New Era in Minnesota
Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers will officially acquire star power forward Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love, one of the most productive players in the NBA, leaves Minnesota after six seasons with the Timberwolves.
While there may be an inclination to feel as though the Timberwolves have taken a major step back after losing their franchise player, the fact is that Minnesota acquired a solid haul of young talent to build around moving forward. The Timberwolves acquired two number one overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett from Cleveland, and will concurrently send Cleveland’s 2015 first-round pick (acquired from the Miami HEAT) along with Alexey Shved and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Philadelphia 76ers for Thaddeus Young.
This was a strong return for Love, who made it clear to the Timberwolves that he would leave Minnesota for nothing at the conclusion of the upcoming season if he was not traded. While losing Love hurts, the Timberwolves now have one of the best core’s of young talent in the NBA, and are still talented enough to have an outside chance of making the playoffs moving forward.
Wiggins, the number one overall pick in this year’s draft out of Kansas University, is a top-level NBA prospect and potential superstar. In his one season at Kansas, Wiggins put up 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game, and shot 44.8 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from beyond-the-arc. While Wiggins’ stats don’t jump off the page, he has the size and skill of an elite wing player and should be able to develop into a well-rounded offensive player and lock-down defender.
Over the last few years, Wiggins has drawn comparisons to LeBron James, but a better or fairer comparison may be someone like Paul George. George entered the league as a wing player who could play defense immediately and had the size and skill to develop into a versatile offensive weapon. George, to his credit, made huge strides in his game early in his career, improving his jump-shot and ball-handling, allowing him to be a play-maker on offense. Similarly, Wiggins will need to add consistency to his jumper, and improve his ball-handling to take his game to the next level. Assuming Wiggins can make the same sort of strides in his game that George did, coupled with his elite athleticism, Wiggins could be a top wing player in the NBA in just a few years. Wiggins has been criticized in the past for being too passive, but he seems to recognize this and sees Minnesota as a place where he will have to embrace being a lead-player, and not just another piece.
Joining Wiggins in Minnesota will be the number one overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Bennett. Last season, in 52 games played with the Cavaliers, Bennett averaged 4.2 points, three rebounds and 0.3 assists per game and shot 35.6 percent from the field. It was a truly disappointing rookie campaign for the former number one overall pick. Bennett entered his rookie season rehabbing from shoulder surgery and suffered a knee strain in March. He struggled with injuries and conditioning last season, but has lost weight this summer and is looking to have a bounce-back sophomore season. In addition, Bennett underwent surgery in May to remove his tonsils and adenoids to help improve his sleep apnea, and says it is now easier for him to breathe while playing.
Bennett’s improved conditioning and breathing does not guarantee that he will have a breakout sophomore season, but it is a positive step in the right direction for the talented forward. At UNLV, Bennett was a versatile offensive player who shot well at the rim, could take the ball off the dribble and knock down three-pointers consistently (38.3 percent). And while he was not a great defender in college, he moves well for a player his size and has potential defensively. With Minnesota, Bennett can learn from Thaddeus Young how to play the power forward position at the NBA level. However, Bennett also has the potential to play small forward, but he will have to keep his weight down in order to do so, which may make it harder for him to guard the bigger forwards in the league. This is something that Bennett and the Timberwolves will need to experiment with and figure out moving forward.
Fortunately for Bennett and the Timberwolves, Bennett will not have to rush his development with Corey Brewer and Wiggins in place at small forward, and Young set to take over for Love as the starting power forward. Last season, Young averaged 17.9 points, six rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game. At age 26, Young is young enough to continue improving along with the young talent in Minnesota, but brings seven years of valuable NBA experience to the starting unit. At 6’8, 220 pounds, Young is slightly undersized at the power forward position, but can shoot the ball from the perimeter and has an overall solid offensive game. While Young will not be able to completely make up for the loss of Love, the Timberwolves have managed to add a solid replacement to help keep the team competitive moving forward.
In addition to these newly acquired players, the Timberwolves are bringing in another bright, young talent this upcoming season. The Timberwolves drafted Zach LaVine with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA. LaVine is arguably the most athletic player in this year’s rookie class and at 6’5, 180 pounds, has good size for an NBA combo guard. At UCLA, LaVine averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and shot 44.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. Similar to Wiggins, LaVine did not put up overly impressive numbers in his one college season, but his upside is off the charts. LaVine has the ability to handle the ball and initiate Minnesota’s offense, but is still very much a work in progress as a point guard. In the Las Vegas Summer League, LaVine had an opportunity to run point guard for Minnesota and showed flashes of his potential.
“I feel like I’ve been just setting up the plays really well, running the team,” LaVine told Basketball Insiders. “Getting to the hole, creating for others and then making my shots when I have to.”
