Now that the NBA Draft is over, it’s time to assess the winners and losers. Which teams used their basketball savvy to improve their teams? Which franchises found diamonds in the rough and which ones picked potential busts? Here are the team grades:
Western Conference NBA Draft Grades
Dallas Mavericks: A.J. Hammons (46)
Usually when an old team only haves a second round draft pick you would consider it a failure. But considering the team needs this is a respectable selection. A.J. Hammons is a big dynamic defender with soft hands and a good touch. The only reason he slipped to the 46th pick is his sometimes lackadaisical attitude on the court. This is a smart pick because he will be playing under Rick Carlisle, one of the best coaches in the NBA. Hammons is a player that if nurtured properly could turn into a key piece in Dallas. Especially when the center position for the Mavericks consists of a 32 year old Zaza Pachulia, 30 year old Salah Mejri and underwhelming JaVale McGee.
Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray (7); Juan Hernangomez (15); Malik Beasley (19); Petr Cornelie (53)
The Denver Nuggets quietly improved their team drastically. A team that have one of the biggest and most physically imposing front courts have added depth and scoring to their backcourt. With the 7th overall pick they selected Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Like Buddy Hield, Murray is a professional shot maker and scorer. Only Stephen Curry hit more threes in his freshman season than Jamal Murray in Division I history. Averaging 20 points per game, his skill set should immediately translate to the next level.
Denver also added shooting power forward Juan Hernangomez and scoring shooting guard Malik Beasley in the first round. Beasley is particularly intriguing as he has been compared to another Denver player Will Barton. Denver now has a deep back court consisting of Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Will Barton.
Golden State Warriors: Damian Jones (30); Patrick McCaw (38)
The Golden State Warriors had the best player in the league in Stephen Curry last year; they also had the best team in regular season history. This was such an impressive feat that this team should be remembered in the annals of NBA history. But last season will be remembered as a bittersweet one for Warriors fans. They were inches away from being back-to-back NBA champions, instead it was LeBron James’ Cavaliers that stole the headlines.
Despite the defensive prowess of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes there was an obvious hole in the center of Golden State’s defense. Once Andrew Bogut went down with an injury, LeBron James had free range to get to the rim whenever he wanted.
Golden State filled that massive hole with a player who has incredible upside, Damian Jones. Because of his size and athleticism Jones could possibly have the most defensive upside in this entire draft and will learn his position under Andrew Bogut, one of the smartest players in the league.
Houston Rockets: Chinanu Onuaku (37); Zhou Qi (43)
The dysfunctional Houston Rockets have started to rebuild their team after the disastrous Dwight Howard experiment. What was supposed to be a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference turned into year after year of disappointing performances marked by early playoff exits. The team had never had a lot of depth in the frontcourt, this is glaringly obvious now that Howard has left.
Donatas Motiejunas has had several back injuries and could be a good player when healthy, Josh Smith is painfully inconsistent and Clint Capela is still raw. The Rockets had two second round picks, the 37th and 43rd. They selected two big men, 6’10 athlete Chinanu Onuaku and unknown 7’2 Zhou Qi. Perhaps drafting Onuaku, who is an exact replica of Montrezl Harrell, and a player that only has experience playing in China in Qi was a little risky. The path to rebuilding their frontcourt still has a long way to go.
Los Angeles Clippers: Brice Johnson (25); David Michineau (39); Diamond Stone (40)
The Los Angeles Clippers are a team on the edge, like Toronto or Oklahoma City they are one piece away from making and perhaps winning and NBA championship. The only glaring weak spot of the Clippers is their depth in the back court. Despite having DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, who are perhaps the best center-power forward combination in the league, there is not much else.
The Clippers picked perhaps the most NBA ready big man other than Ben Simmons with their selection of UNC forward Brice Johnson. The former Tar Heel, who averaged 17.0 points per game along with 10.4 rebounds a game, is a long and active power forward. Johnson has one of the best offensive games out of every big man available, especially at the high post where he can explode by defenders and finish.
They also added the bulky Diamond Stone from Maryland. Stone is another player who should probably have gone in the first round. A strong frame he is an NBA level rebounder who can also play right away. Johnson and Stone are a good foundation to replace the Clippers current group of meager forwards.
Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram (2); Ivica Zubac (32)
The Los Angeles Lakers were given the luxury of not having to decide between the Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. They selected the 6’9 small forward from Duke with the second overall pick. If Simmons is the closest thing to LeBron James, then Ingram is a new version of Kevin Durant. Looking at his 7’3 wingspan it’s difficult not to compare the two players. Ingram is a high level 3-point shooter who was oftentimes the primary ball handler while at Duke. He is also a lockdown defender. Ingram set a new freshman record for blocks at Duke, despite often guarding guards on the perimeter.
The Lakers second pick was Croatian international Ivica Zubac. At 7’1 and 265 lbs, Zubac brings much needed toughness and rebounding to Lakers front court. Only 19 years old Zubac’s meteoric rise up the draft chart shows his willingness to work and improve. Look at him to be one of the sleepers in this year’s draft.
Memphis Grizzlies: Wade Baldwin (17); Deyonta Davis (31); Rade Zagorac (35); Wang Zhelin (57)
Memphis somehow managed to make the playoffs despite seemingly losing every key player on their roster to injury. Two particularly stinging injuries were Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The team managed to stay afloat using 10-day contracts on available free agents. This shows that there is a lot that the Memphis Grizzlies needed to add this draft. To compound these issues is the likely exit of starting guard Mike Conley who most likely will not resign with the team.
In spite of all these issues, Memphis only had one first round pick which they used on Wade Baldwin. Baldwin is the type of player that impresses in individual workouts but is seriously lacking on tape. A big athletic guard, Baldwin is a far cry from the game managing Mike Conley. They also selected high profile power forward Deyonta Davis from Michigan State. Davis is a long athletic 6’10 and while he did not have the most productive season as a Spartan in 2015-2016, there is no denying his raw athleticism. Perhaps this is Memphis finally changing their style as they adapt and grow younger.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kris Dunn (5);
The Timberwolves only possessed one pick this NBA draft, and they utilized it on a player with superstar qualities written all over him, Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves are what Oklahoma City was five years ago: a young athletic team that seems to be destined for championships.
A player who is being compared to John Wall, Dunn is the best point guard in this draft. At 6’4 he is a super athlete who is capable of guarding multiple positions and is a terror in the open court. He fits the mould of Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and Shabazz Muhammad; freak athletes with room to grow. This pick also makes Ricky Rubio expendable in the near future. Rubio is a player teams around the league who are looking for a starting point guard would be very keen on trading for; a good bargaining chip for the Timberwolves.
New Orleans Pelicans: Buddy Hield (6); Cheick Diallo (33)
New Orleans made two very clever, tactical and well thought out selections; Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo. While New Orleans was 7th in 3-point shooting percentage in the 2015-2016 season at 36%. That number would be destined to drop with the loss of Ryan Anderson who shot 37% and Eric Gordon who shot 39% to free agency. The selection of Buddy Hield fixes all of these shooting issues. Hield was recruited to Oklahoma as a slasher and has turned himself into one of the greatest shooters in college history. He is a player who can come in and make an immediate impact. Pundits want to compare him to Stephen Curry, but his game is much more similar to C.J. McCollum, a professional scorer and shot-maker. The selection of Cheick Diallo is also promising for New Orleans as it marks the end of the failed Omer Asik science project.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Domantas Sabonis (11)
Like Toronto, Oklahoma City managed to salvage some assets from a player who was likely to walk in the near future. Serge Ibaka was never likely to stay in Oklahoma City as they would be hard pressed to find the money to re-sign him. So Oklahoma City receives a B for managing to gain something from his departure. The trade to Orlando is one of the few trades where people can look back and say “both teams won”. The Thunder received a replacement power forward in Domantas Sabonis who was picked 11th overall by the Magic just to be traded a few minutes later.
Sabonis is not the shooter or rim protector that Ibaka was. However, he is more than capable of moving his feet defensively and is an elite rebounder. The Thunder also managed to get Victor Oladipo, a player who could become a key cog for the Thunder. A massive upgrade at the shooting guard position, Oladipo is one of the best defenders in the NBA and a very good secondary ball handler. All in all this trade was a success for Oklahoma City and more than likely a step in the right direction.
Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender (4); Marquese Chriss (8); Tyler Ullis (34)
The Phoenix Suns are in full rebuild mode; this was exemplified by their first round selection Dragan Bender. Having amassed a plethora of talented guards from Kentucky, the Suns selected two wild cards in the top ten to boost their frontcourt. They drafted Dragan Bender of Maccabi Tel-Aviv with the 4th pick and Marquese Chriss of Washington with the 8th pick after giving Sacramento the 13th and 28th picks.
Bender is a 7’1, 18 year old with a smooth shooting stroke who has been compared to Kristaps Porzingis. However, only averaging 1.5 points per game and 1.2 rebounds per game is somewhat dubious for Phoenix. Bender will most likely be a long term project. Marquese Chriss is as much of a risk as Bender. A rather unknown player before this season, he is one of the youngest and most athletic players in this draft. These two picks highlight the fact that the Suns view themselves as a long term project.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jake Layman (47)
The Portland Trail Blazers added another player who could bolster an already deep frontcourt. Perhaps the most underrated frontcourt because of their age, Portland drafted Jake Layman from Maryland. Already having Ed Davis, Maurice Harkless, Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard they now have a 7’0 center who moves fluidly and has a great shooting stroke. Shooting 40% from 3-point land last year Layman is always a threat to shoot and will be a deadly force when combined in the pick and pop game run by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. This could be the best possible outcome for Portland with 47th overall pick.
Sacramento Kings: Georgios Papagiannis (13); Malachi Richards (22); Skal Labissiere (28)
The biggest issue with Sacramento is that they have too many holes in their roster to fix with one draft. With the 13th pick overall, Sacramento selected Georgios Papagiannis, a 7’2 center. A player who is a talented offensive player, but just like every other player Sacramento has ever drafted struggles mightily on the defensive end. DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the best scoring big-man in the NBA, yet defensively he is atrociously lazy. So Sacramento’s front office decided to draft a player who does not have the foot speed to defend modern NBA bigs.
They also drafted Skal Labissiere, who while there is clearly talent, was probably the worst performing player of his high school class who was ranked in the top 100. Labissiere is a player who could take two or three years before he is truly ready to be an NBA player. The team’s only saving grace was drafting Malachi Richards from Syracuse. While once again his defense will be questioned because of the Syracuse zone. He can immediately step in as a primary ball handler and elite shooter.
San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray (29)
Does it ever get old for San Antonio fans to draft potential All-Stars despite always picking late in the first round? The San Antonio Spurs jumped on a player that slipped all the way to the 29th pick by selecting Dejounte Murray from Washington. A 6’5 point guard who only played one season in college, Murray has the potential to be a great pro. Murray is a dynamic point guard that can score in every way possible as he averaged 16.0 points per game at Washington. He is a different player than the typical Spurs draft pick, not the steady fundamental guard, but the flashy athletic scoring guard.
Preferring to attack in transition than in the half-court, Murray is lightning quick and explodes to the rim. Oftentimes his youthful exuberance leads to mistakes and turnovers. This is something he will have to correct if he hopes to get meaningful minutes under Gregg Popovich. Perhaps this is a sign of change for the Spurs, perhaps they are going to follow the Golden State method.
Utah Jazz: Joel Bolomboy (52); Marcus Paige (55); Tyrone Wallace (60)
Utah is a young team that could be in the playoffs for the next ten years. Having a borderline All-Star in Gordon Hayward and a number of young talented players like Dante Exum, Trey Lyles, Rudy Gobert, Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. Utah is looking for that one big time player that pushes them over the edge and brings them into contention.
It’s too bad that they only had three late second round picks. Using them to pick Joel Bolomboy with the 52nd, Marcus Paige with the 55th pick and Tyrone Wallace with the last pick of the draft. None of these players are likely to become stars but Paige and Wallace could find a place on this roster. Paige is an elite shooter who was once highly thought of a few years ago but saw his development slow, and Wallace for his defense as he is an athletic guard capable of being a defensive stopper.
PITTSBURGH, PA – FEBRUARY 28: Jamel Artis #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers lays one in during the game against Brandon Ingram #14 of the Duke Blue Devils at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)