t’s nearly impossible to declare outright winners and losers hours after the draft has concluded (let alone years until players have fully developed), but there are stories and themes within the draft that qualify as positives and negatives.
What the Atlanta Hawks were able to pull off, with three quality first-round picks, constitutes a win. Even the Los Angeles Clippers, who had the pressure of back-to-back lottery picks to toy with, made out well with two valuable assets.
There were plenty of wins Thursday night and even more that will become apparent throughout next season.
As for the losers, there’s no such thing as getting drafted into the NBA and it being a negative. There were difficult moments — particularly for Michael Porter Jr — but perhaps it works out well in the end.
The Hawks have long been linked to Oklahoma’s Trae Young, but it was always a question of whether they felt comfortable passing on Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic or any of the premier big men in order to take him. In trading with Dallas for No. 5 and acquiring another first-round pick, the Hawks got the best of both worlds. They landed their target – the closest thing to Steph Curry in this year’s draft – and got a future asset.
On top of Young, whose offensive potential overshadowed his defensive shortcomings, the Hawks also took Kevin Huerter out of Maryland. Huerter saw his stock rise significantly throughout the draft process, and his game – catch-and-shoot, quick-trigger 3s – should mesh perfectly with Young’s. Pick No. 30, Omari Spellman out of Villanova, is a stretch-4 that knocked down 43 percent of his 3-pointers last season. The Hawks added some valuable pieces.
New York Knicks
The Knicks resisted the temptation to snag Porter Jr. at No. 9 and took Kevin Knox — a versatile wing out of Kentucky who’s still developing. Initially seen as a late-lottery talent, the Knicks stuck to their guns with Knox rather than take someone like Mikal Bridges, a system player without as much upside. Knox can run the floor, lead transition breaks, take the ball off the bounce and hit from outside. There’s always pressure to find an immediate contributor, but Knox’s trajectory fits with the Knicks’ timeline. He should also complement Kristaps Porzingis well as the two can both draw defenders out to the perimeter.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs haven’t had a pick higher than 20 since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997. They owned No. 18 heading into Thursday night, and of course, they found value in Miami’s Lonnie Walker. This is a franchise that has found gold late in the first round, most recently Dejounte Murray (29th in 2016). Walker has great size, above-average athleticism, good scoring instincts and with everything swirling around San Antonio in regards to Kawhi Leonard, it’s no surprise the Spurs were in search of a wing. Walker was viewed as a potential lottery pick by some.
Michael Porter Jr.
If Porter Jr. is a “loser” for slipping to No. 14, then we can simultaneously consider the Denver Nuggets winners. Evidently Porter’s medical history scared off enough teams to where he had to sit and watch each lottery pick go by without hearing his name called. The Nuggets are in a smaller market, have loads of young, intriguing talent, have a locker room with veterans like Paul Millsap and nearly made the postseason this year.
If Porter Jr. has to sit out, there will be no immediate pressure to play, and from his perspective, there will be no pressure to be the face of a franchise given that there’s already an established culture. While Thursday may have been tough for him, it could wind up a better situation than if he were to enter a franchise in complete rebuilding mode.
Bridges can thrive in Phoenix, play well off the ball and fit neatly alongside Josh Jackson. The Suns’ foundation is nothing to laugh at. But for a small portion of the draft, we got to entertain the thought of Bridges, a Villanova product and Pennsylvania native, playing in front of 76ers fans. Bridges’ mom is the VP of human resources for the 76ers, and she was beaming in the post-pick interview broadcast before he was traded to Phoenix. Brutal.
Mikal Bridges just did an entire press conference talking about staying in Philly. He was traded as it ended. He had no idea.
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) June 22, 2018
Mikal Bridges mom talking about she's excited that her son is going to play for the Sixers where she works…..he gets traded to Phoenix about 10 minutes later…Cold world pic.twitter.com/3puYQQcfFq
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 22, 2018
Similar to the Porter Jr. example, draft night is all about fit. If the Boston Celtics can tap into any of Williams’ potential as a rim-running, athletic big man, they may have found a gem to pair with their shifty point guards at No. 27. Williams fell due to questions about his work ethic and consistency, but if the Celtics can get to him and unlock his potential, it’s the rest of the league that will look like losers for letting the lottery-level talent slip.