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.
- No. 30 Overall — Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA
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.
- No. 56 Overall — Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State*
*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.
- No. 2 Overall — D’Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State
- No. 27 Overall — Larry Nance Jr., PF, Wyoming
- No. 34 Overall — Anthony Brown, SF, Stanford
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.
Team Needs: Outside shooting, rim protector, backcourt depth.
- No. 13 Overall — Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
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.
Team Needs: Stretch four, rim protector, outside shooting.
- No. 6 Overall — Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
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.