Re-Drafting the Top 5 NBA Draft Picks of the Past 5 Seasons
Let's reimagine some of the NBA's most recent drafts, shall we?
In the spirit of Thursday's NBA draft, we'll pore over the past five editions and rewrite history accordingly. The methodology for these exercises can get a bit fuzzy, so we'll try to weed out confusion with a few ground rules.
In this world, teams have the benefit of hindsight. They're making selections based on everything they've seen to date. Production remains the same. Injury-prone players are still injury-prone.
Picks will be made as if teams intend to keep them. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not rolling into the 2014 do-over hoping to flip whomever they choose at No. 1 for Kevin Love. Pre-draft trades are irreversible.
To keep things fresh, we'll account for fit wherever necessary. Every re-draft should be treated as part of the same universe. Decisions from the 2014 mulligan carry over to 2015 and so on.
Yes, this tethers us to the assumption that no one rookie would completely overturn the top five of the draft order by adding too many wins. Gripe about that as you wish. But the process is more fun this way.
2013 Draft No. 1: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Cleveland Cavaliers
Original Player: Anthony Bennett
Giannis Antetokounmpo's Original Spot: No. 15 (Milwaukee Bucks)
I guess you could say the Cavaliers want this pick back.
The 2013 class was not teeming with star power, but Bennett is perhaps the biggest draft bust of all time. He proved to be a useful throw-in to the Kevin Love trade following LeBron James' return to Cleveland in 2014. Nothing more.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has become a potential heir apparent to James' best-player-in-the-NBA throne. He is the quintessential post-modern prototype—a lanky skyscraper with the gait of a guard, positionless in both profile and practice.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and David Robinson are the only players ever to match his per-game lines from 2017-18. Antetokounmpo is skilled, but his claim to dominance remains grounded in negating reason. His strides are so long, his length so pronounced, he may never need a consistent jumper to be the best player on a championship team.
Antetokounmpo wasn't a known enough commodity by the end of his rookie season to be a selling point for James. Then again, Bennett wasn't either.
Would Antetokounmpo have been rerouted immediately upon James' return, like Bennett and Andrew Wiggins actually were? You'd hope not, but the answer isn't that simple.
2013 Draft No. 2: Rudy Gobert, Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Victor Oladipo
Rudy Gobert's Original Spot: No. 27 (Utah Jazz, via Denver)
Rudy Gobert is an awkward fit next to the budding Nikola Vucevic in this universe. The Orlando Magic shouldn't care.
They eventually tried to make make a Vucevic-Bismack Biyombo-Serge Ibaka frontcourt happen. This registers somewhere between "pretty tame" and "do-it-do-it-do-it" relative to that scale of weirdness.
Big men who don't shoot are typically devalued in the pace-and-space era. Gobert is among the most effective exceptions. He's impenetrable around the basket and knows how to use his length and angles when yanked outside the paint.
Consider the Jazz's defensive ranks since he assumed control of the center spot midway through his sophomore go-round:
Gobert will never be an offensive hub. He doesn't need to be. He's a franchise cornerstone for his defense alone. Everything he more-than-adequately provides as a screen-setting rim-runner is gravy.
2013 Draft No. 3: Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
Original Player: Otto Porter
Otto Porter's Original Spot: No. 3 (Washington Wizards)
Pump the "Victor Oladipo should be here!" brakes for a minute. This re-draft is not a comprehensive ranking. Fit matters.
Washington already had John Wall and Bradley Beal in its backcourt by this time. Adding Oladipo to the mix creates unnecessary overlap.
Otto Porter was—and still is—everything the Wizards need in their third wheel. He's playable at both forward positions, and though he's capable of branching out on offense, he doesn't command a predetermined number of touches.
He subsists on standstill looks, off-ball beelines and opportunities coming around screens. He dabbled in some pull-up artistry last season, connecting on 46.5 percent of his stop-and-pop jumpers, but he's a willing high-end accessory through and through.
More than 40 percent of his attempts came as catch-and-fire looks in 2017-18, on which he posted a patently ridiculous 63.9 effective field-goal percentage. He's overcompensated at his max pay grade, but the Wizards are investing in fit, not All-NBA credentials.
Given the chance, they should do the same thing all over again.
2013 Draft No. 4: Victor Oladipo, Charlotte Hornets
Original Player: Cody Zeller
Victor Oladipo's Original Spot: No. 2 (Orlando Magic)
Squeezing Victor Oladipo and Kemba Walker into the same backcourt would be awkward...at first. But the latter's transformation into a reliable shooter and polished decision-maker would've opened all sorts of doors later on.
