The college basketball season gives way to the intrigue about the coming NBA season on Thursday, June 22. That’s when the 2017 NBA Draft will occur, and the evaluations of players who played in college last season will receive full and national scrutiny. There have been some rumors about changes in the draft order at the top. What is legitimate rumor and what is simply a smokescreen meant to cause distractions? Let’s find out.
1) Celtics – Markelle Fultz, Washington
The Boston Celtics know that whether they trade their top pick or not, the pick will have the most value because it is attached to the name of Markelle Fultz, almost unanimously agreed upon as the best player in this draft. A key question here is that with Fultz and Isaiah Thomas in the same backcourt, the Celtics might be redundant at the point guard position. Some people feel that Fultz will need time to develop, while others think he could immediately step into the point guard spot as a high-impact rookie, and that Thomas could be traded for a veteran piece which could enable the Celtics to close the gap with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Others think Thomas should be kept – he scored over 50 points in a playoff game earlier this spring – and that the No. 1 pick should be traded. Others think Fultz and Thomas can play on the same team.
The Celtics can play this many ways, but they will retain leverage by picking Fultz and seeing where they stand a year later. Boston has been patient in holding on to assets, so it will draft Fultz and not swing a mega-deal.
2) Lakers – Lonzo Ball, UCLA
There are lots of rumors that the Lakers really aren’t impressed with Ball and that they won’t take him at number two in the draft. De’Aaron Fox has been rumored as the man the Lakers will take instead. Is this a realistic shift or just a smokescreen? Evidence suggests the latter.
The Lakers have two division rivals, Phoenix and Sacramento, picking at four and five. They would love to throw those teams off the scent. Beyond that, however, the Lakers love star players. They would generate a lot of positive publicity by picking a player from UCLA who is widely popular in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson appreciates the value of promoting stars for the franchise he runs. Moreover, Magic was a point forward in his time, much as Ball could be for the Lakers, a player with considerable size who can still handle the ball and orchestrate the offense. It would be a shocker on many levels if the Lakers don’t take the UCLA man.
3) 76ers – De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
This is where the draft will begin to get interesting. There is legitimate debate about whether the 76ers will take Fox or Jayson Tatum. The fact that the Sixers have taken so many big men in recent drafts is why they might go to a point guard this time. The other fact which must be taken into consideration is that Ben Simmons, last year’s Sixer pick, suffered an injury. If Philadelphia needs a reliable ball-handler in the absence of Simmons, Fox provides some insurance.
4) Suns – Josh Jackson, Kansas
The Suns could conceivably take Tatum here if the Sixers go with Fox, but Phoenix probably needs an explosive scorer with fewer injury concerns. That fits Jackson more than the injury-plagued Tatum. Jackson has more positional versatility and can also do more in transition. He is a faster player who can play above the rim and ultimately gives the Suns more options. Phoenix will probably go here.
5) Kings – Jayson Tatum, Duke
This would be viewed as a “best player on the board” pick for Sacramento. Tatum was not at his best throughout the past college basketball season, but the Kings would be betting on stabilized health and a lot of upside for a player who fueled Duke’s late-season surge. Sacramento traded away DeMarcus Cousins last season, so it will feel it needs a scorer to rev up the offense and provide help for Buddy Hield, whom it obtained in exchange for Cousins.
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