23 June 2015

Grading the 2014 NBA Draft a year later

(USATSI)
The 2015 NBA Draft kicks off in two days from Crooklyn and with that, let's take a look at last year;s draft and see how the team did.

2014 Grades

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas
I'll grade this selection for Cleveland even though Wiggins was eventually traded to Minnesota because, unlike most draft trades, it was done two months after the fact and at the time, they weren't making the pick for the Wolves. The Kevin Love trade was clearly one aimed at "winning now" but while Love had a good, but not great, season for the Cavs, they also made it to the Finals largely without him thanks to a dislocated shoulder suffered in the first round against Boston. I was never a big fan of the seemed rush to trade for Love and while Love has said he will stay in Cleveland, we won't know until that actually happens. So will sacrificing a potential wingman for LeBron James for a title run this past season ultimately be worth it? Only time will tell.
Grade: C

2. Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, F, Duke
The Bucks were a big surprise this season in winning 26 more games from the previous season and giving the Bulls a tough fight in the NBA Playoffs. However, they did much of it without the help of Parker as he was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in mid-December. Parker was showing promise when he played last season and showed flashes of why he was such a highly-regarded prospect coming out of Duke. The hopes are that he will be ready to play at the start of next season and also that he will be able to stay healthy but I think there is reason to be optimistic.
Grade: B

3. Philadelphia 76ers - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Embiid was probably going to be the top pick in the draft before it was reported that he had a broken bone in his foot and thus had surgery and was likely not going to play last season. The 76ers are playing the long game in their rebuilding process and thus I thought it made sense for them to take a chance on such a talent. Embiid did not play last season but then it came out recently that he suffered a setback during the recovery and this it was a "legitimate chance" that he will miss next season as well. We do not know for certain yet, only adding to the mystery.
Grade: Incomplete

4. Orlando Magic - Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona
Gordon was widely regarded to be entering the NBA as a raw prospect that needed further development and he showed that last season. He showed some flashes, particularly on the defensive end, and showed some improvement down the stretch but he also struggled to make an impact on the offensive end. Missing a chunk of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot also did not help matters. Gordon needs more experience to grow more comfortable with his game but if the Magic are trying to speed up their rebuilding process, his development may not fit the time-frame.
Grade: C-

5. Utah Jazz - Dante Exum, G, Australia
Of all the players entering the NBA season, perhaps few came in as big of a question mark and a mystery as Exum did. And ultimately, his rookie season was as enigmatic as many thought it would be. He still has a ways to go with learning the game and becoming more comfortable offensively while showing less tentativeness with the ball in his hands. However, he showed some real skill on the defensive end and the Jazz, who developed into a solid defensive club, were better on that end with Exum on the court than off.
Grade: C+

6. Boston Celtics - Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Boston made their playoff move a year earlier than many expected and one of the key reasons was a defense that showed a lot of improvement in the second half and Smart certainly helped in that regard. Smart led the team and was eighth in the league with 1.8 steals a game and excelled in defending the pick-and-roll. He arguably was the best defender for the Celtics last season but he still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end as he only shot 37% from the floor and a feeble 34% from three. There is definitely a lot of talent here and the future of bright, but it will be key for Smart to develop an offensive game.
Grade: B

7. Los Angeles Lakers - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
The Lakers were not expected to do much last season but one of the few reasons for hope surrounded Randle. However, those hopes went out the window in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' first game of the season as Randle broke his right tibia and was lost for the season just like that. Now given that the injury happened so early in the season, both Randle and the organization are in basically the same position now as they were this time last year. It looks like the Lakers will be going with a big with the second pick and if it is Jahlil Okafor, it will be interesting to see a post presence like him mesh with a post presence like Randle.
Grade: Incomplete

8. Sacramento Kings - Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
It was odd to see the Kings select a shooting guard one year after taking Ben McLemore, another shooting guard, but hey, STAUSKAS. As McLemore showed some improvement from a modest rookie campaign, Stauskas largely was unable to get much playing time and when he did get on the court, he largely struggled to make an impact. He struggled with his shot from the perimeter and was a disappointment on the offensive end while contributing little on the other end. If the Kings are going to want to show significant improvement next season, their bench greatly has to improve and that means the pressure is on Stauskas.
Grade: D

9. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit) - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Given that Vonleh was only 19 when he debuted with the Hornets, losing him for the first two months of the season thanks to a sports hernia certainly did not help his development. When he did get healthy, he did not see a great deal of playing as he only played in 25 games this season at ten minutes a game. Vonleh largely was lost defensively, as many rookies are, but when he saw more playing time down the stretch amid a disappointing season for Charlotte, he showed some promise on both ends. A full training camp will be key for his development and he should expect to see more playing time next season.
Grade: C-

10. Orlando Magic (from New Orleans via Orlando) - Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana
Payton was a prospect that rose late in the draft process and despite another lost season for the Magic, he had himself a promising rookie season that should give the team some hope for him going forward. He saw action in all 82 games and he showed flashes of impressive passing ability, coming close to the franchise rookie record for assists, some tough defense and nice rebounding ability. Payton also showcased his key flaws: perimeter shooting (26%) and free throw shooting (55%). But admitting those flaws, the Magic have got themselves an exciting player at the point for years to come.
Grade: A-

11. Chicago Bulls (from Denver) - Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
Considering that the Bulls traded both of their first round picks last year for the rights to McDermott, it was odd to see McDermott really struggle to get any sort of playing time. Some of that probably could be put on outgoing coach Tom Thibodeau who took way too long to insert Nikola Mirotic into the lineup even when the team was struggling to find some spacing on offense. McDermott did only shoot 40% from the field and 32% from three but he had shown some ability early in the season before finding himself practically chained to the bench. I would expect new coach Fred Hoiberg, as he aims to run a modern and fast offense, to utilize McDermott more next season.
Grade: D

12. Philadelphia 76ers (from New York via Denver, Orlando) - Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Even more so than the Embiid selection, trading down for the rights to Saric truly signified the long-term process that Sam Hinkie is undergoing with the Sixers. As we all knew going in, Saric did not come stateside last season and will not be coming next year either and in fact, I would not put money on him arriving until 2017. Therefore, it is hard to grade a pick until said prospect arrives for the NBA team that holds his rights. And as the 76ers have shown the past couple of years, they will be willing to wait.
Grade: Incomplete

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
LaVine made some headlines for a variety of reasons with some noticing dropping an expletive when he was drafted and for showcasing some crazy athleticism all season long. He entered the Association as a raw prospect and certainly showed that during his rookie campaign but he certainly showed some tantalizing skills that make him an intriguing prospect going forward. We have always known about his athleticism but he also showed that he could be a very good catch-and-shoot guy. He probably was played out of position as a point and was a mess defensively but I think there is something intriguing there.
Grade: B

14. Phoenix Suns - T.J. Warren, SF, NC State
The Suns have a pretty nice logjam at the small forward position and that helped to contribute to Warren largely struggling to find some playing time as a rookie as he averaged only 15 minutes a game across 40 games (he did spend some time in the D-League and also had a thumb injury to battle as well). Warren did show some game in his limited time as he was very good at getting to the rim and finishing, and that is why he was able to shoot 53% from the field. However he was a mess shooting the three (24%) and his defense wasn't great either. He should get more burn next season but he does have a number of guys to compete with.
Grade: C+

15. Atlanta Hawks - Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Payne ultimately saw minimal action with a very good Hawks team as he only played three games for them, seeing a good amount of D-League action early on, before being dealt to Minnesota for a future first-round selection. Ultimately, the trade made sense for the Hawks as Payne was largely blocked from significant playing time by veteran guys and they then got a future asset for him. What boosts it for Atlanta is that Payne struggled when he received more playing time for a bad time as he often looked lost and shot a feeble 42% from the floor.
Grade: C+

