Dust off your tape measure and make sure your stopwatch batteries are fully charged. It is time to poke, prod and determine the best of the best. It is Christmas in June. It is the NBA Draft. The one night a year where sports fans ultimately get to hype, well, hype.
Multi-billion dollar franchises will hitch their wagons of hope to the potential of teenagers and 20-somethings, most of whom have not come close to reaching their potential, and some never will. The risk has been determined, thanks to analytics, to be worth it. Invest now, hope for the ultimate payoff later.
It is a growing trend across sports, where potential is more enticing to fans and front offices than production in the present moment. Because, in a vacuum, hope never lets you down. Why fret about today when you can dream about tomorrow?
While the NBA has cornered the market on the hype of the draft, golf has also seen a youth movement where young stars are competing (and some winning) with the best, sparking wildish conversations about the next Big 3 (is it Spieth, JT and Rory now?) and who will rise to be the best.
So, without further ado, I present my fourth-annual mashup of NBA Draft Lottery picks with young golf superstars. For comparison, you can read 2015, 2016 or 2017.
Some quick background:
- Only golfers under the age of 30 are considered
- The ranking of golfers does not reflect current performance, but rather an expression of potential and appropriate comparison to their hypothetical NBA doppelganger
- Not limited just to the PGA Tour, but any golfer worldwide
Pick No. 1 Deandre Ayton is Brooks Koepka – There was never a question of his God-given traits, but rather a question of the ability to use those traits to rise to the occasion. Ayton did that the second half of the year at Arizona and secured his spot as the top pick because he has the complete package to dominate. Koepka put on a second-shot and putting clinic in winning back-to-back U.S. Opens. In addition, he vocalized his swagger and a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that showed real passion to be the best golfer in the world. If Ayton continues to hunger to be the best, and Koepka really wants to dominate the golf world, this is a top pick that could be legendary.
Koepka’s Previous Draft Spots – 5th, 3rd, 12th
Pick No. 2 Marvin Bagley III is Justin Thomas– Even when both do exactly what is expected of them – dominate – they can’t hold down the top spot. Bagley overwhelmed defenses at Duke, but plays a position that is becoming a dinosaur in the NBA. Thomas won a major, a FedEx Cup and rose to No. 1 in the world, but still doesn’t seem to get the same superstar treatment as others. He isn’t DJ long, he isn’t anointed like Spieth, or as marketable as Rickie. But, guess what? He could end up better than all of them.
Thomas’ Previous Draft Spots – 10th, 12th, 1st
Pick No. 3 Luka Doncic is Joaquin Niemann– Casual fans will scratch their heads and say, "Another hyped import with no credentials in the States," but these two have been crushing it, against MEN, to earn this spot. Doncic ran the point for Real Madrid in, arguably, the best basketball league in the world not named NBA. Niemann won a ton as an amateur and has risen 1,300 spots in two months since turning pro! Oh, and they are both only 19.
Niemann’s Previous Draft Spots – NR, NR, NR (Draft Board Riser!!)
Pick No. 4 Jaren Jackson Jr. is Jon Rahm– The complete package for today’s game. Jackson is a physical specimen that can shoot and distribute at a staggering skill level for somebody his size. Rahm has a combination of blistering power and creativity that has fueled his meteoric rise. The only way to doubt either is to unfairly invent warts. Jackson moaned about not wanting to play for certain teams and Rahm moaned at, well, almost every shot he hit at times. We forget how young (Jackson is 18; Rahm 23) each player is. Gigantic ceiling here.
Rahm’s Previous Draft Spots – NR, 14th, 11th
Pick No. 5 Trae Young is Rickie Fowler – So much discussion. So much screen time. So much marketing. Young took over college basketball last year and was the next Steph Curry, until he wasn’t. Oklahoma limped into the NCAA Tournament and the question marks swirled. But, he’s a player you WANT to succeed. Same with Rickie. He’s gone from overhyped Puma Pirate to being the steady voice of golf’s young generation. (This is his last year eligible for this exercise.) He’s widely consistent, but needs another big win, or three. Both sports would be markedly better if they win big.
Fowler’s Previous Draft Spots – 2nd, 6th, 2nd
Pick No. 6 Mohamad Bamba is Tony Finau– You just can’t take your eyes off the measurables here. Mo Bamba has a 7’ 10” wingspan. Tony Finau is the longest golfer on the planet when he wants to be and only takes the club back three-quarters of the way. You can barely see the ceiling for both because it’s so high. Bamba, however, was absent at times on the court at Texas. Finau, despite great consistency lately, still isn’t a breakout winner. But you have to draft them high on potential.
