I grade the drafts on a curve. That means 3 As, 6 Bs, 12 Cs, 6 Ds and 3 Fs. I do this because the teams are competing against each other. In talent-rich draft like this it isn’t that big a deal to improve, because several teams have improved.
In evaluating draft grades I give the most weight to how much the player(s) drafted will help a team. If a team with a couple of lottery picks makes a nice haul I also consider what was given up for the pick and how much he gave the team. I also give some weight to whether the pick was a reach. Finally I give some consideration to the general direction of the franchise in handing out the final grade.
Teams are listed in order of best to worst.
A: Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, KJ McDaniels and Jerami Grant: What Sam Hinkie is doing is exactly what a draft geek like Ed Weiland would do if some wacky set of circumstances found him in control of an NBA team. That’s what’s going to make this Philadelphia story a fun one to watch develop. The Sixers have quite a 2-year haul of prospects. Noel, Carter-Williams, Embiid, Saric, McDaniels and Grant. That’s 2 potential franchise bigs (albeit with injury concerns), 3 other lottery-level talents and another raw athlete with upside in Jerami Grant All are long, athletic and productive, which follows the blueprint the Thunder started back when they were the Sonics. The only important asset given up in this overhaul was Jrue Holiday. They also added a future #1 pick by flipping first rounders with Orlando. It might be ugly for a time, but there is scary good talent being assembled here and in a year or two this will be a team to be reckoned with.
A: San Antonio Spurs: Drafted Kyle Anderson. How did the other 29 teams let this happen? Do these teams concede that he’s a Spurs player and just pass on him so they can draft an unproductive prospect whose raw athleticism wowed the gang at Portsmouth? Anderson will be great in San Antonio. I’m glad he went here. The Spurs will let him play his game and use his unique talents to help keep the team remain elite.
A: Memphis Grizzlies: Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes: I still don’t know why there wasn’t more love for Jordan Adams. I also don’t understand why a series of tests designed to measure athleticism matters more in player evaluation than what actually happens during those 5-on-5 matches they play during the season. Adams projects as a star. He’ll do great here and he fills a need to boot. Stokes is a nice scoop in round two. Good bangers are always nice to bring in. A few good players fell to the smart Western Conference teams in the later half of round one. That tells me this Western dominance is going to continue for a while. Btw, I’m not at all a UCLA fan. I just like Anderson and Adams as prospects.
B: Denver Nuggets: Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris: Couple this with getting Afflalo back and this has been a good week for the Nuggets. Trading down is the smart thing to do in a deep draft. Draftees are a flighty bunch and even selections that look great on paper can fail. The more picks a team has the better the chances of success. I think Denver nailed both picks. Either one of these players would have been a decent pick at #11. Harris fills a big need and Nurkic, aka Euro Boogie, is a player with huge upside.
B: Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart and James Young: I love Smart as a value pick. The Celtics’ best player is a PG, but the Celtics are in a place where taking the best player available and letting time work things out is the smart approach. I’m not so thrilled about the Young selection. They passed on some pretty good players for a guy who is a longshot to have an impact. But they have plenty of picks in their possession (nice going, Brooklyn) so taking a chance on a raw, unproductive freshman is less harmful here than anywhere else.
B: Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. Nice job by the Magic. Passing on Smart and Exum with the knowledge they could nab Payton later netted them Gordon, who wouldn’t have been available at 12. They Magic accumulation of youth isn’t as impressive as what’s going on in Philadelphia and they lost a franchise player in Howard to get to this place, so they lose some point for that. Still a nice core developing in Orlando though.
B: Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker: The safe pick and that’s a good thing. I’d have preferred they draft Embiid, but Parker is a solid addition. He projects as a top 10 scorer and an all-star and comes without that big injury question mark. He’s also happy to be in Milwaukee, which must be refreshing for the locals.
B: Houston Rockets: Clint Capela: Another smart Western Conference team adds a quality player late in round one. Capela was the best big in this draft after Embiid. An added bonus for Houston is that Capela can play overseas for a season, freeing up cap space for a pursuit of LeBron, Carmelo or Kevin Love.
B: Charlotte Hornets: Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston: Neither pick is their original choice. The Bobcats traded that pick to Chicago for Ty Thomas. The Vonleh pick came from Detroit for Corey Maggette and taking on Ben Gordon’s contract. The Hairston pick came from Portland for Gerald Wallace. I guess the lesson here is to be very careful when trading draft picks. This is a nice score for the Hornets. They filled a couple of needs and improved the team. I preferred a few other players to Vonleh, but he’s a solid enough pick here. Hairston is a steal as late as they got him.
C: Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins: Watching videos of Wiggins, I understand the hype. He’s one of those players who at times is a step ahead of everyone else on the floor. He’s super quick, strong and long. I don’t doubt his potential for superstardom. But the stats say he’s an ordinary SF and I have come to trust the stats. I think Cleveland blew this one. I have no idea on whether or not they could have traded down as the rumors suggested, but that seemed like the right move once they made the decision to pass on Embiid. This draft is deep with good players. Taking two picks would have brought more value.
I’m anxious to see what Wiggins can do in the pros. I hope he’s as good as advertised. The more great players we have in the league, the better life is for me as a fan. If his middling freshman year was just a matter of 30+ games not being enough to get comfortable enough to harness his great talent into becoming a championship-hogging alpha dog then I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he eventually justified the #1 selection. If he’s naturally tentative and averse to taking games over in a Jordanesque fashion, then he’s more likely to be a dunk contest winner than the MVP/Finals MVP/NBA champion he was being projected as a year ago.
C: Golden State Warriors: Traded pick to Utah as part of a cap-clearing deal that allowed them to sign Andre Iguodala. I have to say this was a pretty good use of a draft pick. That said if they’re serious about not bringing in Kevin Love because they absolutely have to overpay Klay Thompson–a solid player, but please—I’ll bust them down to a D on general principles.
C: Washington Wizards: Traded pick to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat. Gortat helped the team into the playoffs and that was the idea behind the trade.
C: Utah Jazz: Dante Exum and Rodney Hood: I like the Exum pick, but he remains as much a mystery to me as he does to everyone else. I consider it something of a bad sign that he “slid” to #5. I figured if he was a surprise top 3 pick that would have been a tip off that he’s special. That he was passed on by 2 teams in Milwaukee and Orlando that could have used an upgrade at PG makes me wonder. I guess we’ll find. Hood has potential as a gunner, but was a reach. I do like that Utah was willing to take on some bad contracts in exchange for some draft picks. That’s a smart use of resources.
C: New Orleans Pelicans: Russ Smith. Traded pick that became Elfrid Payton along with Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday. There is a lot left to be played out with this one. Holiday was coming off an all-star appearance when they acquired him last year and his injury was an unfortunate twist to this saga. The problem is they overpaid for Holiday with draft picks. Overpaying for assets should never be the SOP of any team, but lottery teams in particular should be more focused on accumulating assets than filling in needs. I will say that the Asik trade, the return of Holiday and the development of Anthony Davis into a superstar could get the Pelicans into the playoffs. I love that they got Smith in round 2. He’s a tough, chip-on-the-shoulder type who projects very well. I think he’ll make an impact as a rookie.
What’s going on in Philadelphia could make this deal look terrible in a decade. But there is a certain amount of logic to the Holiday trade that could benefit the Pelicans going forward. The draft is a crapshoot on some level and the idea of trading picks #6 in 2013 and #10 in 2014 for a 23 year-old all-star PG makes sense if you look at the historical success rates of such picks. The Pelicans are a team with the next big thing in Anthony Davis. Doesn’t it make more sense to surround him with a proven, but still very young PG and a proven rim protector like Omer Asik, who they traded a 2015 #1 for before the draft? There is a lot to be played out in this 76ers-Pelicans drama, but the ultimate grade will be how well the Sixers and Pelicans perform on the court over the next 5+ seasons. Right now I like where the Pels are headed with a core of Davis, Holiday and Asik.
C: Phoenix Suns: TJ Warren, Tyler Ennis and Bogdan Bogdanovic: The Suns were one of the nice stories of 2014. Expected to be tanking, they surprised everyone by winning 48 games and competing for the playoffs in a tough western conference. I’m not confident about their long-term prospects though. Between last years’ Alex Len pick and this uninspiring trio they haven’t exactly wowed me with their draft prowess. Teams have come out of nowhere and posted win totals in the high 40s before. Such teams usually have a new coach and a young, revamped roster, so the Suns fit the profile. They’re a nice story, but continued success will require drafting smarter than they have these past couple of seasons.
C: Atlanta: Adreian Payne: This is a smart pick. Payne is a multi-skilled player who should be able to step right in and help this team. He reminds me of fellow Spartan Draymond Green in that you just know he’s going to be an asset.
C: Sacramento Kings: Nik Stauskas. I don’t think this is Jimmer 2.0. Stauskas is better than that. I do think this was quite a reach. Stauskas is a role player at best, potentially a good one. But there were some potential all-stars on the board and lottery teams need to be looking for value, not just filling roles. Still, a zone-buster is a nice thing to have around and Stauskas is one of the most promising to enter the league in years. He’ll help move the Kings closer to the playoffs.
C: New York Knicks: Traded pick to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Drafted CleAnthony Early: I have always wondered what Phil Jackson would accomplish in both an executive role and on a team that needs a rebuild. Not to dismiss his accomplishments. Shoot, the man basically ruled the NBA for 20 years, coaching 11 championship teams in that stretch. But he has never been in an executive role and he has never taken on a team that wasn’t championship-ready and only in need of a little direction. These Knicks aren’t championship-ready. They’re badly in need of retooling.
As for the draft pick, Carmelo has brought a lot to this team even if the price was high. He got them into the playoffs following a long dry spell and even led them to 56 wins one year. The problems here go much deeper than Carmelo. Considering where the team is right now with Carmelo reportedly eyeing Texas and Chicago, that first rounder would have been a nice thing to have though. Early is an OK pick, but is no more than a reserve.
C: Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier: Smart move getting LeBron’s guy. Everything should be about keeping LeBron happy now and if that meant drafting Akron Zips mascot Zippy with this pick then drafting Zippy would have been the right move. I don’t see that Napier will be a huge upgrade on what they have. But this move shows LeBron the Heat braintrust are his huckleberry and will do whatever it takes to keep him in Miami.
C: LA Clippers: CJ Wilcox. He is a reach, but he can shoot and that’s a nice thing to add to a contender.
C: Toronto Raptors: Bruno Caboclo: I haven’t heard of him until he was drafted. A quick look at his stats says he’s a decent prospect. There isn’t anything super dominant here though. With Ujiri I assume he knows what he’s doing, but this seems way too early to take this guy considering there were some very good players left on the board.
D: LA Lakers: Julius Randle: This was a reach. Randle’s numbers project him as a bust if drafted too high. The teams hasn’t drafted in the top 10 since James Worthy 1982. That’s a very impressive streak and it is possible they had forgotten how to evaluate top college talent. The way their downward spiral is going, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to get this lottery drafting thing right in the next decade.
D: Chicago Bulls: Doug McDermott: The Bulls had a chance to do something big and whiffed. They had two picks and combined them to move up and reach for a role player while some pretty solid players were left on the board. McDermott might even be something less than a role player.He has real bust potential. If they wanted to save money for cap space reasons why not draft and stash Capela with one pick and tale a Harris or Adams with the other. That would fill a huge need woth a better player than McDermott and add another free future asset. The Bulls used to be one of the better drafting teams in the league. The last 3 years they have been one of the worst. Joakim Noah’s energy won’t carry this team forever. They need to be smarter with their assets and using two draft picks in this draft to get McDermott is a huge overpay.
D: Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis. I like McGary, but the Huestis pick is puzzling. I didn’t even have him as an UFA-worthy player so I’ll be curious to see how they use him. McGary fills a big need for inside help and that makes this a nice pickup. He should be a great fit with this bunch in OKC. The fact that this pick is part of the infamous Harden deal is the reason for the poor grade.
D: Portland Trailblazers: Pick went to Charlotte in the Gerald Wallace trade. There haven’t been a lot of these trades that worked out so well this year. That’s what happens in a deep draft.
D: Indiana Pacers: Traded pick for Luis Scola: Scola wasn’t very good this year and he’s 34, so it is unlikely that he’ll get back to where he was. Using the pick to get a fading veteran isn’t the best use of the pick even if it seemed like a good idea at the time.
D: Dallas Mavericks: Traded pick for Lamar Odom. That trade didn’t work out so well either. For those of us grading, the traded picks are easy because they involve no projecting. I know that Odom flopped with Dallas, so this one gets a D.
F: Minnesota Timberwolves: Zach LaVine: It was easy giving Fs to Detroit and Brooklyn. The last one was a little more difficult. I settled on the Twolves. LaVine is a reach. A great athlete without the production to match is always a huge risk. They passed on a lot of good players for him. I also don’t like teams that can’t hold on to a superstar. Kevin Love is the 2nd such Twolve in 7 years and that cements the F.
F: Detroit Pistons: Traded pick for Corey Magette. The Maggette trade also dumped Ben Gordon’s salary, so it wasn’t like the Pistons felt like they had to have Maggette. The deal was a salary dump.This just shows that teams should be very careful about the restrictions they put on future draft picks involved in trades. The Pistons lost out on a good player because they were reckless by including the draft pick in the trade. I know part of the plan was that the team would improve and the draft pick would have been in the 20s, but the team actually has to improve for that scenario to play out.
F: Brooklyn Nets: Traded picks in the foreseeable future for a bunch of past-their-prime stars that might get the team into the second round of the playoffs the next couple of seasons if they can manage to stay healthy. This is looking like a disaster.