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Biggest takeaways from the 2019 NBA Draft

Larry Brown Sports logo Larry Brown Sports 6/21/2019 Grey Papke, Larry Brown Sports
Adam Silver in a suit standing in front of a building © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NBA Draft proved to be a wild affair, with a predictable first three picks giving way to surprises, reaches, potential steals and a whole cavalcade of trades. 

It was intriguing to watch the strategies at play as things developed, and several franchises made big decisions that will make or break them for years to come.

Here are eight big takeaways from the 2019 NBA Draft.

1. Pelicans reshape franchise in one night

The New Orleans Pelicans would have had a good draft night if they had just landed Zion Williamson and no one else of significance. Instead, team president David Griffin leveraged the Anthony Davis situation into the NBA equivalent of the Herschel Walker trade. In addition to Williamson, the Pelicans turned the No. 4 pick into the eighth, 17th and 35th overall selections. Those first-round picks were used to select Jaxson Hayes, who will pair with Williamson in a remarkably athletic frontcourt, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. In addition to the players acquired in the Davis trade, that’s essentially a full franchise rebuild in one night.

2. Trades are more popular than ever

Teams were eager to trade picks during this draft. Part of that is maneuvering for a potentially dynamic free-agent class, and part because the mid-range prospects in this year’s draft class are regarded as being solid. On Wednesday and Thursday, NBA teams made nine trades involving first-round picks. That doesn’t count the Anthony Davis trade on Saturday, nor does it count the other trades that involved second-round picks changing hands. It also doesn’t count a few teams that were open to trading a pick but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger. To say it was an eventful night for GMs would be a massive understatement.

3. Hawks have a clear plan in place and are following it

For the second consecutive year, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk identified the player he wanted in the early reaches of the draft and went for him. Last year it was Trae Young, and this year he decided that De’Andre Hunter was the perfect fit for his young Atlanta team. It’s clear the Hawks have a clear idea of the types of players they want to build around and draft, and this is the second year in a row they’ve traded in the first round with a clear target in mind. Plus, last year’s trade allowed them to get Cam Reddish at No. 10. If it works, a lot of it will be down to Schlenk and his vision.

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Video by USA TODAY

4. Orlando Magic did Lakers a big favor

The Los Angeles Lakers entered Thursday’s draft with a roster in desperate need of cheap labor but with no picks. They were able to acquire a second-round selection from the Magic for cash and a future pick. They used it to select Iowa State guard Talen Horton-Tucker, a Klutch Sports client (agency of LeBron James and Anthony Davis). Although the Lakers are expected to have plenty of star power next season, depth will be a major issue, and they will have little funds available to address it. Horton-Tucker should have a clear path to a roster spot.

5. Teams aren’t afraid of loading up on backcourt partners

Two teams in the top seven took gambles on their backcourt. The Chicago Bulls are building around Zach LaVine, and Coby White doesn’t exactly slot in neatly as a backcourt partner for that sort of player. The same is true of the Cleveland Cavaliers selecting Darius Garland, who may be paired with Collin Sexton in a backcourt that will not play a whole lot of defense. Ultimately, both teams are betting on talent, which is probably the right thing to do, but things may be awkward in these two backcourts for a while.

6. Health and inconsistency cost some big-name prospects

Some of the more talented prospects in the draft fell farther than their talent level would dictate, largely based on middling performances in college. Cam Reddish dropped to 10th despite being a top-five talent largely because he often looked anonymous at Duke. Nassir Little’s offensive talent didn’t come together in time to save him from falling to No. 24, despite being a highly-touted recruit. 

The enigmatic Kevin Porter barely snuck into the first round at 30 overall due to perceived selfish play and immaturity. Then there’s Bol Bol, a top-10 talent with major health concerns who didn’t go until the middle of the second round. There are no sure things in the NBA Draft, but teams picking high tended to err more toward certainty than ceiling, which led to some non-lottery teams grabbing potential steals.

7. Suns must be focused on free agency for their draft to make sense

It’s hard to make sense of what the Phoenix Suns’ plan was on Thursday. Trading T.J. Warren and opening up some cap space might be an indicator that the Suns are looking at free agency, not the draft, as their ticket to improvement this summer, along with the acquisition of Dario Saric. Using the No. 11 pick on Cam Johnson — a quality shooter who is already 23 and doesn’t really stand out in any other way — is baffling. Johnson wasn’t even invited to the green room and was viewed by some as a second-rounder. Nabbing Ty Jerome via trade with the 24th pick is a nice move, but it doesn’t salvage the night. The Suns had best make good use of that cap space they created Thursday, because this was an inauspicious start to the offseason.

8. Wizards still seem confused in every way

Rui Hachimura may turn out to be a very solid NBA player, but picking him ninth overall feels like a reach. That’s what the Washington Wizards did, and for a team in need of transformational help, it just doesn’t feel like the sort of impact selection they needed. That player may not have been available with the ninth pick, but Cam Reddish’s ceiling is almost certainly higher, though he’d be a riskier pick overall. This just isn’t the kind of selection that’s going to turn around the franchise — or even offer much of a chance for it to happen.

Related Slideshow: Top picks of the 2019 NBA Draft (provided by imagn)

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