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2014-15 NBA Season Tiers Preview

As has been the case in previous seasons, I open with my tiered power rankings. Please remember that these are based solely on projected regular season success. The concept is that teams could finish in any order within a tier bur I would be surprised if they finished outside of that tier, excluding major personnel changes. The order represents my estimation of the most likely finish within a tier though that can be splitting hairs in some cases.

Western Conference 

Tier One – Higher Ground

Los Angeles Clippers: Despite carrying some notable flaws that could doom them in the playoffs, the Clippers have a clear window to take the No. 1 seed. They fixed their largest weakness by adding quality big man depth in Spencer Hawes and Ekpe Udoh and hopefully should have better luck in terms of guard health.

San Antonio Spurs: If Gregg Popovich wanted to run away with the No. 1 seed in the West it likely will be there for the taking. However, history has shown the Spurs care more about wins in the playoffs than the regular season so they take a place firmly in the top tier but not all the way at the top using this methodology. They are still the toughest out in the playoffs as long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker play as well as they did last season.

That paragraph lifted straight from last season’s preview- another illustration of why the Spurs are the best-run sports franchise on the planet.

Tier Two – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant’s injury moves the Thunder from Tier One to Tier Two because even keeping their heads above water will not be enough to catch the Spurs and Clippers. This feels like the year that continually cheapening out on depth by regularly avoiding the luxury tax burns OKC. I actually think this Thunder team as presently constructed and coached stands a better chance of getting knocked out in the first round than making the conference finals despite being a huge fan of Steven Adams.

Golden State Warriors: At full strength, Golden State is the most dangerous Western Conference team for the Spurs in a seven game series with quality defenders to spare and a legitimate superstar in Stephen Curry. The Warriors just have to be healthy for the playoffs and a lack of depth behind Curry and Andrew Bogut means an injury to either jeopardizes their chances of even making the postseason.

Houston Rockets: Their starting five might actually be better this season since Trevor Ariza makes more sense with the  Harden / Howard core than Chandler Parsons. That said, sacrificing their depth by moving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin dramatically increases the variance on their season as does the retention of Kevin McHale as head coach. The Rockets always seem to have someone new step up and my call for 2014-15 is rookie Clint Capela who produced well against high-level talent in Europe and could thrive in a small role this season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis was one of the best teams in the entire league when healthy last season and added some compelling depth through the draft in the form of Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes. If either works out or Vince Carter can carry the Mike Miller torch for shocking durability the Grizzlies could be yet another squad no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns: Last year’s biggest surprise has plenty of backslide risk but also improved their depth by stealing Isaiah Thomas and drafting possible contributor TJ Warren in the lottery. Losing Channing Frye hurts the driving lanes for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe but the young team should improve enough to do even better than last season.

Dallas Mavericks: If we could turn injuries off for a season, Dallas would be both one of my favorite teams to watch and a shocking favorite to make some real noise in a stacked conference. Unfortunately, the Mavericks have no real recourse if any one of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler misses any real time. I always give Rick Carlisle teams a boost after ranking them on pure talent which puts them more firmly in the playoff picture.

Portland Trail Blazers: Portland’s starters only missed 13 games last season. COMBINED. While some teams could handle a regression to the mean in terms of injuries, the Blazers are so top-heavy that losing any member of their core would be devastating. They are another great team that has to pray they stay healthier than their competitors because they are in the post-season if that happens.

New Orleans Pelicans: Stop me if you have heard this before: a top-heavy team that needs their best players to stay healthy to make the playoffs. Anthony Davis sits on the cusp of superstardom and finally has a logical running mate in Omer Asik. The Pelicans will need a strong, full season from the underrated Jrue Holiday and likely one or two breakouts from their shaky bench to fight their way into the top eight.

Denver Nuggets: This Denver team works so well in this format because I could honestly buy them finishing anywhere from third to 11th in the West. They are the only team other than the Spurs in the entire NBA to have two good players at every position and their home-court advantage could give the Nuggets enough of a buffer to make the playoffs a reality. Kenneth Faried got the attention and money this summer but Ty Lawson will play the most important role on this year’s team.

Tier Three – Pastime Paradise (or I Wish)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Fittingly, the dual coach/president Flip Saunders has created two different teams in one franchise: a surprisingly competitive batch of veterans including Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin alongside a full batch of pups including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and the enigmatic Zach LaVine. That dichotomy could push Minnesota to the top of the bottom by logging enough wins before the kids take the reins once their playoff dreams turn back into a pumpkin.

Sacramento Kings: Pick protection is the biggest scourge on competitiveness in today’s NBA. The Kings owe a pick to the Bulls that carries top-10 protection or each of the next three seasons so they have a clear incentive to pump the brakes if they fall out of the playoff hunt. I fully expect pragmatism to win out for at least one more year so the team can add another Shooting Guard in the lottery. After all, what other reason could there be for replacing Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison?

Utah Jazz: The Jazz will get substantially more minutes this season from compelling talent than the last few seasons. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert make Utah a rare team that should expect 48 minutes of reliable rim protection while Gordon Hayward can shoulder less of the offensive load thanks to an improved perimeter rotation. Hopefully Quin Snyder can figure out if Enes Kanter works with their main pieces before he hits restricted free agency next summer.

Los Angeles Lakers: Even before the depressing news about Steve Nash’s injury it was hard to figure out how the Lakers would beat teams even with their full complement of players. The Lake Show has no discernible defensive ability outside of Ed Davis and a coach that apparently wants to take out the high-variance strategy (lots and lots of threes) that could lead to the Lakers snaking a few games. A lost season yields a top-five pick in an interesting 2015 Draft.

Eastern Conference

Tier One – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (or Overjoyed or Love’s in Need of Love Today)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Cleveland’s offseason has to be considered one of the best in league history. They added two of the ten best players in the league (arguably two of the top five) and gave up very little in terms of contributors to last season’s team. Kyrie Irving went from being the savior to his team’s third-best player and both he and Kevin Love should thrive offensively like LeBron’s teammates in Miami. I expect the Cavs to finish in the top five of offensive efficiency in league history at least one of the next two seasons with or without Ray Allen. 

Tier Two – On the Sunny Side of the Street

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls got better by adding Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott but failed to improve their biggest weakness by failing to bring in anyone of substance at guard. Chicago has staked their entire season to Derrick Rose staying healthy and will be vulnerable even in the minutes he sits when healthy because neither Kirk Hinrich nor Aaron Brooks can competently fill the role. This Bulls team should be very fun to watch though and will go a long way towards showing Tom Thibodeau’s capability as an offensive coach.

Toronto Raptors: After a storybook regular season, Masai Ujiri brought the band back together by keeping Kyle Lowry in T-Dot. The Raptors are young enough to ride age-centric improvement to stay above the hard-charging young teams in the East and absolutely could make Chicago have to sweat to earn the second seed. Yet again, the development of Jonas Valanciunas will determine the ceiling for the Raptors even as the rest of the team improves. 

Tier Three – Positivity

Washington Wizards: A short-term loss of Bradley Beal comes at exactly the wrong position because Washington has done a nice job augmenting their depth behind Wall, Gortat and Nene. Having a full season with Paul Pierce and Andre Miller could give the youngsters (especially Wall) the knowledge to overcome some of Randy Wittman’s subpar coaching.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were a very good team last season when they had both Al Horford and Paul Millsap active. Improved depth from Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne and Mike Muscala should make them more dangerous at full strength and better equipped to handle the injuries that come almost every season.

Detroit Pistons: Other than the Cavs, I would argue that Detroit made the biggest upgrade of any team by adding one of the best coaches in the league. Stan Van Gundy will be able to iron out the flaws on this roster while possessing the power to shed any pieces that do not make sense with Andre Drummond and whoever else SVG sees as a core player. I hope we get to see the first flashes from Spencer Dinwiddie, a special talent who fell in the draft due to injury.

Charlotte Hornets: After a shockingly successful season, the Hornets and Steve Clifford corrected their biggest weakness by bringing in Lance Stephenson. Born Ready fits in well because he can function as a secondary ballhandler and defensive force at a position where Charlotte got very little last year. Losing Josh McRoberts hurts but the combination of Cody Zeller,  Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh will do enough to make the Hornets a better team overall with Lance.

