What a funny old day in the National Basketball Association that was. The NBA Draft is always full of mystery and intrigue but just as the All Star game was overshadowed by a blockbuster trade – DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, you may recall – the same went and happened with the draft.
Actually the last few days have all been crazy with trade bait. D’Angelo Russell is a Brooklyn Net now, Danny Ainge in Boston decided that you can never have too many draft picks, Dwight Howard hilariously got traded five minutes after tweeting basketball fans about possible upcoming trades. The NBA Finals were yawningly predictable but the NBA’s offseason is anything but.
Markell Fultz to Philly? Yeah we already saw that coming. Lonzo Ball to the Lakers? Dude, his dad literally talked that into happening, no surprises there. But the complete and utter implosion of the Chicago Bulls organisation… that was something different.
This was a head-scratcher even before it was confirmed that the draft pick thing was a first round swap (Minny’s #7 for Chi-Town’s #16). Once it turned out that the Bulls weren’t getting an extra first rounder but instead only trading up nine places (still a decent jump, but yeah), well then suddenly it looked like a goddamned robbery. The kind of robbery where you didn’t just leave a window open for them to sneak in, but you left the front door swinging wide and the keys in your unlocked car. You’re seriously saying they couldn’t get a better offer than that for a three-time consecutive All Star and an All-NBA player?
Just quietly, maybe not. The Boston Celtics are rumoured with everyone but are too pick-happy to part with their best pieces while they’re seemingly more focussed on Paul George at the moment anyway. Tip from an amateur hoops fan here: don’t ever make a trade with Boston. The only deals they’ll ever sign off on are the ones where they end up looking like geniuses. The Brooklyn Heist is the obvious one. The Rondo trade with Dallas is hardly remembered fondly among Mavs fans either.
So if the Celtics weren’t keen then who was? The Cavaliers pretty much pulled out a couple days ago and there aren’t many others that had the assets to make this work. The T-Wolves though, they not only picked up one of the top 15 players in the NBA but they got him without even touching their star duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. It means Ricky Rubio remains for another stint, what with two guards going the other way, but Butler’s scoring will do plenty for the debatable spacing offered from the Rubio/Wiggins pairing. Add in that Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler have already had a hugely successful relationship in the past and this is almost perfect for them. Waaay better than trading for Derrick Rose, gotta say.
And then the Bulls went and drafted Lauri Markkanen, the most bust-worthy player in the top ten. Nice work, team. This was the franchise who two decades ago every basketball-hoofing kid in the world wanted to play for – until Jordan left and the Lakers re-assumed that title. With Dwyane Wade very conspicuously all about cashing in on this last big contract it’s tough to see how they can do bloody anything next season. Zach LaVine is a stud on his day but he’s coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Kris Dunn was highly rated when he got drafted but could hardly get on the court as a rookie. At least they own all their first round draft picks. As for Markkanen… who even knows?
Of course, they booed Porzingis once too. Goes to show that there’s no exact science when it comes to drafting, you never know who’ll come good and who’ll bust a knee in summer league. Right now any team that drafted in the top six has reason to absolutely love what they ended up with. Fultz is probably the most talented player in the class, Ball brings great vision and ability to the Lakers plus his daddy brings that big market hype. Josh Jackson can do absolutely everything except shoot which had him rumoured even higher than #4 while Jayson Tatum on the Celtics might turn out to have the highest ceiling of all. De’Aaron Fox on the Kings? Mate, that’s exactly the competitive spirit they need there to drag them forwards and Jonathan Isaac of the Magic is comfortably the best player in his position. You want the in-depth scouting reports then look them up but trust that all six of those teams are coming away pretty stoked.
Although Fultz needs to have a word with his social media team.
Slightly more risky is Frank Ntilikina on the Knicks, a French point guard who can definitely bring some of that triangle flair but has a few question marks. Zach Collins at ten is an interesting one too, any big man drafted to the Kings this year is bound to be. But the Hornets nabbing Malik Monk at 11 and the Mavericks getting their point guard of the future (and present) in Dennis Smith Jr. is exactly what they hoped to emerge with.
