Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Grades

Chad Ford has his draft grades, I have mine. There are a lot of ways to look at a team's prospects and its draft: fit, potential, NBA-readiness, etc. But I want to concentrate on something that others may not be - how much a team's draft reflects and magnifies its organization's overall strategy. Does it show a unified, coherent, top-down strategy or dysfunction somewhere along the chain of command? Let's go through in Chad's order:

Atlanta Hawks: C

I'm grading on a curve here with a B- as the passing grade. The Hawks are a full letter grade below that. In the past few years, the Hawks have shown a willingness to go against the grain, divesting themselves of high-priced talent such as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. They've decided to rebuild around a young core of Jeff Teague and Al Horford while maintaining the flexibility to move any and all players for a better team.

This draft doesn't fit that forward-thinking philosophy. Adreian Payne is a fine player who shoots well and rebounds his position, but the Hawks have a logjam at big forward with Horford coming back and Paul Milsap/Mike Scott/Pero Antic in the fold. How are they going to develop him if he gets no minutes? Payne is also 23 years old and limits that flexibility the Hawks have craved - they have maybe 2 years to decide yes/no on him before the clock starts ticking really loud. This organization has chosen to be patient but didn't continue that in this draft. Any one of the Jusuf Nurkic, James Young, Gary Harris, or Rodney Hood types that went after Payne would have been a better fit both in terms of need and organization strategy.

Boston Celtics: A

One of my draft rules is this: you want guys with identifiable NBA skills. Marcus Smart has two of those skills - the ability to get to the rim and draw fouls, and the ability to defend the perimeter. He is a fit on offense and looks like he has the size to play with Rajon Rondo defensively. Sure his shot is broken - I hate how he moves the ball across the body and how long of a motion it is.

James Young is a great upside pick - He showed good basketball IQ at Kentucky this year, flashing an ability to take over games when the team needed him. He seems coachable and could turn into a 3-and-D starter. I think he has the size and tenacity to possibly start in small-ball, and that's a fantastic find at 17. Danny Ainge is a fanatic at drafting upside assets regardless of fit and this draft is no different. The best thing? He can move basically anyone on the team.

Brooklyn Nets: C+

This is what happens when you don't have any good picks. I love Xavier Thames though. He'll be a problem on defense but don't be surprised if he takes over a role as a ballhandler/scorer off the bench. Might be a good backup for Deron Williams.

Charlotte Hornets: A

I'm giving Team Jordan credit for A) realizing what they need, B) being self aware about their talent, and C) picking for potential. Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston have their warts - why wasn't Vonleh more involved at Indiana? Is his shooting a fluke? Is Hairston capable of keeping his head? But I loved these picks because they represent upside at two positions the Hornets already have starters at. Sure, Gerald Henderson, Cody Zeller, and Josh McRoberts are all fine players. None of them are going to move the needle for a playoff team (and the Bobcats are a playoff team, if barely).

The Bobcats could have stuck with Zeller/Henderson and drafted Doug McDermott to fill a shooting gap at small forward. But Vonleh's slip was astounding to me and he was the best player on the board at 9. Hairston was a great find late in the 1st - this guy could be a starter. Solid draft.

Chicago Bulls: A

Another team that knows that it is. It doesn't have the window to develop someone - it needs a contributer, a shooter, right away, because who knows how long Rose/Noah/Gibson have left. Those three are 25/29/29 years of age - yeah not young. The Bulls have 3 years to put something big together, which makes the Melo talk sensical. Doug McDermott makes a ton of sense in that regard. I also love how Tom Thibodeau coached him with Team USA - Thibs knows the guy's defensive limitations and was comfortable.

Cleveland Cavaliers: A-

I don't know what's going on with this organization, but credit them for taking the best player available. But Andrew Wiggins has to learn to shoot, though. In what will become a theme of this post, we just found out that good playoff teams cannot play two non-shooters at the same time. This is a bit of an incomplete score because I feel like at some point the Cavs will need to move Dion Waiters who was a horrible pick in the first place. I do like that the Cavs took a longer-term approach rather than draft Jabari. I know it's been 3 years of Kyrie, they just gave him a max contract, and he hasn't delivered the playoffs. But the reason they keep coming short is because management has taken such a short-term view. Last year's pick of Anthony Bennett over Victor Oladipo was a disaster at the time and is a disaster now. They never should have picked Waiters in the first place. This pick helps them but isn't going to get them in contention for a few years, which, strangely, goes against their recent history and bodes well.

