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2018 NBA Draft: Thoughts on the Top 3: Phoenix, Sacramento, and the ATL

This draft is all about bigs, but is the league?

USA TODAY Sports/Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

The most dangerous thing in the NBA is drafting a big man in the hopes that he saves your franchise.

The second most dangerous thing in the NBA is drafting a European player in the hopes that he saves your franchise.

And, the third most dangerous thing in the NBA is being a player for the Sacramento Kings. The Kings probably have their very own internet lest the pernicious lies of the craven West(ern Conference) trickle into Sacramento citizens’ brains and corrupt their loyal and righteous fans.

But, get real, of course Sacro will screw this up, and here’s why.

First of all, no one wants to play for your dumbdumb team. Second of all, you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. And, third of all, this is a draft full of bigs. Guess who doesn’t need to draft more bigs? The Sacramento Kings! This is just hysterical.

If Phoenix does the dumbest thing possible, which is the Phoenix Way, they’ll draft a fungible/risky big man who “played in the Suns’ backyard at Arizona.” So, because he played close by, the Phoenix Suns should draft him? “Correct!” advises the Phoenix Way. “Besides, remember when Deandre Ayton and Arizona won the NCAA tournament?” Cool, so the Suns will draft a big, based mainly on geographical convenience, which is funny because Phoenix is also a team with a plethora of bigs. Or, who knows? Maybe Phoenix will sell the pick.

The smart thing to do for Phoenix, the thing they will not do, is trade the pick. They have another first round pick, #16, and they just aren’t anywhere close to being competitive; acquiring future assets to add to the core of Devin Booker and...uh...hmmm...well, Devin Booker will eventually need some help. But, what he really needs is a competent point guard and a competent coach.

Phoenix recently hired a new coach (Luka Doncic’s ex-head coach, which may or may not be a selling point to Doncic), and competent point guards are (or, at least, should be) easy to come by. Brandon Knight will be back, but you’d prefer to have someone like Kyle Lowry. A trade of Lowry and future picks for the #1 overall pick makes sense to me. There’ll be salary filler and other players involved in such a trade, maybe even a bunch of them, but that’s what the trade would be about: Doncic for Lowry & picks. Doing this trade allows Toronto to add a young, athletic wing, something they dearly needed while getting eviscerated by the Cavaliers in Round 2. Luka Doncic and OG Anunoby is a damn good foundation upon which to build. Add in the facts that DeMar, like LeBron, does better with shooters around him, and that Toronto has a point guard on their bench who can instantly replace some of Kyle Lowry’s value, AND that Toronto has future picks available, AND that Toronto is a World City and Very Cosmopolitan and Familiar for Europeans and has a great/bigger-than-you-think fanbase, and this all equals Galaxy Brain-Level Opportunity Knocking. This helps Phoenix long term, and Toronto short term. Doncic to the Raptors makes too much sense to me for Masai Ujiri to have not considered it.

Phoenix won’t do it, though. They’ll draft Ayton. Because when you can acquire a player who led his Arizona Wildcats over the Buffalo Whatevers in the FIRST ROUND of the NCAA tournament, you just have to do it. Oh, no, wait...

USC v Arizona Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The smart thing to do for Sacramento is to draft Luka Doncic if Phoenix is dumbdumb and drafts a big. (By the way, the only reason people are freaking out about the bigs in this draft is because of Joel Embiid and the overall weakness of this draft. The odds are that most of these guys aren’t that great, just like in most other drafts. So chill out on predicting these guys to be All Stars or Hall of Famers.) I know that sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but if you really think that Doncic is the best player available in the draft, then of course you pick him! If he doesn’t want to play for you, then fine, he’s stashed in Europe for a few more years. The Kings aren’t competitive, anyway, so having Doncic get more seasoning before, eventually, coming to the NBA isn’t the worst thing in the world if you’re Sacramento. Hopefully, by then, your team has improved and Doncic isn’t afraid to play for you.

HOWEVER, if someone is willing to Godfather you and send you serious players and future picks, then you have to take it. If Toronto offers you the same deal as the one mentioned with Phoenix, you take that deal. If someone like Washington or Philly or Miami or Chicago hollers at you with young player(s) and picks, then you should do it.

