The 2018 NBA Draft is in the books, and it was a wild ride as always. Every site in the world has already graded each pick and team, so let’s try something a little different. We already know what teams won and lost the draft, but what about players, coaches, and GMs?
And what about team concepts and intangibles? What players or fans are happier now? Who added to their reputation on draft night? And who is more delusional than ever?
Let’s go around the league, with 30 intangible winners and losers from NBA Draft Day 2018…
Brandon’s 2018 NBA Draft Big Board Manifesto
Trae is awesome, Ayton shouldn't go #1, and everything else you need to know for NBA Draft Day…
Winner: Luka Doncic controlling his destiny
Doncic apparently didn’t want to play for the Kings or Hawks, nor maybe the Grizzlies, and there were some empty threats of staying in Europe if he got drafted onto the wrong team. Well, Luka got his way. Now he goes to a team that built its franchise around the greatest player in European history, has a great owner, and an outstanding coach. Well done, kid.
Winner: Rick Carlisle sleeping well
One of the game’s premier coaches, Carlisle just struggled through a year watching Dennis Smith run the point. Now he gets to scheme with two of the highest IQ guys in the draft, Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson. That’s a lot of talent, efficiency, and know-how in a hurry. Rick Carlisle must have gotten better sleep last night than he’s had in years.
Loser: Grizzlies entertainment potential
Heading into the #3 pick, Woj announced that the Hawks would be drafting Doncic to trade him to Dallas who would pick Trae Young at 5. The problem is Memphis hadn’t picked yet in between. What if the Grizzlies had taken Trae? Could they have held him for ransom and gotten a pick or two out of it? Could they have thrown a wrench in the entire draft process? Now we’ll never know.
Loser: Expectations on Trae Young
Look, I love Trae as much as anyone. I watched almost all his games this year, loved him out of high school, and ranked him as high as anyone. But ESPN turned fans on Trae before he ever made it to the league and now most folks will think he was drafted too high at #5. And worst of all, Young will always be the guy that got traded for Luka Doncic now. I had those two guys atop my draft board and even said I could talk myself into Trae over Doncic, and Atlanta did. But that’s a heck of a weight of expectation to put on a kid’s tiny, frail shoulders.
Winner: Splash Brothers II
Four years ago, Atlanta watched the Spurs win a championship with team play and ball movement and thought “Hey cool, let’s do that,” building a team of non-stars around Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer. Now the Hawks watched Golden State win with a team of deep shooting Splash Bros and thought “Hey cool, let’s do that,” going all in on Trae Young and then nabbing the prettiest shot in the draft at 19 in Kevin Huerter. Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk spent the last decade of his career with the Warriors. Guess he liked what he saw.
Winner: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nugget
Porter lost a lot of money Thursday night, but he might have saved his career. Denver is the perfect fit for MPJ, where he can come off the bench (or red-shirt) a year as the stretch four Denver has coveted in a low usage role and maximize his catch-and-shoot ability while he learns everything else. Porter would’ve made over $7 million if the Kings had taken him at #2. Now he’ll make $15 million over four years. Hopefully the dose of humble pie does his career well.
Loser: Bulls upside
Chicago will probably get a middling to good grade from most. Wendell Carter and Chandler Hutchison were decent picks taken in the right range, and now Chicago has a “real” lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Hutchison, Markkanen, and Carter. But where’s the star in that group? Is anyone there even an above-average starter? Chicago could’ve taken a swing with Porter or Zhaire at 7 and then grabbed Robert Williams with their second pick. Instead, they raised the team’s floor significantly and willingly hurt their lottery position the next few years. That’s just not how you play the draft on a low-talent roster.
Winner: Orlando length
Holy cow. Mo Bamba has a wingspan as wide as a bus. Melvin Frazier is Kawhi Leonard in size only. Justin Jackson and Jarred Vanderbilt are long. And last season’s Gumby, Jonathon Isaac, waits in the wings. Orlando sure has a type. The Magic keep taking all of my favorite long, rangy athletic prospects. Now they just need to learn how to play basketball too.
