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Breaking Down Protection Of 2015 NBA Draft Traded Picks

While the concept of tanking gets plenty of ink in NBA circles, the league has a more specific problem in that vicinity due to the rules concerning pick protection. While the Sixers may be an example of a team just not choosing to re-build quickly, very strong and narrow incentives can have a greater impact on competitive balance. As an example, I covered the Golden State Warriors in 2011-12 when they only retained their pick if it fell in the top seven. Once their unreasonable playoff dream died the team did what they could to keep their selection including shelving their top players ahead of time.

I wanted to take the time to go through RealGM’s excellent pick protection page and detail the potential first round pick protection issues that could rear their head this season, ranked in order of overall impact (likelihood and significance, basically). While pick swaps can change the way teams play since it eliminates the benefit of excessive losing, I chose not to include them since playing with an indifference to losing works very differently than the incentives for teams like the 2011-12 Warriors.

- Cleveland Cavaliers: Do not swap their pick with the Chicago Bulls if 1-14 (otherwise Chicago can choose to swap): While prohibitively unlikely with the best talent in their conference, the wheels falling off the Cavs train for this year due to several injuries could force a fascinating choice since falling to the 9th or 10th place spot in the East would lead to retaining a much better choice than a low seed in the post-season. Unlikely but compelling scenario.

- Houston Rockets: Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to the Los Angeles Lakers): The Rockets got lottery protection on the pick they sent to the Lakers in exchange for L.A. taking on the final season of Jeremy Lin’s contract, but it would be hard to imagine that the team would choose missing the playoffs over making them. The protection works more as a silver lining in this specific circumstance.

- Memphis Grizzlies: Retain their first rounder if 1-5 or 15-30 (otherwise it goes to Cleveland): In January 2013, the Grizzlies sent this protected pick to the Cavs as a sweetener to take on enough salary to get Memphis under the luxury tax. It has the top and bottom protection for this season and next then becomes a more traditional 1-5 protected in 2017 and 2018 if not conveyed by then. In this case, I would expect the restrictions to actually serve as a double punishment for the Grizzlies since it would take a ton to get their pick into the top five. The Grizzlies have plenty of incentive greater than this pick to make the playoffs again.

- New Orleans Pelicans: Retain their first rounder if 1-3 or 20-30 (otherwise it goes to Houston): As long as Anthony Davis stays reasonably healthy, this one should follow the same path as Memphis’ choice where the team is too good to have their pick fall on the top end and would not prioritize keeping the pick over making the playoffs or playoff seeding. The Pelicans’ pick becomes a little more dynamic because of the 20-30 protection rather than the 15-30 playoff team protection- it could turn out that New Orleans wanting to duck a specific first round opponent (the other major impetus for the truly harmful tanking) could coincide with this incentive considering the strength of the Western Conference.

- Philadelphia 76ers: Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to the Boston Celtics): While it looks like a foregone conclusion at this point, losing a first round pick by making the playoffs this year and replacing it with two second round picks did create a clear incentive for the Sixers to avoid making a push this season. Probably not a major factor in what happened but likely a consideration.

- Miami Heat: Retain their first rounder if 1-10 (otherwise it goes to Philadelphia): Astonishingly, LeBron James affected this pick two separate times as it was originally compensation to the Cavaliers as a part of the sign and trade that brought him to South Beach and the Cavs sent it to Philadelphia as a key piece of the Kevin Love trade when LeBron returned. Having only top 10 instead of top 14 protection likely does not matter much here as the “best” non-playoff teams in the East have been very close to top-10 picks due to the quality disparity between the two conferences. In what would have to be close to a worst case scenario for the Heat, the team could have a huge reason to lose their last few games if they get knocked out of post-season contention late in the year.

- Minnesota Timberwolves: Retain their first rounder if 1-12 (otherwise it goes to Phoenix): We have already done this dance and could be doing it again this year depending on how the Wolves fare with their interesting roster. While most expect Minnesota to take a step back from the 14th-worst record last year (and #13 pick), this protection could be a factor late in the 2014-15 season if Minnesota has a better than expected year but still falls outside of the stacked top eight in the West.

- Sacramento Kings: Retain their first rounder if 1-10 (otherwise it goes to Chicago): If the Kings fall out of the playoff picture, I am fully confident they will make sure they retain this selection and hope to do better the following season. This pick has top-ten protection for three more seasons and then becomes a second rounder in 2017, so we could see the same general path as last year happen up to three more times depending on how Sacramento progresses.

