The NBA Draft Lottery was held last night in New York City, and Domantas Sabonis made an appearance!
The Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers came away the big winners (by virtue of being big losers throughout the 2015-2016 season). The Sixers secured the 1st pick overall and the right to choose between Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, while the Lakers will almost assuredly take whomever of the two is left. The lottery order is as follows:
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (from the Nets in the Garnett/Pierce trade...LOL)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (from the Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani trade...LOL)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Utah Jazz
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Chicago Bulls
Draft intrigue will begin at the third spot, and with the order now set, we can start to project where Domantas Sabonis might land on draft night. Sabonis did not participate in any aspect of the NBA Combine held in Chicago last week. While such a move isn't uncommon for prospects projected at the very top of the draft, Sabonis's draft range likely stretches anywhere between picks 6-20.
This raised eyebrows and led observers to wonder if he landed a guarantee from a team picking in the lottery. Such an arrangement behooves a player because it allows them to bypass the grueling pre-draft workout schedule, thus avoiding injury and the possibility of inflicting damage on their draft stock. I imagine that such a promise would have needed to come from a team picking in the lottery in order to convince Sabonis and his representation to pull him out of the process so early.
With that in mind, here are some possible landing spots for Sabonis in the first 14 picks of the Draft.
New Orleans Pelicans (Pick #6)
Sabonis would be an intriguing addition for the Pelicans as his perceived deficiencies, namely lack of length and rim protection, would be masked by being paired with Anthony Davis on the interior. Sabonis demonstrated that he could easily play with another big man during his time at Gonzaga, and both he and Davis have the skill to complement each other's games. The Pelicans could also be a nice landing spot for Kyle Wiltjer, as he is a natural fit to take the stretch-4 role vacated by free-agent Ryan Anderson.
Denver Nuggets (Pick #7)
The Nuggets have a solid group of bigs made up of Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic, and Nikola Jokic. However, Gallinari has battled a myriad of injuries in recent years, playing only 112 of a possible 246 games in the last three seasons. Jokic and Nurkic are still very young, but could develop into a formidable inside presence with the addition of Sabonis coming off the bench, at least in the near term future. Adding Sabonis could also provide Denver the flexibility to trade Faried and get a proven wing-scorer in return, although losing the Manimal might not go over well with local fans.
Toronto Raptors (Pick #9)
The Raptors desperately need a PF for their long-term future. Sabonis would be a nice fit here because his strengths are NBA-ready, and the Raptors are not a franchise in a rebuilding cycle. Toronto may prefer a stretch-four to pair with Jonas Valanciunas, but I suspect that Sabonis would have no problem playing alongside his fellow countryman.
Phoenix Suns (Pick #13)
The Suns own two picks in the Top 14, and should fill their need for an impact frontcourt player with this selection, provided they don't trade the pick. The Suns tried and failed to bring LaMarcus Aldridge to the desert last year, highlighting their need to find a player to fill their PF spot for the foreseeable future. Alex Len is their only frontcourt rotation player under 30, and Sabonis could be a nice complement to the 7-footer. The Suns have a nice group of players, and were on the cusp of the playoffs last year. The addition of Sabonis might help push them into the postseason. This would be a great spot for him.
Chicago Bulls (Pick #14)
The Bulls collapsed in a big way during the 2015-16 season. Following the firing of head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls lost their intensity on both ends of the floor and looked like an old group whose championship window had closed. Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are free agents, and Taj Gibson only has one year left on his contract and might be moved in the offseason if the Bulls elect to do a mini-rebuild. Chicago has young frontcourt players in Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, but neither provides the toughness and rebounding prowess like Sabonis does. Sabonis doesn't provide the rim protection the Bulls will need, especially if they don't re-sign Noah, but he checks all their other boxes. Notably, the Bulls front office prefers to draft safe players from established, winning programs, rather than higher-ceiling players with the measurables but more bust potential, making Sabonis an ideal candidate.