The 2018 NBA Draft is in the books, and the grades have been rendered. As is the case with most sporting events, not everybody can be a winner.
Here’s a look at those who came out on top on Thursday night and those who are ready for the weekend…
When a franchise enters the draft with the No. 5 pick and walks away with its best talent, there’s a good chance it did pretty well. The Mavs sent their first-round selection — effectively Trae Young — along with a top-five protected 2019 first-rounder to Atlanta for the rights to Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic in one of the draft’s two biggest deals.
For this to be a loss for the Mavericks, the value between Young and that first-round pick must be greater than the return on Doncic. That feels unlikely to be true. Doncic rates out as one of the most impressive prospects in recent years. According to the draft model of ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Doncic has the best pro projection of any prospect dating back to 2003 (LeBron James not included since he jumped straight from high school).
Young is an excellent prospect in his own right, but there’s significantly more risk associated with him due to his poor defense than there is with Doncic. The 2019 pick will be a solid asset for the Hawks, to be sure, as well. Still, next year’s draft class looks to be significantly weaker than this one, especially outside of the top five.
Dallas will now go about building Doncic into its rotation. His fit next to Dennis Smith Jr. shouldn’t be a concern. The 19-year-old has excelled playing next to another ball handler in the past with the Slovenian national team and Real Madrid.
The Mavericks found some nice value in the second round with Jalen Brunson and Ray Spalding, in particular, but their 2018 draft night will be defined by the decision to move up and snag the best player on the board.
Loser: Mikal Bridges
When the Villanova wing was selected at No. 10 by the 76ers, it seemed like the perfect marriage between prospect and team. Bridges played his college ball at the same arena as the Sixers, his mom is the vice president of human resources for the team’s ownership group and his 3-and-D skill set fit the roster’s needs flawlessly.
Bridges and his mother were rightly ecstatic on the broadcast of the event following the selection. There was only one problem: Bridges’ time as a Sixers wasn’t going to last.
While the 21-year-old was conducting a press conference about his excitement, news broke that he’d been traded to the Suns in exchange for Zhaire Smith and a future first-round pick. The cliched line “it’s a business” was uttered by more than one person following the deal.
There’s certainly no problem with Bridges’ fit in Phoenix — his malleability is one of his best strengths — but it’s not the fairytale ending everybody expected when the Sixers selected him at No. 10. It’s easy to understand why that would be a bit of a bummer for the prospect and his family.
Winner: Coherent front office visions
Understanding what a front office values in prospects can be helpful when mocking out what the first round will look like. On a larger level, though, it provides a coherent vision for a franchise’s future by helping a team shape its roster with an end goal in mind. On Thursday night, three organizations stood out for their commitment to principles.
Atlanta’s new general manager Travis Schlenk appears to understand the significant boost floor spacing and accurate outside shooting can bring to an offense from his time with the Warriors. He made the move to select Trae Young, the draft’s best shooter, at No. 5 and followed it up with an elite wing shooter in Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman, a 43.3 percent 3-point shooter at the center spot. Stephen Curry comparisons for Young and Klay Thompson comparisons for Huerter aside, Schlenk appeared to enter the draft with a vision and executed it.
Similar things can be said about the Magic. General manager John Hammond has a history of preferring prospects with positional size and length. At No. 6, he snagged Mohamed Bamba’s 7-10 wingspan before picking up Melvin Frazier (7-2 wingspan) and Justin Jackson (7-3) in the second round. Orlando’s roster may not be built to score many points, but there will be a ton of arms in the way of the basket on the other end of the floor.
Then there’s the 76ers. With Bryan Colangelo no longer at the helm and head coach Brett Brown running the personnel show, Philadelphia executed a Sam Hinkie-esque trade to acquire Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder from Phoenix for Mikal Bridges.
“We are star hunting,” Brown said of the decision. “Or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.”
Smith was the right prospect to bet on if that’s the goal, and the Sixers got a future asset out of the deal, too.
Cleveland obviously entered the 2018 NBA Draft in a difficult position, as LeBron James’ pending free agency looms large over the franchise. On one hand, the Brooklyn pick at No. 8 could be seen as an opportunity to make a final pitch to James. On the other, it represented a building block for a potential future without him.
