After taking some time to relax and reflect, here are some team-by-team thoughts on last Thursday’s NBA Draft.
I’ve gone on ad nauseam about how Jaren Jackson Jr. was my guy. But I don’t despise what the Suns did. It’s likely Phoenix has its starting five of the future in place: Okobo operating next to Booker in the backcourt with Bridges, Josh Jackson and Ayton filling out the frontcourt. And T.J. Warren’s scoring punch will be more valuable in a sixth man role. Ceding a future first round pick (Miami, 2021) and the 16th overall selection (Zhaire Smith) for Bridges was a questionable move, but it’s clear the Suns prioritized perimeter shooting.
Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III (2)
In the last decade of draft classes, Victor Oladipo is the only former second overall pick who has reached an All-Star game. D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and/or Lonzo Ball could eventually reach that level, but it’s no given. Bagley is not necessarily entering an ideal environment in terms of developing his game. Then again, the fit might not be as bad as it seems. Willie Cauley-Stein showed improvement as a playmaker last year, De’Aaron Fox is one of my favorite young point guards, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield can flat out stroke it from beyond the arc. Bagley is nowhere near big enough to play significant minutes at center as a rookie. Having him start out at the 4 makes sense, as it will likely push him to get better along the perimeter — both offensively and defensively.
Doncic in Dallas has a nice ring to it. So does Luka the Lone Star. Dirk Nowitzki is the perfect mentor for the Slovenian sensation. Meanwhile, Jalen projects as a good long-term backup point guard. Rick Carlisle can rest easy knowing he has plenty of ball-handlers and playmakers at his disposal.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr. (4), Jevon Carter (32)
Jackson falling to fourth could look reckless in hindsight. Centers possessing 3-and-D skillsets and the handles to attack closeouts off the dribble don’t come around every day. Jaren is versatile enough on both ends that he can begin his career playing primarily at power forward alongside Marc Gasol. The former Defensive Player of the Year (2012-13) will provide Jackson with tutelage (and a practice partner), and frankly I won’t be surprised if Triple J ends up walking away with a DPOY award by 2023. Gasol will groom Jackson to be the man once himself and Mike Conley are gone. And Jevon Carter is another dude who fits the Grizzlies’ Grit N’ Grind game like a glove.
Here’s to hoping that Trae Young puts Atlanta back on the basketball map. I can see it now: Trae and Sir Foster’s combination of delectable sauces electrifying the entire state of Georgia. The Hawks will be a League Pass favorite of mine whether Young thrives or struggles, and rest assured, this squad is going to get up and down the court and show no hesitance to shoot the rock. Taurean Prince will have his work cut out for him on the defensive end. Nevertheless, the formula for success on offense is readily apparent.
Orlando Magic: Mohamed Bamba (6), Melvin Frazier (35), Justin Jackson (43)
The running joke is that the Magic only bother to look at height and wingspan when considering draft prospects. And while there may be a small shed of truth to that, it’s not as if Orlando walked away with a bunch of scrubs. Bamba is already a beast on defense, at least inside the painted area, while Frazier and Jackson have the potential to become bench contributors.
I’m a huge fan of Carter’s fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. Wendell also has a full year of experience protecting a poor defensive power forward (Bagley), precisely the challenge awaiting him in Chicago (Lauri Markannen). Regardless, Hoiberg now has two highly skilled big men who can help open up driving lanes for the guards and wings, Hutchison included.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton (8)
Sexton is a spitfire. And the Cavaliers are craving a shot of spunk, especially with LeBron James plotting greener pastures. Collin could end up challenging for Rookie of the Year. However, more interesting than Sexton’s per-game stats will be his career arc. Will he continue to improve his perimeter shooting? Is that the key to unlocking his palpable potential? What’s Sexton’s ceiling? Can he become a better version of Eric Bledsoe?
In high school Knox made a name for himself as a hustler and defender. He was known for his size, strength and willingness to do the little things. Kentucky’s absence of offense forced Kevin to showcase his shooting and scoring, thus flipping the script for the former star QB. Knox could prove to be an excellent fit next to franchise center Kristaps Porzingis. With that being said, Sexton and Knox were perhaps the most surprising top-10 picks.