Miami Heat: Swapping LeBron James for Luol Deng may not seem like a gigantic drop-off but the problems stem from how integral King James was to Miami’s scheme on both ends. He drew the best defender on every opponent and ran the offense so the Heat could use a different kind of point guard. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade deserve all of their career accolades but losing their buffer makes  Miami an easier cover and far more damaged by any injuries they suffer.

Brooklyn Nets: Basketball people have been talking about the importance of Brook Lopez’s health but Andrei Kirilenko will need to stay on the court too for the Nets to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Even though I like Bojan Bogdanovic, he cannot fill Paul Pierce’s shoes so those responsibilities will need to fall to the established players on the squad. Lionel Hollins will make his imprint on this team but I am not sure how much of an intensity upgrade a team with Kevin Garnett really needs. On the plus side, Hollins’ experience with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol means we should have a much better idea of where Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are in their careers in April. 

Tier Four – Ordinary Pain

New York Knicks: A team has a problem when their five best players all play the three smallest positions on the floor. Jose Calderon has been an underrated player in the league for years but the Knicks losing Tyson Chandler without replacing him means their rim protection will be functionally nil for a substantial portion of games. We saw with last year’s Pelicans that even Anthony Davis could not carry a defense with shaky perimeter defenders and no anchor.  Carmelo should have another strong season but the Knicks’ roster does not make sense and they do not possess the resources to make their improvement in-season.

Indiana Pacers: Like the Spurs years ago, Indiana would be best served by punting this season to add a key piece through the draft. Losing Lance without replacing him kneecapped this season to begin with so even if Paul George returns before the end of the 2014-15 campaign there would not be much to gain in terms of playoff wins. I honestly do not know if Frank Vogel and Larry Bird are comfortable taking the full steps that would yield the best result from this season but even trying should produce plenty of losses with a horrendous offense in a stronger Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks: As crazy as it sounds, Milwaukee could make the playoffs as soon as this season. Larry Sanders needs to prove that last season was the aberration and the Jabari / Giannis forward combination should work on both ends eventually though this season should have some growing pains. The Bucks will not reach that ceiling because their guard rotation still needs a ton of work- Brandon Knight will have all kinds of problems running an offense but at least Jason Kidd should know what to do in terms of Knight’s extension after this season.

Orlando Magic: The Magic made a series of strange decisions this summer from dumping Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier too early in the off-season to adding Channing Frye and Ben Gordon to an extremely young core. If Elfrid Payton can elevate the Magic offense early in his career, the team stands a much better chance of knowing what they have in a horde of physically gifted players on rookie contracts, many of whom hit free agency shockingly soon.

Boston Celtics: Another team that likely spends this season working towards future success. After paying Avery Bradley this summer, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens must figure out the optimal roles for Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, James Young, Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk before they make big decisions with Rajon Rondo and next summer’s draft picks. If two or more of those guys break out it makes the rebuilding process substantially easier by narrowing the needs. 

Tier Five – Ain’t That Asking For Trouble (or All Day Sucker)

Philadelphia 76ers: Even with the addition of Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel, the Sixers start this season with less available talent than last season because it took them months to trade away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner. It should only take one more year for Philly to have their war chest and they should have a bright near future but the present looks awfully grim. 

Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (with Chris Paul in second)

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers

Rookie of the Year:  Jabari Parker

Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

Most Improved Player: Jonas Valanciunas

Executive of the Year: David Griffin  

Playoff Predictions

Western Conference

First Round:
Clippers over Mavericks in six
Spurs over Suns in five
Thunder over Grizzlies in seven
Warriors over Rockets in seven

Second Round:
Clippers over Warriors in seven
Spurs over Thunder in six

Western Conference Finals:
Spurs over Clippers in five

Eastern Conference

First Round:
Cavs over Heat in five
Bulls over Hornets in five
Raptors over Pistons in six
Wizards over Hawks in seven

Second Round:
Cavs over Wizards in five
Bulls over Raptors in six

Eastern Conference Finals:
Cavs over Bulls in five

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavs in seven
Finals MVP: Tim Duncan

Leroux's 2014 NBA Offseason Review

Similar to years past (and my draft reviews, for those of you who read them), I grade offseasons on a curve based on the opportunities available to that management team over the summer. A team hampered by a years-old trade or messed up draft pick do not get further penalized for it while teams that squandered resources absolutely do.

That said, here is how the 2014 NBA offseason shook out.

Great Offseasons

Cleveland Cavaliers: Surprise, surprise. Clearing the space to add the best player in the world was just the start since the Pied Piper of Akron brought in another top-10 player in Kevin Love and cheap depth in Mike Miller and Shawn Marion. Losing the #1 overall pick hurts, but LeBron James turns 30 this season and his window may be narrower than some think. A pre-prime Love is the best big man LeBron has ever played with and if Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson can embrace smaller roles this could be the best squad top to bottom of King James’ career. Really. An absolute triumph from the big moves on down to picking up the compelling resource that is Brendan Haywood’s supremely weird contract.

Philadelphia 76ers: Let’s recap: the Sixers chose the player with the highest ceiling in this draft at #3 overall, got back their own future first by moving down two spots while still getting their man (even though I was lower on Dario Saric than they were) and grabbed a mid-first for an expiring contract that had no chance of re-signing with them. Work in picking up a mentor for Joel Embiid in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and some fun second round picks and you have a phenomenal summer for a team that knew exactly what they wanted. I am surprised they did not get in the Jeremy Lin sweepstakes since Sam Hinkie’s old boss was willing to send a first round pick, but the Sixers are in the catbird seat as a team with huge in-season cap space that can ransom out picks and young players from teams looking to get under the luxury tax. Amare, anyone?

San Antonio Spurs: The Champs improved while also retaining Boris Diaw and Patty Mills at fair prices, along with an extension for Tony Parker. Kyle Anderson was a bona fide steal and will be a perfect fit for San Antonio’s system as he becomes a more well-rounded player. The best team in the league lost no one of substance and did not have to overpay their own guys. Absolutely remarkable.

Denver Nuggets: No team in the Western Conference improved their roster more than Denver despite a lack of cap flexibility. The Nuggets traded down in the draft and selected a player in Jusuf Nurkic that was among the top guys on my board remaining at their original spot. Bringing back Arron Afflalo at the low cost of Evan Fournier while also drafting Gary Harris gives them a quality starter at every position and a credible backup at every spot too.

Charlotte Hornets: Adding Lance Stephenson without having to give up any talent makes the summer a huge win for Charlotte. He gives them talent at a position that was a black hole last season and should strengthen their surprising defensive performance last season. Losing Josh McRoberts hurts but they have two Indiana Hoosier PF’s who have a shot at success in lottery picks Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller.

Utah Jazz: Dante Exum was the top player on my draft board for a reason. It will take him a few years to figure everything out but basketball players with his physical gifts do not come around very often. Utah grabbing him fifth overall was excellent and Rodney Hood should fit nicely with their unusual swingman group. The Jazz also took fliers on Carrick Felix and Steve Novak without giving up much and brought back Gordon Hayward on the Hibbert Max which will be fine as the cap explodes in the near future. I just wish Utah had used their remaining cap space as a bludgeon to get an asset like what Milwaukee did with the Clippers.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Flip Saunders ended up getting quite the haul for Kevin Love, even as someone who does not think Andrew Wiggins will be the best prospect in this draft. Wiggins and Anthony Bennett alongside Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine give the Wolves a fun group for the future. Unfortunately, Coach Flip forced GM Flip to make a silly short-term play by giving up Miami’s first rounder to rent Thaddeus Young for the season. Now we just have to see if Harvey Dent can decide whether Minnesota should try to contend or just steer into the skid for at least one season.

Phoenix Suns: Phoenix added a young starting-caliber point guard to their stable at a great price in Isaiah Thomas without giving up any assets. That alone would put them in the great category but locking up Eric Bledsoe on a fair contract and bringing in even more guard depth in Zoran Dragic and Tyler Ennis made it even better. Losing Channing Frye hurts but a non-elite power forward should not make that kind of money and the Suns should have workable replacements in-house. I also liked the selection of Bogdan Bogdanovic late in the first and TJ Warren with the last pick in the lottery- both could work out nicely on a team looking for quality depth now and down the line.

Detroit Pistons: While the NBA continues to be a player’s league, quality coaching is one of the biggest market inefficiencies around. Stan Van Gundy’s credentials are strong and he has a wonderful piece of clay in Andre Drummond to mold into his next interior star. Basketball Operations SVG made some interesting choices, particularly paying Jodie Meeks for three seasons but adding depth at a non-prohibitive cost provides Coach SVG with some leverage on the carryover players, many of whom could be on the move at or before the trade deadline.

Los Angeles Clippers: Hard capping themselves by signing Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar to their contracts limited LA’s best team a little this season but they would not have been able to build quality depth any other way. Doc Rivers made a strange call by taking back contracts from the Bucks while including a first rounder to absorb Jared Dudley’s contract- they likely could have given the Sixers or Jazz the same assets and not carried cap hits of $950,000 for the next five (five!) seasons. Despite that curiosity, a great team improving their biggest weakness with limited means makes it a highly successful summer.

Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker ended up in a great situation because bookends of Giannis Antetokounmpo and a hopefully rejuvenated Larry Sanders protect his weaknesses while providing the opportunity to unleash his offensive gifts. Furthermore, Milwaukee upgraded meaningfully at coach- Jason Kidd makes sense as the man to find and develop whatever guards the team ends up acquiring. I’m sure Bucks fans saw the nice pieces the Celtics and Lakers picked up for cap space and wished some of their unfortunate contracts from last summer were not on the books but the team did well to fleece the Clippers out of a future first for a very minor sacrifice. A few more fliers on young talent would have been nice but Milwaukee has enough lottery tickets in their rotation to make Jason Kidd’s job plenty challenging.

Good Offseasons

Chicago Bulls: They brought in a metric ton of talent in Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott while only losing Carlos Boozer and DJ Augustin so the offseason has to be considered a success. Unfortunately, the Bulls failed to bring in a primary ballhandler to spell Derrick Rose and handle that burden if he gets injured so the team ‘s future sits precariously on the health of a player who has missed a ton of time. Chicago got better but chose a terrifying road for the near term.

Dallas Mavericks: Dallas made a huge bet by trading Jose Calderon and some nice little assets (Shane Larkin and a high second round pick among them) for Tyson Chandler. The defensive anchor on their title team has an expiring contract and we have no idea how much he has left in the tank. Mark Cuban and company did brilliant work stealing Chandler Parsons away from Houston without giving up any assets though spending that money did yield the result of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter ending up elsewhere. Rick Carlisle has an amazing challenge building a scheme around a roster where his three best offensive players all play positions other than point guard. I also loved the pickups of Al-Farouq Aminu and Jameer Nelson, two players that could be meaningful parts of a playoff run.

Memphis Grizzlies: Replacing Mike Miller, James Johnson and Ed Davis with Jordan Adams, Vince Carter and Jarnell Stokes could work out well for Memphis and they did a nice job locking up Zach Randolph on a fair extension. The next challenge is convincing Marc Gasol to stick around for another contract since he plays such an important part in their continued success.

Toronto Raptors: First things first: retaining Kyle Lowry was huge for the franchise and getting him at $12 million per season turned out to be an absolute steal with the market and the gigantic TV deal. The Raptors ended up in Good rather than Great because they chose not to be particularly ambitious by committing about $13 million on next season’s books to Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, two players who should not start on a team this good. Having only $30 million combined next season for Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross would have made them a fascinating destination in a weird free agent class but those new commitments put a significant dent in the possibilities available. We will have to see if Masai reached to take Bruno Caboclo in the late first but I loved adding Louis Williams and Lucas Noguiera at the cost of John Salmons’ partially guaranteed contract.

Washington Wizards: This turned into a pretty nice salvage operation. After Trevor Ariza left for the Rockets, I was worried that Washington’s 2013-14 season could be more aberration than the new normal. Fortunately, they got Paul Pierce on a great contract and added DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries for frontcourt depth. Ernie Grunfeld still unsurprisingly overpaid Marcin Gortat in years and dollars and the Wizards still have issues with their swingman rotation but they kept the team afloat which is an accomplishment.

Boston Celtics: Even without making the big decision on Rajon Rondo, Danny Ainge did a nice job accumulating assets without sacrificing talent. Both Marcus Smart and James Young could end up starting for the C’s eventually and picking up Tyler Zeller and Dwight Powell in a salary dump was an inspired move. Ainge overpaid a strange piece in Avery Bradley after drafting Smart and will need to figure out something with Rondo because failing to capitalize on such a nice trade piece would be a tough pill to swallow for a team that will do plenty of losing.

Miami Heat: Miami did a nice job rebounding for the short-term after the best player in the world decided to head elsewhere. Adding Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng and Danny Granger on reasonable contracts while drafting Shabazz Napier adds functional depth that will make a difference in an 82 game season. Unfortunately, replacing LeBron with Deng will have cascading effects on both ends of the floor that make playing into May a more distant dream. I did not like the huge contract for Chris Bosh but the new national TV deal and corresponding cap increase will take some of the sting out of it.

Enh Offseasons

Houston Rockets: Even if you take declining Chandler Parsons’ team option as a precondition of Dwight Howard coming to Houston last July, Daryl Morey made some strange decisions this summer. Picking up the pieces of Parsons’ uncompensated departure by acquiring Trevor Ariza makes the team better but paying to shed Jeremy Lin’s expiring contract to add cap space continues to puzzle. Even if the hope was that Chris Bosh would head west, the Lakers did not have the leverage to demand immediate action on a trade that helped them substantially. Losing Lin and Asik (a much better move since they picked up a first rounder rather than trading one away) means the Rockets have to depend on new players to step up and that can be a risky proposition even with a nice selection of depth players. Taking Clint Capela 25th overall pushes Houston up a little too since he was a top ten prospect in this stacked draft class.

Brooklyn Nets: Brooklyn put themselves in a bind by having so many players who had control over their own future. Shaun Livingston took more money from the Warriors while Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche just chose to get out of dodge. Bojan Bogdanovic will contribute and Jarrett Jack helps the team avoid calamity if Deron Williams has to miss time. Relying on improved health and internal improvement is a hard sell for an older team but I have trouble blaming management for events that would have been hard to prevent.

Golden State Warriors: Bob Myers and the rest of the Golden State front office made the decision to largely stay put despite a rumored possibility that they could have acquired Kevin Love early in the summer. While the Warriors did a great job adding backcourt depth in Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush to correct a major problem last season, they actually got shallower at Center and now only have two players who can man the position with any notable experience: one who missed the playoffs and another who did not play at all last season. Like Chicago, Golden State chose to make their season more perilous and stressful.

Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne was an inspired pick for a team that could use another piece of frontcourt depth but they made a strange call adding cap flexibility by using Lucas Nogueira to dump Louis Williams’ pretty manageable contract and then not doing a whole lot with the cap space generated by the trade. Bringing in Thabo Sefolosha helps but it felt like a summer of wasted opportunities.

New Orleans Pelicans: Omer Asik makes New Orleans substantially better this season but giving up another quality pick forces the Pelicans to re-sign the Turkish anchor after this season and he will be unrestricted.  Even though they had limited flexibility in terms of salary, Dell Demps made very few moves to produce a deeper team now or later unless John Salmons somehow answers their prayers. Playing with Anthony Davis in a great city should yield more lottery tickets than just Russ Smith, though I do like him quite a bit as a disruptive guard.

Portland Trail Blazers: Limited somewhat by being close to the cap with contracts they were not interested in moving, Portland kept the band together by bringing in Chris Kaman and swapping Mo Williams for Steve Blake. The Blazers did a nice job improving their depth last summer so it was less of a glaring issue but they are relying a ton on internal improvement for a team right in the middle of a stacked Western Conference where many of their competitors took much more active steps to improve.

Bad Offseasons

New York Knicks: Beyond the sheer shock of the Knicks picking up draft picks in a trade, evaluating their offseason comes down to whether you think having Carmelo Anthony on the roster makes bringing in a second star in 2015 or 2016 more likely. I think it hurts their chances with most targets and makes them too good this season to grab a much-needed key piece in a draft where they actually have their pick. Plus, adding a no-trade clause to Carmelo’s deal means that even if the national TV contract makes his contract palatable the team still cannot move Melo for assets without his approval. Jose Calderon and Derek Fisher will make their offense more tolerable but the rim protection will be less than non-existent most of the time.

