The 2017 NBA Draft class is turning into an elite group, with three players already earning All-Star honors and another two or three with that potential or more.
A redraft would have a massive shuffle at the top. Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo and John Collins wouldn’t be drafted in the teens. De’Aaron Fox (pick No. 5) and Jayson Tatum (pick No. 3) likely would climb up the board.
And then there are the players who haven’t lived up to their potential like Markelle Fultz (pick No. 1), Lonzo Ball (pick No. 2) and Josh Jackson (pick No. 4).
In a lively discussion on ESPN's "First Take," NBA legend Magic Johnson was asked about his decision to select Ball over Fox back in 2017 when he was general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“If you look at their careers, Fox has played better,” Johnson said when asked point blank by host Max Kellerman. “OK, I’ll give you that, no question about it. I’m not going to take that away from De’Aaron Fox, I’m a fan of his.”
“But, at the same time, we needed a leader, not only on the court but in the locker room,” Johnson continued.
After explaining that Ball’s early career was sidetracked by injuries, Johnson said he wants to see where the two players sit in the next five years. He also heaped high praise on Fox one more time.
“I think Lonzo is going to reach his potential,” Johnson said. “Yes, De’Aaron Fox has exploded, he’s played great. Matter of fact, I was hoping he would make the All-Star team this year, because he’s played great.”
The comparison between the two guards could have ended when Fox dropped 39 points on Ball and his UCLA team during the 2017 NCAA tournament.
In his fourth NBA season, Fox is turning into a star-level player, averaging 23.8 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game as the Kings’ starting point guard.
Ball is having a solid fourth season as well, posting 14.2 points, 5.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans. His scoring number is the highest of his career and he has increased both his overall field goal and 3-point percentages dramatically.
While Johnson didn’t admit to making a mistake, he clearly did. Ball is onto his second team in four seasons and he is being shopped hard at the NBA trade deadline. Fox is a cornerstone building block for the Kings and he’s set to enter the first year of a five-year, max money extension next season.
The debate over who is a better player between Ball and Fox already is over. It will be interesting to look back at this draft in five years, but not to rehash this argument.
It will be whether Ball is a top-10 player and whether Fox would have gone earlier than No. 5 overall.