NBA draft winners and losers: Rockets and Pistons find their franchise cornerstones

Usually, the 30 NBA teams play in an actual basketball game to determine the winners and the losers. But during the NBA draft on Thursday, those teams showed their strengths and weaknesses by revealing which prospects and trades they believe will better their odds in future games.

And while it’s certainly hasty to try to evaluate a rookie class right after the draft, that’s never stopped fans and pundits from making snap judgements.

Below is a rundown of our winners and losers from the 2021 NBA draft. Which teams figured out how to seize the day and which teams might be fretting months from now after how Thursday’s events unfolded?

The Pistons won the lottery, had their first No. 1 overall pick since 1970 and took Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, a versatile 6-8 guard who can play point and shooting guard. The Pistons are amid a rebuild. General manager Troy Weaver has been a strong talent evaluator, and he believes Cunningham can be the star of a young team on the rise.

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RUSS TO LA: Why trading for Westbrook was right move for Lakers

Houston has a lot of work to do pivoting from the James Harden era. But the Rockets made a significant step in the draft.

First, the Rockets used their No. 2 pick on G League Ignite star Jalen Green, who has a good chance of reaching his stated goal of collecting the Rookie of the Year award and landing on an All-Defensive Team. Then, the Rockets packaged a pair of future first-round picks to Oklahoma City for the No. 16 pick that resulted in Alperen Sengun, who won the MVP of the Turkish League at only 18 years old and has plenty of upside as a big man. The same can be said about using the No. 23 pick on another international prospect (Spain’s Usman Garuba) and the No. 24 pick on a promising combo guard (Arizona State’s Josh Christopher).

Expect the Rockets to rejoin the Western Conference playoff landscape in two to three years.

The Warriors did not necessarily make bad trade selections with their No. 7 and 14 picks. Jonathan Kuminga has strong upside as a wing defender and rebounder, and Moses Moody has upside as a perimeter defender and mid-range shooter. But neither is in a position to help the Warriors win immediately. While it is possible that a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are enough to win at a high clip, they only have to look back at last year to see how Curry’s dominant play was not enough partly because of James Wiseman showing mixed progress as a rookie. The Warriors resisted the Sixers’ pleas to empty their cupboard for Ben Simmons, but they should spend this season looking to deal their young players to ensure better odds for Curry, Thompson and Green to get back in the title hunt.

Winner: Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets were already one of the most fun teams to watch with LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington and Terry Rozier. And in this draft, they added Connecticut guard James Bouknight and Texas big man Kai Jones. That Ball-Bouknight backcourt has size, and Ball throwing lobs to Bridges and Jones will cause trouble for opponents. The Hornets are improving and should be a playoff contender again — and entertaining to watch.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers went all in by acquiring Russell Westbrook, who has admirers for his athleticism and playmaking and detractors for his poor outside shooting and inefficiency. But the Lakers made the move because Westbrook’s skills can make life easier for LeBron James and Anthony Davis more than it can become difficult for them. As USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina writes, the Lakers bettered their odds for success by landing Westbrook far more than if they had simply kept Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and the No. 22 pick.

Loser: Mock drafts

Once Toronto strayed from the expected order by taking Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick, the draft went a bit sideways. It also speaks to the amount of talent in the draft. With that said, the Thunder took Australia’s Josh Giddey with the No. 6 pick. He was an expected lottery pick, but not many mock drafts had him that high. Alabama’s Joshua Primo was a projected late first-round pick, but the San Antonio Spurs selected him at No. 12. Baylor’s Jared Butler was a projected first-round pick but ended up falling to the second round, which could be a steal for the Utah Jazz.

Winner: Terrence Clarke and family

After spending one season at Kentucky, Clarke died in an auto accident in April. He was 19 years old. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put the first-round on pause to honor Clarke, whose mom, Osmine, sister Tatyana and brother Gavin were in attendance. «Before we continue, I’d like to take a moment to recognize Terrence Clarke. … Please know that he will forever be part of the NBA family. It is my honor to now announce that with the next pick in the 2021 NBA draft, the NBA selects Terrence Clarke of the University of Kentucky.»

It was an emotional moment as a tearful Osmine, Tatyana and Gavin walked on stage and hugged Silver.

Loser: Sacramento Kings

Davion Mitchell has the skills to be a very good on-ball defender, but he’s undersized at 6-1, and it’s uncertain if his improved outside shot will carry over to the NBA. The bigger question, though, is about his fit with the Kings in a crowded backcourt. De’Aaron Fox is the centerpiece of the team, and Tyrese Haliburton was one of last season’s breakout rookies. Buddy Hield might not be in Sacramento much longer, but the Kings could end up regretting using the No. 9 pick on a backup point guard.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA draft winners and losers: Rockets, Pistons find their cornerstones