The picks will be made starting approximately 8 p.m. Thursday in Brooklyn.
Here’s an outline of the major storylines heading into the 2016 NBA Draft. Ten plot points, if you will.
1. Simmons vs. Ingram
The story is not the question of who’s going No. 1 — because it’s a mortal lock LSU’s ben Simmons is heading to Philly — but instead, it’s the debate of which player will wind up with the better NBA career. This has been a dialogue throughout basketball circles for more than four months now. And we’re only in the beginning, really. These two will be pitted against each other throughout their careers, fair or not, by the pure nature of being the top two picks. There are plenty of people (me included) who think Duke’s Brandon Ingram will be set up for success and wind up having a stronger career if he goes to L.A. than Simmons’ start in Philadelphia.
2. No getting around it: It’s a down draft year
Hate to get negative, but this is the reality and a major plot point to this year’s draft. The crop of college players isn’t considered that deep, and that goes for the lottery pool as well. The 2013 class was considered weak, and yeah, we’ve seen a lot of validation of that theory in the three years since. Nearly every team in the lottery has made calls on trying to move down, and because the pool isn’t so inspiring, don’t be shocked if a lot of mock drafts you see wind up being off in terms of where guys are taken. Opinions vary wildly on a lot of prospects, so much so that you could see some big shifts — which makes for good drama and shock value, if nothing else — as the first round plays out on Thursday.
3. Who will successfully trade out of the lottery?
Trading is as much a part of the draft night as Knick-fan misery, commissioner jeering and Jay Bilas egging on at-home drinking games by dropping “wingspan” as frequently as possible. But this year, the trade aspect is at the same time intriguing and a complete mystery. Plenty of teams have been trying to leverage themselves out of the lottery, but will many be able to do it? The enticement is not there outside of the top two, really. So could we see some history.
A couple of weeks ago, I did research on the trends of trading in the draft. There’s been a drought for teams drafting in the lottery over the last eight years. That looks to continue this time around.
4. Dragan Bender + international flavor
So, I’m not sure if this speaks to the weak college class or if it’s just the way the international pool has panned out, but there’s a good chance the 2016 draft could have more picks from overseas than any draft of the past decade. The record for most foreign players taken in the first round is eight, which happened in 2003. I don’t think we’ll see eight gone in the first 30 picks, but I think at least 10 players being picked from overseas is a lock.
Dragan Bender is the best of them. He’s going to be taken No. 5 at the absolute latest, and you couldn’t fault Boston if it picks him at No. 3. Who is Bender? Start with this terrific profile. He’s 7-foot-1, 18 years old, can shoot from deep and is very much in the style of a modern NBA big. Could have Porzingis-like impact for a team next season. So what team will that be? Bender is by far the best of the international prospects this season, so much so that he’ll become the face of that group. Other international guys to know:
Timothe Luwawu: Small forward from France who should go between 12th and 16th
Juan Hernangomez: Combo forward from Spain who should go between 17th and 22nd
Ivica Zubac: Center from Bosnia and Herzegovina who should go between 20th and 26th
Furkan Korkmaz: Shooting guard from Turkey who should go between 20th and 26th
Ante Zizic: Center from Croatia who should go between 22nd and 28th
Those five, plus Bender, make up the six likely first-rounders. There are another eight guys very much in play for the second round. Be prepared to not know about 25 percent of the dudes picked this year.
5. The Celtics have EIGHT DRAFT PICKS
Yeah, obviously there is no shot Boston uses all of those picks, or even six of those picks, so the tracking what Danny Ainge and that team’s brass does from about 7 p.m. through 11:30 p.m. should be plenty interesting. Trades galore … though three of the eight picks are in the first 23 slots, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Boston to keep all of those picks. It no doubt wants to try and ship one for a proven player, though. The Celtics could use some veteran play. Will Ainge be able to pull off a swap? I think it’s very possible.
Here’s where Boston is currently slotted to pick:
Rare is the case where one team has so many picks in a draft. If anything, Boston’s pulled off something its football counterpart — the Patriots — do often. Picks on picks on picks.
