The NBA season has officially come and gone. After months of speculating over Houston’s legitimacy as a threat to Golden State, wondering if LeBron’s Finals streak was in jeopardy, monitoring burner accounts, inquiring into soup preference, and learning of secret tunnels — we’ve arrived right back where we started. The Warriors are still the Champs, LeBron is still the king, and we remain desperate for a team full of white knights to slay the monster in the Bay and restore balance to the land.
As we wait for what should be one of the craziest free agency periods in league history to get underway, our focus now shifts to where the gaze of those who live for big boards and frequent The Stepien has laid all year: it’s Draft SZN baby!
The Stiffs went around the table to talk about those lottery picks
Which player should be the #1 pick?
Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): There’s a certain irony to the evaluation of Luka Doncic. As a foreign born player his accomplishments are all taken with a large grain of salt; a cloud of uncertainty and mystery looms over his career to date. It’s the same cloud that hovers over virtually every foreign born player as they approach the draft — it’s hard to know how good he really is when so few of us have really seen him play. But this time around the mysterious euro actually presents more of a sure thing than his American counterpart. So much of the conversation around Ayton is about what he might be, when, really, we should all be talking more about what Doncic has already done. Take him first.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I’m with Brendan, it should be Doncic. I’m not convinced he doesn’t have the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft but I’m very convinced he has the highest floor of any player in the draft. Doncic feels like as sure of a thing in the draft since Anthony Davis and its nuts to me that its basically accepted that he won’t go number 1 in favor of Ayton who isn’t nearly as polished. I get it, Ayton has all the physical tools to be a generational type guy but so did a lot of players, so did Hasheem Thabeet for example. Take Doncic and instantly get a star player. It seems so simple to me.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I’m on the Doncic train also, but Stiffs writers have somehow recently compared DeAndre Ayton hyperbolically to Jahlil Okafor and now Hasheem Thabeet apparently. I know draft fumes can create fun hallucinations, but this injustice shall not stand. Ayton’s floor is exceedingly high. Unless he hates work and basketball, a reasonable floor of Really Athletic Al Jefferson exceeds the ceiling of most other players in this or any draft. I would take Doncic, but this isn’t a one-horse (or even a two-horse) draft.
Which lottery projected player is going to be the biggest bust?
Vogt: Trae Young. It was only a matter of time before the Steph Curry adoration manifested itself in an embracement of a player in his mold with major hurdles to clear as an NBA prospect. For several months Young was playing at a historic level — he had worked himself into the same conversations as Pistol Pete and a young Steph Curry. But Young couldn’t do what Curry did, he couldn’t carry his team deep into the tournament with his unprecedented shooting ability and the greenest light in the nation. Young showed flashes of inconsistency with his shot down the stretch and he doesn’t appear as able to effect the game in as many different ways as Curry. To survive in the NBA at Young’s size — 6’1/2 without shoes — and with his play style, one must be transcendent on the offensive end and nothing less. Young is a terrific player, but is he the next Steph? I don’t think it’s that easy to catch lightning in a bottle.
Mikash: I’m somewhat tempted to say Ayton, not because I don’t think he’ll be a good player in the NBA, but I just don’t think he will justify the hype. I’m going to say Michael Porter Jr though because I think that’s the safest “bust” bet. Its nothing against Porter but I don’t think anyone really knows how good he is after back surgery. In fact, he only allowed the Chicago Bulls staff to medically evaluate him and is letting no other teams medical staffs get a look at him. Very odd. Porter was always raw but missing practically his entire freshman year with a back injury definitely didn’t help. He could still end up being a great player who follows a similar path as Kyrie Irving did, but I don’t think there’s a riskier pick in the lottery than him.
Gross: Marvin Bagley. This is the player that I would worry about having Jahlil Okafor-type struggles. He seems to have neither a nose for the ball (despite good rebound numbers) nor any kind of interior defensive skills. Maybe the better comparison would be Willie Cauley-Stein, who’s spent 3 years trying to get real minutes but hasn’t found any impact. WCS and Bagley are both very athletic bigs and maybe Bagley can be a long perimeter defender with some added hustle if the rest of his game doesn’t round out, but I worry about him from a development perspective. He’s no Anthony Bennett but I hope he finds the right place or he could stumble out of the gate.
Which player do you want the Nuggets to avoid at all costs?
Vogt: Zhaire Smith is generating a lot of buzz and I fear that has more to do with his dunking ability than his game. Smith is an electric athlete, but he is an undersized guard who lacks ball handling and play making skills — this doesn’t sound like what Denver is looking for.
Mikash: Robert Williams because it makes no sense. You are presumably maxing out Nikola Jokic to be your starter, you owe Mason Plumlee another $28 million. You still have Paul Millsap for next season if not two. You still have Trey Lyles, you still have Juancho Hernangomez, you still have Tyler Lydon. Where would Denver find minutes for Williams? I get it, he’s like a Kenneth Faried who plays defense, not a bad player, but I really am against the idea of using the 14th pick on a guy you might be able to carve out minutes for three years down the road.
Gross: Kevin Knox. It’s not even that I think he’ll be a terrible player, but as Zach said above about Robert Williams it’s hard to get Knox a lot of time. I’d consider his upside to be in the mold of Danilo Gallinari, with some future ball handling prowess and straight line potential along with some shot potential. He’s incredibly young, isn’t really a defender and is far from finished though, so Denver would be putting in years on him before he’s ready for a real role in the way they have with Juancho Hernangomez. Gallo worked out the early kinks playing against players a decade older in Europe. Knox played out of position in college and hasn’t shown Gallo’s killer instinct or early polish. It’s just a project that will take a while to come to fruition even if it works, and I’m hoping for more immediate impact from the draft. With Juancho and Lydon already crowding that same territory, Denver has enough projects.