- Lakers: Retain their first rounder if 1-5 (otherwise it goes to the Phoenix Suns): The biggest protection issue going into the season by far. After striking out on the impact free agents this summer, the Lakers look to be out of the playoff picture for the 2014-15 season and thus have a clear incentive to keep their own lottery pick. This pressure gets even stronger if they have the belief that the Summer of 2015 will be more fruitful since they would be adding a better young piece and sending away a worse pick in 2016. The dueling pressures of winning in one of Kobe Bryant’s last seasons and adding a key piece for their future will be a major storyline to watch all year.

The Most Mutually Beneficial Loan Of All-Time

LeBron James going from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and back to the Cavaliers is the most mutually beneficial loan of all-time.

LeBron and the Heat won two titles and were in the Finals as runners-up two additional times.

While all that outstanding success was happening, the Cavaliers accumulated assets by winning the lottery three times in four seasons as a very different type of NBA success.

Nearly everything you need to know about why LeBron left the Cavaliers in 2010 and returned in 2014 can be seen by examining at their draft history.

The Cavaliers drafted Luke Jackson at No. 10 overall in 2004, lost their 2007 first round pick in an ill-advised Jiri Welsch trade made by Jim Paxson shortly before he was fired that also took off their playoff protection for their 2005 pick that would have been retained had they been in the lottery.

Daniel Gibson was a one-dimensional shooter, Shannon Brown didn’t become a contributing player until he went from Charlotte to the Lakers and Danny Green was basically a D-Leaguer for a two more seasons until the San Antonio Spurs developed him into what he is today. J.J. Hickson showed some promise while LeBron was still there and was the player the Cavaliers refused to part ways with at the 2010 deadline and has bounced around since, while Christian Eyenga was a project in 09-10 and played in Poland last season.

The Cavaliers were short on standouts and blatantly failed to develop what was available, albeit a common problem for most franchises outside of the Alamo City.

The Cavaliers also had cap space to burn in 2005, which was spent on Larry Hughes after they were unable to get their preferred choice, Michael Redd, to commit to a deal.

Hughes eventually became Ben Wallace ahead of the 2008 deadline and then Wallace became Shaquille O’Neal almost at the beginning of LeBron’s final offseason with the Cavaliers.

Cleveland’s finishing piece ahead of the 2010 trade deadline was dealing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the Washington Wizards for Antawn Jamison, thought of as a stretch-four that would open up Mike Brown's uninspiring halfcourt offense.

By July 1, 2010, the Cavaliers were out of ideas and out of viable routes to get better with LeBron on the roster. Only five players, including LeBron, from the Cavs 2010 playoff roster remained in the NBA at the end of this past season.

Cleveland needed LeBron to leave in order to create a roster with a realistic shot of winning a title with LeBron. The prime of LeBron’s career would have simply whittled away on 55 to 65-win regular season teams that would consistently be figured out in a seven-game series against teams that had more than one superstar.

While we can go pick-by-pick between 2011 and 2014 that the Cavaliers made in a vacuum to replace Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett with Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard, Andre Drummond and Nerlens Noel or some other combination of picks, the franchise was aggressive in accumulating young players.

The Kyrie Irving pick was a product of the cheapness of Donald Sterling as the Cavaliers won the lottery with a pick that came from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for taking on the salary of Baron Davis that was amnestied anyways just a few months later.

The one G.O.A.T. label that most people can agree upon in awarding LeBron is that nobody is capable of making his teammates better given his multi-faceted passing ability and capacity of guarding nearly any player in the game. The roster can be figured out either in the short-term or after LeBron is given a chance to feel what is there. LeBron is basically a human performance enhancer for his teammates with their production to all increase with the open shots he creates.

Whether it is through the exiting pieces, or some sort of combination of forthcoming moves, the Cavaliers have the ability to build a lasting title contender around him fairly quickly. Most importantly considering his age, LeBron is going from the youngish athlete to the elder statesman. LeBron will surely embrace keeping his regular season minutes in the 35ish per game range and can begin to take some maintenance nights off as Dwyane Wade has over the past two seasons.

Irving just signed a max extension and is the one existing piece we know will remain a cornerstone.

Andrew Wiggins isn’t going anywhere unless it’s for Kevin Love. Even then, I’m not sure trading Wiggins is worth it unless the Cavs are getting an All-Star level rim protector back. Wiggins is basically the most athletic player to enter the NBA since LeBron and his ability to be an off-ball threat and shutdown wing defender makes him a potentially perfect fit on the wing beside him.

