The 2016 NBA Draft class has turned out much better than anyone could have expected. With the number of lower picks and undrafted players who have become high-level contributors, the class is one of the better ones. This is despite many of the first 20 picks not panning out as their teams would have liked.
How would this draft work out if it had happened with four years of hindsight to look back upon? Let’s try and answer that question.
1. Philadelphia 76ers select G/F Ben Simmons
Original pick: G/F Ben Simmons
Yes, Simmons can’t and doesn’t shoot outside the paint and he plays in a league that places a premium on the three-point shot. However, anyone who has watched him play knows that he does literally everything else well: dribbling, passing, finishing at the rim, defending the inside and outside and making the smart basketball decision.
In 2016, Philly desperately needed a ball-handler to initiate the offense and distribute the ball to the rest of its roster. While the team has other viable options here, Simmons’ ability to play point guard on offense and any position on defense has been huge in the Sixers’ rebuild. They would make this pick again if given the chance.
2. Los Angeles Lakers select F Brandon Ingram
Original pick: F Brandon Ingram
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Ingram didn’t completely blossom until he joined the New Orleans Pelicans this season. He gave glimpses of star potential in three seasons with Los Angeles, but his improved three-point shooting and free-throw shooting has opened up so much for him this season on offense.
Ingram improved his points per game from 18.3 to 24.3 and his true-shooting percentage from 55.5 to 59 in one season. Now, the 22-year-old looks like a perennial All-Star type player and possibly more. Los Angeles would pick him in 2016 again but it wouldn’t trade him away.
3. Boston Celtics select G/F Jaylen Brown
Original pick: G/F Jaylen Brown
As you can tell, the first three teams in this draft all made the correct selections. It is extremely rare that you can look back at hindsight and say that was the case, but it is for the 2016 class.
Brown has been an immensely useful two-way wing who can shoot, defend and finish in transition. While Jayson Tatum has taken over as Boston’s franchise centerpiece, Brown is also going to be so vital to the Celtics as they look forward to many years of title contention.
I almost had the Celtics taking Pascal Siakam with this pick, but I like how Brown’s shooting fits with Boston’s roster and the fact that he is two and a half years younger than Siakam.
4. Phoenix Suns select F Pascal Siakam
Original pick: F/C Dragan Bender
At this very moment, Siakam might be the best player from the 2016 draft class. He is averaging 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for the third-best team in the NBA while playing high-level defense. His improvement since his rookie year has been as remarkable as that of any player in the league. Phoenix was a backcourt-oriented team in 2016 and needed frontcourt help, which Siakam provides.
My main concern with Siakam is age. He is 26 years old when many of the players from this class are still 22 or 23. He may improve a bit more before he hits his peak, but to me, his skill set is perfectly befitting of a No. 2 player on a championship team. He isn’t a good enough facilitator or shot creator to lead an elite team on offense but he is excellent at playing off of good teammates.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves select F/C Domantas Sabonis
Original pick: G Kris Dunn
In 2016, the Timberwolves had four solid pieces to build around: big man Karl-Anthony Towns, wing Andrew Wiggins and guards Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio. The missing piece is a big, defensive-minded forward who makes good decisions on the floor and can play off of different types of teammates. Siakam would have been perfect but he is off the board.
Sabonis is the best prospect left. While he is not a very good interior defender, he’s an amazing inside scorer, passer and rebounder. He would be able to find his role on Minnesota’s squad, possibly staggering minutes with Towns while playing with Gorgui Dieng as a complementary big to cover up the defensive weaknesses of Towns and Sabonis.
6. New Orleans Pelicans select G Jamal Murray
Original pick: G Buddy Hield
Murray would have been a great fit in New Orleans as a high-level complementary piece to Anthony Davis. The combo guard has shown that he can play very well next to a big man who controls the offense in Denver (Nikola Jokic) because he is an excellent spot-up shooter and cutter.
The 23-year-old Murray is still developing his skills, especially as a defender and facilitator. However, his talent may have shown enough to Davis to prevent AD from requesting a trade from the Pelicans last spring.
7. Denver Nuggets select G Malcolm Brogdon
Original pick: G Jamal Murray
Brogdon is a perfect fit for the Nuggets. The 2016-17 Rookie of the Year came into the league as a very solid combo guard and immediately helped Milwaukee to a surprisingly solid season. Now, at 27 years old, he has become the type of player every team would love to have: a big, unselfish guard who plays hard on both ends of the floor and can operate well on offense with or without the ball. He won’t ever be a superstar, but we already known he can succeed playing together with one — Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.
At the time of this draft, Denver was on the verge of taking a major step forward in the Western Conference behind Nikola Jokic and a cast of high-level role players. Selecting Brogdon, who was originally a second-round pick, would have been an excellent win-now move to bolster the team’s talent level.
8. Sacramento Kings select G Dejounte Murray
Original pick: F/C Marquese Chriss
By 2016, the writing was on the wall for the Kings’ franchise: building around DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t going to work, at least the way the team was doing it. Sacramento wasn’t giving him the right kind of teammates, as the team didn’t have the necessary defenders or shooters to form a contending team.
While Murray may be a surprising choice given that more established players like Buddy Hield and Fred VanVleet are on the board, he is a long-term selection for Sacramento. The 23-year-old guard is an ace defender whose three-point shot has vastly improved in the past year. Between those attributes, along with his length and athleticism, he has star potential.
Sacramento needed to start loading up on players to build around and a young and defensive-minded floor general would be tough for the Kings to pass on.
9. Toronto Raptors select G Fred VanVleet
Original pick: C Jakob Poeltl
VanVleet originally went undrafted before signing with the Raptors. This time, the team would need to snatch him up much earlier before another team takes him.
Toronto’s undersized combo guard perfectly encapsulates the personality of the Raptors’ team this season. None of the team’s top 14 minute-getters this season were taken in the top 20 of their draft class and they all play with a chip on their shoulder.
Like Brogdon, VanVleet is an older prospect from this draft (26 years old), but he is averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. His leadership and surprisingly good defense are also major reasons for the Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship and their success this season.
10. Milwaukee Bucks select G Buddy Hield
Original pick: F/C Thon Maker
The Bucks couldn’t be luckier in this hypothetical redraft situation. This a deep class of very solid players, and Hield, partially due to his age (27 years old), falls all the way to No. 10. This is despite the fact that he leads all 2016 draftees in total career points scored (4908).
Hield isn’t athletic enough, skilled enough with the ball or sound enough defensively to lead a good team as its main player. What he can do, though, is shoot three-pointers better than just about any other player in the NBA. Since Hield entered the league, only five players have made more threes than he has: James Harden, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker and Paul George.
Next to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Hield can join guys like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez as excellent floor spacers to lead Milwaukee’s potent long-range attack.