There weren’t as many trades as people were expecting but the NBA draft was as interesting as usual. Here’s some (admittedly long-winded) thoughts about what each team in the Top 12 did.
- Karl Towns
- Tyus Jones
I saw an interesting tweet from one of the Free Darko guys after the Tyus Jones pick, talking about how drafting a local kid from Minnesota was a good example of the country club mentality the Timberwolves have as a franchise. He wrote a good piece about this over at Punch Drunk Wolves in 2013. The funny thing about it is that Minnesota can more than afford that mentality now because they have an absolutely absurd amount of young talent. Whether or not Jones is ever going to be anything more than a backup PG doesn’t really matter, not when you have Karl Towns and Andrew Wiggins. If this is a country club, what a fun country club it’s going to be.
One thing about Flip Saunders is he does seem to have a very good eye for young talent. He got about as good a return as possible for Kevin Love and his refusal to budge on his demand for Klay Thompson looks much better now. Then you look at his past draft picks - he traded down and got the best two players in the deal when he gave up Trey Burke for Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. A lot of people questioned the Zach LaVine pick at the time but at the very least I think you can see what Saunders saw in him, despite his very limited minutes and statistical production at UCLA. Adreian Payne has the chance to be a good NBA player. Even guys like Glenn Robinson III, who never got a chance amid a roster logjam at the wing, might end up sticking in the league. Not many 16-win teams can afford to jettison young talent and that’s the situation the Wolves are in. That’s one reason I’m not completely ready to give up on Anthony Bennett - Minnesota has so many good young players that they just don’t need him.
The combination of Towns and Wiggins should be amazing. I think they can be the best two players on an elite defense and the best two players on an elite offense. When your best two players are great two-way players, particularly when they are 6’8+ and 7’0+, that’s the formula for a championship team. Combine that with all the other young talent that fits extremely well around them and there’s not much to dislike. Ricky Rubio wouldn’t be great in every situation but he’ll be in a perfect spot to push the ball and spoon feed open shots to Towns and Wiggins.
I think Towns ends up as the franchise player. For as well as Wiggins played as a rookie, he’s not a great shooter and he’s not a great passer and he can struggle to create efficient shots for himself and consistently impact the game offensively in the half-court. Towns has no holes in his game, which is just freakish for a guy who is 7’0 250. He started to get credit for this during the workout season but people have no idea how good he can be from the perimeter as a shot-creator. He can handle, shoot and pass the ball like a guard. Watching him at the practices of the McDonald’s All-American Game was just a revelation. Even in comparison to guys like Myles Turner and Jahlil Okafor, you could see that Towns was playing on a different level. At least in my opinion.
I fell in love with his game the first time I saw him play, back in the 2013 Hoop Summit, when he was playing with guys like Wiggins and Dante Exum and Jabari Parker as a 17-year-old. He was already 7’0 240, he was a really good athlete and he had a great feel for the game. I’m watching him play and thinking this guy is better than Sam Dalembert right now. Dalembert was a starting NBA center on a 48-win two seasons ago, although a lot of that was the wizardry of Rick Carlisle. As someone covering the Mavs, I would have been very comfortable rolling the dice with Towns over Dalembert, let’s leave it at that.
Towns is the one player in this draft who I think makes his NBA team significantly better on both sides of the ball right away and I don’t think it will take Towns very long to be one of the best players in the league. Long story short, I’m really looking forward to watching Karl Towns play Anthony Davis in a seven-game playoff series. I think that has the chance to be what Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett could have been. Let’s just hope the country club mentality in Minnesota doesn’t kill Towns career the way it did with Garnett! Flip Saunders was only coaching the players back then, not picking them as well. Hopefully he learned the right lessons in the process. The good news, of course, is that Garnett never played with a guy like Wiggins.
Los Angeles Lakers
- D’Angelo Russell
- Larry Nance Jr.
- Anthony Brown
The Lakers picking Russell over Okafor is a fascinating storyline on a lot of levels. LA is a franchise with such a long history of great center play that you would think they would go with the 7’0, all else being equal. Here’s the question. Did they go with Russell because they feel like the modern game is more conducive to guards running the spread pick-and-roll than going inside to big men? Or did they just not think Okafor was a good enough two-way player? Would they have still taken Russell over Towns?
Going with Russell makes for a really interesting dynamic. You have three young guys who want to push the ball and have absolutely no conscience when it comes to getting shots up - Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. Russell and Clarkson, in particular, would have no problem freezing Kobe Bryant out of the game. Not necessarily because they are selfish but because they are shoot-first players who are most effective when they are hunting for their own shots. All three of LA’s best young players can use up possessions pretty easily.
This is a team that should be pushing the ball, spreading the floor and running a lot of pick-and-roll and there’s almost no chance a team giving so many young players that many minutes is going to play anything close to acceptable defense. It’s basically the exact opposite of the way Kobe and Byron Scott want to play. Russell and Randle, in particular, have a lot of room to improve as defensive players. That’s also where I worry a bit with Russell, in terms of the expectations of being a No. 2 overall pick.
Russell is a good athlete but he’s not one of the best athletes in this draft. You can see the difference in Ohio State’s loss to Arizona in the NCAA Tournament - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a significantly better athlete than Russell and he hounded him all over the floor and forced him into a 3-17 game. James Harden and Steph Curry aren’t necessarily elite athletes but they are outliers in every respect. No one shoots like Steph and Harden is a 220-pound tank of a SG. Russell is 185 pounds and he’s nowhere near as capable of living in the paint and finishing through contact as Harden.
Russell should be a pick and roll player. You won’t get as much out of him if you force him to hold the ball, run a more conventional NBA offense with two big men and give it to Kobe on every possession. The best way to run offense for Kobe isn’t the best way to run offense for Russell, which brings me to DeMarcus Cousins.
Who knows what is really going on in Sacramento, but the Lakers' offer was about as good as they could be expected to get. They could offer three-young starters - Randle, Clarkson and the No. 2 overall pick. That would mean stripping the roster pretty bare but the Lakers operate by different rules than just about anyone else. If they get Cousins and sign LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, things change quickly. All of a sudden Kobe could conceivably hang around a few more years on a very relevant team. Just get some 3-and-D players at PG and SF and LA would be a contender again with a pretty unique style that could force a lot of mismatches in a seven-game series.
The timing may not work given Aldridge’s free agency, but the Lakers will almost certainly get another chance at Cousins down the road. If the Kings don’t start turning things around in a hurry, they are going to have to move Cousins at some point, whether it’s at the deadline or next offseason. If Russell is as good as the Lakers think he will be and he becomes the centerpiece in Cousins trade talks, we might get to see if they really think that a new day has dawned in the NBA and that who you have at center doesn’t matter as much as you have at PG.
- Jahlil Okafor
- Richaun Holmes
- JP Tokoto
- Luka Mitrovic
Where to begin the 76ers? I’m just grateful as a writer that a team like this exists. There’s a reason this team has commissioned so many think-pieces. They don’t operate like a normal NBA franchise and they aren’t afraid to try radically different ways of thinking. They are some weird hybrid of a modern art project and a controlled science experiment - the answer to the question of what would happen if you manage a professional sports organization as if you were in franchise mode on a video game. Let’s accumulate as many assets as humanly possible, always swing for the highest upside player at every possible chance and throw together random collections of skill-sets without much regard for how they fit together.
Start with the two guys whom we know are going to play next year. What is Jahlil Okafor + Nerlens Noel going to look like for 30+ minutes a night? You would imagine that Nerlens' defender would double on Jahlil just about every time he had the ball in his hands. But Jahlil is good enough to just score through traffic anyway. He’s a post player who can get up shots like a guard and he’s a great passer out of a double team. Put him together with one of the best defensive centers in the league and you might have some counter-cultural way of winning games in the modern NBA.
