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Why Trading Knight Was the Right Move for the Bucks

Trading Brandon Knight was the right decision for the Milwaukee Bucks, writes Nate Duncan.

Nate Duncan

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The Milwaukee Bucks executed perhaps the most unexpected move of the trade deadline, swapping point guard Brandon Knight for fellow point guards Michael-Carter Williams and Tyler Ennis along with center Miles Plumlee.*  The move made little sense to many.  The Bucks are the sixth seed, making an unexpected playoff push.  Carter-Williams is not perceived to be anywhere near the player Knight is at this point, while Ennis has barely played and Plumlee is a backup-quality center.  Knight had been talked about as a potential All-Star, the Bucks’ best player, and now they are giving him up prior to what was shaping up as a feel-good return to the playoffs.

*The Bucks also gave up Kendall Marshall in the deal, but he was already out for the season with a torn ACL.

The analysis of the trade must start with Knight, his contract demands as a restricted free agent and how the perception of his abilities differs with the reality.  To be clear, Knight was a very important player for the Bucks this year.  At over 40 percent on threes, many of which were off the dribble, he provided shot-making that was absolutely essential to a struggling Milwaukee offense, especially once prized rookie Jabari Parker tore his ACL.  That said, Knight is not a special player.  He struggles to distribute the ball and create for others, with a tendency to pound the dribble and miss open players on pick and rolls.  That may have been exacerbated by Milwaukee’s lack of other offensive talent, but aside from his shooting, Knight does not really have another standout skill.

The All-Star talk for Knight was created by a weak Eastern Conference, injuries among those already voted in and, most importantly, the Bucks’ team success.  The perception may have been that the Bucks, as a surprise playoff team, “deserved” an All-Star. Knight was the player putting up raw numbers for the Bucks, so the tendency was to ascribe their success to him.  In reality, the Bucks’ fantastic defense was the driver of their surprise season, as they currently sport the league’s third-ranked unit, per Nylon Calculus.  Regarded as an average defender, Knight deserves little credit for that performance. On the other end, the Bucks are only 22nd in offense.  They have actually been worse overall this season with Knight on the floor, though they started to play better with him out there recently.

Add it all up and Knight is probably a slightly below-average starting point guard right now.*   He is young for his experience level at 23, but his lack of explosive athleticism or vision does serve to limit his ceiling quite a bit.  Although players can always surprise in their development, a reasonable projection is that Knight does not ever become one of the league’s top-10 point guards.

*Seriously, check out the PER leaderboard.  That isn’t a perfect ranking of course, but it puts all the names in front of you.  Knight certainly is not in the top-15 on that list, which doesn’t even include Goran Dragic.

The greater issue is that Knight was a good bet to be paid this offseason as a restricted free agent.  He and the Bucks were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension last fall, but they likely have a good idea of what he is looking for.  Now that he has had what many would deem a breakout season, his price tag will only go up.  One would expect he would ask for and likely get a minimum of $13 million per season, and possibly up to the projected maximum starting at $15.9 million in the first year.

In contrast to Knight , Carter-Williams is on a cost-controlled rookie deal through the 2017 season.  Plumlee has another year on his rookie deal, while Ennis won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season.  Carter-Williams is not the player Knight is right now, and they are closer in age than one might expect from when they were drafted.  If he does not learn to shoot, the Bucks will be quite challenged offensively considering the long-range struggles of another core piece, Giannis Antetokounmpo.* And Carter-Williams has struggled with injuries so far in his career. He has been extremely inefficient in his career overall, although some of that is likely from bearing too much of an offensive burden for the Sixers.

*Giannis shot better than expected from beyond the arc a year ago, but has been way off this year.  It appeared seeing him in person a bit ago in Los Angeles that he has raised his release point and is trying to shoot more of a jump shot in contrast to the off-the-shoulder set shot he possessed coming into the league.  Hopefully his current struggles will prove temporary as he adjusts to the new form.

But Carter-Williams has a lot of skills Knight lacks.  That starts defensively, where his length, quickness and anticipation fit right into the Bucks’ switching scheme on defense.  He also has much better vision than Knight.  There is at least a chance Carter-Williams surpasses Knight as a player if he can learn to shoot and finish a little better, and Milwaukee gets to explore that upside for a fifth or less of what Knight will be making over the next two years.  While I would rather have had the Lakers’ protected pick the Sixers obtained for Carter-Williams, I would also rather have Carter-Williams, Ennis and Plumlee than Knight for the next two years on their respective deals.

