Continuing on with the NBA Draft second round analysis, let’s take a look at picks 41-50. I’m just going to give quick blurbs on each pick and how I think they fit. Do they have a shot to make the team? Can they make an impact next season?
41. Denver Nuggets — Nikola Jokic, 6’11, C, Serbia
Jokic shot up draft boards after having an excellent week of practice at the Nike Hoop Summit, where he apparently played well with future lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay. His athleticism leaves something to be desired, but his basketball sense is really high and he has the ability to step away from the basket and knock down jumpers. Another Adriatic League player (that makes four in this draft), Jokic played 25 minutes per game for Mega Vizura averaging 11 points, six rebounds and two assists per game. I’d envision that he stays overseas for now, but his skill level could make him something similar to poor man’s Mehmet Okur if everything goes right.
42. Houston Rockets — Nick Johnson, 6’3, G, Arizona
Johnson was the most well-rounded player on a team that was arguably the most consistently good in the NCAA all season. Plus, he’s potentially the most athletic guard in the draft outside of Zach LaVine. However, the problem is that he’s between a rock and a hard place as far as his NBA potential is concerned due to his size. His best chance to become an NBA player is as a point guard, but he doesn’t yet have the skills to play that position. My guess is that Johnson spends a majority of his season in Rio Grande Valley with the Vipers developing, and we can revisit him next season. There is a lot of talent to work with here though, so this is absolutely a gamble worth taking in the second round.
43. Atlanta Hawks — Walter Tavares, 7’3, C, Spain
Tavares is an absolute behemoth that has only been playing basketball for four years. The good thing is that his physical tools are strong for a center. He has a tremendous wingspan, is agile enough in small spaces, and while his running gait looks awkward it gets the job done. This isn’t a guy you’re going to run the floor with. He’s a guy that you want to park in the paint and allow him to protect the rim. Taking into account his relative inexperience, the odds are high that he’ll continue to develop despite being 22 years old. Whether or not he develops enough to get to the NBA is another question though. The good news is that he already knows how to play his role, gets into strong rebounding position, and knows how to be a basketball minimalist that doesn’t require the ball on offense. I like him better than last year’s young seven-foot project, Rudy Gobert, but it’s questionable whether or not he’ll ever become fluid enough to make an NBA impact.
44. Brooklyn Nets — Markel Brown, 6’3, G, Oklahoma State
The Nets bought this pick from the Timberwolves (bad Timberwolves, BAD) in order to select Brown, another athletic marvel whose basketball skills are catching up. Unfortunately, like Johnson, he’s a bit undersized to play the 2-guard. But unlike Johnson, he has no point guard skills to speak of whatsoever, so he’ll have to make a go of it as an undersized wing that can score and use his magnificent athleticism to defend wing players. Luckily, he has a shot to do that because of both his long wingspan and his improved shooting ability. Brown shot 38% from three this past season, and is pretty experienced in running off of screens in order to get free for his shot. I imagine that is something he’ll be doing often in the NBA. However, there will always be scorers better than Brown is, so where he’ll need to make a difference is on the defensive end. That’s where his NBA prospects hinge.
45. Cleveland Cavaliers — Dwight Powell, 6’11, PF/C, Stanford
Powell is stretch four in the mold of Channing Frye, but with quite a bit of athleticism to spare as his 35 inch vertical leap shows. He’s not the toughest guy in the world, but he’s really nimble and possesses great athletic fluidity. The NBA is always looking for big guys who can step away from the basket and shoot the ball, so Powell definitely has a chance to stick. However, I’m just not sure it’ll be with the Cavs. The team already has Anthony Bennett in the fold, is in negotiations to bring over Damjan Rudez from Spain, plus used high draft picks on Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. It’s a crowded and youthful front court, and Powell is unfortunately the most contractually expendable piece.