16. Denver Nuggets (from Charlotte via Chicago) - Jusuf Nurkic, C, Croatia
In short, this past season was a real disaster for the Nuggets as it resulted in the team's worst since they went 17-65 in the 2002-03 season. There weren't many bright spots but one of them was Nurkic. Nurkic may have been most notable for doing some goofy stuff and did not shoot well at all (only 45% from the floor) but in the limited minutes he got, he put up decent numbers in average 6.9 points and 6.2 rebounds and playing some tough defense in the paint for what was a bad defensive club. He does have a torn patella tendon to deal with and he needs to work on his offensive game but there is something to work with.
Grade: B

17. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn) - James Young, SG, Kentucky
As noted earlier, the Celtics became a surprise playoff team this past season when few expected them to be and perhaps as a result of it, the talented but raw Young was unable to make much of an impact during his rookie season. Only 19, Young did not shoot well during his limited minutes (35% from the field and only 26% from free) in only 30 games. However, he did show a lot of game during his team in the D-League as he averaged 21.5 points a game and shot 44% from three. Given that the Celtics look to be aiming to win and win now, there may not be that much room for Young so he could be trade bait.
Grade: C

18. Phoenix Suns (from Washington) - Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
I, and others, thought that the Suns may have been making this pick for somebody else because Ennis did not fit any sort of need considering they already had a number of point guards, and then eventually signed Isaiah Thomas. Ennis thus barely played at all for the Suns, eventually getting multiple trips to the D-League, and was ultimately part of the big trade that brought Brandon Knight to Phoenix. Ennis ultimately did not see much playing time with the Bucks and Knight did not prove to be a good fit with the Suns either.
Grade: D

19. Denver Nuggets (from Chicago) - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
I thought this pick was a great steal for the Nuggets as I liked Harris and thought he should have gone higher than the 19th pick. However, it was not an easy go for Harris amid a disastrous season for the Nuggets as he only averaged 13 minutes a game and he really struggled to shoot as he only shot 30% from the floor and 20% from three. Denver really has nowhere to go but up under new coach Michael Malone and you could say the same thing about Harris as he is going to have to step up his game this season.
Grade: D-

20. Toronto Raptors - Bruno Caboclo, F, Brazil
Caboclo was a selection so far off the radar that it caused a lot of draft observers to pause and scratch their heads. Fran Fraschilla, before calling him "two years away from being two years away," called this pick to be the "ultimate swing for the fences" considering just how raw he was. Nobody expected Caboclo to be an immediate impact player and he wasn't, only seeing action in eight games and playing less than three minutes a game. He didn't even see that much action in the NBDL but with the Raptors buying a D-League club, he looks to benefit. We are still a ways from being able to accurately grade this selection so while this is definitely a punt on my part, I'm giving this an incomplete.
Grade: Incomplete

21. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas via Lakers, Houston) - Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
As one would expect for a veteran club that entered the season with championship hopes (albeit those felled by injuries to Kevin Durant), McGary did not get a great deal of playing time during his rookie campaign as he only played in 32 games at 15 minutes a game. However when he was able to get on the court, he showed some flashes of being a useful big off the bench. His per-36 minute numbers are pretty solid at 15 points and 12 rebounds a pop. If Enes Kanter signs elsewhere this offseason, he could help fill the void as well as providing some energy to their frontcourt.
Grade: B

22. Memphis Grizzlies - Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
This seemed like a decent fit for the Grizzlies given the team's need for some shooting but ultimately, Adams struggled to see much playing time for a veteran team, averaging eight minutes a game in 30 appearances. He was able to get much playing time in the D-League and excelled there but ultimately it was Vince Carter that ultimately saw much of the action behind Courtney Lee at shooting guard. However, Carter was awful last season so one could reasonably expect coach Dave Joerger to give some of Carter's minutes to Adams.
Grade: C