You can probably tell that I’m not too enthusiastic about this draft. Guilty. I think that Michael Porter, Jr. will probably end up being the best player, unless Doncic is the real deal. None of these bigs really blow my socks off, though. Are any of these guys going to be Joel Embiid? Won’t most of them have injuries, just like all other bigs, including (gulp) feet and back issues? Golden State, the apex of the modern NBA team, generally has a replacement-level Center in their regular season games (Draymond Green obviously plays Center for the Lineup of Death in the playoffs). So, the focus on bigs is, again, more a function of this draft, than it is a function of the way the NBA plays now. I’m not saying bigs aren’t important: Clint Capela and Al Horford are bigs, and they are THE linchpins of their teams. Embiid, Big KAT, Anthony Davis, Boogie Cousins, and other elite bigs show us that Centers can shoot from the perimeter, and play in pace-and-space. AD and Boogie still would’ve been a tough matchup in the playoffs, if Boogie hadn’t gotten hurt.

But, c’mon and get real, there are bigs EVERYWHERE. A serviceable big man is easier to acquire than a competent point guard, and those are everywhere, too (though some are buried on benches). The ONE THING that is difficult to acquire in the NBA is a GOOD wing. Elite perimeter players are gold in the NBA. In a way, they are the only players that matter. Toronto’s excellent backcourt duo got CRUSHED. The 76ers and their big players got definitively bounced, ditto New Orleans. The teams that remain in the playoffs are teams with excellent, excellent perimeter players. A bunch of them are tall, and several of them play at the “shooting guard” position, but they’re perimeter players, and they’re nasty. LeBron James is the greatest wing of his era, and because of the times in which we live, we now consider him on a par with Michael Jordan. The Celtics at full health will be a team of wings, Kyrie Irving, and Al Horford: an elite Big who can shoot from outside; an elite point guard who can run the show; and wings wings wings wings wings. The Wizards are (slowly) creeping towards this, as well (they should try to get Michael Porter, Jr. if only for the ensuing funny lineups), ditto the Lakers.

We should consider “Bigs” to be like starting pitchers in baseball: we assume they’ll be injured for at least 2 years during their contract. All the numbers say so. Remember, Joel Embiid missed a TON of time. Ben Simmons sat out his entire rookie year. Bigs get hurt, man, they always have, and they always will. Being that huge, with that much weight, takes its toll on the feet, especially when you’re running and jumping on them all the time. Elite Bigs can change your franchise, but they won’t always be able to play for your franchise. That’s the trade off. You definitely win when you play an ELITE big. But, how often do you get to play them?

Sacramento should trade their pick, along with some players, and try to acquire future picks and cap space. Drafting another big is a longshot, and further depresses your previous picks. The Kings should try to continue to develop their young talent, while strengthening their future position.

SEC Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Atlanta should draft the living hell out of Michael Porter, Jr. THE LIVING HELL. If Doncic is somehow still available, then draft him, but he won’t be, so draft the best player available, and that’s Porter Jr. He’d fit on the Hawks immediately. You always have to consider a Godfather deal, but Atlanta needs a good, young player to keep their rebuild going. They don’t need a big, and they shouldn’t force a trade. Be bold and get yourself a damn good shooter.

The knocks against Porter, Jr. are BS: he’s young and he’s still filling into his body. Can you imagine this guy in three years when he’s had time to develop actual muscles and has weight? This kid will learn how to play in the paint, he’ll improve his defense with his body, and he’ll be a nightmare in the passing lanes with his long arms. He can shoot over people and he’s tall enough to guard other elite wings. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED RIGHT NOW. Porter, Jr. and Taurean Prince is a damn good foundation to build upon. Plus, the Hawks already have talented young bigs. Herr Dennis Schroder may be on his way outta town, but point guards can be found.

Again, the hardest thing to acquire in the NBA is an elite wing. They are the KEY to getting to the playoffs, and they are the most important players once you’re actually there. The other players matter, of course, just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s tough to even make the postseason if you don’t have a guy who can realistically hold his own against the best players in the league, like Kawhi, like LeBron, like Durant, like Klay Thompson, and now like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. (Gordon Hayward didn’t even play this year! Jesus!) The top 3 teams in the draft should let other teams follow their big man dreams while they build for the future, and acquire picks for future/better drafts.