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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: What We Forgot

With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.

Matt John

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With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.

Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.

But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.

Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal

Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.

Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.

Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.

The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.

Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done

What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.

Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.

Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.

In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.

The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.

Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.

Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.

Maturity Issues Loom Large

Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.

Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.

After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.

Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.

Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.

But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks

Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.

Drew Maresca

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Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.

So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.

Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.

But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.

Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.

Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.

But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.

So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.

He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.

Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.

But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.

Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.

Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.

That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.

But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.

But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.

The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.

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NBA

NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key

Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure. 

Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders. 

Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.

Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them. 

Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll. 

Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.

Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well. 

Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.

The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA. 

Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.

As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.

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