AND JUST LIKE THAT, THE 2019 NBA DRAFT IS IN THE BOOKS. All that scouting and preparation whizzes by in 60 quick picks, and suddenly everyone’s talking about Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the huge summer free agency class. Not so fast! We put far too much time into this draft to turn the page that quickly. Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett went top three as expected, but everything after that was chaos. So who won the draft and who lost, and which team’s fans should be happiest with how their team performed on draft night 2019?
Those are complex questions with complex answers and will take some unpacking. Obviously New Orleans looks good because they started with the two top-4 picks, but it’s lazy to say they won the draft just because their 6% odds turned into Zion. What did the Pelicans do with #4 and the rest of their picks, and how did it stack up to what every other team did with their assets on draft night?
I’ve already evaluated the players individually, so it’s easy enough to see which team’s hauls I like. Instead, let’s evaluate how each team did with the draft capital they entered the night with. With each team below, I’ll list the key draft day assets gained, including draft picks, player acquisitions, and notable undrafted free agents (UDFA), and we’ll dig a little deeper for teams missing picks to remember why they got there. Let’s rank the draft outcomes for every NBA team, from the biggest losers at #30 to the winners at #1…
TIER I — ABJECT DISASTERS
30. Phoenix Suns
Cam Johnson (11)
Ty Jerome (24)
Jalen Lecque (UDFA)
It’s still hard to believe how badly the Suns blew this draft. Phoenix was sitting pretty at 6, the perfect chance to add a badly needed wing. Somehow James Jones passed on Jarrett Culver for the chance to draft a (slightly) younger version of himself plus a stretch four that can’t shoot. I like Saric enough but he’s yet another awful Phoenix defender, and the Suns will likely feel compelled to pay big to keep him around, with just a year left on his deal. No matter how low your opinion of Culver, trading him for Cam Johnson and one year of Dario Saric is objectively disastrous.
But Jones wasn’t done! Having passed on an opportunity to get his point guard at 6, Jones gave away a future first to move back into the draft for Ty Jerome. Jerome fits as a low-usage point on this team but he’s older with little upside and can’t contribute on defense. I liked him on a team like Utah or Philly, a contender needing the right role player. I hate him in Phoenix, and I hate even more trading a future first to get him.
Even the UDFA signing of Jalen Lecque looks rough. Lecque is a stud athlete that doesn’t know how to play basketball, and his guaranteed contract almost certainly means the end for DeAnthony Melton or Elie Okobo, both clearly better prospects. The Suns also gave #32 away to dump T.J. Warren’s contract right after he finally got useful. They might’ve just gotten Jerome at 32 if they stayed put. Heck, they have have gotten Cam Johnson.
The only good news for Suns fans is that they’ll be back at the top of the draft yet again next year.
29. Philadelphia 76ers
Matisse Thybulle (20)
Marial Shayok (54)
Sixers fans came into draft night with hopes of adding cheap, rotation pieces from picks 24, 33, 34, and 42. Somehow they picked at none of those spots and added one notable player. I love Matisse Thybulle but like him much less in Philly where his defensive abilities are muted and his offensive limitations highlighted. Philly loved him too and telegraphed their interest, and Boston took advantage, forcing the Sixers to give up 33 to move up for the guy everyone knew they wanted.
Philly then traded 34 for a pair of future 2s and attached 42 to dump Jon Simmons, saving the team a whopping $1 million and unloading the player they dumped Markelle Fultz for a few months ago. Philadelphia traded the #14 pick in this year’s draft to move up and get Fultz, then turned Fultz into Simmons, then paid #42 to dump him. Special. Philly was supposed to have #31 too but traded it in 2017 for the opportunity to give Trevor Booker 15 minutes a game off the bench for half a season.
Elton Brand said Philly traded all those 2s because they needed to preserve cap room, but second-round picks are non-guaranteed so that doesn’t hold up. They kept one late pick and used it on Marial Shayok, who’s so old he’s a few months away from being the oldest player on Philly’s roster (seriously).
