The NBA regular season is over. The playoffs are set. What’s not set? A) Who’s entering the NBA draft (deadline: April 26th), and B) the all-important draft order (determined May 20th).
1. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-66) – Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. The gap has closed considerably since the start of the season, but it’s still Okafor at the top. I think his NBA career will be better than that of DeMarcus Cousins, but just below Patrick Ewing (who averaged 20+ points and 10+ rebounds for nine straight seasons). I’d pay to see Okafor vs Towns in private NBA workouts. I’d settle for a few vines.
2. New York Knicks (17-65) – Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky. From New Jersey. Knicks fans are thirsty for him. He’d be the best interior player the team has had since Ewing. No, I wouldn’t trade him (and his cheap contract) for DeMarcus Cousins. Towns, by all accounts, is a bright, clean-cut individual. Cousins, to me, is just a good player putting up numbers on a bad team, and I’m not giving up a young, cheap, potential star for a guy who may or may not take well to playing with two other stars (see Love, Kevin). Also, I’d do everything to trade Carmelo Anthony (I never would have signed him, either).
3. Philadelphia 76ers (18-64) – D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State. Perpetually rebuilding 76ers are rolling the dice until they hit a jackpot in the lottery. Maybe Russell is the guy? The decision here would be between Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. Something to keep in mind: Philly GM Sam Hinkie is a Daryl Morey disciple. Morey traded for James Harden a couple years ago. Winslow looks like James Harden, but is Russell the point guard version of Harden? Funny thought: What if the 76ers, with Embiid and Noel, end up with a Top 2 pick?
4. LA Lakers (21-61) – Justise Winslow, SF, Duke. The Lakers could be the big losers on draft lottery night if they fall to 6th. There’s a 16% chance of that happening. Then, this pick goes to the 76ers. The Lakers will have money to spend, and could do many things in free agency. In the draft? I think you take the best SF over Mudiay or a Euro who is a couple years away. How about a Kobe/Rondo/Randle/Winslow/Love lineup?
5. Orlando Magic (25-57) – Emmanuel Mudiay, G, China. Tough spot for the Magic, who ideally would love Winslow here, and already seem to have the backcourt of their future in Oladipo and Payton. Small forward is the team’s glaring weakness, but you can never have enough talented guards. Mudiay gives you a trio of 6-foot-4 or bigger guards, and perhaps you could play all three at once.
6. Sacramento Kings (29-53). Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona. As usual, the Kings lose. This draft his heavy 1-5, with a significant drop-off after that. Who is going to be the Sacramento coach? Does Nik Stauskas have a future in Sacramento? There’s a lot of money sunk into Cousins/Gay and McLemore has shown some promise at SG, so the true needs are PG/SF. Johnson had a nice season, but struggled in the NCAA Tournament against Ohio State (1-of-12, 4 points) and Wisconsin (2-of-4, 6 points), and there are questions about his shooting ability (37 percent on 3-pointers).
7. Denver Nuggets (30-52). Mario Hezonja, G/F, Croatia. Popular sentiment is that as good as Nikola Mirotic is playing in Chicago, wait until you see Hezonja! He’s only 20 and coming off an excellent season at Barcelona (read this). There are actually Klay Thompson comparisons floating around.
9. Charlotte Hornets (33-49) Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky – One of the keys to the season was how young kids Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston would play. Answer: None were ready. The future, bright a year ago, has dimmed. Al Jefferson will pick up his option, but then what? Can they move Lance Stephenson? The Bobcats were last in 3-point shooting (31.7). The top 11 three-point shooting teams (and 13 of 14, Indiana missed on the final night of the season) all made the playoffs.
10. Miami Heat (37-45). Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky. The healthy Heat – Bosh and McRoberts missed considerable time – could be Top 6 in the East next year. Cauley-Stein, assuming he falls this far, would be a perfect pick. A rim protector for a team with aging wings. Whiteside and Cauley-Stein would be a formidable 1-2 punch on the back line.
11. Utah Jazz – Myles Turner, F/C, Texas. The Jazz have talented players, but they’re all so young: Favors (23), Hayward (25), Exum (19) and Gobert (22). Could use some veterans, specifically at PG to help Trey Burke, though Providence stud Bryce Cotton had a strong finish to the season. Alec Burks played well two years ago and they extended his rookie deal, but a shoulder injury ended his season after 27 games. Turner, a project, provides frontcourt depth they lost in the Enes Kanter trade.
12. Indiana Pacers (38-44) – Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA. Hibbert and West only have a year left, and who knows if Scola will return. There are real issues at the 4/5, and though I’m sure Bird would love Kaminsky to fall here, I don’t see him being on the board. Would they entertain Montrezl Harrell? I’d lean Harrell, but the draft is about potential, and the NBA people I’ve spoken with think Harrell is kind of maxed out, and nobody’s sure how high Looney’s ceiling is. Roll the tape of his 27-19 game in a double OT win over Stanford and you might get an idea.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-37) – Jerian Grant, SG, Notre Dame. Defensively the Thunder are a mess. Will that continue when everyone is healthy? There’s plenty of talent in the frontcourt, but I still think shooting guard is the issue (at both ends). Grant is a perfect fit. Experienced, good scorer, exceptional defender. Wouldn’t be shocked if he earned major minutes and was starting by the All-Star break.