Loser: King Bagley
Yesterday I ranked Bagley as the one player that could lose the most on the wrong roster, and Bagley’s on the wrong roster. He’s meant to play the 5 in an up-tempo attacking offense. The Kings played the slowest tempo in the league in 2018, stifling last year’s top pick De’Aaron Fox, and they have a slew of centers that will almost certainly push Bagley to PF to begin his career. I really like Bagley’s talent and upside and had him third on my board going into the draft, but he drops a handful of spots immediately in Sacramento, and they passed on Doncic (and a trade) to grab him. Bagley told the Kings he wanted to play for them. Be careful what you wish for.
2018 NBA Draft Upside and Bust Potential, Best and Worst Team Fits, and Steals
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Loser: Phoenix brain trust
Luka Doncic was a pretty consensus #1 pick for most draftniks and Phoenix didn’t even seem to consider drafting him or trading out. When a team takes a guy eighth on my draft board at #1, I have no choice but to grade them an F. But their later move was even worse, as the Suns traded up from Zhaire Smith at 16 to nab Mikal Bridges, giving up a super valuable 2021 Miami pick in the process. Bridges is a nice player, but he’s a low upside lottery guy meant to be the last starter on a good team. Smith is a huge upside swing that could pay off big and turn out far better than Mikal, and the Miami pick could be incredibly valuable as the Heat are locked long-term into a mediocre roster and Phoenix didn’t even put any protection on the trade. Apparently, Philly came to Phoenix with this offer. They must have smelled blood in the water.
Winner: Knicks intrigue
Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are super intriguing talents, even if we have no idea if they can actually do it on a basketball court. The theoretical fit next to Kristaps Porzingis is really interesting, which is kind of perfect, because the entire Knicks franchise is theoretical right now. They’re going to lose a lot of games next year.
Loser: My ranking of Lonnie Walker
As a draft nerd, there are fewer worse feelings than going through the whole process, deciding you hate a player, leaving him out of your first round entirely, and then seeing the Spurs take him at 18. Oops. Guess I was wrong.
Winner: Timberwolves fans
Most Minnesota fans spent their nights dreading the inevitable Grayson Allen pick or trying to talk themselves into Keita Bates-Diop, everyone’s projected first round Wolves pick. Instead Minnesota got KBD in the second and grabbed high-upside wing defender Josh Okogie in the first. Two rangy wings that can defend and shoot? Say it ain’t so. Minnesota fans can exhale, at least until Thibs plays the two of them a combined 13 minutes a game this fall.
Winner: Rockets defensive tenacity
What a draft night for Houston, who started with only the #46 pick and somehow walked away with Vince Edwards, De’Anthony Melton, and UDFA Gary Clark. Edwards is a perfectly useful replacement-level stretch four, and Melton and Clark were in my top 25, both nasty defensive guards who make winning plays. They remind me of a pair of Rocket Patricks, Beverley and Patterson, two guys that never impressed statistically but always showed up. Warriors-Rockets II just got a lot more interesting.
Winner: Robert Williams, Steal of the Draft
A lot of draftniks liked Robert Williams, a prototypical rim runner just about any NBA team could use, figuring he was an excellent value at the end of the lottery. Instead Bob Willy slid and slid and finally landed in Boston with the #27 pick. Now the Celtics get Williams’s services for $12 million combined for the next five years, which makes him one of the best cheap assets in basketball. DeAndre Ayton will make more in the final year of his deal alone.
Winner: The rich getting richer
Boston landed the steal of the draft, Robert Williams. At least Golden State didn’t get him a pick later, but they landed an archetypal 3-and-D wing in Jacob Evans, a guy who will be playing useful minutes next June. Houston added three rotation guys too. Bad teams took more bad players, and the rich got richer again.
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Loser: Cleveland’s Kyrie trade
Remember Kyrie Irving, the guy who might have possibly helped in two close NBA Finals games? The Cavs traded him last summer for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn pick. Crowder and Thomas turned into Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson midseason, who then turned into benchmates in June. The Brooklyn pick slid and was never traded, and then the Cavs used the pick on Collin Sexton, a non-lottery talent. All he has to do now is replace Kyrie Irving and carry a franchise that will soon be missing another key player.
Loser: LeBron’s chances of ever playing with Collin Sexton
LOL come on. LeBron wants to play with a 19-year-old me-first point guard that can’t shoot? Yeah, I don’t think so. Maybe Sexton gets traded, but even if he does, Sexton is worth far less than the idea of the #8 Brooklyn pick. Cavs fans, it’s time to move on.
Loser: Portland having a plan
The Blazers have two star guards and not much else, so what did they do? They added two super young guard prospects of course, neither of which are ready to contribute now, much like they did with Zach Collins last year. Portland, you don’t have enough talent to compete, and your stars want help or want out. What are you doing?
Loser: The ghost of Avery Bradley
Where have you gone, Avery Bradley? Detroit traded for Bradley clone Khyri Thomas, so they won’t be luring AB back this summer. The Clips drafted similarly-sized Jerome Robinson to take his place. The Celtics don’t exactly miss him either. Bradley’s ghost is everywhere, but his next contract might not be.
Winner: Veteran point guard tic-tac-toe
A lot of talent slipped out of the first round, so teams kicked off the second round with… three straight old point guards that were better in college than they will be in the NBA? Jevon Carter, Jalen Brunson, and Devonte’ Graham went 32, 33, and 34 as the Grizzlies, Mavs, and Hornets just couldn’t pass on guys destined to top out as backup guards. I love Brunson and like Carter in Memphis, but what was the rush?
Loser: The Wizards winning now
Washington had an old, top-heavy roster badly in needed of some depth that can contribute right away so they added… raw 18-year-old wing Troy Brown and Ukraine draft-and-stash point guard Issuf Sanon? I like Brown long term but how about someone that can help Wall and Beal now?
Loser: Charlotte being Charlotte
Are the Hornets the most predictable and least interesting team in the league? Charlotte dumped Dwight Howard, a player they traded for a year ago, and adding Timofey Mozgov’s dead weight contract. Then they did what they always do in the draft, filling up the roster with well-known veteran dudes from big name college programs. Come on down, Miles Bridges and Devonte’ Graham, you’re the most predictable picks since every other Hornets pick.
Winner: Philadelphia trusting the process
Mikal Bridges was everyone’s presumed Sixers pick, but Zhaire Smith would have been just as good a pick at 10 and offers way more upside and something different. You can sign someone like Mikal. Zhaire is one of the highest upside guys in the entire draft, and Philly got a super valuable unprotected Miami 2021 pick too. Let’s say the Sixers want to trade for a star, what do you think is more valuable? A fifth starter with little upside or the intrigue of Zhaire Smith and one of the most valuable pick assets in the league? Trust the process.
Loser: Mikal Bridges
Poor guy. Mikal won two championships in three years, then got drafted in the lottery to the league’s most exciting young team and got to stay at home to play for his childhood favorite and the team his mom works for. Then Philly traded him mid press conference. Now he’s off to Phoenix, whose last playoff series featured Nash, Amar’e, Hill, Kobe, Metta, and Bynum. Dreams die quickly. Welcome to adulthood, Mikal.
Loser: Jerry West mystique
West was in the conversation for all the big names. The Clippers were going to sign LeBron James or trade for Kawhi Leonard or move up for Luka Doncic. Instead, the only trade West made was swapping his time in Golden State with Steph and Klay for presumed starting back court Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. Good luck with that.
Winner: #13 pick weirdness
The last four #13 picks are now Devin Booker, Georgios Papagiannis, Donovan Mitchell, and Jerome Robinson. Two stud franchise building blocks, one guy that’s already been cut, and now an unathletic combo guard with short arms that doesn’t play defense or do anything much else but shoot. Robinson was ranked around 50 on most draft boards a week ago. If it weren’t for Papa G, he’d be the weirdest, most shocking lottery pick in a long time.
Winner: Small combo guards, for some reason
I didn’t have Jerome Robinson, Donte DiVincenzo, or Grayson Allen top 40 on my draft board, but they all went in the top 25 on draft night. None of these guys have the size to contribute defensively, and it’s hard to project any of the three as starters. NBA, what are you doing?
Loser: Grayson Allen, Utah Jazz
Ted Cruz in the streets, Mitt Romney in the sheets.
Adrian Wojnarowski was the star of draft night on NBA Twitter. ESPN forbade him to tip picks, so Woj just made up his own rules, using Roget’s Thesaurus to perfection as teams zeroed in, locked on, and fixated on prospects all night. Woj got loopy as the first round neared its conclusion. Portland had a laser on Simons. The Lakers were unable to resist Mo Wagner. The Sixers were enamored, and Boston was tantalized. Take a bow, Woj. You won draft night.