NBA Draft Grades: Evaluating each team's full draft; Celtics come out with a D
It's not so much who Boston took, but who it didn't take
The 2017 NBA Draft has come and gone, but there is still a lot to evaluate. This was not a quiet draft night. The No. 1 overall pick was traded. Jimmy Butler was traded. In a really deep class, a lot of teams added multiple players that, at first glance, look like the foundation of real progress. We won't be able to evaluate the full scope of these picks for a few years, but right now, given the information we currently have, here are the grades for every team's 2017 draft class.
Dallas Mavericks: A
Pick: Dennis Smith Jr. (9)
In a draft full of loaded point guards, we knew Smith would fall below his objective value on Thursday. The Mavericks filled a gaping hole at point guard with an athletic, 6-foot-3 power guard with an NBA-ready body. He'll add scoring to an offense that ranked 23rd in the league last season, and will be able to slide over to the two when necessary. Smith is a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate, so the Mavs did as well as they could with their only pick.
Denver Nuggets: C-
Picks: Tyler Lydon (24, from Jazz), Vlatko Cancar (49), Monte Morris (51)
The Nuggets passed on the chance to take Donovan Mitchell (more on him later) and instead traded down to take Lydon, a 6-10 sharpshooter who profiles as a true stretch-four. With an upside of Ryan Anderson and a downside of Steve Novak, Lydon doesn't move the needle on a team crowded in the frontcourt with Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur and Juancho Hernangomez all on the books for next season. Oh, and they also got another power forward, Trey Lyles, from the Jazz in the trade. It's a real head-scratcher. Cancar is a decent play to stash overseas and Morris has an outside shot of making the team, but neither does much for the Nuggets' hopes of making the playoffs next season.
Golden State Warriors: A
The Warriors didn't have a pick in the draft, but they waited patiently until they found the man they wanted. Golden State traded for Bell, , and picked up an elite rebounder who can defend multiple positions. Bell is a perfect fit for the Warriors' system and will join James McAdoo, Kevon Looney and Damian Jones as young big men competing for front-court roles with the world champs.
Houston Rockets: B
Pick: Isaiah Hartenstein (43)
The Rockets have previously stated their intent to be big players in free agency this summer, so they weren't looking to add significant pieces through the draft. Hartenstein is a raw big man who many feel could have been a lottery pick had he waited until next year to enter the draft, so Houston did well to pick him up in the second round to stash overseas while he improves.
Los Angeles Clippers: B
The Clippers didn't have a pick in the draft, but they traded into the second round to pick up Evans and Thornwell, two prolific college scorers who could help the team's struggling bench. Some thought Evans was a first-round talent, and Thornwell led South Carolina to the Final Four while averaging over 21 points per game. Given their roster makeup, the Clippers needed players who could potentially step in and perform right away, and that's exactly what they got in Evans and Thornwell.
Los Angeles Lakers: A
Magic Johnson's first draft went about as well as it could have. No matter how you feel about Ball's potential, once news broke of Paul George's plans to sign with the team next season it made perfect sense to go after a pass-first, up-tempo point guard to lead the team into the future. Kuzma is a 6-9, versatile scorer who can step out and knock down the 3, and parlaying the No. 26 pick into solid pieces in Hart and Bryant was the right move. Overall, the future is bright in Los Angeles ... as long as George doesn't change his mind.
Memphis Grizzlies: B-
Picks: Ivan Rabb (35, from Magic), Dillon Brooks (45, from Rockets)
It's not that the Grizzlies did anything wrong here, it's just so ... Grizzlies. Both Rabb and Brooks are known commodities who will probably become decent role players in the NBA, but sooner or later Memphis has to start planning for the future. In a deep draft, taking a swing on a potential high-ceiling guy (like Semi Ojeleye or Dwayne Bacon) rather than two high-floor guys might have been the smarter play.
Minnesota Timberwolves: A+
Pick: Justin Patton (16, from Bulls)
As strong of a prospect as Patton might be, he wasn't the one who won the night for the Timberwolves. The real prize was, of course, Jimmy Butler, who came over in a deal for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick. The trade would have been a win for the Wolves regardless, but the fact that they got the Bulls to include No. 16 and drafted Patton was just icing on the cake. Minnesota has been in desperate need of a backup center for Karl-Anthony Towns and the 7-foot Patton could fit the bill, if not this year then in the near future. He needs to fill out his frame, but he has good instincts and has shown the ability to knock down 3s.
