The draft order is officially set and we can now start predicting with some accuracy where the members of this loaded draft class are most likely to end up. Barring something unforeseen, the first two picks look locked in stone. Beyond that is when things start to get very interesting…
1. Boston Celtics
Markelle Fultz – G – Washington
Fultz should be the obvious pick for several reasons. He can play alongside Isaiah Thomas, but also has the skill set to replace him. He should also provide the rare combination of immediate results and long-term upside. Given how quickly he adapted to the college game, it stands to reason that he should be good enough to contribute offensively off the bench for the Celtics right away, something they sorely lack. That makes him the right choice whether the Celtics are planning on trading him for a veteran, keeping him and trying to win now, or building for the long term.
And as if that weren’t enough, BOTH of Boston’s draft-and-stash selections from last year are ready ahead of time, at positions they badly need help with. Ante Zizic is a plug-and-play Croatian center who kicked ass against the best non-NBA competition in the world and would have started Game 7 versus the Wizards, and Guerschon Yabusele is a larger-than-life (6’8, 265) power forward who has picked up several nicknames over the course of his short career, including the “French Draymond” and the “Dancing Bear.”
This could end up being one of the best rookie classes in a long time.
Worst Case: Fultz lands somewhere between Shaun Livingston and CJ McCollum: a good, long, versatile offensive player, but one who sort of coasts through without making his mark
Best Case: Steph Curry + Andre Iguodala morphed into one person. Or John Wall/Bradley Beal, but longer. Or James Harden/Penny Hardaway. There really is no one person he reminds us of: it’s more combinations of multiple different players. The point is, they’re all very, very good
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Lonzo Ball – PG – UCLA
Whether or not the lottery is actually fixed – and we discussed the idea here – this pick has felt inevitable ever since we became familiar with the Ball family last fall and the Lakers began tanking earlier this winter. The on-court fit is perfect: the Lakers have a bunch of young players who have potential, but none are leaders on or off the floor and all of them need to play with someone who can get them the ball in the right spot. It also shouldn’t be a problem pairing Ball and D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt, as Ball doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time to be effective, and Russell was always viewed as a combo guard more concerned with scoring than playmaking.
This is also a good fit off the court. Say whatever you want about LaVar Ball, but Lonzo has always thrived staying close to him in Chino Hills (about 30 miles east of LA). This should be no different.
Worst Case: A Ricky Rubio/Rondo type who might lead the league in assists, but not make the All-Star team
Best Case: Jason Kidd with a jumper. Hall-of-Famer
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Malik Monk – G – Kentucky
This may be a little high for Monk, but between him, De’Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum, and Josh Jackson, there are lots of different opinions on the correct order. If they feel Monk is the perfect fit for their roster and possesses enough upside to be worth the No. 3 overall pick – as we do – then just go for it. Unless you can guarantee that you’ll still get Monk if you trade down and pick up another asset, it isn’t worth it to roll the dice. There are also no guarantees you can find a dance partner.
The bottom line is this: you need a certain amount of players on your roster with pure touch, and we aren’t even sure they have one. Dario Saric and Joel Embiid are good for their size, and Ben Simmons is good at other things, but Monk is lights-out shooting from all three levels. He would also fit nicely as a two-guard, next to Simmons at point guard. Monk is 6’3 with a 6’6 wingspan, explosive leaping ability, and enough quickness to guard point guards (and allow Simmons to guard two-guards or other larger players). He can also space the floor to make room for Embiid and Simmons and be on the receiving end of Simmons’s deft passes.
Worst Case: Monta Ellis
Best Case: Imagine Steph Curry playing off the ball. Now take 85% of that (still pretty good)
4. Phoenix Suns
Josh Jackson – F – Kansas
There are a lot of things to like about Jackson. There are also two really important things not to like. It really all comes down to expectations for his role on the team. Phoenix is the perfect fit, which is why he goes there, even though we prefer De’Aaron Fox as a prospect. Jackson complements Devin Booker extremely well. He can’t consistently create his own offense off the dribble or reliably knock down jumpers – two things that Booker excels at – but the 6’8, 210 lb small forward does pretty much everything else well, including defend, compete, pass, take care of the dirty work, and finish with authority.
Stylistically, if Booker is trying to be MJ, Jackson is more of a Pippen type, with a splash of Rodman thrown in for good measure. Don’t expect Jackson to run the offense, or for him to score 20+ PPG (at least early on…maybe later), but you’re getting a hell of a player and exactly the kind you need on a winning team.
Worst Case: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but not quite as bad offensively
Best Case: A bigger version of peak Andre Iguodala
5. Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox – PG – Kentucky
Don’t overthink this, Vlade. The other option here is Jayson Tatum (who also wouldn’t be a bad choice), but Fox brings everything the franchise lacks: toughness, defense, confidence, athleticism, and a winning spirit. His jumper also isn’t broken, and if he can get to even 35% from three, Fox can be an elite two-way point guard. He also complements Buddy Hield well, bringing the athleticism, ball-handling, and defense that the laid-back Bahamian lacks.
Worst Case: Elfrid Payton
Best Case: A souped-up Mike Conley
6. Orlando Magic
Jayson Tatum – F – Duke
It’s really hard to know what to make of the Magic. They could use a lot, but why not start with a high-floor, high-ceiling player who can fit in at the three next to Aaron Gordon at the four? Tatum is as smooth as a Busbee McQuade shirt and shouldn’t have problems scoring in the NBA. His 7-foot wingspan should also make him a versatile defender. The questions are whether his mid-range game extends out to the NBA three-point line, and whether he still has upside or is already fully formed as a player.
There’s also an issue positionally: he should be able to score against NBA fours, but won’t be able to guard them right away, and he can guard NBA threes, but may not be athletic enough to break free from them offensively. The latter issue may be partially solved by playing next to the uber-athletic Gordon, who should be able to guard fours and punish threes down low who try to check him.
Worst Case – A shorter Rudy Gay
Best Case – Paul Pierce/Carmelo Anthony
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jonathan Isaac – F – Florida State
Isaac may be our favorite player in the entire draft outside of Fultz and Ball. He’s extremely long and athletic and is already a weapon on defense. He also has a decent looking jump shot. Minnesota will be celebrating if he drops this low in the draft because playing next to Karl-Anthony Towns will be the perfect fit for him. Isaac projects as a stretch four who can shoot threes AND block shots (a rare combo that Towns also possesses), not to mention the ability to switch against any pick and roll.
The only issue with Isaac is that it will take a few years for him to reach his potential. That shouldn’t be a problem; it will take Minnesota at least two full years to be competitive anyway. On the plus side, Isaac won’t need many shots. He’s just a naturally defensive player, the kind Tom Thibodeau needs on his roster ASAP before he goes postal on someone after watching another tape of a missed T-Wolves defensive assignment from this past year.
Worst Case: Channing Frye with better defense
Best Case: Young Rashard Lewis combined with a young Serge Ibaka
8. New York Knicks
Frank Ntilikina – PG – France
God knows what the Knicks will do – no one can predict that shit – but if they’re going to run the triangle offense, the long-armed Ntilikina is clearly the best fit. Dennis Smith may be the most talented, but if Phil Jackson takes him and then proceeds stubbornly to stick with the triangle offense, he is simply incompetent. But I guess we already knew that.
Ntilikina fits perfectly in the triangle because he doesn’t need the ball, can make open threes, and can guard up to four positions. Just accept that you aren’t going to get the Jordan/Kobe part of the triangle with the eighth pick and make a concerted effort to be worse next year without Carmelo for another loaded draft. Be happy that you now have your future center and point guard, and consider all other positions up for grabs.
Worst Case – Dante Exum
Best Case – A taller Chauncey Billups
9. Dallas Mavericks
Dennis Smith Jr. – PG – NC State
Dennis Smith needs a few things in order to be a successful pro: a great defensive center who can excel in the pick and roll at both ends (both showing against and defending point guards and rolling to the hoop), a few long 3-and-D perimeter guys, and a great coach who excels at tutoring small point guards. Ding, ding, ding!! We have a winner…
Worst Case – Brandon Jennings
Best Case – Damian Lillard/Steve Francis
10. Sacramento Kings
Lauri Markkanen – PF/C – Arizona
The Kings get another pick in a loaded draft. Zach Collins is also tempting here, but it depends on how much they believe in Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere. We like them a lot (their numbers both got a lot better toward the end of the year), so Collins and/or Markkanen might be a little repetitive. However, Markkanen is a rarer talent and Labissiere is further from a sure thing than Cauley-Stein. A dark horse here could be OG Anunoby from Indiana, who fits well positionally.
Worst Case – Kelly Olynyk with a higher three-point percentage
Best Case – Dirk…ish
11. Charlotte Hornets
Zach Collins – PF/C – Gonzaga
This is a deep draft, but after No. 11 it becomes very much about “the eye of the beholder.” After Collins, the remaining talent drops a level. Even though he plays a similar position to Frank Kaminsky, Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and company shouldn’t let past draft mistakes affect this year’s showing. Collins is the best combination of need and fit (the same criteria for any team making any pick, in varying proportions) left on the board, and therefore too good to pass up. He runs the floor, sets picks, catches alley-oops, rebounds the ball, can defend smaller players on the pick and roll, and can even shoot threes once in a while. Collins appears more and more like a safe pick and a (relative) steal at No. 11.
Worst Case: Amir Johnson
Best Case: Serge Ibaka before he fell off
12. Detroit Pistons
OG Anunoby – F – Indiana
There isn’t much going well in Detroit these days. They should consider dealing Andre Drummond to Boston and starting over with Boston’s 2018 pick, but either way, their choice here should come down to Anunoby and Donovan Mitchell of Louisville, two freakishly long wing players who should be great on defense and have a chance to be special at both ends. Depending on his physical, Anunoby gets the nod as the bigger, more versatile player. He may play a similar position to Stanley Johnson, but you don’t hold spots in the lineup for guys who average 4.1 PPG. Even if OG takes a year to get healthy, it won’t matter: Detroit just needs talent. Badly.
Worst Case: Al-Farouq Aminu
Best Case: Kawhi Leonard with a much more modest offensive arsenal
13. Denver Nuggets
Harry Giles – F/C – Duke
This is only if his physical looks clear. Putting an athletic beast (once again, if the physical works out and he just needs a year to get right) who can rebound, block shots, and guard the pick and roll right next to Nikola Jokic would be a dream situation for the Nuggets.
If Giles’s physical doesn’t work out, Donovan Mitchell, Ike Anigbogu, and Justin Jackson would all be options.
Worst Case: Out of the league with injuries
Best Case: A less obnoxious Dwight Howard
14. Miami Heat
Donovan Mitchell – G – Lousiville
This guy is 6’3 with shoes and yet somehow has a 6’10 wingspan. He also got a lot of Dwyane Wade comparisons recently at the NBA Combine because of his combination of length, athleticism, and shot-making ability. Neither are pure point guards or great outside shooters, but both play way taller than their height and fill the stat sheet. That’s good enough for the Godfather himself, Pat Riley.
Worst Case: Terry Rozier
Best Case: A slightly lesser D-Wade