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Grading the 2014 NBA draft

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie
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Readers will notice a fair amount of very good grades in our take on the 2014 NBA draft. This is because the league’s front offices are getting smarter, scouting is becoming more advanced and this is one of the deeper drafts in NBA history. It’s early, but we think these marks were earned.

Onto the grades …

Atlanta Hawks

The haul: Adreian Payne, Walter Tavares, Lamar Patterson

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has yet to put together a championship contender in Atlanta, but he’s done well to secure low-cost talent while avoiding some (or, all, really) of the financial mistakes made by his predecessors. The loss of Al Horford to injury in 2013-14 turned Atlanta’s season on its ear, and while Payne is nowhere near the sort of contributor the former All-Star is, his ability to spread the floor while playing competently on the other end will fit in with a team that likes to do its damage from the perimeter. Finding a go-to backup and spot starter at No. 15 was good news.

The 6-foot-10 Payne is already 23, but his confidence, both in contributing from the outside and in playing the center and power forward positions, will be a needed boon to coach Mike Budenholzer’s bench. In the second round, the Hawks took a calculated chance on enormous 7-foot-3 Cape Verde product Walter Tavares. The 22-year-old has been playing basketball for just four years, but he still managed to work as a rotation player in a prominent international league in Spain, which bodes well for his chances to make an NBA bench.

Grade: A

***

Boston Celtics

The haul: Marcus Smart, James Young

Grabbing an enviable future starting backcourt — one that comes complete with dynamic athleticism, ball-handling skills, NBA-styled leadership qualities from Smart and game-changing spacing from Young — is a big deal. Boston GM Danny Ainge didn’t try to faff about with trades or attempts at moving up and down. He just chose what were probably the two best players available as Boston continues its pick-heavy rebuilding project.

The unfortunate byproduct is the annoying columns we’ll be reading in the upcoming months about how Smart was brought in to replace Rajon Rondo. This isn’t the case, as Smart isn’t ready to take on full-time point guard responsibilities at this level, though that will change soon enough. Rondo has never been on the trade block, but he’s always been available in a deal — and both Rajon and Ainge are smart and professional enough to understand and work through their uneasy situation, with Rondo in his prime and his teammates just starting up. Rondo could and probably should be dealt in July, but that doesn’t mean we need to make a press-fueled soap opera out of it.

Grade: A

***

Brooklyn Nets

The haul: Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson, Xavier Thames

The Nets were working without a first-round pick, and with most of their roster just about untradeable in the open market, GM Billy King was resigned to asking his owner to open his checkbook in order to toss millions (or, excuse me, “cash considerations”) to other teams in order to find some young help to possibly make the roster next season. It’s all King can do, in looking to find some new blood to give this moribund roster some life.

Brown is an undersized shooting guard, but a smart player and dogged defender. Jefferson shows some promise with his face-up game and 6-foot-9 length, while Thames is a short scoring guard. All three could find a role with good training camp showings, and it looks like Mikhail Prokhorov won’t be cutting costs any time soon.

Draft: B

***

Charlotte Hornets

The haul: Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston

Vonleh, the Indiana big man with serious upside on both sides of the ball, slid slightly to the newly rechristened Hornets at ninth overall, and the team should be giddy with the way things worked out. If the young man remains diligent, his “Otis Thorpe meets Chris Bosh” style of play could do great things for an improving Hornets team, and give the team a buttress in the eventual post-Al Jefferson era. There is serious potential here.

The Hornets also draftrf Shabazz Napier (another slider who would have worked well alongside former teammate Kemba Walker) at 24, but quickly scuttled him off to Miami for a second-round pick that turned into Semaj Christon (who was then traded to the Thunder) while falling a few spots to take on the guy they wanted all along — former North Carolina scorer P.J. Hairston. If Hairston can keep his off-the-court exploits in order and stay in shape, his brand of scoring and shooting on the wing will be exactly what Charlotte needs.

