What has become the most intriguing aspect of the NBA Draft are the players who fall out of the lottery and eventually become franchise cornerstones or reliable rotation players. Thursday’s draft, filled with college one-and-dones and players from G League Ignite and overseas, is a crapshoot beyond the first three or four picks.
Following Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, and Paolo Banchero, the draft is anybody’s guess. With so many unproven players, including those entering the draft strictly on potential, NBA teams are truly uncertain about whether these players will be able to help in the future.
The 2021 draft ended up being a gold mine of standouts. Eleven first-rounders averaged at least 10 points per game as rookies, and of the 60 picks, 53 logged NBA minutes. In the 2020 draft, of the nine players who have averaged at least 10 points since being selected, five were taken after the 14th pick, so there was depth, unpredictability, and impactful players later in the first round.
“It’s a hard process, and you’re trying to predict the future and where a player’s ceiling is, and then you have to look inside of each player’s chest and see how that motor runs,” ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas said. “So, those are difficult things.
“There are some really sort of franchise-level talents at the top of the draft with Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, and Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey, and then throughout the draft there’s some really good depth.”
It’s safe to say there will be players taken in the 20s or even the second round that will outplay those taken ahead of them. There are players such as UCLA’s Peyton Watson, who averaged 3 points per game for the Bruins, who are likely going to be taken in the first round strictly on potential. And there’s Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaquille, who is trying to prove he’s an NBA-caliber talent despite his career high in college being 9 points.
After Smith, Holmgren, and Banchero, there are intriguing players such as Purdue’s Ivey, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, Iowa’s Keegan Murray, and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. And there’s a handful of prospects from the G League Ignite team, a minor league club that allows players who did not want to attend college to play against G League competition for a season prior to entering the draft.
There are four draft-eligible players from G League Ignite, the most notable being Dyson Daniels, an Australian point guard who has soared up draft boards. Jalen Green of the Rockets and Jonathan Kuminga of the Warriors played for G League Ignite before being selected in the 2021 draft.
The Celtics aren’t scheduled to make a selection before the 53rd pick, having traded their first-rounder (25th overall) to the Spurs in the Derrick White deal. There are opportunities for the Celtics to get a player who could make their roster at 53, but it will take astute drafting.
“Well into the second round there are really good players that are going to play for a long time in the NBA and be rotation players, starters, and that’s not always true of every draft,” Bilas said. “There are some first-round talents in the second round.
“It’ll be interesting to see sort of the end of the first round and the start of the second if some of the predictions were accurate.”
One wrinkle that could make for a series of trades Thursday is the number of teams — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, Denver, and Charlotte — with multiple first-round picks. Teams such as the Thunder and Rockets are in the midst of youth movements and may be willing to part with a pick.
Trades could be the theme Thursday. Teams such as the Kings, Pacers, and Knicks are considering trading back. The Celtics, meanwhile, may be tempted to trade up if they see a prospect they like fall to late in the first round or early in the second. The champion Warriors, drafting 28th, may be willing to part with their pick since they have three recent lottery picks, including Kuminga, prepared for more playing time next season.
There are going to be hits and misses, and teams don’t have as much patience with underachieving picks as they did in the past. There is usually a two-year window before teams make decisions on whether players can contribute.
The Warriors built their roster through the draft, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, and Kevon Looney all drafted and cultivated. The Celtics went to the Finals with four of their five starters drafted by them: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Robert Williams.
It’s possible to find franchise-changing players even beyond the lottery, but it takes skill, and some luck.
“In studying it over the years, each year I gain more respect for front office people and the decisions they have to make, and I’ve looked at football a little bit, and football gets five years to look at their prospects, basketball most often gets one,” Bilas said.
“And you don’t see NBA scouts sitting in high school gyms anymore; they don’t do that. They may sit in the McDonald’s All-American gym for a week and watch the prospects, but they don’t do it like they used to. So it’s not as much information as football has, and football makes egregious mistakes.”
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.