BROOKLYN, N.Y. – These five Draft decisions that will have the greatest impact:
1. Jrue Holiday and a 2013 second-round pick to the Pelicans, Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-rounder to the 76ers
It’s No. 1 by a wide margin, too, swaying the fortunes not only of two teams, but two conferences. Philadelphia is out of the playoff business for a while after finishing all of four games out in 2012-13 despite Andrew Bynum on the sidelines and coach Doug Collins heading for the exit. Instead of an All-Star at point guard and the chance to use the No. 11 pick Thursday night for a big to either replace the unrestricted free-agent Bynum or help at power forward — perhaps by drafting Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk or Lucas Nogueira — the Sixers have Noel as a rookie, who does not expect to play until around Christmas because of a knee injury. The Sixers also have point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected with the 11th pick.
The first-rounder next year, in a draft that projects as much more stacked than the 2013 class without a star presence, is a nice get for the 76ers, though. It is protected, depending on the report, either through three or through five.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, take a significant step forward with the addition of the point guard they had been lacking. Austin Rivers, the 2012 lottery pick, is better suited as a combo guard anyway and now is part of the Holiday-Eric Gordon pairing that will headline one of the best backcourts in the league if Gordon stays healthy. Anthony Davis remains a potential star of the future at power forward.
2. Wizards select Otto Porter at No. 3
It was the predictable call since 15 seconds after the lottery, and it was the right call. It was the call, more specifically, that vaults Washington into playoff mode.
The Wizards were already one of the best teams in the East the second half of last season, once John Wall got healthy and even with an early end to the rookie season of Bradley Beal because of injury. Now, with the position of need addressed Thursday, they have Wall at point guard, Beal at shooting guard, Porter at small forward and Nene and Emeka Okafor at power forward and center. That works.
Porter isn’t the difference maker, but he is the ideal fit in the same way he would have been a reasonable choice for Cleveland at No. 1: he is capable of stepping into the NBA now, he helps the spot the Wizards needed and he’s an ideal complementary player who will make valuable contributions to Wall and Beal’s continued rise. Porter will defend, pass, rebound and shoot with range. The things that get a team to the playoffs.
3. Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15
It’s not that Milwaukee went small forward four days before three guards — Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick (unrestricted) and Brandon Jennings (restricted) — hit free agency. Other teams steered away from Dennis Schroeder, Shane Larkin, Tony Snell and others. And it’s not that Milwaukee saw into the future with a unique opportunity for a 6-foot-9 potential point forward with a good feel for the game despite little experience in Greece and even less against anything close to the equivalent of Division I competition in U.S. colleges.
It’s that the Bucks don’t have what Antetokounmpo needs more than anything: time. He has to get stronger, adjust to the physical nature and speed of the game here and develop a jumper. One scout who saw him, asked how long before Antetokounmpo makes an impact in the NBA, said, “Three, four years. Maybe five.” Others think it’s a lot shorter than that, but that still means two years.
If he contributes in 2013-14, the vast majority of front offices will be surprised. Meanwhile, the Bucks need to stay in the playoff picture, not build something for the future. They are about now and he isn’t.
4. Trail Blazers select C.J. McCollum at 10, Allen Crabbe at 31 and Jeff Withey at 39
This is a consolation prize? Portland missed on the dream Draft-night outcome of trading for a veteran center, yet it still addressed a major needs. With three picks capable of contributing — yes, even the second-rounders — the Blazers made a significant step toward toward erasing their depth issues last season.
McCollum, who has spent the pre-Draft process comparing himself to Damian Lillard as a mid-major product trying to prove he can be a point guard and not just a scorer, now works behind Lillard. And maybe with him — both can play off the ball. Crabbe is a shooting specialist who was getting looks from teams in the teens. Withey is a value find at 39, an experienced shot-blocking center who should be able to play right away and very realistically could have a career as a backup despite being a second-rounder.
5. Mavericks trade down twice
It’s not about what they got. It’s about what they didn’t get. A larger payroll.
Shane Larkin, whom Dallas got in a swap with Atlanta, is as the possible point guard of the future. Possible because there is no such thing as roster certainty heading into this critical free-agent summer.
By starting with the 13th pick and trading with the Celtics to No. 16 and then trading with the Hawks to end up at 18 and taking Larkin, the Mavericks saved $1.09 million in rookie-scale salary. That creates more cap space. Dwight Howard likes cap space.