The Warriors’ basketball monolith may have just gotten a lot more frightening.
Golden State’s latest may-God-have-mercy-on-your-soul maneuver is to add DeMarcus Cousins to a roster that already features four of the top 25 players in the world today. Cousins signed with the Warriors for the $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception, which is significantly less than what he is worth. The Warriors are a team that could legitimately give the Eastern Conference All-Stars a fight, and Cousins’ arrival has led many to rightfully decry the competitive balance issues a move like this presents while also giving people another excuse to vent about how the Warriors are too good.
But while hating the Warriors is one of America’s favorite sports, there is a fundamental problem with the argument that they are the ones ruining the NBA.
For starters, let’s remember how Golden State’s unbeatable monster was formed. In 2015, the Players’ Union rejected a proposal that would have smoothed the salary cap over a number of years. The cap was set to increase from $70 million to $94 million before the 2016-17 season (due to the league’s TV rights deal with ESPN/ABC), and the NBA wanted to spread out this hike over a number of years. The Players’ Union could not have been less interested in this, because it would have prevented that year’s free agents from getting massive pay raises. The unintended consequence of it, however, was that it gave the Warriors, who were coming off a 73-win season, the additional cap room necessary to snag Durant and not have to give up any of their key players. The NBA’s worst nightmare played out in real life.
This is a classic example of needing to hate the game over the player. The other problem we’re dealing with here is that, in this scenario, other teams inadvertently helped Golden State sign yet another one of the best players our world has to offer.
Cousins suffered an Achilles injury in January of last year and will miss part of this season because of it. Because he was hurt, though, his value to teams is dramatically lower than it would have been otherwise. With that thought, several teams that would not have been able to afford Cousins could try to sign him for less than what he would have been worth. Of course, this didn’t happen, and according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, one of the teams that passed on Cousins will catch your eye, particularly when you see what his services would have cost:
Word also reached us Monday night that LeBron’s Lakers, after signing Rajon Rondo away from New Orleans and then losing Randle to the Pelicans, had an opportunity to sign Cousins at a one-year price point similar to the one that landed him in Golden State. But I’m told the Lakers passed, clearing the way for the Warriors to infuriate the basketball public yet again.
There are 29 teams in the NBA who could have had DeMarcus Cousins for less than half of what he’s really worth. There is no explanation, then, as to why Cousins got zero offers in the opening hours of free agency. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to be mad that the Warriors signed Cousins and, if he’s healthy, will be better than they were the past two seasons.
But if you’re just mad at Golden State for picking him up when no else wanted to, you’re misplacing your anger.
Another NBA Draft has come and gone and, as usual, there are plenty of storylines to go around. Markelle Fultz was taken first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, Lonzo Ball went second to the Lakers, the Timberwolves traded for Bulls superstar Jimmy Butler, and college freshmen (or the age equivalent of college freshmen) accounted for the first eleven picks in the draft.
Needless to say, there is plenty to talk about after last night’s NBA Draft. Here are some unsolicited thoughts on the last night’s draft and the events that surrounded it.
Ball Don’t Lie
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Lakers traded away guard D’Angelo Russell and the unyielding contract of Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for center Brook Lopez. Many believed the move was meant to make room for the team, led by new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, to draft UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. Sure enough, that’s what the Lakers did with the second overall pick in last night’s draft.
Ball is the team’s point guard of the future and has the ability to make all of his teammates better. The Lakers aren’t going back to the glory years of “Showtime”, but the acquisition of Ball could be what helps them get back into playoff contention. And while the specter of Lonzo’s father, LaVar, hangs over the selection, Johnson and General Manager Sam Seaborn Rob Pelinka have decided that hitching the Lakers’ wagon to the UCLA guard is worth the risk. And personally, I must say that I agree. Ball was the best player available for the Lakers and he could start the team toward a return to prominence. Don’t let a crazy father stop you from thinking that.
The Timberwolves’ Future Is Now
Arguably the biggest move on draft night was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. In return, Chicago acquired guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn from Minnesota; the Bulls also acquired the draft rights to Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, the seventh pick in the draft. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, also received the rights to the 16th pick in the draft, Justin Patton of Creighton.
While LaVine is an exciting player who averaged nearly 20 points per game last season, he suffered a season-ending ACL tear on February 3. Dunn, on the other hand, averaged all of 3.8 points per game in his rookie season after being drafted last year to unseat Ricky Rubio as Minnesota’s starting point guard. Rubio, though, had possibly the best year of his career last season, making the 23-year-old Dunn more than expendable this summer. Markkanen is an intriguing player who has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis as a sharpshooting seven-footer, but it’s very fair to wonder just how much more the Bulls could have gotten for Jimmy Butler, one of the best players in the game today.
Last season, Butler ranked fifth in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes, and before you cast that aside, consider that he came in ahead of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry, among others, in that category. In the category of VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), Butler again was fifth in the league, ahead of Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. The T’Wolves, led by Butler’s former coach, Tom Thibodeau, are getting a legitimate and experienced superstar who is one of the best players in the league at both ends.
The Timberwolves were able to get that caliber of player without having to gut their assets to do so. And the Bulls gave up the face of their franchise without getting many good assets in return. The Timberwolves are the clear winner in this deal, and the acquisition of Butler could help the team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Knicks May Have Stumbled Into a Good Decision
I get it, the Knicks and good decisions go together like toothpaste and orange juice. But hear me out here.
While it’s not a long line of great players, the Knicks have had success in recent years with international players. This has entailed both drafting and signing foreign talent, including drafting Kristaps Porzingis, acquiring Willy Hernangómez in a draft night trade two years ago, and signing Lithuania’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas last summer. And, not to belabor the point, but all of those moves were made, with varying levels of success, by Phil Jackson. Thank me later.
