carry its franchise back to relevancy and riches in the post-Iverson era. And it seems no one is asking: Is John Wall really this good?
2. Philadelphia — Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State
If they do the smart thing and take Turner, Philly has a potential beast of a perimeter trio in the making. Jrue Holiday, Turner and Andre Iguodala can be very good together. You know, if Iguodala doesn’t get traded before Halloween.
3. New Jersey — Derrick Favors, PF/C, Georgia Tech
A rumor has grown wings that the Nets will draft Wes Johnson as part of an agreement with his agent that Carlos Boozer will sign with N.J. in free agency. And this is based on the good word of a professional sports agent and Carlos Boozer? Yeah, just pick Favors and give Brook Lopez a cornerstone sidekick.
4. Minnesota — Wes Johnson, SF, Syracuse
He’ll automatically become Dime’s favorite player if he grows cornrows, wears #8, and incorporates more snarls and two-hand power dunks into his repertoire.
5. Sacramento — DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky
The Kings just gave up on former “center of the future” Spencer Hawes after only three years. How much leeway will they give Cousins, who comes in with red flags about his maturity, work ethic and conditioning?
6. Golden State — Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown
Offensively skilled big man with a high basketball IQ is too perfect for the Warriors’ offensively potent system. Monroe will rebound and do the things bigs are supposed to do, plus he doesn’t need to score to contribute on offense.
7. Detroit — Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina
Still has a lot of room to grow, and is more potential than proven right now, but the Pistons love his upside and Ben Wallace has already taken Davis under his wing.
8. L.A. Clippers — Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler
They’re going to take a small forward, it’s just a matter of which one. Hayward is the battle-tested winner who can stroke threes and makes the little plays that led to W’s.
9. Utah — Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
Mehmet Okur is getting old, injury-prone, and his numbers and shooting percentages are dropping. The only other center under contract for next season is Kosta Koufos.
10. Indiana — Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas
With Danny Granger firing away from the outside and Roy Hibbert being groomed as the go-to guy inside, Indy could use somebody to operate from mid-range. Henry can grow into a versatile and powerful scoring guard.
11. New Orleans — Ekpe Udoh, PF, Baylor
Chris Paul won’t mind N.O. passing on his Wake Forest bro (Al-Farouq Aminu) if it means he can get an athletic big man (Udoh) who runs the floor, can score without alley-oops, and wants to play defense.
12. Memphis — Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest
The Grizzlies’ owner seems convinced his squad will re-sign Rudy Gay. But just in case…
13. Toronto — Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall
The nation’s leading shot-blocker could be the true center and defensive presence the Raptors need in order for Andrea Bargnani to spend more time on the perimeter.
14. Houston — Luke Babbitt, SF/PF, Nevada
Still kind of unsure how the Rockets are going to play next season, so they might as well take the best player available and plug him in wherever he fits.
15. Milwaukee — Solomon Alabi, C, Florida State
The Bucks addressed their needs on the wing this week by picking up Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts in trades where they hardly lost any talent. Now they can get Andrew Bogut a promising backup who fits into Scott Skiles’ defensive scheme.
16. Minnesota — James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State
The leading scorer in the Big 12 and conference P.O.Y. will compete with Wayne Ellington for minutes at the two.
17. Chicago — Paul George, SF, Fresno State
Athletic wing will run alongside Derrick Rose and make a ton of highlights.
18. Oklahoma City — Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
After getting pounded by the Lakers’ seven-footers in a first-round postseason loss, the Thunder will definitely look to shore up their front line.
19. Boston — Avery Bradley, PG, Texas
They need depth if they’re going to remain in title contention, and Bradley is a good backup for Rajon Rondo. Think Shannon Brown with better defense and without the linebacker’s weight-lifting program.
20. San Antonio — Larry Sanders, PF, Virginia Commonwealth
At first you’ll read a lot of interviews with Sanders expressing how glad he is to get some mentoring from Tim Duncan. Two months into the season he’ll realize Duncan hasn’t said four words to him beyond morning coffee orders.
21. Oklahoma City — Daniel Orton, C/PF, Kentucky
Local product has slipped in the eyes of some draft analysts due to attitude questions, past injury problems, and measuring out shorter than expected.
22. Portland — Elliot Williams, SG, Memphis
You might literally need two basketballs with Williams and Jerryd Bayless making up Portland’s second-string backcourt. Both of them are shoot-first scorers born to get buckets.
23. Minnesota — Kevin Seraphin, PF, France
With Al Jefferson and Kevin Love in place, the Wolves can afford to take a gamble on a project.
24. Atlanta — Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati
As Joe Johnson scopes out greener pastures in free agency, and Josh Childress’ status remains up in the air, the Hawks need wing players ASAP.
25. Memphis — Damion James, SF/PF, Texas
Four-year college player ready to help a team on the playoff bubble.
26. Oklahoma City – Craig Brackins, PF, Iowa State
Good perimeter shooter measures just under 6-10. Serge Ibaka brings the defense to OKC’s second-unit front line; Brackins can bring scoring.
27. New Jersey — Jordan Crawford, SG, Xavier
Some teams want the 6-4 Crawford to play point guard, but he’s a natural two. Plenty of guys have carved out a niche as a pure scoring SG who are shorter than Crawford, so he shouldn’t have to switch positions.
28. Memphis — Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky
With Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Williams coming off the books, the Grizzlies don’t have a backup for Mike Conley. Unless you count Marko Jaric, who is technically still being paid by Memphis.
29. Orlando — Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington
Arguably the best senior in the field can help a playoff team right away.
30. Washington — Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia
If this Rudy Gay clone ever lives up to his considerable potential, the Wizards have a steal at this spot.