Predictions for Lonzo Ball and Former NBA Lottery Picks on New Teams
The NBA offseason saw an unusual amount of movement among stars. But over a dozen recent lottery picks also changed teams through trades and free agency.
Most hadn't previously appeared to be on the right path toward reaching their potential, making them expendable earlier than expected.
We predicted how a change of scenery will affect the following young players' careers after they were either dealt to or signed by new teams. Only players selected in the 2014 draft or later were considered.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
Drafted: No. 2 in 2017
Prediction: Revives stock, but not star potential
Injuries haven't helped Lonzo Ball, but a change of scenery should.
He'll benefit from playing with a younger core of teammates to whom he can better relate and without the pressure of having to impress or please LeBron James and the demanding, enormous Los Angeles Lakers fan base.
Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors and JJ Redick are lower-maintenance/profile veterans to develop under. Holiday also adds supplementary scoring and playmaking without being overly ball-dominant, creating a balanced mix of on- and off-ball work for Ball.
His passing and defense will continue to drive his impact, but he should also be feeling looser this season, which should translate to another spike in three-point percentage.
However, I wouldn't bet on Ball suddenly reaching the star expectations that initially came with being the No. 2 pick. A new team won't unlock the scoring ability that is typically needed for a guard to reach star status in today's NBA. He lacks the shooting creativity, dribble-jumper attack and explosion to separate inside the arc.
Ball figures to revive his stock in New Orleans, but as a high-end role player who'll continue to be valued mostly for his basketball IQ, facilitating, defensive instincts and three-point ability.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Golden State Warriors
Drafted: No. 6 in 2015
Prediction: Fits, becomes more appreciated
After four seasons, Willie Cauley-Stein's strengths and limitations are well-defined. They won't change much over the years since they haven't dating back to his freshman season at Kentucky.
For the Sacramento Kings, paying for the rim-running and finishing wasn't worthwhile. That's different for the Golden State Warriors, who lacked an above-the-rim presence at the 5 and already had plenty of scorers to mask Cauley-Stein's inability to create or shoot.
He racked up the sixth-most dunks in the NBA last year, and the Warriors' skill players will also optimize his ability to pick up easy baskets. His stats might fall slightly in Golden State, but he'll be more valuable than he was in Sacramento.
I wouldn't bet on Cauley-Stein opting into the second year of his deal, which would pay less than $3 million. He'll revive his value this season by playing to his strengths on a team that wins games even without Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Drafted: No. 11 in 2018
Prediction: Finishes the year as starting point guard
It seemed safe to assume the Oklahoma City Thunder would trade Chris Paul after they landed him in the Russell Westbrook deal, which followed the team's acquisition of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George trade. Those roster moves signified a change of direction and strategy. But Paul is still on a roster that has a low ceiling, an up-and-coming sophomore point guard and a boatload of draft picks that point to a rebuild.
I wouldn't expect Paul to start games for the Thunder in March and April, though it's unclear how his exit or fade will occur. Maybe OKC can eventually facilitate a trade or shut him down early and use load management.
Somehow, Gilgeous-Alexander will finish the year running the team's offense, assuming a core of a 34-year-old Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams won't be enough to threaten the top teams in the West.
Oklahoma City will eventually want to prioritize its newest long-term cornerstone by giving him lead-guard reps. He averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 assists in 26.5 minutes last year, splitting his time almost evenly between point guard (50 percent of his possessions) and shooting guard (49 percent).
Though Paul will start the season with the Thunder, look for Gilgeous-Alexander to wind up seeing more time on the ball. The Thunder will want him to gain experience making decisions and improve his off-the-dribble scoring and playmaking.
Mario Hezonja, Portland Trail Blazers
Drafted: No. 5 in 2015
Prediction: Finds a suitable reserve role
Exciting flashes of athleticism and scoring have kept hope alive for Mario Hezonja, but erratic decision-making and inconsistency have made him expendable to the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks.
He'll fit in better with the Portland Trail Blazers, a veteran playoff team whose second unit could use some of his potent offense, even it remains volatile.
His playing time will still fluctuate based on which Hezonja shows up that day since the bad one creates frustration with silly shots and turnovers. The good one can lift Portland's bench and inject the lineup with confident shot-making, slashing and defensive playmaking.
Hezonja will continue to go through highs and lows with his third team since he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2015. But his highs this year will feel more impactful now that his particular strengths are needed by a winning team.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Drafted: No. 2 in 2016
Prediction: New team, same Brandon Ingram
Nothing about Ingram's new situation raises concern about his fit. Nothing suggests the game should come any easier, either.
Again, he'll be featured as a secondary or tertiary scorer, and he should be able to match last year's 18.3 points per game. Ingram has made subtle strides creating and executing inside the arc, raising his two-point field-goal percentage and total two-pointers made in each of his first three seasons.
