NBA Draft

Big gambles by Hawks, Mavericks, Nuggets will come to define 2018 NBA Draft

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Trae Young, Luka Doncic and Michael Porter Jr. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK - There was size in this year's NBA Draft. There was depth. There were shooters. There were quality point guards.

But more than that, this draft was marked by players who carry superstar ability. And, in the end, it was what happened to three of those potential superstars - and the risks their new organizations took to get them - that ruled an unpredictable night here at the Barclays Center.

Two of those players - Slovenian wing Luka Doncic and Oklahoma point guard Trae Young - will have their futures forever linked after Thursday night, as the Hawks and Mavericks went forward with a trade that was discussed for much of the day, Atlanta swapping Doncic to Dallas for Young and next year's first-rounder.

And a third possible star, Michael Porter Jr., who entered this season as a potential No. 1 pick in this year's draft before he suffered a back injury just two minutes into his NCAA career at Missouri, slid all the way from the top five to the final pick in the lottery, landing with the Nuggets at No. 14.

"It's been a roller coaster, for sure," Porter said. "It's had its ups and its downs, but I think God has been the driver of it all."

Denver entered Thursday night hoping to come away with a player who could crack the rotation on the wing. But the Nuggets came out of the first round with a guy who, if healthy, could be a franchise player, a 6-11 forward with shooting guard skills.

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Sure Not Now

There are other players who could develop into elite players in this draft - most notably No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton - but the gambles taken by the Hawks, Mavericks and Nuggets could change those franchises for the foreseeable future.

No one put more on the line on this night than Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, who gave up on Doncic - considered by some to be the best player in the draft - to land Young, who was a knockdown scorer at Oklahoma, where he averaged 27.4 points and 8.7 assists.

Schlenk has some history to go on here. He took over in Atlanta last year after having been with the Warriors going back to 2004, and was in the Golden State war room in 2009 when the team took a player deemed too skinny to withstand the rigors of the NBA. That player was Stephen Curry, who has gone on to a near-certain Hall of Fame career.

The knocks on Young are eerily similar to those on Curry, and others, for that matter. It's a lot to ask Young to live up to Curry's career path, but the Hawks are in need of a franchise cornerstone, a guy who can reliably put up 20-plus points per night. Young figures to be that guy.

"The criticisms are very similar [to those of Curry]," Young said. "But they're also very similar with a lot of other players and guys like Kemba Walker, guys like Chris Paul. Steph isn't the only one.

"And I think people get caught up a little bit in the fact of finding things that people can't do instead of looking at the things that the player can do."

The Mavericks, meanwhile, sacrificed their pick in next year's draft (protected for the top five) to bring in Doncic, a player the franchise feels can make them better immediately next season while also giving the team a focal point going forward - a backcourt built around Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr.

But Dallas also has a short-term goal, and that's to make next year as competitive as possible, at least to remain in the playoff race for Dirk Nowitzki's final season. The best players - like Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. - available at No. 5 would have been centers, and the Mavericks intend to pursue Pelicans free agent DeMarcus Cousins this summer.

Now, the Mavs at least have the chance to come into the season with some combination of Smith, Doncic, Wesley Matthews, Nowitzki and Cousins in the starting five. Depth is a serious issue, especially with the health questions around that lineup, but for a team with much at stake next year, it's a start.

And it should start with Doncic, who won the Euroleague MVP this season and helped Real Madrid to the ACB championship. At just 19 years old, Doncic is a proven winner who can play three positions. He has a knack for passing and making big plays. His ability as a ball handler will take pressure of Smith and make the rest of the team better.

"I saw a lot of Dennis," Doncic said. "He's an amazing player. He's an amazing point guard. And of course Dirk Nowitzki, he is an example for everybody. He's achieved so much. He's a legend. He's a leader. So I'm really glad that I can be there."

High expectations come with being a top-five pick, and Young and Doncic will now have to contend with those expectations. But what, exactly, should be expected from Porter after his draft tumble on Thursday? What's reasonable to ask of a No. 14 pick who also happens to have Porter's skill level?

Teams were scared off by Porter's medical records - not just the back injury he suffered in November, but the potential for other future injuries, too. Even with that as a red flag, both the Nuggets and Porter were shocked to find he was still on the board at the end of the lottery, and even more shocked that they'd be throwing in their lot together.

Porter said the call he got from Nuggets coaches after the pick was announced was the first real contact he had with the team. He'd shaken hands with some members of the Denver staff during his pro day in Chicago.

"They were a little surprised that I was still on the board," Porter said. "So this is the first time we've really talked. They sound great, and I can't wait to get to know them."

But if Porter plays (at least for six or seven years) like the guy who was supposed to dominate college basketball last season, then the Nuggets will have a fascinating collection of young talent, with Porter providing an anchor on the wing to go with Nikola Jokic inside and developing young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray.

Porter put a positive spin on his spot with Denver.

"I consider it a blessing," he said, "because maybe the team I was going to go to at the top wasn't the right team for me. For me, we're all in the NBA now. We'll see who are the best players and we'll see who should have been the top draft picks. I'm just happy that it's over with and I know I'm going."

He will be off to the Nuggets, taking with him star aspirations - just as Young will do in Atlanta and Doncic will do in Dallas. There were 60 players selected in Thursday's draft, but there is much invested in the star power of these three guys.

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