2020 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

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Declaring winners and losers on draft night can be hazardous, like calling a game after the first quarter or anointing a Masters winner following the opening round. Rookies can take years to fully develop. Trades can materialize after draft day. Rapid reactions often look foolish years later.

But they are fun, aren’t they?

So, your 2020 draft night winners and losers.

WINNERS

Oklahoma City

It may be years before it’s clear if Aleksej Pokusevski—selected 17th—can play. But he is one of the 16–16!—first-round picks Thunder GM Sam Presti has stockpiled, along with four pick swaps, through 2026. Absorbing Al Horford’s contract—Horford is owed $81 million over the next three seasons, courtesy of a preposterous four-year deal the Sixers signed him to in 2019—earned Presti and Co. another pick that will be used to rebuild the Thunder from scratch.

Picks guarantee nothing, of course, but it’s an impressive haul that, coupled with future cap flexibility, puts Oklahoma City in a strong rebuilding position. Presti has done a masterful job using teams' desperation against them. The Clippers needed to acquire Paul George, so they paid a king's ransom. Houston needed to flip Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, so they sweetened the pot to get Westbrook in a deal the Rockets front office wasn’t completely sold on. The Suns wanted Paul to push them into the playoff mix; Philly was looking to re-tool under new team president Daryl Morey.

Again—picks are only as good as the players a team uses them on, and mid-to-late first-round picks miss more often than they hit. But Presti has put the Thunder in position to reload with young talent and be major players in the trade market. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Denver

They did it again. They did it again. Two years removed from taking Michael Porter Jr. with a late lottery pick and a year after grabbing up a free-falling Bol Bol in the second round, the Nuggets picked up another distressed asset, R.J. Hampton, with the 24th pick, courtesy of a draft day deal with New Orleans. Hampton, of course, was a ballyhooed high school prospect who struggled mightily in New Zealand last season. But he was completely over-scouted and teams put way too much stock in a teenager struggling in an overseas environment. Denver believes they are getting the smooth, 6’5” playmaker who was projected as a high lottery pick after his senior season.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant handles the ball against New Zealand Breakers guard R.J. Hampton during an October 2019 exhibition.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant handles the ball against New Zealand Breakers guard R.J. Hampton during an October 2019 exhibition.

Who isn’t buying that? This is what the Nuggets do. They draft guys like Nikola Jokic, Porter and Bol. They pluck guys like Will Barton and Torrey Craig from obscurity. Tim Connelly and his staff are arguably the best talent evaluators in the NBA. And with the 24th pick they landed an elite talent with a little bit of baggage. Gee, I wonder if it’s going to work out?

D’Angelo Russell

Admit it—you thought there was a possibility that a few years after being forced out of Los Angeles by Lonzo Ball, Russell might have another Ball brother coming to town to usurp his role. Instead, Minnesota took Anthony Edwards with the top pick, giving Russell an athletic scorer alongside him who projects to be a good defender. The Wolves fleshed out the roster on draft night with Leandro Bolmaro and Jaden McDaniels while acquiring Ricky Rubio, a popular player in Minnesota who will slide into a mentor role for both Russell and Edwards. If Edwards pans out, Minnesota will have a nice nucleus.

NBA Draft Trades/Rumors: Clippers, Nets and Pistons Make a Three-Way Deal

LOSERS

Golden State

Ugh. Klay Thompson. Ugh. Thompson suffered a lower right leg injury while working out in California on Wednesday, a source close to Thompson confirmed to SI, putting his status for next season in jeopardy. Thompson’s injury threatens to derail what Golden State hoped would be another run at a title this season.

That’s the only reason the Warriors fit into the loser category, by the way. James Wiseman is terrific. He’s whip smart and an impact player already defensively who will beat most other bigs down the floor. He could force his way into the starting lineup, quickly. If he can polish his perimeter game—and there is no reason to think he can’t—he could be a dynamic player.

Boston

I get it—it takes two teams to make a deal, and Boston’s draft night transaction window extends to Thursday, when Gordon Hayward must decide whether to pick up his player option for next season. But the Celtics began the week hoping to package its picks for a top-10 selection that they could use for a significant trade (Jrue Holiday was among the targets) and end draft night with two more rookies to squeeze onto a suddenly bloated roster.

NBA DFS, Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics

Gordon Hayward may have played his last game in a Celtics uniform.

Look, on paper, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard make sense. Neismith is arguably the best shooter in the draft and Pritchard, a four-year player at Oregon, shot 41.5% from three last season. There are some concerns about the foot injury Neismith suffered in January, but long term he should be fine. Boston’s bench badly needs shooting, and Nesmith and Pritchard theoretically could provide it.

But where do they fit in? Boston had two first-round picks on the roster last season (Romeo Langford, Grant Williams) and a pair of second-rounders (Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters) in the mix. To make room for Nesmith and Pritchard, the Celtics may have to sever ties with Semi Ojeleye or Brad Wanamaker. Maybe both. Vincent Poirier has another year left on his contract, but he could go, too.

I can’t help but wonder if the Celtics whiffed on R.J. Hampton. They could have had him at No. 14, which was in the range of some mock drafts. They could have maneuvered up to get him at 24, with picks Nos. 26 and 30 to dangle in a trade. Boston addressed a need in the draft. But for the second year in a row, its stockpile of picks couldn’t be parlayed into something bigger.

Houston

I’m not sure I’m following what the Rockets are doing here. Houston flipped Robert Covington for Trevor Ariza and a couple of first-round picks, then moved Ariza to Detroit (along with one of the picks, No. 16 overall this year) effectively to create the flexibility to use the midlevel exception … to find someone better than Ariza? Ariza is 35, but he was pretty good in Portland last season. The Rockets—a team that soon could be barreling toward a rebuild—felt the need to include a first-round pick just so they can dangle a $5.7 million exception in front of another player?

Elton Brand

Tough night for Brand, whose new boss, Daryl Morey, began to unwind some of the moves Brand made last offseason, first by attaching two picks to Horford to get Horford’s contract off the books—acquiring Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson in the, gulp, process—and then moving Josh Richardson and a second-round pick to Dallas for Seth Curry. They were smart deals; Green and Curry are proven shooters, while Ferguson is an interesting young talent. Morey doubled down on shooting in the second round, grabbing Arkansas sharpshooter Isaiah Joe. Philadelphia lacked balance offensively last season. It’s an issue Morey has immediately addressed.