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Five Unanswered Questions Heading Into the 2017 NBA Draft

Here are a number of story lines, both big and small, that will define what could be one of the best nights of non-basketball the NBA has offered in recent memory

(AP Images/Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

What Will the Knicks Do?

Great f*cking question.

I remember sitting behind the green room tables at Barclays Center in 2015 when Kristaps Porzingis was selected fourth overall by the Knicks. I remember the strange, cacophonous melange of boos and groans and fans straining themselves to make their "WHAT?!" heard. In front of me was Karl-Anthony Towns’s father asking us media if he could use the power strip beneath our table to charge his phone. To the far left was Kristaps, giving his immediate reaction to then–ESPN correspondent Shannon Spake. "I want you to look around. Look at all these fans," she said, as the aggrieved hum of the fans was still coming down. "This is your future, these folks in here. Why did you want to be with this team so bad?"

Porzingis replied, with a smile. "It’s my dream to play in New York as I said in the interviews before the draft. It’s just an amazing feeling being drafted by the Knicks. … Hopefully I can be a part of something special."

He wasn’t. He wasn’t part of something special. He was the whole thing. Remember when one of the three best players in the world called him a "unicorn" mere months after debuting? That was a moment that would forever change the modern vernacular of basketball. In his early brilliance, he helped clarify the future of the league as a whole. He helped contribute to that in spite of the Knicks being awful. That’s how important he is as a present-day NBA figure.

I think about those boos he got on draft night, and how quickly he turned that outrage into elation. And then I think about whatever it is the Knicks are going to be getting in return in a trade. Whether it’s Josh Jackson and Lauri Markkanen, or Jackson and Malik Monk, or a cadre of established players, I can only imagine the reaction in the arena then. Imagine being what’s left over after the shiniest bit of hope the Knicks franchise has had in decades is evicted from his rightful seat.

How Will the Kings Make Things Interesting This Year?

Vlade Divac is entering his third summer as part of the Kings front office, and he has a lot of work to do if he wants to match the absurdity of his first two. The summer of 2015 saw the Kings execute one of the worst trades ever, punting on Nik Stauskas, a future first-round pick, and a pick swap that would end up being the no. 3 pick in this year’s draft. Last year, the Kings set a new standard for left-field draft picks by acquiring Georgios Papagiannis at 13, which felt like Vlade had lost a bet as much as it felt like the team was high on the young center’s raw talent. So what’s cooking Thursday?

The Kings are in possession of picks no. 5 and 10, which is prime real estate for teams looking to trade down or out of the draft. Reports had the Kings rejecting a trade from the Lakers that would allow them to move up to no. 2 in exchange for their two lottery slots. What would the Celtics, who have as many assets as a dog has teeth, need to add to sweeten the deal? Would the Kings have enough to package with the 5 and 10 to net Porzingis?

The Kings could very well be the pivot point of the entire draft depending on whether they move their bounty or keep it for themselves. Occam’s razor suggests staying put and hoping De’Aaron Fox is around at no. 5 (small markets should never take for granted a prospect who actually wants to save the franchise), then take the best player available at 10. It’d be low on dramatics, but I think Kings fans are OK with that.

Which Surefire Lottery Pick Will Unexpectedly Plummet Down the Board?

It’s going to happen. In a draft this deep in lottery talent, with tiers blurring immediately after the top two or three prospects, all it takes is one team to go against the grain to set off a chain reaction that will make for one unhappy green room attendee. It seems like a safe bet to be one of the myriad lottery-caliber point guards not named Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. If the Knicks continue to stoke the flames of chaos, it might not be a triangle guard that they’re after with the no. 8 pick. And if trade winds continue blowing in every which direction, the Mavs could be sitting pretty with a wider array of prime options than they’d originally predicted. As such, Frank Ntilikina seems like a solid candidate to drop in that situation, given the interest both teams have shown. Dennis Smith Jr., arguably the most explosive player in the draft, is another prospect who could find himself slipping past the top 10 if weirdness descends upon the draft board — in which case, we’re looking at the potential steal of the lottery.

Who Will Be the Most Obscure International Player Drafted?

I had my hopes set on Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot, a 20-year-old French wing who stands nearly 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. It wasn’t necessarily for his skills — Eliezer-Vanerot has the standard makeup of a theoretical 3-and-D role player with excellent length and athleticism, and a rough, unproven perimeter game — but because I think NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum would have a blast saying his name. Remember Adam Silver saying Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot last year? Like butter. Unfortunately, Eliezer-Vanerot withdrew at the international deadline.

There are the Pterosaurs of the deep draft: Frenchman and noted Rich Homie Quan fan Alpha Kaba, who has a near 7-foot-6 wingspan as a 6-foot-10 big; and Brazilian George de Paula, a 6-foot-6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan. Obscure might not be the word for these guys. They’ve been on the draft radar, floating in and out of mock drafts for two years, and both players have reasons for wanting to cash in on their progress this time around. Kaba spent the past season playing for Serbia’s Mega Leks, which has become something of a second-round draft-and-stash farm team, producing six draftees since 2014 (including Nikola Jokic, Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Ivica Zubac). De Paula, who has largely coasted on the prestige of his absolutely ridiculous measurements, finally put together a noteworthy season in Brazil; teams in search of a player in the vein of Frank Ntilikina might look to settle in the second round for de Paula, who has a similarly freakish build, but is more than two years older, not as athletic, and without the same innate basketball instincts.

If I have to lock in a pick, let’s go with Aleks Vezenkov, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-9 triple-citizen of Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus who most recently played for Barcelona as a stretch forward. He’s been a pro since he was 16, and all he’s done in his time since is get buckets: At 19, he was the Greek League MVP, averaging nearly 17 points per game. He’s a lefty with excellent hands, and shoots well from long range — his form has an unconventional slinging motion reminiscent of Peja Stojakovic’s back in the day, but mirrored. OK, so what’s the downside? Well, he’s slow. How slow? In Kevin O’Connor’s 2015 NBA Draft Guide, KOC left some pretty damning notes:

"PLAYING HARD ONLY GETS HIM SO FAR."

"HIS FEET LOOK LIKE THEY’RE IN SLUDGE WHEN HE MOVES LATERALLY."

Fran Fraschilla will have nicer things to say, I’m sure.

What Happens With Jonathan Jeanne?

In 2014, mere days before the NBA draft, it was disclosed that Isaiah Austin, a likely first-round pick, was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue in the body and often leads to compromised heart valves. It put a halt to his professional basketball dreams, and on draft night that year, the NBA made a touching gesture by allowing him to go through the formalities of donning a cap, walking up the steps, and shaking the commissioner’s hand. Last year he was cleared to play; this year, he finished his first season in Serbia.

Earlier this month, Jeanne was diagnosed with the same disorder. He was a consensus top-30 prospect in The Ringer’s 2017 NBA Draft Guide before the news broke. Jeanne is a unique player — a 7-foot-2 big man who glides around the court in a way reminiscent of Willie Cauley-Stein. He had a developing 3-point shot, and incredible lateral agility that made projecting his ability to switch onto smaller players easy. One of our comparisons in the draft guide was "a hornless Kristaps Porzingis." While he fell out of our top 60 due to his health concerns, perhaps Austin’s situation may have given teams hope of securing a first-round talent late in the draft. DraftExpress currently has him situated in the 59th spot. The latest reports have Jeanne back in France, running tests at hospitals and clinics in both Lyon and Paris. He probably won’t be on hand at Barclays Center to receive the kind of ovation Austin was given three years ago, but whatever happens tonight, he won’t be Mr. Irrelevant.