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2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was so much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick was pretty much a lock with the Suns taking DeAndre Ayton, things were wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery.

We were on top of all of the big news on draft night.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Wendell Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

WE HAVE A TRADE: As had been rumored for a while, the Dallas Mavericks are trading with the Atlanta Hawks — the Mavericks have wanted Luka Doncic and the Hawks will take him at No. 3, then the Mavericks will take Trae Young at No. 5. (The Hawks will also receive a future first-round pick).

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Slovenia). He will not play for the Hawks, he will be traded to the Dallas Mavericks (selecting No. 5). Doncic is the most decorated European player ever to enter the NBA Draft (EuroLeague champion and MVP, ACB champion and MVP), he is a phenom off the pick-and-roll and a great playmaker in transition. He has shooting range from the NBA three and he can finish inside. He’s been putting up numbers against men in Europe and should adapt to the NBA fairly quickly. The doubts are he’s not an elite athlete, not explosive by NBA standards. Can he defend well enough at this level, and how will he handle being guarded by those kinds of athletes?

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). Has the look and game of the prototypical modern NBA center — he’s got a great wingspan (7’5”) and uses that to protect the rim and block shots. He’s a good shooter out to the arc, can finish inside with either hand. He’s got to learn to play consistently harder and be better on the glass — it’s not all highlight plays, but he’s one of the youngest players in the draft and will grow. Needs to improve his passing as well. Son of 13-year NBA vet Jaren Jackson.

Mavericks small icon 5. Dallas Mavericks: Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). He will not be Maverick, he will be traded to the Atlanta Hawks (for Luka Doncic and a future first-round pick). Young is a fan favorite for many because he has Stephen Curry-like range on his three out to 30 feet, plus he’s a gifted passer who sees the floor incredibly well. Scouts mostly like him, but there is some concern he’s got more Jimmer Fredette in him than Curry. Young has to learn to manage the game, not be so turnover prone. The bigger issues are defensively, he’s not big and not an elite NBA athlete like many guys he’ll be asked to guard — and his defense was poor at Oklahoma. Can he stay playable in an NBA of switching defenses?

Magic small icon 6: Orlando Magic: Mohamed Bamba 7’0” center (Texas). Maybe the highest ceiling in this draft. He has a crazy wingspan of 7’9.5” and he can be a Pterodactyl on defense that flies in and blocks or alters everything. He’s athletic and mobile enough to hold his own on switches on the perimeter. A lot of Rudy Gobert comparisons, but like Gobert he has to work hard adding muscle and getting stronger without losing quickness to reach that potential. Does Bamba have the love of the game to put in that work? He played casually at times in college. Offensively, he’s raw and has a long, long way to go. This is a high ceiling, but low floor pick.

Bulls small icon 7: Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). He’s a throwback, physical force inside around the rim, but more well rounded than that on offense. He can back guys down in the post, has an outside shot, is a fantastic passer, and shows impressive footwork for someone so young. Very versatile on offense (think Al Horford). On defense, however, he’s slow-footed, doesn’t move great laterally, and could find himself exposed against pick-and-rolls. Can he stay on the court late in games in a switching, speedy NBA?

Cavaliers small icon 8: Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). You remember him as the guy who dropped 40 when Alabama had to play 3-on-5 early in the college season, Sexton has the potential to be a very good at the one in the NBA. He’s long (6’7” wingspan), athletic, and with a great work ethic. He attacks the lane and knows how to draw fouls. He’s got to become more consistent as a shooter and a decision maker to thrive in the NBA, but he has the potential. Could play with LeBron James or be a building block if he bolts (although shoot-first Sexton and never-pass Jordan Clarkson might literally fight over the ball).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky ). A guy who shot up draft boards with his showings at the NBA Draft Combine and private workouts. He can be an athletic three or a small ball four — if he can solidify his inconsistent jump shot (he shot 34 percent from three in college, he will find more space to shoot in the NBA). He struggled to defend quicker players in college (there are more of them in the NBA) and there are concerns about his toughness. A lot of potential here to be a quality NBA player at a position of need.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers: Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova). He has been traded to the Phoenix Suns. Bridges is a solid role player on the wing who can guard multiple positions (the 7’2” wingspan helps) and knock down threes (43.5 percent last season). He’s also performed well on the big stages of the NCAA tournament, he can handle pressure. He has to prove he’s an elite defender on ball, but this guy is a solid NBA player and will be in the league for years.

Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). He will be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (scroll down a little for the details). A fast-rising point guard on draft boards this season, Gilgeous-Alexander is a big point guard (7’0” wingspan) and is not explosive but finds open spaces in the defense. He needs to become an improved shooter, especially from three, and his handles and game management need to take steps forward. Still a lot of potential as a rotation point guard and he showed that growth potential in Kentucky becoming the leader of that team.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Hornets are going to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Clippers for the No. 12 pick plus two future second-round picks. The Clippers have wanted a point guard who could be a core part of their future (with all due respect to Austin Rivers).

