NBA

The NBA Draft Look-Back: 2016

Spencer Davies goes back to take a look at the 2016 NBA Draft to see the hits, sleepers and misses from the class.

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Updated 12 months ago on
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This week at Basketball Insiders, we’ve taken a trip back in time together. Since we haven’t seen any NBA action since mid-March, we’ve gone ahead to take a look at how drafts of the past have worked out.

The 2016 NBA Draft can be classified as “studs and duds,” with the duds almost outweighing the studs. It says something that its undrafted free agents — Fred VanVleet, Danuel House, Dorian Finney-Smith, Derrick Jones Jr. — have been more successful than most of the first-round crop. It’s also notable that some of these players have had success outside of the organization that originally drafted them. That’s why it’s hard to evaluate whether picks are good or bad. Is it due to the players themselves or the franchises who took them there? It’s a fine line to toe, so we’ve broken it down into four categories.

A. The Hits
B. The Misses
C. The Sleepers
D. Jury Is Out

So without further ado, a look at the class of 2016!

The Hits

Ben Simmons, No. 1

Well, not exactly right away. Simmons, as per Philadelphia 76ers first-round pick luck, had to miss the entirety of the 2016-17 campaign with a foot injury. He returned with a vengeance in his “rookie” second season — take that up with Donovan Mitchell and Utah Jazz faithful — and made an enormous impact as the Sixers finally got to see what waiting “The Process” out could look like when their pieces were healthy. Nobody expected Simmons to be a shooter, but the expectations placed on the 6-foot-10 Aussie have been tough to meet.

Once marveled over by his innate vision, poise in transition and size as a ball-handler, Simmons is no longer treated like the All-Star he truly is. It’s just easier to make jokes about his lack of threes, apparently. The debate over whether he and Joel Embiid can take that next step as championship-caliber teammates, however, is a question we’d all like the answer to.

Brandon Ingram, No. 2

Ingram is a good case study for staying patient with young prospects. At 22 years old and in his fourth season, he was just selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. Would you have believed that if you were provided his statistics as a rookie? They’re not exactly pretty, nor was the situation in Los Angeles. Structure and player development can have a symbiotic relationship. Clearly, the environment was not conducive to growth back then. That doesn’t mean Ingram was completely faultless, though, and the following seasons were a major bounceback in shaping who he became elsewhere.

His length is quite problematic on both ends. He’s been letting it fly from deep at a career rate and is converting 38 percent of those, forcing the opposition to close out. Now a primary option with the New Orleans Pelicans, we’ll find out what he and the other promising youngsters are made of as this franchise moves forward

Domantas Sabonis, No. 11

Little did the Oklahoma City Thunder know that they had a future double-double machine just camping out on the perimeter as a spot-up guy. That’s why the general public was up in arms when Sabonis and Victor Oladipo were the pieces going back to the Indiana Pacers for superstar Paul George. Funny how we grade that trade in the present day now, isn’t it? Nate McMillan has utilized Sabonis as an elite, physical screen-and-roller that can rebound the heck out of the ball. The son of Arvydas earned his first All-Star honors this season, too, so Domantas’ best is likely still ahead of him.

Jaylen Brown, No. 3

It’s not normal for a team that was in the playoffs to have the third overall pick, but the Boston Celtics had this luxury for two straight seasons thanks to the Brooklyn Nets. It allowed the C’s to establish their cornerstone pieces moving forward, starting with Brown and then with Jayson Tatum the following year. While Brown received playing time in his rookie season, the focus was on learning behind the team’s young mainstays. Despite a surge in his second season alongside a first-year Tatum, both players hit a bump in the road during 2018-19. Fortunately for Boston, this current version of Brown is exactly what they’ve envisioned — aggressive, unafraid and gritty. As Tatum’s star begins to shine, his partner shouldn’t be too far behind. Danny Ainge oughta send a thank you card to Billy King for Boston’s two franchise faces.

Buddy Hield, No. 6

Jamal Murray, No. 7

Both of these guards are hits in the sense of producing big numbers and taking their games to new heights with each season. They should be considered solid picks at these positions, albeit not home runs. Hield was traded in the middle of his rookie season to the Sacramento Kings, where he’s blossomed as a top-tier volume scorer just getting into his prime. Murray has hovered around the same level player as he’s been the last few years, forever waiting for fewer passive nights and more attack-heavy outings in which the Blue Arrow can shine.

The Misses

Dragan Bender, No. 4

Often (incorrectly) compared to Kristaps Porzingis coming into the draft, Bender was ironically selected in the same slot as he was. The seven-foot Croatian big man was highly touted as the best prospect coming from overseas. In reality, he wasn’t even close to ready. He was too slow on his feet to keep up with faster wings and too small to guard players in the post. The shooting touch was supposed to be his most consistent quality, and even that portion of his game didn’t come through aside from a decent effort in year two. Sure, it didn’t help that the Phoenix Suns were a bottom-dweller – but that doesn’t mean Bender did himself any favors. He’s got one silver lining going for him — he’s 22 years old and there’s nowhere to go but up, as evidenced by a 23-point night for the Golden State Warriors before the league shut down.

Kris Dunn, No. 5

It’s really difficult to include Dunn on this list because he is a legitimate individual defender that can lock up a lot of talented guards and change momentum with just a few plays. In fact, he could be a real steal for a team looking for a specialist this offseason. His road is far from ending. That said, you can’t justify a top-five pick being a specialist — even if it was in a class scarce of upside.

Marquese Chriss, No. 8

The majority of what we’ve seen with Chriss is a well-below-average shooter that has a ton of athleticism… without the skills necessary to succeed consistently. However, an opportunity with the Warriors has given Chriss the stage to showcase what some hands-on learning and hard work can accomplish. We’ll see if his name gets removed off the “miss” list in the future. That’s a long way away though for the former eighth overall pick.

Thon Maker, No. 10

When the Milwaukee Bucks decided to select Maker with the 10th overall pick, most agreed that the South Sudanese center would be a raw prospect in need of major polishing. Those concerns were valid to this day, as he has yet to average 20 minutes per game. He just isn’t consistent enough to warrant valuable playing time. When you can’t stretch the floor and struggle with players that overpower you, it doesn’t help your case. Similar to Bender, he’s got age on his side. The Detroit Pistons have taken a less is more approach with Maker, leading to an uptick in efficiency as a decent backup big — not at all worthy of a top 10 selection.

Georgios Papagiannis, No. 13

Considering the slew of disappointments in this draft class, Papagiannis actually put up respectable production as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings… in 22 games… after the season was given up on. He played 16 more games with them afterward — never more than 16 minutes — before being waived at the 2018 trade deadline. Papagiannis would appear in exactly one NBA game for the Portland Trail Blazers following that. Currently, he is playing for Panathinaikos back home in Greece. So, in other words, thumbs *down* for a lottery pick.

Guerschon Yabusele, No. 16

Wade Baldwin, No. 17

Just because they were mid-round picks doesn’t exclude the Celtics and Grizzlies from their swings and misses on these two. Yabusele and Baldwin had made their fair share of noise in the G League, but that’s not enough. The former is in year four with no role and the clock ticking, while the latter is playing for Olympiacos in the Euroleague.

Sleepers

Malik Beasley, No. 19
DeAndre’ Bembry, No. 21
Furkan Korkmaz, No. 26
Ivica Zubac, No. 32
Patrick McCaw, No. 38
Jake Layman, No. 47
Georges Niang, No. 50

Pascal Siakam, No. 27

The year-to-year rise of Siakam has been astounding. It’s the beauty of what can happen with a little time and a plan. He waited his turn, observed the players ahead of him and starred in his role off the bench. Eventually, that turned into a promotion to starter and the man they call Spicy P just took off from there. His determination to expand his game manifested itself into becoming Kawhi Leonard’s right-hand man en route to a Toronto Raptors championship. Now, he’s an All-Star, one of the top point forwards in the Eastern Conference and very well could be its best player in the near future. Shame on me for thinking he’d struggle to handle alpha status.

Malcolm Brogdon, No. 36

It’s not often that the class Rookie of the Year is considered a sleeper. A second-rounder had never won the prestigious award until Brogdon came along. As he did so well under Tony Bennett at Virginia, the upperclassman point guard proved to be a true floor general with an advanced feel for the game right from the jump in Milwaukee. He alternated backcourt roles in his first three seasons with the Bucks, punishing the opposition from deep and on the defensive end. He’s fought some injury issues here and there as well. In his debut season with the Indiana Pacers, we’ve seen more pick-and-roll wizardry from the talented guard with Sabonis. And though his shooting numbers have dipped noticeably, that’s probably an outlier. Indiana’s got a solid future with Brogdon running the show alongside a pair of All-Stars.

Jury Is Still Out

Caris LeVert, No. 20

Injury issues plummeted LeVert down to No. 20. He’s been plagued by a few of them here and there in the NBA, but none have stopped him from putting on the show he’s capable of. He’s one of those players that when he sees one shot go in, there’s no telling how far his hot hand will go. All you have to do is go back to his 51-point outburst in a comeback win back in early March. LeVert’s 6-foot-6 frame with a wide wingspan is perfect for the modern NBA. If he puts on a little more weight, the Nets could see him taking a giant step forward with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant leading the charge.

DeJounte Murray, No. 29

The San Antonio Spurs know how to draft. Murray was the first of two 29th overall picks that they’ve seen promise from, the other being Derrick White. Murray’s a stat-sheet stuffing, athletic, long pest of a player on both ends. Defensively, he doesn’t give you an inch to get by, nor does he make it easy for a clean pass anywhere. His hands are among the quickest in the league. The offensive portion of his game is slowly but surely coming back to him after a devastating ACL injury last season caused him to miss all of 2018-19, but there’s been no sense of fear whatsoever. He’s driving and dishing and knocking down his triples. Let’s just hope those injuries are behind Murray for good and he can continue to ascend the way he has.

Jakob Poeltl, No. 9

You know the saying “the best ability is availability?” That’s been Poeltl’s MO since he entered the league. Unfortunately, there’s little a traditional big man can offer if he doesn’t excel in more than one area. The former Ute is adept at protecting the rim and snagging rebounds and… that’s pretty much it. Even so, his advanced statistics point to a big improvement since his move to the Spurs. Not enough to be declared a hit, but surely not enough to be called a miss either. He’s in the middle for now.

The 2016 class is, for lack of a better word, a weird one to look back at. There’s plenty of first-round names that have succeeded, while others have flamed out of the league. Even the second-round picks were slim pickings if you want to go that far. But still, there are stars in the room and those are the standouts we love to watch play the game — and we could see more pan out if we’re lucky.

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Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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