Grade: A+

***

Chicago Bulls

The haul: Doug McDermott, Anthony Randolph, Cameron Bairstow

Chicago went into Thursday night with all manner of options and truly rolled the dice on dealing up to swap picks with Denver and acquire McDermott. The former Creighton star supplies exactly what Chicago needs on paper — shooting and someone to swing between the forward positions — but it remains to be whether those oodles of contested jumpers in the MVC and then the Big East will translate to the NBA. This isn’t like pro football, where moving up in the middle of the first round can do wonders for your team. There may not have been any stars available at 16 and 19, but was this worth it for Chicago?

The deal did not save the Bulls any potential cap space as they ready for a shot to sign Carmelo Anthony this summer, and the acquisition of Randolph further clouds things. He’ll make just $1.8 million next season, and though Chicago can forgo the 60-day waiting period that bans immediate re-trades by dealing while under the cap, Randolph still seems to be an odd player to take on when every penny counts. Bairstow, an Australian center with serious scoring skills on the NCAA level, could stick around should Chicago empty its roster in the chase for Carmelo.

Grade: C+

Cleveland Cavaliers

The haul: Andrew Wiggins, Joe Harris, Dwight Powell, Brendan Haywood

Once again, the Cavaliers entered draft night with the top pick in the draft, and for the second straight season there was some question as to which player the squad would glom onto. New GM David Griffin chose Wiggins in this scenario, and it’s not hard to understand why — his mixture of offensive potential and at-times dominant defense could turn him into a franchise player if everything develops as promised. Concerns about previous whiffs in the first round or Kyrie Irving’s permanence are for another day — Wiggins is a stud and a deserved top overall pick.

In a deep draft, Virginia shooter Harris will probably make the Cavs despite his 33rd overall selection status, though Stanford shooting big man Powell is less assured to find an NBA home this fall. The Cavaliers also took on Haywood's contract in a deal with the Hornets in order to acquire Powell, but Haywood did not play last season and is unlikely to ever see a minute in Cleveland.

Grade: A+

***

Dallas Mavericks

The haul: No haul

Dallas did not have a first-round pick after dealing its selection to Los Angeles in 2011 for Lamar Odom. That didn’t work out.

Its second-round picks were tossed to New York in the Tyson Chandler trade. Please don’t remind fans that Raymond Felton was also involved in that trade.

Grade: C

***

Denver Nuggets

The haul: Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, Arron Afflalo, Nikola Jokic

With Dario Saric reportedly signing a three-year deal with a team in Turkey, the Nuggets lost out on their main target. Undeterred, they received both of Chicago’s mid-round selections while pawning Anthony Randolph off on the Bulls and picking up both Nurkic and Harris in the process. Nurkic, frankly, looks like a bit of a plodder whose game may not translate to the NBA (he played in Croatia last year), but he’s only 19 and appears to have a bit of a needed edge to his game. And we’re always game for an old-school-styled center to find a home in this league.

Harris seems a bit redundant now that Afflalo is back with Denver for a second turn, but if Arron opts out and leaves as a free agent next summer, the all-around stylings of the Michigan State product should provide ample relief. He’s just a classic, two-way sort of Nugget. Jokic is a massive, skilled big forward who may stay overseas for a few years before making his way stateside. In all, a solid return for what was once the 11th pick, Evan Fournier and the 56th pick.

Grade: B

***

Detroit Pistons

The haul: Spencer Dinwiddie

New Pistons el jefe Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower entered the night without a first-round selection, as the squad’s would-be lottery pick was sent to Charlotte in a cost-cutting move that, sadly, helped the team eventually acquire Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. But the Pistons made out quite well on Thursday, in the end. Picking in the second round, the franchise chose Dinwiddie as a stash of sorts, while the new front office figures out just what the heck to do with its mess of a roster.

Dinwiddie is a 6-foot-6 point guard with lottery-level talent, but he tore his left ACL midway through last January, and figures to need the bulk of his rookie year to get back up to his regular speed, much less adapt to the rigors of NBA competition. Still, a smart contract from the Pistons’ end could keep the prospect in the fold, and he’ll only be 22 when the 2015-16 season tips off.

Grade: A

***

Golden State Warriors

The haul: No haul

The Warriors gave up their 23rd pick to Utah in an attempt to clear space to trade for Andre Iguodala last summer. Fair move, in retrospect.

Grade: A

***

Houston Rockets

The haul: Clint Capela, Nick Johnson, Alessandro Gentile

Houston’s night went almost annoyingly to plan. The team is preparing to deal its way into further cap space, again, and make a run at LeBron James, or Carmelo Anthony, or Chris Bosh, or Columbia Records-era Miles Davis, or season three of "The Simpsons," or the 1967 Ford Mustang, or any other number of franchise-level knockouts. The team drafted Capela, a Swiss stringbean with hops, to keep overseas and save cap space.

In the second round, the Rox picked up Johnson, an undersized but incredibly athletic off guard who could become an immediate favorite of the team’s coaching staff at a Chandler Parsons-esque price. The team also used a pick on scoring swingman Gentile, who directed some of my favorite films of the 1960s. Neither player may see the light of day for Houston next season, but grabbing three sound prospects while keeping potential cap space intact? While also receiving a first-round pick from New Orleans in exchange for Omer Asik? A killer couple of days that could lead to another killer offseason for this franchise.

Grade: A

***

Indiana Pacers

The haul: No haul

Indiana dealt its first-round pick to Phoenix for Luis Scola and the ability to unload Gerald Green’s contract, which seemed like a good idea at the time. It also, mindful of Lance Stephenson’s impending free agency and luxury-tax concerns, dealt its second-round selection for cash.

Grade: D

***

Los Angeles Clippers

The haul: C.J. Wilcox

The 6-foot-5 Wilcox is a good enough player, but one wonders if the Clippers may have been better off trading out of the first round and seeing what they could scrounge in the second frame, where they didn’t have a pick. The hope here is that Wilcox could turn into a Hubert Davis-styled shooter for a team that suffered through injuries to J.J. Redick last season; Wilcox did shoot nearly 39 percent from behind the (admittedly shortened) 3-point line in his four-year career at Washington.

He’s a ready-made player, which suits this win-now team. His aim has to be true, though.

Grade: B-

***

Los Angeles Lakers

The haul: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson

The Lakers didn’t make some massive splash befitting of the franchise’s history. There were no deals to swing or legends to bring in. All they did was acquire a fantastic potential two-way big man who was in the conversation for the top overall pick in the beginning of the school year before falling statistical victim to Kentucky’s depth. Randle will be a great player, and though that fall, and his lingering foot injury concerns, are a little troubling, he’ll do well in this league provided he stays aggressive, stays in shape, and Kobe Bryant doesn’t make him cry.

Clarkson is a point guard with skills and size at 6-foot-5, and the Lakers were lucky to be able to swoop in and buy this pick (from Washington) midway through the second round. With Los Angeles’ roster bare heading into the offseason, he’ll have a chance to make the team.

Grade: A+

***

Memphis Grizzlies

The haul: Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes

It’s clichéd to go here, but in Stokes and especially Adams, the Grizzlies have glommed onto two players who don’t look like game-changers, but who rate out exceedingly well once their all-around stats are run through the Memphis-led cheesecloth of advanced analytics. You can’t knock the contributions.

If Adams stays in shape and earns minutes defensively, the UCLA product could be yet another hoped-for swingman answer for the Grizzlies on the perimeter. Stokes looks like an undersized power forward, and he probably is, but that didn’t stop him from putting up fantastic numbers for Tennessee last season.

