The Draft is among the crowning jewels of the NBA.
It is where teams go to pick the best college, high school and international players to fortify their current rosters, and get better in the quest to win an NBA Championship.
The Draft has historically led with the best players going in the top 10. Teams elbow their way to the top pick in the hopes of landing a franchise player who can turn their fortunes around.
Then last season, a 5’9” guard became a franchise player, scoring a record 53 points in an NBA playoffs game and finishing the regular season averaging nearly 29 points per game.
Why is this significant? Because, Isaiah Thomas was picked last in the NBA Draft in 2011. The 60th player in a draft that features 60 players.
Both Thomas and Draymond Green (the fifth-best player in the 2017 NBA Finals, was picked 35th in the NBA Draft in 2012) have turned the entire process on its head. Teams now, more than ever, are vigilant and careful not to let a hidden gem slip away.
That being said, the talent at the top of a draft as loaded as this year’s, is not something we can overlook. The top-15 picks feature at least three franchise players, and five more potential All-Stars.
Here are the ten best picks in the 2017 NBA Draft in reverse order:
10. With the No 7 pick, the Timberwolves select Lauri Markkanen (traded to the Chicago Bulls)
There is only one reason for Markkanen to go this high...he’s 7’0” and can shoot the lights out. Outside that, he cannot do much. Scouts are understandably excited about a big man who can shoot in a league that is becoming more offensive focused by the day.
The league, however, is also the domain of players like Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis, who can pound in the paint, step out to shoot, rebound for their life and defend at a high level. Markkanen doesn’t have even half the arsenal he needs to be successful, and nothing about the Bulls organisation suggests he will get the help needed to develop it in the near future. The general consensus is he will be the biggest bust in this year’s draft.
9. With the No 8 pick, the Knicks select Frank Ntilikina
The Knicks continue to be in the midst of high drama. After Phil Jackson publicly suggested that Carmelo Anthony ought to leave, and stopping Kristaps Porzingis, there isn’t anything that can save the Knicks. Anything other than Jackson leaving, that is.
At the very least, Ntilikina is a guard who fits well into the triangle offense that Jackson is forcing down the throat of the team. It helps that he already has professional experience under his belt, thanks to his stint with French league powerhouse STG Strasbourg. A pass first point guard with a reliable jumpshot and great feel for the game, Ntilikina will blend into any team Jackson decides to assemble around him.
8. With the No 6 pick, the Orlando Magic select Jonathan Isaac
He should’ve been ranked higher by virtue of the powerful first name, but I digress. Isaac began playing basketball as a guard, but was blessed with growing eight inches in high school. Now 6’10” with guard-like abilities, Isaac has an upside few others in the draft have. He can handle and shoot with the best of them. His defensive ability is the most NBA-ready in this draft. He controls the paint and can lift off with the best of them. His growth spurt left him severely underweight, but it’s nothing that an NBA trainer cannot fix.
7. With the No 9 pick, the Dallas Mavericks select Dennis Smith
The Mavericks had most of the pieces to make a run in the West. The only thing they were missing? A solid point guard. Arguably the most explosive player in the draft, Smith gives the Mavericks a reliable player to steer the offense. Smith has an “uncoachable” tag to him, but between Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle, there isn’t a young gun they cannot straighten out. With Wesley Matthews lurking and Harrison Barnes having found a second wind, the Mavericks look like a playoff team.
6. With the No 4 pick, the Phoenix Suns select Josh Jackson
Jackson was rumoured to have been in the sights of the highly confused and borderline senile Phil Jackson as a replacement for Porzingis. Jackson’s athletic ability is hard to ignore. He is the best in the class and moves so quickly he seems to be in two spots at the same time.
The Suns fans will be treated to a poor man’s version of lob city with the Devon Booker-Josh Jackson duo, and Bledsoe trailing to knock down open shots. The Suns are still not a playoff team in the loaded West, but at the very least, they have made it on my must-watch list this season.
5. With the No 5 pick, the Sacramento Kings select De’Aaron Fox
Fox is my favourite rookie. Both in terms of ability and personality. It is sad the Kings passed up an opportunity to pair him up with his running mate Monk, with whom he wrecked havoc in the NCAA tournament last season. That ship has sailed, and Fox will team up with Hield to form one of the fastest and most exciting backcourts in the NBA.
Fox is devastatingly quick in the open court, and has a decent shot. He will need to clean up his act at the defensive end, but with the Kings, who have no expectations of making any playoff noise, he will have plenty of time to grow.
4. With the No 3 Pick, the Boston Celtics select Jayson Tatum
The knock on the Celtics is that they picked a player whose skills perfectly coincide with those of Jaylen Brown’s (last year’s No 3 pick). That doesn’t absolve them from not having made a run at Butler when he clearly was coming this cheap. The consensus is that while Josh Jackson is a better overall player,
Tatum brings a ton of reliability at the offensive end. That fills a huge gap for a team that does not have a reliable second scorer behind Thomas. Tatum’s defensive issues will be immediately addressed by a team that specialises in shutting down opponents.
3. With the No 2 pick, the Los Angeles Lakers select Lonzo Ball
It really doesn’t matter what Lonzo Ball’s dad says, as long as he delivers on court. Love him or hate him, Ball’s talent is undeniable. He has that once-in-a-generation ability to see the game ahead of the other nine players on court. Jalen Rose compared him to Ricky Rubio, but he is closer to Jason Kidd.
Add to that, his ridiculous shooting numbers (73% from 2-pt and 40% form 3-pt) and you’re looking at a cornerstone on which the Lakers can begin building their own super team. Ball won’t bring Showtime back, but picking him is a step towards bringing glory back to the Lakers.
2. With the No 11 pick, the Charlotte Hornets pick Malik Monk
I like the name so much I will be buying his jersey. Bias aside, there is no doubt that Monk went too low. Monk is the complete offensive player and the best shooter in the draft. What is stranger is that the Kings traded away the 10th pick for their 15th and 20th picks.
Why the Kings would not have held on to pick Monk at No 10 when they already picked his Kentucky running mate De’Aaron Fox at No 5, is beyond anyone’s understanding. With Monk, the Hornets can begin a rebuilding process even if they let go of Kemba Walker, who clearly isn’t talented enough take them past the first round. Even at No 11 in such a loaded draft, Monk is the early favourite for Rookie Of The Year.
1. With the No 1 Pick, the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz
The Sixers have now picked third, first and first in the NBA Draft. Trusting the process, the team can now roll out, arguably, the most exciting team in the East: Joel Embiid did enough in 31 games to establish his authority as the best centre in the East, Dario Saric will end up winning Rookie of the Year, and Ben Simmons has already been heralded to have the ceiling of Hall-Of-Famer Magic Johnson if he plays a full and healthy career.
Add to that, the second-most complete offensive player in a loaded draft and you have a team that makes your must-watch list for next season. Some are worried that Fultz and Simmons, both point guards, will invariably clash. Those worries are unfounded since Fultz plays just as well, if not better, off the ball, while Simmons prefers to create more than score. Simply put, the Sixers have a young, spanking new ship, with a captain (Simmons) that loves to sail. Don’t be surprised if the Sixers are in the fight for the eighth seed come April 2018.