The 2019 NBA Draft is now in the rear-view mirror, but that only means it’s time to make snap judgements about decisions that we won’t know the true evaluation of for years.
Let’s break down who left Barclays Center on Thursday night as winners, and who left it as losers.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – Ever since the lottery results came in, we knew the Grizzlies were going to get Ja Morant, but just because it was expected doesn’t it make it significant for Memphis. Morant is not only an explosive athlete and polished scorer, but he’s a playmaker and distributor that can be a cornerstone as the Grizz look to rebuild.
Morant wasn’t the only prize for Memphis, though, as the Grizzlies snatched Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke at No. 21. There may be some questions about Clarke’s height and its impact on how we’ll navigate the next level, but the former Bulldog was an absolute two-way terror last season and was at times considered a potential lottery pick.
This is a huge haul for the Grizzlies.
NORTH CAROLINA – Coby White went seventh overall to the Bulls, and he’ll be the point guard of the future in Chicago, but that’s not what lands the Tar Heels on this list. White was always expected to go in the lottery, but his teammate Cameron Johnson wasn’t.
The 6-foot-9 sharpshooter did, however, landing at No. 11 with the Phoenix Suns, giving Roy Williams’ program another lottery pick when there was apparently some fear that Johnson might slide into the second round.
Instead, North Carolina got two players into the lottery and we got this awesome reaction from White.
Nassir Little fell to 25th – making for a long green room night – but still, there players in the first round will work.
DENVER NUGGETS – The Nuggets entered the night without a draft pick, and left it with a prospect that many considered one of the 10-best not long ago.
Denver was the beneficiary of the slide of Bol Bol, a green room invite who fell all the way into the middle of the second round, where the Nuggets traded in to take him at 44.
It’s a gamble, yes, but a low-cost one for Denver, who nursed Michael Porter, Jr. through all last season and obviously are comfortable taking on a project, both on the floor and on the training table. The Nuggets are an up-and-comer (as much as last year’s No. 2 seed can be), and taking a flyer on a major talent, even one with red flags and a broken navicular bone, is the type of lottery ticket that can pay off huge if it hits.
DUKE – You’d think the Blue Devils would be in the above category given they had the No. 1 pick, two players taken in the top-three and three in the lottery, but, honestly, it seems to serve mostly as a reminder of how Duke fell short of a Final Four spot despite that overwhelming talent, not to mention Tre Jones, who will be one of the top returners in college basketball next season.
Duke needed to survive scares in the second round to UCF and the Sweet 16 to Virginia Tech before Michigan State – who didn’t have any players selected Thursday – knocked them off to punch its ticket to Minneapolis. Yes, the Blue Devils fought injury – namely Zion Williamson’s blown sneaker – and the weight of expectation, but they had a generational college player in Williamson and just a stunning amount of talent over the roster. Mike Krzyzewski has deservedly drawn heat for not playing Williamson more at center, and it’s fair to wonder if this team never truly unlocked its true potential.
The Blue Devils were so much fun to watch when they were playing their best basketball, but, aside from Zion’s mastery, they’ll probably be remembered for what they didn’t achieve. The draft was a reminder of that reality.
BOSTON CELTICS – Danny Ainge had been stockpiling picks for years with the idea to flip them into a superstar only to see that plan fall apart as Anthony Davis landed in Los Angeles with LeBron James.
So instead of a superstar, the Celtics added Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters to their roster. Langford seems like something of a risky pick, a bet that a thumb injury is to blame for his 27-percent 3-point shooting, and the other three are excellent college players but maybe question marks in the NBA.
The Celtics may have added a rotation player or two, but their night was more of a reminder that they’ll have to pivot to an uncertain and youthful future with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely leaving and experienced reinforcements not likely coming.
BIG TEN AND BIG 12 – Both leagues had just two players taken in the first round, with the Big Ten nearly getting shutout of the lottery with Langford the final pick of the lottery at No. 14. Both lagged significantly behind the ACC (10) and SEC (6) while the Ohio Valley Conference had two picks as well. For two leagues that were among the strongest all season, the Big Ten and Big 12 had a rough draft night. The Pac-12 only had two players go, too, but, honestly, it would just be piling on to mention that.