The NBA Draft is seven months away but that doesn’t mean hoops writers can’t weigh in on what Sam Vecenie of The Athletic refers to as a year-round process. The scribe’s initial mock draft does a fine job weighing in on the biggest prospects on the draft radar while digging admirably deep for a comprehensive 60-pick projection.
Expected to fall in the No. 1 slot is the much-hyped Slovenian star, Luka Doncic. The Real Madrid swingman has shown a remarkable feel for the game at a young age and could make an impact for a team like the Bulls, who currently sit most likely to land that top spot come next June.
It’s after the first pick where Vecenie’s mock gets particularly interesting. The writer opts to put Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton in the No. 2 spot, ahead of the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr.
With analysis for each of the first 30 projections, the early look at the draft can’t be missed. Especially considering that he has college basketball’s biggest villain, Grayson Allen, falling directly into the laps of the world champion Warriors.
There’s more from around the league:
- The number of fringe NBA players who opt to sign overseas in international leagues following NBA training camps has dropped precipitously. Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype writes that the trend can be attributed to a depressed European economy and the leaps and bounds that the G League has made over the course of the past 10 years.
- The fifth edition of FIBA’s 3×3 World Cup will take place June 8-12, the governing body’s official site says. This year the competition will take place in the Philippines.
- A Rockets training camp invitee has been picked up by the G League affiliate of the Bucks. Chris Reichert of 2 Ways, 10 Days tweets that the Wisconsin Herd have claimed Cameron Oliver off waivers.
The Bucks are among the teams with interest in free agent forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas, league sources inform Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). As Scotto notes, Milwaukee doesn’t currently have an open roster spot, so the club would need to make another transaction to clear room for Kuzminskas.
After spending a decade playing professional ball overseas, Kuzminskas joined the Knicks last season and showed some promise, averaging 6.3 PPG and 1.9 RPG with a .428/.321/.809 shooting line in 68 games. In five starts, the Lithuanian forward increased those averages to 14.0 PPG and 4.2 RPG, with a .511/.391/.929 shooting line. However, he had his role significantly reduced this season and was waived on Sunday when Joakim Noah returned from the suspended list.
If the Bucks were to pursue Kuzminskas, DeAndre Liggins‘ roster spot may be in jeopardy. There’s some overlap between the two players’ positions, and Liggins is the only player on Milwaukee’s roster on a non-guaranteed contract. Jason Terry could also be a release candidate, since he’s only appeared briefly in four games for the Bucks this season. However, he has a fully guaranteed salary and the team values his locker room presence.
The longest-tenured player on the Bucks is 26-year-old John Henson. As Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, the six-year veteran has more seniority with the organization than either Giannis Antetokounmpo or head coach Jason Kidd.
More meaningful than the novel fun fact, however, is that Henson has been with the Bucks long enough to have seen the organization’s revolution first-hand. Everything from the team’s branding to its medical technology has been brought up to date.
The center, who started his tenure with the team as a power forward, came into the league under Bucks head coach Scott Skiles and as a teammate of Joel Przybilla.
“I just feel old,” said Henson, who has most recently stepped up as a defensive anchor and coveted frontcourt presence after the Greg Monroe trade. “I was here when Skiles was here. That seems like so long ago for Bucks fans. Which it was — six years is a long time.”
Two NBA veterans have been among the most impressive G League standouts early in the season, writes Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Emeka Okafor, 35, has spent the past four years recovering from surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. He joined the Sixers for training camp and opted to stay with the organization’s affiliate in Delaware. He is averaging 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and is shooting better than 60% from the field.
Kendrick Perkins was the Cavaliers’ final roster cut and went to Cleveland’s affiliate in Canton. He is averaging 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds through three games. He has dropped weight and may still be able to help an NBA team at age 33.
There’s more news from the NBA and the G League:
- Today is an important day for four players who were claimed off waivers during the offseason, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. The Bulls‘ David Nwaba and Kay Felder, the Hawks‘ Nicolas Brussino and the Bucks‘ DeAndre Liggins are all now eligible to be traded.
- The Sixers used the remainder of this year’s cap space for the renegotiation/extension with Robert Covington, leaving just eight teams with cap room, according to Marks (Twitter link). They are the Bulls [$15.1MM], Mavericks [$12.5MM], Suns [$8.9MM], Pacers [$6.1MM], Kings [$4.3MM], Nets [$3.4MM], Hawks [$589K] and Magic [$549K].
- Veteran guard Shannon Brown has been claimed from the G League player pool by the Wisconsin Herd, tweets Chris Reichert of 2 Ways and 10 Days. The 31-year-old last played in the NBA in 2014, when he appeared in five games with the Heat.
- Christian Wood has joined the Delaware 87ers as a returning player, according to Reichert (Twitter link). He played 13 games for the Hornets last year and ended the season in the G League.
- International stars are having a greater impact on the NBA than ever before, writes Tom Ziller of SB Nation. Many of the league’s best young players hail from overseas, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis, both considered early-season MVP candidates, along with Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. Ziller credits former commissioner David Stern for his focus on expanding the league to overseas markets. That strategy not only created more revenue, it exposed the NBA to an international audience and created a new reservoir of players.
