Assessing the 2014 NBA draft a day after it happens—hell, any draft in any sport, for that matter—is a fool's errand. Basketball may be the most projectable of our four major sports, but we have zero idea how the 60 men taken Thursday night will transfer to the next level until we actually see it.
This seems obvious. Of course, we cannot pass judgment on something without knowing what it is. We couldn't know whether or not we like a television show without first watching it. The same thing applies here, though in this analogy our up-and-coming television program would have proven itself as, like, a podcast or something before coming to a broadcast network.
But too often so-called "grade" pieces devolve into a competition as to who can have the hottest take. As to which writer can come up with the harshest-possible criticisms without allowing for the possibility that NBA teams might, you know, actually know something. I spent countless hours doing predraft prep on Synergy and other video services before this draft and feel I have a solid grip on each of the players chosen. The name Bruno Caboclo raised eyebrows for the earliness of his selection, not that he was taken.
Coincidence in my assessments aside, we're not devolving into the ugliness in this space. Teams are not making these draft picks in a vacuum. Thursday night was the beginning of a summer-long process that will see a majority of the league reshape a good portion of their respective rosters. If a pick doesn't make much sense now, it may look brilliant in a month.
So, here's how we tackle draft grades in this space: It's a combination of perceived value and need, with the final swing of course coming down to my objective opinion. Grabbing a player 10 spots before he was expected to be taken is bad. Doing the opposite—"stealing" a player—is good.
Although I will try to couch the analysis by projecting a bit for a team's summer plans, filling needs is based largely upon players currently under contract. The point here, if you haven't noticed, is to be as fair and grounded as possible.
With that in mind, let's take a look around the league while highlighting some of the league's most interesting drafts.
|Tyler Conway's 2014 NBA Draft Grades|
|Boston Celtics||Marcus Smart (6), James Young (17)||A|
|Brooklyn Nets||Markel Brown (44), Xavier Thames (59), Corey Jefferson (60)||B|
|New York Knicks||Cleanthony Early (34), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (51), Louis Labeyrie (57)||B|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Joel Embiid (3), Dario Saric (12), K.J. McDaniels (32), Jerami Grant (39), Vasilije Micic (52), Jordan McRae (58)||A|
|Toronto Raptors||Bruno Caboclo (20), DeAndre Daniels (37)||C|
|Chicago Bulls||Doug McDermott (11), Cameron Bairstow (49)||B-|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Andrew Wiggins (1), Joe Harris (33)||A-|
|Detroit Pistons||Spencer Dinwiddie (38)||B|
|Milwaukee Bucks||Jabari Parker (2), Damien Inglis (31), Johnny O'Bryant III (36)||A-|
|Atlanta Hawks||Adreian Payne (15), Walter Tavares (43), Lamar Patterson (48)||B|
|Charlotte Hornets||Noah Vonleh (9), P.J. Hairston (26), Dwight Powell (45), Semaj Christon (55)||A|
|Miami Heat||Shabazz Napier (24)||B+|
|Orlando Magic||Aaron Gordon (4), Elfrid Payton (10)||B-|
|Los Angeles Clippers||C.J. Wilcox (28)||B-|
|Los Angeles Lakers||Julius Randle (7), Jordan Clarkson (46)||B|
|Phoenix Suns||T.J. Warren (14), Tyler Ennis (18), Bogan Bogdanovic (27), Alec Brown (50)||B|
|Sacramento Kings||Nik Stauskas (8)||C+|
|Houston Rockets||Clint Capela (25), Nick Johnson (42)||A-|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Jordan Adams (22), Jarnell Stokes (35)||B|
|New Orleans Pelicans||Russ Smith (47)||B-|
|San Antonio Spurs||Kyle Anderson (30), Nemanja Dangubic (54)||B|
|Denver Nuggets||Jusuf Nurkic (16), Gary Harris (19), Nikola Jokic (41), Roy Devyn Marble (56)||B+|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Zach LaVine (13), Glenn Robinson III (40), Alessandro Gentile (53)||B+|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Mitch McGary (21), Josh Huestis (29)||C|
|Utah Jazz||Dante Exum (5), Rodney Hood (23)||A-|
Best of the Best
The Celtics had only two draft picks Thursday night, but they made the most of them. After the two players whom most projected to go to Boston in the predraft process, Aaron Gordon and Joel Embiid, went off the board, Danny Ainge plucked a kid who might be the most competitive player in this class.
