The 2017 NBA Draft brought what it essentially promised. The draft lottery saw the vast majority of its projected picks go in expected succession. Many teams filled their voids and loaded up on talent. But despite the draft’s predictability, there were indeed winners and losers, for more reasons than that which meet the eye.
1) Minnesota Timberwolves: The T-Wolves won the draft by a landslide… and it wasn’t even with the pick they made. We all knew the draft jingle would sound at one point indicating a major trade. Nobody saw what was coming. The Wolves acquired all star Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls and the number 16 overall pick for Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the number 7 overall pick. The Timberwolves pulled off the biggest heist for an all star caliber player since that of James Harden. The Wolves now instantly become one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. Adding Jimmy Butler to the soon-to-be best center in the league in Karl Anthony Towns and the freakishly athletic Andrew Wiggins establishes a long and lengthy front court with great perimeter defense and a major upgrade on the offensive end.
2) Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers did their part by drafting UCLA phenom Lonzo Ball. In the wake of unloading D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and the 23rd overall pick, the Lakers quickly replaced their void point guard spot. Garnering comparisons to Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson and the Lakers came away with the point guard they see revitalizing “Showtime” in LA. In addition, by swapping Russell for a much needed center, a top 5 one at that, the Lakers essentially unloaded perhaps the worst contract in basketball outside of Joakim Noah in Timofey Mozgov for a late first rounder, which is a huge win for the Lakers. Thus, the Lake Show freed up much needed cap space and landed the best player in the draft. On to free agency.
3) Philadelphia 76ers: Obviously when you have the number 1 pick in the draft you tend to win… unless you’re Cleveland with Anthony Bennett. Drafting Markelle Fultz gave Philly exactly what they need: a point guard that can put the ball in the hole. With great size, Fultz also gives the Sixers the option to utilize him as a combo guard and give Ben Simmons some Draymond Green action at the point forward role. All in all, Philadelphia got what they needed.
4) Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk was THE steal of the draft. Projected by some to be drafted right outside of the top 5, Monk slipped all the way to the Hornets at 11. The best shooter in the draft with tremendous athleticism, Monk provides something unique for Charlotte. Not only does he possess a killer instinct, he is instant offense, something Charlotte has struggled with in the Kemba Walker era. Monk will not only be able to make an impact right away, whether starting or off the bench, but he also has great upside. Monk is reminiscent of one J.R Smith, without the playmaking ability, but with equal, if not better athleticism, and the same ability to light it up. Perhaps Monk can do so with more poise and efficiency.
5) Sacramento Kings: The Sacramento Kings landed 3 picks in the first round. Many believe that De’Aron Fox was the best point guard in the draft contrary to popular belief. With a suspect jump shot and 3 point range, those assertions go out the window, but one thing cannot be doubted. Fox is the fastest guard in the draft with an impressive will to win and tremendous intensity. His ability to contribute on both ends of the floor is a great addition to a rebuilding Sacramento Kings team. As a cornerstone with peers Willie Cauley Stein and Buddy Hield, Fox will have a young nucleus to work with, with Hield as a sniper on the wing, and Stein as a pick and roll menace, flashes that he showed post Demarcus Cousins trade. The Kings also somehow managed to land Justin Jackson from the national champion Tar-Heels by way of a trade with the Portland Trailblazers. Jackson, a slashing guard, forward combo wing with an attitude on the court, gives the Kings expendability to move on from the underwhelming Ben McLemore and bring him along slowly off the bench. Lastly, the Kings perhaps landed the second steal of the draft in Harry Giles, a 6’10 big man out of Duke. Giles averaged 4 points, 4 boards, and a block in 11 minutes of action. His per 40 minute numbers equate to 14 points and 13 boards a game. Despite injury, the Kings now can start Giles in place of the putrid Kosta Koufos, and actually start a successful rebuild. After harsh scrutiny trading Demarcus Cousins, perhaps the Kings knew what they were doing by unloading the superstar center.
1) Chicago Bulls: The Bulls gave away a top 15 player in the NBA. The Bulls lost out on keeping their draft pick Justin Patton. The Bulls got an ACL injured Zach Lavine and an underachieving Kris Dunn in return for such Jimmy Butler. To their credit, the Bulls did receive Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. The 7 foot power forward has exceptional size, and is a lethal dual threat in the pick and roll with his quick release from 3 and his ability to put the ball on the floor for a guy his size. Still, none of that makes up for the loss of Jimmy Buckets. To think the Bulls could have gotten Kevin Love for him as well. The Bulls were the biggest losers last night, and will wear the L on their forehead for the entire offseason.
2) New York Knicks: No surprise here. The New York Knicks are not exactly known for doing many things right. And don’t give them credit for Kristaps Porzingis. They only drafted him because Phil Jackson’s primary target in Jahlil Okafor was taken a spot ahead. Frank Ntilikina out of France is a solid point guard. However, the precedent by which he was chosen is poor at best. Dennis Smith JR., the explosive point guard out of NC State with solid range, was passed up on. Malik Monk, one of the top prospects in the draft, was passed up on. Instead, New York selected a player who, like noted by many other NBA experts, is solid currently but has limited upside. His speed could use work. His handles are slow and predictable. But to his credit, he currently shoots 43% from 3 point range in the French League and has good leaping ability. If the Knicks were at the bottom of the lottery, at 11 or after, maybe this pick would be good. But the Knicks could have done better and that’s why they are losers in this draft.
3) Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers lost 2 of their 3 first round picks to the Kings in Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. What they are left with? Caleb Swanigan, a short 6’5 power forward weighing in at a heavy 257 pounds. Swanigan, who won the Big Ten Player of the Year award and Karl Malone Award for best power forward in the nation, may need to get leaner and pray for a mini growth spurt in his early years unless he plans to model his game after one Draymond Green or Charles Barkley, who could handle and facilitate like a small forward. Averaging 19 and 13 a game in college, Swanigan will give them toughness and control of the boards. But will he be better than what Noah Vonleh is now? Regardless, Portland has a fine piece off their bench considering the spot in which he was chosen, but overall lost the draft due to lost assets.
Orlando Magic: The Magic did not win the draft, nor did they lose. They established a position of neutrality, but did make some interesting moves. Drafting Jonathan Isaac in the lottery was a great pick. However, the 6’10 power forward joins a very crowded front court containing Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Bismack Biyombo. Nonetheless, Isaac is a talented scorer who, based on the eye test, is reminiscent of Kevin Durant (relax, just based on play style and physique). While not a KD by any stretch, his game does garner some resemblance, and Isaac will need to gain 20 plus pounds and get much stronger to be able to compete with NBA level physicality. In the second round, the Magic selected Ivan Rabb. While perhaps the best player available, an overarching theme reoccurred. Rabb is a power forward. With needed help at the shooting guard position, it is baffling as to how they did not select Tyler Dorsey out of Oregon or Jawun Evans as a backup point guard. Solid players selected, but unless they plan on flipping Rabb in a packaged deal or unloading some of their veteran bigs, their approach didn’t make much sense.
All in all, the draft was pretty straightforward and gave us what we expected. Now its time to evaluate the talent in Summer League and see which players show flashes of their untapped potential.