NEW YORK — The draft may be over, but it’s still flowing through all of our veins, at least until the next giant trade rumor breaks. On Thursday, I sat just outside the green room (which is really just a wide-open section of the court at Barclays Center), frantically writing draft grades and trying to take in the scene. After taking some time to decompress, here are 10 things I think I think.
1) The first round actually made sense
Grading the draft becomes a bit of a self-conscious activity when you realize you’re handing out extremely sunny grades to basically every team in real time. But upon further review, the biggest surprise of the draft was that teams drafted intelligently throughout the first round. The only pick I legitimately hated was the Bulls', who I gave a C+ in the moment for taking Lauri Markkanen but on the whole, really took a nosedive (more on that below). The Nets and Nuggets confused me a little with their choices, but I understand their logic. There were teams that went in slightly unexpected directions, but all in all, basically everyone passed. It certainly helps that this was a pretty strong draft, but it’s refreshing.
2) Come back, Jimmy Butler
Early on Thursday, it felt like Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis were far more likely to be moved, but the blockbuster of the night came early and wound up being the long-rumored Butler-Thibs reunion in Minnesota. The Wolves tried to trade for Butler on draft night a year ago and it didn’t happen. This time around, Chicago finally realized that a rebuild has been knocking on its doorstep for basically two years, and caved for a package that includes…not one established NBA commodity. Zach LaVine’s recovering from knee surgery, and he can improve, but he’s unlikely to ever be as good as Butler. The Bulls are high on Kris Dunn; it seems like nobody else is high on Kris Dunn. Then they made a risky pick in Markkanen at No. 7, who can shoot, but might just be a taller Nikola Mirotic if he never figures out how to play defense. And somehow, they surrendered the No. 16 pick in return, which is, well, a preposterous footnote to an already dubious transaction. Plus, Justin Patton might be a better player than Markkanen in three years. Sure, the Bulls needed to rebuild, but nothing else about this trade feels intelligent.
3) Mock drafts are always essentially wrong
This of course falls under the umbrella of the golden rule of the draft, which is that nobody really knows anything. There was a lot of pre-draft trade scuttle, and there were trades, but they weren’t the trades anyone suspected and they led to draft ramifications that…nobody suspected. As someone who does mock drafts, the entire thing is an imperfect science. Everyone has an idea of what teams will do, but connecting the dots is a challenge, and every pick and trade has a ripple effect that throws off other predicted outcomes. So, give everyone a break, because this will never, ever change.
4) Wait, did the Kings just atone?
Everyone enjoys criticizing Sacramento, but the Kings might have nailed this draft, as enabled by the Suns passing on De’Aaron Fox at No. 4. On the night of the lottery, I witnessed Dave Joerger whispering into Fox’s ear and got mildly suspicious. Not only is Fox one of the draft’s top talents, but he’s a potential culture-changer with how hard he plays nightly. He needs to work on his jump shot. Maybe Peja Stojakovic can get involved. But regardless, they made the right pick, then traded down from 10 (where there was no clear fit), made a conservative but functional choice in Justin Jackson at 15, and then took a calculated, value-friendly risk on Harry Giles’s knee ligaments at 20. Frank Mason at 34 is a nice bonus. There were no Papagiannises to be found. The Kings landed four tough, smart players from four blue-blood college programs, and look like maybe they’re figuring this draft thing out. Now it’s time to play basketball.
5) The Knicks kept Porzingis
New York did the thing everyone hoped they would (not trading Kristaps), and then did the thing many people thought they would (drafting Frank Ntilikina). They also found value shooting in Damyean Dotson, and took the only drafted player I’d never actually heard of at 58 (Ognjen Jaramaz, who is from Serbia). I was way more in on the idea of the Euro-Knicks before we all found out Porzingis is highly unsettled. Fences need to be mended. Melo needs to be traded. Languages need to be learned. And triangles. Triangles also need to be learned. Ladies and gentlemen, your New York Knicks.