Los Angeles Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11), Jerome Robinson (13)
If Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper pops, we’re looking at a slightly less athletic (but more skilled) edition of a young Shaun Livingston. Livingston had true star potential pre-injury, and so does Shai if all goes well. Robinson, on the other hand, was very arguably the biggest reach of the draft. For a franchise that hasn’t exactly been flushed with wings over the last decade, choosing Jerome over [insert name of any first-round wing] invites skepticism.
Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges (12), Devonte’ Graham (34), Arnoldas Kulboka (55)
Charlotte ought to be counting their lucky stars that Miles fell into their lap. The younger Bridges brother (I know they aren’t actually related) probably has a better chance of reaching an elite level thanks to his superior ability to consistently create offense for himself and others off the bounce. Moreover, Miles fills a big-time need at power forward, as Marvin Williams has been downright awful these past two seasons. Meanwhile, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist probably needs to be converted into a small-ball center (unless Charlotte finds a 5 that can really stretch the floor). Dwight Howard’s departure (via trade) should open up more minutes at the 5 for MKG and Cody Zeller, and Bridges should step in as the starting 4 from day one. Barring a blow up of the roster, Kemba Walker and company are as good a bet to make the playoffs as any other Eastern Conference team that missed out in 2017-18.
Injury concerns notwithstanding, Porter was a good value pick at 14. I think Zhaire Smith would’ve been a remarkable fit as a defense-first guy who cuts back door, passes well and and does all the little things that need to be done. But it’s hard to argue MPJ was a poor choice based on his upside as a modern 4-5 who might further fuel an already uptempo Denver offense. If Porter proves healthy and pops, the young Nuggets core (including Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray) could be borderline unstoppable on that end. And while the Welsh selection likely won’t be worth the squeeze, Vanderbilt is worth a look. Denver needs a big man agile enough to cover along the perimeter and strong enough to protect the paint and grab boards. Vanderbilt checks those boxes. Or at least he has the potential to, which is more than we can say about any of the other centers suiting up for the Nuggets.
Washington Wizards: Troy Brown (15), Issuf Sanon (44)
For as much as I admire Brown’s advanced vision as a passer, this was a puzzling pick. John Wall and Bradley Beal create most of the offense, and generally speaking the Wizards need more guys who can finish a play than make one. This will look silly on my part if Troy transforms himself into a solid outside shooter, but that’s not his reputation entering the league. My final thought could be considered unfair since it factors Washington’s recent trade (Marcin Gortat-for-Austin Rivers) into the equation, but I don’t understand the logic behind passing on Robert Williams here. I (foolishly) felt this was the floor for him, and believe his fit would’ve been a fine one.
The Sixers went star hunting, acquiring His Zhaireness and a future first round pick (Miami 2021) from Phoenix in exchange for Mikal Bridges. Like Bridges, Smith is known for his defensive acumen. Zhaire should step in as the head of the snake on defense from day one, harassing ball-handlers as soon as they cross half court. Having played power forward and center during his high school and college days, Smith will welcome switches onto bigger and stronger players — with arms wide open, sitting in a stance. Offensively is where the concerns exist among skeptics, as Bridges projected as a perfect fit as an athletic, floor-spacing three-point shooter. Can Smith shoot? Well, he made 18-of-40 (45 percent) three-point attempts in college, so the answer is yes, albeit in a small sample size. In my opinion, the concerns about Zhaire’s offense are overblown despite the fact that Ben Simmons doesn’t shoot. Why? Smith is a savant screener, dimer, and master of maneuvering. Even if he isn’t shooting an impressive percentage right away, I believe he’ll still be a guy defenders have no choice but to cling to. Why? Because if you don’t put a body on Smith and box him out, he will put your whole team on a poster (or at least recover possession for his team). In Smith’s Elite Eight matchup with Mikal, the Wildcat found this out the hard way, missing boxes on Smith on numerous occasions. I can already imagine Marc Zumoff raving about Zhaire’s cleanup skills, complete with the tried and true “turning garbage into gold” line. The eye test suggests Smith has an elite sense of time and space. He just knows when and where to be. These are things that can be taught, but it helps to have impeccable instincts. And I’m curious as heck to see how Zhaire develops under Brett Brown’s watch.