Not all the damage came on draft night, but Philly was supposed to have picks 14, 24, 31, 33, 34, and 42. Those picks turned into Romeo Langford, Ty Jerome, Nic Claxton, Carsen Edwards, Bruno Fernando, and Admiral Schofield, all of whom would’ve helped this roster immensely. Instead they walked away from the draft with pretty much just Matisse Thybulle.
28. Washington Wizards
Rui Hachimura (9)
Admiral Schofield (42)
Justin Robinson (UDFA)
Corey Davis (UDFA)
The Wizards still don’t have a GM and I worried on the eve of the draft that they might not have done much work on their picks and could talk themselves into a recognizable blue blood like Rui Hachimura. I was right. I had Hachimura ranked #29 on my Big Board and Admiral Schofield outside my top-50. I like the Justin Robinson and Corey Davis pickups in free agency and I’ll root for Hachimura, but he is a disaster as a top-10 pick.
27. Sacramento Kings
Justin James (40)
Kyle Guy (55)
Vanja Marinkovic (60)
On the morning of draft day, I left the Kings off my list of teams that make me sick when a team drafts them, noting how nice it was for the Kings to fall from #1 for about a decade to right off the list. Oops. I spent a thousand hours preparing for this draft, then Sacramento drafted two guys I’ve literally never heard of, including a Wyoming senior at 40 they could’ve signed in UDFA. Look, #40 isn’t much but guys like Bol Bol, Isaiah Roby, Eric Paschall, and Talen Horton-Tucker went right after James. It was a terrible pick.
Then the Kings traded down from 47 to 55, drafting another high character blue blood in Kyle Guy. For their efforts, they got nothing but cash. And lest we forget, Sacramento didn’t have #14 because of trading it years ago to dump Nik Stauskus a year after drafting him in the lottery, for the chance to overpay Rajon Rondo in free agency.
KANGZ!! They’re back. Turns out they never really left us.
TIER II — JUST HAVING GREAT ASSETS ISN’T ENOUGH
26. New York Knicks
R.J. Barrett (3)
Iggy Brazdeikis (47)
Listen, I’m out on R.J. Barrett, and if you’re going to stay at 3 and take the #8 guy on my Big Board, I have to give you a bad grade, especially considering the haul New Orleans got trading down from 4 to 8. Barrett is going to put up big numbers in New York and look good. And that is exactly the problem.
New York didn’t have their #31 pick because of a 2014 salary dump of Travis Outlaw to save $3 million. Oops. The Knicks tanked all year for Zion, Kyrie, and Durant. Instead they walked away with just DeMaR.J. DeBarrett.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder
Darius Bazley (23)
Luguentz Dort (UDFA)
The Thunder got dinged for falling into Brandon Clarke at 21, then needlessly trading down two spots for nothing and taking Darius Bazley instead, a raw project that isn’t going to help the Westbrook-PG iteration of this team. OKC wanted to trade this pick to unload a big contract but couldn’t find a taker — where was Cleveland? J.R. Smith would help this team — and drafted yet another raw athlete that can’t help the team.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
Darius Garland (5)
Dylan Windler (26)
Kevin Porter Jr. (30)
Oh hey, there’s Cleveland! This is a tough draft to grade. On the one hand, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. are the exact sort of home run swings a team like Cleveland should be taking. They have no real franchise piece to build around, and I applaud them for not avoiding a player they felt was best in Garland because they blew an early pick on Collin Sexton last year.
But I hate the rest of how this came together. Cleveland turned away a windfall for #5, leaving a lot on the table to stay put and take a point guard we don’t know enough about. I thought Garland as a top-5 pick was the worst value play in the draft. KPJ at the #30 pick is a great swing, and I really like Dylan Windler. But I liked Windler because he’s older and ready to contribute to a contender, and I’m not sure what his point is in Cleveland. The Cavs could’ve just taken KPJ at 26. Instead they traded $5 million and four 2s, effectively for Windler. For a team with this many holes, four second-round swings are far more valuable than Windler’s low upside. And while Cleveland got all those extra 2s by offloading LeBron-era guys, they also traded all their own future 2s away during the LeBron era, so that’s no excuse.
