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New Orleans Pelicans 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The New Orleans Pelicans entered the 2015-16 season with a lot of excitement and optimism. The Pelicans won 45 games in the 2014-15 season, made the postseason, were riding the back of Anthony Davis, their young superstar, and had just hired head coach Alvin Gentry to take the team to the next level. On the night the Golden State Warriors won the 2014-15 NBA championship, a celebrating Gentry – then the associate head coach of the Warriors – sent a message to his young superstar: “[Anthony Davis], we’re coming right back here!”

Unfortunately, the 2015-16 season didn’t result in a trip to the NBA Finals, or a trip to the postseason at all. The Pelicans were decimated by injuries (only Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee played in more than 70 regular season games) and were unable to fully implement Gentry’s pass-happy, movement-based offensive system. The hope for this team is that an offseason of rehab and training and will lead to a healthier 2016-17 season, and that Davis will finally be able to shake the injury bug he has struggled with throughout his young NBA career.

The Pelicans also hope that their offseason additions will offset the losses of contributors like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Anderson and Gordon struggled with injuries as well, but when healthy they were two of the Pelicans’ main pieces.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 New Orleans Pelicans.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Pelicans have unfortunately been decimated by injuries in recent seasons, so hopefully this will be the year that trend ends. The Pelicans will only go as far as superstar Anthony Davis will take them, but that means he too will need to overcome the string of injuries he has endured over the past few seasons. I like the additions of players like Buddy Hield, Cheick Diallo, Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill, but I’m not sure that their offseason moves will be enough to make them competitive enough for any sort of postseason run. While this is a team with young, developing players, it also features several veteran players who are there to make this team competitive now. While I am hopeful that this team can shake the injury bug and that Davis can take the next step in his development, I am not very optimistic about this team’s chances of making the postseason or any sort of deep playoff run.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Buddy Hield should immediately pay dividends for the Pelicans, but the biggest concern for the franchise should be the fact that Anthony Davis hasn’t exactly earned the reputation of being an iron man. After four years in the NBA, Davis has yet to play in as many as 70 games in a single season. Last season, everyone expected the Pelicans to take a step forward but injuries to some of their key contributors undercut what looked to be a promising year. With Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon gone and Jrue Holiday out indefinitely pending his wife’s upcoming brain surgery, the Pelicans will likely need some major contributions from Langston Galloway. After working his way through the D-League and emerging as a plus-contributor for the Knicks, Galloway secured a two-year contract from his hometown Pelicans and it’s quite easy to be happy for him. That said, without Holiday, the Pelicans are likely to be playing catch up all season long and unless something similarly catastrophic happens to one of the other teams in the Southwest Division, the Pelicans are likely to be finishing last again this season.

5th Place — Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

What a difference a year makes. Heading into training camp last season, fresh off of a playoff berth, most were preparing for an absolute monster (and possibly MVP-level) campaign from All-Star forward Anthony Davis. But Davis limped to just 61 appearances and the club staggered its way to only 30 victories the entire season. Now, the heightened expectations have leveled off and the 2016-17 campaign is shaping up to be one of redemption for Davis and head coach Alvin Gentry. The team lost established veterans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in free agency, but invested over $70 million in role players E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill in early July. The gamble may pay off, as both guys have showed flashes of potential in limited roles. The key to the Pelicans’ success, however, starts and ends with the play of Davis. For New Orleans gets back into the playoffs, Davis would have to hear his name in the nightly MVP discussion.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Lang Greene

If we could count on Anthony Davis to stay healthy long enough to reach his full potential as a legitimate MVP candidate, it would be much harder to keep putting the Pelicans in the basement of the Southwest Division. However, he’s played between 61-68 games every year of his professional career, and that isn’t enough to guarantee much movement in an incredibly tough division. Frankly, this team didn’t do much to improve its chances this past offseason. Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo look like strong rookie additions, but they don’t suddenly change this New Orleans squad into a contender. Plain and simple, there’s a dearth of talent here. Davis will have to be transcendent for them to make any real progress this year.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

Buddy Hield is one of my favorite prospects in this draft class and I think he can make an impact right away for New Orleans. His game is perfect for today’s NBA since he’s such an efficient scoring and excellent shooter. Outside of Hield, I wasn’t crazy about the Pelicans’ offseason moves though. New Orleans paid a lot of money to role players who are nice complementary pieces, but their core still leaves a lot to be desired. I believe the Pelicans will top last year’s win total, but I have them missing the playoffs once again.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Anthony Davis

Davis is an all-around threat offensively. He has a smooth jumper that he continues to extend to the three-point line, he’s an effective pick-and-roll partner and is tough to keep off the boards for easy put-backs. There aren’t many limitations in Davis’ current offensive arsenal and he will surely continue to refine and sharpen the skills he already has.

