It never fails. Every NBA draft, there are a handful of moments that make the people watching shake their heads in disbelief, but this year it seemed as though there were more questionable draft picks than usual. Those surprises are obviously a big reason why this particular NBA event is so entertaining to watch, but thanks to what many considered to be a pretty flat class of potential draftees after the top couple of tiers, as well as the recent success of international stud Kristaps Porzingis, teams felt the need to gamble on a lot of international players in spots that didn’t always make a whole lot of sense.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and anybody who’s ever done a live fantasy basketball or football draft with their friends knows how easy it is to get caught up in the moment and just flat-out pick the wrong guy. Going back over the draft results not 10 minutes after the thing ends, we have zero issues finding holes in our draft results. It’s a whole lot of, “I can’t believe I did that when I could have done this.”
But that’s what we’re doing here, looking at some of the most surprising and questionable picks of the 2016 NBA Draft and making a serious attempt at giving the offending teams a better shot at making the right choice.
These picks may turn out just fine and be more valuable than the experts expect, and the guys we think would have been the better players may turn out to be huge disappointments. We don’t know, but the general hoops fandom does understand how their favorite teams can minimize risk without sacrificing ceiling. The following corrected draft picks do exactly that for the teams that made the most shocking picks on draft night.
#10 Milwaukee Bucks
What they did: Draft Thon Maker
What they should have done: Draft Skal Labissiere
It’s pretty clear that the Milwaukee Bucks have a draft philosophy that involves taking the longest, most athletic player possible with the hope that they will turn into something as special as Giannis Antetokounmpo has become. That’s where the 7’1 Maker fits into the Bucks’ plan moving forward, but that doesn’t mean this pick wasn’t a massive risk anyway. In fact, in my last mock draft before the real thing on Thursday, I predicted that the Bucks would draft Skal Labissiere in their apparent effort to snag an athletic, long big with sky-high potential. I would contend that Labissiere, while still a gamble, would have been a safer one than Maker, even though both fit the same general profile.
For one, there are questions about Maker’s actual age (is he 19, or closer to 23?), but more importantly, Labissiere is only about seven months removed from being projected among the players considered for the top overall pick in this draft. His first season at Kentucky was beyond disappointing, but there may have been reasons for that. It is much too early to give up on his talent, especially considering his age, as John Calipari isn’t always the easiest guy to play for. Jason Kidd would have been much better for him, and Skal would have been much safer for Milwaukee.
Maker’s an easy guy to get excited about, but Labissiere would have been even more so, especially that high in the draft.
#13 Sacramento Kings
What they did: Draft Georgios Papagiannis
What they should have done: Draft Wade Baldwin.
The trade to move down wasn’t a bad deal. There’s a chance that Sacramento could lose their first-round pick next year, and getting Bogdan Bogdanovic for 2017-2018 would sort of be like getting a lottery-level rookie for that season regardless of what else happens. Marquese Chriss was the “best” player on the board at #8, but he’s a huge risk and trading down to make the most of Phoenix’s adoration of him actually was a pretty savvy move considering everything they got back for that selection.
Picking Papagiannis at #13, though, was the wrong way to go, not because the 7’2 Greek superhuman isn’t talented, but because the Kings had a lot of other needs beyond their frontcourt that they still haven’t solved. Further frustrating DeMarcus Cousins, who tweeted, “Lord, give me the strength” following that draft pick, makes the Papagiannis reach an even more frustrating selection. Whatever we can do to make Boogie even angrier, right?
Nabbing Labissiere at No. 28 was a steal regardless of what else happens as a result of this trade, but at No. 13 the Kings could have selected a much-needed point guard. It just so happens there was a really good one in Wade Baldwin sitting right there for them to snag, and in my last mock, I actually had the Kings taking Baldwin at No. 8, a bit of a reach but a testament to how good I think he is and how much he would have helped Sacramento. Taking a center when they already have the best big man in the league and another center in Willie Cauley-Stein that they drafted last year with a top-six selection is flat-out ridiculous, and that was a good window for a kid as talented as Baldwin.
