We’re just under a month out from the 2021 NBA Draft, and already multiple cycles into this year’s hoops take-a-thon: Jonathan Kuminga has evolved from intriguing pre-draft prospect to bust-worthy waste of a lotto pick, to a certifiable threat to ankles everywhere; Alperen Şengün fell out of the lottery only to quickly establish himself as an essential part of the Rockets rehabilitation effort; Josh Giddey confirmed many a trigger-happy take-Warrior’s bust assumptions simply by injuring an ankle.

The truth is that the immediate wake of a draft rarely affords us the perspective to effectively analyze how successful a franchise was (except for the Kings, whose fairly consistent track record of shitting the bed trumps any lingering benefit of the doubt). So instead, it seems like a worthwhile exercise to revisit the previous five drafts (2016-2020) and see how things look with a few years of perspective.

In the interest of offering myself upon the altar of the Reddit hordes, I’ll be redrafting the top fourteen players from each season, shouting out the worst pick of the lottery, and will wrap things up with a collective top-fourteen of all players from that five-season window.

2016

  1. Jaylen Brown (originally the 3rd pick in the 2016 draft, Boston)
  2. Jamal Murray (7th, Denver)
  3. Pascal Siakam (27th, Toronto)
  4. Domontas Sabonis (11th, Oklahoma City via Orlando)
  5. Brandon Ingram (2nd, Los Angeles Lakers)
  6. Caris LeVert (20th, Brooklyn via Indiana)
  7. Fred VanVleet (Undrafted)
  8. Ben Simmons (1st, Philadelphia)
  9. Buddy Hield (6th, New Orleans)
  10. Malcolm Brogdon (36th, Milwaukee)
  11. Dejounte Murray (29th, San Antonio)
  12. Alex Caruso (Undrafted)
  13. Jakob Pöltl (9th, Toronto)
  14. Ivica Zubac (32nd, Los Angeles Lakers)

2016 Oops of The Year: Dragan Bender (4th, Phoenix) and Marquese Chriss (7th, Phoenix via Kings)

Woulda Coulda Shoulda Been: Jamal Murray and Domantas Sabonis

In retrospect, 2016 may be the thinnest draft of the past five years with regards to top-tier talent—certainly if you narrow your focus to original lottery picks. The Raptors unsurprisingly earn bonus points for pulling two of the year’s best from outside the top 14 (Siakam at 27 and VanVleet, originally undrafted). The Bucks hitting on future ROTY Brogdon in the second round, and the Laker’s securing Caruso outside the draft were similarly savvy plays.

Neither of the players topping the redraft is the top-dog on their respective rosters (though both easily could be on less-talented teams)—and while Murray’s awe-inspiring offensive showcases in the 2020 postseason vault him from his original number seven pick up to the second pick of the redraft, it is Brown’s two-way abilities, and steady growth from slashing threat to corner specialist to 1B offensive option (not to mention his on-and-off-court leadership skills), that secure him the top spot.

The Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert, Spurs’ Dejounte Murray, and Clippers’ Ivica Zubac all rise from their respective initial rankings, while Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield, and Jakob Pöltl slide (though Ingram, in particular, has shown flashes of an as-of-yet untouched ceiling to his potential).

However, the biggest drop that still earns a redraft spot belongs to Ben Simmons, the touted Australian prospect whose initial hype as a LeBron-Esque point-forward has collapsed under the weight of his seeming aversion to throwing the ball in the direction of the basket (often at the expense of his team’s playoff hopes). While he remains the best defender in the draft, and there is plenty of time for his overall stock to resuscitate, that almost certainly won’t happen in Philadelphia.

2017

  1. Jayson Tatum (3rd, Boston)
  2. Bam Adebayo (14th, Miami)
  3. Donovan Mitchell (13th, Utah via Denver)
  4. De’Aaron Fox (5th, Kings)
  5. OG Anunoby (23rd, Toronto)
  6. Lonzo Ball (2nd, Los Angeles Lakers)
  7. John Collins (19th, Atlanta Hawks)
  8. Chris Boucher (Undrafted)
  9. Jonathan Isaac (6th, Orlando)
  10. Dillon Brooks (45th, Memphis via Houston)
  11. Derrick White (29th, San Antonio)
  12. Jarrett Allen (22nd, Brooklyn)
  13. Lauri Markkanen (7th, Chicago via Minnesota)
  14. Monte Morris (51st, Denver)
  15. Kyle Kuzma (27th, Los Angeles Lakers via Boston)

2017 Oops of The Year: Markelle Fultz (1st, Philadelphia) [But shouts to Phoenix for blowing the #4 pick in consecutive drafts and still making the finals inside the decade]

Woulda Coulda Shoulda Been: Jayson Tatum

A draft with a clear trio at the top, a solid amount of depth, and one very notable disaster. Jayson Tatum is the clear leader of the pack here, having established himself over the past four seasons as a perennial all-star-caliber offensive weapon with a still-untouched ceiling, and an exceptional young defender. Bam Adebayo leaps up from his original edge-of-the-lotto position on the back of his All-NBA defense and remarkable out-of-position playmaking and still has plenty of room for growth on the offensive end.

