The NBA Draft is tonight! It feels terrible.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After a short honeymoon period during which I naïvely believed my favorite team, the Sacramento Kings, would capitalize on some good lottery luck that moved them from the seventh lottery slot to the second pick, doubt began to creep in. One of the two consensus best prospects in this draft will definitely be there when the Kings pick. The question, as always, is whether the Kings will actually pick that player. With the obvious and necessary caveats that projection is a mess, Luka Dončić could turn out to be dogshit, and Marvin Bagley III might wind up the second coming of Blake Griffin, there was still something deeply wrong-feeling about reports that the Kings were enamored with Bagley and fucked-up back-haver Michael Porter Jr. more than they were Dončić. Or not wrong, exactly. It was more that they felt way too convincing.
Sacramento absolutely should do their homework and check out other top prospects, of course. But the idea that they’d draft Bagley simply because he worked out for them while Dončić was busy balling out in Europe felt like a continuation of the Sacramento braintrust’s worst tendencies—impulsiveness, recency bias, defaulting to one-dimensional big men whenever and wherever possible. The Kings are said to value an NBA-ready prospect, and the conception of Bagley as the “safe” pick is a flawed one that ignores that Dončić was the MVP of the world’s second-best league as 18-year-old. I am no scout, but it would seem that Dončić’s floor is much higher than that of a big man who doesn’t block shots. It also seems likely that a season lighting up a major professional league signals NBA-readiness a little more clearly than a few solid months in the ACC.
Porter Jr.’s ominous injury history and apparent desire to stay out of Sacramento were plenty concerning in their own right, although the fear of him being Sacramento’s pick here has abated a bit. The raw terror of it all has not, though. This is Sacramento’s most important draft pick in 30 years, and they don’t have their pick next year. If they duff it, they will spend another few years in the toilet.
Most of the NBA draftnik world sent Bagley to Sacramento in their mock drafts, which, of course, means exactly nothing. Still, it exacerbated the feeling that the Kings were going to outthink themselves out of picking the most accomplished European prospect of all time, a player that management was rumored to hate for reasons that have never been made clear. Kings fans all seem to want Dončić, but believing that the Kings also do means doing a decent amount of work. It means talking oneself into believing that Vlade Divac put up a huge smokescreen, and that a secret Madrid meeting indicates an ineffable and inexplicably secret fondness for the Slovenian.
Really, though, nobody knows what the Kings are going to do! Here are some tweets indicating as much.
So, while the Kings have made up their minds, the rest of the NBA Draft hinges on what they’ll do. For the first time in what feels like years, most of the lottery feels truly unsettled. Last year, ESPN’s mock drafts correctly predicted the first 11 picks. This year, the Kings are keeping everyone guessing, Memphis might be trying to trade out of the fourth pick in order to ditch Chandler Parsons’s horrid contract, and the possibility of Dončić falling has all manner of good teams eagerly jockeying to trade into the early lottery and snap him up. The Celtics might want to move up and have plenty of chips they could cash in. The Sixers maybe want to get Michael Porter. Hell, the Knicks might not be satisfied with picking ninth and could try to go get Mo Bamba at four. It’s chaos!
The truly maddening factor here is Sacramento, and not just for me. This is because Atlanta is picking right after them, and the Hawks don’t seem to know what Divac is thinking. So if the Kings do pass on Dončić, the Hawks can expect to field a furious five minutes of trade proposals. Any teams discussing trades have to take multiple scenarios into account, and all of that is impossible to project because it hinges on if and how Sacramento might botch this. If things get wild tonight, it will be because of the Kings. I just want it to be over.