Monday, June 29, 2015

NBA Draft Review (13-21)

The 1rst real dip in the first round came after Trey Lyles to Utah at 12, where all of a sudden you went from guys who profiled as potential starters on good teams to guys who might fall out of the league if they don't wind up in the right situation or they don't further develop their games over the course of their rookie contract.

13. Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker

There were a lot of jokes about the Suns becoming Kentucky West following this draft, as they added Booker and 2nd round pick Andrew Harrison to a perimeter group that already includes Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Archie Goodwin. For Booker, it might not be so funny. He's going from a situation in college where he couldn't really expand his game or play a huge role and he's repeating that process in Phoenix. The questions for Booker coming into the draft were whether he was a one-dimensional shooter because that's all he's capable of doing or because that was all he could do on an absolutely loaded Kentucky team that didn't need a lot of shot-creating or playmaking from the SG spot. Now, as a guy who doesn't turn 19 until October, he's going to a Suns team ready to win now and who don't have a lot of open shots or minutes on the perimeter for a rookie. People tend to forget about young players in the NBA really quickly if they don't produce right away and Booker is going to have an uphill battle to even see the floor early in his career.

Let's take it as a given that Bledsoe (who just signed a $70 million contract) and Knight (who could be in line for a max contract this off-season) will be playing 35+ minutes a night in the Suns two-PG system. PJ Tucker, as one of their veteran leaders and their best perimeter defender, seems pretty locked in as the starting SF and the Suns will be looking for minutes for Marcus Morris (who they signed to a $20 million extension) and TJ Warren (the No. 13 pick in last year's draft) on the wings. Even if we assume they are letting Gerald Green walk, that means Booker is going to be fighting with these two guys for minutes at backup SG:

1) Archie Goodwin: The No. 29 pick in 2013, Goodwin came into the NBA after only one season at Kentucky at about the same age that Booker is now. He's only 20 years old and he would have been a pretty young junior this season. He's an interesting test case for whether or not it always makes sense to jump to the NBA as soon as possible - if he stays at Kentucky, he easily beats out Aaron Harrison for the starting SG spot and he's the most experienced returning player on their roster. He's probably the No. 1 option on the best team in the country and he's in the running for the Naismith Award and a lottery pick. If Booker couldn't beat out the Harrisons in Calipari's rotation, there's no way he's beating out Goodwin.

Goodwin isn't nearly as good a three-point shooter but he's better at every other facet of the game than Booker. He's bigger, longer and more athletic and he's a much more capable slasher, playmaker and defensive player. It's going to be a question of what Jeff Hornacek is looking for in a reserve guard - is he looking for floor spacing above everything else or does he want someone who can contribute on both sides of the ball? The other consideration is that this is do-or-die for Goodwin. If he can't beat out an 18-year old rookie for minutes in his 3rd season, he's pretty much done in Phoenix. He might get a shot somewhere else because of his youth or athleticism but there's no guarantee of that either. He's fighting for his NBA life in training camp. That's how quickly the worm can turn at the next level.

2) Reggie Bullock: It's the same story for Bullock, the No. 25 pick in 2013. After barely playing as a rookie for the LA Clippers, he was sent to Phoenix as part of a three-way deal that landed them Austin Rivers. There weren't any minutes to be had with the Suns either and Bullock is entering his 3rd season in the league as pretty much an unknown quantity. He has played a grand total of 733 minutes in his first two seasons and he's fighting for his NBA life coming into his 3rd. He  was projected as a 3-and-D guy in the draft and he's been a OK - 31.1% - considering that he's never gotten a consistent spot in the rotation and taken more than 1.5 a game. The tough part about drafting young guys to be defensive specialists is that it takes a long time for them to develop the mental aspect of the game necessary to be plus defenders, regardless of their physical tools. If they can't offer anything consistent on the offensive end in the mean-time, it's hard for them to get minutes on a good NBA team. 

Bullock isn't as good a shooter as Booker but he's longer and more athletic and at this point in his career he's much more capable of earning minutes as a defensive specialist off the bench. Booker's probably going to have to play defense to earn minutes in Phoenix and that's a problem when you consider A) how young he is and B) how much he needs to improve on that side of the ball. This is a guy who averaged 0.4 steals and 0.1 blocks a game as a freshman. While he tested out pretty well athletically at the combine, he didn't show much ability to translate that athleticism to the game in college and that has traditionally been a sign of guys who will struggle on the defensive side of the ball at the next level. Ethan Strauss calls this the "Doug McDermott test".

