With time comes perspective, and with perspective wisdom. For us, the lessons we will learn through life’s experiences will make us better equipped to face new ones. For NBA teams, the ability to look into the future would help them better make decisions today.
Lonzo Ball is a supreme talent surrounded by questions. A peek into the future could tell us if he will capitalize on that preternatural passing ability to become the next Jason Kidd, or if the off-court drama will increase the weight of his on-court struggles to adjust to the NBA game.
While no team possesses the ability to see the future (that we know of – the Spurs may have secretly figured this out) – a reality where they do could result in a completely different draft. As the past four NBA Lottery Re-drafts have shown us, things look a lot different with perspective.
What if front offices knew how a player would turn out? What if a team knew whether their environment would be poison to a prospect’s development? If a general manager saw a player succeed in another gym, would they reach to snag them earlier?
Thus, the 2017 NBA Lottery Re-Draft is born. How will this year’s draft play out with the knowledge of the 2021 season in the books? Before the present is written, how might the future play a part?
We begin our night in Boston, where the Celtics get to decide if their pick at the top still holds water four years later.
2017 NBA Lottery Re-Draft: Looking back from 2021
1. Boston Celtics
Original Pick: Markelle Fultz, Washington
Re-draft Pick: Markelle Fultz, Washington (1-1)
There is no reason to get cute here at the top, as Boston got the best player in the draft the first time around. Fultz came into the league with special offensive ability, and he didn’t disappoint. The Rookie of the Year battle between Fultz and Ben Simmons was incredible, even more so since Fultz was sharing a backcourt with All-Star Isaiah Thomas. But his shooting translated from day one, and he took huge strides as a defensive player over his rookie contract.
He made the All-Star team as an injury replacement this season and should make the team outright next year. With Thomas coming off the bench this is Fultz’ team now, and after he led them to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the last five years this roster is ready to finally get over the hump and make the NBA Finals next season. That’s partly a result of an elite coach, and partly a talented roster, but it’s resting on Fultz’ shoulders now.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Re-draft Pick: Jayson Tatum, Duke (1-11)
Evaluating the career of Lonzo Ball and his fit on the Lakers is an endeavor that needs books, not a few paragraphs. Ball has certainly not been a bust, as his elite passing vision has been a perfect fit for Luke Walton’s offense, and the Lakers have had a top-10 offense each of the past two seasons. And while LaVar Ball has never gone away, his focus shifted towards Lonzo’s younger brothers enough to cease to be a distraction. But this Lakers team could not keep a toddler from a cookie jar, let alone stop NBA teams from scoring – two of the worst defensive seasons in league history belong to the 2018 and 2019 Los Angeles Lakers, and this past season was a sign of growth that they ranked 27th. His defensive issues and turnover troubles, coupled with inefficient scoring, have Ball a step below some of the other players in this draft.
That begins with Jayson Tatum, one of the league’s best wing scorers and this draft’s second best player. When Tatum unexpectedly fell on draft night, the Portland Trail Blazers pulled off a trade with the Charlotte Hornets to leap up to 11 – an unqualified success. Portland was one of three teams in the league with a trio of 20-point scorers (along with Golden State and Denver) and boasted the league’s top offense for the second year in a row. The second coming of Carmelo Anthony, Tatum has been excellent and only just missed out on taking the top spot.
3. Orlando Magic (via Philadelphia, via Sacramento)
Original Pick: Dennis Smith, NC State
Re-draft Pick: Dennis Smith, NC State (1-3)
There are a few options to consider here, including Ball and De’Aaron Fox, but Smith has been a solid player for the Orlando Magic. They traded up to ensure their pick of point guard, sending picks No. 6 and 25 overall plus Mario Hezonja to the 76ers. Although Smith missed much of his rookie year with a sprained knee, he bounced back the next season to lead the team in scoring. The Magic finally qualified for the postseason after an eight-year drought last season, with Smith, Aaron Gordon and Deandre Ayton forming a solid core.
4. Phoenix Suns
Original Pick: Josh Jackson, Kansas
Re-draft Pick: Johnathan Isaac, Florida St (1-7)
At four we run into the first true disappointment of the 2017 NBA Draft, with Suns forward Josh Jackson. Josh has brought defensive intensity on every possession, but he flatlined as a shooter and averaged too many turnovers to be an offensive hub. While he can still be a useful player in the league, Jackson has not delivered on his draft day potential.
On the other hand, Johnathan Isaac has delivered and then some on his potential. Perhaps Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau’s favorite player, Isaac is a defensive jack-of-all-trades who can protect the rim and guard wings out in space – the true modern defensive forward. With Isaac and 2021 MVP Karl-Anthony Towns, Thibodeau has overseen a top-5 defense the past three seasons. While not a dynamic offensive threat, he is not asked to be on this team, spotting up in the corners (41 percent from three-point range this past season) and cutting off the ball. He fits his role perfectly, and the Suns could use a two-way player with few weaknesses.
5. Sacramento Kings
Original Pick: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Harry Giles, Duke (1-10)
This is a difficult decision for the Kings to make, as they actually like both players they selected in the 2017 Lottery. But Giles is one of the league’s best centers, and they know he won’t make it back to them with the 10th pick. It was a draft-day surprise when Giles went so early, especially when Jayson Tatum’s fall meant the Kings took Giles over his Duke teammate. While Tatum’s explosion into an All-Star level player makes a number of teams look foolish for passing on him, it’s hard for Sacramento to be disappointed in Giles.
The former top-ranked player in his class has stayed mostly healthy through four seasons, and every season added skill to his game. This past year he broke the twenty-point barrier for the first time to go with nine rebounds and four assists, and he is the perfect pick-and-roll complement to guards De’Aaron Fox and Luka Doncic on the outside. While they were swept in four games this postseason by the top-seeded Timberwolves, breaking the franchise’s 14-year playoff drought was enough for Sacramento fans.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Malik Monk, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
This is another difficult choice, as the 76ers love Monk and he has been a perfect fit alongside Simmons, Embiid and Michael Porter. He has averaged 17 points per game the last two seasons, leading the league in three-pointers made over that span. But with the reigning Defensive Player-of-the-Year in Joel Embiid protecting the back line the 76ers can better handle Lonzo Ball’s defensive limitations, and his passing and shooting are both incredible attributes. Whether the 76ers would have made it to the NBA Finals this past season with Ball instead of Monk is hard to tell; perhaps they would have made it sooner.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Original Pick: Johnathan Isaac, Florida State
Re-draft Pick: Jordan Bell, Oregon (2-37)
The Timberwolves of course are disappointed Isaac isn’t here, as he has been a perfect part of their team as it rose to the top of the Western Conference. Although the Warriors beat them in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons – this time via a full seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals – the Timberwolves will go into next season as popular title favorites, led by reigning MVP Karl-Anthony Towns, All-Star Andrew Wiggins, Sixth Man-of-the-Year Zach LaVine and All-Defense selections Eric Bledsoe and Johnathan Isaac. Their roster is stacked and Isaac is a key part of that.
They attempt to recoup that by selecting the draft’s second-best defensive player in Jordan Bell. Bell has started at center for the Boston Celtics the past two seasons, paired with Mohamed Bamba to form one of the league’s most athletic back lines. He has ranked in the top-3 in blocks each of the past two seasons, and finished third to Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert in the Defensive Player-of-the-Year voting this past season. While not much of an offensive threat, with Fultz, Thomas, and Jaylen Brown leading the way, the Celtics don’t need him to much scoring. He can fill a similar role in Minnesota.
8. New York Knicks
Original Pick: Frank Ntilikina, France
Re-draft Pick: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (1-5)
It’s possible, if not probable that any point guard taken here would have disappointed over their first four seasons. Ntilikina has been a solid player, and perhaps could be a starter in the right situation. But this draft occurred right in the middle of the Phil Jackson era, and the Knicks franchise is still struggling to recover. From the blockbuster Denver trade that saw Kristaps Porzingis end up on the Nuggets to the tooth-and-nails media war between Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, this team may have ruined any point guard. But Fox’s single-minded determination may have allowed him to drown out the noise and succeed in the Big Apple.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Original Pick: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Re-draft Pick: Malik Monk, Kentucky (1-6)
The Mavericks were teased for taking “Dirk 2.0” on draft night when they selected the sharpshooting Markkanen, and in many ways he has been just that – although “Dirk Lite” is perhaps more appropriate. He has delivered on the shooting, knocking down 44 percent of his shots from long range the last three seasons, including 47 percent last year – an unprecedented number.
But the tradeoff has been defense, of which Markkanen has played no part. Nerlens Noel is a capable rim protector but has spent significant portions of the past four years unavailable due to injury, and the Mavericks have been unable to reach even passable on defense. This is not solely Markkanen’s fault, but he is a huge part of the problem. Monk gives them the same sharpshooting ability from a different position, and Monk has at least shown in Philadelphia he can be a part of a good defense.