6) Six picks I really liked:
Zach Collins to the Trail Blazers at 10. The Blazers came up and got perhaps the draft’s best defensive big, who will have a chance to grow and develop while Portland tries to figure out out how to shed tens of millions of dollars in salary. He’ll be a nice fit with Jusuf Nurkic, adding floor-spacing and rim protection in time, and directly addresses the team’s need to improve defensively. If the Blazers’ core lasts a few more years, it’ll be fun.
Donovan Mitchell to the Jazz at 13. Utah moved up in a trade with Denver and surrendered Trey Lyles (a nice pickup for the Nuggets) in order to round out its backcourt, whether or not George Hill stays. The Jazz are going to look different, but they also might look a lot more athletic if Hill and Hayward leave.
D.J. Wilson to the Bucks at 17. Lankiest. Team. Ever.
Derrick White to the Spurs at 29. When the draft’s biggest sleeper ends up on San Antonio, you don’t ask questions.
Frank Jackson to the Pelicans at 31. Jackson was a first-round talent who goes to an ideal situation in New Orleans, who need to get more athletic in the backcourt as they figure out how to make Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins (together) happen. Jackson’s a great athlete and talented scorer who’s going to figure it out sooner than later.
Ivan Rabb to the Grizzlies at 35. Rabb is still the same player who could have been a lottery pick a year ago. But as we all know, treading water for a year as a teenager in college is a normal enough thing. Rabb could be a steal.
7) Seven picks that confused me
Markkanen to the Bulls at 7. Sorry, it’s tough to process.
Justin Jackson to the Kings at 15. I just wanted Sacramento to hit a home run, and Jackson is like a ground-rule double that might wind up under replay review. But if he continues to shoot it, nobody will complain.
John Collins to the Hawks at 19. I know there wasn’t a ton left on the board, but Collins doesn’t move the needle much for me. He needs a lot of time.
Tyler Lydon to the Nuggets at 24. I love what Denver’s building, but I’m just not that high on Lydon. Plus, they just got Trey Lyles, who plays the same position. Lydon better be a heck of a role player to make this work.
Caleb Swanigan to the Blazers at 26. I thought Swanigan was a justifiable first-round selection, but I’m not sure how Portland uses him. Some have called him the draft’s Draymond Green, but he’s not a good enough defender to actually be used as a stretch-four rotation cog. Small-ball center is a more likely outcome.
Davon Reed to the Suns at 32. This felt like a reach. I like Reed a lot, and he may not have been the first choice here before the draft, but there was a lot of talent with a little more room to grow on the board.
Ognjen Jaramaz to the Knicks at 58. Still don’t really know who this is.
8) The best thing about the NBA draft...
...is honestly that the pick clock is five minutes, and the draft isn't three days long. Only TV finales can cram this much pivotal late-season drama into a span of two or three hours. Everyone in the basketball business appreciates this. I’m sure the fans do too, because the Barclays Center smelled like beer by the time it was all over. It’s really a tradition unlike any other.
9) The LaVar Ball sideshow...
…was probably way more entertaining in person. The patriarchal Big Baller was in an understandably joyful mood. Honestly, you almost want to let him into your heart. The fact of life is that lots of dads say stupid things, but not all dads have the internet between their thumb and forefinger 24/7. LaVar Ball interacted with fans, talked to kids, ate up all the boos, dubbed our legendary SI kid reporter “LaMax”, and had a great time hanging out with his sons.
LaVar even tossed the custom Lakers-colored Big Baller Brand hat he was hiding beneath the draft table into the stands (which led to what appeared from across the room to be an actual fight between three teenagers). Hope everyone’s safe. The Lakers drafted well and are on the right track. The internet’s large adult father can relax now. (We hope). If you stop googling him, maybe it’ll all go away.
10) A thing I realized at 2:15 a.m.
The last pick in the draft was the Hawks selecting French big man Alpha Kaba. This means Alpha was in fact, the Omega selection. It’s a little unsettling.