Predicting Round 1 of the NBA Draft: Biggest questions around Clingan, Sarr and more

Zaccharie Risacher has a 73% chance to go No. 1 overall in this week’s 2024 NBA draft, according to ESPN Analytics’ new NBA Draft Day Predictor tool.

The predictor model is driven by expert mock drafts, ESPN’s top 100 prospect rankings and historical draft results to determine probabilities for players across a range of picks and the chances they will be available at specific spots in the two-day event, which begins Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+).

Let’s say you’re an NBA general manager in need of a particular position. You have your internal big board and you’re trying to determine who will likely be available when you’re on the clock. Perhaps you’re a fan who is hearing about which players your team is working out and want to get a sense of what their draft ranges are. This NBA Draft Day Predictor model can provide answers to these questions, among many others.

We’ll go through what the model is telling us about who could go No. 1, which teams might benefit from trading back, how Nikola Topic’s injury is affecting his draft range and how to make sense of the Bronny James news cycles. Plus, we’ll look at which players users are selecting using the NBA mock draft simulator through the lens of a fan mock draft.

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Why is Risacher such a heavy favorite at No. 1?

ESPN’s recent mock draft has the Hawks selecting Risacher No. 1 overall, with Donovan Clingan mentioned as a likely contender at No. 1, too. The draft predictor gives Risacher a 73% chance to go in the top spot but sides with Alex Sarr as the next candidate with 23%, and then Clingan follows at 6%.

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Hawks fans who have used the mock draft simulator seem to agree, with Sarr and Risacher in a battle for fan favorite at No. 1, selected 35.6% and 35.1% of the time, respectively. In fact, fans trade back from No. 1 more often than they take the UConn center with the first pick.

Don’t rule out an unlikely surprise pick at No. 1, either. The 2013 NBA draft is most memorable for when Anthony Bennett, projected most often in the back half of the top 10, bucked consensus to go No. 1. As recently as the 2022 draft, Paolo Banchero jumped Jabari Smith to go to the Orlando Magic at No. 1. This year’s draft, lacking a consensus top prospect or an obvious fit at No. 1, has the potential to provide similar drama.

Could the Hawks trade back and still get Clingan?

If the Hawks are debating Risacher vs. Clingan, there might be a trade-back opportunity with a team in the Nos. 4-to-7 range that values Sarr or Risacher more than Atlanta does. If Clingan doesn’t get drafted No. 1, the predictor sees a possibility for a slide to the middle of the top 10. Clingan’s most likely spot to go is No. 5 to the Detroit Pistons with a 27% probability, but both Matas Buzelis (33%) and Stephon Castle (29%) are more likely to be taken there.

The model gives Clingan a 36% chance to still be on the board at No. 6, where teams might be looking to trade up with the Charlotte Hornets to get him. The Hornets have Mark Williams at center and might be willing to trade with the Portland Trail Blazers or Memphis Grizzlies while still drafting their preferred prospect. The model gives Clingan a 3% chance of getting past the Blazers at No. 7.

What is Nikola Topic‘s expected draft range?

Just two weeks ago, Nikola Topic was consistently projected in the top 10 picks and seemed unlikely to be on the board in the teens. After news of a partially torn ACL, his draft range has widened considerably. The model has Topic’s most likely landing spot as No. 10 to the Utah Jazz, a selection that would have been considered a coup before the injury news. Now he has a 65% chance to still be available then.

Topic’s situation brings some recent projected lottery picks to mind. Cam Whitmore slid far past where mock drafts had him landing in 2023, partially a result of medical concerns that came late in the draft process. Michael Porter Jr.’s surgery was well in advance of the 2018 draft, and mock drafts were better able to capture his slide beforehand, projecting him within range of his selection to the Nuggets at No. 14.

Whether Topic’s result is more like Whitmore’s or Porter’s remains to be seen. Given the uncertainty around the injury and how that affects mock drafts, Topic has a greater than 10% shot to go at every pick from No. 8 to No. 13 but is still given more than a 1% chance to go as high as No. 4 and as low as No. 20.

Could any green room invitees fall out of the first round?

