NBA

NBA draft's winners and losers

Jay Asser 23/06/2017
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Purple and gold: Lonzo Ball. Picture: Getty Images.

Coming off one of the craziest offseason weeks in recent memory, the NBA draft lived up to expectations with surprises and twists, even if every rumour didn’t come to fruition.

Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis stayed put – for now – but we finally saw one star on the move as Jimmy Butler landed in Minnesota of all places.

Add in the actual draft selections and there multiple winners and losers on the night:

WINNERS

The Balls

As it turned out, Lonzo Ball and his controversial father LaVar got exactly what they wanted in the end.

After banking on being selected by the Los Angeles Lakers at second overall, Ball got his wish to stay home on the West Coast.

There were murmurs ahead of the draft that the Lakers weren’t as enamoured with Ball as everyone assumed, but when push came to shove, the Lakers gleefully scooped up a point guard prospect who has the potential to be a special player.

For all the criticism LaVar has received, with much of it deserved, you have to admit he was right. As for his proclamation that his son will lead the Lakers to the playoffs in his rookie season? Good luck with that.

Sacramento

Don’t look now but the Kings made some smart moves and seem like they know what they’re doing.

At No5, they scooped up Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, whose deadly speed and athleticism at point guard made him both the best player available and best fit for Sacramento.

The Kings then shipped No10 to Portland for No15 and No20, a move which in a vacuum is forward-thinking to capitalise on the draft’s variability. But with those picks, they went safe with wing Justin Jackson before taking a home run swing with injury-riddled big man Harry Giles. In the second round, they rounded out their draft with Frank Mason, a very productive guard from Kansas.

It’s as well as Sacramento could have possibly done and the haul gives them a foundation on which to construct a full rebuild.

New York

The only reason they’re on this list is because Porzingis wasn’t sent packing.

That doesn’t mean they’re not losers in general, but it’s gotten so bad for Knicks fans that not trading a 21-year-old phenom, aptly nicknamed the ‘Unicorn’, is something to solace in.

Of course, as long as Phil Jackson is at the helm of the franchise, no one in New York should feel safe.

LOSERS

Danny Ainge

Unfortunately for the Boston Celtics general manager, perception is often reality and after another draft night in which he stood pat, Ainge is getting heat.

He already had a reputation as being an asset-hoarder and gun-shy in unloading his treasure trove of picks for proven stars, but it was exacerbated on Thursday when Boston didn’t pick up Butler for what should have been a bargain.

Minnesota’s package of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No7 for Butler and No16 surely could have been topped by Ainge. It would have finally given the Celtics a blue chip player at a fraction of the cost, but it’s apparent Ainge didn’t want Butler that badly.

Whether or not that’s related to a pursuit of Paul George, it (unfairly) doesn’t look great for Ainge.

Portland

It’s hard to imagine what the Blazers were thinking, considering they failed to accomplish what should have been their two clear goals: shedding salary and adding wings.

Portland couldn’t pull off either, but it’s difficult to be too harsh on them for not getting rid of bad contracts, something that’s easier said than done.

However, they didn’t help their cause by drafting two big men in Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, creating a logjam at the centre position, where they already had Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard.

Their roster, as it stands right now, has little flexibility and too much money owed for a team that is stuck in the middle between contending and bottoming out.

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NBA draft primer and top 10 mock

Jay Asser 22/06/2017
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Trust the Process: Markelle Fultz. Picture: Getty Images.

The Philadelphia 76ers have slowly been gathering foundational talent and in today’s NBA draft, they’re expected to tab potentially the final puzzle piece of their young core in Markelle Fultz.

After moving up from the third overall pick to number one through a trade with Boston, Philadelphia are in position to select the top prospect and perhaps complete their drawn-out ‘Process’.

In a draft full of promising players, especially near the top, Fultz stands out as someone with arguably the highest floor and ceiling. The Washington guard filled up the stat-sheet in his lone collegiate season, averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 47.6 per cent from the field and 41.3 per cent on 3-pointers.

Though his team managed a disappointing 9-22 record, the 19-year-old’s potential has outweighed the lack of collective success and the Sixers are hoping he can form a tantalising young core with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – Philadelphia’s No3 and No1 overall selections the past two years.

While there’s little to no suspense as to what the Sixers will do at number one, the Los Angeles Lakers at two aren’t set in stone.

Though all signs point to Lonzo Ball being selected by his hometown team, the Lakers reportedly have interest in Kansas forward Josh Jackson and Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox.

UCLA’s Ball has received extra attention because of his outspoken father LaVar, who has made no secret of his desire to see his son get drafted only by the Lakers. As such, Ball has only worked out for the 16-time champions in the lead-up.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, have been in trade talks with Indiana for Paul George, with the California native making it clear to the Pacers that he plans to hit free agency and sign with the Lakers next summer.