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers: Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). He will be traded to the Charlotte Hornets as part of the deal mentioned directly above. Bridges’ return to college to lift his draft stock didn’t really work that way, but he still looks like a quality NBA wing rotation player. He can hit threes (36.4 percent shooting them last season), he’s strong on the glass, and he’s an athlete who knows how to attack the rim. He can guard threes and fours and will be able switch and fit in the modern NBA.

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Jerome Robinson, 6’5” point guard (Boston College). He played point in college — and was very productive there — but likely will be more of a combo guard in the NBA. He brings a high IQ game, three point shooting and he can shoot off the bounce. Is he athletic enough and with that can he defend well enough to be a regular rotation guy for the Clippers? Teams thought so as he shot up draft boards at the end.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). He slid a long, long way down the board but this is a good gamble for the Nuggets at 14. Before the injury he was thought of as a top-three pick, play like that and this is a steal. There are concerns about his back injury (a microdiscetomy that forced him to miss much of last season) and a rumored “diva” attitude (already). The physical tools and potential is what had teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete. Will he put in the work to reach his potential?

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). Another draft board climber in recent weeks. He has great length (6’11” wingspan) and was one of the top recruits in his class. He brings the kind of versatility on the wing that NBA teams crave. However, there are questions about how good of an athlete he is and his shooting needs work to be consistent. That said, he’s one of the younger guys in the draft and should develop over time.

Suns small icon 16. The Phoenix Suns: Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). He has been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick. This is a pick about potential — on paper he’s what teams are looking for in a modern NBA swingman. Smith fits with the Sixers’ style, he’s of the best athletes in the draft, has a 6’11” wingpan, and showed good defensive instincts. He’s got a lot of work to do on offense, his handles need work, his instincts aren’t sharp, and scouts don’t trust his shot. High upside, but it’s going to take some development.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Sixers are not keeping the hometown kid — Mikal Bridges of Villanova is being traded to Phoenix (where he will pair with Josh Jackson on the wing) for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick. Smith fits right in with the Sixers drafting pattern — long, athletic, and a real project.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo, 6’5” point guard (Villanova). You may remember him as the hero of the NCAA Championship game (31 points for the Wildcats), but after that he turned heads at the NBA Combine by testing better athletically than expected. He can play either guard position, can space the floor as a shooter (but needs to be more consistent), is a good passer, and plays hard at both ends. Coaches will like him and his effort, and he should be a solid rotation guard player.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). Good gamble this far down in the draft by the Spurs, some teams thought he was a lottery pick. Walker is all about the upside — a tremendous athlete who has a 6’10” wingspan and has shown he can be a playmaker. He’s got a lot of work to put in to live up to that potential at the NBA level — his handle needs to get better, his shot needs to get better, he needs to show a real commitment on the defensive end. Was he just misused in Miami? No better spot to develop than on the Spurs.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: Kevin Huerter, 6’7” shooting guard (Maryland). He turned some heads with a strong showing at the NBA Combine and climbed draft boards after that. Could develop into a catch-and-shoot specialist with some positional versatility that teams crave. He’s not an elite athlete or ball handler, his ability to defend at the NBA level is in question, but he showed an ability to shoot the rock, is a good passer, and he plays smart. He had surgery on ligaments in his right wrist before the draft and he will be out through Summer League but should be ready for training camp.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Josh Okogie, 6’4” shooting guard (Georgia Tech). He had a strong NBA Combine and impressed in team workouts, which helped him climb the board. He’s a good defender with a long wingspan (7’0”) and the potential to be a multi-positional defender — which is how you get drafted by Tom Thibodeau. He’s athletic, can shoot the ball off the dribble or on the move (and man, does Minnesota need shooting, but Okogie needs to be more consistent). He looks like he could become a useful rotation player in the modern NBA.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Grayson Allen, 6’4” shooting guard (Duke). A very good shooter (if a bit streaky, he had a major slump in the middle of last season) he is athletic enough to create space off the ball then turn and hit the open look. As a four-year senior, he comes in more ready to contribute now than most in this draft. There are questions about his defense and his decision making as a passer, but if he can shoot the rock in the NBA like he did as a Blue Devil he will fit in perfectly (and from Day 1) with the floor-spacing Utah Jazz.

Bulls small icon 22: Chicago Bulls: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.). He fits in the modern NBA — the guy is a smooth athlete who just knows how to get buckets, and he shoots well on the move. He needs to improve that shooting and add some range to really impact the NBA, but he should be a good fit as a rotation player.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). A point guard who showed this season he can handle the ball and run an offense, but the previous season played well off the ball with Lonzo Ball. A good shooter who can space the floor. There is some real upside, although he projects more as a backup PG/rotation player, but one who can defend and make plays. His brothers are Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans and Justin Holiday of the Bulls.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). Considered one of the top recruits last season, he returned to prep school to make a high school to NBA jump (same as Thon Maker). He’s an elite athlete with a lot of upside, he has a good shot that needs polish, but he knows how to score (Simons tends to be ball dominant, plays more like a combo guard). He’s a project but a guy with a high upside.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers: Moritz Wagner, 6’11” center (Michigan). He helped his stock in the NCAA tournament, being a key to the Wolverines’ run. He is a good shooter who can knock down threes and space the floor, but can also score off the dribble or in the post. He needs room to get off that jumper (slow release) and he doesn’t do much other than score (not a rebounder or shot blocker of any note). Likely a reserve big in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers: Landry Shamet, 6’4” point guard (Wichita St). He can shoot, he plays smart, he knows how to run an offense, and all that makes up for him being an average athlete (by NBA standards). He’s versatile, can fit the Sixers system, and projects as a backup point guard in the NBA. That’s not a position of need for the Sixers, but he could be a third guard or get a chance at the two.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Robert Williams, 6’10” center (Texas A&M). Things keep breaking Danny Ainge’s way — this is a steal at 27, some teams thought he could go in the late lottery. Williams has the tools to be an elite NBA defender — he’s got a 7’5.5” wingspan and incredible athleticism — and in college he used those tools to be a shot blocking and rebounding force. Can rim run and catch alley-oops but needs to expand his offensive game beyond that. This is a guy with a high ceiling, but there are serious questions about his work ethic and love of the game — is he going to put in the work to reach that potential?

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). He passes the eye test as an NBA wing — he has good size, he defends well, and he can knock down threes. So yes, he sounds like a perfect fit on Golden State. He’s a player who is good at just about everything but not necessarily elite at any one thing. The concern is that he can just blend in and not be aggressive enough, but he does understand how to play a role, something he will get a chance to do in Golden State. Also, what’s his ring size?

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets: Dzanan Musa, 6’9” small forward (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He’s an aggressive swingman who is best attacking off the dribble and getting into the paint, where he’s a good scorer and playmaker. He plays with his heart on his sleeve (and occasionally goes over the top with it). Average athlete by NBA standards who has to prove he can defend at the NBA level. Heavily scouted for years, he’s just 19 with room to improve. He played last season in the Croatian league and wants to come over now, we’ll see if the Nets want to draft and stash for a year or two.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks: Omari Spellman, 6’9” power forward (Villanova). He plays a bruising style inside, but he can shoot the rock from the outside and has the handles to get a basket against a closeout. He plays below the rim and will have to find out ways to use his shooting to find space on the floor where he can operate. His conditioning needs to improve. Think a younger Mo Speights kind of game.

SECOND ROUND

Suns small icon 31. The Phoenix Suns: Elie Okobo, 6’3” point guard (France). He played last season for Pau-Orthez in the top level French league and averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from threee) plus 4.4 assists per game. A 44-point game in the French playoffs turned some heads. He’s athletic, knows how to score, and has all the physical tools teams look for in a point guard. He’s going to have to develop and adapt to the NBA game, but this could be a very smart pick in the second round.

Grizzlies small icon 32. Memphis Grizzlies: Jevon Carter, 6’2” point guard (West Virginia). He’s aggressive defensively (maybe the best defensive PG in the draft), and he’s a good shooter and playmaker. He’s not an elite athlete, his first step isn’t going to blow by anybody, but he’s gritty and tough — perfect for the Memphis grit n’ grind. He should make a quality backup point guard behind Mike Conley in Memphis.

Hawks small icon 33. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). He is bound for the Dallas Mavericks via trade. As he showed leading the Wildcats to the NCAA crown, he’s a high IQ player whose game is polished and NBA ready — he’s a pass-first point guard with great vision. Could be a Fred Van Vleet type. However, not athletic by NBA standards and struggled to defend elite point guards in college. Will make a good backup point guard who can help a team quickly, coaches will love him, but the ceiling is not that high.

Mavericks small icon 34. Dallas Mavericks: Devonte’ Graham, 6’2” point guard (Kansas). He is bound for Charlotte via trade. A four-year senior who was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, he is a skilled point guard who can gets buckets and knows how to run a team. He’s not the level of athlete and has average size, but he projects as someone who can help an NBA right away as a solid backup point guard off the bench.

Magic small icon 35. Orlando Magic: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). Great second round pick, a lot of teams projected him late in the first. Potential future “3&D” wing — he has a 7’2” wingspan and shot 38.5 percent from three. The questions revolve around whether he is really that good a shooter — he hit 55 percent of his free throws last season. He’s good at scoring on the move, but he’s going to have to learn how to move off the ball and catch-and-shoot at the NBA level. Still, great potential for a need position.