Waiters as a second unit shot creator and perimeter shooter for when the Cavaliers go small has clear value.

Bennett is significantly better than he showed as a rookie season in which everything went wrong first physically and then mentally.

Thompson’s fit with the Cavaliers is complicated since he’s also represented by Rich Paul and he doesn’t make sense since he’s an undersized power forward that’s not capable of stretching the floor.

Hopefully Anderson Varjeao stays healthy, while we already know the Cavaliers will have no problem signing cheapish shooters whether it becomes Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Troy Daniels or some sort of combination thereof.

There’s still a lot to figure out for David Griffin, David Blatt and Dan Griffin, surely in consultation with LeBron, but this is now a marriage that will last into the next decade when he’s entering his late thirties. LeBron couldn’t leave Cleveland for a second time and it is unlikely the situation will ever turn as bleak as it did in 2010. Nothing is mapped out for LeBron right now as it was when he joined the Heat, but he returns to Cleveland unburdened with two rings as an individual and with youthful athletic legs all around him as tides have turned from boos to cheers

James, now famously, has never been the highest paid player on his team and he will be now with the Cavaliers. James also has never played with anyone who is essentially younger than him physically. Most of his previous teammates with the Cavaliers are out of the league and Wade was only close to being his peer for a short stretch of their tenure together. The importance of James playing with a core from the generation younger than him is a vital component of his return.

Team-By-Team Analysis Of The 2014 NBA Draft

With the new CBA magnifying the importance of the draft and one of the most talented groups of prospects in recent years, what happened on Thursday night will have significant ramifications on the balance of power in the NBA for the next decade. Who made the right picks will take a long time to figure out - how the draft is perceived today will differ a lot from how it is perceived next year, three years and five years from now. There’s a lot to get too, so let’s get to it.

Cleveland Cavaliers 

- Andrew Wiggins (No. 1)

- Joe Harris (No. 33)

- Dwight Powell (No. 45)

I wasn’t as high on Wiggins as most people, but in and of itself, I don’t have a huge problem with the pick. At the very least, he will be a two-way wing who contributes at a high level on both sides of the ball. He is still a young player and if he can develop his offensive game, as both a shot-creator and a distributor, he has as much upside as anyone not named Joel Embiid. He can slide between either wing position, although the Cavs said they view him as a big SG.

Given his somewhat raw offensive game, I can see the idea that he will be more effective as a SG. He has the athleticism to pull it off and he would tower over the vast majority of guards at 6’8 200 with a 7’0 wingspan. At the same time, it’s hard to picture a scenario where Wiggins doesn’t draw the bigger of the other team’s two wings. Unless the Cavs play him with another 6’8+ guy who can create his own shot at SF, the other team can afford to cross-switch on defense.

My concern with the pick comes from the drafts of Christmas past and the young core that is being built in Cleveland. If you commit to Wiggins as a SG, there doesn’t seem to be enough minutes and touches for Dion Waiters, a guy who is just starting to turn the corner in terms of becoming an effective pro. More broadly, the Cavs have made five Top-4 picks in the last four years and they still don’t have a rim protector on their roster. That doesn’t make any sense.

You could make a justification for why they didn’t go with a center at the time each pick was made, but whether it was Jonas Valanciunas in 2011, Andre Drummond in 2012, Nerlens Noel or Alex Len in 2013 or Embiid in 2014, at some point they needed to bite the bullet and not take the flashiest perimeter player who scored a lot of points in college. That’s how you build a roster and any roster with Kyrie and Anthony Bennett on it is going to need some interior defense.

In the second round, they grabbed a shooter (Joe Harris) and a versatile big man (Powell) who should round out their bench. Harris is pretty much a pure specialist, but he should be able to stretch the floor in a limited role. I’m not sure whether Powell will get the chance to play right away in Cleveland, but a 6’11 guy with his athleticism and skill should be able to find a spot for himself in the league. He’s a better player than Huestis, his Stanford teammate.

Milwaukee Bucks 

- Jabari Parker (No. 2)

- Damien Inglis (No. 31)

- Johnny O’Bryant III (No. 36)

- Lamar Patterson (No. 48)

The Bucks went with the player who could help them right away in Jabari Parker, as their owner had said they would do earlier in the week. He doesn’t have the upside of Embiid, but it’s a good fit of player and roster, as Milwaukee has the athletes upfront to hide Parker on defense, and they desperately needed a frontcourt player who could create his own shot and stretch the floor. The combination of Jabari at the 4 and Giannis at the 3 should be a great one-two punch. 

