The one thing we should always give NBA decision-makers in the aftermath of the Draft is time. Everyone has their favorite prospect or the guy they think has no business being in the league, but across sports, drafting is about playing the odds. You measure the likelihood that a player can translate his skill to the pros, the likelihood that your franchise can make him better, and the likelihood that he will stay out of trouble and make good decisions as a professional away from the team facility.
When giving grades out — an annual tradition that, of course, is part of the whole fun of this stuff — it’s important to keep all that in mind. While I may think that Obi Toppin was not the best player available at No. 8 to the Knicks, Toppin just spent the whole college season looking like a pretty incredible scorer and athlete. Challenging New York’s decision-making is one thing, but using our own views of Toppin as a player is where we can get into trouble.
That said, looking solely at value and probabilities can still be a clarifying way to determine who did the best at the 2020 NBA Draft. Keeping all that in mind, here are our winners and losers from last night.
Golden State Warriors
Say what you will about James Wiseman, but the perception of him swung way too far in the negative over the course of the year. Fans didn’t get to see him play for about a calendar year and he faced questions about his decision-making on the floor, all as traditional big men continued to look over-matched in the NBA playoffs. Yet underneath all that still remains a player who has a decent chance to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and who, in Golden State, will be able to fill a very specific role that should help him acclimate to the NBA. Toss in landing Nico Mannion, who was seen by most as a fringe first-round prospect, at No. 48, and the Warriors should feel good about what they did.
Daryl Morey wasted no time remaking the Sixers’ roster, and the results are promising so far. We’ll include the trade to get off Al Horford’s salary and nab Danny Green as part of this deal, even if it cost them a first-round pick. Then at No. 21, they snagged a guy in Tyrese Maxey who had no business falling so far. They then scooped up two Morey specials, high-upside players whom analytics love, in Arkansas sharpshooter Isaiah Joe and DePaul big man Paul Reed. Last, Philly flipped Josh Richardson and a second-round pick for Seth Curry, who can be the J.J. Redick replacement they’ve needed. Altogether, Philly was able to add shooting and shot creation in just about every move, plus Paul as a flier. The roster looks a whole lot better and more suited to compete for a championship now than it did last week.
It’s rare that both teams win a trade, but the Curry-Richardson swap with Philly should work out well on both sides. Dallas was also able to land athletic forward Tyler Bey with the No. 36 pick from that trade, and Bey is a guy who’d been mocked to them as high as No. 18. With that 18th pick, the Mavs went for a different athletic wing in Josh Green, who I believe may never come around on offense but fills a need as a perimeter defender to play alongside Luka Doncic. To replace Curry, the Mavs took Tyrell Terry with the first pick of the second round. Terry could play for them right away and space the floor. All around a strong night focused on needs on the perimeter for Dallas.
It’s as if the Memphis front office is just an AI programmed only with articles written by Draft nerds. That’s not to say those decisions are always right, but certainly it’s worked out so far, with the likes of Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton overperforming dramatically last season. Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman, two selections this season, appear to be strong candidates to do the same this season. The Grizzlies even came away with toolsy and brilliant Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie on a two-way deal after Tillie fell due to medical problems over the past two years. A near-playoff team in 2020, Memphis added to their depth and upside long-term.
Nothing truly special for the Kings last night, but as they prepare to potentially lose Bogdan Bogdanovic and look to mend their relationship with Buddy Hield, the organization did a solid job of restocking the cupboard. They lucked out when Tyrese Haliburton fell to them at No. 12, then again when Mississippi State forward Robert Woodard did the same at No. 40, then one more time at No. 43 with Jahmi’us Ramsey. Haliburton can really play, and there’s a decent chance at least one of their second round selections become rotation players, which is more than some teams can say.
New lead executive Troy Weaver approached this Draft exactly as the leader of a team without much talent should, digging for more picks whenever possible and targeting players with the capacity to improve over time while the Pistons rebuild. Again, it’s fine to quibble with the specific selections, and Isaiah Stewart at No. 16 feels like a reach right now, but all three of the players Detroit picked in the first round (including Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey) look like they could be in the NBA for a long time, while the flier they took at No. 38 with athletic Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee is promising as well. The Pistons still don’t have an obvious star but the roster is now far deeper with young talent.
Los Angeles Clippers
What’s going on here? While certainly Luke Kennard feels like a more trustworthy piece of a playoff rotation than Lou Williams or Reggie Jackson at this point due to Kennard’s decent size and strong shooting and passing ability, the Clippers gave up Landry Shamet to get him. That’s the same Shamet who, about 18 months ago, was the centerpiece of the Tobias Harris trade with Philly. After that, the Clips took two players in Minnesota big man Daniel Oturu and JuCo wing Jay Scrubb, who are different players but have in common the fact that it’s really hard seeing either contribute immediately. A weird night for a team that needs to nail the moves on the margins this year in order to be better-suited for a championship in 2021.
The house of cards fell on Danny Ainge once again. In true Celtics fashion, the week began with dreams of Jrue Holiday or Myles Turner (which could still happen) and so far has culminated in Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and draft-and-stash guard Yam Madar. A cautionary tale for the Thunder and Pelicans that having all the picks in the world only works if you either nail the selections or make a good trade with the picks before you make them. Nesmith’s shooting can help if he’s healthy, and Pritchard had a good collegiate career, but this was generally a weird Draft for Boston.
New York Knicks
Not to pile on about the Toppin pick, but that’s a pick you make if you think you have your superstar already, which is sort of how the Knicks continually operate. Their other pick was to reach big time on Immanuel Quickley, the Kentucky tweener guard who can shoot but needs to work on most other aspects of his game to get to an NBA level. This Draft won’t make or break the Knicks, but they could have done a lot better to increase their ceiling long-term. It was evident they decided they wanted to come away with their guys, but at least in the case of Quickley, it stands to reason they could have traded down and gotten more assets before selecting him.
Despite only making one pick in the Draft, the Suns emerge as a loser because of value. Last year, they were able to trade to secure Dario Saric while moving back five spots to get their guy in Cameron Johnson. This time around, it seems they missed the step of trading back and instead just took their guy anyway in Jalen Smith. With clear fits for the Suns’ fun roster like Devin Vassell and Tyrese Haliburton available, Phoenix went with a guy who, while fun to watch and likely to get better, doesn’t have a clear role positionally or with how the Suns seem to want to play.