Among the top winners are Dallas, Portland, and San Antonio; Not so much Charlotte
The 2023 NBA Draft is now officially over, and even though the first pick has essentially been predetermined for the previous month, there were still a lot of intriguing plotlines to consider. The Charlotte Hornets decided to select Brandon Miller at No. 2 overall after much deliberation. The Portland Trail Blazers considered trading players, but eventually chose to hold onto their third-place position without making any changes to their present lineup. Amen and Ausar Thompson, who were chosen by the Rockets and Pistons, respectively, in the top five of the same draft, established NBA history by being the first set of twins to do so.
But now that the draft is truly over, we can finally see how all 58 picks turned out after months of speculating. So, based on tonight’s outcomes, who prevailed or failed in the 2023 NBA Draft? Below are a few picks for each lane.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs
What did you anticipate? The best prospect to enter the NBA since LeBron James 20 years ago was just selected by San Antonio. The Spurs’ acquisition of Victor Wembanyama may not have included much suspense, but it was nevertheless the biggest triumph that any team achieved on Thursday. His presence completely transforms a team that has now gone four years without making the playoffs.
The Spurs were largely aimless until Wembanyama. After trading first-time All-Star Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks and falling off the map, they only really committed to a deconstruction last summer. This allowed for the development of a number of intriguing secondary players, like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Jeremy Sochan, but none of them fit the mold of a player who could carry the Spurs to a championship. It is Wembanyama. Beginning 26 years ago, Tim Duncan guided the Spurs to five championships. Wembanyama must now take the Spurs to new heights.
Loser: Charlotte Hornets
Since rankings could be meaningfully tracked, Scoot Henderson has been the No. 2 prospect in this class. Almost every team that attempted to jump up to the top three in this class, most notably including the New Orleans Pelicans, was reportedly doing so with Henderson in mind, according to the reporting at the time. There is no such thing as a consensus when it comes to drafts, but Henderson was the closest a prospect could have been to this class’s consensus No. 2 pick. On Thursday, though, when the Hornets turned in their card, Brandon Miller’s name was listed instead of Henderson’s.
Miller is a better match for the position. The most uncommon players in the NBA are wings, so Miller should fit in right away as a versatile small forward who can switch positions as needed. But at this point in their rebuild, the Hornets just weren’t ready to start putting fit before talent as they only had two long-term keepers in LaMelo Ball and Mark Williams.
The majority of the league was aware that they should have prioritized talent and selected Henderson. As a general rule, we should probably trust the rest of the league if a team that has made the playoffs twice in the last 13 years is confounding expectations. Throughout his ownership of the Hornets, Michael Jordan has made a number of poor draft choices, but his last significant selection before turning the team over to Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall was a real dud.
Winner: Portland Trail Blazers
On Thursday, Portland gained as Charlotte lost. Miller might have easily adapted to a Blazers squad that is currently stacked with guards, just as he would have in Charlotte. Miller could have easily assisted Damian Lillard in getting back into the playoffs sooner rather than later after helping Alabama enjoy one of its best seasons in recent memory. Even though the fit isn’t perfect, chances to choose real franchise-altering talent in the NBA draft should be treasured.
There are far too many guards on the Blazers. It will be difficult to find enough playing time for Henderson, Lillard, Shaedon Sharpe, and Anfernee Simons if all four remain on the starting lineup for the season opener. However, at this point, we are evaluating the draft rather than using opening night expectations. The Hornets will likely have a very excellent small forward in five years, but the Blazers might have an All-NBA guard. Since choosing Greg Oden first overall in 2007, Portland has made the top draft pick. They might not have had another opportunity to select this highly, and they ultimately seized the chance to get a possibility who could aid them in competing for the next ten or more years. There are undoubtedly still unanswered questions, but the Blazers acquired a potential with the third overall pick who most likely would have gone first overall in a typical draft class. That is an unrestrained triumph.
The Blazers would have been in excellent shape if they had called it a night at that point. However, they also had a second first-round pick through the New York Knicks and used it on Iowan Kris Murray, the younger brother of Keegan Murray, a developing talent with the Sacramento Kings. Although Kris doesn’t exactly have the same upside as his brother, he should be able to contribute right away and fits neatly into the wing spot the Blazers would have filled if Charlotte had left them with Miller rather than Henderson. Although the Blazers didn’t necessarily find the quality they were hoping for to win now, they did a good job of bringing in the appropriate prospects with their selections.
Loser: The Thompson twins
Yes, tonight was historic for the Thompson twins as a family. They just made history by becoming the first set of twins to be chosen in the top five (or top 10 for that matter) of the same draft, and being chosen back-to-back will undoubtedly live in their memories for the rest of their lives. Every candidate that was selected for tonight was successful overall.
However, the Thompson twins are a potential that will do best under a certain set of conditions. Since neither of them are particularly good jump shooters, in an ideal world, they would join teams that would allow them to handle the ball as they mature. However, the reality was different. Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham, two recent first-round picks by the Pistons, are already in the backcourt, and Ivey, like Thompson, is still improving as a shooter.
It might be even more challenging to adjust to Amen’s condition. The Rockets already have Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., two young guards who see a lot of action, but they also anticipate signing senior guards in free agency, with James Harden allegedly at the top of their list. Amen will have a difficult time receiving the developmental touches he requires with the roster Houston currently has when those guards are combined with Alperen Sengun, a center who needs the ball to be productive. The Thompson twins still have a lot of potential. The work they put in to grow inside the league will determine how successful they are in the NBA. But neither of them begin in ideal circumstances.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks
Teams who need to pay off large wages typically have to do so by outright giving away first-round picks. For instance, the Nets dealt two first-round picks in 2019 to acquire Taurean Prince on a rookie scale contract in exchange for Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary because they needed more financial room to chase Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Now that Irving had arrived in Dallas, the Mavericks needed to raise even more cash. In addition to the $17 million guaranteed for the upcoming season, Davis Bertans is due $5 million in guaranteed money for the 2024–25 campaign, which will increase to $16 million if he participates in 75% of his team’s games. But was giving up their first-round pick necessary for the Mavericks to be released from that agreement? Nope. They merely dropped two spots, from No. 12 to No. 10, and managed to land Dereck Lively II, a talent who was mostly anticipated to go to Dallas in any case.
With more than $30 million in cap space this offseason, the Thunder can afford to sign Bertans and move Cason Wallace up to No. 10 in exchange for Bertans. But Dallas is the one who really gains from this. The Kings, who also wanted to free up some cash, promptly accepted the deal for Richaun Holmes from the Mavericks, who then used part of the flexibility that this trade provided to select a free first-round pick at choice number 24 overall. Holmes is only 29 years old, and before Domantas Sabonis arrived in Sacramento, He was the Kings’ first-choice center. Dallas was in desperate need of a big man, and if Holmes can regain his prior form, they were essentially compensated with one first-round selection to secure their new starting center. That is some really sound business.
Loser: Cam Whitmore
Cam Whitmore appeared to have a chance to go as high as the fourth overall pick while he was still a draft prospect. That obviously did not occur. Whitmore eventually dropped all the way out of the lottery and finished at No. 20 overall, costing himself, according to Spotrac, about $14 million on his rookie deal.
There doesn’t appear to be a single cause behind Whitmore’s decline. In the beginning of his lone season at Villanova, he contended with a thumb ailment. He has received criticism for the way he practices and his effort. He performed poorly in his exercises and interviews, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN who was commentating on the broadcast. There is no question about Whitmore’s talent, but becoming an NBA player requires much more than that. This misstep indicates that the league does not think he is prepared for that change.
His final destination is Houston, a team he may have thought would select him with its higher selection. This collapse would have at least brought him to a contender if he had chosen one or two picks earlier. He would have had a greater chance of maximizing his potential if he had ended up with Miami or Golden State with picks No. 18 or 19, respectively. Instead, he joins the rebuilding Rockets, who have seen several of their young players pick up bad habits on the floor. Houston doesn’t currently seem to be in the best location to maximize Whitmore, but Ime Udoka might change that in the future.
Winner: Heat culture
Miami recently advanced to the NBA Finals thanks in large part to undrafted free agents. First-round picks on this squad are rare practically by definition because the Heat used seven of them in their unexpected run to the NBA Finals. Of course, the Heat often gets good results from their picks when they do make them. All three of their prior first-round picks have had a significant impact: Precious Achiuwa was traded for Kyle Lowry, while Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo have both developed into top-tier athletes. Despite the fact that they are all highly regarded, these players share the undrafted mentality that the Heat has cultivated over the previous three decades.
Here Jaime Jaquez enters the picture. Few candidates in this class better embody that ethos than he does. His on-court hustle and other intangibles helped UCLA finish 31-6 last season, despite the fact that he wasn’t a particularly gifted athlete and suffered mightily in college. His high basketball IQ will also fit in well with Miami’s egalitarian scheme. Who cares if he doesn’t have the perfect body type? Less popular prospects have been developed into valuable players by the Heat. They have just the kind of potential they usually seek out now.
Loser: The viewers
Every draft would be predictable if every draft lacked randomness. This draft was very quiet in terms of shocks, but we can’t anticipate pandemonium every year because then it would become the standard. Bilal Coulibaly at No. 7 was the only player in the top 10 who was truly unexpected, but he had been progressively moving up draft boards throughout the process. The trade market was mostly uninteresting. With no large assets changing hands, modest trades in the lottery were made between Indiana, Washington, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. Davis Bertans and Richaun Holmes were the two most well-known players to switch teams during the first round itself.
The NBA ultimately has no obligation to surprise us with unexpected picks. These teams want to succeed, and sometimes it requires taking calculated risks. But the Chris Paul trade, which happened just hours before the draft started, suggested that today might have been a crazy day for NBA trades. That simply did not occur.