Jaden Ivey's fate may be tonight's NBA draft's greatest intrigue
It didn't take long for Purdue to realize that Jaden Ivey would be an NBA player, that understanding coming as soon as the guard set foot on campus a few years back.
Whether anyone then could have foreseen what will happen for him tonight, there's no telling.
Thursday night, Purdue's All-American guard will almost certainly be one of the top five picks in the NBA draft, the Boilermakers' highest selection since Glenn Robinson went No. 1 in 1994.
For a locked-in top-five pick, Ivey's range of outcomes tonight is probably broader than any player in that strata, as he's been the subject of considerable conjecture about potential trades, teams hoping to move up to draft him and the strong possibility that the Sacramento Kings at No. 4 would pass on the chance to draft Ivey — or keep him should they select him — if he's still available following picks 1 through 3.
Though Oklahoma City at No. 2 could be a real possibility for Ivey — the Thunder do have a second Lottery pick with which they could address their frontcourt — most projections still have either Auburn's Jabari Smith or Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren going 1-2 In some order, then Duke's Paolo Banchero going third to the Houston Rockets, which just shipped off 4 man Christian Wood in an apparent move to clear the decks for Banchero.
Then, the Kings, the perennial Lottery participants from out west, the franchise that just traded budding star Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers after drafting Davion Mitchell for a backcourt that already has De'Aaron Fox and his prohibitive contract.
The undercurrent here with the Kings lies in the fact that Creative Arts Agency represents Haliburton, Mitchell and Ivey, meaning Ivey's team has had unique perspective into the Kings' backcourt construction and where their priorities and such have lied. Ivey never visited Sacramento during the pre-draft process despite the Kings being the most logical landing spot for him considering the top-three structure many figure will take shape.
There is significant reason to believe the Kings might see the writing on the wall and either pass on Ivey or draft him to include in a trade. Should Ivey — or the pick with which he'd be selected — move, some names to keep an eye on would be the New York Knicks, maybe the Washington Wizards, or perhaps even the Pacers, who'd only have to move up two spots to jump ahead of the Detroit Pistons. The Pacers and Kings did just work together on the trade that sent Haliburton to Indy and Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento.
The Pistons would be the franchise that would need to be jumped here for any team coveting Ivey, as Detroit would very likely use the No. 5 pick on him, pairing the dynamic athlete with last year's No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, to piece together what could be a top-shelf long-term backcourt.
The Pistons trade of forward Jerami Grant to Portland cleared considerable cap space, perhaps to set up a run at free agent center Deandre Ayton. Drafting Ivey could be part of a transformational off-season for a team with quality young assets and a group that played well toward the end of last season, despite its youth.
The fit with Detroit could be ideal, given not only Detroit's roster complexion, but also the city's proximity to Ivey's native South Bend, where Ivey's mother, Niele, is the women's basketball coach at Notre Dame and a dedicated follower of her son's career. Despite her own scheduling challenges, Niele Ivey frequently attended Purdue games during Jaden Ivey's two-year college career.
But Ivey would have to reach 5, an uncertainty given the thought he may even be the best prospect in this draft, though the NBA's penchant for long, versatile frontcourt players, and the needs of the teams that finished 1-2-3 in the Lottery are likely to shape the top of this draft.
The overwhelming likelihood tonight would be for the Orlando Magic to draft Smith, the Thunder to pick Holmgren and the Rockets to take Banchero. All of them may do so with the thought they'd be passing on the sort of elite athlete and physical backcourt specimen that doesn't often bust at the pro level. Ivey's combination of speed, burst, body control and strength compare him favorably to the likes of Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose, though he'd have quite a bit of developing to do to reach the thin air of stardom that all those players achieved.
Ivey won't be drafted first on Thursday night, but he does stand as the most compelling story to follow. The draft, for all intents and purposes, starts with him, and with that No. 4 pick.
He may not be the only Boilermaker drafted, as senior big man Trevion Williams Is a candidate to be drafted in the second round, likely In the back half of the round. In a draft strangely short on international prospects, the Purdue big man's rebounding and passing could be enough to get his name called despite some of the modern-NBA limitations most evaluators would see in him.
Stay tuned tonight for full coverage of Purdue's results tonight in Brooklyn.
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