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NBA PM: Most Controversial Draft Picks

A look at some of the most surprising (and controversial) NBA draft picks of the last five years.

Joel Brigham



Every year when watching the draft, there are at least one or two picks that literally put fans’ jaws on the floor in disbelief. Anybody who watched the 2013 NBA Draft, for example, may remember when Bill Simmons, then of ESPN, literally yelled “Whoa!” when Cleveland pulled the trigger on Anthony Bennett as the No. 1 overall pick in that draft. It was genuinely surprising, after all, but far from the only time in NBA history that a team has completely shocked the fans and analysts who tuned in to watch.

The following are the other more controversial, jaw-dropping picks of the last five years. Some of them turned out just fine for the teams that took gambles, while others confound the general basketball-watching public to this very day. Either way, here’s a look at the recent draft picks that proved to be the most stunning to viewers and fans:

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks (#4, 2015) – It’s only been a year, but it’s impossible to forget that young Knicks fan who came very close to breaking into tears once the selection was made official. In the weeks leading up to the draft, Knicks fans were forced to come to terms with the fact that Porzingis really could be the guy. But even with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor likely off the board by the time New York made their pick, fans still were hoping for Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay or Justise Winslow. Instead, they got the gangly Latvian about which fans knew close to nothing. They were shocked Phil Jackson actually pulled the trigger, and understandably so, but it didn’t take long for those fans to change their minds.

Despite all that, it’s hard not to feel bad for this kid. Chicken Little really thought the sky was falling that day.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics (#16, 2015) – If you watched college basketball in the years leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft, you knew who Terry Rozier was, but that didn’t stop an absolute firestorm from occurring on Twitter in the moments after his selection as the 16th player selected that year. When SI’s Chris Mannix wrote his quick hit draft grade for the selection, his first sentence was just the word, “Wow.”

Rozier only played in 39 games his rookie year, which isn’t surprising considering he’s behind Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley on the point guard depth chart in Boston, so it’s a little early to determine whether or not Danny Ainge did a solid job with this pick. But considering Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis and even Tyus Jones all were picked within eight selections south of Rozier, it remains a pretty surprising pick even a year later.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (#3, 2014) – Admittedly, the Sixers were in a tough spot a couple of years ago when it was clear that Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker would both be gone by the time they made their pick at No. 3. For most of the month of June, Embiid actually seemed like the safest pick, should he fall, but then that foot injury happened and many mock drafters had him slipping way down the draft board toward the end of the lottery. There were even some rumors swirling at the time that Wiggins could fall to them at No. 3, and then they’d take Embiid at No. 10.

That obviously didn’t happen, and while there certainly was an argument to be made for Embiid as the third-best player in the draft in terms of talent (some were comparing him to Hakeem Olajuwon at the time), the fact that it was known he was going to miss an entire year made his selection still rather surprising. Dante Exum felt like the safer pick, though he’s had his injury woes early in his career, as well. Not quite Embiid bad, but bad nonetheless.

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers (#1, 2013) – “Whoa” was an appropriate response for this pick, though maybe not for someone who was actually covering the event on live television. Still, though. Whoa.

In retrospect, we now know that Bennett probably is the worst No. 1 overall pick in the history of the NBA, but even at the time everybody knew that there probably were better options for the Cavaliers than Bennett with that No. 1 pick. Nerlens Noel was the most popular in mock drafts and even with his ACL recovery he would have made a more worthwhile selection there than Bennett, though there also was real talk at the time about Otto Porter, Alex Len or Ben McLemore. Those three guys have had varying degrees of success in the pros, but none look to be on the cusp on stardom. Still, anybody but Bennett. The Cavaliers wanted to outsmart the league with some of their crazy picks over the last five years, but this particular selection was a waste. Even in a weak draft, there were so many better options.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats (#4, 2013) – Again, this was a weak draft, and there were rumors leading up to it that Michael Jordan and Rich Cho really wanted Zeller, but with Nerlens Noel still on the board at that point, passing him over for Zeller seemed (and still seems) like a bad idea. It was supposed to be the safest possible pick, but Zeller was pegged for late lottery, not No. 4 overall. With Noel still on the board, this pick didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (#15, 2013) – When “The Alphabet” was first selected by the Milwaukee Bucks halfway through the first round of the 2013 Draft, it wasn’t so much a “Whoa” moment as it was a “Huh?” moment. Most people just hadn’t heard of him at that point, and with known commodities like Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Hardaway, Jr. still on the board, it’s easy to see how fans may have been a little miffed at the selection of some gangly Greek teenager with a name that nobody could spell, let alone pronounce.

Bucks fans have very different feelings about Antetokounmpo three years later, obviously, as he’s turned into one of the most fascinatingly talented players in the league. It turned out to be an amazing gamble by Milwaukee, even if fans weren’t so sure about it at the time.

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers (#4, 2012) – This is another example of the Cavaliers trying to outsmart the world, which they truly did not do with this pick back in 2012. There were rumblings the day before the draft that Waiters would be the pick, but anytime anybody talked about that possibility it was shrugged off. Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond were both possibilities for Cleveland that year, as well, so to have gone with the guy who never started a college game just because he drew some comps to Dwyane Wade seems a little ridiculous now. It’s not that Waiters has been awful, because he hasn’t. It’s just that Barnes and Drummond have looked so much better and they were the more logical selections even then.

Royce White, Houston Rockets (#16, 2012) – Teams knew heading into the draft that White had obsessive compulsive disorder and an anxiety disorder, as he made it known to teams that he would not be traveling via airplane during his NBA career, which would obviously cause problems in fulfilling his career obligations. Houston had a ton of picks in that draft and so they could afford to take a gamble on the talented big man with one of them, but in a lot of ways it was pretty surprising that a team used a first-round pick on White knowing the baggage that came with him. In his career, he played only three games for Sacramento on a 10-day contract a couple of seasons ago, and that was it. It turns out we were all surprised by the pick for a reason.

There have been all kinds of insane draft picks over the years, and there almost certainly will be one or two jaw-droppers when this year’s draft rolls around in a few weeks. Bad though they may occasionally be, it’s the unpredictability of those gambles that makes the draft so fun to watch. And watch we will, in hopes that another announcer is moved to “Whoa” his way through his commentary.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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