NBA draft winners and losers: Rockets, Pistons fare well, but Warriors, Thunder underwhelm

·6-min read

Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley were the big winners Thursday night, going Nos. 1-3 in the 2021 NBA draft. This is one of the most talented and deepest group of players in recent memory. 

The Detroit Pistons are looking to rebuild from the ground up and got a big piece in Cunningham. There are also a few teams that fell short and didn’t pursue big trades or made questionable picks that left fans scratching their heads.

Below are the winners and losers of the draft.

Winners

Houston Rockets

For a team that used to have Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the backcourt, the Rockets have to rebuild with young talent that can compete in the Western Conference. They got that Thursday night drafting Jalen Green with the No. 2 overall pick. Green has the highest upside out of any guard in this draft class and is an elite playmaker. Adding Green to the backcourt with Kevin Porter Jr. gives the Rockets some serious athleticism. 

Houston then added two European bigs in Usman Garuba and Alperen Sengun, and capped off the night by taking Green’s best friend and former teammate, Josh Christopher, with the 24th pick. Houston is smart, bringing in two guards who have existing chemistry on the court to add to the young group with Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate. The Rockets might still be a couple seasons from playoff contention, but there’s a lot to be excited about with this young core group coming up.

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Detroit Pistons

The Pistons landed the No. 1 pick for the first time since 1966 and are getting a potential superstar in Cunningham. The 6-foot-8 point guard out of Oklahoma State is excited to get to work, telling Yahoo Sports, “I want to reach the playoffs this [season]. That’s the only goal I have for my rookie year.” The Pistons had two All-Rookie Team selections in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Killian Hayes is returning next season, and it will definitely be interesting to watch Detroit rebuild from the ground up.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs had the Nos. 12 and 41 picks and went with one pick who is a high-risk, high-reward player and the other is one of the best shooters in college basketball. 

San Antonio surprised a lot of people when it took the youngest player in the draft from the University of Alabama, Joshua Primo. He was projected as a mid-to-late first-rounder as a stash player for a year. The Spurs saw the upside and took him in this year’s lottery anyway. He shot up draft boards at the combine where he was one of the best guards on the court. Primo made the right reads off the pick-and-roll and showcased his elite athleticism. 

Then, the Spurs drafted Iowa sharpshooter Joe Wieskamp in the second round. He shot 46% from 3-point range and has decent size at 6-foot-6. Spurs fans will have to be patient with Primo, but it could end up paying off in a huge way a few years.

Adam Silver, NBA honoring Terrence Clarke and his family

The moment of the evening came when commissioner Adam Silver paused between picks 14 and 15 to honor the late Terrence Clarke, who died in a car accident in April. Clarke was a five-star recruit out of Boston and played one season at Kentucky before declaring for the draft. He was expected to be drafted Thursday. 

His mother, Osmine, was present along with Clarke’s sister and brother to accept a hat in his honor and shake the commissioner's hand. Isaiah Jackson, Clarke’s Kentucky teammate, held up a picture of Clarke when his name was announced. It was the perfect way to honor a player who was loved by so many around the basketball community and the NBA.

Losers

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors drafted two great, young players at Nos. 7 and 14. Jonathan Kuminga dropping outside the top five was a great pickup for the Warriors, and Moses Moody has good size and can shoot, making him a solid pick in the late lottery. However, that's two more teenagers to add to a team that’s trying to return to the Finals next season. 

Many thought the Warriors would make a play and package the two lottery picks (plus more) for a bigger name like Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are in their 30s, and time is running out for a serious chance at another title run. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with whom the Warriors drafted. It just doesn’t feel like the right plan for the win-now mode that has been needed for the past two seasons.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are the riskiest team in the draft, selecting Jalen Johnson at No. 20 and Sharife Cooper at No. 48. Johnson played only 13 games at Duke before leaving the team to prepare for the NBA. There’s a small sample size on what type of NBA player he’ll be, but he definitely passes the eye test at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds. 

Cooper was a projected late first-round pick and fell all the way to No. 48. It will be interesting to see how he does adjusting to the backup point guard position, playing behind Trae Young, one of the hottest up-and-coming guards in the league.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Just like Golden State, the Thunder didn’t pick bad players. It was an underwhelming night for a team that started with six picks and ended up with four and is supposed to be this rebuilding juggernaut in the next six years. 

OKC took Australia’s Josh Giddey at No. 6 and the 6-foot-7 guard is the best passer in this draft class. He led the NBL in triple-doubles last season and is a promising addition to the backcourt with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Great pick. The rest of the Thunder’s picks — Tre Mann, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins — are a little underwhelming for a team that has too many picks than they know what to do with. 

It is possible that the team is OK with another mediocre season to make a play at one of the top three players in the 2022 draft, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero or Jaden Hardy.

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