In anticipation of adding George either through a trade or free agency, the Lakers cleared cap space on Tuesday by trading prospect D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s massive contract to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick this year.

As well as shedding salary, the move opens up minutes at point guard, which Ball could fill.

Following the Lakers, all eyes will be on the Celtics, as they have been ever since they won the draft lottery last month.

After passing on Fultz, Boston is expected to choose between a pair of forwards – Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum.

06 22 nba

While Jackson is the type of player general manager Danny Ainge covets – a defensive-minded, hard-working bulldog –Tatum offers more immediate scoring and shot-making, something Boston is in desperate need of, especially from the frontcourt.

The Celtics, however, could flip the pick as part of a trade package for Chicago star Jimmy Butler, who they’ve reportedly been chasing for some time now.

TOP 10 MOCK

1. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz

There’s a lot of optimism that Fultz is the real deal and a can’t-miss prospect, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.
In his only season at Washington, he blended volume and efficiency to be an unstoppable offensive force, even with opposing teams gearing up defensively to slow him down.

2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball

It’s easy to point at all of Ball’s red flags, like his wonky shot form or his loudmouth father LaVar. As far as his shot form, it may not matter if he keeps shooting like he has, while his father will have much less leverage in the NBA. Add in Ball’s amazing playmaking skills and passing and he should be a perfect fit in Los Angeles.

3. Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum

If there’s one thing that stands out with Tatum, it’s his innate ability to score. It just so happens that’s what Boston need most, especially from a frontcourt position. His footwork and one-on-one moves are advanced for his age (19), and he could be a deadly small-ball four, as long as he becomes consistent on D.

4. Phoenix Suns: De’Aaron Fox

Lightning quick with a motor that just won’t quit, he seemingly has it all… except for a reliable outside shot.
It’s almost impossible to play heavy minutes as a lead guard in today’s game as a non-shooting threat, but his mechanics seem to be promising. Would fit well alongside Devin Booker for the future.

5. Sacramento Kings: Josh Jackson

The Kings might have a point guard at the top of their priority list, but Jackson is more than just a consolation prize. His defence and ability to make winning plays with his hustle and effort will earn him minutes right away, though if his shot mechanics can improve his upside is sky high.

6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac

As far as raw talent and tools, Isaac has the potential to be a home run pick. The Florida State product offers shooting in a 6’11’ frame, making him an intriguing prospect that could easily turn out to be the best wing in the draft. How he fits with Aaron Gordon is another question, but it’s worth finding out.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Lauri Markkanen

If you’re a 7-footer with a smooth shooting stroke like Markkanen, it’s going to be hard for teams to pass on you. His ability to space the floor would be ideal alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and though Minnesota is in need of defence, they can address that in other ways.

8. New York Knicks: Malik Monk

The Knicks are in serious need of something to be excited about and Monk certainly provides that. He’s undersized for a two guard and it’s unknown how much he can play the one, but regardless his fantastic shooting and ability to light it up in a hurry is just what Madison Square Garden needs.

9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr

There’s arguably no better athlete in the draft than the North Carolina State point guard. His ability to jump out of the gym and get by defenders gives him a high ceiling, but he’s not the most polished player. Still, the Mavericks won’t mind swinging for the fences at a position they need.

10. Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilikina

After not taking a point guard at No5, the Kings could select the first international player on the board. His size at 6’5”, combined with his length makes him physical appealing, but he’s a bit of a mystery outside of his defence. The upside could be worth the risk.

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Fultz has quickly ascended from high school tryout casualty to number one prospect

Jay Asser 18/06/2017
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On the attack: Markelle Fultz. Picture: Getty Images.

Almost anyone familiar with Michael Jordan’s legend is aware of how his basketball journey started.

Famously, someone who’s widely considered the greatest player of all-time and arguably the greatest team sports athlete ever, didn’t make the varsity squad as a sophomore in high school.

While not an abnormal circumstance for the average high school kid, being kept off varsity is extremely rare for future NBA players, let alone for someone who went on to reach the heights Jordan did. The story, as is the case with many mythical figures, has been twisted over the course of history to reflect that Jordan was cut from his team, not held to junior varsity. Regardless, it’s one of the first tidbits brought up when celebrating his career.

One day, the same could be said of Markelle Fultz.

Four years ago, a 15-year-old Fultz also failed to make the varsity team as a sophomore at Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic High School.

This Thursday, at 19, he’ll be selected first overall in the NBA draft.

It was assumed Fultz would begin his professional career in green after the Boston Celtics won the draft lottery in May. Instead, he’ll likely be joining the young core in Philadelphia and become the latest disciple to ‘Trust the Process’, with news breaking on Saturday the Celtics have agreed to trade the top pick to the 76ers.

