In a tank-driven era of the NBA, teams that do not find themselves directly competing for a championship are opting to plunge deep into the draft lottery for the opportunity to select premier prospects down the road.
The idea behind this practice is that the players available at the top of the draft possess the talent to alter the course of a franchise and ultimately deliver a Larry O’Brien trophy to the team that picks them.
While a majority of the NBA’s heavy-hitters are those blue-chip prospects selected in the lottery, this season’s playoff picture is being impacted by players who didn’t make the cut on draft night to earn the “lottery pick” distinction.
Of course, the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s, Steph Curry’s and James Harden’s of the world hold their place on the NBA’s elite player mantel, but this season and postseason fans haven’t had to look far to see dominant performances from guys drafted 15th or later. In fact, it’s become rather common.
So without further ado, let’s highlight the players who were overlooked in their draft class and are making a major impact in the postseason.
Kawhi Leonard (15th overall, 2011)
In hindsight, how Leonard fell outside of the lottery is mind-boggling. But at the time, in a draft that featured blue-blood college stars like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight, taking a small forward from San Diego State with a broken jump shot with a top pick seemed like a tough call.
However, that didn’t matter for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, who swiftly traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to Leonard on draft night.
At just 25 years old, Leonard already has an NBA Finals MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and has cemented himself as the premier two-way player in the league. After delivering a 2016-17 campaign performance that has him in contention for both the league MVP and DPOY awards, Leonard is continuing to dominate the postseason.
In the Spurs’ first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, Leonard is averaging 32.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two steals per game. While posting gaudy raw numbers, Leonard is doing so with unfathomable efficiency, shooting 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc — not to mention he’s a perfect 40-for-40 from the free-throw line through the first four games of the series.
With the Spurs and Grizzlies locked at two games apiece in their series, Leonard will likely have to keep up his red-hot performances to see San Antonio advance to the next round.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th overall, 2013)
This season’s sensation in the NBA came in the form of a 6-foot-11 point guard from Greece, who plays in Milwaukee.
Commonly referred to as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo possesses a unique combination of size, speed, power and ability that allow him to confuse opposing defenders in just about every way imaginable.
So far this postseason, Antetokounmpo has the Bucks competing with the Toronto Raptors. Impacting the court in all facets, the 22-year-old is posting 23 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. Despite expending a ton of energy running the team’s offense, Antetokounmpo is all over the place during the game, getting teammates open and affecting opponents’ shots with his length.
As the series heads back to Milwaukee for a win-or-go-home Game 6 scenario, Antetokounmpo will likely have to deliver a do-it-all performance to keep the Bucks alive. But regardless of the outcome, the Greek Freak has shown the ability to put one of the Eastern Conference’s heavyweight team’s back against the wall in just his second ever playoff series. Pretty good for a guy who wasn’t a lottery pick.
Kyle Lowry (24th overall, 2006)
On the other side of the Raptors-Bucks series is the starting point guard for Toronto, who slid all the way to the bottom-third of the first round in his draft class.
After being selected by the Grizzlies in 2006, Lowry bounced around from Memphis to Houston before being traded to Toronto. As a Raptor, Lowry has flourished, sharing the backcourt with DeMar DeRozan and forming one of the most dangerous guard combinations in the league.
Despite struggling to begin the series against Milwaukee — scoring just four points in Game 1 — Lowry has bounced back, averaging 17.5 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last four matchups.
Responsible for orchestrating Toronto’s offense, when Lowry isn’t on the court, the Raptors struggle to operate at a competitive level. The difference in the team’s offensive rating when Lowry is playing and when he is resting is +12.6. The Raptors also average 5.8 more turnovers over 100 plays when Lowry isn’t on the court and controlling the ball.
As Toronto looks to close out Milwaukee and advance past the first round for the second straight season, Lowry will likely need to be running the show for a majority of the game in order to overcome the feisty Bucks.
Rudy Gobert (27th overall, 2013)
Seven different centers were selected ahead of Gobert before the Utah Jazz swiped the seven-foot Frenchman off the board. Of the players chosen before him, none have averaged a double-double like Gobert did this season.
Posting 14 points, 12.8 rebounds and a league-leading 2.6 blocks per game, Gobert has his name firmly placed in the Defensive Player of the Year award race. However, he’s registered just 24 minutes so far in Utah’s postseason series against the Los Angeles Clippers (currently tied 2-2). Seventeen seconds into Game 1, Gobert hyper extended his left knee and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Utah pulled off a victory without him, but Los Angeles won two straight as Gobert sat out.