6. Where do the top-ranked guards go?
You’ve got Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray, all of whom are top-10 locks, and could comprise three of the top six picks. Hield was the best player in college basketball last season, start to finish. Dunn is far and away the most athletic and best two-way player of the three guards available. Murray is the youngest, therefore has the highest perceived ceiling of the three.
The drawbacks? Hield’s not a terrific ballhandler, and is defense is merely OK. Dunn has an inconsistent shot and a propensity to make two or three really bad passes per game, something he could never shed at PC. Murray lacks lateral quickness, and right now he’s basically a really good spot-up shooter and not much else … yet. Me, I like Dunn best, and Boston could serve itself well by taking a “local” kid (Dunn grew up in Connecticut) who can play D for Brad Stevens right away.
Plus, let’s remember another guard who was huge last season: Denzel Valentine, who took his share of Player of the Year awards, but does have a reported knee issue that has caused some teams to re-evaluate. Valentine’s destination will absolutely be something to follow. There was a time when he played himself into the top 10 of some legitimate mocks drafts, but that’s a pipe dream now. Will he go top 20?
7. Marquese Chriss
Plenty are saying, “Who?” But many others have been tracking the player that’s become the How Is That Guy Suddenly An Amazing Player winner. Every draft has at least one, a guy whose April-June workout schedule dramatically lifts his stock. Washington’s Marquese Chriss, who certainly has plenty of NBA-type tools and is a great athlete, was a non-factor in college hoops last season, when he played for Washington. He wasn’t even a guy projected onto draft boards, let alone the first round, all the way back in December. Now he’s a legitimate, if not likely, top-10 pick possibility. It’s weird. I don’t get it. This dude fouled more people per game than anyone in college over the past two decades! But we’ll see. He’s absolutely a project, a player who might not even see significant NBA production for five years … if he even makes it in the league. I’m not sold, but plenty of NBA GMs are to the point where he won’t escape the lottery. His rise vexes me, but there’s no denying he is a story, and to be honest, if Boston has all these picks to spare, he might be worth the flier.
8. The Kentucky Factor
It’s a down year for John Calipari, which means he’s only got three Kentucky players likely to be picked. Jamal Murray will go first of the three UK guys, almost certainly in the top six, and then Skal Labissiere will be taken anywhere between 10th and 15th. Player No. 3 — do you remember? Probably the best point guard in college hoops last year. Tyler Ulis. To me, he’s first-round material, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he fell to the 35, 36, 37 range. His ceiling is probably 25th or so. But Calipari should be on hand in Brooklyn, and he’ll be ready to sell, sell, sell for UK when he’s inevitably interviewed on TV. The Cal/Kentucky Factor is always a subplot to draft night. As a sidebar, the career of Labissiere is going to be very interesting to watch, because he entered college hoops last season as a top-10 player, then completely faltered. He’s being taken on potential alone, because his tape from UK doesn’t offer up anything that shows he’s a legit top-20 pick.
9. The draft vs. the cap
Remember, the NBA has a rising salary cap this summer. It’s gonna be a case where a lot of role players wind up getting contracts in the neighborhood of $14 million per year. Kind of insane, but here we go. So how could this impact the draft? Keep an eye on all of the international picks. Teams can stash those picks, keep the players overseas for the time being, and in doing so, they’ll keep space on the cap and with their roster. You could definitely have a situation where 25 percent of the players drafted won’t be listed on opening-day rosters.
10. The unexpected
There’s always at least one story — if not five — that pops on draft night, a turn of events that few people see coming. That’s part of the fun of it all. The NBA’s draft not being like the NFL’s, you get the picks in one night, at the evaluation and prognostication and, best of all, urgency regarding picks, etc. So we’re likely to have a few guys drop, a couple others take a big leap, and within that, the draft gets more interesting. Not to mention any other goings ons not tied to the picks themselves. This being one of the weakest draft classes of the past 15 years, if anything, we should expect some unpredictability on Thursday night.