LaVine still has a ways to go in terms of playing point guard, but there is certainly potential there. As a shooting guard, LaVine has shown his ability to score the ball from the perimeter and on drives to the basket. His three-point shooting will be a nice addition to Minnesota, as the Timberwolves were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season. At age 19, LaVine is certainly a raw talent, and will struggle on many nights in his rookie season. But, with good size, developing point guard skills and a solid offensive skill-set, LaVine has a ton of potential and could one day be considered one of the best players from the 2014 NBA draft class. And with athletes like LaVine and Wiggins running the lanes with point guard Ricky Rubio, there is certain to be some highlight plays in Minnesota next season.
In regards to Rubio, it is easy to forget that he is still just 23 years old. Rubio’s rookie season in the NBA started off well as he averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.3 steals in 34.2 minutes per game. However, he suffered an ACL tear in March 2012, and missed the second half of his rookie season. In the following two seasons, Rubio continued to score roughly 10 points, and register roughly eight assists per game, but his perimeter shooting remains an issue. Rubio, a career 36.8 percent shooter from the field and 32.3 percent three-point shooter, has flawed shooting mechanics and an especially slow release. This is something Rubio will have to address moving forward, which, at age 23, is very possible. If, and when he does, he will join the upper echelon of point guards in the league as he is already a great play-maker, passer and solid defensive player. With Love on his way to Cleveland, now is the time for Rubio to take the next step in his development, and become the leader of the Timberwolves.
Also on the roster is Shabazz Muhammad, once considered the best NBA prospect in the nation. After a disappointing rookie season in which he only played in 37 games, Muhammad is looking to have a bounce back sophomore season. Before his rookie season, Muhammad spent one underwhelming season at UCLA before declaring for the 2013 NBA Draft. Muhammad, age 21, is a talented offensive player, but is not a great athlete, and has not shown much ability to make plays for his teammates. However, he does have a thick frame, is a good rebounder for a wing player, and plays with supreme confidence. While he may never live up to the hype that surrounded him as an amateur, Muhammad could still find a niche as a bench scorer and put pressure on opposing guards by taking them down into the post where he often has a size advantage. Much like Rubio, Muhammad is not as far along in his development as many had hoped, but he is still very young and has an opportunity to be another piece of Minnesota’s promising core of young talent.
In addition to all of these young wing players, the Timberwolves have some young talent at center as well. Timberwolves starting center Nikola Pekovic missed significant time last season with an Achilles injury. To fill the void left by Pekovic, the Timberwolves turned to rookie center Gorgui Dieng from the University of Louisville. Dieng was a revelation for Minnesota and had some outstanding performances throughout the second half of the season. On March 20, Dieng logged 22 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists and made 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Four days later, Dieng registered 15 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and one block. These are two of Dieng’s best performances from last season, but there were many other nights in which Dieng registered a double-double and contributed a few blocks. Pekovic will remain the starter next season, but with Dieng behind him, the Timberwolves now have a legitimate shot blocker and another young piece to develop moving forward.
Also, while Pekovic is 28 years old, he has only been in the NBA for four seasons, and is one of the league’s best scoring big men. At 6’11, and weighing in at 285 pounds, Pekovic is massive and does not rely on athleticism to score points. He has a well-rounded offensive game and knows how to use his size to clear out defenders and score at the rim. While he is older than many of his young teammates, he is still relatively young and should maintain his current level of play for a long time since he does not rely on athleticism to be effective.
It is true that the Timberwolves would probably win more games this upcoming season with Love than they would with Wiggins, Bennett and Young, especially considering it takes a few seasons for rookies to become real impact players. But the fact is that Love wanted to move on, and in his six seasons in Minnesota he never led his team to the playoffs. To be fair to Love, he did about as much as he could in terms of filling up the stat sheet every night, but it was never enough to get Minnesota over the hump. The reality is that the Western Conference is, and has been stacked with playoff teams and contenders for many years. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are all teams to be reckoned with, and even with Love, there was no guarantee the Timberwolves would make the playoffs this upcoming season.
With the addition of LaVine, Wiggins, Bennett and Young to Rubio, Dieng and Pekovic, the Timberwolves now have a core of players that can develop over the next few seasons and hopefully peak at a time when teams like the Spurs are rebuilding, and other teams are exiting their window for contention as well. In the meantime, this is a team that can still compete with opposing teams on a nightly basis, and fight for an outside shot at making the playoffs. And while Timberwolves fans may bemoan the fact that it may take some more time to break Minnesota’s 10-year playoff drought, they should take solace in the fact that Minnesota now has one of the best and most exciting cores in the NBA.
NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.
NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role
Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.
After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.
And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting
Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.
Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.
For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting
After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.
On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.
Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.
Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three
Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.
While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.
For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.
On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.
Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.
Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three
Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.
The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.
Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.
With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?