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Which NBA Rookies Make Day-One Impact?

Though rookies generally aren’t big contributors, these first-year players can make an impact from day one.

Jesse Blancarte

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The 2016-17 rookie class was pretty difficult to assess throughout the pre-draft process. If you checked out Basketball Insiders’ Consensus Mock Drafts in the weeks leading up to the draft, you likely noticed an unusually high number of players who climbed up and plummeted down the board – with a select few holding a consistently high position.

As it turned out, the draft ended up being even more unpredictable than most projected. The Boston Celtics are a good example of this as they took Jaylen Brown (No. 3), Guerschon Yabusele (16), Ante Zizic (23), Demetrius Jackson (45), Ben Bentil (51) and Abdel Nader (58), all while trying to put together a deal for a star player – most notably Jimmy Butler. A lot of teams went with the draft-and-stash strategy, so it will take more than a few years to really get a sense of which teams scored big in this draft and which teams struck out.

While the draft itself was difficult to project, we may have a better shot at predicting which rookies will have the biggest impact this upcoming season. With this mind, here is a list of rookies who seem poised to be the biggest day-one contributors from this class.

5. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans

Coming off of a fantastic senior season at Oklahoma, Hield is well-situated to make an impact for the New Orleans Pelicans from day one. The Pelicans have more experienced players in their backcourt, including Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier and Alonzo Gee. However, Evans is still injured and, at 22 years old, Hield may already be one of the most complete and prototypical shooting guards the Pelicans have on their roster.

With Holiday at point guard and Anthony Davis wreaking havoc in the frontcourt, Hield has the opportunity to slot in as a valuable weapon off the ball with his three-point shooting. In his fourth and final season at Oklahoma, Hield averaged 25 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and, most importantly, 45.7 percent from distance. His numbers were jaw-dropping, especially when you consider that he was attempting 8.7 three-pointers per game. If Hield can knock down the open shots that his teammates will generate for him while playing solid perimeter defense, he has a good shot of establishing himself as one of the most impactful rookies in the upcoming season.

The question is, are we going to see the version of Hield that scorched the NCAA last season or are we going to see the inefficient gunner who struggled during the Las Vegas Summer League?

4. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Saric, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in a draft-night deal with the Orlando Magic. However, he has been playing overseas for the last two seasons so this upcoming campaign will count as his rookie year. At 22 years old, Saric has the experience to be an immediate contributor in Philadelphia. Specifically, he has played in some top-level settings, such as the Adriatic League, Turkish BSL League and for the Croatian national team, which is generally considered more effective experience than college basketball.

His recent play in the Olympics has drawn widespread praise, including from 76ers head coach Brett Brown. While Brown admitted that Saric does not have elite athleticism, he does have a multi-faceted game with the ability to put the ball on floor and stretch defenses to the three-point line from the power forward position.

Saric has the experience and skills to be a significant contributor this upcoming season, but his success will likely depend on how well Coach Brown can integrate him into his rotations. Saric occupies a crowded frontcourt, which includes top pick Ben Simmons (who may play more point forward), Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid among others. With Saric’s shooting and Simmons’ ability to penetrate opposing defenses and create open looks for his teammates, they could form a dynamic tandem. However, it’s possible that Brown settles in on lineups that don’t feature Saric in a way that allows him to utilize all of his talents.

3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid, another 76er who was selected in the 2014 draft, also makes this list. Drafted third overall, Embiid entered the NBA after one year at Kansas. He was projected by many to be a future star based primarily on his rapid improvement in recent years and his physical profile.

Unfortunately, just before the draft, Embiid underwent surgery on a broken navicular bone in his right foot, which was projected to take four-to-six months to recover from. Embiid ended up missing what would have been his entire rookie season. He then missed last season after the bone failed to heal as quickly as expected. He ultimately had another surgery in August of 2015 and there are still some lingering concerns over his health.

Despite those concerns, Embiid’s upside is incredible. He has ideal size, length and athleticism at center, and he should have the mobility to play both ends of the court effectively. It’s tough to truly project what kind of player he can be until we see some live game action from him, but after two years of working within the 76ers’ program under head coach Brett Brown and his staff, there is reason to believe he could be a significant contributor this upcoming season.

2. Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves

After playing four years of college basketball at Providence, Dunn enters the upcoming season as one of the most experienced top prospects in the draft. Dunn has been lauded as a polished point guard who can make his presence felt on both ends of the court. Anyone who watched Dunn play at the Las Vegas Summer League knows that he is also a fiery competitor, which was apparent in his head-to-head matchup against Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell.

The problem for Dunn this upcoming season is that the Timberwolves already have veteran point guard Ricky Rubio slotted as the starting floor general. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has stated that the two could potentially play alongside one another, though we’ll see how that goes. Neither Rubio nor Dunn are knockdown shooters (though Dunn showed significant improved last season), which may prevent them from being able to play together effectively. However, Dunn and Rubio are both good defensive players, which may offset their limitations on offense. Also, it is entirely possible that Rubio gets traded at some point this season considering the fact that he was made available in trade discussions earlier this offseason.

Despite the obvious concern over playing time, Dunn will get an opportunity to prove himself as a viable contributor this upcoming season. With plenty of college experience and the ability to play both ends of the court effectively, Dunn has the chance to make a big impact throughout next season. Oh, and playing alongside former No. 1 picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (as well as Minnesota’s other impressive young talents) should only make Dunn’s life easier as he transitions to the NBA.

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

After watching Ben Simmons’ overall play at the Las Vegas Summer League, some doubters may want to lighten up their criticism of his game. It’s true that Simmons should have been able to make a bigger impact during his lone season at LSU, but it’s not unprecedented for a top prospect to struggle at the college level only to subsequently thrive at the NBA level.

Additionally, Simmons will likely be given the keys to the 76ers franchise from day one considering his unique ability to run an offense from the forward positions. Simmons has a unique ability to see the floor better than many gifted NBA point guards and this court vision, coupled with his excellent passing skills, allow him create easy baskets for his teammates. His size and overall athleticism let him to attack the rim in ways that traditional point guards can’t, which should be a big weapon for the 76ers moving forward. With this in mind, it will be important for the 76ers to put knockdown shooters around him so that his passes become assists rather than missed opportunities.

Of course, Simmons’ ineffective jump-shot is a concern and that is something he will need to tighten up as he continues developing. We have seen players with ineffective jumpers improve their mechanics and overcome their limitations. If Simmons does that, while maintaining his creativity with the ball and ability to rebound from the forward position, he should be well-positioned to take the Rookie of the Year award next season. Versatility is the name of the game in today’s NBA, and no one in this draft is as versatile as Simmons.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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