The NBA draft is a powerful thing. If an organization plays its cards right, it can turn things around in a hurry on the court by nailing a pick or two, particularly those high in the lottery. And if said organization chooses poorly, it may just as easily be condemned to mediocrity for years to come.
Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who were the laughingstock of the league for eons before finally getting it right in the draft with Blake Griffin.
Behind every draft, good or bad, is a general manager with a plan of some sort. A single day in June can make or break an entire front office career, depending on whether or not a given team's picks pan out.
So far, these five guys are making their respective GMs look reeaaal good for the work they've put in.
The resume of Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo is dotted with dopey moves, the latest of which saw him hand over a four-year, $40-million extension to DeMar DeRozan.
To his credit, Colangelo has done well on the international scene, with Jonas Valanciunas serving as his latest triumph in that regard. Colangelo had the foresight to snag the Lithuanian big man with the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA draft and stash him overseas for a season.
And now, his Raptors are reaping the rewards. The 20-year-old posted a double-double—12 points and 10 rebounds—in his NBA debut against the Indiana Pacers on Halloween. Assuming Valanciunas is able to hold down a starting spot for the rest of the season, he should have every opportunity to put up strong numbers on a Toronto team devoid of interior scoring.
The Cleveland Cavaliers could've had Valanciunas, but opted instead to take Tristan Thompson with the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft.
A questionable choice, to say the least. As was Cleveland's decision to add Dion Waiters with the fourth pick this past June.
That is, until he finished his rookie debut with 17 points, three steals and a pair of rebounds in the Cavs' 94-84 win over the visiting Washington Wizards. Granted, the Wizards are no juggernaut, especially without John Wall and Nene.
But Waiters, much maligned for struggling to find his way into the starting lineup at Syracuse, deserves some credit for showing that he can, indeed, handle such responsibility.
Against the dregs of the league, anyway. Perhaps he'll find a happy medium between that and the seven points and four assists he registered against the Chicago Bulls on Friday by the end of his rookie year.
And in Cavs GM Chris Grant's defense, he hasn't ignored his team's need for size completely. He swapped two second-round picks (Jae Crowder and Bernard James) for Tyler Zeller on draft day.
To be sure, Zeller is hardly a franchise-changing big man, but so far, the former ACC Player of the Year at North Carolina looks like a solid get. He chipped in five points and a couple of rebounds in the opener and followed that up with eight points and two boards against the Bulls.
Zeller's ceiling would seem to leave him far short of stardom, though with his skill and ability to run the floor, he should be a fine fit in Cleveland's frontcourt rotation for years to come.
A fair return for a pair of second-rounders.
There's a lot to like about Jae Crowder. He doesn't just look like Kenneth Faried; he plays like The Manimal, too.
Crowder was a pest in the Dallas Mavericks' shocking win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the season opener, registering eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in just under 20 minutes off the bench.
Not exactly eye-popping numbers, to be sure, but solid nonetheless, especially for a guy who was the 34th overall pick in the 2012 draft. His follow-up (eight points, three rebounds) wasn't quite as effective, as the Mavs were crushed by the Utah Jazz.
But with his infectious energy, hustling mentality and jack-of-all-trades skill set, Crowder should see plenty of playing time on a Mavs squad that figures to be in-flux for some time this season.
Few found fault with the Portland Trail Blazers' decision to add Damian Lillard with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft, and for good reason.
Lillard has been lights-out for PDX so far. He shredded the Los Angeles Lakers' lethargic guards for 23 points and 11 assists in his first meaningful NBA minutes, and followed that up with a strong showing (21 points, seven assists) against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Oakland native clearly has the athleticism and the playmaking ability to be no worse than a solid scoring point guard in this league. If he continues to produce at this pace, he may well give Anthony Davis a run for his money in the Rookie of the Year voting.