The top two picks might have been common knowledge before the start of this year’s NBA draft, but there was still plenty of drama, a high-profile trade and no shortage of bow ties, flashy suits and glittery shoes on display Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
As the basketball world expected, the Philadelphia 76ers made Ben Simmons, the talented Australian forward who played one season of college ball at LSU, the draft’s top overall pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed in short order, adding Brandon Ingram, the lanky and talented Duke star, with the second selection.
The draft’s real drama didn’t begin until the Boston Celtics were on the clock with the third pick. Projections focused on a half-dozen different players and possibly a trade, each possibility surely changing the course of the entire draft. The Celtics entertained trade offers up until the final minute and surprised many by selecting 6-foot-7 Cal forward Jaylen Brown.
While trade rumors swirled for weeks, the night’s biggest deal came later in the draft’s opening round, when the Orlando Magic selected Domantas Sabonis and then dealt him to the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with former DeMatha All-Met Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova, for Serge Ibaka.
The Washington Wizards did not own a first-round pick and were quiet on the trade front.
Analysts didn’t view this year’s rookie class as chock-full of future all-stars — more gambles and projects than sure-fire Day 1 contributors. Just consider: Washington’s Marquese Chriss fouled out of 15 games as a freshman last year and averaged 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds; he was drafted No. 8 overall Thursday night by the Sacramento Kings.
The top two picks, though, are highly regarded by most analysts and scouts. Simmons was born in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to the United States before his sophomore year of high school. He was widely considered the top recruit in the nation when he committed to LSU. In his lone season of college basketball, the 6-10 Simmons averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds.
“It honestly feels like all this pressure just has hopped off me,” the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year told reporters Thursday night in New York. “Now I can relax.”
The 76ers had the top pick for the first time since they drafted Allen Iverson first overall in 1996. They have been patiently executing a slowly revealing plan and have drafted among the top three selections for three straight seasons.
Ingram averaged 17.3 pounds and 6.8 rebounds last season for the Blue Devils, earning the ACC’s rookie of the year honors. Long and lanky, he looks like the last couple of noodles lingering in an empty bowl. The Lakers, just a couple of days into Luke Walton’s tenure as coach, hope they laid an important cornerstone for the post-Kobe Bryant era.
“You kind of feel pressure, but it’s a good pressure, of course,” Ingram said Thursday night.
Rounding out the top 10: The Phoenix Suns selected 18-year old Dragan Bender, the 7-foot-1, 220-pound Croatian, with the fourth overall pick; the Minnesota Timberwolves took point guard Kris Dunn from Providence; the New Orleans Pelicans drafted Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield at No. 6; the Denver Nuggets took Kentucky guard Jamal Murray; the Kings drafted Chriss and traded him to the Phoenix Suns; the Toronto Raptors took Austrian center Jakob Poeltl out of Utah with the ninth pick; and the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 player who was born in the South Sudan, grew up in Australia and played his high school ball in the United States and Canada.
Freshmen accounted for the top three picks Thursday. While the draft recently has been a showcase for teenagers and collegiate one-and-dones, this year’s event featured six four-year college players who heard their names called in the first round. Dunn, who left Providence following his redshirt junior campaign, and Hield, the Oklahoma sharpshooter, were the only players among the top-15 selections who will take a college degree into the NBA. Baylor’s Taurean Prince (No. 12, Atlanta Hawks), Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine (No. 14, Chicago Bulls), Michigan’s Caris LeVert (No. 20, Brooklyn Nets) and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson (No. 25, Los Angeles Clippers) also were selected in the first round.
Many eyes Thursday focused on the Celtics, who already feature a playoff-caliber roster and spent days hunting for impact veterans on the trade market. They had stockpiled a total of eight picks entering the night, more than any other team since the draft was reduced to two rounds 27 years ago. After nabbing Brown, the Celtics selected Guerschon Yabusele from France with the 16th overall pick and Ante Zizic from Croatia with the 23rd selection. Later, the Celtics traded away two of their second-round picks for a 2019 first-rounder.
Fourteen of the 30 first-round picks were born outside of the United States.
A handful of players with area ties heard their names called in the second round, led by Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC’s player of the year, who was selected with the 36th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Maryland’s Diamond Stone was once projected as a lottery pick and left school after just one year, but he didn’t come off the board until the 40th overall pick, where the Pelicans selected him and shipped him to the Clippers. His Terrapins teammate Jake Layman was selected by Orlando at 47 and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
With the 37th pick, the Houston Rockets picked up Chinanu Onuaku, a former All-Met player from Riverdale Baptist who played two seasons at Louisville.