Let’s be upfront about this: We don’t know who the winners and losers in the 2021 NBA Draft are, and we won’t have a full picture for about three or four years.
Picks that leave us shaking our heads now could look brilliant in a few years. Case in point, the Spurs taking Joshua Primo at No. 12 — I’m not so sure about that pick, it’s higher than most mocks/experts had him going, but he’s the youngest guy in the draft and he can shoot the rock. He’s a development project. I may not get it, but how many times over the years have the Spurs drafted a guy, we all said “what?” and then in three years we all said, “that guy can flat-out play, what a find.” So how do I judge the Spurs on that?
With that caveat, here are my winners and losers from the 2021 NBA Draft. Just take this (and everyone’s analysis) with a grain of salt.
Winner: Detroit Pistons
They got the No. 1 pick and they took the consensus No. 1 guy in Cade Cunningham, a 6’8″ lead ball handler who looks like a future franchise cornerstone. If they graded Cunningham out the way most teams did, then this was the right pick. Plus Cunningham wants to be in the Motor City and said all the right things. Pair his playmaking with Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and they have the makings of a nice young core. I also liked grabbing a shooter in Isaiah Livers at 42, he could become a rotation player. No team can ever have enough shooting.
Winner: Orlando Magic
Toronto taking Scottie Barnes at No. 4 was a head-scratcher for a lot of people, myself and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports included. It’s higher than I would want to take a guy without a jumper, but maybe he pans out. He shot up a lot of draft boards in the final weeks.
The winner out of Toronto’s move was Orlando — consensus top-four pick Jalen Suggs fell to them. The Gonzaga product has the tools to become an elite shot creator at the NBA level, he plays an attacking style, and while his game (and jumper) need more consistency, the potential is there. Pair him with Jonathan Isaac, R.J. Hampton, and this team gets interesting. Franz Wagner at No. 8 could pan out to be a good 3&D wing to go with all the other young talent on the roster.
More importantly, good on the Magic for not saying, “we already have Markelle Fultz and just drafted Cole Anthony last year, we don’t need a point guard” and taking the best player on the board. Suggs could/should be better than the guys already on the roster; you take the best player when building a team.
Loser: Fans expecting a lot of big trades during the draft
Ben Simmons is still a 76er and may be so for a while. Bradley Beal wants to stay a Wizard. While there was one big trade on draft day, with the Lakers landing Russell Westbrook, there was not the flurry of meaningful trades we expected. There were some small ones with the Knicks and Thunder moving out of the late teens for future first-rounders, plenty of second-rounders changing hands, but nothing shocking. It ended up being a pretty chalk night at the top of the draft board. Not exactly what fans were hoping for.
Winner: Houston Rockets
The rebuilding Rockets are getting very interesting. They drafted a bucket getter and potential franchise cornerstone in Jalen Green No. 2, but that was the obvious/easy part.
They traded up to 16 to draft Alperen Sengun, the Turkish big man who can score inside and is a strong passer, then used picks No. 23 and 24 to pick up Usman Garuba from Spain for defense, and Josh Christopher out of Arizona State to get buckets. Add all of that to the returning Christian Wood and, I don’t think the Rockets will be good next season, but they will be interesting. As Dan Feldman said on the PBT Podcast, they completely reshaped their roster in this draft. It’s going to be fun to see how it develops.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
I’ll admit, this is one of those “I don’t get it” so I put them in the loser category moves, and maybe in a few years I look the fool for it. Still…. I don’t get it.
With the No. 9 pick, the Kings drafted Davion Mitchell out of Baylor, a defensive first point guard who showed shooting improvement last season (although some teams/scouts were dubious he would sustain that). He did lead Baylor to a national title. That said… the Kings’ backcourt of the future is set with De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Halliburton. Why not take a highly regarded wing such as James Bouknight, who could step in and take over the role of Buddy Hield once he is traded (just not to the Lakers). I don’t get it, not sure what the grand plan is for the Kings, but it’s been a long time since I had an idea what that plan would be.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
This is more about the trade coming in than the draft, but we’re throwing it in. The Suns are a win-now team, and they used the No. 29 pick — where they were not going to draft a player that would help much the next couple of seasons — to get Landry Shamet, a floor-spacing shooter who can attack closeouts. The Suns got better, they added shooting — he hit 38.7% from 3 last season — something no team can ever have enough of. There is the long-term question of money — Shamet has one more year on his rookie deal then is going to get paid a league average salary, give or take, and the Suns are already flirting with the luxury tax — but this is an upgrade. Shamet will fit well in Monty Williams’ offense.
As part of that trade, Javon Carter goes to Brooklyn, and that is a good chance for Carter to use his defensive skills on a team that could use them off the bench. He can make life easier for Kyrie Irving and James Harden and find a regular spot in the rotation.