No exaggeration here—the NBA landscape changes dramatically Thursday night at the 2017 NBA draft.
This isn’t any ordinary draft. Legendary franchises such as the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics clutch top 10 picks. The Philadelphia 76ers hold the top selection after trading for it and hope to find out if this process thing really works. Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks seem one can’t-miss prospect away from becoming a premier free-agent destination. And the Sacramento Kings, looking to put the DeMarcus Cousins era to bed, hold two picks in the top 10.
Got all that? Cliche time—that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t forget that how the draft unfolds might impact free agents over the next couple of years, such as Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and many more. Oh, and Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
So yes, Thursday night is rather important, especially after the Golden State Warriors played within the rules and committed a bit of regicide in the Finals while making light work of LeBron.
When: Thursday, June 22, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, New York
Live Stream: WatchESPN
For those who want an idea of how the event might unfold, or at least a look at the order, here’s a final mock draft before the event starts, based on team need, rumblings making the rounds and the prospect stock market:
Clearly, it’s all about the point guards this year.
Washington’s Markelle Fultz leads the class in this area and is good enough the 76ers traded up to No. 1 to get him, hoping he’s the answer when running the length of the court with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Fultz, 6’4″ and 195 pounds, might be the best overall athlete in the draft and has great range alongside his point skills. He’s also got the right demeanor:
Lonzo Ball out of UCLA is the next guy who comes up in any conversation about point guards. The California kid landing with the Lakers seemed as obvious as the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the Finals for a third time.
But maybe that’s too predictable. Ball isn’t a superb athlete like other points in the class and happens to come with excessive drama and media coverage thanks to the Big Baller Brand and his father, LaVar Ball.
Granted, Ball has some of the best sheer passing skills we’ve seen enter the league in a long time, but he and his family have set themselves up for one of the most memorable falls in draft history, should it happen.
Things get muddy at point guard after the top two, though Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox isn’t far off. His 6’5″, 178-pound frame will remind some of a collegiate John Wall, which is funny considering he struggles from range and has an iffy jumper.
Then there’s Dennis Smith Jr. out of NC State, a guy some don’t mind comparing to Russell Westbrook from a sheer athleticism standpoint.
He’s a ridiculously explosive playmaker, ready to tear up and down the court for 40 minutes per night:
Other backcourt names of note in the top 15 or so include Fox’s teammate Malik Monk and international sensation Frank Ntilikina. The Kentucky guard is more of a combo backcourt player and perhaps the best sheer scorer in the class, whereas the French prospect is a pass-first presence and quality defender still working on creating for himself.
This draft isn’t without star forward prospects, of course.
Kansas’ Josh Jackson is the best two-way prospect in the class—a 6’8″, 207-pound presence with a high motor, quality defensive skills and an ability to create his own shot off the dribble or on a drive.
Jackson would be in contention to come off the board first overall in most normal draft classes. Duke’s Jayson Tatum wouldn’t be far behind him, either, thanks to top-tier scoring skills and a ceiling perhaps even better than Jackson’s outlook:
Rounding out elite forward prospects is Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, a freakish athlete at 6’10” and 210 pounds. Isaac can score and defend in notable fashion, but as a recent ESPN.com scouting profile pointed out, it’s more about where the league continues to trend: “He has picked up some momentum in recent weeks as teams watch the playoffs and see him as a perfect long-term fit in the positionless modern NBA.”
Speaking of where NBA trends continue to head, this class offers plenty of big men who can stretch the floor with shooting.
Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona looks like a top-10 selection, coming in at 7’0″ and 230 pounds with great range on his jumper. A littler farther down the board, it’s the same story for Ball’s collegiate teammate TJ Leaf, checking in at 6’10” and 225 pounds.
Finally, it wouldn’t be much of a first round without high-upside risks. Duke’s Harry Giles is one of the most notable. He was one of the most anticipated prospects out of high school in a long time, and his potential lottery selection comes alongside an asterisk thanks to multiple knee surgeries. It’s a similar story for Indiana’s OG Anunoby, who might miss his entire rookie year after a knee injury.
Given the above and pairing it with which teams pick where, it’s not hard to see why this could stand as one of the most important drafts in recent memory. The prospect guide above is a sampling of the entire class, one promising to go down in history as a critical turning point.
The journey for the prospects and teams with fates hanging in the balance starts Thursday night.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
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