2020 NBA Draft: Winners and Losers
After a week of seemingly nonstop movement (looking at you, Sam Presti), the NBA Draft has passed. While this year’s draft didn’t have a clear-cut number one prospect as in years past, it was hard to get a read on how teams would draft given how much immediate impact-type talent was littered throughout both rounds of the draft. Some teams navigated this clutter better than others, and I’m here to break down who I thought were the biggest winners and the biggest losers from the 2020 NBA Draft.
Having the number one pick in the draft typically makes it hard to be a loser on draft night, but it was the moves that Minnesota made outside of their first pick that deemed them winners of the draft. Of course, Anthony Edwards will be a great addition to the Wolves and despite his alleged lack of passion for the game, he was regarded as the top prospect of this year’s draft who didn’t have the typical high ceiling seen in years past. However, the Wolves also made some moves in order to ensure that they began this offseason on a strong note. After the draft was underway and Edwards was the first prospect that had the opportunity to rock one of those fresh New Era draft hats, Minnesota went on the attack and acquired former Wolves draftee Ricky Rubio from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with the 25th and 33rd overall picks in exchange for the number 17 pick, which the Thunder took Aleksej Pokusevski with. This was a very solid move for the Wolves as it provided them with a veteran pass-first point guard that will allow for D'Angelo Russell to play off the ball more. This also allowed for the Wolves to confidently select Edwards over LaMelo Ball, who would’ve provided more playmaking ability than Rubio, but also would have all-but-confirmed the Wolves as having the worst backcourt defensive pairing in the league. Minnesota wasn’t done there, though. After their move with the Thunder, they hopped back on the phone and traded their newly-acquired 25th pick and their 33rd pick for FC Barcelona star and Manu-esque playmaker Leandro Bolmaro. The Argentinean guard has been noted for his passing and ball handling ability, and while he will need to improve his shot considerably, this is another exciting pick that could provide valuable minutes off the bench for the Wolves in his first season once he finishes his commitment to FC Barca. The Wolves capped off their successful draft night by holding onto the 28th pick they acquired from the Thunder and using it to select Jaden McDaniels out of Washington. McDaniels is a talented prospect that slipped a bit in the draft. McDaniels would have benefitted from staying another year in college, as the one-and-done prospect has the talent to be a difference maker in the NBA but had an underwhelming freshman year in the PAC 12. He is a true boom-or-bust prospect that could make all the teams that passed on him look silly, as he has the makings of an athletic and versatile scorer in the league, but his thin frame and size leads to him getting beat up down low and defensively. While this last pick was certainly a gamble—and I would have loved to see the Wolves go and get Desmond Bane—the potential play out of McDaniels, the move for Rubio, and the first overall pick all make the Wolves undeniable winners of the 2020 draft.
The Daryl Morey era is officially underway in Philadelphia. After stepping down from the Houston Rockets’ GM position in October, Morey decided to take his talents to the Sixers and attempt to turn around a perennially underachieving team highlighted by two stars who haven’t quite figured out how to work together at a high level yet. Looking specifically at their draft, to start, the Sixers got an absolute steal with their 21st pick when Tyrese Maxey—a potential top 10 prospect—fell right in their lap. Maxey is an excellent defender that is also a smart playmaker on the offensive end. He will need to continue working on extending his range in order to fully gel with the Sixers, but getting a prospect with such a high upside late in the first round was an easy choice for Philly. Aside from their actual draft selections, Morey and the Sixers spent their day addressing an issue with the Sixers that has been glaring for the past few seasons. THEY. NEED. SHOOTERS. If you’re going to build your team around two stars that can’t shoot, you probably shouldn’t surround them with pieces that are clunky and also can’t shoot—Al Horford, for example. Somehow, though, the Sixers had Horford on their team, and lo and behold, it didn’t really work out all that well. Last season, the Sixers signed Horford to a 4-year, $109 million deal that both clogged up their salary cap and their spacing on the floor. Horford is a good player and worked really well within the Celtics’ organization, but him in Philly was a pairing from hell. As a result, one of Morey’s first orders of business was to ship him off by any means. He was finally able to do this on Wednesday, when he shipped Horford along with the 34th pick and a 2025 first round pick to Oklahoma City in exchange for Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson (Presti strikes again). Yes, this might be giving up quite a bit for Green—who struggled mightily with streaky shooting throughout the Bubble and postseason with the Lakers—but he also is a career 40% shooter from three: something that can’t be said about Al Horford. Danny Green isn’t the threat he once was, but he’s a shooter that defenses have to respect, and he can hold his own defensively. With Ferguson, the Sixers added another scorer that took a step back with his shooting last year in OKC, but still boasts respectable numbers (40 FG%, 34 3P%). Morey didn’t stop there; in fact, he doubled down and made it clear that he understood the problem with the Sixers. After the move to get Green and Ferg, Philly went out and acquired another 40% three-point shooter in Seth Curry. Curry, who shoots 44% from three throughout his career, got shipped to the Sixers in a move that sent Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick of this year’s draft to the Mavericks. Talk about a turnaround—Daryl Morey addressed the biggest weakness for the Sixers in just one day, while simultaneously clearing cap space from Al Horford’s deal in order to become players in free agency. It feels like this organization understands the magnitude of this situation and the consequences of underperforming yet again; they’re making the moves necessary to set themselves up for success.
