James Bouknight is going to hear his name called early at NBA Draft day Thursday night. It will mark a big breakthrough for UConn, which hasn’t had an NBA Draft lottery pick since Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb in 2012. Before that, it was a bit more of a regular occurrence.
It will also be a big breakthrough for Bouknight, who has “helped himself as much as any prospect in the pre-draft process,” according to ESPN’s Jonathon Givony. He said Bouknight did so by “shooting the lights out at his pro day in Chicago, measuring well, and proceeding to continue his strong momentum in private workouts.”
Right after the college season ended, mock drafters saw Bouknight as a fringe lottery pick, predicting him to the Knicks at No. 19 or the Wizards at No. 15. A few months later, it looks like he isn’t going to last past the top 10.
The most common predictions now for Bouknight are at No. 6 to the Oklahoma City Thunder and No. 7 to the Golden State Warriors. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie said he’d “be stunned” if Bouknight was there after the eighth pick.
Head coach Dan Hurley also offered his thoughts on Bouknight’s ideal landing destination.
“James wants to be coached. He wants to be in a professional culture. He wants to play with other players that have a tremendous passion for basketball. They’re competitive, want to compete for a championship. I hope he gets drafted by an organization that isn’t afraid to coach their players and has a strong accountability in their culture in terms of professionalism.”
Here’s our quick breakdown of how Bouk would fit with these teams.
No. 6 - Oklahoma City Thunder
Givony puts Bouknight into what’s become an outpost for former Huskies. Landing in Oklahoma City would pair Bouknight with fellow Husky alum Kemba Walker, as well as head coach Mark Daigneault, a former UConn team manager, and give unaligned UConn fans an easy team to root for. The Thunder have a star-in-the-making with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and the fit between him and Bouknight is intriguing.
With Walker and Alexander in tow, Bouknight wouldn’t have to shoulder much of an offensive burden right away and can get acclimated to the NBA game at a more gradual pace while still getting ample playing time.
However, the Thunder hold a lot of future draft picks, so their direction remains in limbo at this point. The manner in which General Manager Sam Presti hoards, showcases, then packages young talent for proven stars does make the destination a little less appealing. Just ask Jeremy Lamb. In terms of Hurley’s comments, Daigneault seems like a player's coach who could win over the young rookie right away.
No. 7 - Golden State
Bouknight is being linked with the Warriors to fill a need, rather than as the best player available at that position. The Warriors need bench scoring for when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson need a rest, and Bouknight has been typecast as a microwave scorer, potentially the best in the draft. The Warriors also have to keep in mind the possible trade value of the player they select at No. 7 overall, and Bouknight fits that bill as one of the fastest-rising players in the draft.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger says the Warriors will try to package its two picks (7 and 14) for a player like Portland’s Damian Lillard or Washington’s Bradley Beal. We cover those two teams at the end. It’d be impossible to gauge team fit because who knows who would be coming or going, but the chance to have Bouk coming to rebuilding teams as the centerpiece is an exciting prospect.
Golden State and head coach Steve Kerr still have the reputation of being a great place to develop talent, and learning from Steph and Klay is never a bad thing, so Bouknight would do well to land with the Warriors.
No. 8 - Orlando
The Athletic’s Josh Robbins has Bouk heading to Orlando. The Magic hit the reset button at the NBA trade deadline, shipping off Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Evan Fournier. They finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, and are essentially a clean slate as they look for a head coach not named Penny. They have two picks in the top 10, No. 5 and No. 8.
Fit-wise, they have Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, RJ Hampton, and Dwayne Bacon at Bouknight’s position. That’s a logjam in waiting, but the Magic need talent more than fit at this point, and Bouk has plenty of that. With two picks, they could opt for someone with more upside, then roll with the best player available with the eighth pick.
Heading to Orlando would mean plenty of shots for Bouknight, but the Magic are miles away from contending and are stuck in an apathetic sports market. Combined with a new, first-time head coach in Jamahl Mosely, this is not an ideal destination for Bouknight.
No. 11 - Charlotte Hornets
Before he shot into the Top 10 mostly everywhere, SB Nation had Bouknight going No. 11 to the Charlotte Hornets.
LaMelo Ball has evolved into one of the most exciting young stars in the NBA, and it’s now Charlotte’s charge to start building around him. The Hornets already have a backcourt partner for him in Malik Monk, but if they wanted to trade up from No. 11, Monk would be a prime piece to move in the last year of his contract.
Bouknight could be the great athlete and scorer that Charlotte wants to target at 11, they just might have to move up in the draft to pick him. James Borrego is a respected but relatively new name in the coaching sphere, so in terms of Hurley’s hope, this isn’t an ideal destination.
Most NBA teams are in the lottery for a reason; they stink. But plenty of teams that have Bouk on their radar offer good fits as an organization and in terms of the roster.
Wherever he lands, you won’t have to wait long to hear Bouknight’s name get called.