NBA Draft Review: First Round Pick By Pick Analysis

The following provides analysis of every first round pick in last Thursday’s draft, with impact second round players and summer league signings sprinkled in.  Rather than offer up premature draft grades, I chose simply to analyze the player and in certain cases the team fit.

1.Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl Towns, Tyus Jones

Towns was my top rated prospect since the first time I saw him play at the Chicago Invitational. The only minor chink in his armor is non-elite lateral agility to contain speedier guards in pick and roll, but that’s nitpicking. Towns’ combination of size, length, plus athleticism and skill level in the floor-game is a true rarity for a prospect his age. I’ve compared him to a taller Al Holford with better rim protection and three-point shooting promise, which is damn high praise. In the modern up-tempo NBA game you can’t create a superior center prospect. With Embiid hobbled there isn’t a young big man I’d rather build a team around than the versatile Towns other than Anthony Davis, the latter possessing a notch-higher upside with his shot creation ability in the face up game being a former point guard.

Towns fits on virtually any roster with his combination of floor spacing and rim protection, but fits the Timberwolves roster impeccably as they were dead last protecting the rim last year. Also, fellow franchise cornerstone Andrew Wiggins and unheralded wing Shabazz Muhammed developed complimentary post up games last year to pray on the weak link of opposing wings.   The spacing and ridiculous skill passing the ball Towns will provide for their development there is significant.

The Wolves also traded picks 31 and 35 in the second round to move up to #24 to select Tyus Jones. Jones is a star of analytical models and possesses an excellent combination of court vision and shooting. However, he does not have the size nor athleticism you’d like at the position, and draws inevitable comparisons to Tyler Ennis. I like Jones more (and he’s a better shooter), but even if he only amounts to a high-level backup point guard that’s a win in the 20-30 range, a range usually not kind to success.

Overall, the Wolves took unquestionably the best talent in the draft with the highest likely to be realized upside, and now get to sport one of the top young tandems in the league in Towns and Wiggins.

2.Los Angeles Lakers: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance J.R., Anthony Brown, (Summer League: Robert Upshaw)

With the top selection a mere lock, this is where the draft started to get interesting with LA’s selection between Russell and Okafor. Even if they chose Russell based on the impending availability of superstar bigs over the dearth of guards in free agency, they still nailed it. Russell has been #2 on my board since December. He has the highest ceiling in the draft with how the NBA game is played now with his combination of insane court vision, skill level and rare ability to shoot off the bounce, the latter of which alters defensive schemes (he’s in the Curry, Harden, Lillard camp here). Some question his athleticism, but he’s a better athlete than being given credit for, and his advanced handle will go a long way in creating the requisite space to thrive in the league. He’s a pick and roll savant who can turn the corner, patiently diagnose the defense and make the proper read to exploit schemes. The finals just showed us again the importance of having elite decision makers controlling outcomes of games. I trust Russell with the ball more than I have any guard in a long time, and all this talk about him playing off-ball as a wing predominately is foolish (he can in a pinch of course with his shooting ability). Defense, especially in the pick and roll, is an issue, and Russell already admitted he really didn’t try on that end at Ohio State. But given his combination of size and length he’ll likely develop into a passable defender. Overall, Russell will be even more of a terror with improved NBA spacing, and that is saying something.

The Lakers also took Larry Nance J.R. at pick 27, somewhat surprisingly with Kevon Looney and R.J. Hunter still on the board. Nance projects as a high energy/activity glue guy off the bench at the four spot with the potential to stretch the floor occasionally. The Lakers would do well to push the pace while he’s in to take advantage of his athleticism filling the lanes in transition. At pick 34 LA took promising 3&D wing Anthony Brown, who is one of the few players I actually got to see in person this year. He’s an elite three-point shooter with a smooth release and solid height and length. That certainly has value. The question with him will be his ability to attack closeouts and read defenses on the fly when he gets chased off the line, because he doesn’t have any scoring ability inside the arc.

The Lakers also signed Robert Upshaw to their summer league roster, a move that could provide the biggest dividends in the entire draft. Without Upshaw’s alleged substantial off-court issues, he would have been at lottery pick and top 14 on my board as the best shot-blocker in the draft. Upshaw is an enormous human being with fantastic mobility and armed with enough skill to carve out a spot in the league. If he can get his personal life in order you could be looking at the next Whiteside here. I personally would have taken a flier on him in the second round with his upside being sizably greater than any other prospect, but I understand teams shying away from significant character concerns. The Lakers have a need at center, and if Upshaw hits, this makes for one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

Overall, the Lakers added Russell to pair with the more scoring oriented/gifted off the dribble with subtle burst Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt moving forward, while also adding promising prospects Upshaw and Brown especially. For a franchise with a barren wasteland of young talent prior to July 26th, LA went a long way towards changing that state. Hard to think of another team who had a better all around draft than the Lakers.

