Whiteboard: NBA Draft Lottery winners and losers, and rethinking the 2019 NBA Draft

Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA Draft Lottery rewarded the Spurs and left us with some other clear winners and losers. We’re breaking it all down and reflecting on the 2019 Draft.

The Nuggets absolutely rolled the Lakers for three quarters before a few key adjustments allowed LeBron and company to close the gap in the fourth. They may have found a workable formula to make Game 2 more competitive start-to-finish but the Nuggets got the 132-126 win.

That was the NBA nightcap though, the digestif to the excitement of the NBA Draft Lottery (aka the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes). The ultimate prize went to the San Antonio Spurs but the final order leaves several more angles to explore and we’re breaking down the biggest winners and losers.

NBA Draft Lottery: Winners

San Antonio Spurs: This one is obvious and completely self-explanatory. The Spurs landed the No. 1 pick and the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama. He is every bit as tantalizing a prospect as David Robinson and Tim Duncan, their previous No. 1 picks, were. And with Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones, Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley and 11 first-round picks over the next five years, they have the pieces in place to build something special again.

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors did not move up but the way the rest of the teams that did fell has opened up an opportunity for them. The Hornets seem destined to take Brandon Miller No. 2 and the Trail Blazers will almost certainly trade the No. 3 pick. No one has as many useful pieces to offer the Blazers as Toronto which means they could conceivably keep their No. 13 pick, trade up to No. 3 to land Scoot Henderson and roll into next season with two new foundational pieces and Scottie Barnes and either OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam still in place.

Damian Lillard: The Blazers probably would have kept their pick if they’d won No. 1. They didn’t, but they moved up two spots, all but ensuring they make a trade to get Lillard more help and improved the value of the asset they’ll use to do it. No. 3, No. 23, Anfernee Simons and another role player might be enough to get Mikal Bridges. If they had slid to No. 6 or No. 7, that probably wouldn’t have been the case.

Scoot Henderson: Assuming he goes No. 3 and it’s a team trading up with the Blazers into that position, he’s likely to end up in a situation with a lot more talent and support than he would have if the Rockets or Hornets had just won the No. 3 pick outright. More scaffolding for his rookie season could lead to better outcomes down the road.

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NBA Draft Lottery: Losers

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons had the worst record in the NBA this season but slid to No. 5. That means they’ll miss out on Victor Wembanyama and (almost certainly) Brandon Miller and land in a range where the best prospects are likely to be primaryish ball-handlers like Amen or Ausar Thompson who are somewhat redundant with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, or wing prospects whose primary value is defense and won’t help their spacing and problems, like Cam Whitmore or Jarace Walker. They’re going to get a good player but they’ll miss out on the top tier.

Brandon Miller: Maybe I’m being pessimistic here. He’s a great fit for the Hornets but I’m not sure it’s the best fit for him, he’s going to have to carry a lot of offensive primacy early on and he’s also going to spend a lot of time sprinting up court just to watch LaMelo Ball hoist up a contested 30-footer. He’s going to get his chance to shine but there were probably better developmental scenarios for him to end up in.

Rockets: I’m not sure what the Rockets would have done with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick, but sliding to No. 4 probably takes Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson off the table and flattens the possibilities. They’re going to end up with another talented player but the prospects available after the first three aren’t going to have the kind of well-defined, primary role that will bring structure and help slot the rest of this young roster into defined roles. Amen Thompson might turn out to be a huge value, but he probably doesn’t help the Rockets figure out who they are this year or next.

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What if the Cavaliers won the 2019 NBA Draft?

Ja Morant playing with a gun in a public place, again, on an Instagram video has only added uncertainty to a bright future that has quickly become cloudy. He’s likely facing another suspension and now has a troubling track record but is still just 23 and has plenty of time to get himself together and leave these problems behind him.

But still, the content machines must be fed and this latest incident raised the question (for some folks) whether the Knicks actually won the 2019 NBA Draft.

The Knicks went into that draft with the best odds over the No. 1 pick but were leapfrogged by both the Pelicans and Grizzlies to fall to No. 3. The Pelicans got Zion Williamson. The Grizzlies got Ja Morant. The Knicks got R.J. Barrett.

Zion has been a permanent fixture on injury reports in his four-year career, already missing an entire season and appearing in just 114 games across the other three. With his unavailability and Morant’s current problems, it’s at least worth reconsidering who made out the best in the 2019 Draft. But if Morant and Williamson continue on their current trajectories, I would argue the Cavs, not the Knicks, would look like the real winners.

The Cavs also slid three spots in the lottery but ended up at No. 5 and selected Darius Garland. He’s already made an All-Star team and averaged 21.6 points, 7.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this past season, shooting 41.0 percent from the field. He’s had his own injury problems and played slightly fewer games than Barrett (21 games across four seasons), but he’s outperformed him by nearly every statistical measure.

If we’re rewriting history and reassigning winners, let’s give the Cavs their props.

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