2015 NBA Draft

Warriors Pick Up Kevon Looney’s 2017/18 Option

The Warriors will exercise the third-year team option on Kevon Looney‘s contract, sources tell Chris Haynes of ESPN.com. Looney will make slightly over $1.23MM next season.

Looney was the 30th pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He was recovering from two hip procedures during his rookie season, which only allowed him to play in a total of five games.

The third-year option on rookie contracts usually get picked up regardless of how the player performed during his first season in the league. If the team hadn’t picked up Looney’s option, he would have been an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Southeast Notes: Wade, Clifford, Porzingis, Oladipo

Dwyane Wade has been trying to preserve his body for the long run the past few years, at 33 years old he was still able to corral a one-year, $20MM deal from the Heat this past summer. Still, the 13th-year veteran has no aspirations of matching Kobe Bryant‘s 20 seasons in the NBA, as he tells Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports.

“That ain’t a goal for me. That’s a long time. I’m sure Kobe didn’t think he’d play 20 years. It’s amazing. And he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot of injuries but he’s still out there. And he’s still, you know, Kobe Bryant,” Wade said. “It’s amazing to see a guy who has played 20 years in the league. Makes me feel old, for sure, just watching him. I don’t know how many people come in with the goal, ‘I’m going to play 20 years.’ I think you take it step by step. For years I said, ‘I want to make it to 10.’ I made it to 10 and I was like, ‘I’m solid.’ Then, you keep going from there. But 20? No way.”

Bryant isn’t nearly as effective as he once was, and Lee’s piece examines what Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are doing to ward off similar declines in their own games. See more from the Southeast Division:

  • Hornets coach Steve Clifford, fresh off agreeing to a three-year extension, thanked owner Michael Jordan and vice chairman Curtis Polk, as well as GM Rich Cho, whose relationship with the coach has reportedly been less than ideal“I like who I’m working for and wanted this to happen,” Clifford said today, according to the Hornets Twitter account.
  • Kristaps Porzingis said he sensed the Magic would have drafted him with the No. 5 overall pick if the Knicks had passed on him at No. 4, notes Marc Berman of the New York Post (Twitter link). Porzingis worked out for the Magic shortly before the draft, Berman adds.
  • New Magic head coach Scott Skiles has decided to bench former No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo in favor of Channing Frye, who was reportedly available on the trade market for little in return before the season, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel relays. Skiles stressed that the move isn’t punishment or necessarily permanent and said Oladipo handled the news well, Robbins notes. Oladipo is eligible for a rookie scale extension after the season.

How 2015 First-Rounders Are Faring

It’s early, but three weeks into the season, we’re getting a glimpse at how well this year’s rookies are transitioning to the NBA, and we’re finding out which teams have expectations of receiving early dividends. We’ll check in on all 30 first-round picks:

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves — Towns has looked sharp. He’s the leading rebounder among rookies at 10.2 per game and is second among first-rounders points per game with 15.5.
  2. D’Angelo Russell, Lakers — His lack of playing time during fourth quarters has been well-documented, but he’s still playing more than half the game, with 9.5 points and 2.7 assists in 24.8 minutes per contest.
  3. Jahlil Okafor, Sixers — Philadelphia has given him plenty of opportunities, and he’s taken advantage, leading all first-rounders in points (19.2) and minutes (33.7) per game.
  4. Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks — The Latvian has surprised with his early adaptation to the NBA, notching 11.4 points and 8.4 boards per game so far.
  5. Mario Hezonja, Magic — He’s brought the shooting, as advertised, knocking down 38.5% of his 3-pointers, but he’s only seeing 14.8 minutes per game, fewer than all but one other top 10 pick.
  6. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings — He’s been in and out of a fluctuating Kings starting lineup, but he’s been efficient on the boards with 5.9 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game.
  7. Emmanuel Mudiay, Nuggets — Denver handed its offense over to him, and while he leads all first-rounders with 6.2 assists per game, he’s also turning it over 4.7 times a night. His 30.4 minutes per game are second only to Okafor’s among first-rounders.
  8. Stanley Johnson, Pistons — He’s been up and down, springing for 20 points against the Warriors a night after scoring only three against the Trail Blazers.
  9. Frank Kaminsky, Hornets — Four years of college ball were supposed to allow him to step right into a prominent role, but instead he’s seen only 10.2 minutes per game.
  10. Justise Winslow, Heat — He isn’t starting yet, but he’s already playing the majority of the game and is looking like the steal he was thought to be.
  11. Myles Turner, Pacers — An injury will shelve him for at least six weeks, and minor ailments had helped limit the big man to just 15.9 minutes per game so far, despite Indiana’s high hopes for him.
  12. Trey Lyles, Jazz — The power forward has made two starts but has seen just 8.7 minutes per game.
  13. Devin Booker, Suns — The youngest draftee has predictably seen little playing time, with just 8.3 minutes per contest.
  14. Cameron Payne, Thunder — He may be a lottery pick, but among first-rounders who’ve made it into games so far this year, he has the third fewest minutes per game, with 4.0.
  15. Kelly Oubre Jr., Wizards — Injuries have thrust a modicum of playing time on Oubre, though the expected December return of Alan Anderson threatens to change that.
  16. Terry Rozier, Celtics — The point guard has made it into six games and averaged 8.3 minutes per, but he’s also gone on D-League assignment.
  17. Rashad Vaughn, Bucks — Vaughn’s a project, but he’s shown glimpses, as his 10-point, 12-minute opening-night performance demonstrates.
  18. Sam Dekker, Rockets — No first-rounder has seen less playing time than Dekker has, as he’s managed just six minutes total so far, despite Houston’s struggles.
  19. Jerian Grant, Knicks — Like Porzingis, his teammate, Grant has also played a surprisingly prominent role for New York, averaging 6.8 points, 3.7 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 21.3 minutes per contest.
  20. Delon Wright, Raptors — Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph have the point guard position locked down in Toronto, where Wright has only seen 10 total minutes thus far.
  21. Justin Anderson, Mavericks — The Mavs have found opportunities to give Anderson at least a taste of game action amid their fast start, as he’s notched 3.2 points in 7.4 minutes per game.
  22. Bobby Portis, Bulls — The frontcourt in Chicago has simply proven too stacked for Portis to get much run. He’s only appeared in a pair of games, averaging 10 minutes per appearance.
  23. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nets — It’s been a woeful season in Brooklyn, where Lionel Hollins hasn’t been reluctant to turn to the rookie. At 6’7″, he’s grabbed an impressive 5.7 boards in just 18.7 minutes per contest.
  24. Tyus Jones, Timberwolves — The Final Four Most Outstanding Player is behind Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine, and he’s only seen 14 total minutes so far.
  25. Jarell Martin, Grizzlies — He’s yet to play because of a broken foot he suffered in the offseason.
  26. Nikola Milutinov, Spurs — Playing overseas and averaging 3.4 points in 12.9 minutes per game for Olympiacos of Greece.
  27. Larry Nance Jr., Lakers — He’s played in each of the team’s last seven games, averaging 5.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per contest, including a 6 for 6 shooting night against the Magic.
  28. R.J. Hunter, Celtics — Unlike Rozier, he hasn’t gone on D-League assignment, and he’s averaging 12.3 minutes per game even though he’s yet to find his outside shot.
  29. Chris McCullough, Nets — Still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in college.
  30. Kevon Looney, Warriors — He’s yet to play after offseason hip surgery.

2015 NBA Draft Grades: Northwest Division

The 2015 NBA Draft is squarely in the rearview and a number of draftees have already provided a taste of what is to come with their summer league play. I held off on my grades until now because I wanted a better context in which to evaluate each team’s selections, with free agency and summer league providing greater perspective. Sometimes, selecting the best available player isn’t the best course of action and it is wiser to nab a player who fits a clear need, which should always be considered when rating how each front office fared in the draft. I’ve already run down my thoughts on the Atlantic, Central, Southeast, and Pacific divisions, and next up is a look at the Northwest Division:

Denver Nuggets

Team Needs: Point guard. Talent and depth.

Draft Picks:

The Nuggets entered the 2015 draft with a number of glaring holes, which isn’t a surprise for a team coming off a 30-win campaign. Denver’s primary need was a point guard to replace Ty Lawson, whose tenure with the team came to an end when he was unceremoniously dealt to the Rockets this summer. Denver certainly addressed that need when it nabbed Emmanuel Mudiay, the second-ranked point guard in this year’s draft, with the No. 7 overall pick.

Landing a player of Mudiay’s potential outside of the top five picks has to be considered a win for the Nuggets, though he doesn’t arrive without some question marks attached. Having bypassed playing college ball at SMU in order to head overseas to China, the young guard is a bit of a wild card, which is likely why he was still on the board when it was Denver’s turn on the clock. Mudiay has an NBA-ready frame, an abundance of athleticism, as well as a lofty ceiling as far as his NBA potential goes, but like any young guard, he still has a lot to learn about being an NBA playmaker. There are also concerns about Mudiay’s jump shot and if he’ll be able to keep defenses honest by draining his outside shots consistently.

Mudiay is likely to have a rough first season, not only because of his expected rookie growing pains, but also due to the lack of talent surrounding him. But regardless of how his initial campaign in the NBA goes, Denver made the right call by selecting Mudiay, and not just because he fills an obvious need. He may also emerge as one of the top talents in the entire draft. He’ll certainly take his lumps this season, but Mudiay could end up being an All-Star by his third or fourth year in the league.

Overall Draft Grade: A. While Mudiay is a bit of a wild card, he has a wealth of talent and potential, and should give Nuggets fans reason to hope for a better tomorrow. An excellent pick by GM Tim Connelly.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Team Needs: Depth in the frontcourt and point guard, outside shooting.

Draft Picks:

*Acquired from Cavaliers in exchange for the rights to Cedi Osman and Rakeem Christmas as well as a 2019 second-rounder.

It’s natural to think that possessing the top selection in the draft and having the pick of the litter of the player pool should ensure that a team gets it right. But looking back over past drafts, that’s not always the case, with the most recent example being Anthony Bennett, who reached a buyout arrangement with Minnesota this week after two unspectacular seasons in the NBA. Time will tell if Flip Saunders made the right call by nabbing Towns over D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor, but I’m a big believer that Minnesota absolutely nailed it with this pick.

Towns didn’t have eye-popping stats during his lone season at Kentucky, but that was a result of the Wildcats’ ridiculous depth and effective platoon system. He would have been a shoo-in for NCAA Player of the Year honors on almost any other college squad. Few players come along who possess Towns’ brilliant combination of size, speed, skill, and athleticism, and Timberwolves fans should be truly excited about the possibilities heading forward, not only for Towns, but the franchise as a whole.

But despite all my gushing over Towns, I do need to dial down fans’ expectations a bit for the coming season. He is still very much a work in progress, and though he should be a solid contributor from the outset, I don’t expect his rookie season to be an easy ride. Towns still needs work on his post moves and outside shot, and he’ll need time to adjust to the bigger, stronger players at the professional level. Keep in mind that Anthony Davis, who is well on his way to becoming the best player in the NBA, notched averages of “only” 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest his rookie year.

I would have raved about Minnesota’s draft if it ended with Towns, but acquiring the No. 24 pick from Cleveland to nab Duke point guard Tyus Jones was an excellent follow-up move. Jones has the potential to develop into an absolute steal for Minnesota, and he also fills the Wolves’ need for depth at the point. Given the unknowns regarding the health and future of incumbent starter Ricky Rubio with the franchise, and Zach LaVine not being a true point guard, adding Jones was a wise move. Jones lacks elite athleticism and speed, but he has virtually every other skill and intangible that one would desire from a point guard. I don’t expect much from Jones this coming season, but he could become a big part of Minnesota’s future if the team develops him properly.

Overall Draft Grade: A+. It’s hard to find any fault with Minnesota landing the most talented player in the draft in Towns, who has the potential to become a superstar. I also love the addition of the underrated Jones late in the first round.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Team Needs: Backcourt depth.

Draft Picks:

OKC filled its biggest need with the selection of Cameron Payne, who, hopefully for the Thunder, won’t become the next talented guard the team will deal away rather than sign to an extension. Following in the footsteps of James Harden and Reggie Jackson, Payne, who shot up draft boards late in the process, will be asked to provide scoring off the bench and be an insurance policy in the event that Russell Westbrook suffers another injury.

Payne is a versatile guard who is a tantalizing blend of scorer and playmaker. He has excellent fundamentals and a high basketball IQ, and while he doesn’t possess blazing speed, Payne is deceptively quick. He is an excellent mid-range shooter, a skill that seems to be quickly becoming a lost art around the league, and he’ll also keep defenses honest from beyond the arc. There is quite a bit to like about Payne as a player, and while he’ll need some time to acclimate to the speed of the NBA game, he has the potential to become a special player in the league.

I also like the team nabbing Kentucky center Dakari Johnson late in the second round. He was buried on Kentucky’s depth chart and his stats suffered as a result. Johnson is not likely to be a starter in the league anytime soon, but the team can certainly develop him into a solid rotation big. He will sign with the team’s D-League affiliate this season, which is great for the Thunder, as they will still retain his NBA rights, and the young big will get some time to develop away from the bright lights of the NBA.

Overall Draft Grade: A. A very solid draft for the Thunder who landed a talented guard in Payne, as well as an intriguing prospect in Johnson.

Portland Trailblazers

Team Needs: Talent. Depth in the frontcourt and at the wing.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 41 Overall Pat Connaughton, SG, Notre Dame*
  • No. 54 Overall  Daniel Diez, SF, Spain**

*Acquired from Nets along with Mason Plumlee in exchange for the draft rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Steve Blake.

**Acquired from Jazz for cash.

Portland traded away its 2015 first-rounder along with Blake for Plumlee, who was the No. 22 overall pick back in 2013, and a second round pick, which they used to select Connaughton. The Blazers decided to go with a more known quantity in Plumlee, whom they will task with helping to replace LaMarcus Aldridge, rather than trying to strike gold with a rookie via the draft.

Plumlee, 25, has shown promise, though he wasn’t necessarily utilized well during his time in Brooklyn, and a change of scenery, coaches, and systems should benefit the third-year player. The only negatives regarding this deal that I see are that Plumlee, whose contract includes a team option for the 2016/17 season, can hit restricted free agency in two years, whereas a player selected in this year’s draft would come with up to four years of complete team control, and that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom the Nets grabbed with Portland’s pick, would have been a nice replacement for Wesley Matthews, who signed with Dallas this offseason.

The addition of Connaughton in the second round is an intriguing pick for the team. The 22-year-old out of Notre Dame is a freak athletically, and his predraft workouts were rather impressive in that regard. Connaughton is a project who will take some time to develop, but he was a good gamble for a team that could use some luck for a change. He’s not likely to become a starter in the NBA, but he has the potential to be an impact player off the bench at some point.

Overall Draft Grade: B. I like Portland adding a more established player in Plumlee, who should benefit by the change of scenery, via trade, though Hollis-Jefferson would have been a nice fit in Rip City as well.

Utah Jazz

Team Needs: Backcourt depth, stretch four, scoring.

Draft Picks:

Utah has quietly accumulated a very solid collection of talent over the past couple of seasons, and the team entered the draft without any glaring holes to fill. This allowed GM Dennis Lindsey to focus on fine-tuning his rotation and looking for specific skillsets to complement his existing roster. One need that the Jazz do possess is a stretch four to replace Enes Kanter, whom they dealt to Oklahoma City last season, and Lyles is the man they are counting on to fill that void.

Lyles is a solid and athletic forward whose game is quite versatile, and he should fit Utah’s system perfectly. As was the case with Towns, Lyles’ college numbers weren’t all that impressive, thanks to Kentucky’s depth, but he showed more than enough promise to justify having been a lottery pick. He will also benefit greatly from playing behind Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, which should give Lyles ample time to ease into the league without receiving undue pressure to perform immediately. I’m a big fan of this pick, and a number of front office types whose teams selected ahead of Utah may end up kicking themselves over allowing Lyles to slip past them.

The Jazz didn’t fare as well as in the second round, selecting Boston College point guard Olivier Hanlan at No. 42 overall. Hanlan has some potential, thanks to his size and scoring ability, but I’m not sold on him being an NBA point guard. He has the look of a player who is ticketed for overseas play or the D-League, and I think Utah would have been better served to instead take Oregon’s Joseph Young, who went to the Pacers with the very next pick. Young isn’t a pure point guard either, but he is a more explosive scorer than Hanlan is, and I believe he’ll have a more successful NBA career than the BC playmaker.

Overall Draft Grade: B+. Utah adds another solid young piece to its roster in Lyles, but the team could have done better in the second round than it did with Hanlan.