The big picture concern is what this means about Embiid’s health situation. I don’t want to speculate about it so let’s just hope for the best. In a best-case scenario, there’s no way you could keep all three C’s long-term, but I would be incredibly curious to see Embiid and Okafor together. On paper, that would be two of the best offensive centers to come out of the NCAA game in a generation. At the very least I would love to watch those two guys play 1-on-1 in practice.
Whatever happens with Embiid, Okafor should have a pretty good chance of winning the ROY for the same reason that Michael Carter-Williams won two seasons ago. There aren’t a lot of guys to take shots away from him on this team. He’s going to get to take as many shots as he can handle, which is what happened at Duke, where he absolutely thrived in that role.
The question is how much Okafor will be affected by the lack of three-point shooting in Philly. One of the biggest things about his success at Duke is he was playing with four three-point shooters. Duke did an excellent job of spreading the floor, especially when they moved Justise Winslow to PF. Philadelphia is pretty much the opposite of that. Sam Hinkie seems to be drafting perimeter players with the idea that length and athleticism are what matter and shooting can be taught in the NBA. That was the rationale with guys like Jakarr Sampson and Jerami Grant and it’s the same thinking with JP Tokoto. He’s a freak athlete who can’t shoot 3’s. The 76ers are buying high on tools and hoping their coaching staff can get the most out of them.
The upside of that philosophy is their overall team length and athleticism could cover for Okafor’s defensive issues. For as many knocks as he received in the pre-draft process, he has the tools to be at least a decent defender. I look at him kind of like Carmelo Anthony - if he’s the worst defender in your starting unit, you are probably OK. Building around a volume scorer at C is difficult but it can be done. Philadelphia is a future-looking team that may have locked themselves into building a team around the most traditional style of play - low-post scoring. No matter what happens, they will be fascinating for years to come.
New York Knicks
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Jerian Grant
- Guillermo Hernangomez
Just like the 76ers, the Knicks made the most interesting possible selection when they were on the board at No. 4. Most of the NCAA guys were more ready to play immediately than Porzingis, who instantly becomes a figure hanging over the franchise for the foreseeable future. It’s unreasonable to expect him to be a finished product as a 19-year-old so his development will give Phil Jackson time to pull off for whatever his plan is. That is, if there one. Is Jackson looking big picture or just making it up as he goes along? It’s probably some combination of both but which side of the ledger does it lean?
On paper, what Jackson did really isn’t that different from Sam Hinkie. He stripped away most of the assets on his roster and then he took the highest possible upside pick in the lottery. The difference is he still paid Carmelo Anthony a max salary and he doesn’t have as many shots to find a star in the draft. The Knicks have a pick swap with the Nuggets in 2016 that is going to Toronto - they aren’t getting another Top 5 pick for awhile. Porzingis could be the first lottery pick out of 2-3 necessary to get the Knicks back to being an elite team. Maybe he can one day carry the franchise by himself but that’s an awful lot of pressure on some fairly skinny shoulders.
Dirk Nowitzki comparisons are tricky. Dirk is such a unique player because he’s a 7’0 who scores like a guard. Porzingis is a fundamentally sound player with a lot of skills but that doesn’t mean he’s capable of scoring 25+ points a night off the dribble against high-level NBA defenders. At this point in his career, he’s not a guy I want to have handling the ball in isolation situations 20+ times a game at the three-point line. Maybe he never will be. That’s what made Dirk so incredible - he routinely hit shots that no one else has an even reasonable chance of making. Saying a 7’0 who can shoot 3’s and handle the ball is the next Dirk is like saying a 6’3 guard who shoot 3’s off the dribble and handle the ball is going to be the next Steph Curry.
Where Porzingis is different than Dirk and most of the other international 7’0 is that he has a chance to be a two-way player. He’s very long (7’6 wingspan) and he’s a good athlete so he should eventually be an impact defender at some point in his career. Porzingis should be a good offensive player and a good defensive player but I don’t know if he’ll necessarily be great at either. That’s where I think he would be best as part of a young core with multiple lottery picks around him and that’s where I wonder what exactly is the plan for the Zen Master.
There’s not many ways to build an elite team around Carmelo. The Knicks need a two-way center who can play in the pick-and-roll and be an elite interior defender and 3-and-D wings who can cover for Melo on defense and spread the floor on offense. In other words, Chandler, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. All those guys quickly found roles on playoff teams and maybe it was time for them to leave New York but the Knicks need guys exactly like them to replace them. Greg Monroe could be an interesting player but him and Carmelo just isn’t going to work.
If New York doesn’t hit a grand slam in free agency and they struggle next season, they might wonder whether it’s time to try and deal Carmelo and start over. The problem is not having a first rounder until 2017, as well as the reality that he won’t command the same type of ransom at 31 that the Knicks gave up for him or that the Kings could get for Cousins. Melo is an older player on the downside of his career who has only been out of the first round twice.
Porzingis should end up being a good player but the Knicks might need him to carry them in the future. It’s an awful lot to ask of anyone and it’s more than is being asked from almost any of the other top guys in this year’s lottery. As I said before, I hope Phil knows what he’s doing. The cynic would say he just took the guy who would take the longest to develop in order to cash as many checks as possible and buy some time with the fan base.
- Mario Hezonja
- Tyler Harvey
The situation in Orlando is relatively simple in comparison to Philly and New York. They have good young players at every position and they are trying to find the right combination to make everything work. That’s the difference between the situation Hezonja, the other highly touted European teenager in this draft, is walking into versus Porzingis. He can just be one piece of the puzzle instead of the whole plan. Hezonja is the perfect complementary player in the modern NBA - he’s a volume three-point shooter who can defend multiple positions - and his ceiling is pretty high too.
I don’t know how much Hezonja will get to play with the ball in his hands next to Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton but he can still provide a lot of value spreading the floor. If he turns out to be a better overall offensive player, they can move the offense towards him over the next few seasons. Two interesting questions come up to me - will they keep Tobias Harris in restricted free agency? And will they consider going four-out or even five-out with wings more often? Could they play some combination of Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier, Hezonja, Payton and Oladipo at the same time? They have enough wings to try anything so how wedded will Scott Skiles be to more traditional line-ups?
- Willie Cauley-Stein
Of all the craziness in Sacramento, maybe the most worrisome thing to me is an off-hand comment Vlade Divac made to the media about not being able to make a decision on Emmanuel Mudiay because he didn’t come in for a workout. Who you take in the top half of the lottery is too important a decision to not cover all the bases. If Vlade was the one making the pick, he should have been at least watching all the film there was to see on Mudiay and coming out with an informed opinion. The organization should at least have an idea of whether he’s a better fit than Cauley-Stein, regardless of whether or not the new GM has seen him personally. That’s management 101.
Mudiay’s size at PG (6’5 200) would be an excellent fit in a super-sized starting line-up with Cousins, Jason Thompson, Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore. Even at 19, he’s a more well-rounded player than Darren Collison and he’s capable of being a more consistent scorer and playmaker. His pass-first mentality could do wonders for McLemore and Nik Stauskas, who haven’t exactly played with a lot of guys who have made the game easier for them in Sacramento.
Cauley-Stein could help them a lot on defense but he’s probably not making them better on offense. He’s going to be a spacing issue next to Cousins and he won’t be playing with a high-level guard who can create a lot of easy shots at the rim for him. He would be most effective in a spread pick-and-roll situation with Phoenix where he could catch lobs from Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight all game as opposed to playing in a half-court team like the Kings who want to pound the ball inside to Cousins and play like the Memphis Grizzlies.
