Grading an NBA draft—or any amateur draft, for that matter—is an inherently flawed process. None of the 60 players taken in Thursday night's festivities at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn are even within four months of making their NBA debuts.
Four months is the rough length of a college basketball regular season. While no player selected is likely to go from scrub to superstar within that time frame, we often vastly underrate the chance for improvement that these players have. Even the draft's top talent should, barring injury, be markedly stronger players by the time Halloween rolls around.
That, along with the scouting process having its inherent flaws to begin with, is the biggest reason it's so hard to judge picks on draft night. There is also the fact that free agency is yet to begin, and there should be a bevy of roster-shifting moves that put Thursday evening into better perspective.
What we do know and how we can adequately judge the decisions made by team executives Thursday night is on value. I've spent my last few months poring over game film for these players—some more than others, obviously—as have many other in the punditry. Knowing where players should go and their perceived value on draft night isn't all that hard if you've been paying attention.
And as such, there were plenty of jaw-dropping decisions made by teams Thursday night. With trades sending picks flying around with such a rapid pace it felt like a fantasy draft, it was often tough to keep track of exactly what happened and when. But with the dust finally settled, there are a few glaring errors that stood out on Thursday night.
With that in mind, here is a complete look at the biggest blunders of the 2013 NBA draft, along with grades for every team.
Pacers Take Solomon Hill With No. 23 Pick—In the 1st Round
Say what you will about the Pacers' lunchpail mentality as a team, they sure know how to surprise on draft night. A year ago, Indiana shocked the world by taking Miles Plumlee with the No. 26 pick. Plumlee was considered a very fine collegiate player, but one that was definitely a second-round talent. For he and his brother Mason, more talented by every measure, to be drafted four spots apart is still a little jarring.
This year, the Pacers may have topped themselves. Solomon Hill, a 6'7" small forward out of Arizona, had not received a first-round grade anywhere outside the Indiana war room to my knowledge. While he had a very fine collegiate career, no one would have batted an eye if that's where his journey ended. Hill never averaged more than 13.4 points per game at Arizona, and he doesn't have one overarching skill that translates instantly.
The Pacers' justification for this selection will be easy. Hill was a four-year contributor at Arizona, a guy who fits their need for a player that can stretch the floor at the wing and won't have that much of a learning curve. It'd be an understandable chance if, like, we weren't paying attention or anything.
If Indiana was looking for a talented wing who could shoot, there were no shortage of players. Reggie Bullock went to the Los Angeles Clippers two picks later, Allen Crabbe was on the board at No. 31, with the Portland Trail Blazers needing pittance to snag him from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Heck, Tim Hardaway Jr., the guy I'm least bullish about among those veteran, shoot-first wings, was the New York Knicks' first-round pick a selection later.
There were options on the board here. Crabbe, Bullock and Hardaway are all instant-oatmeal players. They're not going to be superstars, but you can probably plug them in as an eighth or ninth man next season. In other words, those guys are talents the Pacers hope Hill will be. Only they are better players.
That kinda sorta matters here.
It's fair enough to say NBA teams have different draft boards than I. But it's equally true that the Pacers could have landed their apparent top target at least 20 picks later. With the way teams were swapping selections Thursday night, Indiana's logic was problematic at best.
Bobcats Pull a Bobcats, Take Cody Zeller Over Nerlens Noel and Alex Len
Welp. Never let it be said that the Bobcats can't find new ways to confound and infuriate their fans. Watching the draft live, it seemed like things had finally worked out perfectly for the NBA's most downtrodden franchise.
Three picks had come and gone, and the board seemingly broke in an ideal scenario. The team had been tied to Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter at different points in the process, but every team was tied to every player at one point in the lottery. Both from a basketball perspective and a franchise-altering potential, there were three selections that could have made the entire city of Charlotte swoon.
I had been touting Ben McLemore as the Bobcats' most-ideal selection from the beginning of this process. On a team where the three core talents—Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo—are lost when shooting outside five feet, McLemore is the best gunner in this draft. He's a prototypical 2-guard with a ton of athleticism and a beautiful three-point shot, the type of tantalizing talent who would fit nicely next to Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing.
Nerlens Noel wasn't a McLemore-level basketball fit, but taking him would have been just as understandable. The Bobcats have been looking for a franchise player since expansion. There was no player in this class with more potential than Noel, who fell to No. 6 only due to concerns about his knee injury. Drafting Noel would have alienated Biyombo a little bit, but let's just say the jury is still in deliberations about whether he's anything but a defensive role player.
And even if Noel wasn't an option, Alex Len was on the board as a middle-ground choice.
The Bobcats decided to bypass all three options and take Cody Zeller. Throughout this process, I've liked Zeller as an undervalued talent. He's a talented kid who has a solid set of post moves and showed a vastly improved mid-range jumper in workouts. There isn't much potential to be mined with him defensively, though his athleticism could bring him to about league-average with some coaching. Overall, Zeller is a good, talented player whose precipitous drop in stock at the end of the college basketball season was mostly undeserved.
I was touting that scenario under the impression he wouldn't be a top-five pick. Granted, there were a few signs that Zeller's name was rising fast as the draft approached. ESPN's Chad Ford noted he was a dark-horse selection for the Orlando Magic at No. 2, and CBS Sports' Zach Harper pointed out that there were plenty of rumors that general manager Rich Cho liked Zeller coming into the draft.
No one thought Cho would take Zeller if a guy like Noel was on the board. And the general reaction was one that you would expect after such a questionable selection. Fans essentially threw their arms up in the air in disgust, while a tweet by CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli says all you need to know about the Jordan era in Charlotte:
"Didn't a Zeller go to UNC? Draft him." - Michael Jordan— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) June 27, 2013
There's a good chance that Zeller is an NBA starter who can move between the 4 and the 5. He'll fit next to Biyombo, who can stay stationed in the paint. But there's a better chance we'll look back on this decision in a few years and point to another instance of the Bobcats merely being the Bobcats—again.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Drafted by the Bucks at No. 15—To Play This Year?
The meteoric rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo from relative unknown to near lottery pick is one of the more shocking in recent memory. A curiosity item due to his prodigious length—he's 6'9" with a Kevin Durant-like body—and athleticism, scouts began flocking to every workout they could possibly see early this year. He was impressive in Greece's minor-league basketball system when you watch him on film, but seeing him in person brought a whole new level of appreciation.
Soon, the man who was still very unknown to the general public was getting NBA draft buzz. As teams began looking at this crop of 2013 American players and being less and less thrilled, Antetokounmpo's buzz grew. He continued to impress in workouts, but everyone continued to acknowledge he's far away from being ready for the NBA level. Heck, few were even sure he'd survive in the D-League.
With the draft fast approaching, Antetokounmpo became a first-round pick almost without doing anything. Teams were merely intrigued by his potential. And even if it took a few years for him to come over for Europe, it was getting easier to see what the NBA was. More footage and game film of him leaked, and his rare combination of size, athleticism and skills (all extremely raw) came to the surface.
In a draft without a guaranteed superstar, Antetokounmpo became a more understandable draft-and-stash pick late in Round 1. And then came word from ESPN's Chad Ford on draft night—Antetokounmpo had no interest in being stashed overseas; he was coming right away:
Giannis Antetokounmpo insisting he won't go back to Greece next year. Wants to be in NBA now. That's scaring teams away in the lottery.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 27, 2013
For most, that was enough to take Antetokounmpo way out of the lottery and back into the mid-20s. The Bucks thought differently. They took Antetokounmpo with the No. 15 pick, which puts general manager John Hammond on the hook for the draft's biggest risk. Via the Bucks Twitter account, Hammond acknowledged that his first-round pick will be coming over right away:
GM John Hammond on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s buyout: He’s going to come (to Milwaukee). He’s going to come right away. #BucksDraft— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 28, 2013
From a human interest perspective, this is a great story. Antetokounmpo grew up in poverty in Greece, with his brother having to sell items on the street to help the feed the family, according to the New York Times' Ken Maguire. It's enriching to see the far-reaching grasp of the NBA, where a special kid like this can make his entire family's life by reaching his dream of playing stateside.
