By, matt | June 16, 2019, 8:27 p.m.
The 2018-19 NBA season is officially over. The Raptors upset the (injured) Warriors in 6 games and brought home their first championship. And with that, we’ve officially entered the offseason, which for some, is just as exciting as the real season. The first stop on this train ride is the Draft, where Zion Williamson, the most anticipated prospect since LeBron, will be selected first overall by the Pelicans, who moved up six spots in the lottery to win the Zion sweepstakes.
The league is as wide-open as ever and teams will be chomping at the bit to put themselves in position to make a Raptors-esque championship run of their own next year. I expect this draft to produce a ton of trades and swings for the fences, as front offices will be hungry to put together a win-now roster to contend for the 2020 Finals.
With that, here are the top four things to look out for, heading into Thursday:
New Orleans Pelicans
Well it finally happened. The Pels moved AD to LA for a boatload of picks and young prospects and will now be selecting first and fourth overall in this year’s draft. Lonzo, Ingram, and Hart were included and the Pels got the Lakers’ 2021 top-8 protected pick (unprotected in 2022), the rights to swap in 2023 (unprotected), unprotected 2024 first round pick, and the rights to swap in 2025 (unprotected). That’s quite the haul for GM David Griffin, whose hand was forced once The Brow officially requested out of New Orleans a couple months back.
This transaction feels a lot like the Carmelo to New York trade back in 2011, which ended up gutting the Knicks and sending a lot of picks and young talent to the Nuggets. It’s obviously different with LeBron still on the Lakers but they’re still left with a skeleton roster that they’ll need to fill out. Some early reports
claim they’ll make an offer to Kemba Walker in free agency, but they’ll need to keep some cap space for some good role players to surround LeBron and AD as well.
But back in New Orleans, David Griffin is sitting on a goldmine of youth and future assets and has constructed the most promising young roster in the West. They could see an opening day lineup of Lonzo, Jrue Holiday, Ingram, Zion, and “insert center here”. They’ll be light on shooting, but should have no problem getting a solid 3 and D wing from free agency or thru the draft.
Besides Zion, they’ll also have the 4th pick, which could manifest into Jarrett Culver or De’Andre Hunter, two solid 3 and D rotation guys. They’re reportedly
open to moving this pick as well, possibly moving up in this draft to select Ja Morant or RJ Barrett, or moving down to add another pick or two to their collection. The Pels have options. If they feel like the dropoff is too steep after Zion, they can flip picks, build thru free agency, or just wait and see what happens this season and use the picks next year. Griffin can be as patient as he wants here, as this team will take a few years to develop anyways.
But it’ll be interesting to see his approach heading into the draft. If I were him, I’d draft Zion at one (obviously), trade down to either add another pick to this year’s draft or defer until next year, and take a flyer on a late lottery guy like a Brandon Clarke, Bol Bol, or Kevin Porter. The dropoff from Zion to number two is pretty significant and the dropoff after RJ even more so. So to me, I’d rather swing on a couple of mid-round flyers than take the safer but less intriguing 4th pick. Moving down and adding another pick would give them more trade chips too. If Griffin doesn't feel strongly about anyone else in this year’s pool, he could flip the picks for a complimentary wing or center to fill out the roster. Damyean Dotson, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Malik Beasley are some promising young wings that come to mind and wouldn’t demand a big return. Or they could go for a B-list vet like a Covington or a Cody Zeller… just a guy who can fill the holes while the young guns grow.
But hats off to Griffin and the Pels. They moved their disgruntled superstar, got a hell of a return, and went from most boring League Pass team by far to the top of my list. I can’t wait to see the Jrue/Lonzo pick and roll actions with Zion and we’ll now get to see Ingram, Lonzo, and Hart truly develop and not just stand in the corner while LeBron directs the offense. These guys probably aren’t thrilled about having to relocate from Los Angeles to New Orleans, but it’ll be the best thing for their careers. They’ll leave the hellish Lakers organization for a franchise that will invest in their development rather than obsessing on constructing a superteam.
Sekou is this year’s top Euro prospect and probably the most polarizing guy in the draft. Some think he could carve out a Siakam/Deng-like career, as a skilled four with good size and length... others think he’ll pan out more like Frank Ntilikina. Either way, the mystique makes him one of the most interesting prospects heading into the draft and I do have some thoughts about his game and who should draft him:
Sekou is the youngest player in the draft, at just 18 years old, and it shows in his game… When you watch him, you can tell he’s still figuring things out on the fly, which can make for some awkwardness, especially in the halfcourt. Because his jumper is still a work in progress, he looks to drive 9 times out of 10 and has the tendency to telegraph the spots he wants to get to. And his lack of explosiveness forces him to rely on a lot of strange looking floaters and layups when finishing over lengthy defenders. I think NBA defenses will play off him and we’ll be seeing a lot of unadvised drives into two or three defenders for a while.