Last night, the Knicks continued that trend, selecting France’s Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick. Whlie Ntilikina is raw, he won’t turn 19 until next month, and at 6’5″ he has elite length for a point guard. Most importantly from the Knicks perspective, he fits Jackson’s Triangle offense, a system that is very successful when it’s led by Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, the best out of any point guard in this year’s draft. While you may not agree with that, Ntilikina is a system pick and could prove to be successful. I would have taken NC State’s Dennis Smith, but I understand the Knicks’ reasoning.
And besides, the Knicks front office knows what it’s doing. Just ask them. And even as their owner played a blues concert with his band during a huge night for his organization, the Knicks may have done something right, even if they didn’t do it on purpose.
Speaking of Teams Accidentally Doing Good Things…
The Sacramento Kings have not had many things go right for them recently. The team’s last playoff appearance was in 2006 and the last eleven years have consisted of bad trades, multitudesofheadcoaches, and general dysfunction both on and off the floor. Last night, though, the Kings did good things with their first-round picks.
With the fifth pick, the Kings selected Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. Fox played the aforementioned Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16 of this year’s NCAA Tournament and absolutely dominated the matchup, scoring 39 points in a Kentucky victory. Fox is a dynamic playmaker with amazing speed and athleticism, and he looks to be Sacramento’s point guard of the future.
While the Kings possessed the tenth pick in the first round, they decided to flip that pick to the Trail Blazers for the 15th and 20th overall picks. They would use those picks on North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Harry Giles, respectively. Jackson is an intriguing player because of his length and his perimeter shooting, but I was most impressed with the selection of Giles. Giles is an energetic big man who would have been selected earlier in the draft if he had not suffered two ACL tears in the span of just four years. The Kings could be getting a steal with the Duke big man, as he is an excellent rebounder and finisher inside. If he can stay healthy, he’ll prove to be far more valuable than his 20th overall selection.
Hopefully for the Kings, Fox, Jackson, Giles, and others can help the organization move forward in a post-DeMarcus Cousins world.
As you probably heard yesterday, the Lakers have decided to fully take the plunge and immerse their front office in something completely new and different:
The team announced this decision yesterday, which included promoting Johnson to President of Basketball Operations, firing GM Mitch Kupchak, and reassigning Jim Buss from his previous role of executive vice president of basketball operations. The move is not entirely surprising; Magic recently said in an interview that he wanted to “call the shots” in the organization and his hiring as an adviser to the owner seemed to suggest that this day was coming. However, the timing of the decision was bizarre, as Johnson was assigned to his new, all-powerful post just two days before the NBA’s trade deadline; this is a time when most front offices would need as much stability as possible to make important decisions in a team’s future.
Instead, the Lakers went in the opposite direction and hired Johnson, a franchise legend who, with this most recent assignment, has now played, coached, owned a stake in, and made basketball decisions for the Lakers. No matter what you think of this hire, that feat is awfully impressive.
However, the decision to put an inexperienced legend in charge of basketball decisions needs to be seriously questioned.
Johnson’s most important job as President of Basketball Operations will be as a talent evaluator. If you want a sense of how that will go, here are some of Johnson’s old tweets:
I love Okafor because he’s won a state championship in HS, NCAA Title at Duke and he can bring that championship pedigree to the Lakers.
Finally, a prediction Magic was right about! To be fair to Magic, though, saying bizarre and incorrect things on Twitter does not necessarily translate to failure as a front office executive. It just means that, well, his evaluation skills might need some work. That is not the end of the world; for example, the Celtics hired Danny Ainge as President of Basketball Operations in 2003; while he has not been perfect in this role, he currently has the Celtics as one of the best teams in the East and may have casually finessed his way to the #1 pick in this year’s draft. Ainge’s is the blueprint Johnson must follow in his new role.
One would figure that even as he assumes the power of his new role, Johnson would attempt to surround himself with experienced/skilled executives who have been around front offices and can provide a different perspective. If his first hire as President of Basketball Operations is any indication, however, Magic probably isn’t doing that.
In a move that broke yesterday, the Lakers are expected to hire well-renowned agent and Rob Lowe look-alike Rob Pelinka as their new GM. Pelinka also has zero front office experience and, perhaps most significantly, was Kobe Bryant’s agent throughout much of his career; he was also widely regarded as the sixth member of Michigan’s early 90s Fab Five, as he was a reserve guard on the Wolverine team that went to back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993.
Pelinka’s hiring begs this question, though: if Johnson and Pelinka are heading the Lakers front office, how long is it until Kobe Bryant gets involved in the Lakers’ dealings? It is merely speculation at this point, but one would logically think that the Black Mamba would have some type of advisory role in the front office sooner or later, even if it is not an official role.
Also: what kind of responsibilities will Johnson and Pelinka have? One would think that Pelinka would be tasked with more of the day-to-day decision-making and cap expertise. After all, Magic admitted that he does not have a full understanding of the collective bargaining agreement (which, in some cases, is a prerequisite to holding a job like Magic’s) and that is why he hired someone like Pelinka as General Manager. Johnson would likely be more of a figurehead who has final say over roster decisions, the coaching staff, etc. We’ll see how the power shakes out, but the Lakers have now placed two complete neophytes in substantial front office roles. It will be interesting to see what results of this and who else is hired into LA’s front office.
Johnson also takes over the Lakers at a critical time for the franchise. The team is in its first season with new head coach Luke Walton and most agree that he is the right man to coach the team going forward. The organization has had three top ten draft picks in as many drafts and has converted those picks into Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram. All three have been solid, competent players, but none looks like a superstar yet (Ingram likely has the highest potential of achieving stardom and also has the longest way to go to fully develop).
This is going to be Johnson’s job in this draft. The Lakers’ first-round pick is top-three protected this year; if it falls outside of the top three, it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers currently possess the third-worst record in the league and may or may not be tanking to improve their chances at a top pick in the lottery. In such a talented and deep draft, though, having a top-three pick will be enormous for the future of the Lakers. Converting that pick into a superstar is what Johnson must do if the Lakers want to improve their standing in the West.
Even though the new regime only took hold yesterday, the Lakers are already hard at work; hours after the shakeup, the team traded guard Lou Williams to the Rockets for Corey Brewer and Houston’s first-round draft pick, which will likely fall near the end of the first round. This seems like a logical trade, but Magic could have squeezed more out of the Rockets if he wanted to; Williams ranks eighth in the league in points per 36 minutes among eligible players and Houston likely would have surrendered more if the Lakers asked for it. This subtraction will hurt the Lakers in the interim, which probably is not an accident.
Magic Johnson is taking over the Lakers at a pivotal time for the franchise. The team must convert their draft pick into a star in this draft and build an organization capable of attracting star free agents in future years. The Lakers are rolling the dice in tasking him with basketball decisions, and the last time a former player and coach was hired to an executive basketball position he had no prior experience in, it didn’t go so well. I’ll just leave that right there.
But, we must keep an open mind with the hiring of Magic Johnson. After all, the fact that it’s an enormous risk doesn’t mean that there won’t be an enormous payoff down the road.
I’m sure you probably forgot about it with the NBA Finals going to seven games, but the NBA Draft is this Thursday in Brooklyn. This draft promises to be interesting on a number of levels, with a deep international pool and can’t-miss prospects at the top of the class.
I’ll start things off with my big board; it consists of 54 players, most if not all of which will be drafted Thursday night. Here it is, followed by an explanation of a couple of rankings that might jump out at you:
Wade Baldwin IV
Gary Payton II
A couple of things to explain here. Number one, I put Brandon Ingram at #1 on my board, and I did this for a variety of reasons. The obvious one is that he’s a far, far better shooter than Simmons. Simmons will have to get a jump shot if he wants to be successful in the NBA, at least offensively. While he often looks to get his teammates involved, a la LeBron James or Magic Johnson, his shot needs an awful lot of work. I also really like Ingram as a defender, and I think this makes his value as a wing skyrocket.
Another thing I should really address is Buddy Hield’s presence at #3. While this sounds hyperbolic (and maybe it is), Hield is the best shooter the draft has seen since Steph Curry came out of Davidson in 2009. Hield’s career progression kind of reminds you of Curry’s; he was a four-year student-athlete at Oklahoma and wasn’t recruited by more basketball-rich schools because of his lack of athletic ability. Sound familiar? Yeah, I think Hield is going to be really good in the NBA; his work ethic enables him to continue to improve, even at 22, and he should be able to contribute right away to whichever team takes him.
With all of that being said, it’s time for our first-round mock draft. If this tweet is any indicator, I should be getting about two of thirty of these picks right:
Text from a scout on unpredictability of this draft: “Mock drafts are about to go up in flames.”
So that’s nice. In any event, let’s give it a shot. Here’s my 2016 mock draft. Let’s hope it doesn’t go up in flames.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The pick: Ben Simmons
The only other logical pick for the 76ers here would be Brandon Ingram. Simmons and Ingram are the two best players in this draft, and it’s a pretty big gap between two and three.
The most impressive part of Simmons’ game, other than his athleticism, is his passing ability. Watch this play against Florida in January. Pay close attention to how he looks off the defender and whips the pass into the paint for a shot under the basket:
In watching that play, it’s easy to see why the comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson have rolled in. However, he’s not nearly a perfect player; as previously stated, he actually cannot shoot. He’s probably not even shooting with the correct hand, so maybe a Tristan Thompson-esque change from his left hand to his right is forthcoming.
Also, if he is to have any other weakness, it’s that he’s not that great in the post. His post game will need to become more advanced if he is to play the three or four in the NBA. Other than that, he’s a really good passer and rebounder, one who could and probably will be highly productive at the next level.
Philly needs literally everything in the draft and free agency, so getting Simmons at 1 is a very good start.
Simmons Comparison: LAMAR ODOM/BLAKE GRIFFIN
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The pick: Brandon Ingram
Another very easy call here. If the 76ers by chance pick Ingram over Simmons, then the Lakers would take Simmons at 2.
Ingram is another very interesting player at the top of the draft. He’s kind of a prototypical NBA wing, and as you can see from this highlight reel, he can really do a little bit of everything.
Personally, I like Ingram a little more than Simmons because his skill set better fits the NBA game. He’s a good shooter (41% from three last season) and his shot should improve with time and repetition. He also has lots of potential defensively and can become elite when he adds more strength.
The obvious knock on Ingram is that he’s thin as a rail. That he is (6’9″, 190 lb.), and he will initially have trouble guarding stronger players in the post. He’s also very raw and could become a far better finisher, especially in traffic. Ingram has stated that he wants to eat lots of calories in order to bulk up, and he will have to fill out his frame in order to flourish in the NBA.
However, history has shown that he can still be on the thin side and succeed. In watching him play, he reminds me of Kevin Durant, and I mean every word of that statement.
The Lakers will get Ingram or Simmons here. Not a bad consolation prize at all.
Ingram Comparison: KEVIN DURANT
3. Boston Celtics
The pick: Dragan Bender
F/C/Croatia (last played for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli BSL)
This is where I could see the draft getting very crazy. The Celtics could do any number of things with this pick (including trade it) and there are several players they could take at 3.
The guy I have them taking is Dragan Bender, the slightly mysterious, physically imposing big man from overseas who is projected to go in the top-5. Sound familiar? Yeah, Bender is this year’s Kristaps Porzingis, for better or worse.