Indiana Pacers: When you lose a talent like Lance Stephenson for nothing and his new team got a great value, something went horribly wrong. Indiana turned around and spent about half that salary on CJ Miles who cannot do any of what made Born Ready so integral to last year’s top seed in the East. Paul George’s injury changes the short-term and long-term trajectories of the Pacers but they did themselves no favors this summer.

Los Angeles Lakers: Yet again, the Lakers lacked the courage to embrace their flaws and bottom out to build future assets. Picking up a late first for Jeremy Lin was a step in the right direction but giving Swaggy P a four year contract and blocking Julius Randle by picking up Carlos Boozer went the other direction. While the Sixers and Rockets locked young talent into multi-year non-guaranteed contracts, Ed Davis, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry can all hit unrestricted free agency next summer. The Lakers may end up being bad anyway but they played the off-season incorrectly.

Sacramento Kings: Sacramento started the off-season with an interesting roster and a lottery pick but without a ton of financial flexibility. They end it with a substantial downgrade at Point Guard (at a similar price), a fun prospect who plays the same role as last year’s pick and not a whole lot else. The Kings also were a part of the strangest trade in the off-season where they gave up Quincy Acy for the ability to pay someone about the same amount they owed Travis Outlaw over two years rather than one. That can be a problem when the team in question was not going to be good this season and will have more opportunities to improve next summer.

Orlando Magic: This is legitimately rare but I believe I would have done every single move differently from what Rob Hennigan did this summer. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are fine players but neither fits particularly well with Orlando’s current players and there were excellent talents on the board at both selections. To compound matters, they offered up a first round pick to move up two spots for Payton, gave away Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier too early in the summer and signed Ben Gordon in the worst contract of the off-season. On top of everything, they decided to give a huge contract to Channing Frye, a 31 year old who missed a recent season due to a heart condition and happens to play the same position as the player they took fourth in the draft weeks before. Absolutely incredible.

Oklahoma City Thunder: I hope people remember that part of David Stern’s legacy is moving a team from Seattle to Oklahoma City and saddling them with an owner apparently unwilling to pay what was necessary while his team was in title contention. This summer the Thunder let a valuable trade exception expire, decided to retain Kendrick Perkins and used their first-round picks on a player who will not play for them this year and another on someone recovering from a serious injury (though I loved Mitch McGary his last healthy season). OKC compounded those mistakes with minimal improvements in July, functionally swapping Thabo Sefolosha for Anthony Morrow being their most notable change. Teams in OKC’s situation need to behave like the Clippers and maximize their limited resources which makes the Thunder off-season so much more egregious.

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.

Leroux's 2014 NBA Draft Review

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Lottery Lowdown (Late-May Edition)

With the lottery out of the way, we can begin to examine which teams represent good and bad fits for the teams in a position to draft them.

10-Year NBA Win Rank Snapshot

A 10-year season-by-season Win Rank snapshot for an NBA franchise creates an insightful visual narrative.

Breaking Down The Rookie Seasons Of The 2013 Lottery Class

In a society where patience has gone out the window and only instant gratification matters, the poor play of the 2013 rookie class has many ready to write them off entirely. But while there isn’t an Anthony Davis in the bunch, this year’s draft had plenty of good young players who, for a variety of reasons, were simply not ready for the NBA.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

Top-60 Players In NBA Today (Considering Everything)

The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.

2013-14 NBA Season Preview

While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.

The NBA's Mediocrity Treadmill Since 84-85

The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Unload Expirings For Cap Space

The costs of this deal for the Warriors does generate some frustration because the reason they acquired Jefferson in the first place was to get the last pick in the first round in 2012 (now Festus Ezeli) and could have used the amnesty provision on Biedrins had they not squandered it on Charlie Bell in 2011.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

Choosing Destinations For The 2013 Free Agency Class

The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Draft Week Edition)

Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.

2013 NBA Draft Board

Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.

The Eliminated (Western Conference Teams)

Two playoff teams from a season ago (Mavericks, Jazz) joined repeat lottery clubs such as the Suns, Hornets/Pelicans, Blazers, Wolves and Kings.

2013 Amnesty Primer

As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.

Five Second-Year Breakout Candidates

Alec Burks, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Jimmy Butler and Jordan Hamilton are five players that didn't play in the Rookie Game last season that are poised to have breakout campaigns in their second NBA go-around.

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