This is something that's going to come up in this article - the Suns have almost become a victim of their own success with the draft. They've got good young players at every position on the floor so no matter who they drafted at No. 13, that guy was going to have a tough time earning minutes in Phoenix. At a certain point in the team-building process there starts to be a diminishing marginal value for first-round picks. This isn't the NFL with 53-man rosters, 22 guys starting and 30+ getting consistent snaps. An NBA rotation can only be so large and guys 9-13 on your roster probably aren't going to get many opportunities to play. And if you draft a guy who sits on the bench, he's not going to have any value with other teams. What you want to do is consolidate talent but that's very difficult to do in a league where no one wants to turn a $1.00 into 4 quarters. 

For a guy like Booker, it's a tough balance to walk. You don't want to go somewhere where you are asked to do too much early in your career and the weight of expectations destroys you but you also want to go somewhere where your way to minutes isn't being blocked by a bunch of guys ahead of you. He has the shooting ability to where he should be able to stick in the league but there's a good chance in two years we'll be writing articles about Booker where he's in the position Bullock and Goodwin are in now and people are calling him a bust. It might have been hard to get minutes, touches and shots at Kentucky but it don't get any easier in the NBA.

That goes double for Andrew Harrison. Really it's more like quadruple. 

14) Oklahoma City Thunder - Cam Payne

The Thunder were kind of in the same situation as the Suns when it came to this pick. Take a look at their roster:

PG - Westbrook, Augustin
SG - Roberson, Waiters, Morrow
SF - Durant, Singler, PJ3
PF - Ibaka, Collison, McGary
C - Adams, Kanter

That doesn't even count guys like Semaj Christon, a 2nd round pick in 2014 whom they stashed in the D-League for a year, and Alex Abrines, a high 2nd round pick in 2013 from Spain whom they eventually want to bring over. Whomever they took at No. 14 had a really good chance of falling off the end of the Earth playing for the Oklahoma City Blue. Teams with this much talent aren't usually picking in the lottery.

We'll see what happens with Billy Donovan but it can be really hard for a young guy to get the consistent minutes he needs to develop on a contending team like OKC. That's what happened with Jeremy Lamb, everyone's favorite punching bag from the James Harden trade. Scott Brooks just never believed in him and never gave him the chance to play through his mistakes. Take a look at his per 40-minute numbers - he consistently produced when he was on the floor but Brooks couldn't live with his defensive mistakes (the charitable interpretation) or he was playing favorites and didn't have a great grasp on evaluating young talent (uncharitable). I would certainly live with Lamb's defense over Waiters defense and ball-stopping and Roberson's completely inability to shoot outside of 5 feet but there's no need to re-litigate that any further.

The point is that Cameron Payne is going to have basically zero chance of earning minutes next season and the road to him getting a consistent spot in the OKC rotation is rocky at best. If he can shoot 3's off the dribble he could theoretically be a nice complement to Russell Westbrook in a two-PG set but so could DJ Augustin and he's way more capable of handling a role on a title contender than a guy who would be a junior in the Ohio Valley Conference next season if he stayed in school. For that matter, Christon is also capable of playing the combo guard role and he's bigger and more athletic than Payne (although he isn't nearly as good a shooter).

It's a good thing that Payne said he was hungry and had something to prove in his interview on ESPN because there ain't going to be nothing handed to him in OKC. That's what happens when you get to this point in the first round - the team that drafts you doesn't have that much invested in you to where they are just going to carve out a role for you to see what you have. That happens with Top 10 picks because the front office wants to justify the selection and the team is bad enough they can afford to burn minutes on a rookie who may not be able to help them win right away. For a guy in Cam Payne's shoes at the toughest position in the league, it's kill or be killed. It's easy to forget that Augustin was taken with a lottery pick.

15. Washington Wizards - Kelly Oubre

This was a solid upside pick for the Wizards in the middle part of the first round. Oubre is a raw player who probably can't play right away but that's what you would have expected regardless of whom they drafted. Randy Wittman couldn't even find minutes for Otto Porter as a rookie and he was way more ready to contribute than Oubre. The upside with Oubre is obvious - the length, athleticism and shooting ability. The downside is whether he can put all of that together to be an NBA contributor any point in the near future. He didn't exactly tear things up at Kansas as a freshman. He showed flashes but he wasn't consistent and he never really figured out his role on the team. 

Oubre is a guy who would be better off spending a year in the D-League and seeing if he can develop into a more consistent shot-creator. At his age, I'd much rather see him in a spot where he can take 20+ shots a night and try to expand his game in a featured role than put him into a box as a 3-and-D guy who can't get off the bench in the NBA. He's not capable of anything more than that at the highest level of the game - he's really a straight-line driver without much shake off the dribble and who hasn't shown he can read the floor and make plays for others. If you put a guy with comparable size and athleticism on him, he's not going to be able to do much.

The good news for Oubre in college is there were very, very few guys like that. I'm a big believer in evaluating these guys based off how they perform against NBA prospects at their position - maybe the most impressive thing Oubre did as a freshman was shut down Rashad Vaughn in the 2nd half of Kansas win over UNLV. Vaughn got hot early against the Jayhawks but then they sicced Oubre on him he really couldn't do anything. Oubre had the type of next level athleticism that made even a guy like Vaughn look like he was playing in mud. 

That type of performance would make you think Oubre has a pretty solid floor as a Trevor Ariza type but then you have to remember what has happened to Reggie Bullock early in his career. Ain't no first or 2nd year players in the NBA being defensive stoppers, particularly when you consider that Oubre has been a scorer for most of his life and his feel for the game after only one season of college isn't all that great to begin with. Lord forbid his 3-point shooting abandons him early in his career behind the more extended NBA arc - then he's never going to be able to help his team.

Down the road, the Wizards are probably thinking they can use Oubre and Porter together at the forward positions in a wing-heavy 4-out offense ala the Warriors. What I wonder is whether they ever plan on addressing the big man spots in the draft, particularly when it comes to adding some youth behind Nene and Marcin Gortat, who really started to show their age in the series against the Hawks. Even a 4-out offense still needs someone in the middle and there's no one like Draymond Green on this roster if they want to try and go 5-out. This would have been a great spot to draft Bobby Portis, although I could say that about most teams in this range.

Atlanta Hawks - Tim Hardaway Jr. 

It hasn't gotten a ton of publicity because of how well the Hawks played last season but they have low-key butchered the opportunity to add some quality young talent in the middle of the first round in each of the last two seasons. This might be where the Danny Ferry thing really hurts the franchise and you wonder about giving Budenholzer total control. Trading a mid first-round pick for a guy like THJ is a classic coach/GM move, where the team's main decision-maker wants to win now, doesn't think any of the available young guys can help his team right away (which might be true) and opts for someone whom he has seen before and already knows about really well. Needless to say, it's not the type of thing the Spurs would do. 

It seems like the Hawks were trying to avoid a repeat of last year's situation, when they drafted Adreian Payne at No. 15, realized he had little chance of earning PT and then traded him away for a future first in order to salvage some value out of the pick. Maybe you don't believe in Payne and maybe you don't believe in Oubre - there's a reason both guys fell to this point in the first round. They definitely have some real talent, though, and a more patient team could have grown them into impact bench players over the next few years. If not those guys, there will be people taken after them in 2014 and 2015 who turn into really good NBA players. Atlanta punted away two chances to grab guys like that and it might end up haunting them down the road.

16. Boston Celtics - Terry Rozier

This pick is where you start to see the lack of great quality in the middle of the first round. Rozier might have been a reach but it's defensible considering the guys around him. Even at 6'2, he's a very good athlete with the ability to get to the rim and defend either position in the backcourt. If he can refine his offensive game and his three-point shot, he might be able to fill a Patrick Beverley/George Hill role off a dominant wing player in the starting line-up of a good team. Where it becomes an issue and where you start to see the holes in Danny Ainge's master plan is how he makes sense (or really doesn't) on this Celtics roster.

Boston already has Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, combo guards with holes in their game who need most of the minutes at the guard positions. They've also got James Young, Evan Turner and Jae "The Beast" Crowder who want minutes at the wing spots. Maybe Rozier develops quicker than anticipated and carves out a role for himself in Boston and makes some of those guys expendable but the problem is if they become expendable they aren't exactly going to be attractive chips on the trade market. If Rozier doesn't play right away, no one's going to be give up anything of value for a guy many thought was a reach on draft night. 

The Celtics have a tun of "trade chips" that look good on paper but when you look at them individually none of them are all that attractive by themselves. That starts with these future Nets picks. Maybe they will be really high but maybe they won't - Brooklyn won't have much incentive to tank and rebuild over the next few years. They'll be trying to stay afloat and they are a big market team with a ton of money to spend. The Celtics, meanwhile, are coming off a playoff appearances and they have enough halfway decent players and a great young coach so they probably won't be getting any more Top 5 picks anytime soon. All they have to offer in trades is Marcus Smart, a bunch of alright young guys and some mid first-round picks. 

