I’ve let the NBA Draft sink in, collected my thoughts, recollected said thoughts, and then came to the realization that this is the best draft in professional sports for a myriad of reasons. Oddly enough, I still have yet to actually watch the draft as I was on a flight home from Maryland throughout its duration. Instead, I followed it pick by pick on Twitter thanks to the always reliable Adrian Wojnarowski. After each pick, I would either pump my fist in excitement or shake my head in confusion and disappointment, and for better or for worse, I refreshed my Twitter feed like a crazed 12-year-old would. And so with that brief introduction, I give you my conclusions from the draft:
1. Knick fans might have actually surpassed Laker fans as the most ignorant/impatient in the league. What is with all of this undeserving hate being hurled at Kristaps Porzingis? I understand that he’s a foreign player and I too must admit that when it comes to foreign players, I have my reservations (thanks in no small part to a man named Darko who eventually pursued professional wrestling, but that’s an entirely different story). Yes, I also understand that there has not been a single foreign player drafted since Yao Ming in 2002 that has made an All-Star team. However, Porzingis is a new breed. To the Knick fans that shook their head in dismay and covered their eyes as the young Latvian took center stage on Thursday night, I beg of you to please watch this man’s scouting videos. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen a player like Porzingis before and that much convinces me that if placed in the proper environment, he will thrive. He is a 7-footer with great mobility and athleticism. More importantly though, he is extremely versatile— he can stretch the floor, finish well, in addition to being a plus defender. Yes, he is raw (aren’t all 19 year olds supposed to be?), but were New Yorkers expecting someone to come in immediately and deliver a championship? That much certainly would not surprise me, especially in the wake of Carmelo Anthony’s ridiculous public comments. At this point, Carmelo is practically the boy who cried wolf- he knew what he was getting himself into by opting for more money with the Knicks as opposed to a winning environment in Chicago or even Houston. The reason I don’t give Carmelo a pass for these comments the way that I do Kobe’s 2007 public trade demands is that Carmelo is NOT a proven winner. He is a lazy defender, an unwilling passer, and the furthest that he has taken any team is to the Conference Finals in which he and the Nuggets were disposed of by the Lakers. In that way, Carmelo has only catalyzed the impatience of Knick fans and has made a good pick seem as though it were a misguided choice by Phil Jackson. Ultimately, I think Porzingis will blossom into an All-Star, but he will need a nurturing environment in order to do so and until he is endorsed by Carmelo and Knick Nation as a whole, that will be a tough task that will certainly test his resolve. So long story short, give the guy a chance.
2. I don’t know how Pat Riley does it time and again. No way Justise Winslow slides to tenth overall, right? Wrong. Winslow absolutely fell into Miami’s lap and Pat Riley relished every second of it. This is the same kid that Boston tried to trade up and get by way of six total picks, four of which being in the first round only to have Charlotte reject the offer and draft Frank Kaminsky instead. Somehow, someway, he was passed on by the Kings and Pistons who both have glaring needs that Winslow could have filled and all of a sudden, the Houston native finds himself in a situation conducive to his development. Don’t be shocked if he wins Rookie of the Year either- he’s one of the most NBA-ready players in the rookie class and he knows how to play within his role, something that cannot be said for most young players.
3. Sam Hinkie isn’t as crazy as everyone is making him out to be. Hear me out on this one: Sam Hinkie made the right call drafting Jahlil Okafor. Normally, I would stray away from drafting the best available player and instead focus on the best fit. But in a top-5 slot, the most talented player on the board often times has the potential to be franchise altering. As for Philly’s second round choice of Arturas Gudaitis, I would simply say that’s an insurance pick more than anything. He’ll more than likely remain in Lithuania for the time being and as such, will serve as trade bait (possibly in a package with either Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel). So yes, Hinkie is unorthodox, but by no means is he crazy; he’s stockpiling assets, waiting for the right time to make a big splash (sounds eerily reminiscent of one Danny Ainge who as we all know is a brilliant executive in his own right). Should Embiid’s foot continue to be a problem, Okafor and Noel will have ample time to develop alongside each other in what could potentially be a great frontcourt combo. The two balance each other well and between Okafor’s commanding presence in the post, and Noel’s shot-blocking ability and rim running, they could potentially be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
4. The Lakers knocked it out of the park. At first, even as the game has evolved towards a small-ball style, I was a little hesitant to pass on Okafor (whom I consider to be the best post prospect since a guy named Tim Duncan that you might have heard of). However, for the first time in a while, I’m actually sold on the Lakers’ plan. They have a legitimate chance to get a big time frontcourt contributor in free agency this year and for that reason, the prospect of D’Angelo Russell donning the purple and gold was just too tempting for Mitch Kupchak and Co. How fitting that Kobe will be able to mentor a flashy guard who is the best playmaker in the rookie class in his final season! It’s as though his time with the Lakers has come full circle and he’s finally found his heir apparent to the “Laker Throne.” As much as I love Russell’s ability to create shots for himself and his teammates, his key attributes in my eyes are his intangibles. Russell is wide-eyed and eager just to play in Lakerland and though Okafor wasn’t quite indifferent, I don’t quite see the same passion and raw emotion in his game that I do Russell’s. Russell reminds me of Kobe in his early days- very fiery and flashy and I think he’ll do well learning under the Mamba.
5. The most underrated player in this year’s draft is…. Justin Anderson. I think Dallas got a great player here at #21, someone whose game translates well to the NBA level. From a pure physical standpoint, he is strong enough to take on the grueling 82-game beating he’ll see in the NBA. Though he’ll have a slight adjustment from Tony Bennett’s rigid and deliberate system at Virginia to Rick Carlisle’s smooth offense, I think he’ll do just fine. Anderson is a very heady player who will exhibit a consistency at the next level that is oft undervalued. No, I don’t think he’ll be a superstar; he may not even find himself on an All-Star team. Nonetheless, I think he is a great piece for the Mavericks who desperately needed a lockdown perimeter defender. Anderson is just that and if he can maintain his vastly improved 3-point shooting from a year ago, look for him to have a very steady NBA career.
— Conner Hoyt