NBA Draft: First impressions of the hits and head-scratchers

Southern California forward Onyeka Okongwu dunks the ball against Stanford on Jan. 18, 2020.
USC center Onyeka Okongwu, dunking against Stanford last season, was a big story on draft night by getting selected sixth. (Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Full disclosure — assigning grades to a draft that just happened is typically foolish. Today’s reaches are tomorrow’s steals, and today’s sure things are just as likely to disappoint.

It’s an inexact science, and judging it in the immediate aftermath is even trickier when you view it as just part of an offseason puzzle that will be filled in over the next seven days. But it’s a fun exercise where you can try to judge the way teams navigated the road that was before them.

OK, now that I will not be held responsible for any of these evaluations, let’s get to it.

FAVORITE PICKS

No. 3 Charlotte: LaMelo Ball

The Hornets didn’t overthink this. Yeah there’s a lot of noise surrounding any player with this last name, the comparisons to his brother, the influence of his father. Ultimately the Hornets end up with a player that some scouts thought was the most talented in the draft.

Ball has a chance to be a star, and that matters even more in places like Charlotte, where top-tier free agents haven’t seriously considered as a place to sign.

No. 6 Atlanta: Onyeka Okongwu

The Hawks address a huge need by getting a versatile defender who can play either spot in the frontcourt. The stress fracture in his big toe didn’t derail his draft night, and he ended up on the same roster as Trae Young.

Plus, the moment with his mother on draft night was one of the most emotional.

No. 12 Sacramento: Tyreese Haliburton

Haliburton slid out of the top 10, one of the night’s biggest surprises, but it seems like the Kings will benefit. He fits really well next to point guard De’Aaron Fox and seems like a no-drama player for an organization that could use more guys like that.

Here's who won the 2020 NBA draft according to Full-Court Text participants.Here's who won the 2020 NBA draft according to Full-Court Text participants.
Here’s who won the 2020 NBA draft according to Full-Court Text participants. (Los Angeles Times)

No. 23 Minnesota: Leandro Bolmaro

After taking Anthony Edwards No. 1 — which makes me a little nervous, especially all the talk about his poor diet — I loved that the Timberwolves took a high IQ player from Argentina with great defensive instincts and amazing court vision. It’s easy to see how someone with those skills can be an important piece as an organization tries to build something special.

No. 35 Memphis: Xavier Tillman

I have a lot of pro-Michigan State bias, but one thing that’s been true for Spartan bigs is that they’re sometimes more multi-dimensional than they look in college. Tillman’s shooting in the pre-draft process had him pushing up draft boards with some attention in the late first round. The Clippers went with a fellow Big Ten big man one pick before, but I think Tillman has a clearer path to contributing.

No. 49 Philadelphia: Isaiah Joe

Kudos to the 76ers for identifying their obvious need for shooting and by spending Wednesday doing what they can to fix it. They dealt for Danny Green and Seth Curry, and then in the second round, they landed another guy who can do it. The plan was clear — so was the execution.

Honorable mention: Obbi Toppin to New York, Deni Avdija to Washington, Aleksej Pokusevic to Oklahoma City, RJ Hampton to Denver, Malachi Flynn to Toronto.

HEAD-SCRATCHERS

Let’s do these rapid-fire because it’s too hard to know who really messed up.

— Patrick Williams at No. 4 to Chicago was bold, the kind of decision a new front office can make. But bold can mean scary too.

— I think I would’ve gone with Haliburton ahead of Killian Hayes, whom Detroit took at No. 7.

— Boston’s inability to package their picks and move up for an impact point guard feels like a miss.

— Detroit going with Washington big man Isiah Stewart after moving up to No. 16 surprised some people.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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