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Boston Celtics 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Boston Celtics.

Basketball Insiders

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Since bottoming out and winning only 25 games in 2013-14, the Boston Celtics have been slowly and steadily improving each subsequent season since. They won 40 games in 2014-15, and then jumped up to 48 wins last season.

Now, Boston fans are hoping their team will be able to make arguably the toughest leap of all, graduating from feisty and tenacious upstart into a true contender. Are the Celtics ready to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers and other elite teams?

Basketball Insiders previews the Boston Celtics’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

I’m very high on the Celtics entering this season. I’ve stated numerous times that I believe they can be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and perhaps present the biggest challenge to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The addition of Al Horford is huge, as he will help Boston tremendously on both offense and defense. Horford is ridiculously consistent and he’s going to be an excellent anchor for this Celtics team on both ends of the court. Isaiah Thomas should continue to be an elite point guard, especially now that he has a new toy in Horford and more familiarity with his supporting cast. And, of course, head coach Brad Stevens is a wizard who does an amazing job getting his players to buy in and play to their full potential. Oh, and I don’t think Danny Ainge is done wheeling and dealing either. This may be bold, but I’m predicting that Boston snatches the No. 2 seed in the East this year.

1st Place – Atlantic Division

– Alex Kennedy

Danny Ainge may not have snatched up Russell Westbrook the way that it seemed destined, but walking away from the summer with Jaylen Brown and Al Horford still presents an amazing scenario. Kris Dunn has a higher perceived ceiling than Brown, but Brown will fit right in with the Celtics, especially in the wake of Evan Turner’s departure. In Atlanta, Horford proved that he could excel with ball-dominant guards and he has improved his game each and every season. With respectable range out to the three-point line, I think he will form a potentially devastating partnership with Isaiah Thomas. As has been the case with Brad Stevens thus far, the individual pieces on the roster seem underwhelming, but so long as the team continues to abide by his philosophy, I think it’s incredibly reasonable to expect them to improve a bit from last season. I would still favor the Raptors in the division and, if the stars align, would give the Knicks a shot at supplanting Horford and his new team. In the end, though, the Celtics are the safe bet to end the season as the runner-up in the Atlantic.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

– Moke Hamilton

The Celtics’ ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder continued last season when the team posted 48 wins and made their second straight trip to the playoffs. Boston followed up their impressive season by landing four time All-Star center Al Horford in free agency. But the question is, even with Horford now in the fold, did the Celtics improve significantly enough to successfully make the jump into true title contention? Or will the franchise need more time to acquire additional pieces? Boston is undoubtedly headed in the right direction and the addition of Horford was huge for their program. However, the Celtics are still pretty young and sooner or later, they’ll have to wait for the younger core to truly mature.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

– Lang Greene

Arguably the East’s deepest team, the Celtics have no excuse not to make a leap this season now that they’ve added a bona fide All-Star to the mix in Al Horford. While he’s not the game-changing superstar that Kevin Durant would’ve been, he still injects some veteran muscle into what has been a fairly mediocre frontcourt rotation the last few seasons. He is obviously a huge upgrade over the outgoing Jared Sullinger. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are one of the most underrated and gifted backcourt tandems in the league, and Jae Crowder just keeps getting better. Knowing they’re getting Brooklyn’s draft picks the next couple of years (one outright, the other a swap) is just suffocating. Even before adding any more firepower, the Celtics should be one of the East’s powerhouses this season.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

The Celtics made one of the biggest free agent signings this offseason, signing Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract. Horford fills an area of need and should slot in nicely as the team’s starting center. This team thrives on aggression and chemistry, a culture Horford should fit in perfectly. Brad Stevens, one of the best all-around coaches in the NBA, has the task of taking a deep, young roster that lacks top level star power to the next level. Horford brings intelligence, defense and veteran leadership, but he doesn’t address the team’s shaky three-point shooting (and neither do any of Boston’s other acquisitions this offseason). While I like the composition of this roster, I think it’s safe to assume that general manager Danny Ainge will continue looking for potential deals for another star up until the trade deadline. If he can turn his treasure chest of assets into a high-end contributor, the Celtics could become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

