I’ve covered these draft prospects for SCH for nine months, and finally, The Day dawns tomorrow. What follows is everything draft related left in my notebook or bounding about in my brain.
1. Cavaliers – Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF
2. Bucks – Jabari Parker, SF/PF
3. 76ers – Dante Exum, PG/SG
4. Magic – Joel Embiid, C
5. Jazz – Julius Randle, PF
6. Celtics – Marcus Smart, PG/SG
7. Lakers – Noah Vonleh, PF/C
8. Kings – Doug McDermott, SF/PF
9. Hornets – Nik Stauskas, SG
10. 76ers – Aaron Gordon, SF/PF
11. Nuggets – Gary Harris, SG
12. Magic – Elfrid Payton, PG
13. Timberwolves – Zach LaVine, PG/SG
14. Suns – Rodney Hood, SF
15. Hawks – Jusuf Nurkic, C
16. Bulls – Tyler Ennis, PG
17. Celtics – Dario Saric, SF/PF
18. Suns – Adreian Payne, PF
19. Bulls – T. J. Warren, SF/PF
20. Raptors – Shabazz Napier, PG
21. Thunder – P. J. Hairston, SG
22. Grizzlies – James Young, SG/SF
23. Jazz – Kyle Anderson, SF
24. Hornets – Clint Capela, PF/C
25. Rockets – Jerami Grant, SF
26. Heat – K. J. McDaniels, SF
27. Suns – Walter Tavares, C
28. Clippers – Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG
29. Thunder – Jordan Adams, SG
30. Spurs – Cleanthony Early, SF/PF
Let’s start with an admission: Julius Randle at number five is a bald-faced guess.
I’m fairly confident the first four players I have off the board will be the first four selected. Ironically, that means after all the turmoil of the last week or so, the Jazz end up right where most people assumed before the NCAA Tournament: given their pick of players outside the “consensus” likely franchise prospects.
I believe the Jazz are near desperate to trade for the first overall pick to select Wiggins or Parker,1 but I’ve thought for months the price would be too high and won’t change my stance now. Even with the diminished value of that pick given Embiid’s injury, I would be stunned if the Jazz make an offer Cleveland would accept. (The Bucks are ecstatic right where they are.) I firmly believe it will take two players, one being Favors, as well as pick five and another pick (#23 or future protected) to ensure a trade happens. Anything less will make smoke but not fire, that’s my guess. Which leaves the Jazz with their pick of the players none of the worst teams in the league really wanted.
I can realistically see the Jazz selecting any one of four players.2 Aaron Gordon for his defense, motor, and attitude. Noah Vonleh for his shooting, work ethic, and measurables. Marcus Smart for his defense, forceful personality, and versatility. But after a lot of thought, I committed to Julius Randle as the Jazz’s selection. Here’s my reasoning:
1) According to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, the Jazz front office is split on whether to include Alec Burks with Favors and the fifth pick to pursue the first pick in the draft. That suggests Burks has a camp of big believers in management. Add that to my suspicion that Burks can be extended at a more affordable rate than Enes Kanter, and I suspect the team will look to upgrade at power forward rather than in the backcourt. That eliminates Marcus Smart at number five.
2) Rumor is one major criteria the Jazz are using for the fifth pick is shooting. Aaron Gordon is, at best, a questionable shooter. Add that to my belief that the Jazz project him as an athletic but undersized power forward and it means a player who can neither space the floor nor hold up against the larger and stronger power forwards in the league. My guess is that induces the team to pass on him.
3) That leaves Vonleh and Randle. Common sentiment is that choice favors Vonleh, who excited teams at the combine with his measurements and then reinforced that with multiple strong workouts. I think the Jazz will be wise enough to prioritize mounds of tape from actual competition over the controlled environments of the combine and workouts.
In games, Vonleh proved not only far less skilled and game-savvy than Randle, but also slower, less explosive, and more awkward. I watched both players a lot throughout the season, and the only skill Vonleh demonstrated that would cause me to consider him over Randle is his shooting, particularly from long range. But even that is based on an extremely small sample size, and I think Dennis Lindsey is wise and disciplined enough not to draft Vonleh as a stretch-four centerpiece of the Jazz based on 33 shots taken over the course of 30 games.
