The 2017 NBA Draft class is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. If it weren't for Ben Simmons (the 2016 top pick who didn't play last season), this year's Rookie of the Year Award race would be a barn-burner between Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, both of whom have been nothing short of incredible.
If teams were to have the opportunity to re-do the draft knowing what they know now, it's unlikely that either of those guys would go in the same spot they went back in June. Mitchell, for sure, would go a heck of a lot higher than No. 13 overall. It's an interesting exercise, a re-draft. It's hypothetical, sure, but it's as good a way as any to gauge where a lot of these guys are at as we cross the midway point of their rookie campaigns.
So let's do it. Just for the discussion. Here's my best guess at what the lottery would look like if teams could do this year's draft over with all the knowledge they've gained over the first half of the season at their disposal.
1. SF Jayson Tatum
Actual No. 1 pick: Markelle Fultz
Tatum's actual slot: No. 3 to the Celtics
Knowing what we know now, there's a good chance Boston hangs onto the No. 1 overall pick rather than trading it to Philly. Why? Because Tatum was the Celtics' guy all along, but now the secret's out. Tatum's a stud. Philly would have to be tempted to go with him at No. 1, particularly given the uncertainty around Markelle Fultz's shoulder situation, though he does appear to be close to returning and is playing 5-on-5 at practice.
"It's absolutely remarkable (what some of this year's rookies are doing)," Louisville acting head coach David Padgett told CBS Sports recently. "I was watching a Celtics game the other night, and we played against Jayson Tatum last year twice when he was at Duke, and obviously we saw the talent level and we knew he was going to be a great player. But kind of like Donovan (who played at Louisville), I don't think anyone expected the process to happen this quickly."
Perhaps the Celtics still risk moving the No. 1 pick for the simple fact that Mitchell, to Padgett's point, has also been brilliant, and if the Sixers were to take Tatum, Mitchell would be a pretty damn terrific Plan B at No. 3. That is, if the Lakers didn't decide to pass on Lonzo Ball and take Mitchell, which wouldn't be out of the question.
Ultimately, it would be too big a risk to lose Tatum, who has been nothing short of spectacular for Boston. The Celtics keep the No. 1 pick, get their guy in Tatum, but lose out on that potential top-five 2018 pick they got from Philly.
2. PG Lonzo Ball
Actual No. 2 pick: Lonzo Ball
Ball's actual slot: No. 2 to the Lakers
Man, this is tough. Yes, the Lakers (particularly Magic Johnson) have pumped Lonzo Ball as pretty much the greatest thing since, well, Magic Johnson, but they're not blind. They can see how awesome Mitchell has been. And though it probably shouldn't be a factor in the decision, not having to deal with LaVar Ball would be a pretty sweet bonus. To me, probably every other team in the league would take Mitchell over Ball right now. Frankly, I don't think it would be close for most teams.
But the Lakers have just sold this whole Ball phenomenon so hard, and if they were to go back on the pick this early, it would look pretty wishy-washy. And it would look like Magic basically admitted that he couldn't deal with LaVar, and nothing about that sentence would sit well with one of the greatest and proudest figures in NBA history.
Plus, Ball has been coming on of late. He's scored double digits in his last eight games. He's up over 30 percent from three-point range, which is still bad -- but he's at 43 percent over his last eight. He's also one of just six players in the league who are averaging at least 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and one steal per game. The other five? LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry and Simmons. Pretty good company.
3. SG Donovan Mitchell
Actual No. 3 pick: Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
Look, Fultz might well end up being the best player in this draft class, as many thought was the case coming into the draft. But right now, Donovan Mitchell looks like as close to a surefire star as a guy can be at this stage of his career, and he fills pretty much the exact same role as Fultz as a combo guard who would be another creator alongside Simmons.
When the Jazz came to Miami earlier this week, I asked Mitchell if he watches what his fellow rookies are doing, and if he measures himself against them.
"At the beginning of the year I think I did a little bit, but I didn't really play well when I started doing that," Mitchell told CBS Sports. "So I stopped all that. I tune in and watch because I know a lot of them and they're friends, but not to watch as a competitor, if that makes sense."
