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Grading The Draft: 2011 Edition

I talked myself into liking the role player potential of the 2011 NBA Draft and that it wouldn’t be so bad, but I have never needed caffeine to get through a draft night as I did with this one. Compounding matters was the fact that ESPN’s coverage felt like being in the middle of ‘Back to the Future’ due to how the speed of Twitter has changed the entire paradigm of how news travels.

Cleveland Cavaliers: C+

The new nucleus of the Cavaliers includes ‘the two best humans’ available in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Irving was the obvious pick at No. 1, but it becomes less so by what they did at No. 4.

Thompson has the foundations of a strong offensive game, but is several seasons away from being an efficient scorer beyond put backs and lobs. He and Irving could become a lethal pick and roll partnership, a role Thompson wasn’t assigned at all while at Texas. His defense, meanwhile, is already well above average.

The problem with Thompson for Cleveland is two-fold:

  1. The Cavaliers already have several power forwards on their roster and adding Thompson almost surely necessitates a trade.
  2. The 2012 NBA Draft will contain a plethora of power forwards (Anthony Davis, James McAdoo, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger), all of whom I rate as better prospects than Thompson.

I had Jonas Valanciunas pegged for Cleveland with the No. 4 pick since a center prospect of his caliber is a much greater rarity and simply seems like the more ambitious choice than Thompson. Picking Thompson here feels a little too much like Seattle’s decision to go with Jeff Green in 2007 as Kevin Durant’s tandem instead of Joakim Noah.

Even though everything was predicated on what the Wolves and Jazz would do between their two picks, the Cavaliers had a few different scenarios available to them and I would have preferred the Irving/Valanciunas equation, the Derrick Williams/Brandon Knight one or even the Williams/Valanciunas one.

The Cavaliers turned (another power forward) in Justin Harper into two second round picks from the Magic. Second round picks can always be purchased at a later date and there should be at least a few players a front office can get excited about at No. 32, whether it is Irving teammate Kyle Singler, potential first rounder Tyler Honeycutt or even a shot in the dark center in Jeremy Tyler.

Their final selection was Milan Macvan, who is under contract by Maccabi Tel Aviv for several seasons and probably will never play in the NBA.

Kyrie Irving, 1st

Tristan Thompson, 4th

Milan Macvan, 54th

Minnesota Timberwolves: A-

David Kahn was a reluctant bride, but he ultimately made it to the altar to draft Derrick Williams. The talent is absolutely there as he has a legitimate opportunity to become one of the best two or three inside/outside scorers in the entire NBA. There is also no guarantee that Kevin Love will stick around long-term, so any positional overlap (overstated) will be resolved either on the floor or via trade.

While the Wolves weren’t in a position to wait on Valanciunas at center, there is too much skill-set similarity between Enes Kanter and Love to be an ideal power forward/center pairing. I had Kanter as a higher ranked prospect than Williams, but that is based largely on assumption and Kahn doesn’t have that type of luxury right now.

Malcolm Lee had a disappointing career at UCLA, but at the very least is a guard with length that can defend a swath of backcourt players and handle the ball.

The Targuy Ngombo pick merits applause surely for creativity and makes me think of Tenzing Norgay.

Derrick Williams, 2nd

Malcolm Lee, 43rd

Targuy Ngombo, 57

Utah Jazz: B+

The point guard position has not been addressed in the long-term, but the Jazz accelerated their turnaround by leaving Newark with Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Both players fill an immediate need and have a considerable amount of upside, particularly Kanter of course.

I would have been more interested in pairing Gordon Hayward on the wing with either Kawhi Leonard or Chris Singleton, but acquiring a ballhandler like Burks allows the Jazz to ironically find a point guard who isn’t a pure point guard, which was the doubt some teams had on Brandon Knight. The main reservation on Burks is that while he is one of the best ballplayers in the draft, he is ordinary athletically and lacks a promising perimeter jumper.

• Enes Kanter, 3rd

• Alec Burks, 12th

Toronto Raptors: B

Valanciunas was an acquired taste for me, needing to see him on several occasions and picking the brain of a people that have seen him in person frequently. The trajectory of his improvement is very encouraging and most importantly, he is a legitimate center. If Andrea Bargnani is still around by the time he comes over to the NBA, they are far more complementary pieces than overlapping pieces. The comparisons between the two are purely superficial. 

But it does mean that Bargnani now must be considered a power forward from here on out and that will squeeze minutes from either Ed Davis or Amir Johnson.

To select Valanciunas, the Raptors had to pass on both Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker. Neither Jose Calderon or Jerryd Bayless figure to be the long-term solution at point guard for the franchise and that means the Raptors will need to either acquire one via trade, or maybe begin to look at Myck Kabongo in the 2012 edition.

The Raptors also passed on Bismack Biyombo, who is probably the biggest boom/bust player in the entire draft.

Jonas Valanciunas, 5th

Washington Wizards: A+

The Wizards absolutely had to get this draft right and I couldn’t be more pleased with Ernie Grunfeld’s work.

Washington was presumably picking between the defense of Kawhi Leonard and skyward athleticsm of Jan Vesely at No. 6, decided to pick Vesely and was able to acquire the best on-ball defender in the entire draft in Chris Singleton at No. 18.

Vesely and Singleton won’t be big NBA scorers, but the Wizards should always have one of the more balanced scoring teams because of Wall’s creativity as an assist man. The upshot is Washington is building a defensive team, particularly since it looks like they are keeping Javale McGee at center, that is capable of rivaling what the Bulls have around Derrick Rose.

Shelvin Mack was born to be an NBA backup point guard and he will join the likes of Eric Maynor as one of the immediate best.

• Jan Vesely, 5th

• Chris Singleton, 18th

• Shelvin Mack, 34th

Sacramento Kings: B+

The hours leading up to the draft were rough for the Kings, facing a firing squad of criticism for their role in a three-team trade that shuffled picks and bad contracts. Separating the merits of what John Salmons may bring at this point, Sacramento adds another deluxe scorer in Jimmer Fredette. He also is about as perfect as a backcourt mate for Tyreke Evans, at least on the offensive end of the floor.

Tyler Honeycutt has some Francisco Garcia in him, so the Kings stay on inclination there.

Isaiah Thomas is another point guard that looks like a good pairing with Evans, at least on paper.

• Jimmer Fredette, 10th

• Tyler Honeycutt, 35th

• Isaiah Thomas, 60th

Charlotte Bobcats: A-

Michael Jordan continues to operate in the extremes, picking projects that are filled with upside but are impossible to confidently project and players with sparkling college pedigrees.

But I like this rendition quite a bit more than past efforts, believing Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker will both deliver successful careers. They contain the right blend of upside, niche skill and moxie, all three are elements that have been on short supply with this franchise since Emeka Okafor became its first franchise cornerstone.

• Bismack Biyombo, 7th

• Kemba Walker, 9th

Detroit Pistons: B+

I like Brandon Knight a lot and am decided less fond on Detroit’s incumbent flotilla of backcourt players. Knight was comfortably one of the best five players in this draft and absolutely the second best guard. Even though he was miserable sliding to No. 8 when he thought he was going third ever since the lottery, beginning his career with the Pistons will allow Knight to ease into the rigors of being an NBA point guard.

Even though I had Knight ahead of him, Biyombo would have been the more valuable acquisition had Charlotte not slid ahead of them at No. 7.

Kyle Singler would have made more sense on a playoff team with a few superstars (like the Thunder) than on a team still looking for their identity.

Vernon Macklin was highly touted when he arrived at Georgetown in 2006 and has improved, but not enough to be drafted higher than the sleepiest portion of the night.

• Brandon Knight, 8th

• Kyle Singler, 33rd

• Vernon Macklin, 52nd

Milwaukee Bucks: C+

Tobias Harris was a much better prospect than many were giving him credit for in the lead-up to the draft, but 19th is about right for him. Harris is a jack of all trades type that probably would have his best basketball success had he stayed in college for another season or two. Unless he morphs his body, the ceiling for Harris is as a fringe starter. But he fits their culture and won’t make the team worse.

Jon Leuer is a prototypical second round pick as a local favorite.

• Tobias Harris, 19th

• Jon Leuer, 40th

Golden State Warriors: C-

With several players on the board who had considerable more potential and was a better fit for the team’s need of defense and rebounding (Kawhi Leonard), but the Warriors stuck to their old model and selected the better offensive player in Klay Thompson. As I wrote on Twitter when the pick was made, drafting Thompson and passing on Leonard and even Singleton only makes sense if they trade Monta Ellis for Andre Iguodala. If the Warriors were going to acquire Iguodala, I have to believe they would have done so already and drafting Thompson hurts whatever leverage they previously had in Ellis trade talks. 

Golden State finally deviated from script when they acquired a second round pick from the Bobcats. In an attempt to discard their frugal reputation as a franchise (even under new ownership), the Warriors bring in the biggest question mark of the entire draft in Jeremy Tyler. This is solid out of the box thinking and risk taking that has been so rare over the past two decades.

Charles Jenkins is one of the best pure basketball players selected in the second round. He is an obvious scorer and a confident player, one that is perfectly suited for duty off the bench of Mark Jackson. His defense is atrocious, however, so we’ll see in him how much their culture actually changes.

• Klay Thompson, 11th

• Jeremy Tyler, 39th

• Charles Jenkins, 44th

Phoenix Suns: B-

The Suns would have done well to acquire a player with the physical and mental grit of Markieff Morris a few years ago, but they need a little more ambition at this point. Assuming the Suns are on the precipice of taking a few steps back, at least Morris is a great glue guy to add showhorses to at a later date.

• Markieff Morris, 13th

Houston Rockets: B+

The Rockets remain unable to cash in their chips for a franchise player, but they took advantage of Marcus Morris slipping to 14 and he has the makings of a legitimate NBA scorer. I believe he is a small forward and is an upgrade over what they’ve had there offensively.

Donatas Motiejunas has improved every year, but not enough to be the high lottery pick he was expected to be a few years ago. He’s a nice stretch big and will receive minutes right away.

Because Chandler Parsons is as much of an uncertainty as players with higher ceilings, I would have preferred a Davis Bertans.

• Marcus Morris, 14th

• Donatas Motiejunas, 20th

• Chandler Parsons, 38th

Indiana Pacers: B-

The Pacers turned Kawhi Leonard and Davis Bertans (four years from now) into George Hill. While the team is eager to continue their efforts of being relevant in an Eastern Conference they will be incapable of climbing to the top, I believe they will ultimately be handed a ‘L’ for this decision. Hill will contribute immediately, but he doesn’t change the equation enough where they are beating the Bulls or Heat. I would have been far more interested in keeping Leonard and seeing what Danny Granger would produce on the trade market at the power forward position.

Philadelphia 76ers: C+

I have a recent history of loving Philadelphia’s drafts, but I’m less than thrilled for two years running. Nikola Vucevic is a unique talent, but has a ceiling of a role player. He helps immediately and makes the team better.

Lavoy Allen is a local pick that is unlikely to stick.

• Nikola Vucevic, 16th

• Lavoy Allen, 50th

New York Knicks: B+

Iman Shumpert is an incredibly versatile player with the type of athleticism and pure skill to become a very good player. If Phil Jackson takes over a year from now, I’ll adjust this grade to an A because he would be an excellent Triangle point guard. I applaud the teams that chose to gamble in this draft and Shumpert is one of the bigger boom/bust picks, though at the very least he will be one of their better backcourt defensive players.

Portland Trail Blazers: D+

Leaving aside the Raymond Felton acquisition, which was a good one even if Andre Miller was consistently underestimated, the Blazers would have done much better acquiring Kenneth Faried. He would immediately play veteran minutes for a Portland team that is beginning to enter ‘win at all costs’ territory. I have to assume handing over Faried was a condition of the trade with Denver.

Nolan Smith should have a nice career, but a backup point guard is easy to acquire, just look at how many teams Earl Watson has been passed to.

Jon Diebler will fill a similar role as Rudy Fernandez if he makes the team.

• Nolan Smith, 21st

• Jon Diebler, 51st

Denver Nuggets: B+

For a team that loves to run and has plenty of offense already, Kenneth Faried is an ideal addition. He’ll improve their work on the glass and match the energy this team plays with.

Jordan Hamilton was my least favorite player who I thought actually is capable of being a rotation player in the league. I would have to assume the Nuggets don’t expect to end the offseason with Wilson Chandler in order for them to acquire Hamilton.

• Kenneth Faried, 22nd

• Jordan Hamilton, 26th

• Chukwudiebere Maduabum, 56th

Oklahoma City Thunder: A

We expect a big show from Sam Presti on draft night and he was far more subtle as he put his foot down on Reggie Jackson, who tried to hide in the corner in an attempt to join the Heat. It is an opportunistic selection, especially considering what the Spurs just acquired for George Hill since an Eric Maynor trade continues to loom.

• Reggie Jackson, 24th

Boston Celtics: D+

The Bobcats loved the 2005 Tar Heels and I guess Danny Ainge enjoyed the Boilermakers this past season. JaJuan Johnson showed considerable improvement during his time at Purdue and is the type of stretch forward the Celtics have seemed to like. Replacing Kendrick Perkins in this draft was an impossibility.

E’Twaun Moore is a hard worker, but he doesn’t have the typical profile of a player who sticks in the NBA very long.

I’ve grown accustomed to a little more imagination from Ainge, but this is as risk averse as I’ve seen him.

• JaJuan Johnson, 27th

• E’Twaun Moore, 55th

Dallas Mavericks: A-

The Mavericks have found their formula and don’t have the patience to bring on a rookie, so they traded out of the draft to bring in a guy that was born to hit big spot-up shots in Rudy Fernandez. The only potential issue is whether the Mavierkcks will be able to afford to retain Fernandez if a ‘harder’ cap is instituted.

New Jersey Nets: B

I feared for a team that were suckered into using a pick in the teens on Marshon Brooks, but the value of the pick and fit of New Jersey’s needs is perfect. The Nets didn’t have anyone else like him on their roster a year ago and he will be able to score for a club that has Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on it.

I’m a big fan of Bojan Bogdanovic, who is kind of the Euro Jimmer. Who knows when he’ll come to the States, but he isn’t 21 draft slots worse than Fredette.

Jordan Williams is a smart defensive player, who uses his big body well. We’ll see if he can improve his fitnesss under Avery Johnson.

• Marshon Brooks, 25th

• Bojan Bogdanovic, 31st

• Jordan Williams, 36th

Chicago Bulls: A

Because all of the best players in Europe eventually come to the NBA, drafting a player who can be a top-5 talent from this draft in Nikola Mirotic carries no real risk for a Chicago team that is already winning. As Carlos Boozer’s contract/career winds down, Chicago should be able to seamlessly insert Mirotic into that lineup.

Jimmy Butler is the perfect type of player for the culture of the Bulls’ franchise and will play important minutes.

The Bulls still need a shooting guard, but Marshon Brooks was the only option available and he’d be anathema to them.

• Nikola Mirotic, 23rd

• Jimmy Butler, 30th

San Antonio Spurs: A

The Spurs always are judged with rose-colored glasses on draft night because of how much we believe in their system and their reasoning.

I can’t imagine a better team for Kawhi Leonard to go to if I’m his agent, even if sliding from the top-10 will cost him dearly financially on the first contract. Their player development is excellent and he will make them better in a more meaningful way than George Hill is capable of.

Davis Bertans is another long con like we have seen from them with Luis Scola and Tiago Splitter.

Cory Joseph was the absolute shock of the first round, but I see their logic in drafting him instead of the other point guard options that were available. He has a lot of the necessary attributes that fits the Spurs’ program and was probably undervalued.

Miami Heat: B+

The Heat once again had an April, May and June that merits an NBA investigation. This time they had Reggie Jackson circumvent typical draft protocol in order for him to slip to No. 31.

When the Thunder stepped in their way, they moved into the late first round and picked a similar player in Norris Cole. He isn’t as good as Jackson, but he doesn’t turn the ball over much on offense and can run with the monsters on the wing. Meanwhile, he is one of the better on-ball defenders in the entire draft and will do an excellent job containing Derrick Rose.

• Norris Cole, 28th

Atlanta Hawks: D

Keith Benson and rumors of a sale. Not a great draft day for the Hawks.

• Keith Benson

New Orleans Hornets: F

If the NBA is going to own the Hornets, they need to play it straight at least a little bit and not sell off picks, especially when it is for less than $1 million. Begin the conflict of interest engines on Chris Paul’s future right now.

Memphis Grizzlies: A

Second round picks are typically wasted, so I completely approve of spending a pick on Josh Selby. He may have an issue with his knee and may have had one of the more disappointing freshman seasons from a highly touted recruit in a long time, but they were similarly opportunistic with Darrell Arthur.

• Josh Selby, 49th

Los Angeles Clippers: B

The Clippers have a couple of former college teammates on their team already in Blake Griffin and Willie Warren. While there is little to compare Trey Thompkins to Griffin, he does have skill and this is a franchise that has employed the likes of Craig Smith and Ike Diogu. Travis Leslie is the single greatest highlight reel of the entire draft.

• Trey Thompkins, 37th

• Travis Leslie, 47th

Orlando Magic: B+

The Magic stuck to script in acquiring a stretch-4 in Justin Harper. He won’t be a total game changer, but he improves the club by giving them some of those same elements they initially had in Rashard Lewis.

The fact that a player drafted at No. 53 has the potential to improve the Magic on the wing reveals how badly in shambles they are there.

• Justin Harper, 32nd

• DeAndre Liggins, 53rd

Los Angeles Lakers: A-

The Lakers need a point guard who can shoot it respectably from the perimeter, something Darius Morris is incapable of at this stage of his career. But he is a playmaker off the dribble and has more upside than most players picked in the forties. I felt he was one player that would have gained a lot by staying in school one more season, but he must have felt he had to ride the hot hand of the Duke game.

Andrew Goudelock provides insurance on Shannon Brown and will be able to score on a team with so many other weapons for teams to account for.

Ater Majok has the name of Jim Buss written all over it.

The Lakers yielded very solid value out of their second round arsenal.

• Darius Morris, 41st

• Andrew Goudelock, 46th

• Ater Majok, 58th

(Click on any of the above team links to share your vote for what grade is merited.)

Final Tallies

Receiving an A: Timberwolves, Wizard, Bobcats, Thunder, Maverick, Bulls, Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers

Receiving a B: Jazz, Raptors, Kings, Pistons, Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Nuggets, Nets, Heat, Clippers, Magic

Receiving a C: Cavaliers, Bucks, Warriors, 76ers

Receiving a D: Blazers, Celtics, Hawks

Receiving a F: Hornets

 

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