The NBA Draft is a little more than a month away, and Michigan could see two players get drafted in the first round.
Both Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin have clear talents that could help them have lengthy pro careers. But in terms of increasing your chances of staying in the NBA a long time, some teams are better than others when it comes to fit, needs on the roster and reputation for developing talent.
Most mock drafts have Howard and Bufkin going in the first round, somewhere between pick 13 and pick 24. Let’s break down two ideal fits for each of them, with teams that are projected to picking in that range.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder were one of the biggest success stories in the NBA this past season. After going 24-58 in 2021-22 and losing top-two pick Chet Holmgren for the season, they improved by 16 wins and went from one of the worst teams in the league to a team that made the play-in.
The Thunder have some decent depth pieces around an exciting young back court in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, but they could use another forward and more three-point shooting — they only made 35.6% of their threes this past season, which is below average among NBA teams.
Adding Howard would provide the Thunder another scorer who can hit open threes created by SGA and Giddey. He could come off the bench and provide a scoring punch, and if he’s shooting well, I could see him on the floor to finish games in Oklahoma City.
The Jazz weren’t quite good enough to be a playoff team, but they have a solid group of players. Howard could give them a scoring boost and learn how to facilitate more in the second unit. They could also stand to get better from deep, as they made less of their threes than the Thunder did last season (35.3%).
Lauri Markkanen went from a role player to an All Star this season, winning the Most Improved Player award. I’m not saying Howard is as good as him, but if a player like that can make a leap under Will Hardy and his staff’s tutelage, getting drafted by Utah may be good for Howard’s long-term development.
Much like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Sacramento Kings were one of the surprise stories of the NBA this season, ending their 16-season postseason drought and earning the 3-seed in the West.
The Kings could use another reliable role player, and Bufkin could fill that role perfectly. He could come off the bench and be a steady presence on both ends. Pairing him with Davion Mitchell — one of the better on-ball defenders in the league — would give a Kings team with the seventh-worst defensive rating in the NBA (116.0) a boost defensively.
While the Kings do have a solid group of guards in De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk and Mitchell, you can never have too many guards in the NBA, given injuries and the unpredictability of the playoffs. Bufkin gives the Kings a reliable player who can score a few points and hold his own defensively.
This is the most obvious fit in this whole article, as Bufkin feels like the dictionary definition of a Heat Culture guy.
A great athlete who showed incredible improvement in his college career? Check. A guy who commits on the defensive end of the floor, doesn’t do too much offensively and proved he can knock down threes? Check. A consummate professional who’s willing to be a role player and seems to have a great mindset at a young age? Check.
We’ve seen the Heat ask role players to step up in big spots this postseason, with Gabe Vincent and Max Strus playing big minutes in the conference semifinals against the Knicks.
As we’ve seen with other players on the roster like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, the Heat know how to get the most out of their guys. If Bufkin ends up in Miami, I could see him having an NBA career that lasts at least a decade.
Who do you want to see Howard and Bufkin get drafted by? What teams do you think they can thrive on? Let us know in the comments below.