Knicks small icon 36. New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky). One of the top recruits of 2017, he signed with Western Kentucky, changed his mind and wanted to transfer out but couldn’t, said he wanted to return, then just spent the year in training for the draft. He’s a big man with elite athleticism and plays an old-school style as a rim protector on one end and a rim runner on the other. Going to take some time to develop, but a good gamble in the second round for the Knicks, if they can develop him.

Kings small icon 37. Sacramento Kings: Gary Trent Jr., 6’5” shooting guard (Duke). He has been traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he will fit in as a floor spacer. Trent Jr. is one of the best and most fearless shooters in this draft — he has NBA range and then some. His handles need to improve as do his playmaking to handle the closeouts that will come in the NBA, but if you can shoot (and shoot on the move) there is a place for you in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 38. Philadelphia 76ers: Khyri Thomas, 6-3 shooting guard (Creighton). He will be traded to Detroit, which is a steal for the Pistons. Thomas projects as a “3&D” style two-guard who was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year (the 6’10” wingspan helps) and shot 41 percent from three. His ball handling needs to improve, he’s going to have to get his shot off a little quicker at the NBA level, and he’s not the level of athlete that gives him a super-high ceiling, but he also has a high floor — he’s going to fit in and be able to help.

Sixers small icon 39. Philadelphia 76ers: Isaac Bonga, 6’8” small forward (Germany). A lot of potential but also a long way to go to get his skills to an NBA level. He’s a ball-handling wing with great pick-and-roll instincts both as a scorer and playmaker. His game overall, and his shot in particular, need to take leaps forward and against superior competition. A good roll of the dice in the second round that could pan out down the line.

Nets small icon 40. Brooklyn Nets: Rodions Kurucs, 6’9” forward (Latvia). Very possibly a draft-and-stash who stays to develop in Europe. He plays for FC Barcelona, although his minutes have been limited this past season. Plays hard and is a decent athlete who loves (and is good at) the midrange game but needs to stretch out his shot at the NBA level. His tools are intriguing but he has a lot of work to do to bring it all together.

Magic small icon 41. Orlando Magic: Jarred Vanderbilt, 6’8” small forward (Kentucky). He has been traded to the Denver Nuggets. He’s a physical player who is strong on the defensive end, and can score off the bounce on the other. He needs to improve his shot to stick in the NBA. He comes with foot injury concerns. He injured it twice in high school and it forced him to miss the start of the Wildcats’ season last year.

Pistons small icon 42. Detroit Pistons: Bruce Brown, 6’5” shooting guard (Miami). He has all the physical tools — good size, long wingspan (6’10”) and is athletic. Shows a lot of promise on the defensive end. The challenge is the offensive end, where he struggles with his shot and is turnover prone. Has potential as a rotation two guard with some development, but he’s a project.

Nuggets small icon 43. Denver Nuggets: Justin Jackson, 6’7” forward (Maryland). He has potential as a “3&D” wing with some development. He has great length for his size (7’3” wingspan) and in college he guarded positions 1-4. He plays with a high motor but is not an elite athlete. If his handles can improve and his jump shot becomes consistent — and his release becomes faster — he can find a role in the league.

Wizards small icon 44. Washington Wizards: Issuf Sanon, 6’4” guard (Ukraine). Likely a draft-and-stash, but one the Wizards could bring over in a few years. Sanon turned heads at the NBA Global Camp in Treviso, Italy, because he was a high-motor player who could both score and defend well. His shot needs to become more consistent, his defensive understanding needs to improve, but he’s not yet 19 and could develop into a solid NBA player.

Nets small icon 45. Brooklyn Nets: Hamidou Diallo, 6’5” shooting guard (Kentucky). He has been traded to the Charlotte Hornets. He is incredibly athletic and also incredibly raw. There’s a lot of potential here but he needs to develop his skills (which could mean stints in the D-League if he sticks with the Hornets, maybe a candidate for a two-way contract). He’s best in transition, and he attacks in the halfcourt with a fantastic first step. He can become a good defender, but his jumper still needs a lot of work.

Rockets small icon 46. Houston Rockets: De'Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). You may remember him as the focus of the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball, and with that he did not play last season. He spent the season working out then had to impress teams in workouts. He was a top recruit because of his athleticism, can guard positions 1-3, and he can do some ball handling.

Lakers small icon 47. Los Angeles Lakers: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6’8” shooting guard (Kansas). He’s from the Ukraine originally and averaged 14.6 points per game for Kansas last season. He’s got a good basketball IQ, can shoot the rock (44 percent from three last season), and has good size for the position. Real questions about his athleticism and if he can hang at the next level.

48. Minnesota Timberwolves: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). He’s got good size to play on the wing in the NBA, with the skills to post up smaller defenders and is a good shooter out on the perimeter. Out in transition he can be a force. However, he’s a bit slow footed and that shows up in both his first step on offense and concerns about him being a target of switches on defense. Can develop into a solid NBA role player.

