There are just three days to go until the NBA Draft, and there is still much unsettled.
We know a few things: There are some desperate teams with picks at the top of lottery, and there is a top-heavy group of prospects available for those teams. But as we have seen in past drafts, much can go wrong, even when you’re picking among so-called sure things.
Heading into these final pre-draft days, we took a look at the 13 players, coaches, front-office executives and other groups who are going into this draft with more at stake than usual…
1. Deandre Ayton, Arizona center
Ayton declared himself the No. 1 pick after his workout with the Suns, and all indications are that Phoenix will choose him first. The Suns have looked at other candidates for this spot, and there is always a chance (however slim) that the top pick could be moved. Not likely, though.
Ayton has a lot riding on going first because he has only worked out for the Suns, and a source noted that he will not work out for any other team before the draft.
2. Ryan McDonough, Suns general manager
This was Year 5 of McDonough’s time with the Suns. After the team won 48 games in his first season, he has overseen the worst four-year stretch in franchise history since, with a .326 winning percentage and an average of just 26.8 wins per year.
McDonough’s draft record is spotty — successes with T.J. Warren and Devin Booker, uncertainty with Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss — but he’s got to get this No. 1 pick right. It would help if he could get useful contributors at No. 16 and 31, too. (No. 59 would be a huge bonus.)
3. Vivek Ranadive, Kings owner
The Kings are now the owners of the NBA’s longest postseason drought, at 12 years, and Ranadive has been owner for the last five of those years. The team has done little but tread water in those five years, with win totals of 28, 29, 33, 32 and last year’s 27.
Ranadive has fired a good coach (Mike Malone), hired a trainwreck (George Karl) and brought in a middling retread (Dave Joerger). He hired Pete D’Alessandro to run the team, but dumped him two years later for Vlade Divac, who has yet to do much to distinguish himself as an executive. But with the second pick in a draft top-heavy with talent, the Kings simply must get this draft right.
Divac is apparently not so enthralled with Slovenian guard Luka Doncic and has eyes for Michael Porter Jr., though his injury questions might scare off the Kings. That could leave Divac to draft Marvin Bagley III. If he does, and Bagley is just so-so while Doncic goes on to be the kind of star guard who makes other players better, Ranadive’s Kings could be in for another half-decade of playoff-free suffering.
4. Luka Doncic, Real Madrid guard
If the Kings pass on Doncic at No. 2, the Hawks probably will scoop him up at No. 3 — coach Lloyd Pierce has been high on the chances that Doncic will be able to come in and boost the potential of the entire team with his playmaking ability.
But if the Hawks decide to go with a big guy to put next to John Collins, Doncic could fall to Memphis, and with an aging roster around him and an unsettled front-office picture, that’s a situation Doncic probably would like to avoid. (Many other top prospects like him have dodged the Grizzlies ahead of the draft.) If Doncic somehow slips to No. 5, the Mavericks would be a good landing spot.
Doncic has suffered somewhat from not being able to work out for NBA teams because of his Real Madrid schedule. The team is in the ACB finals, up 2-1 over Baskonia in the best-of-five series, and Doncic had a game-high 20 points in 24 minutes in Game 3. The series could wrap up on Tuesday and give Doncic a chance to make it to the U.S. in time for the draft — though obviously not in time to meet with teams.
But if the series goes to a decisive fifth game, it would take place on Friday, and Doncic would remain in Spain.
5. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri forward
Porter was able to work out for teams on Friday after a hip injury scare, but the workout did not completely allay fears about Porter’s injury history. He had back surgery in November, and there is ample concern, according to front office sources, that Porter will be an injury question mark throughout his NBA career, at least in his early years.
Porter entered the season as a potential No. 1 pick, but if teams get trigger-shy on Thursday night, he could slip all the way out of the top 10.
6. Cavaliers, No. 8 overall pick
Who knows what is ahead in the next two weeks for the Cavs? They have the No. 8 pick in this draft thanks to the Kyrie Irving trade last year, and as poorly as things went in terms of putting a supporting cast around LeBron James this season — even with the blockbuster trade deadline deal that brought in four new players — the Cavs need to get this pick right.
They’re on the fringe of the top tier of players and will need to determine which guy can help them most — no matter what James decides.
7. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State forward
If you only witnessed Jackson in workouts ahead of the draft, you’d be certain he was a top-three pick. But for some GMs and scouts, the memory of Jackson in the NCAA Tournament lingers — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo only played Jackson 33 minutes in two games, obviously not trusting his freshman in the most important situations.
There are fears that Jackson is soft, and word is that Atlanta has ruled out drafting Jackson with the third pick. The question for Jackson, then, will be whether the size and athleticism he has shown in workouts will outweigh the inconsistency he showed on the court.
8. Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks forward
More than new coach David Fizdale or the Knicks’ front office, the guy who should be most interested in what the Knicks do at No. 9 is Porzingis. Does the team go and draft another point guard (Collin Sexton or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), and essentially give up on last year’s pick, Frank Ntilikina? If so, how should Porzingis read that?
More important for Porzingis is whether the team can bring in another big body to play alongside him at center. A wing scorer would be a good middle ground if no centers are available, but getting a guy like Wendell Carter Jr. or Robert Williams would be ideal.
9. Brett Brown, 76ers head coach and interim general manager
The abrupt departure of Bryan Colangelo has left Brown with more say-so in what the Sixers do, and this will be a critical week for the future of the franchise. The Sixers could make a pitch for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard that includes the No. 10 pick, and Brown would be counting on his relationship with Leonard (Brown was an assistant in San Antonio when Leonard joined the Spurs) to persuade him that he should sign long-term with Philly.
But if there is no Leonard deal, the Sixers have a chance to add more scoring on the wing with the No. 10 pick, take a rotation player with the 26th pick and see what they can do with the four second-rounders they own.
10. The Villanova gang
Donte DiVincenzo struck while the iron was hot this spring, skipping out on Villanova as a sophomore, staying in the NBA Draft after his monster performance in the NCAA championship game (31 points) and a good showing at the Chicago pre-draft combine. There’s a chance that DiVincenzo could go in the mid-teens, and he was told before he decided to stay in that he’d be a first-rounder. That’s no guarantee, though, and if he slips to the 20s, he’ll find those picks can go by very quickly.
The same goes for sweet-shooting freshman big man Omari Spellman, whose conditioning is a worry for scouts. He is slated for a spot in the 20s, but might regret his decision if he falls to the second round.
The last of the bunch figures to be Jalen Brunson, the Player of the Year who has been fighting for a first-round spot. The Wildcats could wind up with three first-rounders. Or they could wind up with three second-rounders.
11. Doc Rivers, Clippers head coach
Rivers has slipped off the hot seat entering next season, and he’s lost his role as the chief personnel man, but he needs the Clippers to use the No. 12 and 13 picks in this draft wisely in order to jumpstart what he hopes will be a reloading rather than a rebuilding.
We don’t know yet what will become of DeAndre Jordan, who has until June 29 to decide whether to opt in to the final year of his contract. There are also questions at point guard, where Patrick Beverley is returning from knee surgery, and both Austin Rivers (June 22) and Milos Teodosic (June 24) must decide on their options. The Clippers might not know until after the draft how those situations will play out.
Either way, the Clippers need a big man for the long-term and depth at every position, particularly the forward spots. They’ve explored packaging the picks to move up, but no deal has materialized yet, and they’ll consider offloading a pick to move back and bring in multiple assets.
12. The school-skippers
Two players of interest are potential first-rounders despite not having played a minute of college basketball — 7-1 center Mitchell Robinson and 19-year-old point guard Anfernee Simons. Robinson was enrolled at Western Kentucky, had second thoughts, left school and decided to simply enter the draft rather than transfer. He is likely a lock for the first round, potentially going anywhere from No. 17 to the Bucks on down to No. 25, where the Lakers were rumored to have made a promise to draft him.
Simons spent the last year at IMG Academy, and because it was his fifth year, he is eligible to be drafted this year. He has a shot at hitting the late first round, but he would have been wiser to spend a year in college, improve as a player, then see where he stood in 2019.
13. The other internationals
Doncic is one of the most hotly-debated prospects in this draft, but beyond him, there is not much of a foreign crowd this season. French point guard Elie Okobo has impressed in workouts, and he has worked out for teams as high as No. 15 (Washington). It’s more likely he goes in the 20s, though. He is a good athlete, but raw and still learning to play the point.
The other potential first-rounder is forward Dzanan Musa of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a good scorer who does not play much defense. He declared himself a lottery pick after he worked out for the Nuggets (who have the No. 14 pick), which would be a stretch, to say the least.
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