Let’s start with the obvious — this whole story is a fool’s errand. It really takes about three years to accurately assess who are the winners and losers in the NBA draft. Guys we thought were locks will turn out to be pretty pedestrian, guys we wrote off as projects down the board will impress. In three years, we’ll have a real sense of which teams read this draft well and nailed it.
But we don’t live in that world.
So here are my projections on the real winners and losers Thursday night in Brooklyn, starting with the guys who didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick.
Winner: Phoenix Suns.
It isn’t just that they didn’t screw up the top pick and landed in DeAndre Ayton, the guy most likely to be a franchise cornerstone star in this class. Although they did that. It was their move later to trade their pick at No. 16 (Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith) for Mikal Bridges — most likely the best “3&D” prospect in this draft. After this they have a starting lineup of Devin Booker, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton (plus a point guard). That’s a group worth watching — and they hired Igor Kokoskov as their new coach this summer because he’s strong on player development. It’s the start of something.
Phoenix also drafted French point guard Elie Okobo at 31 in the second round when a lot of teams thought of him as a first-round talent. Another smart move.
Loser: Michael Porter Jr.
A couple weeks ago, Porter was mentioned as a potential No. 2 selection to the Kings. But after teams got a look at his medical reports — he missed all but three games at Missouri following back surgery — they backed off. Rumors about his attitude didn’t help. Porter slid all the way down to Denver at 14. What that means to him: The No. 2 pick is slotted for a $7.3 million salary next season, the No. 14 makes less than $3 million. We’ll see if Porter can use this as motivation — and stay healthy.
One winner in this: The Denver Nuggets for grabbing him at 14. That is a good team with strong players where Porter can be brought along without unreasonable expectations.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks.
Mark Cuban and company traded up from No. 5 to No. 3 and landed Luka Doncic — they player they had highest rated on the board. This is a win for Doncic because he lands with a brilliant Xs and Os coach in Rick Carlisle who will put him in positions to succeed, plus Doncic gets mentored by Dirk Nowitzki. This pick also is a strong move because he should pair well with young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. — Doncic can run the pick-and-roll at times with Smith cutting and moving off the ball, and in the reverse Doncic has a good catch-and-shoot game. Dallas has options for playmaking now.
Also, nice second-round pickup of Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson. That’s a high IQ player who can step in as a reserve and help immediately.
Loser: Robert Williams.
The Texas A&M big man has the talent of a late lottery pick — the Clippers met with him a couple of times — but concerns about his attitude and work ethic saw him plummet all the way down the board to 27. Will he use this as motivation to play with a high motor all the time, or will he continue to coast? This brings us to…
Winner: Boston Celtics (because they got Robert Williams).
This was a steal for Danny Ainge this late in the first round. At No. 27 you’re usually just hoping to get a guy who can develop into a role player in a few years. Williams is much more than that, he has the tools to be an elite NBA defender, and in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. In the NBA he’s going to be a rim running big, ala DeAndre Jordan — except Jordan fulfilled his potential. It’s up to Boston to get that out of Williams (and it’s up to Williams himself to work), but if they do this was another brilliant Ainge pick.
Loser: Golden State Warriors. They tried to buy into the second round as they did a year ago and pick up someone who fits their style — and this year they had $5.1 million to do it (more than the $3.5 million a year ago). However, other GMs remember how much heat the Bulls front office took for selling their pick to Golden State last year and them drafting Jordan Bell — Mr. “cash considerations” was playing a role in the NBA Finals — and nobody wanted to be in that position again. No second pick for the Warriors this year.
However, their first-round pick of Jacob Evans was a good one, he’s the kind of versatile player who fits into their rotation.
The German soccer shoemaker shoe and apparel company wanted to get back into the basketball game, and the did it with a splash — their guys Ayton and Bagley went No. 1 and 2. That’s going to be a lot of free publicity and a lot of eyes on their players starting in Summer League and beyond. The company also landed guys with real potential in Michael Porter Jr. and Zhaire Smith.
Oh, and they hired Jay-Z as well. That’s a good week whatever else happens.
Winner: NBA Twitter
There were not going to be Woj bombs this year — ESPN was trying to clamp down on their news breakers Tweeting out the picks before they happened (as had been the case for a few years, with Twitter often two or three picks ahead of Adam Silver and the broadcast. Other major news breakers (such as Yahoo’s Shams Charania) were going to play along.
But if there is one thing NBA Twitter has taught us it’s that it will not be contained. It breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.
Before long Twitter was a pick ahead of the broadcast again, and Adrian Wojnarowski was doing it in style, not saying who the pick was but….
NBA Twitter is the best.