Cleveland’s top three assets going forward are ball-dominant players that offer little without the ball, think they’re the best player on the court, and probably won’t play much defense. I see little reason to believe playing any of Garland, Sexton, or KPJ together will work. Cleveland needs a franchise player to build around and now they have three shots at a primary handler. It makes sense in theory. But they’re all vying for the same spot at once and I have a really hard time seeing that work out well.
23. Chicago Bulls
Coby White (7)
Daniel Gafford (38)
I talked about this in my point guard rankings. This was not a good point guard draft. I was not a fan of Cleveland, Phoenix, or Chicago rushing to pick a point guard top-7 when I evaluated Garland and White as borderline lottery picks in a weak draft. Instead they each took a first-round PG and will all be back in the lottery in 2020 when the draft is loaded at point guard. Not every draft has a franchise signal caller, just like not every NFL draft has a top quarterback available just because you need one and have a high pick.
Chicago fans, let me put this in language you understand better. The Bulls just drafted the NBA version of Mitchell Trubisky.
TIER III — WILL REGRET DOING LITTLE NEXT SPRING
22. Milwaukee Bucks
Fletcher Magee (UDFA)
The teams in this tier probably wouldn’t have found much to crack their strong rotations, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have at least tried.
Milwaukee cheaped out, trading Tony Snell and 30 to save a few million dollars, eating a nearly equally bad Jon Leuer contract in the deal. Don’t fall for the myth that the Bucks “had” to do this to free up money to sign their free agents. This is an owner saving himself a few million dollars instead of going all-in on his MVP with a championship window wide open. The #30 pick is an opportunity to add an important young piece on a super cheap contract, a key for a contending team, and they gave it away.
21. Toronto Raptors
Dewan Hernandez (59)
Sagaba Konate (UDFA)
The Raps traded their pick for Kawhi, so you could just as well rank them #1 on this list for how they’re feeling right now.
20. Los Angeles Clippers
Mfiondu Kabengele (27)
Terance Mann (48)
Credit the Clippers for trying, but I’d rather they sat this one out. Did Jerry West catch a couple Florida State games? It’s weird to draft two Seminoles, right? I never bought into Kabengele and it’s hard to see him finding minutes in this rotation. Trading away a future first in a better draft (Philly’s in 2020) for a pick this year was not ideal.
19. Golden State Warriors
Jordan Poole (28)
Alen Smailagic (39)
Eric Paschall (41)
Golden State badly needed to add talent that could contribute this year. I don’t think they did. Jordan Poole replaces the Swaggy P role the team has a weird penchant for, a heat-check chucker that’s far from a Klay replacement. Smailagic was telegraphed and cost the team an extra second rounder, and he’s too young to contribute. Paschall is interesting as a poor man’s Draymond backup, so there’s that.
I wrote around 1000 words on each of my top 50 or so prospects in the draft and grouped them into the five traditional positions. Be sure to check out these links below if you want to learn more about any of these players: point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, and centers.
TIER IV — ONE HEAPING PILE OF MEH
18. San Antonio Spurs
Luka Samanic (19)
Keldon Johnson (29)
Quinndary Witherspoon (49)
Luka Samanic was a reach, but it’s the Spurs, so we all sort of just shrug our shoulders. No one would have thought much if San Antonio took Keldon Johnson at 19 and Samanic at 29, so just think of it that way. KJ is the sort of guy the Spurs will develop well. Still, you just come away from this draft feeling very little. San Antonio could’ve packaged 19/29 to get into the lottery. They could’ve taken Brandon Clarke or swung on a player like Kevin Porter or Bol Bol. Instead, they bunted for a single. That’s so Spursy.
