About a month into the regular-season, we’ve gotten to see a majority of the rookies in action. And, damn, they look good. It’s early, but this has the making of an exceptional draft class that is extremely deep. Here’s who we think each lottery team should draft if they were to re-do it, taking into factors such as potential, team needs, season expectations, and style of play:
- Philadelphia 76’ers: Jayson Tatum (Duke)
Boston seemed to have made an excellent decision to trade down with Philadelphia, drafting arguably the best player in the draft anyways in Tatum. He has already emerged himself as a solid NBA starter at just 19 years old. Tatum’s gotten more opportunity due to Gordon Hayward’s tragic injury and has certainly made the most of it, averaging 13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg on 48.9% FG.
All of the Paul Pierce comparisons seem to be legitimate. He’s already so crafty on offense with excellent footwork and plays within himself, letting the game come to him. Although it’s way too early to count out Fultz, the thought of the 76’ers pairing Simmons’ playmaking and Embiid’s post-dominance with Tatum’s offensive skillset is extremely scary.
- LA Lakers: Markelle Fultz (Washington)
With that being said, the Lakers would be thrilled to have Fultz here. It was confusing to see him shoot free-throws early on and the 76’ers accredit it to his shoulder injury- if you can’t shoot the ball how you normally would, it’s probably in your best interest to not play. Especially if you are a top draft pick on a team that’s literally known for “trusting the process” and is playing for the future.
Anyways, it’s way too early to temper any expectations people had about Fultz going into the season because a.) his track record and scouting reports are way too good to suggest that he won’t be a special player and b.) he was limited by an injury, one that doesn’t seem will be a lingering problem. He’s too talented and too young to not draft here, especially given the state of the Lakers franchise and their need for a transcendent player.
3. Boston Celtics: Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State)
This was a hard position because the Celtics obviously have Kyrie, who is either in, or on the brink off, MVP discussions. We went with Smith because of the fact that he can help them right away, averaging 15.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, and 4.2 rpg.
It’s not like the Celtics believe in positions either – if anyone can find a way to integrate Smith Jr. effectively into their system it’s Brad Stevens. Not to mention this goes along with Ainge’s strategy of simply gathering the best assets and worrying about what to do with them later, which has worked out very well so far.
The only knack on Smith Jr. is his efficiency; he’s shooting 40.6% from the field, but history suggests that he will get better with experience and better decision-making.
- Phoenix Suns: Lonzo Ball (UCLA)
To say Lonzo is struggling would be an understatement, but this pick is largely based off potential. With the departure of Bledsoe, the Suns are in desperate need for a PG of the future, and Lonzo would be a perfect fit. Sure, he’s shooting 30% from the field and 23% from three with a shot that makes Chuck Hayes look good, but he’s also averaging around 7 assists and 6 rebounds per game and is only 20 years old.
Even if he never turns into a great shooter, all he has to do is be good enough to make the defense respect him and use it to open up the lanes more. Although there are disparities in their games, this is a guy that could flirt with Jason Kidd-type numbers. The Suns are a perfect destination too, being the youngest team in the league that has selected raw prospects in the past based off potential.
Not to mention their PG right now is Mike James.
- Sacramento Kings: Josh Jackson (Kansas)
The Kings would be ecstatic to have Jackson fall to them at 5. His numbers aren’t great so far, but he’s certainly showed glimpses of a poor-man’s Andrew Wiggins. He has tremendous athleticism and is already a solid defender. Jackson would make for a great fit for the Kings because he gives them a defensive-identity, something they have been lacking in year’s past.
As a team that’s heavily rebuilding, Jackson would be a great piece to build around. Not because he’s going to be your franchise player that scores 20 a night, but because he embodies a winning-culture with his defensive tenacity and team-first mentality.
- Orlando Magic: Donovan Mitchell (Louisville)
via NY Daily News
The Jazz are looking like winners of their draft-day trade in which they acquired the 13th overall pick from the Nuggets, who turned out to be Mitchell. If it weren’t for Ben Simmons being technically listed as a rookie, Mitchell would be one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year so far.
He’s averaging 14.9 ppg, 2.4 apg, and 2.6 rpg. Like Dennis Smith Jr., his efficiency needs to improve, shooting just 38.8%, but the Jazz organization has to be thrilled so far. He would be a great fit in Orlando as well, who are playing well so far, but lack playmakers and skilled-guards.
He’s also great defensively, which has been the Magic’s identity under head coach Frank Vogel. He’s certainly looking like one of the top draft-day steals early on in the season.
- Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona)
Lauri was a great pick for the Bulls – 7-footers who can stretch the floor are a cherished commodity in today’s NBA. He’s had plenty of opportunity to grow due to (teammate-inflicted) injuries and lack of talent on the roster.
He needs to bulk up and work on his defense, but you can’t pass up those offensive numbers – 14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, on 43.6% FG and 36.3% 3PT. He should start for the Bulls for a long, long time.
The best comparison we see is Ryan Anderson; he’s not going to be your best player, but is a solid stretch-4 that opens the lane as defenses can’t help off of him.
- New York Knicks: Kyle Kuzma (Utah)
Kyle Kuzma is shaping out to be the steal of the draft, which is great for the Lakers considering they acquired the 27th overall pick in the Brooklyn trade involving Lopez and Russell. Nobody thought he’d be this good this quick, averaging 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds on an impressive 50% FG.
Although undersized at his position as a 6’9 PF, Kuzma actually uses it to his advantage and has become a matchup problem for many teams. If he’s being guarded by a traditional PF, he takes them out on the wing and uses his quickness and ball-handling to get by. If he’s guarded by a SF, then he can take them inside.
However, the biggest thing we’ve noticed about Kuzma early on is his confidence; he plays as if he expects to make every shot and isn’t afraid of the moment. It would be entertaining to see him pair up with “The Unicorn” and we already know he would love the big stage in Madison Square Garden.
- Dallas Mavericks: De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
via Barstool Sports
Fox has been just OK so far, averaging 11.1 ppg and 4.9 apg on 39.2% FG. This pick is solely based off potential and the fact that, with 2 wins on the seasons, it’s clear the Mavericks have to begin their rebuilding process. With Fox, they have someone that might take awhile to progress, but has such a high ceiling to the point where it’s completely justified taking him here.
He’s gotten some comparisons to fellow Kentucky alumni John Wall, who uses his athleticism to get in the lane at will. They are a good fit for him in terms of being a team that can be patient with him but also doesn’t have much competition, if any, at the PG position.
- Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilikina (France)
For all the talk about how the Knicks should’ve gotten Smith Jr., Frank has actually looked pretty impressive early on. Although he certainly needs to improve offensively, he has displayed glimpses of being a lockdown defender; he’s already averaging 2 steals a game with that 7’ wingspan.
The Knicks are also a better team this year than many expected, meaning he’s only playing 20 minutes a game and isn’t relied on heavily for offensive output like many of these other high draft-picks are.
The Kings could officially begin a new-era of defensive, team-basketball with Frank and Josh Jackson, something they’ve been desperately in need of ever since the departure of Boogie Cousins.
- Charlotte Hornets: Jonathan Issac (Florida State)
via Orlando Sentinel
Although his numbers are less than stellar so far, Issac is a great flyer to take here with his potential – he’s 6’10, 20 years old, and freakishly athletic. We knew that it was going to be awhile for him to develop, and there hasn’t been anything to change our original opinion of him as someone that can have a huge impact on games with his length and athleticism.
The Hornets don’t need more role players, they need someone that has such a high ceiling that could potentially put them over the hump of mediocrity. He’s too tempting of a prospect to pass up on at 11.
- Detroit Pistons: John Collins (Wake Forest)
John Collins has also been a pleasant surprise, averaging 10.6 ppg and 7.3 rpg on 52.4% FG. He’s already had some vicious dunks and does a great job of playing above the rim.
Our best comparison would be a poor-man’s Amare Stoudamire. He’s someone that could play alongside Andre Drummond for years, forming one of the most polarizing backcourts in the NBA.
- Denver Nuggets: OG Anunoby (Indiana)
via Inside the Hall
Original Gangster Anunoby has done an excellent job of replacing PJ Tucker in Toronto, and actually plays pretty similarly as well. Although he has only averaged 6.4 points, we are more impressed with his efficiency.
He’s shooting 47.1% from the field and 41.7% from three. Not to mention he only plays 17 minutes a night. He would be a great addition in Denver, especially with Will Barton testing free-agency this offseason.
- Miami Heat: Malik Monk (Kentucky)
via SEC Country
Our informal analysis is: this guy straight gets buckets. Although they have a crowded backcourt, he gives them an extra boost offensively and has shown flashes of his scoring aptitude – recently dropping 21 against the Knicks on 8-17 shooting.
We view him as a Lou Williams, 6th-man type that is better served as someone to bring energy and scoring off the bench. Monk is a little undersized as a SG at 6’3, but makes up for it with his creativity in terms of freeing himself from defenders to get off shots. He could mesh well with Tyler Johnson off the bench as combo-guards.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment who you would’ve drafted higher or lower. Feel free to subscribe to get email notifications about new posts 🙂
By: Reese Kunz
An out of shape dude that isn’t good at basketball so he writes about it.