NBA Draft Winners and Losers
After a solid 12 months of buildup turned into seven days of chaos this past week, the “craziest draft in years” turned out to be pretty sane when it actually got here. No massive upsets at the top of the board. No potential top pick sliding down and slowly looking homicidal in the green room. No ridiculous interviews. No blockbuster deals altering the entire landscape of the league. That comes next week.
Last night we just got the draft, and that was fine, because there’s no such thing as a bad draft night. Even a “normal” draft features someone named Bogdan Bogdanovic, Elfrid Payton’s hair, the Brazilian Kevin Durant, and — as David Jacoby put it — Andrew Wiggins dressed like a cracked iPhone screen.
Now it’s all over.
So who’s up for some good ol’-fashioned instant reactions? It’s the end of a long week in the NBA and the next few weeks will be even crazier, so let’s just keep this nice and simple.
Cleveland. You almost have to grade Cleveland drafts on a curve after the last few years. Andrew Wiggins isn’t necessarily the next Tracy McGrady, he may never dominate on offense like a no. 1 pick should, and maybe there were other offers out there that could’ve gotten the Cavaliers more value overall. We have no idea.
But big picture? Things could’ve been a lot worse. They could’ve drafted Jabari Parker and tried to fit him at the 3. They could’ve taken Dante Exum and tried to play him with Kyrie Irving. They could have shocked the world and taken Noah Vonleh. All of these scenarios were completely realistic given recent history. That Vonleh play is basically exactly what they did with Anthony Bennett.
Is it weird to call Cleveland a big winner for just going with the obvious pick? Definitely! But this is progress.
Wiggins has a higher floor than anyone in the draft. He’ll be able to guard three positions on defense, he can shoot, and he can finish in transition. With some work, he’ll look like a starter on a playoff team. He could also be a lot better than that if he develops his ball handling, gets a few go-to moves, and becomes more comfortable with attacking every night.
For the Cavs, this was the best bet on the board. Parker was an awkward fit and didn’t want to play in Cleveland, Joel Embiid is hurt, and nobody else is close to those three. Wiggins always made the most sense.
It’s also much smarter than my reckless idea, from earlier this week, for them to trade the no. 1 pick for Kevin Love. If things get serious with LeBron James in the next week or two, they could still use Wiggins to try to steal Love at that point. If not, and if Wiggins stays put, hopefully he and Johnny Manziel will convince Drake to permanently relocate to Cleveland so they can all start an empire together. It’s a win either way. Everybody do that money-counting thing with their fingers.
Milwaukee and Jabari. This is so much better than Cleveland for Parker. With the Cavs, he would’ve been surrounded by bad defense, exacerbating his own issues on that end, and then stuck playing the 3 on offense. With the Bucks, he’s got guys like Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, all of whom will help cover him on defense.
On offense, he’ll be able to play plenty of stretch 4, exploiting mismatches. His offense will help compensate for all the things Antetokounmpo, Sanders, and Henson don’t do.
It’s a perfect pick. There’s a story about how Parker used to sneak into his church gym to practice, but then would get locked in and have to sleep there overnight. That’s just an A-plus draft-night anecdote. That’s the draft anecdote all other draft anecdotes dream of being one day.
For Milwaukee … in six months, the Bucks have gone from one of the most depressing teams (besides Antetokounmpo) and the best candidate to relocate to a team that has as bright a future as anybody in the East. They still need a point guard, but that can be handled down the line. Finding Parker and Antetokounmpo was a much bigger deal.
The NBA and Isaiah Austin. I’m not usually someone who enjoys these moments. They usually feel contrived and a little uncomfortable for everyone involved. But Austin seemed genuinely thrilled to take the stage last night, Adam Silver was just as genuine about wanting to bring him up there, and this was all very cool to watch.
The Knicks. They drafted one of the best sleepers in the draft (Cleanthony Early), and that was a day after they got rid of Tyson Chandler and added Shane Larkin, which is almost like a second draft pick. They also landed Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’s older brother and a lock to become a cult hero if he actually makes the team.
Early was compared to James Posey on the draft broadcast, which is pretty much the highest praise you can give to any potential role player. For at least one night, it was good to be a Knicks fan.
Jusuf Nurkic. I know almost nothing about Jusuf Nurkic except that Fran Fraschilla called him a mountain man this week, Danny Chau keeps saying he’s got dancer’s feet, and Thursday night we learned that his father is a riot police officer in Bosnia. I’m so glad Jusuf Nurkic exists.