Randle was more hyped coming into his freshman season, outplayed Vonleh in nearly every way in college, and proved the most consistent and best player on a team that went to the NCAA title game. I think the Jazz will weigh competitive mettle over component tasks, and that means Randle. The foot injury changed my mind for a while, but the suggestions of surgery sound purely preventative, which doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Joel Embiid’s dual serious injuries.
As for Kyle Anderson at #23, it’s a guess based on several factors: analytics really like him; he has a diverse offensive skillset and incredibly high offensive IQ, both of which compliment Quin Snyder’s approach to the game; unless Raul Neto comes over, the team could use Anderson to initiate offense off the bench; and I think he would carry good value in future potential trades.
1. Andrew Wiggins
2. Jabari Parker
3. Marcus Smart
4. Julius Randle
5. Dante Exum
6. Aaron Gordon
7. Noah Vonleh
8. Nik Stauskas
9. Doug McDermott
10. Joel Embiid3
1. A team will foolishly select Zach LaVine in the lottery.
2. Elfrid Payton will be selected before Tyler Ennis, which will be tough for the Syracuse product who was at one point in the NCAA season rivaling Marcus Smart as top point guard not from Australia.
3. James Young will be the last player in the green room to hear his name called.
4. Adam Silver will look even smaller than David Stern did next to pro players, despite being notably taller. The man is a rail.
5. Marcus Smart will honor his deceased brother, Todd, in some public way. I’m not sure how, but it will happen.
Bonus prediction: My mock won’t survive the first five picks.
1. Andrew Wiggins will be the best player in this class and an All-NBA honoree.
2. Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, and Noah Vonleh form this draft’s Brown-Oden Triangle.4 One of the three will be a bust in every sense of the word; another will be a significant disappointment in relation to his draft position. I expect one – and only one – to come anywhere close to meeting his prodigious potential.
3. Marcus Smart and Julius Randle will both end up top five players in this draft class, and one will be a top three player. A team that takes either one with pick six or later will get a steal.
4. Three or more players taken outside the top ten will eventually become All-Stars, including one player selected in the second round.
5. Only one tankarific team in this year’s lottery will make the playoffs the coming season. The rest will leverage a high pick in this coveted class right back to the lottery next season.5
The night of June 18th I had a dream. In my dream, I learned my brother and his wife were adopting Joel Embiid. My confusion turned to panic when I met “Joel” and found him to be a twelve-year-old pregnant girl with a congenital health disorder. I woke confused,6 went to work, turned on my computer, and learned Embiid had broken his foot and would have surgery the following day.
Drafting Embiid is a bad idea. I know. I have seen.
1. The “Core Four” / “Franchise Five” moniker should end on draft night. I hope we don’t start hearing something inane like the “Super Six,” because at least one of the Jazz’s young players will be traded this summer, quite possibly during the draft.
2. If the Jazz don’t make a trade during the draft, I’ll be surprised. No clue what form this might take, though.
3. Remarkably, every young prospect on the Jazz will be watching the draft with at least a little trepidation. Between talk of trading up for the first pick and the number of players in play with the fifth pick, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors may all have their futures significantly affected by what the Jazz do over the course of a few hours.
4. The team’s decision with the fifth pick will go a long way to helping fans pin down the team’s identity and trajectory going forward – is the talk of a defensive culture more than talk? Which of their current young players do they not see as part of the Jazz future? What style and scheme might Quin Snyder employ, which will certainly be based largely on personnel? Are the Jazz looking to win substantially more games this season or are they prepared to be patient over several more years of rebuilding? Unless, of course, they select Joel Embiid.
5. If they do select Embiid, I will represent near-perfect ambivalence between excitement and terror.7
6. I’ve anticipated this draft more than any other in my lifetime, yet I will be heartily grateful when it is finally over.
7. I believe more strongly than ever that the lottery is an abject dysfunction in the NBA and desperately needs change. Preferably eradication.8
8. Next year’s draft is going to make everyone really grumpy.
9. I find it strangely amusing that fans in Salt Lake City, Utah will be green with envy of Milwaukee, Wisconsin if and when the Bucks draft Jabari Parker and he expresses how pleased he is to play there. Residence in SLC frequently does come with geographic and demographic inferiority complexes, but rarely for Milwaukee.
10. Whatever the results of June 26th, I am stoked for the upcoming Jazz season!9