By John Hooper
It was a wild Thursday in Brooklyn on draft night, and we were lucky enough to be in attendance for the fireworks. The Jimmy Butler trade has already been covered ad nauseam and draft grades have been handed out across the internets, so instead I'm going to highlight the 11 points that I feel strongly about after watching from Barclays.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
I'm not as high as most on Markelle Fultz, but I still love the move that Philadelphia made to move up to get him. Fultz will be a perfect fit next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as a secondary playmaker and scorer, plus the move also took Philadelphia out of an uncomfortable value versus need predicament it was facing with the third pick. If Fultz can be an effective catch and shoot player when he's playing off the ball, the ceiling is the roof for him and for the 76ers.
That being said, my goodness is Fultz boring. Maybe it's just because he's doing this next to the Big Baller Brand extravaganza, but his interview after being selected reminded me of a fourth grader begrudgingly telling his grandma about the summer camp he went to because she paid for it. Show some juice Markelle! And that's not even mentioning his Twitter gaffe. Thankfully Embiid has enough personality for the whole team.
I also was a big fan of the 76ers' selection of Jonah Bolden in the second round. The rotation will be a bit crowded up front for them, but Bolden profiles as an athletic, modern big who it's easy to imagine playing next to either of the 76ers' fragile franchise cornerstones because of his versatility. Bolden's a high-ceiling player who will likely pay dividends for them down the road, whether that's on the court or as a trade asset.
Loser: Boston Celtics
I don't understand what the Celtics are doing. If you want to contend now, trade this year's number three pick along with a few of your players for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. If you're only focused on contending 3-5 years down the road, keep your first overall pick this year and draft the player most likely to become a superstar. Even if you think you're actually getting Gordon Hayward in free agency, use this year's pick as a piece in a trade for George to build a team that is absolutely in the conversation for the title next season.
Jayson Tatum is a good player (we had him ranked fifth in our final rankings) but since he wasn't the player with the highest ceiling in the draft, it feels the Celtics have added another solid if unspectacular piece to a core that's already too full. It feels like Danny Ainge has become obsessed with assets and flexibility and it's causing the Celtics to straddle both potential timelines for Boston, which is preventing them from maximizing their chance to succeed in either. The Celtics needs to commit to a direction, otherwise they may end up in a purgatory in between 50 - 60 wins and outside the the group of true contenders for the next five years.
What I would've done as the Boston front office is make a trade for George based around these pieces, and kept the number one pick to take Lonzo Ball. Yes, George may still bolt to LA at the end of the year, but one of the main benefits of this would've been getting out from under the obligation of having to pay Isaiah Thomas $40M a year when he's an over-30 point guard. Ball would've also formed an ideal pairing with Avery Bradley, since Bradley could cover quick opposing point guards who'll likely will give Ball trouble, a la De'Aaron Fox last year. I also threw in the move for Trevor Booker because he's a borderline elite rebounder as a power forward and since trading for George would make Jae Crowder expendable. I think Ball - Bradley - George - Booker - Horford is more of a threat to the Cavs than Thomas - Bradley - Crowder - Brown(?) - Horford, but maybe that's just me.
On the bright side, I loved the Celtics' selection of Kadeem Allen in the second round. Allen is a defensive menace who makes life for opposing guards miserable. He's older and his shot is a work in progress, which is why he was available at 53, but there are a lot of similarities in his skill-set and style of play to Avery Bradley. I think it's reasonable to read the tea leaves here and infer that Allen makes Bradley more expendable when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. Look for Allen to get more playing time than most would expect this season so Boston can see if they've found their new, cheaper version of Bradley.
Winner: Purple Suits
I had no idea this was even a thing, but multiple players wore oxblood suits and it looked pretty fucking great. Shout out to Frankie Smokes, Josh Jackson, and Frank Jackson.
I know I said I wouldn't rehash the shellacking that the Bulls front office has already taken in the media for trading Jimmy Butler, but their selection of Lauri Markkanen bothers me because they used the pick they just acquired to draft a player who's most likely going to essentially be Nikola Mirotic. I've heard people say that Fred Hoiberg is at least finally getting a player for his pace and space system in Markkanen, but Hoiberg's had Mirotic for his entire tenure. Markkanen will likely be a more accurate shooter than Mirotic, but he's worse defensively, so letting Mirotic walk and selecting Markkanen is really only a wash instead of a talent upgrade in my eyes.
If Chicago really wanted to bring in people who could stretch the floor, why not re-sign Mirotic and draft Malik Monk instead? Monk would work best with a defensive-minded backcourt mate like Kris Dunn anyway, and he was the ultimate pace and space player in the draft. Playing Monk alongside Zach LaVine would've been a sieve of lineup on defense, but it would make for some incredibly entertaining hoops to watch.
But to the surprise of no one who's been reading our pieces leading up to the draft, my real recommendation would've been that they take Zach Collins at seven. Collins would fit into Hoiberg's pace and space ethos, and offers immense potential for a team that's willing to let him grow. Chicago would've been a perfect place to let Collins come along slowly behind Robin Lopez for the next two years before letting Lopez leave in free agency and handing Collins the keys. Our (admittedly optimistic) comp for Collins is Pau Gasol, so he's clearly the type of player the Bulls would be interested in.
Overall, let's just say that I have no qualms with the "F" grades that the Bulls have received for their performance on draft night.
Winner: New York Knicks
First off, it's a win that they didn't trade Kristaps Porzingis. Crisis temporarily averted.
Secondly, I love their second round pick of Damyean Dotson. Dotson was ranked 22nd on our big board because he can absolutely rip it from deep. He can play either wing spot, which will lend itself to some welcome lineup versatility. Even with the overall saltiness of the Knicks' situation right now, I would definitely watch a lineup of Ntilikina - Lee - Dotson - Anthony - Porzingis. That's a fun team that could play five-out and put Anthony in situations to abuse poor defenders being left on an island without help trying to guard him one-on-one.
I even like the Knicks' selection of Frank Ntilikina, despite having listed him in our list of most overrated prospects. If the Knicks really are going to try and continue to run the triangle, they may as well take a point guard who has the potential to be as good of a fit as you'll find for it with his length, defensive ability, and a shooting stroke that hopefully can be tightened up.
Let's get out the s'mores and get the gang back together fellas. There's talent here if the Knicks can start moving together in the same direction again.
Loser: Miami Heat
I targeted Miami as a team that was likely to be in a trade because there wasn't a good match of talent and need for them at the fourteenth. Apparently Pat Riley agreed, but instead of trading the pick, he decided it would be best to just take whoever had the coolest name. Unfortunately, Bam Adebayo cannot play next Hassan Whiteside in today's NBA, and Whiteside is on the books through the 2019-20 season for roughly $25M per year.
I still think there may be a move to come here. It just doesn't add up that the Heat would use a lottery pick on a player that seemingly maxes out as a backup center for them for the next three years.
Winner: John Collins
At first, I hated this for Collins, who I consider one of my sons after all the love I've showered him with leading up to the draft. Once I thought more about it, however, I realized that Atlanta could be an ideal place for him to blossom into the player we predict he can be. First, and maybe most importantly, he will be under the tutelage of Coach Bud, whose staff has a great reputation for player development. Another thing that I love about the fit is that with their seeming acceptance that they're about to go through a rebuild, there will be a lot of minutes for Collins to soak up at either the 4 or the 5. And finally, and this is dependent on how the offseason shakes out for the Hawks, but all of the remaining bigs who finished the year on Atlanta's team would pair well with Collins. Paul Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, and Kris Humphries are all above average shooters who could help keep the lane clear for Collins-Schröder pick and rolls.
I'm making an early prediction that Collins will come in the top 5 in Rookie of the Year voting. Others I predict will be in the running: Ben Simmons, Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, and Sindarius Thornwell.
Loser: Oklahoma City Thunder
I'm torn on the Thunder because their front office has frustrated me enough over the past few years that thinking about how I'd manage their roster is now a ongoing narrative in my head, but they're also my least favorite team in the league so I enjoyed a little schadenfreude when watching them have a night like they did on Thursday with their puzzling selection of Terrance Ferguson.
It's obvious that Ferguson has potential, but we had him ranked 44th on our big board going into the draft because he's such a long ways away from contributing at the NBA level. He's not quite Bruno Caboclo, but despite his gifts it's far from a guarantee that Ferguson ever makes an impact in the NBA. Ferguson averaged a 4.6/1.2/0.6 line in 15.1 minutes per game in Australia's National Basketball League. It's safe to assume that the level of competition is worse there than it is in the NBA... so Ferguson may be able to put up similar numbers for the Thunder in a year or so?
What I don't understand about the Thunder and their decision making is that they have a superstar who is in his prime right now. Wouldn't you want to do everything you could to support him and give yourself the best chance to maximize his unique talent? Wouldn't that especially be true if you're in the worst market in NBA and are highly unlike to end up with a talent like his again anytime soon? Why not take Tyler Lydon at 21 and give yourself an actual stretch 4 instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole with Domantas Sabonis there? Then they could've packaged Sabonis in a deal for backcourt depth and shooting such as this, but I digress.