Returning for Game 4, Utah’s defensive anchor proved his importance, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking two shots to help even the series despite losing leading scorer Gordon Hayward to food poisoning.
As Game 5 gets set to kick off, a dominant defensive performance from Gobert could potentially swing the even series in Utah’s favor.
Draymond Green (35th overall, 2012)
On a Golden State Warriors team that features a slew of highly drafted players, their arguably most valuable piece slipped all the way to the second round of his respective draft class.
Green is a jack-of-all-trades player for the Warriors, as well as the team’s defensive enforcer inside, despite being just 6-foot-7.
Appearing as the front-runner in a close race for the Defensive Player of the Year, Green entered the postseason and served as the difference maker in Golden State’s four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Averaging 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 4.3 blocks and 1.8 steals per game, Green consistently stuffed the box score in a series that saw the Warriors periodically without Durant and head coach Steve Kerr.
Green posted near triple-doubles to start the series. In Game 1 he scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and assisted on nine baskets. The next game, despite not being his night in terms of scoring, Green made an impact everywhere else on the court. He grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 10 assists to go with his six points.
Arguably the most versatile player in the NBA, Green makes the Warriors better in nearly every advanced metric and aspect of the game.
As Golden State eye’s their second NBA championship in three years, the key to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy once again may fall on the shoulders of a second-round draft pick.
Isaiah Thomas (60th overall, 2011)
Mr. Irrelevant of the NBA’s 2011 draft, Thomas was never projected — or expected — to reach the level of stardom that he has found with the Boston Celtics.
Drafted by the Sacramento Kings, Thomas was acquired by Danny Ainge from the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 19, 2015. Since joining Boston and head coach Brad Stevens, Thomas has exploded to a level of play that isn’t common for a 5-foot-9 point guard selected with the last pick in the draft.
Despite being an afterthought on draft night in 2011, Thomas has gone on to a post the third-highest win shares figure in his class. At 45.4 win shares, only Leonard (55.4) and Jimmy Butler (49.3) rate higher. Irving — selected first overall — sits right behind Thomas at 40.4 win shares.
Entering this postseason as the top-seed in the Eastern Conference, Thomas and the Celtics found themselves down 2-0 to the Chicago Bulls. Looking to avoid getting swept out of the playoffs as the No.1-seed, Thomas orchestrated two straight wins to tie the series.
In Game 3, Thomas posted a near double-double, scoring 16 points and dishing out nine assists. His Game 4 performance was just what the Celtics needed as he scored 33 points to go with seven assists and four rebounds en route to a 104-95 win. After nearly going undrafted, Thomas is positioned to pull his team out from a two-game deficit in the playoffs.
Players selected in the draft lottery may have a better opportunity to serve as franchise cornerstones, but as this season and postseason have shown, it’s unwise to think difference-makers are only available in the first 14 picks of the draft.
NBA Draft Watch: Should You Expect a Flurry Of Trades?
Should you expect a flurry of trades during tonight’s NBA Draft? History says yes!
Draft Day. The event that rebuilding teams have been planning months for is finally upon us. The next wave of NBA stars await their opportunity to play under the brightest of all lights on the biggest of stages. But outside of the rising and falling status of the prospects, each year draft week is filled with a flurry of trade activity and there’s no reason to believe things will be different in 2018.
On Wednesday, the trade market kicked off with the Charlotte Hornets shipping former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for veteran center Timofey Mozgov. The move isn’t all that surprising considering one of the biggest advocates for the Hornets in acquiring Howard from Atlanta last year, Steve Clifford, was fired back in April. In addition to a new head coach, James Borrego, Charlotte also hired a new president of basketball operations and general manager in Mitch Kupchak.
In the deal, Charlotte was able to avoid paying the luxury tax while also creating immediate salary cap flexibility to be players in this year’s market should they choose. For Brooklyn, the team acquires a veteran presence for their youth movement and a consistent double-double anchor on the interior.
The trade also marks consecutive years that Brooklyn was active on the trade front during draft time. Last year, the team acquired former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the Nets haven’t had the luxury of prime draft assets in recent years, the team has had to resort to trades (Russell, Howard) and free agency (Allan Crabbe) to reshape the roster.
