The NBA Draft is Thursday and it promises to be compelling, no doubt filled with surprise picks and last-minute trades that disrupt mock drafts and shake up the entire order of business.
In an effort to preview the draft, we have settled on five teams we feel have a significant opportunity to vastly improve themselves in the first round. We understand these picks are unpredictable and might even belong to someone else before the number is called.
But if things go as is expected, the fortunes of these teams may be changed for a long time in the snap of a finger.
This is going to be a monster night for the Pelicans, one their fans will not likely forget.
They own the first pick and will take Duke freshman Zion Williamson. What’s more, they also own the fourth pick, by virtue of last week’s trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, although that can’t be made official until July.
So that sets up an interesting scenario. Maybe the Pelicans picked up the fourth pick just to trade it. And if they did, they will likely land someone else with a lot of ability.
Just look at the Pelicans now: They’ll have Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart to mix in with veteran Jrue Holiday, a guard who plays defense as well as offense.
What should the Pelicans look for in the No. 4 pick? We like Jarrett Culver, the Texas Tech wing. And if that happens, New Orleans is going to be on national television a lot, just like the Cleveland Cavaliers during the days of Lebron James.
The Grizzlies are just as excited about the No.2 pick as the Pelicans are about getting Williamson at No. 1. From the second they won the pick at the Draft Lottery, word began to filter out they would take Murray State guard Ja Morant.
And why wouldn’t they? Only a sophomore, the 6-3 guard has all the measurables needed to be a standout player in the league. He’s a dynamic athlete with strong ball handing and scoring skill.
He also can make his offense by taking the ball to the rim, where almost half his half-court shots were generated and he shot 56.0 percent, according to Hoop-Math.
And despite all the scoring he does, he’s also a quality distributor and Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and he will make a nice combination. Remember, the team dealt veteran Mike Conley to Utah on Wednesday for three players – Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder – the 23rd pick in Thursday’s draft and a future first-round pick. So they need a player like Morant to fill the space.
New York Knicks
Not only did the Knicks have the worst record in the NBA last season, they have the worst overall mark of any team in the league over the last 20 years. The Knicks haven’t won the NBA championship since 1973 and there is a reason. Their organization sucks.
But this promises to be a new era, mainly because they don’t have a lot of players on guaranteed contracts, which means they’ll have a lot of money to spend on free agents, which means they might actually have a player – or two – who anyone remotely cares about watching.
Of course, one of those players, Kevin Durant, will miss the 2019-20 season with an Achilles tendon tear. So if the Knicks want to invest in him, they are going to have to exhibit patience, something their fans no longer have in supply.
Much like the Hornets and Grizzlies, the Knicks seem fixated on the guy they want with their pick – Duke’s R.J. Barrett. Much was made of the fact the Knicks didn’t really bother talking conceptually with anyone else by him. While he isn’t Williamson, there were some pundits at the beginning of the year who thought he’d wind up being the first overall selection.
Barrett is the first freshman in 26 seasons to average at least 22.0 points, seven rebounds and four assists. And that means he’s already better than just about every player on their team.
The Hawks appear to be an up-and-coming team and Thursday could be the day they turn the corner.
They have the eighth, 10th and 18th pick in the first round and what’s interesting about that is they tried to talk the Knicks into dealing No. 3 for eight and 10. The Knicks told them to get lost. We consider that a commentary on New York and Atlanta’s love of Barrett.
So what do the Hawks do with this bounty? Well, the already have a dynamic scorer and assist man in Trae Young. And John Collins and Taurean Prince are nice complements.
But as efficient as they were offensively, they had a lot of trouble on the end of the floor. And teams don’t usually draft players high in the first round based on defensive ability, unless they are a dominant, shot-blocking center. And there are none of those.
If he’s still there, we like Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke with the No. 8 pick. He comes from a dynamic college program in Gonzaga and he’s proven to be a two-way player. Maybe Duke’s Cam Reddish could slide into the 10th spot.
If you believe the reports, Kyrie Irving will sign with the Brooklyn Nets and Al Horford will turn down $30 million and also sell his wares on the free agent market. Was Boston’s postseason failure against Milwaukee really that depressing?
Still, the Celtics are set up nicely with the 14th, 20th and 22nd pick. And although it will be hard to get a show stopper at 14, they could find themselves with either Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura or Kentucky’s 6-7 swing, P.J. Washington. Either would look really slick in green.
For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of optimism about the Celtics heading into next season. Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia seem to have eclipsed them. The Celtics were consider a bit lazy and dysfunctional and maybe an influx of younger players can lift them from that funk.
You might remember, they once wanted Anthony Davis, too. And had they landed him, maybe Irving and Horford would have decided to stick around. Now they have to depend on using available money to cash in on free agents or lean more heavily on young kids like Jayson Tatum.