New Orleans Pelicans: B
Picks: Frank Jackson (31, from Hornets)
The Pelicans saw an opportunity to trade up to get Jackson, a strong, athletic guard with Duke pedigree, to hopefully get the ball to DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis and take away some of their scoring burden. Jackson is good value at No. 31. Duke's roster was loaded with lottery-level talent, and there were a lot of time when Jackson was the bets player on the floor. He effectively took Grayson Allen's ball-handling duties down the stretch of the season. He has the tools to be kind of a Reggie Jackson type, only he's a more efficient scorer and a much better shooter. This could prove to be a real sleeper pick a few years from now.
Oklahoma City Thunder: B+
Picks: Terrance Ferguson (21)
The Thunder's playoff experience made one thing abundantly clear -- Russell Westbrook needs help. You usually can't find that kind of help at No. 21, but because Ferguson, who was originally committed to play at Arizona, chose to head to Australia last season, his value dropped more than it should have. The explosive 6-7 guard has to potential to be a dynamic wing scorer and a prolific 3-point shooter, both needs for OKC, but he could also end up being a complete bust. Sam Presti tends to know what he's doing when it comes to the draft, however, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Phoenix Suns: A-
Picks: Josh Jackson (4), Davon Reed (32), Alec Peters (54)
The Suns might have benefited more in the short term from a polished wing scorer like Jayson Tatum, but Jackson could end up being a better NBA player given his two-way ability. To get a talent like Jackson at No. 4 (possibly aided by Jackson's decision not to work out for the Celtics) is a huge win for the Suns, and he'll likely slide right into the starting lineup alongside fellow franchise player Devin Booker. At 6-7 Jackson will immediately be able to defend perimeter scorers -- Phoenix was 28th in the league in defensive rating last season -- and his offensive game is passable enough to get him by while he develops his 3-point shooting. Reed is a potential 3-and-D guy who shot 40 percent from behind the arc at Miami. Peters might not make the team, but he's a four-year guy who performed at a high level in college and could give the Suns some front-court depth.
Portland Trail Blazers: C+
Picks: Zach Collins (10, from Kings), Caleb Swanigan (26)
Many scouts are high on Collins, a 7-footer who Portland traded up to draft at No. 10, but the fit just doesn't make much sense given the emergence of Jusuf Nurkic last season. The Blazers could plan to play them together, but that doesn't seem to work with both occupying space down low. Portland would have been better off sticking with their No. 15 and No. 20 picks and selecting a couple of rangy wings capable of hitting 3s and making up for the defensive deficiencies of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Swanigan, a hard worker who knows his role, is a solid add to a team trying to recapture the magic of two seasons ago.
Sacramento Kings: A
Picks: De'Aaron Fox (5), Justin Jackson (15, from Blazers), Harry Giles (20, from Blazers), Frank Mason (34)
No, that "A" is not a typo. Let this go down as the season the Kings became a real NBA franchise -- or at least had one superb draft. Fox was the guy they wanted all along and will step in right away as the best player on the roster. Trading No. 10 for Jackson (who should add 3-point shooting, energy and defense) and Giles (the No. 1 player in his high school class and a potential top-five pick before injuries) was the right move to make. And Mason is a proven leader for a young team looking to find its direction. Welcome to the new era of Kings basketball!
San Antonio Spurs: A
Picks: Derrick White (29), Jaron Blossomgame (59)
Just pencil in the Spurs for an "A" every season. White is the quintessential Spur, a guy who was overlooked out of high school and played three years at a Division II school before turning himself into a prolific scorer for Colorado. A 6-5 guard who can defend, White can hit the 3, distribute and finish at the rim. He was the perfect guy for the Spurs at 29, and they didn't miss him. Blossomgame is a 23-year-old capable of stepping in and giving San Antonio solid minutes right away. Just add them to the rest of the Spurs' nameless, faceless wrecking crew.
Utah Jazz: A-
Picks: Donovan Mitchell (13, from Nuggets), Tony Bradley (28, from Lakers), Nigel Williams-Goss (55)
The Jazz clearly liked two players in the draft, trading up to get both Mitchell and Bradley. Mitchell is an athletic freak, and plays much bigger than his 6-3 height because of a ridiculous 6-10 wingspan. He immediately gives the Jazz a dynamic bench scoring option and rangy defender, but if he can hit 3s consistently (he shot 35 percent at Louisville), he could end up being the steal of the draft. Bradley is another player who fits Utah's defensive model, a 6-11 center with a 7-5 wingspan who is a capable rebounder, and he should be able to step in and back up Rudy Gobert immediately. The Jazz have struggled with backup point guards in recent seasons, so Williams-Goss gives them a proven leader who will compete for those minutes.
