The NBA draft lottery is the great equalizer. I don’t mean from a fairness perspective. The Brooklyn Nets’ management guaranteed that when they sent their first-round pick (now the no. 1 overall pick) to Boston.
It’s the great equalizer from a fan-interest perspective. At this stage of the playoffs, 26 out of 30 fanbases have nothing to cheer for. And two of the remaining four are merely delaying the inevitable Warriors/Cavaliers three-match.
But now that the lottery is in the books, even Laker fans have something to get excited about, namely, looking at their inevitable “Big Baller” future through blue/gold-colored glasses.
Come draft night (June 22), will Los Angeles (no. 2 overall) follow through in drafting native son Lonzo Ball? Will consensus top-prospect Markelle Fultz fall from no. 1? And how many point guards will join those two rare talents in the top ten?
Below, I set odds on the most pressing draft questions, and update the odds for the remainder of the 2017 playoffs, not that you need me to tell you who the favorites are.
2017 NBA Draft Odds
Top Ten Picks
The odds below assume teams do not trade out of their current draft position.
- Markelle Fultz (Washington): 1/4
- Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 9/1
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 9/1
Fultz is the best (and safest) prospect. The 6’4 guard is hyper-athletic, shoots well from deep, and finishes strong at the rim. He doesn’t score much from mid-range and there are questions about his defense. But you can say the same things about James Harden.
While guard isn’t the biggest need for the Celtics — with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier already on the roster — Fultz is the type of talent you draft anyway and build around. Having too many good players is a good problem. Danny Ainge could try to swing a deal for an elite veteran like Jimmy Butler if he wants to take a run at the 2018 title. Or he could deal Isaiah for picks and build for a post-LeBron run.
No. 2: LA Lakers
- Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 5/7
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 7/2
- Markelle Fultz (Washington): 4/1
If Boston goes rogue and passes on Fultz, the Lakers will scoop him up and feel like they just won the lottery … which they coincidentally just lost. If Boston sticks to the script at no. 1, then it’s a decision between Ball and Jackson.
With his size and vision, Ball has the upside of a Magic Johnson. Apart from his loud-mouthed dad, he’s best known for making everyone around him better. Jackson’s biggest selling point (in comparison to Ball) is the position he’ll occupy on the court … or positions. Wings with his length and athleticism are becoming a rarity, and that puts a premium on the ones available, especially ones who snatch nearly eight boards per game, D up on every possession, and can guard a variety of positions. Despite a 38-percent clip from three in college, he’s not expected to have much of an outside game in the pros.
Given Lonzo’s desire — or at least LaVar’s desire — to play in LA and Lonzo’s potential to be a franchise-changing point guard, he’s the likely pick. Yes, the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell (ostensibly a point guard) just two years ago. He’s always been more of a scorer, though, while Lonzo is a true pass-first point guard.
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 5/2
- Jayson Tatum (Duke): 3/1
- Malik Monk (Kentucky): 8/1
Philly is in an awkward position. What they really need is perimeter scoring. Neither Josh Jackson nor Jayson Tatum, the consensus third and fourth-ranked prospects, really fit the mold. Malik Monk certainly does, but he’s not really worthy of a top-three pick. There’s a good chance they try to trade down. If they don’t, then the best-player-available approach will likely win out, and that’s Jackson by a hair, even though Tatum has better potential to develop into a true outside threat.
No. 4: Phoenix Suns
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 9/5
- Jayson Tatum (Duke): 2/1
- De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): 9/1
The Suns’ biggest need is a versatile wing. They’d love to nab Jackson. There’s a good chance he’s off the board in the top three, though, at which point Tatum becomes the best combination of fit and skill.
There’s a small chance they opt for a point guard here. At first glance, the backcourt looks stacked with Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Tyler Ulis. But Phoenix might see De’Aaron Fox as an upgrade, even with his limited shooting. Fox is blazingly fast and a good distributor. The Suns were second last in the league in assists-per-game last year.
