The NBA Draft is four-and-a-half months away, but despite the long wait it’s generally expected that the Top 5 has been locked in, opening the party for shenanigans at #6.
The five first players expected to be selected are Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State, Evan Mobley from USC, Jalen Suggs from Gonzaga, Jalen Green from the G-League Ignite and his teammate Jonathan Kuminga.
Identifying the second tier
After those five names have come off the board, things could get weird quickly. There doesn’t seem to be an established second tier, with guys like Keon Johnson from Tennessee, Scottie Barnes from Florida State, Jalen Johnson from Duke and Corey Kispert from Gonzaga all wrestling for position.
In fairness to NBA teams, this year’s draft will be tough to gauge. Much like last year’s class, this year’s crop has been inconsistent. While some guys, like the secondary group mentioned above, come with a lot of raw potential, it’s worth noting that all have their warts.
Barnes doesn’t project as a high-level scorer, Kispert will have to answer defensive questions at the pro level and Jalen Johnson left Duke after playing just 278 minutes, suggesting he’s more of an enigma than a sure thing.
Those issues could create a large willingness for NBA teams to want to trade down in the draft, if they’re choosing after the fifth pick. If consensus forms that the second tier in the draft is a large group of players, it stands to reasons why teams would prefer to move off their selection in order to pick later, and then pick up additional assets in the process.
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Interviews and individual workouts can change some of those teams’ perceptions of course, but it’s unlikely to move the needle in any drastic measure.
Further clouding the draft will be the international trio of Alperen Sengun (Turkey), Josh Giddey (Australia), and Filip Petrusev (Serbia). In mock drafts around the web, those three are slotted all over the draft, despite all three being intriguing enough to get included in that second tier.
Sengun, who is just 18 years old, is putting up numbers in the best Turkish league (BSL) that would have made him a top-tier draft prospect had he played in the States.
His 19.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals in under 29 minutes of playing time just screams productivity, and the closer look NBA teams take at him, the more likely they come to realize that players of his age, playing at that level of competition, is indeed rare and unique.
At 6’10, Sengun may play a bit too traditionally, but given his rather freakish efficiency of 64.5% from the floor and 78.6% from the line (on 6.9 attempts) it may simply not matter if he’s not a new-age center. The high-rate/high-volume free throw shooting also indicates future growth as a shooter.
Giddey, also 18, is in a situation in the NBL that isn’t unlike that of Sengun. At 6’8, Giddey plays on the ball as a play initiator, averaging 11.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, while trying to mold his game after fellow countryman Ben Simmons.
The knock on Giddey is his shooting, although it’s more about his shot release than accuracy. His shot isn’t tremendously fluid, and he is raw seen through the lens of the NBA. That said, the combination of size, court vision and all-around production should catapult him into a similar draft projection as Sengun.
Finally, there’s Petrusev, who not only has proven himself in the Serbian ABA but also at Gonzaga over the course of two seasons. Petrusev is older at 21 than the other two, but is far more polished. At 6’11, he is a do-it-all offensive big who puts up 23 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 43.5% from the three-point line.
What’s more impressive is that he doing this next to last year’s draft pick Marko Simonovic, who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Like Petrusev, Simonovic is also a 6’11 floor spacer who does a bit of everything, so for Petrusev to break through as the team’s primary scorer shows he should have a role in the league by the moment he steps onto an NBA court.
Of course, some teams like international prospects more than others, and that will factor into the entire decision making process. But overall, it does seem like most teams have accepted that basketball now has a global appeal, which leads to players breaking out internationally.
NBA general managers will have their work cut out of for them going into this year’s draft. And if they’re picking after six, the pressure to get it right will be on.