Thursday, July 5, 2012

NBA Draft Final Report Card: Eastern Conference

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As David Stern strode out to the loudest chorus of boos anyone has ever heard in history, I thought to myself, “this will be the greatest draft ever.” It was all there, every ingredient. David Stern egging on the crowd and flashing that evil grin. Volatile franchises with volatile decision makers choosing amongst volatile prospects. Smart franchises with smart decision makers aiming to take advantage of the previously mentioned morons. Any number of trade scenarios, up to and including a potential Dwight Howard trade. It looked to be epic…

…then the draft happened. By the time ESPN was showing Fab Melo highlights (Look, Fab Melo dunking with no one around him! Look, Fab Melo blocking a 5’11” guard! Get excited, Celtics fans!), I was done for the night. My wife and I packed the car and were on the road to my parent’s house even before pick #25 could be announced. Too many teams made smart decisions, draft boards held too securely, and no major trades went down. Heck, even the prospects were boring with their normal suits and blasé interviews.  It makes me long for the days of Jan Vesely’s extremely tall and kinda hot girlfriend. Basically, nothing happened all night. And also the Fab Melo pick makes me want to drown myself in a pool of my own tears.

So since this is all about grading the draft, let’s just start out by giving the 2012 NBA Draft a big, fat F. Terrible work, NBA! More stupidity next year from everyone who is not the Boston Celtics! After all, if I can’t depend on Michael Jordan to screw things up, what’s the point in even watching?

Also, I’m giving ESPN’s draft coverage a poor grade for the second year in a row. Again, ESPN, let’s get these analysts a Blackberry, ok? Does nobody have Twitter around there? I should not know about the Tyler Zeller trade ten minutes before Jeff Van Gundy does, that’s all I’m saying. However, thanks to a hilarious slip-up by Andy Katz, I’m bumping them up to a D- this year. Good job, good effort?

Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s hand out some actual grades. We'll start with the Eastern Conference:

Atlanta Hawks  /  Grade: B+

SG John Jenkins (#23)
PF Mike Scott (#43)

There’s no point in hiding it; I’m terribly disappointed they didn’t draft Marquis Teague. Not that it would have been a good pick (it wouldn’t have); I just thought it would be amazing to see him and his brother fight over who could dribble the most and take the worst jump shots.

Seriously though, I don’t get the criticism over Atlanta’s draft. In a league that constantly finds itself searching for perimeter shooting, there seems to be a lot of value in having a player like Jenkins. The biggest knock on him is that he can’t create shots off the dribble, but let me counter with this; he may not be able to create off the dribble, but there is nobody better in this draft at creating open looks through off-ball movement. Paired with gifted playmakers like Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, Jenkins specific skill set should be perfectly utilized. Only knock I have on their draft is that Perry Jones was still on the board at #23.

Also, I really like the Mike Scott pick. Scott was an extremely productive low post player in the ACC, and he could be a real sleeper in the mold of Paul Millsap.

Boston Celtics  /  Grade: C-

PF Jared Sullinger (#21)
C Fab Melo (#22)
SF Kris Joseph (#51)

Oh boy…where to begin? First of all, I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t end up with Royce White. I had figured he would go higher than #21 after the “promise” leaked. My hope was that Ainge would trade up, but I’m not grading them down for this. Even without White, Boston had a huge (and rare) opportunity to land some serious talent at #21 and #22, but ended up with a very mixed bag.

The good part of that bag is #21. Sullinger was a top 10 player before his health was red-flagged, so taking a shot on him this far down in the first round is a risk worth taking. The “superstar potential” may not be there, but with improvements in his jumper and in his conditioning, he might be a better long term option than Brandon Bass. Even if he never makes those improvements, he’ll be a major upgrade to our bench as a Dejuan Blair type of guy.

But then the wheels fell off at #22. Fab Melo? 7points and 5 rebounds per game? Huh? Look, I certainly hope I’m wrong and I hope that Fab Melo turns into the next Tyson Chandler, but what about him would make anyone think that would be the case? With a big time talent like Perry Jones (or Quincy Miller, or Marquis Teague) still on the board, there is no excuse for taking Fab Melo. None. Boston had a golden opportunity to take a potential post-Big Three building block, and passed for ‘Brazilian Greg Stiemsma.’