The Celtics can't actually get into a hypothetical DeMarcus Cousins trade sweepstakes because the only thing they really have is Smart. And not only does Smart have a lot of holes in his game, they just drafted a guy who replicates his game and could potentially minimize his impact. That's the thing about an NBA roster - it's a zero-sum game. For all of the talk about analytics in the modern NBA, young players are still judged on points, rebounds, assists and minutes played and for every point and assist that Rozier accumulates that's one fewer for Smart. 

What Boston is going to have to do is punch above their weight in the draft and find quality young players in the middle of the first round. That's easier said than done, though. They used to have a long history of it in the middle of the 2000's, when they found guys like Gerald Green, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Al Jefferson. Their track record over the last few years is way more up and down. Avery Bradley is good but Fab Melo and JaJuan Johnson are already out the league and the jury is still out on Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. I don't think anyone is calling them HR's or expecting them to return much of value in trades.

What I wonder is if the Celtics front office is missing guys like Daryl Morey and Ryan McDonough, who have proven to be excellent drafters now that they are running teams of their own. It's not easy to replace front office talent like those guys - Boston's going to need some more future GM's in the pipeline who can find All-Star caliber players in the middle of the first round. If they don't, all of the maneuvering Ainge has done over the last few years has been re-shuffling deck chairs.

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Rashad Vaughn 

I didn't get a chance to see Vaughn very much this season. UNLV was a bad team in an average conference and Vaughn was hurt for most of the 2nd half of the season. The only games I really got to see of him were against Kansas and Arizona. What I figure is you want to see what a guy looks like against the best. Vaughn was going up against Kelly Oubre, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and those 3 are the closest approximation to NBA players that a guy like Vaughn is going to see at the NCAA level. Future NBA players are the top 1% of NCAA players - how you perform against those guys can be different than how you perform against the other 99%. What was obvious with Vaughn was that he wasn't nearly as athletic as those guys were in space.

Oubre and RHJ, in particular, were just playing at a different speed on the court. Vaughn is a big guy and he can can shoot so he can play with them but he's not getting around guys like that off the dribble. While he's probably not going to get a chance to dominate the ball in Milwaukee, he should fit into a role as a floor spacer who can attack a close-out. As long as he doesn't get absolutely killed on D, Milwaukee could really use his shooting. That's what it's going to come down to with Vaughn - just do enough on D to survive. 

Here's an interesting comparison. Vaughn and Booker were both McDonald's All-Americans last season. In the ESPN Top 150, he was No. 19 and Booker was No. 18. Booker went to a team where he got to play with the No. 1 pick, the No. 6 pick and the No. 12 pick. Vaughn went to a team where the 2nd best player (Christian Wood) went undrafted. How much of the difference between where they were picked can be explained by one being in a more positive situation than the other? Now they are going to the NBA and things could be flipped. Booker is on a team that doesn't really need his skill-set and Vaughn is on a team that does. He's going to have a much easier time getting minutes. Let's see where they are ranked against each other a year from now.

18. Houston Rockets - Sam Dekker

I could see Dekker being the best pick in the range between 13-21. The comparisons with Chandler Parsons are obvious - they aren't quite the same type of player but they were in similar situations in college where their statistics could have been suppressed so their true value as players wasn't as immediately obvious. Parsons was on a team with 3 other senior starters and they all shared the ball - Dekker was on a Wisconsin team that played super unselfishly and pounded the ball into Frank Kaminsky. Dekker isn't nearly as skilled with the ball as Parsons, either in terms of creating off the dribble or shooting, but he's a much better athlete. 

He's a really fast wing who can get up and down the floor in a hurry and he sprouted a few inches in college. He's 6'9 and he moves like a 6'5-6'6 guy. As long as he can be a consistent shooter, teams are going to have a hard time guarding him because he'll be able to blow by a close-out. Put him in an incredibly wide-open Houston offense where he's given the license to fire from 3 and he could be really effective.

The other nice thing about the Rockets is they are going to see what a guy has. If you look at their roster over the last few seasons, they have done a good job of giving young guys minutes and making sure they knew what they had before they give up on someone. Dekker has NBA-size and NBA-athleticism and he is an older player who has been coached up well at Wisconsin in terms of knowing how to play team defense and without the ball and do the little things that NBA coaches want out of their role players. To me what it comes down too is that he was probably going to be an NBA player at 6'7, his height as a sophomore. Give any NBA player an extra two inches and they become a lot more valuable.

