Zagoria: Top 5 storylines coming out of NBA Draft Lottery
With Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery in the rearview mirror, here are five key storylines coming out of the night:
1. What will Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics do with the №1 pick?
Things couldn’t be going much better for the Celtics these days. After winning the lottery on Tuesday and securing the №1 pick, they will open Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Wednesday. Oh, and they still own the Nets’ first-round pick in 2018 thanks to that Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal that is looking sweeter by the day.
Ainge has all kinds of options now. He can take the player of his choice — presumably Washington’s Markelle Fultz — at №1. He could trade the pick in a deal for a proven player such as Chicago’s Jimmy Butler. Going forward, star guard Isaiah Thomas will be due for a max contract around $200 million after the 2017–18 season, so Ainge could opt to deal Thomas during the trade deadline in 2018, get more assets in return and hope that Fultz can eventually fill Thomas’ role. Or he could opt to pay Thomas and play Fultz alongside Thomas and Avery Bradley.
“People will make us offers for the pick,” Celtics owner Wyc Grosbeck told reporters. “We’re just not going to decide that today.”
“If it were me, I’m drafting Markelle Fultz, I’m keeping him,” ESPN’s Tim Legler said on “SportsCenter With Scott Van Pelt.” “I think he’s going to be a franchise point guard.”
Legler added Thomas could be used “as trade bait to help your team in other areas because Fultz will be there eventually.”
Whether or not you trade Thomas, Fultz seems like the way to go at №1, even if Grosbeck did say that the Celtics will at least consider talking Lonzo Ball with the top pick.
“I think (Fultz) is a can’t miss,” Legler said. “I mean, he’s got the whole thing. He’s a big point guard that has great vision, so he plays the right way when he needs to but he can get his shot at any time and he’s got a really pure looking stroke. But his separation that he gets athletically … was mind-blowing.”
2. How happy is LaVar Ball right about now?
As soon as the lottery ended, there were already conspiracy theories abounding about the placement of the top couple of picks. It wasn’t quite the frozen envelope scenario that led to Patrick Ewing joining the Knicks in 1985, but it did work out nicely that Magic Johnson and the Lakers are now in position to draft hometown star Lonzo Ball at №2.
“Was there any doubt that the Lakers were getting Lonzo Ball?” ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said during the Spurs-Warriors game.
You know Lonzo and his father, Lavar Ball, must be ecstatic about that possibility.
“At the end of the day I’ll play for any team,” Lonzo said in March. “The NBA is the NBA, but it would be a blessing to be able to play for the Lakers. It’s in L.A., I’m from here, my whole family’s here.”
Assuming Johnson has a talk with Lavar and straightens him out about his role going forward, Ball would seem to be a perfect fit for the Lakers. The UCLA star has been compared to a young Jason Kidd and would seemingly be a perfect playmaker alongside young talent like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle (assuming the Lakers don’t deal Russell after being approached). Johnson said his team wants to focus on the free agent Class of 2018 as opposed to this summer’s (Paul George included), so Ball could be the perfect floor general to guide the Lakers into the next era of Showtime.
“Ball is a franchise-type point guard,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said.
3. Which direction will the Philadelphia 76ers go at №3?
The Sixers desperately need a point guard. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. Assuming the top two floor generals in the draft — Fultz and Ball — are gone by №3, the Sixers still have several great options, including Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. and French product Frank Ntilikina. Fox met with the Sixers (and other teams) at the NBA Draft Combine.
The speedy left-hander is arguably the fastest point guard in the nation and could speed up an attack that would feature rising stars like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
“He’s the fastest in his class, he’s super fast, he thinks in the blink of an eye and makes the right plays every time,” his Kentucky teammate Malik Monk told ESPN of Fox. “He’s just a great, great player.”
With the 6-foot-10 Simmons already in the fold, the Sixers could also go unconventional and play Simmons at the point and try to surround him with shooters, such as Monk, the Jerry West Award winner this season as the best two guard in college basketball.
“I think I can play the pick-and-roll amazing,” Monk said Tuesday on ESPN. “I don’t think a lot of people have seen it, but that’s what’s going to happen in the league, so hopefully I’ll be able to show them.”
4. What will the Knicks do at №8?
Despite sending Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier and his eye-popping suit to the lottery, the Knicks tumbled from the seventh position and will draft at №8.
“Our opportunity could have been 7, could have been 10, so 8 , we’ll live with it,” Knicks President Jackson told reporters. “I think we’re good with what we do.”
It’s no secret the Knicks are looking for guards and wings — Jackson said as much at the combine — but they’ll likely miss out on elite point guards Fultz, Ball and Fox, as well as the top wings in Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Still, the Knicks could land N.C. State’s Smith or the French product Ntilikina.
5. Who will be the first non-freshman to go in the draft?
The high school Class of 2016 has long been heralded as one of the deepest and most talented in recent memory. Though it may be a bit much to compare this draft to 2003, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were all chosen, the 2017 draft could look special three or five years down the line.
Per DraftExpress.com, the first 10 projected picks in the draft are all college freshmen. You have to wait until Ntilikina at №11 before you get a player who’s not an American college freshman. Indiana’s OG Anunoby and Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell are sophomores projected at Nos. 12 and 13, respectively, while UNC junior Justin Jackson is the first upperclassman projected at №14. You have to go all the way down to №31 to find the first college senior projected to be drafted: Colorado’s Derrick White.