No. 51 Pick Tyler Harvey To Sign With D-League

Magic second-round pick Tyler Harvey will spend the season with the D-League affiliate of the Magic, who drafted him 51st overall in June, reports Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel (Twitter link). The shooting guard from Eastern Washington will sign directly with the Erie BayHawks instead of the Magic, but, as Robbins notes, Orlando will retain his NBA rights and the power to sign him at any point this season.

Harvey was a walk-on three years ago but quickly made his mark as an elite three-point shooter, nailing 43.2% of his tries beyond the arc during his three-year college career. He was the 48th-best prospect in the draft, according to Chad Ford of ESPN.com, while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress had him at No. 60.

Orlando could use outside shooting, and the team has only 13 fully guaranteed contracts, including fellow draft pick Mario Hezonja, so it’s somewhat surprising the Magic didn’t elect to bring Harvey onto the roster for this season. Still, the Magic can change that if they decide the 22-year-old shows enough in the D-League to justify using an NBA roster spot on him.

No. 48 Pick Dakari Johnson To Play In D-League

Former Kentucky center Dakari Johnson will sign with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, GM Sam Presti said today to media, including Royce Young of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Oklahoma City drafted the 7-footer 48th overall this past June, though it’s no surprise that he’s not joining the NBA roster for the start of the season, particularly since the Thunder already have 15 fully guaranteed deals. Oklahoma City retains Johnson’s NBA rights even as he heads to the D-League.

Johnson was the 33rd-best prospect on Chad Ford’s ESPN Insider rankings heading into the draft, while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress had him 45th, closer to his draft position. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game, though he had to compete for playing time with top pick Karl-Anthony Towns and No. 6 selection Willie Cauley-Stein, among others, on last season’s stacked Kentucky team. Johnson, a Leon Rose client, saw more playing time in summer league, with 26.7 MPG, and while his 7.6 PPG were unremarkable, his 8.6 RPG showed his strength on the boards.

Oklahoma City has made frequent use of its D-League team to stash draft picks in recent years. The Thunder struck an innovative deal with Josh Huestis in 2014, agreeing to use the 29th overall pick on him in exchange for his promise to play in the D-League this past season. The team also had 2013 No. 40 pick Grant Jerrett and 2014 No. 55 pick Semaj Christon sign in the D-League.

Do you think Johnson will become a productive NBA player once he receives his shot in the league? Leave a comment to tell us.

2015 NBA Draft Grades: Pacific Division

The 2015 NBA Draft is squarely in the rearview and a number of draftees have already provided a taste of what is to come with their summer league play. I held off on my grades until now because I wanted a better context in which to evaluate each team’s selections, with free agency and summer league providing greater perspective. Sometimes, selecting the best available player isn’t the best course of action and it is wiser to nab a player who fits a clear need, which should always be considered when rating how each front office fared in the draft. I’ve already run down my thoughts on the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Divisions, and next up is a look at the Pacific Division:

Golden State Warriors

Team Needs: Frontcourt depth.

Draft Picks:

The Warriors didn’t have many needs entering this year’s NBA Draft, which is usually the case with teams that win an NBA title and aren’t hit with a wave of free agent defections afterwards. This allowed Golden State to take a gamble on Looney with the final selection of the first round. The forward out of UCLA is unlikely to contribute much, if anything, during the 2015/16 campaign, courtesy of a hip surgery in August that is expected to keep him out of action for four to six months. However, this isn’t a huge blow to the team, since Looney wasn’t likely to see much playing time anyway this season on a stacked Warriors squad.

Missing training camp and most, if not all, of the 2015/16 season certainly won’t help speed Looney’s development along, but the Warriors can certainly afford to be patient with the young player. As a freshman at UCLA, the 19-year-old averaged 11.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 30.9 minutes per night, earning Second Team All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors along the way.

Questions still exist about Looney’s NBA position, as he is saddled with the dreaded tweener label. He doesn’t quite shoot well enough to be a small forward on a full-time basis, and he’ll need to add bulk to his 220 pound frame if he wants to survive prolonged exposure to some of the league’s bigger, stronger power forwards in the paint. But all quibbles aside, Golden State landed a talented young player with a tantalizing upside using the last pick of the first round. The team will probably just have to wait a couple of seasons before its investment in Looney will pay off.

Overall Draft Grade: B. It’s difficult to find fault in the NBA champs landing a player who possesses lottery-level talent at the bottom of the first round. It’s a solid gamble by GM Bob Myers, though it’s unclear what position Looney is best suited for in the league.

Los Angeles Clippers

Team Needs: Depth at center.

Draft Picks:

*Acquired from the Pelicans in exchange for cash.

The Clippers were without a first-round pick this year because their pick went to Boston as compensation for the hiring of Doc Rivers. The Celtics used that selection, No. 28 overall, to nab long-range bomber R.J. Hunter out of Georgia State. It’s difficult to make a case that Rivers wasn’t worth the sacrifice, especially given how he held the Clippers organization together amid the Donald Sterling scandal. It can also be argued that not having a first-rounder helped the franchise in a way, seeing as how it didn’t need to hand out another fully guaranteed deal, a benefit because the Clippers are nearly $11MM into luxury tax territory.

The franchise was also without a second-round pick, though Rivers was able to purchase one from New Orleans. While there weren’t many alternatives still left on the board at No. 56, I’d argue that the team could have saved its money and not missed a beat. Dawson is an excellent athlete who is a strong rebounder, though he’s too short at 6’7″, or 6’5″ without shoes, to be an effective power forward in the NBA. The former Michigan State Spartan isn’t nearly a good enough shooter to play the three, which will certainly limit his usefulness. Dawson is more than likely ticketed for the D-League or overseas, and it would be quite a surprise if he makes an impact in the league anytime soon.

Overall Draft Grade: B-. I bumped up the Clippers’ grade from a C- because of Doc Rivers, who is arguably more valuable than any player the team would have nabbed at No. 28 overall. But the addition of Dawson feels unnecessary given the team’s frontcourt depth, as well as his size and offensive limitations.

Los Angeles Lakers

Team Needs: Talent and depth at every position.

Draft Picks:

The Lakers entered this draft with needs at virtually every spot on the court. The team had to make a choice between big man Jahlil Okafor, who is regarded as the best offensive center in the entire draft class, and Ohio State playmaker D’Angelo Russell, who rocketed up draft boards as the 2014/15 season progressed. It was a tough call, and it will be a few seasons before we’ll know if the Lakers made the correct choice.

Still, Nabbing a point guard makes sense, especially in today’s backcourt-driven NBA. Russell is a fantastic passer and defender who can also shoot the lights out when he’s on. But he’s extremely raw, and he did not fare that well in summer league play. Lakers fans believing he’ll be a savior this season should dial down those expectations quite a bit. Russell has star potential, though it will likely be a rough ride at first. It’s easy to make an argument that the team should have taken Okafor, especially given the lack of true centers making their way into the NBA nowadays, but I can’t fault the Lakers for taking a chance on Russell, who is one of my favorite players in this year’s crop of draftees.

The selection of Nance at No. 27 was a surprise, and a bit of a head-scratcher given the team’s many needs. Nance is an intriguing player, thanks to his high motor, impressive wingspan and NBA-ready frame, but he’s not a good enough outside shooter or post player to make an impact on offense. A number of other players who were still available at No. 27 appear to have higher upsides and more useful skills than Nance does, and that’s why I’m down on the Lakers making this pick.

I’m more enthusiastic about the selection of Brown at No. 34 overall. While the former Stanford wing lacks elite athleticism, he has a high basketball IQ, and he’s a solid outside shooter. Brown is unlikely ever to be a starter in the NBA, but he has the makings of a solid future rotation player. He’ll need to log some serious time in the D-League to aid his development, however.

Overall Draft Grade: B+. The Lakers may regret passing on Okafor, but Russell is an intriguing, exciting young prospect who should give the fanbase hope for a better tomorrow. I’m not sold on the selection of Nance, especially given some of the players still available at that draft slot.

Phoenix Suns

Team Needs: Outside shooting, rim protector, backcourt depth.

Draft Picks:

The Suns are still in the process of picking up the pieces from their failed multiple point guard experiment, and the team’s roster is in a state of flux. One glaring hole the team has is the lack of a wing who can stretch the floor and make other teams pay from beyond the arc on a nightly basis. Well, Phoenix certainly did its best to address that need in this year’s draft, landing Kentucky freshman Devin Booker at No. 13 overall. I’m still a bit surprised that Booker slipped past the Hornets at No. 9 overall, seeing as Charlotte also needs shooters, and Booker is arguably the best long-range bomber in this year’s draft class.

Booker is a smart player who has nearly perfect mechanics on his jump shot, and he moves extremely well without the ball. The question mark with Booker is his lack of elite athleticism and quickness. That’s not to say that he’s a lumbering player, but he may have some difficulty guarding some of the more explosive wings in the league, and I’m not sold that he’ll be able to create his own shot off the dribble consistently. Still, he should quickly evolve into one of the better spot-up shooters in the league.

My only issue with the Suns selecting Booker is that Kelly Oubre, who is a superior defender and athlete, was still available at No. 13. Oubre isn’t in Booker’s class as a shooter, but his all-around game is more enticing, and I believe that Oubre has a much higher upside than Booker does overall.

Overall Draft Grade: B+. Phoenix lands the best shooter in the draft, though minor concerns exist regarding Booker’s speed and athleticism. The Suns definitely addressed one of their primary needs, and it’s hard to take them to task for it. Overall, this is a very solid pick for Ryan McDonough.

Sacramento Kings

Team Needs: Stretch four, rim protector, outside shooting.

Draft Picks:

The Kings hope that they solved one of their most pressing needs by nabbing Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick. Sacramento has been looking to pair center DeMarcus Cousins with a rim-protecting big for the last two seasons, and Cauley-Stein was the best one available in this year’s draft. Cauley-Stein is perhaps the most NBA-ready player in the entire draft, and I’d be surprised if he is not starting from day one. Concerns exist about his offensive skills, which mainly consist of cashing in on lobs and transition buckets at this stage. But he’s an excellent athlete and a fantastic defender who reminds me quite a bit of Tyson Chandler. It took Chandler a few seasons in the league to become a solid player, and I expect the same for Cauley-Stein, who’s nonetheless almost assuredly a player who will have a long, productive NBA career if he remains healthy.

I have two potential concerns regarding this pick, though. First, if Rondo is not the long-term answer at point guard, Sacramento may end up kicking itself for passing on Emmanuel Mudiay, who went to the Nuggets at pick No. 7. Mudiay is a mystery at this point, but he has the physical tools and ability to become a major star in the NBA. My second concern is how Cauley-Stein, who arrives with some question marks regarding his attitude and love for the game, will fit in with what could be an extremely volatile locker room in Sacramento this season. If things turn toxic there, it will be interesting to see how Cauley-Stein reacts and if it sets back his development.

Overall Draft Grade: A-. Sacramento lands one of the best defenders in the draft, as well as fills one of its most glaring needs. Hopefully, the team won’t come to rue the day it passed on Mudiay to land Cauley-Stein.