The big question with Jabari is whether he can make his teammates better. Brandon Knight is a SG in a PG’s body and they don’t have a ton of passing on their roster. He’s probably going to draw double teams early in his career, so he will need to be willing to make the extra pass and look to set everyone else up, which is not something he did too often at Duke. If he can get guys like John Henson and Larry Sanders easy shots, Milwaukee could improve quickly. 

The Henson/Sanders frontcourt duo was probably dead on arrival due to their complete lack of floor spacing, so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out over the next few seasons. If Chris Bosh can survive as a small-ball center in the East, I’m not sure Henson can’t either, which would give Milwaukee a really interesting frontcourt on both sides of the ball. They still need a two-way guard who can pass and shoot, but their rebuilding effort is going well.

They’ve been a pretty ahead of the curve team when it comes to finding talent in the draft, so I’m curious to see whether anything comes of their three second round picks. Damien Inglis, as a 240-pound wing with a 7’3 wingspan, is an interesting long-term play while Lamar Patterson could provide value as an all-around player who do a little bit of everything. Johnny O’Bryant will need to be able to shoot, as there won’t be much room around the basket for him to operate. 

Philadelphia 76ers 

- Joel Embiid (No. 3)

- Dario Saric (No. 10)

- KJ McDaniels (No. 33)

- Jerami Grant (No. 39)

- Vasilije Micic (No. 52)

- Nemanja Dangubic (No. 54)

Philadelphia has dominated the headlines with their no-holds barred effort to rebuild through the draft and take the very, very long view when it comes to accumulating assets, which is a polite way of saying they’ve been tanking pretty egregiously. The good news for is if that there’s a player in this draft whose worth gutting your franchise and waiting several years for, it’s Joel Embiid. He’s a guy who makes a team instantly credible on both sides of the ball.

Just like with Nerlens Noel, the 76ers can afford to take their time with Embiid’s health. His upside is off the charts - at 7’0 250 with a 7’5 wingspan, he has the chance to be an elite offensive player and defensive player. He’s by far the best player in this draft and if you’re going to go down, you might as well go down with the guy who has the most talent and hope for the best. It’s unclear whether Embiid and Noel can fit together, but you can always trade a 7’0 who can play.

Saric is an interesting guy in that he’s got a lot of the same skill-set as Michael Carter-Williams, as big ball-handlers (6’9 230) with a good feel for the game and questions about their outside shot. The 76ers clearly don’t place a huge priority on outside shooting - McDaniels (30%), Grant (0%) and Micic (29%) are all subpar shooters from the perimeter. They’ll need to be in transition as much as possible, which fits with the style they played this season. 

Of their second-round picks, I think McDaniels is the one to watch. He can defend multiple positions on the perimeter and he’s a freak athlete who averaged 3 blocks a game from the small forward position, which doesn’t really happen at any level of the game. He should get all the minutes he can handle next season and he should be a great finisher in transition next to Carter-Williams. Let’s just hope some of Chip Engelland’s magic rubbed off on Brett Brown. 

Orlando Magic 

- Aaron Gordon (No. 4)

- Elfrid Payton (No. 10)

- Roy Devyn Marble (No. 56) 

After two years as the Orlando GM, it’s pretty clear that Rob Hennigan has a type - uber-athletic prospects who can do a little bit of everything, even if they can’t shoot. Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are all smart players who can fly around the court, crash the glass and defend multiple positions, but I’m not sure whether you can build a whole roster of players like that. There’s not going to be any floor spacing when those guys are in the game.

I’m on board with the Gordon pick because he fills so many holes on their interior defense, a must for a team with a frontcourt that features Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris. But while you can get away with a poor shooter at one of the forward positions, there are not many examples in the modern NBA of a successful backcourt with two subpar shooters. Instead of the Splash Brothers, the Magic have the Clank Brothers - you can legitimately zone this team. 

Payton is a Rajon Rondo level shooter - college teams were playing 4-5 feet off him when he had the ball in his hands and he really couldn’t make them pay. He shot 26% from 3 and 61% from the free-throw line. It’s no coincidence that Rondo was most effective playing next to two knock down shooters in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. His game is drawing defenders and kicking to the shooter, but you really can’t run plays for Oladipo (33% from 3) on the perimeter.

