This is a difficult draft to grade. Because it has excellent depth, but no clear superstar I wanted to give a couple As and a couple Fs while all the other teams get a C+. There are only 5 teams whose draft I look at and say, “That was a disaster.” But my MO has always been to grade on a curve, awarding 3 As and Fs, 6 Bs and Ds and 12 Cs and that’s what I’ll continue to do. That’s also why I’m praising some of the teams I graded D.
I try to grade based on how the team helped themselves more than anything. I also consider whether the pick was a reach and other intangibles like whether or not there’s a distracting debate about trading DeMarcus Cousins that spills into the media at a time when the team should be focusing on the draft.
A: Miami Heat: Justise Winslow, SF Duke. I didn’t consider Winslow the #2 player in the draft, more like #1B to Towns’s #1A. He’s going to be great in Miami. I love him as a player and this is a great situation for him, going to a playoff-caliber team where he can be eased into a role. I’m not totally surprised Winslow slipped to 10. This was a deep class and wing players are the types who generally slide. I do believe that most of the teams who passed on Winslow are going to regret it. Some franchises just seem blessed and the Heat are one of them.
A: Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, C Kentucky, Traded a couple of 2nd round picks for Tyus Jones, PG Duke. No team has screwed up the draft as much as the Timberwolves over the years. Between bad lottery luck, the David Kahn era and losing 3 first round picks as punishment for cutting a sneaky deal with Joe Smith, this team just hasn’t done the draft right. Other than having Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love fall to them in ’95 and ’08 there just haven’t been a lot of good things happening in Minnesota on draft night. That changed last night. The Timberwolves did it right. They drafted the best player in Towns and gave themselves something to build on. Jones also adds to their young core, which is still more athletic than impressive. Long term I still have doubts about the direction of this team. But for one draft night they nailed it and deserve credit for doing so.
A: Philadelphia 76ers: Drafted Jahlil Okafor, C Duke: Handing out the 3rd A was tough. It gets boring constantly rewarding the Sixers when there isn’t much payoff in the W-L column. But if we’re looking at which team helped themselves through this draft the most, the Sixers have to get that last A. Okafor is another excellent young piece. He should fit in very well next to Noel in what has the potential to be a devastating offense-defense pairing. Philadelphia has been the center of excitement on draft day during the Hinkie era. This was a calm day compared to the last two. Being the Sixers they did hoard a couple of future 2nd rounders in their continuing quest to corner that market. They also made a nice score in round 2, nabbing Richaun Holmes. What they didn’t do was improve the weakest perimeter in the league. The 76ers remain an experiment in progress. It is a fun process to watch and I’m very curious to see where this all goes. It is going to be another long year for Sixer’s fans though.
B: Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson, SF Arizona: I feel every team that drafted in the 2-9 range blew it on some level by passing on Winslow. Bit Detroit landed a good one in Johnson. He’s a good value at * and he has all-star potential.
B: Toronto Raptors: Delon Wright, PG Utah: Great value pick. Wright projects as an excellent NBA PG. He should have an immediate impact. The fact that he’s a strong, steady, defensive-minded PG he should be an ideal backup for a flighty all-star like Lowry. Good to see Ujuri get his A-game back.
B: LA Lakers: D’Angelo Russell, PG Ohio State and Larry Nance Jr, PF Wyoming: The Nance pick came from Houston in exchange for taking on Jeremy Lin’s contract. I had Russell #4 overall, but drafting him here is hardly a reach. He should become a solid player at least and might be more than that. I don’t feel he’ll be considered one of the top two players drafted when we look back on the 2015 draft in 10 years though. While I like the strategy of dealing an asset like cap space for a draft pick, Larry Nance Jr was a huge reach in round one. I don’t see how he’ll have any impact on a team desperate for inside help.
B: Charlotte Hornets: Frank Kaminsky, C Wisconsin. Some slick moves this week by Charlotte. Between the Batum trade and the draft they made a couple of nice upgrades to the team. Kaminsky’s game should be a good fit here. His range and passing skills should add some fun and efficiency to what has been one of the league’s worst offenses.
B: Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja SF, Barcelona: I like this fit. Orlando has been drafting workers and grinders the past couple of years. A scorer like Hezonja should fit in well. An impressive rebuild continues in Orlando.
