The teams that win in the NBA are those that draft well, making the draft the lifeblood of the league. And Thursday night in Barclays Center, the Post takes a look at exactly who left the building as winners and who left as losers.
The Magic got Shaquille O’Neal with the top pick in 1992, and Dwight Howard a dozen years later. They went with the most ready big this time, too. Paolo Banchero has the defense and intangibles for a team in desperate need of both. A 6-foot-10, 250-pounder who can pass, imagine Ben Simmons with a jumper.
GM Troy Weaver just killed this draft. After Sacramento inexplicably passed on Jaden Ivey for Keegan Murray, Detroit pounced on the open-court menace Ivey. The Purdue star has drawn comparisons to Ja Morant and should be the perfect athletic complement for Cade Cunningham’s size and smarts. Adding athletic 6-11 shot-blocking center Jalen Duren in a three-way deal was a bonus; but creating enough cap space to chase Deandre Ayton or Miles Bridges is hanging on the rim.
New Orleans Pelicans
Dyson Daniels at No. 8 is a perfect fit. Brandon Ingram, newly-acquired CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson (eventually) will create shots; Daniels will handle the defense and the dirty work. He’s got a shaky jumper, but assistant Fred Vinson worked miracles with Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Herb Jones. Daniels is his next pupil of him.
San Antonio Spurs
One pick later, the Spurs took 6-foot-9 defensive ace Jeremy Sochan over Duren. But like New Orleans one spot earlier, they’re taking a young upside pick with an Achilles heel they’re convinced longtime shot doctor Chip Engelland can fix. Then came much-improved Ohio State guard Malaki Branham at No. 20 and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley at No. 25, three athletic upside picks. Who’s going to bet against the Spurs’ player development?
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It’s not just that the Nets didn’t have a single pick on Thursday in their own building. It’s not just that they punctuated the No. 23 pick to next year in hopes Philadelphia backslides, only to watch the 76ers improve by getting De’Anthony Melton. It’s that they owed their own pick to Houston for James Harden, and we see how that worked. Oh, and the specter of Kyrie Irving loomed over the night.
They got played by Ivey. After his noises from him about not wanting to play in Sacramento, they got scared off the best available player and went for Murray. Yes, he fills a need, but he almost certainly would’ve been available later. The Kings could’ve gotten a nice return for moving down from No. 4, especially with Ivey on the board. But hey, they passed on Luka Doncic for Marvin Bagley, so maybe Ivey had a point.
New York Knicks
Yes, they turned one pick into three and cleared cap space. But they sacrificed lottery talent, while the Bucks pick will likely be poor and the other two are heavily protected. It seems a steep price to clear Kemba Walker’s non-onerous $9.2 million expiring deal, all just for a shot at free agent Jalen Brunson (unless Irving is the endgame, which brings an entirely different set of concerns).
In a wing league, Memphis was not only enviably deep, but actually had a glut of wings. They traded away Melton to Philadelphia for the No. 23 pick, taking David Roddy alongside No. 19 Jake LaRavia. They’ve drafted well under Zach Kleiman, but why give up a solid defender and legitimate piece for a couple of limited-upside rookies who could be hard-pressed to crack this rotation? For a team this young, experience should be a priority.