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The Five Best Second-Round Picks in the 2017 NBA Draft

Predicting the next Isaiah Thomas or even Malcolm Brogdon may be one of the most difficult things to do in the league, but these five teams may have stumbled onto some extremely valuable pieces to their roster puzzle

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

Looking for talent in the second round of the NBA draft is mostly a fool’s errand. First-round picks get guaranteed contracts worth several million dollars, so their teams will usually give them chance after chance before letting them go. A lot of second-rounders are drafted onto teams without any open roster spots, and many never get the opportunity to show what they can do before heading overseas. The second round is not a meritocracy. Players are often selected based off relationships teams have with their agents, as well as their willingness to be stashed in Europe rather than report to training camp.

However, every year there’s always a few who end up making a big splash in the league. Isaiah Thomas, taken with the last pick in 2011, is the patron saint of players overlooked on draft night, and every guy taken after pick 30 this year is trying to be the next Malcolm Brogdon or Patrick McCaw. The odds of making it at the next level as a second-rounder are long, but someone will beat them. There’s not much time to relax and enjoy being picked: Most of the 2017 draftees will be headed to Orlando or Las Vegas in a few weeks to play in summer league games that will be simultaneously meaningless and immensely competitive.

The team that hits on a second-round pick will reap tremendous value from getting a good young player on such a dirt-cheap contract. The Bucks will be paying Brogdon only $1.5 million in 2019, and they will have the right to match any contract he receives in restricted free agency the following season. There’s no downside to swinging and missing on guys in this range, which is why selling picks, rather than just trading them for future seconds, is a classic example of penny-wise and pound-foolish thinking. No one knows who is going to be a solid NBA contributor this late in the draft, but you at least have to give yourself the opportunity to take a shot. Here are my five guesses as to the guys who will end up outperforming their draft slots this season:

Jordan Bell, Warriors

The Bulls ought to be ashamed of themselves for selling this pick. Not only are they beginning a complete rebuild following the decision to trade Jimmy Butler, but they let the reigning NBA champions add an interesting prospect for nothing more than cash. No team in the league needs young talent more than Chicago does at this point, and no team needs it less than Golden State. Even though the Warriors gave the Bulls $3.5 million, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer in this transaction. The Bulls had better hope Bell, the 38th pick, doesn’t pan out, because they will look bad in a few years if he does.

After Chris Boucher tore his ACL in the Pac-12 tournament, Bell turned himself into the NCAA version of Draymond Green, almost single-handedly carrying Oregon to the Final Four. He switched screens and locked up smaller players on the perimeter, controlled the lane as an interior defender, dominated the glass, and picked apart opposing defenses from the high post. The only thing he didn’t do well was box out, and it ended up costing Oregon a chance to play in the national title game. Nevertheless, Bell’s combination of athleticism and high basketball IQ makes him a perfect fit for the way Golden State plays.

The main concern about Bell is that he’s slender (6-foot-8 and 225 pounds) and he’s not a good shooter, so his best chance to succeed at the next level is in a relatively narrow role as a small-ball 5 who comes off the bench for a perimeter-oriented team. However, the Warriors are currently filling that role with James Michael McAdoo, who hasn’t given much indication that he knows how to play basketball despite the countless opportunities Steve Kerr has given him. Don’t be surprised if Bell is playing important minutes in next season’s playoffs. He’s exactly the type of switchable big man that teams need to beat the Warriors, and now he’ll be playing for them. Bulls fans aren’t the only ones who should be mad at their front office.

Jawun Evans, Clippers

It’s hard to know exactly how big a role Jerry West is playing in the Clippers front office in his first week as a consultant, but someone in L.A. was paying attention in the second round when they traded for the rights to Evans (no. 39) and Sindarius Thornwell (no. 48). It’s a sharp contrast to what they did in the same spot last season, when they drafted a slow-footed and post-oriented big man (Diamond Stone) with little chance of ever playing for them. The odds of Doc Rivers playing a pair of rookies are still low, but Evans and Thornwell are both good enough to conceivably earn minutes right away.

Evans, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, was arguably the best point guard in the country this season. KenPom had OSU as the no. 1-rated offense in the NCAA by adjusted efficiency, even though Evans was their only player in the DraftExpress’s Top 100. It’s not hard to figure out why: Evans generated 0.992 points per possession every time he ran the pick-and-roll, and he ran the play a mind-boggling 526 times this season, almost twice as often as Dennis Smith Jr. (365) and Markelle Fultz (312) did. Brad Underwood, OSU’s first-year head coach, scrapped his preferred full-court press halfway through the season, spread the floor on offense, and turned over the reins of his team to his star point guard.

