CHICAGO – The pair signed the first of their joint squabbles on Thursday, with two more coming Friday as the teams continue to give interviews and conduct behind-the-scenes business. As usual, when the entire league gathers in one place for an extended period of time, draft information and draft speculation begin to get serious. A series of agency-run professional days continues here in Chicago, and top executives will head to California next week to finish that circuit.
The first day of games in a group tends to be more important than the second, if only because players who start playing hot are often pulled from the event by their agents. There is a strategic degree of excitement that occurs and often works in favor of potential clients, especially those who have real chances to break into the first round. Last year, Josh Primo, Bones Hyland, Josh Christopher and Quentin Grimes were among those who managed to build momentum in the event. Conversely, many prospects on the fringes of the first round who chose not to play ended up slipping into the second round on the night of the draw.
Based on the chatter from across the league and what we saw on the field on Thursday, here’s what you need to know from the group so far.
What will thunder do?
While Magic really won the lottery on Tuesday, the bulk of the early speculation about the league was centered in Oklahoma City, which is in second place. That’s partly because the general expectation around the combination was that Orlando would go with Auburn striker Jabari Smith in pole position, but also because Thunder’s intentions are notoriously difficult to tie in. While no one knows exactly what’s coming next – it’s too early to be worth obsessing over – all we can do now is look at the options.
Operating under the loose assumption that Magic is taking Smith, there is a segment of rival CEOs who believe Thunder chief Sam Presti will have a hard time getting past Gonzaga striker Chet Holmgren, As I initially predicted in Tuesday’s fake draft. But I’ve also heard a few educated theories since Draft Nights that Oklahoma City might prefer Duke forward Paulo Banchero in this spot. It looks as though the concern about Banchero’s defense (which I share to some extent) has been somewhat exaggerated on the general front: He’s not an edge protector, but he’s also not solid, a rare talent when it comes to ball skills and the feel of his size. His jump shot can be shaky at times, but he’s ready to play in the NBA from an offensive standpoint. Presumably he would be part of the discussion with Orlando in first place, but if he was available in second place, that would create an interesting puzzle.
When it comes to Thunder, you can argue this both ways: OKC operates on a very loose schedule to compete and has shown a willingness to be patient and develop prospects that weren’t necessarily physically ready for the league. Holmgren is a good fit there in theory, as Thunder will have a runway to try out how best to deploy it, and there’s an immediate need to improve the menu’s internal defense. I have no idea if he can play alongside skinny Alexei Bokosevsky, but that’s definitely interesting. And if Oklahoma City believes in him for the long haul, the list remains amorphous enough to pick him and put the right kind of cut alongside him.
On the other hand, if there’s a pattern to the way Presti has built his team over the past two years, it’s that Thunder clearly appreciates scale and skill on the ocean. They had also invested very little in the central position at this point, mostly choosing to fill those positions with steadfast warriors. The Banchero, capable of overtime on point guard and acting as a ball handler and screener in pick-and-roll situations, offers a larger peripheral benefit in its size than the Holmgren. Given that he’s physically ready for the league, it’s also a safer assumption that Banchero will immediately boost rotations in some abilities.
It may be a while before there is clarity on the matter, if anything, but it’s safe to say that the lottery plot is currently starting at number two. If we learned anything last year, when they grabbed Josh Gedi at No. 6, that no one should make any assumptions about what the thunder does.
What height can Shidon Sharpe reach?
I’ve brought up Sharp in a lot of my conversations this week as a potential client that charms and frightens NBA executives. He’s almost sure to come off the board in the first five or six picks of this draft though Never play a college minute in KentuckyAnd there are two very stark sides of the coin here. Sharp’s frame, worn motions, the ability to create space with its handle and the high-level crossover are tantalizing. Over the course of a Monday professional day which consisted mainly of dribbling, shooting jumps and doing some great dives, it was quite clear why he was chosen so high.
The stakes here are based on what we don’t know – how Sharpe will produce over the course of an entire season – and amplified by what we do know: He has a quiet personality and is sometimes considered low-energy in the AAU and high on schoolwork. It might mean nothing in the long run, but it would be hard to call him an elite car player. Most teams don’t have the strongest sense of the type of opponent they’ve come into yet. It’s worth noting that he’s also taken a unique path to his current status: He’s been under the radar in Canada and didn’t have hot recruiting before he exploded as a potential late 2020. The life of the 19-year-old Sharp has changed quite a bit since then, and it has. Very quickly. Sometimes such situations deserve suspicion, but sometimes they also throw young people into circumstances for which they were never prepared. Teams will conduct their own assessments, and individual on-site interviews and training will play the biggest role in this.