The short answer? Yes. The NBA has received confirmation that 24 players will attend the NBA draft in person.

2024 NBA draft | June 26-27 on ABC/ESPN

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That group includes DaRon Holmes II, a 6-foot-10 power forward who was named to the All-America second-team in his junior season at Dayton and has been moving up draft boards after receiving a promise from the Denver Nuggets at No. 28, according to ESPN’s latest mock draft. The predictor believes he has a 55% chance to be drafted in the first round.

In total, six of the green room invites have at least a 2% chance of falling out of the first round. It’s not out of the picture that multiple players go home disappointed after Day 1. The predictor believes at least one attendee will fall out of the first round 68% of the time, and the chance we see two or more of these prospects slip to the second round is 16%.

Players not on the list who have a good chance to go on the first day include Marquette guard Tyler Kolek, who planned to have worked out for the Phoenix Suns (No. 22 pick), as well as Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr., who has worked out for the Chicago Bulls (No. 11) and Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 27).

Could there be a Zach Edey and Canada reunion?

The one green room invitee who turned down his invitation is Purdue’s Zach Edey, who plans to watch the draft from home. Edey has slowly crept up draft boards and seems to have been particularly helped by the NBA draft combine, where he demonstrated impressive agility and speed for his 7-4 frame.

The draft predictor model gives Edey quite a large range, with a 90% chance he goes somewhere from picks Nos. 12 to 21. The Toronto Raptors have picks No. 19 and No. 31. Their need at center isn’t immediate, with Jakob Poeltl and Kelly Olynyk both under contract, but if they like Edey, they’ll likely need to take him at No. 19. He has a 29% shot at being on the board at No. 19, but a less than 1% chance to still be around at No. 31. Edey, 22, was born in Toronto and lived there until he was in high school.

What is the most likely range for Bronny James?

Very rarely do mock drafts agree on where a player projected to be picked late in the second round is actually going to land. Even the No. 1 pick is not always as unanimously agreed upon as James potentially being picked at No. 55 by the Los Angeles Lakers. Reports of his workouts with the Suns and Lakers were shared by ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony, and other teams such as Minnesota, Toronto and the Dallas Mavericks have been reported as interested by his agent.

So how much of it is a smokescreen? It’s hard to tell. If James falls past the Lakers at No. 55, that could give other teams a green light to take him. It’s also possible the Lakers feel confident he’ll go undrafted, and they can sign him to a contract after the draft.

Given the agreement of the mocks, the model sees James’ most likely landing spot as the No. 55 pick, with an 11% chance to be selected there and a smaller chance he goes a few picks in front of or behind that. The predictor gives him a 38% chance to be drafted from picks 55 to 58, and a 62% chance of being drafted all together.

Fan mock draft: Most common simulator selections

One of the most enjoyable outputs that stems from the NBA Draft Day Predictor model is we can create a mock draft based on whom fans select while using ESPN’s mock draft simulator. To put together the fan’s mock, each team is awarded the most popular selection by users who chose that team in the simulator, given that player is still on the board.

So, for Atlanta at No. 1, as mentioned earlier, Hawks fans select Alex Sarr by a sliver over Risacher. Washington Wizards fans overwhelmingly take Risacher at No. 2 when Sarr is off the board, and Rockets fans get awarded their most popular pick, Reed Sheppard. Here’s the full first round:

PICKTEAMPLAYERPOSITIONPERCENT OF FANSMOST POPULAR1HawksAlex SarrPF35%Alex Sarr2WizardsZaccharie RisacherSF44%Zaccharie Risacher3RocketsReed SheppardSG35%Reed Sheppard4SpursStephon CastlePG25%Reed Sheppard5PistonsMatas BuzelisSF34%Matas Buzelis6HornetsDalton KnechtSF16%Matas Buzelis7Trail BlazersTidjane SalaunPF26%Matas Buzelis8SpursRob DillinghamPG13%Dalton Knecht9GrizzliesZach EdeyC13%Dalton Knecht10JazzRon HollandSF21%Ron Holland11BullsCody WilliamsSG11%Ron Holland12ThunderKyle FilipowskiPF6%Zach Edey13KingsDevin CarterPG14%Zach Edey14Trail BlazersKel’el WareC10%Zach Edey15HeatJared McCainPG20%Zach Edey1676ersTristan Da SilvaSF15%Jared McCain17LakersBronny JamesPG11%Zach Edey18MagicJohnny FurphySG13%Zach Edey19RaptorsCarlton CarringtonPG8%Zach Edey20CavaliersKyshawn GeorgeSG8%Kyle Filipowski21PelicansYves MissiC5%Zach Edey22SunsTyler KolekPG8%Kyle Filipowski23BucksBobi KlintmanSF4%Kel’el Ware24KnicksBaylor ScheiermanSG4%Kel’el Ware25KnicksRyan DunnSF9%Kel’el Ware26WizardsJustin EdwardsSG6%Kyshawn George27TimberwolvesTerrence ShannonSG3%Tyler Kolek28NuggetsDaRon HolmesPF11%Baylor Scheierman29JazzTyler SmithSF6%Baylor Scheierman30CelticsKevin McCullarSF6%Baylor Scheierman

Let’s dive into some of the interesting trends from off the fan mock draft:

Blazers fans select Tidjane Salaun at No. 7

The first six picks of the fan mock draft go fairly chalk. Dalton Knecht at No. 6 (Charlotte) might be a bit of a reach based on the draft predictor model, but it’s an understandable pick. But Blazers fans start the surprises by taking Tidjane Salaun at No. 7. The model gives this pick a 5% chance of happening with seven other players more likely than Salaun to go at this spot.

Grizzlies fans select Edey at No. 9

This is a major surprise! The model gives Edey less than a 1% chance to get selected here, but Grizzlies fans pounce early. Their preferred selection of Knecht is off the board, but this pick shows a trend from fans across the board. Edey is a popular choice.

The two-time NCAA men’s national player of the year shows up in the top-five most popular picks as early as No. 1 to Atlanta, and if the Grizzlies hadn’t taken him, he would’ve gone to the Bulls at No. 11. On top of that, he is the most popular choice by every fan base from the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 12 to the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 21, excluding the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thunder fans get hit hard at No. 12 with their top four picks already off the board. But instead of drafting likely lottery picks Devin Carter or Ja’Kobe Walter, Thunder fans go for Filipowski, the Duke power forward, instead.

Blazers fans seem set on a center, and after missing out on the top two in this draft, they decide to take Ware with the final lottery pick at No. 14.

Both these players are selected by fans early in their draft range, with the model putting both Filipowski’s and Ware’s most likely selection at No. 23.

You’re the GM — and you’re on the clock!

Dreamed of being an NBA general manager? You’re in luck. ESPN Analytics has released its mock-draft simulator, which allows you, your team’s key decision-maker, to make picks and trades throughout the two rounds of the NBA draft.

Lakers fans take the cake for biggest reach of the first round with James selected at No. 17. The model gives this pick almost no chance of happening. Bronny has a greater than 75% chance to be on the board at their next pick, No. 55. But Lakers fans are making sure they don’t miss out.

What makes this pick particularly interesting is that Isaiah Collier, James’ former USC teammate, is on the board, and he’s much more likely to be drafted in this range. Collier is one of seven players with a better than 5% chance to go to the Lakers at No. 17. Lakers fans also fail to select Ja’Kobe Walter, who would be a value pick outside the lottery.

No Clingan or Topic in fans’ first round

In a nod to what is projected to be a truly chaotic draft, neither Clingan or Topic gets chosen in our fan-driven first-round mock draft. One feature of this format is a sliding player can get missed, but we learn that fans generally prefer to let one of the other teams draft these players.

Clingan comes in as one of the five most popular players for each of the top-seven picks, but he never manages to come out on top. Topic’s closest call was the San Antonio Spurs at No. 8, where he is the second-most popular selection left on the board, after Kentucky’s Rob Dillingham.

The chances these players drop this far come draft night is slim, but it points to how different teams’ evaluations of these players might be and how much uncertainty there is for each prospect.


Updated: Juni 24, 2024 — 3:57 pm

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