Marcus Smart will not fail at the NBA level. That much I'm willing to bet on. Whether his jumper or passing skills ever develop enough to make him a legitimate offensive threat is a legitimate concern. But the very basement of his NBA projection is as a pre-knee-injury Tony Allen. Someone who can eat up an opposing team's best wing player and relishes in making their life a living hell.
Smart is a basketball lifer. Had he not been supremely gifted with size, speed and athleticism, the Oklahoma State product would be that mid-50s guy at the YMCA getting into fist fights with the younger generation. I'm not sure how Smart will fit with Rajon Rondo—or if that it even matters all that much. Rondo's contract expires after next season, and for all the public adulation Ainge wants to heap upon his All-Star point guard, the franchise and player are on two different trajectories. Smart is the future.
Grabbing James Young at No. 17 was another great value play. Young, while inconsistent at Kentucky, has the skill set of a top-10 pick. He has an improving three-point stroke, is an excellent ball-handler for his size and has the athleticism to finish at the rim. Defensively, Young is a little undisciplined, but his seven-foot wingspan and the fact that he's among the youngest players in this draft gives me hope he'll develop.
Young and Smart both project as long-term fixtures in Boston.
Sam Hinkie, man. I don't even know what else to say. The Sixers are going to be dreadful next season. Philadelphians might be more entertained by sticking their heads inside the Liberty Bell and having a friend bang it over and over for two hours than going to a Sixers game. (Note: Please do not do that. I'm sure it's a crime of some sort.)
Hinkie didn't take a player likely to suit up for his team during the 2014 calendar year until K.J. McDaniels at No. 32. Then he doubled-down by taking Jerami Grant seven picks later—someone with a near-identical skill set to McDaniels. He just does not give a (redacted). It's unheard of for an executive to disregard the present to such an extent.
And it's brilliant.
Hinkie landed the draft's best player in Joel Embiid. If healthy, no one has a higher upside. Health and big men are a scary proposition, but teams take them time and again for a reason. There is nothing more valuable in basketball than a skilled seven-footer. When said seven-footer moves with the fluidity and grace of Embiid while flashing two-way potential stretching out to the three-point line, there is no contest. With Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker already off the board, push the chips to the middle of the table and hope it all works out.
Doubling-down with Dario Saric took, well, something I shouldn't say, and I already used my (redacted) joke. So we'll go with guts. Having already signed a three-year deal overseas, Saric will not play a minute in the NBA until at least the 2016-17 season. Given the rampant impatience that pervades through NBA franchises, it took a special level of fortitude and job security for Hinkie to pull the trigger.
Saric might have been a top-five pick had he told teams he was coming over this season. Embiid would have been the No. 1 overall selection had his foot injury not been uncovered by the Cavs' medical staff. If both pan out the way the Sixers hope, Hinkie landed two stars in the making. If both flame out, Hinkie will have gone out in style.
I like risk-takers and love the talent he acquired here. Plus, landing Vasilije Micic at No. 52 was a pilfering.
Everything is looking good in the land of the buried Bobcat. In recent weeks, the Hornets have unveiled beautiful new uniforms, showed off their excellent new court design and came away with their best draft night in recent memory.
Charlotte spent its predraft process zeroed in on shooters Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas. When Stauskas surprisingly went No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings, though, general manager Rich Cho pounced on his opportunity to land a potential All-Star in Noah Vonleh. The Indiana forward was projected as a top-five pick for most of the process, but began sliding when the draft board didn't go his way.
It's admittedly curious for the Hornets to use consecutive top-10 picks on purported stretch 4s. Cody Zeller, another Indiana product, was brought in last season under a similar guise. Zeller struggled as a rookie and might never be more than a third big.
Vonleh has the potential for much more. His body type and length have drawn numerous comparisons to Chris Bosh, as has his ability to stretch the defense. Whenever discussing Vonleh, it's become in vogue to refer to him as an NBA-ready shooter—a statement with which anyone who saw him workout or play at Indiana would disagree. The potential is there; the realization isn't.
All mild criticisms aside, this was a no-brainer pick for Charlotte. McDermott is nice, fits a need and will have a decade-long NBA career as a three-point gunner. Vonleh might give Charlotte one of the Eastern Conference's best frontcourts alongside Al Jefferson if he pans out earlier than expected.
