NBA Draft Grades: Bulls, Pistons, Cavs, Nuggets, Warriors, Jazz


With the draft now over and everyone has had a chance to sound off on which clubs had good and bad selections, I’ll attempt to bring some logic to the team grading science that is often done by writers/bloggers who apparently have only seen highlights of these players and value things like “freakish wingspan” over actual production. In a weak draft like this one, most of the teams really can’t do much to improve or hurt their situations too drastically, so this article will only focus on franchises who picked at least one first rounder and who have been earning grades of either B+ and above or C- and below.

Teams Whose Drafts Most People Liked

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls received mostly positive reviews for their haul, which was #23 Nikola Mirotic, a very good scorer who will remain overseas for a few more years, and #30 Jimmy Butler, one of the most impressive guys this draft has to offer as far as a player who has an elite attitude, hustle, understanding of his role, and desire to help his team win. Truth: The Bulls return almost everyone from a very good team, so stashing the highly skilled Mirotic in Spain for a few years is fine, especially since it’s pretty clear he will actually contribute in the NBA when he does show up. Butler has everything you want from a guy picked at the end of the first round, including a great spot-up jumper and no ego whatsoever; he’ll help in any way he’s asked. Real Grade: A

Cleveland Cavaliers: The team that picks first seems to often receive top grades, which seems stupid because it doesn’t take a genius to pick the player everyone is saying you should pick. Obviously Irving is a great pick-up, but that’s a gimme. Fan opinions on #4 pick Tristan Thompson seem to be low, and even the one site that gave the Cavs an A said the pick “showed that GM Chris Grant has the guts, vision and power to rebuild a roster his way.” Not exactly a ringing stamp of approval on the pick actually being a good one. Truth: Again, Irving is a gimme that doesn’t automatically earn a high grade because it takes no intelligence or vision to select him, plus the team already has nearly $20 million locked into PG’s next year. Thompson was a terrible pick that they could have traded down 4 or 5 spots to get and gotten something else while doing so. He’s active and athletic, but he also has no shot outside of 8 feet and is terribly inconsistent, not a real confidence boost for a team that needs better starters now. Real Grade: C-

Denver Nuggets: I think anyone who knows enough about basketball to watch the draft likes #22 Kenneth Faried, and most fans are more than OK with Raymond Felton getting flipped for Andre Miller. Almost everyone thinks #26 Jordan Hamilton was great value at that pick. Truth: Faried will be a top-10 rebounder in the NBA if he gets the minutes—which he should—and turning back-up PG Felton into Miller (or simply saving his $7.8 million contract by not re-upping him by June 30) and a versatile scoring threat who can rebound (Hamilton) was great. Real Grade: A

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors got a B+ or A- grade from everyone because #11 Klay Thompson was considered the best 3-point shooter in the draft, #39 Jeremy Tyler has huge upside but can be dropped quietly if his maturity remains an issue, and #44 Charles Jenkins has all the makings of a very good NBA combo guard. Truth: I like Thompson but am not as big on him as most people (only shot 40% from 3 last year, will have difficulty playing defense against NBA athletes), but I’m higher than most people on Jenkins. I think he, not Thompson, makes Ellis truly expendable. Tyler probably won’t get it together enough to be a real pro, but he won’t hurt this club as long as Mark Jackson doesn’t hang onto him unnecessarily long if he doesn’t work out. Real Grade: B+

Minnesota Timberwolves: Most columnists liked the Timberwolves’ haul of #2 Derrick Williams and #43 Malcolm Lee, not to mention their trades that dropped Jonny Flynn and picked up Brad Miller and a bunch of future draft picks (mostly second rounders, but one in the first from Memphis). Truth: I like Williams, but if a team whose top players are all forwards anyway is willing to add more talent to the front court, I think they should have gone with Enes Kanter who brings more upside, particularly as a rebounder. I don’t know if Lee will make the team, but his perimeter defense will get him a look, and all the trades definitely benefited the club. Real Grade: B+

San Antonio Spurs: They made the George Hill trade that netted #15 Kawhi Leonard and #42 Davis Bertans, plus they seemingly over-reached on #29 Cory Joseph who was projected as a second-rounder. Everyone now assumes #59 Adam Hanga must be a future pro since the Spurs took him. Truth: I loved the trade and think Leonard is the type of high energy, versatile defender who rebounds and takes smart, aggressive shots on offense that any team would love to have. Bertans has potential and will stay overseas for a while, so nothing to dislike there. Joseph’s abilities, size, and stats scream “next George Hill,” but you gotta think they could have traded down about 10 spots and still gotten him – I’m sure they tried, but they apparently got who they wanted, and usually whoever the Spurs covet gets upgraded by pundits in a hurry because of SanAn’s stellar track record. Real Grade: B+

Utah Jazz: Lots of A’s for the Jazz because #3 Enes Kanter could easily end up the best player from the draft and #12 Alec Burks is considered the top SG prospect who isn’t forced to be called a PG because of short height (Kemba and Jimmer). Truth: There was lots of confusion about how and where to draft Kanter before the draft, but he’s dominated everyone everywhere and looks to be an automatic 20-10 PF/C for years, so it’s a great selection. Unfortunately, the Jazz already have three other high-level big men in C/PF Al Jefferson, PF Paul Millsap, and PF Derrick Favors. I know it’s a great problem to have, but a trade needs to happen so that the development of Favors and/or Kanter (the two with the most upside) isn’t jeopardized. I love Burks’ aggression with the ball and rebounding, but he can’t shoot and his defense isn’t yet a priority to him. Utah has a few sorta-shooters on their squad, so Burks should be OK as a change-of-pace, good-luck-stopping-him-from-getting-to-the-basket wing, but his ceiling probably isn’t great. Real Grade: A-