Another enormous driver of this deal was the restricted free agency of Khris Middleton this offseason.  As our Ben Dowsett detailed, Middleton has been awesome this year, shooting over 40 percent on threes while grading out as one of the best defensive wings in the league on film and by the numbers.  He will deserve a raise to at least eight figures this offseason (though he may not get it due to his restricted status and the fact that some teams still underrate his skill set), and frankly is more important for the Bucks to keep than Knight.  There are far fewer players who can provide Middleton’s defense and shooting around the league versus point guards who can approximate Knight’s production.  We tend to overrate what players do when they have the ball in their hands, but Middleton’s skill set is both rarer and of greater magnitude than Knight’s.

Jared Dudley is also a free agent.  At age 29, he is outplaying his $4.3 million player option for next year, and will likely opt out to secure a more lucrative long-term deal into his 30s. His versatility on the wing and as a small-ball four has also been valuable for the Bucks this year, and they will surely seek to retain him (although they may not if the price gets too high given his age.)

Here is the Bucks’ post-trade salary structure:

BucksCurrent

We see the key impact of buying out Larry Sanders.  Our Eric Pincus has reported that the remaining salary obligation to Sanders was not in fact stretched, as had been previously assumed.  Instead, it shows that the Bucks will owe him a mere $4.4 million per season, opening up another $6.6 million in cap space each year.  Even in a worst-case scenario in which Dudley opts out and the Bucks must account for his cap hold, they should still begin the summer with around $8.8 million in cap space.

BucksCapHold

If Dudley opts in to his $4.25 million, that cap space rises to around $13 million.  If he is allowed to leave in free agency or is renounced, Milwaukee could have as much as $17 million in cap space.  But that number, of course, accounts only for Middleton’s cap hold.  Milwaukee can use its cap space, then exceed the cap to re-sign Middleton.  But as the Houston Rockets learned last year when the Dallas Mavericks signed Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet, that cap room can disappear in the three days it takes to decide whether to match an offer sheet.  The timing here will be critical if Milwaukee wants to add to the team.  Had the Bucks retained Knight as well, his $8.8 million cap hold would have torpedoed their salary cap space.  And another restricted free agent on the books would have increased the risk of what space they did have being consumed by an ill-timed offer sheet.  Without Knight, the Bucks have exponentially more flexibility this offseason.

With Carter-Williams, Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Parker, the Bucks have long-term pieces at the one through four positions.  They would likely try to add a center, which is the deepest position of the 2015 free agent class.  If the Bucks get to the full $17 million in cap space, players like Brook Lopez, Omer Asik, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Enes Kanter and Al Jefferson could be available.  With their length and ability to switch on the wings, the Bucks might find themselves uniquely situated to carry a more offensive-oriented center than the typical team.  If such older players don’t fit the Bucks’ timeline, they could look to add cheaper pieces on short-term deals and roll more space over until 2016.  That summer, they will have core players Parker, Antetokounmpo, Middleton (if re-signed for around $10 million a year) and Carter-Williams under contract for about $22 million with a projected $90 million cap.   Most of the other large salaries on the team expire in 2016.  Even accounting for Sanders’ dead money and other players they may wish to keep, the Bucks could have as much as $50 million in cap space in the summer of 2016 if they play their cards right.*

*They may be a bit loath to use all of that on long-term salaries since Antetokounmpo and Parker will require raises to market value after the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Moving on from Knight was a gamble, as he is a solid player.  But it is a good one. Carter-Williams, Plumlee, Ennis and the players the Bucks can get in free agency with Knight’s foregone money have a very good chance of exceeding his production over the next four years.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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Looking Back At The Draft: The No. 12 Picks

David Yapkowitz assesses the 12th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.

David Yapkowitz

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The further you get into the NBA draft, the harder it is to categorize hits and misses. There aren’t many expectations with later draft picks, especially in the second round. If a player ends up panning out, then great. If they don’t, it’s no big financial loss for the team and they can easily cut ties. When you’re still in the lottery, however, you probably expect a little more than just an average player. Superstars are never guaranteed, especially with late lottery selections. But you probably would expect to have a quality rotation player if not probable starter with a late lottery pick.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re continuing our look back at the draft, pick by pick, with each of the No. 12 picks going back the last 10 drafts. Let’s see how those picks have panned out.

The Hits

Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder – 2013

The OKC Thunder didn’t have a lottery pick in the 2013 draft, but they acquired it from the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade. With Adams, the Thunder certainly hit the mark. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo (who 13 other teams in addition to the Thunder passed on) and Rudy Gobert are players picked after Adams who have fared better.

Adams has become one of the best defensive players and rebounders in the league as well as a great screen setter and roll man in the pick and roll. He plays his role to perfection and is a starting-caliber center. He may not have hit All-Star status, but he is a legit starter and with a lottery pick, that’s probably what you would expect.

Gerald Henderson – Charlotte Bobcats – 2009

I’m going with a hit on this one. Henderson played nearly all of his eight-year career with the Bobcats with the exception of his final two years with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. He was unfortunately forced into early retirement due to nagging injury issues.

But for the eight years he was in the NBA, he was a capable scorer and mostly a starting-caliber wing player. As mentioned, with a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you should expect. Henderson averaged double-digits in scoring for most of his career and he shot in the mid-’40s from the field. If not for injuries, he probably would have played in the NBA for a few more years.

The Misses

Xavier Henry – Memphis Grizzlies – 2010

Going back to the last ten drafts, Henry is the only player picked No. 12 that I would consider to be a miss thus far. He had some hype coming out of Kansas and was expected to be a first-round pick and NBA contributor. He didn’t play much as a rookie with the Grizzlies and was traded to the New Orleans Hornets.

He showed some brief flashes with the Hornets but never really was able to sustain any sort of consistent success. He got hurt during his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers and that pretty much ended his NBA career after five years. He’s had a couple of G League appearances since then but didn’t really show that he was ready for an NBA return.

The Middle of the Road

Taurean Prince – Atlanta Hawks – 2016

Again, for a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you expect your selection to develop into. Prince is here under the middle of the road rather than hits because it’s still too early in his career to determine if he is truly a full-time starter.

With the Hawks, he certainly looked the part. After a so-so rookie year, he stepped up in a big way, becoming a scorer and deadly three-point shooter with solid defensive capabilities. When he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer, he was considered to be a big pick up. This season, although he started in 61 of the 64 games he suited up in Brooklyn, his shooting suffered and he wasn’t as effective as he had been in Atlanta. There is still time for him to be considered a hit though.

Jeremy Lamb – Houston Rockets – 2012

Lamb is another player who had some high expectations coming out of college but got off to a rocky start in the NBA. He showed some flashes in Oklahoma City but was wildly inconsistent. But like many players, a change of scenery seemed to be all he needed.
He broke out when he arrived in Charlotte, becoming a solid bench scoring threat and becoming more of a regular in the starting lineup as the years went on.

He rightfully earned himself a solid payday from the Indiana Pacers and he started 42 of the 46 games he played in. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury in February. The Pacers are hoping he can bounce back from that.

Luke Kennard – Detroit Pistons – 2017

Another player that is still a little early to categorize. For now, he appears to be a middle of the ground type player. This is only his third year in the NBA, and he’s shown improvement each year. This season was a breakout year for him.

Since coming to the league, he’s been a very good three-point shooter. This season he was knocking down 39.9 percent of his attempts. His scoring has gone up every season and this year he had broken through to double-digits. He has some injury concerns, and he was actually out when the NBA suspended the season. But if he can bounce back healthy, then he certainly looks like a solid pick at No. 12.

The Role Players

Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz – 2015

In a league where the game is changing and traditional big men aren’t as common as they used to be, Lyles fits right in. Lyles seemingly was another case of a player who needed a change of scenery to find his niche. He wasn’t able to stick in either Utah or Denver, and it wasn’t until this season, his first in San Antonio, that he looked like a capable role player.

Lyles became a regular starter for the Spurs, and again, that’s what you want from a lottery pick. He isn’t included in the hits yet because this is the first season out of his five that he’s shown this. He doesn’t have a big enough sample size. He shot a career-best 38.7 percent from three and if he keeps this up, he’ll be a good pick albeit a late bloomer.

Alec Burks – Utah Jazz – 2011

Burks once looked like he was going to become more than just a solid NBA player. He might have had borderline All-Star potential. At least a starting-caliber shooting guard. But unfortunately for him, his career was seemingly derailed by early injuries.

He has since bounced back though. He’s reinvented himself as a scoring threat off the bench. He put up a career-high 16.1 points per game with the Golden State Warriors in the first half of the season. On a playoff team though, he’s a second unit player and that’s exactly what the 76ers were hoping for when they traded for him. He only had 11 games in Philly before the season was halted, but he’s done well to change his game and be effective despite major injuries.

Too Early to Tell

Dario Saric – Orlando Magic – 2014

I’m introducing a new category here, the too early to tell group. These players either don’t have a big enough sample size, or they have had circumstances that may have hindered their abilities. Saric falls into the latter part of that. He’s been a solid starting stretch-four when he’s gotten consistent playing time. But he struggled to adapt to being thrown around in different roles and inconsistent minutes with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He’s a pending restricted free agent who might not figure to be in the Suns future plans. Quite a few teams should consider throwing an offer his way.

Miles Bridges – Charlotte Bobcats – 2018

It’s a bit too early to make any major assessments on Bridges. This is only his second year in the NBA, a season that has been cut short. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie and had a pretty solid year with some aspects he could certainly improve upon. He looked much improved this season albeit some areas he could still work on.

He became a regular starting small forward for the Bobcats this season. He upped his scoring and rebounding and he’s often asked to guard multiple positions. He’s young and has a lot of room to improve. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet placing him in one of the above categories so that’s why he’s too early to tell. The future does look good for him though.

The later you go in the draft, the fewer expectations you put on the player you drafted. Franchise level players are not common, there are only a handful in the league. But at least with first-rounders, and especially a lottery pick, you’d expect to get at least a quality rotation player.
Judging by the production of the all the No. 12 picks for the past ten years, it’s safe to say that they all have, or look like they will pan out in some capacity. Only one of them is a sure-fire miss.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 11 Picks

Drew Maresca assesses the 11th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.

Drew Maresca

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The 2020 NBA Draft was scheduled to take place in approximately one month from today. But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and resulted in delays for just about every profession worldwide. So instead of preparing for the upcoming draft and/or analyzing the 2020 NBA Playoffs, we are looking back at recent drafts and how the picks fared.

Basketball Insiders began analyzing each pick of the last 10 or so drafts last week. As we make out way toward the end of the lottery, there is clearly less certainty around prospects. This is where guys who are seen as bigger risks go, as well as where guys who NBA personnel might have too little upside are selected. It’s where teams can be too creative for their own good, or where taking risks is paid off in spades.

So let’s turn our attention to the 11th pick in the NBA Draft, as we continue identifying hits, misses, middle-of-the-road guys and role players.

The Hits

Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors – 2011

Thompson is the clear headliner of the 11th overall picks. He’s a three-time champion with five All-Star selections, two appearances on the All-NBA team and a selection for the All-Defensive team in 2018-19. Granted, Kawhi Leonard (14) and Jimmy Butler (30) were selected after Thompson; but there’s no one else you’d even consider taking over him – and the return on investment that Thompson has provided has been exquisite for an 11th pick. End of story.

Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers – 2015

The 2015 NBA Draft was really good. I mean, look: Turner dropped to 11 – that says it all. Turner was selected before Devin Booker; but otherwise, it’s pretty clear that he was the best available player.

Turner is among the rare seven-footers (technically 6-foot-1) who can shoot from deep – he’s a career 35.4% three-point shooter – and defend the rim – he also rejected 2.2 shots per game this season. Technically, that qualifies his as a unicorn, right?

But the Pacers’ commitment hasn’t been iron-clad. He’s only breached 30 minutes per game once, in 2016-17 – the same year he posted his career-high in scoring (14.5). Turner will struggle to fulfill his full potential unless he’s either given more time or traded. Still, Turner’s unique skillset renders him a “hit.”

Domantas Sabonis – Orlando Magic (and traded to Indiana Pacers)– 2016

Sabonis was an unnecessary pick for the Pacers. They’d selected Turner in the previous year’s draft, and they obviously could’ve used Caris LeVert (20) and Pascal Siakam (27).

Still, Sabonis has been so good that he forced his way into the Pacers lineup and onto this list. Unlike his teammate (Turner), Sabonis has received a serious commitment from the Pacers; he was awarded a new contract in 2019 (4 years/$77 million) before 2019-20, and he also received a career-high 34.8 minutes per game – this season also saw Sabonis secure career-highs in scoring (18.5) and rebounds (12.4). And he received wide-spread recognition throughout the league, too; Sabonis made his first All-Star team in his fourth season.

Ultimately, Sabonis is a bull on the block and he’s still only 24 – a sure thing.

The Misses

Terrance Williams – New Jersey Nets – 2009

Williams entered the league with potential oozing from him. The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.3 steals per game in his senior year for head coach Rick Pitino at Lousiville and looked like a great piece for the Nets. And throughout – and especially toward the end – of his rookie year, Williams looked like he might make the leap. He played in 78 games, starting nine of them; and he averaged 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game across the final two months of the year (22 games).

But for some reason, then-new coach Avery Johnson was against the idea of playing Williams. He was inactive and/or delegated to the G League for much of his sophomore season with the Nets – and then he was traded to Houston. From there, he never stuck anywhere for more than a season – and his effect was less evident than it was during his rookie campaign. Making matters worse, Williams was selected ahead of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison and a number of other more productive players who would have been smarter picks than Williams was.

All of the talent was there for Williams; but for whatever reason, it never worked out. Was it his fault? That part is unclear. But either way, this one’s a miss.

Cole Aldrich – New Orleans Hornets (and traded to Oklahoma City Thunder) – 2010

The term “miss” is relative, but Aldrich is a “miss” in just about any draft. He stuck around the NBA for eight seasons, but his effect was minimal. He only started 18 times in his 339 career games – 16 of which were for the 17-win 2014-15 Knicks. And even then, he averaged only 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

2010 didn’t result in a huge influx in talent. From it, we got a few stars (e.g., Paul George and Gordon Hayward), but the draft produced more than its share of underwhelming players. And in Aldrich’s defense, most of the guys taken in the bottom-third of the 2010 lottery disappointed their teams; only Eric Bledsoe (18), Avery Bradley (19), Hassan Whiteside (33) and Lance Stephenson (40) were long-term starters selected after Aldrich — and none of them where under consideration at 11. Still, whoever made the call to draft Aldrich, be it New Orleans or Oklahoma City, should have looked more closely.

Michael Carter-Williams – Philadelphia 76ers – 2013

Carter-Williams was a pretty exciting prospect coming out of Syracuse University. He entered the league after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Orange to the Elite Eight. He followed that up by winning the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

And all of that makes everything that transpired later even harder to stomach. Carter-Williams was traded to the Bucks in a three-team trade in 2015. His strong play continued in Milwaukee, but he struggled after suffering an ankle injury and was shut down after tearing his labrum. And it got worse from there.

Carter-Williams seems to have re-established himself in the NBA with the Orlando Magic, but he’ll never be the triple-double machine he once was. Add in the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken just four picks later and that leads to the eventual…that Carter-Williams is a “miss.” But that doesn’t mean he won’t stick in the league for at least the next few seasons – this writer feels that he will.

Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets – 2017

Monk entered the NBA with a lot of momentum – mostly because he was attached to the New York Knicks, who picked eighth overall in 2017. However, Monk was selected 11th by the Hornets, and he’s struggled to live up to even that hype.

Monk shot an abysmal 28.4% on three-point attempts this season, which is even worse considering he was thought to be someone who could get hot from deep. He also possesses a below-average effective field goal percentage (47.8% in 2019-20) and his assist-to-turnover ratio is underwhelming.

Still, Monk had some impressive moments this year and his confidence remains. He might not be efficient, but he’s young and athletic. Monk will continue to get opportunities to prove himself, but he still has a lot to work on. A change of scenery might help, but Monk has lot to prove if he’s going to go down as anything but a “miss.”

Middle of the Road

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers – 2018

In this particular instance, “middle of the road” is code for “really close to qualifying as a hit” – unfortunately, Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t quite there yet. Gilgeous-Alexander has played really well in his first two seasons. And he took a pretty impressive step forward in 2019-20, averaging 19.3 points per game as a starter alongside Chris Paul in Oklahoma City. Gilgeous-Alexander actually led the team in total minutes and he shot pretty well (35%) on three-point attempts, too.

But Gilgeous-Alexander is a natural point guard, and he was only third on the Thunder in assists. In fact, the Thunder’s two most frequently used lineups feature Chris Paul, or Paul and Dennis Schroder alongside Gilgeous-Alexander. That means that despite being a point guard, Gilgeous-Alexander has had the benefit of playing with at least one other lead guard for the majority of his minutes this seaon.

This is not meant as a knock on Gilgeous-Alexander – in fact, that will probably benefit him down the road. It’s just that a “hit” must be established. And while Gilgeous-Alexander will almost certainly join that club very soon, he’s still ramping up.

Cameron Johnson – Phoenix Suns – 2019

Johnson was a pretty weird pick as of draft night last year. While he posted good numbers in his final collegiate season (16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists), his age led NBA executives to believe that his ceiling was low relative to his peers. It wasn’t completely unwarranted. Johnson had just wrapped up his fifth NCAA season, thanks to a knee injury and his transferring from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. As a result, the 23-year-old was the NBA’s oldest rookie witjh only three other first-round picks clocking in at 22 –Matisse Thybulle, Brandon Clarke and Dylan Windler.

But Johnson’s rookie year surprised a number of folks around the league. He posted 8.1 points per game on 39.7% shooting from three-point range. And he demonstrated a surprising amount of athleticism and better-than-expected decision making. Johnson still has lots to prove; but he very well may end up having a better career than anyone expected.

Role Players

Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers – 2012

On the one hand, Leonard hasn’t been shown up by many guys taken after him – only Evan Fournier is definitively better. On the other hand, he hasn’t turned into a world-beater, either. In fact, his stat line isn’t that different than two guys taken later in the 2012 first-round: Tyler Zeller (17) and/or Miles Plumlee (26).

Leonard posted the second-best season of his not-so-young career in 2019-20 – 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 42.9% on 2.4 three-point attempts per game – but what does that really say for an 11th pick? He’s clearly serviceable – but he’s no building block. He’s a great backup, he’s seven-feet tall and he can even shoot a little. Leonard will have a place in someone’s rotation for years to come. But will he ever be much else? Probably not.

Doug McDermott – Chicago Bulls – 2014

McDermott is exactly the player we expected him to be coming out of Creighton. He’s shot the ball well (41.3% career three-point shooter) and he scored it better in 2019-20 (10.4 points per game) than he did in any previous season.

But McDermott was selected just a few picks before Zach LaVine, T.J. Warren and Jusuf Nurkic. Comparatively, he’s just not as good as any of them. And he’s also been a limited defender and rebounder. So, it’s a stretch to think of McDermott as a successful pick.

But he sure can shoot it – McDermott has the fifth-best three-point percentage in the NBA in 2019-20, and that means he’s filling a key role for any playoff team.

The 11th pick has been proven itself a challenging spot for teams to make successful picks. There have been a number of gambles taken with the 11th pick in recent years. It’s hasn’t worked out great for most teams, but it only takes one pick to change a team’s fortunes – and NBA teams will continue to bet on their front office’s abilities to identify prospects. So don’t except teams’ strategies to change anytime soon.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 10 Picks

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ looking back series by examining the last decade’s worth of 10th overall picks.

Matt John

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As Basketball Insiders has continued its “Looking Back” series, it was only a matter of time until we crossed the double digits. Now that time has come. Today we are taking a look at how all of the tenth overall picks since 2009 have fared in the NBA.

As you probably know, as the lottery picks go down further and further, the prospects’ ceilings aren’t nearly as high. At the same time, the 10-14 range is usually reserved for teams that actually had no intention of being in the lottery to begin with. It’s usually around this point in the draft where if you got someone good with this selection, you got a steal. No questions asked.

The tenth overall selections since 2009 have overall done okay for where they were picked. As a group, they’ve done better than some of the other selections that were higher than them

The Hits

Paul George – Indiana Pacers – 2010

This should be a given. It only took three years for George to prove he was a household name. By that time, he had taken Indiana the furthest they had gone since the Reggie Miller/Jermaine O’Neal days and usurped Danny Granger as the team’s best player. Since then, George has routinely made both the All-Star team and an All-NBA team – save the one year he was recovering from one of the most gruesome leg injuries ever – while establishing himself as one of the league’s best two-way wings.

George has been a top-12 player for the duration of his career, which is impressive enough as it is. We knew he was a fantastic player. We just didn’t know he was an elite one until last year. Before a crippling shoulder injury stopped him in his tracks, George was a man possessed, averaging 28.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He maintained his efficiencies even while increasing his usage, which upped him from perennial All-Star to MVP candidate.

Since migrating to his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, we haven’t seen the same production from George. Some of that comes from the shoulder injury among others that he’s endured this season. Some of that comes from playing next to Kawhi Leonard. Even so, George is not to be underestimated as a right-hand man on a title team.

We’re going to see what PG-13 is truly made of when the Clippers go on their playoff run this year. We know that Kawhi will be on his A-Game when the playoffs start. George’s expectations are a little more uncertain. He’s received some flak in recent years for his inability to step up in the clutch as well as his somewhat lackluster playoff performances.

Although going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the conference finals in back-to-back years would certainly certify him as a playoff performer, here’s a fact that’s fallen under the radar: George hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2014. As far as hits go, George has been a home run, and he could still prove to be a grand slam.

Most hilariously of all, there have only been two tenth overall picks in NBA history who have rivaled the production of Paul George — Paul Pierce and Paul Westphal. If another Paul gets taken No. 10 in the NBA draft, the bar for him should be set at Hall of Fame. At minimum.

CJ McCollum – Portland Trail Blazers – 2013

What McCollum has done should be appreciated more. Without him, Portland may not have been able to steady the boat as well as they did when they were pretty much gutted in the summer of 2015. Without him, Portland definitely would not have made the Western Conference Finals last season. We’re not taking anything away from Damian Lillard here. It’s just that if McCollum hadn’t been there, how far would Dame and the Blazers have gone?

The resume is pretty good for McCollum. He’s been one of the league’s premier scorers for five years now. He is half of one of the league’s top-scoring tandems. He’s been one of the few excellent players from one of the worst drafts of all time. Playing in the jam-packed Western Conference will probably prevent him from making an All-Star team, but he’s never not been in consideration.