Cauley-Stein and Cousins could be a Bizarro version of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor - there should be a way for it to work but it would go away from a lot of the trends the league is embracing in terms of spacing the floor. Will the Kings have the patience to figure out a chemistry between the two? Will George Karl? Will Cousins? The upside is that if they do end up moving Cousins, Cauley-Stein is a good defensive C to build around. You could hide bad defenders in front of him - the obvious example would be a core of Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. It’s a Plan B, at least. Given the way things have been going in Sacramento, though, let’s just hope there’s a Plan A.
- Emmanuel Mudiay
- Nikola Radicevic
For the second year in a row, I think the Nuggets could end up getting one of the best picks of the draft because they’ve done a better job of evaluating international talent. Jusuf Nurkic was a steal at No. 16 in 2014 - not only was he able to walk into the league as a high-level offensive player he showed more defensive potential than most low-post scorers. He looks like a legitimate two-way player to build around at C and it’s very possible that he ends up as a better player than a Top 5 pick like Porzingis.
In five years, Mudiay could be a better two-way player than any of the guys taken between No. 2-7. The first thing you really have to love about him is his size - he’s as big a PG as has come in the league (6’5 200) in some time. What kind of got lost in the discussion between Mudiay and Russell is that Mudiay has played as a PG his whole life. He’s comfortable running a team, controlling tempo and looking to create shots for other guys, especially in the pick-and-roll. Mudiay should be a lot like Elfrid Payton in that he has the size and feel to walk into a big role as a starting PG right away.
There are legitimate concerns about his three-point shot, but he can dominate the ball and succeed with shooters around him. This could be great for Gary Harris - they can play two big guards together, Mudiay can create open 3’s for him and they can both guard either backcourt position. They will have one of the biggest backcourts in the NBA and that’s before you get into guys like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson, all of whom can spot up off of Mudiay. None of those guys would necessarily be comfortable with a young guy given so much control of the offense but he would look to pass the ball and keep them happy. He’s not going to freeze anyone out.
The big thing long-term is that you want a lot of speed and three-point shooting around Mudiay and Nurkic at PF, SF and SG, with the idea being that those two could be the centerpieces on offense and defense. The guy who could really end up on the hot seat is Kenneth Faried because he would just get in the way of Nurkic post-ups and Mudiay drives. He’s not a good defensive player either so it’s a logical place to upgrade the starting line-up with next year’s lottery pick or with a Lawson trade. If the Houston Rockets strike out in their pursuit of a star PF, moving either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas for Lawson would make a lot of sense.
Either way, the Nuggets will have a lot of options when it comes to rebuilding the team over the next few seasons. They could have been in a very difficult situation after the implosion of the 57-win team in 2013 but the front office may have just pulled two consecutive rabbits out of the hat and gotten them back on solid ground. That’s a lot of expectations to put on Mudiay but this was a guy who was widely seen as the best perimeter player in the country coming out of high school. If he went to SMU and played for Larry Brown for a year, he might not have been available at No. 7.
- Stanley Johnson
- Darrun Hilliard
There are a lot of legitimate concerns about Stanley Johnson after a somewhat up-and-down freshman season at Arizona. The best-case scenario is that he becomes a test case for the benefits of spacing. Johnson’s numbers weren’t great at Arizona but that team was mired in the mud on offense. Everyone sat in zones and dared them to shoot. Johnson was the best 3-point shooter on the floor a lot in college he will be the 3rd or 4rth best in Detroit. Maybe he isn’t quite as great as we thought he was coming out of high school but maybe it won’t matter as much if he’s playing in great spacing. The analogy is that spacing is Coors Fields. It inflates your statistics by 10-15% verse what they would be in a normal system.
Stan Van Gundy is spread pick-and-roll all the way. You have Reggie Jackson or Brandon Jennings driving off Andre Drummond and three 3-point shooters around them. Either the PG or Drummond gets a good look or they attract help and the Pistons start moving the ball to the open man. Johnson, along with Ersan Ilyasova and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, gets the opportunity to get open spot-up shots, attack close-outs and make simple plays in a way that limits the defense’s option and forces them to give up something. This is how a guy like Landry Fields becomes an All-Rookie selection. Or Hedo Turkoglu becomes the primary offensive option on an NBA Finals team. The game should be a lot easier for Johnson than it ever was in Arizona.