17. Miami Heat
Tyler Herro (13)
KZ Okpala (32)
Miami claims Herro and Okpala were #9 and #10 on their draft board, which is the biggest pile of BS I’ve heard all week and if it’s somehow true, means they should fire their entire scouting department. Herro is fine but we need to stop over-drafting this archetype in the lottery. Okpala is not good but Miami could help him get there. I’m not sure he was worth trading three 2s for, but when have the Heat ever valued their draft picks?
16. Detroit Pistons
Sekou Doumbouya (15)
Deivydas Sirvydis (37)
Jordan Bone (57)
I was never a Sekou believer. I ranked him #30 on my final big board and see no reason to believe Detroit will be able to develop him, with their failure rate the last many years. Sirvydis and Bone are a long ways away from making an impact too. Who is the last player the Pistons have developed? I’ll wait.
Detroit made an excellent deal to nab #30, dumping Jon Leuer and taking on Tony Snell. Snell is fairly paid, and he’s going to help this team more than any draft pick. He’s probably the best wing on the team. Then Detroit traded 30 for four future 2s and $5 million. That seems like a great deal too! Except 30 was a great chance to take a cheap swing on upside, and the Pistons traded three of those 2s to get back into the draft for Sirvydis and Bone. So instead of a shot at KPJ, Claxton, etc on a cheap contract, Detroit got money to cover Snell, one future second, Sirvydis, and Bone. Meh.
15. Charlotte Hornets
P.J. Washington (12)
Cody Martin (36)
Jalen McDaniels (52)
Josh Perkins (UDFA)
You’ll never believe this, but Charlotte loaded up on proven upperclassmen.
Please leave, Kemba. You deserve better.
14. Orlando Magic
Chuma Okeke (16)
DaQuan Jeffries (UDFA)
Every year Orlando drafts players I really like, and every year I immediately like them less because the Magic can’t develop talent to save their lives. See also Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Melvin Frazier, and probably some other guys that have washed out of the league. I really like Okeke and DaQuan! I just assume I shouldn’t have, now that Orlando took them.
Still, Orlando could have had a top-5 draft if they’d played the board better. Okeke was this high on my board but was a rumored second round pick, so the Magic missed an opportunity to trade down and gain an asset. They also fell into Talen Horton-Tucker at #46 but traded him away for nothing really, some cash and a future Lakers second, when there could not *be* a more Orlando player than THT. The Magic should’ve walked away with Okeke, THT, DaQuan, plus a trad-down asset, which would’ve given them #16, #17, and #26 on my draft board. So close.
TIER V — DID MORE WITH LESS
13. Houston Rockets
Shamorie Ponds (UDFA)
The Rockets did well to add Shamorie Ponds in UDFA. I was never a Ponds believer, but others love him. Houston didn’t have any picks because their ownership is cheap. They dumped their first-round pick to get off Brandon Knight’s salary this year instead of using it to help their team with a piece that could easily have sent them to the Finals the way things turned out. Oops.
12. Denver Nuggets
Bol Bol (44)
Terence Davis (UDFA)
Good on the Nuggets for trading a future 2 and cash for Bol, but I don’t believe for a second that he was top-10 on their draft board, and if he was, then they were dumb to wait this long. We’ll see what happens with the kid, but he looks like an incredible Spider-Man 4 villain if he doesn’t pan out. Terence Davis is a nice pickup and adds a nice defensive guard to a rotation that lacks it. Nice to enter the draft with nothing and walk away with two pieces.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Isaiah Roby (45)
Josh Reaves (UDFA)
The Mavs traded their first for Luka Doncic, so they’re feeling just fine. All the better that they got a top-20 player from my draft board in Isaiah Roby too.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
Talen Horton-Tucker (46)
Zach Norvell (UDFA)
Jordan Caroline (UDFA)
Aric Holman (UDFA)
On the surface, Talen Horton-Tucker is like the third most valuable pick in the draft compared to my draft board and should make this a slam dunk. But THT is a developmental project the Lakers of all teams do not have time to invest in. He’s raw and makes so many mistakes that I have a really hard time seeing him play with LeBron before the team gets impatient and trades him away. I’d have loved this move on like 25 other teams.
