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The NBA Draft is easily one of my favorite sporting events of the entire year.
First of all, for as much as I enjoy college football, you can go ahead and double that excitement when it comes to college hoops. Secondly, it’s a little bit more exciting when you own a top pick in the NBA Draft because one player can impact the game of basketball more than any other sport. See James, LeBron for a better understanding of that. And, while I’m no Chad Ford, I’d like to think I am pretty accurate when it comes to the draft.
You know, except when I’m not…
There were a handful of curveballs surrounding this draft. I’m talking Corey Kluber, make you freeze at the plate, curveballs. My personal (and absolutely meaningless) mock draft was shot down early, but luckily for you, as well as me, that’s not my forte. With an entire crop of new talent heading to the league, fantasy hoops values are influx. So, like I do every year, let’s break down the draft, shall we?
1.01: Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
No surprise here, as the Wolves selected the best player available, giving Kentucky their third number one overall pick since 2010 (Wall, Davis). Now the Timberwolves have a rather crowded frontcourt with guys like Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Garnett and now Towns, but you don’t draft a guy first overall and not unleash him. Towns averaged over 10 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and shot 81 percent from the line in just over 21 minutes of action per game with the Wildcats last year. His defensive ability sets him apart from the other big men in this class, and Minnesota desperately needs that, as no team in basketball surrendered more points in the paint per game than the Wolves last year (48). They also ranked 26th in the NBA in blocks per game (4.0). I’m hoping Minnesota deals Pekovic, in which case, Towns might become the ROY favorite.
As for his game, Towns can be effective in both the pick-and-pop, as well as pick-and-roll. He has strong footwork and a very nice feel for the game. Assuming Ricky Rubio remains in Minnesota, he’s the type of point guard that will give Towns the looks he need on offense.
1.02: D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
I live in the Philadelphia area, so selfishly, I wanted Russell to land with the fantasy-friendly 76ers. But, hours leading up to the draft, the Lakers were talking up the Ohio State product, and while many thought it could be just a smokescreen, Los Angeles kept their word, selecting the talented point guard. Russell is my favorite prospect in this class, and it isn’t even remotely close. Head coach Byron Scott believes that Russell can be a superstar in this league, and I’d have to agree. The things he can do with the basketball are just flat out stupid, possessing incredible creativity, as well as intelligence. However, will he immediately become a fantasy superstar?
I’m not so sure.
He’ll be competing for shots with Mr. Kobe Bryant, who attempted 20.4 shots per game last year, as well as Nick Young, who loves firing up shots. Not to mention the fact that sophomore Jordan Clarkson was very good last year, still warranting a healthy amount of minutes. The Lakers should run plenty of three-guard sets, and I’d expect Russell to see plenty of minutes, but the usage rate might not be there. Last year at Ohio State, the offense ran exclusively through Russell, who saw a usage rate over 30 percent. Luckily, the assists aren’t the end-all, be-all for Russell, who easily led all freshman in points per game last year, while converting nearly 63 percent of his buckets at the rim, an impressive number for a point guard. His re-draft stock isn’t as high as it would have been if he landed in Philly, but there aren’t many players I’m more excited about down the road.
1.03: Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers should grab every single rebound this season.
After trading for Nerlens Noel in 2013 and drafting Joel Embiid in 2014, Philadelphia took the best player available with Okafor, the ultra-skilled big man from Duke. He lacks the defensive prowess that Towns possesses, but he almost makes up for it with his offensive game, as well as offensive rebounding. Last year, Okafor averaged an awesome 17.3 points. 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and just under a steal per game, while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. He’s an incredible scoring talent, as he literally can hurt you with six or seven different post moves. Most big men in the league really only have a couple. Okafor is also a tremendous passer out of the post and double teams, so he’ll give you a decent amount of assists for a big man. The offensive rebounding is fantastic, too, as he posted a 14.8 offensive rebounding rate.
Okafor’s game reminds me a lot of Al Jefferson– very skilled offensively with capable, but not dominant defensive ability. Of course, the free throw shooting is a concern, as he hit just 51 percent of his charity shots last year, while averaging over five trips to the line per game. That will knock his value a bit, but in this 76ers offense that should feature him (especially if Embiid can’t suit up), he could legitimately average 20 points per game. That’s clearly valuable, especially when you consider that only one center in the NBA averaged at least 20 points per game last season.
His name is DeMarcus Cousins.
1.04: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Until the season starts, every time I hear Porzingis’ name, I’ll immediately be reminded of that crying little Knicks’ fan.
Unless, he’s as incredible as advertised, of course.
Leading up to the draft, Porzingis was generated a ton of hype. It makes sense, too. A 7’1″ big man who can both protect the rim and step out and hit the three. He nailed 37 percent of his triples last season, while averaging 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 0.7 triples and a 77.4 percent clip from the line. And at just 19 years old, he has a 7’5″ wingspan and 38-inch vertical to go with that size and jumpshot, The biggest concern is that with all of this hype, he’s either going to be the next Dirk Nowitzki or the next Darko Milicic, and I’m not entirely sure if there’s any in between. That’s scary.
1.05: Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic
A lot of people like Super Mario, but I’m not a fan of a guy who refers to himself in the third-person, or believes that one of the greatest athletes on the planet (Lionel Messi) needs to go watch HIM play, not the other way around.
But I digress.
I’m not sure how crazy I am about Hezonja in terms of fantasy. Playing time should be there, seeing as Tobias Harris should be on the way out. However, he’ll be playing in a slow-paced offense with limited possessions. Both Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton need the ball in their hands, while Nikola Vucevic gets plenty of looks as well. Hezonja has three-point ability and can provide you with steals, two very valuable statistics, but I believe it’ll take a year or two.
1.06: Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings
Cauley-Stein was super fun to watch alongside Towns in Kentucky last year, seemingly erasing every shot. For his career as a member of the Wildcats, WCS averaged 2.2 blocks per game, but only eight points and six rebounds. His offensive skills are very, very limited, and he’s drawn comparisons to Tyson Chandler on the high-end, and Chris Andersen on the low-end. Even if the Kings do end up dealing Boogie Cousins, the usage just won’t be there for Cauley-Stein to be very fantasy relevant.
1.07: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
With each day, it seems more and more likely that Ty Lawson will be traded. Of course, that’s rather annoying, seeing how seemingly all of Mudiay’s immediate fantasy relevance relies on where Lawson is playing. He doesn’t have the offensive touch that Russell does, shooting just 34 percent from three and an ugly 57 percent from the line during his 12 games overseas. However, he is far more athletic, and did contribute the counting stats, averaging 18 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.5 steals in those games. The 6.2 rebounds actually stand out to me most because he sported an impressive 17.3 defensive rebounding rate last season, and considering he can guard all positions other than center on some nights, the rebounding opportunity should be there. However, he’s another name that I think will end up being better in the long run, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he saw similar production to Elfrid Payton in year one.
1.08: Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons
A lot of people were surprised when the Pistons went with Johnson, rather than Justise Winslow. However, I like the Johnson pick. He was one of my favorite players in college basketball last season, playing tremendous defense and playing with toughness and physicality. During his only season in Arizona, Johnson averaged a strong 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. I like the fit with the Pistons, as Stan Van Gundy loves to utilize the three-point game, and having the best offensive rebounder in the game in Andre Drummond should give Johnson plenty opportunity and second chances to score. Small forward is a rather weak position in fantasy outside of the top group of guys, so Johnson could have some nice value this season, especially if Detroit fails to bring in another quality starter at small forward.
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