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NBA Draft Winners and Losers

It was another exciting draft night in the NBA, filled as usual with baseless trade rumors, actual trades that came out of nowhere, bad picks by the Kings, good picks by the Spurs, and the UK voting to leave the European Union.  Well, I guess that last one doesn't usually happen in the NBA draft.  As a quick postmortem, let's run through which teams I thought I had great drafts and which ones I thought didn't do so well.  This is more from a real NBA perspective than a fantasy perspective, but for you fantasy nuts, the overall value of an NBA player is worth knowing because it will impact fantasy opportunity and upside.  In future posts, I'll dive into the immediate fantasy implications, with a fantasy rankings of players based on positive impacts in their rookie years and over their careers.


Draft Winners

The Philadelphia 76ers

From the second they won the lottery and earned the rights to draft Ben Simmons, the player with the most obvious path to becoming a superstar in this draft, the 76ers came out big winners. But beyond the top, the Sixers kept making awesome picks, grabbing two international players with big time potential to be shooters with the frames and athleticism to be solid wing defenders in the 6'8" Timothe Luwawu (who's a bit further ahead on defense and developing a shot) and 6'6" Furkan Korkmaz (who already has a great shot, and just needs to fill out his skinny frame). I can really see an actual path to this becoming a real time now, with Simmons leading the offense as point forward with excellent 3-and-D players like those two and Robert Covington surrounding him in all the backcourt positions. Now the 76ers just need to find a "point guard" who can fill a similar role.

The Atlanta Hawks

I've seen wildly varying draft grades on them, with some analysts professing their love, and others calling them "big losers." I love what they did, though.  One thing I look for is whether a team has a solid philosophy in place for what guys they want to make an investment into as draft picks.  Once you get past the first few picks, everyone is a gamble.  It's all about knowing what type of player you're willing to take a chance on and spend the time to develop.  It's also about the belief you have in your coaching staff in what skills they can develop, versus what skills and attributes they want the players to bring to the table.

The Hawks clearly believe in the ability of their coaching staff to build up a player's shooting, and made selections of players who brought size, athleticism, and defense to the table, along with signs of play-making ability.  In a previous post I talked about the concept of the "switch four," which at its narrowest definition I'll say is the kind of player who can play both on the wing or as a small-ball four and credibly defend both wings and bigs, allowing versatility in a team's defense and offense.  Guys like Jae Crowder, Harrison Barnes, DeMarre Carroll, and Richard Jefferson.  In that piece I said that the smart teams in the draft would seek out guys who could fit that role, because they're so much more valuable, and a much scarcer commodity, in the modern NBA than a normal big.

That's why I wasn't shocked that the Celtics took 6'8" wing Jaylen Brown at 3rd overall despite his stats at Cal raising major red flags from an analytical standpoint.  And that's exactly what the Hawks did in selecting the 6'8" Taurean Prince at 12th, about 10 picks ahead of where he was expected to go. Not to toot my own horn, but in my switch fours piece I said Prince would "go a lot higher than most draft boards currently show, as teams covet a player who can fill exactly this role."  Okay, I will toot my own horn... Nailed it.

The Hawks second pick at 21st overall also fit the mold.  He's only 6'6", so he doesn't quite bring the height that Prince does, but he's strong and very athletic on defense, and more than capable of hanging with bigger players.  I could see him as a Jefferson type who will do the dirty work and play above his size on defense. Meanwhile on offense, Bembry has shown very nice playmaking skills for a wing as a passer and a ball handler.  He just needs to improve his shot from range, which is clearly something the Hawks think they can help him do.

The Chicago Bulls

I am probably one of the biggest Denzel Valentine believers you'll find outside of Sparty fans and pure analytics nerds. And I love the fit in Chicago. I'll probably write a full piece on him later, so I'll save my words here. For now, I'll just say I think it was total steal to get a guy with his skillset at 14, after so many questionable guys went ahead of him.

Then in the 2nd round, they went for 6'8" German wing Paul Zipser, another massive steal.  I hate to keep harping on the value of the switch four, but once again, here's a smart team picking one up.  Zipser needs to add some strength to handle some of the biggest power forwards in the league, but he certainly has the frame for that, and he has the athleticism to switch onto perimeter players.  Meanwhile on offense, he's a guy who can drive to the basket and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers, skills that will allow him to mesh a solid role player alongside superior ball-handlers and distributors like Jimmy Butler and Valentine.

I absolutely adore these two picks by the Bulls.

Other Winners: Memphis Grizzlies (steals fit needs), San Antonio Spurs (as usual), Golden State Warriors (the rich get richer).


Draft Losers

The Charlotte Hornets

Wow, trading the 22 pick for Marco Belinelli was terrible. The Pacers were able to turn the 20th pick into a versatile 28-year-old forward in Thaddeus Young, while all the Hornets got for the 22nd pick was a 30-year-old career backup wing who can't play defense and whose prime year shooting numbers were 95% a byproduct of getting wide-open looks in one of best flowing offenses of all-time in the early 2010s Spurs.  This trade looked awful the second they made it, and now looks even worse in retrospect after watching guys like Luwawu slide past it.

I feel bad for Coach Clifford.  I didn't think their front office could possibly one-up picking Frank Kaminsky at 9 instead of grabbing Justise Winslow or taking the king's ransom Boston was supposedly offering them, but they managed to do it.  Crying Jordan face, indeed.

The Sacramento Kings

Meanwhile, the Kings absolutely fleeced the Hornets, but managed to fumble it away. To put it into an analogy that Michael Jordan would understand, it's like the Kings won big in a heads-up poker game against the Hornets, then took their winnings and blew it all on the roulette wheel.  They traded back the 8th overall pick, presumably because all the highest players left on the board there were big men they didn't need like Marquese Chriss and Jakob Poeltl, but then used the 13th overall pick to reach on a raw big man in Georgios Papagiannis. All much to the chagrin of Boogie Cousins.

Then they blew the pick they stole from Charlotte on a Syracuse guard in Malachi Richardson, who while being a good shooter, is known for ball-stopping, over-dribbling, and bad shot-selection, and whose defensive upside is probably overrated by playing in that Syracuse zone. His upside is basically Dion Waiters 2.0.  Finally, they wrapped up their three first round picks with YET ANOTHER RAW BIG MAN in Skal Labissiere, who was basically a non-factor in Kentucky this year. I don't get it. These picks don't fit the direction the NBA is headed, so they're not going to be in-demand trade assets, and they don't fit a need for a team that already has DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein.

Just the Kings being the Kings, I guess.

The Milwaukee Bucks?

So I'm not going to rip the Bucks as hard as I just ripped the Hornets and Kings. I could say a lot of things here about not making a "value" pick on a big like Thon Maker when those are in big supply in the NBA, or get into the conspiracy theories about the Bucks only drafting guys represented by Jason Kidd's agent. On its surface, this pick seems dumb.

But I can't help feeling some doubt after listening to interviews with Maker.  Maybe I shouldn't let a kid's personality win me over, but it's hard when you have a young guy talking so openly and intelligently about the ins-and-outs of basketball and the areas he's working on improving. He sounds like a coach compared to all the other guys saying "uhh, I just want to do what's best for the team."  Maybe it's because Maker's secretly 30 and not 19, who knows.

Unlike the Kings and the Hornets, though, I can put myself in the Bucks shoes and see the logic, and the philosophy of the pick.  Maker is big, he's athletic, he has potential for both rim protection and perimeter defense, he might be able to develop a long range shot.  He has the rawest of raw projections as the ideal modern NBA center.  So as the Bucks, if you believe you can truly teach a raw prospect to play basketball the right way, like you did with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and you see a guy with these tools, this obvious intelligence, and the clear willingness to learn and improve, maybe reaching a bit in the draft isn't so stupid after all.

Other Losers: Utah Jazz (why couldn't they just get Jeff Teague for 12 instead of taking George Hill?), Houston Rockets (though they kind of redeemed themselves by signing UDFA Gary Payton II), New Orleans Pelicans (I think Buddy Hield will be a good fantasy player, but not worth 6th overall as an NBA player because of his lack of potential as a passer and defender).