Spurs small icon 49. San Antonio Spurs: Chimezie Metu, 6’10” power forward/center (USC). The man knows how to get buckets. He’s very athletic and put up some poster dunks. He’s also very raw and needs a lot of polish (a G-League stint is not out of the question). Good roll of the dice here deep in the second round for the Spurs.

Pacers small icon 50. Indiana Pacers: Alize Johnson, 6’9” power forward (Missouri St.). A power forward who can handle the rock and can do a little bit of everything, but doesn’t have that one standout NBA-level skill. Will have to earn his way onto the roster with Summer League/training camp play.

Pelicans small icon 51. New Orleans Pelicans: Tony Carr, 6’3” point guard (Penn St.). He’s got good size for a point guard, shot 43 percent from three last season, and has an old-man-at-the-Y game that gets him to the rim. The problem is his lack of athleticism means he struggles to finish when he does get to the rim, and there are questions about his defense.

Rockets small icon 52. Houston Rockets: Vince Edwards, 6’8″ forward (Purdue). He knows how to get buckets, averaging 14.6 points per game his senior season, and he can score on the move well. However, he is not athletic on the NBA level and with that struggles defensively. He’s going to have to show consistent shooting and improved defense to stick in the NBA.

Thunder small icon 53. Oklahoma City Thunder: Devon Hall, 6’5” shooting guard (Virginia). Good roll of the dice by the Thunder this deep in the draft. Hall was a core two-way player for the Cavaliers, and he has NBA level shooting ability and basketball IQ. There are questions about him being athletic enough for the next level, but he is the kind of guy who could develop into a role player.

Mavericks small icon 54. Dallas Mavericks: Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). He is headed to Philadelphia in a trade — and this could be the steal of the second round by the Sixers. Milton could play the one or the two, and has the length (7’1” wingspan) to defend 1-3. He battled injury at SMU and is considered a better shooter than he showed in college, and he has the handles to create space then shoot well off the bounce. He’s pass first as a PG and can force some things that become turnovers when he should have gotten his own shot.

Hornets small icon 55. Charlotte Hornets: Arnoldas Kulboka, 6’9″ forward (Lithuania). This is a draft-and-stash pick. A very good shooter with range who plays well off the ball with a high IQ game, but the question is does he have the athleticism to play in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 56. Philadelphia 76ers: Ray Spaulding, 6’10” center (Louisville). He is headed to Dallas as part of a trade. He passes the eye test and moves well for a big man. He came to Louisville highly recruited and with a world of potential, but he never seemed to live up to it. He needs to get stronger and be more consistent with his shot, but the big questions are about his motor. The potential is there.

Thunder small icon 57. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Hervey, 6’7” small forward (Texas Arlington). He tore his right ACL in high school, and his left ACL last year. Considering that, it’s impressive that he bounced back to average 20.5 points per game this past season, then look good at the NBA Draft Combine. He can score around the rim and has a solid jumper. The concerns, as might have been expected, are how his knees hold up. There are also serious defensive concerns.

Nuggets small icon 58. Denver Nuggets: Thomas Welsh, 7’0″ center (UCLA). An old-school, throwback big man who knows how to score around the basket and has a midrange game out to about 15 feet. However, he’s not athletic enough and his game doesn’t fit with what is asked of the modern NBA big man. He entered the NBA a couple decades too late.

Suns small icon 59. The Phoenix Suns: George King, 6’6” small forward (Colorado). This was the Raptors’ pick before they traded it. He’s got an NBA-ready body, is plenty athletic, and knows how to shoot the rock. That all sounds good, but at age 24 already there are questions about how much better he gets, and he doesn’t have an NBA level first-step — he’s not quite able to create space at this level. Still, good roll of the dice this deep.

Sixers small icon 60. Philadelphia 76ers: Kostas Antetokounmpo, 6’10” forward (Dayton). He is headed to Dallas as part of a trade. The other Antetokounmpo — yes, he is Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s brother — isn’t the same level of prospect, but he has potential. The younger Antetokounmpo is raw — he is years away. He’s going to spend time in the G-League. He’s not a ball handling point forward, more of an athletic big who can block shots and run the floor — he does move with the speed and long strides of his brother. There’s a long way to go on his jumper.

Most likely Kawhi Leonard trade destinations: L.A., Philly, Boston, and…

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Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. So much so that he’s willing to leave about $31 million on the table (the difference between the supermax the Spurs could offer and what any other team could after a trade). It took a while but the Spurs know now, and San Antonio will explore the trade market. They are not necessarily going to be in a rush to do it, either. This is a pateint organization, the idea of Leonard starting next season as a Spur is certainly not out of the question.

Despite that, you can be sure 29 teams are lined up to try to trade for him — when healthy Leonard is a top-five NBA player, an MVP candidate who is a force on both ends of the floor, and already a Finals MVP.