Picture Walker's mildly effective partnership with Jeremy Lin in 2015-16. Then soup it up with more explosion, speed and defense.
Oladipo and Walker would have made it work. The Hornets are not the Magic. Nor are they the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook.
During a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe said former Hornets head coach Steve Clifford desperately wanted to draft Donovan Mitchell in 2017. He was prepared to marry Walker's development to a similarly skilled scorer in the backcourt.
Opportunity would not have wax and waned for Oladipo in Charlotte the way it did in Orlando and Oklahoma City. Maybe he never makes the All-NBA leap. But he doesn't need to be a top-15 player for this to make sense.
Plus, who's to say his 2017-18 uptick doesn't come sooner, amid a more centralized vision? Oladipo and Walker could have traded off single-season explosions. Or they could have authored simultaneous All-NBA detonations. Either way, the Hornets would have been better off.
2013 Draft No. 5: CJ McCollum, Phoenix Suns
Original Player: Alex Len
CJ McCollum's Original Spot: No. 10 (Portland Trail Blazers)
The Phoenix Suns would look worlds different today if they selected McCollum in 2013.
Drafting him probably dissuades them from trading for Eric Bledsoe just a few weeks later. Which probably erases their surprise 48-win campaign in 2013-14 from memory. Which probably means they show more restraint in 2014 free agency. Which probably ensures they don't overload the roster with ball-dominant guards. Which probably diminishes the likelihood they ruin their relationship with Goran Dragic.
Things get stranger as you further recommit to this tangent.
Phoenix doesn't have to worry about Devin Booker's fit next to McCollum in this exercise. He won't be around near the end of the 2015 lottery. But hitting on McCollum does incite some broader questions.
Would the Suns be better off with him and a happier Dragic? Would they have traded for Bledsoe anyway, found a functional middle ground with this trio and not acquired Isaiah Thomas in a sign-and-trade in 2014?
Do they make the playoffs with this core? Are they then dangerous enough in 2015 to win the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes?
Is there another team on the clock at No. 1 overall this Thursday preparing not to take Luka Doncic?
We'll never know. But McCollum would have to be the pick here. He's one of the game's purest scorers, a quasi-pinnacle he's reached while playing in tandem with Damian Lillard. Coexisting with Dragic and/or Bledsoe and/or whoever else the Suns put around him wouldn't have altered his arc.
Had Phoenix's inability to retain its best players held true, he'd be in Booker's shoes as the unchallenged alpha on a team searching for a way back to prominence.
Honorable Mentions (actual spot): Cody Zeller (No. 4); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (No. 8); Steven Adams (No. 12); Kelly Olynyk (No. 13); Andre Roberson (No. 26)
2014 Draft No. 1: Nikola Jokic, Cleveland Cavaliers
Original Pick: Andrew Wiggins
Nikola Jokic's Original Spot: No. 41 (Denver Nuggets)
Plenty of people will be clamoring for Joel Embiid in this spot. You aren't out of line if you're among them. But the benefit of hindsight hurts his case.
Embiid missed the first two seasons of his career and made only 31 appearances during his third year. That hardly jibes with what Cleveland was trying to do at this time: impress LeBron James.
Purging that chase from consideration doesn't change things. The Cavaliers were attempting to accelerate their rebuild independent of LeBron. Hence the Andrew Bynum experiment. Hence Jarrett Jack's contract the previous summer. Hence the Luol Deng trade.
Conditioning issues in mind, Nikola Jokic's availability would have meant something to Cleveland. He didn't come over right away, but he made his debut in 2015-16 and has 134 more regular-season appearances to his name than Embiid.
And let's not pretend Jokic is unworthy if we throw injury concerns out the window. Catch-all metrics have routinely planted him in the superstar tier. Check out his average ranks among players who've logged at least 2,000 total minutes since he entered the league:
- Total Points Added (TPA): 11
- Player Efficiency Rating (PER): 10
- Value Over Replacement Player (VORP): 12
- Real Plus-Minus Wins (RPM Wins): 14
Embiid only grades out in the top 20 for PER during his active NBA tenure. He doesn't come close to cracking the top 10 in anything. That doesn't prove he won't have the better career. He could. The Philadelphia 76ers are sitting pretty, and he's a special brand of dominant.
Jokic is merely the safer choice for now. The separation caked into their eventual peaks isn't nearly stark enough to earn Embiid the bid. Frankly, it may not even exist.