As for Shamet and Milton, I like their fits as 3-and-D guard/wings who both played the point guard position in college but will settle into roles as secondary playmakers who spot up, attack closeouts and create when needed.
Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo (17)
I already wrote about DiVincenzo’s fit with Milwaukee in my piece about who I would draft at each spot, so I won’t delve into this again here.
San Antonio Spurs: Lonnie Walker IV (18), Chimezie Metu (49)
Walker is one of the wildcards of the class. He could be a joker, he could be the truth, or he could be something in between. With Kawhi Leonard’s future in Spurs-land up in the air, San Antonio was smart to shoot for upside. Metu, on the other hand, feels like a wasted pick. (But what do I know?)
Okogie is a great get for the Timberwolves — if Tom Thibodeau doesn’t bury him on the bench. And Bates-Diop was among the farthest fallers in the class. The second round senior from Ohio State (KBD) should provide help right away while the younger Okogie (sophomore out of Georgia Tech) may take a little longer to prove himself.
Utah Jazz: Grayson Allen (21)
Grayson’s offensive versatility is a good fit in coach Quin Snyder’s offense. How valuable Allen becomes will have a lot to do with what he does on defense. Nevertheless, this is a seasoned player who can do it all offensively.
Indiana Pacers: Aaron Holiday (23), Alize Johnson (50)
I’m a believer in the youngest Holiday brother, and in his fit next to Victor Oladipo. Having proven his worth both with and and away from the ball at UCLA, Aaron should have no issue playing off the Most Improved Player.
Portland Trail Blazers: Anfernee Simons (24), Gary Trent Jr. (37)
Perhaps Simons is a sleeper who slipped through the cracks. But it’s hard to see how these two guards will help move the needle for a team built around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Los Angeles Lakers: Moritz Wagner (25), Isaac Bonga (39), Sviatsolav Mykhailiuk (47)
Besides Bonga, who makes for an intriguing draft-and-stash, the Lakers appear to have botched this one. Maybe last summer was a bit of a fluke.
Boston Celtics: Robert Williams (27)
Williams wound up in a perfect situation, as the Celtics needed a young, athletic big like Rob. Does anyone doubt that Brad Stevens will help Williams become his best self?
Golden State Warriors: Jacob Evans (28)
The rich get richer. No surprise. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Musa isn’t my favorite prospect, but he was absolutely worth a roll of the dice here. The Nets continue to be innovative and take good risks. We’ll see whether they quietly just had themselves another night to remember.
Detroit Pistons: Khyri Thomas (38), Bruce Brown (42)
Thomas and Brown both fill needs along the wing for a Pistons team that let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walk for nothing last summer and then gave up most of their wing depth (Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley) to acquire Blake Griffin. After infamously selecting Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell in 2017, Detroit did well to swoop in for the 38th selection.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Hamidou Diallo (45), Devon Hall (53), Kevin Hervey (57)
Diallo doesn’t appeal in terms of fitting next to Russell Westbrook, but Hall and Hervey do. Hall’s slow and steady, ground-bound game is a nice change of pace, and Hervey might be better suited for the stretch-4 role Carmelo Anthony is currently unhappy with.
Houston Rockets: De’Anthony Melton (46), Vince Edwards (52)
Again, the rich get richer. Not much too see here besides a borderline lotto talent falling into the mid-second round and a do-it-all senior wing dropping.
New Orleans Pelicans: Tony Carr (51)
Carr can put the ball in the hoop, that’s for sure. His shot isn’t a pretty one by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done. I wouldn’t assume that he sticks though, as New Orleans has rotated microwaves frequently of late.
13 SUMMER LEAGUERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Brooklyn: Ding Yanyuhang
Charlotte: J.P. Macura
Cleveland: Dakota Mathias, Bonzie Colson
Chicago: Donte Ingram
Denver: Kenrich Williams
Golden State: Keenan Evans
Houston: Trevon Duval, Gary Clark, Deng Adel
L.A. Clippers: Desi Rodriguez
L.A. Lakers: Malik Newman
Toronto: Rawle Alkins