The NBA draft lottery happened, that is a statement of fact. If you were not aware of that then I don’t blame you considering there are still four teams vying for the right to call themselves NBA champions. But right before game one of the Eastern Conference Finals tipped off, the draft order was finalized. The top four spots were up for grabs meaning four teams would leave the event happy and the others would leave dissatisfied. It’s like Christmas except it’s the 14 worst kids in the world and just four of them get gifts. The Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, and Sacramento Kings were the winners of the lottery and are now slotted in positions one through four, respectively. Now that the order is finalized, it is time to start guessing where the players will end up since they are the most important aspect of this whole draft thingy. I’m just going to focus on the top four teams in this piece (if the other teams weren’t lucky enough to win the draft lottery they aren’t lucky enough to be mentioned by me) and project which incoming rookie each one of them will take in the draft.
Magic: Chet Holmgren, C Gonzaga
To say Tuesday was the greatest moment of the past ten years for the Magic would not be incorrect, and that is just sad. But on the bright side, Orlando now gets its pick of the litter in this draft class and it is a litter that contains three very tantalizing options for the first overall pick. At the end of the day, the Magic are going to go with the most intriguing prospect of them all in Holmgren. He is seven feet tall, a great interior defender, and can shoot threes and handle the ball. He is my pick to talk with any extraterrestrials if the human race ever makes contact with them because he resembles what the aliens will probably look like. Holmgren has everything, and more, that Orlando hoped Mo Bamba would be when they selected him sixth overall so hopefully the difference in picks will prevent Holmgren from becoming a bust. He is a legitimate franchise-altering prospect if he develops into the player he is capable of becoming (aka grows into his incredibly lanky frame). Reuniting him with former high school teammate Jalen Suggs will just be the cherry on top and will hopefully lead to the second-year player making an improvement.
Thunder: Jabari Smith, F Auburn
The Thunder are in no position to shy away from any position in the draft, given the lack of true difference makers on the roster that aren’t named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. So that gives Oklahoma City the latitude to go in any direction in this draft, which should lead them right to Smith. You could make a case for Smith as the best prospect in the class and all of your arguments would be valid, so there will be some teams that have him atop their board. He has fewer questions surrounding his ability to translate to the next level than Holmgren so he should be considered a safer pick. Don’t let the security of Smith fool you though, he still has tremendous upside. He projects as someone that can create his own shots anywhere on the floor and then play small-ball five if necessary. That type of versatility on both ends of the floor will be huge for a Thunder team that is very clearly rebuilding. Smith can operate as the focal point of an offense or play off of Gilgeous-Alexander or Josh Giddey. This draft is where the Thunder will officially start trending toward becoming a real NBA team with Smith’s help.
Rockets: Paolo Banchero, F Duke
The Rockets will have the easiest pick of the entire draft as they will just sit at number three and take whoever is still available out of Holmgren, Smith, and Banchero. If it is Banchero, then Houston will be getting an all-around forward that will slot in right away and play a huge role in the future of the franchise. Banchero took all the pressure that comes with playing at Duke (not to mention in Coach K’s last season at Duke) in stride and had a very good freshman season. He showed the flashes of how impactful he can be at the next level. He may not develop into a top-tier player at either end of the court but he will be an exceptional player in every facet of the game. Banchero can play big inside or stretch the floor and allow Jalen Green to attack the interior. The paring of those two young superstars should be enough to get Rockets fans excited about the future of basketball in Houston and forget all about James Harden.
Kings: Keegan Murray, F Iowa
The Kings are in the tough position of picking fourth in a three-player draft but it is still better than where they were supposed to select. Sacramento made the biggest jump in the lottery, moving from seventh up to fourth. That essentially grants them the privilege of selecting the best player of the second tier of prospects. The Kings could also use help in multiple areas of the roster but seeing how there is more talent at guard, they would be smart to target a forward. Murray would be a good fit on the Sacramento roster because he does the thing that is most valuable in basketball, score. He isn’t a non-factor in the other areas of the game but his potential is much more wrapped up in his ability to get the ball in the basket than anything else. Luckily for the Kings, they need help in that field so Murray will be a welcome addition. He also should be able to mesh well with Domantas Sabonis at the other forward spot and provide spacing for De’Aaron Fox to operate. Whether it is on the perimeter or on the block, Murray will get you baskets and that should endear him to the Sacramento fanbase right away.