Bender’s game is a little bit of an enigma; he is a decent shooter who has shown that he can step out to the three-point line every once in a while. He’s also a very good passer, particularly out of the post, which should help him against over-aggressive defenses.
But there are some apparent weaknesses: he’s not a great defender and his fundamentals are very poor. His shot is also very inconsistent and he only shot 25% from three for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season.
Nonetheless, he projects as a solid NBA player. Maybe he’ll be a solid unicorn as well.
Bender Comparison: VLADE DIVAC
4. Phoenix Suns
The pick: Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown is one of the most intriguing players in this draft. Brown is extremely athletic, the type of player who should be able to strive in Phoenix’s up-and-down system.
You can see the apparent athletic gifts Brown has in this dunk against UCLA:
Brown is an athletic specimen, but he doesn’t have that much more to offer other than his athletic ability and his defensive game; the two have a symbiotic relationship. He doesn’t have very many advanced dribble moves and is only really a straight-line driver in the half court. He also doesn’t have much of a jumper at this stage in his development, so going to a system that doesn’t require very much of him offensively will be very important.
Brown is incredibly raw, but he won’t be 20 until the season begins. If he goes to the right place, he could develop into a really good player. He has one of the highest upsides in the draft and he should be able to improve once he gets to the NBA.
Pheonix might be the place for him to do that.
Brown Comparison: METTA WORLD PEACE
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
The pick: Buddy Hield
Buddy Hield may not be the best player in the NBA Draft but he was the best player in college basketball last season. That has to count for something, right?
Hield has no limits to his shooting range and, just as importantly, possesses a very quick trigger. Watch how quickly he gets this shot out against Kansas in February:
Hield was the best shooter in the game, and he got that way because of his insane work ethic. Just listen to this account from ESPN’s Dana O’Neil:
Hield […] tries to get between 300 and 500 shots a day outside of practice. And that’s on the days he’s feeling good about himself. When he feels like he’s off, he’ll push himself into the 500 to 700 range.
500 to 700 shots per day. That’s absurd, but it at least partially explains why Hield has gotten so good. The other part is sheer, natural talent, which he has a lot of.
His athleticism is what hindered him going into college and it will again in the NBA. But if his work ethic is any indication, Hield can make himself into one of the best players in this draft and one of the best shooters in the league.
And the Timberwolves will reap the benefits at 5. That is unless they deal the pick, of course.
6. New Orleans Pelicans
The pick: Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn is one of the few locks in this draft; at 22, he’s also one of its oldest players. This kind of eats away at his upside, but it’s abundantly clear that Dunn is the best point guard in this year’s class. It isn’t that close, either.
As for his fit in New Orleans, it would probably be a really great place for him to go. He would step in immediately as the team’s starting point guard, but that’s not the best part of a potential Dunn-Pelicans union. New Orleans started four different point guards over the course of last season; Dunn would solidify the position and, at worst, give the team another option.
There’s also the appeal of what Dunn brings to the table. He’s one of the most athletic players in this draft and this helps him on both ends of the floor. He isn’t as good of a decision-maker as you would think and his jump shot isn’t that great, but these things could still improve with time.
In the meantime, he’s an already solid defender who should get even better in the NBA. Also, his athleticism and his ability to pass should help him acquiesce with star big man Anthony Davis; needless to say, prepare for a poor man’s version of Lob City in the French Quarter.
Dunn is the perfect fit for the Pelicans, and he’s one of the few sureties of this draft. He may be a little overrated, but he’ll still have himself a solid career in the NBA.
Dunn Comparison: VICTOR OLADIPO
7. Denver Nuggets
The pick: Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray is one of the best pure shooters in this year’s draft class. Watch him shoot this three from deep against Louisville early in the year:
Murray is a certified scorer, having put up 20 per game on an offensively stacked Kentucky squad. He’s also a good decision-maker and a solid passer. His greatest gift, though, is not on the offensive end.
Murray is one of the best defenders in this year’s draft, and even though his lack of athleticism will hurt him at the next level, his effort and energy will help him compensate for this weakness. Even though he’s not big enough to guard wings, he should be able to have success against guards, which is critical for a Nuggets team that allowed 105 points per game last season. Denver also ranked 26th in three-point percentage (33.8%) last year, so Murray is basically the epitome of everything they need right now.
He’s far from a perfect player, but Jamal Murray is a player you would want on your team; he makes effort plays that help his team win games. Hopefully for the Nuggets, drafting him will help them improve from their 33-win mark of a season ago.
Murray Comparison: WESLEY MATTHEWS
8. Sacramento Kings
The pick: Marquese Chriss
This is where the draft starts to turn a little bit upside down. I have the Kings taking the riskiest player in this draft at 8: Marquese Chriss.
Chriss is only 18 years old and won’t turn 19 until next month. If you watch him play long enough, his age and inexperience show. He doesn’t bring very much to the table offensively, although he does have a pretty good jump shot. Also, his defensive game needs quite a bit of work, and his effort is questionable at times. He will have to prove that he’s mature enough for the NBA, and I’m not convinced that he is right now.
The selling point for Chriss is his extraordinary upside. He may be the most athletic player in the draft and his quickness could help him become a good defender if he works at it. He’ll have to do that in addition to proving that he’s mature beyond his years. My guess is that he’ll be headed to the D-League to start his career.
Someone will take a risk on him in the top 10, and I think the Kings will be that team.
