Overshadowed by an unforgettable finals, the NBA Draft has snuck up on us this year. Here’s a quick rundown of storylines to help you prepare.
Clash of the Titans:
LSU’s Ben Simmons has been promised as a once in a lifetime prospect based on his unique talents. For a 6-foot-10 forward who passes like LeBron James and can guard one through five, he still disappointed in college. Simmons looked lost on offense without a jumper or go-to move, but scouts don’t seem particularly worried about that and just salivate over his pure talent. His so-so college production makes him far from a sure thing as a pro, but his skillset makes him the confirmed No. 1 pick. And as a Lakers fan, I’ve never been so excited to finish second.
Brandon Ingram has been confirmed to the Lakers at pick two. As they are both 6-foot-10, impossibly skinny guys who shoot like Ray Allen, Ingram and Kevin Durant are bound to be endlessly compared. No one doubts Ingram’s bona fides as a shooter; he’s not just good for a big man, he’s a true shooter in the way only Durant is at that height. Ingram is not the ball handler Durant was, and by the eye test, he’s not on Durant’s level as a one-on-one creator. Ingram’s 17 points per game compared to Durant’s 26 tell the same story. But when you look deeper, optimism emerges. On isolation possessions, Ingram scored .94 points on average. In college, Durant got .88. Ingram is so skinny he has trouble bursting through defenders while dribbling and finishing at the rim, so he can look undeveloped. Putting on weight has become a silly thing to worry about with how good NBA training is, and with a decent frame, he’s a steal with the second pick. Ingram is going to struggle against NBA-caliber athletes in his first couple seasons, but hey, so did Durant. With D’Angelo Russell hopefully still playing in Staples Center, Ingram will see a lot of free offense, and as he grows as an individual playmaker, he could make the recent pain in Lakerland worth it.
Bearish on the Bear:
I was looking forward to mocking analysts for undervaluing Jaylen Brown, but the industry seems to have quickly adjusted and realized just how good Brown can be. Many writers described Brown’s college production as underwhelming, which seems unfair and borderline unknowledgeable. Tyrone Wallace was determined to be the focal point in the early season, and Brown’s numbers took a hit. Docking Brown for trying to fit into the offense rather than forcing the issue is misguided, and Brown exploded once he started getting more opportunities. After a three-game road losing streak in January, which ended with Wallace injuring himself, Brown took over in a way few freshmen are capable of. Two games after Wallace went down, Brown was a terror on the glass on defense and as a slasher in the unforgettable win over Arizona that ended with fans storming the court. In the toughest part of the conference slate, with Wallace out or at half-speed, Brown averaged about 19 points, four rebounds and three assists. Production confirmed.
Scouts share concerns about his shooting, but I’m not concerned about that. When he didn’t rush, his form looked strong and he sunk threes at a good clip. I think he can very easily become league average. Brown can become a Shawn Marion type, a good enough defender to play in any situation, a good enough shooter not to kill your spacing and dynamic in every other aspect. His potential as a franchise player is low lottery-wise, but he will be extremely valuable as a team’s third-best player. He’ll be a Justise Winslow-esque steal if he lasts to the Kings at pick eight.
International Men of Mystery:
With Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic seeming to usher in a new age of Euro big men who don’t disappoint, Croatia’s Dragan Bender has become a possibility at No. 3. Stop it. Bender is tall and can sort of shoot, so now he’s going to be a top five pick. Nevermind his inability to defend, rebound, drive, post up or produce anything at any level of basketball he’s played. In the era of smallball, people immediately assign value to anyone above 6-foot-9 who doesn’t embarrass himself from beyond the arc. But as the playoffs showed us, it’s the ability to switch on pick and rolls that truly means everything, and Bender can’t seem to defend any position. Kristaps really made his name as a shot blocker and tenacious defender, and that was more valuable than his shooting. In a normal draft, Bender’s unique skills and poor athleticism make him worth a gamble at the end of the lottery. In this year’s weak draft, I suppose he’s top 10.
There’s also a more intriguing version of Bender who’s going to be available way later in the draft. Canada’s Thon Maker was supposed to be the next uber-prospect, but he will now be the first North American player since 2005 to go straight to the NBA without any step after high school (it’s complicated). Maker is a phenomenally explosive and raw athlete. There is a good chance he doesn’t translate to the NBA at all, but as anyone who has watched his mixtapes will tell you, he shoots like Steve Nash and is 10 feet tall with Kyrie Irving handles and LeBron-esque dunks. He looks too good to be true and probably is. But if Bender can be a top five pick without any promise of translating to the NBA, Maker is worth a late first round pick.