As for LeBron - I think this hurts the Cavs with him. I get the feeling he'd rather be on a team with Derrick Favors and Dante Exum than just Andrew Wiggins. If that trade was there, and it reportedly was, Cleveland should have pounced on it.

Dallas Mavericks: C+

The Mavs don't have time to develop rookies and have shown an ability to turn another team's trash into their treasure. Still, they are not winning a title without some youth. They've avoided major injury for a long team with such an old roster. That youth injection will have to come through free agency this year.

Denver Nuggets: B-

I love the Gary Harris pick but am unsure what to think of Jusuf Nurkic. It was smart of them to pick an extra first rounder off Chicago but I don't know they did much with it. I would have preferred James Young, Mitch McGary, or Rodney Hood for the Nuggets. Finally, what is the plan here? Are they in they in tear-down mode? That's what two prospect bigs suggests. And yet they have Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari coming off injury, Wilson Chandler, all nice pieces. It's increasingly unlikely that they make the playoffs in the stacked West, but are they ready to tear it down? Are they willing?

Detroit Pistons: B

Can't change the fact that the previous regime dumped a first rounder for salary flexibility. While they have a supposed shooter in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, his shot abandoned him last year. Spencer Dinwiddie is a great find in the second round even if he's out next year.

Golden State Warriors: B+

The Warriors are in win-now mode and I'm not sure they shouldn't be. Steph Curry is young but his ankles are glass and they may only have a few years before they need to reload somehow. I'd rather have Andre Iguodala than Rodney Hood or anyone else in that spot.

Houston Rockets: C+

Trying to save salary for a big contract. Loved Nick Johnson in the tournament though - could get to the room, can shoot, committed defender. He can make the roster as an 8th/9th guy behind James Harden.

Indiana Pacers: C

I can't blame the Pacers for going for Luis Scola with their first rounder. At the time, I thought Scola was a perfect fit. He was a scoring big on a bench unit that was eviscerated by Miami in 2013's playoffs. He also fit as a tough veteran that wouldn't take any crap from the Heat. With the state of the East, I agreed with the notion that Miami could be toppled and a title was possible. What I forgot was just how badly Miami beat Indiana in Game 7 of those Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat defensive pressure melted Indiana's offensive system. Guys weren't able to bring the ball up the court or enter it to start a set. There was no space for shooters. They hounded Paul George into a gazillion turnovers.

The game showed a sizeable gap between the two participants, one that requires Indiana to upgrade across the lineup and look for more depth. Instead, they traded away multiple pieces for a few guys that didn't make a difference. I know Indiana's identity is to play slow-down drag-out defensive basketball, but Miami do it better. I've believed for a while that Miami are old enough that you can run on them and the Spurs finally did it. Again, I can't kill Indiana for a trade that I liked at the time, but what do they do now?

Los Angeles Clippers: C

Not sure why the Clippers need more wing shooters like Chris (CJ) Wilcox. I thought Kyle Anderson and CleAnthony Early had more diverse skills sets and played a position of bigger need. How is this guy going to see the floor? They moved on from Darren Collison, but there's still a bit of a logjam at guard.

Los Angeles Lakers: B+

I was originally going to give the Lakers a B- Part of this is because I like Noah Vonleh better than Julius Randle. Randle competes like few others, does dirty work on defense and on the boards, and can play right away. But if the Lakers took a serious look at their roster, they would realize healthy Kobe or no, they are not making the playoffs in the West. There isn't enough talent at any position. I thought the talk of moving this pick for a veteran was insane, pure insanity. They have no idea what they're doing in Lakerland. They should have taken the best player available and that was Vonleh - he has the ability to do more than Randle. And if Kobe's unhappy, so what? What is he going to do, demand a trade? This pick was a sign of a dysfunctional, obtuse organization.

