There was real excitement around the NBA leading up to its annual draft. What veterans would be moved during the draft? Would Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers really bit the proverbial bullet and take UCLA’s Lonzo Ball with the second pick?
Both of these questions were answered relatively early. Immediately prior to the start of the draft, Chicago sent Jimmy Butler packing to Minnesota exchange for a whole host of assets, including star guard Zach Lavine. Then, just a few minutes later, the Lakers took Ball No. 2 overall.
As the remainder of the draft played out, we were left wondering what some teams had up their sleeves. Throwing rumors of a potential Kristaps Porzingis trade out the window, Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks added another foreign talent to go with the big man. Meanwhile, both the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics raised eyebrows by not wheeling and dealing during the draft.
These are among the top-10 takeaways from the 2017 NBA Draft.
1. Finally, real excitement in Philadelphia
Fans are extremely excited about the product these Sixers will put on the court next season. It started with the emergence of Joel Embiid (before injury) and Dario Saric last season. It led to an increase of 18 wins from the previous season. Sure Philadelphia still finished with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, but it started to build a culture of competitiveness within the Sixers’ organization.
Due to their increase in wins, the Sixers ended up with the third pick in this year’s draft lottery. They ultimately decided to move that pick and a likely future lottery selection to the Boston Celtics for the first pick. Without hesitation on Thursday evening, Philly picked up former Washington point guard Markelle Fultz.
Not only was this the right move for the Sixers, it gives them a true scoring threat in the backcourt to go with a frontcourt of Saric, Embiid and 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. As a freshman last season, Fultz put up 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
We’re not saying Fultz will lead Philly to the playoffs in 2017-18, but the Sixers are also getting Ben Simmons on the court for the first time in his career. This is two No. 1 overall picks set to join a core that already includes Saric and Embiid. Not too bad for a fan base that’s proven it will buy tickets for a winning product.
2. Bulls and Wolves shake up their core groups big time
Jimmy Butler has been on the block since February’s trade deadline. Rumors started to heat up even more with the draft itself approaching. Needless to say, there was a ton of interest in Butler’s services. In the end, the Bulls and general manager Gar Forman received a pretty solid bounty for Butler.
As the draft got going Thursday night, Chicago sent Butler and the 16th pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for 2016 top-10 pick Kris Dunn, young wing Zach LaVine and the seventh overall pick in the draft.
This gives Minnesota an elite-level core group that already includes Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. For the Wolves, it was a move the team definitely needed to make in order to take that next step to playoff contention out west.
Not only this, Minnesota picked up a skilled project at center in the form of Justin Patton with the 16th pick. That’s a nice deep bench option to have as the team continues to build its depth with youngsters.
For the Bulls, trading Butler made the most sense. They also received a tremendous haul to rebuild with. Dunn immediately takes over as the team’s starting point guard after playing sparingly as a rookie last season. The fifth pick in last year’s draft, there’s still untapped potential on that end.
Though, the primary block coming Chicago’s way has to be a player in Zach LaVine that has improved each season in the NBA. Prior to suffering a torn ACL this past regular season, LaVine was averaging 18.9 points and shooting at a 39 percent mark from three-point range. He figures to take over as the starting shooting guard.
With that seventh pick, Chicago took former Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen. A freshman with the Wildcats last season, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting at a 49 percent clip from the field. Even at 7-foot, Markkanen projects as a stretch forward at the next level.
This deal also places into question the future of Dwyane Wade in Chicago. Is the soon-to-be Hall of Famer prepared to close out his career in a clear rebuilding project? Based on Wade’s track record of success, that seems highly unlikely.
3. Mavericks get their point guard
Linked to Ricky Rubio and others leading up to the draft, Dallas decided on former North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. to man that position moving forward.
The Mavericks took the Wolfpack alum No. 9 overall Thursday night, which could signal that Dallas itself has decided rebuilding an aging roster makes the most sense.
Smith isn’t necessarily solely a table setter at point guard. He averaged 18.1 points and shot 46 percent from the field as a freshman last season. Though, he did average six-plus assists per outing and is seen as a tremendous athlete.
