Every year, a few teams seem to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” in the NBA Draft; the value they get relative to what they entered the draft with outweighs even the hopes of their biggest optimist. However, there are also teams that feel pressure internally or from the fan base and collapse completely when the draft starts. With the 2023 NBA Draft being wrapped up, we will discuss this year’s biggest winners and losers below!
2023 NBA Draft Winners
The following teams improved the most on Thursday night:
Houston Rockets: A++
If you would have said one week ago that the Houston Rockets would have landed Cam Whitmore in the draft, no one would have batted an eye. Sure, there might be some fans or experts who believed that Amen Thompson would have been a better fit at No. 4, but it certainly would not have been considered a reach in any way, shape, or form.
However, what would have blown the minds of the people mentioned above is the idea that Houston would walk away with Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson without even picking up the phone. The Rockets decided to draft Thompson with the fourth overall pick, which already received a fabulous draft grade from our experts, but shockingly, they got Cam Whitmore with the 20th pick, too!
While some teams were concerned with Cam Whitmore’s medicals, which clearly seemed to plague his night, Houston recognized the potential value in its position and made the proper, objective decision to swing for the fences. What is the worst that can happen? The Rockets’ worst-case scenario is still walking away with a player that we comped as “shades of Penny Hardaway.”
Ultimately, the Rockets put on an absolute clinic last night and had to walk away feeling about as good as they ever have post-draft.
Dallas Mavericks: A+
Dallas put on a draft clinic last night, too; it traded back from No. 10 to No. 12 and was able to off-load Davis Bertans’ contract while still getting its guy, Dereck Lively II, a perfect future frontcourt piece next to Luka Doncic. If Doncic can make Dwight Powell an effective “roll” player in the pick-and-roll, imagine what he can do with a player like Lively, who has a ton of untapped offensive upside.
Additionally, Lively immediately helps that morbid frontcourt defense with his impressive shot-blocking ability and should aid the rebounding department, which has been another struggle.
This move/pick alone would have warranted an A+ grade, but the Mavs weren’t done; they then took in Richaun Holmes’ contract while acquiring the 24th pick in the draft, too. The Mavs were able to use the trade exception from the Bertans’ trade earlier in the draft to take on Holmes’ contract and also draft a player who has skyrocketed up draft boards recently: Olivier-Maxence Prosper.
Prosper is another electric, athletic frontcourt piece that should immediately get some tick for the Mavs. Dallas not only fixed multiple issues in this draft, but it also did so with young talent that can grow around Doncic.
San Antonio Spurs: A+
This grade must come as a real shocker.
The Spurs were the winners of the NBA Draft before it even started, landing the first overall pick and the generational talent that is Victor Wembanyama. Unless they traded this pick, there was no way they were coming home with less than an A+, but they also drafted Sidy Cissoko, a borderline first-round talent out of G-League Ignite, who has some similar attributes to a player like Draymond Green.
San Antonio is a perfect place for Cissoko to go to, as he will develop and play well within that system. As a matter of fact, basically, any player that is selfless, talented, and has a high basketball IQ can play well there. Cissoko fits the bill.
Memphis Grizzlies: A
While Memphis included the No. 25 pick in the trade that brought in Marcus Smart, a perfect replacement for Dillon Brooks, it still held on to the No. 45 and No. 56 picks in the draft. With the former, the Grizzlies selected GG Jackson, one of the youngest players in the draft whose upside is evident from the moment you put on his highlight reel.
Jackson is a 6-foot-9.5 combo forward who reclassified from the class of 2023 to 2022 and started last season for South Carolina as a 17-year-old. GG’s offensive arsenal is already extremely advanced, especially given his size; however, he will need to become much more efficient at the NBA level.
Further, he has to mature as a person and a player, but let’s be honest for a second: he is still a kid. Jackson has probably been driving a car for just over a year and a half; he’s going to make some mental mistakes at times, but he seems more than willing to grow and clearly has a strong foundation.
Jackson is the kind of talent Memphis could have gotten with the 25th pick, so it did not really lose out on anything from trading out of the first round this year. Additionally, Smart is the creative acquisition that makes Zach Kleiman one of the best in the business. Starting wings right now are at a premium, and instead of overpaying, Kleiman recognized that he could get everything he needs (a Dillon Brooks replacement with more discipline and a veteran presence) with a player like Smart, who is only 6-foot-4 but is more than capable of defending bigger wings.
Additionally, he understands that what the Grizzlies might lack in perimeter length, they more than makeup for in interior length. Jaren Jackson Jr will always be roaming the paint, and Steven Adams will pull down all the rebounds.
The Wizards have completely committed to the rebuild, which is obviously the right direction for this franchise. Between Kristaps Porzingis’ injury history and Bradley Beal’s contract, this was the only correct move. While Washington likely didn’t get as much in return for those trades as it hoped for, it had a spectacular draft.
Washington traded up from the eighth pick to the seventh pick to ensure that nobody stole its “guy,” Bilal Coulibaly. Coulibaly has shot up draft boards over the past few months, getting the proper exposure due to playing with Victor Wembanyama in France; he is 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and is amongst the most athletic players in this draft. Coulibaly’s floor is as a versatile star-stopper on defense, which is well worth the pick here.
This a perfect directional pick for Washington, and what better way to start the rebuild than to swing for the fences? Then, the Wizards made another huge value pick, snagging Tristan Vukcevic in the second round, a player who is lottery-level talent on my personal big board.
Vukcevic looked stellar in the 5v5s at the combine and measured exceptionally well, too, coming in at roughly 7-foot-1 in shoes. His shooting ability is evident, and he projects as an Andrea Bargnani type of player who is arguably more athletic in every way. Don’t be surprised if we look back on this draft a few years from now and say Washington killed it.
2023 NBA Draft Losers
While some teams exceled at the draft, others made some head-scratching decisions. Those teams are as follows:
Orlando Magic: D
Look, this is where things get subjective. There might be some fans or even experts who like this draft for Orlando; however, that is not us. The Magic walked away with Anthony Black and Jett Howard; Black fits the mold of what they need but is a reach at No. 6, while the Howard pick is just head-scratching.
Don’t get us wrong; we believe that Howard has an abundance of potential as a rangy 6-foot-8 forward who can shoot and work out of the pick-and-roll. However, the Magic need more complementary players right now to fill around Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero: those guys are their future.
Drafting another ball-heavy player makes no sense, and some, including us, might argue that Jett Howard projects as a Franz Wagner-type of player: tall for their position, nimble, with good footwork and scoring instincts.
In my opinion, Orlando would have been better off pulling the trigger at No. 11 on a player like Jordan Hawkins or Gradey Dick, an elite movement shooter with secondary scoring upside. The Magic had one of the least efficient offenses last season, and I don’t see Howard or Black moving the needle for them.
Utah Jazz: C
Utah saved its draft by snagging Brice Sensabaugh at the end of the first round. Sensabaugh is a bulldozing 6-foot-6 scoring forward who was exceptionally efficient in his freshman season at Ohio State.
However, Utah’s first pick is a head-scratcher, to say the least. The Jazz already have their future frontcourt with Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler: one defensive-centric rim protector and one All-Star offensive weapon.
What can they really do with Taylor Hendricks? While Hendricks’ upside is undeniable, and I am usually a proponent of selecting the best player available rather than the player who could be the best fit, I still find myself searching for an explanation.
Perhaps, Danny Ainge believes that Markkanen could return to the small forward position, which he played in Cleveland; however, that did not seem to work out quite as well as the Cavs hoped.
Additionally, the Jazz had the rare opportunity of snagging Cam Whitmore with the 16th pick and passed on him for Keyonte George, a player much like Jordan Clarkson, who they already have rostered. While Utah obviously needs guards, this move only really makes sense if it moves on from Clarkson; we will see if that happens in the off-season.
Brooklyn Nets: C-
What direction is Brooklyn going in? The Nets are starting to give off “Portland Trail Blazers over the past two years” vibes: uncertainty. If Brooklyn wanted to go all-in on a rebuild, then Clowney would have been a halfway decent, high-upside pick.
However, there is no indication that Brooklyn is going this route. Even if that was the Nets’ direction, I don’t love this pick with plenty of players that have uber-high ceilings still left on the board.
As a matter of fact, the Nets have been mentioned in trade rumors for Damian Lillard and have held on to Mikal Bridges, despite the opportunity to sell extraordinarily high on him. Like bringing in four or five first-rounders and a young player kind of “selling high.” The Clowney pick just does not make sense in any way and almost doomed the Nets from the start.