The Winners and Losers of the 2022 NBA Draft

The Ringer 12 days ago

The draft started off with a major surprise, but most of the fireworks came from the picks themselves, as the trade market went cold. Here’s who came out on top, and who bottomed out, on draft night.

So much for all those mock drafts. To the surprise of everyone outside of the Magic war room, Orlando took Paolo Banchero no. 1, after weeks and weeks of reports suggesting Jabari Smith Jr. was the surefire top pick. Plenty of ripple effects spread from there. Who ended up on top? Our NBA staff runs through all of the biggest movers and shakers of the night with another edition of NBA draft Winners and Losers:

Winner: Detroit Pistons

Chris Ryan: One of the joys of the second half of the past NBA season was watching how Cade Cunningham never let any defense speed him up. So what did Detroit do in the 2022 draft? Grab a guy who can’t be slowed down. Cade will win Detroit some playoff games, eventually. But Jaden Ivey will put some asses in seats and kick the Pistons up any League Pass ranking.

Ivey spent the past year weaving around Purdue’s cave troll big men, but his game is tailor-made for modern NBA offense—think Ja Morant 2.0 or, as KOC described him, “jumbo Darius Garland.” If Ivey slipping to no. 5 (always a thrill, Sacramento!) was a bit of luck, the acquisition of Memphis rim protector/lob flusher Jalen Duren was a fine piece of drafting skill on the part of Detroit GM Troy Weaver. There was a ton of “Deandre Ayton contract offer coming” talk after the Pistons moved Jerami Grant to Portland earlier in the week, but … they might have drafted the next version of him, all while bouncing the Knicks and Hornets off of one another.

Detroit hasn’t finished better than eighth in the Eastern Conference since 2008. Who knows when they will get back into conference contention, but if they do, I bet tonight will have a lot to do with it.

Loser: Kevin Durant

Logan Murdock: Three years ago, Durant left a dynasty in Golden State to team up with Kyrie Irving, setting plans to bring multiple titles to Brooklyn. But over the past seven months, that arrangement has been systematically destroyed. Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated shelved him for nearly two-thirds of the Nets’ games last season, and pushed James Harden out of town. Irving’s absence irked the Nets front office, including general manager Sean Marks, who recently wondered aloud whether Irving was the “right fit” for the organization. Now, amid an “impasse” on a new contract, Kyrie is reportedly considering forcing his way to another team. Which would leave Durant to either lead a roster made up of fringe players and Ben Simmons, an All-Star who hasn’t played a game in a calendar year, or seek out a new team himself.

It’s hard not to feel for Durant. Harden, with whom he worked hard to reconcile after the two stopped talking a few years back, deemed the Nets an untenable environment, and Irving, who said he wanted to play with Durant at 50, might be days away from departing. Durant left the Bay to be with his homies, win titles, and enjoy a new start. Now, that vision is on the verge of crumbling.

Winner: Jalen Brunson

Rob Mahoney: If you can see your way to any definitive winner in the Knicks’ labyrinth of draft-night moves—which included the coming or going of what appears to be 11 different draft picks—it would probably be the man New York desperately hopes to pay this summer. The Knicks’ interest in Brunson has been thoroughly reported and entirely predictable, with their latest overtures a few miles short of subtle. Among those gestures: Tom Thibodeau added Brunson’s NBA journeyman father, Rick, to his coaching staff earlier this month. That’s not quite on the level of a college program tiptoeing around a recruiting violation, given that Brunson at least worked on Thibodeau’s staff previously and has a long-standing relationship with Knicks president Leon Rose. But it’s not far off.

Now the Knicks have begun the process of clearing cap space, all but earmarking it to make Brunson an offer. Whether Brunson should actually choose to sign with the Knicks is a question for another day. Yet their mere presence in the marketplace—announced by going to these great lengths just to clear Kemba Walker’s $9.2 million salary and the rookie-scale deal of their would-have-been first-rounder off the books—is a huge win for the 25-year-old’s earning potential this summer. Leverage is a game for two; so long as there’s even one team out there with the interest and means to bowl Brunson over, the Mavericks will have to start with a compelling offer to keep their free-agent guard and work up from there.