The Magic. There were times last year when the Magic looked like a team full of players who would be great as sixth or seventh men, but were somehow playing 40 minutes a game. So Orlando bottomed out again, hit the top of the draft, and walked away without anyone who could ever be a superstar.
On the other hand … Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon are both pretty great. Gordon is a forward chiseled out of stone and shot out of a rocket. He will harass people on defense and on the glass for his entire career. Payton was one of the best point guards on the board, and he’ll allow Victor Oladipo to move to the 2. He’s also got the best hair of anyone in the draft.
The Suns. T.J. Warren is going to be a starting small forward for 10 years in the NBA. I can’t prove this, but I know it in my heart. Tyler Ennis gives the Suns flexibility in negotiations with Eric Bledsoe, if they decide to let him go somewhere else. Good things are happening in Phoenix. That’s been true for a while, but draft night just proved it.
LeBron’s Twitter Account. This tweet turned into the Heat trading up and actually drafting Shabazz Napier.
We’ll come back to this.
The Lakers and Julius Randle. If you factor in fit, potential, and value, this was the best pick of the lottery. There are questions about Randle’s size, and he’s got a screw in his foot, but he’s as skilled as any player on the board, including Parker, and as his jumper continues to develop, he’ll be able to beat people inside and outside. The Lakers were the perfect landing spot. He’ll be able to contribute immediately, but won’t necessarily be carrying a horrible team.
Mostly, though, I’m just not ready to bet against Randle being awesome in the NBA. He was one of the toughest players in college basketball last year, and he’s still 19 years old. With big men, the hardest thing to teach is aggression, and Randle has had that all along.
“I think I should’ve went higher for sure,” he said on ESPN last night. “But you know, the teams that pass on me will regret it.”
Then he transitioned from vengeance into telling us how much he loves his mother. There’s nobody in the draft I’m more excited to root for.
Nik Stauskas. Winner at life.
On the other hand …
Nik Stauskas. He would’ve been so much better in Charlotte, one pick later. Next to Kemba Walker every night, getting kickouts from Big Al … WHY, GOD, WHY SEND STAUSKAS TO SACRAMENTO?
Zach LaVine. Maybe the most painful draft reaction we’ve seen since the Five Stages of Steve Francis.
It’s the kind of moment that makes you feel bad for the player but also underscores what makes the draft so amazing.
LaVine recovered nicely in the press conference, saying, “I’m ecstatic right now. Words can’t describe how I’m feeling.”
But still. Read his lips in this Vine.
“Fuck me” is the story of all Wolves fans, and now even Wolves players. At least he and Love will have something to talk about.
The Raptors. They are technically losers because they missed on their biggest target (Ennis) and probably could’ve drafted Bruno Caboclo in the second round, but screw it. Brazilian Kevin Durant! Two years away from being two years away!
That was the best moment of the draft. There is no close second.
It was a throwback to the good ol’ days of the NBA draft. The days Rafe Bartholomew wrote about when foreign draft picks were 60 percent rumors, 40 percent grainy highlights, and 100 percent rock stars. The days of Frederic Weis, the days of Johan Petro, the days of Rafael Araujo. It all came rushing back last night.
I’d actually heard of Caboclo before Thursday. Chau and Bartholomew were next to me in the office talking about a tip they’d gotten on the next Giannis. He was a giant Brazilian kid, still very young, freak athlete. Chau then added that they weren’t sure if he could actually dribble. This was like three weeks ago, and it’s when I started to worry that both of them had gotten in too deep prepping for the YouTube draft.
But now … now it’s real.
Brazilian Giannis/Durant is real.
LET’S DO THIS BRUNO.
The Celtics. What’s the plan here? The Celtics tanked this season, and it wasn’t until they tried to trade for Love that we all realized quite how barren that roster is. Beyond draft picks, all they had to offer were guys like Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Green and his gigantic deal, Jared Sullinger … It was a pretty depressing reality check.
Now they have Marcus Smart as a point guard next to Rajon Rondo, plus James Young as a shooting guard who’s got tons of potential, but may not be ready to put it together for the next few years. I liked Young a lot, as a player who could develop on a good team in the mid-teens, like Phoenix. But Boston’s not that team.
The Thunder. They took Mitch McGary, because … uh … why have one Nick Collison when you can have TWO? They also added Josh Huestis from Stanford, someone who can apparently help on D, but not much on offense. I actually loved McGary coming into the draft, but not for the Thunder.
OKC’s biggest problem in the playoffs was scoring from its guards, and this draft had plenty to choose from. Everyone from P.J. Hairston to Rodney Hood to Cleanthony Early, all of whom were available at no. 21. Whether it’s Scott Brooks’s coaching, refusing to amnesty Kendrick Perkins, or this draft … I don’t understand why the Thunder keep making this so much harder than it needs to be.
The Heat. Miami’s in a tricky situation. It has to balance what LeBron wants with what’s actually smart. It’s not that LeBron doesn’t know basketball, but he also wasn’t scouting Payton, you know? It’s the same problem the Cavs had when they were panicking to try to keep LeBron happy for his last few years there.
Shabazz Napier was awesome in the NCAA tournament, but is he really better than someone like K.J. McDaniels? Or Early, the future James Posey? Or Spencer Dinwiddie, a 6-foot-6 combo guard whom draft experts loved with all their heart? I can’t wait to watch Napier in the NBA, and it’ll be fun to see him on the Heat, but there were definitely better players available if you want to get all nerdy about it.
Then again, if it helps the Heat keep LeBron, this is the best pick anyone made last night.
Wizards Fans. Nope, not even going to get into them selling another draft pick. Just know that the Wizards are still one of the cheapest teams in the league, even in one of the deepest drafts ever.
The 76ers. OK, this one’s a little longer …
Philly wound up with Embiid and Dario Saric, plus a first-round pick in 2017, McDaniels, Jerami Grant, Pierre Jackson, and a Serbian point guard named Vasilije Micic. Grant and McDaniels have good potential, but Embiid isn’t playing until 2015, and Saric probably won’t come to the NBA until 2016. For a team that tanked its entire season banking on this draft, it’s pretty amazing to come away with zero active first-round picks. It’s also pretty amazing the Sixers are being called the big winners of this draft.
There’s a longer conversation you could have about this, especially in the year-round NBA era we’re entering now. Is it better to root for the process of building a great team the right way, or to root for a good basketball team with a chance to actually entertain people? Right now “the process” is all Sixers fans really have. They’ll probably tank again next year — I don’t know if they have a single player with a decent jump shot — and land in the lottery again.
Whether that’s exciting or depressing probably depends on who you talk to. I live with a Sixers writer who loves the plan, loves Sam Hinkie, and loved that draft. I have other friends from Philly who officially can’t stand Hinkie after last night.
But that’s a separate conversation. Philly’s in this category because it tanked away the entire season for a chance at Wiggins, and it didn’t get him. It didn’t get Parker, either. Instead it has Embiid and his already infamous medical records. Meanwhile, Saric won’t arrive until 2016, and instead of at least getting someone like Randle or Gordon at small forward, Nerlens Noel and MCW will play all of next year fending for themselves on another Sixers team designed to land at the top of the lottery.
The Embiid pick reminds me of the Cavs gambling on Andrew Bynum last summer. In theory, that was brilliant. It didn’t matter that Bynum probably wouldn’t stay healthy and maybe didn’t care about playing basketball, and that plenty of people who’d watched him closely were saying these things last summer. The Cavs structured the deal so they could opt out if things weren’t working, but if Bynum could return to what he was, the Cavs had just walked into a superstar center on an affordable deal. There was no way to lose.
Except that signing Bynum meant not spending that money on someone else. It meant drumming up interest in a guy who really wasn’t interested in being there, and who couldn’t really play even if he was. It meant ignoring the critics and pointing to the smart contract they signed him to every time someone said Bynum might never play again. Does a smart gamble make sense if you know it’s not gonna pay off?
Embiid was pretty great all year — on the court and in interviews — and he’s someone I’ll root for no matter what. But there were always injury questions, and a week ago we sort of got the answer to those questions. Not only does he have the back problems, but his foot problems, too. It’s still unclear how he even injured it, but it was the worst possible bone to fracture. He just seems like the type of guy who’s going to struggle with this stuff his entire career.
If that’s the case, the Sixers just tanked an entire season for a guy who’ll probably never be totally healthy long term, and guarantees the team will struggle again in the short term. It’s one thing to lose and be patient, it’s another to do it all for a dream that will never come true. That’s what Embiid feels like.
Then again, that could be totally wrong. A year ago, I was praising the Wizards for drafting Otto Porter.
Filed Under: 2014 NBA Draft, NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Elfrid Payton, Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, LeBron James, Adam Silver, The Brazilian Durant, Toronto Raptors, Tyler Ennis, julius randle, james young