46. Los Angeles Lakers — Jordan Clarkson, 6’5, G, Missouri
I’m not particularly a huge fan of Clarkson’s game, but he’s a solid value here. Anyone who can get their own shot the way he is able to has value in the NBA. Clarkson’s athletic enough to get into the lane consistently, but his actual ability to do so will hinge on the continued development of his shot. Clarkson is a fairly weak outside shooter (and jump shooter generally) at this point in time, and he’ll need that skill in his toolbox in order to keep defenders off balance enough to take advantage of his slashing skill. Defensively, Clarkson has the size to defend both guard positions, but he’ll need some work. My guess is that Clarkson gets some decent minutes on the Lakers next year, but his continued NBA career will depend on his ability to shoot.
47. New Orleans Pelicans — Russ Smith, 6’0, G, Louisville
I love this pick from the Pelicans, and it seems they’re quite big fans of Smith too as they’re planning to let a solid backup point guard in Brian Roberts hit unrestricted free agency. I’ve written about Smith at length here, so I won’t bore you with the details about how I think Smith was the most underrated prospect in the draft this season. Trading Pierre Jackson for him admittedly might not have been awesome value given Jackson’s apparent cache around the league, but I don’t think this will come back to bite the Pelicans too badly.
48. Atlanta Hawks — Lamar Patterson, 6’5, G/F, Pittsburgh
Patterson was a statistical treasure this year on the wing, as he finished in the top 75 platers in the entire NCAA with a 30% AST%, had a 57% true-shooting percentage on 29% usage, and shot 39% on over 200 threes. All of this amounted to the fourth best player efficiency rating in the ACC behind T.J. Warren, Jabari Parker, and K.J. McDaniels. Patterson’s clearly a smart player that really has great understanding of the game; however, I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to stick in the NBA. His body needs some work, and his athleticism is lacking for an NBA wing. His 6’11 wingspan helps, but I don’t see a circumstance where he can become an average defensive wing. Therefore, he’ll be basically relying on his shooting, passing, and basketball sense to make a mark, and I’m just not sure his skill necessitates that. He’ll probably have a long career over in Europe, but I’d be surprised if he makes the Hawks.
49. Chicago Bulls — Cameron Bairstow, 6’10, PF, New Mexico
Bairstow is another statistical marvel that doesn’t necessarily have the athletic attributes you’d expect of an NBA player. He’s a 6’10 big that operates mostly in the midrange. Averaging 20.4 points per game on 12.5 shots, with a true-shooting percentage of 61%, Bairstow made a living at the free throw line this year where he averaged nearly nine attempts per contest. He often got to the line by flashing a pump fake on his midrange jumper, and then going to the rim and drawing contact. In that vein, the thing that Bairstow will most bring to an NBA team is spacing, as his midrange jump shot was among the most elite weapons in college basketball this season. Because of these two factors, it’s possible Bairstow will be able to bring an NBA team a solid weapon in the pick-and-roll. However, whether or not Bairstow is able to make it in the NBA will hinge on his defensive abilities, as he’s not a good defender in space. Teams will most likely be able to get him in foul trouble by attacking him off the pick-and-roll. His best case scenario is probably a Tyler Hansbrough-type backup big. I’d like to say I’m optimistic about Bairstow, but my guess is that he ends up having a successful career overseas as opposed to with the Bulls because of those defensive problems.
50. Phoenix Suns — Alec Brown, 7’1, C, Green Bay
Brown is a stretch 4/5 hopeful that the Suns hope will be able to replace some of what Channing Frye brings if he is to leave in free agency. The skills are there for this to be possible, but he’s another one of those shooters who can’t really do anything else for his position but shoot. The surrounding skills simply aren’t there for him to succeed at this point in time. He blocked a lot of shots on the Horizon League level, but only possesses an average wingspan of 7’1.5 for his position. He also doesn’t rebound well at all, considering he towered over most in the Horizon and only was able to harness 5.4 rebounds in nearly 31 minutes per game. He was once considered a potential first round pick, but the skills just simply never materialized. I’d be surprised if Brown is able to make it in the NBA.
Superlatives for this part of the draft:
Favorite pick: Russ Smith
Least favorite pick: Alec Brown
Best chance to make an immediate impact: Jordan Clarkson
Best long-term prospect: pick one of Nikola Jokic, Russ Smith, or Jordan Clarkson