We’re not too sure what this means for the rest of the summer. What we do know is that Dallas might very well be out of the market for a top-end point guard.
The limited assets this team does have should be used elsewhere to team up with Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel to continue building a younger core. By selecting a rookie rather than trading the pick, Dallas has clearly bought into the idea of a rebuild. What that means about Dirk Nowitzki’s future with the team remains to be seen.
4. Knicks still don’t know what they’re doing
The top-10 of this year’s draft came and went without New York moving Kristaps Porzingis. And while the summer could eventually include a Porzingis trade, we have to work under the assumption that he will be a member of the Knicks next season.
Unfortunately, president Phil Jackson and Co. absolutely dropped the ball with the eighth pick on Thursday. Instead of going with more pro-ready point guard such as Dennis Smith Jr. or a shooting guard like Malik Monk, New York picked up a major project in Frank Ntilikina.
“Playing limited minutes in the French Pro A league, Ntilikina hasn’t performed particularly well this season,” ESPN’s Kevin Peyton noted. “He projects this high largely because of how his performance is regressed to the mean, as well as his youth.”
That doesn’t seem too promising at all. Surely Ntilikina could eventually become an All-Star at the NBA level. It just seems that the Knicks could have done a lot more with this pick. It’s yet another case of Jackson struggling to do much of substance in his role as the team president. We’ll have to wait to see how the remainder of the summer plays out before criticizing him even more.
5. Never too young for the NBA
There’s been a lot of talk around the Association that draft eligibility rules must be changed. Players should be allowed to go directly form high school to the NBA. Some say that this creates a watered-down college product. But the alternative we are viewing right now doesn’t seem to be too sustainable.
And after 11 picks in NBA draft, still no one older than a college freshman. 10 one and dones from college and an 18 yr old from France.
— Brian Ginch (@ginchnd) June 23, 2017
These kids are going to school for one semester. They have no real intention of educating themselves in the classroom before entering the NBA. And while some will return to school, it seems to be absurd they are forced to make a mockery of college basketball. At least one prominent college coach agrees with this sentiment (more on that here).
Do any of us really believe that Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum are not ready to play pro basketball? What would one more year in a college system do for their progression? NBA teams obviously believe that one-and-done is a joke. It’s high time Adam Silver and the NBA follow suit.
6. Blazers must decide where to go
There was definitely some rumors swirling in the Pacific Northwest that Portland might look to flip one or more of its three first-round picks for a proven veteran. One rumor suggested the Blazers would send a pick to the New York Knicks as a way to free up salary for next month.
Instead, Portland decided to trade the 15th and 20th picks in the draft to Sacramento for the 10th pick. In the process, the Blazers added another big in the form of Zach Collins from Gonzaga. Here’s a guy that wasn’t even a full-time starter in his one season with the Zags.
How in the world is this going to help Portland compete in the Western Conference moving forward? Here’s a team that was dominated by Golden State in the playoffs each of the past two years. It really wasn’t even competitive.
C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard represent a tremendous backcourt duo. Jusuf Nurkic played well following a trade from Denver last season. Outside of that, there’s not much to write home about.
The Blazers’ supporting cast is overpaid and has proven to underperform. Portland could have used one or two of these picks to make a strong move for a veteran and some salary relief. Instead, the team is no better than it was when the draft started.
7. Kings do their thing
Sacramento entered Thursday’s draft with two top-10 picks and found a way to turn that into three selections within the top 20. It started with the pick of former Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick.
This came on the heels of rumors suggesting that Sacramento might very well move a lottery pick for San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge.
Fox and his athleticism is a perfect running partner for shooting guard Buddy Hield, who Sacramento acquired in the DeMarcus Cousins trade back in February. This has a chance to be a tremendous backcourt duo for the next decade.
In keeping with a long-term vision, the Kings then picked up North Carolina wing Justin Jackson with the 15th selection. At 6-foot-8, Jackson projects as a true small forward in the NBA. He put up 18.3 points and shot 37 percent from the field en route to earning ACC Player of the Year honors last season.