Finau’s Previous Draft Spots – 4th, 4th, NR (Looks like I messed up last year. Or did I?)
Pick No. 7 Wendell Carter Jr. is Bryson DeChambeau– No matter what your eyes tell you, staying away from both became increasingly difficult to do. Carter was overshadowed at Duke by Bagley and has even more of an expiring skill set. But, you can’t teach mature, grown-man size with great hands. DeChambeau is so unorthodox and deliberate that the novelty is overshadowing the results, which have been tremendous in the past 12 months. Both are hard to ignore, even though you may want to.
DeChambeau’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, 9th, 20th (a creative ranking last year)
Pick No. 8 Collin Sexton is Aaron Wise – How can a hyped prep star exceed expectations in college and then become underrated when turning professional? That’s what both of these guys have done. Sexton had his pick of schools, chose Alabama and was a walking highlight and go-to option. Wise was highly sought after out of California, went to Oregon, won everything he could on the big stage and then just won as a PGA Tour rookie. These guys could be the steal of the draft.
Wise’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 9 Kevin Knox is Rory McIlroy – The talent is undeniable and the future is still very much in front of them, but there are just so many other names that generate more excitement right now. That’s probably a statement that is more fair for Knox, but think about this for Rory: He has won once in 20 months. He looks the part of a champion right now, but isn’t the dominant force we expect him to be. Slipping to this spot shouldn’t surprise, and could backfire when the next Rory heater erupts.
McIlroy’s Previous Draft Spots: 3rd, 1st, 3rd
Pick No. 10 Mikal Bridges is Patrick Reed– Neither player was ever considered the best in his class, at any level. Both have worked incredibly hard to get better, add weapons and become a more consistent performer of their respective craft. And now? Both are drafted after becoming proven winners on the biggest stage, capturing the ultimate championship in their sport within a week of each other – Bridges getting the national championship at Villanova and Reed his Masters win in April.
Reed’s Previous Draft Spots: 6th, 11th, 9th
Pick No. 11 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is Hideki Matsuyama – Cue up the Simple Minds’ classic as both of these guys are probably the most forgotten players in the Lottery. Is it warranted? Gilgeous-Alexander was heralded coming to Kentucky and was just unspectacular enough to see other point guards surpass him in the draft. Matsuyama was a couple of putts away from winning that elusive major championship, got hurt to begin the year and has been a shell of the player who was No. 2 in the world at this time last year. Really high floor for both, but the ceiling is anybody’s guess right now.
Matsuyama’s Previous Draft Spots: 7th, NR, 4th (no idea what I was doing in 2016)
Pick No. 12 Miles Bridges is Xander Schauffele – The stock price for both has been as volatile as Tesla recently. Hold this draft last October and both are probably top 5 picks. Instead, Bridges brought a lot of doubts about what game he will be able to bring to the NBA. Xander has as many top 10’s this year as missed cuts in trying to validate his meteoric rise last year. Still plenty to take a flier on here.
Schauffele’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 13 is Jerome Robinson is Tommy Fleetwood – Did you know that no Boston College player had ever been drafted in the lottery? Did you even know Jerome Robinson played for Boston College?!? Yet, Jay Bilas said he was the ‘best all-around offensive player in the draft.’ Did you know Tommy Fleetwood is only 27, yet alone eligible for this exercise? Did you know he’s top 10 in the world right now? He’s a powerhouse for his size and feels poised to win a major… this year.
Fleetwood’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, 13th(Same as Donovan Mitchell. That worked out well)
Pick No. 14 Michael Porter Jr. is Jordan Spieth– What a drop! A year ago, Porter was graduating from high school and talked about as the possible number-one overall pick this year. He hurt his back and barely had a cup of coffee at Missouri. Will he ever regain the potential and rise to the lofty expectations placed on him? Spieth isn’t hurt (except for that offseason Mono), but something is up, especially with that putting, and while panicking makes no sense, we have to buy low this year.
Spieth’s Previous Draft Spots: 1st, 7th, 5th
WE HAVE A TRADE!! With the Lottery behind us, the braintrust here at Team Will Headquarters can’t believe one of their top-ranked players is still on the board. So, we moved up to the 15thpick by trading cash considerations and agronomy support to the USGA in order to select Patrick Cantlay because we believe in him and couldn’t make a comparison work.
Others who fell out of the lottery: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrell Hatton, Haotong Li, Daniel Berger, Thomas Pieters and Peter Uihlein