It typically takes two to three years before we see the rise of most lottery picks. For many draft picks, their youth makes it a learning experience when they encounter a new style of play. As we conclude the 2020-2021 season, many of the younger stars from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes are starting to show their true talent. From what we have seen, these classes could be talked about for years to come.
If these two classes were to play an exhibition game, it would feature an All-Star Game feel. Of our 10 players, five starters for each team, four have received All-Star recognition, while the other six are on the cusp of receiving their first nod within the next few years. Nine of the 10 draft picks have experienced the playoffs, while five players have experienced a Conference or NBA Finals.
This matchup between the two squads features a lot of star talent. Let’s get into the specifics of who would win between the All-2017 and All-2018 draft teams.
All-2017 Draft Class: De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, John Collins, Bam Adebayo
All-2018 Draft Class: Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton
De’Aaron Fox vs. Trae Young
The point guard position features speed versus shooting. From the 2017 team, Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox is potentially the fastest player in the league. He is coming off a career season where he scored 25.2 points on 47.7% shooting. When it comes to getting inside the lane and finishing, Fox is one of the best.
Young is coming off a season where he led the Atlanta Hawks to the Conference Finals and their first win on that stage since the team moved to Atlanta in 1968-1969. Young’s last two seasons have been special, averaging 29.6 points and 9.3 assists in his lone All-Star appearance last season and then 25.3 points and 9.4 assists last season. Both guards are not the best outside shooters, but bring a variable of finishing in the lane that will be on display for the next decade.
Donovan Mitchell vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Despite being snubbed for All-NBA, Donovan Mitchell was the leading scorer for a Utah Jazz squad that secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season. Mitchell averaged 26.4 points per game, which was a career-high. Mitchell has averaged over 20.0 points per game in all four seasons with the Jazz and has drawn comparisons to Dwyane Wade.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off his first season as being the No. 1 option. He was an integral part of the Paul George trade that landed him in Oklahoma City. This was a career season where he averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. This also comes with shooting 50.8% from the field, as well as 41.8% from the three-point range.
Jayson Tatum vs. Luka Doncic
When it comes to overall star power from these two drafts, you are looking at the best and second-best overall players in this matchup. Starting with Tatum, he is the No. 2 best player from the two drafts. Tatum has shown flashes of Kevin Durant in his young career. In four seasons, Tatum has played on two Celtics teams that have made the Conference Finals. Tatum is coming off two All-Star appearances, with a career-high last year 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.2 steals.
Doncic has done incredible things and is just 22 years old. Doncic is already the Dallas Mavericks franchise leader in triple-doubles. We had to wait 56 years for Russell Westbrook to average a triple-double in a season since the days of Oscar Robertson. Doncic owns a career average of 25.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. When it is all said and done, Doncic will likely break Westbrook’s all-time triple-doubles record.
John Collins vs. Michael Porter Jr.
The power forward position doesn’t have any All-Stars, but both of these players are coming close to getting their turn. Collins is one of the most underrated players in the league and he showed his worth in the Conference Finals. Collins is coming off a season where he averaged 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. He has shot over 50% in all four seasons with the Hawks.
As for Porter JrHis third season in the league was his first as a healthy player. We finally saw what he can do at 100% and it is special. Porter averaged 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and shot 54.2% from the field. Before he was injured in college and his rookie season, many believed Porter as a No. 1 overall pick. We are finally seeing those skills develop.
Bam Adebayo vs. Deandre Ayton
Fun fact about the two best centers from these two drafts. They are starting centers from teams that have played in the NBA Finals. Bam Adebayo was an All-Star in 2020 for the Heat but missed out this season despite having better numbers. This year, Adebayo averaged 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. He did make the All-Defensive Team for the second consecutive season.
Ayton owns a career average of 16.0 points and 10.6 rebounds in three seasons with the Heat. While his offensive scoring was his lowest this year, that was partly because of the arrival of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder. Ayton had one of his best seasons defensively, becoming more of a rim protector. His 3.1 defensive win shares, doubled his previous two seasons.
All-2017 Draft Class Advantages
It certainly helps when you have three players on your team that average 25.0 points per game. Technically, we could say that team has four 20-point scorers given that last season John Collins averaged over 21.0 points per game. The offensive efficiency between Fox, Mitchell, Tatum, and Collins makes this one of the best overall teams inside the arc.
Defensively, Adebayo is as good as it comes as a two-way player. He will give you a double-double each night with a side of hustle plays that make a difference. Overall, if a “Hustle Award” was given to these 10 players, Adebayo would be the recipient. His energy and intangibles make him a game-changing player.
All-2018 Draft Class Advantages
If this was a close game, you have two players in Young and Doncic who are the most clutch young superstars in the league. Young has a devastating floater that is impossible to guard. Doncic can score inside, outside, and connect at the free-throw line. We have seen him hit countless game-winning shots in his first three seasons in the league.
Gilgeous-Alexander shouldn’t be the No. 1 option, but he has to be in OKC. When he played with veterans like Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder, he thrived as a role player. He would thrive in this lineup as the No. 3 scoring option. Ayton’s emergence on the defensive end allows him to match Adebayo, who secured 3.2 defensive win shares last season, which makes him a huge asset on the other side of the floor.
Who Would Win?
Because this is a close matchup, let’s look at star power. Tatum and Doncic could go shot-for-shot with one another. While Doncic may have higher stats, Tatum’s numbers are significantly close to him, which makes this matchup close to a wash in comparison. The same could also be said about John Collins and Michael Porter Jr. Both have a game that closely resembles one another. Porter has the higher ceiling, but Collins has done this on a more consistent basis.
The debate between Adebayo and Ayton is interesting because of how similar they are right now. Ayton has the higher overall field goal percentage (62.5%), but Adebayo shoots the ball two more times each game. While that is just two more shots, those add up, and Adebayo converts over 57% of the time. Their defensive win shares are 0.1 indifference, making this one career season of the most equal matchups of all time.
While Mitchell is the two-guard, he can go back-for-back with Trae Young. Mitchell’s career-high in points is 46, while Young owns a 50-point game. When you look at their overall field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage, it’s almost virtually the same.
That leaves the final pieces on the roster in Fox and Gilgeous-Alexander. Fox technically owns the better career numbers, but he also has one more year of experience. Fox also has played for a bad Kings team that has never made the playoffs, so some of those numbers are inflated. When you get into advanced stats, the numbers are just as close. Per 100 possessions, Fox averaged 34.4 points to Gilgeous-Alexander’s 33.3, while Fox’s win shares were 3.4 to SGA’s 2.7.
In the end, the nod goes to 2018 for this reason. Young and Doncic are the two more electrifying players on offense in this league. Who in 2017 is going to slow both of those players down and convert their typical offensive numbers? Mitchell is too unpredictable, while Tatum has room to grow in clutch situations. Young and Doncic both connect in crunch time. This game would be close, with maybe 2018 winning 115-111, but in the end, they would be carried in the fourth quarter by their two young superstars.