This year’s draft did not disappoint. There was a lot of hype leading into the night due to the uncertainty and I think it lived up to the expectations. Per usual, some teams killed the draft, while others did not. It’s time for my annual winners and losers article.
New Orleans Pelicans
It’s only been two months, but what a job David Griffin has done with the Pelicans. Of course, getting lucky with the ping pong balls certainly helped, but Griffin made two unbelievable trades in the span of a week to ensure that Zion has a great core around him. The Lakers trade speaks for itself, Lonzo Ball will fit perfectly next to a scoring point in Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram will provide off the dribble scoring and versatility from the wing. Then there’s the picks, Griff and Co. absolutely killed it, basically owning the Lakers draft capital from 2022-25, and it is definitely worth noting that Lebron’s contract ends in 2022. They also had the best 2019 draft, in my opinion. There was no home run pick at four, so they traded down and acquired extra capital. Jaxson Hayes was the perfect pick at eight, he’ll provide the rim running/protector that they needed, and will fit very nicely next to Zion, especially if the shot comes around. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but I love him on this team. This is also great news for the Lonzo hive (which I am proudly apart of) as he now has two elite lob threats. He projects as a swiss-army knife who can do it all. His versatility on both ends fits their current backcourt, and he can play on or off the ball which means you can play him with Jrue or Lonzo. He also provides three point shooting, which New Orleans desperately needed. On defense, he has great length and anticipation and will fit right in with what appears to be an elite defensive group. They could’ve won the draft with just Zion, but they have also come away with two players that will be in their plans for a long time and a plethora of picks.
*Even though the Lakers trade wasn’t on draft night, it included the four pick which they then included in a masterpiece deal for them. So I decided to include it.
The highest riser in the League Pass Power Rankings rightfully belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies. They made the right pick at number two and got their heir to Mike Conley in Ja Morant. That pick alone makes the Grizzlies a team worth tuning into next year, but they turned what seemed like an underwhelming haul from Conley (included the 23rd pick) into Brandon Clarke!!!! I was waiting on a smart front office to pull the trigger on Clarke, and Memphis made an unbelievable move by trading up two spots to snag him. Going into the draft, there were two dream fits for Brandon Clarke, and Memphis was one of them. Getting to play alongside another freak athlete, rim protector and floor spacer in Jaren Jackson Jr. is literally a match made in heaven. Ja Morant’s biggest deficiency was his defensive engagement, and while it’s never okay to get beat backdoor, it certainly helps when you have those two behind you. Memphis will definitely be a team to watch next season and likely set themselves up to be a competitor in the West sooner than later.
With the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford looming, Danny Ainge and Co. needed to kill this draft, and they did exactly that. While some may say they reached for Romeo Langford at 14, he has NBA size and will provide finishing off the bench immediately. If the Celtics are capable of straightening out his shot mechanics, they we’ll look back and wonder how he fell to 14. But, the Celtics were just getting started at the end of the lottery. They moved the 20th pick, before selecting Draft Twitter’s son, Grant Williams. This is a perfect fit for both Williams and the Celtics. Williams provides depth in the front court that is needed due to the Horford, Baynes and possible Morris departure. And for Grant, he’ll be the best version of himself on a winning team, he’ll do the little things for Boston and be someone they can rely on for their playoff rotation. Then, they made two awesome picks at 33 and 51 with Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters. Both are extremely gifted offensive minded guards that had question marks regarding size and defense. But when you have Marcus Smart, it gives you the ability to maximize both of these players on the offensive end while still making them playable next to Smart on defense. Given the roster situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if all four players are in the Celtics rotation next year.
The Suns easily took home the worst draft night performance, and it wasn’t close. They had been linked to trading down for some time now, and they finally pulled the trigger, but got an underwhelming return. They moved out of the six spot, which I don’t understand for many reasons. They seemed to like the idea of Devin Booker as the primary ball handler, and I’m not the biggest Jarrett Culver fan, but he seems like an ideal fit alongside Booker. Instead, they trade out and irresponsibly overdrafted 23-year-old sharpshooter Cam Johnson. Look, I like Johnson, it’s not about that. But I’m not sure how Saric and Johnson equate to the value of Culver, or any other prospect they were considering at number six. I’m not a league source, but the first realistic landing spot for Johnson was probably 18 to the Pacers, and the Suns took him seven spots ahead of that. I can’t kill them for the Ty Jerome pick, because I think it was pretty decent, but I just feel badly for Ty at this point. Also worth noting, they signed undrafted point guard Jalen Lecque, who opted to skip college, to a four year deal with two of them guaranteed. The Suns definitely have a hole at point guard, but I’m not really sure why they think giving Lecque two guaranteed years is a possible fix, considering he wasn’t even the best player on his high school team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are in win now mode. Even after a disappointing playoff exit, they’re not in any shape to change trajectory. They have a ton of money tied up in their two stars, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and with their prime years starting to wind down, the Thunder should’ve been looking to add someone who can help them right away, but they did just the opposite. Darius Bazley is an intriguing prospect, don’t get me wrong, but he is far from a polished product and isn’t much of a threat from three, which continues to be Oklahoma City’s biggest need. I saw Bazley multiple times in three different settings (EYBL, High School and McDonald’s week) and he showed flashes, but it was clear he was multiple years away and needed a lot of refinement. To think someone like that not only maintained, but improved their draft stock by not playing real games for an entire year exposes the flaws of the NBA draft process.
Being on TV is extremely difficult, and having your opinions under a national spotlight is challenging. But, with that being said, Chauncey was all over the place last night. There’s no way he watches the requisite amount of college hoops talk about these prospects in an intelligent way, but I just can’t get over the Rui Hachimura player comp. I am not high on Rui at all and I do think the Wizards reached for him at nine (story for another day) but anyone who’s watched him, even those who like him, know he is nothing like Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard came onto the scene as the guy who did an unbelievable job defending LeBron James in the 2013 Finals, he has since expanded his scoring arsenal to become one of the best players in the world, but his calling card is still his defense. What is Rui’s biggest weakness? You guessed it, defense. Hachimura is very slow laterally which leads to blow byes and his off ball defense is pretty atrocious. I could end up being wrong, Hachimura could have a good career, but I feel very confident saying he will never play anything like Kawhi Leonard.
-Rockets signing Shamorie Ponds as an undrafted free agent.
-Justin Wright-Foreman to Utah at 53.
-Terance Mann to the Clippers at 48.
-Talen Horton-Tucker to the Lakers at 46.
-Chuma Okeke to Orlando at 16.
-Rui Hachimura to Washington at 9.
-KZ Okpala to Miami at 32.
-Luka Samanic to San Antonio at 19.
-Sekou Doumbouya to Detroit at 15.