Chriss Comparison: JOSH SMITH
9. Toronto Raptors
The pick: Deyonta Davis
Davis is a very solid defender and could become a very good NBA rim protector in his development. The NBA is chomping at the bit to have another one of those, as SB Nation’s Kevin O’Connor writes:
Davis wasn’t expected to be a one-and-done prospect but he rose quickly in college. At this point of the draft process he’s a likely lottery pick. But NBA teams are drooling for more bigs that can protect the rim, switch screens, and rebound, so Davis could surge up the charts as the draft approaches. Just like he always has.
Davis has risen in the draft process, as his athleticism and rim protection make him appealing to teams looking for a little more punch defensively. The Raptors are going to need that punch in the future, as sudden playoff hero Bismack Biyombo is due for a massive raise from his $2.81 million salary of a season ago. He’ll get that raise, but it may not be from the Raptors.
Davis is not much of a jump shooter at this stage of his development; he does have the potential to step out from midrange eventually. He’s kind of an inconsistent player, but he’s also still a teenager learning the fundamentals of the game. He should be able to improve as he learns how to play basketball, and he could become one of the best players in this draft.
His upside is abundant, which should appeal to the Raptors, who are looking to dethrone the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. That may not happen, but drafting Davis with the 9th pick would be a prudent decision for them.
Davis Comparison: JORDAN HILL
10. Milwaukee Bucks
The pick: Furkan Korkmaz
F/Turkey (last played for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League)
Furkan Korkmaz is one of the unknown players in this year’s class. His skill set, though, allows him to translate in the NBA right away.
I’ll admit this: I wasn’t able to see quite as much of him as I might have liked. What I did see of him grabbed my attention, to say the least.
For example, Korkmaz is a very solid shooter with exceptional form. When watching him play, you immediately hearken to watching someone like Klay Thompson, a shooter with perfect form and a very quick release. Even though Korkmaz may be more of a forward in the NBA, he’ll be playing the type of game that Thompson does now. His shooting could help several teams; that’s where the Milwaukee Bucks come in.
The Bucks shot just 34.5% from deep a season ago and have struggled in three-point shooting for the past several years. The team made an effort to resolve this problem by drafting UNLV sharpshooter Rashad Vaughn a season ago; Vaughn shot threes at a 29% clip last season.
Drafting Korkmaz could go a long way toward fixing this problem. He has told teams that he’ll be coming over right away and he could provide immediate shooting help for a Bucks team that could use it.
The Bucks are close to contention; taking someone who could help address their biggest flaw can’t hurt.
Korkmaz Comparison: KLAY THOMPSON
11. Orlando Magic
The pick: Henry Ellenson
Marquette’s Henry Ellenson has recently drawn some comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. When he plays, it’s easy to see why; they possess very similar sets of skills and body types.
Ellenson’s abilities are very diverse: he’s an improving shooter and can mix it up in the post as well. He can also shoot off the dribble, as this play from the Big East Tournament shows:
Ellenson can do many different things offensively. His major weakness, however, is his defense. The main reason why he struggles so much defensively is his athleticism, which is another similarity he shares with Dirk. Ellenson is simply a slow player, but the Magic could use his skill set to their advantage.
Consider this: new head coach Frank Vogel seems to really like big men. He cultivated the careers of Roy Hibbert and Myles Turner in Indiana, and he doesn’t really like to play at a very fast pace. That style of play will be perfect for Ellenson, as the team will only rely on his shot-making ability and offensive game.
Even if he isn’t the next Dirk, Ellenson will still be able to help many teams. The Magic are definitely one of them.
Ellenson Comparison: DIRK NOWITZKI
12. Atlanta Hawks
The pick: Dejounte Murray
Just like his Washington teammate, Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray is a potentially high-risk, high-reward player. The Hawks probably were not in the market for backcourt help before this week. However, they are now, as Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports:
Atlanta is sending guard Jeff Teague to Indiana as part of a three-way deal, league sources tell @TheVertical.
The Hawks could definitely use another guard in their system. Murray is that guy.
He is one of the better scorers in the draft; the problem comes in his efficiency, or lack thereof. He consistently forces up bad shots and will need to improve his shot selection at the next level. His defense is also lacking somewhat, but he can improve this skill.
The Hawks probably wouldn’t be asking very much out of Murray, at least to start. Why they are drafting him has everything to do with his offensive ability, as he could give the Hawks a diverse set of talents. Atlanta needs to be willing to wait for them to develop, though, as Murray is very raw and needs time to realize his potential.
Even if he goes to the D-League to start his career, Murray may be able to help Atlanta offensively for years to come. Just don’t expect it anytime soon.
Murray Comparison: ALEC BURKS/JAMAL CRAWFORD
13. Pheonix Suns
The pick: Skal Labissiere
At this time a year ago, Skal Labissiere was regarded as one of the top players in this draft. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Labissiere’s 2015-16 collegiate season at Kentucky was one of the most singularly disappointing campaigns in recent memory. It wasn’t all his fault; he didn’t receive a ton of playing time and didn’t get the repetitions needed to improve his overall game. He needs to improve exponentially, but you can see why teams are excited about him.
For example, his height and exceptional reach potentially make him one of the best rim protectors in this year’s class. This play against LSU in early March shows a glimpse of his potential:
At 7’0″, Labissiere could reasonably play center in the NBA. That being said, he still has a long way to go in many areas; he has little to no offensive game and would probably be off to the D-League to start his career.
While that is true, some teams are salivating over him because of his upside. At just 20 years old, he does not possess the competitive experience of his peers. Having grown up in Haiti and lived through the 2010 earthquake, Skal has been through a lot. Luckily for him, he’s about to realize his NBA dream.
I would be willing to take a chance on Labissiere near the end of the lottery, and I think the Suns would as well.
Labissiere Comparison: HASSAN WHITESIDE
14. Chicago Bulls
The pick: Jakob Poeltl
I will be very honest with you: Jakob Poeltl does not thrill me. I’ve wanted to like him throughout this process, and I don’t think he’s going to be a bad player in the NBA.
But having watched him several times during the season and in the NCAA Tournament, I wasn’t blown away by him. He’s a very true center and really doesn’t possess any ability to play the 4. Also, he doesn’t have great athletic ability or an advanced offensive game to make up for it. This lack of offensive prowess hurt him in his NCAA Tournament matchup against Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis; if you don’t want to see the highlights, Poeltl got destroyed.
Nevertheless, the Bulls might need a center this summer. Joakim Noah is a free agent and a shell of his former self. While the team is trading point guard Derrick Rose to the Knicks, the lack of a true center is their biggest need right now.
So even though I see several issues with Poeltl’s game, I think he’d be a solid pickup for Chicago. He’s not overwhelmingly good like some scouts think, but he’ll be a solid choice for the Bulls at 14.
And really, solid is all Chicago can ask for.
Poeltl Comparison: ANDREW BOGUT
15. Denver Nuggets
The pick: Denzel Valentine
The Nuggets’ second pick of the first round is a little bit more simple. They’ll likely take the best player available here: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.
Valentine should probably be a lottery choice. The reason he would be available here is because of concerns about a knee injury, as reported by BasketballInsiders:
Word is Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine may have a fairly significant knee issue, so much so that one team sort of compared him to former Indiana Pacers All-Star Danny Granger, who came into the league with a degenerative knee condition and struggled every year to play 82 games. League sources said it’s still likely he will get drafted in the first round, but his stock looks to be a tough one to lock in with so many teams believing his knee will be a problem.
I’d say that’s an issue. But if Valentine can stay healthy, he’ll be one of the most effective players this draft has to offer. As a very good passer and shooter, he could immediately step into the point forward role that many have talked about Ben Simmons assuming.
With the Nuggets, taking Valentine should be the obvious choice. Given all of Danilo Gallinari’s injury concerns, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have his replacement ready in case they flare up again? This is the pick they should make.
Hopefully, Valentine proves to be more like Jared Sullinger than Danny Granger.
Valentine Comparison: GORDON HAYWARD
16. Boston Celtics
The pick: Ante Zizic
C/Croatia (last played for Cibona Zagreb of the Croatian League)
If the Celtics are serious about being players in free agency for Kevin Durant and others, then their best option is to pick a draft-and-stash international player. Enter Ante Zizic, a center from Croatia.
Zizic is an interesting player and one of the best rebounders in the draft. He likely will not be coming to the States this year, so the Celtics won’t be paying him. They will retain his rights, though.
At just 19 years old, Zizic was exceptionally productive in Croatia; he posted a 25.7 PER in just one season in the league. Zizic’s productivity should mean that he’ll fare well in the NBA. He won’t be here this year, but his rebounding, defensive, and scoring ability should have him in demand on draft night.
And with the Celtics looking to save all the money they possibly can, they’ll be willing to wait for his skill set to make its way across the Atlantic.
Zizic Comparison: NIKOLA VUCEVIC
17. Memphis Grizzlies
The pick: Malachi Richardson
Perhaps no player in the first round of this draft helped his stock through the draft process more than Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson. Richardson had one of the best performances at the Draft Combine in mid-May, which undoubtedly led him to keep his name in this year’s class.
The reason the Grizzlies are taking him here is because… they said so. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and The Vertical reports the following:
The Grizzlies are enamored with the Syracuse wing, and he could be a fit here. They could really use the perimeter shooting he offers and has some upside.
The Grizzlies have essentially promised Richardson he will be taken here if he isn’t before then. Richardson would offer the Grizzlies a bevy of skills, from his outside shooting to his athletic ability. He’s a pure scorer, and that has precluded him somewhat from becoming a better passer and decision-maker.
Richardson really needs to improve his shot selection to stick in the NBA. He has a tendency to take poor shots, particularly early in the shot clock. If he can curb this habit and become a better passer, he’ll become a good player in the NBA.
But for now, he’s good enough to get a promise from Memphis at 17.
Richardson Comparison: PAUL PIERCE/MANU GINOBILI
18. Detroit Pistons
The pick: Domantas Sabonis
Domantas Sabonis is a very interesting player. As a pure power forward, he doesn’t possess very much athletic ability or a consistent three-pointer at this phase. However, he can give a team a legitimate offensive threat off the bench, one who could step out to midrange or put it on the floor and get to the basket.
As I said earlier, Sabonis absolutely slaughtered Jakob Poeltl in their second round NCAA Tournament game. Go to around 0:42 of the video if you want a true sense of Sabonis’ offensive expertise and dominance of the Utah center on that particular night:
Sabonis’ stock is somewhat difficult to pin down. While I could completely see him being taken in the lottery, I could also see him falling out of it. He doesn’t have a ton of upside and his biggest progression in the NBA will be his improving perimeter jumper. He’s not that fast and not really athletic.
But he makes hustle plays, ones that win games and keep him in demand. Also, his father, Arvydas, played in the NBA for seven seasons, all of which came after his 30th birthday. His dad was a very intelligent player, and Domantas is too.
Detroit has been looking for a talented backup big man since their deadline deal for Houston’s Donatas Motiejunas fell through. Stan Van Gundy will get what he wants in Sabonis.
Sabonis Comparison: DREW GOODEN
19. Denver Nuggets
The pick: Wade Baldwin IV
Wade Baldwin has been shooting up NBA Draft boards with comparisons to Russell Westbrook. Yes, that Russell Westbrook.
Baldwin has also shot up big boards because of his performance in interviews. He’s said all of the right things in the draft process and teams don’t really seem to care if he himself actually believes them.
Baldwin’s biggest calling card at the NBA level will be his athleticism. Watch him get away with a travel and get up for the dunk at the Maui Invitational in late November:
Needless to say, Baldwin’s athletic ability will help him bring a lot to the table for NBA teams. He could become a good defender if he wants to be; that’s a big if, but it could be a major asset in his game. He’s also a dangerous shooter from deep, having shot 42.2% in two years at Vanderbilt. His jumper is somewhat inconsistent, but it’s easy to see why some teams are absolutely drooling over him.
For the Nuggets, Baldwin is another guard in a crowded backcourt that includes Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay. There’s always the possibility that Mudiay doesn’t work out as the team’s starting point guard (he ranked 375th in the NBA in PER last season), so Baldwin should make for a solid insurance policy.
Hopefully for him, he can rise even higher than this before Thursday night.
20. Indiana Pacers
The pick: Brice Johnson
So, Larry Bird, you want to play a little faster? Okay, you have your guy.
Johnson is really athletic. Like, so athletic that his max vertical is 38 inches. In watching dunks like these, I’m convinced that figure should be even higher:
Johnson would be the perfect fit for new coach Nate McMillan’s (and Bird’s) system. He would be ideal as a rim runner and a finisher who could throw down putback dunks. He wouldn’t be asked to do very much and has a legitimate dunk contest future.
If the Pacers get that Brice Johnson, they should be more than happy.
Johnson Comparison: BRANDAN WRIGHT
21. Utah Jazz
The pick: Timothe Luwawu
F/France (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian Basketball League)
Some mock drafts see Timothe Luwawu landing in the lottery. Mine does not, as I don’t see very many teams that need help at the wing.
Luwawu is a good player, one who almost entered the draft a season ago. His most translatable NBA skill is his jump shot, as he is a very good jump shooter for a small forward. His other impressive skill is his defense, as he is one of the best defenders in the draft, even if his consistency lags behind.
Luwawu has not been playing competitive basketball for a very long time, and he still has room for improvement. He is 21 years old, but he still has some upside left.
The Jazz seem to like defensively-inclined, athletic players. Luwawu will give that to them, and while he isn’t quite ready to assume a larger role right now, he should become a very good player in the NBA. The one issue with Utah’s current construction is that Gordon Hayward could very well be traded; Luwawu could go a long way toward replacing him.
The Jazz trade down and get their man, regardless of whether or not Hayward stays.
Luwawu Comparison: P.J. TUCKER
22. Charlotte Hornets
The pick: Malik Beasley
Malik Beasley is one of my favorite players in this draft. He makes his teammates better. He’s unselfish. He goes after loose balls with reckless abandon. He gives 100% at all times.
And then there are the obvious tools be brings to the table. His athleticism is off the charts and he is able to finish dunks with authority both in transition and the halfcourt. As a defender, he is very solid, and his athleticism and development will definitely help him improve on that end.
The Hornets may be in the market for a backup point guard. Jeremy Lin has a player option for next season and figures to demand more than the $2.1 million he made this year. Beasley would be a cheaper solution, one who could give the Hornets some minutes behind Kemba Walker.
Beasley would be a backup plan for Charlotte, but he’d be a very good one. He would give an effort and energy that would be infectious. He’d also give the Hornets good defense, and he’s only getting better on that end.
This would be a home run for the Hornets if they could land Beasley. It might even be the biggest steal of the draft if it happens. I totally believe that.
Beasley Comparison: ZACH LAVINE
23. Boston Celtics
The pick: Rade Zagorac
F/Serbia (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian Basketball League)
The Celtics have another pick, and the common sense solution is another draft-and-stash player: Rade Zagorac.
Zagorac is a player with good size for a wing (6’9″) and noteworthy athletic ability. At just 20 years old, he’s still got a lot of room to improve, and staying to play in Serbia for at least another year or two should be beneficial to his development.
I know it sounds crazy that the Celtics would take three international players in the first round. It probably is; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the C’s deal at least one of their first-round selections. They have eight in total, so there will be plenty of other opportunities to improve their team. I could definitely see them trading one or more of these picks to acquire assets to help them win now.
If they keep the pick, I have them taking Zagorac. That is a very big if.
Zagorac Comparison: TRAVIS OUTLAW
24. Philadelphia 76ers
The pick: Demetrius Jackson
I may have said this earlier, but the 76ers have a ton of needs. The biggest one is probably the point guard position, and even though they’re going to take Simmons with the first pick, they could use some serious guard help.
So it would only make sense that they take the best guard available in Demetrius Jackson. Jackson would be able to help the Sixers almost immediately as a passer, finisher, and shooter. His offensive game is generally undeveloped but he should be able to step in and contribute right away.
However, this is another situation where the team could deal its late-first round draft pick. The Sixers have been in “active discussions” with other teams about trading the pick and it would make complete sense if they did. Philly could use some shooting to surround Simmons and could include this pick in a package with one of their many, many, many big men.
So if Philly holds on to the 24th pick, they’ll take Jackson. My guess is that they won’t.
Jackson Comparison: ERIC BLEDSOE
25. Los Angeles Clippers
The pick: Patrick McCaw
You’ll never believe this, but the Los Angeles Clippers have a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Even better, they haven’t traded it away. Yet.
Team President Doc Rivers has made some questionable decisions during his tenure that have seriously sabotaged head coach Doc Rivers. Late first round draft picks have not been among them, but Rivers has a questionable history when it comes to personnel decisions.
And, let’s face it, the Clippers could be on the verge of blowing up their roster in a nuclear manner. In deciding what to do about many of the team’s soon-to-expire contracts, Rivers will have to decide who to keep and who to get rid of; he’ll have to decide on the futures of players such as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and J.J. Redick rather soon.
