I will admit this up front: declaring a winner in the NBA draft the night of the draft is premature. We can accurately say tonight that Indiana was a winner in the 2010 draft (Paul George at No. 10, Lance Stephenson at No. 40), but we don’t know how this draft will ultimately play out.
But on draft night there were guys that for tonight came off as winners and losers. Here is our list.
1) Anthony Bennett. All day long the buzz was that Bennett was falling like a rock down draft boards, maybe out of the top 10 entirely. The UNLV forward had questions about his conditioning, his defense. Then the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world and took him No. 1 overall.
Bennett is athletic and a beast in the paint, he is one of a group of guys in this draft who could turn out to be special some day. The fit is interesting — Cleveland has Anderson Varejao on the books and Tristan Thompson as four of the future. Where does Bennett fit in? Or do they think he can be a three?
Either way, he will forever be a No. 1 pick (and he will get to cash those No. 1 overall paychecks).
2) Philadelphia 76ers/New Orleans Pelicans. I love their trade for both sides.
Philadelphia might be the biggest winner of the night: They got probably the best player in the draft in Nerlens Noel. They got a young point guard (who may or may not be the point guard of the future) in Michael Carter-Williams. And most importantly they chose a direction — the status quo would have meant being stuck in a rut in the middle of the league. If they bring back Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner and just add pieces what are they, the seven seed? They are going to take a step backwards next year but they are doing it right before a deep draft loaded with talent. Also, Noel means they are moving on from the Andrew Bynum mistake. Good.
New Orleans? They have Jrue Holiday at the one, Eric Gordon at the two, Anthony Davis inside, plus some nice pieces like Ryan Anderson. Holiday and Davis could be the core of a very good team in a few years (Gordon could be, too, if he decides to really buy in).
3) Utah Jazz. They needed a point guard and there was only one in this draft who could step in and give you quality minutes from the start, so the Jazz made a move to get Trey Burke. He’s a good fit for them. The Jazz have some serious issues to deal with this summer (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are free agents), but in a down draft they made smart moves.
1) Charlotte Bobcats. Cody Zeller at No. 4? With Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore still on the board? Zeller’s will have a nice career but there were guys with a lot more potential available. I thought this smelled of a Michael Jordan decision, but have been told by sources (and as is mentioned in the comments on this post) it was a Rich Cho pick. I like Cho, so good luck with this. I don’t get it.
2) Golden State. They bought their way No. 26 with Minnesota’s pick, traded with Oklahoma City to go down to 29, traded down again with Phoenix to 30. Then they picked Nemanja Nedovic, who they will stash in Europe for a couple of years.
3) Indiana Pacers. Strange because this is a really well run organization, but they pick Solomon Hill, and he would have been available later in the second round. Why not trade down to get him and get another asset? Not sold on him helping at all.