NBA Commissioner Adam Silver looks on after announcing the Warriors’ selection of James Wiseman at No. 2 overall.
Whether there’s an obvious no-brainer choice in a given year or, as with this 2020 edition, a fair amount of debate over the player most likely to go first, the spotlight on the NBA Draft almost always shines brightest on the No. 1 pick.
In the hours before Wednesday’s event, though, the glare shifted abruptly to No. 2.
That’s where the Golden State Warriors sat, any excitement over the potential of that pick morphing rapidly into anxiety and distraction with the news that All-NBA marksman Klay Thompson had gotten hurt in a pickup game in southern California.
Warriors guard Klay Thompson suffered a leg injury today during a workout in Southern California. No other details are available at this time. We will provide further updates as appropriate.
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) November 18, 2020
It was rotten timing for lousy news. The Warriors were in a rare position, selecting so high, to add a critical piece to their resuscitated championship core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson. Maybe they could trade down for proven help. Maybe they would take the long view, plucking a player who might keep them afloat as a contender for years.
All of a sudden, with the severity of Thompson’s right leg injury still to be determined, Golden State was facing urgency. Quite possibly a new agenda. Draft a wing to plug Thompson’s spot, based on the grim prospect that the five-time All-Star — who hasn’t played in an NBA game since tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals — might be out for an extended period again? Really scramble to trade the pick for a Thompson replacement?
Front office folks have to be nimble on Draft night, but this was something above and beyond.
So what did the Warriors do, in their moment of crisis? They stuck to the script.
After the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Georgia wing Anthony Edwards with the top pick, Golden State went with Memphis center James Wiseman, the guy meant to fill their immediate needs for rim protection and rebounding, as if Thompson won’t miss a beat with this latest setback.
Or as if the future is a little more important than the present, given the vision general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and the rest of the brain trust have for Wiseman’s development. They took a supremely gifted, 7-foot-1 athlete who knows what he doesn’t know, welcoming the chance to grow and learn from Warriors’ veterans in their winning culture (aside from last season’s 15-50 injury-induced hiccup).
“Just fit in my role, stay humble and be coachable, which I am,” Wiseman said in a Zoom interview afterward.
Knowing Thompson had gotten hurt, Wiseman wasn’t certain at first how it might affect his chances of going to Golden State.
“As soon as I saw it, it was kind of down for me emotionally,” he said. “But as a team we’ve got his back no matter what, and he’s going to be in great recovery.”
Edwards, on the No. 1 Anthonys scale, will try to land closer to the Lakers’ Davis from 2012 than Bennett, Cleveland’s inconsequential top pick a year later. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Edwards already has an NBA player’s build and grace, and is seen slipping naturally into a needy Timberwolves lineup built around All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns and guard D’Angelo Russell.
The Draft itself was staged virtually, headquartered in ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn. That meant no handshakes from NBA commissioner Adam Silver after he read their names, no awkward waiting in the green room if a guy’s stock slid, no booing from impossible-to-please Knicks fans. Thanks to the various pandemic shutdowns across college and pro basketball, it was held 146 days later than the original date of June 25.
Players were linked in remotely, surrounded by family and friends, while tasked with pulling their own team caps from the stash sent by the league to the top prospects. What viewers got, then, were snapshots of euphoria and tears, more so than in the standard Draft location of Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
In Edwards’ case, the family setting included paintings of his mother Yvette and grandmother Shirley, both of whom passed away form ovarian cancer during an eight-month period in 2015-16. The “Ant Man” had vowed that the two would be part of his special moment, and they were.
“As far as just being excited,” Edwards said, “and just being happy and ready to go and ready to work and ready to get there as soon as possible, those emotions were overwhelming with just my mother and grandmother being there.”
Once Golden State’s turn passed without Myers & Co. calling an audible to address the Klay news, the lottery selections played out with no real surprises. LaMelo Ball, brother of New Orleans’ point guard Lonzo Ball, went at No. 3 to Charlotte, giving the non-descript Hornets a player many scouts consider to have the greatest star potential and charisma. He and Lonzo, the second pick overall in 2017, became the first brothers in NBA Draft history chosen in the top five.
Florida State’s Patrick Williams’ selection at No. 4 by the Chicago Bulls went against some experts’ mock drafts. But the ACC Sixth Man of the Year’s stock had been rising, despite not starting a single college game.
Cleveland believes it found some badly needed wing defense in Auburn’s lanky Isaac Okoro, taken fifth. By snagging center Onyeka Okongwu at No. 6, Atlanta grabbed a big body and hustling pick-and-roll man that Washington reportedly had its eye on three spots later.
Teams rounding out the top 10 seemed pleased without having to maneuver for their prizes. Detroit picked France’s Killian Hayes at No. 7, giving the Pistons an eventual replacement at point guard for Derrick Rose. New York had Dayton forward Obi Toppin fall to them at No. 8, a Brooklyn native whose shelf of college-player-of-the-year awards might have silenced boo birds had they been on hand.
The Wizards soothed their loss of Okongwu by taking Israel point forward Deni Avdija, who some thought might go as high as No. 4. Phoenix then went for Maryland big man Jalen Smith at No. 10, hoping his Serge Ibaka-like upside pans out.
The final four lottery picks: Florida State guard Devin Vassell to San Antonio at No. 11, the Spurs’ first lottery pick since 1997; Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton to Sacramento at No. 12; Alabama guard Kira Lewis Jr. to New Orleans at No. 13 and, with the highest of three first-round picks with which the Celtics began the night, Vanderbilt forward Aaron Nesmith at No. 14.
While the lottery selections slotted in routinely enough, there was plenty of jockeying later in the first round. In fact, of the final 15 picks from Nos. 16-30, eight were traded as teams maneuvered for either young talent or for salary-cap flexibility with free agency negotiations set to begin Friday at 6 p.m. ET.
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