Winners and Losers from the NBA Draft

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

The NBA Draft featured some surprises this year. Luka Doncic was traded from the Hawks to the Mavericks for Trae Young, the Knicks took Kentucky’s Kevin Knox with the 9th pick, and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. fell to the Nuggets with the 14th pick. But, as always, there were winners and losers from Thursday night. Let’s tell some of their stories.

Winner: Phoenix Suns

The Suns are a pretty obvious choice here. They took DeAndre Ayton, the best player in this draft and an uber-talented 7’1″ big man who can play like a guard, with the first pick in the draft. Without doing anything else, the Suns would have had a good night. Instead, they decided to do more when they traded their 16th pick, Zhaire Smith, to Philadelphia in exchange for Mikal Bridges, the 76ers’ 10th pick.

Granted, while Bridges has several areas of his game to clean up, he is a versatile player who can shoot and defend. He’ll find a role with the Suns while Ayton is tasked with becoming one of the faces of a franchise that has won 68 games in the past three seasons. It remains to be seen what a young core of Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton can accomplish together, but the Suns can use anything they can get at this point.

While their general manager, Ryan McDonough, has an up-and-down draft record (he took Dragan Bender the year after drafting Devin Booker), the Suns should be very happy with what they did on Thursday. Now comes the part that has been much easier said than done in Phoenix: winning.

Loser: Michael Porter, Jr.

Before the 2017-18 college basketball season, Michael Porter, Jr. was widely considered the top prospect in this year’s draft. He had the size and athleticism to play in the NBA, as well as tangible skills that he would get to show off in his one year at Missouri… or so we all thought.

Porter was sidelined for much of the season with a back injury and even though he came back for the team’s conference and NCAA tournament games, he was clearly not at full strength, as he shot just 9-29 in those two games. He was bypassed on draft boards by other healthy college players, like Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young, and others. Despite these concerns, though, there are not many current concerns with Porter’s health.

So why would this combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant still be on the board for the Nuggets with the 14th pick? The answer is simple: teams are worried about his potential back problems, both now and down the road, and don’t want to deal with that. Of course, the things that had people excited about Porter in the first place are still there, but it’s fair to ask questions about how his back will affect his overall health moving forward. After all, there’s a reason why someone who is this talented would fall all the way to the end of the lottery, and it has nothing to do with him putting his own name in the same conversation with two of the league’s ten best players.

Winner: Orlando Magic

This may come as a surprise because you probably haven’t seen “Orlando Magic” and “winner” in the same sentence since 2009.

The Magic didn’t do anything particularly special on Thursday; there were no trades up or down the board and they didn’t reach when they made the 6th pick. However, they did something they haven’t been very good at recently: take the best player available with their selection.

That person happened to be Texas’ Mo Bamba.

As you’ve heard from about 732 different outlets, Bamba has a 7’10” wingspan, which is relevant because it’s longer than those of Rudy Gobert (7’9″) and Anthony Davis (7’5″). Let’s remember that Orlando’s GM is former Bucks general manager John Hammond, who drafted some incredibly long players in Milwaukee without the stipulation that they all fit together. That being said, Bamba may have the highest upside of anyone in this year’s draft, and even though it may not seem like a lot, Orlando should be happy that they took someone like him with their first-round pick.

Loser: Washington Wizards

What, exactly, were the Wizards doing the other night?

Washington is a team that, without a word alive, can be competitive with anyone in the Eastern Conference at any time. They’ve had many a near-miss in the playoffs the past few seasons, and they always seem to be one of those teams that can never quite live up to the talent they have on the roster. It would seem, then, that they would need to take a game-changer with the 15th pick, or at the very least, someone who is ready to contribute to the roster right away. Zhaire Smith, Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker, or Grayson Allen all could have fit this bill.

Instead, Washington took Oregon freshman Troy Brown.

Granted, Brown could be a very good player down the line. But the Wizards are trying to build for right now (we think) and probably should’ve taken someone who would have been more impactful this season. It’s not just me saying this, either; Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld has been reluctant to declare that Brown can crack the rotation. Part of that has to do with a Washington roster that will bring back ten of its players, but a significant portion of that has to do with Brown himself.

