The NBA Finals are in the book, and a long season has finally drawn to an end. The Warriors hoisted the trophy after finishing off the Cavaliers in five games, and Kevin Durant won his first Finals MVP award. It was a fitting celebration for a Golden State team that plays a gorgeous and dominant style of basketball, but in some ways it felt more like a coronation than an ordinary triumph.
Heading into the season, after adding Durant to the most successful regular season team in history, the Warriors looked like an all-time juggernaut. They were accordingly mostly dominant throughout the season, and didn’t lose a game in the Western Conference playoffs. Heading into the Finals, they were slated as strong favourites to finish the job. And when they did just that, NBA fans were largely left with a sense that it had all been inevitable. That doesn’t mean the basketball wasn’t fun to watch, but it felt like we always knew where this past season was headed.
Now it’s time to remember that the whole reason we felt that way was because of an offseason transaction. It’s not every day that a 73-win team adds a former MVP to its core. In fact, that’s probably never going to happen again. As we head into the summer it’s a good time to remember that the moves teams make now dictate what happens when the next season comes around. That all begins with the NBA Draft on June 22.
2017 NBA Draft
This is widely believed to be one of the strongest drafts in years. Featuring plenty of prospects who will be capable of impacting teams on day one. With that in mind, here are some of the key players to keep an eye on during draft night.
Markelle Fultz – PG, Washington
Fultz is the first player to watch because there’s agreement across the board that he’s the best prospect in a loaded draft. Throw in the fact that the Boston Celtics—Eastern Conference finalists—have the top pick, and he’s a very interesting rookie. There’s still a chance Boston will trade the pick, given that it already has a strong backcourt. But Fultz is a big, versatile scoring guard who can fit into a lot of different schemes. Some consider him the most impressive guard to come out of college in five years. Chances are that the Celtics will draft him and figure out their rotation later.
Lonzo Ball – PG, UCLA
Ball might be the most fascinating player to keep an eye on during draft night and it’s largely by design. On the court, he’s sensational to watch. He’s a 6’6’’ guard with vision that’s been compared to that of a young Jason Kidd, and he seems to have an almost inhuman crispness in his passing ability. He’s also the source of a great deal of drama, thanks to the fact that his father has hogged the spotlight for months.
LaVar Ball has compared his son favourably to two-time MVP Stephen Curry, and has warned every team but the Los Angeles Lakers not to draft him. Lonzo recently poked fun at his own father in a Footlocker ad, and he likely gained some fans in the process. But for now he’s a big question mark. Will the Lakers want him despite the drama? Will he be as good playing anywhere else? How far would he slide if the Lakers skipped over him at number two?
Jayson Tatum – F, Duke
It wasn’t too long ago that a lot of analysts were causally referring to Tatum as the most NBA-ready player in the draft. The Duke forward has a nice shooting touch, the ability to score from anywhere, good athleticism, and a sort of intangible smoothness that would appeal to most any team. He’s been compared to the likes of Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Paul George, and even Grant Hill. But because of questions about his range and passing ability, he seems to have slid down NBA draft boards a bit.
The likes of Josh Jackson (a defensive menace from Kansas who plays the same position), Malik Monk (an elite shooter from Kentucky) and De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky’s athletic, well-rounded point guard) could all be drafted ahead of Tatum. But if Tatum is truly the most NBA-ready of the bunch, that could make him a steal somewhere after pick four or five.
Dennis Smith Jr. – PG, NC State
It’s an NBA draft loaded with strong point guards. Fultz, Ball, and Fox will almost surely be the first three picked. But if you’re looking for a late lottery steal, Smith might be the guy to keep an eye on. He was lacklustre at times during his single season at NC State.
But when you recall how much of a mess the team was all season, and that they fired their coach even before they were done playing, some of his lazy or indifferent games are a little more understandable. If Smith lands in a situation that can pull some passion out of him, he has the talent to be a devastating scoring guard.
Josh Hart – SG, Villanova
Villanova’s versatile veteran shooting guard can do it all. For whatever reason he’s only being talked about as a second round pick in the 2017 NBA draft. But it feels like we’ve seen this story before, and more than once. The most recent comparison is an easy one. Hart could have a similar impact to Virginia product Malcolm Brogdon, who wound up starting for the Milwaukee Bucks and could well be named Rookie of the Year. Keep an eye on the San Antonio Spurs with the 29th pick. Hart seems like an ideal culture fit.