NBA Draft Chat: Chriss continues to gain steam
NBA Draft Chat: Chriss continues to gain steam

This article is part of our NBA Draft Chat series.

With the 2016 NBA Draft just three weeks away, RotoWire Assistant NBA Editor Nick Whalen and Lead Prospect Writer James Anderson sat down to talk risers, fallers, mock draft tweaks, Doron Lamb, and much more.

Nick Whalen (@wha1en): We both released our most recent mock drafts two weeks ago – are there any players you already know you'll be moving up or down in your next mock?

James Anderson (@RealJRAnderson): Classified. I will be moving Chriss up from No. 9, for sure. Bembry could cut his way into the top-15.

Whalen: Chriss is the obvious one for me. Ellenson will probably slide down a bit, while Wade Baldwin and Taurean Prince appear to be gaining some steam.

Whalen: The Ben Simmons/Brandon Ingram debate has been going on for months, but opinions continue to be split. As of Wednesday morning, DraftExpress flip-flopped the two and now projects Simmons to go no. 1 to Philadelphia. Is this looking like the increasingly likely scenario with the draft just three weeks away?

Anderson: I've thought for the past couple months that it's something like a 70-30 or 80-20 proposition. I've given Ingram the nod in my mocks lately because I would take Ingram over Simmons, so I've kind of used that as a tiebreaker. Certainly if I was betting, I'd need favorable odds to lay money on Ingram, so I think it's as likely as it's been since January that Simmons goes No. 1.

Whalen: Simmons is listed as the favorite to go No. 1 (-300). Ingram is (+200) and "any other player" is (+1600). Speaking of "any other player," is there any chance whatsoever that anyone else is able to sneak into this discussion over the next few weeks? Or is it firmly a two-horse race?

Anderson: Firmly a two-horse race. If Kris Dunn profiled as a future 40 percent three-point shooter, I could see a case, but he doesn't. How many names do you legitimately see in the mix to go No. 3?

Whalen: I think six is the absolute maximum, and that's probably being generous. Dunn, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, and Jaylen Brown all have a chance – some more than others, of course.

DraftExpress is now projecting Chriss at No. 3 to Boston – Is that too high for a guy who's still considerably raw and wasn't always dominant at the college level?

Anderson: I love Chriss, so I don't think it's too high necessarily. It would still surprise me, however, just given the past tendencies of GMs picking that high. Chriss is the kind of guy who goes top-3 in a crappy draft because nobody can come close to his upside. I think there are other guys who can come close to his upside at the No. 3 spot, but probably not another big man.

Whalen: How much does it matter that it's the Celtics, coming off of a playoff berth, holding this pick and not a team like oh, I don't know... Brooklyn, which has more glaring areas of need as it rebuilds?

Anderson: At No. 3, I really don't think it should matter who is picking, in terms of targeting need versus targeting best available.

Whalen: If you're Danny Ainge, are you entering draft night with the goal of trading out of this pick and landing an established star? And if so, is there a team that will be willing to give up a star player if they're not getting Simmons or Ingram in return?

Anderson: I think his No. 1 goal is landing a star, his No. 2 goal is nailing the pick at three and trading other picks/rostered players for a legit third or fourth piece on a title team. I don't think it should be possible for them to parlay any of their assets for a legit star, but Jimmy Butler and Blake Griffin seem like the two most attainable star-caliber players, for varying reasons. How open the channels of communication are between Doc and Danny is unknown, however.

Whalen: I don't think the No. 3 pick alone is enough to land a player of Butler or Griffin's caliber, but Boston does have two more first-rounders in this draft, plenty of attractive young players, and a pair of unprotected Brooklyn picks in its back pocket. No other team can match that war chest of assets.

Whalen: Hypothetically, let's assume Ainge can't concoct a deal, and the Celtics keep the pick – who is the best fit for Boston at No. 3?

Anderson: Well, first of all, I don't think any of the players on their roster plus some combination of picks *should* be enough to get Griffin, but of course that doesn't rule it out. I could see some combo that includes the third pick and Crowder being enough for Butler.

Anderson: As to who they should take, it's so hard because everyone expects roster turnover for them over the next month via trades. I don't think you can ever have enough shooting (Hield/Murray), and if they really believe in one of Chriss/Dunn/Brown/Bender as a potential All-Star, then that's fine too. Really would come down to who they have highest on their board, but I definitely think this roster is going to look different sooner than later, so taking a PG like Dunn may look stupid now, but not if one of Marcus Smart/Isaiah Thomas/Avery Bradley is gone in a month.

Whalen: You and I have talked about this Celtics roster a ton over the last few months. They were a nice story this season and no one is doubting that they have a nice core in place with a great coach. But the ceiling for this roster, as currently constructed, is only so high – certainly not high enough to legitimately compete for a title.

Whalen: Anyway, back to the draft. I know we both like Jamal Murray to Minnesota at No. 5. And I think Buddy Hield would be a great fit there, too. But Kris Dunn seems to have worked his way into that discussion, as well. How would a shaky shooter like Dunn fit in Minnesota, which ranked 29th in made threes last season and already has one of the NBA's worst shooting point guards?

Anderson: I am not a fan of that fit, unless they really don't like Murray/Hield for whatever reason. I don't think Dunn is as bad of a shooter as Ricky Rubio or Marcus Smart, for instance, but they need a marksman, in my opinion. I also think I'm higher on Tyus Jones and Zach LaVine (as a PG) than most, so that just doesn't strike me as an area of need unless there's a Rubio trade in the works, and at five I think they can afford to start to zero in on areas of need, given how dynamic their roster already is.

Whalen: There's a scenario in which some combination of Bender, Chriss, Dunn, Brown, and Hield/Murray go 3-through-7. How thrilled would/should the Sacramento Kings be at No. 8 if Murray or Hield fall into their lap?

Anderson: Ha, I mean, who knows what Vlade wants in his lap? That does seem like an ideal scenario for them though.

Anderson: If you had to pick one guy we haven't mentioned yet to jump into the top eight, who would it be?

Whalen: A week or two ago, my answer would have been Henry Ellenson, but it seems like teams have cooled off on him a bit. Not sure if that's his own doing, or simply a product of guys like Chriss rising up boards.

Whalen: It pains me to say this, but I think Skal Labissiere might be that guy. It's really tough for me to imagine New Orleans or Sacramento taking that gamble, but the stakes aren't quite as high for Denver, which owns two more picks in the top 19. That said, the Nuggets already have too many skilled, young big men, so I'd still be very surprised if Labissiere is able to work his way into the discussion at No. 7. Labissiere at No. 9 to Toronto makes a bit more sense, especially if Masai Ujiri opts to enter a mini-rebuild should DeMar DeRozan walk.

Whalen: Are the Raptors destined to take a big man, regardless?

Anderson: I still think Dejounte Murray is the guy to keep an eye on. I could see a team really falling in love with him throughout the process and being willing to roll the dice. But the Raptors do seem destined to take a big man, although could there be a fit with a guy like Denzel Valentine or Timothe Luwawu? Maybe.

Whalen: Power forward is their glaring area of need, but that could always be addressed in free agency. I think if they were a few spots higher, they could grab DeRozan's – again, assuming he walks – successor at shooting guard, but they'll be just out of range for Murray and Hield. If you're choosing between Jakob Poeltl, Deyonta Davis, Ellenson and Labissiere at 9, where are you leaning?

Anderson: You probably can guess my answer here. Davis, all day. I'm a sucker for long, athletic bigs who can run run the floor – it's my cross to bear. You?

Whalen: Depends in which direction the Raptors opt to go this summer. If they get the band back together for another run at the Cavs, I think Ellenson and Poeltl probably provide the most immediate help. Still, though, I don't see any of these guys being franchise-changers.

Whalen: Speaking of franchise-changers, who is going to be the Next Great Milwaukee Buck drafted in the middle of the first round? The Bucks will pick in the 10-to-15 range for the sixth time in the last eight drafts. Shoutout Larry Sanders.

Anderson: Skal, Poeltl, Ellenson could all be in the mix here, and at least a couple of them should be on the board. I could also see them going for a guy like Dejounte or Luwawu, which would be preferable.

Whalen: Like the Raptors, the Grizzlies enter the offseason with one of their key players' futures in limbo. Whether or not Mike Conley is back, is Memphis grabbing a point guard at No. 17?

Anderson: I don't think they'll look at it like that. They're clearly a team that's at least a couple years away from contending again, so making sure they have a PG of the future entering next season doesn't seem as important as locking up someone with the potential to be an above average starter, regardless of position.

Whalen:Wade Baldwin and Demetrius Jackson seem to have emerged as the consensus second and third-best point guards in this draft behind Dunn, while Tyler Ulis has taken a small step back. Where do you see as the best fit for Ulis?

Anderson: I like him going somewhere like Philly where he can play right away and try to show he belongs in the league. I'd be worried that if he went somewhere with established PGs in place that he could fail to really get a chance to show what he can do in game situations.

Whalen: I'm with you there. There's not much to dislike about Ulis, outside of his size, although reviews on some of his recent workouts haven't been stellar. I think he'll benefit most from going somewhere where he'll be allowed to play his game, whether than means stepping in as a possible starter in Philly or running a second unit somewhere else.

Whalen: Going back to Baldwin and Jackson – do you have a preference between the two, or is a matter of fit?

Anderson: Baldwin would be my pick. I think he has the best chance to turn into a top-15 player at the position. Given Jackson's lack of size, he either needs to be a really good floor general, in the Chris Paul mold, or a really good outside shooter. I don't think he checks either box.

Whalen: Agreed. I'm slightly higher on Baldwin, as well. Jackson probably has the higher floor, but Baldwin has the higher ceiling. I've seen Baldwin mocked as high as No. 10 to Milwaukee. That seems a little high, though the Bucks could use a more traditional point guard behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Baldwin has the length with that 6'11.5" wingspan to defend both guard spots.

Whalen:Ben Bentil has been among the steady risers since the start of the draft process, but projections for him are still all over the board. In your mind, is Bentil a first-rounder?

Anderson: Yes, I think he should go in the first round. Players with his size and positional flexibility are a premium, obviously, and I don't think there are 25 better prospects in this draft, let alone 30.