1st Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Isaiah Thomas

Thomas has been consistently climbed the NBA ladder, going from being an afterthought as the 60th overall pick to a role player to a starter to an All-Star. He did this by establishing himself as one of the NBA’s more creative, exciting and effective offensive weapons. In 2015-16, Thomas became just the fourth player since 2005 to average at least 22 points, six assists and two made three-pointers per game over the course of a full NBA season. The other three members of that exclusive club are Steph Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard. Also, beginning in March and extending into April, Thomas led the Celtics in scoring in 17 consecutive games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 17 consecutive games as the team’s outright leading scorer broke a franchise record that was held by Larry Bird, who recorded 13 straight games as the C’s leading scorer during the 1987-88 season. Al Horford will be an important offensive weapon for the Celtics too, but don’t be surprised if Thomas remains the go-to scorer.

Top Defensive Player: Avery Bradley

Back in April, Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, tweeted: “Avery Bradley [is] the best perimeter defender in the league and I don’t think it’s close.” The media pundits who vote on awards at the end of each season were more or less in agreement, giving Bradley First Team All-Defense honors for 2015-16. Having a guard who can lock down other perimeter scorers is invaluable in today’s NBA. Better yet for Boston, Bradley is only 25 years old and just now entering his prime.

Top Playmaker: Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics have very few playmakers on their roster other than Thomas. Last season, Evan Turner finished second on the team in assists and big man Jared Sullinger actually finished third. With Turner now on the Blazers and Sullinger on the Raptors, the Celtics will be even more reliant on Thomas setting the table for others. But they will also need backup point guard Marcus Smart to improve his distribution abilities, and may need to run more of the offense through the newly acquired Al Horford (who averaged 3.2 assists per game) in the post. Avery Bradley may be asked to handle the ball a bit more as well. However, Thomas will end up shouldering most of the playmaking responsibilities, as he excelled in the role last season. In 2015-16, he joined Larry Bird and John Havlicek as the only Celtics in franchise history to record at least 1,600 points and 500 assists in a single season.

Top Clutch Player: To Be Determined

Isaiah Thomas took many of the big shots late in games last season, but one of the Celtics’ issues was their offense stalling in important moments. Thomas had a tough time getting good, clean looks when the defense focused on him. For instance, he was a far less efficient as a scorer in the postseason. Will Al Horford be able to ease the burden on Thomas in clutch situations? Will Avery Bradley step up and become a reliable late-game shooter? Stay tuned.

The Unheralded Player: Jae Crowder

Crowder has become a cult hero in Beantown, but he’s not viewed with nearly the same reverence outside of New England. He’s the quintessential glue guy who contributes on both ends of the floor. However, his true calling card is being a dogged perimeter defender. Crowder finished the 2015-16 season ranked 14th in the NBA with 1.73 steals per game and finished 15th in total steals across the NBA with 126.

Top New Addition: Al Horford

Of all the free-agent additions made by teams in the East this summer, Boston adding Al Horford might be the most significant. Ainge and company are hoping Horford is a major piece to the puzzle that can help push them over the top. Horford is a terrific two-way player who contributes substantially on both ends of the floor. In fact, last year, Horford became the first player in NBA history to tally at least 60 steals, 80 three-pointers, 120 blocks and 200 assists in the same season.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Brad Stevens

Stevens, 39, is one of the youngest head coaches in the NBA, but he’s already one of the most respected sideline generals in the league. The Celtics have improved dramatically in each of the three seasons under Stevens’ tutelage. Stevens has quickly established a winning culture and an unselfish, defense-first mindset that has produced impressive early returns. If there was “coaches draft” where GMs and owners could select any other coach in the NBA to run their team, Stevens would go near the very top.

  1. Danny Ainge

Ainge has done a masterful job putting together this balanced Celtics roster. Each of the Celtics’ top-five scorers last season made less than $8 million, and they are set up well going forward too. Considering the insanely enormous contracts handed out this summer, Ainge has many of the C’s core players locked into bargain deals. All-Star Isaiah Thomas will make just $12.8 million combined over the next two seasons. Jae Crowder will earn an average of approximately $7 million for each of the next four seasons. Avery Bradley will earn less than $8.8 million per season through 2018.

