You get a call from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He tells you that you are the lucky recipient of ownership to the newest NBA expansion franchise: the Seattle Supersonics. (Or whichever city you’d like. I personally would choose the Cincinnati Sharks, but that topic is for another blog). Anyway, he informs you that as part of this process, you will be in charge of selecting the players you would like to build your franchise around. Silver also tells you that, in the spirit of complete fairness, the NBA will have a complete redraft, like a fantasy team. You have the ability to choose any player in the NBA, no matter who they are and you can build around on their current contract. This is an amazing gift, you can hand pick your franchise player. With this sensational selection, my picks would be the following:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo G/F/C Milwaukee Bucks
The first choice of many, including myself, would be none other that the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is the perfect mixture of what you would want if you are starting a new team. He is the most versatile player in the NBA. He can play and defend all five position on the floor, and while he would not necessarily be suited for a full time spot as your center, he has the length and strength to take on those players and would be a killer 5 on offensive sets. While he still has some work to do on his jump shot, its not like he is a terrible shooter (his FG% has increased each year from 41% his rookie year to 54% so far this season and his 3PFG% has increased to 27% over the past two seasons). Part of his versatility that makes him even more impressive is ability to stuff the stat sheet. Last season, he became the only player in NBA history to be in the top 20 in the league in points (14th), rebounds (15th), assists (18th), steals (9th) and blocks (5th) for a season. This is a miraculous feat, his ability to do it all on a nightly basis is apparent and extremely satisfying. Another factor that makes Antekounmpo very appealing in this spot is his contract situation. He is currently signed to a 4 year/$100 million deal that has him locked up until 2021, giving him an average cap hit of roughly $25 million per year. This number may seem high, but it fairly low when you consider what some other players are making (currently ranks 30th in salaries for this season). This gives you a lot of flexibility as a GM when you can have an All-Star First-Team NBA type player on your team and still have the ability to go out and get more talent around him. Antetokounmpo’s desire to win and seeming commitment to his franchise is another factor that makes him a great pick. He has stated many times throughout his career how that he loves the game of basketball and wants to be in Milwaukee for his whole career. While you would be taking him from the Bucks in this scenario, he seems like a guy who wants to win and is willing to stay with a franchise through and through, give him obvious appeal for any GM. These factors all align for me, making Giannis a great selection as a player to build around.
2. Anthony Davis F/C New Orleans Pelicans
If for some reason I was unable to nab the Greek Freak from the Bucks, my next selection would be a tightly contested one. The next two players are extremely close in my mind. They are both dynamic big men who have a lot to give a team on offense and defense. I lean slightly more on the side of Anthony Davis and would select him in this situation over Kristaps Porzingis. Both players have a similar skill set, they are stretch big men with a dangerous range and the length to be a problem in the post. The main reason I like Davis more has a lot to do with his stage of development. Davis has been in the league for six years at this point and at 24 years old, will soon be entering his athletic prime. His game is much more polished than a lot of the other young big men in the NBA and he has eradicated some of the problems he faced when he first entered the league (mainly his jump shot and offensive game). A major concern that still faces Davis however is his injuries. He is yet to play a full season in his career, missing at least 10 games per season. It seems like he can’t be relied upon to stay healthy, but he is such a great talent that he is still a player that is worth investing in.
3. Kristaps Porzingis F/C New York Knicks
Like I stated above, another big man I would be interested in building around is Kristaps Porzingis. The Latvian Unicorn is a great example of what the future of the NBA could look like. He is a big man who is dominant with the ball and has outside shooting ability and it’s also a great defender. His ability to do it all is obviously appealing to anyone who is looking to build a team. While he has always been an intriguing prospect, he has taken a giant step forward this season with an average of 24 PPG, 6 RPG, 1 APG and 2 BPG; showing that he always has the potential to build on to his game and can be even better then what he is now. There are not very many concerns about Porzingis in this scenario. He is yet to have any major injury problems and despite is social media indiscretions at times, he seems as though he is a player that has what it takes to be a great player in the NBA for years to come. That all being said, he would be my third choice if I were to be put in the scenario.
4. LeBron James F Cleveland Cavaliers
This is an obvious name for this list. He is this generation’s biggest name in basketball and is arguably the best player of the era and possibly all time. The name LeBron James strikes even the non-basketball fan, as he is a mogul that seems to make a difference in all aspects of media and pop culture. This is a huge factor when considering building a franchise, his recognizability will help put people in seats and is a player that lots of people will want to come and see. Despite his successes off the court, James is, almost without saying, an absolutely amazing player that is as talented as all get-out. James has shown that he can do it all and, as I stated, is one of the league’s best. There are two things that would give me pause before selecting him though. James has shown in his career that he will do what is in his best interest, including leaving teams in free agency. While there is nothing wrong with This and it is his right as a free agent, this is a problem for someone that would be starting out with him. There would be the underlying fear that he could leave at any point in his time with your team. This is not an overlying concern for me, it seems as though as long as you build a winner around him and cater to his needs he will at least consider staying with your franchise. The other concern, the far larger one, is James’s age. LeBron is 33 years old as of today and is most certainly on the wrong side of his prime. While he is an all-time great and should still be an adequate basketball player until he is 60, father time is undefeated and this will catch up to James. However, if you told me that I could have LeBron at this stage in his career and have him for a few years to build with, I don’t think I could say no and I don’t see how many fans would either.
5. James Harden G Houston Rockets
The final player I would consider in my top five of this franchise building scenario is Houston’s top guard James Harden. The man with the greatest facial hair in the NBA is also one of the premier guards in the league who has developed from a possible third wheel on the Thunder to a transcendent talent. Harden is an MVP level player and would be a fantastic player to have on your franchise. Much like LeBron, he also brings an incredible brand with him that would make him appealing from a marketing standpoint. While Harden is also one of the older players in the top 5, he is only 28 and is currently in his prime. His dynamic ball handling and playmaking skills should continue to stay at their level for years to come, giving him great offensive ability to build around. While he is notoriously bad at defense, it is not a huge concern for me and is something that could be fixed as long as the right team is built around him (like we see with him in Houston currently). Harden would be a great player to build around but there are just some options I like a little more than him. But, if he was on the board I would not be disappointed with him either.
–Stephen Curry G Golden State Warriors:
Stephen Curry is one of the largest brands in professional sports, let alone just the NBA. Since his elevation to stardom at the beginning of the Warriors dynasty in 2014, Curry has become a name that most anyone will recognize, no matter their degree of NBA fandom. From his shoes line to his adorable family, his overall persona has helped him become incredibly marketable and would be a great face to build a franchise around. But don’t let these off-the-court factors fool you. Curry is also a premier player in the NBA with a seemingly limitless range that can keep your team in any game. The two-time MVP is arguably one of the best point guards in the NBA and is just as impactful on the defensive side of the ball as he is on offense. While he a true superstar of the sport, a main factor in why he did not make my list is his age and injury history. Curry will turn 30 in March, meaning he is currently in his prime and will likely start to decline in the next few years. While his skill set and range will still give him the likelihood of being a solid player for years to come, his age caps the upside of getting a younger player who you can really build around as he blossoms. While his age may be a concern, his injuries are more worrisome. Now, over the past three years he has been able to avoid major injuries and has seemed to fix the ankle problems he was facing early in his career; which is impressive when you consider how everyone was ready to label him as a “bust” during that timeframe. I don’t think it will be a problem to worry about for Curry’s future, but it is always something to keep in the back of your mind when a player has that kind of history. Nevertheless, Curry would be an excellent pick to start a franchise with, however I will be looking to go elsewhere.
–Kevin Durant F Golden State Warriors:
Much like his teammate named above, Kevin Durant is a curious player in this scenario. On one hand, Durant is an elite talent in the NBA. He is arguably a top three player in the whole league and is extremely versatile on the floor. He can score from anywhere, play four positions (including C in certain small-ball sets) and has the length and speed to be a solid defender. His impact on the floor is almost unmatched. He has this incredible ability to leave a large impact wherever he goes. We all know what levels he elevated the Thunder franchise to in his time in OKC and know what happened to that team when he left in 2016. He possesses the type of talent that can swing you to the highest of highs when he is on your team, much like he has with his Golden State tenure, making him very desirable to build a franchise around. However, there are some things that would also have me looking at other prospects (and no, it doesn’t have to do with his team moving ways). Durant, like Curry, is about to turn 30 years old and is someone who is a little too old for me to want to build my franchise around. His game will age well and, assuming he stays relatively healthy, Durant will have the ability to have success will into his 30s and maybe even his early 40s. That being said, there are just some other players I would consider before taking Durant, but I do respect his skills and what he could bring to the table if he was the center of your franchise.
–Karl Anthony-Towns C Minnesota Timberwolves /Joel Embiid C Philadelphia 76ers:
Now we get into some of the young up-and-coming players in the NBA. For these two players, they both fit a similar mold as young big men who have loads of potential, but for some reason just haven’t put it all together yet. For Karl Anthony-Towns, it has a lot to do with his defense and stagnated growth. When KAT came out for the 2015 draft, scouts and front office members could not stop talking about this kid and what he could become. He seemed to have a complete Craftsmen toolset of NBA skills: he could stretch the floor with his range, showed defensive promise in his time at Kentucky and so on. He was even labeled as one of those fancy “unicorn” players that everyone has fallen in love with, making his expectations sky high. In his third season in Minnesota, KAT has yet to live up to those expectations and has not become the dynamic player he was projected to be. Now, he is by no means a bust. The man is still putting up numbers like a monster (21.5 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.3 APG and 1.5 BPG), but he has yet to make that full leap to the true stardom most expected of him. He still has the potential to get there, but he will have to improve upon some things first, such as his defense. There have been many instances on film, where KAT has looked lost on the floor and is not aware of where he is supposed to be/go. As for Joel Embiid, he is much like a Grant Hill or Derrick Rose type player. He is talented as all get out, but his injuries are a giant red flag that could hold him down. He has a massive amount of potential, and when you think about how he has only been playing the game of basketball for less than 10 years, it makes his abilities even more impressive. But only being able to play 26 games in three years is just too much of a question mark for a guy who is supposed to lead your franchise. If Embiid can get his body right and can at least limit the time he misses due to injury over the next few years, he will be a problem for the NBA.