One of the best parts of the draft is that no matter how advanced statistical predictions become, there will always be a slippery human element that cannot be perfectly priced. This is a downside to making at home evaluations as interviews and workouts are needed for full information, and three first round talents in Christian Wood, Cliff Alexander, and Robert Upshaw went undrafted. But it also makes for stunning surprises on draft night that are fun to assess in retrospect, and it is new information that can be used to re-assess pre-existing perceptions. Here is my recap of the draft:
1. Minnesota: Karl Towns
Timberwolves convert the layup and suddenly their future is not looking bad.
2. LA Lakers: D’Angelo Russell
The Lakers nail the most important decision of the draft. They could have bungled this pick by taking any of Okafor, Porzingis, or Mudiay, but they made the correct pick who was not obvious to everybody. These are the type of decisions that can alter a franchise’s future, so the Lakers are the big winners of the draft by getting this one right.
3. Philadelphia: Jahlil Okafor
The Lakers’ gain comes at the expense of the 76ers, who were set to draft D’Angelo Russell #3 overall. Instead they settle for Jahlil Okafor, who crowds their big man rotation and is an inferior prospect. Sam Hinkie is not building a team, he is assembling a portfolio of liquid assets and Okafor will maintain trade value if he scores efficiently as a rookie. I would have preferred to see Philly trade down for Winslow+, but it would have been difficult to execute for a substantial haul, and it is possible that Hinkie perceives Okafor as the superior prospect independent of trade value.
4. New York: Kristaps Porzingis
5. Orlando: Mario Hezonja
I don’t want to be too aggressively anti-Euros because I am not certain that neither of these guys are really good, but I feel like they are both big mistakes to take over Justise Winslow among a handful of other prospects. If I had to pick one to excel, it would be Hezonja. While Mario seems a bit overhyped to me, I cannot pinpoint anything that strongly caps his upside and it is fine to take him over any non-Winslow prospect. Porzingis has more disconcerting red flags, less upside, and more potential to look like a comically bad pick a few years down the road.
6. Sacramento: Willie Cauley-Stein
Even though I rated Cauley-Stein above Porzingis and Hezonja, this pick is arguably even worse. He is not a good pairing with DeMarcus Cousins, and if the pick was only made because Cousins is going to be traded that does not make the situation any rosier. Further it sounded like everybody was scared off by his ankle and he would have slid to the teens– if they are so locked in on him, why not trade down? Horrible pick by a horrible organization.
7. Denver: Emmanuel Mudiay
8. Detroit: Stanley Johnson
These picks were fine values in a vacuum, but it was nevertheless a mistake to pass on Winslow. Mudiay is the most defensible pick in the 4-9 range, it is possible my critique of this pick will look bad in the future. Stanley over Winslow is more clearly bad– Stanley is a better shooter but Winslow is better at everything else.
9. Charlotte: Frank Kaminsky
Michael Jordan allegedly turned down a massive haul of picks from Boston for this pick. It is amazing that after all of his awful draft picks that he hasn’t reduced his self-confidence in his talent evaluation skills. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that his draft picks consistently bust and that maybe this one is not all that special when he is getting offered way too much from a successful GM who wants somebody else. He should have taken Winslow before whatever Ainge offered, but doing neither and taking Kaminsky is laughable.
If the Pistons took Winslow, this pick would actually be pretty good. Since they instead took Stanley, the Frank pick was a big failure.
10. Miami: Justise Winslow
Miami wins the draft.
11. Indiana: Myles Turner
If Hibbert is on the way out, this is a great landing spot for Turner since Vogel has proven capable at maximizing the shot blocking ability of a center with mobility challenges. I still don’t love the pick, but I can see Turner succeeding in Indiana so I am now less bearish on him than I was pre-draft.
12. Utah: Trey Lyles
Lyles is a fine pick here. As a Jazz fan I would not be particularly excited nor disappointed.
13. Phoenix: Devin Booker
After making my favorite pick in the late lotto last year in TJ Warren, Ryan McDonough followed up with a pick that I don’t like as much. But even though I ranked him #22 on my big board I don’t hate the pick, I would have ranked Booker 6 slots higher before 2 slots lower. Just goes to show how much vastly reasonable minds can differ when the draft runs so deep and there are so many angles of information to examine.
14. Oklahoma City: Cameron Payne
Much like the Devin Booker pick, I have this as a reach by 9 slots according to my big board but I don’t necessarily hate it for OKC. I feel that it’s a slightly bad pick but Payne does have a uniquely appealing flavor to him, and I am more interested in seeing how he pans out than I am making confident projections of his future. I suspect he’s overvalued here but I am a fan and don’t want to root against him.
15. Washington (via ATL): Kelly Oubre
I had Oubre as the BPA and I do not believe he would have slid to 19, so I like the Wiz giving up two 2nds to move up for him. Good move, good pick.
16. Boston: Terry Rozier
Danny Ainge’s biggest draft strengths and weaknesses were on full display last night. When there is a slam dunk pick to be made, he makes it and he correctly tried to pay up to acquire Justise Winslow in a trade every pick from 4 to 9. But once Charlotte declined, Ainge showed his weakness of reaching for busts when no clear BPA exists (see: Marcus Banks, Fab Melo, JR Giddens, maybe James Young). I rated Rozier 50th on my big board, and in retrospect that is far too low given his athleticism and defense baseline to go along with a competent jump shot. He is 1″ shorter with 1″ longer wingspan than Avery Bradley, and it is well within reach for him to become a similar caliber player which is not a terrible outcome for the #16 overall pick.