2015 NBA Draft Grades: Southeast Division

The 2015 NBA Draft is squarely in the rearview and a number of draftees have already provided a taste of what is to come with their summer league play. I held off on my grades until now because I wanted a better context in which to evaluate each team’s selections, with free agency and summer league providing greater perspective. Sometimes, selecting the best available player isn’t the best course of action and it is wiser to nab a player who fits a clear need, which should always be considered when rating how each front office fared in the draft. I’ve already run down my thoughts on the Atlantic and Central Divisions, and next up is a look at the Southeast Division:

Atlanta Hawks

Team Needs: Depth, scoring.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 50 Overall  Marcus Eriksson, SG, Sweden
  • No. 59 Overall  Dimitrios Agravanis, F, Greece

Atlanta’s haul on draft night amounted to two draft-and-stash players whose NBA futures are murky at best, and Tim Hardaway Jr., whom the team acquired from the Knicks in exchange for the No. 19 overall pick that had been garnered in a swap with the Wizards earlier in the draft. So in essence, the Hawks dealt the No. 15 overall pick in the 2015 draft for 2013’s No. 24 overall choice. While I do think that Hardaway could benefit from a change of scenery, I firmly believe that Atlanta would have done better to hold onto its original pick and simply used it to select Kelly Oubre, who was taken by Washington at No. 15 overall.

Oubre, while he didn’t live up to expectations during his lone season at Kansas, has the potential to be a two-way star in the NBA. Hardaway, while being a nice complementary offensive player, has shown himself to be fairly one-dimensional thus far in his professional career. Hardaway is also a bit of a redundant a piece with Kyle Korver already on the roster, which makes the trade even more of a head-scratcher in my view. I would even go as far as saying that keeping the No. 19 overall pick, Jerian Grant, would have benefited the franchise more than adding the former Knicks shooting guard.

Overall Draft Grade: D. While the Hawks did land a proven commodity in Hardaway, Oubre has the potential to be a far better NBA player. Atlanta would have been better served to simply hold onto their original selection instead of wheeling and dealing in the first round.

Charlotte Hornets

Team Needs: Outside shooting, frontcourt depth

Draft Picks:

  • No. 9 Overall Frank Kaminsky, PF, Wisconsin

It feels as if the Hornets have been searching for a player who can stretch the floor on offense for ages, with outside shooting being one of the team’s main weaknesses for a few seasons running. That’s why I found it a surprise that Charlotte passed on Devin Booker with its pick and instead went with Kaminsky. Sure, Kaminsky is certainly capable of filling up a stat sheet from the outside, but the team could have used a wing player who can shoot much more than a stretch-four. Or, perhaps I should say, another stretch-four, given that the team traded for Spencer Hawes this offseason. The addition of Hawes should have allowed for GM Rich Cho to land an impact player on the wing like Booker, or Duke’s Justise Winslow, who may end up haunting Charlotte if he becomes a two-way star in the league.

Kaminsky is limited athletically, and while he is certainly a fierce competitor who is very skilled offensively, his defensive shortcomings will lower his overall ceiling as a prospect. I’m rooting for “Frank the Tank” to succeed in the league, but I can easily see him becoming a specialist like Steve Novak, and reduced to sporadic minutes in reserve. Which is not what you want out of a top 10 pick, especially given some of the talent still on the board when Charlotte was on the clock on draft night.

Overall Draft Grade: C+. The selection of Kaminsky was puzzling given the presence of Hawes, the team’s greater needs at the wing and center positions, and the availability of Winslow and Booker at the No. 9 spot. Kaminsky is a solid player, but the team could have utilized this pick much more effectively.

Miami Heat

Team Needs: Youth, depth at wing and at center.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 10 Overall Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
  • No. 40 Overall  Josh Richardson, SG, Tennessee

Team president Pat Riley likely stared at his draft board in disbelief when the Heat’s pick was due and he saw that Winslow was still available at No. 10 overall. Winslow had been projected by a number of mock drafts to be a potential top five pick, so landing him where Miami did cannot be considered anything but a steal for the franchise. The former Duke swingman can provide depth for both Dwyane Wade at shooting guard and Luol Deng at small forward, and given the age and injury concerns for both players, that’s a huge boon for the team. There are concerns about Winslow’s ability to hit his outside shots consistently, but his athleticism and defensive abilities should garner Winslow regular minutes as he figures things out.

The addition of Richardson isn’t likely to have much, if any, impact on the coming season for Miami. It’s doubtful that the swingman will make the team’s regular season roster, though his defensive acumen should ensure him a slot on the Heat’s D-League affiliate for 2015/16.

Overall Draft Grade: A+. It’s hard to find any fault with the Heat selecting a player of Winslow’s potential, especially with the 10th overall pick. Fantastic job for Riley, who continues to show why he’s one of the best executives in the game by not overthinking the selection.

Orlando Magic

Team Needs: Depth, outside shooting.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 5 Overall Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia
  • No. 51 Overall  Tyler Harvey, SG, Eastern Washington

Like Charlotte, it seems as if Orlando has been searching for a player who can light up the scoreboard from the outside for an eternity. The Magic are hoping that Hezonja, whom the team selected over better-known talents like Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Devin Booker, and Frank Kaminsky with the fifth overall pick, will be the bounty of their quest. While Hezonja certainly has the skills and athletic ability to justify such a high selection, there are legitimate concerns regarding his maturity level and ability to accept coaching, which, if true, will hamper the Croatian’s development significantly. But if Hezonja manages to live up to his predraft hype, the Magic landed themselves a potential star who can fill up the rim from anywhere inside the arena.

My concern for Orlando is the high washout rate of European draftees in the NBA, and the risk the franchise took in nabbing Hezonja that high in the first round. While the upside of Hezonja is certainly tantalizing, the team may have been better served to select a more NBA-ready player in Willie Cauley-Stein, Winslow, or Booker at that slot. All of whom would have filled an obvious need for Orlando, and carried less risk while doing so.

I’m a bigger fan of GM Rob Hennigan nabbing Eastern Washington sharpshooter Tyler Harvey toward the bottom of the second round than I am of his selection of Hezonja. Harvey needs development as a player, but he’s a lethal shooter who needs to be accounted for by defenders the moment he crosses the halfcourt line. There are concerns with his level of athleticism, but he is a smart and savvy player who has the potential to become a solid contributor off of the bench for Orlando in a few seasons.

Overall Draft Grade: B+. I’ll give Hennigan credit for taking a gamble on the upside of Hezonja, but there were a number of players who could have filled the team’s needs at No. 5 overall who didn’t possess as many question marks about their NBA future.

Washington Wizards

Team Needs: Small forward, depth.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 15 Overall  Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas*
  • No. 49 Overall  Aaron White, F, Iowa

*Acquired from Hawks in exchange for the No. 19 overall pick and two future second-rounders.

The Wizards entered the draft needing to land themselves a wing player who would complement their starting backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal, as well as to replace Paul Pierce, who signed a free agent deal with the Clippers this offseason. Washington made a smart trade with Atlanta, swapping first-rounders and giving up two future second round picks in exchange for the opportunity to land Oubre.

The swingman out of Kansas was a disappointment during his lone season with the Jayhawks, never coming close to delivering on the preseason hype that his impending arrival in Lawrence wrought. Oubre’s freshman campaign had a rocky start, with the 19-year-old often looking completely lost on the court and receiving sporadic playing time as a result. But Oubre did turn things around as the season progressed, and Washington landed itself a heck of a talent outside of the lottery. Oubre’s defense is more NBA-ready than his offense is, and he’ll learn the hard way that it takes more than athleticism to be an effective scorer in the pros. But I do expect Oubre to develop into a starter, and possibly a future All-Star, though it often won’t be a smooth ride. But full credit is due to the Wizards’ front office, who made a solid deal on draft night to land themselves a player who fits their needs perfectly.

Overall Draft Grade: A+. Great move by GM Ernie Grunfeld to move up in the first round via trade and to land Oubre at No. 15 overall. He fits an obvious team need, and Oubre has the potential to be a two-way star in a few seasons.

2015 NBA Draft Grades: Central Division

The 2015 NBA Draft is squarely in the rearview and a number of draftees have already provided a taste of what is to come with their summer league play. I held off on my grades until now because I wanted a better context in which to evaluate each team’s selections, with free agency and summer league providing greater perspective. Sometimes, selecting the best available player isn’t the best course of action and it is wiser to nab a player who fits a clear need, which should always be considered when rating how each front office fared in the draft. I’ve already ran down my thoughts on the Atlantic Division, and next up is a look at the Central Division:

Chicago Bulls

Team Needs: Youth, backcourt depth, backup point guard, center.

Draft Picks:

The Bulls are a franchise caught between trying to contend and attempting to retool on the fly. Chicago has missed a number of prime opportunities to make it through a weakened Eastern Conference to the NBA Finals, but injuries to key players have derailed its grand designs each of the last few seasons. While the Bulls don’t possess many glaring needs, the franchise is in need of depth at a number of key spots, most critically at point guard, where Derrick Rose is an annual injury risk, and center, where Joakim Noah is beginning to break down.

Selecting Arkansas’ Bobby Portis didn’t address either of those areas, and in fact, he plays one of the positions that the Bulls are deepest at power forward. But Portis is a talented player whose high motor makes him a good bet to develop into a key reserve, though whether or not he’ll be able to earn any minutes this season is certainly up for debate with Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic all on the team’s depth chart ahead of him.

Looking at the Bulls’ current roster, the team could have really benefited from snagging a young point guard to develop behind Rose. Duke playmaker Tyus Jones was still on the board when Chicago was on the clock, likewise Oregon’s Joseph Young, either of whom would have filled a more pressing need than Portis. Granted, neither Jones nor Young are projected to become stars in the league, but both could develop into solid professionals, and bolstered the Bulls’ backcourt as well.

Overall Draft Grade: C+. While I like Portis as a player and believe he provides solid value at pick No. 22, Chicago had more pressing needs that should have been addressed.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Team Needs: Cap space, depth at center and on the wing.

Draft Picks:

  • No. 31 Overall Cedi Osman, G/F, Macedonia*
  • No. 36 Overall Rakeem Christmas, F/C, Syracuse**
  • No. 53 Overall Sir’Dominic Pointer, SF, St. John’s

*Acquired from the Timberwolves along with a 2019 second round pick in exchange for the rights to Tyus Jones.
*Acquired from the Pacers in exchange for a 2019 second round pick.

The Cavs were more concerned about avoiding adding another fully guaranteed contract to their cap figure than snagging a player who could help them during the 2015/16 campaign. That was the primary reason that the team dealt away the No. 24 overall pick to Minnesota, which was used to select promising young point guard Tyus Jones from Duke. The addition of Jones probably wouldn’t have had much of an impact on the court next season for the Cavs, but the franchise definitely missed out on an opportunity to land a young backup who it could have developed behind Kyrie Irving, who is possibly out of action until January.

It’s understandable, given Cleveland’s luxury tax situation, that the franchise would want to avoid the significant luxury tax hit that would have been attached to a first-rounder, but I do feel that the team didn’t maximize its three second round choices, which is certainly a shame. With needs in the frontcourt, as well as on the wing, the Cavs instead went for a draft-and-stash pick at No. 31 overall with Cedi Osman. Still on the draft board at the top of the second round were Jordan Mickey, Montrezl Harrell, Pat Connaughton, Joseph Young, and Dakari Johnson, all of whom could have been potential contributors off the bench this coming season for Cleveland.

Overall Draft Grade: D. Cleveland saved some cap space by trading out of the first round, but failed to take full advantage of its three second round picks.

Detroit Pistons

Team Needs: Small forward, frontcourt depth.

Draft Picks:

For better or worse, the Pistons’ selection of Arizona’s Stanley Johnson will always be linked to the Heat’s choice of Justise Winslow at pick No. 10. Many scouts and league personnel ranked Winslow as the better overall prospect, and a number of mock drafts even had Winslow as a top five pick. But Stan Van Gundy obviously saw something in Johnson that he couldn’t pass up, and the Heat were the beneficiaries of that decision.

Johnson is a solid player with an NBA-ready frame, but there are questions about what position he is best suited for, as well as his suspect outside game. The Pistons desperately need shooters who can stretch the floor for big man Andre Drummond, which isn’t Johnson’s strength. The young forward is a beast in the open court, but he tended to rely too heavily on his superior strength to get to the rim while at Arizona, which is something that he won’t be able to do when matched against NBA defenders. Johnson is an excellent defender himself, and he can guard multiple positions, a skill that should allow him to log significant minutes during his rookie campaign regardless of his offensive output.

Hilliard is a grinder who plays solid defense and has a decent outside shot. But he’s a player who is more likely to play in the D-League or overseas than have a notable NBA career. There were a number of players still available at pick No. 38, including Joseph Young and Dakari Johnson, both of whom have much higher upsides than Hilliard.

Overall Draft Grade: B-. While I personally think that Winslow will become the better NBA player, the selection of Johnson fills one of the team’s most glaring needs.

Indiana Pacers

Team Needs: Center, point guard, depth.

Draft Picks:

The Pacers have stated their desire to become a more athletic and faster-paced offensive team this coming season, and their picks in the 2015 NBA Draft certainly reflect that new philosophy. Gone is lumbering big man Roy Hibbert, and arriving is athletic center Myles Turner from the University of Texas. While there have been concerns that Turner’s somewhat awkward running style will open him up to increased injury risk, the big man’s improved gait during summer league play has quieted many scouts who had expressed their doubts in the weeks prior to June’s event.

Turner, while extremely young and raw, has immense talent, and he could end up being one of the best players in the entire 2015 draft. He’s likely to struggle mightily this season to adjust to the NBA game, especially on the defensive end after what could be considered a lost season at Texas. But snagging Turner at No. 11 overall should make Indiana executive Larry Bird look pretty smart in a few seasons, and Turner should evolve into one of the anchors who the team builds around for the future. It does remain to be seen if Turner can handle the rigors of being a full-time NBA center, or if he’ll be better suited for a stretch four role. Either way, Indiana landed themselves a starting-caliber player who requires a bit of patience while developing.

As much as I like the selection of Turner, I love Indiana grabbing Oregon speedster Joseph Young mid way through the second round. A foot injury limited Young’s pre-draft workouts, but he is an explosive scorer with off-the-charts athleticism, and he is the likeliest of all the 2015 second-rounders to become an impact player in the league. Young will struggle to get playing time this season, and is more likely to light up scoreboards in the D-League in 2015/16 than in the NBA, but the Pacers made a great choice at the No. 43 overall spot with Young.

Overall Draft Grade: A. The Pacers landed themselves two potential impact players, both of whom could be considered steals at their respective draft slots.

Milwaukee Bucks

Team Needs: Frontcourt depth, outside shooting.

Draft Picks:

While Milwaukee made its biggest offseason move with the addition of Greg Monroe via free agency, the team also did extremely well on draft night in snagging young shooting guard Rashad Vaughn with the No. 17 overall pick. Vaughn is extremely raw, and will likely take a couple of seasons to fully develop and hit his stride as a professional. But he possesses the ability to be a top 10 scorer in the league, and his ability to fill up the hoop from the outside will mesh well with a rapidly improving Bucks team that should be firmly in the playoff mix this season.

The team dealt away its second round pick to the Raptors as part of the trade that landed Greivis Vasquez in Milwaukee. Toronto used that selection, No. 46 overall, to select UCLA shooting guard Norman Powell, a player with quite a bit of upside, but who wouldn’t have made much of an impact for the Bucks this season.

Overall Draft Grade: A-. Vaughn will take some time to develop, but he could end up being one of the best players in this year’s draft. Solid addition by the Bucks in landing an exciting young talent who also fills a need for the club.

No. 60 Pick Luka Mitrovic Extends Overseas Deal

Luka Mitrovic, the 60th pick in this year’s draft, has reached an extension with Crvena Zvezda of Serbia that runs through the 2016/17 season, according to the Euroleague’s website (hat tip to Sportando’s Enea Trapani). It’s unclear if the deal includes an NBA out that would allow him to sign with the Kings, who acquired his NBA rights from the Sixers last month as part of the Nik Stauskas trade.

It’s no surprise to see Mitrovic remain overseas, as Sportando’s Orazio Cauchi reported shortly after Philadelphia made him the final pick in June that he would do so. The 22-year-old’s contract had been set to run through this coming season, as Mark Porcaro shows in our register of Draft Rights Held Players, so the extension tacks on another year.

The Mark Fleisher client is well-regarded, having been the 39th overall prospect in this year’s draft according to Chad Ford’s ESPN Insider rankings. Mitrovic, a 6’8″ power forward, averaged 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game this past season for Crvena Zvezda. He just gained a new teammate with NBA experience, as Gal Mekel has signed to play with the club.

The Sixers also sent the rights to No. 47 overall pick Arturas Gudaitis to Sacramento in that swap. Gudaitis signed for at least two years with Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania before the trade became official.