The Raptors, Nuggets, Bucks, Grizzlies, and Kings are among the NBA teams that have made the strongest impression in the first month of the 2018/19 season, outperforming expectations early in the year. On the other end of the spectrum, the Cavaliers and Mavericks have been among the league’s worst teams, underperforming expectations that weren’t all that high to begin with.
These teams all have something in common — they’ve traded away their 2019 first-round picks, often with protections on them. We still have about 70 games to go in ’18/19, so it’s way too early to determine exactly where those picks will fall, or even whether or not they’ll changes hands in many cases. However, based on what we’ve seen from those teams so far, we have a better idea of what to expect the rest of the way than we did a month ago.
Let’s take a look at how some of those early-season trades may affect 2019’s traded first round picks…
Toronto Raptors (11-1)
First-round pick traded to Spurs (top-20 protected)
Even with top-20 protection, this pick looks like a very safe bet to change hands. If the season ended today, it would be No. 30, since Toronto has the NBA’s best record.
Denver Nuggets (9-2)
First-round pick traded to Nets (top-12 protected)
After a season in which the Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs, it wasn’t unreasonable for Brooklyn to hope this pick would fall in the mid-teens. Instead, with Denver looking like one of the Western Conference’s best teams so far, it may land well into the 20s.
Milwaukee Bucks (9-2)
First-round pick traded to Suns (top-3 protected; 17-30 protected)
The unusual protections on this pick will likely to prevent it from changing hands for a second consecutive year, since it projects to fall in the 17-30 range. If Milwaukee’s 2019 first-rounder doesn’t convey, the Bucks would owe the Suns their 2020 first-rounder, with top-7 protection.
Memphis Grizzlies (6-4)
First-round pick traded to Celtics (top-8 protected)
After finishing last season with a 22-60 record, the Grizzlies were no lock to take a major step forward in 2018/19. In the early going though, the club looks like a legitimate playoff contender. Assuming Memphis can remain in the postseason mix, even if it’s just on the outskirts, this pick should stay out of the top eight and get sent to Boston.
Sacramento Kings (6-5)
First-round pick traded to Sixers (if it’s No. 1 overall or if it’s less favorable than Sixers’ pick) or Celtics (if it’s more favorable than Sixers’ pick and isn’t No. 1 overall)
The Kings, who were expected to be one of the NBA’s worst teams entering the season, would generate some fascinating drama between the Sixers and Celtics if their pick ends up in play for No. 1 overall. However, Sacramento’s young roster has created more problems than anticipated for opponents so far, with the team occupying a playoff spot for now.
Despite the Kings’ hot start, a finish in the lottery still seems likely, but if Sacramento keeps exceeding expectations, the team’s first-round pick will almost certainly end up in Boston instead of Philadelphia, avoiding that No. 1 spot.
Los Angeles Clippers (6-5)
First-round pick traded to Celtics (top-14 protected)
This could be one to watch all season long — the Clippers currently hold a playoff spot in the West by one game, but teams like the Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans, and Rockets are right on their tail. If the Clips eventually fall out of the top eight in the West, they’ll keep their 2019 pick and would owe Boston their top-14 protected 2020 first-rounder. If L.A. keeps winning, the Celtics have a real shot at ending up with four first-rounders next spring.
Dallas Mavericks (3-8)
First-round pick traded to Hawks (top-5 protected)
After drafting NBA-ready prospect Luka Doncic and signing DeAndre Jordan, the Mavericks hoped to contend for the postseason and expected to lose this pick. Given the way Dallas has struggled so far, that no longer looks like a sure thing. I don’t view the Mavs as a bottom-five team in the NBA, but if they don’t turn things around soon, an aggressive second-half tank is a possibility. The Hawks would love for this pick to land in the back half of the top 10.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10)
First-round pick traded to Hawks (top-10 protected)
While Atlanta may luck out with the Mavs’ pick, the Hawks will probably have to wait at least one more year to get anything from the Cavaliers, who have the NBA’s worst record so far and aren’t exactly in position to turn things around. If the Cavs keep their 2019 first-rounder, they’ll owe the Hawks their top-10 protected 2020 pick.