That, in theory, should help him with his difficulties finishing at the rim and making the right decisions with the ball in his hands in college. He’s a young player with a ton of physical talent who should be a good two-way player for the Pistons. They will want to definitely try him as a small-ball PF at times and he gives them the versatility to play a number of different line-ups. Johnson was able to match up with guys like D’Angelo Russell and Caris Levert in college. He can impact the game in a lot of different ways and be a nice part of their core going forward.
Hilliard isn’t the same level of player but it’s the same idea. He has good size for a wing (6’6 220) and he shoots a lot of 3’s at a high percentage (5.8 3PA’s on 38.7% shooting as a senior at Villanova). Hilliard, like Johnson, could not have asked for a better situation to be drafted into because SVG runs a system designed to get the most out of those types of players and there are plenty of minutes to be had on a rebuilding team.
- Frank Kaminsky
- Nic Batum
- Jeremy Lamb
I’m very skeptical of what Charlotte did over the last 48 hours because I’m still a believer in Noah Vonleh. That might be a mistake because they have obviously seen a lot more of him than me - maybe this is a situation like Thomas Robinson and they are trying to unload him as fast as possible before anyone figures it out. I wonder if Michael Jordan’s legendary impatience got the better of him again and the Hornets just traded away their young player with the most two-way potential in order to lock themselves into a core that doesn’t have a ton of upside.
Cody Zeller left the Big Ten two seasons ago. Noah Vonleh left the Big Ten last season. At the time they left NCAA, I don’t think many people would have taken Frank Kaminsky over either one of them. Now because he has been dominating younger players at a much lower level of competition while they have been fighting for minutes on an NBA team in playoff contention he is a much better player with a higher upside than those guys? Zeller and Vonleh would have been first-team All-Americans if they got to stay behind in school like Kaminsky and dominate a bunch of high school kids. Vonleh is 19 - the same age Kaminsky was when he averaged 4 points and 2 rebounds a game at Wisconsin.
The issue with Kaminsky is how is he going to fit in a front court pairing? Kaminsky + Al Jefferson isn’t a whole lot of defensive ability. Kaminsky + Zeller doesn’t have a whole lot of rim protection. Maybe you go Kaminsky + Biyombo but how many minutes are those guys going to play when Jefferson is your best player and Zeller was the No. 4 overall pick two years ago? They might count on the duo of Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist on the wings to cover up for the defensive issues of their big men but that still leaves them with a team with a lot of potential holes on both sides of the ball for teams to exploit.
Here’s my real issue with the Hornets. I’m not sure they are any more ready to compete for playoff spots than the Pacers, the Heat or the Pistons and I’m not sure they have the same type of upside potential as young teams like the Magic and the 76ers. I do like Jeremy Lamb, though, and I will go down on the Jeremy Lamb is a good basketball player ship. So there is that.
- Justise Winslow
- Josh Richardson
What happened to the Heat and what happened to the Celtics is pretty much the perfect argument for grabbing a lottery pick rather than playing for a first-round exit. The gap between Justise Winslow at No. 10 and Terry Rozier at No. 16 is about the size of the Grand Canyon.
Miami is the perfect situation for Winslow. I worried a little bit when he was being talked about as a potential Top 5 pick because guys in that range are typically expected to play a primary role in the offense and I’m not sure that’s the best use of Winslow’s skills. I feel like his ceiling is somewhere around Andre Iguodala - he’s capable of taking a lot of shots but he would be deadly playing off the ball and contributing to a great team in a lot of different ways. That was the role he had at Duke next to Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
Winslow is a very well-rounded player - he can defend multiple positions, stretch the floor, score the ball, clean the defensive glass and push the pace, create open shots for other guys off the bounce. A player with his skill-set and athleticism being available at No. 10 tells you the depth of this draft. He should be able to walk in right away and help Miami on both sides of the ball. He would be great next to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic and he could help pick up some of the slack when it turns to absorbing possessions if Wade leaves. In a best-case scenario, throw those four guys with Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng and the Heat could be a contender in the East. The other nice thing is Winslow will be on a tiny salary that gives the Heat a better chance of being in position to make a run at big names in 2016.
