On Tuesday night, 14 teams held their breath hoping to pull the highest possible draft pick. As with everything, some won and some lost.
The term “lost” is used loosely, by me at least. These 14 franchises are picking from the cream of the crop, and this year’s draft class is loaded with talent. Most of these squads are the NBA’s bottom-feeders, and a group with as deep as this could produce a couple of franchise players.
Heading into the drawing, the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers got talked about as much as anyone. The Celtics, who finished as the East’s first overall seed, had the best chance at pulling the first overall pick thanks to the egregious trade by Billy King that I hate to bring up because it makes my eyes twitch and my blood boil. Philadelphia had the opportunity to pick twice in the top-five. And the Lakers could’ve dropped to four. Those two headlines go hand-in-hand because, if Los Angeles fell beyond third, Philly would have their pick.
After pseudo-tanking to close out the season, the New York Knicks generated some buzz. They lucked out with Kristaps Porzingis two years ago, but the memory of Stephen Curry drafted right before them in 2009 is still fresh in some people’s minds.
Winner: Boston Celtics
There was no way for the Celtics to lose. Brooklyn’s pick was guaranteed to stay in the top-four, meaning Boston was going to get a game-changer no matter what. Now, they’re going to add Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball to a squad that won 53 games in the regular season. Danny Ainge was incredibly stringent when fielding offers for his assets around the trade deadline, and this pick was a hot commodity. He could’ve swindled the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers for Jimmy Butler or Paul George but elected to forego that and look long-term.
Boston is kicking off the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night, and either forward I mentioned would be a tremendous help in downing LeBron James and the Cavs. I don’t believe that any player they draft is going to have that impact right away. And, even if they do, it’s James’ conference until proven otherwise.
Of course, now that Ainge has the first overall pick locked down, the ball remains in his court. Before the lottery, this pick had no guarantees. Now, it’s a whole different ball game, and the Celtics can field packages they couldn’t a couple of months ago. Boston has some glaring holes in the rebounding department, and their defense isn’t as elite as it was last season. Furthermore, they’re still just one piece away. I love Isaiah Thomas‘ game, but winning a championship is remarkably hard when your star player can only play one side of the ball.
The Celtics brought in Al Horford, who’s been tremendous, but he’s not the 1B that can complement Thomas.
Historically, successful teams who have had high draft picks have done well, and guys like Magic Johnson, Kevin McHale and James Worthy were top-five selections by a team who won at least 45 games the year before. (Shoutout to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor for compiling the list.)
Loser: Phoenix Suns
With the league’s second-worst record, the Suns are picking fourth. Is it the biggest letdown of the past calendar year for that franchise? No. Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and De’Aaron Fox are a couple of guys who should be around by the time they pick, but it does suck when you lose 58 games and pick after two teams that were better than you.
Phoenix needs to start their rebuild sooner than later. The core, whose foundation is Devin Booker, is shaping up nicely. Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss improved steadily over the course of the year, and we still have to see what Dragan Bender can do when healthy. Derrick Jones Jr. raised a lot of eyebrows with his play down the stretch, while Alan Williams was a double-double machine over the last month.
The Suns’ biggest questions revolve around Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Alex Len. Holding onto that trio prolongs the turnaround, and Earl Watson couldn’t wait for the tail end of the season to rest the veterans and give way to the young guys. Phoenix is still trying to build a brand while cultivating their talent, and, while it would’ve been nice to be in the top-three, grabbing someone at four brings on a potential star who can grow with their core and not have to worry about being the go-to guy.
Booker, who represented the team Tuesday, is the face of the franchise, and there aren’t many better young players. His 70-point game is the highlight of his sophomore year, and the improvement Booker made with a much-increased workload showed us that he has no issue carrying a team.
Winner: Process Trusters
Joel Embiid needs as much TV time as possible — for the culture. His energy is contagious, and he’s such a jolly guy that it’s hard not to laugh when he’s going back-and-forth with someone. He told Magic Johnson that he wanted to take their pick, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a “Trust the Process” tattoo.
Philadelphia raised a banner for Sam Hinkie before the festivities, and his ghost was looking down on them. After swapping with the Sacramento Kings, the Sixers are picking third, and there are going to be plenty of options for them to choose. The frontcourt looks great with Dario Saric and Ben Simmons alongside Embiid. Brett Brown is going to have Simmons run the point at times, but that doesn’t solve their guard dilemma.
T.J. McConnell is solid at running the point but isn’t the threat that some of his contemporaries are. The same is true with Sergio Rodriguez. Being third puts Philly in an excellent position to pluck that explosive guard that they need so desperately. If not, they can look at someone like Jackson or Tatum to fill the void on the wing while Simmons handles the ball.
Things are finally beginning to come together for the 76ers and, if they do they right, we could see another dramatic improvement come next season.
Loser: Anyone Who Isn’t a Laker
Magic Johnson’s luck is bringing Lonzo Ball to Los Angeles barring a spiteful selection from Ainge and the Celtics. (That would probably be the highlight of the draft. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is still alive!) Fultz and Ball are the most special guys in this draft. Some players have star power. These two have superstar power. We know what Ball brings to the table, and he could fit in very nicely with what Luke Walton and the Lakers are planning to do.
It’s only right that Magic employs a Magic-type player, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson all have much-improved seasons because of Ball. Plus, we’d get to see them play on national TV more because ESPN loves putting LaVar Ball and his family on-air as much as possible.
Although the Lakers would relish having Lonzo, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress noted that they “will take a hard look” at Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. Givony pointed out that a head-to-head workout would be ideal for Los Angeles. The organization’s decision will come down to what they want more. Both guards play considerably different styles and have contrasting skill sets, but both could reach All-Star status.
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