A past criticism of Davis’ game was his thin frame and inability to back down bigger opponents in the post. However, as the league continues to move away from posting up big men in isolation situations, this concern becomes increasingly less of an issue. Additionally, Davis has filled out his frame considerably since entering the league, has improved his ability to leverage opposing bigs to clear space when necessary and is generally able to turn and shoot over most opponents because of his length and athleticism.

One area that Davis could improve is in his ability to make plays for his teammates. Davis is a better ball handler than most bigs and has pretty good court vision. The more Davis can facilitate the offense from the power forward or center position, the more Gentry can offset the fact that his lead guards are either sidelined indefinitely or not pure point guards, like Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson. Despite this, Davis is already one of the most dynamic talents in the entire NBA and is the best all-around offensive player on the Pelicans.

Top Defensive Player: Anthony Davis

There are reasons to question just how much of a defensive impact Davis has made throughout his career. He blocks a lot of shots, but this has become less of a measuring stick for all-around defensive impact with newer advanced statistics regularly being developed. However, while Davis doesn’t generally rank at the top of the defensive charts (e.g., Davis ranked 16th among all qualified power forwards in ESPN’s Defensive RPM statistic last season), he is the ideal defensive big man for today’s NBA. He has the length and mobility to protect the rim, the awareness to make weak side blocks, the footwork to attack ball handlers on the perimeter, the vision to play passing lanes and the intelligence to execute defensive schemes that require timely rotations and continuous communication.

The trick for Davis will be developing defensive chemistry with his teammates and taking care of his body to offset the impact of competing against opposing bigs each night. Davis has the tools to be one of the best all-around defenders in the NBA, but he needs to improve his consistency and effort on that side of the court and needs to get as many reps as possible with his teammates, which could be an issue if injuries continue to plague this team.

Top Playmaker: Jrue Holiday

Holiday is out indefinitely to be with his wife, Lauren Holiday, who was diagnosed with an operable brain tumor on the right side of her brain in June. There is obviously no timetable for Holiday’s return since his wife’s health and recovery take precedence over basketball.

Without Holiday, the Pelicans enter the season minus their starting point guard and best playmaker. Tim Frazier came on strong for the Pelicans in 16 games last season and even tallied more assists per-36 minutes than Holiday, but this was a small sample size and Holiday’s combination of size, skill and experience make him the team’s best playmaker.

The Pelicans also have Tyreke Evans, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and Lance Stephenson to turn to for playmaking, but Evans is hurt, Stephenson has been a shell of his former self and the other options haven’t proven they are the answer for any team as the full-time starting point guard. As previously mentioned, Davis should be used in a heightened playmaking capacity to expand his already considerable impact and to at least partially offset the loss of Holiday.

Top Clutch Player: Anthony Davis

The Pelicans took Buddy Hield with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Hield has become a knockdown shooter and has a ton of confidence in his game, so he may eventually become the Pelicans’ best clutch player. For the time being, though, Davis is the team’s best option in high-pressure situations.

Davis has already logged a few game winners in his short career,and seems poised to be the team’s number one option moving forward.

“At the end of the game, I think we need to get the ball to Anthony more,” Alvin Gentry said about Davis. “We need to start training him to be the guy down the stretch. If you’ve got a great player, that’s what you do. He is gonna be our closer. And that doesn’t necessarily mean making the shot. But I think he’s gonna be the guy more times than not that we’re gonna depend on to make the play at the end of the game. That means maybe finding the open guy, or when a double team comes being able to swing the basketball and put guys in the position where they can make the shot.

“I think we’re gonna have to start trying to go through him — and it may be a screen-and-roll situation, where he screens and rolls to the basket. But we’ve got to have him involved in a lot of the plays at the end of the game.”

Davis can knock down a set jumper, a floater off the dribble, be the roll man on a pick-and-roll and can either finish a play or dish the ball to an open teammate after drawing in multiple defenders. Being able to either score or open looks for teammates down the stretch makes Davis a strong option at the end of close games and makes him the team’s top clutch player.

The Unheralded Player: Quincy Pondexter

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the sort of impact Pondexter can have on a game, so it’s easy to forget how valuable he can be when healthy. Pondexter missed all of last season with a knee injury and has had two surgeries within the span of eight months to address the issue. Pondexter just went through his first full workout earlier this week and will reportedly be ready for the start of the upcoming season.

Pondexter’s ability to knock down three-pointers and lock down opponents makes him a very valuable piece for the Pelicans. Defense has been a struggle for this team, so any help on that end of the court will be a big boost moving forward. Knee injuries like Pondexter’s can be complicated and tough to fully recover from, so new addition Solomon Hill will have to help Pondexter hold down this role for the Pelicans.