19. New York Knicks - Jerian Grant

Grant has got himself in just about the perfect position. So much of what happens in the NBA for guys in this range comes down to the situation they are placed in. Grant is walking into a role on the worst team in the league where he can take as many shots and play as many minutes as he could possibly handle. Compare that with Delon Wright in Toronto, who will be lucky to squeeze out 15 minutes a game and may never get to play with the ball in his hands. Grant is a fairly complete guard with good size who can do a little bit of everything - shoot, score and pass. He's just not an elite athlete, he's a much older player and he was in the perfect situation at Notre Dame to put up huge stats.

Mike Brey's teams do a phenomenal job of spacing the floor. Brey is doing the full Mike D'Antoni - his number 1 priority is spacing the floor, regardless of how small it forces him to play. His strategy usually gets him killed in the NCAA Tourney because he never has enough big men but if he can get a good draw against a bunch of other small teams, like what happened this year, his teams can punch above their weight. In their Elite 8 game against Kentucky, he had Pat Connaughton guarding Karl Towns - of course Towns was going to dominate from the post when he had a 6'5 guy on him.

Brey did it so that he could run the spread pick-and-roll for Grant and Demetrius Jackson. He lived with the poor defense to generate as efficient an offense as possible. The Knicks aren't going to run that type of high-efficiency offense and Grant's going to have to do a lot more creating off the dribble. He's 6'5 so he should at least be able to get off good looks but is he going to give back everything he scores on the other end? Though, to be fair, this is kind of a concern for everyone on that roster.

20. Toronto Raptors - Delon Wright

The trade of Greivis Vasquez opens up some PT for Wright in Toronto as a backup PG. As a 6'6 PG who can defend either backcourt spot, he's a good fit to cross-match with Lou Williams. The question with Wright is whether he can make defenses respect his 3-point shot enough to allow him to play off the ball. He can help the team as a defensive player, a rebounder and a playmaker, it's just a matter of how effective he can be as a scorer. Backup PG on a good team might be the ideal role for him and going up against Kyle Lowry in practice every day should make him a better player.

The question I have with Toronto is whether another shoe is going to drop. Are they going to bring the same team back from last year given how disappointing things were in the playoffs? Amir Johnson is a free agent and it seems like the obvious move they can make is trade one of their wings for a new PF. I think they will end up regretting this long-term because I'm the last person on team Terrence Ross but it seems like a T. Ross for Taj Gibson trade would work for both teams. The Bulls need another 3-and-D wing and they need to create PT for Nikola Mirotic and the Raptors need more of an offensive threat at the PF position and they need to create some PT for Bruno Caboclo. Well, I don't know if they need to do that but I really want to watch him play.

21. Dallas Mavericks - Justin Anderson

I thought my guy Alan Smithee over at Mavs Moneyball did a really good job with this breakdown of Anderson's game.

Anderson's lane agility time at the NBA Combine was worse than all but three of the 19 shooting guard/small forward prospects who participated at the combine. Before we scoff at this, keep in mind that Anderson is carrying more than 230 pounds around, which is a lot of meat for someone who may see most of his playing time next year at the two. He may need to slim down into the 220 to 225 range that most of the best NBA guards carry on them if that's where he ends up playing. 
For all of Anderson's obvious athletic gifts, there is also the question of why that athleticism did not manifest itself more prominently in his statline. His rebound rate was fairly average for a forward, as was his block rate, and his steal rate was decidedly below average. Now, to be fair, it's true that Tony Bennett's pack-line defensive system may have taken some steal opportunities away from Anderson. "Pack-line" means that a defense packs players behind an established line (usually around of the three-point horizon), and keeps any help defenders behind that line at all times. Still, you would think Anderson would have swatted a few more attempts than he did, with his 43-inch vertical and everything. When there is a disconnect between the scouting report and the athletic indicators, you worry about that player's feel for the game and basketball IQ, as well as his effort.

And then there's the questions about his offense. He's a really one-dimensional player and he's basically going to be a spot-up shooter at the next level. The problem with that is if his 3-point shot goes or isn't totally consistent from Day 1, he doesn't have anything else he can bring to the table on offense. He wasn't a great shooter his whole career either - he was a 30% three-point shooter in his first two seasons before he moved up to 45% as a junior. I look at what happened with Reggie Bullock in LA and I wonder. The line between making it and not in the league for a 3-and-D guy can be pretty thin.

That's the worry with drafting a guy who projects as a specialist late in the first round. He had better be really good at the next level at the things he specializes in or he's going to slide right out of the league. That's why I wish the Mavs had drafted a guy like Bobby Portis or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - they have a lot of different elements to the game. I'll get into those two in the next section. Long story short, I think they could end up as better players as a lot of the guys drafted 13-21.

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