We’re nearing the end of the 2015 Franchise Player Draft here at Today’s Fastbreak. The picks so far include: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Drummond, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Rudy Gobert, John Wall, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Draymond Green.
21. Serge Ibaka by Sean Kennedy
In “drafting” this franchise player, I personally treated this exercise more or less like an eight-year time horizon. After around that second contract (generally eight years or so) is when actually drafted players take their first serious look into the free-agent market. Consequently, I focused my attention on players in their early-to-mid 20s, either just having entered or about to enter their prime. As a personal preference, I focused on selecting a two-way contributor (no score-first guards who eschew the defensive end), while also avoiding big men with free throw issues where it’d be questionable if they could even play in crunch time.
Understandably, selecting at 21, my options became increasingly limited as the draft progressed. When it was finally my time on the clock, I’d narrowed down my selection to two choices. One possibility was Klay Thompson, one of the top shooters in the game who’s also an above-average wing defender. Ultimately though, I opted for Serge Ibaka. Any man who can persevere having grown up through a bloody civil war in Congo is one I’d be proud to have as the cornerstone of my fictional franchise.
On the court, Ibaka is the perfect defender for today’s pace-and-space NBA game. He’s an elite rim protector (averaging 3.3 blks/36 min across his six NBA seasons), while also possessing the necessary speed and lateral quickness to step out and guard on the perimeter. Offensively, I’m encouraged by his development on the outside shot, having shot 37.6 percent from three on over three attempts per game last season. Having just turned 26 years of age, there’s still plenty of time for Ibaka to reach an even higher ceiling on both ends of the court.
In all likelihood, Ibaka will never be the prototypical #1 scoring option people usually associate with being a franchise player. However, with his ability to cover up for the mistakes of his teammates on the defensive end, and a continually improving offensive game, I’m confident he’s the best option available to build a contender around.
Follow Sean on Twitter @PhillyFastBreak
22. Kevin Love by Jackson Sanders
My choice really came down to two options: Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. If you look at skill set and room to grow, I actually feel that Kyrie is the better “franchise player”; he’s an electric scorer, a playmaker and he’s only 23. But his injury history is undeniable: a broken hand, fractured finger, fractures to his jaw and nose, various knee ailments and shoulder issues, and most recently a broken kneecap that has his full 2015-16 availability a bit cloudy. I’m not sure you can build a franchise around Kyrie right now.
Instead, I went with Kevin Love, the victim of intense recency bias. A year ago, I’m certain his 26 points and 12 rebounds per game would’ve been off the board well before the 22nd overall selection. His skills haven’t deteriorated, and as a franchise player, I can promise he will be the focal point of the offense once again. Plus, we will include him in all of our Instagram posts.
In fairness to Irving, Love has been nicked-up throughout his career also. However, his major injuries are a bit less concerning to me – mainly thinking Love’s arm being yanked off by Kelly Olynyk shouldn’t be repeatable – and there are far less knee problems to worry about.
There are notable limitations with Love – the next move would be to pair him with a rim-protecting big – but he’s more than capable of being a top scorer on a playoff team. Offensive talents of Love’s ability are quite rare, and I’d be happy to start a team with him picking in the bottom-third of the draft order.
Follow Jackson on Twitter @6thManHoops
23. Klay Thompson by Ryan Davis
Klay Thompson, 25-year-old NBA champion, with the 23rd pick? It was a no-brainer, to be honest. I was surprised that Thompson slipped as far as he did, but he was the “best available” on my draft board. He scored 24.5 points per 36 minutes last season while shooting 43.9 percent from three-point range as the second-best player on the best team in the league. I’m not talking about a team that stole a championship in a down year, either. The Warriors were/are legitimately great, with Thompson and fellow splash brother Stephen Curry leading them to a 67-15 regular-season record and a 16-5 record in the postseason.
The best part is, I think Thompson still has room to grow as a player. He’s in the early portion of his prime right now, and could still improve on his ball handling, passing and defense (although he made great strides last season). He’s extremely similar to a 25-year-old Ray Allen, whose game obviously aged well as he played until he was 38. Allen holds the all-time record for most three-pointers made with 2,973 in his career. Based on Thompson’s average of 196 threes made per season in his first four years, he’s on pace to pass Allen before his 37th birthday — assuming he stays healthy in his career.
Is Klay Thompson ever going to win a championship as the best player on the team? Probably not. But there are few guys like that in the NBA, and having only had the 23rd overall pick in this draft, I feel like coming away with a player as good as Thompson sets a strong foundation for my hypothetical franchise.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @Ryan_Davis17
24. Kyrie Irving by Andrew Ford
Kyrie Irving is perfectly positioned to be a franchise player for years to come. He’s experienced (entering fifth season) but young (twenty-three years old), and he’s already one of the most prolific backcourt players in the league on the offensive end. One of the best at breaking down his defender off the dribble, Irving possesses an almost ideal skill set necessary to orchestrate an offense and lead a team.
As Irving matures and becomes even more team-first oriented, he’ll be even more dangerous. He sees the court very well, can make the hard skip pass to break a defense down quickly, but the situational awareness he’s gaining year after year enables him to understand when he needs to be selfish and when he needs to get others involved.
We see the fact that Irving is a combo guard rather than a traditional point guard as a tremendous asset in the modern NBA. His versatility allows him to thrive off the ball as well as on it, which makes it easier for us to bring in other dynamic playmakers who like to have the ball in their hands.
Defense is still a work in progress for Irving, but there’s time yet at his age to sort things out on that end of the floor. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy Irving slicing apart defenses night after night. He was simply too dynamic a playmaker to pass up.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewFord22
25. Gordon Hayward by Jake Weiner
While Kyrie Irving dropping one spot further would’ve been an absolute steal here, it’s difficult to find a bona fide franchise player this deep in our draft. Still, I feel pretty good about a guy like Gordon Hayward as a franchise cornerstone.
Hayward excelled at Butler before being selected ninth overall by Utah in 2010. Throughout his entire career, Hayward has proven to be a solid shooter who can contribute across the board. However, last season he took the leap to being a true two-way wing a team can rely on; Hayward posted 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 34.4 minutes per game on a .445/.364/.812 shooting line. In one season, the 25-year-old greatly improved his two-point shooting, maintained a solid percentage from deep, and converted free throws at a stellar rate on a very healthy 6.1 attempts a game.
Utah’s offense was 6.6 points per 100 possessions better with Hayward on the floor and they got outscored by a team-worst 2.8 points per 100 possessions when he sat. With Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert now providing an elite defensive frontcourt, Hayward can focus more of his energy on being Utah’s alpha dog on offense. He can dribble, drive and shoot at a high level, and if last year was any indication, Hayward will keep improving.
There simply aren’t very many wings who can lead an offense efficiently without hogging the ball and also effectively guard both wing positions. Hayward does both, and perhaps down the line he can even play some stretch 4 as he bulks up with age. With the 25th pick in the franchise player draft, you won’t do better.
Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeWeinerNBA