The NBA Draft provides the opportunity for teams to completely change the trajectory of their franchise. Teams can draft franchise cornerstones that eventually lead them into the playoffs, make blockbuster trades to bolster championship runs, or, conversely, make mistakes that take years to recover from. Thursday’s draft provided a fun mixture of every scenario with Russell Westbrook (reportedly) getting traded to the Lakers, surprises among the top 5 selections, and a bevy of trades that moved teams up and down the board all night.
The biggest winner was the Pistons who were able to take the best player in this class, Cade Cunningham, who can jumpstart Detroit at the most important position in the game. Other winners were lucky enough to have great players to fall into their laps when they were on the clock. Meanwhile, there were plenty of draft night losers who made head-scratching decisions or opted to keep trading back or completely out of the draft. Here’s how we saw it.
The Spurs selecting Joshua Primo with the 12th pick was by far the biggest surprise of the lottery and probably the entire first-round. Thought to be a long term project by a team selecting in the 20s, the Spurs drafted the youngest player in the draft near the end of the lottery, bypassing more highly-touted and ready prospects such as Alperen Sengun, Moses Moody, Chris Duarte, and Corey Kispert. Maybe the Spurs felt that they needed to secure Primo this high because they were convinced another team had their sights on him, but it’s hard to see this as anything more than a reach at this point.
Primo brings an interesting skillset to the Spurs with his 6’6” size and ability to knockdown shots from deep, but he may be a few seasons away from playing his best basketball for San Antonio. There were reports that teams could see Primo as a redshirt type of selection, stashing him in the G League for a season to get the most minutes possible while his game and body. After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season after making the playoffs every year since 1997, the Spurs could have selected a player more capable of helping them get back to the post season.
With two selections in the first-round, the rumors leading up to the draft had the Knicks desperately trying to package selection Nos. 19 and 21 to move up. Instead, New York ended up trading out of both picks and only ended up with the 25th pick where they selected Quentin Grimes and a future first-round pick from the Hornets with a lot of protections. Grimes was not on the first-round radar until he put together a successful NBA Combine performance, showing teams his shooting and scoring up close against other draft hopefuls. It was an impressive rise for a player that struggled to shoot and make the most of his minutes in his first season at Kansas and Houston. Does Grimes still have room to develop even more, or was his junior performance a flash in the pan? The Knicks may find out quickly as they have many decisions to make on free agent perimeter players from their playoff team last year.
Rokas Jokubaitis and Miles McBride may provide some more upside for the Knicks as high second-round picks. Both guards provide the ability to play either backcourt position, make shots from midrange and deep, while displaying the ability to be secondary playmakers off the bounce. McBride will offer more on the defensive end with his mentality and exceptional wingspan. Selecting Jericho Sims at the bottom of the second-round also represented the culmination of another NBA Combine success story. Simms can be a terror at the rim, often getting his head above it while dunking. If he can provide energy, rebounding, and finishing off the bench, this will be a strong selection. These aren’t bad players, but Knicks fans had to be hoping for more than they ended up with after the draft whether it was from a trade or moving up in the draft for a higher level prospect.
It’s hard to come out of a draft as a loser when you don’t have a selection, but what the Lakers did to lose their draft pick was Thursday’s biggest news. The Lakers traded Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the 22nd selection to the Wizards for Russell Westbrook and two second-round picks (pending official league approval next week). While it’s hard to know who initiated this idea between Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka or LeBron James, the fit is more than curious. The Lakers will have their work cut out for them the rest of the summer trying to add enough shooting to the roster and filling it with cheap, impactful players. Not having a draft pick doesn’t help that goal.
The Grizzlies have been on a great run through the last few drafts, making smart decisions all over the board to build one of the more impressive young rosters in the NBA. When they made the trade to move up to the 10th spot they took on the large contracts of both Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe in the process. Giving up the 17th pick and Jonas Valanciunas seemed a little steep at the time of the trade, but being able to select in the top 10 provided the ability to add a high impact player that the Grizzlies would be able to pair with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Dillon Brooks.
Memphis was heavily linked to Josh Giddey, but when Oklahoma City took him at No. 6, things may have shifted within the organization. This may be a cautionary tale for teams that trade up for a certain player the week of the draft before knowing how the board will shake out. Of course, the Grizzlies may have Ziaire Williams ranked exactly as high as they selected him, but it was considered a reach to most in the draft community. Williams was a highly-touted prospect coming into this past college basketball season, but COVID-19 disrupted most of the season for Stanford and it shows in Williams’ statistical profile. This has a chance to workout for Memphis as Williams possesses great size at 6’10” with a jump shot that passes the eye test, but it is easy to wonder if a trade up was necessary.