Atlanta Hawks: B-
Picks: John Collins (19), Tyler Dorsey (41), Alpha Kaba (60)
The Hawks we came to know over the past few years are gone. Paul Millsap opted out. Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague are long gone. Last year's mini reload is also gone, with the trading of Dwight Howard. The draft represented a fresh start in Atlanta, and in Collins, it may have gotten somewhat of a steal. At 6-foot-10, he is the big to replace Howard, and he's a good athlete with nice touch around the rim. You don't expect to get an All-Star at No. 19, and Collins could become that if he adds some range to jumper.
Dorsey, meanwhile, is really a really intriguing pick for Atlanta, particularly getting him so late. If you watched Oregon in the NCAA Tournament, you know he's a gamer. Under the bright postseason lights, he scored 20 or more points in his final eight collegiate games, and his stock benefited considerably from his role in leading the Ducks to the Final Four. He doesn't have any one skill that jumps out, which is why he was still around at No. 41, but he's a guy who can just play. There is some doubt about ranking Dorsey too high based on our most recent tourament memories of him; he was kind of mediocre throughout his career. But again, it's the 41st pick.
Overall, neither of these guys are going to be franchise changers by any stretch, but there's a reasonable chance at least one of them -- if not both -- outperforms his draft spot. The only reason this isn't a higher grade is Atlanta could've gotten either Harry Giles or Jarrett Allen out of Texas at No. 19, both of which probably have more upside than Collins, if more risk, too. They played it safe.
Boston Celtics: D
Picks: Jayson Tatum (3), Semi Ojeleye (37), Kadeem Allen (53), Jabari Bird (56)
Danny Ainge said he, so he got his guy. But this is more about who Boston didn't get -- namely Jimmy Butler, who was reportedly offered to Boston in exchange for the No. 3 pick. Ainge has since said he didn't have any talks with Chicago about Butler leading up to the draft, and if this is true, a case can certainly be made that he should have. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, there were two specific sticking points:
Ainge likely would've had to include at least one of Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder, if not both, in the deal to make the money work, and also to keep enough space available to make a legit run at Gordon Hayward, but it does not sound like those players, or nay other ancillary parts, were the issue. You can slice it a number of ways, but at the end of the day, Ainge, on some level, chose Tatum over Butler.
You don't just throw around a No. 3 pick and another potential top-five pick. At the same time, very few players, in any draft, turn out to be as good as Jimmy Butler -- who is still just 27 and has two years remaining on his contract, meaning he wouldn't just be some win-now panic move.
Will Tatum become an All-Star? He certainly could. Perhaps it's even likely. The same thing "could" be true of whoever Boston takes next year with that Nets pick. But again, you KNOW what you have in Butler. Boston could've given up Tatum and still had a potential No. 1 overall pick next year, or given up next year's and still have Tatum. Even if Ainge would've had to throw in another piece with one of those picks, he has plenty of assets to do so without draining the bank.
Instead, Ainge continues to pile up "nice" players with draft slots that are supposed to be reserved for elite players. Last year he took Jaylen Brown at No. 3. Two years before that he took Marcus Smart at No. 6. It's not so much that they clearly missed on a player that went after those guys and has proven to be better; it's the leverage those picks carried to make a deal for an established player -- the same leverage this year's and next year's picks carried/carry.
But again, Ainge kept the pick. It might work. But drafting is largely about percentages, and the percentages say there's a good chance Tatum never turns out to be as good as Jimmy Butler. In fact, there's a decent chance Tatum doesn't even turn out to be better than Markelle Fultz, who the Celtics also could've had if they'd kept the No. 1 pick. Ultimately, there's only one way this pick goes right: If Tatum turns into an All-NBA player not somewhere down the road, but over the next few years, while he can still help this current Celtics team the way Butler would have.
If you're playing the odds, are you ready to make that bet?
