The draft is the closest thing to Christmas in the NBA outside of ... the NBA on Christmas. But Thursday is still around the corner: the presents are still wrapped, and we’re getting a little antsy. Here are seven questions we can’t wait to see answered.
Whither Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
Distance, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder. Gilgeous-Alexander, the Kentucky star expected to be drafted in the lottery, has seen interest in his talents surge over the past few days: The Toronto Raptors are looking into hopping into the lottery via trade to bring him back to the Canadian province of Ontario, the Hornets at no. 11 are reportedly the floor for where he would be selected (according to Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo), and the most recent ESPN mock draft has him all the way at no. 8 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All that commotion for a player who, by all public accounts, has not worked out or met with any team during the predraft process.
Casting oneself into an inscrutable veil of intrigue has been a tried-and-true draft strategy for lottery-bound prospects. In the protozoan era of NBA draft internet, when all anyone had on an overseas player was a short descriptive blurb from an unreliable source and an overactive imagination, the International Man of Mystery wasn’t just a lazy narrative construction affixed to a player with readily accessible game film from a professional league—it was more or less a statement of fact.
In 2011, Dion Waiters canceled all workouts in the lead-up to the draft; most interpreted that to be the result of a promise. He was a fringe lottery prospect for much of the proceedings, then a slew of positive hype began to come his way. Chad Ford uttered the words “Dwyane Wade” in his description of Waiters like a sommelier might say “Cherry Coke” for the tasting notes on a pinot noir. In a month, Waiters rose from no. 13 in projections to no. 8, to no. 4, where he was actually drafted by the Cavaliers.
Gilgeous-Alexander could be reaping the benefits of the Waiters Effect, which in turn could create a domino sequence. SGA (who has had stronghold toward the end of the lottery for much of the draft season) moving up would necessitate another prospect higher on the board to move down.
The Kings Have a Golden Opportunity. Will They Blow It?
For the third straight season, the Kings are the most interesting team in the draft. Their 2016 will forever live in ignominy, having drafted a consensus projected mid-second-rounder in Georgios Papagiannis with the no. 13 pick and already waived him not two years later. Their 2017 is still incomplete: De’Aaron Fox had flashes of true brilliance in an otherwise tepid season, while their decision to trade down with their second first-rounder (the no. 10 overall selection) has yielded a whole lot of nothing so far (when it potentially could have yielded a possible superstar in Donovan Mitchell). In 2018, they are the linchpin of the entire night, given how much certainty there seems to be of Deandre Ayton joining the Phoenix Suns.
Sacramento’s no. 2 pick is the highest selection the franchise has made in nearly three decades. In 1989, the Kings drafted Pervis Ellison with the no. 1 overall pick; Ellison lasted 34 games, losing most of his rookie season to injury, before being traded before the following season.
Everything is riding on Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadivé making the right decision. Jonathan Givony mentioned how many of the top prospects (including Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Mo Bamba) have reportedly declined to offer the franchise their medical reports in an effort to avoid the Kings entirely. Part of the calculus in making a selection, especially for a team like Sacramento, is simply buying into a player who himself is willing to buy into the team. De’Aaron Fox’s willingness to be a cornerstone for Sacramento likely played a role in the team drafting him.
The growing consensus forming seems to be Marvin Bagley III, one of the few stars who hasn’t dismissed the Kings. Bagley is an explosive and productive big man out of Duke who looks the part of a star, but also shares some similarities to both Brandan Wright and Michael Beasley, two first-round disappointments from yesteryear. In broad strokes, Bagley also takes after past swings at big man prospects over the past three years: Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles—high-level recruits from the biggest teams in college basketball. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm.
What Blockbuster Deal Will Blindside Us This Year?
Unlike last year’s Jimmy Butler trade, which seemingly happened without any momentum prior to the draft, this year, the possibility of Kawhi Leonard being moved looms over everything. It seems unlikely that the Spurs will do anything too hasty, but there also wouldn’t be a better time to control their future than by accumulating assets prior to what promises to be a whirlwind free-agency period.
The draft could also show the intentions of some teams stuck in limbo: Could the Cavaliers package Kevin Love and the no. 8 pick for a star to LeBron James’s liking? Can the Raptors trade an expensive and aging point guard to kick-start a long-awaited franchise reboot in Toronto? What about the Blazers, whose dynamic backcourt duo has seemingly hit a wall, and whose cap sheets could use some clearing? Then, consider the Grizzlies, who have the ultimate tool to unload Chandler Parsons’s ill-fated albatross contract in the no. 4 pick.
If last season was an inflection point on this Warriors era of the league, perhaps it won’t just be the young prospects entering the league that point the way toward True North. On a night meant to alter the trajectory of the worst teams in the NBA, the movement of any number of current stars could change the course of the league as we know it, period.
How Many Mega Bemax Players Will Be Drafted in the Second Round This Year?
Mega Basket (Mega Bemax for sponsorship purposes) is truly the most notorious Europe-to-NBA pipeline in existence. You may also know it as the team with uniforms that take yearly color-palette inspiration from elementary-school slumber parties. Since 2014, the team has produced nine draftees, and three in each of the past two drafts. A few of them you might have heard of, like Nikola Jokic, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Ivica Zubac.
The pool is a bit dry this year, though. Goga Bitadze, an 18-year-old big man who has been shockingly productive in the Adriatic League, was the most likely, but he surprisingly withdrew from consideration last week. That leaves Kostja Mushidi, who had a cup of coffee in The Ringer’s 2017 NBA Draft Guide before withdrawing from consideration last year. As our Jonathan Tjarks notes in this year’s draft guide, Mushidi probably regrets the decision, as his stock has only dipped in the year since. But the pipeline is strong, and I don’t think it gets cut off any time soon.
Which Name Would Mark Tatum Have the Most Fun With in the Second Round?
Allow me to repeat myself from last year: Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot. But if we’re looking for a fresh face, how about Iceland’s Tryggvi Hlinason?
How Exactly Are the Sixers Going to Do This?
The Sixers are entering an important draft (and an even more important offseason) with bundles upon bundles of intrigue … without a GM. Philly is operating by committee, one that includes head coach Brett Brown, vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley, vice president of basketball ops and chief of staff Ned Cohen, vice president of analytics and strategy Alex Rucker, senior director of basketball operations Vince Rozman, and the GM of the Sixers’ G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, Elton Brand.
As with all teams, the team owners will sign off on the final decision, but where exactly does that leave the team should they juggle a blockbuster trade? Who gets the final say? We’re not exactly looking at a 12 Angry Men situation, but Six Angry Men still sounds like an impossible balance. Who takes the brunt of responsibility should they make a franchise-changing trade for a top-five pick (maybe Doncic?), or, say, Kawhi?
Or maybe it’s a lot simpler than that. The Sixers have six draft picks. A fortuitous coincidence! Maybe they can just have each front-office member call dibs on one pick each!
What’s the Best Possible Accessory Luka Doncic Can Wear for Draft Night?
This one’s easy. He should absolutely haul all of his championship and MVP trophies over to Barclays and set all of them on his green-room table.