Thursday night’s NBA Draft turned into yet another banner night for basketball in Canada, with a record six Canadians drafted — including four in the first round.
It was also, officially, the night that Zion Williamson, the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James, officially joined the NBA ranks, marking a new era for the league and it’s ever-growing stable of fans.
But draft night wasn’t a hit for everybody involved. Without further ado, here’s a look at the winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Draft:
Winner: Canadian basketball
To recap: Last week the Toronto Raptors brought the Larry O’Brien trophy to Canada for the first time ever, while millions of Canadian hoops fans in Toronto and across the country showed a global audience that we are every bit a basketball nation.
Early into the WNBA season, Hamilton, Ont.’s Kia Nurse is picking up where she left off last year and through nine games ranks seventh in total points scored and second in free throw attempts, where she’s currently 37-42 from the charity stripe.
And then there was Thursday’s draft, where a record six Canadians were selected, including a record four in the first round.
As expected, RJ Barrett kicked things off, going third to the New York Knicks to a rare chorus of cheers from the local crowd notorious for panning their selections.
He was followed by Hamilton, Ont.’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th overall), who joins an exciting young New Orleans Pelicans team; Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke (21st) who will, ironically, join the Grizzlies in Memphis — another promising young roster — and Burlington, Ont. big man Mfiondu Kabengele (27th) who will form a Canadian contingent on the Los Angeles Clippers alongside standout Canadian PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
In the second round, Oavkille, Ont.’s Ignas Brazdeikis (47th) parlayed a strong freshman season at Michigan to a spot alongside Barrett on the Knicks, while Ottawa’s Marial Shayok (54th) joins the Philadelphia 76ers.
Move over California and New York, Ontario is the NBA’s latest basketball hot bed.
Winner: New Orleans Pelicans
You could have slotted the Pels here in the ‘winner’ category the moment their name was called in the draft lottery, when they secured generational talent and new franchise centrepiece Zion Williamson.
In Williamson the team lands a jaw-dropping talent with a powerful and versatile game that should allow him to absolutely thrive in today’s NBA. He’s also a high-character kid whose infectious and charming attitude was on display throughout draft night.
But beyond Zion the team had a very productive night. First, they traded their fourth overall pick, turning it into three picks which the team used to load up on promising talent — centre Jaxson Hayes out of Texas, a bouncy alley-oop finisher and rim-protector who should cause fits for opponents alongside Williamson; the aforementioned Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who has a chance to be a valuable weapon off the bench for New Orleans’ backcourt, and in the second round picked up impressive Brazilian guard Marcos Louzada Silva.
Throw that promising batch of prospects to a team starring Jrue Holiday and featuring newcomers Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart — to say nothing of the bevy of future first rounders the team also acquired for Anthony Davis — and suddenly few franchises have as bright a future as New Orleans.
Winner: RJ Barrett
Barrett’s stock took a slight hit during a collegiate season in which he carried a heavy workload for Duke, but the top-ranked Canadian prospect found a good home with the New York Knicks where his NBA-ready game should get plenty of chances to shine.
The 19 year-old is extremely poised, projects to do even better at the pro level than at college and seems to have the right demeanor to shine in the Big Apple, where he is already a fan-favourite.
This is a huge opportunity for Barrett given there’s a strong chance the Knicks strike out on marquee free agent targets like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. If that’s the case, expect the team to undergo an organic rebuild, with Barrett as the centrepiece and potential face of the franchise, an exciting and challenging set of circumstances to start his career.
Loser: Bol Bol
There’s always at least one player who plummets far below his projected draft position, and this year that would be Mr. Bol. A projected top-5 pick heading into his lone collegiate season and a presumptive first-rounder heading into last night’s event, Bol fell all the way to No. 44 in the second round. It’s understandable why he fell so far given the 7-foot-3, one-of-a-kind prospect suffered a season-ending foot injury that screams “red flag” for teams, but you’d think a player of his size who has great ball-handling skills and a natural shooting touch that extends well beyond the arc, would be worth taking a flier on.
You can put the Nuggets in the ‘winner’ category for trading into the second round to nab Bol and roll the dice with the big man.
Winner: Bol Bol’s stylist
Loser: Boston Celtics
You could have put the Celts in this category before the draft after both Kyrie Irving and, more crucially, Al Horford, are reportedly leaving the team for free agency.
It placed a new importance on draft night for Boston who are suddenly now faced with building a roster around young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The team entered the draft with a good head start in the form of three first-rounders, but repeatedly traded out of their spot — effectively drafting and dealing at least one incredibly promising prospects in defensive monster Matise Thybulle, who averaged 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks at Washington last season.
There’s no secret that shooting is at a premium in the NBA these days, and if that skill-set is your calling card, then chances are you had a good night on Thursday.
A number of shooting specialists were drafted higher than projected, beginning with UNC’s Cameron Johnson who was the biggest surprise of the first round, going 11th overall to the Phoenix Suns (more on them in a moment). Other shooters who, well, shot up draft boards included first-rounders Kentucky’s Tyler Herro, Belmont’s Dylan Windler, and Michigan’s Jordan Poole. There’s a lesson here: Parents, teach your children (to shoot) well.
Loser: Phoenix Suns
The Suns kicked off a puzzling night by trading starting-quality forward TJ Warren to the Indiana Pacers for the 32nd pick, creating cap room for who knows what (the Suns are rarely a free agent destination). They then traded down from the sixth pick, where Texas Tech standout and low-risk prospect Jarrett Culver wound up being selected, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the 11th pick (with which they reached for Johnson, universally ranked in the 20s) and forward Dario Saric. If there was any rhyme or reason to these choices, we won’t know until the off-season is complete and whatever vision the Suns’ brass has is fully realized.
But, for now, it looks like a team with a history of poor decision-making living up to their reputation.