The first rule of summer league is if a player’s performance fits with your predraft assessment of him, it means you’re right. The second rule of summer league is if a player’s performance contradicts your assessment of him, it means nothing — it’s only summer league. After a week of meaningful/less action, our resident draftniks Jonathan Tjarks and Kevin O’Connor took turns redrafting the lottery for the 2017 class and dropped observations and front-office chatter they’ve heard in Vegas. Tjarks, you’re on the clock.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz
Jonathan Tjarks: I really wanted to not take Fultz here since he got injured, but the guy is too great a basketball player not to go first. I’m still all in on Markelle, though I do think the leadership concerns around him are legitimate. I talked to someone in the Philly organization who said Dario Saric was the leader of its young core, that he was one of the nicest and hardest-working guys he had ever been around. It makes sense when you consider all the whispers about Ben Simmons and what a goofball Joel Embiid tends to be. Kevin, you’re pretty big into character stuff; have you heard anything about Fultz off the court? His refusal to smile in pictures is weird.
Kevin O’Connor: This is a true story: I was sitting close to the Sixers bench during their game against the Lakers on Wednesday at Thomas & Mack Center. Sometime in the second half, there was a kiss cam on the Jumbotron. I noticed Fultz was watching, so I locked my eyes on him to see if he’d focus back onto his coaches. He only periodically turned his head toward the huddle, instead focusing primarily on the kiss cam. There were people around the stadium laughing — but Fultz stayed straight. I kid you not. He didn’t once smile, smirk, chuckle, giggle, or laugh. Seeing Fultz smile would’ve been like spotting Bigfoot.
I don’t think it’s a big deal, though it would’ve been nice to see full attentiveness from him in what was a close game. But the whole smiling thing is just good fun when he’s juxtaposed with the always-beaming Embiid. Fultz might not be as mature as players like De’Aaron Fox or Donovan Mitchell, but I doubt he will clash with either Embiid or Simmons. If anything, Embiid’s and Fultz’s demeanors complement each other. I have other thoughts on Philly’s locker-room chemistry, but we’ll save ’em for another day.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball
O’Connor: Fultz is the right pick at no. 1. He’s going to be terrific. We’re also staying the same at no. 2, with Lonzo Ball. I don’t have a lot to say about Lonzo that my friend and teammate Paolo Uggetti didn’t already note after Wednesday’s 36-point, 11-assist performance. But I do want to add this: The it factor is a real thing, and Lonzo has it.
3. Boston Celtics: Dennis Smith Jr.
Tjarks: Is this an overreaction to how well Smith has played in Vegas? Probably. Do I think he’s really the third-best player in the draft? Possibly. Am I all on in Smith? Definitely.
The thing that impresses me the most about DSJ is his combination of athleticism and poise. Not many players who are as explosive as he is play as under control as he does. Smith isn’t out here mashing the turbo button and dribbling into traffic. The game is already slow for him; he can read the floor and he rarely gets sped up. He was just toying with the bad defenders you see in summer league. Most impressively of all, he was hustling and trying hard on defense. I asked Smith about defense at his Mavericks introductory press conference a few weeks ago, and he was honest about himself and his team. "I want to learn exactly how to play defense," Smith said. "That’s not something that we really was pressed about last year." That makes sense when you consider that NC State was never in the top 150 in defense under Mark Gottfried, per Sports-Reference, despite having a ton of elite athletes.
If Boston had drafted Smith, it would have had a lead ball handler of the future and wouldn’t need to back up the Brink’s truck for a 29-year-old, 5-foot-9 guard who thinks he’s the best player in the league.
4. Phoenix Suns: Jayson Tatum
O’Connor: I thought you’d take Dennis Smith Jr. with the first pick over Fultz! I don’t think it’s an overreaction to put him in the top-five conversation. I had him in my second tier, and maybe he’d be bumped up a few spots from no. 7 to no. 4. Smith looks unbelievable, and fell into a perfect situation with Dallas. I don’t think we have another Kris Dunn situation on our hands. Smith is the real deal. So is Jayson Tatum, and that’s why he’s going no. 4 (though Josh Jackson still would’ve been Phoenix’s man, had the real draft fallen this way).
I’ve made my thoughts on Tatum clear before the draft: He’s a shot-maker who someday could be relied upon to finish games. I feel more strongly about my Tatum evaluation than I did before the draft. Tatum has shown off all the goods: hitting shots coming off screens, slashing, cutting, and scoring without a screen. Tatum’s isolation-scoring skill level is far ahead of the curve. If every 19-year-old first-round pick of the century were graded on their footwork, Tatum would be one of the outliers. There aren’t many players with his knack for scoring at such a young age.
