1. Two rookies who will play a significant role for playoff teams in 2018-19 are:
At 6’6” and 210 lbs, Evans is a lengthy, in-your-face defender, the prototypical player Mick Cronin tries to develop at Cincinnati. It was clear in the 2018 NBA Finals that the Warriors greatly missed the injured Andre Iguodala on the defensive end, as they lacked versatile defenders who could hold their own on the wings and in the post. Warriors power forward Jordan Bell and center Kevon Looney were often caught in pick and rolls and switched onto Rockets and Cavs guards where they typically weren’t able to match-up.
Iguodala will be 35 in January, Shaun Livingston will be 33 in September and the Warriors won’t be able to rely on Klay Thompson’s perimeter defending for 48 minutes as he’ll need breaks due to their reliance on him on both ends of the floor. Barring major injuries, Evans won’t play more than 10 to 15 minutes a game this season, but he should play important minutes on a nightly basis for the defending champions.
Mykhailiuk won’t be as good as Kevin Love, but he’ll play an offensive role for the Lakers that Love became used to playing with LeBron James in Cleveland. That is, hanging out in the corners and wings, patiently waiting for LeBron to penetrate and kick. It cannot be understated how much Mykhailiuk, a knock-down three-point shooter, will benefit from playing with two of the game’s all-time best distributors in LeBron and Rajon Rondo.
Concerns about character issues and work ethic aside, Williams could be the steal of the draft for a Celtics team that desperately needs interior defending. At 6’10” and 237 lbs, Williams already has an NBA body, and after winning consecutive SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, he factors to be a stalwart in the paint. The C’s were seventh in rebounding last season, but ranked just 18th in blocked shots. With his length and athleticism, Williams will be able to cover help-side rotations and allow guys like Al Horford to extend to the perimeter on pick and rolls.
With Greg Monroe departing for the Toronto Raptors and Horford turning 32 this season, Danny Ainge flashed his acumen yet again by adding playmaking depth to the frontcourt. Remember that with Gordon Hayward returning from injury, the Celtics can roll out tremendously long lineups with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and now Williams. That defensive versatility is exactly the kind of quality that will give the C’s any sort of chance against the Warriors, and Williams’ ability to alter shots is a huge upgrade from the likes of Aron Baynes.
Edwards may have flown under the national radar at Purdue, but he was one of the better two-way players in the country for the Boilermakers. The 6’7,” 220-pound swingman showed some of that impact when he scored 20 points and added eight rebounds in Houston’s third summer league game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets are very thin at the SF position after the loss of Trevor Ariza, and PJ Tucker is 33 years old. Given Edwards’ range from beyond the arc as well as his athleticism and knack for crashing the glass, he fits in perfectly with the Rockets’ identity. Do not be surprised if he is playing significant minutes in April and May.
2. How will the Mavericks backcourt of Dennis Smith and Luka Doncic– two primary ball-handlers – work out in 2018 and beyond?
Mikey – One of Doncic or Smith must change their style of play pretty drastically under Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle for it to work.
Smith had a 28.9 percent usage as a rookie, the 22nd-highest number in the NBA – one of just two rookies to have a high usage rating along with Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (min. 40 games). Doncic has ‘handled the ball extensively’ (NBA.com) throughout his career at Real Madrid. Obviously, Carlisle will try to discover how each one can complement each other’s games best, so it’s not to say it won’t work out for Dallas. But, Mavs fans should wait and see how this backcourt plays out after at least a couple months before getting too excited rather than going off talent alone. This isn’t a case of a hall of fame point guard and all-time great shooter like Chris Paul and James Harden. These are two inexperienced players.
Marty – This is going to be a very intriguing change, because we have never seen how effective DSJ can be off the ball.
Doncic will have tremendous size as the primary ball-handler at 6’6,” while Smith would be exceptionally small for a purported two guard at just 6’3” and 195 lbs. My guess is that they would switch defensively, with Doncic guarding the opposing two’s and Smith sticking the point, but it will be as intriguing to see how Carlisle handles defensive matchups as it will be with how he handles the ball-handling duties.