Patrick McCaw might be a part of the Clippers’ (soon-to-be-revamped?) roster. McCaw is an intriguing player best known for his athleticism and finishing ability. He struggles defensively and with his shot but he has the potential to stick in the league.
The Clippers need to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s not every year that you get to have a first-round draft pick. Well, not for them, anyway.
McCaw Comparison: KEVIN MARTIN
26. Philadelphia 76ers
The pick: Taurean Prince
This is another pick that the 76ers will likely trade. I really can’t see any way the team keeps the pick unless it drafts an international player. What I can do is tell you a little about Taurean Prince.
Prince grew up in San Antonio and his parents separated early in his life. Long story short, he bounced from home to home without finding a permanent one. He went back and forth between both of his parents and wasn’t able to find full-time shelter until going to college at Long Island University, only to transfer to Baylor. CSN Philly has his full story if you’re interested in reading it; you really should give it a look.
That puts things in some good perspective and it shows that Prince won’t be fazed at all by playing in the NBA. As a player, Prince is a very good athlete who excels at the defensive end. He’s not a great offensive player but he has some potential left to improve. He does have NBA range from deep and could become this draft’s “three-and-D” player. But the most important thing he’s about to become is an NBA draft pick, fulfilling his dream of being in the league.
If he does nothing else in basketball, he will have gotten much farther than anyone could have expected when he was going from house to house as a child.
Prince Comparison: DEMARRE CARROLL
27. Toronto Raptors
The pick: DeAndre’ Bembry
DeAndre’ Bembry is probably the best offensive player left at this point in the draft. The Raptors could use a little offense, even if it comes at the end of the first round.
Bembry is capable of throwing down in transition and has a good body for a guard. He’s also a very good ball-handler who is able to make advanced dribble moves to get to this shot. He is a certified scorer, having averaged nearly 18 points per game over the past two seasons.
However, his weakness is his jump shot and how it has regressed since his freshman year at St. Joe’s. Inexplicably, Bembry’s three-point percentage dipped from 34.6% in his freshman year to 32.7% in his sophomore year and finally to 26.6% this past season. Bembry will have to fix his shot if he’s going to have a successful NBA career.
The Raptors will take the best available player here and take a chance on DeAndre’ Bembry.
Bembry Comparison: JAE CROWDER
28. Phoenix Suns
The pick: Thon Maker
C/Sudan (last played for Canada’s Athlete Institute)
This is the ultimate low-risk, potentially high-reward pick. Actually, there’s little to norisk in taking Thon Maker with the 28th pick in the first round.
Maker is a rarity in today’s NBA Draft: a player who came straight out of high school into the draft. Maker was able to do this because he actually graduated high school in 2015, the same year Simmons, Ingram, and every other one-and-done player did. However, Maker decided to stay in high school as a post-graduate student, therefore fulfilling the minimum age and schooling requirements (one year out of high school) for entry into the NBA Draft. Maker is poised to become the first player to be drafted into the NBA straight out of high school since 2005, the last year of the league’s old eligibility rules.
As a player, Maker is incredibly raw; he never played college basketball and has very little competitive experience. His best skill is his rebounding ability, a talent crafted from his effort and elite size (7’1″, 220 lb.). He is also a good defender and could become a rim protector with time. The other clear upside with him is that he’s 19 years old and could get a lot better with NBA coaching.
There’s a reason why picking Maker is a perceived risk; teams won’t know what they’re getting until the Summer League (Maker did not play in any 5-on-5 games at the Draft Combine). However, there is something to be said for the possibility that he could be the player with the highest upside in this draft. Maybe, at the end of the first round, a team will take a minimal risk on Maker.
C/Bosnia and Herzegovina (last played for Mega Leks of the Serbian League)
You’re probably keenly aware of the San Antonio Spurs’ history of digging out international talent. From Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Fabricio Oberto to international hero Boban Marjanovic, the team has been brilliant at finding good international players and developing them into solid NBA players. This pick will be no different.
Ivica Zubac is a very talented player who would fit perfectly into the Spurs’ system. He’s a great passer, particularly for a center, and he has a very good, balanced skill set offensively. He reminds me an awful lot of Marc Gasol; unfortunately, he reminds me of Gasol in some negative ways, too.
The two have a lot of things in common, but their biggest similarity is their shared foot problems. Zubac plays fairly low to the ground and his broken foot, suffered in 2014, is the reason why. Add that on to a knee injury suffered last year and you get a picture of a somewhat crippled big man whose injury problems may get worse before they get better.
It’s the ultimate Spurs pick, though. R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich have done a great job with international picks; they even have a couple stashed away in other countries. They would be more than receptive to taking Zubac or another international player at 29, so don’t be surprised if and when they do.
And don’t be surprised if their pick becomes a future all-star, either.
Zubac Comparison: MARC GASOL
30. Golden State Warriors
The pick: Cheick Diallo
Let’s face it; the Warriors really can’t make their team better through the draft. They have the reigning unanimous MVP (Steph Curry) and two other stars (Draymond Green and Klay Thompson) on the payroll. They’re doing pretty well for themselves.
And, according to Chris Broussard and his sources, they’re trying to make another splash in free agency:
That would shake up the NBA, to say the least. You could basically pencil in the Cavaliers and the Warriors for next year’s Finals if this happens. I think that would surprise just about everyone. Anyway…
A logical and interesting choice here would be Kansas’ Cheick Diallo. Diallo showed flashes of being a solid player last year at Kansas but played very limited minutes. He made a name for himself at the Draft Combine and left his name in the draft off the heels of his performance there. He’s extremely raw on both ends of the floor and would need extensive time in the D-League before coming to the NBA. Going to the right situation is crucial to his development.
Golden State is that perfect situation. I think they might take a risk on him at the end of round one.
Diallo Comparison: TRISTAN THOMPSON
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