2022 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

Sports Illustrated 9 days ago

The Thunder gave their fans reason to celebrate. But what are the Knicks and Kings doing?

Here are three winners and three losers from the 2022 NBA draft, a night that will change the trajectory of several teams. Some for better and others…not so much.

WINNERS

1. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons need a lot of stuff right now, but a dynamic downhill secondary ball-handler who can take playmaking and scoring responsibilities off Cade Cunningham’s plate might be the most important short-term hole. When Jaden Ivey fell in their lap at No. 5, Detroit’s front office probably started doing cartwheels; he was (probably) the top prospect available and an ideal player to put beside last year’s No. 1 overall pick.

Ivey can complement Cunningham in the halfcourt and help push Detroit’s pace. This is also a great situation for him, where instead of going to the Kings at No. 4 and joining a notoriously dysfunctional organization that already has a ball-dominant point guard and hasn’t made the playoffs in 16 years, Ivey gets to slide into a relatively pressure-free situation beside a selfless, intelligent leader who can function on or off the ball.

The Pistons then flipped the future first-round pick they received for Jerami Grant earlier this week for the No. 12 pick, Jalen Duren—the exact type of rim-running, athletic big this growing team needs to establish itself in the paint on both ends. (The cost was Kemba Walker, who they’ll reportedly buy out.) What this means for Isaiah Stewart is a question for another day, though sliding him to a backup role is probably best for everyone.

Detroit has more work to do before it becomes a competitive playoff team, but its backcourt of the future is set. It may also have a new franchise center. And, after unloading Grant to the Blazers, the Pistons still have a bunch of money to spend in free agency. They shouldn’t be counted out of the Deandre Ayton sweepstakes just yet, but it’d be a little surprising if Jalen Brunson was still in their sights. 

2. The Oklahoma City Thunder Fanbase (and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander)

By cashing out on multiple first-round picks to snag No. 11 from the Knicks, it appears the Thunder are finally ready to accelerate a rebuild that was stuck in neutral. Having already selected Chet Holmgren with the second pick in the draft, Sam Presti then added Ousmane Dieng and Jalen Williams, at No. 12. That’s three lottery picks, plus Jaylin Williams at No. 34.

The Thunder aren’t going to make the playoffs next year, but they also won’t be a joke. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren are a foundational Big 3. And with a bunch of cap space and several young talents waiting to pop, Oklahoma City’s promising future may start to take shape next season.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers made one of the more noteworthy trades all night, flipping the injured Danny Green and their No. 23 pick to Memphis for De’Anthony Melton. TL;DR analysis: Philly has to win right now and Melton is good enough to help a win-now team.

He’s also under contract through next season on a team-friendly deal that pays $8.25 million in 2023 and $8 million in 2024 (only $1.5 million of which is guaranteed). If need be, Philadelphia can easily get off that salary or attach it to something else in a larger deal. But that’s not why they made this move. Melton is a competent shot-creator who won’t be asked to do much beyond accentuating Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey on offense. He’ll hit open shots (that are more open than they were on the Grizzlies) and drive hard closeouts.

He’s also only 24 years old and a scrappy defender who lives to force turnovers. It’s still unclear what this roster will look like on opening night, but two-way depth was a serious issue for them in the playoffs. Melton is a modest step toward solving some of those problems. 

LOSERS

1. New York Knicks

It’s hard to judge the Knicks until August because their draft activity was so tightly wound to who they can sign in the summer. But they’re listed as losers here because, as a deeply flawed team that probably should’ve just used their lottery pick to build around young talents like R.J. Barrett and Obi Toppin, New York decided to set their sights on free agency.

First, they traded the No. 11 pick to the Thunder for three heavily protected future first-round picks. Then, in a three-team deal with the Hornets and Pistons that took place as they were rumored to be in the hunt for Jaden Ivey, New York dumped Kemba Walker and the No. 13 pick (Jalen Duren) onto Detroit for another protected first in 2025 (via Milwaukee, courtesy of the Pistons, who received it for Jerami Grant earlier this week). It’s messy.

Now, even though the Knicks probably should’ve just selected whoever they had first on their board with the 11th pick, their thought process is clear: take their new fresh haul of picks, turn them into trade assets and proceed to slash even more long-term salary (like Evan Fournier and Alec Burks). Free agency is what they care about. They will now enter a bidding war with the Mavericks over Jalen Brunson—whose father, Rick, was just hired as an assistant coach by the Knicks. (Related: Brunson’s agent is Sam Rose, the son of Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose.)

Brunson is coming off an incredible playoff run and makes enough sense as New York’s starting point guard. But he’s not a star and, for the cost, can’t cure everything. If he goes to the Knicks, it’s hard to see what path this organization has to winning a playoff series, let alone ever contending for championships sometime in the foreseeable future. For what feels like the 15th year in a row, this franchise’s issues can’t be solved with cap space.

2. Sacramento Kings

There’s a chance Keegan Murray has an awesome career, nestles in between De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and helps make both of their lives easier for the foreseeable future. This isn’t an indictment of his game so much as it’s a criticism of Sacramento’s process, and how selecting a late-bloomer who turns 22 in August because he’s ready to contribute now makes the most sense just because they want to win now.

Bypassing talent (Jaden Ivey was, by numerous accounts, the top prize available) for fit (the Kings already had several guards on their roster) is rarely the right decision, particularly when a fourth overall pick is in play for a franchise that just won 30 games. Again, this doesn’t disqualify Murray’s potential. Maybe his polished all-around game is exactly what Sacramento needs. Perhaps their front office believes he’s superior, in a vacuum, compared to everyone else in the pool. But it’s just hard to give the Kings any benefit of the doubt here, when such dynamic options were also there for the taking.

3. Everyone who wanted to see a splash

For days heading into the draft, there were consistent trade rumors attached to several meaningful NBA players. But instead of seeing a flurry of activity, names like John Collins, Malcolm Brogdon, Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner and so on were not traded. There were no major surprises to kickstart the offseason and spice up free agency, either. All Kyrie Irving chatter dissolved once the draft actually began.

This doesn’t mean free agency won’t be exciting, or that some or all of those aforementioned names—plus a high-profile restricted free agent like Deandre Ayton—won’t be moved. But if you tuned into the draft hoping to see some fireworks, they never went off.