2024 NBA Draft: Winners and losers from the first round, featuring the Spurs, Grizzlies and France

Many learned scholars of NBA basketball have said that you can’t judge a draft until at least five years down the line. But as I am not a learned scholar — I am, in fact, Just Some Guy — I say, very respectfully, “Nuts to that, poindexters.”

What follows is a stab at a first draft of history — a thumbnail sketch of who had a pretty good first night of the 2024 NBA Draft, and who might wind up looking back at the evening wistfully, with some regret, perhaps while looking out contemplatively at a body of water.

There will be more winners than losers, because for one thing, hope should spring eternal on draft night, and for another, I am a big ol’ kind-hearted softy. (Also because, if we’re being honest, I can only feel so comfortable speaking with authority about a group of young people I have yet to see play NBA basketball.)

We begin, as so many things in our world do, with the effects of globalization:

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 26: Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr pose for a portrait during the 2024 NBA Draft - Round One on June 26, 2024 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr were the top two picks in the 2024 draft. (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

L'invasion a commencé!

One year after Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly came off the board with the first and seventh picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, two of their countrymen came off the board first and second in 2024: 6-foot-9 swingman Zaccharie Risacher, chosen by the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 1 pick, and 7-1 big man Alexandre Sarr, taken second overall by the Washington Wizards.

Just four picks later, they were joined by 6-9 forward Tidjane Salaün, whom the Charlotte Hornets nabbed sixth overall, marking the first time in NBA history that three players from a country outside the United States have gone in the first 10 picks of the draft.

“Three French players in the top 10,” Salaün told reporters on Wednesday. “It's not nothing.”

A couple of hours after that, the New York Knicks tapped 6-8 wing Pacôme Dadiet — like Salaün, one of the youngest players in the 2024 player pool — with the 25th overall pick. And Melvin Ajinça — the cousin of former NBA center Alexis Ajinça, and another 6-8 wing who played in France’s LNB last season — is projected to come off the board at some point in Thursday’s second round. There were 10 French players in the NBA last season; now, we’ve got five new French rookies ready to enter the league, showcase their skills, and continue the well-underway international revolution of the NBA game.

"I'm just happy to see all these French guys coming into the league," Sarr told Yahoo Sports NBA draft analyst Krysten Peek at the draft combine. "It just shows all the potential we have in France, and how good the development is overseas."

Development work continues domestically, too, it seems … or, at least, with domestic brews:

This looks like how the huge alien bug who wore the Edgar suit in “Men in Black” would drink a beer if you gave him a beret and sent him to the NBA Draft to be excited about a French dude coming to Atlanta. Preposterous and unseemly? Or bold and invigorating? Your answer probably depends on whether you tend toward optimism or pessimism — whether you see the glass as half-full or … half-emptied by two-hand long-distance chugging, I guess?

Much to consider. Perhaps while cracking a cold one, then holding it with two hands like a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.

Night 1 of the 2024 NBA Draft wasn’t devoid of transactional action. We saw two trades in the lottery, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the rights to eighth overall pick Rob Dillingham to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for a top-1-protected 2030 first-round pick swap and an unprotected 2031 first-round selection, and the Portland Trail Blazers shipping the No. 14 pick, later used on Pittsburgh guard Bub Carrington, and veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Washington Wizards in exchange for forward Deni Avdija.

We also saw several deals in the latter stages of the round. The Suns sent No. 22 (used on Dayton big man DaRon Holmes II) to the Nuggets for No. 28 (used on Virginia defensive ace Ryan Dunn) and three second-round picks. There was also Leon Rose and Brock Aller’s now-customary bit of annual arbitrage, with the Knicks turning the 24th and 25th picks into one player (the aforementioned Dadiet) and six second-rounders (the No. 51 pick on Thursday from the Wizards, who took Miami’s Kyshawn George, plus five selections between 2025 and 2027 from the Thunder, who took Weber State’s Dillon Jones).

If you were hoping for huge, tectonic-plate-shifting moves, though — the Spurs packaging Nos. 4 and 8 to get up to 1, the Grizzlies leaping into the top three, Paul George coming off the top rope with an opt-in-and-trade-request, whatever — you’d be forgiven if you found the events of Wednesday evening a bit … underwhelming? Especially in comparison to the events of Tuesday evening.

Speaking of which:

I don’t blame you if you’re still shaking off the draft-pick sticker shock of New York shelling out five first-round picks — four of which are unprotected — plus an unprotected 2028 first-round pick swap for Mikal Bridges. Nor would I blame you if you found yourself gobsmacked by the amount of cash it took to bring back OG Anunoby — a five-year, $212.5 million deal that left superstar point guard Jalen Brunson looking for his buddy to just float him until next Friday:

But the Knicks entered Tuesday with two main flight risks in unrestricted free agency — Anunoby and center Isaiah Hartenstein — and a powerful need to improve their roster if they hoped to be able to trade haymakers with the monster we just saw steamroll through the 2024 postseason. They exit Wednesday with Bridges, whose shooting efficiency seems a good bet to bounce back playing in a complementary role after it dipped while he was Brooklyn’s primary playmaker, and who represents a fairly massive upgrade in the rotation over Bojan Bogdanović; with Anunoby, whose addition catapulted the Knicks into a new stratosphere of contention last season, all sewn up; and with a super-young/upside-swing developmental project in Dadiet.

And, thanks to turning one of their first-rounders (with its guaranteed salary) into a bunch of seconds, with a bit more wiggle room with which to try to do a bit more business below the hard cap …

… including, perhaps, finding a pathway to paying Hartenstein, too:

It’s possible that Hartenstein, who’s long been the apple of a few front offices’ eyes, gets a bigger bag than New York can fit beneath whichever apron it winds up wearing; losing him would be a major blow to a Knicks team that has been built around offensive rebounding, rim protection and 48 minutes of tough center play virtually ever since Tom Thibodeau took over. But after landing and retaining Anunoby, bringing in Bridges and yet again performing first-round sleight-of-hand to open up more possibilities, Rose’s front office both appears to have continued New York’s persistent upward trajectory and earned the benefit of the doubt that they might actually be able to land this plane without losing any of the top members of last year’s rotation.

I broke this down in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after the Nets pulled off a pair of daring draft-eve deals:

The Nets had the NBA’s eighth-worst record, seventh-worst net rating and sixth-worst offense after Christmas. Moving Bridges primes them to be at least that bad this season. Handing the Rockets control over four future first-round picks from the Suns (which Brooklyn received in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix) in exchange for regaining control over the Nets’ own 2025 and 2026 first-round picks (which they’d sent to Houston in the deal that brought James Harden to Brooklyn) ensures that, if the Nets are that bad, they at least enjoy the benefits of having one of the league’s worst records — namely, better odds at landing one of the top four picks in the 2025 NBA Draft, which analysts project to be much stronger than the one we’re currently discussing.

With control of over a dozen first-round picks between 2025 and 2029, headlined by their own in the next couple of seasons, the Nets can begin a full-scale rebuild in earnest. And with Ben Simmons, the newly acquired Bogdanović and Dennis Schroder all entering the final years of their contracts — and with hardly any guaranteed salary on the books after next season besides the new four-year, $100 million deal for center Nic Claxton and two years of Cameron Johnson (whom Brooklyn could absolutely look to reroute) — the Nets could be looking at more than $80 million in cap space in the summer of 2025.

When the 2023-24 season ended, the Nets seemed stuck — mired in something less than mediocrity, without much hope that things could get better anytime soon. As the offseason gets underway, though, Brooklyn’s clawed back at least a sliver of that sort of hope. That’s not nothing.

It’s also not much.

The 2024-25 Nets will likely be one of the NBA’s worst teams, and the 2025-26 model might not be much better. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel; sometimes, though, that brightness is attached to a freight train barreling down the tracks and ready to absolutely flatten you.

The Rockets know how valuable it can be to have control over a flailing team’s draft assets; look no further than Wednesday night, when they drafted Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard third overall with a pick that would’ve been Brooklyn’s had it not been for the Rockets exercising the swap rights they got in the Harden deal.

When Brooklyn came calling about getting its picks back, though, Houston obliged … because it meant getting Phoenix’s 2027 first-rounder, plus swap-rights control over Phoenix’s firsts in 2025 and 2029, when the Rockets will get the two best picks from among their own, Dallas’ and Phoenix’s.

