The post-pandemic merry-go-round for sports continues as the NBA enters its fastest offseason transition in recent memory.
Barely over a month since the 2019-2020 NBA campaign ended at the Orlando bubble and a crazy week is now expected ahead as the world’s premier basketball league enters an unpredictable stretch of trades and free agency.
Sandwiched between the two due to the drastic calendar changes caused by COVID-19 is a 2020 virtual NBA Draft highlighted by a class with prominent names atop and depth throughout.
Because of these unique circumstances, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the 29 competitors looking to usurp them have limited time – at least far less than usual – to make crucial decisions during the NBA’s marquee recruitment season.
League-shaking trades are already underway, starting with Hall of Fame-bound point guard Chris Paul heading to Phoenix to join a rising Suns crew powered by up-and-comers Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.
Milwaukee, in an attempt to woo the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, attained All-Star caliber Jrue Holiday and international champion Bogan Bogdanovic through separate deals. The cost was a wealth of draft picks that will keep the Bucks away from this year’s draft and more to come.
Only a year remains in the Greek sensation’s contract.
Picking in the top 3 are a Minnesota franchise boasting of a young team bristling with potential; a Warriors bunch recovering from the demands of establishing a dynasty and are looking towards the future; and a professional basketball team from Charlotte whose key to fame is their renowned owner’s name.
So, who’s going where?
There’s been a ton of smoke screen with predicting what approach all teams will take.
A plus to having the draft in between the outset of trade season and free agency is that their respective management can follow a macro approach toward team building, without the long gaps of uncertainty between events.
Here’s an example: if the Warriors already know which free agents – players whose current contracts have ended – to target this weekend, that could determine if they select a wing player or big man in the draft, assuming they keep their pick and not trade it for, say, a veteran who brings them to championship aspirations sooner. (READ: Can the Warriors hope for a dynastic revival?)
It’s a similar query for Minnesota, which has a grand total of one playoff win since 2004. Before the pandemic, the Timberwolves struck a deal to replace Canadian Andrew Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell, who is the best friend of Karl Anthony-Towns – considered their “franchise player.” Ironically, the other team in that deal was Golden State.
In a global media conference, Minnesota’s general manager Gersson Rosas said of their top pick, “This is not a decision you hope to win on Draft Night. This is a decision that’s going to play out over the next 3, 4, 5, 6 years, so you have to take everything into consideration.”
Rosas, who admits to sipping more coffee with the draft a day away, is bullish on Russell and Towns, both of whom he called, “stars.”
“We’re always looking for players to complement not only Karl, but D’Angelo as well, [and] to complement our system, [and] how we want to play.”
The T-Wolves GM makes clear their focus is “to get the best player available,” which means “the player we deem has the highest level of talent.”
Reports and draft analysts have Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball selected in the top 3 through some order. It’s that unpredictability that gives this draft unique intrigue.
Edwards has the physical tools to become a lethal scorer. He’s already been compared to retired three-time champion Dwyane Wade and NBA leading scorer James Harden. He’s good at creating his own shot from deep and even better at attacking the rim – important skills to be an All-Star.
What he needs to work on is his defense and the amount of effort he plays with, which can be a red flag for somebody drafted that high.
Nonetheless, the talent to be great is there. The same can be said about Wiseman, an athletic 7-foot-1 modern big whose college tape is limited because he was banned by the NCAA following just 3 games for accepting money from Memphis coach Penny Hardaway – a big no-no in the collegiate league’s rulebook.
Wiseman is an ideal fit for the Warriors, who are looking to fill a hole in their center position. The Timberwolves, ideally, would go for a wing to complement Russell and Towns, a point guard and center, respectively.
So would Minnesota select Edwards, or opt for the draft’s wildcard, LaMelo?
The youngest of the famous Ball brothers, LaMelo’s road to the NBA has been one of a kind.
He had his own signature shoe (priced at $395) when he was only 16, under the Big Baller Brand started by his media-enigmatic father, LaVar. He played in Lithuania and Australia rather than taking the traditional high school and college athletics route. There have been reports that his personality turns teams off.
But for all the baggage, Ball looks like he can be a stud. He’s already better than his older brother Lonzo, who’s in New Orleans. LaMelo is 6-foot-7 but can play any of 1-2-3 positions. He passes like a gifted playmaker in pick and roll. His shot mechanics need improvement, but there’s enough scoring prowess that should translate to the NBA level.
His defense, however, needs dire improvement.
“Being the No. 1 pick definitely holds a lot,” Ball said during a global media conference, “but I feel like I was born for it.”
The confidence is never in question.
Charlotte might attempt a deal to get higher in the draft order. The same for other teams who have older players to deal. It was a Draft day trade that once brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. Could the Houston Rockets find a deal for Russell Westbrook or James Harden while the selections go on?
There’s always the excitement that takes place behind the scenes as teams make decisions to shape their futures.
Other names to look out for include Deni Avdija, the 6-foot-9 Israeli who’s this year’s most exciting international prospect; big man Onyeka Okongwu who’s been compared to Miami Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo; versatile playmaker Killian Hayes; scoring big man Obi Toppin, and prospects like Tyrese Haliburton, Isaac Okoro, Jalen Smith, and many more.
There’s the belief that the NBA has become a 24/7, 12 months a year sporting event.
The excitement for the days ahead is a grand example why. – Rappler.com