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Grading Each Team’s 2016 NBA Draft

The 2016 NBA Draft is done, so now it’s time to hand out some grades for each of the teams.

Steve Kyler

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Grading the NBA Draft is an annual tradition that virtually every media outlet does. For years, we have taken a somewhat different approach to grading the draft, mainly because a drafted player’s results aren’t truly known for years. While it’s easy to say, ‘This guys is a surefire star,’ there is no way to really know that for several years.

With that in mind I tend to apply a bit of a different value structure to my draft grades. I base my grades on the following:

a.) Did the team draft the best possible talent on the board?

b.) Did the team solve an immediate roster need?

c.) Can the selected player contribute right away?

Let’s jump into it:

Atlanta Hawks

Round 1: Taurean Prince (12), DeAndre Bembry (21)

Round 2: Isaia Cordinier (44)

The biggest move for the Hawks occurred prior to the draft when they dealt away Jeff Teague for the 12th pick, which they turned into Taurean Prince.

Prince gives them a truly ready-to-play option at small forward and a fairly decent shooter as well. This was good value for the pick, it solves an immediate roster problem and he can play right away – and likely will for the Hawks.

Bembry was interesting. There may have been a few better options on the board at No. 21 worth looking at, but Bembry is an NBA-ready player. It’s unclear where he fits in the rotation, but he could add solid playing and shooting from the bench. Overall, this is a fairly decent selection.

Isaia Cordinier at No. 44 is not a factor this year. Cordinier is an athletic prospect with some upside, but he was likely a draft-and-stash. Considering what was there at No. 44, the Hawks could have done a little better. But at that point in the draft, especially with a draft-and-stash prospect, this wasn’t bad.

GRADE: B-

Boston Celtics

Round 1: Jaylen Brown (3), Guerschon Yabusele (16), Ante Zizic (23)

Round 2: Demetrius Jackson (45), Ben Bentil (51), Abdel Nader (58)

This was not the way Celtics fans had hoped the draft would play out, but when you can’t find takers for all the picks, you eventually have to use them and Boston did a good job.

Jaylen Brown was Danny Ainge’s guy from very early in this process. There was a sense the C’s were drafting Kris Dunn to hold him hostage for additional assets, but in the end the C’s went with their plan and drafted Brown. He is a super athlete with a very high basketball IQ. He’ll improve in time as a shooter, but is a very good piece for the Celtics. In terms of value, there may have been a few better options on the board so the C’s get dinged a little there, but in terms of solving roster problems, he adds depth at small forward and he can play right away.

Guerschon Yabusele is a monster. He’s big and athletic and was a rising star among NBA teams during the final weeks of the draft process. Like Terry Rozier last year, if the C’s wanted him they had to take him at No. 16 or he’d have been gone by No. 23. There is tremendous upside to his game and while there were a few better prospects on the board, the C’s did pretty well here. He may or may not play this year, so that’s to be determined. As for roster need, he does not slot into an immediate hole at this time.

Ante Zizic was also a nice get for the C’s, as he is one of the best rounders in the draft he was considered the top Euro player after Dragan Bender by most NBA teams, so that’s a ton of value for the C’s at 23. Like Yabusele, he could play abroad next season, which impacts the grade a little. As for roster need, if he plays he could slot in at center and that’s an areas the C’s need to improve on.

Demetrius Jackson took a pretty big tumble and the C’s don’t have a need for him anywhere, as they are loaded at the guard spots. It’s hard to imagine that Jackson makes the active roster and may end up spending the bulk of his rookie year in the D-League. There was value to be had in the pick, but the last thing the C’s needed was another guard.

Ben Bentil was a good get at 51. He is an electric scorer, but like Jackson there simply may not be a place for him on the C’s roster without a trade of some kind.

Abdel Nader was a good late-round draft pick; however, like the others drafted in the second round, he may end up in the D-League all year with little chance of making the C’s roster.

Give that the C’s were swinging for the fences, this draft seems like a letdown, but overall the talent the C’s selected was good and it fits in with the roster they have; it just was not a very sexy draft.

GRADE: B+

Brooklyn Nets

Round 1: Caris LeVert (20)

Round 2: Isaiah Whitehead (42)

The Nets traded away forward Thaddeus Young for the rights to the 20th pick, which they used on Caris LeVert. LaVert is still recovering from a foot surgery and said he likely won’t be playing in summer league, but is ahead of schedule on his rehab.

On the surface, this was terrible return for Young, but as we saw leading up to the draft veteran players were not returning nearly the value they should be. It gets compounded when you look at LaVert’s injury history and the fact he may not be ready for camp.

In the long-term, LaVert is a very interesting prospect with tremendous upside, if he can overcome the injuries. For grading purposes, this is pretty good value at 20, if LaVert overcomes the injuries, which all indications are he will. He does fill an immediate need and could end up starting for the Nets once he’s healthy. There were less risky options on the board, but LaVert does have the best upside.

Nabbing Isaiah Whitehead was great value. He can likely contribute right away, and given what’s on the roster now, he too could end up playing big minutes in Brooklyn. As for value, they did a great job and I’m not sure there was a better talent on the board. Plus, he can play a big role.

Overall, the Nets got two promising young players in the draft; the tough part is they did not get very much value out of Thad Young, especially when you look at the haul Oklahoma City got for Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. That’s not a real factor in the draft grade, but it was worth noting.