Evans fell in the draft because he’s undersized (5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, albeit with a 6-foot-5 wingspan) and he struggles to finish at the rim, but there’s no better point guard in the NBA to learn how to minimize those weaknesses from than Chris Paul, assuming he stays in Los Angeles. Eric Bledsoe went from a raw athlete to a finished product after spending two years in the CP3 Finishing School for Point Guards, and Evans could end up following in his footsteps. Thornwell, meanwhile, might be a better two-way player than any of the wings in the Clippers rotation right now — though that says as much about those guys as it does about him.

Jonah Bolden, 76ers

Sixers fans interested in a deeper dive on Bolden, selected at no. 36, can check out the profile I wrote about him last week. He left a dysfunctional situation in UCLA two years ago and thrived in his one season in Serbia, winning the same award for the top prospect in the Adriatic League given to Dario Saric and Nikola Jokic in recent years. Philadelphia is going to need shooting around Ben Simmons, and Bolden shot 41.9 percent from 3 on 4.2 attempts a game this season in Europe. He’s just not a shooter either: Bolden is athletic enough to switch screens and protect the rim, and he’s a good passer with the ability to clean the glass and push the pace himself or make plays off the dribble. He will need to get bought out of his contract with his European team, but he has more than enough talent to justify whatever hoops the 76ers need to jump through to bring him over.

Sterling Brown, Bucks

Semi Ojeleye, taken by the Celtics at no. 37, got most of the press out of SMU this season, but the prospect people within the program raved about was Brown, whom the Bucks grabbed at no. 46. The younger brother of longtime NBA player Shannon Brown, Sterling was one of Larry Brown’s first recruits to Dallas, and he grew as a player in each of his four years at SMU. He has everything teams are looking for in a 3-and-D prospect except elite athleticism, but he has the size, toughness, and basketball IQ to make up for that lack of foot speed at the NBA level.

Brown was a key cog in one of the most efficient offenses in the country, although he was never a featured player for the Mustangs. His shooting percentages were off the charts. He shot 44.9 percent from 3 on 3.9 attempts per game as as a senior, and in a smaller role as a junior, he shot 63.2 percent from 2-point range on 4.2 attempts per game and 53.6 percent from 3 on 1.9 attempts per game. Brown should have no trouble extending his shooting range out past the NBA 3-point line, and he’s an excellent playmaker who can attack closeouts and make difficult passes on the move at the next level.

At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Brown should be able to switch screens and guard three different positions at the NBA level. He’s the perfect fit for the positionless style of basketball that Jason Kidd likes to play, and he could easily wind up taking minutes from guys like Rashad Vaughn, who was a first-round pick drafted in 2015 after his freshman season at UNLV. An NBA career is equal parts marathon and sprint. Vaughn began his a lot earlier than Brown did, but Brown’s starting point is so far ahead of Vaughn’s that it might not even matter.

Frank Jackson, Pelicans

Making it as a second-round pick is as much about opportunity as it is talent, and few guys taken in the second round will have more of a chance than Jackson, and not just because he was taken at no. 31. The Hornets originally made the selection as part of their trade for Dwight Howard, but they ended up selling the pick to the Pelicans in exchange for moving back to no. 40. New Orleans has a desperate need for size, 3-point shooting, and athleticism on the perimeter, and Jackson provides all three in spades. He may not provide much else, but the Pelicans can’t afford to be choosy, not with Jrue Holiday set to enter free agency.

At last year’s McDonald’s All American Game, Jackson won the MVP award and the dunk contest, and a lot was expected of him at Duke. However, the team never coalesced due to injuries from both their roster and Coach K, and Jackson never really got into much of a groove playing with so many other ball-dominant players like Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, and Grayson Allen. With five-star point guard Trevon Duval coming to Durham next season, Jackson saw the writing on the wall and declared for the draft, despite putting up only mediocre stats this season.

At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Jackson is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, and he will need to prove he is a better playmaker than he showed at Duke if he’s ever going to be given the chance to run a team. The good news for the Pelicans is that he’s at his best when he’s jacking 3s off the dribble, which is exactly what they need. After the trade deadline, there were a lot of games where no one else besides Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins had to be guarded. At the very least, Jackson should provide some scoring punch off the bench. He may never be anything more than Jerryd Bayless, but a young Bayless would be a perfect fit in New Orleans.