With that out of the way, let us pour one out for a hypothetical reality in which the Cavaliers might have James, Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving on the same team. (No, rookie-year Antetokounmpo would not have played Cleveland out of the No. 1 pick discussion.)
2014 NBA Draft No. 2: Joel Embiid, Milwaukee Bucks
Original Pick: Jabari Parker
Joel Embiid's Original Spot: No. 3 (Philadelphia 76ers)
Chopping down Joel Embiid to prop up Nikola Jokic hurts the soul. Fortunately, that process is short-lived.
No one comes close to rivaling Embiid for the No. 2 spot. The Bucks would undoubtedly want someone more immediately available, but Parker has essentially lost half his career to injury as well.
Embiid has at least shown he was worth the wait and maintenance. On the cusp of restricted free agency, Parker wrapped up his fourth season still trapped in the to-be-determined section.
Imagining the Bucks' defense with Embiid in the middle is a tantalizing etude even when pretending they don't have Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jason Kidd, who assumed head coaching duties prior to the 2014-15 campaign, likely wouldn't have seen his hyper-aggressive style blow up years down the line. Embiid is a natural deterrent at the rim. Milwaukee's risk-taking on the perimeter might have survived with him playing center.
Waiting for Embiid to take the court would have set back the Bucks' timeline. They likely aren't looking at No. 17 in the 2015 draft or even No. 10 in 2016. They're probably much higher.
Look at the talent near the top of those drafts, and that isn't a bad thing. They may have been bad enough to pair him with Kristaps Porzingis or Devin Booker in 2015 and Jaylen Brown or—deja vu alert—Ben Simmons in 2016.
2014 Draft No. 3: Gary Harris, Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Joel Embiid
Gary Harris' Original Spot: No. 15 (Denver Nuggets, from Chicago)
Gary Harris at No. 3 will take some by surprise. It shouldn't. He provided great value through his rookie-scale contract and will remain an underrated blue-chip asset when his four-year, $84 million extension kicks in next season.
Early knocks against him usually zeroed in on his size. He isn't especially tall (6'4 ½") or long (6'6 ¾" wingspan), which should hurt when matching up against most wings. And yet, it hasn't derailed his defensive trajectory.
On the contrary, Harris has turned into one of the Association's most lethal three-and-D weapons. FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring even (loosely) compared him to Kawhi Leonard back in March:
"It's incredibly difficult to draw the types of defensive assignments that Harris typically gets without committing a lot of fouls. But just like Leonard did in his fourth season, Harris has collected more steals than fouls so far this year, a feat that only elite defensive shooting guards and small forwards generally manage.
"Harris could be named an All-NBA defender in the coming years without changing much about his game. But to achieve true stardom, he will likely need two things: More scoring—he's still pretty limited in creating looks for himself—and more wins for the Nuggets."
Additional from-scratch scoring may never come for Harris. The real-life Nuggets don't need him to take on that role. But the alternate-universe Sixers would. And they're in luck, because he has that in him.
Harris shot better than 53 percent on drives and when using between three and six dribbles this past season. He isn't the polarizing pillar a healthy Embiid has proved to be, but he's a genuine building block—a universal-fit wing who would look pretty damn good alongside every other piece the Sixers have since added.
2014 Draft No. 4: Dario Saric, Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Aaron Gordon
Dario Saric's Original Spot: No. 12 (Philadelphia 76ers, via Orlando)
The Magic traded away Dario Saric at No. 12 on draft night. They definitely want a mulligan on that one.
Sure, it took Saric two seasons to come stateside. Whatever. He'd look great on any iteration of the Magic—particularly the one that used a time machine to select Rudy Gobert at No. 2 in 2013.
Saric has killed the notion that he cannot play nice with others. Ball-dominant teammates are not an obstruction to his game. He has seamlessly adjusted to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philly.
Overreact on close-outs, and Saric will cook you off the dribble. He has traded in pull-up lowlights for straight-line assaults. He'll parlay any semblance of a lane inside the arc into clean finishes at the rim.
Gordon has more defensive range than Saric. Others will maintain he has the more impactful apex. But Saric blends attributes of both a featured scorer and an ancillary device. Gordon is still searching for his offensive identity as he prepares to sign a second contract.
Getting Saric here would've granted the Magic more all-around flexibility.
2014 Draft No. 5: Clint Capela, Utah Jazz
Original Pick: Dante Exum
Clint Capela's Original Spot: No. 25 (Houston Rockets)
Friendly reminder: The assumption here is that Rudy Gobert was scooped in 2013 up before the Jazz could steal him. They still would've been looking for someone to jump center without him. (For the record: Aaron Gordon becomes the pick if they have Gobert.)