However, with just one year left on his current contract, Leonard has leverage in this situation — if a team can’t re-sign him then he’s just a one-year rental, and teams aren’t going to want to pay the steep trade price to land him. Leonard’s camp will let teams know if they have a shot at re-signing him, and most will not. A couple of teams might be willing to roll the dice anyway (as Oklahoma City did with Paul George) betting they can win him over with a year to recruit him in house. But by and large, Leonard will have some say on where he lands.

Here are the teams at the top of the list to watch.

 
Lakers small icon The Los Angeles Lakers. This is where Leonard wants to go. While Leonard’s frustrations with the Spurs grew over the handling of his injury and his seeking a second opinion, his uncle/advisor had been in Kawhi’s ear about getting to a place like Los Angeles. There are none in the NBA bigger than the Lakers. Leonard and his camp were disappointed with the money offered in recent negotiations with the Jordan shoe brand (reportedly in the $4 million to $5 million range) and think a move to a larger market and bigger brand team changes the endorsement equation. (Not as much as Leonard thinks, he doesn’t do social media or go on Fallon/Kimmel, or all the other stuff that guys like Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard have done to create a brand despite market size. Kawhi has to play the game to get that cash.)

This is the trade everyone will talk about. It can get done financially with the Lakers sending Luol Deng‘s bloated contract, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma (and maybe the No. 25 pick in Thursday’s draft). However, the Spurs don’t really want Ball and the circus that follows him, according to sources. It’s expected the Spurs would ask for Brandon Ingram and Kuzma as the young Lakers coming back, and the Spurs likely would have to throw in Bryn Forbes just to balance the books. Either way, it may require a third team to get the job done, the Spurs will not just want to take on bad contracts.

It’s a good deal for the Spurs. If the Lakers get desperate, would they try to throw in Ball too? That likely requires a third team (at least), but the Lakers should go all in — get Leonard in a trade and it’s far more likely the Lakers get LeBron James in free agency.

Another question to ponder: Will the Spurs willingly trade Leonard to Western Conference rival with the resources of the Lakers? Don’t bet on it, especially if the Celtics, Sixers, or others come in with strong offers. The Spurs want the best offer, they don’t care if Leonard chooses to take even less money to go to LA as a free agent in 2019 (the max from another team would be $139 over four years, another massive hit to the guaranteed money pocketbook). Popovich is not inclined to help the Lakers, they will have to beat the competition with the best offer.

The Spurs will listen and be interested in what the Lakers have to say. But there could be better offers from…

 
Celtics small icon The Boston Celtics. It had been reported the Celtics tried to make a trade offer for Leonard at the last trade deadline but were rebuffed (the Spurs have turned away all calls up to this point). For a rebuilding Spurs team, this could be the cleanest choice.

Boston could offer Jaylen Brown (although the Spurs may demand Jayson Tatum), this year’s No. 27 pick, next year’s Sacramento Kings pick (which is only No. 1 protected, and that team is still going to be young and bad), plus another future first rounder. The Celtics have a lot of picks they can send.

Or, Boston could offer Kyrie Irving and a first-round pick. This lineup works for Boston: Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Tatum, Brown, and Al Horford. The question with that offer for San Antonio is could it re-sign Irving, a free agent in 2019? Would the Spurs rather have Brown and all the picks? Also, Boston could, in theory, offer Gordon Hayward and a pick (although that one is far less likely to be put out there).

The Celtics don’t necessarily have to be convinced they could re-sign Leonard to roll the dice on a trade — this is a franchise, a coach, and a passionate city of hoops fans who would be willing to bet they could win him over. Danny Ainge doesn’t fear a good gamble, and this would be one — with Leonard and their other stars getting healthy the Celtics become a threat to Golden State (as much as any team is).

 
Sixers small icon The Philadelphia 76ers. Another team on the rise in the East, a team with max cap space so they would have some flexibility still, and this is a team that Leonard has been linked to in the past. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid taking steps forward (and staying healthy *knocks on wood*) Leonard pushes this team firmly into contender status.

The trade would likely be Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and the No. 10 pick in this draft (the Lakers’ pick). Or, it could be Dario Saric, Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and the No. 10 pick. How tempting that would be to the Spurs depends on what they think of Fultz, his health, and his shot, as well as who they can draft at No. 10. It’s a good deal, and the Sixers could throw more picks to tempt the Spurs. However, is this offer better than what the Lakers or Celtics can put on the board?

 
Clippers small icon The Los Angeles Clippers. If Leonard really wants to be in Los Angeles, this is the other option (and being the face this team did a lot for Chris Paul‘s brand and endorsements, State Farm has paid him a mint).