GRADE: B-

Charlotte Hornets

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: N/A

Eh, I get it. The Hornets wanted another veteran and opted to trade what ended up being Malachi Richardson for veteran shooter Marco Belinelli. To be far, while Belinelli is a known quantity, there were players on the board at 22 who could have helped the Hornets, and at a lower cost.

Trading out of the draft usually earns a team an incomplete grade, but in this case it’s hard not to ding the Hornets because they did not get better in the short-term in this deal. We’ll see what the Hornets do with the roster spot, but overall this does not look like a good move.

GRADE: D-

Chicago Bulls

Round 1: Denzel Valentine (14)

Round 2: Paul Zipser (48)

The biggest part of the Bulls’ draft was trading away Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon. That’s not a factor in their draft grade, but it was the teeth of their plans around the draft.

At 14, the Bulls drafted Denzel Valentine who may be the most ready-to-play player in the draft pool. There were concerns over the long-term status of his knees, but the Bulls did not seem to care. If he ends up having knee issues or can’t stay durable this pick turns bad quickly, but if everything Valentine is saying is true, he could be a steal for the Bulls. Valentine does solve an immediate need, he likely can play right away and was tremendous value for the pick.

Paul Zipser at 48 most likely stays in Europe. He was a standout at Eurocamp in Italy and looks like a solid upside guy. Again, good value for the pick especially in a draft-and-stash situation. He likely does not help the Bulls this season and does not solve a roster problem.

The Bulls wanted to make a substantial change to the roster and they did that. The question is, will this make them a better team?

GRADE: B+

Cleveland Cavaliers

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Kay Felder (54)

Considering the Cavaliers came into the draft with no picks top speak of, trading for Kay Felder was a nice get. Fans and teams alike rave about Felder as an athlete and a player so there is nothing but upside for the Cavs in this move.

From a grading point of view, at 54 this is solid talent. From a roster point of view, maybe he gets a chance if Matt Dellavedova exits via free agency. From a fills a role right away standpoint? Maybe. The Cavaliers like to have a young guy or two on the roster mainly for the veterans to have young guys around. LeBron James has history of taking a young guy under his wing virtually every season, ans this year it could be Felder – although roster spots are going to be hard to come by so the reality is Felder could more likely be in the D-League next year than on the Cavs’ roster.

GRADE: C+

Dallas Mavericks

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: A.J. Hammons (46)

The Mavericks kicked around the idea of trading into the teens; in fact, at the 11th hour, there were doing as much recon work as anyone. In the end the Mavs stayed the course and landed A.J. Hammons.

Hammons has a lot of upside. He is a still big man with a solid feel for the game. Some teams had Hammons graded as a late-first rounder, so this is good value for the Mavericks at 46. It’s unlikely that Hammons makes the final Mavericks roster and he is most likely headed to the D-League. From a grading perspective, it’s good value but does not mean much to the roster this year and does not fill an immediate need.

GRADE: C+

Denver Nuggets

Round 1: Jamal Murray (7), Juan Hernangomez (15), Malik Beasley (19)

Round 2: Petr Cornelie (53)

This one is a mixed bag, mainly because the Nuggets have so much duplication on the roster right now. That said, getting Jamal Murray at 7 was great value. Not sure where he fits on the roster, but he is a solid get in the talent department.  He can help right away and he was best value on the board.

Juan Hernangomez is arguably one of my favorite guys in the middle of this draft. He could help right away, although they are still talking about whether he’ll come this year or not, so that’s still up in the air. He was very good value for the pick. There were a few others on the board there, but Hernangomez may have the best upside.

Malik Beasley at 19 is a solid get for the Nuggets, but again where he fits and finds minutes going forward remains to be seen. The Nuggets are loaded everywhere so he may not get the chance to play a big role right away, but he could if they wanted to play him that way. There were a few guys on the board at 19 that might have made more sense, but overall this is a good pick for the Nuggets.

GRADE: B-

Detroit Pistons

Round 1: Henry Ellenson (18)

Round 2: Michael Gbinije (49)

The Pistons went safe at 18. Ellenson is a solid addition and him being there at 18 was a bit of a surprise. This was good value for the pick. It’s unclear what role he’ll play, as its likely going to be behind Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris but in time this is a quality addition in the talent department. I’m not sure the Pistons could have done better in terms of value for the pick.

Michael Gbinije at 49 was a steal. I think he can play right away for Stan Van Gundy, although his role may be limited. Typically the 49 pick does not yield much, so the Pistons got solid value there.

Neither guy is a starter for the Pistons so there is that, but overall for what could amount to two solid bench additions, the Pistons did well.

GRADE: B+

Golden State Warriors

Round 1: Damian Jones (30)

Round 2: Patrick McCaw (38)

Considering the Warriors don’t have many needs, getting Damian Jones at 30 was good value. He’ll give them frontcourt options if the team decides to stretch Andrew Bogut to create cap room for a free agent (or in the event of an injury).  At 30, that was decent value for the pick. He brings something to the bench, and there wasn’t a ton on the board that was better for the Warriors’ roster.

Patrick McCaw at 38 might be a sneaky play for the Warriors. Among the next tier of prospects, a lot of NBA executives pegged McCaw as a super upside guy and he can bring a few things to the roster if he indeed makes the team. Overall, this was good value for both picks. Neither guy is a starter, but both could play a good role for the Warriors.