L.A. didn’t have their high 2 because they traded it a year ago for Isaac Bonga, another developmental player they’re already trying to dump. The Lakers also missed a chance to add some cheap talent in UDFA. But hey, the real reason this team lacked a big draft name is because they traded the #4 pick with everything else for Anthony Davis, so Lakers fans are feeling just fine, thanks.
9. Utah Jazz
Jarrell Brantley (50)
Justin Wright-Foreman (53)
Miye Oni (58)
Juwan Morgan (UDFA)
The Jazz entered the day with nothing and left with some pieces that make sense. I especially love Justin Wright-Foreman as a late arbitrage play point guard in this draft versus guys like Garland and Coby 45 picks earlier. I could see any of these four making an impact with the Jazz. And of course the real prize already happened before the draft when Utah traded their first-round pick in a package for Mike Conley.
TIER VI — THE DRAFT’S QUIET WINNERS
8. Brooklyn Nets
Nic Claxton (31)
Jaylen Hands (56)
2020 Sixers 1st
The Nets didn’t want to add salary with free agency looming, so they made an excellent deal to trade out of 27 and nab a future first. That was always going to be a good deal in this draft and gives them a nice trade chip for later, and contrast what Brooklyn did to save cap room versus the Philly disaster. They added Nic Claxton later, a first-round value with upside, though I don’t love the fit with Jarrett Allen already on the roster.
7. Indiana Pacers
Goga Bitadze (18)
Brian Bowen (UDFA)
Bitadze at 18 is a great value. Bitadze to a team with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner is a bit confusing, but Goga is a good player and he’ll provide some leverage with a looming Sabonis extension. The team also took on T.J. Warren’s perfectly fine contract and got #32 for their troubles, then turned that pick into three future 2s. Warren will step into Bojan Bogdanovic’s scoring forward role and gives Indiana a cheaper replacement than they’d have found in free agency.
6. Portland Blazers
Nassir Little (25)
Jaylen Hoard (UDFA)
I never really “got” Nassir Little, but for a guy who was a consensus top-5 pick coming into the year, you can’t argue with the value at 25. This could be a massive break for the Blazers, who haven’t had a forward this talented since LaMarcus Aldridge left.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jarrett Culver (6)
Jaylen Nowell (43)
Naz Reid (UDFA)
Tyus Battle (UDFA)
Barry Brown (UDFA)
Jordan Murphy (UDFA)
The Timberwolves didn’t like their options at 11 and weren’t too attached to Dario Saric. So they somehow they traded those two assets for 6 and landed Jarrett Culver, #2 on my board most of the season, a potential star. As a Wolves fan, it’s still hitting me just how much of a slam dunk this move was, especially when you contrast the meager price Minnesota paid to move from 11 to 6 versus what Atlanta had to give up to go from 8 to 4 for a prospect I liked less. Culver is a game changer for this entire roster and finally gives this team a real wing rotation. The Wolves also added a lot of interesting talent in UDFA, a change from past regimes. Minnesota fans are starting to believe. The Rosas regime is different.
TIER VII — THE BIG WINNERS
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson (1)
Jaxson Hayes (8)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17)
Didi Souza (35)
2020 Cavs 1st (top-10 protected)
Fine, put them at #1 if you want. Getting Zion automatically wins the draft. Beyond that, I loved the trade New Orleans made but didn’t necessarily love the players they selected. We’ll see if Jaxson Hayes was worth the #8 pick and how he fits next to Zion, and Didi Souza was out of left field. I would’ve liked the Pels trade a lot more if they’d walked away with something like Reddish, Clarke, and Bol with those picks.
