Time will tell if 2018 Draft class can live up to projections

NBA.com Global on Jun 27, 2018 07:21 AM
Time will tell if 2018 Draft class lives up to projections
2018 draft prospects pose for a picture before the NBA basketball draft in New York, Thursday, June 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst

The cottage industry that is Immediate and Final Draft Analysis was in fine fettle this weekend.

For me, assigning winners and losers tags 12 hours after a Draft is just as ridiculous as the mock drafts that precede it. I defy you to take any collection of 18-to 20-year-olds doing anything, and predict with any level of correctness which one or two of them will become great at it in five to seven years.

That’s the whole reason the Draft is a crapshoot; kids, being kids, develop -- or, don’t -- at their own pace. Some develop their abilities immediately; others, not at all. Others gain or enhance what they already have through diligent work and study; others waste the talents they have. Still others are waylaid by bad decisions and/or bad luck. None of this is known to any of us 12 hours after a Draft.

That isn’t to say people can’t have opinions about who they think will do well as pros. But having them with certainly is ridiculous.

Words matter. It is important to choose the right ones.

In reviewing the Draft, we should be instructed by the words of some who used them as art and science, who informed as well as educated and entertained, and who are and were among the best ever at the craft of writing. In such ways we can begin to take a stab at opining on what choices may pan out and become stars, which players have a chance to be solid contributors, and those who have some work to do to reach their potential.

* * *

Everyone knew who resided there, too, although their actual status was never put into words. Not only that, everyone knew the name of the individual who ranked foremost in the Olympus, the ace of all the aces, as it were, among the true brothers of the right stuff.

-- Tom Wolfe, “The Right Stuff”

* * *

• Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: Dallas gambled, and it isn’t an insignificant one, sending its 2019 first-round pick -- protected 1-5 next year, but a rebuilding team never should give up on a Lottery pick, even a late Lottery one -- along with swapping first-rounders this year to be able to take the 18-year-old Doncic out of the ACB League.

But when you have a chance to get a potentially great talent, you do it, and the Mavs did it.

Doncic will get tested (exposed?) at the defensive end and he will have to get in better shape at the next level -- our NBA TV colleague David Griffin used the soon-to-be immortal term “fleshy” in describing Doncic at present. But no one has ever done what he did in EuroLeague at that age. He is not afraid of big moments with the ball in his hands. You still wonder how Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. will share the ballhandling load as each needs the rock in his hands to be most effective. But in today’s NBA you have to have multiple playmakers on the floor, and this gives Dallas two good young ones.

Coming back in the second round with a nails person like Jalen Brunson -- the consensus player of the year in college basketball last season for the national-champion Villanova Wildcats -- and arranging to take a flier with the last pick in the Draft on Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo -- completed a strong night for GM Donnie Nelson and the Mavs’ braintrust.

• Wendell Carter, Jr., Chicago Bulls: There’s just something about a kid whose finalists for college were Duke and Harvard. And there’s a reason so many NBA scouts and other personnel types compared Carter to Boston Celtics All-Star center Al Horford -- there’s a calm and a quiet toughness to Carter, who won big in high school and helped lead Duke to the Elite Eight (along with fellow first-rounders Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen). The Bulls have historically revered their centers as “the man in the middle” since the days of Tom Boerwinkle. Carter will be the next man for the next decade.

• Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers: Sexton’s pro potential is the subject of some debate among those who traffic in such things in the blogosphere, but here it says the Alabama guard has a chance to be an impact player both in the short and long term. Cleveland was enamored with him from jump; he crushed his interviews with the team both in Chicago and during his individual workout for the Cavs. No matter what LeBron James decides, Cleveland needed to get younger and more dynamic, and start bringing in people who have some defensive DNA in their makeup.

* * *

People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.

-- Harper Lee, “To Kill A Mockingbird”

* * *

• Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings: So many LukaStans in Sacramento -- who knew? I heard from many of them after I deigned to praise the selection of Bagley III at No. 2 overall. He only averaged a double-double (21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game) as a freshman in the ACC while becoming just the second freshman in ACC history to be named Player of the Year.

You are entitled to think Doncic will be a better pro; he may well be. But you are not entitled to call the Kings idiotic for preferring Bagley III, a ridiculously springy four prospect. Perhaps you did not notice Sacramento was 28th in the league last season in rebounds per game. And, as with Jabari Parker in Milwaukee a couple of years ago, it counts more than a little that Bagley III was enthusiastic about coming to Sacramento. He visited and worked out for the Kings before the Draft when others did not. (Doncic, at least, had a credible reason; he was still playing overseas in the ACB playoffs.)

There are no guarantees, of course; Bagley III may well not turn out to be worth the second pick. But it will stun if he’s not at least a plus, 10-year guy in this league.

• Michael Porter, Denver Nuggets: We all get that this has nothing to do with Porter’s talent. A year ago, he was the clear-cut choice to go No. 1 in this Draft coming out of high school. But his back injury and subsequent surgery, which limited him to one game after five months’ recovery, scared a lot of teams off. Teams like their own doctors to get their hands on Draft prospects, and other than one physical examination by the Bulls’ doctors that was disseminated to teams around the league, nobody else’s team physicians did. (It is a level of the respect that teams around the league have for Mark Bartelstein, Porter’s agent, that everyone accepted this arrangement.)

Both Porter and the Nuggets say he’s fine physically, but Denver also stressed patience after taking him. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Porter taking a redshirt year to fully strengthen and rehab his back. If he gets back to form he’ll be better than anyone -- save, perhaps, a player or two -- that will be in the 2019 Draft.