Ok fine, side note/rant: the Ersan Ilysasova for Jerami Grant trade last season still boggles my mind. Ilyasova was the perfect player to have in that slot in their lineup to give Westbrook maximal room to work because Ilyasova's such a good shooter for a 4. His contract was expiring at the end of the year, so if cost was a concern then you could always just let him walk in free agency. But instead they decided to trade him AND a protected first 2020 rounder for a new 8th man. Whyyyyy?!?!
Yes, the Oklahoma City front office has made some great draft picks, most notably Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, and Steven Adams, but I think they're low key a bottom five team at roster and salary management.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
The Jerry West era starts with a bang!
After it came out that Patrick McCaw was ranked 16th on Jerry West's board in the 2016 draft (no link, unfortunately) which lined up almost identically with my personal ranking of McCaw at 15th, I've enjoyed indulging in self-flattery and telling myself that I have similar taste in players as West, one of the best talent evaluators of all time. This year, West selected two of my most underrated players in the second round of the draft, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, so clearly our telepathy still lives.
I love both picks from value standpoint, as we had both players ranked within the top 25 on our big board and the Clippers were able to acquire them with the 39th and 48th picks. I also love both picks from a fit perspective too. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Thornwell take over for Mbah a Moute as the Clippers' defensive minded forward in the starting lineup if Mbah a Moute declines his player option this offseason. Even if he doesn't end up starting early on, I expect Thornwell to carve out a role similar to Malcolm Brogdon's last year as a 25 minute a night glue guy who does a little of everything to help the Clips win ballgames.
Evans is an intriguing pick for the Clippers as well. Obviously I think highly of Evans, but I never wrote down one thought in particular of mine about him because it felt so hyperbolic: when watching his tape, there were aspects of Evans' game that remind me of Chris Paul's. Look, I don't think Evans is the next Point God, but he he has the same type of frame as Paul (5'11" without shoes, a wingspan that's 5-6 inches longer than their height, 180-185 pounds), and both dominate the ball by alternating between acting as the floor general and attacking the hoop to score. Evans is not nearly the shooter nor the defender that Paul was and is, but Evans is now entering a dream apprenticeship for his development backing up Paul. If Paul leaves, it's obviously a very different story, but having Evans as a potential successor would be a great silver lining if that's how things play out.
While we're here, I'd like to give a few shout outs to other teams who made great second round picks. I loved Milwaukee grabbing Sterling Brown for wing depth. We had him ranked 21st overall on our big board, so nabbing him at 46 was a great value pick. Phoenix made two strong second round selections in Davon Reed and Alec Peters. I doubt either will play significant minutes this season, but both are players who shoot well and should carve out nice careers in the league. I also liked Denver taking Monte Morris at 51. Worst case scenario, Morris should be an elite backup point guard during his career.
A few other acquisitions to shout out, undrafted free agent edition: Washington getting Devin Robinson, Houston signing Cam Oliver, Orlando picking up Derrick Walton Jr., Minnesota signing VJ Beachem and Deonte Burton, and New Orleans adding a desprately needed shooter in Peter Jok.
Loser: Caleb Swanigan
I still think Swanigan will have a long NBA career, but he was drafted into a suddenly crowded frontcourt in Portland. Even if Festus Ezeli's contract is terminated and Meyers Leonard is left out of the rotation, Swanigan will be fighting for minutes with Jusus Nurkic, Al Faruq-Aminu, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, and fellow rookie Zach Collins.
I hope Terry Stotts is willing to push Davis and Vonleh to the bottom of Portland's depth chart and give Swanigan a shot to play relevant minutes with the Blazers' second team this season, because he's the type of player who can make an impact right away and immediately give a reserve unit a go-to scorer. If not, this may be an unfortunate example of how much the situation can affect a player's development and career arc.
If Swanigan's left languishing on Portland's bench, look for a smart front office like Boston or San Antonio to try to pick him up. Something tells me RC Buford would be keen to add DeJuan Blair plus ACLs and a three point shot.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
The rich got richer on Thursday. Given their recent draft day history, it felt like a matter of when, not if the Warriors were going to buy their way into this year's draft. This year they acquired Jordan Bell of Oregon with the 38th overall pick and added to Chicago's miserable night in the process.
We had Bell ranked 18th on our big board, and adding him to the Golden State's lineup does almost seem unfair since his versatile, high-energy defense fits their switch-heavy schemes perfectly. He'll also have world class players taking all the attention away from him on offense and on the offensive boards, which should lead to many easy chances for him. Frankly, I expect Bell to be the Warriors' starting center on opening night, and to play 20 minutes a night as a rookie, as Bob Myers and the Warriors again prove the draft might be simpler than we think.
P.S. - Here are a few pictures and a video from our trip to the draft. Enjoy!
And Barclays' reaction to the Knick's taking Frank Ntilikina, with a special cameo from Nobu Stevens: