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The Winners and Losers of the 2020 NBA Draft

Daryl Morey may have fixed the Sixers in one night, the Warriors toggled between extreme highs and extreme lows, and the Knicks did about as well as you’d expect

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The 2020 NBA draft, in all its shambolic Zoom-fueled glory, is in the books. Your mock draft is surely in disarray, your big board bruised, battered, and broken; the best player available, at this point and as ever, is Creeping Doubt.

But uncertainty has no place in post-draft coverage. The experts may say that you can’t accurately grade a draft until a handful of years down the line; luckily, I’m not an expert. Join me, then, as we hand out Ws and Ls to those who rose and fell on Wednesday, starting in a place where Good Things Happen:

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

Three big issues plagued the Sixers during their disappointing 2019-20 season: an offense-throttling logjam created by the ill-fated Joel Embiid–Ben Simmons–Al Horford triptych; an almost total absence of guards who could handle the ball, run a pick-and-roll, break down a defense off the dribble, and put some pressure on the rim; and an overall lack of viable perimeter shooting. In his first big night out after taking the reins as Philly’s new president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey set about addressing all three.

First, Morey did the heavy lifting, engaging with old pal Sam Presti and the rambunctiously rebuilding Thunder on a deal to jettison Horford. For the cost of a top-six-protected 2025 first-round pick (with declining protections in future years), Wednesday’s 34th overall pick, and the rights to Vasilije Micic, one of the better guards in Europe, Philly offloaded the final three years and $69 million still guaranteed on Horford’s contract. In return, the Sixers landed Danny Green, a 6-foot-6 3-and-D veteran with scads of championship experience fresh off a title run with the Lakers (and a brief stopover in Oklahoma following the Dennis Schröder deal). They also added Terrance Ferguson, a somewhat stalled prospect in Presti’s preferred draft mold (read: super athletic, long-limbed, jump shot that’s never quite panned out) who nonetheless helps bolster Philly’s wing depth and better balances a roster that was too thick in the middle and too thin everywhere else.

The draft board broke Philly’s way too, with a run on bigs and wings in the middle of the first round that left Tyrese Maxey—a feisty and tenacious scorer and point-of-attack defender who averaged 14 points per game as a freshman at Kentucky—in their laps. Maxey didn’t shoot the lights out in Lexington, making just 29.2 percent of his long balls, but his stronger free throw numbers (83.3 percent) show a smooth stroke, and his aggressiveness in getting into the paint and finishing in traffic will be a welcome addition to a Philly offense yearning for more playmaking and creation.

Then, as the first round bled into the second, Morey packaged shooting guard Josh Richardson—a big piece of the return from last summer’s Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade, but never quite a snug fit in Philly—along with the 36th pick and sent them to the Mavericks in exchange for Seth Curry, a certified spot-up sniper (44.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc for his career) on an absolute steal of a contract that will pay him just $24.5 million over the next three years. (He’s also Doc Rivers’s son-in-law, for what that’s worth.) You might recall that when the Sixers had JJ Redick’s elite floor-spacing to play off of and open the floor for Embiid and Simmons, they won 50-plus games in consecutive seasons, posting top-10 offenses in each on the strength of some of the best starting lineups in the league. That seems notable—as does the second-round addition of Isaiah Joe, a 6-foot-5 guard who jacked a wild 9.1 triple tries in 32.7 minutes per game over two seasons at Arkansas, drilling 37.8 percent of them. It appears there is a trend here.

There’s still more work to be done—more shooters to add, more space to create for Embiid and Simmons, more weapons to find for Doc to deploy. But in just a few hours, Morey went a long way toward not only balancing the roster, but making it make more sense around his two 26-and-under studs and building around his best pieces rather than trading them away on general principle. That constitutes a pretty good start to the new era, I think.

Loser: Milwaukee Bucks

With all due respect to second-round choices Jordan Nwora and Sam Merrill, the biggest story of the Bucks’ draft night didn’t have much to do with the draft itself. This is sort of a TBD situation, pending more information and a resolution that I expect will come down the pike over the next couple of days. But just before the start of the draft, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic never actually agreed to join the Bucks in the sign-and-trade deal that Milwaukee and Sacramento reportedly pulled off on Monday night. One important aspect of dealmaking, as I understand it, is actually having the guy you have to sign know about it and be cool with it. Which makes this something of a problem!