Washington Wizards: The Wizards received multiple A+’s for getting “steals” #6 Jan Vesely who is a dunking highlight machine, #18 Chris Singleton who can defend almost anyone in the NBA, and #34 Shelvin Mack who has hit tons of big shots in the past two tournaments. Truth: I’m sorry everyone, but this Vesely pick is insanity. He is a much worse shooter than advertised (around 30% from 3 and 45% from FT over in Europe) and he reportedly has trouble when defending decent offensive players in isolation, and his D is supposed to be one of his strengths. As far as his crazy dunks on top of players, keep in mind he’s very weak and not much of a shot creator/driver in the half-court, so don’t expect many YouTube-worthy slams in the NBA against significantly faster and stronger defenders. Singleton looks to be a legit defender, but his offensive skills and awareness are severely lacking, and Shelvin Mack isn’t really a PG but he’s too short and slow to be much of a SG. Singleton is the only saving grace for this trio. Real Grade: D+

Teams Whose Drafts Have Gotten Wildly Mixed Reactions

Charlotte Bobcats: I’ve seen their draft haul and trades graded as high as A+ and as low as C-, with almost nothing in the middle. The naysayers think it was dumb to trade their best offensive player (Stephen Jackson) on a team needing offense, #7 Bismack Biyombo is unproven and bad offensively, and Kemba Walker has way too many question marks and is far too much of a black hole to ever run a team. Those who like what MJ’s club did think Biyombo will become the league’s best defender, Walker has the right work ethic and aggressive mindset to make it in the league, and Jackson needed to be gotten rid of to have a chance of taking a real step forward. Truth: Jackson was never going to lead them to the promised land (for Charlotte, that would be two playoff berths in a row) and replacing him with Corey Maggette is acceptable when you pick up Biyombo, who will indeed be a dominant interior defender in this league for years. On the flip side, Walker only “lead” UConn to a national title if you define shooting a lot of shots at a low percentage as leading; he’s not a willing passer or anything other than a volume scorer who will be exposed in the NBA. Real Grade: A for the trade that resulted in Biyombo and a D for picking Walker to be their PG. The more Walker’s impact on the club is minimized, the better.

Detroit Pistons: I’ve seen a lot of places that graded Detroit’s draft as an A, and then Ball Don’t Lie gave it a D. Many people like #8 Brandon Knight’s potential to be an elite PG, think #33 Kyle Singler has the all-around game and smarts to provide value as a second-rounder, and #52 Vernon Macklin could became an end-of-the-bench PF/C who has the big body to bang inside. BDL thinks all three are overrated. Truth: Knight is not a good PG; his Assist-Turnover rate was a horrendous 1.2 for the season and he shot a team-worst 42% FG but still jacked up the most shots on Kentucky (that’s terrible decision making if I’ve ever seen it) – plus those extreme inefficiencies got worse down the stretch, so don’t assume he improved. Singler is slow, weak, and shot 32% behind the arc his final year in college, plus he had more turnovers than assists, so good luck telling me what he’ll be able to do well in the NBA. Macklin averaged 5.4 rpg and 0.7 bpg as a 24-year-old senior. Real Grade: F

Los Angeles Clippers: I’ve seen everything from an A- down to an F for the Clippers’ picks. They went for two boom-or-bust second rounders from Georgia: the uber-explosive but skills-impaired SG #47 Travis Leslie and the skilled PF #37 Trey Thompkins who has major issues relating to his drive and conditioning. Truth: I didn’t like either player as an NBA contributor before the draft, and I knew I was right once I saw that the Clippers picked up both. How many super athletes who lack skills and a good motor can they select over the years? There’s a reason Georgia underperformed big time on the season. Real Grade: D-

Teams Whose Drafts Most People Disliked

New York Knicks: Many draft analyses gave the Knicks a D for picking up #17 Iman Shumpert, a super athletic guard who plays great D but who has questionable skills and smarts, and #45 Josh Harrellson, a big bodied C who was a long shot to even get drafted. Spike Lee was certainly less than pleased with the picks. Truth: I get it they need a perimeter defender, but to pick one up whose offensive decision making borders on horrendous and who has no outside shot doesn’t seem smart; if they can completely hide him on offense, Shumpert could kinda work out – good luck with that. Harrellson should not make this team. Real Grade: D-

Portland Trail Blazers: Although Portland got all C’s and C-‘s for their draft, I think that’s with the curve columnists use so they don’t look like a bunch of jerks before any of these guys have even played. Everyone isn’t sure about trading Andre Miller for Raymond Felton, and no one is sold on #21 Nolan Smith or #51 Jon Diebler being real contributors to this club. Truth: They should have kept Miller and Rudy Fernandez, and Smith was about the 6th best PG they could have taken at the 21 spot, except the Blazers clearly should have gotten Faried there. Diebler will make a very good D-League player. Real Grade: D

Sacramento Kings: A lot of D’s were handed out to the Kings who made the #7 Bismack Biyombo and Beno Udrih trade for #10 Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons. They also took #35 Tyler Honeycutt and #60 Isaiah Thomas. Everyone hated the trade, and at least one place theorized that Thomas could be ahead of Fredette on the depth chart by opening night. Truth: The trade was terrible and puts non-PG Fredette who turns the ball over a lot next to Tyreke Evans, whose description is similar. Honeycutt is going to get hammered and hurt by NBA players, but Thomas was a really nice pick-up with the last selection of the draft – will he have a chance to earn consistent playing time? Real Grade: D- (escaped an F because of Thomas)


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