In the second round, Boston took another potential sleeper in Kris Joseph. Joseph fits the athletic bill of an NBA SF, but really needs to work on his perimeter game. Currently, he’s a younger, non-Predator looking version of Marquis Daniels. Still, at #51, that’s not bad. As long as Sully’s back holds up, this won’t be a total disaster. Just mostly.

Brooklyn Nets  /  Grade: D

PG Tyshawn Taylor (#41)
SF Tornike Shengelia (#54)
PF Ilkan Karaman (#57)

The grade has nothing to do with the players they drafted. Brooklyn receives a D because they traded the #6 pick in the draft for $40M worth of Gerald Wallace. You have to think that deal stings even worse knowing Harrison Barnes was still available at #6. Still, I gave them a slight boost because of their aggressiveness in buying Tyshawn Taylor. He’s got first round talent, but can’t seem to get out of his own way most of the time. If he matures, I have no doubt he can play in the NBA. Good low risk/high reward pick there. Also, they drafted two of Prokhorov’s cousins. (Upon further review, neither player is from Russia. In fact, one was from Turkey, which isn’t even remotely Russian. Whatever. I’m American, I’m supposed to be ignorant of these things.)

Charlotte Bobcats  /  Grade: A-

SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (#2)
SF Jeffery Taylor (#31)

When Kidd-Gilchrist was announced as the pick, my draft compatriots and I let out a resounding “WHOOOOOOAAAAAHHHH” due to our shock at the pick. Do you know how sad that is? We were shocked that the team with the second pick took the second best player in the draft! Ladies and gentlemen, the Michael Jordan era! Seriously though, credit to MJ for taking the right guy as opposed to the “safe” guy. Now, let us never speak of it again.

On the MKG pick alone, Charlotte gets a solid ‘A.’ Where they start to lose me, though, is #31. Quincy Miller has to be the pick there, plain and simple. He’s by far the best talent on the board, and the risk associated with him is almost non-existent this far down in the draft. It’s not that I dislike Taylor or anything – on the contrary, I actually think he can stick as a rotation player – but Charlotte has such a serious talent deficiency that they can’t afford to pass on a player described as a “top 10 pick had he entered the draft in 2013.”

Chicago Bulls  /  Grade: A

PG Marquis Teague (#29)

Chicago had just one pick in the draft and smartly scooped up the free-falling Teague with it. I have no earthly idea how a talent like Teague could be available at #29, as I strongly believe he is the most talented PG in this rookie class. Yes, more talented than Lillard and Marshall. True, he had his ups and downs last season, but I watched every single UK game last year and can vouch for how solid he was by the end of the season. Teague is exceptionally gifted at operating the pick and roll and at beating his man off the dribble, making him tailor-made for success in the NBA game. It’s tough to imagine he’ll be ready right away, but he should be as good as or better than his brother, Jeff, in the not-too-distant future, and could even be a strong pairing with Rose when Chicago wants to go small. That would be a good return on a top 10 pick, much less #29.

Cleveland Cavaliers  /  Grade: B

SG Dion Waiters (#4)
C Tyler Zeller (#17)

You gotta give it to Chris Grant for being unafraid to go with his gut. Last year, Grant went slightly off-board to take Tristan Thompson at #4, and he sorta did the same thing again this year by taking Dion Waiters. Even Chad Ford’s rapidly receding hairline had Cleveland taking Harrison Barnes at #4! As funny as it is to make the “any time you can take Syracuse’s sixth man #4 overall, you gotta do it” jokes, I really like the pick. Unlike Barnes, Waiters is in constant attack mode and has the ability to create offense for both himself and his teammates. Honestly, if I had to wager on which draftee will have the highest PPG average at the end of his career, Waiters would be my pick. Without hesitation. There’s some real Russell Westbrook-like potential there. Bust potential, yes, but superstar potential as well.