GRADE: A-

Houston Rockets

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Chinanu Onuaku (37), Zhou Qi (43)

Chinanu Onuaku was a good get at 38, but it’s not clear how much value he brings to the roster that’s already loaded with similarly skilled guys. Does Onuaku get more of a chance than say Montrezl Harrell? Aren’t they awfully similar guys? Overall, drafting size and physicality for a team likely losing Dwight Howard to free agency isn’t bad.

As for Zhou Qi, it’s more likely than not he’s back in China next year playing in the CBA. He has a great skill set, with a lot of potential and surely the Rockets’ huge following in China didn’t hurt this decision.

Overall, the Rockets did not obtain anyone who really matters to their roster next year, nor will either likely play a role. The value for where they spent those picks was good, but overall there isn’t a ton here to get excited about (at least right away).

GRADE: C+

Indiana Pacers

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Georges Niang (50)

The Pacers biggest moves were not in the form of draft picks, rather in the veterans they traded for. The Pacers shipped off George Hill in a three-team deal with Atlanta and Utah landing them Jeff Teague and then dealt away the 20 pick to the Nets for Thaddeus Young. That trade will get completed when the new cap year opens on July 7.

So this draft wasn’t about getting young guys, rather landing impact veterans.

However, landing Georges Niang at 50 wasn’t a terrible pickup. He has some upside although it might be a stretch that he actually makes the roster. Considering most picks in the 50s end up being D-League guys or draft-and-stash players, Niang is pretty skilled and could be a dark horse for a final roster spot if he does well in Summer League.

While the Pacers improved themselves dramatically, their draft grade is not reflective of that. The draft grade is about the players actually drafted and in this case, it may not be of much impact.

GRADE: C+

Los Angeles Clippers

Round 1: Brice Johnson (25)

Round 2: David Michineau (39), Diamond Stone (40)

In a draft as flat as this one, it’s hard to find talent with the 25, however the Clippers did pretty well with Brice Johnson.  There were a few polarizing players in this draft and Johnson was one of them, some labeled him as a tweener, while some raved about his all-around versatility. At 25 this was good value for the pick, because there wasn’t a lot of better options. Johnson likely plays a role off the bench for the Clips, which fills a need.

While Johnson was a great value at 25, David Michineau at 39 does not make a ton of sense. This may be a case of draft and stash, although the Clippers do need a point guard and Michineau could serve that role. There were better talents available at 39, but he does serve a role and could fill a need if he comes over this year.

Diamond Stone at 40 was good value. He was a first-round talent throughout the process but there were lingering questions that he could not shake in the draft process. This was good value at 40, he can play a role off the bench and he does fill an immediate need for a backup big.

Overall, this was a mixed bag for the Clippers.

GRADE: B-

Los Angeles Lakers

Round 1: Brandon Ingram (2)

Round 2: Ivica Zubac (32)

Not sure the Lakers could have done better, especially considering how much of a no-brainer Brandon Ingram was. Overall, his fit with what’s in L.A. now is outstanding and given that he’ll need a little time to develop physically, the Lakers’ roster can cover for him a little while he adjusts. Don’t expect Ingram to win Rookie of the Year, but he might be the first of this draft class to get serious All-Star votes in a couple of seasons.

At 32, the Lakers got a beast of a prospect in Ivica Zubac. He could be the low-post, rebounding-machine the Lakers need. The Lakers have eyes for Hassan Whiteside in free agency so Zubac could end up being the backup, which might not be a bad thing. As for quality of the pick, Zubac is great talent at No. 32. He can fill an immediate role for the Lakers and contribute right away, assuming he comes over this year as expected.

GRADE: A

Memphis Grizzlies

Round 1: Wade Baldwin (17)

Round 2: Deyonta Davis (32), Rade Zagorac (35), Wang Zhelin (57)

The Grizzlies did rather well in the draft. Wade Baldwin at 17 was a quality get, especially for a team that could lose their starting point guard in Mike Conley to free agency. Baldwin was a mixed bag among executives, some loved his versatility and maturity. Some were soured by his demeanor and lack of explosiveness. Overall at 17, getting a quality combo guard that’s a hard nose defender and leader on the floor is great value. Even if Conley stays, Baldwin could be a solid backup and he’ll contribute right away. The Grizzlies had a glaring need for another guard and Baldwin solves that too.

The Grizz traded for the draft rights to Deyonta Davis, this too was another quality pickup and he should flourish under the tutelage of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. Davis took a hefty tumble on draft night mainly because teams were concerned about his basketball IQ and his overall feel for the game, especially at the NBA level. At No. 32, Davis can be brought along slowly. Nabbing a lottery-level talent that late in the draft is a huge get for the Grizzlies.

Rade Zagorac and Wang Zhelin are both draft-and-stash players, who may not see roster time in Memphis anytime soon, so neither is a major factor for the Grizz in their draft grade.

Overall, the Grizzlies did really well in nabbing two ready to contribute, high-talent players. This was a better outcome than most predicted.

GRADE: A-

Miami Heat

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: N/A

The HEAT traded out of this draft some time ago. While there was talk that Miami might try and trade into the second round, ultimately the HEAT sat this one out.

GRADE: Incomplete

Milwaukee Bucks

Round 1: Thon Maker (10)

Round 2: Malcolm Brogdon (36)

The Milwaukee Bucks were said to be less than thrilled with the upside of the guys everyone was slotting to them in the Mock Draft process. They were quality bench guys, but no one who could potentially impact the franchise. So at 10, the Bucks swung for the fences with Thon Maker.

Maker is actually a very good get for the Bucks. His length, shooting, shot blocking and overall upside are huge for a team that’s defined themselves on some gambles in the draft and in trade. There were concerns that over the last few years Maker had not added much to his lanky frame and that he really was not progressing like many believed he would, but in Milwaukee he’ll enter a pretty solid development program and have the benefit of lot of similarly aged players to grow together with.

This was definitely a reach in terms of grabbing him at 10, but unless the Bucks traded down, there was a better than average chance he’d have been scooped up when the teams with multiple picks came around for their second run. Maker does solve a roster need and he may be able to contribute right away from the bench. This was a risky pick for sure, but considering what was there, this was a dare-to-be-great move by the Bucks.

Conversely Malcolm Brogdon at 36 was a safe, smart and productive pick. There were some concerns about Brogdon’s foot from some teams, but his overall upside is still very high and he fits into the roster nicely. With the Bucks likely losing O.J. Mayo to free agency, Brogdon could fill that role nicely and he can really shoot the ball.

GRADE: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves

Round 1: Kris Dunn (5)

Round 2: N/A

There was talk all the way up to the draft that Boston was going to scoop up Kris Dunn and hold him hostage because it was so clear Minnesota wanted him. In the end, Boston went their own way and Dunn landed where he wanted to be.

For the Wolves, this is a great pick. Dunn fits into the puzzle nicely and gives Tom Thibodeau the defensive-minded floor leader he really coveted. Combined with Ricky Rubio, the Wolves have two point guards who could be very special together. There is a chance the Wolves trade Rubio at some point, especially after Dunn gets acclimated to the NBA, but in the short term the Wolves have another quality piece on the roster that could bring a lot of what was missing together.

Great value at the pick, solves an immediate need and will contribute. Outside of trading for a veteran like Jimmy Butler, this could not have gone better for the Wolves.

GRADE: A

New Orleans Pelicans

Round 1: Buddy Hield (6)

Round 2: Cheick Diallo (33)

Much like the Wolves, Buddy Hield to the Pelicans was telegraphed for weeks. There was a sense the Pelicans might have taken Jamal Murray but the appeal, fit and impact of Hield was too much to pass on for a Pelicans team desperate for impact shooting and leadership.

The Pelicans ended up trading their two second-round picks to move up and grab Cheick Diallo. He too should be a quality fit for the Pelicans front court that’s likely losing Ryan Anderson to free agency. While Diallo isn’t anything close to the shooter Anderson was, he does offer an interchangeable frontcourt piece to play next to Anthony Davis at either the four or the five.

This was a quality draft by the Pelicans, as they addressed real needs and got great value out of both picks (who they should contribute right away).

GRADE: A

New York Knicks

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: N/A

Landing Derrick Rose in a trade with Chicago that basically included non-core parts was a huge get for the Knicks, giving the roster a nice boost around the draft.

However, the Knicks traded away their draft picks some time ago, so missing out on this draft was somewhat planned, despite the Knicks telling a number of prospects they were going to trade into the first. Ultimately, the Knicks passed and stayed out.

Adding Rose was a quality upgrade, but the draft grade isn’t about trades.

GRADE: Incomplete

Oklahoma City Thunder

Round 1: Domantas Sabonis (11)

Round 2: Daniel Hamilton (56)

You have to hand it to Thunder GM Sam Presti, he is great at extracting value for his assets. It was clear to the Thunder that the end was coming for forward Serge Ibaka and the Thunder flipped him to Orlando in a haul that included guard Victor Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th pick. That pick ended up being Domantas Sabonis, whom the Thunder had locked in on pretty aggressively.

Sabonis is a good get for the Thunder, who have seen both Steven Adams and Enes Kanter emerge as quality roster components who were going to continue to edge out Ibaka. In Sabonis they get a different skill set and a quality passer and scorer.

Sabonis was good value at the 11 spot. He may not play a ton as a rookie, as the Thunder tend to lean on veterans more so than rookies, but in the long-term he is a great pick up for a Thunder team that always seems to be a year ahead of their needs when drafting players.

Daniel Hamilton was acquired in trade, but may be an interesting piece for the Thunder – although it’s more likely he’s in the D-League next season. Hamilton may be something to watch if he can refine his jump shot in the D-League, but given the Thunder’s current depth it’s unlikely he plays in the NBA next season.

GRADE: B+

Orlando Magic

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Stephen Zimmerman (41)

The big move by the Magic was shipping out Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th pick to the Thunder in exchange for Serge Ibaka. This move effectively took the Magic out of the 2016 Draft. Time will tell how smart the Ibaka move will be as he can be an unrestricted free agent next July.

As for what the Magic actually came away with, Stephen Zimmerman was viewed as a first-round talent, so getting him at 41 is a lot of value for that pick. He clearly adds to the roster, but it remains to be seen how much of a role he’ll play as a rookie. There were some concerns about Zimmerman’s long-term health leading up to the draft, which may be why he fell so far.

Overall, the Magic’s draft isn’t great given that they traded away two picks and only came away with Zimmerman.  The Ibaka deal might be the game changing move the Magic needed, but that’s not a factor in draft grades.

GRADE: C-

Philadelphia 76ers

Round 1: Ben Simmons (1), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (24), Furkan Korkmaz (26)

Round 2: N/A

Given that Ben Simmons was the prohibitive top pick, the 76ers taking him first overall was sort of a no-brainer. He was the best talent and the 76ers got him.

The problem is later in the draft, the 76ers drafted Timothe Luwawu and Furkan Korkmaz. While both are interesting prospects, neither seem to address the most glaring roster need: point guard.