Clint Capela is a different kind of defensive linchpin compared to Gobert. He's leaner and less likely to discourage drives to the basket. He's also more mobile in space.
The 65-win Houston Rockets of this past season couldn't have implemented a switch-heavy defensive scheme with another big lining up at the 5. Capela is that bridge between dinosaurs and unicorns. He can hang versus small-ball arrangements designed to snuff him out.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors made it difficult to keep him on the floor in the Western Conference Finals. But they're the dynastic extreme.
Capela is otherwise everything a non-shooting 5 needs to be—a screen-setting, rim-running, rebound-wrangling worker bee. As far as Gobert alternatives go, it doesn't get better than him.
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Wiggins (No. 1); Jabari Parker (No. 2); Aaron Gordon (No. 4); Marcus Smart (No. 6); Julius Randle (No. 7)
2015 Draft No. 1: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Original Pick: Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns' Original Spot: No. 1 (Minnesota Timberwolves)
The Minnesota Timberwolves can rest easy knowing they made the right choice in 2015.
Persisting defensive concerns do little to shake Karl-Anthony Towns' otherwise airtight case. He's the best player from this class, and it isn't all that close.
Towns is clearing 20 points, 10 rebounds, one block and one made three-pointer per game for his career. Only three other players have ever hit those benchmarks in a single season. Towns' default setting is unprecedented.
Improved awareness around the rim continues to escape him. Opponents haven't noticeably avoided point-blank looks with him on the court, according to Cleaning The Glass. He allowed a 64.4 percent success rate at the hoop last season, the sixth-worst mark among players to challenge four or more such shots per game.
On the other hand, Towns doesn't turn 23 until November. He will get better as the Timberwolves' revolving door of personnel stabilizes.
Even if he doesn't, this verdict won't change. Towns is already pacing the 2015 class in every kitchen-sink metric. He'll remain a generational offensive talent no matter what—a bruising big with the footwork and quick-twitch movements of a guard.
2015 Draft No. 2: Kristaps Porzingis, Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: D'Angelo Russell
Kristaps Porzingis' Original Spot: No. 4 (New York Knicks)
Kristaps Porzingis run-in with injury bugs does little to sour his stock. He's still the second-best player in this class.
Put Porzingis in a different situation, and he might be closer to Karl-Anthony Towns' level. He's spent most of his career playing out of position in New York while ceding touches and status to Carmelo Anthony (and Derrick Rose for a brief spell).
Starting out with the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't have been much easier. His rookie year overlapped with Kobe Bryant's swan song and then-head coach Byron Scott's foxhole litmus test. His arrival wouldn't necessarily prevent Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss from spending the team into oblivion during 2016 free agency, either.
At the bare minimum, though, Porzingis would benefit from playing under head coach Luke Walton. It didn't take long for Walton to experiment with Julius Randle as a small-ball 5. Using a 7'3" skyscraper at center is even more of a no-brainer.
Another year's worth of extra freedom would have served Porzingis well. The Knicks didn't fully unleash him until 2017-18, and his transition into alpha duty barely lasted half the schedule. That progression comes at least a year earlier in Los Angeles and without any strong ties to the mangled triangle offense New York ran through his first two seasons.
Spending more time at center likely advances his defensive development. He's handled himself just fine chasing around 4s and recovering onto shooters, but he's looked most at home patrolling the paint.
Of the 166 players who contested at least 150 shots around the rim in 2017-18, no one held opponents to a lower field-goal percentage than Porzingis (49.2). He's the rare big who can be both an offensive and defensive lifeline in today's game. The Lakers wouldn't pass on him again.
2015 Draft No. 3: Devin Booker, Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Jahlil Okafor
Devin Booker's Original Spot: No. 13 (Phoenix Suns)
Entering his fourth season, Devin Booker has already made the trek from unknown commodity to overrated novelty to underappreciated breadwinner.
Criticism of his defense is entirely valid. He's been a standout liability on a Suns squad trafficking in exceptional disasters. According to NBA Math's defensive points saved, he's graded out as one of the league's 15 worst stoppers through each of his first three years:
- 2015-16 rank: 462 out of 476
- 2016-17 rank: 484 out of 486
- 2017-18 rank: 527 out of 540
Comparable skepticism has been applied to Booker's offensive contributions following his rookie-year coming-out party. He's far from the NBA's most efficient scorer, and the Suns have only once staved off a bottom-five finish in points scored per 100 possessions since he joined the team (2016-17).