Then I thought some more. And you know what? Randle isn't so horrible. You know he's going to bring it. He'll mesh well with Kobe's competitiveness and that will make both better. And you know what? This franchise has already tied its hands with the Kobe deal. They know they have a 2 year window to make something happen, maybe sign somebody to be the team's All-Star. Randle is the only person in this draft that can help them in that window. So B+ it is.

Memlphis Grizzlies: B

Memphis needed some shooting and got it. Some people are questioning Jordan Adams' ceiling, but he is a scorer who rebounds and looks capable of defending his position. They key is his shooting, and if he can show legitimate 3-ball range, that's a great fit for Memphis. Along with Ford I liked both P.J. Hairston and Rodney Hood more at this spot but I accept that Memphis may have stayed away from Hairston for fit and chemistry issues. I think this was a solid draft for a Grizzlies team that (logically) wants to be better right away.

Miami  Heat: B+

The Heat needed to get younger and they did. They needed another ball handler and they got him. They needed another shooter. They need a guy who knows his way around a basketball court and knows how to impact a game. Sometimes, picking this deep, teams are left with bench bodies, guys who are cheap and will be around for their rookie contracts before moving on. Kudos to Miami for not going that route, for finding a guy in Shabazz Napier that will make them better and push the starters.

Milwaukee Bucks: A

This is the best case scenario for Milwaukee and that has to earn an A. They can't be content with Jabari Parker - he may be the only guy left on the next Bucks playoff team as they really need to rebuild. They could be pretty bad for another couple of years still.

Minnesota Timberwolves: B+

I agree with Ford that Flip Saunders swung for the fences and I like his aggressiveness in grabbing Zach Lavine and Glen Robinson III. This is a really bad team. Kevin Love or no, they need someone to turn into a star. Where they were picking, the only way to do that is to draft a player with upside and a lot of warts. If Lavine can be a shooter, this is an A. Let's see if it pays off.

New Orleans Pelicans: D

Would you rather have Jrue Holiday or Elfrid Payton? Hard to say, right? But the Pellies were bad last year and have no clear path to get better this year. Remember, the team only caught on when injuries forced Tyreke Evans to take over ball handling. Scary. Still like Jrue Holiday? And how does Russ Smith help them? I love Russ, but don't they have enough ball-handling guards?

New York Knicks: B

Chad Ford gave them a lower grade because he didn't believe in Thanis Antetokounmpo and Louis Labyrie. But at 51 and 57... who cares? Why not swing for the fences on an athletic marvel like Thanis, chuck him in D League and see what you turns into? What other value are you getting at that point? And I loved the Cleanthony Early pick. The Knicks need shooting in a bad way and getting a baller in the second was a steal. So what if we don't know what his position is? His position is shooting. You always need more shooting. Sure, defense is essential to building a contender, but the Knicks are in the lottery; no one in this lottery is getting them into contention and Early helps them next year.

Oklahoma City Thunder: C+

Agree completely with Ford. What is the point of these picks? The Thunder picked two wholly redundant players. What does Mitch McGary give them that Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, and Stephen Adams can't? How is he going to see the floor and develop? Remember, he's only played a year and our sample size of him as a first rounder is really only 6 games. They could have had any of Rodney Hood, P.J. Hairston, and Chris Wilcox along with and Kyle Anderson and this is what they end up with? How are McGary and Josh Huestis better than those guys? Highly perplexing from a franchise that's gone cold after nailing some high lottery picks.

Orlando Magic: B+

I have a good friend and basketball running mate who's from Orlando and is a huge Magic fan. I really wanted to give them an A, for him, but I couldn't. I get that Rob Hennigan is trying to collect some assets and I know people who love Aaron Gordon, but personally, I'm a little scared. Haven't we seen this movie before? Superathletic tweener who can finish but is otherwise raw? Reminds me a lot of Tyrus Thomas, Derrick Favors, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, guys that can jump through the roof and are all arms and legs. Gordon looks like a good passer and dribbler, but is that a transition mirage or can he execute in half court? If he's such a good dribbler and so athletic, why did he take only 6.1 free throws/40 minutes (and shot a ghastly 42%)? Kyle Anderson took 6.2 (74%), Noah Vonleh took 6.8 (72%), and Julius Randle took a ridiculous 9.4 (71%). And the comparisons have to stop. Listen, Blake Griffin was a fantastic scorer and free throw generator in college. And there's a reason that Shawn Marion is a wholly unique player. I would love nothing more than for Gordon to prove me completely wrong, but I have a bad feeling of how he'll develop in a crowded frontcourt on a team bereft of shooting.

And shooting is going to be a big problem for the Magic. Outside Jameer Nelson and maybe Tobias Harris, there isn't a shooter in their rotation. I can't emphasize enough that in the modern NBA, you absolutely cannot play even 2 non-shooters at the same time. This pick sets up the Magic to be very bad for another year. Can the fans and owners stomach that?

I loved the Elfrid Payton pick. He saves their grade for me. Seems like he can guard his position and get to the rack. Yeah he's another suspect shooter, which means someone on this team is probably gonna go before they get good. Maybe more than one person. Overall, though, I gave this draft an A because it showed patience and organizational focus. They know what they want and how they want to play. That's rare for a lottery team. Cleveland, Philly, and Milwaukee sure can't say that. They just need to hire Chip Engelland away from San Antonio to fix these guys' shots.

Philadelphia 76ers: B+

Sam Hinkie deserves an A because he had the stones to take the best player. Sure the back and foot are scary, scary injuries. But this thing is a crapshoot for more than one reason. Any one of these guys could fail to pan out in excruciating fashion. But if Joel Embiid pans out - he could be Anthony Davis 2.0. Who cares that he might play the same position as Nerlens Noel. You can always move one of them. Hinkie has consistently chosen to pursue the best talent regardless of who it is, and he succeeded with Embiid.

I'm not as high on Dario Saric. Forget the contract that keeps him away for 2 years. I don't think he has an identifiable NBA skill. He's an average shooter, someone who will make some threes but not really concern the defense. He's not bit enough to play in the post on either end. I don't know if he's a midrange shooter at all. He's extremely raw defensively. And the worst thing? He measures really well (6'10") but plays smaller. That can be good and bad, but if he can't shoot, mostly bad. What's his comp? Is he a wing or a big? What identifiable NBA skill does he have? This was a bonus pick for Philly, but I really think they blew it.

Phoenix Suns: A

I really like what Phoenix did in this draft. They are in a weird situation as a team that just missed the playoffs, but they added several players that will definitely help. Chad Ford knocks them for upside, and Warren's might be limited by his lack of athleticism. But TJ Warren, Tyler Ennis, and Bogdan Bogdanovic know how to score, know how to shoot, and know how to play basketball. And this is a team that isn't afraid to deal, isn't afraid to spin the dice, play free agency, and do whatever it takes to get the stars it needs to advance. They picked up 3 definite assets, and picking at 14, that's a pretty good haul. In each case, I thought they took the player best suited for their team.

Portland Trailblazers: C-

Portland will have to hope C.J. McCollum can make an impact, but as of now, they have one too many undersized, scoring point guards. They could have really used some size in this draft.

Sacramento Kings: C-

I like Nik Stauskus. He was an electrifying college player despite possibly playing the whole year overweight. It couldn't have been easy dragging a Michigan team missing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitch McGary back through the March grinder. And Stauskus can really shoot. That's where my problem with him lies. He was a great shooter and was able to showcase that the whole season. While Andrew Wiggins had to learn to play with others in Kansas, while Aaron Gordon had to defer to better offensive options in Arizona, and Noah Vonleh became another cog in Indiana's system, Stauskus was gunning. That can make a team fall in lover with a player that isn't quite as good when he doesn't get that freedom to create and shoot. What happens when you can't shoot yourself out of a slump because DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore need touches? What happens against bigger, more athletic NBA 2s? Remember, even JJ Redick, the best college shooter I've ever seen took 3 years to really crack the Orlando Magic rotation - and that was in an offense built for spacing and a defense built with a rock at center. Not exactly these Kings. And in Grantland's predraft analysis of the Kings' strategy, they professed a desire to get better in 2 years or less. Scary.

The worst part? The player Sacramento should have drafted was sitting there after a bit of a free-fall. Noah Vonleh could have provided valuable post defense behind the sieve-like Demarcus Cousins while spacing the floor around him on offense. It's a clear position of need on this team. And he would have deferred to Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, and DeMarcus Cousins. Sure, the Kings crowdsourced their draft and brought in outside analytic experts with impressive CVs. But what was their selection criteria? How do we know they didn't bring in guys who went along with their existing groupthink? This was a horrible, horrible selection.

San Antonio Spurs: A

Of course the Spurs draft a guy that should have been gone 10 spots earlier, a guy that's perfect for their system, who could turn into a sure starter alongside new Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Kyle Anderson needs to add a lot of weight to compete in the NBA but he can shoot, he sees the floor well, and he understands basketball. He makes plays ahead of the defense. Kind of like the Spurs. And unlike the Magic, the Spurs actually have Chip Engelland. I can't believe both the Clippers and the Thunder passed on Anderson at the end of the 1st Round.

Toronto Raptors: C-

I'm of one mind with Chad Ford here. How exactly are the Raptors going to develop Bruno Caboclo? He was he a better option thsn Rodney Hood? What is the plan here? Masai Uriji is known as a sharp talent scout who has lots of connections, but he must have gotten some really good intel on the Brazilian forward. I won't kill them for taking a risk and getting an athlete, I'm just not sure what he turns into. People are whispering Giannis Antetokuonmpo as a comp, but do we know what Giannis will turn into either? Jury's still out, right?

Utah Jazz: A

The dream scenario unfolded for Utah once Orlando took Aaron Gordon at 4. They really had no use for the Gordon/Randle/Vonleh group given the money and time they have invested in Enes Kanter/Derrick Favors. Don't get me wrong - I'm worried about Dante Exum. He's had one really good U19 International Team game against the USA and one really bad Team Australia game in which Marcus Smart stole his lunch and broke his ankle (literally). I think the truth is somewhere in-between, but there's a big possibility he's a bust. He can't shoot a lick even though his shot's not broken; as a starter alongside Kanter/Favors, that's 3 non-shooters, aka offensive death.

The Jazz are taking a big cut at a breaking ball with Exum and I think it was absolutely the right move - they don't have a single player on the roster that looks like he can turn into their next All-Star. Forget about contending for championships. Utah is such a free agency backwaters that nobody's going to want to join this team without the prospect of an All Star level talent already on the roster. There's no sense playing it safe.

The second genius move happened later in the first round as the Jazz gobbled up Rodney Hood after he slid a few spots. Hood is perfect for Utah. A shooter that can play 2 or 3, he's perfect alongside a wing in Gordon Hayward that is a positional enigma as well. He gives new coach Quin Snyder flexibility off the bench and I think he eventually sticks as a starter - it's a bit unbelievable that he fell into their lap at 23. Utah got one project for the future and a guy that can help right now. Sure, they'll still be bad in 2015. But this team needs multiple pieces just to climb into the playoff race and has more picks coming. They seem to understand through the organization that the team is at least 2 years away. In that context: smart, smart draft.

Washington Wizards: B+

I agree with Chad Ford that the pick they would have had is worth Marcin Gortat. Of course, it's not that cut-and-dry - if they kept the pick, it likely would have been better, and Marcin Gortat juts cost them a whole chunk of money. But I like the team for getting John Wall and Bradley Beal into the playoffs and seeing what they have. Sure, they're not a contender, but they have positioned themselves to be in the playoff race for years to come. Only one team in 30 wins the title each year anyway and less 10 have won in the last few decades. Why chase an elusive championship in the era of LeBron and Durant when you can play good basketball, make the fans happy, erase some bad karma, and compete for the 4 seed? I can't kill them for that.Now if the Wizards could only find whoever made off with the real Otto Porter...

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