Most notably, he appeared to make the biggest jump executing in traffic during the 2018-19 season, going from 23.9 percent to 48.1 percent in the paint from the restricted area to the free-throw line.
A three-ball would take Ingram's scoring attack to another level, but minimal progress through three seasons doesn't fuel a lot of optimism. He also might be off to a slower start this offseason while recovering from thoracic outlet decompression surgery to fix an issue that caused a blood clot in his right arm.
Assuming he eventually regains his health and strength, Ingram should still emerge as a key scoring weapon in New Orleans' rotation and overall rebuild. But it's difficult to imagine him making that leap to stardom in 2019-20.
Josh Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies
Drafted: No. 4 in 2017
Prediction: Change of scenery doesn't help
Trending toward bust status through two seasons, Josh Jackson begins a new chapter with the Memphis Grizzlies after the Phoenix Suns traded him in a small salary dump. And sometimes, a change of scenery is needed.
It won't be enough in this case, at least based on where he wound up.
Jackson goes from one young team to another. The spacing and veteran talent to play off won't be there in Memphis. He shouldn't count on more open three-point looks or easier scoring opportunities in the half court.
Jackson hasn't improved his shooting or decision-making, finishing last year at 32.4 percent from three with 183 assists to 173 turnovers. His shot selection and shooting inconsistency don't scream "makes teammates better" on the scouting report.
And with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke set as the franchise's new priorities, Memphis' first-year coach, Taylor Jenkins, may feel more comfortable playing the experienced and reliable Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder.
Though he's a No. 4 overall pick, Jackson ultimately seems headed to free agency after the season, unlikely to make a strong enough impression for the Grizzlies to exercise an $8.9 million team option for 2020-21.
Stanley Johnson, Toronto Raptors
Drafted: No. 8 in 2015
Prediction: Becomes a serviceable backup
Toronto represents Stanley Johnson's final chance to revive his NBA stock.
He's still yet to finish a season above 40 percent from the floor, while his 30.7 percent mark from three as a rookie remains a career high.
Playing a more defined role for a solid team should help Johnson. Better passers and shooters in Toronto won't hurt.
The Raptors will ultimately call on Johnson to bring scoring and competitiveness to the second unit. I'll bet the front office's confidence in the 2015 No. 8 pick, plus a fresh start in a winning culture, will help breathe new life into him. Johnson has a strong opportunity to establish himself as a serviceable backup to OG Anunoby.
Frank Kaminsky, Phoenix Suns
Drafted: No. 9 in 2015
Prediction: Useful in a minimized role
The Charlotte Hornets didn't extend a qualifying offer to Frank Kaminsky this offseason, which allowed the NBA's worst three-point-shooting team to sign him as an unrestricted free agent.
He's fallen out of the rotation on one lottery team. Will he be a better fit and hold more value to the Phoenix Suns?
He should, but only in a minimized role. The 7-footer's three-ball should keep him afloat and ultimately make him useful in Phoenix, where neither of the Suns' two centers, Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes, space the floor from deep.
Kaminsky shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc over the past two seasons. But to have his most efficient year (46.3 field-goal percentage), his minutes had to be reduced from 23.2 to 16.1.
He gives the Suns a needed frontcourt shot-maker, but his other limitations—defense, physicality, creation and speed —will make it difficult for head coach Monty Williams to play him over long stretches.
Jabari Parker, Atlanta Hawks
Drafted: No. 2 in 2014
Prediction: Falls out of favor
Jabari Parker's reputation has taken a massive hit since he went No. 2 overall. This stint with the rising Atlanta Hawks could be his final chance to reshape his image.
Based on the Hawks' roster and needs, don't count on it happening. Parker's poor defensive effort isn't a great fit for Atlanta's frontcourt. He can't play alongside John Collins, whose budding offense will earn him over 30 minutes per game.
Parker's ceiling in Atlanta would have him functioning as Collins' regular backup, but even rookies De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, wings/forwards with far more upside and defensive tools, could become more attractive to head coach Lloyd Pierce.
He's still a threatening half-court scorer inside the arc. And there are bound to be games in which Parker can help Atlanta's second unit. But as a one-way player who doesn't help spacing, he will also have games in which he's difficult to play, particularly on this team.
Elfrid Payton, New York Knicks
Drafted: No. 10 in 2014
Prediction: Uses the year to establish value as a high-end backup for a playoff team
The New York Knicks likely signed Elfrid Payton for two reasons: to improve their credibility with a proven veteran passer and to push Dennis Smith Jr., who they will want to separate himself as the starter by the season's end.
Payton is a short-team play for the Knicks during a weird period in which they're both rebuilding and looking to compete for a playoff spot.
He doesn't offer enough scoring ability to lift New York or strengthen his image as a quality NBA starter. But his assisting (7.6 per game last year) and floor game will be valuable, specifically for youngsters RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.