  1. Jaylen Brown

It was assumed by many that the Celtics would take guard Kris Dunn with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Instead, the C’s went with Jaylen Brown. Brown is extremely athletic, with an impressive wingspan and the ability to become a versatile defender. Boston’s first impression of Brown was extremely favorable, as he filled up the stat sheet at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 16 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per contest. Just 19 years old, the sky’s the limit for this kid.

  1. Kelly Olynyk

Olynyk actually finished the 2015-16 season ranked second on the Celtics in total plus/minus. He was +218 this past season, which was good enough for the 16th-best mark in the entire Eastern Conference. His true value lies in his shooting accuracy. Olynyk knocked down 85 three-pointers last season, while shooting 40.4 percent from behind-the-arc. This is very impressive, especially for a big man. That ability to stretch the floor opens up plenty of space on the offensive end for his teammates. With Horford in the fold, Olynyk’s minutes may be reduced a bit, but he’ll still contribute when on the floor.

– Tommy Beer

SALARY CAP 101

The Celtics landed free agent Al Horford this summer, using cap room to sign him to a four-year, $113.3 million contract.  Now at the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, Boston still has their $2.9 million Room Exception, but 16 players with guaranteed contracts.  Not only will invites Ben Bentil, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones and Damion Lee have a difficult time making the squad, a guaranteed player like James Young or R.J. Hunter could be on the outside looking in.  Boston could look to make a trade, instead of waiving outright, but before the season the team needs to get to 15 players.

Next summer, the Celtics could have $31 million in spending power, under a projected $102 million salary cap.  That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Young and Hunter by the end of October.  Given the roster crunch, that could increase slightly.  That number also assumes that Boston cuts non-guaranteed players Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey ahead of free agency next July.  Kelly Olynyk is eligible for an extension before November.  The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Brooklyn Nets in next year’s NBA Draft.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Boston’s defense has been the key to its recent resurgence. Brad Stevens demands defensive effort from his players, and Ainge has supplied him with a roster of spirited, versatile defenders. As a result, they have improved every season under Stevens. Per NBA.com, the Celtics finished the 2015-16 campaign tied for the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA (according to Defensive Rating) with a mark of 100.9. They were also second in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game (16.4), second in steals per game (9.2), 13th in defensive points per game (102.5), seventh in defensive field goal percentage (44.1), fourth in defensive three-point field goal percentage (33.6) and eighth in defensive effective field goal percentage (48.7).

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

The C’s were strong defensively (as noted above) and also finished 10th overall in Offensive Efficiency (scoring 106.8 point per 100 possessions) last season, so there aren’t many glaring weaknesses the Celtics need to overcome in 2016-17. However, there is obviously room for improvement. They were only middle of the pack in terms of defensive rebounding, which is an area they will need to improve on going forward. They also need to become more creative offensively, as they were often inefficient on the offensive end when the pace of the game slowed down.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Celtics make the leap from scrappy, up-and-coming team to legit threat next season?

The C’s won 48 games last season, which was tied for the third-most wins the Eastern Conference. One of their flaws in the past was their lack of a reliable low-post scorer and interior defender, but they addressed that hole by reeling in one of the preeminent free agents on the open market in Al Horford. The Celtics were already one of the best defensive teams in the entire league and Horford not only improves them defensively, but also provides much-needed offensive punch. Horford’s versatility allows him to score inside and out. Isaiah Thomas is ready to build upon an All-Star campaign. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson round out what is arguably the most complete and impressive starting five in the East outside of Cleveland. For all these reasons, there is understandable optimism in Boston that the Celtics can capture the Atlantic Division title and advance all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17.

– Tommy Beer

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NBA Daily: Potential Free Agent Bargains

With the NBA’s free agency right around the corner, David Yapkowitz identifies some valuable players that could be had for a nice price.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA Draft is in the rearview now which means free agency is right around the corner—this coming weekend, to be exact.

With seemingly few teams having money to spend, it might not shape up to be as crazy a free agency period as some believe.

Already, several players such as the Los Angeles Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, the Denver Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler and the Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Muscala have chosen to exercise their player options rather than test the open market. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony will do the same.

With little money to go around, some free agents are going to have to settle for whatever is left. There might be a few guys who end up signing bargain contracts, and here’s a look at some players who could end up on that list.

