What a wild and unexpected NBA Draft, where it seems like every single pick traded hands at least twice.
Here are three winners and three losers from Thursday's 2019 NBA Draft.
Winner: David Griffin and the New Orleans Pelicans
In two months on the job, here is what Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has done with what had been a dumpster fire in New Orleans:
- He won the lottery and got a franchise-redefining player in Zion Williamson.
- He took one season of Anthony Davis and flipped that into Lonzo Ball (a recent No. 2 pick), Brandon Ingram (a recent No. 2 pick), Josh Hart (a versatile rotation player), and a bevy of draft picks.
- Then he made some brilliant picks in the draft, notably Jaxson Hayes, who is potentially a dynamic defensive force at center and a potential Clint Capela-like player annd Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who gives what projects to be a defensive dynamo of a team a great shooting option.
In just a few months, the Pelicans have gone from one of the NBA's biggest trash heaps — a team that felt it was more likely to become the Seattle Pelicans than a championship contender still based in New Orleans — to one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA. The city of New Orleans won on Thursday night.
Loser: Bol Bol
How awful did you feel for Bol Bol, the son of Manute Bol, when he was sitting in the green room for hours, waiting for his name to be called? There are all sorts of guesses as to why teams kept passing over Bol until the Miami Heat selected him at No. 44 before trading him to the Denver Nuggets.
One guess is that he doesn't really "love basketball," as plenty have said. Another guess is that he simply doesn't fit in the modern-day NBA. (I don't buy it; he's a big man who can block shots and hit 3-pointers.) The most likely explanation is that his medicals came back with all sorts of red flags. Or, it could be this: Groupthink can be an overriding force in NBA draft circles because of the fear of being called dumb by pundits and colleagues. So when a narrative takes over, it's difficult to buck.
But look at what the Nuggets have done the past two seasons: Draft Michael Porter Jr., a potential No. 1 pick who fell to No. 14 because of injury concerns, and trade to get Bol Bol at No. 44 — a player considered a top-five pick going into the season. The Nuggets' front office broke from the herd mentality. Both were risky, bold picks. But fortune favors the bold.
Winner: Atlanta Hawks
Never doubt the wisdom of Travis Schlenk. First, he traded up from No. 8 to No. 4 and got his guy, De'Andre Hunter of Virginia, who may be the best perimeter defender in this draft. Then at No. 8 Schlenk picked Duke's Cam Reddish, a player who certainly has question marks but whose upside may be higher than anyone not named Zion. The Hawks got long and athletic on the perimeter, which was clearly a goal in this draft. The Hawks now have one of the most intriguing young cores in the NBA. If these picks hit, the Hawks could be an Eastern Conference power sooner instead of later.
Loser: Phoenix Suns fans
Suns fans woke up Thursday morning thinking the No. 6 overall pick could cure their hole at point guard. Instead, they watched the Suns trade down to No. 11 in a deal with Minnesota that netted them Dario Saric, then selected UNC's Cameron Johnson, a player few expected to be selected in the top 20. It's nothing against Johnson here.
He's 6-foot-9, with high character and an impressive work ethic, and he may be the best shooter in this entire draft. But taking him at No. 11 when he'd likely be around 10 picks later was perplexing, to say the least. What's not as surprising is that the Suns once again seemed to screw the pooch in this draft. But hey — good on Johnson. I hope he succeeds and proves me wrong. It's just that the Suns overdrafted him by a significant amount.
Winner: Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies were the second-biggest winners of the lottery last month, netting the No. 2 overall pick. They used that pick to select Ja Morant, a foundational point guard for the franchise. That's huge. But they also got lucky later in the draft when they traded with Oklahoma City for the 21st pick, and, somehow, Gonzaga's springy, undersized big man Brandon Clarke was still available. Clarke is an athletic freak, incredibly efficient around the rim and one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball. With Morant and Clarke teaming up with Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies are suddenly a fascinating young team.
Loser: Cleveland Cavaliers
One season after drafting a small, ball-dominant, scoring point guard not known for his distributing skills, the Cavaliers drafted … a small, ball-dominant, scoring point guard not known for his distributing skills. Maybe Collin Sexton and Darius Garland can coexist in a backcourt together. Or maybe Sexton gets traded. Either way, this was one of the more perplexing picks of the lottery.
That's nothing against Garland. I think he could be a stud, potentially the best point guard in this draft. But the fit is bizarre. At least the Cavs made up for it late in the first round by selecting dead-eye shooter Dylan Windler at No. 26 and then, at 30, the USC product Kevin Porter Jr., a player with off-court red flags who might be a top-six talent in this draft.