B: Chicago Bulls: Bobby Portis, PF Arkansas: Portis is a very solid pick by the Bulls. He’s a steal at 22. It is good to see the Bulls drafting smart again. They had a nice run getting Noah, Rose, Gibson and Butler from ’07-’11. The last 3 years they’ve drafted terribly. Portis should change that trend. He’s a multi-skilled PF who is effective both inside and out. I expect him to stick around the league for a long time.
C: Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, C Kentucky: This is a good fit. Not sure what happens with the circus involving whether or not to deal Cousins, but Cauley –Stein will help this team. The Kings have been screaming for some help on defense for years. Cauley-Stein is a solid defender and should upgrade one of the worst defenses in the league immediately.
C: New York Knicks: Drafted Kristaps Porzingis, PF Sevilla. Traded Tim Hardaway Jr. for Jerian Grant: Porzingis is obviously the wild card in the 2015 draft. While his numbers suggest he’ll be another Bargnani, his work ethic is impressive, as is the way he handles himself. Even though this is a ballsy pick I have to give it a thumbs down. It just isn’t a smart strategy to pick a long shot like Porzingis when there were some very solid prospects available. It was a very unKnickslike draft night overall. They acted like a team that’s in the middle of a rebuilding process. Instead of overpaying with picks for pricy veterans who might make them slightly better, they drafted a long term project. With the Grant trade they upgraded a position by taking an asset from a team that wanted to clear some cap space. I don’t expect them to launch into a rebuilding era, but that’s how they acted last night.
C: Denver Nuggets: Emmanuel Mudiay, PG Guangdong: Mudiay is something of a mystery. His numbers were put up in low minutes, but were solid enough that I feel he’s a legit top 10 pick. He is a project though. More than passing on Winslow and Johnson for this guy I worry about a team that felt mining the Sacramento front office for help with its management team was a good idea.
C: Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner, C Texas: I like the fit for both the player and the team. The Pacers should be back in the playoffs next year with a healthy Paul George regardless of who they drafted. In such a situation going with the upside of a Turner is the smart move. Indiana should be a good place for Turner to develop. Like Winslow in Miami this is one you just know is going to work out.
C: Oklahoma City Thunder: Cameron Payne, PG Murray State: I’m not going to defend the Harden trade. It was stupid at the time and looks even worse now. What I do like is that through all the negative press over the trade and the lost year that was 2015, the Thunder have been adding solid young pieces to their core through the draft. That continued last night with the drafting of Payne, a promising PG. Like Winslow and Turner he’s one of the players who won draft night by going to a situation that should be great for his development.
C: Washington Wizards: Kelly Oubre, SF Kansas after flipping picks with Atlanta. Oubre is a project who may or may not develop, but he also has crazy upside. For a team like the Wizards who appear to be starting on a run of playoff appearances drafting projects like Oubre is a smart strategy. If he reaches his potential and becomes an impact player in a few years could be the X-factor that lifts the Wizards from the 50-win zone to contender. That’s a much better use of a draft pick picking up John Wall’s backup. That is unless there’s a player like Delon Wright available. That minor quibble aside Oubre is a solid pick.
C: Milwaukee Bucks: Rashad Vaughn, SG UNLV: I like this pick. Vaughn is the one SG in the draft with a realistic upside of all-star. He might bust too, but at this point in the draft this was a good gamble.
C: Dallas Mavericks: Justin Anderson, SF Virginia: Anderson is a good 3&D prospect going to a team that will know how to use him. This pick should work out well.
C: Golden State Warriors: Kevon Looney, PF UCLA: This is a smart pick for the Warriors. In their situation, the NBA champs with a young core, going for a long term developmental project is smart. If Looney reaches his high-end potential they’ll be getting a solid improvement from within in a couple of years. I also like Looney as a potential Warrior. He’s a good passer and a player who doesn’t need to score to be useful. If healthy he has the potential to eventually be a great fit here.
C: Houston Rockets: Sam Dekker, SF Wisconsin: First I’ll try and go through the machinations that Houston went through to end up with the Pelicans’ pick and without their own. They dealt Omer Asik to New Orleans for this pick. They dealt their own pick with Jeremy Lin to the Lakers basically for cap space. They used the cap space to sign Dwight Howard. So that’s pretty good. They upgraded from Asik to Howard and moved up in the draft. On Dekker, I think he’s a reach. But Houston might be able to figure out a way to minimize his poor defensive skills while maximizing his offensive talents. They’re a crafty bunch that way.
C: Portland Trail Blazers: Traded pick of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is a young big who should offer a lot more in production than Hollis-Jefferson at very little extra cost. Nice pickup by a team that appears to be in for a summer of retooling.
C: New Orleans Pelicans: Traded pick to Houston in exchange for Omer Asik. I give this trade a thumbs up. The Pelicans made the playoffs this year and that was a big deal for them. Asik was an asset in that successful quest.
D: LA Clippers: Traded pick to Boston for the right to negotiate a contract with coach Doc Rivers. I can’t argue with this deal. The Clippers are a perennial contender under Rivers. They needed a top notch coach and they did what they needed to secure him. It was risky, but it worked in that there wasn’t a player available at 28 who would have had a bigger impact. But trading a first rounder for a coach is kind of annoying and reeks of a desperate team even if it did work out OK in the end. In year when a lot of teams did well for themselves in the draft they get the highest D because of that.
D: Atlanta Hawks: Traded pick for Tim Hardaway Jr: This was apparently a money move. Tim Hardaway makes less than this pick would have made. Payoff may or may not come in free agency. The Hawks, Cavs and Spurs all got Ds, but each team could make a big score in free agency because of their draft day dealings. Because of that these moves all make sense.
D: Cleveland Cavaliers: Traded Tyus Jones to Minnesota for a couple of 2nd round picks. With Cleveland it will be all about bringing in free agents, so clearing cap space is the most important thing.
D: San Antonio Spurs: Nikola Milutinov, C Partizan: This is a draft-and-stash. The Spurs need cap space more than they needed any help the 26th best prospect may have provided. They got it. I’m not a big fan of Milutinov, but this is the Spurs so I won’t be too shocked if he’s a useful part of a San Antonio championship team in 2022.
D: Memphis Grizzlies: Jarrell Martin, PF LSU: Martin is a huge reach and a disappointing one. The Grizzlies are a team I count on to do things right. I was hoping for a Christian Wood pick here. Speaking of Wood, how bad must he have been in workouts and interviews if he fell completely out of the draft with a statistical resume like that?
D: Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker, SG Kentucky: This is a reach. Booker can shoot and the Phoenix backcourt needed a shooter. I’m just not sure he’s a NBA-level starter. Lottery teams should be loading up on talent in the draft, not filling holes by reaching for what looks like a good fit.
F: Utah Jazz: Trey Lyles, PF Kentucky: Lyles showed very little promise his freshman year and I cannot fathom why he was so highly regarded. Put his numbers up against any other PF drafted in round one and they pale by comparison. I get that he’s long, young and talented. I also suspect those experts who evaluate players at the combine just fell in love with his motor at some point. But players with numbers this bad rarely succeed and there’s little reason to think Lyles will be an exception. This is a disappointing draft pick for a team that finished the year on a high note.
F: Brooklyn Nets: Chris McCullough, PF Syracuse and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF Arizona: McCullough is a pick with decent upside. He’ll be of little immediate help though. Hollis-Jefferson comes in a deal for Plumlee and doesn’t seem likely to match Plumlee’s production. The McCullough pick was swapped down with Atlanta as part of the Joe Johnson trade. By itself the Johnson trade wasn’t a terrible one. It basically amounted to getting Johnson and McCullough in exchange for a handful of veterans, Jerian Grant and Shane Larkin. You could even argue the Nets won that one. As part of the bigger picture where the trade was part of a plan that mortgaged the future in an attempt to contend immediately, it was a massive failure that has the team in a very difficult spot now.
F: Boston Celtics: Terry Rozier, G Louisville and RJ Hunter, SG Georgia State: Hunter was chosen with a pick acquired from the Clippers in exchange for coach Doc Rivers. You know how lottery winners almost always burn through their jackpot in a few years and are left wondering where it all went? I’m worried that’s what Celtics are starting to do with their jackpot of Nets draft picks. This is a terrible haul even if getting another first rounder for a coach who they don’t miss at all was a nice coup. Rozier is the reach of the draft. Hunter is a decent value at the end of the first round, but adding him to a backcourt full of young guards makes little sense. There were some solid inside prospects available at both spots. The Celtics blew this one big time.