With the conclusion of Summer League, the NBA off-season is now in its yearly dead period. The only thing that keeps NBA fans going at a time like this is the hype behind their team’s top picks. This year is especially special given how loaded the top of the draft is with potential All-Star talent. Therefore, as the days crawl towards pre-season tip-off, I have decided to write up my predictions for the top rookies at each position. I determined their stat lines using BasketballGM’s fantastic simulation program weighted by their specific team’s long term development goals. Barring a change in a player’s health (see: The Nuggets) or a sharp shift in team strategy that would affect his expected minute distribution (see: The Grizzlies), these stat lines should fairly represent their first years in the league.
PG: Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Honorable Mention: Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)
Projected Line: 13 pts, 1 trb, 5 ast, 42 Fg%
On paper, Collin Sexton is the near-complete point guard package. Although a bit undersized at 6’2”, Sexton seems to wield the full range of offensive weapons with a veteran’s poise. He has tight handles, pinpoint accuracy passing in and out of traffic, an explosive first-step, creative finishing, a lethal mid-range/floater game, you name it. The only improvement that is really left to be desired is on his streakiness from the three. His on-ball defense is also driven by an unrelenting motor. Despite his frame, Sexton has shown a John Wall-esque brand of tenacious defensive harassment. However, what distinguishes Sexton from the other potentially elite guards of the draft class are his sky-high intangibles. He possesses the high-octane aggression, proven ability to will his team to victory, and cold-blooded instinct that comfortably draws comparisons to the likes of Russell Westbrook.
Strengths: Finishing, Athleticism, On-ball defense, Mid-Range Pull-up
Weaknesses: Off-ball defense, 3-Point, Shot Selection, Playmaking IQ
SG: Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks)
Honorable Mention: Svi Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)
Projected Line: 16 pts, 5 trb, 6 ast, 45 Fg%
Let me say this right here: Luka Dončić will win the ROY. He has the chips and MVP’s of both the Euroleague and Eurobasket at only 19. A 6’8” passing savant who has full court vision, unselfishness, and off-the-dome creativity, his playmaking has drawn comparisons to the ilk of Manu Ginobili and Larry Bird. Luka’s shooting package has drawn comparisons to that of James Harden with his deadly step-back jumpers, saucy dribble-moves, and affinity for drawing fouls at the rim. As a scorer, Dončić has ice in his veins, embracing the clutch moments and seems to relish scoring in a defender’s face. His main question marks, however, are whether his athleticism and game will translate from Europe to the NBA. Although, I anticipate his game will translate the best among the draft picks given he is not reliant on bullying opponents and that the skill level of professional play in Europe is considerably better than that of the NCAA.
Strengths: Passing, Playmaking IQ, Leadership, Mid-Range, 3-Point, Drawing Fouls, Off-Ball Defense,
Weaknesses: Inside scoring, On-Ball Defense, Athleticism
SF: Kevin Knox (New York Knicks)
Honorable Mention: Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns)
Projected Line: 15 pts, 5 trb, 1 ast, 43 Fg%
As a long, score-first, athletic wing who can both take it to the rack and confidently pull-up from anywhere on the floor, Knox’s blueprint is one that is coveted across the league. The questions about his motor and aggression seemed to have all but faded during his breakout Summer League performance. Prior to Summer League, Knox was projected to be a decent 2nd/3rd option with a Harrison Barnes-like offensive impact. Post-tournament, however, his wingspan, ferocious dunks, and clean shooting stroke have now elevated the comparisons to Jayson Tatum. However, it’s tough to ignore his defensive lapses which really knocked his draft stock in Kentucky. However, I feel that his athletic gifts paired with the fresh coaching of the defensively-minded David Fizdale will ensure his place as a plus-defender.
PF: Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls)
Honorable Mention: Jaren Jackson Jr (Memphis Grizzlies)
Projected Line: 13 pts, 6 trb, 1 ast, 48 % Fg
Wendell Carter Jr. never seemed to really get much limelight sharing the Duke frontcourt with SF Marvin Bagley. But, Carter seems to be the most polished big man entering the league and I feel he boasts a higher floor than the likes of Bagley (picked 2nd) and Jaren Jackson Jr (picked 4th). Carter’s physique is just serviceable enough as a 6’10”, 250 lb center, but compensates by being a swiss army knife. Want shots blocked? Wendell will do this nightly. Want to score efficiently within the paint? Wendell has a backpack stuffed with nifty post-moves. Want to stretch the floor from 1-5? Wendell’s jumper is well-balanced and fundamentally sound, which is promising as he enters Hoiberg’s pace-and-space offense. His big-man game looks so complete and polished that it’s drawing early Al Horford comparisons. However, as good a center he seems, his potential feels limited. He is not as athletically or measurably gifted as fellow bigs in the draft (see. Ayton, Bagley, Jackson, Bamba) which really limits his potential ceiling. He also seems lost out on the perimeter both offensively and defensively which limits his versatility in an era trending towards positionless basketball.
Strengths: Post-Moves, Rim Protection, Rim Running, Screen Setting, Spot-Up Mid-Range
Weaknesses: Shot Creation Outside the Post, Perimeter Defense, Passing, Turnover Prone
C: Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns)
Honorable Mention: Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings)
Projected Line: 17 pts, 10 trb, 1 ast, 50% Fg%
A physical specimen that only comes around once a decade, 20 year old Deandre Ayton is agile, quick-footed, and boasts an effortless 44 inch vertical. Oh yeah. He also happens to be a musclebound 7’1”, 250 pounder whose body is already reminiscent of David Robinson and Dwight Howard. Not only is he already a man amongst boys who can baptize his victims either off the dribble or by catching lobs, he also has a soft stroke that allows him to pull up from anywhere on the floor. So if his freak measurables aren’t scary enough, imagine Ayton with even a semi-respectable 3-point shot. The ease at which he can score from anywhere makes him an offensive talent comparable to Karl-Anthony Towns. But, if his frequently inconsistent defensive effort catches up with his offensive ceiling, we could be looking at a potential all-time great big man. If his defense isn’t exposed, Deandre’s impact will be immediately felt in the league as a nightly double-double threat and close contender for ROTY.
Strengths: Lob Catching, Screening, Rim Running, Athleticism, Rebounding, Post Moves, Pull-Up Shooting
Weaknesses: Motor, Perimeter Defense, Interior Defense