Zion is a Pelican, Ja Morant is on his way to Memphis, there were approximately 75 trades throughout the night, and the 2019 NBA Draft is in the books. As the dust settles, if you are looking for some wildly premature reactions to everything that went down in Brooklyn Thursday night, we've got you covered. NBA Draft winners and losers, let's go.
Pelicans: The Pelicans were a mixed bag on Thursday, but first and foremost, we state the obvious: they drafted Zion Williamson, the most exciting draft prospect to hit the NBA since LeBron James in 2003. There have been better players to enter the draft since then (Durant in '07, Anthony Davis in '12), but not since LeBron has there been a player who combines the kind of magnetism and talent that Zion will bring to New Orleans. He has the potential to guard multiple positions on defense, he has an exceptional feel for the game, and he's going to be an absolute monster on offense. Earlier this year, asked for an NBA comp for Zion, a scout said, "Draymond Green with rockets in ass." That's a potential top-five player at his peak, and in the meantime, he should make an immediate impact.
Regardless of how you feel about decisions that came afterward, Zion's arrival means this night was a massive win for New Orleans, and it means we're all going to watch 800% more Pelicans games next season.
Grizzlies: Ja Morant will have to prove he can shoot if he's going to be a full-fledged star in the NBA, but he's an excellent passer and a great athlete. This next part is the sort of thing an NFL commentator might say, but in all seriousness, as both a competitor and a leader, Morant has all the intangibles a team would want in a point guard who's set to anchor the next generation of the franchise. Read this Jeremy Woo profile for more backstory, or watch Morant explain that negativity fuels him because his first hater was his father. Morant will be fun.
On top of Morant, Memphis also added Brandon Clarke of Gonzaga, a steal at 21. Clarke's bruising around the rim should pair perfectly with Jaren Jackson Jr.'s spacier game, and both of them will be great on the break with Morant. For a Grizz team that has spent several years wedded to an aging nucleus and struggling to come up with a coherent vision of the future, the past two drafts—Jackson Jr. and now Morant and Clarke—have been a great step toward the latter.
Hawks: The Hawks loved De'Andre Hunter as a three-and-D wing and they got him at four after a deal with the Pelicans. Considering the wealth of young talent Atlanta already has, the cost to jump from No. 8 to No. 4 was low—the 35th pick, the 17th pick, absorbing Solomon Hill's contract, and a heavily protected 2020 first—and in Hunter, Atlanta gets a rookie with one of the highest floors of anyone in the draft. Then, as a bonus, the Hawks grabbed Cam Reddish at No. 10. Reddish had a really disappointing year at Duke, but he's got prototypical size and athleticism for a wing, and he was one of the stars of this draft class in high school.
Hunter should be a rock-solid fourth or fifth starter in his prime. If Reddish can improve as a shooter, he could be a star. In the end, the Hawks drafted one of the safest bets in the draft while also gambling on a player with one of the highest ceilings. Very solid night.
R.J. Barrett: I spent some time with Barrett a few weeks ago, and you can read about his journey to the NBA over here. Barrett was careful to stay diplomatic as we talked, but in talking to the people around him, he clearly wanted to go New York even in May. That desire only became more obvious as the weeks passed. In the end, the interest was mutual, and even the normally-miserable Knicks fans were in a good mood when Barrett was the pick Thursday.
As for what's next: Barrett will have to improve as a shooter if he's going to hit his ceiling, but he's an incredibly hard worker and at 6'7", he's a skilled playmaker who will be excellent in space. It remains to seen what kind of teammates Barrett will have in New York, but with Kevin Durant likely redshirting a year, it looks like Barrett will enter next season on a team with low expectations and plenty of opportunities.
76ers: The Sixers landed one of the best prospective role players in the draft, Matisse Thybulle, with the 20th pick. That's a big win. They had to forfeit a second-rounder (No. 33) to jump from No. 24 and swap places with Boston at 20, but that's a small price to pay for a player who should be able to help immediately in Philadelphia. Thybulle is virtually guaranteed to be a killer defender as a low-usage off-guard, and guarding the perimeter was a glaring weakness in Philly over the past two years. The key for Thybulle will be shooting well enough to keep defenses honest and stay on the floor in big games. He shot 40% from three as a junior, then 36% as a senior. If he can be closer to Danny Green than Andre Roberson, this pick could be a nice win for Philly.
Celtics: The Celtics were reportedly trying to trade up to the top five to draft Darius Garland, a player whose best case scenario looks a lot more plausible than Romeo Langford's. On Garland, they struck out in another bidding war, and instead they added another handful of decent-but-not-great prospects. So maybe they belong in the losers category. Having said that: I like Grant Williams in the mid-first, I love Carsen Edwards in the early-second, and I respect the late-lottery gamble on Langford's upside, if only as a tribute to James Young. Trading Aron Baynes to Phoenix gives Boston $25.8 million in cap space, and they also picked up a 2020 first from the Suns. If the Celtics renounce Terry Rozier, that number jumps to $34 million. It's been a catastrophic month in Boston, but the next few weeks will be interesting.
Darius Garland's stylist:
Draft fashion has improved in recent years, but that's mostly because today's players have stopped taking risks. It's time for the pendulum to swing in the other direction, and Garland is ready to lead the way.
Cavs: They already have Collin Sexton, but that's part of why I enjoyed this move for the Cavs. Given how far away this team is, no one in Cleveland should be worrying too much about fit. Take the player with a chance to be a star. Garland's future comes with question marks (durability, defense, high-end athleticism), but he's smooth as hell as a scorer and his ability to shoot off the dribble is probably the most important skill a guard can have today. He may be another Mo Williams, but if he's closer to Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard, the Cavs just got the second best player in the draft. Either way, I respect the gamble. (And again, the draft suit has to be encouraging.)
I also liked Dylan Windler as a flier at 28 (42.9% from three on seven attempts per game!) and really like the gamble on Kevin Porter Jr. at 30. All of these players come with question marks and all this Cleveland optimism could look ridiculous in a few years, but what matters is that the Cavs are swinging for the fences. That's the right approach at this point.
Suns: I have no idea what the Suns are doing. They traded the sixth pick and a chance to draft Jarrett Culver—good value at No. 6, potentially a nice fit next to Devin Booker—to reach for Cameron Johnson with the 11th pick and add Dario Saric a year before he hits restricted free agency. Johnson is a good player who would have been a nice pickup in the 20s, but as the 11th pick, it's unclear whether he has the potential to be a starter and he's already six months older than Booker. Meanwhile, on the way into the draft, Phoenix traded T.J. Warren and the 32nd pick to the Pacers for ... cash considerations and cap room.
Either of tonight's major moves would be sort of inexplicable on its own. Altogether, they made for an extremely on-brand night for the Suns. At the end of the night, they traded a 2020 first for Aron Baynes and Virginia's Ty Jerome at No. 24, so that's something? No one is sure what the plan is in Phoenix, but that has been true for nearly a decade.
Wizards: The Wizards really lost when they slipped three spots on lottery night—they were very close to landing at No. 1 overall—so it's unfair to grade them too harshly for what happened at No. 9. Nassir Little, Cam Reddish, PJ Washington, Sekou Dembouya ... there were no perfect options. Having said that, Rui Hachimura was often lost on defense at Gonzaga, and while he was productive on offense at power forward, he's 6'8", 230 pounds, and he only took 36 three-pointers all season long. The Wizards drafted him despite never working him out and never formally meeting with him prior to the draft. If Hachimura's defense, playmaking, and shooting improves, this pick could be a home run. But that seems like a lot to improve.
Pelicans: The Pelicans deserve a lot of credit for extracting absurd value from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis deal, but even before that deal became official, it was clear that New Orleans was trying to move the fourth pick. Thursday, when it moved from No. 4 down to No. 8 and added two additional picks, there was immediate praise for New Orleans GM David Griffin.
I'm not sold on the way they played this. Zion is going to be very good, possibly very quickly, and the Pelicans have a chance to win between 35 and 45 games next year. That's great, but a) instant success is not necessarily ideal for a team that should be looking to add great young players around its young superstar, and b) if there's a chance that this team is about to be frozen out of high lottery picks for the foreseeable future, that should have created even more incentive to use the top pick they had in this draft.
Jaxson Hayes should be fine, but he's a strange fit next to Zion. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is fine, too, but it's unlikely he'll ever be a starter on a playoff team. I'm just not sure why the Pels would pass on the chance to draft a guard like Garland or a wing like Culver. I wrote about all this earlier in the week, but in short: the draft is probably the most realistic path to adding All-NBA talent around a player like Zion, and most of those players are usually found near the top of the board. Maybe the Pels just weren't sold on any of the options at four, but passing up a free top-five pick to add two rotation players seems like a strange choice.
Lakers: Look, no one needs to beat a dead horse with another round of Lakers jokes, but as of draft night it became official: the Anthony Davis deal will be executed on July 6 instead of July 30, and as a result, the Lakers will have a much harder time creating max cap space before July 1.
It's incomprehensible that the Lakers could overpay the Pelicans as much they did without retaining control over the timing of the trade. Maybe they will be able to carve out additional space, maybe they will convince a third star to take less money, but the further we get from that deal, the more shocking that mistake becomes. The lack of max cap space makes the rest of L.A.'s offseason so much more complicated, and it leaves the league looking more wide-open than it has been in years. And with that, it's almost time for free agency.