Orlando is going to have to play uptempo and try to force TO’s as much as possible, because they are going to have a real hard time scoring in the half-court. My worry is that Oladipo and Payton end up making each other worse, since the other guy’s defender can sit in the paint on defense and cut off their driving lanes. To me it all goes back to the Oladipo pick - you can’t draft a 6’4 guard at No. 2 overall if he can’t shoot 3’s or run point. He needs to hit the gym this summer. 

Utah Jazz 

- Dante Exum (No. 5)

- Rodney Hood (No. 23)

Combo forward was the biggest area of need on the Utah roster, but when Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon were both off the board, they made the adjustment and took the best player available in Dante Exum. It’s hard to knock their choice, even if it extends the rebuilding period, since the draft is the only way the Jazz are going to be able to grab a star-caliber player. Outside of Embiid, I think Exum has the best chance of any player in the draft of being a two-way star.

The big storyline about Exum coming into the draft was about him benefitting from being an unknown, but that really wasn’t fair. Everyone saw him in play in the Hoop Summit and the U19 world championships and you don’t have to watch him play for very long to see that he is a special player. He’s a big guard (6’6 190 with a 6’9 wingspan) who is super-fast, very skilled and has a very good feel for the game. He has the tools that jump off the screen in one viewing.

Even though Utah picked behind Orlando in the last two drafts, I’d much rather have an Exum/Burke backcourt than Oladipo/Payton. The Jazz draft pretty well - Hood was another solid pick at No. 24. He’s not going to be a star, but he can eat a lot of minutes on the perimeter as a two-way wing. This draft does seem to make Alec Burks expendable and he could be an interesting buy low guy. He’s still only 22 and his per-36 minute numbers are solid. 

They are pretty set with Derrick Favors upfront and the perimeter trio of Burke/Exum/Hayward so the question becomes what they do at PF. They moved away from Enes Kanter and the two-post offense last season - do they shop him around this summer? Do they keep Marvin Williams? If the Jazz want to accelerate the rebuilding process, they might want to think about Channing Frye, who would give their young players a lot of space to operate. 

Boston Celtics 

- Marcus Smart (No. 6)

- James Young (No. 17)

I’m a Marcus Smart fan, but I think this pick is closer to the start of a rebuilding process for the Celtics than it is for the end of one. You can play him with Rajon Rondo, but Smart’s ideal scenario is to have the ball in his hands next to perimeter guys who can space the floor for him. At this point, it looks like the move is to trade Rondo and begin a 3+ year process of building a contender through the draft because there aren’t too many other assets on this roster.

The problem starts in their frontcourt, where they’ve got absolutely nothing at the C position, two question marks at PF and Jeff Green at SF. Green is a solid NBA player, but he has a career 13.1 PER and if he’s a starter on a playoff team, he’s going to have to be the 4rth-5th option. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk both have the skills to put up some empty statistics on offense, but neither guy has the foot-speed or the athleticism to be much of a defensive player.

Even if they traded for Kevin Love, they would be still 2-3 pieces away from being a contender - the supporting cast in Minnesota is much better than the one he would have in Boston.

James Young should be able to stick in the league, but I’d throw water on the idea that he was one of the steals of the draft. Take a closer look at his statistics and nothing really stands out at you - shooting is the strength of his game and he shot 35% from 3 and 41% from the field. 

Los Angeles Lakers 

- Julius Randle (No. 7)

- Jordan Clarkson (No. 46)

Given the lack of talent on their roster, the Lakers could get the most immediate impact from their draft than just about any team in the NBA. For all the concerns about Randle, no one has ever doubted his ability to put up numbers if he’s given the ball enough. He may not shoot the ball at a terribly high percentage as a rookie, but he will work his way into double-doubles on a nightly basis if given the minutes and there’s no reason he won’t get 35+ right away.

Kobe Bryant is the ultimate high-usage player, but I’m a little skeptical he’s going to be able to play 39 minutes a game with a usage rating of 32 and miss only four games, which is what he did in his last healthy season two years ago. He’s going to have to take it easy and have his minutes managed more carefully so there should be plenty of opportunities for Randle as well as Clarkson, who could be one of the steals of the draft in the middle of the second round.

