We won’t be able to truly determine who the real winners and losers are from the 2021 NBA draft until 2026 or later. However, that shouldn’t stop us from making some snap decisions on who did great, who blew it, who will become busts, and who is headed to the Hall of Fame.
Here are a few way-too-early pronouncements as to the winners and losers of the 2021 NBA draft.
WINNER: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets needed a win after dealing with the James Harden situation to start the year. They got that win in the first round of the draft. The team took Jalen Green No. 2, who could easily become the biggest star of this NBA draft class. Then, the best all-around international player, Alperen Sengun, fell to them at pick No. 16.
Later, they took another international star, Usman Garuba, who’s played well at Real Madrid and is currently with the Spain National Team at the Olympics. Houston’s next pick, Josh Christopher from Arizona State, is more of a project, but, overall, the Rockets got a significant haul in round one.
LOSER: Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Pick No. 9
Mitchell is an undersized (6-foot-1), short-armed (6-4 wingspan), older (22) guard who had a great last season at Baylor. However, even though he dominated the teenagers he played against in his fourth year in college, there are some terrible signs around his offensive potential in the NBA.
He is a career 65.7% free throw shooter and his 44.7% 3-point mark last season was a complete aberration. Combine these question marks with the fact that the Kings already have De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, and the perennially bad Kings just drafted a backup guard ninth overall.
WINNER: Josh Giddey, Pick No. 6 – Oklahoma City Thunder
The Australian point-forward is a solid prospect who was projected in the back half of the Lottery. The Thunder apparently didn’t get the memo and took him sixth overall, right after the “Big Five,” who pretty much went to plan.
Giddey wins not only because of the unexpectedly high draft slot but also because he goes to the rebuilding Thunder. This means the pressure on the Aussie will be minimal, and he’ll likely get to play alongside another dynamic guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Also, with all the picks OKC has in the next few drafts, he’ll have a lot of young teammates to grow with soon.
LOSER: San Antonio Spurs – Joshua Primo, Pick No. 12
What? Who? The Spurs took the youngest player in the NBA draft, Joshua Primo, out of Alabama. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged just 8.1 points, 0.8 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game in his freshman season. He also turned the ball over 1.4 times a game.
The Spurs had many good players still on the board at this point, many of which were either more ready to contribute or have more upside than Primo, who showed up as a second-round pick in most mock drafts.
WINNER: Montverde Academy
Coach Kevin Boyle had to sweat it out until the end of the first round, but his 2019-20 team produced four first-rounders at the end of the day. The Florida-based prep school started its winning night when former player Cade Cunningham went No. 1 to the Detroit Pistons. His teammates Scottie Barnes (No. 4) and Moses Moody (No. 14) went to the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors, respectively.
Finally, North Carolina big man and former Montverde Eagle Day’Ron Sharpe went No. 29 overall. He may be in the best NBA situation, however, going to Brooklyn to join Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving.
LOSER: Franz Wagner, No. 8 overall – Orlando Magic
The second-year Michigan star rose of draft boards going from the back-end of the Lottery to a top 10 pick during the draft process. His combination of size, defense, and shooting made him a ready-made contributor for an NBA team.
Unfortunately for Wagner, the Magic aren’t really ready for this type of elite role player. He could have gone to Golden State or Toronto or Memphis and been someone who could help those talented teams win. Instead, he’s in Orlando and may get lost in the sea of disappointing picks there.
WINNER: Zion Williamson
Williamson’s winning night started a few days before the draft. In one fell swoop, the Pelicans wiped out the mistakes of the 2020 offseason and traded away Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe. They also moved back from No. 10 to No. 17.
The wins for Zion come from getting Jonas Valanciunas, a much better offensive big than Adams, and Trey Murphy III at No. 17. Murphy is a 6-foot-9, NBA-ready 3-and-D wing that can come in and play right away. He can also play off the ball, which is excellent for a team where Williamson and Brandon Ingram dominate the ball.
LOSER: Knicks fans in Brooklyn
The blue and orange jerseys were poppin’, Spike Lee was clapping, and all the New York Knicks fans packing the Barclays Center, just 5.7 miles southeast of The Garden, were ready to see who their new heroes, Worldwide Wes and Leon Rose, were going to select to take the Knicks back to the promised land.
Then the Knicks traded back from the No. 19 pick and from No. 21 a few minutes later, killing the excitement in the building. It wasn’t a bad move for the Knicks’ future, but it was tough for Knicks fans, especially for some who seemed not to know that Texas’ Kai Jones and Tennessee’s Keon Johnson weren’t staying in town.
WINNER (FOR NOW): Atlanta Hawks – Jalen Johnson, Pick No. 20
Jalen Johnson was considered a top-five pick at the start of the college basketball season. By the 2021 NBA draft, Johnson fell all the way to No. 20 and the Atlanta Hawks. He has some shooting and defensive issues, but that’s not what caused the slide.
The 6-foot-7 wing quit on Duke halfway through the season. This happened after he switched high schools three times in two years. The Hawks are getting an incredible value talent-wise, but many NBA teams decided they can’t trust Johnson to show up for the team. For now, it’s a Hawks win because of the value, but that could change quickly.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference