The draft was incredibly boring and I’m not sure if that means that we’re headed for a sleepier-than-expected July or if the NBA is just saving its fireworks for the Fourth. Despite the fact that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are both free agents and given that Kawhi Leonard is seeking a new home, I’m leaning toward the latter. (Ziller argues the opposite, but we’re both operating on blind faith and guesswork.)
Any time the top three players in the league are available, or quasi-available in Kawhi’s case, you expect to see the entire league shaken up as a result. That will no doubt be true for the handful of teams pursuing those superstars, but beyond them there’s not much daylight.
The majority of teams teams are cap-strapped and the drop-off from the big three is steep beyond Paul George and Chris Paul, whose respective fates are tied to LeBron either directly in PG’s case, or indirectly with CP3. Everybody else will be scrambling for a job on July 1, if they haven’t elected to opt into their deals.
That left a draft that was rich with picks and short on trades. No NBA players changed teams on draft night and the biggest move was Philly moving down six spots with Phoenix in a Hinkiean swap. The Mavs made an aggressive play to secure their future and the Kings made a curious pick. All in all, a pretty straight forward night.
We’ll worry about free agency in due time, but let’s take one last look back at a draft in which the biggest story was plugged-in reporters hitting the thesaurus to deliver scoops. The NBA is nothing if not meta.
Let’s start at the beginning with the Suns, who have patiently built a roster full of potential and promise. One of the weird hallmarks of the Phoenix franchise is that they never were able to land the mega center prospect in the draft. They famously lost a coin flip for Lew Alcindor and settled for Armen Hammer Gilliam with the second pick behind David Robinson. The lottery gods finally smiled on Phoenix and delivered Deandre Ayton, a once-in-a-generation physical talent who should anchor the backline for a decade.
With Ayton, Josh Jackson, and Devin Booker, the Suns have three premium prospects and in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender they are stocked in the enigma department, as well. That’s not an objectively good team yet, but the pieces are there for new coach Igor Kokoskov to begin putting together an interesting one.
General manager Ryan McDonough then made an aggressive play for 3-and-D wing Mikal Bridges, by moving up six spots and throwing in an unprotected 2021 choice from Miami. This is the kind of move that can make or break a GM’s tenure.
Bridges was one of the more NBA-ready prospects available in the draft, but that Miami choice could come back to haunt them if the Heat ever bottom out. Those are the risks you take when it’s time to start moving in the right direction, and lord knows the Suns need to see some progress in their long rebuilding arc.
The Sixers made the right choice, even if it may cost them in the present. A local product who starred at Villanova and whose mom happens to work for the team, Mikal Bridges’ low maintenance offensive game and defensive versatility would have fit in nicely with the emerging Sixer stars.
Still, you can’t turn down a Godfather offer, as coach/interim decision maker Brett Brown put it. That 2021 Miami pick is a wonderful arrow to have in the quiver and Zhaire Smith may eventually become a creative counterpoint to Ben Simmons in the backcourt. Time will tell and all that, but this may have been a deal that ultimately gets both teams what they want.
Luka Doncic on the Mavericks is just wonderful. Twenty years after the Mavericks remade their franchise with Dirk Nowitzki, they landed the top European prospect in years and maybe ever. The Mavs tried to ease Dirk into the backend of his career, but their moves to stay relevant haven’t panned out as expected. Doncic gives them a chance to reset.
The notion that Doncic was a polarizing prospect was a little bit overblown. He could have gone first, but Ayton was certainly a worthy choice. The Kings did what the Kings do and picked Marvin Bagley second, but Doncic wasn’t falling past the third pick where the Hawks set the line. Atlanta may have wanted Trae Young more, but Luka’s value was in the top three and that’s where he was selected.
Doncic and Dennis Smith make for an ultra-intriguing backcourt and the Mavs have never been shy about adding veteran talent when and where they can. This doesn’t look like a full-blown rebuild as much as a retooling. It may take a few years, but the Mavs finally have a direction.
They also got college star Jalen Brunson early in the second round because nobody uses point guards like Rick Carlisle.
Bagley may become a wonderful player for Sacramento, and we should remember that we really don’t know which teenage phenoms are going to blossom into adult stars. So let’s agree to reserve judgment on this one for a bit. Still, Doncic would have been real nice.
I talked myself into Jaren Jackson, and if he pans out then the Grizzlies had themselves a hell of a night. Jackson is really young, but he’s got tons of talent and personality to match. In the second round, they took point guard Jevon Carter who was born for grit n grind. Give it time and Jackson may wind up being the best player from the draft. Not bad for the fourth pick.
We should all love something the way Orlando GM John Hammond loves length. With 6-10 beanpole Jonathan Isaac already on board, Hammond plucked Mo Bamba and his 7-10 wingspan with the sixth pick. I have no idea how that looks on a basketball court, or who’s going to score points but that’s a long-ass frontcourt. Cool.
Denver’s got a ton of wings, but that’s not a bad place for Michael Porter Jr. to fall. There’s not much expectation to perform immediately, and his first priority should be getting healthy and getting back on track. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. The Nuggets have young talent at every position. Take enough swings and one or two of them will connect.
I have nothing good or bad to say about any of the other picks, because A) who knows and B) there were no real shockers. If you were picking between 12-and-24 you were getting a wing, and no one can say with any kind of assurance that Donte DiVincenzo is going to be better than Josh Okogie or Anfernee Simons.
Assuming the Internet still exists in five years, those look back at the draft posts will be fascinating.
Danny Ainge is the luckiest man on the planet. There was some loose talk that Ainge contemplated moving up in the draft to take Bamba. Instead a viable 7-foot prospect fell right into his shamrock when Robert Williams slid all the way down to the Celtics’ pick at 27.
Hear from Danny Ainge on the Celtics newest draft pick in Robert Williams. pic.twitter.com/85jNXIbqYv— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 22, 2018
Williams may be the next DeAndre Jordan or he could be the next Mark Blount, but it’s worth a late first-round look when you have a roster that’s as settled as the one Ainge has. It would be nice if he contributed as a rookie, but with Al Horford, Daniel Theis, and maybe Aron Baynes holding down the paint, Williams has a year or two of apprenticeship ahead of him.
I’m a retired prof and I hated doing grades, but this draft feels like everyone gets a B. Solid work, everyone. Let’s try and do better in a few weeks.