23. Utah Jazz (from Golden State) - Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Much like the team he plays for, Hood really showed some improvement in the second half of the season, even being named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for April as he averaged 17 points and almost three and a half rebounds and assists during that time. He shot the ball very well during that stretch. It was a very positive sign for Hood as much of his season had been marred by a myriad of injuries and illnesses. He will need to stay healthy and show more aggressiveness with the ball in his hands but it was a positive start.
Grade: B+

24. Miami Heat (from Portland via Charlotte) - Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The Heat traded for the rights to Napier amid much coverage surrounding how much LeBron James appeared to be fond of the UConn star. Of course, James did not return to Miami and Napier had himself an up-and-down rookie season. He had to fight for playing time and struggled with turnovers. He did not shoot well from the floor (only 38%) but he did show some promise with his jumper, particularly from three-point land. The futures of Goran Dragic and Mario Chalmers are not set with the heat, leaving Napier's future a little uncertain, but if he can shoot, they can make room.
Grade: C

25. Houston Rockets - Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Capela was expected to be a draft-and-stash prospect for the Rockets but ultimately the organization was able to buy out his contract and brought him stateside. However, Capela barely played with the Rockets this season, only seeing action in 12 games, spending most of his season with the team's D-League affiliate in the Rio Grande Valley and there he played pretty well. Capela saw a little bit of action in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with Dwight Howard in foul trouble and did a commendable job. There is certainly a lot of talent but the Rockets already have a number of bigs and thus he may be expendable.
Grade: B-

26. Charlotte Hornets (from Miami) - P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends
Hairston came to the Hornets with a little bit of baggage as he had been kicked out of UNC and then having to catch on in the D-League but he was expected to help improve a poor shooting team from the outside. The Hornets actually got worse from three last season and Hairston, in his limited minutes, was not much help as he only shot at a 30% clip from three last season. He also struggled to find playing time and has his work ethic openly questioned by his head coach, Steve Clifford, which is never a good sign.
Grade: D

27. Phoenix Suns (from Indiana) - Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia
Not to be confused with Bojan Bogdanovic of the Nets, Bogdan Bogdanovic was a classic draft-and-stash pick for a team that had already had a pair of first-round selections of already and as such, he did not see any NBA action last season. In fact, considering that he signed a four-year deal in Turkey just after the draft with opt-outs after the second and third years, we will not see him in a Phoenix uniform until next year at the earliest.
Grade: Incomplete

28. Los Angeles Clippers - C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
Wilcox really did not fill that much of a need for the Clips and given that the team was such a strong playoff contender (and one that played with a shallow bench), Wilcox never saw meaningful minutes. The most minutes he played in a game all season was 17. Therefore, it is not easy to grade his performance on the season considering he barely played. His future is likely to be as a spot-up three-point shooter and in his limited amount of minutes, he did shoot the threeball well at 37%. The Clips have a number of free agent wings meaning that Wilcox may have a shot at cracking the rotation.
Grade: C

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Josh Huestis, SF, Stanford
Virtually nobody, including myself, thought of Huestis of being a first-round caliber of player but then it turned out that the Thunder had something unusual going on here. What happened was that the Thunder got Huestis to decline his guaranteed contract to instead play in the D-League in an unprecedented move for a first-round pick. It made sense for the Thunder considering their roster to take a draft-and-stash guy and he did decent work for the team's D-League affiliate. It remains to see if we will see other teams make moves such as this going forward, perhaps on Thursday night.
Grade: Incomplete

30. San Antonio Spurs - Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
I thought of Anderson has being an intriguing fit in the Spurs' offensive system but given that it is a club coming off a championship and gunning for another, it would have taken a lot to expect Anderson to receive a lot of playing time. In the end, Anderson only played in 33 games and averaged about 11 minutes a contest, usually seeing action when games were out of reach. As with other players, he saw a good deal of action in the D-League and there, he showed some promise as a secondary offensive creator but he also a mess defending on the perimeter. However, it still is very early.
Grade: C

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