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New York Knicks 2017-18 Season Preview

This season could be a big turning point for the New York Knicks, we explore that and more in this season preview

Basketball Insiders

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Last summer, the Knicks invested heavily in veterans such as Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, hoping they would help lead a push towards the playoffs. However, after a terribly disappointing 2016-17 season, New York is now focusing on the future and developing their young core. Yet, the biggest question surrounding the Knicks is the status of their longest tenured player: Carmelo Anthony. Both Melo and the front office would prefer to part ways, but there is not currently a trade that makes sense for both parties. Thus, Anthony’s uncertain future remains one of the league’s more interesting storylines as we head towards the start of training camp.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

There won’t be any zen occupying the front office space of the New York Knicks next season, and from the looks of it, that isn’t such a bad thing.

After Phil Jackson’s departure and the hiring Scott Perry, the Knicks at the very least should have a linear train of thought next season.

Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, however, there isn’t much hope for the Knickerbockers. With Carmelo Anthony more than likely on his way out of the Big Apple, the Knicks are in a position to build around their Latvian star. That should start next season by losing as many games as possible, in order to spike their chances in next year’s draft lottery. After Anthony’s impending departure, winning games won’t be an easy task in New York, anyway.

Winning 31 games last season is going to look great in comparison to what the Knicks are in store for this upcoming year, should Anthony move on.

4th place — Atlantic Division

– Dennis Chambers

Obviously, anything the Knicks hope to achieve this season will depend on Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. As it relates to Anthony, the team has made no secret of the fact that it wishes to move on from him. The problem is that Anthony wields a no-trade clause and hasn’t shown a willingness to accept a trade anywhere other than Houston. If the Knicks are able to orchestrate a trade that returns significant assets for him, then they might have a chance at the playoffs this season. That’s a long shot, though, even if Porzingis does take the next step. While the Eastern Conference does seem a tad more open than last season on paper, unless Tim Hardaway and Frank Ntilikina form a truly dynamic backcourt, the Knicks won’t have much of an opportunity to play into May. The Celtics, Cavs, Raptors and Wizards seem to be at the top of the conference, with the Bucks and HEAT seeming probable for playoff berths, as well.

The best news for the Knicks is that they do have a nucleus of youngsters that can play, they do have Anthony and, in the long run, should be able to get some assets in return for him and they own their own 2018 first round pick. The team, however, is still a few years away from being mentioned in the same breadth as the teams mentioned above, and they’ll likely have their hands full with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, as well. It’s difficult to figure out where the bottom three teams will land, but in the end, does it even matter?

5th Place — Atlantic Division

— Moke Hamilton

The New York Knicks had an interesting offseason. Phil Jackson no longer runs the team, David Griffin ultimately decided to pass on taking over since he couldn’t bring his staff from Cleveland with him and now Steve Mills and Scott Perry are firmly in charge. New York is still struggling to find a resolution to the ongoing Carmelo Anthony issue and it’s not clear when it may be resolved. The Knicks have actually put together a nice core of young players to build around, but the front office continues to make the same mistakes that have plagued them for so long. After signing Joakim Noah to a massive contract last summer, it would have been reasonable to expect that the franchise would be hesitant to sign another player who is anything less than a star or future player to a similar deal. Nevertheless, New York went out and signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a huge four-year deal with a player option in the fourth year. Hardaway Jr. has shown some promise, but there was no reason to sign a player that doesn’t move the needle enough to make a significant difference to the team’s short term success to such a massive contract. The Knicks may win a decent number of games this season, but it’s discouraging to see the team repeat the mistakes of the past.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

In a universe filled with train wrecks, the New York Knicks are oligarchs ruling over them all. This past summer was an all-out disaster for the franchise; it’s almost hard to figure out where to start. First, there were the insane Kristaps Porzingis trade rumors that never should have existed, then potential future Rookie of the Year Dennis Smith, Jr. slipped past in favor of the unknown and unproven Frank Ntilikina. On the bright side, Phil Jackson was fired, which looked like a great first step toward healing from the wounds he inflicted, until the new front office immediately spent $71 million on Tim Hardaway, Jr when there did not appear to be anywhere near that sort of market for him. That’s basically Joakim Noah money, which can’t be a good omen. Finally, there’s Carmelo Anthony who, despite his desire to pack up a crate full of hoodies and move to Houston, is still on the team. Everything is awful here, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.

5th Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

With every passing day, the biggest question in New York basketball grows louder: Can the franchise finally detach themselves from the running Carmelo Anthony saga? It couldn’t be clearer that both sides would rather move on, but Melo’s specificity on his desire for a new location (Houston only, from what’s been reported) makes things difficult. If they can get a deal done and get Anthony to a new home, they can finally turn things over fully to Kristaps Porzingis and other youth like Willy Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina – if not, both the franchise direction and the on-court product could look very different. In either case, expect the Knicks to be in the third-place or fourth-place range in the Atlantic, depending on their Melo fortunes and how healthy the 76ers manage to stay.

4th Place – Atlantic Division

– Ben Dowsett

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Carmelo Anthony

As of the publishing of this preview, Carmelo Anthony is still a Knickerbocker. Thus, he’s still the top offensive player on the squad. Last season, Anthony averaged 22.4 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.0 three-pointers per game. Even though he’s slowing down a bit, he remains one of the more lethal offensive weapons in the league. He is one of just five players to average at least 20 points in each their first 14 NBA seasons. The other four are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Melo is also one of only three players in NBA history to score at least 10,000 points with two franchises (Nuggets and Knicks). The other two are Kareem (Lakers and Bucks) and Elvin Hayes (Rockets and Wizards).

Top Defensive Player: Kristaps Porzingis

When Phil Jackson handed Joakim Noah a four-year, $72 million contract, the hope was that Noah would re-establish himself as one of the game’s most respected defensive bigs. Noah’s resume includes a Defensive Player of the Year award (2013-14) and three NBA All-Defensive Teams (2011, 2013 and 2014). He also finished in the top 10 in blocks twice. However, Noah was crippled by injuries and appears to be a shell of his former self. In addition, he’ll miss the first 12 games of next season serving a suspension due to a drug violation. If the Knicks are going to improve defensively, they will need Kristaps Porzingis to emerge as an elite defender. KP has already proven he can be a remarkable rim-protector. And, unlike most seven-footers, he is also able to adequately handle pick-and-rolls by staying in front of diminutive guards.

Top Playmaker: Ramon Sessions

The lack of a quality point guard is one of the primary reasons why the Knicks will struggle in 2017-18. In today’s NBA, it is incredibly important to have a PG that can penetrate into the paint and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. The Knicks drafted 18-year old Frank Ntilikina, but he should not be expected to captain the ship this early in his development. New York paid nearly nine million to bring back Ron Baker, but he’s more of a defensive-minded combo guard. Enter Ramon Sessions, who will likely start at PG on opening night. If the Knicks are to exceed even lowly expectations, they will probably need Sessions to miraculously enjoy a career-year at age 31. On a positive note, unlike Derrick Rose last season, Sessions will be content to feed young guns Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Willy Hernangomez the ball. Sessions has a career assist rate of 28.8 percent, which is impressive considering the Knicks recent run of point guards. The only qualifying Knick PG’s to post an assist percentage greater than 28 percent over the course of a full season since 2002 are Stephon Marbury and Raymond Felton.

Top Clutch Player: Carmelo Anthony

Again, as long as Melo is on the roster, he gets the nod here. Eventually, Porzingis will be asked to take and make big shots with the game on the line (and that will occasionally happen even with Anthony in town), but Coach Hornacek will still lean on Carmelo with the game in the balance. While not as reliable as he once was in the clutch, Melo is still one of the more feared and capable one-on-one scorers in the Association.

The Unheralded Player: Frank Ntilikina

We don’t have much to go by in regards to Ntilikina, as he averaged just 18.3 minutes per game off the bench as an 18-year old last season in the French Pro A league. However, there are certainly reasons for Knicks fans to be optimistic. For starters, he measures in at 6’5” with a seven-foot wing span. Ntilikina has been able to use his length and width, along with impressive athleticism, to establish a reputation as a stellar, versatile defender capable of guarding three positions. In addition, he has shown a solid stroke from the perimeter, knocking down 43.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season. He also shot 58.6 percent from downtown and dished out a team-high 4.5 assists per contest over six games during the FIBA U18 European championships. His fellow 2017 draft-class rookies are more advanced at this stage of the game, as it will take Frank some time to grow into his body and acclimate himself to NBA competition, but Ntilikina has an undeniably high upside.

Top New Addition: Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Knicks overpaid to bring former draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. back to NYC, but the young sharpshooter is going to provide New York’s offense with much-needed perimeter scoring. Over the final 32 games of the 2016-17 campaign, Hardaway played the best basketball of his career, pouring in 18.2 points a night, while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor (including 37.8 percent from 3-point territory while knocking down 2.2 treys) in 32.3 minutes per contest. If he can develop into a consistent 18-ppg scorer, that will stretch opposing defenses and open up the floor for the rest of his teammates. THJ was a subpar defender during his first stint in New York but has improved on that end of the floor during his days in Atlanta.

– Tommy Beer

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kristaps Porzingis:
Porzingis is the foundational future of the franchise. If the Knicks rise to prominence, or anywhere even close to respectability in the near future, it will be due to Porzingis emerging as a legitimate superstar. Fortunately for Knicks fans, KP has the talent, mindset, IQ and work ethic to become an All-NBA caliber player. His first two NBA seasons were incredibly impressive. Porzingis, who stands 7-foot-3 with shooting touch of a guard, is ideally suited to excel in today’s space-and-pace, “positionless” NBA. He can easily shoot over smaller defenders on the perimeter, and drive past lumbering big men that attempt to close out on him. His unique combination of size and athleticism allows him to post previously unimaginable stats. Consider this: Porzingis is the only player in NBA history ever to tally at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 blocks and 100 made three-pointers over his first two seasons.

2. Willy Hernangomez:
The Knicks acquired Hernangomez on draft day in 2015. Willy was selected 35th overall by the Sixers, who re-routed him to New York in exchange for two future second-round selections. It will likely go down as Phil Jackson’s best trade during his tenure with the Knicks. Hernangomez was surprisingly impressive as a rookie last season. Despite playing limited minutes for most of the year, he was able to make an immediate impact. Willy was remarkably efficient, as evidenced by his incredible per-36 minute averages. In fact, over the last 30 years, only two rookies have averaged at least 15 points and 13 rebounds per-36 minutes: Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93 and Willy Hernangomez in 2016-17. Willy needs to improve significantly on the defensive end of the floor, but his footwork and offensive skillet have Knicks fans giddy. Best of all, Hernangomez is locked into an incredibly affordable contract, where he’ll make an average of just $1.6 million over the next three seasons.

3. Courtney Lee
Lee’s standard statistics don’t jump off the page, so his many contributions can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, Lee’s 3-and-D abilities are extremely valuable. And, when digging deeper into the advanced analytics, his worth becomes more apparent. Not only is Lee tasked with guarding the other team’s best perimeter scorer, but he also finished second on the team last season in True Shooting Percentage (55.9%) and second to only Carmelo Anthony in both Offensive Win Shares and Offensive Box Plus/Minus.