This is Brunson’s first, best chance to cash in since being drafted in the second round in 2018. Every trade the Knicks made on Thursday night nudged him that much closer to a nine-figure validation.

Loser: G League Ignite

Jonathan Tjarks: The G League Ignite had two players taken in the first round (Dyson Daniels and MarJon Beauchamp), but the bigger story for the NBA’s player development program was that Jaden Hardy fell out of the first round. Hardy was the no. 2 recruit in the Class of 2021 and was widely projected to be a top-five pick before the season, but wound up being the last player in the greenroom. Players with his pedigree are essentially locks to be first-rounders. Hardy, who was taken by the Mavericks at no. 37, is the first top-two recruit to go in the second round since Josh McRoberts in 2007.

Hardy, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, averaged 18.4 points per game with the Ignite this season, but he was inefficient from the field (37.3 percent), struggled as a passer (3.5 assists and 3.6 turnovers), and didn’t offer much on defense. The question is how much those struggles can be held against him considering that he was playing against much older and more experienced players in the G League. The obvious comparison for Hardy is Shaedon Sharpe, another score-first wing who was the no. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022. He enrolled at Kentucky this season but didn’t play and was taken at no. 7.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in the draft, and sometimes having less film can turn a player into a man of mystery instead of a prospect overly analyzed by NBA scouts. The reason this matters is that there’s more competition for recruits than when the Ignite program launched two years ago. They are no longer the only place where recruits can get paid before the NBA. There’s Overtime Elite (which could have multiple top-10 picks next season), as well as NIL deals at the NCAA level, which can go for millions of dollars. All those programs will use what happened to Hardy against Ignite.

Winner: New Orleans Pelicans

J. Kyle Mann: For a team that went 36-46, finished ninth in the West, and then slid under the solid steel sliding playoff door like a secret agent, New Orleans’s choice at no. 8 in the draft felt like icing on the cake—NOLA didn’t need much, especially with the potential (hypothetical/speculative/possible) return of Zion Williamson on the horizon. But it still wound up with a fantastic fit in Dyson Daniels.

Daniels, who spent one season with the G League Ignite, is an even-keeled, gliding, probing, connective playmaker with terrific size (nearly 6-foot-8) and an efficient, unassuming game that should quickly complement the likes of Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and Zion. Although he’s not exactly an elite playmaker, he’s a quality decision-maker in the middle of the floor on low touch time—exactly the kind of lubrication that this offense needs. Dyson has some shooting issues, chiefly in his lower body, but (cue one of my favorite things to talk about) he will now get the chance to work with someone who’s had fantastic success molding players who suffer from similar issues: the mystical and magical Fred Vinson.

Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell at no. 41 is also a solid value; the 6-foot-7 forward could develop into a key piece for smaller lineups. Granted, we’re assuming a lot here; all hopes for the team next season springboards off one competitive first-round series against a Phoenix team that ended up being wobbly. But the season of Pels positivity continues, at least in my view.

Loser: Deandre Ayton

Seerat Sohi: If you want to feel the effects of whiplash, follow the offseason through the eyes of Deandre Ayton’s accountant. After the Pistons unloaded Jerami Grant to the Trail Blazers on Wednesday, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic reported that the Pistons were expected to pursue Ayton with the $43 million they had to play with. The path between Ayton and a fat offer sheet looked clearer when Detroit took Jaden Ivey, an explosive guard out of Purdue, with the fifth pick—likely taking Jalen Brunson off the Pistons’ free agency wish list. And then the Knicks, also targeting Brunson, cleared space. More good news for Ayton, right?

