June 23rd, 2022. 364 days ago. Paolo Banchero’s odds of being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, at least according to the sportsbooks, skyrocketed.
After months of lead-up to the draft with most reputable media members claiming that the Orlando Magic were locked in on Jabari Smith Jr., suddenly that was not the case. At the last minute, on the morning of the draft, Banchero made a meteoric rise.
Let’s use DraftKings as the example here. Not only was Jabari Smith Jr. the outright favorite to go No. 1 overall as late as Draft Day Eve, Paolo Banchero was a whopping +1600 (implying a less than 6% chance!) to take that honor. This despite near unanimous agreement in the draft community that Banchero exceeded Smith Jr. as a prospect. There were gaps in athleticism, ball-handling, playmaking skills, and size between the two players despite similar height. Shooting can only take you so far as Smith found out.
By the time the 2022 NBA Draft actually kicked off that night, Banchero was considered a formality to go No. 1 by that amorphous glob of intel represented by both the sports books and the scoop gurus. And he did, making for a very happy Orlando Magic front office. Then the Duke product easily won Rookie of the Year, and continued to look like the far better down-the-road bet than his counterpart in Smith Jr. (who it should still be said is a promising youngster in his own right.)
Why the history lesson? It doesn’t mean anything, really. Well, other than, speaking speculatively of course, it would have been quite easy for somebody in the know, theoretically, to make a boatload of money off of this fiasco, hypothetically.
Now, 364 days later, on the day of the 2023 NBA Draft, there’s another reason. That’s because it may be happening again. Scoot Henderson, a truly elite guard prospect, as of seven hours before the draft, is -450 (implied 82%) to go No. 2 overall to the Charlotte Hornets ... after everybody went to sleep on Wednesday night with Alabama product Brandon Miller holding similar odds. If history doesn’t repeat itself, it sure does rhyme. (Insider trading on the draft certainly feels icky, but all in all, it also feels like a fairly victimless crime.)
The difference is, in 2023, this late-breaking development affects the Brooklyn Nets! It all comes back to the Nets, always does, right?.
Much of the pre-draft conversation around the borough and environs has been centered on a potential trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, owners of the #3 pick. Whether that potential trade was about sending Mikal Bridges to Portland for Scoot Henderson — no matter how unlikely Brooklyn ever was to engage — or sending Damian Lillard to Brooklyn in an attempt to vault the black-and-white back into contention, there was clearly reason for the two clubs to get on the horn.
But now? Well, Portland’s No. 3 pick certainly just took a hit in value. Brooklyn had no intention of prying it away from the City of Roses anyway, but now it’s hard to imagine any team in the league willing to meet the price the Blazers may have been seeking in the past. Not for Miller, the 6’9” forward with a checkered past. This leads us back to the Dame Game.
Judging by a recent interview with Michael Scotto, none of this should affect Lillard’s opinion of the situation in Portland.
“The [prospects] that I’ve seen are really talented,” said Lillard who has reportedly attended every Blazers workout, even taking a couple of prospects out to dinner. “I think everyone that I’ve watched is considered a top seven pick. They all have the talent and ability to do it. There’s hype around all of them. I don’t really get into whether this guy can do this or that.”
He even added that, within the Blazer organization, he doesn’t “take a stance of power, I guess. If they ask me something, I’ll give them the answer. I’ll tell them what I really think. I’m not in there trying to make a decision or anything like that. I do my job. If something’s presented to me or a question is asked to me, I give an honest answer.”
However, Brian Windhorst, who’s turned into one of the most trusted national sources covering the NBA, said this on Draft Day morning: “Lillard has indicated, not behind the scenes, but on the record, that he does not want to play in a youth movement with a young player in a rebuild.”
“An arbiter might say...Dame Lillard, in his early thirties, who hasn't had success the last couple years, who asked them to go a different direction and they draft anyway, they’d say to him: ‘It’s time to go.’...Portland isn’t admitting this, but the rest of the league knows it.”
Now, Windhorst said all this before it became common knowledge that Henderson was no longer destined for the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, Portland may be less incentivized to use the selection now that he’s not available. The Blazers’ front office could be more willing to part with the pick in search of a co-star alongside Lillard.
On the other, that pick will almost certainly land less valuable assets now, and selecting Brandon Miller when Portland already has two young guards in Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe doesn’t sound too bad either. It’s not like Miller can’t play.
But a Sharpe/Simons/Miller trio, however promising it may be down the line, may simply be too far away from contention to keep Lillard placated in Portland. This development may push Sean Marks to call up Portland General Manager Joe Cronin about his star point guard once again, just one day after Zach Lowe and Jonathan Givony reported Portland’s reluctance to give up Dame.
But also Thursday, Chris Haynes, who Lillard himself calls “my guy,” said he thinks Lillard is seriously considering asking out.
“I think this year is probably the most serious approach [Damian Lillard] is probably taking to ultimately decided what he’s going to do,” said Haynes on SiriusXM.
Just ask Marcus Smart and the Boston Celtics how fast things can change: The NBA moves at warp speed this time of year, whether it’s projected draft picks, or trades and non-trades. And to think, we are still hours away from what should be a frenetic 2023 NBA Draft.
Disclaimer: From February 2022 to January 2023, I worked for Sports Info Solutions, in their NBA Draft department