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NBA Daily: Three Keys to the 2019 NBA Draft

The NBA Draft process involves high-stakes decision making. Basketball Insiders writer Drew Maresca examines three keys to the 2019 NBA Draft that are holding up other teams from deciding upon a singular draft strategy.

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The 2019 NBA Draft is rapidly approaching. It is now a mere 19 days away and, as is often the case, a lot is left to be sorted out in the final three weeks.

While all teams must make a final decision on each of their picks in the draft, there are a few decisions that are holding up other teams from fleshing out a singular draft strategy.

Let’s examine three keys to the 2019 NBA Draft.

Key 1: The Knicks must make the first tough decision

The Knicks hold the first key to the 2019 NBA Draft in that they are the first team that will have a tough decision to make. The first two selections are mostly set in stone. And despite R.J. Barrett being the (nearly) consensus third best player, the Knicks have displayed at least a willingness to explore other options. In addition to Barrett, the Knicks have been linked to Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Duke’s Cam Reddish with the third overall pick.

When considering who a team might select, it is more complicated than selecting the most talented player. It’s also more complicated than taking the best fit, too. Front offices have their own preferences pertaining to style of play, schools and/or conferences from which the players hail. Additionally, some front offices are more prone to trade up or down in the draft based on their appetite for risk. So let’s quickly review the past draft picks of New York’s front office, which is led by their President of Basketball Operations, Steve Mills, and General Manager, Scott Perry.

Prior to hiring Perry, Mills was the Knicks’ General Manager from 2014-2017. In his tenure as the team’s GM, Mills’ oversaw the selection of Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Anteokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson and Ognjen Jaramaz.

Scott Perry has served as a basketball executive in the front offices of the Pistons, Sonics/Thunder, Magic, Kings and Knicks. Over the course of his more than 10+ seasons in the NBA, Perry has a number of draft day wins like Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Durant, Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo (although he blossomed after being traded from Orlando) and De’Aaron Fox.

He’s also had his share of less successful picks, including Rodney White (selected one pick before Joe Johnson), Darko Milicic (selected before Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony) and Greg Monroe (whose career started off strongly, but who was also selected before Paul George and Gordon Hayward).

Together the pair selected Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robison in 2018.

What trends can we identify from their past picks? From a personnel standpoint, Perry clearly likes dynamic lead guards – he selected Knight, Oladipo, Payton, Fox and Ntilikina, all of whom were drafted as point guards and are at least 6-foot-3. If the Knicks landed the second pick, Ja Morant might be their guys given Perry’s past. But since he’s strongly being considered by the Grizzlies, it looks like Morant is off the table.

What types of players does Mills prefer to draft? Mills hasn’t provided a clear or specific strategy. Rather, he has taken a few swings of the bat in his limited time in charge of the Knicks. Mills is clearly unafraid of taking a chance on a relatively unproven player – with Porzingis (who worked out pretty well save for the long-term relationship) and Ntilikina (who is a trade candidate in the lead-up to the 2019 NBA Draft) both being mostly unknown to U.S. fans.

And while the players Mills has proven to be unafraid of less proven players, Perry’s selections have largely hailed from major NCAA programs.

But Barrett, Culver and Reddish all project to be wings in the NBA, ranging in height from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8. And they are all from major NCAA programs. Therefore, there is no trend in either of their histories that helps identify which of the three they may be leaning toward.

With that being said, it might be in the Knicks’ best interest to explore trading back since their immediate future is more closely tied to free agency than it is to the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers are reported to be highly interested in Barrett, and the Knicks could probably pry additional, valuable assets from them in a swap that would also have to include the fifth overall pick (thus, netting them Reddish or Culver, too).

They could try to exchange the third pick and some combination of Knox, Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr. for a superstar player like Bradley Beal or even Anthony Davis. But that would require a leap of faith the Knicks might not be quite ready to make – consider the fallout if they did so and no other stars followed.

Regardless of which direction they take, lots of other teams’ draft plans are tied to whatever the Knicks choose to do.

Presently, Basketball Insider’s 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft(5-28-19) projects the Knicks will select Barrett.

Key 2: The Lakers are in a similar situation to the Knicks

The Los Angeles Lakers have similar hopes of luring free agents to their roster this offseason. Despite all of the toxicity around the team, they are actually farther along in their quest to do so thanks to the presence of LeBron James on their roster.

But James’ presence also makes the Lakers appear more desperate, as well. After all, they are built around a 34-year old. And their remaining roster is mostly as follows: Lonzo Ball (21 years old), Kyle Kuzma (23), Brandon Ingram (21), Josh Hart (24), Moritz Wagner (22) and Isaac Bonga (19).

Notice anything similar about the aforementioned players? They’re all under 25 years-old, which means there is limited veteran know-how.

The Lakers need a lot of help, but one thing they don’t need more of is youth. It is a foregone conclusion that they will reengage the Pelicans in trade talks for Anthony Davis, using the fourth pick in the draft as part of their trade package.

While the Knicks can conceivably add the third overall pick to their roster and still attract two superstar free agents, the Lakers should do all they can to cash in the pick and a young asset or two in exchange for a more established talent, which would almost certainly catapult them into contention next season.

And if the Pelicans choose a different team as their trade partner (or decide to hang onto Davis), the Lakers should also reach out to the Wizards about Beal, Houston about Chris Paul and essentially any other team with an age-appropriate running mate for LeBron James (with a requisite amount of talent).

Presently, Basketball Insider’s 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft (5-28-19) projects that the Lakers will select Duke’s Cam Reddish with the fourth pick.

Key 3: Will the Celtics actually add three first-round picks to their roster?

The Celtics are the final piece to the first-round puzzle. They are at a bit of a crossroads in that both of their point guards could flee Boston (Kyrie Irving is rumored to prefer playing at either Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center and Terry Rozier may want out of Boston, too).

But all is not lost. They still have Gordon Hayward, Al Horford (player option, which appears likely to be picked up), Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart all under contract through at least the end of next season.

They also possess the 14th, 20th, 22nd and 51st picks in the 2019 draft. And therein lies the problem.

Their core consists of a decent mix of youth and veteran talent. And while Coach Brad Stevens is thought to be an excellent leader, the team does not need to incorporate as many as four more rookies into their rotation.

The 51st pick could be used on a draft-and-stash player from overseas. But three first-round picks would require lot of attention and result in lots of teachable moments – which would likely distract them from their end-goal (e.g., an NBA Championship).

Fortunately for the Celtics, adding three first-round draft picks isn’t a detriment to all teams. As the draft approaches, the Celtics must diligently explore all their trade options. They must reach out to teams that may be interested in adding multiple first-rounders in exchange for one slightly higher lottery pick (than their existing 14thpick) – especially if there is one particular player with whom they become infatuated.

They must also interface with teams that might want to trade away a borderline star in exchange for current (and future) draft capital – keep in mind, the Celtics also possess the Grizzles top-six protected pick in 2020 (which becomes unprotected in 2021 if it doesn’t convey in 2020) which can also be included in a trade.

Presently, Basketball Insider’s 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft (5-28-19) projects that the Celtics will select Kentucky’s PJ Washington at 14, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando at 20, Washington’s Matisse Thybulle at 22 and Tennessee’s Jordan Bone at 51.

The NBA Draft is essentially the pseudo-start to free agency, with teams beginning to swap picks and players. There stands to be as much, if not more, action this year than ever before. And the three teams mentioned above – New York, Los Angeles and Boston – very well may be the most active.

Basketball Insiders contributor residing in the Bronx, New York.

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