Although Red Nation and the Houston Rockets are still trying to get used to watching the playoffs without feeling the anxiety and stress that comes with being a participant, some lessons are silently being taught and it’s a perfect time to listen.
It’s safe to assume that many fans around the league are taking great satisfaction in the Phoenix Suns discarding the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night during Game 6 of the opening round. After the memes, the Twitter trends, and everything else that comes when LeBron James loses a basketball game, of course, what stood out most was what happened on the court; particularly the calm, yet electric outing by Devin Booker.
Booker poured in 47 points on 15-22 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and ultimately showed that the night was his. What Rockets fans should note is that back on Draft night 2015, the night did not belong to Booker, but rather his college teammate Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns has been nothing short of great in Minnesota and finished this past season averaging 24.8 points a night with 10.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. A mistake wasn’t made by the Timberwolves when they drafted him first overall, but if you were to ask the Phoenix Suns if they regret not having the top pick in the draft they’d tell you no.
Had they landed that pick, the pick would of either been KAT or D’Angelo Russell (who’s also really, really good) because those were the two players that everyone considered top-of-the-class meaning there was no chance that Booker would’ve been a Sun. This is the beauty of the NBA draft.
Obviously, this isn’t slander that’s directed towards picking first in the draft but rather pointing out that the best player isn’t always who everyone believes it’ll be. However, that doesn’t mean that if the top pick isn’t the best player in his class it makes him a failure. That same Phoenix Suns picked Deandre Ayton first and while he’s had a slower start than expected, he was instrumental in serving the Lakers their playoff eviction notice by shooting 79.6 from the field during the first round.
Ayton was huge for the Suns but it’s no secret that the best players in the 2018 Draft are Luka Doncic and Trae Young. But if no matter how closely you try and listen - you won’t hear complaints from Phoenix after that opening round.
Meanwhile, Doncic is an example of another player that wasn’t drafted first but is the best player in the class. That’s an understatement because he’s one of the best players in the world and the Clippers can vouch for that after his performance during the first round.
Through Luka’s “wow” moments and stuffed stat sheets, he’s proven to be generational talent with his ability to impact the game as both a scorer and facilitator but was only selected third overall in the draft so while Dallas fans were calculating possibilities to end up with the top overall pick, they ended up with the best-case scenario after Atlanta swapped Luka for Trae Young.
To continue my trend here, this is not a knock on Young - he actually provides perspective for all of the draft-crazed Rockets fans. He wasn’t picked first, he’s not the best player in his class but he’s without question the second-best and showed his strut under the brightest lights of Madison Square Garden.
The young guard is a star, and he’s embraced by the city of Atlanta while also fitting in with the cities culture. He has a flash to his game that captivated the league’s audience and will be engrained in the minds of New York Knick fans after a dazzling performance in a series that was capped with a bow. Young wouldn’t be picked first in a redraft, but the Atlanta Hawks would be ecstatic if they were picking second in that fictional event.
Meanwhile, Utah has been blessed with the presence of Donovan Mitchell who took the league by storm during his rookie season in the playoffs and helped lead the Jazz to the top pick in the draft, they looked poised for a playoff run and Mitchell looks like he could be selected first in a redraft of the deep 2017 NBA Draft class.
However, it’s more likely that he’d be picked behind Jayson Tatum who already looks like he’ll be the next great to don a Boston Celtic jersey -- and although Tatum’s Celtics were dispelled from the playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets after just 5 games, the lone win for Boston came after he blitzed the Nets for 50 points on 16-30 shooting.
Perhaps the biggest lesson here for Rockets fans is that with all the talk around Cade Cunningham being a generational pick, maybe he will turn out to be the best player in the class. But if they land the second pick, it’s okay to have a Ja Morant if you can’t get go get a Zion Williamson.
Morant dropped 35 against Stephen Curry and the Warriors to drag the team into the playoffs and then gave the Jazz all that they could handle before the talent disparity overwhelmed them and caused Memphis to lose in five games. Williamson is a freak of nature and is simply unguardable when he’s driving to the rim but Morant has had soared highest of the two high-flyers during the first two seasons of their careers.
Countless more examples can be given but it’s best to end with two of the more dominant players in the league. The first one is Giannis Antetokounmpo who at the age of 26 has already back-to-back most valuable player awards along with a defensive player of the year award. His most recent achievement came last Saturday after he exercised his demons by sweeping the defending eastern conference champion Miami Heat.
Giannis was picked 15th in the 2013 draft but his rise to stardom has been similar to Denver’s Nikola Jokic the way it’s caught everyone by surprise. Jokic is also 26 and is a soon-to-be MVP after being picked 41st in the 2014 draft. Throughout their respective MVP campaigns, they’ve displayed a level of play that can only be described as utter dominance. The final lesson here for Rockets fans is that it’s okay if a draft pick is a late bloomer; they might just become one of the best players in the world.
The NBA Draft is a polarizing event, it can change the trajectory of a franchise for years to come so just remember that while it’s okay to dream of drafting Cunningham and to hop on to photoshop him into a Rockets uniform, it’s not realistic to believe that he’s the only guy that can take the franchise to the next level.