Hairston being available at No. 26 only makes the Vonleh pick look better. The local product has a strong, NBA-ready body and a shot profile that makes analytics gurus swoon. In his short stint with the Texas Legends of the D-League, Hairston eschewed mid-range jumpers almost entirely. He was driving to the rim and jacking up threes—with the typical reckless abandon of D-League play, of course.
Putting him in an NBA structure and forcing him to be more picky with his spots will only help. I liked the initial Shabazz Napier selection in Charlotte as it wa happening, but Hairston is probably a better fit. Dwight Powell and Semaj Christon were also fine value plays who some thought should have went higher. Christon, especially, is someone a lot of people liked.
The "Umm, OK, We'll Wait and See"
I wasn't among the many who had to Google Bruno Caboclo's name to figure out who he was, but I was no less surprised by the selection. Caboclo was a buzzy name as the draft grew closer. Though he did not finish among my top-60 prospects, it became a consideration the more he kept getting mentioned.
Drafting the Brazilian at No. 20 was the biggest reach of Thursday night. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, speaking on the draft telecast, said he is "two years away from being two years away." Caboclo's experience from an international and club level is minimal, and there is no representative sample of games we have to make a proper assessment.
Synergy Sports, a fantastic service on which I rely heavily for scouting tape, has exactly one possession in their database featuring Caboclo. His selection conjures memories of the "Wild West days" Rafe Bartholomew wrote about for Grantland this week. Saying that someone is the Brazilian Kevin Durant does not suddenly make it so.
And, to be clear, there is no ripping of the pick being done here. When someone of Masai Ujiri's track record makes a selection like this, it makes you re-evaluate. Ujiri has consistently mined talent from all parts of the world going back to his Denver days. And if the Raptors didn't feel Caboclo would fall to their second selection, then it's hard to fault the logic.
The risk factor is just massive enough to make Sam Hinkie blink twice.
In the second round, Toronto came out, tried to hit a single and did just that. DeAndre Daniels was in that swing area for most teams between the back half of the first round and beginning of the second round. Daniels can do a little bit of everything, and may develop into a really fine defender once his pipe-cleaner arms add some muscle.
Daniels is fine. But this draft class comes down to Caboclo.
The Quick Hitters
Oklahoma City Thunder
Grabbing Mitch McGary at No. 21 can be explained. McGary fits a need for a tough interior presence and will gobble up rebounds if he stays healthy. Throwing Steven Adams and McGary in the same frontcourt increases the Thunder's toughness quotient by a factor so high I had to break out a calculator. Going with Josh Huestis—doing so in the first round—is where the major questions come into play. Huestis was a fine collegiate player, a solid defender and athletic enough to guard both forward spots. Wing defense was a need for Oklahoma City. That said, here's a short list of guys who were still available at the time: Jerami Grant, K.J. McDaniels, Damien Inglis, Cleanthony Early and Glenn Robinson III. All three graded better than Huestis. Sam Presti could have traded back and recouped assets here while still landing his guy.
In a vacuum, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are fine selections for where they were taken. Slight reaches based on my board, but somewhere within the realm of plausibility. The Magic grabbed two scintillating athletes here who are going to be a joy to watch in fast-break situations. I just have zero idea what Rob Hennigan is going from a roster-building sense. Gordon and Payton are joining a starting lineup that already features Victor Oladipo and one of the Tobias Harris/Maurice Harkless pair. Each of those players is a below-average shooter. Hennigan just shipped Arron Afflalo to Denver for a sack of potatoes. Next season, the best shooter in the Magic starting lineup may be center Nikola Vucevic. Like the players here, hate the fit. Orlando's offense is going to be an eyesore next season as currently constituted.
Before the draft, Dante Exum refused to work out for the Jazz because he didn't like the fit. He cited Trey Burke's presence and his own desire to play point guard long term as the biggest reasons. On Thursday night, Utah called his bluff. Drafting a player who flat-out refused a workout request takes a ton of faith in the organizational scouting department—specifically for someone like Exum, whose game tape is so minimal. The Jazz are banking on Burke and Exum to co-exist peacefully and trade off ball-handling duties. They'll also be trading off chances to fire passes to Rodney Hood in the corner. Hood was one of the biggest steals of Round 1. He's a good, smart kid who can straight stroke from three and is excellent at creating space for his jumper off the dribble. Had the Jazz kept second-round pick Jarnell Stokes rather than ship him to Memphis, they'd be in the "best draft" conversation.
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