His ceiling remains capped without a perimeter game. But by the season's end, when the Knicks will hope they can hand the full-time keys to Smith, Payton should look like an attractive high-end backup point guard for a playoff team outside New York.
Taurean Prince, Brooklyn Nets
Drafted: No. 12 in 2016
Prediction: Becomes an important role player
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signing with the Brooklyn Nets overshadowed the team's earlier acquisition of Taurean Prince.
He has his flaws, mostly on defense, but his role may be bigger than expected while Durant recovers from an Achilles rupture and Wilson Chandler is suspended for 25 games after violating the league's anti-drug program.
Brooklyn will be heavily guard-oriented on offense. Prince, who has shot over 38 percent from three and averaged at least two made triples in consecutive seasons, could give Brooklyn a useful frontcourt weapon.
Consistently delivering at both ends will be his challenge, particularly if he's given more responsibility early in the season. Regardless, Prince will wind up being viewed as an important rotation piece who the team needs to play well.
Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Drafted: No. 7 in 2014
Prediction: Massive statistical season
The analytics and standings haven't painted Julius Randle in a favorable light, leading to a smaller contract than those granted to other players who've put up similarly impressive numbers: 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on 52.4 percent shooting.
Randle might not be capable of elevating the New York Knicks to respectability, but he could be in line for an even bigger statistical season than last year's exploits in New Orleans.
The Knicks' highest-paid player and clear No. 1 option, Randle will have the chance to raise last year's scoring average, even if critics view his stats as empty.
He significantly expanded his repertoire last season, hitting 67 threes after previously totaling 37 since entering the league. Compared to his final year with the Los Angeles Lakers, he quadruped his catch-and-shoot makes per game (0.8) and tripled his made pull-ups per game (0.6) with the Pelicans.
The eye of the beholder will determine whether Randle winds up deserving the star label. Either way, he'll be a statistical standout in 2019-20 as the Knicks' go-to option.
D'Angelo Russell, Golden State Warriors
Drafted: No. 2 in 2015
Prediction: Successfully adapts
The Golden State Warriors found a way to acquire an asset out of Kevin Durant's desire to leave by pulling off a sign-and-trade for D'Angelo Russell. The question is whether they'll view Russell simply as an asset or an actual core piece who can help them win a championship.
General Manager Bob Myers already had to address questions and deny any intent of shopping the 2015 No. 2 pick.
I'm betting on Russell sticking in Golden State and winning over the staff by successfully adapting to a combo role after playing 90 percent of his minutes at the point through four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
Since Klay Thompson is out with a torn ACL and Durant is gone, the Warriors will value Russell's scoring and creation. Even when Thompson returns, he should be fine coming back at small forward based on his size, defense and shooting.
Russell ultimately elevated his game in Brooklyn with a chip on the shoulder formed by the Lakers' preference for Lonzo Ball. He'll have another one there for motivation, this time in Golden State after he led the Nets to the playoffs and was passed over for Kyrie Irving.
History and Russell's personality suggest he'll be extra determined to prove himself with the Warriors. And he brings enough skill and versatility to make it work next to Stephen Curry.
This team's drop-off won't be as drastic as it could have been since Russell should emerge as a key weapon to keep it competitive in the playoffs.
Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns
Drafted: No. 12 in 2014
Prediction: New team, same Dario Saric
Dario Saric should take on a fairly large role in Phoenix with Frank Kaminsky as the only other natural fit at power forward.
More responsibility on a significantly worse team won't make it easy to stay efficient, but he's still a good bet to surpass last year's 10.6 points per game. His scoring should translate thanks to his versatility as a forward who can find the bucket in different ways from all over the floor.
The Suns may also encourage him to shoot more three-pointers next to Deandre Ayton, given their need for spacing and Saric's career 1.6 makes per game.
Expect to see the same productive and competitive player who makes shots, heady passes and frustrating mistakes.
Whether acquiring him was worth moving down from No. 6 to No. 11 in the draft is another question. We're guessing Phoenix will eventually regret not selecting Jarrett Culver and instead opting for Saric and Cameron Johnson.
TJ Warren, Indiana Pacers
Drafted: No. 14 in 2014
Prediction: Fits, becomes more appreciated
Injuries and losses overshadowed TJ Warren's production with the Phoenix Suns. His scoring ability should be more appreciated in Indiana, where he'll replace Bojan Bogdanovic at forward.
With Victor Oladipo coming off a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, the Pacers may lean heavily on Warren early in the season.
Always known for his offense inside the arc, he made a significant jump as a shooter last year, draining 1.8 threes per game after averaging just 0.3 during his fourth season. He expanded his repertoire at the right time, just before his move to Indiana and a likely high-usage role for a playoff team that needs more firepower.
Playing with a tough defense (No. 3 in the NBA, per ESPN) and alongside high-IQ teammates such as Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, Warren and his aggressive, versatile scoring attack should fit well.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference