Wild night on tap? 18 things to watch at NBA draft

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Ben Simmons

When many of the experts assessed this year’s NBA draft talent, they pegged it to be a little lower than the past — and even next year.

The presumptive top pick, Ben Simmons, appeared to be the surest prospect, but beyond that, there aren’t many franchise-changing talents.

That uncertainty will make Thursday night’s draft more intriguing.

Expect some some surprises in the first half of the first round — in addition to trades from teams with multiple first-round picks (76ers, Suns, Celtics and Nuggets have three apiece) looking to acquire veterans.

The Pistons pick 18th in the first round and covet a backup point guard or power forward.

With that in mind, here are 18 things to watch for Thursday night:

The Celtics at No. 3: Trade rumors have them trying to package their first selection for a marquee veteran. So far, they haven’t gotten any takers, but as the asking price gets lower ahead of the draft, there could be some movement. If not, Boston could go in a number of directions (Kris Dunn or Jaylen Brown).

Picks 4-8: Reports had several teams — Suns, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Nuggets — looking to trade their pick. The talent pool is good in this range, but getting a veteran seems to be preferable to taking a rookie with potential.

Watching Buddy: One of the top players in the country last year, Buddy Hield is also one of the top shooters. But there is some uncertainty with his range, and he could drop to the Kings at No. 8.

Tracking the dinosaur: The Raptors had a nice run to the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Cavaliers. They need to keep DeMar DeRozan to stay there, and if they pick a big man at No. 9, it could mean they’re confident that will happen.

Izzo: NBA teams have nothing to fear about Valentine

Getting to the point: Point guard Wade Baldwin IV could be a top 10 pick. If the Bucks like him at No. 10, they could select him — or he could tumble.

Bulls at a crossroads: After agreeing to trade Derrick Rose on Wednesday, they likely will lose big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah via free agency. They seem to be interested in filling their backcourt needs through the draft.

The Euros: Dragan Bender figures to be the first European player selected, but after that, there’s intrigue with Furkan Korkmaz, Juan Hernangomez, Ante Zizic and Ivica Zubac. With the level of talent in the mid-teens, expect some to stay overseas to develop.

Denzel factor: Rumors about the health of Denzel Valentine’s knees have dropped him in some mock drafts, but teams have examined his medical history and have a truer sense of how strong he is. If it checks out, he likely won’t fall out of the lottery.

Another Spartan: Deyonta Davis is projected to be a lottery pick, but given the soft middle of the first round, he could drop. One mock draft had Davis falling to No. 18 to the Pistons — and they’d take him, given his upside on defense.

“We have a trade”: After the first 10 picks or so, there is very little certainty about where some of the players could go. Teams will pick based on need, but some may start the trade machine, which could send things the second half of the first round into a tizzy.

Good things, small packages: Point guard Tyler Ulis was projected as a first-round pick, but if teams have concerns about his size (5-foot-9, 150 pounds). Kay Felder is more solid (5-9, 180) and may be more athletic.

Starts with Kay: Felder is something of a wild card. He could go before Ulis, jumping into the first round, but after the second tier of point guards, including Demetrius Jackson, Felder could creep up because of his athleticism.

The Wolverine: Caris LeVert likely would have been a lottery pick if not for a pair of foot surgeries that limited his junior and senior seasons at Michigan. Still, he could be a worthy gamble.

The market: Judging by the trades, including Derrick Rose to the Knicks, teams are devaluing the draft and looking to add veteran help. One report from ESPN had almost half the first-round picks being shopped.

Maker or breaker? Thon Maker could be a long-term project, but his highlight videos paint him to be a potential game-changer. He’s still thin and may not be ready for the NBA’s physicality. The team that takes a risk shouldn’t expect short-term production.

Hidden gem: Malik Beasley could slip in the first round because he had a rod inserted into his tibia and wasn’t able to work out for teams. He’ll rely on his college resume — one year at Florida State — but is regarded as an excellent shooter.

Looking ahead: Pistons president Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday the Pistons picks wouldn’t impact their plans in free agency, and they’d likely take the best player available. That might just be Jackson, but if Valentine is available, Van Gundy would at least have to consider him.

With the 49th pick ... : the Pistons likely would go for the best available player, though it might be a big man. They probably wouldn’t select two players at the same position.