I haven’t been following the NBA as closely this year as I have in past years, so I have not been writing about it as much. With that said, I love the NBA draft and everything associated with it. The players, the outfits, the hangers on, the swag, the inevitable surprises, the stunning falls, they all make for compelling TV. This year my team of choice, the Orlando Magic, have two picks inside the top 10 to miss on, so that will be especially exciting. I am going to make some predications and we will see how it goes.
My guess on the first 5:
Detroit: Cade Cunningham. I don’t see how they pass on the most complete player in the draft. I also don’t think he is great enough that he is worth some team making a godfather offer, so I think they just take him. There is no risk here, he will definitely be a really good basketball player (barring injury of course).
Houston: Jalen Green. Best pure scorer in the draft, and the obvious choice to replace James Harden and pair with Christian Wood. Reminds me of Zach Lavine. I think Mobley will be better all around, but he doesn’t fit here.
Cleveland: Evan Mobley. On a team with very few versatile bigs, he is the obvious need pick. I also love his size, mobility and touch. It’s hard to find players with all of those skills. He will bulk up with a professional weight-lifting plan. With Green and Cunningham gone, I would be surprised to see them take one of the lesser guards.
Toronto: Jalen Suggs. A logical replacement for what Kyle Lowry brought. His “ready now” game is a good fit on a team that thinks it can contend again right away. He will be a good professional for a long time.
Orlando: Probably the biggest mystery in the draft, I suspect they will go Scottie Barnes here. Florida product, good upside, known hard worker, he checks a lot of what the Magic seem to value. (see number six for more about the Magic)
Most likely trader amongst the top 5
Cleveland: They really would benefit from moving on from both Kevin Love and one of the two members of their backcourt, Darius Garland or Collin Sexton. While both guards have shown offensive chops, they are both poor defenders, and you can’t have two terrible defenders in your backcourt and win. Love is an absolute albatross (in both contract and attitude at this point) and this makes me wonder if they will be paired together. But will the 3 pick be moved? Probably not if Mobley is there.
Most interesting team outside the top 5
Golden State: The Warriors have two high picks and James Wiseman coming off a quiet first year (but with plenty of potential still). This team should be in win now mode with an aging core. Continuing to make picks doesn’t seem to suit them. Can they package all of this to get themselves a solid piece to put with Curry, Klay and Dray?
Players who I think will surprise
Jalen Suggs: He reminds me a lot of Brandon Roy, another player who wasn’t incredibly flashy, but knew how to win, how to play basketball and how to score consistently. He fell in the draft because of the expectation that he would have knee problems. He did, in fact, have knee problems. Suggs has no such restriction I am aware of.
Franz Wagner: He reminds me of a pre-injury Gordon Hayward. A smart, hard working player who has a complete game. Can pass, score, and defend. Can shoot. Is big enough and mobile enough to cover most players. These kinds of players are like gold to NBA teams.
Davion Mitchell: A late bloomer, he will get bumped down the draft because of his age. Still, his incredible defensive ability and improved jumper will make him a fantastic 3-D player for the right team.
Moses Moody: Another player who hits the things I would covet most, solid size, strong defense, ball mover, and good shooting. These are the traits solid players on winning teams have. Once you leave the top 5, this is what you should be looking for.
Tre Mann: A recent growth spurt has pushed him up to almost 6-4. With a fantastic touch and good handle, he has the potential to be a great scorer (maybe a microwave 6th man type). Given where he is being forecast, I could see him developing into a really strong player. A nice post-lottery lottery ticket.
Players who I think will disappoint
Cade Cunningham: Don’t get me wrong, I think he will be a very good basketball player. I don’t think he can be a number 1 player on an elite team though. He is very versatile and I think he would make a fantastic number 2 to an elite scoring player (like Jalen Green). He seems like a Scottie Pippen to me. That isn’t an insult. It’s a type of player. Giannis is the ultimate version of this. He will need someone else to be the go to scorer for the Pistons to become elite. I think, instead, he will end up miscast for most of his career.
Jonathan Kuminga: A player who looks like he is good at basketball, I think he will fool a lot of people. He lacks any sort of consistent jumper, and skills as a passer. Those two traits don’t go together, because he can’t punish teams who pack the paint. Unless he becomes better at one of those things, teams will just sag off him.
Alperen Sengun: This is more of a projection because I have not watched him play, only read scouting reports. He is an entirely in-the-paint player. Which isn’t really the end of the world. That makes for a good bench player. But modern offenses simply don’t use post ups much anymore. You would have to retool your offense to use him, and I don’t think most teams want to do that, because he isn’t going to be your best player. There is a reason teams don’t use this style anymore.
Corey Kispert: An older player, Kispert is probably who he is as a player at this point, and that player is just a really good shooter. The problem is, at this point in the NBA, you can’t just be a shooter. You must be able to play defense one on one on the perimeter, or the other team will find you, isolate you, and run you off the floor. Being great at one thing isn’t enough anymore.
Jalen Johnson: I just don’t see it. The shooting percentage looks nice, but the shooter doesn’t. He seems to leave everywhere he goes early. He lacks the strength and toughness to mix it up inside. I think he will have a role with his size and passing ability, but I don’t think there is nearly as much upside as people think.
Bonus predictions: Orlando Magic picks
While I would love for them to package their three picks this year and basically anything else they have and move up for an elite player (the thing they don’t have), my guess is they won’t, since they never take chances.
5 — Scottie Barnes: A solid hardworking player with upside, a long body, is local, has good character, and plays basketball: He is all the things the Magic love. Of course, he can’t shoot, which makes him absolutely perfect for their scheme of not scoring.
8 - Alperen Sengun: The Magic don’t seem to understand how modern basketball works, so them going back to pounding the post and drafting a player who can’t protect the rim and move laterally on the defensive perimeter will be the perfect replacement for Nikola Vucevic who (for all his skill) could not protect the rim or move laterally on the defensive perimeter.
33 - Rokas Jokubaitis: As they already have too many young players that need minutes at this point, taking another player here they won’t use doesn’t really make sense. I expect this to be a draft an stash situation. Jokubaitis shoots the ball pretty well, which makes him a questionable fit for the Magic. At this point in the draft, nobody is perfect though. He will probably be in the G-league or Europe next season.