For that, I almost want to applaud the Bucks. But this is a basketball decision. Milwaukee didn't take him on as a charity case here—it just may look like it for the next couple of seasons.
As noted by HOOPSWORLD, the Bucks will pay Antetokounmpo about $1.49 million next season and $1.56 million in 2014-15. That's assuming they pay 100 percent of the rookie scale afforded to teams by the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. The team will have the option to pay between 80 and 120 percent of that scale, with the latter being the far most prevalent.
Everyone you talk to acknowledges that Antetokounmpo is at least two years away from even being remotely ready for the NBA. That's a little over $3 million being paid to a D-Leaguer over the next two seasons, and all logical scenarios point to the Bucks picking up his third-year option (at least) to see what they have.
That's a ton of money to pay for a guy who may never develop enough to even touch an NBA floor. We can laud the great story of it all for as long as we want. There's just a very good possibility that this was an awful business decision.
Complete 2013 NBA Draft Grades
1 (16): Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil)
2 (44): Mike Muscala (PF-C, Bucknell)
1 (13): Kelly Olynyk (PF-C, Gonzaga)
2 (53): Colton Iverson (PF, Colorado State)
|Brooklyn Nets||1 (22): Mason Plumlee (PF, Duke)||B|
|Charlotte Bobcats|| |
1 (4): Cody Zeller (PF-C, Indiana)
1 (20): Tony Snell (SF, New Mexico)
2 (49): Erik Murphy (PF, Florida)
1 (1): Anthony Bennett (SF-PF, UNLV)
2 (33): Carrick Felix (SG, Arizona State)
1 (18): Shane Larkin (PG, Miami)
2 (43): Ricky Ledo (SG, Providence)
|Denver Nuggets|| |
2 (46): Erick Green (PG, Virginia Tech)
1 (8): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)
2 (37): Tony Mitchell (PF, North Texas)
|Golden State Warriors||1 (30): Nemanja Nedovic (SG, Serbia)||C|
|Houston Rockets||2 (34): Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State)||B+|
|Indiana Pacers||1 (23): Solomon Hill (SF, Arizona)||D|
|Los Angeles Clippers||1 (25): Reggie Bullock (SG-SF, North Carolina)||B+|
|Los Angeles Lakers||2 (48): Ryan Kelly (PF, Duke)||B+|
|Memphis Grizzlies||2 (41): Jamaal Franklin (SG-SF, San Diego State) |
2 (60): Janis Timma (SF, Latvia)
|Miami Heat||2 (50): James Ennis (SF, Long Beach State)||B-|
1 (15): Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, Greece)
2 (38): Nate Wolters (PG, South Dakota State)
1 (14): Shabazz Muhammad (SG-SF, UCLA)
2 (52): Lorenzo Brown (PG, North Carolina State)
|New Orleans Pelicans||2 (42): Pierre Jackson (PG, Baylor)||B+|
|New York Knicks||1 (24): Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG, Michigan)||B+|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||
1 (12): Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)
2 (32): Alex Abrines (SG, Spain)
1 (2): Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
2 (54): Romero Osby (SF, Oklahoma)
1 (6): Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
2 (54): Arsalan Kazemi (SF, Oregon)
1 (5): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
2 (57): Alex Oriakhi (SF-PF, Missouri)
|Portland Trail Blazers||
1 (10): C.J. McCollum (PG-SG, Lehigh)
2 (31): Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
1 (7): Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)
2 (36): Ray McCallum (PG, Detroit)
|San Antonio Spurs||
1 (28): Livio Jean-Charles (SF-PF, France)
2 (56): Deshaun Thomas (SG-SF, Ohio State)
|Utah Jazz|| |
1 (9): Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
1 (3): Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
2 (35): Glen Rice Jr. (SG, NBA D-League)
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: