5 NBA Rookies Drafted by the Wrong Team
Just as the right fit on draft night could help jump-start an NBA player's career, the wrong one could delay or derail his development.
Five first-round rookies might soon be wishing they were selected by different teams. Their projected role may not be suited to optimize their strengths, or their most coveted skills won't appear as valuable on a lackluster roster.
The outlooks for these rookies might have looked brighter had they landed elsewhere during the 2020 NBA draft.
Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
Immanuel Quickley emerged as a first-round prospect this year, establishing himself as a potential shooting specialist after making 42.8 percent of his threes and 92.3 percent of his free throws at Kentucky.
But he went to the New York Knicks, who weren't in position to draft for need.
Quickley's jumper won't help New York escape from rock bottom. However, he could have been an impact role player for a playoff team that could use a knockdown shooter between its stars and playmakers.
In New York, he's a reserve for arguably the league's weakest roster, one that lacks setup passers or scorers to draw attention.
Just as the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets made trades to acquire three-point specialist Landry Shamet, perhaps a playoff team will eventually try to pry Quickley from the Knicks. But he'll have to prove himself first, and it won't be easy in an offense that struggles to create easy shots.
Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
Isaac Okoro's IQ, defensive toughness and competitiveness can carry right over in a supporting role, the way they did for Marcus Smart in Boston. Before the draft, it seemed easy to picture him as a similarly impactful player for a playoff team.
Instead, Okoro's NBA-ready package of off-ball skills and intangibles may now go wasted in Cleveland.
It's understandable why the Cavaliers thought he was the right pick at No. 5 overall. They have scoring weapons in Collin Sexton and Kevin Love and a need for a glue guy and defensive presence.
Unfortunately for Okoro, he won't bring enough to move the needle for a roster run by Darius Garland, with an aging Love and Andre Drummond likely to get traded on the final year of his deal. And there isn't a clear path toward serious playoff contention for Cleveland anytime soon.
Had Okoro slipped one more spot to the Atlanta Hawks, he could have been a difference-maker for a rising team in the East that now has multiple offensive standouts in Trae Young, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Jalen Smith, Phoenix Suns
What's the plan for Jalen Smith in Phoenix? The Suns must believe he's suited to play the 4 next to Deandre Ayton. Or they were fine drafting a backup center at No. 10 overall.
Smith makes more sense at the 5 than power forward, particularly in a lineup with Ayton. Neither are creators off the dribble. Smith totaled 54 assists in 64 career games at Maryland. And with Ayton being one of the most-used post players in the NBA, the Suns can't play Smith inside at the same time.
If the Suns plan to use both bigs together, Smith will operate almost exclusively as a catch-and-shoot player, but one who won't a big threat to make plays attacking closeouts. He recorded one field goal all season off a drive from spot-up position, per Synergy Sports.
Smith is also more of a rim protector than perimeter defender. How will a Smith-Ayton duo handle smaller, faster lineups?
Ideally, Smith would have been drafted as a stretch 5 with a path to the starting job. That could have been with the Washington Wizards at No. 9, the San Antonio Spurs at No. 11 or Sacramento Kings at No. 12. Instead, he'll either play out of position or a limited bench role in Phoenix.
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Patrick Williams must have felt good about flying up to No. 4 overall in the draft. He just might have benefited from going to a different team.
The Chicago Bulls lack passers and appear to believe in Lauri Markkanen, who plays the 4 position that's also best suited for Williams.
Williams' best-case scenario was landing on a veteran or winning team that offered both minutes at power forward and patience. After averaging only 22.5 minutes and 7.1 shots in college, he could use the reps without the pressure to regularly make plays or score.
And ideally, he'd be used at the 4, where he can match up strength-wise and create mismatches with his mobility and versatility. As a wing, he's too limited right now operating off the dribble in the half court or being counted on to be a consistent three-point threat. And he's better off guarding bigs than guards or quicker perimeter players.
Williams ultimately might have been better off dropping down to the Phoenix Suns or San Antonio Spurs, teams that offered a path to the starting power forward position.
Udoka Azubuike, Utah Jazz
Udoka Azubuike had gradually gained steam as a potential first-rounder, so it wasn't a total shock to see him go No. 27. It was surprising to see the Utah Jazz draft him.
There is nothing wrong with selecting a reserve that late. And unless the Jazz trade Rudy Gobert, Azubuike's ceiling for Utah is 10-15 minutes per game as the backup center.
But then Utah signed Derrick Favors to a three-year, $29.2 million deal, eliminating Azubuike's opportunities until an injury hits one of the Jazz bigs.
Favors aside, you'd think the Jazz would have wanted another center with a slightly different skill set or core strengths than Gobert. Azubuike is a discount version—a true 5, unable to play other positions, shoot or dribble.
A different type of big, one who could stretch the floor, put the ball down or switch defensively, may be more useful or beneficial for the rotation. Either way, Azubuike will warm the bench unless something happens to Gobert or Favors.