Laying blame on Booker for a woebegone offense is lazy. His advancement within Phoenix's clunky setup is actually a bright spot. His shooting percentages have improved every season amid ballooning usage.
Here's the list of players to marry Booker's workload with his true shooting and assist percentages through their first three years: Mark Aguirre, Vince Carter, Walter Davis, Kyrie Irving, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade. That's absurd. And it's infinitely more impressive given Phoenix's shoddy spacing and roster turnover.
Philly would gladly trade the Jahlil Okafor experience for the offensive hub Booker has become.
2015 Draft No. 4: Myles Turner, New York Knicks
Original Pick: Kristaps Porzingis
Myles Turner's Original Spot: No. 11 (Indiana Pacers)
Picking the right player is tough for the Knicks with Kristaps Porzingis off the board.
Playing the untapped-potential card with D'Angelo Russell is a real temptation. New York is forever in need of a playmaking point guard, and Russell has flashed offensive wizardry despite all of his warts.
But the Knicks are not the Boston Celtics. They aren't even the Brooklyn Nets. They cannot bank on their player development reining in Russell's loose-cannon, me-first, no-defense partiality. They need more of a sure thing.
Myles Turner is that guy—a Porzingis knockoff, if you will.
Offenses shouldn't feature him as the main attraction, but he's a nifty pick-and-pop option with a budding back-to-the-basket game. His accuracy on long twos and three-pointers is steadily increasing since his rookie year, and he shot almost 48 percent on post-ups in 2017-18, up from 38.1 percent in 2016-17.
Turner's offensive production doesn't come with any strings attached. He won't hijack possessions. His usage rate has barely moved over the past three years.
Porzingis is more equipped to be the face of an above-average defense, but Turner's activity on the less glamorous end is undersold. Bulkier bigs aren't manhandling him as often, and he's no lost puppy when rotating into space.
Faster response times around the rim as both a rebounder and shot-blocker would bring him closer to shooting the gap between him and more esteemed interior anchors.
2015 Draft No. 5: Josh Richardson, Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Mario Hezonja
Josh Richardson's Original Spot: No. 40 (Miami Heat)
Giving Josh Richardson to the Magic at No. 5 in the hindsight draft will invariably rub some people the wrong way. D'Angelo Russell's name will again be bandied about, accompanied by the usual incoherent points-per-game rants.
Truthfully, this could go either way. Like the Knicks, the Magic have been unable to find their point guard of the future. But they were only just beginning the Elfrid Payton era for this draft and were more interested in adding a wing.
Richardson is both the better fit and superior player. If he isn't Miami's top dog, he's pretty damn close. Russell has never come close to being the best player on a postseason squad.
Top-five picks should be more accomplished shot-creators when they aren't niche bigs, but Richardson isn't a lost cause off the bounce. More than one-quarter of his field-goal attempts this past season came as pull-up jumpers, and the Heat are grooming him as a secondary pick-and-roll initiator.
Feasting off the catch and in transition the rest of the time helps him strike a desirable balance. He dabbles without rogue freelancing and extended errancy—the stamp of someone who wants to do more but understands his role and existing limitations.
Miami's second-round gem already has it figured out on defense. At 6'6", he has the length and mobility to guard positions 1 through 3, while he touts the strength to body up against the occasional power forward. He defended more total post-ups this past season than Marc Gasol.
To that end, Richardson is now one of four guards in NBA history to post steal and block rates north of 2.1 percent while shooting at least 37.6 percent from three. Joining him are Kent Bazemore, Eric Bledsoe and Danny Green.
Honorable Mentions: D'Angelo Russell (No. 2); Justise Winslow (No. 10); Kelly Oubre Jr. (No. 15); Terry Rozier (No. 16); Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (No. 23)
2016 Draft No. 1: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons' Original Spot: No. 1
Ben Simmons missing his first season was most inconvenient, but also irrelevant. The Sixers have no regrets. They nabbed a once-or-twice-an-era talent who helped ferry them to the brink of Eastern Conference contention as an air-quotes rookie.
Simmons' inaugural campaign wasn't just special by beginner standards. It was the stuff of first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook are the only other players ever to clear 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Simmons will be a better defender than both, and he's already more Magic than Westbrook or the Greek Freak on the playmaking front. He isn't a magnetic wrecking ball; his passes accentuate a high-basketball IQ. He varies his timing, speed and delivery points and sees the floor like only a 6'10" point guard can.