10. Sacramento Kings
Original Pick: Harry Giles, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (1-24)
Having taken Giles with their first pick, the Kings complete the flip-flop and take a point guard here – and Jawun Evans is their guy. Utah’s step from a deep team with upside to a Western Conference Finals squad came when they handed the reigns to Evans in his second season, moving from one of the league’s slowest teams to top-10 in pace. With Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert all running the court in transition, Evans proved to be the perfect piece to maximize their talent. Although Utah lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Warriors in 2019, and in the Second Round each of the past two seasons, they are in the mix every year. Evans is unsurprisingly a better shooter than Fox but a worse defender, and he should fit in well as a replacement.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (via Charlotte)
Original Pick: Jayson Tatum, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin (2-59)
Tatum was one of the best values in the draft, a player who made an All-Star team and became a perennial 20-point scorer selected at 11. But with Tatum off the board they go for another of the draft’s best values in Nigel Hayes. The combo forward was taken with the second-to-last pick of the draft by the San Antonio Spurs, and ended up starting for the 2020 title team, the only team to beat the Warriors in the playoffs since Kevin Durant’s arrival.
While Hayes isn’t an elite scorer, he has turned into a knockdown shooter. He’s also a willing passer, and has a knack for finding the ball on the offensive glass. Defensively he can hold his own against opposing power forwards, allowing Kawhi Leonard to continue checking the opponent’s best player. With Hayes, Leonard and Chris Paul, the Spurs still boast one of the league’s best defenses, despite Paul’s age and Hayes’ low draft stock.
12. Detroit Pistons
Original Pick: Luke Kennard, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Terrance Ferguson, Australia (1-17)
Kennard was the third Blue Devil taken in a row back in 2017, and he has been a solid rotation player for the Pistons. His shooting has never reached elite, but he is a capable secondary ball-handler and has moved in and out of the starting lineup during his time in Detroit. He isn’t a bust, but there are better options here for the Pistons in the re-draft.
Ferguson has grown into a full-blown scorer, able to hit shots at all three levels. While not hyper-efficient, he can generate a shot from anywhere on the court, and specializes in floaters from just outside the paint. The Bucks have been deploying him off the bench alongside Semi Ojeleye and the two have consistently kept Milwaukee’s second unit among the league’s best. His signature moment came in the 2020 NBA Finals when he put up 27 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6, forcing the Game 7 in San Antonio that the Spurs ultimately won.
13. Denver Nuggets
Original Pick: OG Anunoby, Indiana
Re-draft Pick: Josh Jackson, Kansas (1-4)
The Denver Nuggets drafted Anunoby almost entirely for his defensive tools, and he has been a solid wing defender for Denver. But he is almost entirely a non-factor on the offensive end, and that has been a problem for the Nuggets in the playoffs. Jackson is a better offensive player than Anunoby, and Josh would fit well alongside Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis.
14. Miami Heat
Original Pick: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Re-draft Pick: John Collins, Wake Forest (1-18)
Donovan Mitchell is the type of hyper-athlete the Heat favor, and had he stayed in Miami he may have thrived in their system. He ended up in Chicago as part of the Jimmy Butler trade midway through his rookie season, and has put in a solid career as a rotation wing. But a lack of shooting has kept him from taking the next step in a league that craves shooting. Collins is a double-double machine for the Pacers alongside Myles Turner, and perhaps the Heat could have sent him to Chicago and kept Josh Richardson instead. A lack of shooting around Butler, Blake Griffin and Hassan Whiteside has limited Miami’s ability to get past first Cleveland and then Milwaukee in the postseason.
Honorable Mentions: Josh Hart, Villanova (2-39); Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (1-9); Frank Ntilikina, France (1-8); Zach Collins, Gonzaga (1-16); Monte Morris, Hornets (2-41); T.J. Leaf, UCLA (1-21); Luke Kennard, Duke (1-12); Semi Ojeleye, SMU (2-48); Frank Mason, Kansas (2-35)
Two quick takeaways from the 2017 NBA Lottery Re-draft. The first is that we obviously cannot know the future. We (the royal We) made up some fake blockbuster trades and projected some of the league’s talented young teams to make it to the NBA Finals (although the Warriors still won five of the seven titles since 2015). It could easily be that the league’s stars stay put and more veteran squads dominate the Conference Finals. We just don’t know.
Secondly, having a debilitating weakness can kill a player’s ability to reach greatness. Josh Jackson and OG Anunoby are superb defenders, but if they can’t become more competent on offense they’ll be tough to keep on the court. Lauri Markkanen is the same way; coaches cannot rely on him if he can’t defend at all. Teams are too skilled and smart and will scheme out players with a key weakness. The ability to pair an elite skill-set with no major weaknesses is the key to the next wave of great NBA players.