NEW YORK — The 2018 NBA draft didn’t have quite the level of unpredictability it seemed to promise in the hours leading up to the first pick, but the league’s annual selection show still had its usual share of fireworks.
Luka Doncic and Trae Young were swapped at the top of the draft, in a rare challenge trade between teams picking high. Mikal Bridges looked like a perfect fit in Philadelphia … until he was traded away a half-hour later in a stunning deal with Phoenix. The Los Angeles Clippers moved up one spot to land their point guard of the future, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, while Michael Porter Jr. fell further than anyone anticipated — to Denver at No. 14 — as recently as a week-and-a-half ago.
With those moves serving as a backdrop, here’s The Washington Post’s look at the winners and losers:
The Mavericks have been looking for a bridge to the post-Dirk Nowitzki future for seven years. They may have finally found it with Doncic, who has a chance to chase Nowitzki’s legacy as the greatest European basketball player of all time.
This move doesn’t come without risk: The Mavericks gave away a 2019 first-round pick — which is only top-five protected — to get Doncic. But they got Doncic. In my opinion, he was the best player in this draft. A teen phenom who has an unmatched résumé for his age, winning a European championship last summer with Slovenia and leading Real Madrid to both the Spanish and EuroLeague titles — and being named MVP of both.
This will be one of those trades that is talked about for years — for good, or for ill. For now, though, it seems Dallas came away the big winner.
The Sixers were winners when they drafted Bridges 10th overall, as he could immediately be a productive two-way piece on a team fighting for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. But a half-hour later, Bridges was sent to Phoenix for the 16th pick (Zhaire Smith) and the Miami Heat’s unprotected pick in 2021.
It is that unprotected Heat pick that truly makes this a win for Philadelphia. Smith oozes potential, though it will take time for him to reach it. But getting that unprotected pick — a rarity these days — is the Sixers’ latest long-term thinking move, even as they try to contend for a title.
And perhaps it is further ammunition to throw at a potential Kawhi Leonard deal to Philadelphia.
Tom Thibodeau might not like playing rookies, but how does he determine if a young player will get time? If he can play defense.
Well, he got two players who can defend Thursday night.
Getting Josh Okogie at No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop at No. 48 gives Minnesota two wing defenders who can help improve its porous defensive unit.
Golden State Warriors
Coach Steve Kerr said last week that whomever the two-time defending champion Warriors would take with the 28th pick was going to get some playing time. The guy they landed with that pick, Jacob Evans, should make Kerr look prophetic.
A good defender on the wing with three-point shooting ability, Evans has earned some comparisons to Trevor Ariza. If he can step in and play 15 minutes a night (or more) for Golden State, this will be a grand slam. Even if he can’t do that much, it still should be a perfect marriage of player and team.
My colleague Rick Maese chronicled Simons’s decision to go to IMG Academy instead of college, and the decision paid off in the end. While Simons was seen as a fringe first-rounder, going 24th to Portland could inspire other players to consider taking his same path.
Even if they don’t, Simons deserves credit for doing it — and getting a guaranteed contract as a result.
When it appeared the NBA had successfully stopped newsbreakers working for its broadcast partners — led by Wojnarowski, the best of them — from leaking picks before they were revealed on the air, it had been seen as a coup.
Then the draft show came, and Wojnarowski again showed why he is the dominant force in the business. Instead of saying that a team was going to take a player, he found a different way to impart the same information. For example:
The Internet howled with laughter as a result, and the NBA looked ridiculous for trying to impose the ban.
This will be quick: The fact that Dallas didn’t take a center and traded its first-round pick next year to get Doncic means earlier noise about Cousins to Dallas will ramp up again.
Given that Cousins didn’t have a clear landing spot before the draft started, that he does now makes him a winner.
Portland Trail Blazers
Perhaps Simons will become a terrific player. And maybe Gary Trent Jr. will work out. But with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in their primes, Portland needed to find players who could help them immediately. Such players were on the board at Nos. 24 and 37, where they got Simons and Trent.
This is similar to Portland trading for Zach Collins at the No. 10 pick a year ago. All three could become good players. But on a team with two guards ready to win now, immediate help didn’t seem to be a priority. And General Manager Neil Olshey’s post-draft insistence that finding a player in the second round who can contribute to a winning team is not possible, to be honest, fell flat.
Michael Porter Jr.
A year ago, Porter was a consensus top three talent. But after a back injury, subsequent surgery and a hip issue that cropped up last week, he fell all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14.
The hitch in his step made it seem as though Porter’s recovery isn’t going to be a short one, and it seems exceedingly likely he will not play one minute this season. Now, Denver is a great spot for him — a good team that should make the playoffs without him, allowing him the time he needs to get healthy. And if Porter does get healthy, the Nuggets will look like geniuses.
But he went from being a top three pick a year ago to barely staying in the lottery. That’s a ton of lost earnings — and the latest example of why the league needs to get rid of making these guys go to school for one year. It just cost Porter an insane amount of money on his first deal.
Robert Williams III
Williams had the chance to leave Texas A&M after his freshman year, and he would’ve been a lottery pick. Instead, he went back to school, and subsequently fell all the way to the Boston Celtics with the 27th pick.
As happened with Porter, Williams landed in a good place. But like Porter, Williams lost millions of dollars by waiting a year to enter the draft (in his case, by choice). It appears a strange couple of months leading up to the draft — including changing agents and struggling in some workouts — created a doomsday scenario for him, at least from a money standpoint.
Basketball-wise, this could work out great long term and actually might be a perfect landing spot for him. But that is what prevents Boston from being on this list — not Williams himself.
It’s hard not to feel for Bridges, who initially appeared to be in a dream scenario. A Philly kid who went to Villanova and developed into the best player on a national title-winning team was given a chance to step in and contribute to a rising Sixers team, for which his mom works as a vice president of human relations? It seemed like a match made in heaven.
Until it wasn’t.
It was painful seeing Bridges doing interviews wearing a Sixers hat while news of the trade to Phoenix was coming out. Sixers coach Brett Brown, speaking to the media early Friday morning, admitted there were some tough conversations with his family about it.
Now it should be said that Bridges still was the 10th pick in the NBA draft, and is going to a team that has a lot of young talent and a talented coach taking it over in Igor Kokoskov. But it really was tough to watch him talk emotionally about staying in Philly … only to get sent packing.
NBA draft fashion: Adding some spectacle to a star-studded night