NEW YORK – Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and the future of the NBA arrived Thursday night.
Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau hope to rekindle their past.
Fultz and Ball led a record-setting run of one-and-dones in the NBA draft, which received a jolt early in the first round when the Chicago Bulls traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Philadelphia 76ers took Fultz with the No. 1 pick and the Lakers followed by taking Ball, with the point guards from the Pac-12 Conference beginning a run of seven straight freshmen. Nine of the first 10 selections played just one season of college ball.
“Right now it’s unbelievable really,” Fultz said. “I mean, say you want to do something, and to go out and do it is unbelievable.
“In high school I told my trainer Keith I wanted to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick, so it was a goal I set out there, and that’s what I was striving for,” Fultz said.
Thibodeau has enough young players in Minnesota and wanted a veteran like he had during his successful run coaching the Bulls. He found one in Butler, who the Wolves acquired along with the 16th overall pick for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick, which ended up being – what else? – another freshman, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen.
While that was being completed, the draft got off to a familiar start with the same top-four picks as last year: Philadelphia, the Lakers, Boston and Phoenix.
Fultz averaged 23.2 points last season, tops among freshmen, and added 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, the only Division I player to reach those stats. He walked across the stage Thursday night at Barclays Center wearing orange sneakers made of basketballs.
The 76ers had the No. 1 pick for the second straight year after trading with the Boston Celtics on Monday. Now they add Fultz to a promising young core that includes Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, plus Ben Simmons, the top pick from last year who sat out all season with a foot injury.
Fultz, who played just 25 games in college, said it was always his dream to be the top pick and wasn’t bothered that Boston traded the chance to take him.
Ball then got the wish he and his father, LaVar, wanted all along by staying in Los Angeles, where he starred last season at UCLA. LaVar Ball had said his son would only play for the Lakers, and it was clear that would happen when Lonzo got a phone call with the Lakers on the clock.
As Lonzo walked on stage to meet Commissioner Adam Silver and put on a purple Lakers hat, LaVar put on a gold and purple Big Baller Brand hat, the company he has started.
“Tonight was supposed to be a good night. Definitely was, and now I’m just focused on playing,” Lonzo Ball said. “Just want to get on the court.”
The Celtics then took Duke’s Jayson Tatum at No. 3 after moving down two spots in the trade with Philadelphia, drawing cheers from a large contingent of their fans at Barclays Center wearing green. The Suns took Josh Jackson of Kansas, the Sacramento Kings took Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5 and the run of freshmen continued when the Orlando Magic selected Jonathan Isaac.
Fox ended up in the same state as Ball, who he outplayed when Kentucky ousted UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.
“I mean, it’s extremely gratifying for me to be in that top five, and we already knew that this was going to be a pretty tough draft and it was pretty loaded at the point guard position, and for me to be up there is just a blessing,” Fox said.
Silver has talked about changing the NBA’s limit, saying the current rule that American-born players must be 19 and a year out of high school, but teams seem just fine with the current system. The run of freshmen bettered the 2014 record of four straight first-year players to start the draft, finally ending when the New York Knicks took French guard Frank Ntilikina at No. 8 .
The top 10 was rounded out with two more freshmen: Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State to Dallas at No. 9, and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins at No. 10 with the Kings’ second pick, which was later dealt to Portland for a pair of picks. Last year’s record of 14 freshmen fell when Brooklyn grabbed Jarrett Allen from Texas at No. 22, and there were 16 total among the 30 first-round picks – and just two seniors.
NBA champion Golden State and Cleveland didn’t have a pick in the two-round draft, though the Warriors acquired the rights to second-rounder Jordan Bell from Chicago.
There have been a flurry of trades since the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, though most of the moves on draft night were minor. Things could heat up again in the coming days before free agency starts on July 1.
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