Grade: B+

***

Miami Heat

The haul: Shabazz Napier

The Heat, in a lot of ways, are truly lucky Charlotte really, really wanted P.J. Hairston as much as LeBron James wanted Napier. James, via social media, made his love for the former Connecticut guard well known, and for good reason — the young man is a gamer who can splash from all over the court, a needed tonic for a Heat team that had to switch to a point-guard-less lineup in the team’s final game of the season earlier this month.

The price for the two-pick climb? Merely the 55th selection in this draft and a 2019 second-rounder. Sound work, considering Chicago had to give up a first-round pick and take on extra salary just to move up five spots.

Grade: A+

***

Milwaukee Bucks

The haul: Jabari Parker, Damien Inglis, Johnny O’Bryant

Both Parker and the Bucks are exceedingly happy Cleveland selected Wiggins first overall. Jabari looks to be a Rookie of the Year favorite, and his modern-as-tomorrow forward pairing with Giannis Antetokounmpo in a versatile frontcourt, with Larry Sanders hopefully finding his indoor voice, will serve as much-watch basketball in 2014-15, and hopefully for many years to come.

With so many NBA-ready players available in the second round of a wickedly deep draft, it seemed surprising that Milwaukee would go for a project type in French swingman Inglis, but the Bucks appear to see him less as a project than as someone who can contribute right away. O’Bryant is a low-post scorer who still may find a spot on the Bucks in spite of a frontcourt glut because he’s surrounded by so many defense-first types to contrast with.

Grade: A+

***

Minnesota Timberwolves

The haul: Zach LaVine, Glenn Robinson III

When he wants to be on, LaVine looks like a franchise-changing talent. He can lock up defensively, penetrate and dish, or free himself for his own high-arching jumper offensively. The problem is that he takes heaps of possessions off defensively, and too often he floats on the other end. If he can get it together, the Wolves could have a Gerald Green-type starting base that (unlike with Green) they could actually toss out to play point guard at times and lock down opponents on the wing.

Thinking that Minnesota drafted the UCLA project to appease fellow former Bruin Kevin Love is a bit of a stretch, but one can never put anything past this franchise. There’s also the chance, though, that Kevin Love the UCLA Fan might be scared to pieces about playing with him after watching LaVine’s shot selection from the comfort of his living room last season. Robinson III’s game may translate better to the pros, which is good for a late second-round pick. And with so many roster spots already full and a potential Love deal on the way, Minnesota sold off its other second-round picks.

Grade: B-

***

New Orleans Pelicans

The haul: Russ Smith

Judging the Pelicans' 2013 trade, one that essentially gifted the Philadelphia 76ers both Nerlens Noel and the 10th pick in this year’s draft for Jrue Holiday, is a bit of a waste some 12 months later. It wasn’t a franchise-killing move — Holiday can play — but it wasn’t the smartest transaction either from the team’s front office and (we’re guessing) ownership group. Who the Sixers ended up taking with those selections is borderline irrelevant. As a result of overrating their roster and playoff chances, the Pelicans were without a first-round pick.

New Orleans is always on the lookout for backup point guard help, and it dealt D-League wonder Pierre Jackson to Philadelphia for the second-round rights to Smith, a smallish waterbug who had an up-and-down career at Louisville.

Grade: C

***

New York Knicks

The haul: Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Louis Labeyrie

Phil Jackson’s got a new toy!

The new Knicks president worked his way toward two projects and an NBA-ready prospect in Early, who has first-round skills. You may not want him starting as your small forward, but he will be a sound rotation player.

Antetokounmpo is not nearly as skilled as his younger brother Giannis, but he is a banger and tireless worker who will appeal to both the Knicks and their fans. Labeyrie has hops, but the French big forward (grabbed by the Knicks after they paid for Indiana’s second-round selection) seems like a long shot to make the team. Considering the second-round nature of each pick, this was a win.

Grade: A

***

Oklahoma City Thunder

The haul: Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, Semaj Christon

Thunder GM Sam Presti has never shied away from drafting for need, and he clearly feels as if his team needs the sort of forward/center depth that someone like McGary can provide. The 6-foot-10 Michigan big man’s sophomore year was a bit of a wash due to a back injury, which probably cost him a shot at being a lottery pick, but that’s probably the best for a player who may never be an NBA-level starter. There is talent here, though.

Huestis looks like a rather bland selection, but neither Presti nor Josh care much about this. He’s an absolute lockdown defender who can still hit a loping, wide-open jumper. He’ll probably round off into a poor, poor, poor man’s Derrick McKey, but that’s just fine for a late first-round pick. And, again, Oklahoma City needs that sort of guy.

Grade: B

***

Orlando Magic

The haul: Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Roy Devyn Marble

Selecting Gordon at fourth overall seemed like a surprise at the time, but as we move away from draft night and study the Magic’s (very much) lacking roster, this feels like an appropriate move. The Arizona big man has a major motor and stupid hops, he was born the same month that the Bulls traded for Dennis Rodman (that is to say, “he’s quite young”) and he’ll have room to ease into his 20s on a Magic team that has been forced into taking the slow approach with the rebuild.

The Magic steadied that rebuild by going after its point guard of the future in Payton, relinquishing a future first-round pick that Philadelphia owed them in an attempt to move up two slots to grab the still-developing point man. Picking up Fournier and Roy Devyn Marble (a lithe scorer who could make the team) for Arron Afflalo seems like a loss, but Afflalo wasn’t long for the team and would have been (rightfully) taking shots away from the Magic’s younger prospects.

Grade: B+

***

Philadelphia 76ers

The haul: Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, return of its 2016 or 2017 first round pick, K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, Pierre Jackson, Nemanja Dangubić, Vasilje Micic, Jordan McRae

Bloody hell, this team.

Philadephia GM Sam Hinkie is shooting for the stars. He’s seen team after NBA team shoot for merely being in with a chance, and too many front-office types either merely make moves to keep their own jobs for another year or satisfy an impatient owner. This guy’s long-term approach is borderline unprecedented in this league’s history.

A year after trading an All-Star for a player the Sixers always planned on keeping out for the entire season in Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia used the third overall pick on Embiid, who may have to do nearly the same as he recovers from a frightening navicular bone injury. Saric’s status is more than assured – the versatile forward isn’t coming to the NBA for at least two years. Embiid and Noel, when healthy, play the same position. McDaniels, Grant and McRae are all athletes whom Hinkie hopes will click at the pro level. Dangubić is another backcourt athlete with a lot to figure out, and Micic is a pass-first guy who may never come over.

It’s all very weird and fascinating. Noel, Embiid and Saric might be a frontcourt for the ages. And Philadelphia may lose 97 games next season.

Grade: B

***

Phoenix Suns

The haul: T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Alec Brown

It will be interesting to see how Warren’s game translates to the pro level. He’s not going to jump over anyone or light up the night sky with his outside shooting, but he still averaged nearly 25 points per game in his sophomore year at North Carolina State. He barely made more than a quarter of his 3-pointers on a shortened line and made fewer than two-thirds of his free throws, but he still found ways to score while hitting 52 percent of his shots from the field. Sometimes these things don’t carry over, but you can’t help but trust Suns GM Ryan McDonough. Warren’s 7.1 rebounds per game also bode well.

Bogdanovic will get to stick things out overseas as his shot-happy game isn’t ready to come over just yet, especially on a guaranteed first-round contract. Ennis seems like a curious pick with Goran Dragic and restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe around, but if the Suns are admitting that Ennis lines up as a future reserve then the move makes sense. Brown is a wispy-thin project center who may not make the team.

Grade: B

***

Portland Trail Blazers

The haul: No haul

Portland sent its first-round pick to Charlotte three years ago for a year and a half of Gerald Wallace, who they later sent to Brooklyn GM Billy King in exchange for the pick that turned into Damian Lillard. King later signed Wallace to a four-year, $40 million deal, before trading him to Boston for an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, while giving up another series of first-round picks along the way.