As for taking Zeller at #17…eh. Here is a list of players that would have been better picks:

Terrence Jones
Andrew Nicholson
Jared Sullinger
John Jenkins
Arnett Moultrie
Perry Jones
Marquis Teague
Quincy Miller
Will Barton

Look, I do think Zeller can play in the NBA, but I think it’s as a reserve. Is there value in getting a solid reserve center at #17? Sure. But when you are a rebuilding team with the 17th overall pick in a draft loaded with high upside players, you have to take a bigger swing than Tyler Zeller. Personally, I would have gone with Perry Jones here. Potential superstar, ability to play multiple positions, solid character guy, good fit with aggressive “creators” like Irving and Waiters. Would have made much more sense than Zeller.

Detroit Pistons  /  Grade A

C Andre Drummond (#9)
SG/SF Khris Middleton (#39)
SG Kim English (#44)

If you had told me, before the draft, that I would end up labeling Drummond a steal AND admiring Joe Dumars’ work*, I’d probably have punched you right in the larynx. But that’s exactly where we are after the wildly talented Drummond fell all the way down to #9. Who knows if Drummond is Dwight Howard or Kwame Brown (probably no in-between, right?), but the risk/reward is heavily in Dumars’ favor here. And if it works out, the Monroe/Drummond frontcourt is downright scary.

Dumars’ work didn’t stop there, though, as he landed two solid prospects in the second round. Middleton has the size and scoring ability to be, at worst, a rotation player, but fell in the draft after injuries limited his effectiveness last season. English doesn’t have the same type of upside, but rates right up there with Jenkins and Doron Lamb as one of the best shooters in the draft. Could stick as a designated shooter off the bench. All in all, good work by the Pistons.

*Adding in the A- for Michael Jordan’s work, we might well be on our way to NBA-pocalypse!!! What does that look like, you ask? Why, Cleveland winning the Finals in 7 while David Kahn cradles his Executive of the Year trophy tightly to his chest, that’s what.

Indiana Pacers  /  Grade: F

PF/C Miles Plumlee (#26)
SG Orlando Johnson (#36)

Taking one of the Plumlii? Bad. Taking the worst of the Plumlii? Unforgivable. But hey, at least the Pacers only invested a late second rounder on him, right? (Hold on, one of my imaginary staff members is whispering in my ear…) WHAT?!?!? THE PACERS USED A FIRST ROUND PICK ON MILES PLUMLEE?!?!?!?

I’m sure I’m not the first one to make this joke, but I’d love for ESPN to do a 30 for 30 on what caused this travesty to go down. It very well might be the worst first round pick of all time. I’m not even joking, it’s possible! Of course, there are those trying to talk themselves into it. Even my beloved Roy Hibbert tweeted something about Plumlee looking good in a workout. Look, you can talk about his workouts or his size/athleticism combo all you want. Doesn’t matter. If you can’t play, then you can’t play, and Miles Plumlee definitely can’t play. And by the way, he’s not Jeff Foster. Foster averaged a 14/12 his senior year in college. Plumlee averaged a 7/7…and he was a year older.

Miami Heat  /  Grade: F

C Justin Hamilton (#45)

Well, at least I can mock the Heat for failing at something this year. By trading away #27 (Arnett Moultrie) to Philadelphia for a future lottery protected first rounder (likely in 2013), Miami almost guaranteed themselves of getting a worse player. The Heat simply had better options late in this loaded draft than they’ll have in the middle of next year’s awful draft. Even if the pick is 12 spots higher, as it would have been this year, that will likely be true. With Moultrie, Teague, Jeff Taylor, Quincy Miller, Doron Lamb, and even Darius Miller still on the board, Miami should have just stood pat and added cheap talent.

Milwaukee Bucks  /  Grade: C+

PF John Henson (#14)
SG Doron Lamb (#42)

Mixed bag here, in my opinion. I like what Henson can add as a rebounder/shot blocker, but think they missed out big time by passing over Royce White or Terrence Jones. Both players have far more upside, as well as basic offensive skills like dribbling the ball, and carry approximately the same amount of risk as Henson. I mean, seriously, is fear of flying really worse than being 6’10” and weighing the same as Keira Knightley? Isn’t the risk of Henson being snapped in two about the same as the risk of White suffering an in-game panic attack? I think so. Moving on.