At 6’5 190, Clarkson is a talented scorer who can get to the rim and shoot off the dribble, so if he’s given the chance to play in space with the ball in his hands, he should be able to put up some statistics too. The Lakers are rebuilding, so they need to figure out some way to keep their 2015 pick, which is owed to the Phoenix Suns if it falls outside of the Top 5. A team with Kobe and Randle is going to need someone, possibly multiple someones, who can play defense.

Sacramento Kings 

- Nik Stauskas (No. 8)

Stauskas has the chance to be a pretty good NBA player, but this is still a fairly questionable pick since it blocks the development of last year’s lottery pick (Ben McLemore) and it doesn’t really address any of the needs the Kings have on their current roster. Stauskas is a guy with a lot of defensive question marks who needs the ball in his hands, which is the exact same thing you can say about DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay.

As McLemore found out last year, it’s hard to develop as a young SG when you are playing with three guys who absolutely dominate the ball. McLemore and Stauskas could become a low-rent version of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, two guys who didn’t get a chance to show what they could do until Gay left town. Even in a best case scenario for Stauskas early in his career, he’s going to be playing off the ball, getting 6-8 shots and not playing much defense.

That’s how you end up staying in the lottery for an extended period of time - by taking a bunch of guys whose skills replicate, rather than complement, each other. McLemore had a very difficult rookie season, but he’s still only 21 years old and you have to trust the process you made in scouting him the year before. Neither Stauskas nor McLemore has the size to play as a SF or the skill-set to be a PG, so you are essentially choosing between one or the other.

Charlotte Hornets 

- Noah Vonleh (No. 9)

- PJ Hairston (No. 26)

I thought the Hornets were one of the real winners in this year’s draft, making the long-term upside pick and stopping Vonleh’s slide at No. 9 and then picking up an older shooter who can help them right away in Hairston. Vonleh didn’t put up big statistics at Indiana, but I thought he had one of the best all-around skill-sets in this year’s draft. He’s a big man who can shoot the ball, rebound, post up and who has the physical tools to defend either interior position.

Vonleh’s versatility makes him a great fit next to any type of big man - he should be able to play right away with Al Jefferson and he should be a long-term complement to Cody Zeller. Zeller was a forgotten man after a tough start to his rookie campaign, but he started to come around as the season went on. Zeller and Vonleh could play high-low and serve as versatile weapons in a two-post offense while still having the athleticism to defend and get out in transition.

Hairston is a 21-year-old who put up huge numbers in the D-League after washing out of UNC and his skill-set could immediately improve the Hornets. They desperately need three-point shooting and he’s a knock-down shooter who shot 36% from 3 on 7 attempts a game for the Texas Legends. At 6’5 230, he’s already got an NBA body, so he should be able to step into their rotation away and at least hold his own from a physical standpoint on the defensive side of the ball.

Chicago Bulls 

- Doug McDermott (No. 11)

- Cameron Bairstow (No. 49)

The Bulls went all-in on McDermott, sending three picks (No. 16, No. 19 and a future 2nd) to the Nuggets to move up five spots. If you were looking for an ideal landing spot for McDermott, it would have to be a team like Chicago, which needs scoring and has the team defense to hide him on that side of the ball. But while he should be a great weapon off their bench, I’m skeptical that he can ever be a starter on a good team, which isn’t a high ceiling for a lottery pick.

Combo forwards are some of the toughest players to project because the defensive responsibilities at the SF and PF position are so different. Just to give a few examples - if the Bulls faced the Indiana Pacers in a playoff series, can McDermott guard Paul George or David? If they played the Raptors, could he defend Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan? He’s not big enough to match up with PF’s around the basket and he’s not quick enough to defend SF’s on the perimeter.

If there’s anyone who should be able to hide a guy on defense it’s Tom Thibodeau, but the transition from being a small-ball 4 in the Mountain Valley Conference and the new Big East (which was essentially a mid-major) to playing as a 3 in the NBA will not be easy. Bairstow is a bruising PF with a well-rounded offensive game, but he can’t shoot 3’s, he’s not much of a shot-blocker and he’s not a very good athlete, so it’s unclear whether his game will translate.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

- Zach LaVine (No. 13)

- Glenn Robinson III (No. 40)

- Alessandro Gentile (No. 53)

The Wolves went full YOLO with their pick, which is exactly what a team in their situation needed to do. There doesn’t appear to be much chance that Kevin Love stays in Minnesota for much longer and they have too much peripheral talent on their roster to sink to the bottom of the lottery, so they could end up in the dreaded middle for many years to come, forever making picks in the 10-15 range. As a result, it makes all the sense in the world to take an upside guy like LaVine. 