This was a really good draft for a franchise that didn’t always take the process seriously during the Big Three era. Josh Richardson has a good chance of being an impact second-rounder - he’s a great athlete who can defend multiple positions on the perimeter and who improved as a 3-point shooter every season at Tennessee. Him and Winslow should dramatically improve their team speed and allow them to get out and run, which is exactly what Dragic and Whiteside want to do. Things couldn’t have worked out better for the Heat.
- Myles Turner
As a UT fan and a Dallas guy, I was rooting for Turner to wind up at Indiana. That’s pretty much the perfect situation for him. I wrote about why a few days ago.
Here’s something to think about when it comes to Myles Turner vs. Jahlil Okafor. Turner is always going to be better at blocking shots and shooting 3’s than Okafor. I defy you to look at their numbers and come up with any other conclusions. A Pacers team playing 4-out and running pick-and-pops with Paul George and George Hill coming off Turner is going to be as hard to guard as a team pounding the ball into Okafor in the post, if not more so. My guess is that Turner would have a lot easier time guarding Okafor in the post than Okafor would have guarding Paul George in space. Turner’s never going to be as good an offensive player as Jahlil but he might end up being a better two-way player. That could be a very interesting 1-on-1 battle at the C position in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
- Trey Lyles
Lyles may not got the chance to put a ton of stats at Utah but he fits the super-sized prototype they have been drafting towards for years. Dante Exum (6’6). Alec Burks (6’6). Gordon Hayward (6’8). Derrick Favors (6’10). Rudy Gobert (His arms make him feel like he’s 7’5). Every one of those guys has plus size, length and athleticism for their position. Lyles is 6’10 240 with a 7’2 wingspan and he spent his freshman season playing as a SF. That was one of the most remarkable parts about him -- he’s 6’10 and he’s running with guys like Kelly Oubre on the perimeter. Oubre is exceptionally fast even for an NBA first-round pick. He really erased Rashard Vaughn in the 2nd half of the Kansas win over UNLV. And Lyles was able to keep up with him.
Now you put him to his more natural PF position in the NBA, where he still has a good amount of size and length. I think what people will be most impressed with Lyles is the feel with which he plays. He knows how to cut, he knows how to play off the ball and he can make plays in tight spaces. He’s 6’10 and he’s extremely smooth with the ball in his hands. This is a guy who could throw a lot of oops to Rudy Gobert. He doesn’t shoot 3’s but he’s got decent enough touch in the mid-range and he’s a good enough free-throw shooter to think he can provide a functional amount of space next to Gobert or Favors. What will help is the amount of 3-point shooting they can get from Hayward, Burks, Exum and Trey Burke. All the pieces fit real well together in Utah.
The Jazz aren’t just randomly grabbing guys. They are out here like Joseph Stalin doing Five Year Plans. They have been drafting these guys since 2010 and they have never really rushed the process and brought in a bunch of veterans. They are being patient with all of them because they are fitting them into roles over a multi-year period that allows each of those guys to play off the other. There’s still room for flexibility - Kanter out, Gobert in - but there’s always a bigger plan in place. That’s how you have to do it in a small-market. Compare it to MJ’s One Year Plans in Charlotte. If there’s one takeaway from this draft, it’s that I’m looking at the Jazz and the Wolves as two future powers out West.
I’m going to cut off this article at No. 12 because I think this is where the first real dip comes and this is already terribly too long. I’ve got Karl Towns alone at No. 1 and then I don’t think there’s a major gap between No. 2-12. That’s what makes this draft so interesting. Other than Towns, the 3-4 guys who end up being multiple All-Stars could come from all over the lottery.