Tjarks: Tatum is very much an eye-of-the-beholder prospect. A lot of NBA folks here in Vegas are high on him, but I still see a guy who struggled to create space against Kyle Kuzma. Boston is a great spot for him since he’ll have to be forced to move the ball and defend to earn minutes. I don’t see Gordon or IT being too interested in watching Tatum commandeer high-post isos.
5. Sacramento Kings: Donovan Mitchell
Tjarks: Mitchell has been awesome. He’s just faster than everyone else at summer league. I like Wade Baldwin IV, but it was sad watching him try to stay with Mitchell. Donovan makes NBA guards look like they are playing in mud. If the jumper is legit, and it certainly seems to be, he’s going to be a big-time scoring guard who can also defend. I’m thinking a more explosive Avery Bradley. It will be interesting to see what happens in Utah, since Mitchell and Ricky Rubio are both better in an up-tempo system.
O’Connor: Mitchell is purely awesome. I regret not ranking him higher than no. 10.
6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac
O’Connor: At no. 6, I’d get queasy about drafting another nonshooting point guard like Elfrid Payton, so that eliminates De’Aaron Fox. That leaves Jonathan Isaac as a best-player-available pick. He looked terrific defensively, moving his feet on the perimeter, competing on the boards, and protecting the rim. In the Orlando summer league, the Magic are doing a good job of enabling him to attack off the dribble, too. Isaac still has a basic bag of ballhandling tricks, and he defers too often. But that’s who Isaac is: a winning high-end role player, with the upside to be more.
I gotta admit: I feel sick that Fox is falling so far when he’s tearing up the Las Vegas summer league. What’s our deal? Are we overthinking this? I still would’ve liked to have seen Fox go no. 5 to the Kings over Mitchell. What are you doing at no. 7? Are the Bulls trading again in our redraft?
7. Chicago Bulls: De’Aaron Fox
Tjarks: De’Aaron being the fifth PG to come off the board shows just how deep this year’s draft is. He might end up being better than this spot. There’s just nothing he could show in the summer league environment. The four guys ahead of him are all better shooters, and he’s going to have to prove that he can consistently shoot 3s over the course of an NBA season. Either way, I’d rather have him as my PG of the future than Kris Dunn or Cam Payne.
O’Connor: I don’t get the deal then, even less so than the actual Lauri Markkanen pick. With your redraft, are you thinking of a three-guard starting backcourt of Zach LaVine, Dunn, and Fox? Or is Fox the haul here, and Dunn just a high-end reserve?
Tjarks: If I’m Chicago in this redraft, I still want LaVine, but I’d rather keep no. 16 and get a future pick than get Dunn. If Dunn has to come in this trade, then I’m slotting him in as a defensive-minded backup. Either way, he’s not good enough to make me rearrange who I’m taking at no. 7 based on his being on the roster.
8. New York Knicks: Josh Jackson
O’Connor: At no. 8, we have the Knicks. Josh Jackson falling this far also doesn’t feel right. He’s still not shooting the ball well in summer league — which, as we’ve discussed countless times before, is a major issue — but he’s been extremely impressive using on-ball screens.
The nice thing about Jackson is he’s more than just a defender: He’s a good ball handler and passer. I’m not as infatuated with his game as others are, but this summer he’s showcased why so many people do love it.
Tjarks: Jackson at no. 8 is pretty low. I like his game a lot and I don’t think he’s quite as bad a shooter as he’s being advertised. He’s not Andre Roberson, and he should be OK in Phoenix playing next to Devin Booker and Dragan Bender (who I’m still quite high on). Part of the reason why we have him this low is that it’s much easier for lead guards to look good in summer league than wings. Getting distracted by the new, bright and shiny thing is kind of the whole point of this. The other half is that the five teams who we have taking PGs all need primary ball handlers (or will in the near future, if we are counting Boston).
9. Dallas Mavericks: Frank Ntilikina
Tjarks: I didn’t get a chance to watch Frank because he got injured early in the summer, but I still believe in him as a good NBA guard who can run an offense, stretch the floor, and slide among multiple positions on defense. For as much grief as Phil Jackson got for his time with the Knicks, the team’s international scouting was great. I’ll trust that the guys who took Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez know what they are doing. Funny story I heard about Frank: He took a train ride with this French coach when he was younger, and the coach was impressed because it was the first time he had ever seen a player read a book on a trip.
O’Connor: I wonder what book he was reading. There’s a big difference between Twilight and Outliers. I’m not judging, I’m just saying!
