The Orlando Magic led everyone to believe for weeks they would select Auburn forward Jabari Smith with the No. 1 pick. Instead, they chose the most NBA-ready player in Duke forward Paolo Banchero. It was big win for the Magic and the art of draft smokescreens.
Orlando wasn’t the only winner, of course. Other franchises successfully executed their draft plans, giving their players and fan bases hope for the future. To avoid false advertising, the list below also includes draft night’s most unfortunate.
Winner: Paolo Banchero: The Duke All-American was the prospect most ready to put up big numbers right away. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward can power his way to be productive before adding polish to the rest of his game. The Rookie of the Year award will be Banchero’s to lose.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder: They were already in an advantageous position drafting second overall. As expected, they wisely used the No. 2 pick on Chet Holmgren, arguably the prospect with the most superstar potential. But then general manager Sam Presti went to work. He used two of the team’s stockpile of future first-rounders to swing a deal for Ousmane Dieng, a raw but talented 6-10 forward taken at No. 11 by the New York Knicks. Presti completed OKC’s haul of promising talents by choosing Santa Clara forward Jalen Williams at No. 12 and Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams at No. 34. Presti doesn’t need LeBron James’ praise to know he’s a master roster builder. After his latest moves, the future is looking very bright for the Thunder.
Winner: Detroit Pistons. First, GM Troy Weaver got the two players he valued the most in the draft — Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Memphis center Jalen Duren. The Pistons had Ivey, the best guard prospect in this draft class, fall to them at No. 5. They then sent two first-rounders acquired from previous deals to New York for Duren, a 6-11 shot blocker taken at No. 13 by Charlotte before being re-routed, and four-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker, a salary dump by the Knicks to pursue free agents (potentially Kyrie Irving). Suddenly, 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham has a loaded Detroit roster around him with the Pistons rebuild well on its way — thanks to Weaver’s shrewd maneuvers.
Winner: Jaden Ivey: The Purdue guard gets the individual shoutout because, in the end, he got what he wanted. He resisted the overtures of the Kings, even refusing to grant them a workout, and ended up with a much more promising situation in Detroit.
Loser: Sacramento Kings. As mentioned above, they blinked first in the staring contest with Ivey, giving in to his wishes by using the No. 4 pick on Iowa forward Keegan Murray. The 6-8, 225-pound Murray fills a need at the wing position, but the Kings’ decision feels like another draft-night misstep by a franchise that’s missed out on drafting superstars (Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson). Playing it safe is not the way to make significant strides in the highly competitive Western Conference. But, as Kings Twitter likes to say, Kangz gonna Kangz.
Winner: MarJon Beauchamp. The tears the 6-5 guard shed after having his name called as the No. 24 pick was the culmination of a journey to the NBA full of obstacles. Last year, he nearly quit basketball. Now, after excelling in the G League, Beauchamp has the opportunity to earn meaningful minutes on a Milwaukee Bucks squad led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets. They didn’t have any picks, but the talk of the league before the draft on Thursday was the growing uncertainty over the futures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as members of the Nets. The nightmare just won’t stop for owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks.
Winner: Duke basketball. Four Blue Devils — Banchero, Mark Williams, A.J. Griffin and Wendell Moore Jr. — were selected first, 15th, 16th and 26th, respectively, to tie the program’s record for most first-round selections in one draft.
Loser: New York Knicks. They’re clearing cap space to make a splash in free agency. Still, Thursday’s moves made for a very confusing draft night for Knicks fans.