The 76ers may well trade for a point guard as they get into free agency, especially if they miss out on top flight free agents, but the fact there were guys there at both picks that could have added something, these picks are a little head scratching unless both opt to stay in overseas.

The Simmons pick in itself makes this a great draft for the 76ers, but the fact they were not able to address any real needs at 24 and 26, it’s hard grade them extremely high. Both Luwawu and Korkmaz are good assets, it’s just unclear where they fit in the 76ers master plan.

GRADE: A-

Phoenix Suns

Round 1: Dragan Bender (4), Marquese Chriss (8)

Round 2: Tyler Ulis (34)

I loved the Suns’ draft, they got the two biggest upside guys in the class and they did it without giving up a core roster piece.

Bender is the youngest player in the draft, but already has a couple of years of professional experience. He has a tremendous skill set and could end up being one of the better players in the class in time and the Suns have a roster that should allow for him to grow at his pace.

The Suns ended up flipping a lot of their extra picks to the Kings for the rights to Marquese Chriss. Again, huge upside on Chriss. He too will benefit from a loaded roster that affords him time to learn and grow.

Nabbing Tyler Ulis was another quality talent grab. There were concerns that Ulis may require a procedure on his hips, so the Suns have the luxury of depth to wait that out. In the end, Ulis may not end up playing a ton this season, which works out fine considering the depth the Suns have at the position.

Overall, this was a really good draft for the Suns who are now loaded virtually everywhere with a promising young player.

GRADE: A

Portland Trail Blazers

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Jake Layman (47)

The Trail Blazers basically bought the draft rights to Jake Layman from the Orlando Magic – there was a 2019 draft pick involved in the deal, but it may not get conveyed.

Overall, this is a quality get for the Blazers late in the draft. Layman may actually get a chance to play for the Blazers and he’ll bolster their bench as things stand.

Considering this was a “buy a player” situation, the Blazers got pretty good return on the investment.

GRADE: B-

Sacramento Kings

Round 1: Georgios Papagiannis (13), Malachi Richardson (22), Skal Labissiere (28)

Round 2: Isaiah Cousins (59)

Let’s start here. The Kings traded for a lot of picks. The problem is virtually every player they obtained with them is a head scratcher with huge upside.

Georgios Papagiannis is a solid get for the Kings, but the problem is he is a center. Where does he fit on a roster with DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kostas Koufos? Papagiannis was likely gone at 16, so if the Kings wanted him they had to take him at 13. He’s a great upside talent, but I’m not sure he has a role. There is a chance he is back in Europe next season, although he was pretty clear on draft night that he wants to play in the NBA this year.

Malachi Richardson at 22 was a good pick up, and he may have a role on the roster. The problem is he never met with the Kings or worked out for them and had a very mixed reaction to his new situation. Some of that may be due to him failing to 22 after many believed he was going to go in the top 15.

Skal Labissiere at 28 was the biggest tumble of the night, but again where does he find minutes? Clearly there is upside to Labissiere, but given the roster construction it’s hard to imagine he’ll see floor time anywhere other than the D-League.

Isaiah Cousins at 59 might actually be the best player selected by the Kings, in terms of immediate impact on the roster and solving a real need.

The Kings got great talent in this draft, the problem is most of them are bigs who don’t have a roster spot. It was a puzzling draft to say the least.

GRADE: C-

San Antonio Spurs

Round 1: Dejounte Murray (29)

Round 2: N/A

Talk about the rich getting richer. Dejounte Murray was supposed to have been a late lottery guy, but the way the draft played out he just kept falling. The Spurs had been talking about trading into the late lottery to scoop a real talent and they ended up without having to part with an asset.

In terms of value for the pick, this is tremendous for the Spurs. Murray should be able to contribute right away and for a team needing punch and defense from the bench this is a great get.

Murray to the Spurs might be the best pick of this draft.

GRADE: A+

Toronto Raptors

Round 1: Jakob Poeltl (9)

Round 2: Pascal Siakam (27)

The Raptors for a while had been one of the riskier drafting teams in the NBA. This year, the Raptors could not have played that draft any safer.

Jakob Poeltl at 9 was as safe and smart of a draft pick as there was outside of the top two. He gives them a play-right-away skill set that can augment or eventually replace Jonas Valanciunas. He certainly gives them a viable replacement to Bismack Biyombo, who is likely leaving via free agency.

At 27, Pascal Siakam is a solid addition too, not as proven as say Poeltl but he is a high energy guy who could replace some of the effort plays the Raptors lose from Biyombo.

The value for both players was very good. Both can contribute right away and both could have day one roles.

This was a really good and low-risk draft for the Raptors.

GRADE: A

Utah Jazz

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: Joel Bolomboy (52), Marcus Paige (55), Tyrone Wallace (60)

The big move for the Jazz was trading away the No. 12 pick in a three-team deal with Atlanta and Indiana, which returned a high-caliber starting point guard in George Hill. That, in essence, took the Jazz out of the draft in a meaningful way, but they were able to scoop up some interesting pieces in the second round.

Joel Bolomboy at 52 is very interesting. He could be someone on the roster next season, especially if he plays well in Summer League. The smart money says it’s more likely that he’s in the D-League next season and stays on the Jazz radar.

The same is likely true of Marcus Paige and Tyrone Wallace. The odds that either get further than training camp is pretty low.

Overall, the Jazz basically traded out of the draft, which impacted their grade. The players they scooped up in the second round are interesting but it’s Joel Bolomboy doubtful any of them make the roster let alone play a role.

Trading for a starting guard was a great move, but that’s not what the grades are about.

GRADE: C

Washington Wizards

Round 1: N/A

Round 2: N/A

The Wizards traded out of the draft this year to obtain Markieff Morris. They sniffed around for trades in the second round, but ultimately sat this one out.

GRADE: Incomplete

 

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Deadline Dilemma In Toronto

After winning the 2019 NBA Championship and losing Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have defied the odds, winning 30 of their first 44 games this season — but Drew Maresca argues that conceding this season in hopes of building an even stronger future roster is the smarter long-term move.

Drew Maresca

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The Raptors have overachieved in a ridiculous way in 2019-20. They were +700 to repeat as NBA champions prior to the 2019 free agency period, according to the Draft Kings.

Immediately after Kawhi Leonard fled West, the Raptors’ odds grew to +2200 to repeat – tied with the Celtics, who just lost Kyrie Irving, and the Nets, whose best player was set to miss the entire year. And yet through 44 games, the Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference with a 31-14 record and only one-and-a-half games behind last year’s pace (32-12).

But what’s in a record? There’s more to unpack than just wins and losses, especially when success has almost certainly been redefined in a city that just experienced its first NBA championship ever. So a logical test is how well you’re playing against the crème de la crème. And in that regard, the Raptors haven’t fared too well. Including their home win against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Raptors are still only 7-12 against winning teams with a net rating of minus-37 in those 19 games.

Very few teams would be terribly upset to be in a similar situation as the Raptors. In fact, most teams would be thrilled to be third overall in their conference. But the Raptors are barreling toward an interesting decision: embrace the opportunity to continue to gain playoff experience (and additional playoff revenue) or expedite a miniature rebuild. This writer’s thoughts on the matter are well documented in our 2019-20 Toronto Raptors Season Preview and our recent Atlantic Division – buyers or sellers piece. But let’s officially build a case supporting the Raptors trading some of their veterans in an attempt to add assets prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

The Raptors’ most valuable trade chip is also their longest-tenured player – starting point guard, Kyle Lowry. Lowry is 33 years old and experiencing a career resurgence after taking a back seat to Leonard last year. Lowry is averaging a near career-high 37.1 minutes per game, in which time he’s scoring 20 points per game – more than he’s scored since 2016-17 — and dishing out 7.5 assists.

But Lowry is probably the last guy the team wants to move. He’s a fan favorite and has been with the team for eight consecutive seasons; Lowry is currently third overall for games played in franchise history. But if they chose to dangle Lowry on the trade market, they would certainly get a good amount of interest from teams like the Lakers, HEAT, 76ers and maybe even the Jazz and Nuggets. What interested parties would offer is an entirely different story, but it would have to be pretty aggressive to get the Raptors to part with their franchise player.

But there are other guys who make more sense in a trade.

There’s Marc Gasol, their soon-to-be 35-year-old center. Unlike Lowry, Gasol is not experiencing a career renaissance. He’s missed 12 of their 44 games, with down years in scoring (7.8 points per game compared to his 14.7 career average), two-point shooting (44% compared to his from 49.7% career average) and rebounds (6.4 rebounds compared to his 7.6. career average). But he still has a good amount of utility in him. After all, he leads the Raptors in defensive plus/minus, per Basketball Reference – something that he’s prided himself on throughout his career and an attribute that would be a welcomed addition to most contenders.

There’s also Serge Ibaka, their 30-year-old sometimes-starting, sometimes-backup big man. Ibaka is actually outpacing career averages in scoring (14.9), rebounds (8.4) and assists (1.3). Ibaka is still widely viewed as an above-average and versatile defender, and the fact that he’s shooting 37% on three-pointers makes him all the more valuable to teams like the Boston Celtics – who lack a true big man who can stretch the floor.

Gasol and Ibaka’s standing in Toronto is especially vulnerable since both will enter free agency this summer — whereas Lowry signed an extension last year that runs through 2020-21, when he’ll make $30.5 million. The Raptors could choose to keep Gasol and/or Ibaka, but either or both could walk without returning any assets as soon as this July. Further, the team is unlikely to break the bank for either considering they’ll have to make a generous offer to retain soon-to-be free agent guard Fred VanVleet – who is having a breakout season, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 38.8% on a career-high 6.9 three-point attempts per game. VanVleet is only 25 years old and fits alongside Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and the team’s young role players like Norman Powell far better than Ibaka or Gasol.

As it stands, the Raptors have about $85 million in salary commitments for 2020-21 with $3.8 million in a player option (Stanley Johnson) and another $1.5 million in a team option (Terence Davis). The cap is projected at $116 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $141 million. They can (and should) invest between $20 and $25 million per year in VanVleet, which brings them up to about $110 million. If negotiations begin creeping north of $25 million per year, the Raptors will have to make concessions elsewhere if they hope to retain VanVleet – Ibaka would theoretically be among those concessions since he’ll probably be looking for at least one more generous payday. It’s unclear what Gasol would seek in a new contract.

All three of the aforementioned Raptors have at least one thing in common – they are the only three Raptors born before 1990. So whether they like it or not, the Raptors have turned their roster over quickly and effectively to the extent that they have a talented young core with the framework of a contender in the making.

All three veteran players can definitely continue contributing for at least the remainder of this season – and to varying degrees, well beyond it. But their impact will be more profound on a contender looking to add quality veterans. And despite what their record tells us, that’s just not the Raptors right now.

