It didn’t take long for the 2018 NBA draft to take a drastic turn. The Mavericks shot their shot by moving up in the draft and thus set the stage for the rest of the night. Throughout the night, we’ll be keeping tabs on the teams, figures, and brands (!) who are partying extra hard … or hanging their heads in sorrow.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks
Paolo Uggetti: All that time on Shark Tank paid off for Mark Cuban. After much reported haggling over whether the Mavericks would deal the fifth pick and Wes Matthews to the Hawks for the third pick and Kent Bazemore, the Mavs pulled the trigger in crunch time, trading for the rights to Luka Doncic and giving up a 2019 first-round pick in the process that’s reportedly protected one through five. Doncic will be a Mav, while the Hawks moved down to take Trae Young at no. 5.
Dallas’s move up the board was worth it based on Doncic’s potential alone. The Slovenian has been a superstar for Real Madrid in Europe, winning a league title and MVP award this season. Doncic will fit perfectly next to Dennis Smith Jr., too. With Doncic, the Mavs have a potent backcourt that will allow Smith to work as an athletic off-the-ball shooting guard while they let the offense run through Doncic, who is heralded as an elite playmaker. It sets the Mavericks up perfectly for the future and will make them thrilling to watch immediately. And as an added plus, Doncic will be mentored by a European Legend: Dirk Nowitzki.
Loser: Sacramento Kings
Haley O’Shaughnessy: (This is an evergreen subhead.) Despite all the emoji evidence that suggested Sacramento would select Luka Doncic with its second overall pick, the Kings went with Duke product Marvin Bagley III instead. Bagley’s selection wasn’t an Anthony Bennett–level head-scratcher—he was projected within the top three, has enormous potential, and was the only high-level prospect that actually worked out in Sacramento.
But Bagley’s fit with the Kings is off for two reasons: He’s yet another young big man on a team chock full of them, and more importantly, he’s not Doncic, who could end up the best player in the draft, was near-universally loved by the fan base, and was a consensus top-two player according to many experts. The Kings also could have pulled off a trade, like the Hawks did with the Mavericks at no. 3. With so many potential options, coming away with only Bagley feels underwhelming.
Uggetti: The company formerly known as the brand that outfitted various soccer teams has had quite the week. It signed Deandre Ayton and Bagley to shoe deals (as well as Michael Porter Jr. and Zhaire Smith) after the two had flirted with other companies (Adidas, Nike) for most of their high school and short college careers. Puma also named Jay-Z its creative director, which makes it sound like he’s going to be picking out the color palettes for its new office decor. Stay away from the burners, Beyoncé.
Anyway, having the top two picks in the bag (pun very much intended) is quite a way to kick-start your entry into the basketball shoe world. But it’s fair to ask what kind of value Ayton and Bagley will have long term. Big men don’t typically sell shoes, and the market is already crowded. These players are already trying to upend the league’s trend toward wings and bring it back to the centers, so they might as well try to disrupt the footwear industry, too.
Winner: Suns Attendance Numbers
O’Shaughnessy: Phoenix had one of the sparsest crowds this season, which is starting to become as much a tradition for the franchise as ending the season in April. If the tide was starting to turn with recent draft picks—Devin Booker in 2015, Josh Jackson last year—then 7-foot Deandre Ayton should bring in the waves completely. Ayton, whom the Suns selected first overall, will have an immediate role with the team and be another go-to player in the offense. Pair his elite finishing with Booker’s shot, and you’re looking at next season’s official League Pass team.
Loser: Michael Porter Jr.
Uggetti: It was only a few days ago that we were preparing for a reality in which the Sacramento Kings would take Michael Porter Jr. all the way up at the no. 2 overall pick. But after a cloud of mystery kept surrounding Porter’s medical reports regarding his back and his hips, Porter Jr. tumbled down the draft board.
Porter Jr. was finally drafted 14th by the Nuggets, but it’s not a reach to argue he is a top-3 talent. There was a time when Porter was expected to be the best player of this class. Getting him at the end of the lottery is a boon for Denver, but the health question is a big one. Porter played only three games at Missouri, and he cancelled a workout due to reported hip spasms. Porter’s agent was reportedly attempting to circulate “more detailed” medicals to teams late in the process, but teams were worried that Porter would need to miss significant time, and he fell as a result. The only plus? A possible wake-up call and extra motivation for a guy who has compared himself to Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the past.
”I’m gonna make sure that this pick is the best pick this organization has ever made,” Porter Jr. said afterward.
Winner: Philly’s Phantom GM
Uggetti: The Sixers don’t have a general manager, but the ghost of Sam Hinkie is alive and well. After drafting hometown kid Mikal Bridges with the 10th pick, Philly turned around and traded Bridges for the rights to Zhaire Smith from the Suns. The kicker: They reportedly got Miami’s 2021 first-rounder in the process, which is unprotected. Win-win.
Smith is a comparable, arguably better prospect than Bridges due to his high ceiling. He’s an athletic guard that played out of position all season long at Texas Tech and should be able to defend right away given his measurements. He’ll also love catching lobs from Ben Simmons. Philly nets an extremely valuable asset that it can include in a trade (maybe for Kawhi??) and also saves about $1 million in cap space for next summer. Every million counts!
Winner: Lauri Markkanen
O’Shaughnessy: The Bulls’ rebuild seems fun for their players … for the most part. The roster is full of young guys finding their stride. Even as a rookie last season, Markkanen was one of their major offensive threats, and with Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago’s pick at no. 7, the Bulls have drafted him the ideal frontcourt partner.
Carter, another product from Mike Krzyzewski’s 2017 Duke class, adds mass at 6-foot-10 and 251 pounds next to Markkanen, who at 21, still has a very lean frame. Carter has been compared to your favorite forward’s favorite forward, Al Horford, and will be able to play off Markkanen’s offensive versatility. Of course, comparing someone to Horford means he’d be an easy fit next to almost anyone—Carter rebounds, passes, shoots from deep, and has vintage back-to-the-basket moves. The best word for him is effective, in both skill and basketball IQ, and he will add stability next to a new-age talent like Markkanen.
Loser: ESPN’s Hopes for a Spoiler-Free Broadcast
O’Shaughnessy: You can’t stop a Woj bomb, but you can try to disguise it. Ahead of the draft, The New York Times reported that unlike in years past, reporters from ESPN, Turner Sports, and Yahoo (all league broadcast partners) would be barred from spoiling the picks ahead of time on Twitter. It was the NBA equivalent of trying to prevent an album leak.
It effectively canceled the scoops footrace between ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Yahoo’s Shams Charania, until Wojnarowski found a blatant loophole. It’s a tactic I’m choosing to call the soft scoop:
Memphis is locked in on selecting Jaren Jackson Jr., league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 21, 2018
Rather than outright say “X team will select Y player” as he typically would, Woj whipped out a thesaurus and winked at us: Cleveland prefers Collin Sexton, Washington is locked on Troy Brown, Phoenix is determined, the Spurs are fixated. Wojnarowski found a VPN and bypassed his own company’s firewall. Shams, for what it’s worth, flipped his middle finger to the entire notion and tweeted scoops without restriction or thesaurus.com. The NBA is typically a league that accepts and embraces change, but its attempt to reverse draft spoilers—which are as much a part of the draft today as booing David Stern was a decade ago—shows even it will try (and fail) to micromanage some things.
Loser: Robert Williams; Winner: Robert Williams
Uggetti: The rare loser-winner scenario! Robert Williams out of Texas A&M was considered a lottery talent. At one point this season, he said he was looking to be the no. 1 overall pick. And with good reason: Williams was ranked 12th in the ESPN draft rankings, and as an athletic big man, has high potential to be a rim-running center, seemingly a perfect fit for the modern NBA. Yet there were concerns about Williams’s motor, how much he relied on the talent around him, and whether he was refined enough to merit such a high selection. Teams cooled on him, but it was still a surprise to see him keep dropping all the way down to the late first round.
At 27, the Celtics took the plunge and selected Williams, and Boston is quite literally the best possible situation for him to land in. It’s a disappointing drop for Williams, given what his draft ceiling could have been, but in Boston, he’ll get plugged into a system that’s proved to maximize talent and excise motivational problems. Brad Stevens will be a godsend for Williams, and if Williams ever reaches his full potential, he’ll be the athletic big the Celtics have been looking for. The path to the selection may have been disheartening for Williams, but in the end, the result is all that may matter.
Winner: Joel Embiid’s Twitter
Don’t compare Ayton to me either... I play DEFENSE— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2018