- De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): 1/1
- Jayson Tatum (Duke): 7/2
- Dennis Smith Jr (NC State): 5/1
Sacramento needs just about everything. Ok, maybe not everything. They’re clearly high on Buddy Hield at two-guard. Pairing Hield, a nearly 40-percent three-point shooter, with De’Aaron Fox, a 24-percent three-point shooter (in college), makes sense. Smith Jr. has a more developed game than Fox at the moment, but Fox has the higher upside; jumpers can and do mature (see John Wall).
The Kings also need a wing. If Tatum is still around (not overly likely), he’d be a good fit at small forward.
No. 6: Orlando Magic
- Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State): 5/2
- De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): 5/2
- Malik Monk (Kentucky): 4/1
Elfrid Payton: Point Guard of the Future? Doesn’t look like it. The Magic may be back in the PG market, helped there by this year’s strong crop. Whichever of the top-four point guards is still around has a good shot to find himself donning blue and black next year.
If they are set on Payton at the point, Monk would be a solid addition next to him. The Magic cannot score, especially from the outside (second-last in three-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage). Monk only does one thing at an elite level: score the ball from the outside.
No. 7: Minnesota Timberwolves
- Jonathan Isaac (Florida State): 4/5
- Dennis Smith Jr (NC State): 6/1
- Zach Collins (Gonzaga): 9/1
No one position stands out as a huge need for the T-Wolves. Front-court depth might be the biggest and, at this stage of the draft, that should align with the best player available: Jonathan Isaac. He has top-five skill, but the way the lottery played out, I can’t see him going before now. He has good defensive instincts — which is something Minnesota lacks generally — and will eventually grow into his lanky frame, giving him a defensive upside that matches his offensive potential.
If Isaac is off the board, Collins is the next best in terms of fit. But no. 7 is a reach for the Gonzaga big-man.
If any of the top four point guards are still around, they might be too tempting to pass up, given that Ricky Rubio isn’t a spring chicken anymore, unlike the rest of the T-Wolves foundational players (Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach Levine).
No. 8: New York Knicks
- Frank Ntilikina (France): 4/5
- Malik Monk (Kentucky): 9/2
- Donovan Mitchell (Louisville): 12/1
For better or worse, Phil Jackson and his triangle offense will be in the Big Apple for the foreseeable future. Frenchman Frank Ntilikina is the perfect fit for the system, and the Knicks just hit on Kristaps Porzingis, which should quell any fears about going overseas in the top ten.
If management sees the Carmelo Anthony era coming to an end imminently, then a scorer becomes a big need. Have I mentioned that Malik Monk can score? So can Donovan Mitchell, just not as well.
No. 9: Dallas Mavericks
- Dennis Smith Jr (NC State): 3/1
- Lauri Markannen (Arizona): 3/1
- Frank Ntilikina (France): 5/1
What the Mavs need most next season is a point guard. Smith’s skill set — great quickness and driving ability — fits perfectly with Dallas’ spread offense. If Ntilikina is the top PG on the board, there’s a good chance they fill another hole, instead. (It’s a little unclear whether Ntilikina will fit better as a one or a two in the pros, and SG Wesley Matthews is on a max-money deal through 2019.)
Apart from a point guard, the Mavs also need to start planning for the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. Next season will be the German’s farewell tour. Markannen has been compared to Dirk thanks to his size (7’0″) and range (42-percent from three). He also resembles Nowitzki on the defensive end. That’s not a compliment.
No. 10: Sacramento Kings
- Zach Collins (Gonzaga): 4/1
- Lauri Markkanen (Arizona): 9/2
- John Collins (Wake Forest): 9/1
Odds to fall out of the top three
- Markelle Fultz (Washington): 1,000/1
- Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 9/1
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 5/6
- Jayson Tatum (Duke): 7/10
The only way Fultz is falling out of the top three is if he quits basketball. No one else is nearly as safe. A few scouts think Ball will be the better pro than Fultz. But others think he doesn’t have the elite athleticism needed at the next level and may view Jackson, Tatum, Fox, and/or Isaac as safer picks.