Even though he didn’t do all that much in college, I’m firmly in the LaVine camp and I think he will be a very interesting player running the break with Ricky Rubio and spotting up off him in the half-court. Those two could quickly form the ultimate League Pass duo on the perimeter. And while LaVine is not a guy whose ready to play a big role on a playoff team and help convince Love to say, the reality is that ship has sailed regardless of who they picked at No. 13.

Phoenix Suns 

- TJ Warren (No. 14)

- Tyler Ennis (No. 18)

- Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27)

- Alec Brown (No. 50)

Warren has the potential to be one of the best picks in this year’s draft, from a fit and upside perspective. He’s an elite scorer who can run the floor and get buckets without having plays drawn up for him, so he should be a perfect in the Suns uptempo system. He’ll come off the bench as a rookie, but I could see him taking over for PJ Tucker at the SF spot long-term and his ability to fill it up while playing off the ball could make the Phoenix offense go nuclear. 

Ennis doesn’t have the next level gear of either Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe, but he’s a solid player who can step in and give them good minutes at the backup PG position right away. Bogdanovic is a draft-and-stash player who can do a little bit of everything - there’s some Marco Belinelli in his game. The Suns have made a remarkably quick turnaround under Ryan McDonough due to their ability to evaluate talent and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. 

Atlanta Hawks 

- Adreian Payne (No. 15)

- Walter Tavares (No. 43)

Payne is an absolutely perfect fit for the Hawks system - he’s an athletic big man who can stretch the floor at a high level (42% from 3 as a senior) while also providing more interior defense than a lot of the guys on their roster now. Long-term, the combination of Payne and Al Horford could be absolutely lethal on both sides of the ball. Playing with those two will make all their perimeter players better and allow the Hawks to be better than the sum of their parts.

Atlanta pushed Indiana to the breaking point with the combination of Paul Millsapp and Pero Antic upfront and neither player is as good a shooter or interior defender as Payne and Horford. There’s something to be said for drafting players to fit a system, especially when that system is max floor spacing at all five positions. The Hawks also picked up a really interesting second round flyer in Walter Tavares, who I could see being a better player than Lucas Noguiera.

Denver Nuggets 

- Jusuf Nurkic (No. 16)

- Gary Harris (No. 19)

- Nikola Jokic (No. 41)

Trading back is almost never a good idea in the NBA draft, but the Nuggets worked it too perfection on Thursday, winding up with two players - Nurkic and Harris - whom they could have easily taken at No. 11 with no one blinking an eye. Nurkic is the best low-post scorer in this year’s draft and he represents a sea change from the George Karl era - he’s a mix of Nikola Pekovic and Tiago Splitter and he’s a guy Brian Shaw can run offense through in the post.

It’s unclear how many minutes there will be for Harris early in his career, but he’s a solid two-way player with a very high floor, which is excellent value in the latter half of the first round. Harris can defend either guard position, stretch the floor and serve as a secondary ball-handler and he’s still only 20 years old. Jokic is an interesting pick, as he’s another massive European big man who can score with his back to the basket, although he will likely stay overseas for awhile.

Toronto Raptors 

- Bruno Caboclo (No. 20)

- DeAndre Daniels (No. 37)

There’s not much I can say about the Brazilian Kevin Durant, but just from his physical measurements, it doesn’t seem like an insane gamble at this stage in the first round. There were plenty of good players still on the board, but a lot of the teams after the Raptors went with low ceiling guys who weren’t going to make an immediate impact on the Toronto roster anyway. In terms of talent, Daniels is right up there with most of the guys taken 21-36.

Oklahoma City Thunder 

- Mitch McGary (No. 21)

- Josh Huestis (No. 29)

- Semaj Christon (No. 55)

Oklahoma City seemed to take a bit of a change in philosophy with this year’s first-round picks. Instead of taking a swing for the fences and going with the high upside pick, like they did with Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III, they went for safe picks on older players from big schools who could fill a small role in their rotation right away. McGary is the bigger name than Huestis, but neither guy is ever likely to be a starter in the NBA.

The good news is for the Thunder is they don’t really that type of player, given that every position in their starting line-up is already spoken for with guys they’ve already drafted. McGary and Huestis seem like guys who max out as 15-20 minute players on a title contender - McGary as an energy big man and Huestis as a 3-and-D player. Keep an eye out for Christon, a talented guard who should have stayed in school and will likely head to the D-League.