It’s possible that this is just something of a cover-your-ass formality, one where the Bucks are trying to avoid a tampering charge for completing a sign-and-trade with another team’s player before free agency officially opens on Friday. It’s also possible that this is some shrewd positioning on Bogdanovic’s part—a way to negotiate the salary on his big NBA payday up a few million bucks now that he knows he’s got Milwaukee on the hook. If in fact this is what the reporting says it is, though—the Bucks getting ahead of themselves in blabbing to the public when they shouldn’t have—and if an unhappy league office decides to punish them for doing so by voiding the deal, then the Bucks’ best-laid plans for building a better team around Giannis Antetokounmpo might have just blown up in their faces.

Suddenly, what looked like a carefully constructed, multifaceted arrangement to set up a three-year run turns out to be a loss of three first-round picks, two pick swaps, and two good players for what could wind up being one year of Jrue Holiday. And, if you’re Antetokounmpo, maybe you start wondering about just how locked in the people making the decisions are in the front office of the franchise that’s about to ask you to sign the supermax.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

Uncertainty abounded at the top of the draft, with weeks of rumors flying about which prospects Minnesota loved, which ones didn’t make sense, which ones they didn’t even speak to, and how much interest there was in the no. 1 selection. In the end, though, they got their man, taking Georgia guard Anthony Edwards—the cleanest positional fit among the top prospects for a team led by Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, and a player who, with the right development plan and leadership around him, could blossom into a devastating scorer and force on the perimeter.

As part of that development-and-leadership plan, Gersson Rosas then brought back an old friend, swinging a deal with the Thunder that sent out the no. 17 pick (later used on Serbian prospect Aleksej Pokusevski) in exchange for a package headlined by Ricky Rubio, who spent the first six seasons of his NBA career in the Twin Cities. (As part of that package, and after another trade with the Knicks, the Wolves also landed no. 23 pick Leandro Bolmaro, a 6-foot-7 Argentinian point forward who plays in Barcelona, and toolsy 6-foot-9 wing Jaden McDaniels at no. 28.)

Rubio has never quite lived up to the billing that attended his rise as a prospect in Spain, when he profiled as a daring young playmaker on the order of “Pistol” Pete Maravich. But even without the reliable jumper to unlock everything, and after the injuries and the mileage over the years, he remains a rock-solid NBA point guard who can orchestrate an offense, organize a defense, and help put young players in better positions to succeed. He helped foster Donovan Mitchell’s growth in Utah; the Jazz outscored opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions when they shared the floor two seasons ago. He helped Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton take flight last season in Phoenix; the Suns were plus-7.6-per-100 when the trio played together, and got outscored in the minutes that Booker and Ayton played without Rubio. Now, the 30-year-old Spaniard will be asked to do the same for Russell, Towns, and Edwards in his return to the team that drafted him.

How far the Wolves can go will ultimately depend on whether Rosas, coach Ryan Saunders, and Co. can build a serviceable defense around KAT and Russell; Wednesday’s moves won’t solve that problem on their own. But Rubio gives the Wolves a great chance at raising their floor in the present tense, and Edwards gives them a shot to raise their ceiling in the years to come.

Loser: Golden State Warriors

Maybe James Wiseman is the perfect bridge to the next dynastic era in Warriors basketball; maybe second-round pick Nico Mannion winds up providing a dose of playmaking spark off the bench. None of that really matters, though, if this is as bad as it sounds:

Klay Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season rehabilitating the left ACL that he tore in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Without him, with Stephen Curry missing most of the season with a broken hand, with Kevin Durant off to Brooklyn, and with Draymond Green clearly not firing on all cylinders on a team with no chance of meaningful contention, the Warriors were a shell of their former selves. After that injury-induced gap year, though, Golden State was supposed to come roaring back this season, with the no. 2 pick and new arrival Andrew Wiggins augmenting the rightful return of the championship core. The prospect of us missing out on that—and of Thompson, now 30, missing a second full season to rehabilitate a devastating leg injury—is almost too brutal to bear.

Winner: Sacramento Kings

Everybody knew who the top three picks would be, but as the lottery wore on and forwards and bigs kept coming off the board, it became clear that one of the draft’s top guards was going to drop. It wound up being Tyrese Haliburton, the 6-foot-5 Iowa State product who’s drawn raves for his vision, touch, and high basketball IQ. When the Spurs went with Florida State swingman Devin Vassell at no. 11, Sacramento’s front office under new general manager Monte McNair pounced.

I don’t blame Kings fans who may ask where that “We don’t pass on talent” mantra was two years ago, but hey, better late than never, right?

Haliburton, an NCAA analytics darling—which might have piqued the interest of McNair, who cut his teeth in the Rockets’ front office under Morey—brings size, savvy, playmaking chops, defensive acumen, and versatility to a Kings backcourt that already has a warp-speed facilitator in De’Aaron Fox and a bombs-away floor-spacer in Buddy Hield. Haliburton’s ability to work on or off the ball should allow him to find ways to contribute in all sorts of lineup configurations, giving head coach Luke Walton the flexibility to keep multiple high-level creators on the court even if Bogdanovic does wind up leaving in restricted free agency.

Nobody would’ve batted an eye if Haliburton went in the top six; instead, the Kings, for once, reap the benefits of other teams potentially overthinking their lottery selections. (Landing Robert Woodard II and Jah’mius Ramsey, a pair of potential two-way contributors, with mid-second-round picks is a nice haul, too.) If that’s not worth a respectful, muted, masked, and socially distanced celebration, then I don’t know what is.

Loser: New York Knicks

In assessing the Knicks for the Team Needs portion of our annual draft guide, my Ringer teammate Rob Mahoney identified “more spacing and playmaking” around 2019 lottery pick RJ Barrett—“another perimeter player to work as a threat without the ball and share in the creative burden when in control of it.” If that sounds familiar, it might be because the Knicks’ best point guards of the last 20 years have been Stephon Marbury, two weeks of Jeremy Lin, the less thicc versions of Raymond Felton, and the greying editions of Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. (It’s been a rough couple of decades.) Armed with two first-round picks, including one in the mid-lottery, in a draft that featured a bunch of intriguing playmaking prospects, the Knicks wound up with … a scoring big man, a good shooter without top-flight playmaking chops, and a 2023 second-round pick.

The rumblings grew louder and louder as Wednesday wore on that new Knicks boss Leon Rose (who, coincidently, was a power-broker agent at CAA before taking up residence at MSG) had his sights set on Dayton forward Obi Toppin (who, coincidentally, is repped by CAA). The Bushwick-born Toppin was the National Player of the Year last season, a 6-foot-9 rim-rocker with a smooth offensive game who averaged 20 points per game on 63 percent shooting for the Flyers; he may walk into the Garden as the Knicks’ most polished offensive player. (Which, granted, isn’t saying too much.) But unless he’s a legitimate stretch 4—he shot 39 percent from the college 3 as a sophomore on 2.6 attempts per game—it’s unclear how effectively he’ll mesh on the offensive end with the interior-focused Barrett and rim-running center Mitchell Robinson, who may also have to work overtime to cover for Toppin on the defensive end of the court, where the Knicks have ranked in the bottom third of the league for four years running.

It’s possible that Toppin and no. 25 pick Immanuel Quickley—a sweet-shooting Kentucky product who ranked 39th on Kevin O’Connor’s big board—provide enough scoring that it diminishes their shortcomings in other areas. At some point, though, if they have any designs on mattering again, the Knicks are going to have to bring in a legitimately good point guard and some players who can stop somebody. It doesn’t seem like they did that on Wednesday.

Winner: Detroit Pistons

New GM Troy Weaver inherited a fairly bare cupboard, with Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya the only decent prospects on the roster beyond next season. He began changing that on Wednesday by selecting French guard Killian Hayes with the seventh overall pick. The 6-foot-5 lefty’s something of a polarizing player—our Kevin O’Connor rated him at the best prospect in this draft class, while others saw him as more of a mid-first-round pick due to middling athleticism and a lacking right hand—but he brings a combination of size, playmaking talent, and shooting ability that could make him a standout lead guard for years to come.

Weaver then pulled a pair of moves to give Hayes some company in the incoming draft class. He took advantage of the capped-out hellscape in Houston, sending a top-16-protected future first-round pick to the Rockets for the no. 16 pick and veteran swingman Trevor Ariza, and took high-motor Washington big man Isaiah Stewart to pair with Doumbouya—and, if they can keep him in free agency, reclamation-project-turned-revelation Christian Wood—in an athletic, switchable frontcourt of the future. Then, he flipped Kennard—a pretty damn good scorer and playmaker at the 2 whose career has been limited by injuries and playing on bad Detroit teams—to the Clippers in a three-way deal that sent Landry Shamet to the Nets and imported the 19th pick, which he then used on Saddiq Bey, a central-casting 3-and-D wing out of Jay Wright’s Villanova pro factory. Altogether, it gives coach Dwane Casey a core of big, tough, skilled, hard-nosed young talent with which to begin forming the next competitive iteration of the Pistons.

Winner: LaVar Ball

Love him or hate him, with son LaMelo joining the Hornets, it’s now inarguable: The man did raise two top-three picks, and did it mostly while wearing slides. Now, let us hope he keeps his own counsel, lets Lonzo and LaMelo chart their own path from here, and enjoys the fruits of his vision from afar. Like, way afar.