Transitioning to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the question can be asked whether this will be the third straight year involving a draft day trade. At the top of the Warriors’ lineup max players reside which means the team has had to find talented gems in the back half of the draft to contribute to their success.
In 2016, the Warriors acquired the rights to the No. 38 overall pick, Patrick McCaw, from the Milwaukee Bucks for cash considerations. In 2017, Golden State acquired the rights to another No. 38 overall pick, Jordan Bell, from the Chicago Bulls for cash considerations.
Notice a trend?
With the Warriors needing to lock NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant into a long term deal this summer and future free agency looming for All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the franchise will need to continue finding young role players to complement their collection of stars.
There could also be a deal involving All-Star level talent.
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Victor Oladipo back in 2016 in a draft week deal with the Orlando Magic. While Oladipo didn’t emerge as an All-Star caliber until the following season (after being dealt to Indiana), there are usually a couple of big names in play come draft night.
Consider the 2017 draft day deal that saw the Chicago Bulls send Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for talented two guard Zach LaVine.
This year, the most prominent name potentially on the market is San Antonio Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard. The rumor mill reports Leonard is frustrated and wants a trade to the Lakers. The Spurs are, of course, attempting to keep their franchise player with a series of meetings. Leonard could become an unrestricted free agent next summer and his public trade demand limits what San Antonio could demand in return. Teams will be hesitant to give up prime assets for a player that won’t commit to their franchise long term. While San Antonio doesn’t have to make an immediate deal their leverage hasn’t been compromised with Leonard’s specific trade destination request.
The NBA Draft can best be described as a crapshoot with prospects being hit or miss. There are teams that make their bones via draft day acquisitions, or working between the lines, which is a storyline to watch during the draft tonight.
NBA Draft Watch: Storylines Heading into Thursday’s Draft
With the NBA Draft just one day away, there is plenty of uncertainty on how things will play out, writes Dennis Chambers.
From now until the conclusion of Thursday night’s NBA draft the landscape is subject to shift and evolve at a moment’s notice.
As of right now, the only thing that we can be most certain about is DeAndre Ayton going first overall to the Phoenix Suns. After that, it’s basically a crapshoot in regards to what might go down.
With media day commencing in New York City on Wednesday, the players that will be present during the draft’s greenroom got the chance to address the droves of media from all over the land about where they might end up, how they might fit in those places, and a few off-the-cuff questions thrown in here and there.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding the league and their selection extravaganza on Thursday night, many people who are usually in the know this time of year seem to be approaching the event erring on the side of caution, more so than in years past.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer echoed that feeling Wednesday afternoon.
The sense I get from chatting with executives and agents is there's far more uncertainty entering the NBA Draft than usual. So many teams are open to moving up, down or out. No consensus outside the lottery. It's gonna be absolute chaos. I'm pumped and jacked for it.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 20, 2018
One of the large looming clouds heading into draft night is the Kawhi Leonard situation. As it stands, Leonard appears to want out of his relationship with the San Antonio Spurs and would prefer to wind up in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on the Lakers being his new employer.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard met with Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday night in order to discuss the situation between San Antonio and their franchise player.
While Wojnarowski has also reported that the Spurs are in no rush to move Leonard, draft night could potentially serve as a motivator in the opposite direction should Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford receive a tempting offer that involves some draft capital. With the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly interested in acquiring Leonard, on the clock with the 10th overall pick, perhaps they can entice the Spurs into sending their star forward packing.
Regardless of if Leonard is traded Thursday night or not, there were certainly be many eyes on his situation over the next 24-plus hours.
Up until about the time a player is selected by their new club, the situation for drafting remains fairly fluid. When the basketball community congregates to New York the day before the event, rumors and confirmation of shifting ideals begin to flourish.
With a lot of the players in this year’s lottery surounded by reasonable question marks, we may see last-minute rising and falling of the prospected hierarchy in prospects. Michael Porter Jr., with questions surrounding his health, and Trae Young having questions about his slight frame and defensive capability, seem to be two subjects of that shuffling just a day before the Thursday night festivities.
Latest buzz: Hearing Michael Porter and Trae Young are both falling, and that even Knicks could pass on Young at 9. Meanwhile Wendell Carter is gaining steam, strong candidate to go in 4-7 range.
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) June 20, 2018
Conversely, the final moments leading up to the time to make a selection, teams can shuffle their opinion based off of their need to bring in star power possibilities — especially high up in the lottery.
Real Madrid star Luka Doncic has been the subject for criticism throughout this year’s draft process. While the 19-year-old has posted some of the best numbers for a player his age in the ACB and Euroleague, NBA evaluators are rightfully questioning if his athleticism can hold up in the league.
Originally figured to slip past the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, who hold the second and third overall picks, respectively, Doncic appears to be gaining last-minute steam within the ranks of the Georgia-based basketball club.
Luka Doncic has moved to forefront of Atlanta's internal conversation on the third overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, league sources tell ESPN. Michigan State's Jaren Jackson and Duke's Marvin Bagley (if Kings pass on Bagley at No. 2) remain in contention for No. 3.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 20, 2018
Even though prospects are surfacing Wednesday in the Big Apple to meet and greet with reporters, and get settled for their big moment on Thursday night, some teams and correlating players are having final sit-downs to profess their admiration for each other.
More specifically, New York native and projected high-end lottery pick, Mo Bamba, reportedly met with his hometown Knicks on Wednesday. Corresponding reports tell the story that the Knicks are exploring the option to trade up in the draft, in hopes to acquire a franchise-caliber center to put alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
Members of the Knicks organization met in-person with Texas’ Mohamed Bamba in New York today, team sources told ESPN. The meeting is an indication that the Knicks are considering trading up from the No. 9 pick. Bamba is projected as the fifth pick in ESPN's latest mock draft.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 20, 2018
DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony added context to further confirm the Knicks’ hope of scoring their first franchise center since Patrick Ewing roamed Madison Square Garden.
Ian's report is accurate. The Knicks are reportedly exploring the option of trading up to the #4 spot in the draft, currently owned by Memphis. The Grizzlies have been adamant about shedding Chandler Parsons' contract in any deal. https://t.co/z4Yp0w6hfq
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 20, 2018
Whatever does wind up happening Thursday night, those watching can be assured that this year’s NBA Draft will contain the necessary amount of chaos to continue the conversation throughout the league while free agency quickly approaches.
Although, if you were anticipating being able to see those draft picks come in a few minutes early on Twitter like in years past, think again.
A source tells AA that ESPN, Turner Sports and Yahoo reporters all won't tip picks at Thursday's NBA Draft. The NBA says they expressed a no-pick-tipping "preference" to their media partners, but claims each organization made its own call. https://t.co/rySL02Nig1
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) June 20, 2018
It looks like those draft night Wojbombs will be reserved for any unforeseen trades, and not who your favorite team will be picking 10 minutes later.
Either way, embrace the insanity. Draft night is upon us.
NBA Daily: What is Cleveland’s Next Move?
Plenty has been made about where LeBron goes this summer, but not much has been made about what Cleveland will do if he leaves.
Usually, when you make the NBA Finals, it’s a good thing. Especially if it was the fourth consecutive time you’ve made it.
For Cleveland though, this season, which would have been deemed a success in any other case, was overshadowed by what can only be compared to a hostage situation. Many speculated that this season was going to be LeBron James’ last as a Cavalier, as rumor had it since last summer that he already has his eyes on his next team.
So the pressure was on in Cleveland, to say the least. They did everything to accommodate LeBron given how shaky the circumstances were. From shipping disgruntled star Kyrie Irving out of town to trading half the team mid-season, this past season has been a bumpy ride. In spite of all the hardship, Cleveland managed to make it to the Finals anyway.
Still, it wasn’t enough. For Cleveland to have a realistic chance at re-signing LeBron this summer, they had to beat Golden State, which wasn’t in the cards. The Cavs may have gotten to the Finals, but the Warriors predictably took them out all too quickly.
All in all, the Cavaliers were so close, and yet so far.
That brings us to now. LeBron’s going to test the free agency waters again. Cleveland will certainly do what they can to bring the King back for another season, and for all we know, LeBron could return to Cleveland, but the odds aren’t in their favor.
Cleveland has to deal with the very real possibility that LeBron will leave this summer, because if and when he does, that leaves the current roster in a flux. Without LeBron, Captain Obvious says that Cleveland’s not going anywhere near the Finals and could also see themselves on the outside of the playoff picture. All signs point to it being time to rebuild, but how exactly do they approach the re-building stage?
It all starts with the Nets pick.