To be a true stretch-four, Sekou will have to improve his outside shot, where he hit only 25% from three last year. And he’ll probably have to completely overhaul his mechanics, as his current form looks weird as hell (which would explain the inconsistencies).
And while we’re on weaknesses, Sekou’s speed and explosiveness will definitely limit him offensively. While a lot of his highlights are fast breaks and alley oops, he doesn’t have great breakaway speed or impressive ups and looks like he’s moving thru molasses a lot of the time. His fast breaks and transition possessions generally end with him having to euro-step around guys and finish awkwardly at the rim, which will get eaten up in the NBA. Though I do think with experience, he could run the floor like a Kyle Anderson or Loul Deng… guys who don’t blow you away with athleticism but are crafty and skilled enough to get to the rim and finish in traffic.
Another concern I have, is the level of competition he played against last year and the underwhelming numbers he posted. I gotta be honest, I’ve never heard of “Limoges CSP of the LNB Pro A” and I don’t recognize a single player from any of the rosters in that league. And Sekou was only able to put up 6.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.6 APG with 54/25/63 shooting splits… 😬 It’s hard to tell with these young Euro guys playing in small leagues, ‘cause you have guys like Porzingis, who put up some weak numbers in Spain and turned out great. But scoring under 7ppg and at shitty percentages has to be a little concerning for NBA scouts.
I know it’s hard to judge anything seriously after one game, but he was able to put up 34 points in a game last year, which at the very least shows he’s capable
of putting up some big numbers:
Ok, ok, so I know it sounds like this guy’s got Frank Ntilikina 2.0 written all over him but he does
possess qualities that will intrigue a number of teams. For one, his size should translate to a switchable defender and allow teams to play him as a small ball big. He’s 18 and listed at 6’8”, 230lbs… that’s a big kid. Interested teams are hoping that, best case, he could transform into a Siakam-type, where he’s able to use his size and strength to post up and lock down multiple positions on defense.
He’s also pretty ambidextrous and can drive and finish with either hand. This will prevent defenses from forcing him to a side, which should open up some driving lanes for him and let him run some PnR actions as the ball handler as well. Though, he’ll have to become more of a willing passer for that to work consistently.
Teams like Atlanta and Chicago, with young, developing rosters, could be in a good position to take a flyer on a guy like Doumbouya. They’re years away from contention so taking a chance on a “project” guy who, best case, could be a Deng or Siakam in a few years, would be well worth the risk. I could definitely see Atlanta snag him at the 10th spot, as they’ll also be picking 8th and 17th… may as well use one of them on a flyer like Sekou.
New York Knicks
I don’t think the past four weeks could have gone any worse for the Knicks. They landed the third spot in the draft, after sharing the highest odds at number one. Kyrie Irving signed with Roc Nation and all signs point to him joining the Nets. Kevin Durant ruptured his achilles. The Pels traded AD to LA. Everything the Knicks pinned their hopes on for next year has come crashing down on James Dolan’s fat head and the franchise remains directionless.As I wrote before
, landing the number one pick and drafting Zion was supposed to be the first domino to fall in constructing a superteam. Draft Zion, sign Kyrie and KD, and become insta-contenders in the East. Seemed like a solid plan… obviously banking on a lot to happen, but back in May, they were in a position to at least make a few of these wishes a reality.
Fast forward to today, and they’re probably the most fucked franchise in sports. They’ll be drafting RJ Barrett, who may or may not be a good player, and adding him to the hodgepodge mess of young guys who were supposed to be the next Sixers. They have some intriguing guys, like Robinson and Knox, but no one stands out as a franchise player like Zion would have been. And none of these guys are enticing to other teams either, which is why the Lakers beat out the Knicks to get AD.
KD’s injury is probably what fucked the Knicks the most though, more than AD signing with LA and more than losing the Zion sweepstakes. He’ll miss the entire 2019-20 season and has a player option to recover on Golden State’s dime if he wants. If he still enters free agency, whoever signs him will be paying him the max for him to miss an entire year and he’ll play a heavily restricted schedule the year after. If that team is the Knicks, they’ll have room for one more max contract guy, who at that point, would be playing alongside the Knicks’ unpromising young guns. I’m not sure who would be willing to to that, either. Butler wants to win and I assume MIddleton would rather stay in Milwaukee. And these aren’t max guys anyways. Kemba might be willing to sign, but if the Lakers offer him the same deal, he’ll take that in a heartbeat.
So at this point do you reel back the offers and go after tier B guys? If so, what does that get you? A few more wins and lower odds at a high draft pick? With the new draft odds, tanking is less effective (see Knicks, Suns, Hawks) so not signing anyone and tanking again may or may not yield anything significant. And they don’t have anyone on that roster who would generate a big return so it’s not like they can stock up on picks or more young players in a trade. They’re fucked and I’m not sure where they go from here… I’m not sure Mills and Perry know either. I’m sure they had a backup plan if they didn’t get Zion, KD, or Kyrie, but do they have a backup plan for the backup plan for the backup plan?
The first decision they’ll have to make is on Thursday, where they’re set to draft 3rd overall. If they keep that spot, they’ll likely take RJ Barrett, who’s an interesting player for sure. I think he could pan out to be pretty solid but I don’t think he projects to be the best player on a team. If Mills and Perry would rather move down and trade the three spot for a couple of mid-first rounders, they’ll be taking flyers on a pool of guys who project to be significantly worse than RJ Barrett. Instead, they could try to move the pick for a player, though I’m not sure what the return on that pick would be. They certainly wouldn’t get a superstar unless they throw in Knox and/or Robinson as well. And I’m not sure what superstar you even go for at this point. If you trade the third pick, Knox, and Robinson for a top(ish) guy, he’d be playing alongside… Dotson? Trier? Yikes.
I’m glad I’m not Mills or Perry because they’re in a tough spot to say the least. They didn’t land Zion and probably won’t land Kyrie or KD. So they’ll have to bank on RJ becoming a star or overpay an injured Durant or B-list free agent this summer. Not a lot to feel great about for Knicks fans. 💀 ⚰️
Cam is an enigma. He was one of the top prospects coming out of high school and when he signed with Duke, some thought he could end up being the best player on that team. When you watch him play, he has flashes where he’ll look like the most NBA-ready player in the draft. Other times, he looks lost and uncomfortable, too eager to force bad offensive possessions. If you never saw him play and just looked at his numbers, you’d think he was a second round hopeful. 13.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.9 AST, with 35/33/77 shooting splits. And the advanced numbers don’t help his case either. TS% under 50%, 4.7 box plus/minus, 97.9 offensive rating per 100 possessions and 13.6 PER. 😬 😬 😬
Coming into the year, Zion, RJ, and Cam were projected to go 1, 2, 3, making Duke the first school to product the top three picks in a draft. But after his freshman season, he’s fallen to 7th on our consensus draft
and as low as 8 on a number of mock boards. And to me, he could slip even further on draft night. The dropoff after RJ Barrett could push teams to take more flyers on guys like Bol Bol, Darius Garland, Sekou, Kevin Porter, which could hurt Cam’s chances of a top 10 pick. If teams see him with high bust potential, they’d rather pass on him and try to hit a homerun on one of the unknowns.
But at 6’8, 220lbs with a 7-foot wingspan, he has the physical tools to be great. And defensively, he’s been more consistent, averaging a block and a half per game and a 95 defensive rating per 100 possessions. His long arms allow him to contest shots and crowd passing lanes and his frame allows him to guard multiple positions. Interested teams are intrigued by his two-way potential and hopeful that he can reel in the wildness he’s shown offensively. If he can shoot the three at league-average and learn to be more patient, there’s no reason he couldn’t become a solid NBA forward.
To me, the most concerning aspect of his game isn’t his shooting or efficiency, but his off-ball effectiveness. He doesn’t slash or look to catch the ball close to the rim for easy looks when the ball isn’t in his hands. And he won’t do damage coming off screens ‘cause he can’t shoot at a high enough rate to be dangerous. So you can’t run floppy or zipper actions for him because he won’t slither around screens like a Paul George or Klay Thompson and won’t convert even if he did. In this big-three era, unless you’re Lebron or KD, you have to be able to play off-ball. Cam struggled to do this last year when RJ or Zion controlled the possession, which hurts his potential big time. He’s a guy who needs the ball but isn’t effective when he has it.
He’ll have some work ahead of him this summer, for sure. He needs to refine his jumpshot, ball-handling, and decision-making and needs to get more comfortable off-ball. And he’ll have to really sell his team on his defense for him to earn heavy minutes or there won’t be much reason to play him.
As far as potential suitors, I think the Suns, Cavs, and Bulls should take a look at him. The Suns need to replace Josh Jackson sooner rather than later and desperately need another option besides Booker
. Not that Cam will be a 20 point-a-night guy right away, but he might be able to take some possessions away from Booker and let him run off-ball a little more. If the Cavs pass on Culver or Hunter they’ll have no reason not to take Cam, as they’ll have Sexton and… that’s about it next year (assuming they move Love). So if those other guys are off the board, may as well take a higher-risk pick. Chicago might be the ideal landing spot for Cam, though. They’re young and aren’t looking to win right now and could use some depth at the forward spot. He’d get minutes and playing experience there and could build chemistry with the other young guys, Markkanen, Lavine, and Carter Jr.
I’ll be interested to see where Cam lands in the draft but more interested to watch him play next year. Based on his freshman performance at Duke, I’d say there’s a good chance he’ll be a bust but he’s only 19 and has the potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised either way.