During the springtime every year, basketball fans can peruse a multitude of websites that provide coverage of the NBA draft, but for many of those outlets, it’s a seasonal effort. On the other hand, NBADraft.net covers prospects and the lead-up to the June draft on a year-round basis.
To learn more about the upcoming 2017 draft and the pool of players available, Pelicans.com checked in with NBADraft.net analyst Aran Smith. New Orleans does not have a first-round pick (it was conveyed to Sacramento as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade), but is on the board 10 picks into the second round.
Pelicans.com: For a team like New Orleans that is not picking until 40th overall, what is your assessment of the depth of talent available?
Smith: Actually it’s a little early in the game to say as there are still a number of guys that must decide whether they will stay in or pull out which will impact that pick. In general, it is a standard draft after the top 10 or so. 40 will be hit or miss like always as a lot of drafts drop off in the mid to late 30s.
Pelicans.com: At least through one NBA season, last year’s draft crop did not produce many players who made a major immediate impact. Do you expect that to be different for this 2017 draft class?
Smith: This class is so young. It’s hard to expect too many absolute studs in their first season but there are a few candidates. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Dennis Smith should all have immediate impacts. It has to be better than last year with Ben Simmons missing the year and so many other prospects needing more time.
Pelicans.com: Countless draft analysts have praised the potential of this year’s draft. Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough said during the combine that it rates in the “top two or three” since the famous 2003 draft that produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Do you agree?
Smith: That is very high praise and sets the bar very high for this draft and their fourth pick. I think there’s a chance it will be an all-time draft but unlike that draft there isn’t a can’t miss franchise superstar at the top. Next year’s draft has that in Michael Porter. All of these guys have very good upside, but they all come with some level of uncertainty. Markelle Fultz figures to go first to Boston and has a chance to be similar to James Harden, but there are questions about his defensive intensity and the fact that he didn’t complete his freshman year due to injury. There’s just an unusual amount of talent in the top 8-10 picks with a lot of potential stars and a lot of parity.
Pelicans.com: Who are some second-round sleepers that Pelicans fans should potentially keep an eye on as the draft approaches?
Smith: That’s a difficult question because the sleeper at 40 is probably a guy that we figure to be a first-rounder. Of the guys currently projected in the second round, Wesley Iwundu and Edmond Sumner are both interesting prospects. Iwundu is a late bloomer who didn’t have a great combine but is well liked for his athleticism and versatility. Sumner is coming off an ACL injury and figures to go in the early second round and while he’s got some kinks to work out, his size and athleticism at the point guard position is very intriguing.
Pelicans.com: This may be difficult to predict – especially this early in the process leading up to the draft – but how much fluidity is there in the current evaluation of players once you get past the top 10 or 15? Meaning, how possible is it this year that a player who is around a 20th-ranked prospect could drop to 40 at New Orleans’ spot?
Smith: No question. For instance Stephen Zimmerman the freshman center out of UNLV was thought to be a top 20 or close guy and ended up going 41 last year. No question there will be a player or two that goes in the 40s that is currently seen much higher. Players like Ivan Rabb, Dwayne Bacon and Tyler Lydon are around 20 on some boards and around 40 on other team’s boards.
Pelicans.com: Which players helped or hurt their stock the most during the NBA draft combine in Chicago in mid-May?
Smith: Helped: Kyle Kuzma, Frank Jackson, Derrick White. Hurt: Sindarius Thornwell.
Pelicans.com: What impact will international players have on this draft compared to most years?
Smith: Less. There is only one surefire first rounder in France PG Frank Ntilikina. It’s a down year for International prospects. ESPN analyst Fran Frachilla told me in Portland at the Hoop Summit, he figures to be a lot less busy on draft night with fewer (International) players to talk about.
Pelicans.com: How did the NCAA Tournament most impact the draft board, in terms of helping or hurting various prospects?
Smith: Justin Jackson benefited greatly with UNC winning. Zach Collins solidified himself as a lottery pick with his play and Gonzaga’s run. Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier put themselves in position to be first-rounders with South Carolina’s tourney run. Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell each enhanced their stock as well.
Pelicans.com: For a decent period of time, your site has listed Indiana’s OG Anunoby as New Orleans’ pick at No. 40. What goes into the process for creating your mock drafts, as one of a rare site (only?) that posts a mock that includes the second round?
Smith: We put more focus into the first round in terms of projecting exactly which players will go to which teams. Team needs begin to be factored in around this time of year (after the lottery). Anunoby is rated much higher by many on the web but we see him as a project; a raw, (6-foot-7) undersized power forward coming off an ACL injury. People can go overboard with trying to factor in team needs with picks. A third of the second-round picks get sold or traded, and at some point the player value is more of a factor than the team picking at the spot. Teams are starting workouts and have players they like and others that they would not draft. Obviously teams have needs and they attempt to address them with their picks. But with rosters in flux, drafting the best player available regardless of position is what smart GMs do, and fill out their rosters through free agency and trades… last year we knew that Milwaukee wanted Thon Maker and had him projected with their 36th pick (where they got Malcolm Brogdon). Some scouts believe that he would have been available for them at their 2nd round pick, but despite being a shock at 10, he is proving to be a good pick for them.