Nobody knows where the Wizards are going. The Wizards may not know, either.

Winner: Adrian Wojnarowski

Let’s be real; you just came here for the Woj Bombs.

Wojnarowski is ESPN’s best NBA insider; think of him as the sport’s Adam Schefter. One of his recent specialties has been tipping picks on draft night before commissioner Adam Silver announces them live on ESPN. In a surprise to no one, the NBA didn’t exactly love reporters like Wojnarowski revealing these picks before their official broadcast could. So, as a result of a direct appeal from the NBA, the four-letter network announced that its insiders (mainly Wojnarowski, who was lured to ESPN from Yahoo last summer) would not be tipping picks this year. This was an edict that caused some controversy.

It was also one that our guy Woj raised a defiant middle finger to:

Woj is the best reporter in the NBA, and there’s a reason he’s so popular. Wouldn’t you like to go to work, have your boss tell you not to do something, find catchy euphemisms for the thing you’re not supposed to be doing, and get away with said thing?

We all would love to do that, but there’s a reason we can’t all be Woj.

NBA Playoff Preview

East First Round

(1)Hawks vs. (8)Nets: Hawks in 4

(4)Raptors vs. (5)Wizards: Raptors in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (7) Celtics: Cavaliers in 5

(3)Bulls vs. (6)Bucks: Bulls in 6

Discussion: The Hawks easily dispatch of and sweep the Nets like they have in the regular season.  The Raptors defeat the Wizards in a series of two fairly evenly matched teams.  The Celtics take a game (most likely game 1) from the Cavs, a team greatly lacking in playoff experience who will come out flat and nervous.  But don’t expect the upset here.  Finally, the Bucks outperform expectations but eventually succumb to the superior Bulls.

West First Round

(1)Warriors vs. (8)Pelicans: Warriors in 5

(4)Trail Blazers vs. (5)Grizzlies: Grizzlies in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (7)Mavericks: Rockets in 7

(3)Clippers vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Pelicans, fresh off their first playoff berth since 2011, take a game from the Warriors but cannot hang in the series.  In a series of complete attrition, the Grizzlies survive the Trial Blazers; both teams are suffering from critical injuries.  The Rockets-Mavericks series is a toss-up, but the advantage goes to the team with home court.  Finally, the Spurs defeat the Clippers and set up a second-round date with Houston.

East Semifinals

(1)Hawks vs. (4)Raptors: Hawks in 6

(2)Cavaliers vs. (3)Bulls: Cavaliers in 7

Discussion:  The Hawks defeat the Raptors in 6.  The Hawks have not been to a Conference Finals since 1970.  The Cavaliers defeat the Bulls in what could arguably end up as the best series in the playoffs, as both teams are profusely talented and evenly matched.

West Semifinals

(1)Warriors vs. (5)Grizzlies: Warriors in 6

(2)Rockets vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: The Warriors dispose of a Grizzlies team that will likely be without starting PG Mike Conley for the playoffs.  The Spurs defeat the Rockets.  Crazy guess: the Spurs employ either a Hack-a-Smith strategy (Josh Smith: 49% Free-throw shooter) or play Hack-a-Howard (53% Free-throw shooter).

Conference Finals

(1)Hawks vs. (2)Cavaliers: Cavaliers in 6

(1)Warriors vs. (6)Spurs: Spurs in 6

Discussion: Both road teams prevail here.  The Cavaliers overwhelming talent overtakes the Hawks teamwork and discipline.  The Spurs defeat the Warriors in a battle of the New Guard vs. the Old Guard in the NBA.  This sets up the LeBron vs. the Spurs rematch for a third straight year.

NBA Finals

Cavaliers vs. Spurs: Cavaliers in 7

Cleveland finally gets its title.  This Cavs team is obviously far better than last year’s Cavs team and the play of Kyrie Irving at the point will be the difference.  Bold prediction: Kyrie will win Finals MVP.  The Cavs win this series by the slimmest of margins, in 7 games.

Enjoy the playoffs everybody!