Mike Scott – Atlanta Hawks – $1,471,382

One year ago, Mike Scott was recovering from multiple injuries and was seemingly on the borderline between being in and out of the NBA. He signed a one-year contract with the Washington Wizards last offseason and ended up having a resurgent year. He emerged as a key contributor for a Wizards bench that has been one of their weaknesses for some time.

He’s a stretch-four, a perfect fit for today’s NBA game. He put up career-high shooting numbers with 52.7 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent from the three-point line. He played well against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. He’ll fetch more than the minimum contract he signed last summer, but again, it’s a question about how much. Plenty of teams could use a versatile shooting big man with solid defense.

Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – $1,471,382

Seemingly buried on the Golden State Warriors bench his first two years in the league, Kevon Looney broke out this season and proved he could be a valuable option in the rotation. To begin this season, he was even behind rookie Jordan Bell in the lineup. It wasn’t until Bell went down with a brief injury that Looney got his chance.

With today’s game increasingly moving away from positions and big men needed more of an all-around skill set to thrive, Looney is perfect. He’s shown an ability to guard multiple positions. He can finish well around the rim and he’s active on the glass. One area he could improve on is developing a consistent jump shot, but that’s something that can come with time. Depending on what the Warriors decide to do with JaVale McGee and David West, Looney might be squeezed out from the team. He’s sure to attract interest though around the league.

Jerami Grant – Oklahoma City Thunder – $1,524,305

When he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers four years ago, Jerami Grant immediately became a solid rotation player. He continued his strong play after coming over to the Thunder in a trade about two years ago. His numbers may not jump off the stat sheet (8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds), but he does a lot of little things that bring value to a team.

In today’s NBA, he’s able to play multiple positions both offensively and defensively. He didn’t shoot so well from beyond the arc this season (29.1 percent), but the year before he connected on 37.1 percent of this three-point attempts. He has that ability to spread the floor. He made $1,524,305 this past season and he most definitely is in line for a bigger payday. How much bigger though is the question. His versatility would be a boost to any team.

Will Barton – Denver Nuggets – $3,533,333

Heading into free agency, Will Barton had the best season of his career. He put up 15.6 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting from the field, 37 percent from the three-point line and 4.1 assists, all career-highs. He was a contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award but he also proved that he could start as well. Known for being a scorer most of his career, he really developed into more of a playmaker this season.

Barton would be an asset to any team looking to add some wing firepower and playmaking to their rotation. Close to the end of the season with the Nuggets making a playoff push, Barton was thrust into the starting lineup for the final 13 games. During that stretch, he put up 19.2 points while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. He’s proved himself worthy of getting paid, it just remains to be seen what those offers might look like.

Isaiah Thomas – Los Angeles Lakers – $6,261,395

A little over a year ago, Isaiah Thomas was the face of the Boston Celtics and a legit MVP candidate. The Celtics were then swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was revealed that Thomas had an injury that required surgery. After being dealt to the Cavaliers last offseason, he never really was able to fit in with the team and they jettisoned him off to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline.

He looked a bit more comfortable with the Lakers but ended up having to shut it down in late March due to lingering injury issues. He once was on the threshold of receiving a max contract, but that doesn’t appear to be so anymore. There’s no question about his value to a team if healthy. He did average 15.6 points and 5.0 assists in 17 games with the Lakers. It’s possible he opts for a one year deal to prove he’s healthy and then test free agency again next summer. In any case, provided his injuries are behind him, he could be a free agent steal.

It will be interesting to see how the free agent landscape unfolds money wise. The players on the list can all be capable contributors to a playoff contender. It just seems like most of the teams with cap room this summer are teams in the midst of rebuilding. These guys could wind up being contract bargains for a contender off the bench.

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NBA Daily: Kevin Knox and Kristaps Porzingis Already Have One Thing In Common

Kevin Knox’s experience on draft night was eerily similar to that of Kristaps Porzingis.

Moke Hamilton

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Michael Porter, Jr. might be the next Kevin Durant, but he could just as easily be the next Greg Oden.

And if you’re searching for comfort in the wake of the decision of the Knicks to pass on the opportunity to draft the young man who was widely regarded as being the top prospect in the class of 2018, it is pretty easy to find in the fact that of all people, Jerry West decided that Porter wasn’t worth the risk, either.

While Porter might end up being a Hall of Famer, when it comes to drafting prospects, we might as well be shooting in the dark. We all knew that Markelle Fultz was the best option for the Sixers in last year’s draft, and 12 other teams clearly had no idea what Donovan Mitchell had in store for the league.

Heck, two years ago, as I was recently reminded by someone on Twitter, I predicted that the Knicks would select Emmanuel Mudiay with their fourth pick. Instead, they walked away with Kristaps Porzingis.

If I were the man making the call back then, with the information I had, I certainly would have drafted Mudiay. And you know what? That decision probably would have gotten me fired, and rightfully so.

The true moral of the story is that we simply can’t see into the future and all the analytics in the world won’t able to measure things like guts and heart. So as the Knicks pin their hopes on Kevin Knox, it truly will be interesting to see how the career arcs of he and Porter compare.

As for why we would single out the Knicks and make the franchise’s decision to draft Knox over him a personal one, quite a few people in the know relayed the same information on the Knicks and Porter going back to their date at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in May—they loved each other.

Thereafter, there were reports that the Knicks were looking to move up in the draft, and Porter was on their minds. On Thursday night in Barclays Center, with the Knicks on the clock, their fans in attendance cheered for Porter, as they were hopeful that he would be selected to be the franchise’s next stud.

They were disappointed, and now, they’ll hope that Scott Perry’s decision to go with Knox ends up being the right one. It might be, just like Porzingis was the right pick over Mudiay, and it might not be, just like selecting Frank Ntilikina over Mitchell wasn’t.

Like it or not, though, the two young men will forever be linked, both in my mind and in the minds of plenty of other Knicks fans.

“That’s just motivation,” Knox said of the Knicks fans in attendance chanting Porter’s name.

“A lot of people want him to get to the Knicks, but I mean, it’s all good with me. I’m ready to get to work. I’m ready to get to work and ready to prove people in Summer League and prove people in the NBA.”

Knox’s experience on draft night was remarkably similar to that of Porzingis, and now, if you even so much as suggest trading the Latvian unicorn for a player such as Kyrie Irving, Knicks fans just might call for your head.

It’s strange how quickly things can change for you in New York City. At the end of the day, it comes down to working hard and earning the adoration of the faithful in Gotham City. Porzingis succeeded there, and there’s every reason to believe that Knox will, as well.

“They booed Porzingis (on draft night) and look where he is now,” the rookie remarked.

“They can chant Michael Porter all they want, but they got Kevin Knox, and I’m willing to work and I’m willing to get better.”

When asked, Knox would tell you that he and Jayson Tatum happen to have something in common. According to him, neither of the two really got an opportunity to show what they could do at the collegiate level.

With more opportunities and more repetitions, the sky truly is the limit for the 18-year-old.

“I think I can pretty much play all around the floor,” Knox said.

“I can handle the ball, pick-and-roll situations, make plays, make passes. I can stretch the floor, shoot the ball, get rebounds, push it coast to coast. So I think that versatility in the league is something that a lot of teams really need, and I think that’s something I can bring to the Knicks right now.”

Privately, to members of the Knicks organization, Knox has spoken highly of the spotlight that he’s bound to face in New York and believes that playing at Kentucky helped to prepare him for the type of demanding environment that he’ll be introduced to once the season gets underway in New York. And even without a bad back, the crushing expectations and heavy burden could cause a weaker minded player to crumble.

A FaceTime call with Porzingis on draft night went a long way toward giving the rookie the confidence that he’ll need to thrive in New York.

That the franchise’s pride and joy immediately reached out to his new running mate to congratulate him, welcome him to the team and give him some insight is a good sign. At the very least, it shows that Porzingis takes his responsibility as being the team’s lead man seriously.

At most, it could signal K.P.’s being pleased with the selection.

We’re about to embark upon the story of Kevin Knox. We’ve only seen the preamble.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you certainly can’t know how the final chapter will end based on what you’ve read in the first chapter. So no, the Knicks fans that wanted Michael Porter on their squad didn’t get their wish, but in the long run, they may end up being better for it.

Just like Kristaps Porzingis, Knox wasn’t received warmly by Knicks fans on draft night.

Hopefully, for the rookie, it’s not the last thing he and the beloved Porzingis will have in common.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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