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1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton
You better believe Luka Doncic is good enough to spark a separate discussion. He has majority control over the offense of a current playoff hopeful and has wowed with his playmaking and advanced-level shot selection. (Related: Jaren Jackson Jr. may deserve the same treatment.)
Doncic, Stephen Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the only players clearing 40 percent on pull-up threes while attempting at least three per game. The rookie is also knocking down 32.7 percent of his step-back treys—not quite James Harden-esque (38.2 percent), but that shot being in his repertoire is absurd on its own.
If his performance holds, Doncic will become just the third first-year player to eclipse 20 points and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes on a true shooting percentage north of 55. His company: Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.
The Suns have little to lament for the time being. Doncic would have been an interesting fit beside Devin Booker, given their point guard situation, but Deandre Ayton is a Rookie of the Year candidate himself.
His offensive acumen is as described. He is outstanding around the rim and sports nice footwork on his rim runs and cuts. His post-ups aren’t drowning in craft, but he has great touch and makes quicks decisions off the catch. He is shooting almost 60 percent on hooks shots and has flashed some standstill face-up range from the perimeter. Also: Holy passing.
Investing in big men as cornerstones is more risky than ever. They must essentially be oversized wings. Ayton needs to improve as a half-court defender away from the basket and will eventually have to test his mettle from beyond the arc or tap into a more extensive floor game.
Whether he was worth taking over Doncic is a matter for the long term that’ll ultimately depend on both stylistic preference and Phoenix’s own development within the Western Conference.
2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III
Killing the Kings for not selecting Doncic is too easy, and it has already been done ad nauseam.
When push comes to shove, yes, they should have drafted him. He is transcendence in the making. If we have to even think for a second about whether the Suns should’ve rolled with him instead of Ayton, no way, now how can Sacramento get a pass for choosing Marvin Bagley III.
Totally crushing that pick, though, ignores how solid Bagley has been in the early going. He doesn’t have the cachet or playing time of Ayton or Doncic, but he’s quietly piecing together a nice rookie season. He’s a whiz at slipping through crevices off the ball and a force on the offensive glass. His post game lacks polish, but he’s whipped out some from-scratch handles when facing the basket.
As ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe said on The Lowe Post podcast: “Is he a 5? Well, they’re playing him at the 4 and [Harry] Giles is mostly the 5, but sometimes not. And then he plays with [Willie] Cauley-Stein. But sometimes he plays with [Nemanja] Bjelica, where he is the 5. … But his off-the-dribble game, his explosiveness from dribble to rim-finish, even though he wants to go left all the time, it’s more interesting to me than I thought it would be.”
This doesn’t exonerate the Kings from scrutiny. Bagley is pretty good. He might be really good. Doncic is great.
5. Atlanta Hawks (via Dallas Mavericks): Trae Young
Trading out of the Luka Doncic spot helps cushion the optics for the Hawks. Young doesn’t need to match his arc if Dallas’ 2019 first-rounder (top-five protected) turns into a nice player for Atlanta.
Except, for the moment, the Mavericks are gate-crashing the West’s playoff race. The odds of them conveying, say, the 12th pick or worse to Atlanta are pretty friggin’ good. (This doubles as your yearly reminder that head coach Rick Carlisle is an actual wizard—not to be confused with an honorary member of the Washington Wizards, who could use an actual wizard like himself.)
Those immediate feel-good vibes emanating from Dallas and Doncic ascribe more importance to Young’s performance. And, well, the outlook isn’t peachy keen. He’s shooting under 25 percent from downtown, and his efficiency on drives, initially a silver lining, has taken a nosedive over the past couple of weeks. That tilts toward damning when he offers zero value at the defensive end.
Rushing to a final judgment still feels too harsh. Over 40 percent of Young’s attempts are coming as pull-up jumpers, and more than 70 percent of his made buckets are going unassisted. His is a trial by fire, and lifelines demand patience. Not everyone can be Curry, who, true story, dropped in 76.6 percent of his pull-up threes as a rookie.
Young is an inventive passer and has shown he can be a creative finisher. The enormity of his role—he has the same usage rate as Anthony Davis (28.1)—and degree of difficulty on his shots have to count for something.
Once more: He’s not Doncic. And the Hawks could have snagged Doncic. Maybe they deserve to be ripped apart for dealing the No. 3 pick. But the context of Young’s role, coupled with the unknown incumbent of Dallas’ pick, earns Atlanta some leeway.