by Scott Mandel
The NBA draft is over, and now, the work begins for teams to justify who they chose and how these new players will fit in with new teammates.
As happens every year, it’s easy to choose the winners and losers, based on what “experts” predict, on paper. Of course, experts are often wrong. Do you know who else is often wrong? The teams, themselves, who think every one of those top five picks will become superstars, leading them out of the morass of an NBA losing culture (how else did they get one of the first five picks?) into championship contention.
Before we break down the winners and losers, though, let’s take a look at when current NBA stars were drafted, in the past:
- Steve Nash – 15th pick in first round
- Draymond Green – 35th pick, second round
- Nate “Tiny” Archibald – 19th pick in 1970
- Tony Parker – 28th pick
- Manu Ginobili – 57th pick
- Jimmy Butler – 30th pick
- Kawhi Leonard – 15th pick
And, let’s not forget some of the top 5 picks in recent NBA drafts who turned into busts:
- LaRue Martin – 1st pick in 1972 draft, chosen before Julius Erving and Bob McAdoo, along with guard Paul Westphal. Bob McAdoo, and Paul Westphal
- DaJuan Wagner – 6th pick in 2002, chosen before Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince
- Kent Benson – 1st pick in 1977 draft, chosen ahead of Bernard King, Walter Davis, Jack Sikma
- Michael Olowokandi – 1st pick in 1998 draft, chosed ahead of Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce
The point is, all of the scouting and preparation that goes into choosing the players who will turn bad teams into good ones, often falls flat on its collective faces, getting scouts and general managers fired.
That said, let’s break down the 2019 NBA draft, with the codicil that we are probably going to be proven wrong in many cases:
Winner: The Pelicans’ War Chest and Their Future
On Thursday night, Zion Williamson waltzed into the Barclays Center in a suit as white as his smile and shook Adam Silver’s hand before giving an emotional interview. Obviously, this was a great moment for the Pelicans, but the NBA world had known it was coming since the lottery in May.
Back in New Orleans, David Griffin was still dealing. The Pelicans flipped the fourth overall pick, Solomon Hill’s expiring contract, and the 57th pick to the Hawks for the eighth, 17th, and 35th picks in the draft. Those first two picks turned into rim-running Longhorn Jaxson Hayes and Hokie Nickeil Alexander-Walker. As capologist Albert Nahmad pointed out on Twitter, this expansion of the Davis trade now leaves New Orleans with $30 million in cap space. Here it is, sans the Cavs pick, all laid out:
Anthony Davis has turned into:
– Lonzo Ball
– Brandon Ingram
– Josh Hart
– No. 8 pick in 19
– No. 17 pick in 19
– No. 35 pick in 19
– L.A.’ 21 pick if top 8
– L.A.’ 22 pick if not
– L.A. swap in 23
– L.A.’ 1st in either 24 or 25
And got rid of Solomon Hill’s contract.
The Sixers needed a 3-and-D rotation player and they just snagged the best defensive wing in the draft with the No. 20 pick in Matisse Thybulle. It’s amazing how undervalued defense is on draft night. Thybulle broke the defensive scale last season at Washington averaging 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game as the free safety in Washington’s zone defense. If there’s any center in the NBA who can own the rim enough to let others roam, it’s Joel Embiid.
He can be their Robert Covington. Thybulle has shot 36 percent on over 500 3-pointers in his collegiate career. He shot just 31 percent from downtown last season, but he’s better than what he showed there. At 22 years old, he can step in right away and contribute to an already elite defensive core with Ben Simmons and Embiid.
Sixers fans might get nauseous at the idea of trading up with Boston to pick a Washington product, but this it the back end of the draft, not the front. Also, Thybulle’s presence allowed Philly to dump Jonathon Simmons’ contract on the Washington Wizards and save an extra $1 million for their free agency pursuits.
League Pass All-Stars. Adding De’Andre Hunter (No. 4 pick from New Orleans via Los Angeles via crazy lottery luck) and Cam Reddish (No. 10 via Dallas for Luka Doncic), the Hawks figure to be an exciting young squad that will be fascinating to watch next season.
With Trae Young and John Collins’ defensive limitations, I love that they targeted Hunter with the No. 4 pick. He may not have the box score stats of a defensive stalwart, but Hunter played in a Virginia defense that suppresses blocks and steals. The Hawks weren’t going to let another Malcolm Brogdon slip from their fingers with two of the best offensive young players in the NBA in Young and Collins. Reddish is a question mark, but at No. 10, that’s a worthy spot for his upside.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Knicks faithful. They lost the draft lottery. Their presumed top free agency target, Kevin Durant, tore his Achilles tendon. The Pelicans traded Anthony Davis elsewhere. Just when you thought the Knicks’ offseason couldn’t get any worse … wait, good news on draft night?!
