A quality pool of talent made the 2014 NBA draft class far superior than the previous year's, which in turn made Thursday's 60 picks announced at Brooklyn's Barclays Center all the more compelling.
There weren't as many surprises as there were differences in philosophy and the way front offices went about their business in trying to improve their teams.
Some of that was dictated in the way the draft dominoes fell, but otherwise, myriad strategies emerged. Several organizations invested in assets that won't pan out for several years, while others sought immediate impact options. Those who had the luxury of several picks got to mix and match.
Based on that, the grades vary, and these preliminary marks will obviously hold little weight when looking back at this draft class years from now. However, there's no time like the present to assess the jobs every franchise in the NBA draft appeared to do.
|36||Johnny O'Bryant III||PF||LSU|
|10*||Elfrid Payton||PG||UL Lafayette|
|Celtics||6||Marcus Smart||PG||Oklahoma State||A-|
|26*||P.J. Hairston||SG||NBA D-League|
|49||Cameron Bairstow||PF||New Mexico|
|40||Glenn Robinson III||SF||Michigan|
|Suns||14||T.J. Warren||SF||N.C. State||C-|
|50||Alec Brown||C||Green Bay|
|Hawks||15||Adreian Payne||PF||Michigan State||B|
|43||Walter Taveras||C||Cape Verde|
|19*||Gary Harris||SG||Michigan State|
|56||Roy Devyn Marble||SG||Iowa|
|59||Xavier Thames||PG||San Diego State|
|Knicks||34||Cleanthony Early||PF||Wichita State||A|
|Nets||44*||Markel Brown||SG||Oklahoma State||B|
* indicates draft-day trade for pick
Charlotte Hornets (A+)
What a job by the Hornets to get two exceptional values in the first round with Indiana forward Noah Vonleh at No. 9 and former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston at No. 26.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer highlighted just how well the Hornets fared on Thursday:
Man, this has been one long day. End result: Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston and additional cap space (now about $15 million).— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) June 27, 2014
Both players hail from big-time college basketball programs and bring their own likable qualities to the table. There really isn't much to dislike about Vonleh, because he has as much offensive upside as anyone in this draft and already has a remarkably refined arsenal of moves after just one year of college.
Hairston was the leading scorer for UNC as a sophomore before being dismissed by the team. Instead of fading into obscurity, he redefined himself with the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League, flashing his potential as a surefire NBA 2-guard.
ESPN Stats and Info noted the historical significance of Hairston being drafted:
This is the second time in as many years that the Hornets used a top pick on an Indiana big man, adding Vonleh to a frontcourt rotation featuring Cody Zeller.
The two should push each other for playing time. In the end, Vonleh should win out based on his superior athleticism, elite rebounding ability and the fact that he doesn't shy away from contact and can protect the rim.
But what Charlotte also lacked before this draft was shooting from the perimeter.
That's something Hairston will provide in spades, and his thick frame can also see him slash to the hoop with effectiveness. Playing the elevated D-League competition will only aid his efforts to log significant minutes as a rookie.
Utah Jazz (A)
Getting Rodney Hood from Duke at No. 23 was an absolute steal, and adding a playmaking combo guard in Australia's Dante Exum at No. 5 gives the Jazz an exceptional haul from the first round.
Hood has tremendous size on the wing and is a three-point sharpshooter. He and Gordon Hayward have so much versatility that either of them can play the 2 or 3, offering a ton of lineups for new coach Quin Snyder to explore.
Exum can play the 2 as well since he's 6'6", as can the more diminutive Utah point guard Trey Burke thanks to his electric quickness and ability to work off the ball.
Fox Sports' Jimmy Spencer is intrigued by the Exum-Burke partnership in the backcourt, while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com feels it's an ideal dynamic:
Trey Burke and Dante Exum is my "Most Exciting Potential" award from last night's draft.— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) June 27, 2014
I personally think this is a great pick for Utah and love the fit between Dante Exum and Trey Burke. They complement each other beautifully.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 27, 2014
Since both players can slash to the rim and create for others, a shooter like Hood should have no problem stepping in right away and filling it up. The Jazz also have perpetually improving former lottery pick Derrick Favors up front, along with Enes Kanter.
BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy offered high praise for Hood too:
Rodney Hood is an excellent selection for the Utah Jazz. He's a steal this late. One of my favorite players in the draft.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 27, 2014
For a team that ranked behind only the Chicago Bulls in scoring offense this last season, there's no question that the Jazz were being held back from a lack of scoring. Both Exum and Hood offer an upgrade and are good enough to crack the rotation right away.
Snyder is keen to develop a young core but needed two exceptional players from Thursday's draft. He got them in Exum and Hood, who should thrive right away in Utah based on the opportunity to do so with a modest roster.
Los Angeles Lakers (A)
With longtime Laker Pau Gasol hitting the open market, the power forward position seems suddenly vacant. Enter Julius Randle out of Kentucky, who played on a stage with unimaginable expectations and lived up to the hype in his only season in Lexington.
That has at the very least earned the respect of LA legend Kobe Bryant, who congratulated Randle on Twitter on being chosen No. 7 overall Thursday evening:
Bryant has just two years remaining on his contract, and based on his recent injury history, perhaps his career. Whether he'll even be around for the team's renaissance remains to be seen. Having said that, there is no better player for Randle to learn from as he makes the adjustment to the NBA level.
Whether it be work ethic, basketball IQ or developing a rapport with a strong personality and great player, the tutelage Bryant could offer Randle is invaluable. The good news for that prospective mentoring is that Randle has a relentless motor and doesn't go soft as Gasol has done oftentimes in the past.
But general manager Mitch Kupchak wasn't done, securing former Mizzou guard Jordan Clarkson, who can play 2-guard and also run the point if need be. Learning from veteran Steve Nash is also an ideal scenario for him.
Concerns about Clarkson's jumper caused his stock to sink a bit. Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted how that perception has changed:
Jordan Clarkson retooled his shooting mechanics and impressed at the NBA combine. His size at 6'5" is interesting if he can play point.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) June 27, 2014
Clarkson could wind up being a second-round steal and a player who gets to prove himself right away.
Who had the best 2014 NBA draft?
Only Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre are guaranteed under contract at the moment in a time of uncertainty for the Lakers, who don't have a new coach yet. Nailing the draft was pivotal to the squad's chances of competing at all in 2014-15, and Kupchak delivered.
With how deep the Western Conference is, it's going to be difficult for the Lakers to improve this coming season even with two premier young players entering the fold. Randle will bring much-needed physicality and energy up front, though. Clarkson's lightning quickness will also provide a nice change to the aging legs that Bryant and Nash are sporting these days.
Things may be looking up in LA. The big question marks concern its two biggest stars' health situations. Should Bryant and Nash be close to 100 percent and Randle and Clarkson live up to the hype, the Lakers could shock basketball fans with how well they fare.