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.

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