What really boosts this draft in my mind is getting Doron Lamb in the second round. Lamb is never going to be a star – probably not even a quality starter – but I’d be shocked if he didn’t carve out a nice bench role for himself. The guy can flat shoot the basketball, and can’t every team use a deadeye shooter off the bench? If he continues improving his ball handling, he could be a really nice sixth man.

New York Knicks  /  Grade: C

SF Kostas Papanikolaou (#48)

People seem to think this Kostas guy is good … fine, whatever.

Orlando Magic  /  Grade: C-

PF Andrew Nicholson (#19)
PF/C Kyle O’Quinn (#49)

I’m probably being a little too harsh on Orlando considering both Nicholson and O’Quinn were solid picks at their respective slots, but I just don’t get the “safe” strategy Orlando employed. You have a team mired in mediocrity that’s facing the reality of dealing Dwight Howard for 30 cents on the dollar, and you play it safe? Sorry, not my kind of strategy, especially when that “safe” pick (Nicholson) happens to play the same position as the only good young player you have (Ryan Anderson). Perry Jones or Marquis Teague was the right pick here. Either player offers far more upside than Nicholson, and at this point, Orlando needs stars, not role players.

Philadelphia 76ers  /  Grade: B+

SF Maurice Harkless (#15)
PF Arnett Moultrie (#27)

Harkless seems like a bit of a reach at #15. The talent and upside is definitely there, but I’m not sure why Philly would opt for another poor shooting wing when they already have about 30 of them. At this point, they should probably just redesign their logo as the silhouette of a tall, athletic player bricking a three pointer. Seems like an athletic front court player like Terrence Jones, or even a deadeye shooter like John Jenkins, would have been a better choice.

However, major bonus points for killing Miami in a trade and for landing that athletic frontcourt player at #27. Moultrie has some crazy athletic ability and could really be a good player if he ever figures out how to play basketball. Skill wise, it’s all there for him. He has a solid jump shot, handles the ball well, and led the SEC in rebounding (over Anthony Davis!). But man is his basketball IQ low. Players like him typically don’t turn out well, but its well worth the shot at #27.

Toronto Raptors  /  Grade: C-

SG Terrence Ross (#8)
SF/PF Quincy Acy (#37)               
SF Tomislav Zubcic (#56)

 I like Terrence Ross quite a bit, but I like him a lot more as the #13 or #14 overall pick. #8 seems like a drastic reach, especially considering the limitless options they had. There were better players available and there were, reportedly, several trade options, including a deal with the Rockets that could have landed them Kyle Lowry. Seems like that would have been a better choice. But hey, it’s not a total loss because Ross is still a pretty solid prospect. Albeit one that plays the exact same position as DeMar DeRozan, but still.

Likewise, I like Quincy Acy, but felt they reached on him too. How do you take the very limited Acy over Quincy Miller, Will Barton, Tyshawn Taylor, Doron Lamb, Khris Middleton, or Darius Miller? I just don’t get it. I guess that’s what makes the Raptors the Raptors.

Washington Wizards  /  Grade: A-

SG Bradley Beal (#3)
SF Tomas Satoransky (#32)

Washington stood pat and landed their man. Beal stands alongside Dion Waiters as the most offensively gifted players in the draft, and he should instantly make the Wizards more competitive. His ability to find open spaces and shoot the ball makes him an ideal complement to John Wall. Going forward, they’ll be dangerous.

The Satoransky pick has me scratching my head a bit, though. Admittedly, I don’t know anything about the guy, but with a “win-now” window potentially opening in Washington, I’m surprised they didn’t go with a more proven commodity here. But again, I’ve never seen this Satoransky guy play, so I’m pretty much pulling a Skip Bayless here by giving an opinion on something I know nothing about.

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