The offer would not be quite as enticing as what the Lakers can put on the table but it’s interesting: Tobias Harris, Sam Decker and this year’s 12th or 13th pick. Or both but without Decker. That would send the Spurs a decent package, however, it’s all nice role players and not a star (it’s unlikely they draft one that late in the lottery, possible but not likely). Still, the Clippers will try to get in the mix, and they would stand a chance to keep him because of the city (especially if they pay this summer to keep DeAndre Jordan).

 
Knicks small icon The New York Knicks. Another team on this list because it’s a large market that Leonard has been linked to. Reportedly people around him like this idea, but it’s hard to see it working out. It’s also not known for sure if the Knicks could win over Leonard to re-sign, promising him a healthy Kristaps Porzingis. Eventually.

A trade of Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and this years No. 9 pick will get the Spurs to at least listen. (The Spurs are not taking on Joakim Noah or Enes Kanter‘s contracts, the Knicks are stuck with those.) Just hard to see that being enough, considering who they are up against.

 
Heat small icon Miami Heat. Another team whose name comes up — like Sacramento, which would love to get in the sweepstakes — where it seems unlikely they could re-sign Leonard so how much do they really want to offer? There are a few teams in this circumstance.

For the Heat, they could offer Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo
in a trade for Leonard and Patty Mills.

Maybe the Spurs have a little interest in the young players, but it’s likely not enough. Also, how much better does this make the Heat in the short term, and if they are just fighting to make the playoffs in the East is that going to entice Leonard to stay?

If and when the Spurs decide to trade Leonard — they are in no rush, this could drag out through the summer — they are going to get closer to market value for a superstar than most teams get. Much closer than the Kings did with DeMarcus Cousins, for example. There are a few teams that can make quality offers, and the Spurs will choose the best one — they don’t care where Leonard lands. Leonard’s leverage is where he will re-sign, but a team that trades for him can offer $49 million more and one more guaranteed year, that’s a lot of cabbage — not enough to keep Leonard in a place he doesn’t like or want to be, but if the team is winning and the experience is good… anything can happen.

This summer is going to be wild.

Warriors planned defense around LeBron James’ isolations

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During Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, Tyronn Lue repeatedly ran early, high pick-and-roll sets for LeBron James in order to force switches. This allowed James to then back out with the ball and attack against the likes of Al Horford and Terry Rozier instead of Marcus Morris, while also creating mismatches the rest of the Boston roster wasn’t ready for.

This plan worked like a charm — especially in crunch time — and during the last two matchups against the Celtics James scored a whopping 81 points. It helped push the Cavaliers to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance against the Warriors. At the same time, this strategy gave Golden State oodles of game film to study and learn from Boston’s mistakes.

As Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals got underway on Thursday, the Warriors did much of what we saw them do in the last round against the Houston Rockets, who created quite a few mismatches through switches themselves. As James dribbled on the pick-and-roll to get players like Stephen Curry or Kevon Looney switched on to him, the Warriors held and pinched.

It was an ingenius wrinkle we saw Steve Kerr add halfway through the Rockets series, and they employed it again against LeBron on Thursday.

When Cleveland ran a guard across James’ man, Golden State’s guards made themselves skinny, offering little resistance. Warriors guards tried to make way for James’ defender to recover, while at the same time LeBron’s original defender employed a holding tactic, allowing the guard defender to slide through.

James, now without much room to spare, decided to play the role of the bully in the second half. As his original defender recovered or as help slid over on drives, LeBron pushed his way to the rim. He was particularly effective during the second quarter, when he made four of his five field goals from inside or directly near the painted area.

As much as we like to act as though James is superhuman, he could not spend the entire game bulldozing defenders out of the way. LeBron shot more from outside in the third quarter, and Golden State pounced. The Warriors, even when they did fully switch smaller or less appealable players onto LeBron, stayed alert of the shot clock, and several times caused havoc in Cleveland’s passing lanes with simple digs as Cavaliers players stood and watched.

Golden State played excellent help defense once LeBron took a step inside the 3-point line. The Warriors called out their switches swiftly and quickly, clearly executing a plan for when things broke down and James was barreling toward the paint. As a team, the Cavaliers shot just 27% from 3-point range, and players like Kevin Love and JR Smith were not valuable as corner shooters.

On switches, Golden State’s plan was to sell out on every Cavaliers shooter outside of LeBron at the 3-point line, making them shoot inside the arc. The result was several good switches, even from bench players, of which the Warriors used seven.

In this play above, after LeBron forced the switch on JaVale McGee, Draymond Green rushed to help from Love in the corner. McGee knew immediately to run toward Love in the corner on the switch, fully giving responsibility for LeBron to Green. The result was an excellent closeout by McGee, a missed 3-pointer for the Cavaliers, and a change of possession in favor of Golden State.

Cleveland played about as well as they could have given the situation, and they might have won if not for a few boneheaded mistakes, like not knowing what the score was at the end of regulation. Lebron scored 51 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists, although the Cavaliers star racked up five of Cleveland’s 11 turnovers. James was a -13 on the night despite all his scoring, and as a team had just 18 assists compared to Golden States 31.

