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NBA Draft Notebook: Latest Buzz and Intel

Will the Thunder take Chet Holmgren at No. 2? Here's what we're hearing.

The draft is fast approaching, information is flying around the league and trade talks are starting to get serious. We’ll have a full mock draft update tomorrow. Until then, here are some notes from around the NBA, things I’m hearing, and other items to watch for going into draft night.

What’s up with the top of the draft?

As far as I can tell, as of Wednesday morning, Jabari Smith remains the favorite to come off the board at No. 1 to Orlando. Due to the silence the Magic have successfully projected to the rest of the NBA, this can’t be treated as an absolute certainty, but it’s become a strong hunch shared by most around the league. Magic boss Jeff Weltman is thought by many to have a soft spot for Chet Holmgren, but most expect Orlando will land on Smith, who for what it’s worth is my top-rated prospect and the player I’d take at No. 1.

Per usual, the Thunder are exceptionally difficult to get a read on, with most teams penciling in Holmgren at No. 2. But no one I’ve spoken to is willing to call it a lock. The odds are Oklahoma City’s intentions will remain obscured until the last possible minute. I still think they wind up with Holmgren, but teams picking behind the Thunder are still operating with contingencies in place if they don’t take him. While it would be a surprise at this point, I’ll just note that Jaden Ivey and Paolo Banchero are still viewed by many around the league as legitimate candidates to go at No. 2. And it’s well-known by now that the Rockets are hoping for Banchero to fall to them at No. 3.

Plenty of teams are chasing the Kings’ No. 4 pick, and Sacramento has certainly been listening. But I’m not as confident as some seem to be that the pick ultimately moves: looking around the league, it’s tricky to identify the right type of package that would ultimately entice the Kings to come off their spot. The sense I get is that Sacramento likes the draft and may not want to move back especially far, and it’s hard to see a combination of veterans and desirable draft positioning that seems appealing. If the Kings stay at No. 4, Keegan Murray seems to be the likely choice. The Pacers and Spurs also covet Murray, and the Knicks and Wizards have been linked to Ivey in trade-up scenarios.

A Shaedon Sharpe update

Shaedon Sharpe

With the draft a day away, Sharpe remains one of the trickier players to place, with his realistic range beginning with Portland at No. 7, and his absolute floor a bit difficult to peg due to potential trades in the 8-13 range. Sharpe didn’t necessarily move the needle on the workout circuit, but nobody around the league anticipates a shocking fall, either: his physical gifts and scoring ability portend pretty real upside, and at some point drafting him simply becomes about risk tolerance and situational preference.

Here’s what I know to be true about Sharpe’s situation. The Trail Blazers have done a lot of homework on Sharpe behind the scenes and are thought to have pretty real interest in him at No. 7. (The other name frequently popping up for Portland is Dyson Daniels.) If Portland doesn’t take Sharpe, the Pelicans are considered a potential landing spot for him at No. 8. Depending on what trades take place, the furthest he’d realistically fall is No. 10 or No. 11, whether it’s the Wizards, Knicks or a different team picking at one of those spots.

Reading between the lines, this leaves the Thunder, who have long been tipped as a Sharpe suitor, on the outside looking in at No. 12. The possibility of a trade between Portland and Oklahoma City that would center on a swap of No. 7 and No. 12 has been circulating for a while, and if the Thunder do move up, Sharpe could feasibly be the target. Oklahoma City has also been strongly tied to Ousmane Dieng. It’s unclear whether they value either player enough to trade up, but considering the indefinite timeline the Thunder seem to have and that neither player is guaranteed to be there at No. 12, it’s a theory that makes some sense.

Sizing up the center market

There’s been ongoing debate around the league for months as to whether Memphis’s Jalen Duren or Duke’s Mark Williams would be the first center drafted, which intensified after the combine but seems to have leveled out in Duren’s favor. Most around the league expect he’ll be the first big off the board tomorrow night, with the question now simply being where.

Most around the league believe Duren’s range begins at No. 9 with San Antonio, but it doesn’t feel like the Spurs are locked in on him as their top choice. He has two notable suitors picking ahead of that in Detroit and Portland, but the former would ostensibly have to acquire another lottery pick to get him, and the latter makes more sense in trade-back scenarios. (For example, if the Blazers traded back to No. 12 with the Thunder, they could feasibly grab Duren there.) The Wizards seem focused on upgrading their backcourt and are still exploring trade options with the 10th pick, and word is the Knicks are more likely to re-sign Mitchell Robinson than select a big at No. 11. New York has also been tipped as a candidate to move back.

It’s worth noting, per sources, that Duren chose to cancel a recent workout with the Hornets. The reason why is open for interpretation—it could be posturing, or it could be that Duren’s camp feels comfortable he’ll go off the board earlier—but Charlotte is thought to have real interest and could certainly draft him at No. 13 anyway. The Hornets have the 13th and 15th picks in hand and have long seemed like an obvious home for a center. So if Duren indeed goes there, that probably drops Williams into the 14-18 range, where someone could target him via trade, or perhaps the Bulls, who are viewed as a soft landing spot, could draft him. That’s a value sweet spot for a player many scouts have rated as their top center.

After Williams comes off the board, things get a lot more crowded, as the market demand doesn’t seem quite as high for the remaining centers in the class. It’s hard to identify a landing spot for Walker Kessler, who I’m told has been dealing with a broken toe and has either been limited or unable to participate at all in his various workouts. Kessler received a last-minute green room invite on Wednesday, and the very high end of his range begins in the late teens, but it also runs all the way into the early second round and may depend on potential trade shuffling in the 20s. French center Ismael Kamagate (who appears open to taking a stash), Arizona’s Christian Koloko and Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams seem to be the other true bigs in play in the top 40. All should get drafted, but the number of legitimate landing spots isn’t all that high, barring trades, which makes for some potentially interesting scenarios as we get deeper into the draft.

Odds and ends

- As of Wednesday morning, rival teams felt Philadelphia’s No. 23 pick would likely be on the move. The 76ers are thought to be exploring attaching the pick to a veteran in order to save some money, with Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green known to be available. There’s also some speculation surrounding Tobias Harris, but the two seasons remaining on his hefty contract seem likely to limit the number of interested parties. Philadelphia has been tipped as a destination for P. J. Tucker in free agency, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday.

As previously noted in Monday’s mock draft, Golden State has been open to moving No. 28 as a cost-saving measure, with recent lottery picks James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody all due for increased playing time next season and the team’s payroll perennially landing them in the luxury tax. However, the Warriors have historically valued their late first-rounders and are also thought to be eyeing several prospects in this range. So while options are certainly on the table, a trade here may not be a foregone conclusion.

- After Michigan’s Caleb Houstan opted not to attend the combine, there was immediate speculation as to whether he had a promise from a team. And while he may not have had one at that time, his draft range has come into greater clarity: the 28-35 range feels most likely, with the Warriors, Grizzlies, Magic and Raptors having come up with rival teams as potential landing spots. He may not be securely in the first round, but should be in line for a guaranteed deal.

- Florida State’s John Butler has quietly worked his way into the draft picture and looks like a good bet to hear his name called on Thursday night, potentially somewhere in the top 40. The 7'0”, 175-pound forward will be a long-term project, but he shoots and handles the ball unusually well for his size and has piqued the interest of teams as a potential home run swing in the middle of the draft. While his freshman-year production wasn’t spectacular, Butler played well at the combine and has made a convincing case as a player worth developing.

- A wide range of teams are looking to acquire picks in the second round: the Lakers, Jazz, Mavericks, Suns, Nets and Heat have all been mentioned as possibilities. Those seconds hold additional value for contenders with large payrolls looking to save money, as it’s less expensive to roster a second-rounder on the minimum than it is to sign a rookie outright to the minimum in free agency. (The CBA works in mysterious ways.)

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