A lot is happening in NBA Basketball as the Conference Finals continue to heat while competition in the WNBA is just started picking up steam.
And there is the NBA Draft due to take place in June ushering in the next wave of talented basketball players who would eventually take over from the top guns shooting away for the chance to win this year’s Championship.
The likes of LeBron James, James Harden, Al Horford, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and company will be replaced by shooting stars in the upcoming draft.
Members of this year’s draft have been tagged with sky high expectations with little surprise as projected top picks Mohammed Bamba boasts the longest wingspan recorded at the Draft Combine and DeAndre Ayton has an NBA ready type body of the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.
Marvin Bagley is a double double machine and Michael Porter Jnr. opines, he is better than all of them.
The deep wealth of talent has made choosing very difficult for teams picking earliest in the draft. Choosing a talented player is the easy part; integrating him into the team’s system, getting the right coaching around him and right institutional traits are key in getting a player to fulfill expectations going into the league.
Players like Jahlil Okafor did not fall off the radar because they had little talent but because they got drafted by the wrong team who lacked complementary pieces and had little patience to see him grow.
Easily the most talented European Draft prospect, Luka Doncic is tabbed to be drafted high and by many accounts, the 19 year old Slovenian is tabbed to be drafted first overall. Being the youngest Most Valuable Player Award winner of the Euro League, an European Champion with Real Madrid and continental champion with Slovenia, makes him a must have talent for any team in the league. He has had his brush with the NBA in national team teammate Goran Dragic who starts at Point Guard for Miami Heat and Coach Igor Kokoskov who recently got appointed as Phoenix Suns Head Coach. But for every Doncic, there is the cautionary tale of Mario Hezonja who was a highly rated young player from Europe.
The then 20 year old Croatian player had everything to turn Orlando Magic’s head to pick him fifth overall in the 2015 Draft. Hezonja is an athletic player who shoots, defends and creates in games and at 6 foot 8; he possesses qualities that enable him play Shooting Guard and Small Forward. However, after three seasons in the NBA, Hezonja is yet to deliver on his marked talent putting up 6.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in his time in the league. Last season was his best as he averaged 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for the Orlando Magic side stuck in perpetual rebuild since Dwight Howard left town in 2011.
There are a lot of similarities between Hezonja and Doncic as both players have played for elite Spanish clubs in their career-Hezonja played for Barcelona- can play both wing positions offering similar threats and at 6 foot 7, Doncic is just about as tall as Mario. One main reason for Okafor’s decline was the abundance of Forwards and Centers on Philadelphia Sixers team including Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. At Orlando, Hezonja was drafted by a team with a lot of wing options in Terrence Ross, Arron Afflalo and Aaron Gordon; Jonathon Simmons, Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu were added to the roster after 2015.
Like Orlando, Phoenix has a sizable number of wings in Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, TJ Warren, Jared Dudley and Danuel House. Adding Doncic would not be ideal considering Phoenix needs major production on defense. General Manager Ryan McDonough gave fans a peak into their draft plans saying drafting a big man is a priority than drafting a Guard. The temptation for Suns to pick Doncic is real considering his abilities and relationship with Kokoskov but playing him on a young team with a lot of options at his position is not the best for his development.
It is true Hezonja was drafted by a coach under a different management-who have since been replaced- has contributed to his poor production since entering the league. Phoenix must overlook Kokoskov’s affinity with Doncic and draft with an aim to solve its most glaring issue at Center to avoid missing out on a franchise altering piece.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter