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’ll begin with a look at the Atlantic Division:
Team Needs: Scoring, Outside Shooting, Rebounding
- No. 16 Overall — Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville
- No. 28 Overall — R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
- No. 33 Overall — Jordan Mickey, PF, LSU
- No. 45 Overall — Marcus Thornton, G, William & Mary
The selection of Rozier at pick No. 16 was easily one of draft night’s biggest surprises, not because the point guard didn’t possess first-round ability, but because most mock drafts had Rozier projected as a late first-rounder. It’s also a bit of a puzzler that the team would nab a point guard with its first pick, since Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas are already on the roster. But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge obviously saw something he liked in Rozier, and I’ll give him credit for going against the grain and taking a chance on a player he believed in. Rozier’s summer league play was a mixed bag, with him demonstrating an ability to hit the three-pointer, nailing 10 out of the 25 deep balls he attempted, but his turnover rate was a touch high.
I really like the team nabbing Hunter at pick No. 28. The bomber out of Georgia State was projected by a number of mock drafts to be a mid-first round pick, so while it can be argued that the team reached on Rozier, the same case can be made that they landed a steal with Hunter. He had a rough final year in college shooting the ball, but I believe he will be better when he hits the NBA. He certainly fills a major need for the team, but it remains to be seen if he can defend well enough to remain on the court for coach Brad Stevens. I also believe Boston got great value with its selection of Mickey, who was projected to be a late first-rounder, at pick No. 33. Mickey may be a touch undersized, but he has the potential to be a solid rebounder and effective rotation player after some time in the D-League.
Overall Draft Grade: C+. Boston added some interesting pieces, though even Ainge would probably admit to being disappointed in the team’s haul after his unsuccessful attempts to move up in the first round. I don’t see any of these players becoming stars, but Rozier, Hunter, and Mickey should all end up as rotation players for the team.
Team Needs: Talent, Point Guard, Scoring, Rebounding, Defense
- No. 23 Overall — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona*
- No. 29 Overall — Chris McCullough, PF, Syracuse
- No. 39 Overall — Juan Vaulet, SF, Argentina**
**Acquired from Hornets in exchange for Brooklyn’s 2019 second-round pick, the less favorable of Brooklyn’s and Cleveland’s 2018 second-round picks, and $880K cash.
The Nets recovered pretty well from having to swap first-rounders with the Hawks. While I would have loved for the team to land a potential future star like Kelly Oubre, who went at No. 15 (Brooklyn’s original slot), Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough were both solid picks. I think the Nets will regret parting with Plumlee, but adding a freakishly athletic defensive monster like Hollis-Jefferson was a wise move for a team that needs to improve defensively. It remains to be seen if Hollis-Jefferson can score enough to become a starter, but he certainly has a wealth of upside, and he should quickly become a fan favorite in Brooklyn.
The team was also wise to take a gamble on McCullough at the end of the first round. McCullough was mentioned as a potential lottery pick prior to his ACL injury last season. The forward out of Syracuse has performed in an extremely limited sample size, but what he did show makes me believe that the Nets landed a future starter. He’s unlikely to contribute much this season, but the franchise did well in gambling on him, especially that late in the first round.
Overall Draft Grade: B-. While neither first-rounder is a sure thing, the team did extremely well in bolstering the roster for the future. Plumlee will certainly be missed, but the rebuild in Brooklyn is off to a good start. The only knock is the team’s failure to land a point guard, though, to be fair, there weren’t many options at the one spot when the team was on the clock.
New York Knicks
Team Needs: Talent, Point Guard, Center, Frontcourt Depth
- No. 4 Overall — Kristaps Porzingis, F, Latvia
- No. 19 Overall — Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame*
- No. 35 Overall — Guillermo Hernangomez, C, Spain**
**Acquired from Sixers in exchange for two future second-rounders and cash.
The Knicks arguably landed in the most difficult spot in the entire lottery at No. 4 overall. The first three picks were relatively easy decisions, as Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and D’Angelo Russell were all lauded as potential superstars. But selecting fourth, and with none of the top three players slipping to them, team president Phil Jackson had to decide between Porzingis’ immense upside or taking a more NBA-ready player in Justise Winslow or Willie Cauley-Stein, and Jackson decided to roll the dice and went with the Latvian forward.
I must admit that my initial reaction to the pick wasn’t a positive one, which is why I’m glad that I held off on grading these picks until now. The selection of Porzingis could still end up backfiring spectacularly, given the high failure rate of international draftees, but Porzingis displayed quite a range of skills in his summer league play, though he still is likely a year or two away from being a reliable contributor. The only conundrum is the way he fits in with the team’s current direction. The Knicks have a significant chunk of their salary cap space tied up in Carmelo Anthony, who at 31 years old, doesn’t have much time left as an elite player in the league. If the franchise is trying to win immediately, Porzingis likely won’t provide much of a boon this coming season.
While it took me some time to come around on the selection of Porzingis, I was an immediate fan of the team dealing Hardaway for the rights to Grant, who could easily end up as a steal. Grant is a mature, polished player who will contribute immediately, and he fills a major positional need for the team. Hardaway needed a change of scenery, and he didn’t fit well in the triangle offense. His lack of defensive intensity and poor shot selection likely drove coach Derek Fisher to the brink of madness at times. Flipping Hardaway for Grant may end up being one of Jackson’s best moves as an executive.
Hernangomez is at least a year away from joining the NBA, but he has a wealth of offensive potential. He needs to improve his rebounding and defense if he hopes to make it in the NBA. The center was a solid pick given who was available at pick No. 35.
Overall Draft Grade: B+. Porzingis could end up becoming the next Dirk Nowitzki as easily as he could be the next Darko Milicic. Judging by his play thus far, I think he’ll end up closer to Nowitzki. Nabbing Grant was a solid move, and he should contribute immediately to the team.
Team Needs: Talent, Scoring, Outside Shooting, Point Guard
- No. 3 Overall — Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
- No. 37 Overall — Richaun Holmes, PF, Bowling Green
- No. 47 Overall — Arturas Gudaitis, C, Lithuania (later traded to the Kings)
- No. 58 Overall — J.P. Tokoto, G/F, North Carolina
- No. 60 Overall — Luka Mitrovic, PF, Serbia (later traded to the Kings)
GM Sam Hinkie continued his rebuilding through losing plan by nabbing Okafor with the No. 3 pick. The team perhaps could have used a player like Emmanuel Mudiay more, given the presence of former first-rounders Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, and the distinct lack of talent in the backcourt. But with Embiid’s health concerns placing his future in doubt, it’s hard to argue against landing a talent like Okafor, though how he will fit with Noel remains to be seen. The second-round selections of Holmes and Tokoto could also pay dividends down the line, though neither player projects to be a starter in the NBA.
I’m trying to hold my judgement on Hinkie’s plan until all the pieces fall into place, which won’t occur until Dario Saric finally joins the NBA. That’s still at least a season away. But there does come a point when the team will need to show it is moving in the right direction, and it needs to be this year. Much of the team’s fanbase, as well as the rest of the league, is almost out of patience with the franchise, and while it is unreasonable to expect a playoff berth this season, the Sixers really need to show significant improvement. Okafor should help in that regard, though he’ll likely be mobbed in the paint continuously thanks to the team’s distinct lack of outside shooting. Newly acquired shooting guard Nik Stauskas is the X-factor this season. If he can shake off his clunker of a rookie season and start draining outside shots like he did at Michigan, Okafor’s rookie campaign will go much more smoothly.
Overall Draft Grade: B. It’s hard to find fault with the selection of Okafor with the No. 3 pick, but with the team’s wealth of future picks, not making a splash by landing another first-rounder this year is certainly a disappointment.
Team Needs: Defense, Outside Shooting, Backcourt Depth
The selection of Wright isn’t a game-changer for the franchise, but he was still a solid pick. The Raptors badly needed a solid backcourt defender last season, and that is certainly something that the versatile Wright can be. While, at 23 years old, he doesn’t offer quite the upside that other point guards in this year’s draft do, he should be an immediate contributor as Kyle Lowry‘s backup. The concern regarding Wright is his shooting ability, and his summer league slash line of .375/.000/.778 did nothing to dispel that fear. Wright also has the size and skills to play shooting guard, but if he isn’t a threat from the outside, Toronto will be hard-pressed to utilize him at the two.
As for Powell, he’ll likely spend more time in the D-League this season than with the Raptors, but he was a solid pickup that late in the draft. Powell is a bit undersized, but has a huge wingspan (6’11”) and is a tremendous athlete. If Toronto is patient with his development, he could turn into an effective bench scorer down the line. I’m a big fan of this pick for the team.
Overall Draft Grade: C+. Wright certainly fills a need, but if he doesn’t improve offensively, it will significantly impact his minutes. Powell was a solid second-round pick who could end up outperforming Wright in a few seasons. Overall a decent if unspectacular draft for GM Masai Ujiri.