Yes, the Knicks selected RJ Barrett with the No. 3 overall pick, a Knicks pick that was met with loud cheers for the first time … ever? I have my concerns about a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot 3s or at the line efficiently, but it was nice to hear Knicks fans be happy. They got their homegrown talent who seems genuinely thrilled to be a Knick. I sincerely hope he finds his jumper, because the NBA is better when its biggest market has something to root for.
I really don’t know what the Phoenix Suns are doing. First, they traded T.J. Warren and his remaining $35 million over three years into the Pacers’ cap space. Warren, 25 years old, is a big wing scorer who shot 43 percent from downtown last season, providing a really good insurance policy for Indiana free agent Bojan Bogdanovic. And you give him away along with the 32nd pick for cash considerations?
This is a deal you make if you’re a title contender looking to add a premiere free agent. But the Suns are going nowhere and they punted on Warren and got next to nothing. This is a new front office led by veteran GM Jeff Bower, but I’m not a fan of their start. Maybe they have D’Angelo Russell in their sights with their resulting cap space, but even then, I don’t love his fit next to Devin Booker. Deandre Ayton will have to be Bill Russell to clean up the backcourt’s mistakes.
And then they traded down from No. 6 for Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick, but reached for the oldest player in the draft, Cameron Johnson. Look, the UNC product is an elite shooter on the wing, but I worry about his age and hip issues. Bone impingement and a torn labrum is what has devastated Isaiah Thomas’ career, so hopefully he’s put those health issues behind him. Phoenix’s brass must’ve heard that Johnson was promised shortly after No. 11 because most intel had him projected to be a late first-rounder, at best.
For a team that finished with the second-worst record in the NBA, this wasn’t much of a reward for their futility.
I kinda like the goofy hats atop the giant manes of the draftees, but we need to update the hat logos to reflect the teams they’re actually going to play for. Do we really need to put a Lakers hat on DeAndre Hunter after that pick was traded not once, but twice? Let’s bring the draft into 2019.
The Wizards were an awful defensive team last season, ranking 27th in defensive efficiency and traded Otto Porter for two score-first-and-second players in Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. With interim GM Tommy Shephard steering the decisions for the club, I expected the Wizards to target a defensive presence at the No. 9 pick, someone like Brandon Clarke who reminds me a lot of Shawn Marion with his elite finishing ability and versatility on the defensive end. Clarke is only 6-foot-8 with a short wingspan, but he had the instincts and athleticism to block over three shots a game for Gonzaga. (I love him in Memphis next to Jaren Jackson Jr.)
Instead, the Wizards went with Clarke’s teammate at Gonzaga in Rui Hachimura, who fits the mold of a younger Parker. I like Hachimura’s scoring abilities around the rim, but this team needs more impact players on the defensive end and I think they missed out on Clarke. Getting Simmons from Philly makes some sense on the wing, but then again, coach Brett Brown, looking for defensive players on the wing, didn’t trust him much at all in the playoffs. Admiral Schofield is a solid flier in the second round with the 42nd pick they netted from the Sixers, but that’s a steep price with cash considerations going to Philly. Again, where is the defense going to come from for this team? The good news is Bradley Beal is still a Wizard. No desperate moves from Washington.
It really seems like the Celtics have given up on the 2019-20 season already. By trading Aron Baynes to Phoenix and not moving up in the draft with their bevy of picks, the Celtics have essentially reverted back to the team that rallied to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving.
But that team had Al Horford, who is an essential part to everything that they do. They’ll need Horford to compete next season, but right now, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Robert Williams will be their starting frontcourt next season. I’m not high on Romeo Langford (No. 14), but I love the Grant Williams pick at No. 24. (Jaylen Brown and Williams, the son of a NASA engineer, should stream weekly Academic Bowls.)
No one outside New England is feeling sorry for this team. But between Danny Ainge’s health scare and the surprising exodus out of Boston, this has been a sad chapter for the franchise.
Look, they might make a run for Kemba Walker, who went to UConn just 85 miles down the road, but the comments out of the team on Thursday night suggest this will be a rebuild. Just a year ago, the Celtics held one of the brightest futures in the league. Now, they’re a cautionary tale.
No one wants to be the guy that lingers in the green room on draft night, but I’m happy he landed in Denver. For the second year in a row, the Nuggets take a rehab flier on a top prospect. Last year it was Michael Porter Jr., who was the 14th pick dealing with back issues. He had a redshirt season in Denver, which might be the outcome for Bol in 2019-20 while he rehabs from a broken foot.
Bol is more than worth the flier. The son of the late NBA legend Manute, Bol is a 7-foot-2 shooter with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and has some real NBA-caliber skill. I am stunned he fell all the way out of the first round, even with the foot injury. He’s a top-10 talent. Good for the Nuggets to take a chance on Bol.