NBA Draft grades: Which teams got high marks (Pistons, Lakers) and which teams failed (Knicks)


While the Los Angeles Lakers hogged the spotlight on draft night with their blockbuster trade to land Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards, there were plenty of smart and bold decisions made by front offices with such a deep and talented draft pool.

Who were the winners and losers from the night? The Pistons were out front thanks to No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. But the Houston Rockets also made the most of their night with four first rounders, while the Warriors decided against making major trades to instead land an epic draft night.

With the 2021 draft in the rearview mirror, below is a look at how each team fared based on their selections, trades and overall progress.

1. Detroit Pistons. This didn’t take a rocket scientist to make this pick, but it’s undoubtedly franchise-changing with Cade Cunningham’s arrival as the No. 1 pick. Cunningham’s the type of once-in-a-decade multi-dimensional talent who can make others better and score when his team needs it.Expect a lot of both from him and the Pistons in 2021-22. He’s the best player to build around in Detroit since Grant Hill in ’94. Adding former college stars Isaiah Livers (No. 42) and Luka Garza (No. 52) were strong picks, too. Grade: A+

2. Golden State Warriors. As far as draft nights go, the soon-to-be-contending-again Warriors came away as the draft bandits. First, they were the beneficiary of small forward Jonathan Kuminga falling to No. 7. The G League star has a year of pro experience and a monstrous ceiling as an 18-year-old. Next, they snagged Arkansas guard Moses Moody with the No. 14 pick. Moody could’ve arguably gone No. 7. He’s that good as an excellent two-way player. Grade: A+

3. Houston Rockets. The Rockets bolstered both their frontcourt and backcourt. They made the most of the best player on the board by selecting Jalen Green, a G Leaguer who had far less exposure than his NCAA-playing counterparts. His explosiveness as a scorer will make him All-Star material right away. Gambling on Alperen Sengun of Turkey at No. 16 makes sense, and he has the skillset to be a starting big man. Then selecting Arizona State standout Joshua Christopher at No. 24 was smart, as he can potentially be formidable in backcourt with Green. Usman Garuba at No. 23 is an excellent pick as well. The Spaniard defends well and can elevate this team right away in the paint. Grade: A+

4. Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers needed to make a move for next season to capitalize on LeBron James’ final push for more titles. So making smart chess moves in this draft was necessary. Rob Pelinka knocked it out of the park with draft day maneuvering to secure Russell Westbrook. The former MVP will blend well alongside James and Anthony Davis. This move makes Los Angeles a title favorite. Then Los Angeles snagged Gonzaga elite defender Joel Ayayi and Oklahoma marksman Austin Reeves from the undrafted market. Grade: A+

5. Orlando Magic. When Jalen Suggs is still on the board at No. 5, well, you take a player who could be a future top-five point guard in the league, especially when current guards (including former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz) are so-so. Suggs was a star in college with his Final Four heroics for Gonzaga, but his game might take a short duration to translate in the pros. His upside, great on the pick-and-rolls and promising on the defensive side, make this a dynamite selection for an ailing Orlando franchise. Going with Franz Wagner at No. 8, was a little bit of a surprise (but perhaps a good one) despite the former Michigan player’s upside as a 6-9 ball-handling wing. Grade: A

NBA Draft grades: Which teams got high marks (Pistons, Lakers) and which teams failed (Knicks)

6. Sacramento Kings. Let’s be real, Davion Mitchell is a steal at No. 9. The star of the NCAA champion Baylor team, Mitchell does it all as a creative point guard who was the defensive player of the year in college. Mitchell can hit open 3’s, get to the paint to facilitate offense and has a high basketball IQ. A home-run situation for Sac-Town. Grade: A

7. Cleveland Cavaliers. USC 7-footer Evan Mobley has great raw talent now with his ability to protect the rim and hold his own in the paint. He could’ve been the No. 1 pick in previous drafts that didn’t have Cade Cunningham. And there’s still a part of his game that hasn’t been unlocked yet, which is highly appealing for a franchise like Cleveland. Grade: A

8. New Orleans Pelicans. Acquiring the rights to Virginia forward Trey Murphy III with the No. 17 pick gives the team a major sleeper pick. Murphy barely showed all of his ability in a structured UVA system, but now the 6-9 forward will get to flourish playing alongside Zion Williamson. Their second-round pick wasn’t bad, either. They used their No. 35 pick on Alabama forward Herbert Jones, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Grade: A-

9. Atlanta Hawks. Jalen Johnson, a 6-9 athletic forward, was expected to be a lottery pick before he slipped. He could be one of the biggest steals after falling to No. 20. He only played 13 games at Duke but got a foundation under Coach K to combine with his raw abilities. Grade: B-

10. Toronto Raptors. Scottie Barnes was more of a pick based on fit since Jalen Suggs was still on the board. But Barnes has great potential. The 6-8 forward barely scratched the surface at Florida State, so scouts are gambling on his ceiling. Grade: A-

11. Utah Jazz. Jared Butler is solid pick to keep momentum going after a breakout 2020-21 season. The Jazz picked up the leading scorer and first-team All-American on a national champion Baylor squad. His three-point shooting and basketball IQ will be a great boost to a veteran roster. Grade: B+

12. Brooklyn Nets. The Nets had two late first-round picks and went with LSU star Cameron Thomas, a dynamic scorer, and North Carolina big man Day’Ron Sharpe. The latter pick was based more on fit than potential, as Sharpe was a capable rebounder at the NCAA level. Grade: B

13. Charlotte Hornets. The LaMelo Ball era got a shot in the arm with the pick of UConn scorer James Bouknight at No. 11 and the trade to get Kai Jones at No. 19. Then factor in the addition of Auburn big man JT Thor and Florida guard Scottie Lewis in the second round, plus snagging Mason Plumlee in a trade, and this is an overall solid night for the franchise. Grade: B-

14. Chicago Bulls. Chicago was the loser of the draft lottery when it slipped outside the top five, meaning it lost out on the potential to secure the No. 4 spot. Yet picking up former Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu, USA TODAY Sports’ national player of the year in college hoops, was a big steal. Grade: B

15. Indiana Pacers. The Pacers fared well on draft night, and chose to go with a veteran in Chris Duarte, the Pac-12 player of the year, for the No. 13 pick, alongside Kentucky shot-blocking big man Isaiah Jackson, who was selected at No. 22. Both picks were more for right now than future-oriented. The future doesn’t look all that promising, though. Grade: B-.

16. Washington Wizards. Gonzaga sharpshooter Corey Kispert at the No. 15 pick and G League big man Isaiah Todd at No. 31 made for a mediocre draft night for a club that needs more of a jumpstart after trading Russell Westbrook to the Lakers. Alas, it could’ve been worse, and Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are nice pieces to form around Bradley Beal. Grade: C+

17. Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers traded up to select Tennessee’s Keon Johnson at No. 21 and then added mid-major standout Jason Preston and Kentucky guard Brandon Boston Jr. at No. 33 and No. 51, respectively. Grade: C-

18. Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder went with Australian guard Josh Giddey at No. 6, which was somewhat of a shocker. But when you like a player and don’t want to miss out on him, this type of pick happens. Selecting Florida guard Tre Mann at No. 18, again, might’ve also been high. Grade: C

19. Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons offers were on the table but nothing materialized. And the Sixers’ main haul was Tennessee guard Jaden Springer at No. 28. Not an epic draft night by any means. Grade: C

20. Memphis Grizzlies. Ziaire Williams at No. 10 sort of makes sense when considering how he can play with Ja Morant in the open court, but the jury is still out on whether Williams can match his stock. And the No. 30 pick going to Santi Aldama of Loyola (Md.) wasn’t that great of a move. He’s had knee surgery and only played in 26 games in two seasons. Grade: C

21. Denver Nuggets. Going with VCU guard Nah’Shon Hyland at No. 26 was a good get. He’s a crafty and creative point guard who has great range as a three-point shooter. Grade: C+

22. Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning NBA champs had a relatively quiet night, trading away the No. 31 pick and securing the No. 54 (Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili) and No. 56 pick (Greece standout Georgios Kalaitzakis) instead. Grade: C-

23. Portland Trailblazers. Texas’ Greg Brown was showing up in the first round on some mock draft boards for a while, so to secure him at No. 43 feels like a decent showing for Portland, given they didn’t have any other picks. Grade: C-

24. Phoenix Suns. The Suns entered draft day with just one pick but had numerous options. They settled on a trade that got them Brooklyn’s Landry Shamet. Grade: C-

25. Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves had no draft picks, but made a small move in trading guard Ricky Rubio for forward Taurean Prince. Grade: C-

26. Boston Celtics. In a relatively boring night for the C’s, they went with French talent Juhann Begarin at No. 45. Grade: C-

27. Miami Heat. No draft picks, no moves. Onto free agency. Grade: D

28. Dallas Mavericks. No picks. No Mark Cuban anxiety. Grade: D

29. San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are known for their smart late-round picks that spawned the epic careers of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But taking Alabama shooting guard Joshua Primo with the No. 12 pick was a head-scratcher. The 18-year-old isn’t developed and sure, has a ceiling, but there were plenty of better guards on the board, namely Moses Moody. Grade: D-

30. New York Knicks. While this might be for down the line, trading away No. 19 and No. 21 pick in a talented draft just doesn’t add up. Then the draft-day chokers didn’t have much opportunity to botch anything, yet selecting Quentin Grimes at No. 25 was a very meh pick. The 6-5 guard was a strong force for a Final Four Houston team, but he’s more of a second-round type talent without much outside of his shooting to offer. Miles McBride, Rokas Jokubaitis, and Jericho Sims aren’t that great of picks, either. Grade: D-

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