Brooklyn Nets: A
Picks: Jarrett Allen (22), Aleksandar Vezekov (57)
First of all, they turned the 27th pick (and Brook Lopez) into D'Angelo Russell, a guy who went No. 2 overall just two years ago, in a trade with the Lakers. That is an absolute steal. Even if Russell doesn't live up to the hype that surrounded him two years ago, when you measure him against whoever Brooklyn would've gotten at No. 27, his value is off the charts. He needs to become much more efficient -- he shot barely over 40 percent from the field last year -- but there is still a high ceiling there.
In addition, Brooklyn also landed Jarrett Allen out of Texas at No. 22, which is another potential steal. Allen is raw but has all kinds of upside according to almost anyone you hear talk about him. If he sharpens some of his raw skills -- which there's every reason to believe a 19 year old will do -- there's a chance he ends up performing like a lottery player. Great draft for Brooklyn.
Charlotte Hornets: B
Picks: Malik Monk (11), Dwayne Bacon (40, via Pacers)
A lot of people had Monk rated higher than this, so it looks like good value. He doesn't do much other than shoot, but he can certainly do that, and he's a super athlete, which suggests his defense and rebounding from the guard position can improve. You could easily make the argument that Luke Kennard, who went one pick after Monk, is actually the better, and certainly the more consistent, shooter, and overall he's probably a more well-rounded player. Monk feels a little bit like J.R. Smith (without the really underrated defense Smith brings) in that when he's hot, he can completely dominate a game. But when he's not, Monk, at this point, doesn't do much else.
Chicago Bulls: C
Pick: Lauri Markannen (7, via Timberwolves)
The Bulls are getting crushed for letting Butler go for what some people feel is a pretty a weak return, but if you really look at it, and factor in where the Bulls are as a franchise, it's not terrible. Chicago got Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that became Markannen for Butler, who was a great player being wasted by a Chicago team that needs to empty the cupboard and start fresh. This is not a bad way to do that.
Remember, Dunn was one of the hottest names in the draft last year, a point guard plenty of teams would've been happy to start building their future around. He fell through the crack a bit in his rookie year, but there is still a ton of upside there. LaVine is getting better every year, is still young and remains one of the best athletes in the league. And Markannen, a skilled seven-footer who can shoot with range, has a really bright future, too.
Chicago was likely going to lose Butler no matter what, and the longer it waited on this rebuild the longer it was going to take to turn things around, and the less leverage they were going to have for a Butler deal as his walk year drew closer and closer. It could've been a lot worse, really -- though selling the 38th pick to the Warriors, which turned out to be Jordan Bell out of Oregon (who dominated the NCAA Tournament at times and could turn out to be a real find) was a little strange.
Cleveland Cavaliers: N/A
For Cleveland, which didn't have any 2017 picks, this is all about finding a deal for Kevin Love, and so far they have been unable to do that. They have no cap space and no picks available to trade until 2021, and they have to get better right now, or else they're playing with fire with LeBron James being a free agent in 2018 and already rumored to have interest in heading west.
The Cavs were trying to get Jimmy Butler, but that fell through, and talks have seemingly stalled in their push to bring in Paul George on a one-year rental. So far, they've stayed the same team, only less stable with the ousting of their GM and rumors flying about the volatility around the team -- which, in the chase for Golden State, is almost like becoming worse.
Detroit Pistons: B
Pick: Luke Kennard (12)
Kennard is an all-around sound player, and his lights-out shooting addresses one of Detroit's most glaring holes. He immediately projects as a guy who will create some space for Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to operate in -- presuming Detroit doesn't find a deal to move one or both of them -- and he has the skill to create his own shots and initiate offense as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Donovan Mitchell, a versatile defender that would've fit well as a 3-and-D guy in Stan Van Gundy's system, and perhaps Justin Jackson, who went No. 15 and has a lot of upside as a hybrid-type three, were both options, but Detroit made the right play in taking Kennard. He's solid, but he won't carry a team or anything.
Indiana Pacers: D+
PIcks: T.J. Leaf (18), Ike Anigbogu (47), Edmund Sumner (52)
A lot of people are high on Anigbogu, who you probably haven't heard a ton about given that he was a bench player for UCLA and averaged just a bit over four points in his lone college season. He's pure projection, based mostly on a great body and athleticism that should theoretically translate to a lot of improvement for a young player.
