There's a moment in Queen's seminal hit, "We Are the Champions," where Freddie Mercury admits, "And bad mistakes / I've made a few."
No, Mercury wasn't an NBA general manager during the draft. But he might as well have been.
Such is the appeal of the NBA draft. In the process of trying to build a champion, mistakes will be made, teams will reach for players while passing up surer bets, and decisions will be questioned. In an inexact science, a bad hypothesis can be catastrophic.
But if you can build that championship roster, it's all worth it. With that in mind, let's take a shot at grading this year's draft before a single player from this class takes the court, as we try to project which general managers are closer to being the champions, my friends, than having sand kicked in their face.
|NBA Draft Team 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)||D|
|Chicago Bulls||Doug McDermott (11), Cameron Bairstow (49)||B+|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Andrew Wiggins (1), Joe Harris (33)||A|
|Detroit Pistons||Spencer Dinwiddie (38)||C|
|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)||A|
|Phoenix Suns||T.J. Warren (14), Tyler Ennis (18), Bogan Bogdanovic (27), Alec Brown (50)||A-|
|Sacramento Kings||Nik Stauskas (8)||C+|
|Houston Rockets||Clint Capela (25), Nick Johnson (42)||B-|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Jordan Adams (22), Jarnell Stokes (35)||B|
|New Orleans Pelicans||Russ Smith (47)||C|
|San Antonio Spurs||Kyle Anderson (30), Nemanja Dangubic (54)||A-|
|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)||B|
|Utah Jazz||Dante Exum (5), Rodney Hood (23)||A|
Notable Picks and Top Selections
Looking over the draft, there are two teams that walked away feeling completely confident in their picks—the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs landed Andrew Wiggins, who can take a backseat to Kyrie Irving as he develops but has otherworldly athleticism and upside. And the Bucks got their guy, Jabari Parker, who will be the scorer they desperately needed to build around.
After that, well, things got really interesting. The Philadelphia 76ers became both the league's most unwatchable team and intriguing organization in one evening. On one hand, drafting Joel Embiid at No. 3—a player who likely won't play next year, recovering from a foot surgery—and Dario Saric—a player committed to Europe for at least the next two years—means the Sixers, for the second year in a row, drafted players their fans will have to wait to see.
This year's rookie for them essentially will be last year's pick, Nerlens Noel.
On the other hand, Embiid has the most potential of any player in this draft, while Saric is a top-10 talent that also brought back additional picks in the trade with Orlando. Two years from now, the Sixers could be dropping one hell of a talent into the roster. And in a league where it can be hard to find difference-makers in the paint, the Sixers may have drafted three players who can be just that.
General manager Sam Hinkie is certainly pleased with the selections, via the team's official Twitter account:
The Sixers are playing the long game, folks, and for people who can stomach some pretty bad basketball for another year or two, their approach will be incredibly intriguing. Zach Lowe of Grantland is certainly paying attention:
We have never seen an experiment quite like this. This is an unprecedented convergence of a GM with big dreams and a new ownership group happy to empower him to pursue those dreams. The Sixers and Sam Hinkie don’t really care about being good, or filling the arena, or pleasing season-ticket holders. I mean, they care about all of those things, to a degree; Brett Brown is already legendary inside the team’s offices for his cold calls to season-ticket holders and his rollicking in-person speeches before groups of them—speeches that convince people to re-up and watch a miserable team lose by 20.
But those cares don’t drive their vision. The Sixers want to win big. They have no interest in being the late-2000s Hawks. They know the easiest avenue to win big is to find a superstar.
And so they rolled the dice on Embiid. They'll play the waiting game with Saric. They'll likely be horrible enough to have another top-three pick next June. And sometime down the road, likely the 2016-17 season, we'll really be able to see the fruits of this experiment.
It might fail. It might be enough to eventually get them into the playoffs. Or Hinkie and company might create a dynasty and revolutionize the art of tanking altogether. Be honest: Aren't you a bit excited to find out what it might be?
There was more intrigue than that at the draft, of course. The Magic surprised some folks by selecting Aaron Gordon at No. 4 over Dante Exum, though the former's athleticism, versatility and effort make him a bright prospect. And then they added Elfrid Payton later on in a trade with the Sixers, giving them a pure point guard to play alongside last year's first-rounder, Victor Oladipo.
The Magic are building a nice roster. And a darn athletic one at that.
The Utah Jazz didn't end up with the guy they really wanted, Parker, but they did end up seeing Exum drop to them at No. 5 and Rodney Hood drop to No. 23. With that, they killed two birds, getting a combo guard with good size and a pure scorer on the perimeter. Very quietly, they killed this draft.
The Lakers will be pleased as well, getting an instant producer in Julius Randle, who will crash the glass and give the team a nice option in the paint. One gets the impression Kobe Bryant wasn't going to suffer any projects with the No. 7 pick.
There were moves that require further evaluation. The Bulls traded two picks to land Doug McDermott, who will add instant offense but will be a defensive liability. Is he the right fit in Chicago?
Is Marcus Smart the right fit in Boston? With the Celtics, his versatility, leadership and grit will be a plus, but the tiny little fact that he plays the same position as Rajon Rondo makes his selection a bit surprising. Does that mean the end is nigh for Rondo in Boston?
And what of the Toronto Raptors selecting Bruno Caboclo with the No. 20 pick, a player who very likely would have been available to them in the second round? During the broadcast of the draft, ESPN's Fran Fraschilla both called him a "Brazilian Kevin Durant" and said he's "two years away from being two years away," a combination of descriptions that really sums up the NBA draft in a nutshell.
Shoot for the moon, and hope your rocket has the fuel. Such is the life of an NBA general manager at the draft.
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