Donovan Mitchell closes out the top tier and has a legitimate case to be listed even higher (especially after his two most recent playoff runs). He’ll still need to make bigger strides on the defensive end to beat out Tatum and Adebayo, and may be closer to his ceiling than those two, but his leadership in Utah is undeniable, and his personality makes him near-impossible to root against.

Don’t look now, but The Kings made a good pick this time! What De’Aaon Fox lacks in FG%, he makes up for with constant energy, lighting-quick speed, and hands like flypaper.

The Raptors once again clean up on the margins, pulling defensive behemoth and winner of the 2020 I’ll-Never-Get-Over-Watching-Him-Make-This-Shot Award, OG Anunoby, and picking up Chris “Nick Nurse Play Me More” Boucher outside the draft.

Lonzo Ball, Jonathan Isaac, and Lauri Markkanen step back from their respective second, sixth, and seventh overall picks, though all three have shown flashes of enough upside to warrant a redraft lotto slot. Meanwhile, John Collins, Dillon Brooks, Derrick White, Jarret Allen, and Monte Morris all make significant leaps; and while Lakers’ fans will likely be irked by their former paramour Kuzma’s outside-looking-in ranking (he’s at 13), this off-season’s shift in the Kuz discourse from “are you sure he’s not better than Tatum?” to “are you sure we can’t pay you to take him?” says otherwise.

Then there is Philadelphia: while Ben Simmon’s fall from grace over the past five years has been more gradual, the Sixers’ trade up to get Markelle Fultz only to have him immediately stray into unplayable territory will likely go down as the decision that buried The Process (and conversely, helped disguise Danny Ainge as a much more skilled GM than his surrounding roster moves now indicate—though that’s a conversation for a different article); and while we may never get a clear answer on what factors (personal or institutional) led to the near-consensus number-one pick’s sudden decline, the result was yet another wasted opportunity for Philadelphia. Still so very much rooting for Fultz’s career to take a turn for the better, whether in Orlando or elsewhere.

2018

  1. Luka Dončić (“3rd,” traded for Trae via Atlanta)
  2. Trae Young (“5th,” traded for Dončić via Dallas)
  3. Deandre Ayton (1st, Phoenix)
  4. Michael Porter Jr. (14th, Denver)
  5. Jaren Jackson Jr. (4th, Memphis)
  6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th, Los Angeles Clippers via Charlotte)
  7. Mikal Bridges (“10th,” traded for Zhaire Smith via Philadelphia)
  8. Robert Williams (27th, Boston)
  9. Duncan Robinson (Undrafted)
  10. Kevin Huerter (19th, Atlanta)
  11. Mo Bamba (5th, Orlando)
  12. Donte DiVincenzo (17th, Milwaukee)
  13. Miles Bridges (12th, Charlotte via Los Angeles Clippers)
  14. Collin Sexton (8th, Cleveland)

2018 Oops of The Year: Marvin Bagley (2nd,  Sacramento)

Woulda Coulda Shoulda Been: Luka Dončić

Poised to enter the rarefied air of the ’96/’03/’84 echelon, the 2018 draft class will almost certainly be defined by the intertwining facts that 1) three teams passed on the best player and 2) only one of them looks stupid for it.

Luka Dončić remains on course for a hall of fame career, but Trae Young has already cemented himself as one of the modern league’s greatest villains; and while Deandre Ayton may not have the franchise-altering abilities of the former number three and five picks, his dominant play during the Suns’ 2021 just-shy-of-a-championship run has washed any remaining stink off of Phoenix’s “fit over talent” selection.

Marvin Bagley, meanwhile, has come to encapsulate the Sacramento Kings’ status as the franchise embodiment of a “this is why we can’t have nice things” meme. Their selection of the injury-prone (and now trade-rumor-staple) big man seems inconceivable until you reconcile it with SacTown’s prior decade of draft history.

Of slightly less consequence and prominence (but similarly disastrous) was Philadelphia’s swap of 3-and-D phenom Mikal Bridges for the G-League bound Zhaire Smith (who, it must be said, had his career derailed by injury and a freak allergic reaction). The extra first they earned in the swap and their late-round selection of Landry Shamet were solid gets, but not enough to ignore the missed opportunity an impact wing-like Bridges could have immediately had on the still-in-search-of-a-ring Sixers. 0-3 for The Process.

On the positive end, Michael Porter Jr.’s descent from top high-school prospect to injury-risk fourteenth pick was a gift to the Nuggets, and his offensive success (and relative health) over the past three seasons vaults him back into the top four in our redraft. So long as the back issues that emerged during this postseason remain minor, there’s a chance for him to rise even further up the board.

The remainder of our redraft lottery picks range from potential all-stars (Triple J, SGA, Mikal, potentially Red Mamba and Timelord if things break the right way) to at-worst-solid rotation players (Robinson, DiVincenzo, Miles Bridges) with a few “flashes of greatness, not enough consistency” options that could leap the rankings in coming years (Bamba and Sexton topping the list).

This season also features a deeper bench of “just outside” selections, with Bruce Brown, De’Anthony Melton, Mitchell Robinson, Shake Milton, Devonte Graham, Jalen Brunson, and Kendrick Nunn all primed to make me look like an idiot for excluding them.

2019

  1. Zion Williamson (1st, New Orleans)
  2. Ja Morant (2nd, Memphis)
  3. De’Andre Hunter (4th, Atlanta via Los Angeles Lakers)
  4. RJ Barrett (3rd, New York)
  5. Matisse Thybulle (20th, Philadelphia via Boston)
  6. Tyler Herro (13th, Miami)
  7. P.J. Washington (12th, Charlotte)
  8. Brandon Clarke (21st, Memphis via Oklahoma City)
  9. Keldon Johnson (29th, San Antonio)
  10. Darius Garland (5th, Cleveland)
  11. Lu Dort (Undrafted)
  12. Coby White (7th, Chicago)
  13. Cam Reddish (10th, Atlanta)
  14. Cam Johnson (11th, Phoenix via Minnesota)

2019 Oops of The Year: Jarrett Culver (6th, Minnesota via Phoenix)

Woulda Coulda Shoulda Been: Matisse Thybulle or Tyler Herro

Still a season away from the third-year-leap that will clarify many of these players’ long-term standing, 2019 already features two of the best prospects of the past five years, both of whom retain their original draft position in our retrospective. Zion Williamson retains the highest upside of any player in this window of draftees not named Luka, and a few seasons of continued health and growth as the two-way dominance he projects could cause a shakeup at the top end of the overall board. Ja Morant continues to excel as the lead ballhandler for the Grizzlies, and showcased the exact sort of f**k-you attitude you want from your point guard in this year’s postseason, despite their defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz.

It’s hard to know whether the fairly steep decline in value after #2 is a product of proximity or a dearth of talent. Hunter and Barrett’s significant improvements from their rookie seasons project towards long-term career success, but neither has demonstrated the consistency (particularly in their outside shooting) to guarantee all-stardom. Thybulle and Herro have both showcased elite defensive and offensive abilities, respectively, but neither made the expected sophomore leap that would loft them into a higher echelon.

From there, we get into the true grey area: Washington, Clarke, Johnson, and Johnson all appear primed to make a living as rotation players, though the ceiling on all four seems capped below their peers. Meanwhile, Garland, Dort, White, and Reddish have all flashed tantalizing potential in short bursts, but it’s still difficult to project who among them will build those sparks into lasting flames. These rankings are more than likely to look wildly misguided at the next five-year retrospective (as is the absence of Kevin Porter Jr., Talen Horton-Tucker, Terence Davis, Rui Hachimura, and Terance Mann, but oh well).

The top-heavy nature of the 2019 pool seems to have mitigated the more franchise-collapsing decisions of prior years, but Jarrett Culver above White, Washington, Herro, and the rest feels like the sort of small-scale mistake that’s kept Minnesota out of the playoff picture for the past two decades.

2020

  1. LaMelo Ball (3rd)
  2. Tyrese Haliburton (12th)
  3. Anthony Edwards (1st)
  4. Patrick Williams (4th)
  5. Saddiq Bey (19th)
  6. Isaiah Stewart (16th)
  7. Immanuel Quickly (25th)
  8. Tyrese Maxey (21st)
  9. Aleksej Pokuševski (17th)
  10. Onyeka Okongwu (8th)
  11. James Wiseman (2nd)
  12. Precious Achiuwa (20th)
  13. Isaac Okoro (5th)
  14. Aaron Nesmith (14th)

2019 Oops of The Year: James Wiseman (#2 to Golden State)

Woulda Coulda Shoulda Been: LaMelo Ball

The least relevant to the spirit of today’s exercise, and the most dependent upon wild projection, the 2020 draft class has thus far offered us a few apparent sure things, and a deep bench of question marks.

The certainties:

  • LaMelo Ball can … (clears throat, cracks knuckles, looks both ways) … ball.
  • The Kings Made A Good Pick 2:  Revenge of The Kings Made A Good Pick.
  • Anthony Edwards is a top-five personality in the league, and while that alone earns him a top-three redraft slot, his play isn’t half bad either.
  • I watched Tyrese Maxey drop 39/6/7 with two steals on 58% shooting and I genuinely don’t care what the rest of his season was like, that earns him a spot in the redraft.