Of course the point of the draft is not to avoid bad outcomes, it is to achieve great outcomes. The Celtics already have two young, undersized 3 + D SG’s and adding a third one who upgrades neither is of little value to a team that got swept in the first round. It’s clear that they are gambling on Brad Stevens being able to parlay Rozier’s great first step and work ethic into an effective NBA slasher. The value of Rozier as a prospect largely hinges on the value of his slashing upside, and there is a coherent argument to be made that he has enough to be an acceptable selection at #16 overall. I still believe it was a reach given how limited his PG skills and decision making are for a 21 year old, but a less egregious one than my initial big board would indicate.
17. Milwaukee: Rashad Vaughn
This pick is a bit of a reach and I do not particularly like it, but Vaughn is young and can score. I suppose the Bucks believe a likely inefficient chucker has more value on a team with great defense and horrible offense.
18. Houston: Sam Dekker
This pick is solid– Dekker was on the short list of best players available and he fits well as a smallish 4 next to Dwight.
19. New York (via ATL): Jerian Grant
It is hard to fathom how a FO that acquired 4/5 of a 60 win starting lineup with FA contracts all < $10M/year has blown consecutive mid-1st rounders so badly. After spewing the #15 pick on Adriean Payne last year, the Hawks one upped themselves this year by trading down to #19 and then shipping that for a player who is proven to be bad in Tim Hardaway Jr.
This is obviously nice for the Knicks since they clearly won the trade and then took a decent prospect in Grant. It slightly redeems the Porzingis pick.
20. Toronto: Delon Wright
One of the best FO’s in the draft takes one of my favorite sleepers in Delon to replace the recently dealt Greivis Vasquez. This is a nice pick, Masai Ujiri just vacuums free pennies and nickels with almost every move he makes.
21. Dallas: Justin Anderson
Nice pick by the Mavs as they scoop a solid 3 + D wing.
22. Chicago: Bobby Portis
Great pick by the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg can do damage building an offense around a Mirotic/Portis big man tandem that provides elite spacing.
23. Portland: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Portland eventually traded this pick to Brooklyn for #41 and Mason Plumlee, and Mason Plumlee is quite the vig to just move up from 41 to 23. But RHJ is also a great pick, so this might be the one time ever that Billy King overpaying to get what he wants works out favorably for him. Still I’m surprised that RHJ fell this low, perhaps I’m underrating how detrimental he will be on offense in the NBA but it’s great value regardless.
24. Minnesota: Tyus Jones
31 + 36 is not a cheap price for 24, but with so many promising young players on rookie deals the Wolves were in a position to overpay for a slider. I like the move and I like the pick.
I don’t like Cleveland’s side unless Cedi Osman is much better than I am giving him credit for. The Cavs likely wanted to save cap room to help keep their roster together, but Rakeem Christmas was never good until he was a 23 year old senior. Also Tyus Jones, Kevon Looney, and RJ Hunter were some nice options to pair with LeBron.
25. Memphis: Jarell Martin
After going analytics heavy last year with Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, Memphis went with traditional scouting and physical tools with Jarell Martin this year. This is a bit of a reach.
26. San Antonio: Nikola Milutinov
The Spurs went international to preserve cap space for FA, and they took the player I singled out as best international available who was also in the mix for best not injured player available. I’m always happy to see the sharpest team agree with me.
27. LA Lakers: Larry Nance, Jr.
I like gambling on Nance this late. He is an explosive dunker who stuffs the statsheet and I have mentioned a couple of times that overachieving draft slot runs in the family with his dad having 2nd highest all time win shares among picks outside of the top 16.
28. Boston: RJ Hunter
The Celtics vaguely redeem the Rozier fiasco by taking the best healthy player available, but the night is still overall bad.
29. Brooklyn: Chris McCullough
Solid pick by one of the worst FO’s in the history of life.
30. Golden State: Kevon Looney
Looney’s stock plummeted due to news that he may need hip surgery, but there’s no way this is not awesome value for the Warriors. Great pick by the defending champs.
32. Houston: Montrezl Harrell
I find this pick surprising. Harrell cannot be paired with Dwight Howard, and he doesn’t make sense as a backup between his lack of size and Clint Capela’s presence. I also don’t think he was great value, but I suppose Daryl Morey disagrees and either thinks Harrell has a chance of learning to make 3’s or might have trade value down the road since he was the only projected 1st rounder available. It’s just a second rounder so I don’t want to criticize this pick too harshly, it mostly just stood out to me as unexpected.
40. Miami: Josh Richardson
Not only does Miami get the steal of the draft in Justise Winslow at 10, but they take my favorite 2nd round sleeper at #40 who I wrote about when he was in neither DX nor ESPN’s top 100.
46. Toronto: Norman Powell
Masai scoops another penny by picking my other favorite 2nd round sleepers as part of a haul for Greivis Vasquez that also included a lottery protected Clippers’ 1st rounder. Raptors had a strong night as they clearly won the Vasquez trade and got good value on both draft picks.
The draft really fell off a cliff in round 2 after Looney went off the board, there are such few players I feel inclined to comment on. But round 1 was loaded with talent, almost everybody drafted has a strong chance of becoming at least a useful rotation player. I had a tough time finding first round picks to aggressively doubt this year, so this could go down as one of the deepest first rounds of all time.