It's already been quite the week in the NBA, and watch out: Here comes the Eastern Conference. It sounds like Jrue Holiday is joining Giannis and James Harden wants to go to Brooklyn. I haven't heard anyone say that since I got lost on the BMT when I was 11. Well, that was a short run for the Miami Heat.
And now Wednesday comes the NBA Draft, which in this Zionless year includes more to build with than build around. But everyone has to start somewhere, which is what the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 pick have been saying for most of their two decades.
They'll select from among the projected top tier of prospects, which are guards LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards and center James Wiseman. The Timberwolves have been casting about for a trade, but this isn't a year to hook a big one. The expected top three selections all are young, flawed in some basketball respects and for now look more like supporting players. So there hasn't been much incentive for teams to trade to the top of the draft. Plus, trading the No. 1 pick—even in a weak draft—looks bad if you don't get an All-Star in return. The Timberwolves are expected to use the pick.
Which is not to say the top of the draft will proceed reflexively.
The Golden State Warriors with the No. 2 pick ostensively has the most motivation not to add a 19-year-old with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson returning from injury and to a closing championship window. Their issue, like with Minnesota, has been the dearth of enthusiasm for the top players. Bulls bigwig Arturas Karnisovas has emphasized the draft's fragmentation, that your idea of the fourth-best may be someone else's 12th. But there could be something there for Golden State with No. 3 Charlotte.
Minnesota seems unlikely to select Wiseman while its best player is fellow athletic seven footer Karl-Anthony Towns. The Hornets are said to be most excited about Wiseman, whom most predict would go to the Warriors as at least an immediate defensive presence. An exchange would be difficult since the Warriors have so few sizable contracts to exchange. But Golden State could presumably get one of the core of talented—if not star level—players from the Hornets roster and its No. 3 pick. And then perhaps even parley that into another deal since several teams toward the bottom of the top 10 apparently desire point guard Ball.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
The NBA draft is all about deception, so it ain't over 'til it's over.
We're all much better making the picks Thursday morning.
The Bulls have been rumored to be trading up or down, though in this bear market they're hoping to endorse the Goldilocks Principle and find someone who is just right.
It's at No. 6 with the Atlanta Hawks where a move seems most likely. The Hawks in recent years were stocking draft picks, which included moving down to allow the Dallas Mavericks to draft Luka Doncic. They don't like to hear that one, though they did get All-Star Trae Young. They're otherwise filled with young wing players and likely have had enough. Their selection is expected to be auctioned, though six is more betwixt.
Otherwise there are some new visitors to the first round with Houston at No. 16 following the trade of Robert Covington to Portland and New Orleans at No. 24 from an Indiana selection that Milwaukee held in the Jrue Holiday transaction. The Thunder also have the Lakers pick at No. 28 from the Dennis Schroder trade earlier this week. There likely are more of these to come, requiring the quick change of virtual team baseball caps as commissioner Adam Silver appears 7 p.m. Central from the ESPN studios in Connecticut to announce the selections.
It's an NBA Draft like no other. Here's just a guess about how it will go:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia, 6-5, 225
There's been indications/ruminations/machinations about the talented and erratic Ball going first. I can't see it after the trade for Towns buddy, point guard D'Angelo Russell. Of course, I'm not making the pick. Edwards seems an ideal fit as a scoring guard even if he frightens every frigid Minnesotan because of a game that resembles that of Isaiah Rider.
2. Golden State Warriors. James Wiseman, C, Memphis, 7-1, 240
Throughout all the small ball propaganda they've always had big rim protectors like Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and DeMarcus Cousins (I just love saying Festus Ezeli). So they could use Wiseman, and to me he makes sense as a bridge to a next era. After all, they'll still be in the NBA AS: After Steph.
3. Charlotte Hornets. LaMelo Ball, G, Ball Land, 6-7, 180.
They definitely want Wiseman, and I still have my doubts that city is ready to play Ball. But they have a roster that lights up an arena like a blackout. Ball could be an attraction with his entertaining ball handling and passing. If only, of course, people were allowed in the building in this pandemic era. Would they trade out to a team like the Pistons at No. 7 or Knicks at No. 8 said to desire Ball? It's difficult to see what either has to offer that would get Michael Jordan off the golf course. And if they pass what would the Bulls do since Ball apparently never had much contact with the Bulls in this disconcerting draft process.