The less-than-certainties:

  • Patrick Williams appears to have earned his late rise up the draft boards, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as a staple of Chicago’s rotation across the coming seasons.
  • Despite the absolute hilarity of Detroit’s PF fixation, and the underwhelming rookie season of their top prospect, Killian Hayes, The Pistons appear to have nailed their 16th and 19th picks of Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, respectively. Assuming their trajectories hold, Stewart and Bey could prove to be essential cogs in a Motor City resurgence (helmed by the crown jewel of the 2021 draft, Cade Cunningham).
  • Though it’s much too early to rule out Obi Toppin, the Knicks seem to have hit on their back-of-the-first pick of Immanuel Quickly, whose offensive burst was a boon to New York fans during their surprising postseason run, and appears to have carried over into summer league.

Shrug-Emoji Central:

  • James Wiseman was not good this past season. James Wiseman was a strange selection for the Warriors from the jump. James Wiseman showed glimmers of significant upside before he went down with an injury. James Wiseman is large. He contains multitudes.
  • Onyeka Okongwu was buried in the ATL frontcourt rotation for most of the season, and got injured just as he was starting to break out; but that brief in-between period featured flashes of the Horford-Esque potential that lead the Hawks to spend a top-five pick on the big despite their depth at the position. Okongwu’s career (or at least the early stages of it) could swing one way or another depending upon how many minutes he can get in the coming seasons,
  • Aaron Nesmith and Peyton Pritchard both dazzled at this season’s summer league, but whether or not that will translate to the regular season is up for debate. While the latter was the dominant force behind the pre-season Celtics’ run at the title, the former has the build that projects for longer-term success in the league.
  • Isaac Okoro and Precious Achiuwa will likely be in the league for at least a handful of seasons due to their defensive acumen, but their ultimate standing in the league will depend on whether they can make an impact on the offensive end–the jury is very much still out.
  • Is Poku a future Hall of Famer? Will he be out of the league before 2030? I’m genuinely asking.

It remains too soon to call whether Wiseman-over-LaMelo will be of the Fultz-over-Tatum order of magnitude, or more in the vicinity of Trae Young-over-Luka, but at the moment, the Warriors seem to have squandered the first of a few remarkably fortunate rebuilding assets. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

2016-2020 Overall Lottery:

  1. Luka Dončić (“3rd”)
  2. Zion Williamson (1st)
  3. Jayson Tatum (3rd)
  4. Trae Young (“5th”)
  5. Bam Adebayo (14th)
  6. LaMelo Ball (3rd)
  7. Jaylen Brown (3rd)
  8. Deandre Ayton (1st)
  9. Jamal Murray (7th)
  10. Donovan Mitchell (14th)
  11. Michael Porter Jr. (14th)
  12. Ja Morant (2nd)
  13. Jaren Jackson Jr (4th)
  14. DeAaron Fox (5th)

Dončić remains at the top across the five-year run, having already displayed top-of-the-league talent with his atmospherically high-upside still relatively untouched. Zion’s second-year leap puts him on Dončić’s heels, though his durability remains a potential roadblock. Tatum’s still-developing playmaking keeps him in the third spot, while Trae’s offensive brilliance is weighed down by his defensive liabilities and the threat of officiating changes putting a dent in his FT rate. Bam rounds out the top five with a fairly high floor because of his defensive talents, and room to rise even higher with continued offensive growth.

LaMelo’s sky-high potential puts him just outside the upper echelon, while Jaylen Brown’s “yet to take a step backward” developmental arc and secure position as my favorite player not wearing an Al Horford jersey lock him into the top half of the rankings. Ayton’s enormous postseason leap buoys him above the more proven talents of Murray and Mitchell, though he’ll need to build on that success in order to hold that slot over them in coming re-drafts.

Though I adore Fox and love the culture he’s worked to establish in the Kings’ locker room, he’s ultimately beaten out by a trio of higher-ceiling players in MPJ, Ja, and JJJ (who I remain incredibly high on in spite of his disappointingly injury-filled early career).

Finally, I presume the moment I send this piece to print, I’ll be kicking myself for undervaluing the championship pedigree of Siakam, or the triple-double-threat of Sabonis, or not taking this opportunity to bet big on a fifth-year MVP push from Monte Morris. C’est la vie.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include John Collins in the 2017 draft, as he was initially excluded because of the author’s attempts to erase this season’s Hawks run from his memory.

For more NBA coverage and pre-season content, check out Cody Tannen-Barrupp’s 2022 Season Predictions, Chis Dodson’s view-from-the-ground Summer League player rankings, and Chris Connor’s MMH-style Free Agency roundup.

 

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