There’s no shortage of interest here, regardless — I expect pretty much every top 10 team, including Orlando and Oklahoma City, to at least try to bring it in. The prospect of Sharp’s extraordinary talent and athletic ability managed to capture the full attention of the NBA this week.
Go to follow
A number of players had solid days in the group, with counting stats somewhat aided by a large group of players who chose not to play five against five at the last minute, creating plenty of minutes to go around. There isn’t enough space or time to highlight each individual player, so there are a handful of notables who have moved the needle in my mind (not all of them had their best days). We’ll have more group wraps next week.
Terquavion Smith, North Carolina
Smith was clearly the most intriguing potential goalkeeper on the field here on Thursday, displaying his shooting style, sneaky athleticism and providing several nice passing readings over the course of the first game. He ended up shooting 6 out of 17 from the field and calmed down with just 5 points out of 17 in the second half, but his overall showing was very promising and helped validate those who saw him as a caliber player late in the first round. . Smith is very skinny and has a lot of growth ahead of him, but his ability to create his own shot and also make triples in a very good clip is very attractive, considering that he is still only 19 years old and hasn’t played a lot of high-level basketball on launch. Teams still seem to view it as a project, which will likely limit the cap on where they’ll be drafted, but Smith certainly bolstered his case on Thursday.
Galen Williams, Santa Clara
Williams has quite a few fans around the NBA and has gained traction as a player in the first round debate, although there are some conflicting opinions. He is tall, can pass, dribble and shoot at competent levels, and is a much more functional athlete than was always evident in the movie. He finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds in Game Two of the day and looks like he has a real chance of playing a role, considering the need for versatile supplemental wings. Williams isn’t insanely dynamic in putting the ball on the ground and has struggled a bit to attack the second level defense safely, but that wouldn’t be asked of much in the NBA. He has a good skill base to build on and helped himself this week.
Travion Williams, Bordeaux
It was good to see Williams produce and show his skill level is unconstrained by the limits of the Bordeaux attacking system: he put together 14 points, 13 rebounds and scored five assists while helping his team win in the first game. He only fired 5 out of 13 from the field but made an open triple pointer, which at the same time raised some concerns about his diet, but showed his potential for a day he has real peripheral functions. Williams worked in great shape, had great length and real passing, and seemed very mobile on the course of play. He’s never too much over the edge, but Williams offers very little for a creative team to work with, and over the course of the fruitful game he’s been able to display the skills that set him apart from most other top players in the collection.
Ryan Rollins, Toledo
19-year-old Rollins was clearly one of the more proficient guards to tackle the field on Thursday, impacting the game with his ability to get into the paint and show above-average athletic performance around the edge. He’s a combo keeper who doesn’t play with a lot of charisma or creativity, but he’s found ways to get things done while playing, and given his age, there are clearly a few things teams can work with here. He’s missed all three of his three-point attempts, which won’t allay concerns about his range, but he clearly deserves to be in the mix and work his way up to scoreability if he decides not to go back to college.
Michael Foster, G League Ignite
Part of the importance of the combination is the ability to see players in the same position at similar stages of their careers on the same court. The second combined game featured four different big, long-term projects in Foster, Moussa Diabatti, Josh Minot and Dominic Barlow, and I thought Foster’s experience gained from an entire season in the G League was readily apparent when placed in the context of his peers. Foster still has some bad habits and loves his jump jacket very much, but his body looks great, he has a better understanding of his role and made a few surprisingly good passes on Thursday which stood out. Even though he finished with only five points and six rebounds, I came out a little more encouraged about his trajectory, wondering if he could work his way up to productivity as he matured. Perhaps Foster deserves more patience, and his physical tools certainly won’t stop him from achieving success.
John Butler, Florida
I felt Butler deserved a footnote here: He hit two goals early in the first game and looked very comfortable on the ocean before hitting Kofi Cockburn which sent him to the sidelines a bit. He eventually came back and finished with just six points and three rebounds, but it’s hard not to walk away somewhat intrigued by his potential skill at 7’1, despite his stick-like body type. He might end up going back to college, but there’s also clearly more here that wasn’t on offer in Florida, the kind of unique project that might be tempting in the second round this year.
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