The teams that win in the NBA are the ones that recover well, making the draft the lifeblood of the league. And on Thursday night at Barclays Center, the Post examines exactly who left the building as a winner and who left as a loser.
The Magic got Shaquille O’Neal the first 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 the intangibles for a team that desperately needs 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 Ivey open field threat. The Purdue star has drawn comparisons to Ja Morant and should be the perfect athletic match for Cade Cunningham’s size and intelligence. The addition of 6-11 athletic center Jalen Duren in a three-way deal was a bonus; but creating enough space to chase Deandre Ayton or Miles Bridges hangs over the edge.
New Orleans Pelicans
Dyson Daniels at No. 8 is a perfect fit. Brandon Ingram, newly acquired CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson (eventually) will create plans; Daniels will take care of the defense and the dirty work. He has a flimsy sweater, but assistant Fred Vinson has worked wonders with Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Herb Jones. Daniels is his next student.
San Antonio Spurs
A pick later, Spurs took 6-foot-9 defensive ace Jeremy Sochan on Duren. But like New Orleans earlier, they’re taking a young pick upside down with an Achilles’ heel they’re confident longtime doctor Chip Engelland can fix. Then came Ohio State’s much-improved guard Malaki Branham at No. 20 and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley at No. 25, three athletic picks. Who will bet against Spurs player development?
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It’s not just that the Nets didn’t have a single pick Thursday at their own building. It’s not just that they fired the No. 23 pick to next year in hopes that Philadelphia would back down, only to see the 76ers improve by getting De’Anthony Melton. It’s that they owed Houston their own pick for James Harden, and we see how that worked out. Oh, and the specter of Kyrie Irving loomed over the night.
They were played by Ivey. After his noises about not wanting to play in Sacramento, they got scared of the best player available and went with Murray. Yes, it fills a need, but it certainly would have been available later. The Kings could have gotten a nice comeback for going from No. 4, especially with Ivey on the board. But hey, they ditched Luka Doncic for Marvin Bagley, so maybe Ivey was right.
New York Knicks
Yes, they turned one pick into three and cleared cap space. But they sacrificed talent for the lottery, while the Bucks’ pick is likely to be poor and the other two are heavily protected. Seems like 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 an overabundance of wings. They traded Melton to Philadelphia for the No. 23 pick, taking David Roddy alongside No. 19 Jake LaRavia. They drafted well under Zach Kleiman, but why give up a solid defender and legit play for a few limited potential rookies who might struggle to break that rotation? For such a young team, experience must be a priority.