Those two teams are in fine places having missed the playoffs last season. Going into what’s anticipated to be Saint Dirk Nowitzki’s last year in the league, they used last year’s mostly-tank wisely in acquiring Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel (a restricted free agent but the Mavs will definitely match any offer) while also getting lucky with the likes of Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell as rotation guns. All words suggest that Smith will go straight into a starting PG role which pairs him, as things stand, with Wes Matthews in the backcourt, along with Barnes, Nowitzki and Noel. Matthews has popped up in trade chat and there’s talk they want to pair Smith with Jrue Holiday – which would be rather fantastic. However they juggle it, expectations now will be for an immediate return to the playoffs.The Hornets might not have the same ceiling but they’re better off than they were a couple days ago. Malik Monk is a flippin’ machine gun while Dwight Howard might not be the force of old but he’s still a useful big bloke, for sure. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will start the season with fitness intact (fingers crossed) and all that adds up to plenty more to work with than Kemba Walker and Nic Batum were slugging away with last time.
Presumably there’ll be plenty of other brilliant players that emerge. Some All Stars, some NBA Champions, plenty of them with eight-figure contracts. But you don’t wanna be reading all day so let’s just focus on a couple with kiwi connections. Ever heard of Terrance Ferguson? Well you might have because he spent last season, instead of college, playing professionally for the Adelaide 36ers in the Aussie NBL. Played against the New Zealand Breakers a few times and now he’ll be playing alongside Steven Adams after getting picked up by the Oklahoma City Thunder at #21.
Ferguson is raw as hell. He might not be much of an option next season but then they said that about Adams too once upon a time. What’s important is that Fergo has all the tools he’ll need to thrive in the NBA and that includes his professional experience. And at this stage you see Sam Presti pick a bloke and you give him all the benefit of the doubt he needs. With his track record in the draft he’s earned it.
Sean Marks was busy too, the Brooklyn Nets with two picks in this draft (even after trading one to the Lakers in the D’Angelo/Brook deal). The very next pick after the Thunder made their selection the Nets made the call to take Jarrett Allen. A centre drafted just two days after they traded away their long-time franchise centre in Brook Lopez. That, amigos, is called moving forward.
Allen will have Timmy Mozgov to balance minutes with to take some pressure off the young blood. At 6’10 he’s a bit short for a centre but he has arms that never end so his wingspan makes up for a lot of that, just a matter of bringing out his offensive ability. Allen is a long way from polished too but, in the very least, he still looks like he oughta be driving a mustang in a film scored by Curtis Mayfield and that’s an outstanding compliment.
Sean Marks: “I think he brings a lot. Obviously the upside is huge for him. Versatility, we love the way he runs the floor. He’s a mobile big who can guard several positions, switch on pick and rolls – he fits this modern NBA where you see big guys that can move and really get up and down. He’s really just scratched the surface.”
Later on the Nets spent pick numero 57 on Bulgarian Aleksandar Vezenkov who plays for Barcelona and has some superb scoring efficiency numbers but isn’t expected to join the team this upcoming season. Make of that what you will, the hope in TNC Towers had been that he’d use that pick on the bro Tai Webster but that didn’t happen.
Webster went undrafted. It was about as expected given he offers a pretty specific package and not an especially unique one. A player like Tai usually has to earn his place in the NBA the hard way and we’ll see over the coming days just how in demand he is for summer league teams. At a guess, it seems highly likely that he gets that opportunity. Webster has showcased for four confirmed franchises: the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets, plus it sounds like he also worked out for the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. At least six teams had a good look at him.
It didn’t really help Webster that 16 freshmen were drafted in first round, a new record, while only two seniors went among the first 30. As a graduated senior himself, Webster was at long odds among players two or three years younger than him. Nothing that he wasn’t anticipating though.
The Sean Marks angle and the Tai Webster angle we can return to later on when there’s more to say. Right now, the last word is best left to a man who knows a thing or two about talking, particularly of the ‘trash’ variety. Don’t jump to any conclusions yet but there’s a chance, just a chance, that when the Lakers and Lonzo Ball play the 76ers and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons… it might be worth watching.
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