I’ll admit this up front: Picking the winner and losers of a draft the night of a draft is an effort in futility. It takes three years before we get a clear picture of a draft — remember the 2013 draft Anthony Bennett went first, while Giannis Antetokounmpo fell to 15th and Rudy Gobert 27th. Scouts and GMs watch countless hours of film on guys, interview them, work them out, and still miss. The rest of us are just throwing darts.
That said, I’m all about futility. From where I sit, here is who won and who lost in the 2016 NBA Draft.
WINNER: Philadelphia 76ers. This isn’t just for not blowing the top pick and taking consensus No. 1 Ben Simmons — although that does matter, they got a potential cornerstone player if he can develop. The Sixers are winners for making other smart picks late in the first round: Timothe Luwawu, a 6’7” wing out of France; and Furkan Korkmaz, 6’7” shooting guard out of Turkey. This is good value here. Luwawu has NBA athleticism and size, an improving shot, he can handle the ball, and he has defensive potential. Korkmaz can shoot the rock — he hit 42.5 percent of his threes in Euroleague competition. He’s strong on the catch-and-shoot, and he’s just 19, so there is a lot of upside. Bryan Colangelo has been talking about winning sooner rather than later, but when he didn’t see better options he stuck with “the process,” and that will pay off for the Sixers.
LOSER: Boston Celtics. Unlike some, I’m okay with their picks — I’m higher on Jaylen Brown than most, and they have some guys who may develop down the line into good players. That’s not what lands them on the wrong side of the scale, rather it’s their stymied ambition. Danny Ainge went big game hunting around the draft again, and again came home with no trophy. No Jimmy Butler. No Gordon Hayward. No Jabari Parker. Not even Khris Middleton. How available some of those guys are is up for debate, but Ainge knows he needs to land a superstar, and he continues to fall short. Not for lack of effort, but this is a results business.
WINNER: International players. It’s an NBA record: 14 of the 30 first-round picks were International players. (That does include No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who is Australia.) Maybe it’s a sign of a weak domestic draft, maybe it’s a matter of the NBA’s need for spacing making European bigs a better fit, maybe it’s teams looking for guys they can stash for a few years (that is the big answer), but this was a good year to have come to the NBA from overseas. Dragan Bender, Juan Hernangomez and Timothe Luwawu are guys I think could pan out in a couple yars.
LOSERS: Young bigs who decided to test themselves in college. Thon Maker essentially hid from competition. Georgios Papagainnis is a major project who played a smaller role in Europe, as did Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic. Meanwhile, bigs who decided to test themselves against the best in college — Skal Labissiere, Cheick Diallo, Diamond Stone and Deyonta Davis — then struggled with the adjustment paid the price by falling below all those guys listed above in this draft. It’s not that there isn’t a question about Labissiere and Davis’ ability to adjust to the NBA, but they have fewer questions than Maker by a longshot. The lessons future NBA level bigs will take from this is not to test themselves against the best because it can only hurt their draft stock.
WINNER: Denver Nuggets. I loved their draft. They need a shooter and secondary ball handler next to Emmanuel Mudiay, they had Jamal Murray fall in their laps. They got a guy who can knock down the outside shot and could develop into a rotation player in Malik Beasley. On top of that, they added Juan Hernangomez, who has real stretch-four potential in the NBA. All good picks, all fit a need, and all guys that Mike Malone is going to be able to develop.
WINNER: Oklahoma City. I know what some of you are thinking “Why would they do that if they are trying to keep Kevin Durant?” You can be sure that GM Sam Presti didn’t pull the trigger on this deal without talking to Durant about it. But if I were KD, I’d approve this move. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter can make up for what Ibaka gave them offensively last season (he struggled from three). In return, the Thunder got Victor Oladipo, who is a massive upgrade over Dion Waiters; plus they got some depth for that front line with Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. This move made the Thunder better (as long as Durant sticks around).