Memphis Grizzlies 

- Jordan Adams (No. 22)

- Jarnell Stokes (No. 35)

Whatever shake-ups have occurred in the Memphis front office, it’s pretty clear that John Hollinger still has a very strong voice, as they picked two analytics favorites - Adams and Stokes - who raise red flags from a scouting perspective. Adams is an incredibly unathletic SG while Stokes is an undersized PF who can’t stretch the floor. They were both really good college players so it will be interesting to see how well these analytic poster boys end up doing.

Miami Heat 

- Shabazz Napier (No. 24)

No free agent comes to Miami without LeBron James' say so and that apparently extends to the draft as well. If LeBron is going to serve as their de facto GM, he should probably stop tweeting his scouting reports, as it allows other teams to extort them for the players they want. Napier is a fine player who should have a long career in the NBA as a PG, but the Heat could have grabbed a player like that in the second round.  The world isn’t running low on Mario Chalmers types.

Houston Rockets 

- Clint Capela (No. 25)

- Nick Johnson (No. 42)

With the Rockets trying to clear cap space and make a run at a max free agent, a draft and stash player like Capela was their only real option. I haven’t watched him play much, but from what I saw of him at the Hoop Summit, his skill level on anything but catching alley oops was pretty minimal. Given his size and athleticism at 6’11 220, he might one day replace Omer Asik as a backup C, but I’m not sure the Serge Ibaka comparisons are warranted at all.

Los Angeles Clippers 

- CJ Wilcox (No. 28)

Wilcox is a 23-year-old with an NBA body (6’5 200 with a 6’10 wingspan) and an NBA skill (39% from 3), so it makes sense why a contender would draft him, but his fit with the Clippers roster is questionable. He’ll be behind last year’s first-round pick (Reggie Bullock) in the pecking order and there aren’t many minutes available on the wings as is. LA doesn’t just need a third big man, they need a fourth and a fifth too, so taking another guard is a head scratcher.

San Antonio Spurs 

- Kyle Anderson (No. 30)

- Jordan McRae (No. 58)

One of the benefits of having the last pick in the first round is that you just let the draft come to you without having to over-think things. I was a big Kyle Anderson guy regardless, so him ending up in San Antonio is just a cherry on top - he’s going to be one of the big steals of the draft. A 6’9 guy with his skill-set, length (7’3 wingspan) and feel for the game is going to figure it out and carve out a niche for himself in the NBA, which is great value from the No. 30 pick.

New York Knicks 

- Cleanthony Early (No. 34)

- Thanasis Antetokounmpo (No. 51)

- Louis Labiyre (No. 57)

Cleanthony became the darling of draft night based almost entirely off his performance against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but I’m not sure he’s going to be anything special at the next level. He’s a 6’8 combo forward who was pretty one-dimensional at Wichita State and will need to transition to playing solely as a SF in the NBA. He’s already 23 and he doesn’t offer much value as a passer or a defensive player. Their other two picks are Hail Mary passes.

Detroit Pistons 

- Spencer Dinwiddie (No. 38)

If I could have only one player from this year’s second round, it would be Dinwiddie. At 6’6 205, he’s a complete guard who can do everything - score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend - well. He can fit with almost any type of player in the backcourt, which will give him the chance to be a 10-year NBA player. Were it not for an ACL injury he suffered in college, he would have been a first-rounder. This was a strong start in the draft for the Stan Van Gundy regime. 

Brooklyn Nets 

- Markel Brown (No. 44)

- Xavier Thames (No. 59)

- Cory Jefferson (No. 60)

Buying second round picks is an excellent way for a cash-rich but pick-starved franchise like the Nets to get some youth on their roster. More importantly, Billy King made some excellent choices. He clearly was watching Big 12 basketball this season, as he took two guys - Brown and Jefferson - who were NCAA role players but have NBA athleticism and tools. The odds are against them as late second rounders, but I like their chances of sticking in the league.

New Orleans Pelicans 

- Russ Smith (No. 47)

I’m not sure he’s any better than Pierre Jackson, but Smith is an intriguing player whose definitely worth a gamble in the latter half of the second round. A guy taken at this stage in the draft needs a bit if he’s going to earn a spot on a roster and Smith has one - he’s an electric athlete who can impact the game as a scorer and a defensive player. Like Jackson, he’ll probably need to prove himself in the D-League, but he has a decent chance of making it back.

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