Boston’s intentions for dealing away the chance to draft the consensus top prospect in this year’s draft aren’t fully known, but what is clear is Philadelphia’s view that Fultz could be a franchise cornerstone. The 76ers aren’t alone. Though Fultz wasn’t the clear-cut number one pick at the start of this past collegiate season, he separated himself from the pack by the time his lone campaign at Washington came to an end.

Likewise, he’s now indirectly grabbed the spotlight leading up to the draft, wrestling it away from Lonzo Ball and to a greater extent, his rival’s father, LaVar Ball.

Respected draft analysts far and wide have Fultz atop their board and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor is no exception.

“I just think, you look at him and he definitely has future All-Star, All-NBA potential because he really checks all the boxes,” O’Connor told Sport360°. “What you look for in a star point guard in today’s league, Fultz has pretty much all of that – with his ability to create off the dribble, pick-and-roll play, passing vision, ability to score from different levels of the floor, competitive on the offensive end, and defensive upside if he falls into the right situation that asks him to defend consistently.

“He’s like James Harden in the sense that he can change speeds and change pace. I think his versatility on the offensive end as is going to be immensely valuable.”

As an 18-year-old, Fultz filled up the stat sheet for the Huskies as college basketball’s most dynamic offensive force. The guard managed to find the sweet spot between volume and efficiency to average 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, while shooting 47.6 per cent from the field and 41.3 per cent on 3-pointers. He became the first player since LaDrell Whitehead (1994-95) to average over 20 points, five assists and five rebounds as a freshman, while setting the highest scoring average in the Pac-12 since Ed Gray’s mark of 24.7 in 1996-97.

06 19 Inside story

And it’s hard to believe anyone could have seen it coming.

If Fultz’s path from high school tryout casualty to one of the most coveted assets in the NBA sounds unlikely, that’s because it is. When Jordan was kept off varsity in 1978, it was during a time when it was rarer for sophomores to play on the senior squad.

Fultz, meanwhile, is the quintessential late bloomer. A growth spurt certainly helped, as he shot up nearly half a foot from his stature as a freshman to a 6’3” frame at the start of his junior year when he was 16. He showed promising signs when finally given the chance at varsity, while also displaying his talent and potential as part of his grassroots team DC Blue Devils in the Under Armour Association.

Slowly but surely, the Division I offers started to pour in and Fultz’s decision eventually came down to choosing between Washington, Arizona and Louisville.

But why the Huskies? The Seattle university was neither close to his home state of Maryland, nor one of college basketball’s biggest powerhouses.

Rather, Fultz relied on the relationships he had built. Long-time trainer Keith Williams gave a heads up to his good friend Raphael Chillious, who was an assistant coach at Washington at the time, and he and Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar scouted Fultz at DeMatha early in the process.

Now that Fultz is on the cusp of being the top draft pick, his decision to choose Washington appears to have more than worked out. However, it’s testament to his own individual brilliance that his stock wasn’t significantly affected by his team’s performance.

Similar to future 76ers team-mate Ben Simmons, who couldn’t single-handedly elevate LSU to the NCAA Tournament in his lone season in college, Fultz could hardly change the fortunes of a Huskies side that finished 9-22 overall.

So how much of those struggles should reflect on Fultz?

“Zero. None,” said O’Connor. “But I’ll tell you this, a lot of people talk about Fultz’s effort on defence and say ‘he was in a losing situation, that’s why he wasn’t trying because the team stunk’. Sure, but look at game one of the season when Washington were 0-0 and in that game Fultz isn’t putting in much effort on the defensive end of the floor. So I think it’s false to say that Fultz wasn’t trying because his team was terrible. He just wasn’t trying on defence, period.

“He’s a good athlete and he has long arms and should be able to defend multiple positions, but some guys just don’t have that mind-set. He seems quiet and shy at times. I don’t know if he has that crazy mental makeup to lock in consistently on the defensive end.”

Perhaps it was Fultz’s defensive inconsistency, or question marks over how much he can influence winning and make others around him better, that led Boston to move down from the number one pick. Maybe it’s unrelated to Fultz altogether. Philadelphia, however, seem to be banking on Fultz living up to the hype, which is unavoidable when you’re on the verge of joining a shortlist of players throughout history to earn the distinction of being drafted at one.

As with any player, however, it’s impossible to know until they step foot on an NBA court.

“I think Fultz is a terrific prospect, but I don’t know if he’s ballooned to an extent that people are talking about him like he’s definitely going to be this transcendent cornerstone, generational player,” O’Connor said. “He’s not a generational player. He’s not a no-brainer to be that guy.”

Fultz has certainly proved people wrong before and his meteoric rise may just be beginning.

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