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The Winners and Losers of the NBA Draft

The Pelicans and the Hawks each deepened their rosters, while the Suns and floral suits both fared rather poorly

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The good, the bad, and the fits from the NBA draft.


Winner: The Pelicans’ War Chest and Their Future

On Thursday night, Zion Williamson waltzed into the Barclays Center in a suit as white as his smile and shook Adam Silver’s hand before giving an emotional interview. Obviously, this was a great moment for the Pelicans, but the NBA world had known it was coming since the lottery in May.

Back in New Orleans, David Griffin was still dealing. The Pelicans flipped the fourth overall pick, Solomon Hill’s expiring contract, and the 57th pick to the Hawks for the eighth, 17th, and 35th picks in the draft. Those first two picks turned into rim-running Longhorn Jaxson Hayes and Hokie Nickeil Alexander-Walker. As capologist Albert Nahmad pointed out on Twitter, this expansion of the Davis trade now leaves New Orleans with $30 million in cap space. Here it is, sans the Cavs pick, all laid out:

Folks, this is how you get return for a superstar (looking at you, San Antonio). The Pelicans are now set up for both the short and long term. And, as many have pointed out, should another star become disgruntled before reaching free agency, no team will be able to compete with the kind of assets that the Pelicans could offer in a trade. It’s remarkable how much things have changed for New Orleans in the span of a few months. Sure, Griffin has done tremendous work both capitalizing on opportunities and making the best out of tricky situations, but none of this happens—especially to this extent—without Zion. Let’s dance.

Loser: Printed Suits; Winner: Outside-the-Box Suits

Look, I get it, you want to stand out. You don’t want to go with solid colors or fabrics. So you think, let’s go shiny, let’s go floral:

And then you end up being like everyone else. There were, by my count, seven fits with some kind of print, floral or otherwise, on the jacket. The real visionaries go with an entirely different kind of garment:

The real winners go with spiderwebs:

Loser: Bol Bol

The fit may have been a winner, but Bol fell hard in the draft. He had been invited to the green room and talked up as a lottery talent, a 7-foot-2 big who can dribble, block, and shoot. But Bol, the son of Manute Bol, also had plenty of questions surrounding his health and his motor, as well as concerns about the foot injury that ended his freshman season at Oregon early. There was always a chance he could drop, but no one saw him going this low. Finally, at pick no. 44, the Miami Heat drafted him and promptly traded him to Denver.

In some ways, this is the perfect spot for Bol. The Nuggets took a similar risk last season by selecting an injured Michael Porter Jr. at no. 14. Porter sat out the entire season and is expected to be ready for summer league. Now Denver may have another redshirt project on its hands in Bol. But if Bol pans out, the Nuggets could look like geniuses once again.

Loser: The Suns

Before the draft even began, the Suns made two trades. The first deserved a thinking-face emoji—Phoenix, suddenly desperate to get rid of the three years and $35 million remaining on TJ Warren’s contract, traded him and a second-round draft pick to the Pacers for cash considerations. The second was more interesting: The Suns traded the sixth pick to the Timberwolves for Dario Saric and the 11th pick, which seemed like a great move to add value. Then they used the 11th pick to draft Cam Johnson.

Johnson is a sharpshooter, but that’s about the nicest thing you can say about him. He’s already older than Devin Booker (who has already played four NBA seasons!), will be 28 when his rookie contract ends, and wasn’t invited to the green room Thursday because he wasn’t expected to go until the late first or second round. Numerous teams reportedly took Johnson off their draft board because he’s had injuries to both of his hips. None of this sounds good! But according to Woj, Suns VP Jeff Bower has always wanted Johnson and now finally got his guy. So, it’s all good, guys, nothing to see here.

In all seriousness, Johnson is a winner for rising and getting his, and Phoenix made a smart move in trading for the 24th pick and drafting Ty Jerome, but even if the Suns take the cap space they created (they already eliminated some of that by taking back Aron Baynes in the trade with the Celtics) and sign D’Angelo Russell in free agency, they just can’t seem to get out of their own way:

Pray for Booker.

Losers: Kris Dunn and Collin Sexton

Both the Cavaliers and the Bulls drafted point guards in the lottery—Chicago took Coby White and Cleveland took Darius Garland, the late darling of the draft—which doesn’t bode well for the incumbent ball handlers on each of those squads. Dunn is already on his second team after being drafted by the Wolves, and he’s yet to show any kind of consistency to merit the reins of an offense. White could be exactly the guy the Bulls need to feed and run with Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine. Dunn may be on the outside looking in now.

Sexton, on the other hand, has only one season under his belt, and while he came on strong in the second half of last season, he’s undersized and needs the ball in his hands. Garland, who some say has light shades of Kyrie Irving, does too. Sexton, though, was live on Thursday night and thought that he and Garland could be comped to another NBA backcourt:

Let’s take it one step at a time.

Winner: Ja Morant’s Dad

Earlier this week, Morant said his dad was his first hater. On Thursday we got to meet him:

If you can pull off a hat like that, I guess you can say whatever you want.

Winners: The Yung Hawks

Boosted by the play of Trae Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter, Atlanta was already a League Pass darling this past season. What’s more, the Hawks appeared to have the foundation for a fun rebuild that would get good faster than everyone expected. At the draft, GM Travis Schlenk seemed to have a direct plan that worked out to perfection: The Hawks moved up to take De’Andre Hunter, who pairs well alongside Collins, and then sat back as the high-upside Cam Reddish fell to them at no. 10. Reddish was thought to be a top-five talent who had some question marks given his up-and-down season at Duke, but the potential, especially in a good system like Atlanta’s, is boundless.

The Hawks may be trying to build Warriors East, and while that ideal may still be a few iterations away, there’s no doubt they are overflowing with young potential: Young, Huerter, Reddish, Hunter, and Collins are all 21 years old or younger.

Loser: The Wizards’ Ability to Communicate

Everything is fine.

Loser: Brandon Clarke; Winner: The Grizzlies (and Brandon Clarke)

Clarke had the potential to be a lottery pick, but he kept falling until the Grizzlies moved up to select him at no. 21. Memphis is leaning hard into its young rebuild, and the Grizzlies are big winners after Thursday night. Now, with Ja Morant, whom they selected with the second pick, and Clarke to play alongside second-year stopper Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies suddenly have the makings of a new core. Clarke is a defensive menace who, as Kevin O’Connor puts it, has “shades of Pascal Siakam,” and Jackson Jr. could turn out to be the best two-way big from last year’s draft. Given that Morant isn’t exactly known for his defense, putting him in front of two potentially premier defenders makes a lot of sense. This is no longer Grit and Grind, but it could still be a whole lot of fun.