Sacramento then added a third lottery talent in Duke’s Harry Giles with the 20th pick (acquired from Portland). There’s a lot more projection in Giles than the other two picks, but he was among the top recruits in the nation last year. At the very least, there’s some young talent to team up with Willie Cauley-Stein inside following the trade of DeMarcus Cousins.
8. What exactly are the Pistons doing?
In today’s NBA, it has to be all about a full-scale rebuild or contending with the Warriors and Cavaliers for a title. When it comes to the Pistons, they are stuck in purgatory. This was the case in 2016-17 when Stan Van Gundy’s squad put up a 37-45 mark in a still pedestrian Eastern Conference.
Detroit was still relying on veterans Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to lead it to a bottom-end playoff spot in a bad conference. This led to rumors that the Pistons might move the 12th pick for a proven veteran. At the same time, suggestions came out that Drummond could be on the move.
As for an Andre Drummond deal with Detroit and Sacramento that has been bandied about, I'm told it's unlikely.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 22, 2017
Once the first round concluded Thursday night, Drummond remained on the Pistons and they added a rookie to go along with an otherwise veteran roster. That came in the form of Duke product Luke Kennard, who doesn’t necessarily have the highest of ceilings in the NBA.
There were surely other options in play where. Why not package Drummond or Jackson to move up for a higher-quality youngster? This would have enabled Detroit to start a full-scale rebuild. If not, why not send that pick for a proven veteran and continue acting the part of a mid-tier playoff contender?
At this point, the Pistons seem to be a team without a plan. They aren’t good enough to compete with the big boys back east. And they are too good to acquire a pick higher in the lottery. Mediocrity is the name of the game here.
9. Celtics with the long-term plan
A lot can change between not and training camp. And the Celtics are likely going to be pretty active in free agency. It’s still rather surprising that the team went ahead and selected Duke’s Jayson Tatum No. 3 overall. Sure the 19-year-old projects as a All-Star and 20-plus point guy. That’s not the point here.
General manager Danny Ainge apparently has a long-term vision, one that is seemingly eroding the team’s ability to compete for an NBA title over the short term. Boston had the ability to move this pick for Jimmy Butler, but turned it down. That’s absolutely absurd, especially considering the Celtics will likely have two top-five picks in the draft next year.
Moving this selection for a proven star would have closed the gap between Boston and the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. We’re talking about a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. At that point, it was readily apparent the Celtics needed more than Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford to compete with LeBron James’ squad.
Again, we fully expect Boston to make a play for a veteran or two in free agency. Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin come to mind first. Heck, the team could still move Tatum for a proven player. But at this point, the Celtics concluded their draft without taking a major step to title contention.
10. Lakers rebuild continues with Lonzo
Magic Johnson has a plan in Los Angeles. Whether it ends up returning the Lakers’ franchise to greatness remains to be seen. That plan now starts (and likely ends) with former UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, who the team took No. 2 overall on Thursday night.
Without even getting into detail regarding LaVar Ball and the drama he might bring to Hollywood, there’s surely an on-court aspect to this. Magic and Co. pretty much decided that they would rather move on with Ball running the point instead of former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell. That much was made clear when Los Angeles dealt Russell to the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the week.
Steadfast in their decision not to move last year’s top pick Brandon Ingram, the Lakers at least have a solid young duo to build with moving forward. It won’t lead to immediate contention in the Western Conference, but it gives some hope to fans in Southern California.
The remainder of the summer will likely be spent attempting to acquire an All-Star caliber veteran option to team up with this young core. Jimmy Butler might be out of the equation, but Paul George remains a viable option. That’s only magnified by the fact that George himself has indicated that he would like to sign with the Lakers next summer.
Los Angeles then decided to use its other two first-round picks. The Lakers added Utah forward Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick before moving No. 28 to Utah for the 30th pick (Josh Hart). We’re not going to sit back and project how each player might turn out in the NBA. But it’s readily clear that Johnson came to the Lakers with a plan. He enacted said plan on Thursday evening.