David Griffin capped off an incredible week by drafting Alen Smailagic and holding him ransom, turning a pick they probably couldn’t keep into two future 2s. New Orleans is building something special, and I already went into far more depth on the Pelicans deals and how their roster shapes up here.
3. Boston Celtics
Romeo Langford (14)
Grant Williams (22)
Carsen Edwards (33)
Tremont Waters (51)
Tacko Fall (UDFA)
2020 Bucks 1st
The Celtics should not be allowed to have three first-round picks, but they do almost every year. First, Boston took Romeo Langford at 14. I hated Langford as a prospect, but he’s the exact sort of wing this team has developed well, and he was a potential top-5 pick preseason with a big time pedigree. They made up for Romeo by taking one of my favorite players in the draft eight picks later. Grant Williams needed the right team to stick, and this is the right team. He is going to be an absolute tank for Brad Stevens.
And then there’s #20. Boston got this pick in 2016 when they traded a second to a desperate Memphis team that used it to Deyonta Davis, a player they’ve already given up on. The Celtics used the pick to take Matisse Thybulle, a player they knew Philly coveted, and forced the Sixers to give up 24 and 33 for him. They used 33 on Carsen Edwards, another player who is a great stylistic fit. But they traded 24, moving it to a Phoenix team desperate for a point guard, grabbing a future Bucks first round pick to complete the cycle. So to recap, the Celtics turned a bonus second-round pick a few years ago into a first this year that they turned into Carsen Edwards and another first next year, where they will no doubt do this all over again.
This is just a masterclass in asset management. Kids, don’t pick up your phone when Danny Ainge is on the other end of the line.
2. Atlanta Hawks
De’Andre Hunter (4)
Cam Reddish (10)
Bruno Fernando (34)
The Atlanta Hawks paid a huge price to move up to #4 and take a guy I said was not a can’t-miss prospect. They obviously disagree. Hunter fits Atlanta to a T with his shooting and elite defense, and there was no one else like him in this draft so Atlanta went and got their guy, trading 8, 17, 35 and a future Cavs first and taking Solomon Hill’s bad contract. That looks like a lot — and it is — but I feel better about the deal after analyzing further. The “Cavs first” is really just two 2s, and it’s a piece Atlanta got for trading Korver. The 17 they got for taking on Allen Crabbe’s contract, and they still have Brooklyn’s first next year from that deal. They lost #35 in the deal but traded a pair of future 2s to get back #34, a deal they surely already had lined up. And remember, they only had both 8 and 10 in the first place because they picked up an extra asset trading down for Trae Young last year.
Add it all up, and Atlanta traded away a pile of surplus they earned the last few years and got the top non-Zion guy on their draft board. And then they lucked into Cam Reddish at 10, their #3 guy, getting both their top choices. Either Hunter or Reddish would’ve been a great addition for the Hawks. Instead, they got both, plus a possible stretch five in Bruno Fernando.
Did Atlanta pay too much? Maybe, maybe not. But you make the moves Atlanta’s done to accrue value, and at some point, you have to cash in your chips. The Hawks got the #1 guy on their draft board last year and their #2 and #3 guys this year, and they all make sense together. Atlanta got all those assets by eating bad contracts and has no bad money past this year, and they still have an extra Brooklyn first going forward.
Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter probably aren’t the next Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard. But Travis Schlenk decided to find out for himself, and Atlanta is building something special either way.
1. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant (2)
Brandon Clarke (23)
John Konchar (UDFA)
Now that’s how you do a rebuild. The Grizzlies turned the Conley pick into Brandon Clarke with a painless trade-up, somehow walking away with the #2 and #3 players on my draft board. Clarke and Ja Morant fit perfectly with Jaren Jackson Jr. and give Memphis one of the best young cores in the league, almost overnight. And then they added my favorite sleeper post-draft in John Konchar, #34 on my board. Grit’n’Grind is officially dead, but the new era of the Memphis Grizzlies got here in a hurry. ■