Whalen: I'm with you on that. The more I see of Bentil, the more I like him. He's already got an NBA body, can rebound his position, and has the floor-stretching ability to swing between both forward spots. As a playmaker, he still has plenty of room to improve, but no team is grabbing Bentil and expecting him to be more than a bench contributor right away.

Whalen: Where do you fall on Brice Johnson?

Anderson:He's really good at things that allow a player to dominate in college (scoring within 15 feet, outrebounding players at his position); not so good at the things that are required to be an NBA starter (stretch shooting, defense). I also don't think he has a high basketball IQ.

Whalen: It's somewhat rare for a player with his physical gifts and oftentimes-dominant college production to be viewed with as much skepticism as Johnson has. The lack of touch outside the paint is a major issue, and he's still not nearly as good defensively as his athleticism would suggest, but I think if he adds weight Johnson can find a niche as an energy big off the bench.

Whalen: Last year around this time, we chatted about the draft and you said you would "take six shots of Goldschlager on draft night" if the Kings reached for Cameron Payne at No. 6. What would have to happen this time around to drive you to that level of self-harm?

Anderson: As a Bucks fan I'd probably take six shots of something if they took Poeltl or Ellenson. If Dejounte Murray doesn't go in the first round I'd probably do something wild. I don't plan on having any Goldschlager on hand, however.

Whalen: Probably for the best. The last time I made a point to drink for the draft the Bucks took Doron Lamb in the second round. That was a wakeup call for me.

Whalen: Does Thon Maker sneak into the end of the first round? The 76ers, Raptors and Suns own picks 26, 27 and 28, respectively – I think that's where he could potentially end up, with each of those teams having already made at least one selection.

Anderson: For some reason I just can't bring myself to care about Maker. He's so raw, that it's gonna be a while before he'd doing anything notable in the league. There might be players on the board there who I think have similar upside and a higher floor, but if not I guess it makes sense.

Whalen: The luster continues to gradually wear off of Maker, but I think he's still enough of a mystery talent that he'll get a shot in the 26-to-40 range. At the very least, he's a legit 7-footer who handles the ball in transition, which remains a fascination for some teams, even if he's nowhere near ready to be a rotational player in the NBA. Maker's career will probably be a lot more Anthony Randolph than Kevin Durant – in fact, I'd be willing to wager a lifetime supply of Goldschlager on that – but

Whalen: Last week, Caleb Swanigan, Nigel Hayes, Isaiah Briscoe, and Melo Trimble – all projected second-rounders – announced that they'll return school next season. Did all four make the right choice?

Anderson:Depends on what their goal is. If their goal is to improve their NBA draft stock, then I think all, with the possible exception of Swanigan, made the wrong decision. If their goal is to enjoy the college experience and possibly work toward a degree, then they obviously made the right call. I just don't see Hayes, Briscoe or Trimble making more improvements in college than they'd make overseas or in the D-League.

Whalen: I'm with you on Swanigan – as I wrote last week, the NBA is moving away from players in the Swanigan mold, so it's tough to envision him significantly helping his stock next season.

The other three I'm a little more split on. Hayes ended last season in a dreadful shooting slump and disappointed at the Combine, so I think the extra year is an opportunity to rehab his stock. Wisconsin bringing back its top-10 scorers to an offense featuring Hayes will certainly help, and another deep NCAA Tournament run could provide the boost he needs to get back into early second-round territory.

Trimble's decision was more complicated because he'll go back to Maryland as the only returning starter. However, his stock had tanked to the point that he may have gone undrafted, so it's hard to fault him for withdrawing. Briscoe was in a really difficult spot.

Like Trimble and Hayes, he may have gone undrafted; unlike his Big Ten counterparts, he won't return to campus as the star. With a pair of blue chip guards in Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox arriving in Lexington, Briscoe could have difficulty improving his stock.

Whalen: What do you make of Marcus Lee and Malik Newman's decisions to transfer? How much does losing that transfer year impact their stock?

Anderson: It's a pretty big deal. I think both guys should have just declared and been OK with playing in the D-League for a while. College is probably more fun than riding busses in the D-League, but it certainly seems like their NBA dreams are close to over.

Whalen: Yeah, considering both were, by all accounts, very close to declaring for the 2016 draft, it's strange to imagine they're content to wait another two years. In Lee's case, at least he'll (almost certainly) get to play his senior season back home, but that means he'll be 24 by the time the 2018-19 NBA season rolls around. Assuming Lee winds up at Cal, he'll be a nice replacement if/when Ivan Rabb declares for the draft next year, but it's hard to see this decision helping his future in the NBA.

Newman's situation is a bit more bizarre, but not totally unexpected. While it's no secret Newman wasn't satisfied with how last season turned out, it's still a costly decision to forfeit a year of eligibility. Like you said, he would have been better off taking his lumps as a second-rounder and trying to prove himself in a deep bench role, initially. Now, he'll not only have to sit out a year, he'll also have to play well enough wherever he ends up next to remind scouts why they liked him in the first place.

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James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast. FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year finalist in 2012.
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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