#16 Boston Celtics
What they did: Draft Geurschon Yabusele
What they should have done: Draft Henry Ellenson
Fran Fraschilla called Yabusele the “French Larry Johnson” on the ESPN broadcast of the draft on Thursday, which is great and everything, but we’ve seen European versions of other superstars drafted in the past that more often than not didn’t come anywhere close to their comparisons. (Remember Sofoklis “Baby Shaq” Schortsanitis?) The Celtics obviously were not going to roster three first-rounders next season, so one of them inevitably was going to be a draft-and-stash. But with the talent on the board at pick No. 16, they could have taken a win-now kid and used No. 23 to pick among the remaining available international kids. Furkan Korkmaz, for example, was still there.
So while Yabusele may end up being just fine whenever the Celtics do eventually bring him over, using this pick on Henry Ellenson, who unexpectedly dropped out of the lottery, would have been a much better use of the selection. While Boston already boasts a pretty loaded frontcourt, Ellenson does the sorts of things out of the four spot that Brad Stephens loves, making the Marquette product a pretty good fit with the Celtics that could even allow them to more easily trade other frontcourt players like Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk should someone like Jimmy Butler eventually become available. Danny Ainge has developed a reputation for taking some wild risks in the draft the last few years, but this one is perhaps the wildest, especially considering the high-level talent that was still on the board when he made this pick.
#26 Philadelphia 76ers
What they did: Draft Furkan Korkmaz
What they should have done: Draft Tyler Ulis
Nothing against Korkmaz, who frankly was value this late in the first round, but his selection was the most Sam Hinkie thing ever—odd, considering the organization literally just fired Hinkie for making too many moves exactly like this one. Korkmaz isn’t expected to play in the NBA this year, making him an odd draft-and-stash for a team that ostensibly looks prepared to turn a corner and start competing more seriously this season.
Adding a real point guard would have helped them do that, and Ulis at this spot would have been a slick pick for a team looking to start winning some games. While he is undersized, smaller guards certainly have seen success in the NBA before and Ulis is a winner who deserved a first-round slot. Going into the season with Ulis and Timothe Luwawu to complement Ben Simmons would have been a tremendous haul, and if any team was going to bring in three first-round picks to actually play this season, Philly would be the organization to accommodate the youth movement. Are they afraid there won’t be enough roster spots to accommodate a constant stream of D-Leaguers if they bring in too many rookies?
#27 Toronto Raptors
What they did: Draft Pascal Siakam
What they should have done: Draft Deyonta Davis
For those that know nothing about Siakam, he’s a rebounder, which along with the Jakob Poeltl pick proves just how little the Toronto front office believes they’ll be retaining Bismack Biyombo this offseason. Still, the Raptors could have bolstered their frontcourt in a much more substantial way by selecting Davis, a one-and-done freshman out of Michigan State that looks like he was custom made in a lab to play the four in today’s NBA.
Offensively Davis is still a bit of a project, but he’s a defensive monster and has the potential to develop into something special someday. Perhaps that’s why a whole lot of mock drafts had him projected as a lottery pick. That he slipped to the second round is still a bit of a shock and a shame when so many less-touted talents like Siakam went ahead of him. While this may not be Bruno Caboclo all over again, it brought just as big a gasp of “Huh? Who?” from the Toronto fandom, and considering how well that other pick has worked out so far, one would think Masai Ujiri would have learned to play things a little safer.
The Raptors could have stuck with a philosophy to draft a big in taking Davis, who would appear to have a significantly higher ceiling than just about anybody left in the draft at this point. Skal Labissiere would have been a perfectly appropriate selection here, as well. And, while he isn’t a big, no Raps fan would have complained about Dejounte Murray either.
It’s impossible for every team to get everything right on draft night. Otherwise we’d never get to read those endlessly entertaining “Re-Draft” articles that put players on different teams in order of their eventual success.
Still, it’s easy for fans of certain teams to get frustrated about the way things played out when so many things could have gone differently. All there is to do now is keep your fingers crossed and hope all these gambles work out the way these front offices hoped they would.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.