Similar to Antetokounmpo, Simmons will seem borderline solvable until he works in a jumper—or even a floater. His limitations are more extreme. He shot 36.8 percent on two-pointers outside the restricted area and averts three-pointers at all costs. Eight of his 11 long-range attempts were backcourt heaves.
At the same time, the need for Simmons to lengthen his range isn't exactly dire. He's more unpredictable with the ball in his hands than Antetokounmpo. He leverages a cleaner handle and head-on-a-swivel vision into additional space.
For this specific discussion, Simmons doesn't have anyone who bears resemblance to a peer. He leads the 2016 class in win shares despite red-shirting the entire 2016-17 campaign.
2016 Draft No. 2: Jaylen Brown, Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: Brandon Ingram
Jaylen Brown's Original Spot: No. 3 (Boston Celtics, from Brooklyn)
Jaylen Brown is not the going-away choice for the Lakers at No. 2. He has played a more complementary role with the Celtics. Dropping him into Ingram's situation, without a multi-star safety net around him, could have unintended ramifications.
Then again, to take the system-player slant is to exaggerate Boston's impact. Brown is a smart player. Forcing him to play without superstar relief—first in Al Hoford and Isaiah Thomas, then Horford and Kyrie Irving—wouldn't have necessarily stunted his growth. It might've accelerated his maturation.
Brown offered a glimpsed into his featured-option chops at the end of 2017-18 with both Irving and Gordon on the sidelines. His unexpected success behind the rainbow coupled with sturdy defensive stands harkens back to an underdeveloped Kawhi Leonard. As Lowe wrote:
"Both proved almost immediately they could bully smaller guards in the post. Both obliterated expectations as spot-up shooters by the end of their second seasons; Brown is ahead of where Leonard was.
"More than two-thirds of Leonard's three-point attempts in his second season came from the corners; he hit 43 percent of those, but just 13-of-53 non-corner threes. Brown has hit almost exactly 43 from the corners for his career, but he's much more accomplished on above-the-break threes than young Kawhi; Brown hit a very solid 69-of-184 (37.5 percent) on those longer threes last season. He hit them over decent contests, and out of the pick-and-roll."
Context matters. The Celtics without Hayward, Thomas or Irving provide more safety valves than every sketch of the Lakers over the past two years. But Brown's physical defense belies any offensive concerns.
Especially when Ingram himself is an unfinished shot-creator with only loosely explored three-point range.
2016 Draft No. 3: Brandon Ingram, Boston Celtics
Original Pick: Jaylen Brown
Brandon Ingram's Original Spot: No. 2 (Los Angeles Lakers)
Sliding Brandon Ingram into Jaylen Brown's role holds the tiniest bit of intrigue—for everyone other than Celtics fans content with the current product and its decade-long window.
Ingram entered the NBA as the more tantalizing prospect. He drew comparisons to Kevin Durant and Paul George and sported the more dependable jumper. He shot 41 percent from three on six-plus attempts per 40 minutes at Duke and gave off more of the playmaking-wing vibe.
That projection has not spilled over into the NBA. Ingram drilled 39 percent of his threes last season, but he attempted fewer than two per 36 minutes. He carries more responsibility from the point of attack. He jump-started 5.2 pick-and-rolls per game as a sophomore, compared to Brown's 1.2, and he leans on off-the-dribble jumpers with greater frequency.
This explains some of the discrepancy in their values. Ingram's role is more complicated. He shouldn't be as efficient as Brown, who has obliterated expectations. Ingram's true shooting percentage spiked as a sophomore against higher usage—a feat in and of itself.
Does this mean he'd thrive in a more complementary capacity with the Celtics?
Would he be riding the same offensive wave as Brown amid better spacing? Would he be viewed as more of a defensive stopper surrounded by Boston's cast of like-sized wings?
It's impossible to know. But the snapshots of focal-point growth he's sending from Los Angeles make this a worthy rabbit hole.
2016 NBA Draft No. 4: Jamal Murray, Phoenix Suns
Original Pick: Dragan Bender
Jamal Murray's Original Spot: No. 7 (Denver Nuggets, from New York)
Anyone still waiting for the Nuggets to add another point guard needs a Jamal Murray reality check.
After sitting out a mid-January tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers while going through the league's concussion protocol, he closed the 2017-18 crusade on an absolute tear. Across his final 37 appearances, he averaged 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals with a true shooting percentage just north of 60.
Put another way, Murray produced like a megastar for almost half of his sophomore campaign, all while touching up his ball control and decision-making in the pick-and-roll. He even whipped out some gut-check shooting, finding nylon on more than 45 percent of his crunch-time triples following the All-Star break.
