By Sope Eweje, For The African-American Athlete
As much as I dreamt of playing in the NBA as a kid, I sure wouldn’t want to be part of this year’s draft class.
When the final buzzer of the NBA finals sounded, and the Golden State Warriors came away with a resounding 4-1 victory, 29 other NBA teams realized (or at least they did if they’re smart) there is not a single team equipped to challenge the Warriors for the championship next season.
Although we’re sure to see some blockbuster trades and free agent signings this offseason, the hopeless nature of most team’s’ title aspirations puts the onus on players drafted this year to either make an immediate impact or, more realistically, develop into stars who can surely help carry their teams to the promise land. There’s undoubtedly pressure for each and every one of the 60 draft picks to hit.
I believe this draft class is ready for that challenge.
Headlined by point guards Markelle Fultz, predicted to go No. 1 overall to the 76ers, and Lonzo Ball, whose passing ability and overall talent cannot be overstated (unlike a certain family member of his), the talent in this year’s draft is sure to have many NBA teams excited to continue to stock up on young talent that will help them win championships in the future.
Just take a look at the likely lottery picks. Outside of Ball and Fultz, this draft features two versatile and playmaking forwards in Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum, both likely to go in the top 5.
As has been a trend in the league, this draft will not be void of 7-foot shooters: Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, at 42.3 percent and 47.6 percent 3-point shooting, will both look to make a splash (pun intended) in the NBA next season.
One potential lottery pick has a lot to prove should he be taken as high as predicted: Kentucky guard Malik Monk.
Arguably the best shooter in the draft, Monk needs to answer two questions: can he shoot consistently, and, in games when his shot is off, can he do more than shoot? He gained a reputation as a streaky shooter during his one year with John Calipari at UK, but that will not be enough to dissuade teams from drafting a player with such a high upside early on in the draft.
But the talent goes beyond the lottery. There are two players stand out particularly as prospects who NBA teams should not sleep on this Thursday, and who NBA fans should keep an eye on next season. Once projected as a future No. 1 pick coming out of high school, Duke forward Harry Giles would still be on every scout’s radar, if not for his numerous knee injuries and consequent surgeries.
He played very limited minutes at Duke, but if the right team is ready to take a chance on him and he stays healthy moving forward, there’s no reason why Giles can’t be the steal of the draft.
Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan is another prospect that might make some noise from outside the lottery. Projected as a late-first round/early-second round pick, the 6’9” 250 lb. Swanigan was one of college basketball’s best rebounders last season at 12.5 a game and demonstrated the ability to knock down the outside.
He is not a terrific athlete, but as a player with a high basketball IQ and motivated personality, he is one of the draft’s most unique entrants.
There’s a lot at stake for many teams in this draft. The Celtics are looking to challenge Lebron’s reign in the East in the near future. The Lakers are trying to put the right young pieces together to make themselves a destination for stars and future free agents, like Paul George (subject of trade talks between the Pacers and Lakers), LA native Russell Westbrook (who will be 30 and probably ringless when his contract ends after the 18-19 season), and Lebron James down the line. The Timberwolves will definitely try to make their young core even more foreboding with their No. 7 pick.
The list goes on and on. The NBA landscape is going change dramatically over the next few seasons, and the number of so-called “super teams” will only continue to rise. Hopefully these prospects will help their teams keep with the times.