I have a running gag on Twitter that I am one of just 13 NBA fans in Iowa. Obviously, this is patently false. While the Association is not as widely popular in Iowa as the NFL and arguably falls behind the MLB with the resurgence of the Cubs, there seems to be a growing amount of NBA loyalists in the Cyclone state. For these folks, June is a tour-de-force of fun. The just concluded NBA Finals had one of the more dramatic and interesting storylines in history, a fascinating group of free-agents awaits to sign with new squads on July 1st and the NBA Draft is tonight. The Draft always delivers.
Unlike the NFL and MLB, it only takes three hours, features well known characters from college and those mysterious Europeans that nobody knows how to pronounce. Throw in a dozen trades, teams posturing for salary cap space and you get a great night of reality television and one of the most entertaining three hours of the year.
It is a holiday in my house. Two years ago, my then-fiance scheduled our wedding food tasting with the caterer during the first round of the draft. We about didn’t get married.
Will we hear Georges Niang’s name called this evening? I’d say it is a flip of the coin. NBA teams love Niang’s intelligence, skill and leadership ability, but he may fall victim to the dreaded “unathletic” label that is both true and unfair. Niang fought the same perception as a high school recruit. In his historic four years at Iowa State, he proved he could hang with the best of the best in the Big 12.
Unfortunately, NBA decision-makers draft athletes and upside first and foremost.
Skill can be taught, quickness and leaping ability cannot. I have no doubts Niang could score points in the NBA, but can he guard and rebound at the next level? Niang will certainly not be a first round pick, but there is a possibility a team could grab him later in the 2nd round. And if he doesn’t get selected, he is assured to be picked up by someone’s Summer League roster where he will get a chance to play in front of every NBA GM and make a name for himself. It’s also likely Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay will get Summer League opportunities.
It is an uphill battle to stick on an NBA roster if not a first round pick. Only first round picks get guaranteed NBA contracts, which adds to the drama of the evening. Just 18 percent of players selected in the 2nd round the last five years have played meaningful NBA minutes. If there is one guy with the determination to prove the doubters wrong, it is Georges Niang. He has been doing it his entire basketball life. Best wishes to he, Nader and Mckay on the next step of their basketball journey.
Just to amuse myself and so I can be rightfully scolded after the fact; here is my attempt at what the lottery will look like tonight.
1. Philadelphia Sixers-Ben Simmons, F, LSU
2. Los Angeles Lakers-Brandon Ingram, F, Duke
The first two picks are already locked and loaded. These two are the consensus best prospects in the Draft, although they play the game much differently. The concern with Simmons is he can’t shoot, the concern with Ingram is he doesn’t eat enough. The real mystery of the evening begins with picks #3.
3. Boston Celtics-Kris Dunn, G, Providence.
It sounds like the Celtics are trying to talk to everyone to trade this pick as they already have roughly eight billion guards. The Sixers may trade big-man Jahlil Okafor to get this pick and take Dunn.
4. Phoenix Suns-Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky
Phoenix is in a bad spot. They need proven players and need to get better quickly to save their GM’s job. They have two lottery picks and will try and trade one or both to get a proven commodity. I doubt this is their pick and I think Murray has the higher upside than Buddy Hield.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves-Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma
I’m not as high on Hield as most. I think he is more of a Ben Gordon type player than a Kobe Bryant. He’d be a fine pick for Minnesota, but don’t see him being an All-Star anytime soon. Safest pick for a team that will be gunning for the Playoffs soon.
6. New Orleans Pelicans-Marquese Chriss, F, Washington
Chriss was recruited to Washington by former Iowa State assistant TJ Otzelberger. He has been the biggest riser in the Draft and may go as high as three. Washington has potentially two lottery picks in this Draft, both recruited by Otzelberger, and yet they missed the NCAA Tournament last year.
7. Denver Nuggets-Dragan Bender, F, Bosnia
This guy is not a character in Mortal Kombat, but will be fun to watch. He only averaged 4 points for one of Europe’s best teams last season, but he’s 7-1, eighteen years old and can jump. Think Toni Kukoc with hops. Finish him.
8. Sacramento Kings-Jaylen Brown, F, California
The Kings are my favorite subplot of tonight because literally every single player projected for the lottery has chosen not to work-out for Sacramento because they want zero part of the Kings. So look for whoever they pick to have the classic look of the husband pretending to enjoy shopping with their spouse at Home Goods. GET ME OUTTA HERE.
9. Toronto Raptors- Deyonta Davis, F, Michigan State
Davis has the most potential of the remaining big guys in the Draft and the Raptors don’t need an instant impact player.
10. Milwaukee Bucks- Jakob Poeltl , C, Utah
The Bucks have three really good young forwards in Parker, Middleton and the Greak Freak, but need a post presence. Poeltl is a poor man’s Andrew Bogut, which may indeed just be a rich, poor man.
11. Orlando Magic-Skal Labassiere, F, Kentucky
Scott Skiles up and quit on the Magic after one year on the job. Good effort Scotty. The Magic GM is under a lot of fire as well to make the Playoffs. Skal was projected to go in the top three of the Draft before a very disappointing year at Kentucky. The Magic need a scoring forward and he has more skills than Domontas Sabonis.
12. Atlanta Hawks-Domontas Sabonis, F, Gonzaga.
The Jazz traded this pick to the Hawks in a 3-team deal in order to get George Hill. George Hill is the definition of average. Even his name is super generic. That goes to show what some think of this draft. The Hawks are probably going to lose Al Horford so Sabonis could be a role-filler at forward.
13. Phoneix Suns- Malachi Richardson, F, Syracuse
Once again this probably won’t be the Suns pick. Richardson had a mediocre year at Syracuse, but has been a workout wonder. Somebody is going to reach for him in top 15.
14. Chicago Bulls- Henry Ellenson, F, Marquette
The Bulls already made the biggest move of the Draft by jettisoning Derrick Rose to the Knicks for a couple of rotation players. Rose and Hoiball were not a match and Rose feels like the oldest 27 year old in the history of Earth. Hoiberg knows Ellenson well after recruiting him at Iowa State. He’s a solid big with good range. Although there is a chance the Bulls roll the dice and take Cheick Diallo and that would be hilarious.
It should be a wacky and wild good time. If Niang is not picked, we should know his Summer League destination later this evening or first thing Friday. Summer League begins July 8th. Happy NBA Draft night!