Leaf was solid at UCLA, better than Lonzo Ball in some games, but he's not a game-changer in the NBA. More than likely, he's a rotation guy who will simply do his job -- Indiana would be thrilled if he contributed on the level of, say, a Markieff Morris. All told, this wasn't a great draft for the Pacers, who need to get something for Paul George before they lose him for nothing. The goals was to move him before the draft, netting a pick higher than No. 18, where they got Leaf.
Miami Heat: C-
Picks: Bam Adebayo (14)
Not many people had Adebayo going this high, but he's got the look of a beast. Some took to calling him a little Dwight Howard. He could turn into a nice interior scorer, but given his size and strength he's a pretty disappointing defender and overall presence in the painted area. Plus, he can't shoot, so he's not a guy like a Channing Frye who's going to offset his lack of defensive presence by stretching the floor. This pick doesn't make a ton of sense unless Adebayo improves in some unexpected areas.
Milwaukee Bucks: C
PIcks: D.J. Wilson (17), Sterling Brown (46)
Much like Oregon's Tyler Dorsey, D.J. Wilson saw his stock rise more and more as he shined throughout Michigan's unlikely postseason run. He can stretch the floor as a capable shooter and is a smart player, taking the right shots, filling gaps on the fly, and he's a pretty solid team defender. Milwaukee is a team on the rise and the presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo takes a lot of pressure of a guy like Wilson because he fills so many holes on the court himself.
New York Knicks: C
Picks: Frank Ntilikina (8), Damyean Dotson (44), Ognjen Jaramaz (58)
The Knicks were dangling Kristaps Porzingis but were reportedly asking too much for the Celtics, or anyone else, to bite. Ntilikina should step in and start for the Knicks fairly soon, but most people think he's a slower project. But he's a legit 6-6 and plays longer than that. He can guard 1-3 and at worst figures to be a versatile 3 and D guy. There was a lot of talk about Malik Monk going to New York, but they passed, and with the talk about possibly trading up for a guy like De'Aaron Fox, this might feel disappointing to Knicks fans. But time was when they were disappointed in with taking Porzingis.
Dotson is another guy who can shoot, but all in all, the Knicks didn't get much better in this draft, certainly not in the short terms. The Ntilikina pick is somewhere between safe and promising.
Orlando Magic: A
Picks: Jonathan Isaac (6), Wesley Iwundu (33)
This is all about Isaac, who for some experts' money has the highest ceiling in the draft. For starters, he's a defensive beast, 6-11 with athleticism and physicality to guard four positions. You either love pairing him with Aaron Gordon because they can switch and do a lot of the same things, or you think it's a bit awkward because the't complement each other so much as they resemble each other.
Isaac has offensive skills, but he's not as assertive on that end. He can shoot. He can create. He's really good with the ball for his size. This is where the ceiling comes in, because everything suggests he has the capacity to really put things together as a scorer, and if that happens, given his versatility everywhere else, he could end up being an absolute stud.
Philadelphia 76ers: A
Picks: Markelle Fultz (1), Anzejs Pasecniks (25, via Magic), Jonah Bolden (36), Mathias Lessort (50)
Markelle Fultz. Say no more. He's the surest bet in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, and he slides in as a perfect fit alongside Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons, last year's No. 1 pick who has yet to play an NBA game after missing all last season recovering from foot surgery.
The Sixers appear to really be building something here. In Embiid, they have a potential future MVP candidate. That sounds extreme, but he's absolutely shown that kind of game if he can stay on the floor. Saric is another budding stud, and though we haven't seen Simmons, if he's even close to his hype, look out.
Fultz, the point guard they've been missing, beings it all together. He can score from anywhere -- at the the rim, mid-range and from 3. He can create off the dribble for himself and others, and to that last point, he was underrated in his one college season as a passer because we were all caught up in his scoring. He's most people's No. 1 prospect for a reason.
Toronto Raptors: A+
Pick: OG Anunoby (23)
Anunoby is coming off an ACL tear, which may have caused him to slide some, but this seems about the right spot for him. W Nobody knows when, exactly, he'll get back on the court at full speed, but when he does, he's a defensive stud. And that's not an overstatement. This guy has young Andre Iguodala type talent on that end. At this spot in the draft, just that alone make him a potential home run,
Anunoby has proven to be a legit scorer, too, mostly because he's just a terrific athlete with a lot of raw skill. He's not yet all that basketball savvy, which will take some time, but he could really end up being a huge gem this late in the first round. There is a lot to like with this guy's game.
Washington Wizards: N/A
Paul George, you still out there?
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