It takes an elite set of minds with a cohesive long-term plan to build a contender through the NBA draft.
Oh, and a huge amount of luck.
In this day and age, the NBA sees those franchises that hold the top few picks of a controversial lottery emerge as contenders—if the elite prospects they get first access to pan out, of course. Hence the alleged tanking by many NBA teams last year for the likes of Andrew Wiggins. After the draft, it then becomes a free-for-all in free agency.
But every year, there are a few franchises that buck the trend and knock a draft out of the park, which in turn eventually leads to postseason berths and perhaps even more.
After reviewing draft grades for each of those teams that selected players in last week's draft, let's examine those franchises that seemed to walk away from the event with something to be proud of.
|2014 NBA Draft Grades|
|Boston Celtics||Marcus Smart (6), James Young (17)||B|
|Brooklyn Nets||Markel Brown (44), Xavier Thames (59), Cory Jefferson (60)||B-|
|New York Knicks||Cleanthony Early (34), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (51), Louis Labeyrie (57)||A+|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Joel Embiid (3), Dario Saric (12), K.J. McDaniels (32), Jerami Grant (39), Vasilije Micic (52), Jordan McRae (58)||C|
|Toronto Raptors||Bruno Caboclo (20), DeAndre Daniels (37)||F|
|Chicago Bulls||Doug McDermott (11), Cameron Bairstow (49)||C|
|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)||A|
|Miami Heat||Shabazz Napier (24)||B|
|Orlando Magic||Aaron Gordon (4), Elfrid Payton (10)||A|
|Los Angeles Clippers||C.J. Wilcox (28)||C-|
|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)||B|
|Sacramento Kings||Nik Stauskas (8)||B-|
|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)||A-|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Zach LaVine (13), Glenn Robinson III (40), Alessandro Gentile (53)||B+|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Mitch McGary (21), Josh Huestis (29), Semaj Christon (55)||C|
|Utah Jazz||Dante Exum (5), Rodney Hood (23)||A|
|Picks per NBA.com|
Most Underrated Class: Charlotte Hornets
The Picks: Noah Vonleh (9), P.J. Hairston (26)
It was painfully obvious after a 43-39 campaign and a sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs that the Charlotte Hornets are a growing franchise in need of a few smart additions.
Go ahead and mark that off the list.
Kemba Walker is a budding elite player, and Al Jefferson will continue to dominate the low post. However, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist oozes potential but still needs a few years, so Charlotte entered the draft needing to find players who could contribute right away and grow exponentially with the young roster.
Indiana product Noah Vonleh certainly fits the bill. He averaged 11.3 points, 9.0 boards, 1.4 blocks and 0.9 steals per game as a freshman last year, but it is his youth (18 years old) and measureables (6'10", 240 lbs) that stick out.
The Boston Globe captured the whole perspective on Vonleh nicely:
Vonleh is a franchise centerpiece for years to come who will make an impact on the defensive end of the court right away. Guard P.J. Hairston will contribute on the other end as soon as possible.
Hairston took a strange path to the NBA through the D-League thanks to off-court issues, but he averaged 21.8 points and 2.8 triples per game there last season and offers a ton of upside.
“There are concerns always when there have been things in the past,” coach Steve Clifford told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “But we did a ton of intel on all of these guys. Not one guy making one call. If we weren’t comfortable he can be a dependable, efficient NBA player, we wouldn’t have taken him so high.”
Hairston will post strong numbers right away and blossom into a starter in tandem with a player like Walker. In a few years, especially if Kidd-Gilchrist can develop into a reliable player on both ends, the 2014 class will be looked back upon as one of the best in recent memory.
Class With Most Potential: New York Knicks
The Picks: Cleanthony Early (34), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (51), Louis Labeyrie (57)
For a team with few assets to work with a mere weeks before the draft, paired with later finding out that Carmelo Anthony is likely headed for greener pastures, the Knicks' Phil Jackson has done one heck of a job of building for the future.
Before the draft even began, Jackson went out and acquired point guard Jose Calderon in a trade with Dallas to shore up perhaps the weakest position on the roster.
Starting point guard in hand, the Knicks hit the ground running at the draft. First up was an absolute steal in Cleanthony Early, a bit of a project player with a ton of upside and the ability to score consistently right out of the gate.
Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy summed up the general consensus well:
Early averaged 16.4 points per game last year and can create on his own, although he'll have to earn playing time as a tweener behind aging options like Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.
But the real caveat for the future is Thanasis Antetokounmpo, brother of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who became one of the best rookies from the 2013 draft. Thanasis posted averages of 12.0 points, 4.3 boards, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks in the D-League last year and also happens to be a bit of an athletic freak.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman offered notable positives regarding the Grecian prospect:
The times are changing in New York, and once Jackson can get his hands on his two star rookies and free himself of horrific veteran contracts in the coming years, the Knicks will be back to contending once again.
If anyone can be trusted with elite talent in need of a skillful mold, it's Jackson.