It does make sense. Mitchell is a really humble guy. There's not a chance he would ever say he's been the best player in this year's draft class, so I'll say it for him. He's been the best player in this class, and if the Sixers had it to do over again, no disrespect to Fultz, Mitchell would just be too tempting to pass up at No. 3.
4. PG Markelle Fultz
Actual No. 4 pick: Josh Jackson
Fultz's actual slot: No. 1 to the 76ers
Fultz, the top player on a lot of experts' board, doesn't get past Phoenix, which would gladly take a potential All-Star guard to put next to Devin Booker over Josh Jackson, who has not looked good at all. It would be a very interesting, and potentially redundant, tandem with Fultz and Booker, two guys best suited to play as combo guards rather than pure points, but that's a risk you take 10 out of 10 times in this position when a player of Fultz's caliber falls to you. Phoenix would be thrilled to have Fultz land in its lap outside the top three, and knowing what we know now, there's a decent chance that would happen.
5. PF Kyle Kuzma
Actual No. 5 pick: De'Aaron Fox
Kuzma's actual slot: No. 27 to the Lakers (via Nets)
Remember, the Kings dealt the No. 10 pick to the Blazers, and in this scenario, they can take Kuzma, who has been awesome, and then hang onto the 10th pick and hope that a point guard, potentially even Fox, falls to you there.
It's a risk. There is no more important position than point guard in the NBA. You can't win without an elite one, and a lot of smart people projected Fox as the top point guard in the draft. He hasn't played to that level, which is why I think the Kings take a risk here, knowing that if Fox is gone, there would still presumably be some other options there. Worst-case scenario, they still get Frank Mason in the second round and develop him behind George Hill. Kuzma has been good enough, and Fox, though he's just barely 20 years old, has been just uninspiring enough to take that risk.
6. PF Jonathan Isaac
Actual No. 6 pick: Jonathan Isaac
Isaac's actual slot: No. 6 to the Magic
No change here. Isaac hasn't really gotten a fair shake as he's missed the bulk of the season with an ankle injury, and as tempting as it might be to take Fox here and move on from the Elfrid Payton project, this Magic front office loves length. Remember, GM John Hammond was with Milwaukee prior to coming to Orlando. He's the man who drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was working for Hammond when he scouted Antetokounmpo.
Isaac was seen as one of the highest-ceiling guys in the draft, and again, since he hasn't seen the floor much this year, there isn't any evidence that isn't still true.
"It's frustrating [being out with injuries]," Isaac told CBS Sports in late December. "But I actually feel like I've learned more by being out and just being able to observe defenses and all the different reads. There are so many pick and rolls, so many hand offs in the NBA, and just being able to focus on the details of what guys do in certain situations and how they [read and react]."
It's promising that Isaac feels like he's growing even when he's not on the court, because when he was on the court early in the year when the Magic were one of the surprise teams in the league, he was making a notable impact with his defensive length and versatility, and we know he still projects as a guy who can stretch as a shooter to the 3-point line at almost seven feet tall. He is tailor made for today's NBA, and there's no reason to think the Magic wouldn't take him again if given the chance.
7. PF Lauri Markkanen
Actual No. 7 pick: Lauri Markkanen
Markkanen's actual slot: No. 7 to the Bulls (via Wolves)
No change here. The Bulls have to be thrilled with what they've seen out of Markkanen, who is a stone-cold shooter at seven feet tall. Pay little mind to some of his dipping percentages; he is the No. 1 priority of defenses and has to take a lot of super contested shots. If the Bulls get to where they're aiming, he won't be the best player on the team, and this guy freed up to take open shots is a nightmare at his size.
8. PG De'Aaron Fox
Actual No. 8 pick: Frank Ntilikina
Fox's actual slot: No. 5 to the Kings
Ntilikina has looked promising, but few would've taken Ntilikina over Fox, whom the Knicks liked but were always a long shot to land as far back as No. 8. Fox hasn't done anything to squash the concerns about his lacking jumper, but you have to remember the guy just turned 20 years old and has played half of an NBA season. It would be a major mistake to rule out the future star potential of a guy a lot of smart people has as the top point guard on the board coming into the draft because he hasn't become an immediate star like a Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons -- who, remember, had an entire year to watch and learn alongside NBA players and develop physically without the pressure of the spotlight as he sat out last year for the Sixers. The Knicks would love to put Fox next to Porzingis and see where that can take them over the next half decade.