On the offensive side, can Smith become a better shooter? He made just 31.3 percent of his three-point attempts last season, but with Doncic running the point he will have to improve coming off of screens and in catch-and-shoot situations. The guess here is that Doncic will get the Mavs into their offensive sets, with specific calls for Smith in isolation and pick and rolls late in the shot clock. But as Mikey said, it will take time to find out how this dynamic will come together.
3. Which undrafted rookie do you have your eye on?
Mikey – Trevon Bluiett, NOP
For the past two offseasons at Xavier, Bluiett had the chance to go pro or return to the Musketeers for another season, and both summers, Bluiett made the choice to return to Chris Mack’s squad. Many may see Bluiett going underdrafted as a sign that he should have left early, but the all-around talent improved each year and ultimately that means it was the right choice. As a senior, Bluiett was a Consensus second-team All-American. He finished his college career as a 3x All-Big East member.
The Indianapolis-native can shoot, slash, pass and rebound, but there’s definitely a limited ceiling and he is not an explosive player. However, NBA teams are always looking for players like Bluiett who can do a bit of everything offensively and have a willingness to get better. The 6’6-guard averaged 18.5 and 19.3 PPG in his last two seasons at Xavier, leading the Musketeers to an Elite Eight appearance in 2017.
An efficient shooter, proven scorer and capable leader in college, Bluiett has a realistic shot to stick with the Pelicans as the two agreed to a two-way contract on July 17. The Pelicans’ depth at shooting guard is not strong, with E’Twaun Moore and Ian Clark the only players with plenty of recent NBA experience, leaving Bluiett a real chance to earn minutes this season.
Marty – Malik Newman, MIA
Newman signed a two-way deal with the Lakers on July 1 but was waived on July 19, and was a free agent before being signed by the Heat yesterday. Despite flashing his offensive potential in a five-game stretch during the NCAA Tournament where he averaged 21.6 points for Kansas, Newman’s name did not appear on the board on draft night.
Newman shot 46 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc at Kansas, and there is no reason that his skill set can’t fit in soundly with a Heat team that always seems to maximize potential. Miami is fairly deep at the two guard, so it would be interesting to see if the 6’3” Newman can improve his ball-handling and develop into a solid combo guard. Regardless, his shooting ability can’t be ignored, and he should get a shot to play decent minutes.
4. Who is your early pick for Rookie of the Year?
Mikey – Kevin Knox, NYK
He’s got the New York market, and that gives Knox a huge edge in popularity and notoriety around the league. With little depth at his position, the Kentucky product will be thrust into significant minutes whether he’s ready or not, and he sure looked ready in the summer league, dominating nearly every game.
Knox can create his own shot, and if the Knicks stay healthy, particularly Kristaps Porzingis and at the point guard position, they have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The reason I’d stray away from taking Bagley, Ayton, Bamba or Carter is because centers rarely win this award – Karl-Anthony Towns (2016) was the first since Emeka Okafor in 2005. I don’t see Trae Young or Collin Sexton being efficient enough to capture this award, either.
Marty – Wendell Carter Jr., CHI
Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are going to be leading candidates the entire way, but I’ll take Carter, who put up 14.6 points and 9.4 boards in the Summer League to go along with 2.6 blocks. The former Duke Blue Devil will likely have to earn the starting role over veteran center Robin Lopez, but I see him cementing his place as the starter no later than December.
At 6’10” and nearly 260 lbs, Carter has arguably the best footwork of any big in this year’s draft class, and his shot-blocking ability from the weak side is second to none. Chances are that the Bulls–outside of Kris Dunn–will be exposed for their weak perimeter defending, which could help Carter put up some massive stats.
Carter not only has the drop steps and spin moves to be able to get his own shot, but he should continue to develop a perimeter jump shot while already having shown the ability to face up in the post and knock down the midrange. And let’s not forget, Lauri Markkanen’s ability to stretch the floor could open up the paint for Carter to get good position for post ups and offensive rebounds. Not to mention, the Bulls could sneak into the playoffs in an extremely weak Eastern Conference. Watch out for Carter this year.