One of my favorite parts about the NBA Draft — about all drafts, really — is the unpredictability. You can write all the mocks you want, but you’re wasting your time, because the Raptors are going to draft Bruno Coboclo in the first round.
That’s why I’m not super keen to get out my permanent marker and write, “Celtics, No. 1: Markelle Fultz.” While the U-Dub product is the concensus top prospect — an assessment I whole-heartedly agree with — the Celtics could take their franchise in a few different directions, and some of those directions involve moving the no. 1 pick.
Every so often, though, certain outcomes feel so inevitable that not even the fickle nature of draft day is capable of getting in the way, and this year sees one such fait accompli. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Lonzo Ball is going to be a Laker by the end of the night?
He wants it. His dad wants it. The majority of LA wants it.
Another thing I’m banking on is that there will be more Caboclo-esque reaches in the first round, not necessarily with relatively unknown prospects, but with high-variation players, i.e. the guys who could be massive steals or complete busts. I’m looking at you, Harry Giles.
Before the 2017 draft arrives (June 22), let’s try to predict the unpredictable and set some odds on some of the biggest storylines. Disagree with any of my cold-ass takes? Keep it to yourself. (I’d say let me know in the comments. But that never works.)
2017 NBA Draft Props
Odds Lonzo Ball is not a Laker by the end of the 2017 NBA Draft: 4/1
As I said, almost every factor points to Ball balling out in LA. Lonzo even fits pretty nicely in a backcourt with Deangelo Russell, who’s really more of a scorer than a true point guard. When the Lakers landed the no. 2 pick, it took all the pressure off the franchise. Now they don’t have to make the tough choice between the better prospect (Fultz) and the home-town hero (Ball). They can take the consensus no. 2 prospect in the second spot and get plaudits from fans and pundits, alike.
Describing this as a fait accompli may have been a bit strong. There’s always a chance another team falls in love with Ball and makes the Lakers an offer they can’t refuse. Or maybe hoards of irate sneakerheads will drive the entire Ball family out of Los Angeles. ($495 for a shoe? Are you kidding me?)
Odds the Celtics trade the no. 1 overall pick: 3/1
This is such a rare situation. The Celtics posted the best record in the East and have the no. 1 pick in the draft (via the Nets). They still need significant roster upgrades to compete with the Cavs in the postseason. Will they parlay the no. 1 pick into a player that will provide a more immediate impact than Fultz? (As good as he is, no one expects him to move the needle significantly for Boston in his first season.)
There are arguments for and against. Here’s the best one against: even if you pick up Paul George and sign Gordon Hayward, that still might not be enough to beat LeBron and the Cavs. Building for the post-LeBron era is the safer play, and keeping the no. 1 pick is crucial to that plan.
Over/Under point guards drafted in the top five: 2.5
Fultz and Ball are locks. Josh Jackson (Kansas) and Jayson Tatum (Duke), both wings, are next on most boards and will likely go third and fourth, in some order if the Sixers and Suns keep those picks. That puts this prop in the hands of the Kings at no. 5.
This class is loaded with upper-echelon point guard talent and the Kings need a lead guard. Case closed? Not so fast. The Kings need a lot of things, and the next three PG prospects all have questions surrounding their games: DeAaron Fox (Kentucky) can’t shoot; Frank Ntilikina (France) might not be athletic enough to play the point in the NBA; and Dennis Smith Jr (NC State) has an injury history and, y’know, doesn’t try sometimes.
If Jackson or Tatum is still on the board on no. 5, they’d be a nice fit in Sacramento, and they’re both better prospects than the aforementioned guards. It’s not overly likely that either will still be there, but it could happen if the Sixers reach for Malik Monk (Kentucky) at no. 3. While Monk is closer to no. 6 or 7 purely in terms of potential, his elite perimeter scoring is exactly what the Sixers need.
Over/Under forwards drafted in the top ten: 4.5
The composition of this draft class is kind of strange: the top ten is loaded with guards. The rest of the first round is stacked with bigs. Not many of the forwards are top-ten worthy, though, especially with the NBA trending smaller and quicker.
Tatum and Jackson will be joined in the top-ten by FSU’s Jonathan Isaac. After that, there are no sure things. One of Lauri Markkanen (Arizona) and Zach Collins (Gonzaga) should go in the top ten, simply because there’s a decline in guard talent after the top five. But scoring guards like Donovan Mitchell (Louisville) and Luke Kennard (Duke) could prove more appealing than bigs who can be played off the floor due to defensive limitations (see Markkanen).
Over/Under draft position for …
- Harry Giles (Duke): 15.5
- Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky): 15.5
One thing you can count on at the draft is teams reaching for players with high upsides (and correspondingly low floors) in the first round. Thanks to freak athleticism, Harry Giles was the no. 1 prospect in his high-school class. His career has been derailed by knee problems and, in limited minutes as a freshman at Duke, he barely resembled the player that high-school scouts fell in love with. But everyone still knows what he could develop into if his body ever fully recovers: think peak Amare Stoudamire with better defense.
Hamidou Diallo played precisely zero minutes at Kentucky this year after joining the team mid-season. Like Giles, his upside stems from his athleticism/physical traits. In order to test the 6’5″ guard’s vertical at the combine, they literally had to raise the measuring device of the floor. His shooting needs to get better, but that’s the type of thing that can improve with age, and some team will convince itself it has the magic recipe to turn Diallo into the next Zach Lavine.
Most mocks have these guys going in the 20s. That would require far more rationality than actually exists among NBA GMs.
Over/Under international players taken in the first round: 3.5
To be clear, I’m including anyone who played internationally last year, like Terrance Ferguson, not just guys who were born overseas. (Sorry, my geography isn’t the greatest. There’s a sea between the US and Canada, right?)
Seven international players went in the first round last year. Only four went the year before that. Don’t expect big numbers this season. Ntilikina and Ferguson are the only sure things. A handful of other guys should go in the 20-50 range, like Rodions Kurucs (Latvia), Jonathan Jeanne (France), and Anzejs Pasecniks (Latvia), but there are plenty of better-known prospects with high upsides who reside stateside.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.