clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2017 NBA Draft Western Conference Recap

New, 1 comment

Contributor Francis Adu recaps how each Western Conference team did during the 2017 NBA Draft.

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks:

Dennis Smith Jr., G, North Carolina State (Rd. 1, Pick 9)

In terms of fulfilling stylistic fit, roster fit, and pick value, there may have been no better marriage in the entire draft than the Mavericks and Dennis Smith Jr. Assuming the notorious D.S.J. keeps cordial with the prickly Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle, Smith should flourish in the Mavericks’ base spread pick-and-roll offense as its lead guard. Smith has near-elite explosiveness with his leaping ability and speed and projects to be at least decent as a three point shooter and passer. With Nerlens Noel as an ideal rim runner and Dirk, Wes Matthews, and Seth Curry all able to threaten from deep, Smith should have plenty of opportunity to produce immediately even as a rookie.

Grade: A

Denver Nuggets:

Tyler Lydon, F, Syracuse (Rd. 1, Pick 24)

Vlatko Cancar, F, Mega Leks (Rd. 2, Pick 49)

Monte Morris, G, Iowa State (Rd. 2, Pick 51)

Acquired F/C Trey Lyles via trade with Utah Jazz

The Nuggets traded out of the 13th pick to land Trey Lyles and the 24th pick, which was used to acquire Tyler Lydon. Lyles and Lydon overlap a bit as stretch bigs who will rely heavily on making the threes Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray create for them as both seem likely to remain defensive negatives at either the 4 or 5. Lydon has shown more signs of being a better shooter and defender than Lyles has.

Vlatko Cancar offers the possibility of a mobile smallball 4 with shooting range. However, the 6’8” Slovenian has to work on his inconsistency with his shooting as he probably is not good enough in any other area to carve a NBA niche.

Monte Morris famously avoided turnovers to an eye-popping degree as a floor general all four years at Iowa State. Despite the lack of stellar athleticism and perhaps only serviceable shooting, Morris’s quality passing and intelligence could make him a backup PG mainstay in the league for a decade or more.

Denver went heavy on finding forwards to space the floor for Jokic when he’s around the paint but seems to have neglected to acquire any defensively minded prospects who can help negate Jokic’s interior defense struggles. With next season’s starting lineup projected to include Jokic, Murray, and Gary Harris, the Nuggets badly needed to include more athleticism to the roster and did not do so.

Grade: C-

Golden State Warriors:

Jordan Bell, F/C, Oregon (Rd. 2, Pick 38)

The Golden State Warriors started the night pick-less and could’ve took the draft off to continue the champagne popping for their 2nd NBA championship in 3 years. However, the team decided to pay the prettiest of pennies (a mere $3.5 million) to the Chicago Bulls for the draft rights to Oregon junior Jordan Bell at 38th overall.

Jordan Bell broke out into the national spotlight during Oregon’s Final Four run in last season’s NCAA tournament. Bell covered for the loss of crucial rim protector Chris Boucher due to injury by becoming even more of a rim protecting dynamo, averaging 3.0 blocks per game for the tournament. Most notable was Bell’s 8 block dominance versus favorite Kansas to help Oregon pull off the Elite Eight upset.

Bell only stands 6’9”, 220 lb. with a sub-7 feet wingspan but yet has mastered the nuances of rim protection enough to sustain a block rate above 8% all 3 years at Oregon. Even more enticingly, Bell marries that rim protection with arguably the most agile feet in the entire draft, regardless of position. Those Pong-like feet do wonders in letting Bell slide and mirror across the perimeter almost regardless of the ballhandler. Plus, Bell has produced better on the glass than most might expect, given his extremely slight frame for a center.

The Warriors have possibly acquired the most ideal defensive prospect for their extremely active switching defensive scheme, even if Bell will probably be a bit matchup-dependent due to his size and limited offensive skillset. Bell truly has Draymond Green’s defensive ceiling if any strength can be added while maintaining his agility.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets:

Isaiah Hartenstein, F/C, Zalgiris (Rd. 2, Pick 47)

Rumors speculated Hartenstein fell farther down the draft than expected due to worrisome medical reports about his back. This alone may make Rockets fans gulp after remembering Donatas Montejunas’s promising career sputter after his own back injuries. Yet, Hartenstein brings rare coordination and fluidity to a 7”, 225 lb. build that may make the 2nd round pick worthy of a stab in the dark. The 19 year old played a limited rotation role for the Lithuanian giants Zalgiris and struggled a bit with consistency from game to game.