Ripping Murray from the comfy confines of Denver's offense calls for adjusted expectations. Phoenix doesn't boast the spacing, supplemental ball-handlers or superstar big to mollify his learning curve—not even in this little imaginary corner.
But Damian Lillard Light has earned the benefit of the doubt. He's an operable floor general with a superstar's edge about him. Knowing what they know now, the Suns wouldn't dare go in a different direction.
2016 Draft No. 5: Taurean Prince, Minnesota Timberwolves
Original Pick: Kris Dunn
Taurean Prince's Original Spot: No. 12 (Atlanta Hawks, from Utah)
Taurean Prince has arrived...in Atlanta.
Last season, as January leaked into February, Prince absorbed more playmaking duties. Injuries and a shallow point guard rotation demanded it. Atlanta's tank allowed for it.
Prince responded by averaging 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals while burying 37.9 percent of his 7.3 (!) three-point attempts. The Hawks were terrible during this 31-game stretch. They fielded a bottom-three offense en route to a 9-22 record. No one should care.
Losing was the Hawks' unofficial goal, and their tank facilitated Prince's rise. But his output should not be treated as empty. Prince fits neatly into the NBA's desired motif—a 6'8" modest-usage wing who comfortably shimmies between defensive assignments at the 2 and 3 with the build to pitch in at power forward over measured stretches.
Every team could use more of these players. The Timberwolves have needed more of them for years.
Honorable Mentions: Jakob Poeltl (No. 9); Caris LeVert (No. 20); Pascal Siakam (No. 27); Dejounte Murray (No. 29); Malcolm Brogdon (No. 36)
2017 Draft No. 1: Jayson Tatum, Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Markelle Fultz
Jayson Tatum's Original Spot: No. 3 (Boston Celtics)
Donovan Mitchell is an oh-so-close second to Jayson Tatum. But Ben Simmons stuck with the Sixers in this exercise. They need an effortless fit more than another life vest.
Tatum is a composite of the two. He deferred to the Celtics' primary ball-handlers and distributors for most of his rookie season: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier and even Jaylen Brown at times.
Almost 47 percent of his touches came in transition and spot-up situations. He averaged more points per catch-and-shoot possession (1.18) than Klay Thompson (1.17). He created some of his own offense in bench-heavy units, but he was more focused on blending in with his elders.
Mitchell, by contrast, played his way into more of a ball-dominant role—largely out of necessity. Under 15 percent of his possessions were allocated to spot-ups. Nearly 39 percent of his touches came as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls. Only seven players initiated more of them during the regular season.
No. 1 overall picks seldom pander to fit. But the Sixers wouldn't be conceding killer-instinct flair with Tatum. He turned on the jets in the playoffs. He fired up more pick-and-rolls than any of Boston's non-point guards, and close to half of his made baskets went unassisted.
When the margin is a matter of splitting hairs, fit can take priority. The age difference helps, too. Tatum is roughly 18 months younger than Mitchell, yet he's similarly fast-tracked for stardom. As such, he's the deserving No. 1.
2017 Draft No. 2: Donovan Mitchell, Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: Lonzo Ball
Donovan Mitchell's Original Spot: No. 13 (Utah Jazz, from Denver)
Donovan Mitchell. In Los Angeles. On the Lakers. That would have been something.
Mitchell's meteoric rise engendered hysteria while breaking ankles in Utah. Amplify that times infinity, and you have the equivalent of his breakout in Hollywood.
Reps would not have eluded Mitchell with the Lakers. They actively needed to roll out the red carpet for talented kiddies. Mitchell's breakthrough with the Jazz was more of an anomaly. Even after losing Gordon Hayward, they maintained fringe-playoff hopes with a rotation that, for most rookies, would've been tougher to crack.
Beginning his career outside head coach Quin Snyder's egalitarian system, next to a big man who wasn't Rudy Gobert, could have impeded Mitchell's instant surge. But he's more adaptable than advertised. He doesn't need a devastating rim-runner to create daylight with his screens. He doesn't even need to be the primary playmaker.
Eighty-four players chewed through at least 200 spot-ups last season. Mitchell ranked third in points per possession. If the Lakers needed to move him off the ball to make room for whatever other scorers were peppered throughout their depth chart, he would have been fine.
By the way, this means exactly what you think it does: Mitchell, Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis technically could have been teammates—unless, of course, you think the Lakers re-drafted their way to a bunch of extra victories in 2015 or 2016.
2017 Draft No. 3: Lonzo Ball, Boston Celtics
Original Pick: Jayson Tatum
Lonzo Ball's Original Spot: No. 2 (Los Angeles Lakers)
I initially had Markelle Fultz here.
His selection was the Celtics' organization-wide Sam Cassell dance. He wouldn't have lost almost an entire season to a mysteriously broken jumper and shoulder problems under their care. (Right?)
But then it happened: a reel of this year's Lonzo Ball, onset shooting struggles and all, playing for Brad Stevens began flashing before my eyes. It was a moment of epiphany. Or LaVar Ball was pumping formaldehyde through my air-conditioning ducts.
Whatever the cause, giving Fultz the No. 3 spot suddenly felt wrong. It still does. Maybe he makes good on the bar set before him last summer. Maybe he doesn't. His potential transcendence is under siege—purely theoretical until, well, it's not.
Boston originally traded out of No. 1 to draft someone else. That should matter even more with the added luxury of hindsight.
Ball is more in line with the rest of the Celtics' roster. At 6'6", he's an honorary wing. He opens up all kinds of defensive possibilities, some of which he's plumbed with the Lakers. He already knows how to use his length to break up plays from behind and is less vulnerable than expected when being dragged onto an island. Stevens would have run wild with him in the fold.
Calling out Ball's shaky jumper and general offensive hesitance is fair. He's too deferential. Without Jayson Tatum on the board, the Celtics will take it. Ball is a sublime change-of-pace passer, disarming defender and opportunistic rebounder. He doesn't need to be a premier scorer or shooter.
Four players over the past four decades have averaged at least nine rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and one block per 100 possessions: Draymond Green, LeBron James, Ben Simmons and...Lonzo Ball.
The Celtics could work with this. And don't rule out him fixing his jumper sooner rather than later in Boston. He swished 33.7 percent of his threes through his final 25 appearances. Better spacing and better teammates likely tack on another couple percentage points to that conversion rate.
2017 Draft No. 4: Kyle Kuzma, Phoenix Suns
Original Pick: Josh Jackson
Kyle Kuzma's Original Spot: No. 27 (Los Angeles Lakers, from Brooklyn)
The Suns needed help on the wings last summer. That remains true here.
Josh Jackson was a fine pick at the time. Phoenix shouldn't have any regrets now. He went kaboom during its stretch-run tank, and his defensive ceiling is higher than any of the available alternatives.
Except, he's not the player around which the Suns can form a defensive identity. Not thus far, anyway. Kyle Kuzma isn't either, for that matter. But he lays the groundwork for offensive trademark. Phoenix needs that; it needs any sort of recognizable style.
Kuzma has forever to go before he's a serviceable defender. And he only showed traces of playmaking as his rookie season wore on. But whoa, can he score.
Among the 108 players to cycle through 50 or more isolation possessions, Kuzma placed third in effective field-goal percentage. Third. As in, two spots behind first. As in, only Stephen Curry and Nikola Jokic enjoyed more cumulative efficiency.
Cake in a 37.5 percent clip on spot-up threes, and the Suns couldn't afford to let him slide. There would be some redundancies with he and TJ Warren sharing the same airspace. Kuzma is worth the overlap. He's more likely to develop into a point forward and offset whatever void might exist at the 1 spot.
Granted, this means the Suns have now selected Jamal Murray, CJ McCollum and Kuzma during this process. Let's agree to agree about agreeing to not care.
2017 Draft No. 5: Markelle Fultz, Sacramento Kings
Original Pick: De'Aaron Fox
Markelle Fultz's Original Spot: No. 1 (Philadelphia 76ers)
With all due respect to De'Aaron Fox and his clutch gene, the Sacramento Kings have to take this swing.
Markelle Fultz's rookie season was an unmitigated disaster. He appeared in just 14 games, labored through shoulder issues, unveiled a terrible jump-shooting form and was generally enveloped by controversy. His stock has cratered.
Fultz remains the same prospect who invited James Harden-with-defense comps approximately one year ago. He turned 20 in May. He has under 300 minutes of NBA action to his resume.
Jumping ship now, so early into the process, is a mistake. The Kings need the player he's supposed to become. Every rebuilding team does. His star can fall only so far. His case needs to be re-evaluated in another year or so.
In the meantime, fifth overall is an obligatory hedge—an admission he's no sure thing but miles away from hopeless.
Honorable Mentions: De'Aaron Fox (No. 5); Lauri Markkanen (No. 7); Dennis Smith Jr. (No. 9); John Collins (No. 19); OG Anunoby (No. 23)