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It is the month of March, which is, for all intents and purposes, a college basketball month. But please allow us to interrupt your regularly scheduled Zion Williamson programming. Remember the prospects we were all focused on one year ago? They’re three-quarters through their rookie seasons in the NBA and have arguably been better than advertised.
In the interest of spirited debate, we’re going to try and re-select the 2018 draft lottery. NBA teams don’t get do-overs, but we are the champions of hindsight. First, here are some disclaimers.
1) The notion of re-selecting any given sport’s draft is inherently flawed, as it ignores the butterfly-effect factor of timing and location. Players develop differently in different situations. There are clear limits on what we can assume when trying to move pieces around. Don’t get too hung up on it.
2) It’s still fair game to debate the short- and long-term merits of one player versus another, so we’re going to try doing this whole thought experiment through that lens. This is an inexact science dictated more by what we’ve seen from the players than by what their new (fake) teams really need.
3) Although Dallas surely would not have moved up to No. 3 had Luka Doncic not been available there, to make everyone’s lives easier, we’re just going with the final lottery order, inclusive of all trades.
1. Phoenix Suns
Actual pick: Deandre Ayton | Re-draft pick: Luka Doncic
While Ayton (whom we had pegged at No. 1 all last season) has been solid, no rookie looks like more of a sure thing than Doncic. Averaging north of 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists while having just turned 20-years-old, he’s a special talent and probably should never have slipped to the third pick. Alas.
2. Sacramento Kings
Actual pick: Marvin Bagley | Re-draft pick: Deandre Ayton
It’s not surprising that Ayton, one of the most physically gifted centers in the league, is already averaging a double-double. As he continues to develop and gains experience defensively, his ceiling remains sky-high.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Actual pick: Luka Doncic | Re-draft pick: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson isn’t a polished product yet, but he’s shown plenty of positive signs over the course of the season and has been more NBA-ready than many expected. He looks like a legitimate long-term cornerstone who impacts the game on both ends of the floor.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Actual pick: Jaren Jackson Jr. | Re-draft pick: Trae Young
For a guy who had a pretty strong case as the best player in college basketball a year ago, Young came into the league with his share of doubters. He’s had some stellar moments amid the rookie growing pains, and his playmaking gifts clearly translate just fine.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Actual pick: Trae Young | Re-draft pick: Marvin Bagley
Bagley did nothing but produce at Duke, and he’s already a big part of a surprising Kings turnaround. He may not become a superstar, but his energy, rebounding and developing offensive versatility have made him an impact player with upside.
6. Orlando Magic
Actual pick: Mo Bamba | Re-draft pick: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
After being handed the Clippers’ starting job, it looks like Gilgeous-Alexander may never let go. He looks the part as a legitimate backcourt piece with size, craftiness and an improving jump shot, and should be seen as the only untouchable piece on L.A.’s roster. He may have been the steal of the lottery.
7. Chicago Bulls
Actual pick: Wendell Carter | Re-draft pick: Wendell Carter
There was never much doubt that Carter would be a rock-solid player, and he’s offered little reason to second-guess his draft slot here. He’s been injured on and off this season, but should be in for a nice leap forward going into 2019-20. The fit next to Lauri Markkanen looks promising.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
Actual pick: Collin Sexton | Re-draft pick: Mo Bamba
Bamba’s rookie year has been stunted a bit by injuries, but the Magic selected him knowing they were in for the long haul. While he may not necessarily end up as the transcendent defensive player everyone hoped, it’s still far too early to write him off. That he slipped a bit in this exercise is more a referendum on the apparent strength of this class.
9. New York Knicks
Actual pick: Kevin Knox | Re-draft pick: Kevin Knox
While Knox has struggled mightily at times this season, in terms of his long-term scoring upside, the Knicks would be justified doing it over again. How he responds to the adversity next season should be telling.
10. Phoenix Suns
Actual pick: Mikal Bridges | Re-draft pick: Mikal Bridges
Bridges has been in and out of the lineup, but he remains a good long-term fit for the Suns’ organization and has looked like their best defender (granted, it’s not saying a ton). He should continue evolving into a steady, high-IQ role player who helps in a number of areas. Shooting it more consistently from outside is key.
11. Los Angeles Clippers
Actual pick: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Re-draft pick: Kevin Huerter
A late-blooming prospect who has managed to justify his predraft hype, Huerter looks as advertised as a legitimate three-point threat with some size and playmaking ability. Some of the athleticism concerns may have been overwrought, and with the way he can shoot it, he should be able to stick in the league for a while.
12. Charlotte Hornets
Actual pick: Miles Bridges | Re-draft pick: Mitchell Robinson
Robinson fell all the way to pick No. 36, but it was never for lack of talent, and his immediate success (albeit for a very, very bad Knicks team) is certainly of note. He’s already a strong shot-blocker, his athleticism clearly plays, and even if his ceiling is just a more actualized version of what he is right now, he does those things well enough to have a chance at becoming a legit starter at some point.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
Actual pick: Jerome Robinson | Re-draft pick: Miles Bridges
While Bridges is still more prospect than player, his athleticism, energy and ability to be useful without a ton of touches still makes him a good long-term role candidate. He’s not an ideal fit with the way the Hornets play, but has shown enough to think he’ll be able to last a while.
14. Denver Nuggets
Actual pick: Michael Porter Jr. | Re-draft pick: Michael Porter Jr.
