Despite what we think we know about the NBA draft, every year there are surprises.
There are players that seem like they will be top five selections through the entire draft process, only to have to wait until the late lottery to be selected on draft day. There are players that seem likely to go in the lottery that get chosen late in the first round or early in the second.
Sometimes, these players make all the teams that pass on them regret it, and sometimes teams’ concerns are validated. The Spurs traded George Hill for the rights to Kawhi Leonard in 2011 after he fell to 15, and now have one of the best players in the NBA. The Bulls passed up need when Marquis Teague unexpectedly fell to them at 29 in 2012 and ended up with a player who’s currently out of the NBA.
Leonard and Teague ended up as completely different players, but they suffered the same fate of an unexpected fall on draft night. Who might have to wait longer than anticipated to hear their name called this year? Here are a few candidates.
Booker is one of the best shooters in the draft, and this has caused most draft experts to feel he’ll be picked in the seven to ten range, with Charlotte at nine being the most common pick. But if Charlotte passes on Booker, he could fall out of the lottery. Miami seems like a good Stanley Johnson destination if he’s available, and Indiana and Utah both have more pressing needs. Phoenix might get a shooter, but seem more likely to take one of the bigs or a player with better ballhandling skills than Booker. Oklahoma City makes plenty of sense at 14, but if the Thunder choose someone else, it’s conceivable Booker could slide into the 20s.
Teams love Booker’s shooting, but everything else he brings to the table seems to be average. In the lottery, teams might opt to take a swing with some players with higher upside. Booker could easily go in the top ten, but don’t be surprised if he’s still on the board when the lottery is over.
I still think Cauley-Stein is a top-six pick, and Sacramento seems like the most likely destination at six. But, if there is one player in this draft who fits the Kawhi Leonard model (teams overthink and take a player with more perceived upside instead of the obvious best player available), it could be Cauley-Stein.
If the top six teams pass on him, Denver seems locked into Justise Winslow if he’s there and Detroit, Charlotte and Miami aren’t great fits. His floor is probably the Pacers at 11, and he’d be an absolute steal and perfect fit there.
The 11th pick may not seem like a huge slide, but it is for a player being considered in the top four. Cauley-Stein should, and probably will, go in the top six picks, but if he makes it past there, don’t be surprised to see the Pacers thanking the Basketball Gods for a chance to take him at 11.
Mudiay is another player who might get taken in the top three, but also might suffer a slide if he makes it out of the top six. He’s similar to Cauley-Stein in that he’s a great fit with Sacramento, but if he falls past the Kings’ selection at six he could slide further.
He makes sense for Denver if the team is confident it can move Ty Lawson for a good haul, but the team could pass and take Winslow. Stan Van Gundy seems convinced Reggie Jackson is his guy, and the Hornets just gave Kemba Walker a lot of money. Goran Dragic seems likely to re-sign with Miami, and Indiana, who wants to be better next year, may not have the patience to wait for Mudiay to develop running the offense. Would the Jazz or Suns take Mudiay with Exum and Bledsoe running the show for their respective teams?
At this point, it seems obvious that a team would take Mudiay, even if it is someone trading up. He won’t get out of the lottery and is the biggest long shot on this list to make it out of the top-10. But everyone anticipated Mudiay being in the conversation for the No. 1 pick until a few weeks ago. If he slips past Sacramento, it’d be shocking. But he doesn’t have the same high floor as fellow top draft picks Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell. So there is a real possibility he falls further than anticipated.