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NBA Draft: Winners and Losers

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

Another NBA Draft is officially in the books. While the first pick went as expected, there was plenty of chaos in Deandre Ayton’s wake.

Let’s take a look at the early winners and losers on draft night:


Dallas Mavericks: Just as I suspected, Mo Bamba to Dallas made almost too much sense. Instead, the Mavs did even better, getting arguably the second-best -- if not the best -- player in the draft in Luka Doncic. They’ll send a future first to Atlanta in order to move up two spots, but it’s clear both teams got the players they wanted. Only time will tell how the careers of Doncic and Trae Young play out, but Young looks like the significantly riskier prospect, so the pressure for him to shine only amplifies after the trade.

Kevin Knox: While Knicks fans made it explicitly clear that Michael Porter was the preferred choice at No. 9, Knox cracking the top-10 represents a fairly significant leap for a player initially projected in the 12-to-16 range. One of the youngest players in the draft, Knox is a full three years older than the player who went after him (Mikal Bridges), and he’ll likely have an opportunity to play a significant role right away for what should be one of the league’s worst teams next season. Knox may not have been quite the prospect Porter was out of high school, but he offers relatively similar upside, and from a fantasy perspective, he could be a decent source of scoring in deeper leagues in Year 1 -- especially if the Knicks don’t bring Michael Beasley back.

Zhaire Smith: Smith was initially headed to Phoenix -- a fine landing spot -- but shortly after the pick it was announced that he’d been traded to the Sixers. Sure, Smith probably could have found decent minutes as a rookie with the Suns, but Philly is a much better basketball situation, and he’ll have an opportunity to develop with better talent around him.

Jevon Carter: Carter and the Grizzlies are a match made in heaven. This may be the best player/team match in the history of the draft.

Lonnie Walker: I initially placed Walker in the “Losers” column in the midst of his slide out of the lottery due to medical concerns. But the Spurs have a way of inspiring unlimited optimism in just about any prospect, and if Walker’s ultimately health checks out, he’ll be the most intriguing rookie to come through San Antonio since Kawhi Leonard.

Jerome Robinson: Imagine being told a month ago that Robinson would go ahead of Michael Porter -- even a week ago that would have been ludicrous. Robinson has been on NBA radars for some time, but his late rise, at least in the public eye, is relatively unprecedented. Most assumed Robinson would return to Boston College next season, but he impressed in workouts and made his way into the lottery No. 13. Had the Clippers not taken him there, he wouldn’t have been on the board for much longer. The Wizards had Robinson in for a last-minute workout less than 30 hours before the draft.

Euphemisms: Maybe the biggest takeaway from the night is that no one tells Woj what to do. At the request of ESPN, Woj technically didn’t tip any picks outright. However, that did not stop him from finding verbally creative ways of letting everyone know he still owns the draft. Woj broke out the thesaurus and fired off a tweet ahead of virtually every first-round pick. As the night went on, the wording became increasingly bizarre.

A few of my personal favorites:

So yeah. A laser. It was basically the scene in The Office when Michael announces his “retirement from comedy” but can’t resist busting out one final “THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID”.


Michael Porter, Jr.: Less than a week ago, Porter was reportedly in play as high as No. 2 overall. He nearly careened all the way out of the lottery amid medical concerns before the Nuggets stepped in at No. 14. No one seems to know exactly what’s going on with Porter’s back, which kept him out of nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri. Porter may not atone for Denver trading the Donovan Mitchell pick a year ago, but if the concerns are overblown, the Nuggets may have ended up with the best value pick of the entire draft. Denver, itself, probably belongs in the “Winners” column: At this point in the draft, gambling on Porter’s upside was absolutely worth the risk.

Sacramento Kings: Some credit is due to the Kings for zeroing in on a guy they really like, but considering how many teams valued Luka Doncic, you have to imagine they could have explored moving down and still getting Bagley. In retrospect, it’s clear the Hawks and Mavericks had their sights set on Young and Doncic, respectively. Ideally, Sacramento could have worked some sort of swap with the Mavs, though there is the risk that Memphis would have taken Bagley over Jaren Jackson at No. 4. Either way, the Kings better hope Bagley pans out, or they’ll risk the same fate as the Hawks if Young busts and Doncic is as good as many believe he’ll be.

Mikal Bridges: Minutes after the pick was made, I pre-wrote about 300 words on how much of a perfect fit Bridges was with the Sixers. A Villanova product and arguably the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft, Bridges would have been poised to slide right into big-time minutes at the two, assuming the Sixers move on from both J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli this summer. Instead, Philly dealt Bridges to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first-rounder (via Miami). Smith’s ceiling as a defender is sky-high, but it was a bit of a puzzling move for a team poised to compete next season, even if it’s unable to pull of the dream free agency haul. That said, Smith’s ceiling is higher than that of Bridges, who’s three full years older than the player who went one spot ahead of him (Kevin Knox). All in all, Bridges heading to Phoenix isn’t a total disaster, but it’s hard to argue that the Suns are a better basketball fit.

Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets have an obvious need at point guard with Kemba Walker’s contract set to expire next summer and were in position to grab Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Instead, they dealt the Kentucky product to the Clippers and picked up Miles Bridges, along with a pair of second-rounders. While that’s a decent return for a one-pick swap, the Hornets passed on an intriguing prospect in Gilgeous-Alexander and added a relatively low-upside player as the next piece in what could be a lengthy rebuild.

Robert Williams: Williams ultimately landed in a great spot with the Celtics, but he had to be disappointed to fall all the way to No. 27. Clearly, teams had some concerns about his overall skillset, but his tumble could also be an indication of where the league is headed. Big men accounted for five of the first seven picks, but the next 19 picks were guards or wings before Boston took Williams.
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