We won’t see Michael Porter on an NBA floor until next season, but following his arc from here should be fascinating. If he returns to what he was before his back injury, he could be an ace in the hole for Denver. His potential as a scorer makes him well worth the gamble at this point, and will be an early-season storyline no matter the Nuggets’ playoff fate. — By Jeremy Woo
• This week's cover story: How does a grieving family cope with the dichotomy of a painful, tragic death and the inspiring movement that resulted from it? The Boulets are forever faced with this conflict. [Editor's note: Read the author's reflection of the story below.] (By Greg Bishop)
• Watch the cover story's accompanying SI TV feature, The Logan Effect. (Subscription required)
• The Post-NFL Combine Top 100: Our draft Big Board expands and comes into focus with new intel and insights from combine week.
• Is LeBron still the best player in the NBA? The Crossover staff debates.
• At his 20th NFL combine, Giants coach Pat Shurmur came across a QB prospect he's scouted his whole life: his son. (By Kalyn Kahler)
• College basketball coaches and refs aren’t exactly known for getting along. How do they navigate their fiery and fickle relationship? (By Laken Litman)
Vault Photo of the Week: Remember the Fight of the Century?
It's been nearly a half century since one of the greatest sporting events in history unfolded at Madison Square Garden. In The Fight of the Century, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali put their undefeated records on the line to duel for the heavyweight title on March 8, 1971. SI's Neil Leifer captured this ringside photo, like he did in so many Ali fights. Just how important was this bout 48 years ago? Let's take an excerpt of Mark Kram's preview of the fight:
"The thrust of this fight on the public consciousness is incalculable. It has been a ceaseless whir that seems to have grown in decibel with each new soliloquy by Ali, with each dead calm promise by Frazier. It has magnetized the imagination of ring theorists, and flushed out polemicists of every persuasion. It has cut deep into the thicket of our national attitudes, and it is a conversational imperative everywhere—from the gabble of big-city salons and factory lunch breaks rife with unreasoning labels, to ghetto saloons with their own false labels."
Now, if only Twitter was around then ...
Writer Recall: Greg Bishop Reflects on Covering the Humboldt Tragedy
I first became aware of the Humboldt bus crash when my editors called last spring. They wanted me to fly to Saskatchewan, as in later that day, because a bus carrying a junior hockey team had crashed in the middle of Canada and several players had died. I flew to Vancouver, then Saskatoon, then drove the 80 minutes or so to Humboldt, a town I had never heard of that very morning, and since it was late at night and super dark, I didn't even see another car on the road. You can tell you've reached Humboldt when you see lights. And the first thing I noticed was all the news trucks. There must have been 10 in the hotel parking lot.
And afterward, since I reported and wrote that piece in 72 crazy hours, I decided I wanted to follow that story, to find a way to tell it later. I looped in Mary Agnant, the brilliant video producer at SI who I've worked closely with, and we started exploring potential angles. We discussed the first responders who came across the scene, or the billet families who housed players who had died and would house the players who replaced them. Eventually, Mary suggested the Boulet family. Immediately, the story made sense. It was powerful. Their son, Logan, had been one of the key members of that team. But more important, his story was the best thing that had come out of this terrible tragedy. Logan was inspired by his trainer to become an organ donor, became one, and because that news spread in the aftermath of the crash, he inspired countless others—possibly more than 100,000—to sign up to become donors, too. We wanted to explore the tension between those things, how a miracle and a tragedy could take place at the same time, and how one doesn't exist without the other. How there wouldn't be this kind of impact if Logan hadn't died.
We spent a week in Canada last fall. I celebrated my birthday in beautiful Humboldt. We drove from Lethbridge to Saskatoon to Humboldt to the crash site then back to Humboldt. Mary will kill me for saying this, but she was pulled over for driving too slow. In all seriousness, I owe her my gratitude. She reached out to the family, set up the interviews and did all the driving. If she had written the story, she wouldn't have needed me at all.
The one thing I wish I had more space for in the story is this: in Canada and the United States, there is a great need for organ donation. We didn't know anything about the shortages, or what the laws were, or how people could decide to donate, and how it was different in different countries. I hope that people who read this story and watch the beautiful documentary Mary directed consider what they want to do with their organs after they die, become donors if they're comfortable with that and have conversations with their family members about this topic and their wishes. This is an important thing that often gets overlooked. I already had signed up to become an organ donor, but in the months that we reported this story, I encouraged my friends to do the same.
Hence The Logan Boulet Effect, which is what they're calling the surge in donations up in Canada. I hope it continues, spreading wider and wider, until there's a real dent put in this crisis.
Best of the Rest
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Jeremy Woo.
• If you weren’t already convinced artificial intelligence is coming for the human race, I am sorry to inform you that the robots are making art now. The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost detailed a prominent New York gallery show where people are selling machine-generated prints. This is the way the world ends.
• ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz dove into what ails the Phoenix Suns, offering an intimate look into the inner workings of one of the NBA’s most perpetually perplexing franchises.
• Read the always-terrific Steven Hyden at UPROXX on Steven Spielberg’s push against Netflix, the meaning of cinema, the dwindling market value of physical and experiential media, and for those of us who still buy music and go to the theater, digital ennui.
• Over at theLAnd, Kaleb Horton’s dive into the mostly forgotten history of L.A.’s mostly forgotten Pioneer Chicken resonated with me, as someone who grew up a five-minute walk from a Chicago Harold’s.
• While we’re still here, I thought the third season of True Detective was better than the first. Evan McGarvey at Passion of the Weiss touched on the show’s surprisingly understated finale, and why the normalcy resonated.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.