It’s not exactly clear which of those goals the Cavaliers moved closer to by selecting Collin Sexton. The 6-2 point guard doesn’t exactly have a skill set that screams, “I can play next to LeBron James!” He has historically been a ball-dominant lead guard with an offensive game characterized by bull rushes to the basket.
Sexton’s presence as a secondary ball-handler could be valuable, in theory, but he’ll pose minimal threat as an off-ball floor spacer. He made just 33.6 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman. Even worse, he shot just 10-of-34 on catch-and-shoots, ranking in the 31st percentile in terms of efficiency on those plays, per Synergy.
In the event James leaves, Sexton doesn’t project to be a dynamic primary initiator. He struggled to make his teammates better at Alabama. Folks will compare his game to Russell Westbrook, but he lacks the explosive athleticism that characterizes the Oklahoma City star. Few point guard prospects with his feel indicators in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio and steals per 40 minutes have turned into stars.
Add in the fact that a better point guard prospect in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander reportedly made it clear he didn’t want to play for the franchise, and it’s obvious Thursday wasn’t the best night for Cleveland.
Winner: Adrian Wojnarowski’s Thesaurus
Current ESPN reporter Adrian “Woj” Wojnarowski has a reputation for announcing an NBA team’s selection on Twitter minutes before Adam Silver actually takes to the podium. When news broke of an agreement between the league and its broadcast partners, including ESPN, centered around not prematurely disclosing picks this year, it looked like one of the NBA Draft’s most time-honored traditions was in trouble. Luckily, Wojnarowski had a solution.
Rather than actually tweet out the selections, Woj dug deep into his thesaurus for euphemisms like “enamored with,” “tantalized by” or “locked on” to slyly imply a connection between a franchise and a prospect. Lo and behold, each selection came through.
Woj saved some of his best work for late in the first round, noting that “Portland has a laser on Anfernee Simons” at No. 24 and “the Lakers are unlikely to resist Mo Wagner” right after. It was perhaps the best performance of Woj’s news-breaking career, and he has his thesaurus to thank for it.
Loser: Michael Porter Jr.
Once seen as a potential No. 1 pick, Thursday night didn’t go quite as planned for Porter. The Missouri freshman appeared to tumble down draft boards due to medical concerns associated with the back surgery that caused him to miss the majority of his lone college season.
The exact nature of those worries — namely whether they’re a long-term issue, short-term problem or both — remains unknown to those who haven’t seen the medical evaluations. At No. 14, though, the talent rewards became too much for Denver to pass up.
Porter has a legitimate chance to be a star if he checks out healthy and returns to the form talent evaluators saw during his senior year of high school. At 6-11, he has the ability to knock down jumpers over the top of defenders, and he’s athletic enough to be a threat in space.
There’s a real possibility the Nuggets come out a huge winner here, but for Porter, the night was unquestionably a disappointment after expectations were set so high entering his freshman campaign.
No surprise here. Daryl Morey’s Rockets came out ahead from an analytics perspective. Houston locked down several prospects on draft night who rate out well by the numbers.
At No. 46, the Rockets picked up USC’s De’Anthony Melton, a 6-3 combo guard who missed this season due to eligibility issues. According to the LUCARIO model developed by Nylon Calculus’s Senthil Natarajan, Melton has star equity as a defender. His freshman year stats heavily mirror Jrue Holiday’s. If he can generate any level of offense similar to Holiday, he has the potential to be a steal.
Houston traded back into the second round to snag Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a sharpshooting power forward who can guard multiple positions, and used a two-way contract to sign Cincinnati’s Gary Clark. The 6-7 wing is another prospect who projects to have defensive star equity, per LUCARIO.
If the numbers are right, Houston did a great job finding value late on Thursday.
Loser: Deandre Ayton
Sure, Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick, will be revered by Suns fans and lined his pockets with cash, but he’s already getting dunked on by Joel Embiid, and he hasn’t even played an NBA game yet.
Don’t compare Ayton to me either… I play DEFENSE
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2018