4. Bulls. Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 6-9, 220.
The Bulls much to the delight of Jerry Krause fans have been the most mysterious of the lottery teams. It could be because the Bulls management team is new and no one has their phone number. Avdija has been the projection since the August lottery because of the need at small forward, Karnisovas' early comments about preferring uptempo, offensive, ball sharing play and American chauvinism that assumes guys from Europe only know other guys from Europe. Avdija's shooting has been a supposed red flag, but he's young (as they all are) and it's not like he's copying Joakim Noah. Others have been mentioned as possible Bulls selections, like Ball, Patrick Williams, Kira Lewis Jr., Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes... OK, pretty much everyone. These new guys play this game well. Avdija seems to make sense with Otto Porter Jr. in his final contract season and the chance to continue the point forward tradition from Pippen to Kukoc to Deni. And Karnisovas' desire to have multiple playmakers in a transition type game. You know, until he picks someone else.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers. Obi Toppin, F, Dayton, 6-9, 220
They supposedly really want Avdija, so perhaps the Bulls could make a one-pick swap as they did with the Cavs in 2000 when the Bulls selected Chris Mihm No. 7 and traded him to Cleveland for Jamal Crawford at No. 8 to basically save that draft which included five bust picks for the Bulls. It's too conventional to guess Toppin, who played in Ohio. Though it's finally time the NBA had an Obi, he being the One. He looks like an excellent offensive player and scorer, and perhaps they finally can get rid of Kevin Love.
6. Atlanta Hawks. Kira Lewis Jr., G, Alabama, 6-3, 180
It's difficult to select for a team that doesn't want the pick. The consensus if they retain the selection has been a guard to support Young. Haliburton has been a favorite guess, though I prefer the speedy Lewis. NBA teams get too caught up in size, but even if Haliburton and Killian Hayes better fit size profiles, I still prefer speed. It kills. And he can shoot well enough.
7. Detroit Pistons. Patrick Williams, F, Florida State, 6-8, 225.
He's been that surprising fast riser with one of those predictions as perhaps among the top three in the draft five years from now. And not another Joe Alexander, the equally quick climber in the 2008 draft. Not that it should matter, but he is represented by the former firm of team president Arn Tellum and is rumored to have one of those draft promises. Though it seems you wouldn't have to with a player barely on lottery radar last month. The Pistons are another team that needs a lot and likely would love to move on from Blake Griffin. Williams is more from the defensive side for now, a somewhat reluctant offensive player at times. You know, like that Kawhi Leonard guy was in the draft scouting report.
8. New York Knickerbockers. Devin Vassell, F/G, Florida State, 6-6, 190.
You know with Thibs there they aren't doing projects. I can't see Thibs buying into training a raw point guard. Vassell's one of those 3-D guys who can defend and shoot and if they cannot move up in the draft he fits the sort of guy Thibs could use immediately. Thibs isn't about development. By the way, how did Florida State ever lose a game with two top 10 picks?
9. Washington Wizards. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC, 6-9, 250.
They better select this guy because he's been the pick for them in every mock draft for months. They're getting John Wall back from injury and supposedly trying to trade him. You'd say no way at $40 million. But there's Russell Westbrook and Paul George and the supposedly untradeable Chris Paul contract just got traded a second time. So maybe they look at one of the point guards, but Okongwu could fit in quickly on defense and should produce for years.
10. Phoenix Suns. Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State, 605, 180.
Unless they've fully committed to Cameron Payne, they'll need a point guard for Chris Paul to train. Haliburton might not be your big time NBA starter with a lack of big time offense or athletic play. But with time he should be able to develop a good pick and roll game with some versatility.
11. San Antonio Spurs. Aaron Nesmith, G, Vanderbilt, 6-6, 215.
Shooting is the name of the game in the NBA these days, and they don't have much. It's transition time, as it comes for everyone, for the Spurs as they prepare for a transition from Aldridge, Gay and DeRozan. And Timmy, Manu and Tony. And the Admiral and Sean. These days when in doubt go for shooting.
12. Sacramento Kings. Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn, 6-6, 225
One never knows with the Kings, whose shooting guard, Buddy Hield, is mad and they just traded Bogdan Bogdanovic. Okoro doesn't have much offensive game, though often was regarded as a top 10 pick. I'm not even sure he should go this high, but perhaps the defensive component will intrigue the Kings since they don't have much of one.
13. New Orleans Pelicans. Killian Hayes, G, France, 6-5, 215.
It's not like the Pelicans even need more young players, especially with perhaps a half dozen extra No. 1 picks in the future from the Anthony Davis and now the Jrue Holiday trades. But with Holiday heading out and Lonzo Ball not exactly all that, it's reasonable to take a look at Hayes, who some draft analysts had rated in the top five in this draft. Not me, but some.