The Bucks have looked good since acquiring Eric Bledsoe, and they’ll get another infusion of talent in the coming months, with Jabari Parker working to return from an ACL tear. Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times provides an update on Parker’s recovery, writing that the young forward is “running hard, cutting hard, doing pull up jumpers, and making crisp, sharp spin moves” in workouts at Milwaukee’s practice facility.
According to Woelfel, some Bucks officials “swear” that Parker would be capable of returning to the court right now. However, a source tells Woelfel that the team continues to take a cautious approach with the former second overall pick and will stick to a February target date for his return, as originally planned.
- Having agreed last season to work as a consultant for Milwaukee, Kevin Garnett made his first 2017/18 appearance at a Bucks practice this week. As Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details, Garnett worked closely with Thon Maker on Tuesday, and also put Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton through workouts.
The Bucks are now 3-0 since trading for Eric Bledsoe, and the veteran point guard believes even better things are ahead for his new club. Prior to Milwaukee’s win over the Grizzlies on Monday night, Bledsoe told Ashish Mathur of AmicoHoops.net that he’s still getting back in shape and getting familiar with his new teammates.
“It’s only going to get better,” Bledsoe said. “It’s only two games, bro. I can’t really go off two games. I haven’t played in two, three weeks. I’m still trying to get back into the flow of things. But as the season goes on, we’ll learn more about each other and our tendencies and where we like the ball.”
Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s arrival has pushed Malcolm Brogdon into a bench role, which has actually worked out well for the Bucks, who can no longer count on Greg Monroe to anchor the second unit. As Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, Milwaukee’s new-look bench has produced solid results so far, with Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova sharing ball-handling duties.
- While the Bulls‘ power forward situation has drawn most of the headlines as of late, the club’s point guard situation is also worth watching, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times, who says that head coach Fred Hoiberg is still looking for “his” point guard. Jerian Grant and Kris Dunn are among the point guards vying for the lead role, and both players are expected to be in the starting lineup on Wednesday, per K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.
- The Pistons have been one of the NBA’s most pleasantly surprising teams in the first month of the 2017/18 season, but that hasn’t yet translated to good attendance numbers for the team’s new downtown arena. Rod Beard of The Detroit News takes a closer look.
- Earlier this afternoon, I previewed the 2018 salary cap situations for all five Central teams.
NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most and least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.
We’re taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division this week. Today, we’re tackling the Central division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Central teams:
The Bucks’ recent acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, which added another $15MM to the team’s books for next season, all but guarantees that Milwaukee won’t have any cap space available in 2018. Moving another contract or two could change that, but if the Bucks intend to re-sign Jabari Parker to a long-term deal, they’ll likely end up much closer to the luxury tax line than to the salary cap threshold.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $101,685,313
Projection: Over the cap
The NBA’s most recent salary cap projection estimated a $101MM cap for 2018/19, which would put the Pistons right around the threshold. Don’t expect Detroit to try to sneak below that line and create space though — if they intend to re-sign Avery Bradley, the Pistons figure to remain well over the cap next summer.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $75,902,175
Projection: Up to approximately $21MM in cap room
Since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers have spent more money than any other NBA team on player salaries and tax payments, so it’s somewhat surprising to see the club with only $76MM in guaranteed commitments for 2018/19.
Of course, the only reason the Cavs’ projected team salary is so modest is because James and his $35MM+ player option aren’t included. Neither is Isaiah Thomas, another free-agent-to-be. And neither is Iman Shumpert, who seems like a good bet to exercise his $11MM player option. If any of those players return to the Cavs, the team’s cap space will disappear quickly. If Cleveland actually ends up with $21MM in available cap room, the squad will look a whole lot different next season.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $46,648,020
Projection: Up to approximately $43MM in cap room
The Bulls, who don’t have many pricey long-term commitments on their books, could actually create up to about $52MM in cap room, but we’re adding Zach LaVine‘s cap hold to their team salary, since the club has been adamant about re-signing LaVine, one of the key pieces of this year’s Jimmy Butler trade.
Still, that leaves the Bulls with a ton of flexibility, as Nikola Mirotic‘s $12.5MM team option is the only other salary that could cut into the team’s cap room significantly. Based on recent events in Chicago, it’d very surprising if that Mirotic is still a Bull at that price – or at all – a year from now.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $39,913,044
Projection: Up to approximately $54MM in cap room
In order to get up to $54MM in cap room, the Pacers would have to move on from several key players from this year’s squad. Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Al Jefferson all have partially guaranteed salaries. Thaddeus Young and Cory Joseph have player options. Lance Stephenson and Joe Young have team options. The odds that none of those players will be back are incredibly slim.
Even if the Pacers’ available cap room is ultimately much more modest than the maximum figure suggests, the team is in a pretty good spot. The Thaddeus Young and Joseph contracts aren’t toxic, and Indiana is in full control of all the other players with options or without full guarantees. That will give the Pacers the opportunity to retain the deals that are solid values and dump the rest.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.