This is a long way of saying that Billy King is bad at this, and that the Blazers eventually got Lillard.

Grade: A

***

Sacramento Kings

The haul: Nik Stauskas

It’s understandable Kings fans are upset at this pick. The team selected Ben McLemore in the 2013 draft to ostensibly provide the same perimeter skill set that Stauskas is known for, and while McLemore struggled in his rookie year, the team is still doubling down on the NBA’s least-important position. That Nik could turn into a better version of this sort of player isn’t the point. It’s that the Kings possibly wasted yet another year, with yet another eighth overall pick.

The pick is in the bag, though, and it’s time to move on. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an eighth overall pick coming off the bench to spell another at the same position, and Sacramento’s true issues come on the other end of the ball — dealing with the defensive shortcomings of Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins. It’s fair to wonder if Elfrid Payton wouldn’t have been a better choice, but the cynical take is that there was no panacea at this slot, and that you might as well go for another gunslinger all over again.

Still …

Grade: C+

***

San Antonio Spurs

The haul: Kyle Anderson

In the big eye-roll pick of the night, the Spurs chose a player in Anderson whom every observer immediately started likening to Boris Diaw, who put San Antonio over the top during its 2014 NBA championship run. Anderson averaged an eye-popping 6.8 assists per game at UCLA last season, and his ability to ease his team into ball movement was praised even before the Spurs chose him with the final pick in the first round.

Grade: A

***

Toronto Raptors

The haul: Bruno Caboclo, DeAndre Daniels

The Raptors didn’t have a lottery pick, for once, so perhaps our shocked reaction at their selection of Caboclo was amplified by the idea that we’re used to them drafting somewhere in the middle of the top 10 of the draft. This was a 20th overall pick, not a franchise-altering slot even in a killer draft like this, and well-regarded GM Masai Ujiri took a shot at something special. He had to, because as good as the Raptors were this year, this is still a team without a star. Respected talents and even an All-Star, to be sure, but nobody that is considered a franchise player.

Still, Ujiri couldn’t have figured something out on his way to moving down while keeping his affection for Caboclo a secret? Perhaps the rawness of Bruno’s game was overstated — on national TV, no less, to much Internet derision — but it is shocking that someone as well-connected as Ujiri couldn’t find a way to select this talent at a more appropriate slot. And that’s with the admission that, sure, maybe this guy could turn into the best player in this already-fabled 2014 draft.

Even if that is his destiny, he won’t be the best player for a long, long time. His draft status in 2014 has to reflect that.

Grade: Incomplete. Call it a copout if you want, but it is 2014 and we just don’t know.

***

Utah Jazz

The haul: Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, second-round pick from Memphis in 2016

Exum could be a workout wonder, someone to gawk at in short bursts in lieu of a long college or international season to judge. There’s a chance he could level off and never hit the sort of prime that many expect for him.

Doesn’t matter. The Jazz need a star, and even if they have to wait several years before the teenager finds his NBA legs, finding Exum (at times rumored to be a top-three pick) with the fifth selection was an absolute killer. And grabbing Hood, a long swingman who can contribute from the outside, was another fine move. How this team shapes its roster moving forward remains to be seen, but Thursday night was a winner.

Grade: A

***

Washington Wizards

The haul: No haul

The Wizards dealt a first-round pick to Phoenix, one that was eventually used on Tyler Ennis, for a year’s worth of Marcin Gortat. The center was instrumental in helping Washington return to the playoffs, and he’ll likely be re-signed this summer, so it was a fair trade off.

The team’s decision to sell its second-round pick, however, should be distressing to Wizards fans.

Grade: C

The NBA

The haul: Isaiah Austin.

Solid choice. Big upside.

Grade: A+++++++++++++++++++

- - - - - - -

Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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