There were better players taken after McCollum — Giannis Antetokoumnpo and Rudy Gobert — but Portland still nailed the selection when you consider only one guy that was taken ahead of him has been on his level (Victor Oladipo), and when you factor inconsistency, McCollum has a case over Oladipo.

The Trail Blazers are going to face more questions next season with the Western Conference still remaining a bloodbath and Lillard and McCollum entering the peak of their careers. No matter what happens, McCollum came into this league renowned for getting buckets. He may not have hit the ground running, but once he took off, he lived up to the hype.

The Misses

Jimmer Fredette – Sacramento Kings – 2011

Guys, can you believe “Jimmer Mania” was almost a decade ago? It seems like just yesterday we were all watching him shoot the lights out from just about everywhere on an NCAA basketball court. Yet, somehow, it feels like forever ago since he was last in the NBA.

Jimmer’s ultimately forgettable NBA tenure is really strange when you consider what the league is like now. He came in as an elite shooter above all else. Even if his scoring prowess from BYU wouldn’t have translated to the big leagues, his jumper should have made him a valued commodity. It somehow never was.

You can blame it on him starting his career in Sacramento if you’d like. He only played there for two-and-a half years. He played for organizations that were run much better at that time like the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. He still never found his footing. His time in the NBA should teach us a lesson. We get plenty of sharpshooting guards who dominate the college game as snipers, but for every Stephen Curry, there’s always a Jimmer Fredette.

Years later, it’s good to see that Jimmer went on to establish himself as a household name. Even if that wasn’t in the NBA.

Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks – 2016

On paper, Thon should have been a perfect fit for the modern NBA. A rare combination of length, mobility and shooting would have made him the perfect floor-stretching five in the modern NBA. Early mixtapes of him before he was drafted hyped him up to be such a player. That hype soon died down to the point where once the Bucks took him tenth overall — picking him over Domantas Sabonis will eat at them for years — we were all pretty quick to call it a reach.

Outside of the rare occasional outbursts, which manifested in the playoffs of all places, Maker’s never really found himself in the league. For his size, he’s not a good rebounder and only an okay shot-blocker. For someone who shoots threes, he’s also a subpar three-point shooter. He’s managed to be a rotation player in Detroit, but he plays a tick under 13 minutes a game for one of the worst teams in the league.

His physical makeup will probably make for some interested suitors in a “low-risk/unknown-reward” scenario. It’s not his fault the Bucks swung for the fences when they took him, but because they did, he’s a bust.

Middle of the Road

Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks – 2009

There may not be a better player that exemplifies “Middle of the Road” better than Brandon Jennings. Talent-wise, he should be a hit. Career-wise, he should be a role player at best overall. He only played in the NBA for nine seasons. When he was at the top of his game, he was an excellent ballplayer.

Jennings at first made us all think he was a cornerstone in the making his first month in the league, which was highlighted by a 55-point rampage he hung on rookie Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. He fizzled after that, but even so, he was averaging between 15-19 points a game while putting up five to seven assists in that time too.

His prime was cut short by an Achilles tear mid-season in 2015 — which was a shame at the time because he was playing the best basketball of his career at the time — and he was never the same after that. After some brief stints in Orlando, New York, Washington and Milwaukee again, Jennings had been phased out of the league in 2018.

Jennings does not deserve to be labeled as a miss because a cruel twist of fate ruined everything. Unfortunately, his short-lived career prevents him from being labeled a hit.

Justise Winslow – Miami HEAT – 2015

When an executive is willing to trade four first-round picks to take you ninth overall in the draft, that puts a fair amount of spotlight on you when you first enter the league. Justise Winslow already came into the NBA a winner, having won an NCAA championship. He was supposed to be an added bonus of youth and pizzazz to a Miami team that was locked and loaded upon first drafting him.

Five years later, Winslow has been… fine? The injuries have piled on for Winslow since entering the league, but when he’s on the court, he’s proven himself to be a finesse player. That title alone prevents him from being called a role player. At the same time, finesse players aren’t exactly stars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Winslow has been as good as advertised defensively and has come along quite nicely as a playmaker and a rebounder. His shooting has been inconsistent and he hasn’t evolved into the scorer many thought he could be. A man of his skillset is incredibly useful, but there seems to be this feeling that begs the question, “Wasn’t he supposed to be better than this?”

Even while evolving into a Swiss army knife swingman, it’s a little disconcerting that Miami practically gave him away to Memphis for an aging Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder on an expiring contract. Many would proclaim that a steal for Memphis, but Winslow hasn’t exactly proven he’s good enough to be warranted as a steal both in the draft or in a trade.

