The 2021 NBA Draft has come and gone with a number of surprising selections and fun moments over the course of the evening.
We won’t actually know how teams performed in this draft until years down the line, but in the immediate aftermath there appears to be some clear winners and losers from Thursday night.
At the trade deadline this past season, the Magic went on a fire sale, trading away franchise cornerstones Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon.
It was a deliberate move to try to tank for the No. 1 overall pick, something that didn’t pay off as they only ended up with No. 5 at the draft lottery.
Coming into this draft, Orlando was likely thinking it would have to find a way to make Jonathan Isaac co-exist with Scottie Barnes. But then the Toronto Raptors ended up taking Barnes at No. 4, and with Jalen Suggs on the board suddenly the Magic had a no-brainer decision on their hands, taking Suggs with No. 5 to help accelerate their rebuild.
Suggs is a natural-born leader and could be just what Orlando has been needing to help turn their sorrowfully mediocre culture around.
Throw in Franz Wagner, whom the Magic got with the No. 8 overall selection from the Chicago Bulls as part of the Vucevic deal at the deadline, and Orlando had itself a hell of an evening.
And a large reason for that was because of the Raptors’ decision to take Barnes.
Another team in the early phases of a rebuild, the Rockets got themselves a major boost by taking Jalen Green at No. 2 and then adding defensive stud Usman Garuba and ultra-athletic guard Josh Christopher later in the draft with the 23rd and 24th overall pick, respectively.
These look to be three building-block pieces for a Houston team that’s basically starting from scratch now after the drama James Harden and his exit put them through last season.
Green, in particular, appears to be a young man with a legitimate star quality to him. From the way his game projects at the NBA level, to the swagger he carried himself with on draft day he looks like he could be a real foundational piece for Houston moving forward.
The Hornets may have gotten the steal of the draft in dynamic UConn guard James Bouknight falling to them at No. 11.
Originally projected to go within at least the first eight picks, Bouknight kept falling and falling until he fell right into the Hornets’ lap, where his potential as a legitimate three-level scoring threat could pair very well with LaMelo Ball, even if there might be some positional and role overlap down the line between Bouknight and Devonte' Graham.
Additionally, the Hornets got Mason Plumlee, a very serviceable centre, and the No. 37 pick – who ended up being JT Thor from Auburn -- from the Pistons for just the No. 57 pick as Detroit was desperate to dump Plumlee’s salary.
And to top it off, Charlotte made a move with the New York Knicks to trade up for athletic big man Kai Jones at No. 19, a prospect who offers tremendous upside down line, particularly as a lob threat from Ball.
This was some good work from the Hornets.
On draft night, five Canadians made the league, three of whom were outright drafted.
The list includes Josh Primo, Chris Duarte (if you’re willing to count him that is), Dalano Banton, Eugene Omoruyi and AJ Lawson.
Primo was probably the biggest surprise pick of the entire evening as the Toronto native went No. 12 overall to the San Antonio Spurs, way higher than where he was originally projected to go.
Immediately following up Primo was Duarte, who went to the Indiana Pacers at No. 13. Duarte was born in Montreal, but was raised in the Dominican Republic so he identifies as Dominican more than anything. However, the Canadian roots still remain.
Omoruyi and Lawson have reportedly signed as undrafted free agents with the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, respectively as well.
But the biggest win for Canadian basketball Thursday night came from Banton, who made history as the first Canadian to ever get drafted by the Raptors.
A tremendous moment.
Traditional positions in basketball
We are in the era of “position-less” basketball and for proof of this you need look no further than what the Raptors did Thursday night.
At No. 4 they had an opportunity to take Suggs, a more traditional point guard who could’ve seamlessly stepped in as Kyle Lowry’s heir apparent, but they instead went with Barnes and his Swiss Army Knife-like skillset.
Then, at No. 46, the Raptors took Banton, another long, versatile player who figures to be able to play multiple positions.
It’s clear that the Raptors like these long, athletic, multi-positional players because they now have four of them on their roster in Barnes, Banton, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
Whether or not they fit a traditional position on the floor seems irrelevant to the Raptors, as being as flexible -- both offensively and defensively -- is the name of the game these days.
The Raptors aren’t the only team that thinks like this, either, they’re just the most apparent in pushing the idea of playing without actual positions.
The Lakers are acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards.
It’s costing them a fair bit as they’re giving up Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s draft (who ended up being Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson – whom the Wizards then flipped to the Indiana for Aaron Holiday), but the Lakers managed to land their man.
With Westbrook in the fold the Lakers have a star trio of him, LeBron James and Anthony Davis that combine for 34 all-star selections and 30 All-NBA team selections.
That’s some impressive stuff.
It also does nothing to help shore up the Lakers’ needs.
What Los Angeles needs is a guy who can help space the floor and give more room for James and Davis to operate around the basket.
Westbrook is a brilliant talent who is the legitimate king of the triple-double, but he doesn’t do that for the Lakers and will, most likely, do the exact opposite of that for them as he wants to dive into the paint just as much as his new superstar teammates do.
What’s funny is before this Westbrook deal came about there were reports about the Lakers looking to deal for Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield involving a similar package to the one they’re sending to the Wizards.
Hield isn’t anywhere close to the star that Westbrook is, but his acquisition would’ve helped the Lakers more than this Westbrook one would have.
“Expert” pre-draft analysis
All of those mock drafts and big boards published in advance of the draft appeared to be for naught as this was a draft where it felt like teams were going off the board from all over.
From the Raptors taking Barnes at No. 4, the Oklahoma City Thunder taking Josh Giddey at No. 6, Bouknight falling to No. 11 and Primo getting scooped up at No. 12, if you compare the actual draft results to the mocks from most of the foremost draft experts you’ll see a very different picture.
It just goes to show, what media members value – even incredibly connected and informed media members – will differ to what actual team executive do.