Well, Kemba Walker’s contract was absorbed by … the Pistons, who received the Hornets’ first-round pick via the Knicks and used it to draft Jalen Duren, an athletic rim protector. San Antonio, another potential Ayton free agency destination, drafted Jeremy Sochan, a versatile two-way big who can eat up the center minutes they need to fill. Meanwhile, Suns owner Robert Sarver’s pockets haven’t gotten any deeper.

For a player like Ayton, who toes the line of being a max player, leverage and market conditions matter. Money is already dry across the league this offseason, and two teams who could have helped drum up a bidding war can enter free agency less desperate for his services.

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

Zach Kram: De’Anthony Melton always made the Grizzlies better when he was on the floor. He wasn’t flashy and he rarely started, but he contributed in little ways across the board—a deflection here, an extra pass there—that added up to tremendous effect. Over his three seasons in Memphis, Melton’s RAPM (an all-encompassing statistic that measures a player’s impact after adjusting for the identity of his teammates and opponents) ranked 21st in the NBA. It’s no wonder that Daryl Morey would want to acquire an advanced stats darling.

In return, Philadelphia sent Memphis the no. 23 pick and the contract of Danny Green, who tore his ACL and LCL in the playoffs—so, essentially, the 76ers sacrificed a late first-round pick for a player who can help them now, which aligns better with the franchise’s window. Melton is still only 24 years old, with room to grow. He’s also an excellent fit as a two-way role player on the 76ers’ roster, especially if his 3-point improvement holds (41 percent in 2020-21 and 37 percent in 2021-22). Other than Green and Kemba Walker, who seems headed for a buyout after being traded to Detroit, Melton was the only NBA player to change teams Thursday night—but he could make an impact in the 2022-23 playoff race.

Loser: Mock Drafts

Loser: Sportsbooks

Rodger Sherman: Why would you bet on actual sporting events, where both teams have a possibility or winning or losing, when you could bet on sports-adjacent things whose outcome can be determined beforehand? Take the NBA draft, where anonymous, shadowy figures took sportsbooks for huge sums of money by betting on Paolo Banchero to be the no. 1 pick.

Entering Thursday night, virtually all media reports said that Jabari Smith Jr. would be the top pick in the draft. But sportsbooks kept frantically shifting their odds, indicating that Banchero was the best bet to go first.

Why was this happening? It seems likely that sharps and Vegas insiders were dumping huge amounts of money on Banchero, despite the total lack of public evidence that he would be the top pick. Sportsbooks kept shortening the odds on Smith after every Woj tweet clarifying that Smith remained the likely top pick, but more Banchero money kept pouring in.

The upshot of this? Some well-connected people out there probably made lots of money. When Banchero turned out to be the top pick, sportsbooks got “smoked.”

It’s generally a fun story when sportsbooks get crushed by the little guy—but in this case, the little guy probably also got crushed when they saw favorable odds on Smith, still the presumptive no. 1 pick, and bet on him. The winners were the people who made huge bets on something that seemed highly unlikely to happen, presumably because they had insider info rather than expensive hunches. So what did we learn from this? I guess sportsbooks learned … not to do it again!

Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

Tyler Parker: Sammy was making things happen this evening. Making the donuts, making it rain. Sweating it out. Really getting after it. Grab a knee, Samuel. In the end, with the second pick in the 2022 NBA draft, you got your Chet.

Orlando leaving Jabari dangling did nothing to deter Thunder general manager Sam Presti from scooping up Big Mantis. Chet was all diamond dice and black velvet, a paisley-printed, murdered-out collection of some of the most exquisite PVC pipes you’ll ever see. His father, Dave, would not be outshone. Dad was at his side, camcorderless, and based off wardrobe alone was honestly giving off do-me vibes to the whole of Barclays. David looked straight out of the mid-’90s, some B-movie henchman/producer/bookie. He looked like he was going to come through the screen and ask if I like to feel good. Another truly glorious mane will now be featured during Thunder telecasts. Flow levels rising. Head & Shoulders should’ve been on this yesterday.

