The new NBA Lottery format didn’t disappoint in terms of drama on Tuesday, vaulting teams who finished 11th, 7th, and 7th in the league into the top 4 first-round draft picks and pushing some of the league’s worst teams last year into pretty mediocre spots (sorry, Chicago). But it’s what happens now that’s really exciting, as there’s a month and change until the NBA Draft and the complete order is now set. It’s officially the NBA’s #DraftSZN, as teams conduct private workouts, interviews, and try to figure out what other teams are thinking. Most pertinently for our purposes, the teams in the top 14 whose draft spots have changed (and that’s a ton of them) are now trying to reconfigure themselves to see who they should be targeting at their new draft positions.
There are, of course, two players from UNC who this concerns: Coby White, an almost certain top-10 pick albeit probably in the latter half, and Nassir Little, who has been projected mostly between 9 and 18. The lottery shakeup means that a lot of the teams that might have had an eye on them are no longer in the running and have been replaced. With that said, let’s take a look at some potential marriages of ability, need and fit within the lottery for the two.
Immediately after the full lottery order was announced, DraftExpress, SB Nation, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report all mocked White to the Chicago Bulls, who fell from having a 48% chance at a top-2 pick all the way down to #7. It makes sense on the face of it; Kris Dunn hasn’t exactly inspired confidence as a solo lead guard during his NBA career, making point guard their unquestioned primary need (they could fairly justify selecting at any position from 1-4, though). With Zach Lavine entrenched as an off-ball wing and Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter looking like okay-to-solid guys on rookie deals so far, Dunn could at the very least use a backcourt mate who can play just as fast as he does, fluidly transition between on-ball and off-ball play, and catch-and-shoot with the best of them, and seeing as he’s a free agent next year, White could be an out-and-out replacement and take the keys to the offense in the same way that he did quickly in his only year as a Tar Heel. Besides, the Bulls haven’t taken a Tar Heel in the draft since Shammond Williams, and not in the first round since, well, Michael Jordan. If Coby gets to them, it’s past time for that to change.
It’s worth noting that all of these mocks basically assume that White will be the third point guard taken, after Ja Morant and Darius Garland. Morant is all but a certainty at #2, but there’s a lot of wiggle room between Garland and White, the former of whom is mostly riding on high school acclaim. In all of the above-linked mocks, Garland is selected by the guard-hungry Phoenix Suns at #6. With a tweak in consensus evaluation, it’s not hard to see White’s fit in Phoenix next to Devin Booker. He could fairly easily play with Josh Jackson and DeAndre Ayton, two bigs who mirror fairly closely the style of play he mastered playing with at UNC, and he and Devin Booker could make for a super fun hybrid backcourt with both of their ability to create offense both within and outside of structure. White would be a more defined lead guard next to Booker than he would in Chicago, which would suit him just fine; he was basically that at UNC despite his proclivity for scoring, and 4+ assists per game is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s hard to see White going past Chicago with how well everything seems to come together for that pick, but in case they bungle things, the final possible landing spot for White would probably be at #9 to the Washington Wizards, who are stuck with one of the most difficult rebuilds in the NBA with John Wall on a supermax contract and also out of commission for the 2019-2020 season while recovering from a torn Achilles. White isn’t the vertical athlete or natural passer that Wall was as a prospect or player pre-injury, but he’s a better shooter, just as quick down the floor, and isn’t going to be coming off an Achilles tear on the wrong side of 30. The Wizards are tied to Wall’s contract without Wall, so getting a cheap potential star at his position would be an obvious way to go. Bradley Beal would also give White a star to help him off the ball, a la Cam Johnson at UNC, making his transition to the NBA potentially easier.
At the high end, the Wizards could be tempted by Little’s projection as an explosive two-way wing who can play small-ball 4. Washington is pretty lacking at the 3-spot right now; Beal is entrenched at shooting guard but on the opposite wing, the Wizards are currently looking at journeymen in Trevor Ariza, whose play sharply declined last year, and Jeff Green, who had a great season but can’t really be counted on for extended minutes or a role past this upcoming year. Past them, it’s Jabari Parker, who has been one of the NBA’s least valuable players basically ever since he was drafted, and that’s about it after Devin Robinson’s extracurriculars have likely gotten him the boot from DC. Little fits right into both what the Wizards seem to be looking for in a small forward, based on what’s on their roster, and is young, athletic, coachable, and besides his jump shot, which looks like it should be correctable, looks like he’d do very well in the Washington system. It might be considered a slight reach at this point, but the fit is undeniable, and it’s early yet in the draft process and Little’s stock can only really go up in the next month.
Moving down the lottery, the Timberwolves (pick 11) and Heat (pick 13) are both teams in need of a small forward like Little. The Wolves are a particularly great option for Little, who would particularly thrive early in his career as a lower-usage player. With Karl-Anthony Towns as the unquestioned main guy in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Andrew Wiggins being a (disappointing) possession eater as well, Little’s role would be to clean up on the boards as a wing, take advantage of mismatches, and convert garbage buckets and free throws while playing good defense, which is exactly what he’s built to do right now and the role in which he excelled at the tail end of the season for UNC. The Wolves need spacing, so his jump shot would have to show itself for this to make total sense, but everything else is there.
The Heat have been trying to make the Justice Winslow experiment pay off for 4 years now, and finally seem to have unlocked him in this past season after he consistently failed to be what they wanted for them for three years. The thing is, though, that this revolution happened with a de facto change of position to point guard, and with Goran Dragic unsure if he’ll pick up his option to come back, it looks like that’s where Winslow will spend most of his time going forward for Miami. This still leaves a hole at small forward for the Heat, and Little promises for them much of what Winslow did: Athleticism, excellent rebounding for a wing, incredible defensive length and switching potential, and questions about his jump shot. Little compares favorably here as somebody with a history of decent shooting as a high schooler and a solid free throw stroke who had a down year in college, while Winslow was a poorly regarded shooter in high school and not a good free throw shooter at Duke who had an anomalous good three-point shooting year in college. It’s easy to see Little giving the Heat what they’ve wanted from Winslow for four years, and it would be a return to his home state to boot.
Just outside the lottery, the Detroit Pistons (15) and hometown Orlando Magic (16) both have a need for small forwards, though the Magic will likely prioritize more ballhandling. The Indiana Pacers at 18 also make sense, and at this point, Little is also nearing straight-up Best Player Available status. We’ll see what happens as the process continues.
We’ll have more for you on these two Tar Heels’, as well as Cam Johnson’s, NBA pre-Draft processes as they get started, but this is at least an initial taste. Let us know where you want to see these guys at the next level!