No matter what you think of how Cleveland did when they shuffled half their roster around at the trade deadline, one thing should be universally agreed upon: They made the right move not trading the Nets pick they acquired from the Celtics for Kyrie Irving.
It’s true that the Nets pick this season didn’t pan out as well for the Cavaliers as it had for the Celtics over the last two seasons, but it still wound up being the eighth overall pick in a loaded draft. A valuable asset like that should only be traded for someone who puts you over the top and going to stay long-term. With all apologies to any star who was rumored to be on the market back in February, the Cavs didn’t have that option.
So now, Cleveland has the eighth overall pick, and it’s clear who they should take: The best player available. No matter who that is, the best player available for a team that is most likely starting from scratch is the best option.
Of course, the simpler way of getting young talent is by getting it through the lottery. Getting that Brooklyn pick in the Kyrie Irving deal was a great failsafe for if and when LeBron skips town.
Next is addressing who should be traded.
Cleveland’s uncertain draft pick situation from now until 2020 should also push them towards a rebuild. The team traded their first-round pick this year to the Lakers at the deadline when they acquired Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Next year, they will have to forfeit their first-round pick to the Hawks if they finish outside of the bottom ten. Those protections will roll over to the next year if the Cavs finish in the bottom ten.
Given that the roster isn’t all that impressive outside of LeBron, that would be the best way to go. While the Cavaliers aren’t going to get any value out of Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, and Jordan Clarkson, there are two players who definitely could: Kevin Love and George Hill.
Let’s start with Love. Love will not get back the same value that Cleveland gave up to acquire him, but he’s still a proven commodity at 29 years old who should fetch something back if Cleveland decides to trade him. Love has made the All-Star team over his last two seasons and has done all that Cleveland has asked of him since being traded to the team back in 2014, like him or not.
How much he can fetch back is another story. Rumor has it that the Cavs have dangled Love along with the Nets pick for a star, but no one has bitten on it. Love won’t fetch a star, but he could fetch young assets from a team looking to make a win-now move. He won’t bring back a King’s ransom, but he can bring back something.
Then there’s Hill. If Hill has any interested parties this summer, it may stem from his contract rather than his services. Hill will be on the books for $19 million next season, but the following season, his contract is only guaranteed for $1 million. Now, Cleveland could just wait until next year then waive him, and no one would fault them for that. It would heavily reduce the payroll for a team that, even without LeBron James, is playing with fire with the luxury tax this summer.
Or, they could get an asset(s) out of him. Teams that may want to avoid the luxury tax next year or go after a marquee free agent would salivate for a contract like Hill’s. If the Cavs play their cards right, they could sell Hill’s contract to the highest bidder.
Whether or not they keep Hill will all depend on how Cleveland sees its roster’s future. The team still has Rodney Hood’s restricted free agency this summer, and the team reportedly hopes to keep Nance Jr long-term. If avoiding the luxury tax is what they want more than anything during the rebuild, then keeping Hill is the best option.
That transitions to the final aspect of Cleveland’s potential rebuild: Organizing the roster for the foreseeable future. Cleveland is not completely devoid of youth. They have Hood, Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and even Clarkson, all of whom are young and may have their best days ahead of them. Hood and Clarkson did not pan out well in their half-season in Cleveland, but perhaps that could change if they’re put in the right situation.
It all starts with coaching. Tyronn Lue has done what he can since taking over as head coach in 2016. However, Lue was made head coach because that’s who LeBron wanted running the show. With the King out of the picture, perhaps it might be best to replace Lue with a coach better-suited to nurture youth.
One such name that comes to mind is David Blatt, who has worked with Zizic. Blatt was originally hired in 2014 because of his reputation as a developmental coach, but once LeBron came back, he and Blatt’s tense relationship led to Blatt’s firing half-way through his second season. If LeBron doesn’t return to the team, Blatt could use the strategy he planned to implement when he first arrived.
That is just one idea. The Cavs could keep Lue or they could look at other options, but Blatt would be intriguing. Skeptics would question why Cleveland would bring him back after such a bitter break-up not too long ago, but consider this: The Cavs hired Mike Brown back three years after firing him following the end of LeBron’s first run in Cleveland, so anything is possible.
Re-building is a bridge that Cleveland will have to cross when they come to it. Koby Altman must have known that it was a possibility when he took the reins as general manager last year. The situation he’s found himself in isn’t as hopeless as many have pegged it out to be, but the young GM will have plenty of work to do this summer.