BROOKLYN -- The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Just like at the 2016 NBA Draft, one year later the NBA gathered at the Barclays Center to disperse the incoming rookie class.
Just like in 2016, the first four picks belonged to the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Just like in 2016, the first four picks went in the exact same order.
Just like, well, almost every year, there was at least one Duke Blue Devil in the lottery and the first round was loaded with players from the University of Kentucky.
So, it’s understandable if you, as New York legend Yogi Berra once put it, looked at the 2017 Draft and experienced déjà vu all over again.
But look closer, and the 2017 Draft wasn’t exactly the same as in 2016. After using last year’s top pick on big man Ben Simmons, this year the Sixers looked to the backcourt. Philly traded up to the No. 1 spot to nab Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, an uber-athletic 6-foot-4 19-year-old who will join their youth movement.
“I want to say thank you for this opportunity, first, and I'm just looking forward to this,” said Fultz. “I mean, this is something I've been dreaming about since I was a kid, just playing in the NBA, and playing for this organization is going to be great.”
The Lakers held the second overall pick for the third year in a row, and after a draft week swap with Brooklyn shipped out 2015 second pick D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers filled their backcourt vacancy with former UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, fulfilling the hopes of the Ball family.
“It felt great,” Ball said of being selected by the Lakers. “You know, my dad was right there, my brothers. I know mom is watching at home and all the rest of my family. They're all supportive, and like I said, I'm just truly blessed to be in this position.”
Picking in the third spot one year ago, the Boston Celtics selected swingman Jaylen Brown, who developed into an important role player as the Celtics finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. This year, the Celtics went for a more polished offensive player, Duke forward Jayson Tatum. In the four spot, the Suns went with athletic forward Josh Jackson out of Kansas, who will pair with last year’s pick, forward Dragan Bender.
As usual on Draft night, some of the evening’s biggest splashes weren’t picks but trades. The Minnesota Timberwolves included the No. 7 overall pick in a deal with the Chicago Bulls that centered on All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, reuniting Butler with coach Tom Thibodeau. In return, the Bulls got last year’s fifth overall pick, point guard Kris Dunn, and used this year’s No. 7 selection on sweet-shooting Finnish big Lauri Markkanen.
The Sacramento Kings entered the night with two first round picks (5 and 10), but flipped that 10th pick into the 15th and 20th following a trade with Portland. Besides taking Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox at the fifth position, the Kings also added UNC’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Harry Giles.
Kentucky had three players taken in the first 14 picks: De’Aaron Fox (No. 5, to Sacramento); Malik Monk (11, to Charlotte); Bam Adebayo (14, to Miami). This helped maintain an incredible ratio: Of the 64 players who have played for John Calipari in his eight years as coach at Kentucky, 32 of them have been drafted. Duke had two players selected in the lottery and four players among the first 31 picks.
Looking at the bigger picture, the NBA’s shift to a league that increasingly values perimeter play was perhaps reflected by an early run on guards and forwards. The first center picked was Gonzaga’s Zach Collins (No. 10), and just six of the first 30 players picked were centers. Also, the NBA continued trending younger, as the first four-year college player selected was Derrick White, who went 29th overall to San Antonio.
At the 2017 NBA Draft, there were sleek suits, big hair, bare ankles and big names. If these players do their part this season, the 2018 Draft could be radically different than this year’s version.
Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if things stay the same. The same as it ever was.
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