NBA championships are won in the offseason, and that starts with the draft. In a few hours, each team will be selecting among this years top crop of prospects in the world with the hopes of getting one step closer to their title dreams.
Thats if everything goes well of course.
This years draft class is deep, filled with a number of players that many feel can change the fate of a franchise. For teams with the top 5 picks, with the depth of the 2017 talent pool and a slew of impactful young players, the pressure is on to get things right and improve their franchises fortunes.
Philadelphia 76ers -1st overall pick
Markelle Fultz is going to Philly. This is no secret, and probably the only lock in the entire draft. Drafting Futz was a done deal after the Sixers swapped the third pick and a future first rounder with Boston, who owned the top overall selection.
This was followed by Joel Embiid posting a picture on Twitter of Fultzs name over a locker with the caption Trust the Process.
Trust The Process
It seems the process worked and somewhere, former General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie is smiling. With the addition of Fultz, the Sixers look to finally have a core for the future, pairing him with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric.
Fultz is a master of the pick and roll and is able to score at will. The Sixers are desperate for an upgrade at the point guard position.
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The overall consensus is that Fultz, the first college player in a quarter-century to average 23 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, and the only high-major player in the last half-century to do so, is the best one available.
Los Angeles Lakers- 2nd overall pick
Losing is something the Los Angeles Lakers have become recently familiar with. But they are one of the NBAs historically great franchises and being one of the leagues worst teams is something that doesnt sit right with fans who have become accustomed to championship contention on a consistent basis.
The Lakers, with Magic Johnson now at the helm of its basketball operations, are looking to return dominant status sooner rather than later.
Earlier this week, they traded away point guard DAngelo Russell, the second overall selection in the 2015 draft, to the Brooklyn Nets, all but guaranteeing the selection of a point guard. Insert Lonzo Ball.
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A hometown kid, Lonzo is already a marquee name in Los Angeles after a legendary prep career and Chino Hills High School, and reinvigorating the UCLA program after his one incredible season running the point for the Bruins..
Ball has the potential to bring showtime back to LA with his 6-foot-6 frame and his exceptional vision, passing, and the uncanny ability to elevate those around him.
But he isnt a certified lock at this spot. While he was statistically a good shooter on the college level, its yet to be seen his unorthodox shooting mechanics will translate on the NBA level, where the defenders will be longer, faster and hungrier to dominate him, thanks to his fathers outlandish proclamations of Lonzo already being better than two-time MVP Steph Curry.
Also, scouting reports say that he is somewhat limited off the dribble, usually relying on either being quicker than his defender or settling for a three due to his lack of dribbling combinations and a truly explosive first step.
If the Lakers dont select Ball, expect to hear Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Foxs name called by commissioner Adam Silver. Fox is a lockdown defender and looks like hes shot out of a cannon on each play. Not to mention he lit up Lonzo Ball in the NCAA tournament for 39 points. At Foxs absolute best, John Wall could be his career ceiling.
Freshman Wildcat guard De’Aaron Fox had an electrifying 2017 NCAA tourney – including a 39-point night to lead the Wildcats past UCLA in the Sweet 16. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.
But his detractors point to his less than stellar 25% shooting numbers from beyond the college three-point line. In todays NBA, its hard to be successful without the ability to shoot from outside. The Lakers will probably go with Lonzo, but keep an eye out for Fox. That is, in the event that the Lakers keep the pick.
Its no secret in that Indiana Pacer All-Star Paul George wants to come to Los Angeles. With one year left on his contract in Indiana, the Pacers could look to move him in order to get something in return for their franchise player.
Teams such as the Cavaliers and the Rockets have been engaged in talks to acquire George, even if its only for a year. The Lakers dont want him to fall in love with another team, and may look to acquire him immediately by using the number two pick. This wouldnt be a smart move, since its possible that George could come to Los Angeles without them having to give up any valuable pieces, but it wouldnt be a surprising either.
Boston Celtics- 3rd overall pick
Danny Ainge has proven to be one of the best and shrewdest general managers in the NBA today. The Celtics arent married to anything, making it almost impossible to predict what theyll will do by the end of the night.
Starting with the possibility of them actually selecting a player with tonights #3 pick, many think that points to snagging Jayson Tatum from Duke. A few days ago, the thought was that the pick would be between Tatum and Kansas Josh Jackson.
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Jackson didnt work out for the Celtics. It wouldnt make sense for them to select him anyways, because of his similarities to Jaylen Brown, who’s already on the roster.
But never think you have Danny Ainge figured out. Jackson is a defensive predator who is being favorably compared to Scottie Pippen due to his length, hunger and flexibility as a wing defender. His offense is a work in progress, but he runs the floor with abandon and is a monster in transition.
Tatum will put another three-point shooter and a scorer who can create his own shot on the roster, which the Celtics could use off the bench. Tatum is great on offense, can score at will, and draws a lot of Paul Pierce comparisons. Defense is not his specialty though. Players with elite athleticism can get by him, and bigger, stronger players can back him down in the post.
But dont be surprised if theres a different team eventually making this pick. Ainge is doing the impossible balancing act of building for 2018 while simultaneously gearing up for 2025. Any promising player that is remotely available, the Boston invariably comes up in rumors of trying to work a deal.
This includes Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love, Gordon Hayward, and almost every other All Star. By trading down to number three, Boston acquired more future first round picks, plus the ability to still get a marquee player. Look for the Celtics to catapult themselves into title contention next year.
Phoenix Suns- Fourth overall pick
Phoenix is in the worst spot in the draft. The two best fits for the organization are the favorites to be the two picks taken ahead of them, in Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum.
Besides hoping that one of those players fall, the best pick for them is the aforementioned Josh Jackson from Kansas. Jackson is explosively athletic and has the ability to be a lockdown defender in the league.
Him alongside Devin Booker on the wing in a perfect world could be a nightmare for other teams.
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The downside is hes not a shooter nor a great ball handler.
The small forward position is one of the deepest in the NBA and its imperative for a team to have a standout player at that spot. The Suns are lacking in this category. Its also possible that the Suns explore their options at point guard. Currently, Eric Bledsoe fills this position, but he may be on the move.
This could lead to the selection of either De’Aaron Fox or Frank Ntilikina from France. Ntilikina is the mystery man of this years draft. Hes a defensive stopper, a good shooter, and looks to have a lot of upside to his game. Turnovers are a weakness for him, which isnt reassuring for a teams primary ball handler. Expect Jackson to be in the purple and orange next year.
Sacramento Kings- Fifth overall pick
No matter what the Kings do, theyre years removed from being successful. The organization is practically a dumpster fire, and seems to be one of the worst run teams in the league. However, the recent hiring of Scott Perry as their executive president of basketball operations was a step in the right direction. With this selection in tonight’s draft, they could take another.
De’Aaron Fox is the favorite to get picked here. The Kings have yet to find a long lasting starting point guard and havent had one in years.
Dennis Smith. Jr. from North Carolina State is another point guard to watch at this spot.
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A natural born athlete with an adequate shooting stroke, his defense is considered lackluster, but thats not uncommon for guards moving up from the college game.
While Fox is the safer choice it wouldnt be surprising if they gamble on Smith.