• Anfernee Simons, Portand Trail Blazers: The now 19-year-old went the Thon Maker route, opting to spend a post-grad year at a basketball factory after graduating from high school in Florida rather than taking the one-and-done path in college.

After his year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Simons was eligible for the NBA Draft. And, like Maker -- who was taken 10th overall in 2016 by Milwaukee after a post year in Canada -- Simons’ decision paid off, with a first-round selection this year by Portland. Simons is as raw as they come into the pros, but the Blazers have both the patience (no one’s taking significant minutes from the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum backcourt any time soon) and the coaching staff to get Simons up to speed. Bottom line: Simons gambled on himself, and won.

* * *

He was interested in my potential, I could tell from things he would say. And I worshiped him.

-- Malcolm X, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”

* * *

• Jaren Jackson, Jr., Memphis Grizzlies: Jackson was the youngest U.S.-born player in the Draft, but he was the absolute right choice for Memphis. The Grizzlies needed to give their fans some hope that a re-imaging of the Grit-N-Grind era was possible. (The Grizz doubled down on that by taking the Draft’s most ornery pit bull, West Virginia guard Jevon Carter, in the second round.)

I’m not buying for a minute that Jackson had some change of heart about Memphis at the 11th hour, but he came to understand the realities of life in the NBA -- you don’t always get to your first choice, but you have to make it work wherever you are. So Jackson will display his significant talents in the 901, playing alongside All-Star center Marc Gasol up front. But he will be so young for a few years. Memphis will have to be patient.

• Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: No one doubts Young can shoot with incredible accuracy and distance, and in today’s NBA, that means he can be an impact player immediately. He will be impossible to check with a single defender with his quickness and ability to create off the dribble.

Which is why he’s going to have to show he can make defenses pay when he gets trapped or doubled, which will happen early and often off screen-and-rolls.

Despite leading the nation in assists at Oklahoma, Young occasionally had trouble finding open teammates against college defenses. That challenge will grow exponentially in the pros. Young measured 6-foot-1 ¾ at the 2018 Chicago Draft Combine yet remains so quick he’ll still be able to be effective against most defenders. Steve Nash and Stephen Curry -- the players often compared to Young -- were each 6-3, and that inch and a half or so could make a big difference. Defensively, Young has to show much more in the NBA than he did in college. What he did there won’t be near good enough at the next level, where almost every NBA team has an All-Star at point guard.

• Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic: With his quickness and shot blocking, the Texas center will be a force defensively immediately, and will be on the floor early for new coach Steve Clifford. But he will have to show he can consistently be trusted with the ball at the other end.

The last great Magic center, Dwight Howard, could not only rim-run at his peak, but got very efficient with a jump hook and drop step in the post. The game’s different now, so Bamba will have to become proficient behind the arc. After pre-Draft work with player development guru Drew Hanlen, Bamba’s shot improved noticeably. Hanlen lowered Bamba’s shot pocket on jumpers -- “he shot it way behind his head,” Hanlen said -- and changed Bamba’s finger placement on the ball. He also eliminated a hitch in Bamba’s shot so that the ball comes out earlier, before defenders can recover.

But Bamba is far from a finished product, He will have to show he can work at a pro level both on and off the floor.

* * *

What else do I want, I ask.

I think you know, she says.

I do?

I think you do.

I think I do, I say. But there’s one thing I still don’t know.,

There is?

I don’t quite know how to get it -- what I want.

You don’t?

Not quite.

Not quite?

I really don’t.

Her smile, so arch and delicately contained, now broadens, and she says, Just reach.

Reach?

Just reach, she says.

-- Scott Turow, “Presumed Innocent”

* * *

• Troy Brown, Washington Wizards: I don’t dislike Brown, an 18-year-old from Oregon who has both positional size and smarts. (The 29 percent he shot on 3-pointers last season would scare the snark out of me, but everyone around the Wizards swears he’s got good mechanics and should improve there.)

What I do dislike is taking two kids who’ll take years to get online at the NBA level in the Draft -- Washington took 18-year-old point guard Issuf Sanan in the second round, but he’ll stay overseas for at least a couple of years -- when the window for John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. to contend in the Eastern Conference is rapidly closing. The Celtics are already way past the Wizards.

The Philadelphia 76ers are on the verge of going to hyperspeed, while the Toronto Raptors are also better, the Indiana Pacers have caught up to them and the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t going to be stuck in neutral much longer. Plus there’s a 9-trillion pound leviathan named LeBron James whose team will remain the favorite if he stays in Cleveland. Brown’s arrival date will have to be speedy for this pick to make sense.

• Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio Spurs: Walker was projected to go higher -- late Lottery at the worst -- in the days leading up to the Draft, such was the interest in Walker’s prodigious athletic gifts. But some hits on his medicals -- nothing career-threatening, but more than insignificant -- along with some odd statements made during some of his pre-Draft interviews (you want to cause eyebrows to rise up in confusion and alarm, say the word “Hitler” and then stand back) may have contributed to his slight fall to No. 18.

That it was the Spurs who caught him would be, most years, prophetic that Walker will turn into a multi-time All-Star. The Spurs don’t normally draft 18th, but they need more young talent. Walker fits that bill and San Antonio has a need for a young two to go with Dejounte Murray.

• Robert Williams, Boston Celtics: The sophomore center should have gone much higher than 27th, but concerns about makeup and work ethic sent him down toward the bottom of the first. The Celtics were the beneficiaries; Williams will be able to play to his strengths for an elite team in limited minutes, where his motor issues in college won’t be as big an issue.

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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