Before the new NBA season begins, there’s a major focus on what will happen with the draft class of 2017 before the December 21 deadline for rookie scale contract extensions. Players such as Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac have yet to sign new deals and it will be fascinating to see if they can come to an agreement or play the restricted free agent game next offseason. Jaylen Brown, Domantas Sabonis and Dejounte Murray signed
For the 2018 draft class, this season is pivotal in establishing their value for next offseason when they will be contract extension eligible. When those extension talks begin in 2021, Luka Doncic and Trae Young will be two names that you hear instantly. Both players are stars and firmly entrenched as the crown jewel of their respective franchise’s rebuilds. They will sign max contract extensions much like Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo did this past offseason.
With Doncic and Young sure bets to be fully maxed out in contract extensions next July, the conversation will shift to the rest of their peers. What leverage will some of the other first round picks have and how will their development this season influence talks next year? Let’s take a look at a few players who could play their way into extension talks next offseason.
Deandre Ayton got off to a slow start last season due to his suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic. Ayton is productive and at times has shown flashes of a strong two-way center that can be a force in the paint. In his third season, Ayton is sure to benefit from playing with one of the best pick and roll point guards of all-time in Chris Paul. Still, there are always questions about whether Ayton is in the proper shape and if he can be more consistent from game to game on both ends.
Ayton certainly has the tools to be an upper-level center. If he can step up and make an impact on both ends of the court while Phoenix makes a run to the postseason, it can cement Ayton’s future contract extension next offseason. Development of a three-point shot wouldn’t hurt either.
Marvin Bagley III
There might not be a player in the 2018 draft class facing more pressure than Bagley. The third-year player from Duke missed all but 13 games last season. Bagley hasn’t played in 11 months. The Kings have not really given Bagley a concrete position on the floor. He spent much of his rookie season at the power forward, then played mostly at the five last season. The presence of big men Richaun Holmes and Hassan Whiteside make the possibility of Bagley full time at center very unlikely this season as well.
A limited perimeter shooter at the four, having Bagley with another non-shooter at the center position sounds like a tough ask for the Kings putting together a quality offense. As the Kings battle with the ghost of Luka Doncic — who they famously passed up to select Bagley second overall — figuring out where Bagley’s role lies will be of utmost importance this season before having any contract extension talks.
Wendell Carter Jr.
When the Chicago Bulls drafted Wendell Carter Jr. sixth in the draft, there was hope that he would be the team’s starting center for years to come. In his first two seasons, Carter has struggled to stay on the court, missing 87 games in the past two seasons. When he has played, Carter has failed to bring the versatility that was expected when he was drafted. He’s shot just 19.7 percent from the three-point line on 61 attempts. He also hasn’t been given the opportunity to make plays as a secondary passer. The Bulls are hoping that with a coaching change, Carter might flourish with more responsibility in Chicago’s offense.
If Carter can become a threatening perimeter shooter, it could change everything about his future. Carter has already proven a solid contributor as a rebounder and a defender, but if he can stay on the court and expand his offensive game, he will be a lock for Chicago to invest in on a long-term basis.
The keys to the Oklahoma City Thunder offense have been put in the hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Entering his third season, Gilgeous-Alexander has shown impressive development in his first couple of seasons. After the Thunder traded guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder in separate deals, Gilgeous-Alexander will have the ball in his hands on plenty of occasions.
Gilgeous-Alexander has never been the primary option in an offense, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the added pressure and responsibility. After he maintained efficient numbers despite an increase in usage from his rookie to sophomore year, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him excel in the role this season. One added benefit will be the recently acquired center Al Horford. The veteran is a great pick and roll partner that could help Gilgeous-Alexander’s game.
Michael Porter Jr.
One of the more interesting negotiations for a contract extension in the future will be between Michael Porter, Jr. and the Denver Nuggets. With a sweet jumper, elite size and athleticism, Porter is oozing with star potential. His skill set seems to be a strong fit with Denver’s star tandem of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray on offense. The Bubble was a revelation for Porter who averaged 22.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in the seeding games. The playoffs exposed Porter — who saw his minutes fluctuate — as a sieve on the defensive end.
Though one of his competitors for minutes, Jerami Grant, left in free agency, Porter still has Will Barton in his way to that elusive starting small forward spot. Regardless if he is a starter or comes off the bench, there will likely be more opportunities for Porter to play and shine this season. The main question in the way of Porter’s stardom is defense. Porter’s efforts on defense have been wildly inconsistent. At just 22 years old there is still time for the 6-foot-10 forward to become a more steady defender.
Another factor will be the luxury tax. The Nuggets historically avoid the luxury tax. They will owe over $65 million to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in 2022-23. If Porter pops this season, will the Nuggets be willing to lavish him with a sizable offer? There will be flexibility down the road as Gary Harris and Will Barton’s contracts will be off the cap sheet by the time a potential deal for Porter kicks in.