NEW YORK – The 2017 NBA Draft was supposed to be wild and unpredictable. Instead, it turned out to go almost exactly according to plan.
There was one big trade – with Jimmy Butler going from the Chicago Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves – but otherwise the draft played out very much like it was supposed to according to most prior prognostications. The evening was largely drama-free after an insane few days of pre-draft buildup involving non-stop trade rumors surrounding Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis and several actual deals, including Dwight Howard being shipped from Atlanta to Charlotte and D’Angelo Russell being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers.
So, with that in mind, here’s a quick look at the winners and losers from the NBA’s annual selection show – from this writer’s perspective, at least.
General Manager Bryan Colangelo didn’t mess around, sending the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft and the rights to either next year’s Lakers pick or the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick to the Boston Celtics for the right to move up two spots to the top overall selection. Doing so allowed the 76ers to select former DeMatha star Markelle Fultz, who instantly will become a starter for them and a perfect fit for their burgeoning core.
Playing alongside Ben Simmons, Fultz should give Philadelphia another creative player off the dribble, as well as a shooter and athlete to pair with Simmons, who is expected to do a lot of ball handling despite being 6-foot-10. The Sixers now need to keep both Simmons and Joel Embiid healthy and on the court, but if they do they should be set for years to come.
Word on the street coming into the draft was that Tom Thibodeau wanted to go get a veteran to help Minnesota speed up its rebuilding process. He certainly did that, sending Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the No. 7 pick (which turned into Lauri Markkanen) to the Chicago Bulls to be reunited with all-star forward Jimmy Butler, who is coming off his first all-NBA season.
Now Minnesota has Butler to go along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, which should allow the Timberwolves to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 – and the first time, period, without Kevin Garnett. The fact Minnesota was able to get Butler and not completely get out of the first round, allowing them to take Creighton center Justin Patton, makes this a huge win for them.
New York Knicks
Wait, the Knicks? How is this possible? Well, because they didn’t do anything stupid. This is where the bar has been set for a franchise that is constantly trying to get in its own way. But by not trading Kristaps Porzingis, as many thought they might, this is a win for the Knicks.
But then they drafted a point guard in Frank Ntilikina that should be able to play for them long-term. Drawing comparisons to Utah Jazz guard George Hill, he could finally be the long-term solution at point guard the Knicks have spent years trying to find.
Los Angeles Lakers
Getting Lonzo Ball is obviously a good thing for the Lakers, as was opening up significant cap room for next summer by moving on from D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. But an underrated part of the Lakers’ draft night was getting Josh Hart, the Villanova and Sidwell Friends star who rated well by statistical translations. He should be able to step in and give them some minutes right away in the backcourt.
The fact that Paul George wasn’t traded is also a win for the Lakers, as it further enhances the potential of George joining the Lakers sometime between now and next July, when he will be a free agent and has already said he plans to sign there. A trade to a winning franchise Thursday could’ve changed that.
The Kings have had, shall we say, a checkered draft history over the past few seasons. But it’s hard not to look at the way this night played out for them in any way other than a win.
Not only did the Kings get the man they targeted the whole time – Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox – with the fifth pick, but they turned around and slid a few spots back from the 10th pick to get North Carolina forward Justin Jackson, a good shooter, at 15 and Harry Giles, a former top prospect who has been slow to recover from knee injuries, with the 20th selection. It was the kind of smart, solid drafting the Kings haven’t done enough of in recent seasons, and hopefully is the start of a new trend for them.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum
Announcing the second round of the NBA draft is a thankless job. There are plenty of impossible to pronounce European names, and after the first round is over no one is paying attention. This is why the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, turns the job over to Tatum.
But because of the prevalence of Twitter these days, all of the picks are coming out ahead of time, leading to virtually everyone left in the arena already knowing what Tatum was going to say before he came out. This led to a hilarious sequence of events were a group of vocal fans all wearing Knicks paraphernalia were screaming out picks just as Tatum was about to – leading Tatum to, at one point, start openly laughing as he announced the 52nd pick, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner. He then turned and saluted the fans.
Good on Tatum for taking all of it in stride.
— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) June 23, 2017
Not only was Ntilikina drafted eighth overall by the Knicks, but he came prepared with the best suit game of the night.
— Michelle Yu (@michelleyutv) June 23, 2017
The Bulls have spent more than a year debating the possibility of trading Jimmy Butler. Thursday, they finally pulled the trigger, and it can only be described as a middling package they received in return. This writer was as big of a proponent of Kris Dunn as anyone heading into last year’s draft, but he was a total flop as a rookie. Zach LaVine has impressed early in his career, but is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he still has to prove he can fully come back from. And then Chicago took Lauri Markkanen, a prospect that has potential but it’s unclear if he’s able to be a high-level long-term player.
But the biggest hang up in this trade was the fact Chicago had to swap first round picks with Minnesota to get the deal done, as opposed to hanging onto their own first rounder. Perhaps Dunn will develop, perhaps LaVine will turn into an all-star guard, and perhaps Markkanen will become an elite stretch four. That is a lot of maybes, however, when the Bulls traded away a three-time all-star and 2017 All-NBA player in Butler. Trades of those types of players are supposed to return more sure things than this one does.
As ever, the Celtics entered this year’s draft with the potential to do plenty of things in the draft – including potentially land a star player like Butler, George or Porzingis. Instead, the Celtics stood pat, and drafted Jayson Tatum with the third pick. This isn’t a knock on Tatum, or even the trade the Celtics made to move down two spots and give up the top pick to Philadelphia.
But, at some point, Boston will need to stop flirting with potential trades and eventually make one. And with Butler going off the board for what looks like a less than appealing package, it’s fair to wonder if Boston’s unwillingness to part with any of its significant assets may have cost it a chance to add the bonafide star it really needs to land.
When George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, went to the Indiana Pacers and said his star client was going to leave after next season and sign as a free agent with the Lakers, the goal wasn’t for him to actually play out his contract and sign there. Instead, it was to engineer a trade to Los Angeles, his preferred destination, now – allowing him to get a full five-year contract with bigger raises next summer, and make the most money possible.
But the Pacers held onto George on Thursday, failing to move him to the Lakers or anywhere during the draft, and afterward General Manager Kevin Pritchard made it clear he wasn’t happy with George, or his camp, for how things have played out. Now it’s set to be a very awkward time in Indianapolis – either until George is moved somewhere, or until he plays his contract out.
Portland Trail Blazers
Armed with three first-round picks, Portland looked like a team that could either add some wing depth or potentially shed some of its bad contracts. Instead, Portland did neither, trading two of the picks to move up and get Zach Collins, a center from Gonzaga, and Caleb Swanigan, a center from Purdue. Now the Blazers have four centers on the roster – including starter Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard – and 14 players under contract for a team that was the eighth seed last year and is already more than $15 million over the luxury tax line.
Perhaps the Blazers can carry over their second half momentum over the course of a full season, and make themselves back into the team contending for a top four seed in the Western Conference they looked to be the year before. If they can’t, though, they are just a very expensive team with little flexibility and little way to improve moving forward.
The freshman from UCLA was supposed to be a first round pick like Ball and T.J. Leaf, his fellow freshman teammates with the Bruins. Instead, Anigbogu wound up falling all the way to No. 47 in the second round, where he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers.
Coincidentally, that will allow him to remain teammates with Leaf, who was drafted 18th by Indiana. But that was not what was supposed to happen in the first place for Anigbogu, who fell because of concerns about his right knee. If he can stay healthy he’s a talent, but there’s plenty of work to be done.
The former Maryland star flirted with going pro after each of his first two years in school, and then took the plunge this spring after his junior year.
It’s unclear when the fall will stop.
Trimble was never likely to be drafted, and Thursday that proved to be correct. He’ll likely get a chance to go somewhere to try and play in Summer League, but it’s very likely he’ll spend next year either in the NBA’s G-League or in Europe – not quite the path he was expected to take when he left the Terrapins.
Overall it was a great night for the DeMatha product, who was the top pick in the draft and found himself landing in a great situation with Philadelphia.
This, though? This was not so great.
“Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name).”—Markelle Fultz pic.twitter.com/eUzTf7fs46
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) June 23, 2017