NEW YORK — The midtown ballroom looked familiar, a series of daises and microphones for each prospect invited to the annual NBA Draft green room to meet with the media before Thursday night’s proceedings. There was an usual air of uncertainty at this year’s event, however. With each draft selection starting with the No. 3 pick being discussed in trade conversations across the league, few players beyond presumptive top choice Victor Wembanyama, G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson and Alabama freshman Brandon Miller held any sense of confidence where they’ll land Thursday evening.
“With all the trades that could happen, anything is possible,” Central Florida forward Taylor Hendricks, projected as a lottery pick, told Yahoo Sports. “You can get drafted for a team you didn’t even work out for.”
Metropolitans 92 forward Bilal Coulibaly, Wembanyama’s teammate, seems to have one of the more fluid draft ranges of the prospects invited to Barclays Center. Not only did Coulibaly, 18, help Wembanyama lead their club to the LNB Pro A Finals, but they played together at just 13 years old to help win a national youth championship. The San Antonio Spurs have made calls in search of acquiring a second lottery pick Thursday night, according to league sources, and many opposing front offices are of the mind that Coulibaly is their target to pair with Wembanyama yet again.
“Being a teammate with him again would be great. One of the best starts for his career and for mine,” Wembanyama, 19, said.
The French phenom has been an ardent supporter of Coulibaly, taking to Twitter to suggest that his running mate should be under consideration for a top-five selection. “He’s actually 6[-foot-]8, 7-3 wingspan. And you know, often players, they cheat on their measurements. But we don’t do that in France,” Wembanyama said with a smile Wednesday. “He probably looks small compared to me, but he’s not, actually. Let me tell you, some people were shocked when they came to my team. He’s just so … he can be just so valuable to a team, I’m sure of it. His agility, athleticism, skills, speed, shooting, defense. He can guard four positions out of five and he can play multiple positions on offense.” And the future Spurs cornerstone said something that would make Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob blush. “[Coulibaly]’s just so complete as a player and he plays at a level — he performed against competition which is light years away from what other prospects do. Our pro league is light years away from many prospects in this draft class. So, yeah, I believe he’s top five.”
After Miller and Henderson hear their names called second and third in some order — with Miller seen as the likely No. 2 selection at this juncture — rival teams continue to predict Houston will select Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson with the fourth pick. When Detroit comes on the clock at No. 5, there still seems to be a handful of names under Pistons consideration, as word has spread around the league that Villanova wing Cam Whitmore may perhaps slide toward the 10th pick of the draft.
Jarace Walker, the bouncy forward from the University of Houston, told Yahoo Sports he believes his range begins with the Pistons at the fifth pick. Some opposing team personnel have questioned that fit, with the idea that Detroit already rosters recent lottery picks in their frontcourt such as Jalen Duren, Marvin Bagley and James Wiseman, plus another recent first-round pick in Isaiah Stewart. Walker, however, believes he can add a different dimension to the Pistons’ frontcourt with his ball-handling ability and slot more along the wing than Detroit’s other big men.
Walker also had a great visit with the Indiana Pacers, who pick No. 7 and have long been searching for a starting power forward to introduce into their lineup between All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner. If Indiana does hold onto the selection, and Walker is still on the board, that seventh slot is seen around the league as Walker’s floor. “I guess you could say that,” the freshman agreed with a smile.
The Pacers’ seventh pick brought perhaps the most interesting news of Wednesday’s availability. Ausar Thompson, Amen’s twin brother and fellow Overtime Elite guard, had canceled a scheduled workout with Indiana last week, but Ausar Thompson told Yahoo Sports he still met with Pacers officials. Indiana ended up sending a select group of personnel to Atlanta over the weekend to meet with him.
Ausar Thompson could very well follow his brother at the fifth pick to Detroit, beating out Hendricks, Walker and Whitmore. Pistons general manager Troy Weaver is said to value Thompson’s size at 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan at the guard position. But the fact Detroit values all four of those prospects had opened the Pistons up to conversations with the Utah Jazz to exchange No. 5 for picks Nos. 9 and 16.
Ausar Thompson at first canceling his Indiana workout led some rival teams to wonder if he’d secured a promise from Orlando, which holds the sixth pick. Ausar Thompson would seem to fit the team-building mold this Magic regime has followed of late. “They have so many long, athletic guys that get up and down the floor,” he told Yahoo Sports.
The Magic are indeed considering guards with size at No. 6. Arkansas playmaker Anthony Black had a strong visit with Orlando and believes he’s very much in play for the sixth selection.
Black’s camp initially showed resistance to working out for the Magic, sources said, because of Orlando’s perceived logjam in the backcourt with a trio of first-round guards in Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony. Anthony will become extension eligible this summer and is considered to have a great relationship with the Magic front office, but Orlando has left various personnel with the impression that drafting a guard like Ausar Thompson or Black would lead the Magic to exploring trade opportunities for one of Suggs or Anthony.
“They didn’t tell me that,” Black told Yahoo Sports, “but that’s what I figured they’d do if they picked me.”
Baylor guard Keyonte George is another ball-handler expected to be selected in the first half of the first round. The Lakers, at No. 17, have been searching for trade avenues to move up into the early teens, perhaps to take George, but he declined to say whether he’d worked out for Los Angeles. George has also been connected to the Raptors at No. 13, but chose not to elaborate on his time visiting with Toronto either. “Same thing,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I’d like to keep that to myself.”
There has been plenty of conversation about the rise of Duke center Dereck Lively, who told Yahoo Sports he’s taken pride in cementing himself as the best center in this class behind a generational prospect like Wembanyama. Lively has been pegged as high as the No. 10 pick, possibly to Dallas or whichever team the Mavericks trade the selection to, as Dallas continues to explore trade-down scenarios, sources said. “I’ve been told I can go anywhere from 10-14, and then I’ve been told I can go anywhere from 15-20, so we’ll have to wait and see,” Lively said.
Hendricks, slated to become the first UCF player selected in the first round in school history, has another fluid range. Hendricks worked out for Detroit, Orlando (also holding the 11th pick), Indiana, Dallas and then the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 12. Hendricks said he was comfortable not expecting any particular outcome and just enjoying the night wherever he lands, but the 6-9 freshman said he thinks that No. 12 to OKC could be his floor on draft night.
Source: Yahoo Sports