O/U point guards drafted in the top 10: 4.5
There’s basically a consensus top-11 in this draft, and it includes five point guards. Fultz, Ball, Fox, and Smith are veritable top-ten locks. The question mark is Frenchman Frank Ntilikina. Whether he goes in the top-ten likely depends on (a) the Knicks buying into his skill-set and (b) what big-men-needy teams think of Zach Collins and Lauri Markkanen.
Ntilikina could also fall outside the top ten if someone takes an early flyer on the relatively unseen Hamidou Diallo or Terrance Ferguson.
2018 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds
- Ben Simmons (76ers): 9/2
- Markelle Fultz (Washington): 9/1
- Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 12/1
- Josh Jackson (Kansas): 15/1
- Malik Monk (Kentucky): 16/1
Simmons, last year’s no. 1 overall pick, missed the entire season with a foot injury. Joel Embiid showed what a “red-shirt” year (two, in his case) can do for a prospect’s development. He was instantly the best player on the Sixers when he finally got on the court. Depending on who Philly takes in this year’s draft, Simmons is going to run the burgeoning 76er offense as a point forward. He has a good chance to put up massive stats and — coupled with a (hopefully) healthy Embiid — finally lead Philly back to respectability. If there are two things voters love it’s raw numbers and a good narrative.
If someone from this year’s class is going to best Simmons, it’s going to be one of the high-upside players. I already said Fultz was a safe pick because of his high floor, but he also has arguably the highest ceiling: see the Harden comp, above. I should also mention that four of the last six ROY-winners have been no. 1 overall picks: Blake Griffin (2011), Kyrie Irving (2012), Andrew Wiggins (2015), and Karl-Anthony Towns (2016). This year is going to buck the trend (unless voters give Embiid, who played less than half the season, the award), but this year is also unique in its rookie suck-atude.
Monk cracks the top five because of his (streaky) ability to fill it up. If he lands in the right spot, he could become the focal point of an offense from day one.
2017 NBA Playoff Odds
2017 NBA Finals Matchup Odds
- Warriors vs Cavaliers: 4/9
- Warriors vs Celtics: 7/2
- Cavaliers vs Spurs: 14/1
- Spurs vs Celtics: Hahaha! I mean 50/1
2017 NBA Title Odds
- Warriors: 1/2
- Cavaliers: 11/4
- Spurs: 19/1
- Celtics: 40/1
When the Warriors win the title, the team should eschew the old fashioned Gatorade bath and, instead, cover the entire coaching staff with a thick layer of chalk.
2017 NBA Finals MVP Odds
- Steph Curry (Warriors): 11/4
- Kevin Durant (Warriors): 3/1
- LeBron James (Cavaliers): 9/2
- Draymond Green (Warriors): 12/1
- Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers): 16/1
- Klay Thompson (Warriors): 17/1
- Kawhi Leonard (Spurs): 25/1
- Isaiah Thomas (Celtics): 75/1
- Lamarcus Aldridge (Spurs): 99/1
- Kelly Olynyk (Celtics): 1000/1
It’s basically a toss-up whether Curry or Durant proves move valuable on the road to the 2017 title.
If the Cavs somehow manage to stop the Warriors again, it’ll be on the back of LeBron wizardry.
It might seem weird having Kawhi as the top Spur given his injury concerns. But let’s be real, the only way the Spurs win the title is if he comes back full strength … and soon.
Maybe Olynyk will parlay his Game 7 heroics against Washington into an MVP performance in the finals. And maybe I’ll get a call from Joe Maddon to start for the Cubs tomorrow. Sorry to burst your bubble, KG: not everything is possible.