Instead, the Raptors are a team in the very fortunate position of being able to reload relatively quickly around a blossoming young core. Yes, they’re significantly better than average, but which would you prefer: a team that qualifies for the conference semifinals in 2019-20 or a team that loses in the first round of the 2019-20 playoffs, but adds additional assets — some of whom help the team remain competitive for years to come?

Granted, dislodging Lowry from Toronto requires a monster offer and would result in at least some backlash; but neglecting to trade Gasol and/or Ibaka is likely to result in one or both leaving to pursue more money and/or additional championships – neither of which can the Raptors offer. The Raptors and team president Masai Ujiri have made bold moves time and again. There is no reason to hold off on moving either Gasol and/or Ibaka before Feb. 6 – and if a sweetheart offer comes in for Lowry, then him, too.

Regardless, the Raptors are fairly well set up for the future, so it is unlikely that this move (or lack of it) is analyzed too aggressively in the future. And also, there is certainly a fine line between being opportunist and greedy. But trading one, both or all veterans allows the team to add additional assets to a cupboard that already looks pretty well stocked.

And it’s probably one of the final opportunities to add talent before their core takes its final form — and if that form results in future championships is partially dependent on how the Raptors proceed before the 2020 trade deadline.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Raptors’ Thomas Patiently Perseveres

It took a tight family, two years in Spain and a broken finger, but Matt Thomas’ chance to showcase his shooting on the biggest stage might be finally just around the corner.

Douglas Farmer

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Matt Thomas’ long-awaited break was disrupted by a more literal break. After the shooting guard spent two years impressing in the Liga ACB in Spain, Thomas’ first season with the Toronto Raptors was supposed to be his chance to prove himself NBA-ready.

And as the Raptors suffered injury after injury in November, that chance looked like it could grow into a full-blown role, if only on a temporary basis.

“He’s shown he can play at this level, where we can come out there and run stuff for him and he can do work,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s a really good team defender; he’s much better defensively than maybe people give him credit for.”

Instead, Thomas joined the walking wounded with a broken finger, the first injury to force him to miss extended time in his professional career.

“Anytime you’re injured, it’s hard,” Thomas said. “As a competitor, I want to be on the court, especially we had so many injuries. There was a big opportunity on the table for a first-year guy like myself.”

Thomas had hit 14-of-26 threes at that point, 53.8 percent, already arguably the best shooter on the Raptors’ roster, albeit in limited minutes. The Iowa State product was making the most of his break until his break.

He had waited for it since finishing his four-year career in Ames and Thomas seemed on the verge of reaching the NBA right away in 2017. He spent that Summer League with the Los Angeles Lakers, knowing the Raptors were keeping a close eye. In time, though, Valencia beckoned, a tough decision for someone exceptionally close with his family. Up until that point, the closeness had been as literal as figurative, with Iowa State a four-hour drive from Thomas’ hometown of Onalaska, Wisconsin.

“I wanted to spread my wings and get out of my comfort zone a little bit,” Thomas said of his two years in Spain where he averaged 13.3 points and shot 47.2 percent from deep. “The distance is tough. The time change is the other thing. It’s a 7-to-8 hour time difference, so you really have to coordinate when you’re going to talk to people.”

That was frustrating for a brother intent on keeping up on his sister’s college career, now a senior at the University of Dubuque. Moreover, it was an even bigger change for a family that had been tight-knit since Thomas lost his father in fifth grade.

Thomas’s mother, brother and sister did manage to visit him in Spain, but watching games stateside is obviously much easier. At least, in theory. When the Midwestern winter dumped five inches of snow on the highways between the Target Center and his hometown about 2.5 hours away, that recent trek to see him became that much tougher.

Nonetheless, about four dozen Thomas supporters filled a section above the Raptors’ bench. They were most noticeable when Nurse subbed in the sharpshooter with just a minute left in the first half.

“It’s special because I have a really good support system,” Thomas said. “I’ve had that my entire life . . . It’s just really special to have so many people make the trip, especially given the weather conditions. I was talking to one of my cousins from Iowa; he was driving 30 on the highway. He got here in six hours, it would normally take maybe three.”

If anyone could understand that Midwestern stubbornness, it would be Nurse, himself from just four hours south of the Twin Cities. When asked why his fan club was not as vocal as Thomas’, Nurse joked his was stuck “in a snowdrift somewhere in Carroll County, Iowa.”

It might not have been a joke.

Nurse did not insert Thomas just to appease his loyal cheering section. The end of half situation called for a shooter — he had gone 7-of-18 in his four games after returning from the broken finger. Of players averaging at least two attempts from beyond the arc per game, Thomas leads Toronto with a 46.7 percentage.

“It’s too bad that he was one of the guys out when we had everybody out because he could have logged some serious minutes,” Nurse said. “Now he gets back and everybody’s back and he kind of gets filtered in.”

That close family, that time in Spain, that broken finger and now that filtering in have all been a part of Thomas getting a chance to prove himself in the NBA.

If he has to wait a bit longer before seeing serious minutes, so be it.

The Raptors did, after all, give him a three-year contract. He has time on his side.

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NBA

Who The NBA’s Top Road Warriors?

Jordan Hicks takes a look at the teams boasting the top-five road records in the league and breaks down what makes them so good away from home.

