The final 24 hours before the NBA draft is a tumultuous time for prospects, teams and fans alike, with individual workouts all but wrapped up, trade talks evolving from ideas to concrete possibilities, and the shape of the first round becoming clearer. It’s arguably the most hectic stretch of the entire league calendar as teams purposefully put out information to control the public conversation and create confusing but advantageous situations. Determining what’s what is a challenge for everyone.
On the eve of the draft, key storylines have emerged via reports and leaguewide chatter, much of them steeped in speculation and keeping a wide range of scenarios in play. Per usual, there has been no shortage of trade talks, and while the top of the draft has begun to take shape, Atlanta’s decision at No. 3 has come to the forefront as a focal point of this draft. Everything else trickles down from there. Given the available information, let’s sift through what we know as of Wednesday morning.
1. The growing belief among rival teams is that the Kings are likely to stay put and select Marvin Bagley at No. 2. While Sacramento has explored trading down, leveraging the pick just to move down a few spots in a draft where any of the top five or six players could end up providing a substantial return—coupled with the fact that the Hawks have been active shoppers one pick below them—offers reason for skepticism. Bagley is the only top prospect to work out for Sacramento, although the team recently met with Luka Doncic in Spain and attended Michael Porter’s pro day. It seems Bagley wants to be drafted as high as possible, rather than target a certain team, and that has put him in good position here. He’s viewed as a safe choice for the Kings, and this is a pick they can’t afford to blow.
2. The present sense that Sacramento will go with Bagley suggests that Atlanta effectively now sits in the driver’s seat atop the draft at No. 3. As we alluded to to in yesterday’s mock draft, the Hawks, who own picks 3, 19, 30 and 34, have been all over the trade market in scenarios that include the possibility trading down from No. 3, as well as packaging their other picks to grab an additional late lottery pick. The sense entering this week had been that Atlanta was conflicted about the possibility of drafting Doncic. Another layer was added as ESPN reported Tuesday night that the Hawks had thrust Doncic into real consideration for the pick. He’s certainly quite worthy if they opt to go that direction, but Jaren Jackson is thought by rival teams to remain very much in play as well.
3. Given that the Grizzlies are generally viewed as legitimate Doncic suitors at No. 4, and that the Mavericks are also thought to covet Doncic at No. 5, it’s worth noting that the Hawks are in a position of strength atop the draft. There is speculation making the rounds that Atlanta could be leveraging interest in Doncic, hoping to create a better trade market for their pick. If the Kings go with Bagley, the Hawks in essence hold the keys to Doncic, who could be an enticing target for teams all over the league, and it’s logical to entertain all of their options before settling on a decision.
4. If Memphis is indeed set on Doncic, that makes Dallas a predictable suitor in discussions with Atlanta. While they presently have little of substance to offer in trades, they do have cap space. As we reported Wednesday, the Hawks are known to be one of many teams attempting to move unwanted salary, with Dennis Schröder (signed through 2021 for $46.5 million) and Kent Bazemore (upward of $37 million through 2020) known to be available. Given the level of financial commitment required, actually dealing either player will be a more difficult task, but it’s possible Atlanta attempts to foist one of those players onto the Mavericks or another team as a price for the third pick. Still, given the hefty salary cost, there’s reason to be skeptical the Hawks would be able to offload either one. The Hawks will be one of a handful of teams with acres of cap space, and it seems more likely that Atlanta absorbs salary from another team versus offloading one.
5. The Hawks are still thought to have interest in drafting Trae Young if they’re able to move down, with Mohamed Bamba also viewed as an option. Dealing down into the Mavericks’ spot would likely give them an opportunity to select either one, along with the possibility of Jaren Jackson still falling to them there. If the Hawks are serious about bringing on Young, moving Schröder feels like a critical domino that ought to fall first. It’s worth noting that both point guards are represented by the agency Octagon, and that it would be in nobody’s best interest for them to wind up as teammates. Atlanta has explored moving Schröder, but league sources say his off-court behavior and general attitude have made him harder to trade, despite the fact he’s entering his prime years at age 24.
6. Whatever Dallas ends up doing at No. 5 feels like a major pivot point in the draft, one that’s been made cloudier by the potential movement preceding their pick. Speculatively, if the Mavericks felt they had to bypass the Hawks to draft Doncic, they could call the Kings. Still, Sacramento would be taking a big risk moving down without clarity as to which of their options could be left on the board given how few of the top prospects are known to have worked out for them. If Dallas stays put, there have been mixed signals about how much they like Mohamed Bamba. The Mavericks would seem like a solid fit for Michael Porter, but whether he’s in serious consideration here remains unclear given his health situation. Teams have also expressed concerns about his maturity level and off-the-court adjustment to the NBA lifestyle.
7. It appears Trae Young, Michael Porter and one of either Bamba or Jackson appears likely to be available at No. 5, and that Doncic seems unlikely to fall that far. That puts the Mavericks in a natural position to try and trade down, noting their apparent desire to be competitive next season and the fact Dallas has the cap space to absorb the contract of a player they like. The Magic pick sixth, and aren’t showing their hand. Another team could call Dallas and see an opportunity to pre-empt Orlando’s decision entirely and come grab the guy they want one spot ahead. The 76ers have been rumored to be calling teams about high lottery selections, and the Mavericks might be a workable trade partner depending on which players are available when they select.
8. The Clippers’ picks at Nos. 12 and 13 are where the next major pocket of uncertainty in the draft seems to fall. While they would like to consolidate those picks into a higher selection, other teams are skeptical that Los Angeles has enough in the way of attractive trade chips to make that happen. The more likely scenario right now is that the Clippers pick the player they like the most at 12, then choose to move on 13, potentially using it to add another pick later in the draft while adding another pick or asset. They could be selecting from a group of prospects including Kevin Knox, Robert Williams and Lonnie Walker.
9. Working down from there, the Nuggets at No. 14, the Wizards at No. 15 and the Suns at No. 16 are all teams that could move their picks. As SI’s Jake Fischer reported Tuesday, Denver would like to shed the salary of either Kenneth Faried or Darrell Arthur if they use that pick to trade down. The Nuggets are coming up on a major extension for Nikola Jokic while the first year of Gary Harris’s new contract kicks in this summer, putting them in a potential crunch. The Wizards could look to do something similar to avoid paying the luxury tax in consecutive seasons. If the Suns do move, they’re more likely to target a move upward and could package picks 16 and 31 to do so, potentially with a player attached.
10. With all those trade possibilities noted, there’s a definite lack of clarity as to what will happen in the middle of the first round. There could be a surprising player or two selected in the back of the lottery, and as a result there are a few lottery-level talents at risk of falling in the draft, though they’re unlikely to make it too far. Chief among them is Robert Williams, a big time talent who could make it all the way to Milwaukee or San Antonio if the Clippers pass, as front offices weigh the worth of his questionable motor. Miles Bridges and Lonnie Walker are also viewed by teams as prospects who could slip to the back or out of the lottery entirely.
11. Thursday night’s most stunning rise could belong to Boston College’s Jerome Robinson, who ranks as the 17th-best prospect on SI’s Big Board. Robinson has been one of the the biggest winners anywhere during the predraft process, impressing a range of teams with his shooting, skill level and makeup, earning a green room invite, and making for one of the better stories in this class. Once an unheralded high school recruit, Robinson has earned himself a lot of money after a breakout junior season.