Holmgren’s addition to the roster fulfilled the hopes and dreams of photoshoppers the world over. No longer will they have to superimpose Holmgren and Thunder third-year love machine Aleksej Pokusevski next to one another. What once seemed impossible has come to pass. It’s real. It’s happening. We’re alive. The restaurants of Oklahoma must band together and beef these boys up. They should get to go to Braum’s whenever they want.

The fireworks did not stop there. They got booming again at 11. The Thunder traded three protected future firsts to the Knicks and took Ousmane Dieng, a 6-foot-10 forward out of France. Dieng spent this past season as a member of the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL. He idolizes Tony Parker. Good thing most of the dudes on the OKC roster are too young to be married. Dieng’s ballhandling and playmaking are exciting. The shot is not. The passing could be. It’s a swing.

After the Dieng trade it appeared the Thunder’s evening was over until the second round. Then Woj popped up all coy and sassy and said something flirty like, Oooooooo I’ve got a surprise for youuuuuu. Sammy got his boy. Chet Mix is flying off the shelves in Oklahoma City. They loved him the most, always wanted him, and now we wait to see what the Thunder do at 12. Well go ’head then, Woj. Titillate. Rile me up. Only then did it set in that 12 wasn’t part of the deal.

I leapt to my feet and went to the television. I stood very close. I watched mouths move and looked at my phone and the wall and ceiling and floor and Kendrick Perkins is comparing Dieng to Shaq or some other adjacent outrageousness and we’re knee-deep in chaos. Adam Silver appeared again. He announced a trade that happened in 1971. Then, the Thunder took Jalen Williams. Williams is a 6-foot-6 forward out of Santa Clara. The shot is very nice. Wings with size who can play on both ends make champions go round. It behooves the Thunder to take shots on dudes like him so, with their last pick of the night, they did it again. They took Jaylin Williams. Yes, another Jaylin Williams. This one is different than the Williams who came before in ways big (rim-running center from Arkansas) and small (the -ylin ending is inspired and his parents should be praised). Makes my life so much easier. Good looking out. Jaylin declared after his sophomore year and has a motor that just won’t quit.

Thunder studs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey leave the night with a chest full of new toys to play with. They leave the night with one of the stretchier rosters in recent memory, long on length and time. Light on weight. Heavy on upside.

Loser: Anyone Expecting Big Trades

Justin Verrier: If you’re a degenerate rumormongerer like me, you came into Thursday night’s draft expecting a buffet of transactions. John Collins wouldn’t be in Atlanta by Friday morning, they said. Malcolm Brogdon, they told us, was being discussed all over the league. Above all else, Marc Stein wrote on his Subtstack on Tuesday, “Brace for numerous trades.” But by the end of the night, the biggest name to change teams was Walker, whose contract was used to make the cap math work and is now expected to be bought out by the Pistons.

The only thing more frustrating than missing out on a breaking-news bump was trying to follow the deals that did go down. It took nearly half the first round and a Voltron of reporters to figure out the details of the three-team trade between the Hornets, Knicks, and Pistons, with Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer at one point even admitting he didn’t know who actually drafted big-man prospect Jalen Duren. Worse, Adam Silver had to keep up the charade of announcing trades at the dais, long after the ESPN broadcast had reported the deals, and even longer after Woj or Shams had reported them on Twitter.

There’s still hope for this offseason—Kyrie could wind up on virtually any team, perhaps even one in an alternate reality. But draft night, one of the marquee events of scuttlebutt season, was a huge dud.

Loser: New York Knicks

Wosny Lambre: The Knicks punted on this year’s draft after their reportedly dogged pursuit of Jaden Ivey fell short. Trading this year’s no. 11 pick for multiple future picks isn’t a grand screw-up in and of itself, but passing on adding a young player is quite a peculiar move for a front office that’s been in “wait until next year” mode for what seems like an eternity. I, for one, can’t wait to watch Knicks fan friends of mine go nuts over the inevitable draft-night steal who they could’ve selected at 11 or later. Keep on Knicksing, y’all.