Rookie Roulette

“My wife said to me: ‘If you won the lottery, would you still love me?’ I said: ‘Of course I would. I’d miss you, but I’d still love you.'”
Frank Carson

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nba_lottery_5761Although most NBA fans in the Unites States and in Canada were tuned in to watch the Raptors take on the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, there was a short segue to another much awaited event.  The NBA Draft Lottery was held right before the game, the moment when the ping-pong balls roll to decide the future of the NBA franchises in the bottom 14 of the league. The nervousness in the room is palpable: teams send their “Lucky Charms” (people) equipped with other lucky charms (rabbit’s foot, earrings, and various knickknacks), while Fans hope and pray that their team wins conquers the odds and secures the top pick.

The 2016 NBA Draft will be held in Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 23, and the Philadelphia 76ers will have the first pick in this year’s NBA draft followed by the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics.  In an unprecedented occurrence, the pre-draft lottery order worked out exactly as the probabilities associated with each team. Now, fast forward to June 23rd – the projected top 2 picks in 2016 NBA Draft are Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, while the 3rd pick is more of a question mark.

WQLtwdGDThe Philadelphia 76ers have a very young team featuring the side-lined Joel Embiid, the 3rd pick in the 2014 NBA draft coming back from injury and rehab. The 76ers have filed out their front court with plenty of talent and versatility, but they have needs at the PG and SG position.  Ish Smith emerged as a capable PG for the 76ers last season averaging 12.6 ppg and 6.5 apg, but the 76ers could use a more efficient upgrade at that position with a higher ceiling.  Going with the maxim of drafting the best player available, Simmons and Ingram’s levels of talent will be impossible to pass up.  Most likely, the 76ers will draft Ben Simmons, the better passer and rebounder of the two, who also has the much-coveted ability to play point-forward. This hybrid role at the forward spots is exceptionally valuable in today’s NBA, and Simmons has been compared to a ‘left-handed Magic Johnson’, as he shares Magic’s superior court-vision and does a great job of finding his teammates in transition. Simmons’ game resembles Lamar Odom in his glory days, who also operated as a point-forward.

One of Ben Simmons’s negatives are that he drive to play each game at high intensity and his heart/motor is questionable by some.  Is he willing to put in the hard work to become great?  Questions may arise in scouts minds.  However, Simmons’ glaring weakness is that he is a below-average jump-shooter from three-point range. That being said, Jason Kidd came into the league with a broken jump-shot, but soon developed a consistent jumper, finishing his career 5th all time in the 3 point shots made. Simmons’ positives outweigh his negatives and that is reason the 76ers will make him the 1st pick in the draft.


ingramThe Lakers will draft Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick, getting a stud player in Ingram.  A cross between Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, Ingram is a better shooter and defender compared to Simmons.  Ingram is a wiry player and needs to add-on more muscle, so before the draft, Ingram is reportedly consuming 5000 calories daily and building muscle mass by lifting weights. As the Kobe Era ends, the Lakers will need a playmaker on the wing to carry them into their next era.  Listed at 6’9″, Ingram can play the SG, SF or PF positions.  His versatility means that, no matter which direction they head in their rebuild, Ingram will fill a Lakers need in their starting rotation. His strength is the only concern. Can Ingram hold his own in the paint while defending larger players who can post him up and score easily due to the size differential?  Perhaps, but the new style in the NBA is going away from post-ups and toward transition play and ball-movement to find the open shooter.  If 76ers pick Ben Simmons, which seems very likely, Ingram would fit such a style of play perfectly and is a lock to be a Laker.

1461719656115-Screen-Shot-2016-04-26-at-9.11.18-PM.png-477788.576x324The Celtics pick 3rd in the draft, with a back-court of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley already put into place. Drafting Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn would create a logjam at that position, so, if the Celtics draft Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn, then it will indicate that they have plans to either trade one of the 3 guards or decline re-signing them in free-agency.  I see the Celtics picking up Dragan Bender, a 7 footer from Croatia who plays professional ball with the Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv. Bender exhibits the characteristics of a stereo-typical Euro big, with a refined offensive skills.  He is a good shooter, a good rebounder and an able passer.  He runs the floor well, which gives him immense potential, but he needs to improve on defense to become a fully developed starter.   He projects much higher than Domantas Sabonis, son of Trailblazer great Arvydas Sabonis, who is projected to be a late lottery pick. He played college basketball at Gonzaga and has a game reminiscent of Rockets big-man Donatas Motiejunas: both have exemplary footwork for a 7 footer, have left-handedness, have solid lateral quickness for their size, and have technically sound form on their jump-shots.  Sabonis does most of the scoring in the paint and put up 17.6 ppg and 11.6 rpg as the primary big-man for the Gonzaga Bulldogs last season.  Just like his father, Domantas is an excellent rebounder and an able passer: Celtics could trade down a few spots and pick up Sabonis to fill their front court need. Bender has a huge upside but needs time to develop – Sabonis is NBA ready and capable of contributing next season to the Celtics campaign to conquer the Cavs and Raptors in the Eastern conference. 

Stay tuned folks: June 23rd in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is where these new NBA dreams will take flight: We’ll see where the cards land then.

By Raj Manjrekar