Just before last night’s 2017 NBA Draft started, I tweeted out three different versions of top-10 projections: What will happen, what should happen, and what would be the most fun if it did happen.
1. Fultz 2. Ball 3. Tatum 4. Jackson 5. Fox 6. Isaac 7. Markkanen 8. Smith 9. Frank 10. Monk
— Simon Cherin-Gordon (@Simoncgo) June 22, 2017
My “most fun” list was the closest to reality. What that says about the draft, other than that it was fun, I don’t know. I do know that, as in all years, some teams got a lot better, while others didn’t get as much better.
It’s hard to get worse on draft night, which is why I’m going with more positives than negatives in this piece.
5 moves I loved
1. Yeah, so Rob Henigan was clearly the problem
So much so, in fact, that he left behind a roster so screwed up, that even three stellar picks don’t look stellar. There isn’t a 19 or 20-year old in the world that looks like a good fit in Orlando.
New GM John Hammond did not concern himself with this. He was smart not to; it is reductive to draft for need or fit when you would cut ties with any player on your roster in an instant. So he instead just picked up where he left off in Milwaukee, making excellent value picks.
He got the draft’s third-best prospect at No. 6 in Jonathan Isaac. He got Anzejs Pasecniks at No. 25, even though the gap between he and other massive shooters like Lauri Markkanen (N0. 7)—and certainly TJ Leaf (No. 18)—was relatively small.
Hammond’s got a lot of work to do. If he does it, the success of this draft will become quite clear.
2. Dennis Smith to Dallas
This may seem akin to praising Bob Myers for signing Kevin Durant, only I don’t think this is what Rick Carlisle wanted. Frank Ntilikina is a much more natural fit in his system, more complementary to Seth Curry and probably easier to coach.
Smith is ball dominant, struggles to shoot off the dribble, waxes and wanes in terms of defensive effort and compounds the undersized-ness of Curry and Wesley Matthews on the wing.
He’s also the third-most talented prospect in the draft, and could be so good that he redefines the roster and system around him. Dirk Nowitzki did the same as a No. 9 pick, long before Carlisle arrived. Kudos to the Mavs for not overthinking this one.
3. Reason No. 43,771 to stop calling the Warriors unfair
The day I moved to New York, I watched the NBA draft with a group of nine Knicks fans. I confessed something to one of them at the beginning of the night: Kevin Durant coming to the Warriors was a relatively non-competitive move on his part.
As the draft went on, said fan and I discussed how increasingly surprised we were that Jordan Bell was still available. This fan, along with most of the other eight Knicks fans, were hoping Bell fell to No. 44.
He didn’t, because the Warriors paid the Bulls $3.5 million to take him at No. 38. I instantly regretted my earlier admission.
Maybe Durant choosing another team would have been a more honorable move from a competitive standpoint. But that ignores the anomalous nature of his signing: No team has ever been built along the margins as well as Golden State. It wasn’t just drafting Steph Curry at No. 7, or Klay Thompson at No. 11. It was drafting Festus Ezeli at No. 30 and Draymond Green at No. 35. It was signing Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
It was buying the rights to No. 38 pick Patrick McCaw on draft night last year—the same night in which the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
A year has gone by since then. Durant came to the Warriors, people complained. The Warriors won the title, Durant the Finals MVP, people complained. The Warriors paid a little cash to grab a prototypical modern-day NBA combo big. People may want to try a different strategy.
4. Spurs draft Derrick White because he should have been drafted 10 picks earlier
It once seemed like the Spurs had a magic formula. They would draft unheralded foreign prospects late in the first round, and said prospects would become good-to-great NBA players.
Turns out, they were just drafting the best guy available. Now that every team has an adequate international scouting program, the best guys available to San Antonio are now, generally, Americans. Kyle Anderson at 30 in 2014. Dejounte Murray at 29 last year.
And now Derrick White at 29, who is this year’s Malcolm Brogdon, only he shouldn’t have been Brogdon in the sense that he went way later than he should have, since we learned that Brogdon went way later than he should have last year.
5. Kings trade down successfully, if not again luckily
It felt like a repeat of last year. If you don’t recall: Marquese Chriss, the super athletic, potentially switchable, potentially stretchy young power forward that would make so much sense next to DeMarcus Cousins, was sitting there at No. 8. Instead, the Kings traded down, drafted Georgios Papagiannis at No. 13, and Skal Labissiere at No. 28, who instantly looked like the steal of the draft and made the absurd trade down defensible in retrospect.
After taking De’Aaron Fox at No. 5, the Kings had a chance to pair him with his sweet-shooting college teammate Malik Monk at No. 10. The pick seemed obvious, and yet the Kings again moved down, this time to No. 15 and No. 20.
The trade didn’t seem as bad this time. Getting 15 and 20 for 10 is far better than 13 and 28 for 8, according to both Kevin Pelton’s trade calculator and common sense. Also, Monk, while a better prospect than Chriss, was not as obvious a fit due to his redundancy with Buddy Hield.
Justin Jackson (No. 15) and Harry Giles (No. 20) gave the team an excellent blend of safety and upside, while both addressed positional needs. Neither player was guaranteed to be available at either spot, but the alternate options were not as dire as last year.
3 moves I didn’t love as much
1. Portland makes a brilliant trade, squanders it
My issue is not with Zach Collins’ fit on the Blazers as currently constructed, but rather is with the Blazers as currently constructed.
Malik Monk slipped to No. 10, and with him, the perfect excuse for Portland to trade C.J. McCollum and add major talent at either forward spot. If Jimmy Butler got Chicago Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 7, could McCollum have not gotten the Blazers Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton? Or gotten them Butler?
In drafting Collins, Neil Olshey is trying to have the best of both worlds, upgrading at forward while keeping McCollum. The problem is that Collins may not be able to play the 4, and even if he can, he won’t be the defensive stud that the Blazers need at the 4 for Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic to work.
Turning 15 and 20 into 10 could have been a massive win for a team looking to cut down on picks. With Collins as the choice, I wonder if Portland would have been better off using one of the picks to dump salary, and the other to draft OG Anunoby or TJ Leaf.
2. Minnesota does the same, sort of
Kind of, not really. The Wolves had no business acquiring the No. 16 pick in addition to Jimmy Butler, given that all they gave up was two used cars in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, along with the No. 7 pick.
But remember, as I stated in my likely-obnoxious Jordan Bell rant earlier, great teams are built on the margins. Just because you have more assets than others doesn’t mean you won’t pay for wasting them. And when the Wolves took Justin Patton at No. 16, that’s exactly what they did.
Patton is a nice prospect. I had him rated higher than the other bigs taken in the teens: Jarrett Allen, Bam Adebayo and John Collins. But Minnesota so desperately needed shooting, and that was before it traded its best shooter away. With a chance to add TJ Leaf, or DJ Wilson, or at least OG Anunoby, the Wolves added a guy who will be buried under Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng.
3. And then, there’s Boston…
I get it. The Warriors are too good, LeBron is still in his prime, and the Celtics are poised to contend for a long time. And I get that trading for Jimmy Butler would have forced them to move a lot more pieces in order to sign Gordon Hayward.
But see here’s the problem: Butler is in Minnesota now. Meaning Hayward is either less likely to want to sign or less likely to move the needle if he does sign. Now, the C’s need to wait for the next top-10 talent to hit the trade block, which could be two, three or four years from now. And they need that to line up with a summer in which they have a realistic chance at landing an all-star free agent in his prime. And they need to hope that their assets are still worth enough and their cap space still free enough to do these things.
Danny Ainge wants to win both now and later. After this past week, it’s unclear how much of either he’s going to be able to do.