Top New Addition: Buddy Hield

Hield put together a fantastic senior season at Oklahoma and, as a 22-year-old, is one of the most NBA-ready rookies in this year’s draft class. Hield may not have a huge role early in the season considering how many more experienced guard the Pelicans have, but he should be one of the team’s most important rotation players sooner rather than later.

While his game may ultimately expand, Hield’s best attribute right now is his 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 45.7 percent from three-point range.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Alvin Gentry

Despite putting together a disappointing first season in New Orleans, Gentry is still a coach capable of pushing this team — especially Davis — to the next level. Gentry has done his best work as the lead assistant coach on teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, but he has the knowledge, experience and philosophy to be a successful head coach in today’s NBA. Hopefully enough of his roster will stay healthy this season for him to successfully institute his offensive and defensive systems.

  1. Anthony Davis

He’s the foundation of the Pelicans and one of the best overall players in the league. Injuries have somewhat tarnished Davis’ glowing reputation around the league, but if he can play in 70-plus games this season and push his team into the playoffs, durability concerns will be quickly forgotten.

  1. Langston Galloway

When Galloway has received consistent minutes in his short career, he has produced. Galloway isn’t likely to ever be an All-Star caliber player or one of the top guards in the NBA, but he is a solid rotation player and a nice player to have on hand if a starter goes down with an injury. Galloway joins the Pelicans along with some other nice depth pieces like E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill, who will likely have to take on bigger roles than they had with their former teams.

  1. Buddy Hield

Hield joins the Pelicans just as the incumbent sharpshooting guard, Eric Gordon, departs. Hield shares many of the same characteristics that Gordon boasted entering the league, so the hope is he can be the answer at the two-guard position in the way that Gordon never was because of injuries. Hield has the unshakable confidence that we see in the best shooting guards, but can suffer from inefficient gunning at times. Nevertheless, if Hield can lock in a manageable role, he has a chance to be one of the biggest impact rookies this upcoming season.

  1. Jrue Holiday

Like most current Pelicans, Holiday has suffered from injuries in recent seasons and is now out indefinitely as he helps to care for his wife. While Holiday has struggled to stay on the court, his experience and skill are key elements to this current Pelicans team. He will be sorely missed until his return, which hopefully comes sooner rather than later. If it doesn’t, the Pelicans are going to have a tough time keeping pace in the Western Conference.

– Jesse Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Pelicans went under the salary cap this summer, signing players like Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and rookie Cheick Diallo.  New Orleans also used most of the team’s Room Exception on Tim Frazier, leaving just $808,000 in spending power.  With 15 players under guaranteed contracts (and Lance Stephenson possibly becoming No. 16), camp invites Robert Sacre, Chris Copeland and Shawn Dawson have long odds on making the regular-season roster.

Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, who are in the final year of their contracts, are both eligible to have their deals restructured, but the Pelicans no longer have the cap space to accommodate them. Looking ahead, New Orleans projects to have roughly $28 million in spending power under next year’s salary cap, assuming Dante Cunningham and Galloway opt out of their final seasons.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The Pelicans’ greatest strength is obviously Anthony Davis, one of the best all-around players in the NBA. The Pelicans were a mediocre offensive team last season, finishing just 16th in offensive efficiency. Gentry knows how to run an efficient offense, so hopefully with another year of experience and better luck with health he will get more out of Davis and his other players on offense. But not having Holiday at least for the early part of the season may make this difficult, though, Gentry does have a committee of playmakers that he can turn to.

Offense wasn’t a particular strength for the Pelicans last season, but if Gentry can successfully turn Davis into more of a facilitator and get him easier buckets through his pass-happy offense, then the Pelicans could see a nice bump in their offensive efficiency this season.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Defense. The Pelicans were the third-worst defensive team in the league last season, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions. Of course injuries had a lot to do with this, but even when their key guys were healthy, the Pelicans simply struggled to lock down their opponents. As with most things, Davis is the driving force for the Pelicans and will need to continue improving his ability to anchor the team’s defense.

Gentry doesn’t have a reputation for being a defensive guru, so it’s not clear how much his coaching can push the needle forward in terms of the team’s defensive competence. Having a player like Pondexter should help, but it’s not clear that the Pelicans’ other offseason additions help shore up the team’s collective defense. The offense should improve this upcoming season, but it’s not clear that the same can be said for the team’s defense.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Pelicans overcome the injury bug?

Injuries are the great equalizer in sports and the Pelicans are no exception. Gentry can put together a masterful season of coaching, but it won’t make much of a difference if guys like Davis, Holiday and Evans are on the sideline for a significant portion of the season. Some injuries are unavoidable, and circumstances like Holiday’s obviously can’t be prevented either. But if the Pelicans can keep their guys on the court this season, they have the talent and the superstar to make things interesting in the West. They are unlikely to be competing for a championship, but they could push a team in the postseason if everyone is healthy and they buy into Gentry’s system.

– Jesse Blancarte

 

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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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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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