San Antonio Spurs
I’ll start this section off by prefacing that I know there were probably bigger winners than the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. But as a Spurs fan, I know their moves are going to go under the radar, and if I don’t flex them, who will? In order to fully encapsulate why I believe the Spurs organization won, we need to take a look at this week as a whole. The most consequential news is that Demar DeRozan—amidst all the talk about him being traded to the Lakers for a deal that would’ve involved Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green—exercised his $27 million player option and will remain with San Antonio for at least one more season. This is a win for a variety of reasons. Number one: I don’t have to watch Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green stink it up on my favorite team, but this is also crucial because DeRozan and the young Spurs really seemed to find their groove in the Orlando Bubble. Yes, the team had their 22-year playoff streak snapped, but those eight games provided me with the most optimism toward this team since Kawhi Leonard went down with a franchise-damning injury during the 2016 playoffs. Demar DeRozan was a big part of that success, as he led all players in the Bubble in fourth quarter scoring and provided clutch play after clutch play down the stretch. At 31 years old, DeRozan isn’t the long-term solution for this team, but in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, he is a necessity for keeping the Spurs relevant in the short-term. The Spurs organization also won this week when they announced that their “City Edition” jerseys for the season would no longer be the dreadful black and silver camo, and would instead be Fiesta themed, with a matching court in order to honor the celebration that takes over the city in late April. This may not seem like big news, and it won’t have an effect on how successful the team is, but this is a huge win for Spurs fans that have been pleading to incorporate the throwback look into the jersey rotation for quite some time now. Turning to how the Spurs’ actual draft night went—true to form, they went out and made the necessary moves that weren’t the flashiest, but will have a lasting impact. In the first round, as many exciting prospects dropped out of the top 10, San Antonio had an abundance of options at the 11th pick. They elected to take Devin Vassell out of Florida State, and it was the smartest move they could have made at that pick. Tyrese Haliburton had slipped and left an intriguing option for the team to consider, but the Spurs had their eyes on Vassell throughout the process, and there isn’t a need for Haliburton with Dejounte Murray recently signing an extension with the team. Vassell is a promising prospect with a lot of room to grow and develop—something that the Spurs do very well as an organization. Right out of college, Vassell will be an effective 3-and-D player that should get more minutes in the rotation than the typical Spurs rookie. He is potentially the best defender in this class—which this team needed to target—and he could make an excellent fill-in at DeRozan's spot, should he decide to leave after the season. In the second round, the Spurs took yet another incredible defender in Tre Jones. Jones was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Duke, and he will be an excellent rotational player in that scrappy backcourt. While I would have liked for San Antonio to address their frontcourt in this draft, adding Vassell and Tre Jones shows that the Spurs are aiming to get back to their fundamental, defensive-minded roots that had them at the top of the NBA for so long. This is especially crucial when you look at their star-studded division that consists of the Rockets, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Pelicans—teams that the Spurs will have trouble beating if they aren’t proactive about correcting their defensive deficiency.
Golden State Warriors (and the NBA)
The Warriors actually had a good draft. They decided not to move down from having the second pick, and instead chose arguably the player with the most upside in this draft: James Wiseman. In the second round, they bolstered up their rotation by drafting Nico Mannion, the playmaking point guard out of Arizona. Leading up to the draft, many considered Mannion to be a late-first round pick, but he slipped to #48 where the Warriors happily picked him up. Even though the Warriors had success in the draft, their selection at the 2 was made with a somber mood in the air, as just hours before the draft, it was reported that Klay Thompson went down with a right leg injury that he sustained during a pick-up game. Thompson had missed the entirety of last season as the result of a torn ACL from the 2019 Finals, and the Warriors were anxiously awaiting the return of the Splash Brothers this season in order to make a deep run in a competitive West after spending a season at the bottom of the league. Initial reports indicated that Thompson tore his Achilles—an injury that kept Kevin Durant out for the entirety of last season, as well—and after an MRI on Thursday morning, the fears of the Warriors and the rest of the league were confirmed. Klay tore his Achilles and will be out for yet another season. Analysis aside, this is such a tough break for a player that is so easy to love. Regardless of your opinion on the Warriors’ historic dynasty, Klay is the last person deserving of such rotten luck, and the NBA will endure another Splash Brothers-less season. While the Warriors still have a promising roster mixed with established vets like Steph and Draymond Green and up-and-coming prospects like Damion Lee, James Wiseman, and Eric Paschall, this team clearly does not have the same firepower that they would have with Thompson in the lineup. Luckily for the Warriors, this happened before the start of free agency, which will allow them the opportunity to try to fill the void. The team has already gone out and acquired Kelly Oubre Jr. from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and while Oubre isn’t anything close to prime Klay, he should help pick up the slack offensively and add another element to a Warriors team hoping to get back into contention. All hope is not lost for Golden State—but in a season that was gearing up to be wild and more competitive than anything we’ve seen in recent years—it’s a tough break to lose such a likable star like Klay.