However, Hartenstein could develop into a solid roll man for Harden to use in Houston if the nuances of screen-setting and better decision making are learned. Hartenstein has also tried to show his potential to stretch the floor for the Rockets but his awkward spin-heavy shot mechanics lend themselves to questioning about the plausibility of the goal. Hartenstein seems determined to make the move to the United States immediately but Houston will likely send Hartenstein to the Rio Grande Vipers of the G League if a draft-and-stash option proves untenable. Do not expect much from Hartenstein at least for a couple of seasons.

Grade: B-

Los Angeles Clippers:

Jawun Evans, G, Oklahoma State (Rd. 2, Pick 39)

Sindarius Thornwell, F, South Carolina (Rd. 2, Pick 48)

Similarly to the Warriors, the Clippers started the draft without a pick but spent that Ballmer money to buy two 2nd round picks with arguably 1st round talent. Jawun Evans can provide an unguardable drive-and-kick guard off the bench. Sindarius Thornwell might be the most impressive off-ball defender in the draft class and perhaps can guard 4s with his strength.

Ideally, both Evans and Thornwell would be the first draft picks of the entire Doc Rivers era in Los Angeles to provide roles in the Clippers’ rotation for the playoffs. However, that would necessitate the returns of free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, which isn’t guaranteed. If one or both leave, Evans and Thornwell still have enough talent to more than justify their drafted slots and perhaps earn more playing time for a transitioning Clippers squad. But it would be a bit saddening to see the Clippers’ title window shut permanently just as cheap talented prospects may finally be available to help solve the Clippers’ constant depth issues.

Grade: A

Los Angeles Lakers:

Lonzo Ball (Rd. 1, Pick 2)

Kyle Kuzma (Rd. 1, Pick 27)

Josh Hart (Rd. 1, Pick 30)

Thomas Bryant (Rd. 2, Pick 42)

Lakers had one of the busiest draft weeks in the league with the pre-draft trade shocker of D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick and the draft-day flip of the 27th pick for the 30th pick and 42nd pick.

Lonzo Ball obviously stands as the jewel of the Lakers’ draft haul with his once-in-a-generation level basketball IQ. Ball has been one of the most unique prospects ever scouted since despite very much producing like a star at UCLA, his playing style is dissimilar to any star precedent ever in the NBA. If Lonzo doesn’t have much issue translating his style to the NBA, the Lakers should get a magnet for easy and efficient looks for the whole team and an outlier star that will legitimately change defensive schemes. If his lack of slashing and his unorthodox shooting mechanics lead to scoring struggles for him, the Lakers get a flawed yet still brilliant rotation player.

Kyle Kuzma offers intrigue as a jack-of-all-trades stretch big but it remains dubious if any of those trades are NBA-caliber. Kuzma especially has questions about being able to shoot adequately enough to be worth guarding with his career 30% from 3 and 63% from the line at Utah. Kuzma will likely not threaten Randle and Nance much for minutes at the 4 in his rookie season.

Josh Hart is one of the few encouraging graduating senior prospects statistically as he remained steady with his all-around game all four successful years at Villanova. Hart helped quiet nerves over the functionality of his athleticism in the NBA with a better than expected showcase at the NBA Combine. Hart fit in a similar jack-of-all-trades mold to Kuzma in their NCAA years but Hart’s skills seem to be quality enough to be at least average across the board. That would make for an useful if unspectacular rotation player.

Thomas Bryant will always have a special place in my heart with his awkward, uncoordinated body still producing at a high level offensively at Indiana and his face making me certain he has some Ghanaian in his blood. However, the lack of coordination along with spotty decision-making and awareness lead to often rough defensive possessions for him, despite his 7’6” wingspan. Bryant also makes for a puzzling fit on a Lakers roster already stocked with 2 huge, plodding post players in newly-acquired Brook Lopez and Ivica Zubac. Expect Bryant to spend most of his rookie season with the South Bay Lakers in the G League where he will hopefully improve his defensive awareness enough to allow his offensive gifts to play.

Grade: B-

Memphis Grizzlies:

Ivan Rabb, F/C, California (Rd. 2, Pick 35)

Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon (Rd. 2, Pick 45)

The Memphis Grizzlies decided to get involved in the 2nd round of the draft by trading future 2nd round picks with Orlando and Houston to pillage the Pac-12 for Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks.

Ivan Rabb showed little growth from his freshman year when he was touted as a possible lottery pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Rabb remains a stellar rebounder on both ends who makes intelligent decisions with and without the ball but his lack of athleticism for the 4 and size for the 5 has him without much of a positive role on the court besides the rebounding. He seems to now profile more as a scarcely used bench option for when Grizzlies opponents play with two traditional bigs. Fortunately for Rabb, Marc Gasol’s recent development into a legitimate stretch 5 may offer more avenues to allow Rabb on the court next to him.

Dillon Brooks also possibly finds himself without a concrete role as his success as a smallball 4 at Oregon faces the challenge of replicating itself against bigger and higher-caliber athletes in the NBA. With just a 6’6” wingspan, Brooks may find himself at a size disadvantage against even NBA wings, let alone NBA bigs. Brooks will likely have to shoot quite superlatively and gain some extra explosiveness from a full NBA training regime to provide enough offense to negate his defensive weaknesses.

Grade: C-

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Justin Patton, C, Creighton (Rd. 1, Pick 16)

Acquired G/F Jimmy Butler via trade with Chicago Bulls

Justin Patton became the surprise freshman prospect of the NCAA last season with his impressive finishing ability at the rim. Patton’s 7’, 220 lb. frame hints at having the athleticism necessary to remain a constant rim-running menace, mobile perimeter defender, and rim-protecting roadblock in the NBA.

However, his two-way potential is currently capped by Patton’s lack of attention to detail which will send him into disadvantages much more often in the NBA than the NCAA. Patton will need to learn the fundamentals of screen-setting, getting open in tight spaces, maintaining defensive stances, anticipating opposing ball movement, and the list goes on. This amount of rawness is more troubling when paired with his relatively older age for a outgoing college freshman.

While Patton’s potential mental growth is conceivable, another question inquires what would be Patton’s role on a Timberwolves team led by consensus future superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng recently signed to an extension that lasts for the majority of Patton’s rookie contract. Using a mid-1st round pick on a likely third-string center gives Minnesota more trouble than it is worth on how to later maximize its assets.

But then again, it is hard to complain much when the Timberwolves also traded on draft day for a star wing in his prime in Jimmy Butler. The swap of the injured Zach LaVine, struggling now-sophomore prospect Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick for the rare legitimate two-way star of Jimmy Butler likely provides the Timberwolves at least 10 additional wins automatically for 2017-18.

Butler’s fit next to perimeter mates Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio seems dubious on paper because of all three players’ preference of having the ball often and all three being average at best off-ball three-point shooters. But Butler is so much better at creating quality offense for his team than Rubio and Wiggins the roster fit worries are warts Minnesota should be ecstatic to deal with. You made Prince proud, Thibs.

Grade: A (would be A+ if the Patton pick did not happen)

New Orleans Pelicans:

Frank Jackson, G, Duke (Rd. 2, Pick 31)

The Pelicans traded up (with plenty of cash sweeteners) in the 2nd round to get the opportunity to take the first available prospect without a guaranteed rookie contract. That pick ended up taking a swing on Frank Jackson, the young explosive scoring guard who might be the only other player on the Pelicans’ roster who can create his own shot besides Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Jackson played a 6th man role for Duke and played to the 6th man stereotype of being a microwave scorer who offered little else.

Jackson’s blend of stellar athleticism and size as a guard with capable spot-up shooting should give him more rotation minutes than most 2nd round picks because the Pelicans lack badly in those categories. However, it will probably take many years if ever to get Jackson’s basketball IQ high enough to actually run the Pelicans offense for long stretches and not be a liability on the defensive end with his mental gaffes. Still, finding near-elite athletes who drive to the rim and shoot off-ball is a rarity in the 2nd round.

Grade: B

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Terrance Ferguson, G/F, Adelaide (Rd. 1, Pick 21)

The Thunder opted to swing for the fences for a potentially viable 3-and-D option in 19 year old Terrance Ferguson. Oklahoma City may have took a big left-handed cut on an Andrew Miller slider moving down and away, though. Ferguson is most known for his trampoline hops and forgoing the NCAA to play professional basketball in Australia. Zero judgment of Ferguson’s character should be made based on his decision, but his decision did allow for worrisome judgment of Ferguson’s functional talent as a NBA prospect.

Ferguson struggled mightily in Australia in almost all areas of basketball as he shot a 47% TS%, 31% 3PT%, and a 60% FT% for Adelaide. Not only did he shoot poorly, but Ferguson struggled quite a bit to create in the halfcourt (although he did not receive many chances to do so either) and turned the ball over at will. Ferguson demonstrated some capability to slide alongside attacking ballhandlers but he also did not create many eye-popping defensive plays and did not particularly impress defending off-ball.

The Australian competition grades out similarly to NCAA competition so the poor play doubles the worry for Ferguson’s long-term development. It is hard to see much optimism based on the evidence for Ferguson as an actual NBA player besides him being able to jump 36 inches in the air.

