After a draft night that was surprisingly surprise-free, Victor Wembanyama is officially a Spur, and Cason Wallace and Keyontae Johnson are set to become the newest members of the OKC Thunder. With 58 players finding new NBA homes, it’s time to see which teams won and lost the draft.
I recognize this is essentially an exercise in futility, as we still have no idea how these players will actually turn out. It will take years for some of these players’ careers to pan out, and yet here I am, deciding success or failure less than 24 hours after their careers have started.
Who are the Winners and Losers of this year’s NBA Draft, including for the OKC Thunder?
Because we don’t have the same intel as the GMs, it is difficult to truly gauge the “value” of each pick, as picks that we initially thought were reaches turn out to be ingenious strategic moves (see Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams). Because of this, I will be basing these winners and losers on my own personal rankings, which are objectively correct and also better than yours. Deal with it.
Houston Rockets: Amen Thompson (#4), Cam Whitmore (#20)
As much as it pains this Thunder fan to say, the Rockets were the clear winners of draft night, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. Houston was able to nab two top four talents on my board without making a trade. I had Whitmore 4th on my board, so seeing him free fall to 20th was a shock. Like AJ Griffin last year, it is believed that Whitmore dropped due to poor medical reports. Only time will tell if injuries will slow Whitmore down, but I’m confident that he will make the teams who passed on him regret it. Whitmore, Thompson, and Jalen Green will give the Rockets one of the most athletic trios in the entire league. Thursday night was a great boost for Houston’s rebuild.
Portland Trail Blazers: Scoot Henderson (#3), Kris Murray (#23), Rayan Rupert (#43)
Portland has done a great job of identifying and addressing its weaknesses, namely that they lacked quality defenders and talent and depth on the wings. After being gifted a generational talent in Scoot Henderson, the Blazers targeted defensive-minded wings with Murray and Rupert. Neither will likely contribute much to the offense outside of Murray’s shooting and Rupert’s transition scoring, but with such talented scorers like Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and Henderson, they won’t have pressure on them to score often. With or without Lillard, the Blazers have a bright future.
Utah Jazz: Taylor Hendricks (#9), Keyonte George (#16), Brice Sensabaugh (#28)
No team (except the Spurs) improved their offense more on Thursday night than the Jazz. Sensabaugh and George are two of the best shooters in the class, and Hendricks isn’t far behind. They didn’t just help their offense, however, as Hendricks and 2022 first round pick Walker Kessler will form a dynamic defensive duo. The Jazz also got great value out of their selections, as all three of their picks were lottery talents on my board.
Miami Heat: Jaime Jaquez (#19)
The Heat are known for getting the most out of their UDFAs, and they’re going to have to hope that trend continues this year. Jaquez was a great player in college, but I just don’t see his game translating to the next level. He’s a scrappy player who will fit well with #HeatCulture, but I had him ranked 42nd on my board and players like Cam Whitmore, Dariq Whitehead, and Leonard Miller were still available. Jaquez might turn into a solid rotational piece, but there was just too much talent still on the board to justify this pick.
Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller (#2), Nick Smith Jr. (#27), James Nnaji (#31), Amari Bailey (#41)
Putting the Hornets here is tough because I loved their second round picks James Nnaji and Amari Bailey, but that’s just how bad their first round picks were. Picking Brandon Miller over Scoot Henderson was the wrong move no matter how you slice it. I don’t have access to the private workouts or interviews with the team, but from what I saw on tape, Henderson was the obvious choice as the more talented player. Even if you want to argue that Charlotte drafted for fit over talent (also a bad idea), the Hornets used their next pick on a ball dominant guard in Nick Smith Jr. Charlotte would have been better off using their resources to draft Henderson at 2, then, if they still wanted a high-upside wing, taken Leonard Miller or GG Jackson at 27.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kobe Brown (#30), Jordan Miller (#48)
Of all the teams who participated in Thursday’s draft, I feel pretty confident saying that the Clippers did the worst. I had Brown with a late second round grade, and Miller as a UDFA. At 23 years old, both players are a year older than their new teammate Bones Hyland, who will be entering his third year in the league. This isn’t to say that older prospects are inherently worse (I’m a big believer in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Marcus Sasser), but they need to display more elite skills than what Miller and Brown have shown thus far.
Lu Dort – Unfortunately, Loser
What kind of OKC Thunder writer would I be without mentioning the OKC Thunder’s draft night? TheOKC Thunder traded with Dallas to get the number 10. pick (Cason Wallace) and Davis Bertans in exchange for the 12th pick (Dereck Lively II). This move by the Mavericks also created Dallas a traded player exception. The newest OKC Thunder guard Cason Wallace is a 6’4 guard out of Kentucky, is a strong defender and a high level playmaker.
One of his most common comps during the pre-draft process was Lu Dort, but now, Wallace’s presence on the roster makes Dort expendable. They both earn their paycheck as intense perimeter defenders, but Wallace’s youth and potential as a scorer and playmaker make him more likely to be a part of the OKC Thunder’s future than Dort.
Though, that is a decision that has to be made later on into the future. For now, the OKC Thunder will see the benefit of having Lu Dort mentor Cason Wallace.
Luka Doncic – Winner
Doncic came out of Thursday night a clear winner, as the Mavs made several good moves to complement their young superstar. Dallas got much better defensively after drafting Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper. The Doncic-Lively pick and roll offense will be must-see TV and Dorian Finney-Smith showed how good a versatile defensive wing with three names can be in Dallas’ system. The Mavericks made all the right moves to get themselves – and Doncic – back into the playoffs.
Ime Udoka – Winner
The new Rockets head coach has to be ecstatic after the team’s draft performance on Thursday. Whitmore and Thompson are going to help Houston run the kind of system that Udoka prefers – airtight defense, ball movement, and getting out in transition – and away from the iso-heavy hero ball that the team has played in the past. Both players also bring a sense of professionalism, accountability, leadership, and maturity, all of which the Rockets have been desperately lacking.
Teams Who Picked 5-19 – Losers
I know I keep harping on it, but I still cannot believe that Cam Whitmore fell all the way to pick 20. I understand the medical situation to an extent, but there’s no way he should have fallen out of the lottery. He is such an explosive athlete and a well-rounded player, doing almost everything at a high level. He could fit well into almost any system, which makes his fall even more baffling; there was no team that he would’ve been a bad fit for. I really wish Presti had pulled the trigger on a deal to get him once he started to fall, but he’s not the only GM who will regret passing on Whitmore.
Who do you think won the 2023 NBA Draft, which of the OKC Thunder players benefit the most from the draft, and how do you grade the OKC Thunder pick? Let us know.