If you’re the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft, you’re not really a loser—but out of all of the lottery destinations for Isaac Okoro to land—Cleveland is perhaps the worst-case scenario. For Cleveland as an organization, this was a solid pick. But, I do not believe we will see Okoro thrive under the current roster makeup of the Cavaliers. Looking on the defensive end first, Okoro very well could end up playing 1 v 5 on this end of the floor. Garland and Sexton are not known for their defense, and while Drummond is a solid rim protector, the Cavs finished 29th out of 30 teams on defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in turnover percentage (how often opponents turn the ball over), and dead last in opponent effective field goal percentage. Okoro is one of the best defenders in this draft, and he could be a sign that the Cavs will be addressing their defensive woes in the near future. But regardless of how effective Okoro is, a rookie is not singlehandedly going to pull this team up from the dark depths of the league. This is especially true when you think about his size and who he’ll be lining up against. Because Okoro is going to immediately step in as one of Cleveland’s best individual defenders—and he’s 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan—he’ll be forced to guard the opponent’s best player on a nightly basis. This is a tough task for any rookie, even one that is so gifted on the defensive end, but it makes matters worse when the rest of your team is being burned behind you. On offense, the fit in Cleveland for just about any wing player isn’t a great one, but especially for one like Okoro that isn’t the best shooter. Most of the Auburn freshman’s offensive contribution comes from driving to the lane and either using his excellent finishing ability to score, or kicking it out and hitting an open shooter once the defense crashes in. This Cleveland team will make it hard for Okoro’s talents to really shine through, as they don’t have the personnel necessary to cater to him. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have shown potential on offense, but they are very ball-dominant and sometimes take ill-advised looks. Down low, there may be some clogging that doesn’t allow for Okoro to get the space he needs to be his most effective self. The Cavs have big men like Drummond and Tristian Thompson who aren’t necessarily known for their extended range. I mostly have Okoro listed in the loser column because I believe he could be a solid contributor for a playoff team—especially with his defensive prowess—but all that defensive ability won’t do much good at the bottom of the league. Also, he has to live in Cleveland.
The Hawks should be able to make some waves this offseason with the amount of cap space they have, but they got off on the wrong foot through this draft with who they selected (or rather, who they didn’t select) with the sixth pick. Many mock drafts leading up to Wednesday had the Hawks selecting some sort of wing, and in particular, Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton would be a really solid fit with Trae Young by playing off the ball, and he could have helped sure up a pretty bad defensive backcourt. He would add another aspect to the Hawks’ offense that Kevin Huerter just can’t provide in terms of playmaking ability. Instead of going with a wing like many expected them to, the Hawks selected Onyeka Okongwu out of USC. This move is a bit confusing, because the Hawks went out and traded for Clint Capela at the trade deadline last season. With Capela and John Collins manning the front court, there isn’t necessarily a need for Okongwu—especially because he isn’t someone that can space the floor. He’s an excellent finisher from around the hoop, but he doesn’t have much of a three-point game—shooting just 25% from beyond the arc during his lone season at USC. They should be able to make this rotation work, but it feels nearly impossible to play Capela and Okongwu at the same time, which limits the number of options you have on the court. Defensively, that pairing could work out; Capela is a solid rim protector and Okongwu could benefit from matching up with the power forward position because he is only 6’9. He also has tremendous versatility on that end of the floor that could allow Atlanta to put out a massive lineup consisting of Collins, Capela, and Okongwu at the 3, but Haliburton would have provided just as much versatility and worked right into the strengths of the Hawks team that’s already formed. It may take some adjusting or some moves to make Okongwu fit in on both sides of the ball, and that’s a project this team could have avoided by looking elsewhere at the sixth pick.