The Rockets, then, are betting on things falling apart in Phoenix, and on the resultant disappointment/dysfunction enabling them to nab more top draft picks like the No. 3 selection they just got from Brooklyn. Or to sell the Suns’ setting future off to another would-be vulture in exchange for players who might better help a Houston team that just finished .500 continue to improve in the more immediate term. Or, if things get really bad, try to use the Suns’ own picks to entice them to send one of their superstars to Texas.

The Suns, for their part, dismissed all that as preposterous …

… and made a nice move of their own, dropping from No. 22 to No. 28, grabbing ready-made big defensive wing Dunn, and replenishing their coffers with some more second-round picks that could be exceptionally valuable for a high-priced Suns team hampered by the apron’s restrictions on roster construction.

The Suns are betting on themselves. The Rockets are betting they’re going to go bust. One of them’s going to be right, and the rest of us get to watch the sparks fly when we find out which one it is.

What you’re looking for near the top of the NBA Draft is a prospect who knows exactly who he is. That’s why it struck me as a very good sign that UConn guard Stephon Castle attended the draft with an iced-out castle around his neck. I mean, it’s pretty hard to top turning your last name into huge, cool, expensive jewelry. That’s a little thing called “knowledge of self.”

Oh, and …

… with the understanding that Castle has a lot of work to do on the jumper that connected just 26.7% of the time from 3-point range in his lone season in Storrs, I’m pretty into the idea of putting a 6-foot-6, 210-pound defensive ace at the point of attack in front of Wembanyama, with Jeremy Sochan and Devin Vassell alongside them.

As bad as San Antonio was last season, the Spurs allowed just 109.4 points per 100 possessions with Wembanyama, Sochan and Vassell on the floor together, according to Cleaning the Glass; that would’ve been the second-stingiest mark in the NBA over the course of the full season. Toss Castle into the mix, and this has a chance to be a significantly improved defensive team in relatively short order … and, after moving the pick that turned into Kentucky’s Dillingham to the Wolves in exchange for control over Minnesota’s 2030 and 2031 firsts, one that’s going to have tons of flexibility to retool the roster around its transformational superstar big man as he moves through his prime.

A five-star prospect and top-five recruit in his high school class, Holland profiled as a potential top pick in the 2024 draft when he decommitted from Texas and signed with G-League Ignite. But after a disastrous turn for the developmental program in what wound up being Ignite’s final season, it seemed like the 6-foot-8 swingman — who averaged 18.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals in 30.3 minutes per game for Ignite — had slipped in the estimation of draft evaluators. (In her final mock draft on Wednesday, our Krysten Peek had him going 11th.)

Instead, though, Holland did wind up hearing his name called early, coming off the board fifth overall and becoming the first pick of Trajan Langdon’s new regime in Detroit. With the Pistons, Holland will get the chance to work on ironing out his jumper with renowned shot doctor Fred Vinson, who helped a ton of players find, develop and refine their stroke during more than a decade of respected development work in New Orleans.

Getting taken top-five and landing with Vinson marks Holland as a winner in my book; so, too, does acknowledging on the draft broadcast that he digs the sultry sounds of Teddy by God Pendergrass.

“Some people say I have an old soul,” Holland told ESPN’s Monica McNutt after his selection.

Pair up that old soul with young legs and an ever-revving motor on both ends of the floor — the sort of engine that might pair very nicely with rising sophomore Ausar Thompson and burgeoning young big Jalen Duren in an athletic and nasty frontcourt (that, admittedly, will ensure Vinson has his work cut out for him) next to Cade Cunningham — and the Pistons might finally have something worth keeping an eye on in the Motor City.

Oh. You thought Colorado wing Cody Williams and his big brother, Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams, had completed their multi-step dap?

You poor, simple creature. I pity you. Of course there was going to be a second movement. The game has changed, old man; the future is now, and it includes delayed gyrations. Keep up.

The best thing about that? Cody reminding us that they’d actually tried it out two years earlier, when the Thunder drafted Jalen out of Santa Clara.

“We practiced it a lot, I'm not going to lie,” he told reporters. “Two years ago, we messed it up. We were practicing for a few days, maybe even a week up until this point, to make sure we nailed it. Add a little flair to it. So we made up for it.”

You hear that, Will Hardy? Young fella’s coachable, he sweats the details, and he cleans up what needs cleaning up. There’s a lot to like there. (And, between adding Williams at No. 10 and plummeting USC guard Isaiah Collier at No. 29, potentially a lot more to like in the perimeter rotation for the rebuilding Jazz.)

Dropping to 17 wasn’t what anybody had in mind for the All-American, who’d been consistently mocked as high as the mid-lottery as recently as Wednesday morning.

That fall might’ve cost the former Tennessee standout as much as $15 million over the life of his first pro contract — a considerable chunk of change and, you’d imagine, a bit of a gut punch for a player who’d spent most of the last year being feted as one of the nation’s top scorers and best overall players.

Then again …

By falling to No. 17, Knecht becomes the first draft pick of the JJ Redick era in Los Angeles. (Shocking, I know, that JJ would love the 23-year-old senior who shot 39.7% from 3-point range on more than 12 attempts per 100 possessions last season.) He should have a chance to step right into a rotation role on the wing for a Lakers team that finished 28th in the share of its shots that came from long range last season.

"In my mind, there is no way a player like this will be available for us to pick on draft night," Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters after the first round. “Across the board, just couldn't be happier."

Oh, and he gets to start his career playing off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“It feels great, to play with one of the greats to ever touch a basketball,” Knecht told reporters. “It's going to be exciting to go put on a show for L.A. … I get to learn from one of the greatest in LeBron and AD to help me each step of the way on both sides of the floor. I'm excited just to go out there and compete.”

And, from the sound of it, to be thrown into the action as soon as humanly possible:

(Toying with giving Redick a “loser” here, just off general principle. But I’m better than that. Going to stay above the fray, and erase that off the whiteboard.)

From the start of the year under Adrian Griffin through its unsatisfying conclusion under Doc Rivers, the Bucks spent all of last season cycling through options on the perimeter, searching for playable wings who could defend, shoot and move the ball. And yet, when they went on the clock at No. 23 — with options like Ryan Dunn, Dillon Jones, Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman, and Kansas wings Johnny Furphy and Kevin McCullar Jr. still on the board — they opted for AJ Johnson, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-5 combo guard who played in Australia’s NBL last season, averaging 2.9 points per game while shooting 37% from the field.

Now, it’s possible that Johnson’s able to harness the eye-test-validating physical tools that he flashed in Australia to blossom into an absolute steal in a few years’ time …

… but a roster replete with aging veterans needs win-now help — guys who can step in and contribute alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Co. immediately. Whether Johnson’s ready for that remains an open, and very large, question.

That said:

You don’t get invited to the green room, you show up anyway, and you get to shock the world by landing in the first round, celebrating with your family in the stands at Barclays Center, and then making your way down to the stage to dap up the commish?

I’ve got to imagine it doesn’t get much better than that.

Oklahoma City had the best record in the Western Conference last season, and top-five units on both ends of the floor. It has an MVP finalist in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, plus a pair of ascendant youngsters in Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. It’s got excellent young players at virtually every position, including bulldog defenders like Lu Dort and Cason Wallace; now, it even has Alex friggin’ Caruso, too.

So: What do you get for the team that has everything? Well, how about two more guys who seem like perfect fits?

A month and a half ago, Nikola Topić looked like he was going to be a top-five pick. After suffering a partial tear of his left ACL, though, the Serbian guard was sitting there when OKC went on the clock at No. 12. So now Sam Presti’s got another 6-foot-6 point guard who profiles as one of the best young pick-and-roll facilitators in the world — one that he can afford to give the same kind of medical redshirt he gave Holmgren, and then just plop into the mix for the 2025-26 season. Easy breezy.

And while the Thunder wait on Topić, they can fold in Jones — a 6-foot-6, 235-pound bruiser who averaged just under 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game at Weber State, and who profiles as the kind of do-it-all playmaker who could hit the ground running in Mark Daigneault’s multifaceted, guard-guard-screening-action heavy, drive-and-kick scheme, in which everyone shares both the dirty work and its spoils:

Sure, the Thunder handed the Knicks five second-round picks to pop back into the first round to grab Jones. Good thing, then, that Presti’s spent the past few seasons stuffing OKC’s coffers to the point where he literally has more picks than the Thunder could ever possibly roster.

Guys: I don’t think Krysten’s too big a fan of Memphis going with Zach Edey at No. 9.

