NBA Teams That Improved the Most Through 2014 Draft
Every team that participated in the stacked 2014 NBA draft came away with some value, but the teams that gained the most made noticeable strides toward a higher level of success.
The amount of talent in this draft class reinforced one simple yet important lesson of the process: Having multiple first-round picks sure does help, especially if one is in the top 10. More than half the teams on this list earned their spots by positioning themselves to gain the most and following through.
A note here: Most improved team and biggest draft winner are not synonymous. For example, the Philadelphia 76ers brought in a huge haul at the Barclays Center, but Joel Embiid is hurt for an extended period, and Dario Saric will remain in Europe for at least the next two seasons. As well as the Sixers drafted, their roster as currently constructed is not that much stronger.
Let's take this opportunity to acknowledge the squads whose draftees will add the most to their teams in 2014-15. This draft has the potential to have a significant impact on the NBA's hierarchy of teams, and these teams will be the first examples of the power shifts to come.
Though they exit the draft with Jared Sullinger still as their de facto starting center, the Boston Celtics snagged such great value that Bill Simmons couldn't stop himself from celebrating on live television.
Lacking wing scorers save for Jeff Green in certain lineups, Boston capitalized on James Young's availability at No. 17.
The Kentucky swingman is one of the draft's best three-point shooters, and he also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish explosively when he gets into the lane. He'll be the first Celtic shooting guard with such a versatile scoring arsenal since Paul Pierce was last in green.
Yet Boston's biggest prize was undoubtedly Marcus Smart, whom the Celts selected with the sixth pick. Standing 6'3", 227 pounds with a 6'9" wingspan, he'll be a fearsome on-ball defender from the moment he enters the league, and Boston will feature an impenetrable backcourt defense when Smart plays with another physical freak in Rajon Rondo.
The question is how those two point guards—both of whom are spotty long-range shooters—will function offensively together. With Sullinger at center and another shooting forward on the floor, the interior should be open for Rondo and Smart drives. Both will be able to get their shots inside, and Boston's drive-and-kick offense will thrive with twin engines.
As the franchise transitions to a familiar new nickname and identity, the Charlotte Hornets both added to their greatest strength and addressed their most glaring weakness.
Al Jefferson's imposing post offense powered the former Bobcats last season. Add Noah Vonleh to the mix, and that gives Charlotte a face-up forward who can knock down mid-range jumpers and has the strength to bang under the rim. He's a natural complement to the established back-to-the-basket threat in Jefferson, which will be a miserable combination for opposing defenses to stop.
The Hornets upgraded their one-man show to a potent interior force. And with second-round pick Dwight Powell, a smart, fundamentally sound power forward, they have depth inside as well.
Above all, Charlotte could not maximize its frontcourt dominance without surrounding it with some shooting, and P.J. Hairston will certainly provide that.
The one-time UNC Tar Heel and Texas Legend can knock down shots from deep beyond the arc, and he has the strength and off-the-bounce game to beat his man and create for himself as well. Charlotte already had players who could do one or the other, but not both with any consistency. Hairston will give the offense an immediate boost.
The Chicago Bulls also began the day with two first-rounders, but they parlayed them into one potent scorer who's among the most NBA-ready prospects in this draft.
In this Chicago era of Tom Thibodeau's punishing defense and Derrick Rose's starry and star-crossed play at point guard, the Bulls have wanted an off-ball weapon who could take and make his shot at any given moment.
That's exactly what Doug McDermott can do for the Bulls, and it's why he was well worth the move from picks No. 16 and 19 to No. 11.
Save perhaps Nik Stauskas, no 2014 draftee is a more dangerous three-point shooter than McDermott, and he launches his shots from above a 6'8" frame. He's not just a spot-up threat, though; McDermott can effectively sink leaners off the bounce, and he has the ability to finish over the top when he gets inside.
In a less flashy pickup, Chicago also added Cameron Bairstow with the 49th pick. The New Mexico center has the defensive chops to satisfy Thibs, and he's an effective shooter from mid-range. As obviously as McDermott's one-man offensive skills will aid the Bulls, Bairstow's less heralded floor spacing will be plenty valuable for Chicago's two-big attack as well.
It may seem uninspired to put Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks on this list, so as means of explanation, let's address why Andrew Wiggins and the Cleveland Cavaliers are not.
Each of the top two teams in the draft got the player it wanted most, but Milwaukee's pick comes with a more polished skill set with which to solve a more glaring problem.
Wiggins' athleticism makes him a terror in transition, but until he improves his jumper, his primary contribution will come on the defensive end. He has all the tools to be a lockdown guy on that end, and he'll thrive in man situations immediately. When asked to play as a part of an otherwise mediocre Cavs perimeter corps, Wiggins' play could get lost within the weak unit.
On the other hand, the whole reason Parker makes sense for Milwaukee is because he'll be able to step in and be the primary scoring option from Day 1.
Parker has every bit as complete an offensive arsenal as McDermott has. While Chicago's new small forward is a better shooter and shotmaker than Parker, he can score inside as well as anyone in this class, including Julius Randle and a healthy Embiid.
He has the strength to overwhelm wings and the agility and touch to beat rim protectors. He can effectively carry a heavy shot load even on a team with few weapons.
Unlike Wiggins, defense will be a significant problem for Parker, but Milwaukee's trying to rebuild, not win now. As his skills develop on that end, the Bucks will be able to move forward with an offensive identity oriented around Parker.
Speaking of identity, the Utah Jazz emerged from the draft with an intriguing lineup now sporting tantalizing young players at all five spots.
Utah has been gambling on Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to develop into a formidable frontcourt tandem, sort of like what Charlotte hopes it has with Vonleh and former Jazz beast Jefferson now. Over the past two years and particularly in 2014, the Jazz have bolstered the perimeter through the draft, surrounding the bigs with more talent so everyone can grow.
Trey Burke has promise as a scoring point guard, but Gordon Hayward was his best weapon to work with last season in terms of distribution targets and supporting scorers. Adding 6'6" slasher Dante Exum to this mix both takes pressure off Burke (and Hayward if he re-signs) and allows him to play off-ball more with another point guard in the lineup.
Even if Hayward departs, Utah can still get offense from the small forward position with Rodney Hood, who was a gift at No. 23.
Like Parker, his former Duke teammate, Hood can score smoothly both inside and out, though without as much strength to finish through contact. Even so, he could be a factor spotting up around Burke and Exum, or he could attack the defense himself and get his own shot.
There will be growing pains in Utah, but the talent is finally there at every position. The youngsters will all pressure opponents in unique ways, and they will allow their teammates to excel in the process.