Thu. Jul 25th, 2024


The first round of the 2024 NBA Draft has come and gone, and it was a wild ride with surprises up and down the board as well as a few trades that no one saw coming.

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2024 NBA second-round mock draft: What to look for on Day 2, including Bronny James

I’ll have full draft grades out after the second day of the draft ends Thursday night. But for now, here are the teams that I thought did particularly well on Day 1, a couple of teams whose choices I didn’t totally understand, and two things that I felt were worth commenting on despite feeling relatively ambivalent about both.

Winners

Utah Jazz

This is shaping up to be my favorite team draft of the event after Day One. The Jazz did a remarkable job letting the board come to them after reportedly being in trade discussions earlier in the day to move up. Instead of giving up some of their future picks to slide up the board and get the guy they wanted, they stood pat and let him fall to them. I wouldn’t have put the odds particularly high that Cody Williams would have fallen to No. 10 when the day started, but because the Pistons surprised with Ron Holland at No. 5, the Hornets took Tidjane Salaun at No. 6 ahead of the Spurs, the Spurs moved out of No. 8 in a deal to Minnesota, and then the Grizzlies took Zach Edey at No. 9, the Jazz hit essentially a three-outer on the river and ended up with their guy.

Williams isn’t a sure thing, but he’s one of my favorite wing upside bets in the class. At nearly 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and long strides, Williams was one of the best finishers at the rim this season in college among perimeter players in addition to showcasing real potential as a ballhandler and playmaker. He’s a slick slasher with sharp ball pickups to get to the rim and also can pass on the move to hit open teammates. The key here will be the jumper. Williams made a high percentage of his low volume from distance, but he hasn’t shown a ton of comfort yet as a pull-up shooter. If that part of his game comes together, watch out. This will be a big hit.

Then the Jazz took Isaiah Collier at No. 29. Collier was a polarizing player for scouts this year. I ended up with him at No. 19. The best flashes of Collier make one think he could be an All-Star. The bad moments make you believe he’s more likely to be a backup point guard. Unsurprisingly given that, there’s a wide range of opinions league-wide on his future.

But the Jazz could use a bit more power in the backcourt. They’re quite small and skinny back there, with Collin Sexton, Keyonte George, and Jordan Clarkson getting most of the reps. Those players are, by and large, pull-up shooters and guys who hit catch-and-shoot jumpers. Collier is a serious rim-pressure player who will attack and find creases where they sometimes don’t exist. He’ll hit kickouts and make high-level passing reads. If he can iron out the turnovers and develop a more consistent shot, this has potential to be the kind of guard the Jazz needed. Again, this class is all about informed bets based on your situation. Collier is a great informed bet for the Jazz.

In total, the Jazz took serious swings on upside on a roster that desperately needed such swings. This is a draft that makes sense, and now we’ll find out what they do at No. 32 on Thursday. This could really be a positive class for Danny Ainge, Justin Zanik and company if they hit on the right player there.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards swung multiple big moves today, and it completely altered the direction of their franchise.

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The Washington Wizards took big swings in the draft, headlined by Alex Sarr

First, they agreed to trade Deni Avdija to Portland for an absolute haul of assets. The team received the No. 14 pick and will also receive a 2029 first-round pick, two second-round picks, and Malcolm Brogdon. Most NBA front office sources who spoke with The Athletic regarding this deal said that while they believe in Avdija and think his contract is about to become one of the most valuable across the NBA (he’ll make under $12 million in 2027-28), they felt like this was more than they would have traded for Avdija. No one would go so far as to call it an “overpay,” but there was agreement that this was a strong return for a Wizards team that entered the day pretty loaded with big wings in Avdija, Bilal Coulibaly and Kyle Kuzma. Additionally, two of those sources felt that while Avdija is terrific, he’s ultimately going to be more beneficial to a team that is trying to win now as opposed to in the early stages of a rebuild.

The Wizards also drafted Perth Wildcats big man Alex Sarr, the player I have ranked at No. 1 on my board. We need to be clear here: Sarr is no sure thing to be a star. He is athletic and a terrific defender. He’s long and mobile and has the potential to be the kind of defender that every team is looking for with how much ground he can cover, particularly across the weak side of the court. Offensively, he has potential to shoot, has potential to handle the ball and showed some short-roll passing flashes throughout the year. All of this is theoretical, though. Sarr still has a ways to go developmentally. The good news is that with the Wizards, he’s going to have time. They’re going to be patient and allow him to continue to grow and mature over the next few years, and hopefully become the kind of perimeter offensive and game-breaking defensive player that teams hunt far and wide for on across the globe.


Bub Carrington, right, celebrates with Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel after being selected by the Washington Wizards. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

Washington used the No. 14 pick on Pittsburgh guard Bub Carrington, who was probably the player that I was highest on compared to the overall consensus this season. I had him at No. 8 on my board and think he’s a tremendous upside swing to fill the team’s need for a lead guard. He is a real dribble-pass-shoot threat with awesome ball-screen instincts as one of the youngest players in the class at just 18. He is a tremendous shot-maker as a pull-up scorer already. As a passer and playmaker, he sees the court well and clearly knows how to read the defense. Defensively, he got better throughout the season. On top of that, he’s on a remarkably positive growth trajectory. He was just 5-foot-8 when he was a sophomore in high school before shooting up to around 6-foot-1 as a senior, and then continuing to grow to 6-4 before playing a game at Pittsburgh. He didn’t have the frame to really attack the rim then, and he’s still learning. Carrington was my favorite home run swing in the class given what he can already do, and what I think he’s capable of down the road.

The team finished its first-round picks with Kyshawn George, a player I’m not quite as high on relative to where they took him — No. 24, after trading the No. 51 pick to New York to move up two spots. But they’re clearly valuing the upside trajectory here. George is another physical late bloomer who just sprouted to 6-foot-8 within the last 18 months after growing up as a lead guard. My issue with George is that despite turning 21 in December, he’s never actually been all that productive. He averaged under three points per game in the professional second division French league in 2022-23, then this year averaged under eight points per game. He is 6-foot-7 with long arms and can shoot, though, so I at least understand the swing.

In total, the goal here for the Wizards was simple: They tried to max out on upside swings this year, with a type of player that they frankly lacked last year outside of Coulibaly. Now, they have some real swings, and giving time to this younger group of players gives them the added benefit of likely not being very good next season, when the 2025 NBA Draft is shaping up to be much stronger than this one at the top with names like Cooper Flagg, Dylan Harper, Ace Bailey and more. This is a direction for the organization, and I’m excited to see what this team looks like even if guys like Sarr, Carrington and George are all more longer-term projects than ready-made NBA players.

Houston Rockets and Reed Sheppard

To me, this is the best mix of talent and fit in the first round. I had Sheppard at No. 2 on my board, and I love that he ended up in Houston where his strengths will be accentuated and his potential weaknesses will be mitigated by the players around him.

Sheppard is the best shooter in the class, and he enters a situation in Houston where he’ll get to play with several younger players like Jalen Green, Amen Thompson and potentially even Cam Whitmore, who have a chance to break down defenses when they’re in their prime. He also gets to play with Alperen Şengün, a combination in ball screens and dribble-handoffs that has potential to be dynamic. Sheppard is also one of the best transition players in the class, and he’ll pair with the best transition player in last year’s draft class in Thompson and another terrific transition player in Green. Can you imagine Thompson pushing the pace and finding Sheppard as a trailer behind the play after forcing defenders to filter to the rim? Or what about Thompson sprinting out to take advantage of Sheppard’s ability as a hit-ahead passer, where he is the best in the class at that particular skill?

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Reed Sheppard on joining Rockets: ‘It’s going to be a lot of fun’

Defensively, I also love that Houston will have the kind of length on the wings and coverage across the court athletically to account for his size and tendency to gamble by using his elite anticipation to get steals and blocks. Sheppard will need to improve as a one-on-one defender and get stronger, no doubt. But the Rockets have potential to play an extremely aggressive defense around him that forces turnovers and creates those odd-man breaks that make him so lethal with this group.

If Sheppard is going to work out in the NBA, I think he’s found the perfect home. He’s entering a young core that needs his shooting ability to space the court and could also use his ability to connect pieces around him with quick reads and floor spacing. I think there’s some serious upside in pairing Sheppard, Thompson and Green together if Green and Sheppard can just improve a little bit on defense. Their skill sets in the backcourt are incredibly complementary of one another, and in today’s NBA, you need multiple playmakers and ballhandlers all on the court at once.

LeBron James and Austin Reaves (plus the Lakers, but with a caveat)

Look, this is an easy one. I had Dalton Knecht right around the top 10 on my board, and he dropped to No. 17. More than that, he fills a significant need for the Lakers, who were just 28th in the league in 3-point attempt rate this past season. They finished eighth in 3-point percentage, but I’m a bit worried that this number was boosted by aberrant shooting seasons by Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell, along with even a 41 percent year from LeBron James.

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The Lakers were stunned and thrilled to land Dalton Knecht with the 17th pick

Now with Knecht, the Lakers have a serious shooter who will need to be guarded from every inch of the halfcourt area. He’s a tremendous off-ball scorer who moves exceedingly well away from the ball and flies off of actions at a high level. Defenses are going to have to pay attention to him, or else he will get loose and fire from 3. But even if they get a late closeout on him, Knecht is also awesome at attacking closeouts and driving. There’s more to his game as a scorer than simply his shooting. He can get into the lane and finish with touch or vertical pop. He can take midrange jumpers as a counter. And, yes, he can fire 3s off of real actions.

That’s going to open up a ton of space for guys James and Austin Reaves as drivers. They’re going to have so much more room to operate around the court. Teams won’t be able to sag off of their man quite as easily, for fear of either of those two players kicking out and hitting Knecht for an easy 3 (which he will make at a good clip). This should be a serious offensive upgrade over the next couple of years.

The caveat here is on the defensive end. Reaves got much better on the defensive end as the season went along in 2023-24, but I worry about pairing the two of them together without an elite perimeter defender between them. Teams will likely try to attack both of them in space and with matchups that aren’t ideal for either of them to handle. But the offensive upgrade here is serious enough to where I like the pick and think this is about as well as the Lakers could have possibly hoped to have done on draft night.

Losers

Detroit Pistons and Cade Cunningham

Look, I don’t love doing this. I actually like Ron Holland as a player, and this isn’t his fault that the Pistons took him. I think he’s going to turn out to be a useful NBA player in some respect, with some potential for significant upside. But, man, another wing who can’t shoot is just the last thing this Pistons team needed unless they’re planning on offloading some of their other recently-drafted young players.

In an NBA that is more shooting-conscious than ever, the Pistons have drafted non-shooters to be significant parts of their core in the lottery in three straight drafts. In 2022, they took Jalen Duren. He’s a center, so it’s more manageable, but the NBA is becoming more five-out on offense than ever. In 2023, they took Ausar Thompson, who is one of the biggest projects as a shooter that I can remember among top-10 picks. And this year, it’s Holland, who made under 25 percent from 3. Even Jaden Ivey, whom they selected at No. 5 in 2022, isn’t really a player who gets aggressively guarded off the ball like a shooter. Neither does Isaiah Stewart, despite his improvement as a shooter in his first years.

The team just is going to have absolutely no space to operate. And while you don’t have to necessarily play all of these guys at once, in all likelihood you’re probably going to play at least two or three of them with Cade Cunningham. That’s the reality of taking guys in the top five when you’ve been a bad team. You hope that these guys can develop together into a cohesive unit that eventually turns your organization around.

More than anything, I think a pick like this just makes Cunningham’s life drastically harder. A maestro out of ball screens and a dynamic midrange pull-up scorer, Cunningham already generally struggles to find any space in the midrange to make plays, either for himself or his teammates. Holland isn’t going to help that.

The Pistons would likely counter with two points. First, new president of basketball operations Trajan Langdon just brought renowned shooting coach Fred Vinson with him from New Orleans. Vinson is regarded as one of the best shooting coaches in the league, but he’s not a miracle worker. Holland and Thompson are multi-year projects as shooters, even with both being regarded as having great work ethics. It’s going to take a lot of time to get them even to a workable place where they’re making spot-up shots at a high enough level to where defenders even care about defending them. Second, they’d point to free agency and the ability to take players on in trades as a way to add shooting. At the end of the day, these players that they’ve taken in the lottery are all guys that have serious expectations in one way or another, and will likely need playing time. There’s only so much help that a free-agent or trade-acquisition shooter can bring if they’re not stars coming to join the fray here.

Again, I like Holland as a player. I just don’t get the fit. I would have traded down, and I think my price-point threshold to trade down and acquire assets would have been lower than Langdon’s.

Milwaukee Bucks

I think I was probably higher on A.J. Johnson than anyone in the public sphere rating prospects, and I couldn’t get him any higher than No. 32 on my board. Even as a fan of Johnson, I think what the Bucks did tonight was substantially reach on a player that I consider to be a multi-year project while they’re in the middle of what they hope is a title chase in 2025.

There were league sources on teams that I spoke with who did not see Johnson as draftable this year (others, like me, had him around the turn of the first round). It’s just a remarkable risk to take for a team that has had about as little success in the NBA Draft as any organization in the league since Jon Horst took over. The only one that is a bona fide hit is Donte DiVincenzo, and the organization gave up on him before he came into his own in Golden State and, especially this past season, in New York. Sam Merrill also qualifies as a hit, but they also gave up on him before he went on to become a lethal shooter in Cleveland’s rotation. The only real hit here is A.J. Green, an undrafted free agent who looks poised to potentially enter their rotation next season.

Johnson certainly represents a swing for the fences, at least. He’s a developmental scoring guard who has some serious wiggle and athleticism. Down the road, I think there are a lot of outcomes where he’s a positive player in the NBA. But he also was among the least productive players in the NBL over in Australia this past season. He’s under 170 pounds and nowhere near playing in the NBA. I had multiple front-office sources from other teams jokingly speculate to me that the Bucks took Johnson simply so Doc Rivers wouldn’t have to worry about playing a rookie in his first full season in charge in Milwaukee.

He’s going to require a lot of time and effort developmentally to reach his ceiling. Truly, I hope he gets it from the Bucks. I think Johnson can be a real player. But the Bucks’ track record over the last seven years hasn’t been particularly strong in that regard. It’s tough to buy into this as a sharp pick. It feels like the Bucks overthought this, especially when it’s likely Johnson would have been available at No. 33.

Two other shoulder shrugs

Atlanta Hawks

Any time you take the No. 5 player on my board at No. 1, I’m not going to be thrilled about it. But Zaccharie Risacher will likely turn into a solid player in the NBA. He’s a good shooter and has solid defensive instincts in team settings. I don’t see the upside because I don’t love his on-ball game — he gets pushed off the ball a bit too easily right now and doesn’t really have much explosiveness or balance on the ball to be able to withstand contact (or even project that).

But Risacher was in my top tier of players this year, and I’m not going to crush the Hawks for staying within that group and taking a relatively safe player (comparatively to the others available) that they feel has some room for growth. I think he fits well with Jalen Johnson on the wing and in the frontcourt long-term (Johnson the power playmaker with supreme athleticism, Risacher the skilled shooter and finesse, floor-spacing wing), and will probably turn out just fine. It’s not a sexy pick, but it’s one I’m OK with.


The Grizzlies went big — make that giant — with Purdue’s Zach Edey at No. 9. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Memphis Grizzlies

Typically, when I have a player at No. 17 on my board and they go No. 9, I’m going to think that a mistake was made somewhere along the way. Indeed, if I were running the Grizzlies, I would have loved to have moved up and selected Donovan Clingan at either No. 5 or No. 6. But it takes two to tango, and it seems like the price points on those two picks were just too high.

Instead, they went with Zach Edey, the monster 7-foot-4 center from Purdue who has polarized the basketball world all season. He’s as dominant a force as we’ve seen in college basketball in the last two decades because of his height. He rebounds everywhere, improved drastically in drop coverage throughout his career in ball-screen coverage, and can establish position against almost anyone. I think the latter point is the key. I think Edey is so big and so strong that he’s very likely to continue being able to establish his spot anywhere. That’s going to make him, at the very least, a productive NBA player. Maybe he does settle in as a backup who is just an absolute monster to deal with. But I think there’s more room for high-end outcomes than other people expect, too.

He was the next true center on my board after Clingan was selected. And with the roster crunch that the Grizzlies currently have, I think they were probably more set on the center position than other teams may have been, given how essential that need was for them to keep Jaren Jackson Jr. in his preferred role at power forward.

So why was I a bit lower at No. 17? I just worry a bit about what Edey will be able to do in the playoffs. I think teams will likely be pretty aggressive trying to matchup hunt him in those settings, and probably will have more success doing that than will allow him to stay on the court for bundles of minutes. But with Jackson in tow already as well as Brandon Clarke as he gets back into playing shape following his Achilles injury, the team already has some real frontcourt versatility.

I’m not saying the pick is a home run. But I think it’s entirely defensible given Memphis’ situation. They’re an organization that unequivocally marches to the beat of their own drum come draft time. Sometimes it works (G.G. Jackson looks like an enormous hit already) and sometimes it doesn’t (David Roddy was a surprise that is already no longer with the team).

(Top photo of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Detroit Pistons draft pick Ron Holland: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)




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#Winners #losers #NBA #Draft #Jazz #Wizards #Lakers #lead

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