4. Lance Thomas
Thomas is coming off a disappointing 2016-17 season. He missed a total of 36 games due to a variety of medical issues, including a concussion and a hip injury late in the year. However, Thomas has been working out diligently this summer in NYC and appears poised for a strong bounce-back season. Like Courtney Lee, much of Thomas’ value lies in the intangible he brings to the table. He’s one of those “glue guys” that most every team in the NBA would want on their roster. Thomas is a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions and has developed into a reliable outside shooter. He led the Knicks in 3-point shooting last season, knocking down 44.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. In fact, he was one of just six players to shoot over 44 percent while attempting more than 1.5 3-pointers per game last season.

– Tommy Beer

SALARY CAP 101

The Knicks have exhausted their spending resources with their cap room spent on Tim Hardaway Jr. and their Room Exception used to re-sign Ron Baker. The team has 14 players locked in for the coming season, leaving one roster spot for non-guaranteed players Chasson Randle, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Jamel Artis and Nigel Hayes.

New York has long tried to get out of Carmelo Anthony’s salary but the All-Star forward has a no-trade clause. Anthony has one more years left on his deal but can opt out after this season – though he may not be willing to leave $27.9 million behind. If he does, the Knicks might be able to get to about $27 million in cap room next summer.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The Knicks were near the middle of the pack offensively last season, finishing 18th overall in Offensive Efficiency. They should be better in 2017-18. Not only did they add Tim Hardaway Jr. to the mix, but they will also finally begin running a modern NBA offense. With Phil Jackson out of the picture, head coach Jeff Hornacek will not be commanded to implement the outdated “Triangle.” Due primarily to the tenets of the Triangle, the Knicks relied far too heavily on mid-range jumpers last season. Per NBA.com, 72.1 percent of their field-goal attempts were two-pointers. Contrast that with teams such as the Cavs, Celtics, and Rockets, who attempted fewer than 61 percent of shots inside the arc. New York registered 9.3 shots per game between 10-14 feet from the hoop. Only the Pistons had more. Hornacek is now unshackled and free to run a far more inventive offense. It’s safe to assume he’ll ask his troops to push the pace, just as Hornacek’s Suns teams did, and fire away from deep far more frequently.

– Tommy Beer

WEAKNESSES

The two biggest issues facing New York next season will be their lack of a legit NBA point guard and their inability to get stops. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme in New York dating back nearly two decades. Over the last ten years, the only New York point guard to post a PER above 17 over the course of a full season was Nate Robinson in 2008-09. The last Knicks point guard named to an All-Star team was Mark Jackson back in 1988-89. Defensive ineptitude has also been a consistent problem plaguing the franchise. The Knicks have finished the regular season ranked in the top-half of the league in Defensive Efficiency just once over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, that also happened to be the single season this century they finished with more than 50 regular season wins and advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Until the Knicks address those two fatal flaws, it’s unlikely they will take a significant step forward as a franchise.

– Tommy Beer

THE BURNING QUESTION

What to do with Melo?

Since taking the reigns of the franchise, Knicks new president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have been smart in their handling of the complicated Carmelo situation. Because of his no-trade clause, Melo can choose which teams he’s willing to play for. Currently, it appears Houston is the only team on his wish list. However, to consummate such a deal, the Rockets would have to send back Ryan Anderson, who is owed $61.3 million over the next three seasons. Anderson is a solid shooter that could certainly benefit a team that is in win-now mode and needs a reliable three-point marksman. The Knicks are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They realize they are far from contention, and adding Anderson would make only a minimal difference on their win/loss ledger, while simultaneously clogging their cap space. Thus, despite the awkwardness that will ensue when Melo shows up at media day and training camp later this month, keeping him on the roster, for the time being, is the most prudent course of action. Anthony is too valuable to simply waive outright, and paying him $50 million to play for another team would understandably infuriate owner James Dolan. The Knicks should sit tight and hope that Melo is willing to expand the list of teams he’d be to accept a trade to. By the trade deadline in February, it’s possible New York may be able to flip Anthony for a draft pick and/or a promising young player. Either way, the worst case scenario would be trading Melo and taking back a bloated salary that would take up cap space and thereby inhibit the Knicks ability to improve their roster in the future.

– Tommy Beer

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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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