Like most drafts, the 2016 NBA Draft was full of intrigue and excitement. The first two picks went pretty much as everyone had expected, but after that, things got interesting.
Things got underway with the Philadelphia 76ers selecting Ben Simmons first overall. Simmons, a freshman out of Louisiana State University, was considered the likely number-one pick throughout the 2015-16 NCAA basketball season. The only knock against the dominant young Australian was his team’s inability to win. Last season, LSU finished with a winning record but failed to go deep into the Southeastern Conference tournament or make the NCAA tournament despite Simmons’ 19 points per game and nearly 12 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-10 wing is a dominant athlete with gifted passing abilities and will likely have a successful NBA career.
After Simmons, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Brandon Ingram, Duke’s lanky freshman forward. Ingram filled up the stat sheet for Mike Krzyzewski’s team and has the physical traits to match his success in the college game at the professional level. No surprises so far.
Next came the Boston Celtics. First, though, a little backstory. In 2013, the Brooklyn Nets made one of the worst deals in NBA history, taking on huge salary obligations for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White, while giving the Celtics five players and three first-round draft picks with the possibility of a fourth. This deal keeps looking better and better for Boston, since the Nets are terrible, guaranteeing high draft picks for the Celtics over the next few years.
The C’s took Jaylen Brown with the third pick, a shooting guard out of the University of California, Berkeley. The Celtics’ fan reaction to this unexpected move from General Manager Danny Ainge was mixed at best. Brown’s athleticism is off the charts. He plays with a motor and is constantly attacking the rim with a quick first step. Dynamic in transition, Brown is not afraid of contact. But from further out he put up fairly poor numbers, shooting only 29 percent from three and 65 percent from the line in his sole season at Cal. Not exactly the kind of production you’re looking for from a top-3 pick shooting guard. However, Brown is noted for his intelligence and off-the-court interests, but it remains to be seen whether he can translate academic intellect into basketball IQ at the NBA level.
The Celtics had a number of other draft picks from numerous other trades, and came away with two more first-rounders and three second-round picks. Of those, four are originally from overseas, including former Providence Friars star Ben Bentil from Ghana. The Celtics also traded away two of their second-round choices to the Memphis Grizzlies for a protected first-round pick in 2019. ’Twas truly a busy day in Boston.
The Oklahoma City Thunder also made headlines on draft day. The Thunder came into the draft without a pick, but traded themselves into the first round. In a truly shocking deal, the Orlando Magic traded away the 11th overall pick, guard Victor Oladipo and forward Ersan Ilyasova for Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. The trade made little sense for the Magic; Ibaka is a valuable player to be sure, but he is not the sort of guy you build a team around, which is what Orlando will need to do having given up their star in Oladipo and their young talent from this year’s draft.
For the Thunder, it was a fantastic move for several reasons. First, they may have lost a proven talent in Ibaka, but they replaced his position with the pick, selecting 6-foot-11 forward Domantas Sabonis from Gonzaga University. Sabonis is an excellent rebounder and has a smooth stroke, shooting an absurd 63 percent in his two-year college career while routinely taking shots from the outside.
The Thunder also filled their most glaring weakness, shooting guard, with a very good two-way player in Oladipo. Oladipo’s motor, athleticism and length are a good fit for Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan’s style of play.
Without a doubt, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti is hoping to entice superstar Kevin Durant into signing another long-term contract. Durant is up for free agency this summer and is being aggressively pursued by the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, among others. All three of these teams, the Thunder included, face difficulties with signing a star who costs as much as Durant, and to go to either the Spurs or the Warriors he would likely have to take a pay cut. There is no clear front-runner in the Durant sweepstakes as of yet, but the Thunder put themselves in a little better position with their draft day trade.
One other storyline stands out from the draft, the number 10 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee selected Thon Maker, a seven-foot Australian out of a Canadian high school. Maker is an enigma. He has great athleticism and skills, but it remains to be seen how he will fare in the transition from a Canadian high school league to the most competitive basketball in the world.
Regardless of how they end up as players, Sabonis and Maker may make the Thunder and the Bucks the two most athletic teams in the NBA, which is a storyline worth following in itself, not to mention the endless number of other draft-day storylines that could alter the course of several franchises.
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