Defensive strategies change from game-to-game, but it will be interesting to see how the Warriors deploy this kind of defensive squeeze on LeBron in Game 2 and as the series rolls along.

Game 2 is on Sunday at 5:00 PM PST.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2006-07 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the season’s final series. To add to the accomplishment, LeBron pushed this Cavaliers squad past a stunningly good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

Three things to watch in Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers Game 7

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One game. Winner moves on to the NBA Finals, loser can book early tee times starting Monday.

It’s a dramatic Game 7 between Boston and Cleveland for the Eastern Conference crown. In a series that has swung wildly in favor of whoever was the home team that night, the season comes down to one game for these two team. At this point, there are no more real adjustments — both teams, both coaches know what to expect from the other side. It’s about poise. It’s about keeping your head. It’s about what role player will step up big (as one always seems to do in quirky Game 7s).

Here are three things to keep an eye on in this game.

1) LeBron James. He’s the best player on the court, the best of his generation, and with the Cavs it all starts with him — he can’t be just merely good for the Cavaliers to win, he has to be superhuman. Which is what we’ve come to expect — he had 46 points in 46 minutes of play in Game 6 and that’s going to be needed again.

It’s worth watching early on to see if the tweak to his knee suffered in Game 6 has any impact — he scored 12 points after it in that game, but it’s possible it tightened up after his body cooled down. Does LeBron have the same lift and explosiveness? Either way, he’s going to make plays. From the Celtics’ perspective, they just need to make him work hard for them.

There are a lot of players who get tight and shrink from Game 7s. Not LeBron — for his career he has averaged 34.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in Game 7s. The last five times he’s been in a Game 7, LeBron’s teams have won (his last Game 7 loss was to the Celtics in 2008). Bottom line, if there’s one thing we know will happen in this game, it’s LeBron will be great. That, alone, is not enough to get the Cavaliers a win, which leads us too….

2) With Kevin Love out, will any other role players step up for the Cavaliers? Love has been the second best offensive player for the Cavaliers in the postseason, but they can survive his loss — this is a better defensive team without him (3.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court in this series) and the offense often sees better ball movement and flow.

Cleveland’s veterans need to step up in this pressure situation, and that starts with George Hill — he is the bellwether for this team, the second ball handler and shot creator they need. When he plays well, when he is playing downhill and attacking off picks as he did in Game 6, they win. Hill was aggressive, got into the paint, and from there is both a scorer and a distributor in the last game in Cleveland. He has not been the same guy on the road, what does he have to do to be that guy again?

“I have to focus and try to do the same things that I prepared today to take into Sunday,” Hill said after Game 6. “It sounds funny, but I had to go find my Chipotle barbacoa. That’s my pregame meal, so I’m up two games — well, the three games here, that’s what I ate before the game. I’m for sure going to find a Chipotle in Boston, I’ll tell you that.”

Beyond Hill and his barbacoa, Jeff Green is getting the start with Hill out — he is a streaky player, but the good Green would go a long way to helping the Cavs in this one. Kyle Korver needs to find space and knock down threes, the good J.R. Smith needs to show up (that version of him missed a lot of time this series, he’s been dreadful for several games), and Tristan Thompson needs to get some offensive rebounds. LeBron is going to do his thing, but the man can only do so much, he needs help.

3) Are the Celtics’ young stars ready for this pressure and this moment? Boston is at home, where they are a different team and an undefeated 10-0 this season. Boston is also the younger team that bounces back faster, something that matters because this is the third game in five days for these teams (great scheduling, NBA… ugh). The Celtics deserve to be the favorite, but the question that has hung over them all playoffs still looms for this game:

Is Boston ready for this stage and this level of pressure?

“I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Game 6. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be… We need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play.”

The Celtics have already played a Game 7 in this postseason, handily beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. That, however, is a much smaller stage. They need to do Sunday what they did in that first Game 7 — the win starts on the defensive end, making LeBron work for his buckets and not letting the supporting cast get rolling. Then, with the stops and turnovers, use those young legs to get out in transition and get a few easy buckets, force cross-matches and take advantage.

Boston gets their points by committee, they get the ball to the open man and he has to knock the shot down, whether it’s Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier or Al Horford or anyone else. In Game 6, they were not hitting those shots, and defensively they let Hill and other supporting Cavaliers get rolling. That has to change in Game 7 — make LeBron work for his buckets and don’t let the role players get hot.

Boston needs another aggressive first quarter from Brown (he’s done that most of the series). They need to force switches and run sets that get Horford space from Thompson. The Celtics need to defend, then run — they need to force the pace and try to wear down the older Cavaliers.

All season, all playoffs, despite being down men, the Celtics have just found a way to win. They need to do that one more time to reach the Finals.