"When you have a guy with a unique talent like De'Aaron Fox, who with a full head of steam I don't think there is anybody faster down the court with the ball, the rest of their game will catch up when they get to the NBA because there is so much time spent on skill work at that level," Louisville's Padgett told CBS Sports.
9. PG Dennis Smith Jr.
Actual No. 9 pick: Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith's actual slot: No. 9 to the Mavericks
Like Fox and Ball, Smith has also struggled to shoot with much consistency, but he's shown progress with the jumper and his natural shot-form off the bounce suggests improvement is a reasonable expectation. Other than that, he's a top-flight athlete and he has a knack for scoring. I don't think there's any way Dallas goes back on this pick given who would likely be available in this re-draft.
10. PG Frank Ntilikina
Actual No. 10 pick: Zach Collins to the Blazers (via Kings)
Ntilikina's actual slot: No. 8 to the Knicks
The Kings get their point guard to pair with Kuzma. It's not Fox, but you could easily argue Ntilikina has been better than Fox anyway. Sacramento takes this trade off to land two really solid lottery players, and for Ntilikina, he's in basically the same situation in that he still wouldn't have to jump into a premium role. In New York, he's learning under Jarrett Jack; in Sacramento it would be George Hill.
11. SF OG Anunoby
Actual No. 11 pick: Malik Monk
Anunoby's actual slot: No. 23 to the Raptors
Anunoby has been really good in Toronto as a versatile, talented defender who takes the toughest assignment just about every night, even as a rookie. He's also hitting 39 percent of his threes, and that's with a recent dip in production. Charlotte's struggles are sort of strange in that it has a borderline elite point guard in Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard has been great and the Hornets have a lot of solid veterans around them. Anunoby would help right away on both ends -- capable of playing next to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist even as he already may be more polished than him on the offensive end.
12. PF Jordan Bell
Actual No. 12 pick: Luke Kennard
Bell's actual slot: No. 38 to the Warriors (via Bulls)
Much like the Lakers getting Kuzma at No. 27, the Warriors getting Bell from the Bulls, who took him at No. 38 before trading him to Golden State for $3.5 million in cash, is looking like a heist. That doesn't happen if we re-do the draft because Bell likely doesn't make it out of the lottery.
My guess is he goes here to the Pistons at No. 12, even though they really like what they have in Luke Kennard, who can really shoot it and is a capable playmaker off the bounce. Bell has just been a difference maker. This guy could end up something close to Joakim Noah when he was getting MVP votes, and he would pair wonderfully next to Andre Drummond as a terrific defensive/athletic-big tandem.
13. SF Josh Jackson
Actual No. 13 pick: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
Jackson's actual slot: No. 4 to the Suns
As mentioned earlier, Jackson has not had near the impact the Suns were hoping he would when they took him No. 4, and even more concerning, he just doesn't look natural on the offensive end, particularly as a shooter. That said, he's the same athlete and potential top-flight defender he was when he was one of the top players on virtually everyone's board in June, and the Nuggets would presumably be pretty happy to take a flier at No. 13 on him.
Sorry, Jazz fans. The guess here is they wouldn't trade up if their guy (Mitchell) wasn't still on the board.
14. C Bam Adebayo
Actual No. 14 pick: Bam Adebayo
Adebayo's actual slot: No. 14 to the Heat
It would be tempting to take Luke Kennard here; I think he's going to be a really solid player. John Collins has been more productive than any rookie left on the board, too. But Adebayo has shown a lot of flashes as a really athletic big; he's just getting squeezed for minutes in a pretty crowded, and pretty solid Miami front court that includes Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and, of course, Hassan Whiteside. Still a lot to like with Bam.
Guys who drop out of the lottery
- Zach Collins (went No. 10 to Blazers)
- Malik Monk (went No. 11 to Hornets)
- Luke Kennard (went No. 12 to Pistons)