Tjarks: Typical response from a Northeastern elitist.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Lauri Markkanen
O’Connor: Let’s pretend the Kings and Blazers exchange no. 10 for no. 15 and no. 20, just like they did on draft night. If I’m Portland, I want to take Malik Monk or Luke Kennard here, but they’re horrific fits alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, due to the trio’s collective lack of defensive ability and size. So let’s go with Lauri Markkanen. I’ve been quite critical of Markkanen as a prospect, but that’s only in the context of being the no. 7 pick — ahead of a handful of other prospects that I ranked a tier higher. The way the board has shaken out here, Markkanen makes sense. The Blazers can go all in on scoring and forget about defense. If Markkanen reaches his peak offensively, the Blazers would have a devastating perimeter attack.
Tjarks: I still like Zach Collins to Portland. I’m not a big fan on tripling down even further on offense with Dame, and C.J. Collins didn’t have a great summer league but he’s got much more defensive upside than Lauri and he projects to be a decent floor spacer for a big. And the whole point of having two lead guards and paying them mega bucks is so you can focus on defense with the other three spots in the lineup.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk
Tjarks: There’s always room in the NBA for an athletic guy who can dribble and shoot 3s. Charlotte is a great landing spot for Monk. The Hornets need a player who can score, and they should be able to carry him on defense.
O’Connor: What happened to your dude OG Anunoby? You had him ranked fourth on your big board — ahead of the last five picks you’ve made in this redraft — so I’m surprised. Have you since soured or are you just feeling that much better about these other players?
Tjarks: I still love OG. There’s just no point in slotting someone who was drafted no. 23 in a lottery redraft when he hasn’t played in summer league. An interesting story that I’ve heard from several people in summer league is that OG was the guy the Nuggets were targeting at 24 when they traded down from 13. They apparently thought Masai Ujiri was not going to take him. Oops.
O’Connor: I heard something similar over the weekend. It must’ve been a blow when Toronto pulled the trigger and Denver was left with Tyler Lydon. The Nuggets have done a lot of things right over the years. Lydon over guys like Jonah Bolden or Anzejs Pasecniks is one choice I don’t get.
12. Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard
O’Connor: I like OG, but Luke Kennard is still the man for the Pistons, especially with Donovan Mitchell far off the board. Kennard looked like he belonged at the Orlando summer league, and he seems to have tightened his handle since the end of his season at Duke. Kennard gets compared a lot to J.J. Redick, but I think there’s a chance he’s the next Manu Ginobili.
Kennard moves so fluidly with the ball in his hands. He can hit high-degree-of-difficulty shots, and he has an underrated knack for passing. Defense will be an issue for Kennard.
Tjarks: KOC is out here living his best life and comparing Kennard to Manu. I love it. Kennard is really skilled, and he might be able to run some point in the future. That said, when I make the Manu comp, I think of an elite athlete who can live at the free throw line and get wherever he wants to go on the court against elite defenders. I think of a guy like R.J. Barrett, the Canadian teenager whom I profiled this week who just upset Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup.
13. Utah Jazz: Jonah Bolden
Tjarks: Bolden is another one of my guys. He’s great. Bigs who can switch screens, shoot 3s, block shots, and make plays with the ball should not have fallen to the second round. The knocks on him? He had a bad season at UCLA two years ago, and there are some character concerns. I’m OK with it because I like gambling on talent. Bolden gave Celtics 7-footer Ante Zizic trouble out in Vegas, and if Bolden can play the 5, he opens up a lot of interesting lineup possibilities. Had the Nuggets not traded down, I would have loved to see an all-international frontcourt of Bolden and Nikola Jokic.
14. Miami Heat: John Collins
O’Connor: John Collins shooting 3-pointers is a game changer. He’s taken and made only one so far, but the fact that he’s stretched his range is encouraging. Atlanta’s core is low-key really good with Collins, DeAndre Bembry, and Taurean Prince. Too bad for them that that Collins is getting snatched by the Heat in our redraft. Miami is likely ecstatic about Bam Adebayo’s progress so far, but Collins is far more dynamic offensively.
Tjarks: Collins has been good in Vegas, and his athleticism is impressive in person. I do feel like this setting is the perfect place for his game, and I’m still not entirely sold on him. How well he can shoot at the NBA level is so important for Collins because it’s hard to fit him in a lineup without it. Can he start next to Dewayne Dedmon if he can’t space the floor? Because he isn’t anchoring a defense as a center next to a stretch big man or a small-ball 4. The good thing for Collins is that he can put up big counting stats in Atlanta, and even if they don’t impact winning, no one’s going to hold it against him because they the Hawks are going to be such a bad team. He’s definitely going to put up some highlights this season.