Five hours. Sixty picks. An annoying number of second-round trades. The 2021 NBA Draft is complete, and the sky is the limit for every team and player at this point. Things got off to a wild start with a few trades, including Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, being announced before the draft even began.
In the end, though, this night is about the prospects, and the teams that hope to develop them into the future stars of the NBA. Let’s hand out some winners and losers from the first big night of the offseason.
Winner: Cade Cunningham fired-up about Pistons
The last time the Pistons had the No. 1 pick in the draft was 1970, and they selected a good one in Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. It remains to be seen whether Cade Cunningham will reach that level, but he was the most highly regarded prospect in the draft and joins a Pistons team with a lot of young talent to aid their rebuild. And it sounds like Cunningham is already endearing himself to the Detroit community.
Winner: No deals for Dubs
Not only did Jonathan Kuminga, one of the best upside prospects in the draft, fall to the Warriors at No. 7, but they were also able to secure a player that should help them win right away in Moses Moody at No. 14. If the idea is to build for the future while returning to championship contention, they couldn’t have done much better than their two picks. Kuminga also immediately becomes an intriguing asset to add to a trade package if and when the next superstar becomes available. Personally, I had Moody as a top-10 talent and Kuminga at No. 6, so Golden State did well to get them where they did.
Loser: Mitchell seems cool on Kings
I have no problem with the Kings taking Baylor product Davion Mitchell at No. 9 overall, but his reaction to being drafted by Sacramento was, let’s just say, slightly unenthusiastic. Mitchell continually remarked about his surprise at being selected by the Kings, and was mysteriously ambiguous when asked if he had worked out for Sacramento prior to the draft.
It’s probably nothing, but what a weird start to the relationship between the Kings and Mitchell. They also missed out on a good haul when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards, shirking their reported interest in Kings guard Buddy Hield. Just a weird night for the Kings all around.
Winner: Memphis’ Ziaire Williams has high ceiling
Williams was a top recruit coming out of high school, but slipped on a lot of draft boards due to a disastrous year at Stanford. The Grizzlies traded up to No. 10 before the draft, and they found their man in the 6-8 wing who could develop into a tremendous scorer and playmaker if he reaches his ceiling. Williams was probably the biggest surprise of the draft to that point … and then …
Winner: Spurs surprise many with pick of Joshua Primo
There are surprise picks, and then there are picks that are completely off the board. Many mock drafts didn’t even have Alabama’s Josh Primo in the first round, and those that did had him in the late 20s. The San Antonio Spurs shocked the world by taking him at No. 12, with much more highly regarded prospects still on the board. Primo was the youngest player in the draft, so the Spurs clearly feel that their development team can help him become a star down the road. What a night for the Primo family.
Loser: Jalen Johnson’s long wait after short season
On the other side of the coin was Johnson, who was considered a lottery talent heading into the draft, but dropped to the Hawks at No. 20 following a season in which he left Duke after just 13 games. It might end up being the best thing for Johnson’s pro career, but he’ll have a lot of players ahead of him on a Hawks team ready to make another big move in the Eastern Conference. Minutes may be hard to come by.
Winner: Rockets ready to blast off
The Rockets may have lost James Harden last season, but they gave the Houston fan base reason for hope on Thursday. They started by taking Jalen Green, a potential franchise scorer and playmaker, at No. 2, then added high-upside prospects Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher. All four of those young players have tremendous upside, and are perfect for a team that’s just beginning its rebuild.
Winner: Butler sounds good for Jazz
The Jazz traded their first-round pick, then traded farther down in the draft, but they ended up with an absolute gem in Jared Butler, a prospect who might have gone much higher were it not for some medical issues. Butler was rated as high as the teens on some draft boards, so for the Jazz to get him — and not have to pay him first-round money — is a huge win.
Loser: Knicks go low
The Knicks ended up with a few exciting prospects, including Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims, but it was weird to see them trade both of their first-round picks (Nos. 19 and 21) in such a deep and talented draft. They’re loaded up in terms of cap space and could make some moves during the offseason, but they could look back and regret not taking a chance on a prospect at No. 19 or 21.
Winner: Hornets’ deals net them potential stars
Charlotte was rumored to be interested in Texas center Kai Jones, but No. 11 was probably too high to take him. Luckily for the Hornets, scoring guard James Bouknight was available there, so they swooped him up — then they traded with the Knicks to get Jones at No. 19 anyway. They filled two needs and got two really good prospects in the process, so that’s a win. They also have Mason Plumlee now, if that does anything for you.
Loser: Ayo Dosunmu slips to second round
Dosunmu was an extremely productive player at Illinois and has a skill set that should translate to the NBA, so it was slightly surprising to see him fall all the way to the second round. He actually goes to a pretty good fit in with the Chicago Bulls, but now he’ll have to earn a roster spot and will forego that guaranteed first-round money.
Winner: Georgios Kalaitzakis gets the call
The last pick in the draft is always a winner. Congrats to Kalaitzakis, who also has one of the best names of any prospect. We’ll see if he ends up suiting up for the Milwaukee Bucks, but he’ll always be able to say he was an NBA Draft pick.