14. Boston Celtics. Jalen Smith, F, Maryland, 6-10, 225
The Celtics could use some size with Enes Kanter opting out, not that they used him, and Daniel Theis sort of a center. Smith has a quick first step with shooting/floor spacing abilities to fit their style of play.
15. Orlando Magic. Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky, 6-3, 200
Often those Kentucky guys are better in the pros than in college. You know, not as many talented players on their rosters in the pros. He's a scorer, which seems to be a good trait in basketball.
16. Houston Rockets. Tyrell Terry, G, Stanford, 6-3, 175
This is the pick from Portland in the Robert Covington trade as the Rockets begin to blast off with a malfunction coming and, yes, that explosion. Houston, you do have a problem. It's that James Harden seems finished and you don't want to still have Russell Westbrook. Terry is small, but draws Curry comparisons. And Steph was once thought too small. A good guy with whom to start over.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves. Precious Achiuwa, F, Memphis, 6-9, 235.
He wasn't happy moving to center at Memphis when Wiseman left, but he won't have to with Towns. He can backstop Towns defensively, which isn't always of interest to Towns. He'd be a precious and perhaps precocious addition.
18. Dallas Mavericks. R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand/Dallas, 6-5, 180
He's not into the Big D as much as he's from there, but he's an athletic creative player who was out of position playing overseas. He's a scorer who could balance Doncic.
19. Brooklyn Nets. Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina, 6-3, 190.
This is about where this draft could go wild with teams selecting futures to stash overseas and trading out as a veteran type group like the Nets doesn't need kids. Figure the draft pick as part of any Harden deal if it comes to that. Anthony is one of those guys hurt by one-and-done in that he'd have been better off straight from high school, when he was considered top three. He was hurt and then viewed as somewhat selfish. But he could fit in quicker than most with a shot and strong NBA family ties.
20. Miami Heat. Isaiah Joe, G, Arkansas, 6-5, 180.
He's a shooter who loves to shoot. A lot. The Heat's likely only disappointment is he's being drafted. They love those guys one else does. Especially the shooter. He averaged about 10 three point attempts per game. If it's too many Jimmy will let him know.
21. Philadelphia 76ers. Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova, 6-8, 220
He'll make shots, which works for Daryl Morey, though you figure he'll be trading this pick, For someone! Anyone! He's a local Villanova kid and should be a spacer for Ben Simmons. Of course, most anyone would be.
22. Denver Nuggets. Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington, 6-9, 200.
One of those versatile athletic types who can play both forward spots and light on his feet. Which goes well in the light air.
23. Utah Jazz. Desmond Bane, G, TCU, 6-5, 215
Another shooter. Mama, make sure your babies grow up to be shooters.
24. New Orleans Pelicans. Leandro Bolmaro, F, Barcelona, 6-8, 180
Them again? It's time to start selecting players who someone else can develop for you. They have so many picks and so many young players. At least for now.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder. Josh Green, G, Arizona, 6-5, 215
They're starting over, so it doesn't much matter. So one of those so called 3-D guys makes sense since everyone in the NBA says that's a good thing.
26. Boston Celtics. Aleksej Pokusevski, F, Olympiacos, 7-0, 200
No one believes the Celtics will use all three of their first round picks, so perhaps a player to remain in Europe and send back photos of what Boston should have looked like. He's appeared in the middle of the first round on many mock drafts, though I don't believe these huge skinny guys can play in the NBA. Like Thon Maker. Everyone talks about their size and athletic ability. And then they get thrown into the third row.
27. New York Knickerbockers. Theo Maledon, G, France, 6-5, 190.
He's not generally regarded as a starting guard type for lack of the athletic gene. But he's something of a right hand version of Killian Hayes and perhaps a bargain at the end of the first round.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State, 6-8, 265.
Probably more of a reserve being undersized at center and not the stretch four. But he's well regarded for all around play and for the NBA's true only play, the pick and roll.
29. Toronto Raptors. Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington, 6-9, 245.
A big, physical, long guy to bounce around to replace Marc Gasol and who it seems won't need a passport quite yet this season.
30. Boston Celtics. Payton Pritchard, G, Oregon, 6-0, 190
If Boston were to keep the pick, he'd be a popular guy there as a T.J. McConnell type who'd ask to guard LeBron and would give Marcus Smart all he could handle in practice.
A little traveling music, Adam. And away we go. How sweet it could be.