Grade: D-

Phoenix Suns:

Josh Jackson, F, Kansas (Rd. 1, Pick 4)

Davon Reed, G/F, Miami (FL) (Rd. 2, Pick 32)

Alec Peters, F, Valparaiso (Rd. 2, Pick 54)

Josh Jackson seems to be the more ideal fit for Phoenix than Jayson Tatum so the Suns are probably pleased with the aftermath of the Celtics-Sixers trade. Jackson allows Phoenix to continue their high-usage experiment with “Mr. 70 Point Game” Devin Booker while also providing some complementary ballhandling and passing Booker will probably not provide.

The shooting worries for Jackson should also have a bit less of an impact on a Phoenix core that includes two stretch big hopefuls in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Jackson can play more to his strengths with more natural ease with the theoretical space on the floor. Those strengths may not add up to a future All-Star, which would understandably cause some to question using such a valuable pick on JJ, but they should add up to quality starter play for a team that could use some steadiness.

Davon Reed has the shooting profile and physical measurements to perhaps provide a member to the exclusive 3-and-D Club of the NBA. However, his off-ball defensive instincts have often been slack and a previous injury has left his athleticism at only a so-so level. Still, if anyone sniffs even close to the 3-and-D profile, that prospect is worth a crack in the 2nd round. There just may have been prospects with better 3-and-D profiles and/or higher upsides than the graduating senior Reed.

Alec Peters leaves Valparaiso as one of the most prolific and underrated shooters in NCAA history and it is exactly that shooting ability at a 6’9” height that serves as all of Peters’s value. If Peters hits 40% from 3 on frequent volume, the pick is a hit. If he underachieves that goal, Peters probably does not bring enough else to the table to warrant too many rotation minutes.

Grade: C

Portland Trail Blazers:

Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga (Rd. 1, Pick 10)

Caleb Swanigan, F/C, Purdue (Rd. 1, Pick 26)

After using the surplus of 1st round picks to trade up to 10th overall, the Trail Blazers used the new pick to make the curious selection of Zach Collins. In a vacuum, Collins showed enough two-way proficiency to be more than worthy of the 10th overall pick in terms of value. Collins excelled as a post scorer and rim protector and showed many hints of being able to also thrive shooting threes and guarding perimeter players. He would have to diminish his foul rate and improve his passing ability to at least above abysmal, though.

However, Portland had acquired Jusuf Nurkic in the middle of last season and witnessed an unexpected breakout second half from him as a scorer and facilitator in the paint. The breakout was impressive enough to have most NBA fans consider Nurkic the Blazers’ 3rd most important asset. Collins could potentially replicate that value or more but it seems difficult to expect so any time soon with Nurkic taking the majority of the minutes at Collins’s more favorable position at the 5. Collins had experience playing the 4 well next to Gonzaga’s other star center Przemek Karnowski who shares many similarities in style to Nurkic. But it seems like poor asset management in the long run unless Portland is more uncertain about Nurkic than most assume.

Caleb Swanigan also dominated in this past NCAA season after greatly improving his conditioning and expanding his game to include more perimeter jumpers as well. Based on solely production, Swanigan would have deserved lottery consideration but Swanigan seems ill-fitted to guard the common pick-and-roll offenses of the NBA and cannot elevate much to contest shots at the rim, although having a 7’3” wingspan aids him a bit on that facet.

The lack of athleticism to use defensively seems to destine Swanigan to a career as a scorer and rebounder off the bench who will be exploitable in several matchups. Portland probably could have used another wing or frontcourt player who could defend the often leaky Portland perimeter.

Grade: C-

San Antonio Spurs:

Derrick White, G, Colorado (Rd. 1, Pick 29)

Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson (Rd. 2, Pick 59)

The Spurs opted to select two of the oldest prospects in the entire draft class in Derrick White and Jaron Blossomgame. Despite White’s age and presumed lack of considerable upside, White already seems like a ready contributor as a rookie to the Spurs bench. Able to run the offense as a 6’5” lead guard or play off-ball as a solid shooter, White opens up the possibility for several lineup combinations head coach Gregg Popovich will probably ignore until times of desperation. With Tony Parker both old and now rehabbing a severe injury and DeJounte Murray still quite young and mistake-prone, White offers a safety valve in case the Spurs cannot entice any of the top-tier free agent point guards this summer.

Blossomgame does not project to shoot anymore than slightly above-average, which probably limits him to playing the 4 exclusively, but he plays with enough intensity and athleticism to perhaps forge a role as the Spurs’ new Jonathan Simmons. Plus, we should remember if any team can scrape out shooting effectiveness from a shaky jumpshot, it is the Spurs.

