Every year, the NBA draft represents the hope and resurgence of an NBA franchise to its devoted fans who desperately cling to the idea that a 19-year can one day grow into a perennial All-NBA player. However, many times that hope is soon lost as players fizzle, GMs make silly trades, or a player simply takes time to develop. That hope may be relative for many franchises, though. Those players often times flirt with superstardom – but in the end, it’s tough to make it as a long term NBA star.
While many draft picks never fulfill the wishful thinking of fans and executives, some do provide production for their respective teams. With the draft exactly one week ago and most trades completed (well at least for now, D’Angelo Russell), here are draft grades for the NBA’s worst teams from this past season.
Minnesota Timberwolves – A+
Even though many thought the Timberwolves might take D’Angelo Russell to replace the incumbent Ricky Rubio, the team wound up doing exactly what has proven to be a solid draft strategy for every team in the league – take the best overall player with the most potential. Karl Anthony-Towns may not be the Rookie of the Year, but has the talent to develop into one of the game’s elite big men, something the T-Wolves have been lacking since trading away Kevin Garnett in 2007.
Despite having scoring center Nikola Pekovic on the roster, Towns should immediately take over the starting center spot while in turn making Pekovic expendable. Coming off an injury riddled fifth season, Pekovic has nothing left to prove in the league; he’s a high energy scorer who struggles to protect the rim – something the Timberwolves have no interest in keeping. Barring an unfortunate lapse in judgment by Coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, the Wolves should be able to net a nice return in a potential Pekovic trade, possibly even a first round draft pick in the coming years.
Late in the first round, the Wolves made an unexpected trade to pick up former Duke point guard Tyus Jones, who led the team to a National Championship back in March. Jones wasn’t exactly a necessary addition with Zach LaVine proving a capable backup at point guard – but the move will allow LaVine to become a combo guard off the bench, rather than play uncomfortably at point guard. The Timberwolves won’t be contending for a playoff spot next season, but their draft picks have them poised to dominate in the coming years.
Los Angeles Lakers – B+
The Los Angeles Lakers managed to make a rival out of yet another Atlantic city after stealing D’Angelo Russell from the already downtrodden Philadelphia 76ers. It seemed as though the Lakers were poised to draft big man Jahlil Okafor after the emergence of Jordan Clarkson at point guard, but Russell’s star potential and the chance to sign an established big man this offseason proved to be too enticing. Russell would be a great fit with any team due to his already polished offensive game and defensive potential, and should thrive with Kobe and no pressure to immediately save the team.
LA’s other picks, forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown, are indications that the Ryan Kelly era is over in the City of Angels – a sad day for any Duke fan. While late first and early second round picks aren’t the flashiest, some can become legitimate NBA contributors – like Mavs’ $48 million dollar man Chandler Parsons and NBA champion Draymond Green. So with all these great moves, why not an A?
Well, the Lakers didn’t quite address their frontcourt concerns – and despite the idea that they could trade Russell to the Kings for Demarcus Cousins, that would further set them back in the guard position. If the Lakers manage to sign LaMarcus Aldridge or any of the other star big men in this year’s free agency class, passing on Jahlil Okafor won’t hurt too bad in a few years.
Philadelphia 76ers – C+
Look, give the 76ers the benefit of the doubt – the Lakers put them in a tough position after taking D’Angelo Russell. It’s rumored that the Sixers tried trading up in order to draft the guard, but it’s doubtful that anyone in the league values second round draft picks as much as Sam Hinkie. Without another sure fire dominant point guard in this year’s draft (sorry, Emmanuel Mudiay), Philly was forced to take the best player on the board in Jahlil Okafor, a big man who was long considered the best player in the draft.
Despite already having Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, Sam Hinkie has proven he’ll make a splashy trade without the blink of an eye if he sees something he doesn’t like (see: Carter-Williams, Michael). With Noel’s late-season dominance and ability to play the four, it’s unlikely he’ll be traded – but the same can’t be said for Joel Embiid. Embiid missed all of last season with a foot injury, and could miss more time next season. It’s very possible Hinkie doesn’t have a repeat of the Andrew Bynum fiasco before his tenure, and moves on with Noel and Okafor. He could probably even squeak another first round pick out of an unsuspecting team starving for talent.
With their plethora of second round picks, the Sixers drafted a few international stash players… boring, but also took forward Richaun Holmes and guard J.P. Tokoto. The search for the next K.J. McDaniels continues.
The C+ comes from their failure to land D’Angelo Russell, and even though it really wasn’t their fault, it would’ve been interesting to see Hinkie trade down to land former number one pick contender Mudiay and a few more second rounders next season.
New York Knicks – B
Poor Kristaps Porzingis. Had he been drafted by seemingly any other team, he would have been welcomed with open arms as a project big with Dirk Nowitzki-esque talent. Sure, the Latvian probably won’t win Rookie of the Year next season or shock the world with a monstrous stat line – but what he will provide is a glimmer of hope to the future. With that being said, that future will have to come soon with an aging Carmelo Anthony.
Drafting Porzingis will allow the Knicks to have free reign at any of the top big men in this year’s free agency class. Although the Knicks missed out on Jahlil Okafor, the team is clinging to whatever small amount of hope Phil Jackson can give in his efforts at signing LaMarcus Aldridge, or another veteran big who can give Porzingis the proper amount of time to develop
Jerian Grant, the other player the Knicks acquired during the draft, could develop into a 17/6 point guard with the ability to lead the offense right from the start. It’s hard to see the Knicks holding onto veteran guard Jose Calderon after an injury-riddled season that saw his numbers decrease across the board. While the Knicks didn’t quite please their hungry fans, Porzingis should at worst be a rotation guy while Grant could man the point in the Garden for years to come.
Orlando Magic – B+
The only team in the top five that truly has a sense of direction, the Orlando Magic managed to add a solid guard/forward with a smooth shooting touch in the form of Mario Hezonja. The Croatian spent last season with FC Barcelona shooting 46% from deep, and despite limited playing time, was able to maintain his stock as a top-10 pick. Hezonja should immediately slide into the Magic’s starting lineup assuming Tobias Harris leaves for the brighter lights of New York, or any other number of cities.
The Magic’s second round pick, guard Tyler Harvey out of Eastern University, is known for his knockdown shooting and should take over a bench role for the soon to be departed Ben Gordon. The Magic had a solid draft and earned their B+ by landing a potential star and a solid shooter off the bench – the best any team can hope to do in the draft.
Honorable Mention: Utah Jazz – C-
Despite the Utah Jazz’s marked improvements last season, they still lack depth and talent at the guard positions – and even with Alec Burks returning from injury and what should be a much improved Dante Exum in year two, the Jazz could have targeted another guard. Instead, the team opted for Kentucky forward Trey Lyles – a power forward who was never seen as a stretch four, but that’s exactly what the Jazz will try to do with him.
With Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker in tow, the Jazz had no impending need for another big man – but maybe he’ll look like a major steal a few years from now. Many believed the Jazz would move the Kentucky product on draft night or in the coming days, but the Jazz seem committed to developing the forward’s game.
This year’s draft proved once again that no pick is a sure thing, and team’s hopes can be destroyed in the span of five minutes. However, despite all the misery from the grueling 82-game schedule, teams continually look to the draft for hope, and maybe, just maybe, a player can give it to them.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick Fustor