Seeing as Memphis suddenly has a very promising future, let’s see how Winslow does now that he’s on a team that fits his timeline.

Zach Collins – Portland Trail Blazers – 2017

A shoulder injury early on interrupted what should have been Collins taking his next step as a pro. Into what is up in the air, but the returns on Collins since he started his career have been promising. He’s got some bounce in his game. He’s shown that he has good awareness on the court. He can stretch the floor, although he hasn’t proven to be entirely reliable. When last season’s playoff run ended, he was on the up-and-up.

Alas, that darn shoulder injury messed everything up. Jusuf Nurkic will be back next season, but he’ll need time to get his game in full swing. Hassan Whiteside will more than likely be gone. Factoring all of that, Collins will get another shot next year to show what he’s got.

As his role expands in Portland, we’re going to see who the real Zach Collins is.

Cam Reddish – Atlanta Hawks – 2019

The third amigo from the 2019 Duke Blue Devils, Reddish’s start in the league was pretty awful. That happens when your efficiencies in 2019 are 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three. 2020 has been a different story. His shooting percentage from the field has been 44 percent while his three-point percentage has bumped up to almost 40 percent.

A lot of rookies have uneven seasons during their first go-round. Atlanta as a team stinks as a whole, but as time goes on they should get better. In that time, Reddish should be able to demonstrate what kind of player he is. Let’s hope the 2020 Reddish is more indicative of who he is, because players who average more turnovers than assists definitely need to grow.

Role Players

Austin Rivers – New Orleans Pelicans – 2012

Can we stop giving Austin Rivers grief now? Yes, he was a bust in New Orleans. Yes, he’s Doc’s son. Yes, he rubs some players very much the wrong way. Rivers’ slow start in the league and family ties make him an easy target for critics, and it’s overshadowed that he has rebounded quite nicely after, well, a disastrous first tenure in New Orleans.

Rivers played some of the best basketball of his career under his father in LA. Rivers molded into a respectable scorer in their rotation by putting up some of his career bests, averaging 15 points and 4 assists. Although, one can argue that those were inflated numbers on a strictly average Clippers team.

In Houston, he’s found a more suitable role as a hybrid scorer/three-and-D type guard off their bench. 8.5 points off 42 percent shooting from the field including 36 percent from the field are good numbers for a team that centers its strategy around shooting threes. Rivers definitely deserves criticism after being selected No. 10 — Evan Fournier probably would have been the better guard to pick — but not for what he does these days.

Elfrid Payton – Orlando Magic – 2014

Unlike Rivers, Payton didn’t struggle out of the gate. He just never really took a big leap after a promising rookie season. He’s always proven himself to be a playmaker – he has a 6.6 career assist average in just 29 minutes, but his lack of shooting — a career 29 percent shooter from three — has kept him from making any meaningful progress.

Unless they have some of the most unreal athleticism or craftiness that we’ve ever seen, non-shooting point guards don’t make too big of a difference in the NBA. Payton hasn’t been a bust by any means. He’s been productive everywhere he’s gone. It’s just abundantly clear that where his career is right now is where he’ll be production-wise for the duration.

The shame of it all is, Payton’s never played for a playoff team. Orlando traded him to Phoenix just before they made the playoffs. He then signed with New Orleans just before the Anthony Davis fallout. Now, he’s in New York. Being a rotation a player on a good team is something he still hasn’t proven yet.

Can we please see that someday?

Mikal Bridges – Phoenix Suns – 2018

Over the last couple of years, Phoenix has had a string of failed draft picks over the last couple of years — Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson — so any fruitful draft pick from the lottery, whether they’re a star or not, would be a welcome change of pace. Enter Mikal Bridges.

Bridges has been a half-decent two-way swingman for the Suns over his first two years. He’s not much of a pure scorer, but that’s not why Phoenix drafted him. He’s been more of the defensive specialist that the Suns have desperately needed since they launched their rebuild back in 2016 as well as an underrated floor-spacer.

His shooting efficiencies thus far in his career — 46/34/82 splits over his first two years — as well as his solid rebounding numbers as a wing (3.6 per game) show that he is already a solid role player on a team that’s been looking for the right supporting cast members.

So does Bridges meet the criteria stated earlier? Honest answer: They could have had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but, good enough.

As previously stated, the tenth pick in the draft doesn’t boast a whole lot of star power, but it’s not designed to. Paul George panning out into a full-fledged superstar is more luck than anything else. This group has overall met expectations. Only two guys didn’t live up to being the tenth pick. The others have done, at the very least, what their teams have asked of them.

If you compare them to say, the eighth pick, you’d be even more impressed.

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