Grade: B+

Sacramento Kings:

De’Aaron Fox, G, Kentucky (Rd. 1, Pick 5)

Justin Jackson, G/F, North Carolina (Rd. 1, Pick 15)

Harry Giles, C, Duke (Rd. 1, Pick 20)

Frank Mason, G, Kansas (Rd. 2, Pick 34)

The Sacramento Kings opted to stick with the Hollywood schools of the NCAA, which honestly is not the worst strategy in the world. De’Aaron Fox cemented his name in households by torching UCLA’s still-baffling pick-and-roll scheme to lead Kentucky to the most marquee victory of the NCAA season. Fox has one elite ability with his blazing speed and that alone provides a star-level ceiling for Fox even if he needs his woeful shooting and frail frame to catch up by leaps and bounds to come close to touching that ceiling. While Fox’s jumpshot isn’t aesthetically gruesome, he frequently slings it without much balance or consistent hand positioning. The mechanics probably necessitate at least some overhaul. The strength also seems likely to cap out at mediocre, which will make finishing through contact and guarding bigger wings struggles.

Justin Jackson and Frank Mason both seem like prime candidates for the breakout senior year trap. Jackson struggled with his jumpshot consistency for all 3 previous seasons at UNC before finally hitting his shots effectively as a senior. However, even as a senior, Jackson had a tendency for bad misses. The rule of thumb is to bet on a college player’s underclassmen seasons to be more indicative of future NBA play than his upperclassmen seasons.

If the jumpshot isn’t as reliable as many expect, Jackson grades out as a low-efficiency offensive player who could possibly slide along with ballhandling guards but will struggle with the strength of more burly wings.

The diminutive Mason also did not seem like a likely NBA prospect until his dominant senior year in charge at Kansas. Mason shot above 50% at the rim for the first time as a senior as Mason needs a myriad of feints and tricks to create open layups away from interior defenders. Those tricks are unlikely to work enough to get him respectable at the rim in the NBA and Mason’s passing and decision-making are rather unimpressive as a drive-and-kick player.

Finally, Harry Giles comes to the Kings hoping to redeem his previous eye-popping athleticism and blue-chip prospect stats as a high school player. Yet, even with the recovery of full athleticism and end of bad injury luck, Giles probably remains limited to being an energy big off the bench because of his so-so touch around the rim and at-best average defensive instincts.

The Kings employed a pretty reasonable strategy of taking formerly lauded high school prospects with their picks. This same strategy was used last year with Skal LaBissiere. Yet, each of the picks require significant bets against trends to work out as good as hoped for the pick values. And Sacramento is not an organization that has a history of providing an environment to overachieve.

Grade: D

Utah Jazz:

Donovan Mitchell, G, Louisville (Rd. 1, Pick 13)

Tony Bradley, C, North Carolina (Rd. 1, Pick 28)

Nigel Williams-Goss, G, Gonzaga (Rd. 2, Pick 55)

The Jazz made efforts to shore up a perimeter that may be missing George Hill in the future, the only consistently quality guard for the Jazz last season. The Utah Jazz traded up from the 24th pick to dump superfluous bench big Trey Lyles and snatch one of the last upper-tier guard prospects in Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell hopefully provides a 3-and-D floor as an off-ball guard with the smidge of upside in using his considerable athleticism and his confident (albeit sometimes too confident) pull-up jumper to offer self-creation value as a higher usage player than most 3-and-D players. That self-creation upside would need Mitchell to generate more ballhandling wiggle and skill than he got away with in Louisville and would do well with better shot discretion. But Mitchell’s defense should translate well as a strong and quick on-ball defender who also has a long enough wingspan to compete with some wings if not most wings.

The Jazz also traded up to draft 19 year old Tony Bradley from North Carolina with the 28th pick. Bradley defies the stereotype of most 6’11”, 250 lb. bigs known for their rebounding by actually offering quite a bit of nimbleness on the court. While mostly a below-the-rim athlete, Bradley’s solid agility gives him more defensive ability and upside as a pick-and-roll defender than the standard energy big. Plus, Bradley offers pretty great touch and hands around the rim to take advantage of his nimbleness and offensive rebounding. Bradley could become the best post-lottery selection of this draft class.

Nigel Williams-Goss will be glad about his decision to transfer to Gonzaga as it put him on the map as a 6’4” floor general who can offers solid passing and uses his size well to take advantage of mismatched smaller guards. N.W.G. does not seem to have the quickness or scoring acumen to become more than a backup lead guard but teams can do worse than a shorter Shaun Livingston.

Grade: B+