Jordan Hicks

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Winning in the NBA is not easy by any means — but a victory on the road is almost more valuable than one at home. Maybe not as far as standings are concerned, but road wins are harder to come by in the league. Being able to get victories away from home can shoot your team up the standings faster than anything else.

Each year there are new teams that impress. Whether it’s expected franchises such as those led by LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard — superstars with historically great track records, rosters that must do so to meet lofty expectations. But there are always surprise newcomers such as the Miami HEAT or the Dallas Mavericks, too. Either way, a large chunk of those aforementioned team’s success relies heavily upon their ability to get wins on the road.

Who are the best road warriors this year? What teams are posting the highest records away from their home cities at the halfway point? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the top five teams in that realm, plus points to certain reasons they may be finding success.

No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (19-4)

This first one should come as no surprise. For one, they are led by LeBron James. Secondly, they are co-led by Anthony Davis. Do you even need a third reason?

Listen, everyone thought the Lakers would be good. But did anyone think they’d be this dominant and click this fast? Honestly, high-five if so. But it’s not just those two that are doing all the work. Players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are thriving, Dwight Howard is having a mini-resurgence, Kyle Kuzma is playing for his roster spot and Rajon Rondo is still dishing dimes at a high rate – though not as high as King James.

LeBron is averaging 26 points, 10.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds on the road, almost a triple-double. Davis is just behind scoring-wise at 25.9 points and almost a double-double with 9.2 rebounds. Kuzma is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and scoring just over 15 a game and, most surprisingly, leading the team in plus-minus at a plus-7.1.

With multiple road-wins against the Mavericks — and one each over the Miami HEAT, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets — what’s not to appreciate? The Lakers appear to be the clear front runner in the Western Conference and their impressive road record is a large reason why.

No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (18-4)

On top of the road-win totem with the Lakers sits the Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve been every bit as dominating as the Lakers, which is helped, in part, to the much-weaker bottom of the Eastern Conference. But this by no means is a knock on their talent level. Just like the Lakers are the current kings of the West, the Bucks are dominating the East.

Giannis Antetokounmpo appears ready to secure his second consecutive MVP award. He’s even more dominant than he was last year and he’s finally shooting the three at a respectable clip.

While Antetokounmpo’s numbers seem to be pretty steady overall when compared to his road numbers, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton both see a bump in production when playing away from their home arena. Although the Bucks have an insanely-impressive point differential of plus-13.8 at home, it dips to just plus-11.4 when they play on the road. This is a true testament to their consistency as they travel.

The Bucks appear to lack the road-win resume that the Lakers bolster, but with solid wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, they can clearly take care of business against evenly-matched opponents.

No. 3: Dallas Mavericks (14-5)

By far and large the biggest surprise this NBA season has been the Mavericks. A few smart people probably had them penciled in as a surprise eighth-seed, but it’s almost a guarantee no one had them in as a playoff lock as early as December.

The reason they’re playing so well? Luka Doncic. He’s only half an assist away from averaging a triple-double on the road and he’s scoring more to boot. In fact, the Mavericks are averaging just 115.1 points at home compared to a whopping 118.6 on the road.

What’s even crazier is the fact that Dallas’ offensive rating while on the road not only leads the NBA — it’s over four full points greater than the Lakers at No. 2. The gap between them and second place is as big as the space between Los Angeles and the eleventh-ranked team.

The Mavericks boast quite the slate of road wins including the Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, you read all those names right. One thing is for certain, the Mavericks will be a nightmare for whoever has to play them in the playoffs – regardless of seeding.

No. 4: Toronto Raptors (14-7)

You would think that after Kawhi Leonard’s departure that the Raptors would have slightly folded, but they’ve almost picked up right where they left off. Sure, Leonard’s absence was going to leave some sort of void, but it’s amazing just how well Toronto has fared this season.

They boast the second-best road defense with a rating of 102.7, just behind the Bucks. They also have the fourth-best net rating away from home.

The three-headed monster of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry has been as effective on the road as it has been at home. Thanks to the ever-improving play of Siakam, Toronto should comfortably find themselves with home-court advantage come playoff time. They might not have what it takes to repeat as champions, but they’re absolutely going to make life tough for whomever they end up facing.

Solid road wins against the Boston Celtics and Lakers certainly look impressive on the resume, but they’ll need to continue to improve as a unit if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.

No. 5: Denver Nuggets (13-7)

The Nuggets are having an interesting season. Gary Harris hasn’t been playing well at all, Jamal Murray hasn’t been turning heads either, but Nikola Jokic is still feasting on any opposing center thrown his way.

The biggest surprise so far? The stellar play of second-year rookie Michael Porter Jr. He’s only averaging about 15 minutes per game but, on the road, he’s scoring 8.3 points per game on 56 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from three. His NBA sample sizes aren’t quite big enough yet, but it’s becoming more and more clear just how good he’ll become.

Despite no one else on the roster improving much from last season, the Nuggets still find themselves in the upper-echelon of the Western Conference — and their stellar road play is a major reason. With solid road-wins against the Lakers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, the Nuggets are primed to finish the second half of the season strong. If Porter Jr. continues to improve and see expanded minutes, Denver could turn into a real threat out west.

All the teams on this list have been pretty impressive up to this point in the season, but there is still a long way to go. Will the Bucks or Lakers get dethroned as the road warriors of their respective conferences? Only time will tell.

But if one thing is certain in the NBA, road wins are no “gimmes,” regardless of opponent. The above teams all deserve their rightful spot on this midseason list. How many will remain come April?

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