On one hand, I get it. Most of the pre-draft scuttlebutt had the 7-foot-4 Purdue star pegged a bit later in the first round — late-lottery, maybe, or more likely in the late-teens or 20s — due to concerns about how his foot speed would hold up to questioning by NBA offenses that will force him to defend in space, and how his elbows-and-in offensive game would translate in a league that increasingly demands its big men be able to step out to the perimeter and space the floor. The glass-half-empty take on Edey’s game would lead you to view the Grizzlies using a top-10 pick on what looks like something of an anachronism of a big man as a pretty big misstep.

On the other hand:

One of many reasons that the Grizz fell off a cliff late in the 2022-23 season, and never really got on track last season, is that they lost Steven Adams — the monster offensive rebounder, bone-crunching screener and box-out enthusiast who created space for Ja Morant’s drives, locked down the paint so Jaren Jackson Jr. could roam and wreak defensive havoc at power forward rather than needing to play full-time 5 (a role in which he’s never fully excelled), and created extra possessions to mitigate the weaknesses of Memphis’ half-court offense.

How the Grizzlies replaced Adams’ quiet but multiple contributions was one of the bigger questions the franchise faced this summer. Answering them with a 7-foot-4, 300-pound mountain — one with way more offensive game than Adams had, and with strong enough conditioning that he routinely played the full 40 minutes for the Boilermakers in big games last season — is, if not an elegant solution, a pretty forceful one. And besides, what are the Grizzlies, really, if not an ancestral and spiritual homeland for somewhat anachronistic big men? From Z-Bo and Marc to JV and Aquaman, and now, to the giant Canadian. History might not repeat itself, but sometimes, it rhymes.

The only response to this that matters, really:

This is the kind of social media posting we need, Ja. Delightful.

As successful as the Wolves were in what was arguably the best season in franchise history, their run to the Western Conference finals was propelled by their league-best defense — a Rudy Gobert-led unit that often had to prop up an offense that ranked 16th in points scored per possession, and that relied so heavily on Anthony Edwards to generate scoring chances. With Mike Conley Jr. about to turn 37 and precious little non-Ant playmaking juice in the backcourt, team president Tim Connelly swung hard in search of an answer for the future, ceding control of the Wolves’ 2030 and 2031 first-rounders to grab Dillingham, who averaged 15.2 points and 3.9 assists in 23.3 minutes per game off the bench at Kentucky on 48/44/80 shooting splits, and whose prowess as a pick-and-roll operator and advantage creator ranked at or near the top of this class:

Listed at 6-2 and 164 pounds, Dillingham profiles as a defensive liability at the NBA level … but if there’s one thing the Wolves have in spades, it’s big, physical, nasty and versatile defenders to surround him and insulate him from the kind of targeting he’s sure to face in games of consequence. Even so, it’s reasonable to wonder just how much a slight young guard can contribute in the here-and-now to a team that, coming off a conference finals trip with a ballooning budget, needs to continue to win here and now. But as a talent play and a means of finding a succession plan for Conley, it’s hard not to love Minnesota continuing to stay aggressive in search of more ways to keep pushing forward.

The Blazers have finished 23rd or worse in defensive efficiency in each of the last five seasons; they’ve finished above league-average just twice in the last decade. The straightest path to stability and relevance for any young, rebuilding team is by finding a way to stop giving up so many friggin’ points.

So: Enter UConn behemoth Donovan Clingan with the No. 7 pick in the draft, and trade acquisition Deni Avdija, a 6-9 combo forward who can guard top offensive players across multiple positions and who, under the cover of darkness in Washington last season, took a major step offensively. (Doing it while shedding Brogdon’s contract, and thus getting under the apron and the luxury tax and opening up the flexibility to do more deals, doesn’t hurt, either.)

Blazers opponents took more than 35% of their shots directly at the rim last season, and shot a whopping 70.8% on them — the second-highest rate in the league. Importing the 7-2, 265-pound Clingan, who blocked an absurd 12.6% of opponents’ 2-point shot attempts across two seasons at Connecticut, ought to help put a tighter lid on the basket, and clean up some of the messes made at the point of attack by Portland’s young, inexperienced and often just not particularly good perimeter defenders. And adding in Avdija — another long, quick, engaged pro to slot alongside Jerami Grant in the frontcourt — ought to help limit those mistakes.

Maybe those additions only move the needle on the defensive end a bit. When you’re trying to build a culture and a defense, though, every little bit helps.

When you’re the veteran centers on the team, and the GM takes a center with the seventh pick in the draft …

… that might be a sign that you should rent, not buy.