3.Philadelphia 76ers: Jahlil Okafor

After LA sniped Russell from the Sixers, GM Sam Hinkie stuck true to his colors and drafted who in his opinion was the best player available in Okafor. He was not the highest rated player on my personal board but I can’t fault the thought process. Okafor has the most advanced post game in years, armed with enormous hands, light feet, an array of moves/counters, incredible touch and good feel as a post-passer, affording him some definite safety as a selection. However, he does not do much else on the court yet, and his physical tools do not shed an overly positive light on him ever developing a well-rounded game. Staying in shape consistently is obviously a must.

Talking about fit with the Sixers is moot because they are nowhere near that stage yet, but there are obvious redundancies with Okafor, Noel and Embiid (should he ever get healthy). Still, quality bigs will always be in high demand, and Hinkie should be able to siphon off one or two eventually for better fits/elite talent at other positions.

While most expect Okafor to be the shoe-in rookie of the year, I have my reservations. Philly’s up-tempo system and barren spacing are the antithesis of the kind of situation you want Okafor being immersed into. I expect he’ll put up good counting stats, but his efficiency wont be what you’d expect, even in the post. Not that it really matters of course. Just a thought.

4.New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant

Porzingis has been the most polarizing prospect throughout the draft process, with some touting him as the next Dirk (seriously go watch Dirk’s highlights at the Hoop Summit) based on a tantalizing workout going 1 on 0 and impressive competition level in the ACB, while others screamed Andrea Bargnani bust status with his slight frame, lackluster rebounding rate and the general stance towards European big men. I was always somewhat in the middle, having him 8th on my board. I get the affixation: it is mesmerizing to watch that dude shoot. You don’t find 7’2” big men with 7’6” wingspans who can glide around screens like a guard and square up to shoot on the move and knock down 24 footers with an ultra quick, smooth release. I don’t think anyone questions his perimeter game. My reservations are more about his feel for the game and his ability to put on enough weight to play some center (not to mention I don’t think he’s the athlete he’s touted to be). He is a morbid passer with a questionable feel and really does not have much of a playmaking floor-game. There is no wiggle or improvisation to Zinger off the dribble, so he is really just a catch and shoot or turnaround jumper in the post guy. He may develop that over time, but I just don’t see him as that guy, and there isn’t much to go off of in expecting that leap. As for the latter, while a stretch 4 knockdown shooter is valuable, Zinger’s value would be maximized if he could put on enough weight to play center. He is nowhere near there strength wise, and his defensive rebounding rate is alarming, presenting legitimate question marks as to whether he can ever play center.

The overall extremist narrative on Zinger to either end of the spectrum should probably be tempered down. A lot of his success will stem from development and the culture he is placed in to develop. The latter point is what concerns me the most about this pick. I would have preferred Porzingis on a team like Orlando who have the patience to let Zinger develop outside the limelight of high criticism. Being the #1 pick broke Bargnani, and I worry New York could do the same to Porzingis. That’s not calling him soft either. It’s just being human.

As for the Knicks’ second 1st round pick, they hustled Atlanta into taking on the defensively deficient Tim Hardaway Jr. for Jerian Grant. Grant is an excellent fit in the triangle in my opinion. He probably isn’t a primary ball-handler as the main cog in a pick and roll heavy scheme, but in the reduced usage of the Triangle he has enough off the bounce and the vision to play the position. Grant does almost everything well, with his one legitimate strike against him being his age. If he can shoot more consistently he could be a steal at 19.

Overall, I just don’t see “it” with Porzingis and I don’t like the developmental fit in New York. I would have rather seen the Knicks move down a few spots, unload Calderon and pick up Winslow. But the trade alone makes New York’s draft a borderline success.

5.Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja

While I had Winslow pegged here in my feeble attempt at a mock, I love this pick for the Magic. Even though the Magic were said to be all in on Porzingis, I actually prefer Hezo. He’s a surer bet to succeed in the league armed with plus athleticism, a sweet shooting stroke and excellent size for a wing. He affords the Magic with much needed floor-spacing and an offensive confidence not currently found among their myriad of defensive players. Hezo’s confidence will only help his transformation to the league as he wont get lost in translation. The one knock on him is free-throw rate as he is largely a perimeter player and rarely gets to the rim, but he has enough feel in the pick and roll game with underrated vision and a decent enough handle to be a secondary ball-handler in due time. On a roster with ball dominant guards in Payton and Dipo, that will suffice.

6.Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein

You wont find many individuals who are bigger fans of the defensive dynamo WCS than yours truly, so naturally I’m probably in the minority in defending this pick. This screams “make amends with Boogie by drafting a fellow Wildcat” more than anything else, but to me, WCS was behind only Winslow in the BPA department (assuming his ankle checked out medically). Mudiay was the better fit as a playmaking point who has the vision and penetration ability to get Boogie easy looks, but I think Cauley-Stein is the better prospect. Sure, spacing will be cramped offensively and Boogie’s efficiency might dip a bit with the paint clogged more, but Sacramento’s porous defense is in for a major makeover with WCS. I think the defensive improvement outweighs the offensive setback, and while some teams will likely play WCS with a wing to go small and improve spacing due to WCS’ lack of a post game, WCS has rare ability to cross-match with perimeter players in defending on the perimeter in space, counteracting that and affording the Kings an advantage on the glass. I like this pick, and obviously even more so if Cousins is dealt to provide insurance (though Cousins should not be dealt for anything less than a godfather offer being locked in for 3 more seasons at a steal with the cap spike).

7.Denver Nuggets: Emmanuel Mudiay

I might be underrating Mudiay as a prospect having him 7th, but a lead guard who is neither a shooter nor an elite athlete has a ceiling for me. Mudiay has never really improved his free throw shooting, which has proved to be predictive of shooting success in the pros. Teams will just go under in the pick and roll which will stymie spacing until Mudiay can prove he is a capable shooter. I’ve noted this before, but elite athletes in the Wall/Westbrook mold can get away with being non-shooters. Unfortunately Mudiay isn’t in that class. Still, he’s a good athlete with a strong frame who can defend smaller wings, giving him some defensive versatility. He has the handle and vision to create off the dribble in isolation offensively as well. I like him in Denver’s system that will capitalize on his transition prowess, and he was a necessity for Ty Lawson trade insurance. Still would have selected Winslow here.

8.Detroit: Stanley Johnson

Johnson has slightly more defensive versatility than Winslow being able to defend most fours with his frame, but Winslow is the better basketball player. I like Johnson as a prospect as he reminds me some of a poor man’s Draymond Green. He has the ability to attack closeouts with plus scoring instincts and has shown he is a capable passer when willing. Johnson can play the four next to Drummond, and really give the Pistons the 4 out 1 in look SVG craves. I just think Winslow is in a different class as a prospect.

9.Charlotte Hornets: Frank Kaminsky

This was the most perplexing pick of the draft for me. I get the rationale trying to recreate what Josh McRoberts gave them as a playmaker a year ago from the four spot. But isn’t that what the Hawes trade was at least partially about? Also, Boston reportedly offered Charlotte 4 first round picks for the Hornets to move down 7 spots, which is nothing to smirk at. If the Hornets selected Winslow, I’d understand rejecting Boston’s package of average assets for a potential blue-chip player, but it’s hard to make the same case for Kaminsky.

Kaminsky is a fine prospect in the right situation (I really liked him on the Jazz, as did roughly every human drawing breath). He can space the floor from the four spot and is an excellent passer attacking closeouts off the dribble. I just don’t think he’s a starting NBA big man with his inability to defend any position well, lacking the foot speed to defend speedier fours and the toughness to defend centers. He’ll be a solid rotation player as a playmaking four who can post smaller wings if teams go small against him, but he’s not a high level starter without elite rim protection(see again: Utah). I would have taken Winslow and rolled out a small lineup with MKG at the 4 and terrorized teams defensively.

10.Miami Heat: Justise Winslow

Not sure I really need to add anything here given the theme is rather transparent: this was the best pick in the draft. People question whether Winslow’s college three-point shooting was for real, and use his FT% as evidence. That’s a fair argument, but this is someone who couldn’t shoot at all a year ago. You have to factor in development when analyzing the draft and Winslow is a worker. He also has that rare “it” factor in doing the small things such as winning 50/50 balls while providing star qualities like open court euro-steps and guarding virtually anyone. Simply put, I’m not betting against Justise Winslow becoming a two-way wing star like Jimmy Butler. I tend to gravitate towards MKG like players, and I’m completely cool being wrong here. I just don’t see how he isn’t a high level starter at the very least, and if he can shoot, he has all-star potential.

If Miami returns their free agent class (if Deng opts out) of Wade, Dragic and Deng they are clearly the biggest challenger to Cleveland in the East if Bosh is healthy. Winslow is just the kind of two way wing Miami needed to take minutes away from Wade and Deng. Miami is the perfect culture and organization for Winslow to develop as well. Pat Riley prints free money while knitting on the Iron Throne.

11.Indiana: Myles Turner

The Pacers took a shot at the rarest skill-set and highest upside left in the draft with Turner’s analytically friendly floor-spacing and rim protection game from the center spot. While not analogous players, this is reminiscent of Indiana taking Paul George a few years back: an upside play with the physical tools that usually don’t fail but aren’t NBA ready. Turner needs to add strength, but he’s light-years more mobile than incumbent Hibbert as the Pacers look to push the pace more. I’m fascinated to see how Indiana fills outs the roster this summer and how they develop Turner in the interim.

12.Utah Jazz: Trey Lyles

I was never completely in the Lyles camp because I don’t see that one dynamic translatable skill and his defensive upside is NBA average at absolute best. He has a solid shooting stroke albeit he was one of the worst jump shooting big men in college basketball last year. The Jazz are obviously banking on that jump shot development to pair next to Favors and Gobert to space the floor. Lyles is a plus passer with a good feel for the game, which is why I like him in Utah’s motion offense. His defensive deficiencies are also masked by that frontcourt. Overall, the Jazz are stacked with young talent and players that easily mask the deficiencies of others, rendering there a lot of potential fits here. Lyles is fine, though nothing to really get excited about.

13.Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker

Booker looks like the prototypical 3 & D player, possessing a deadly three point stroke in spot up catch and shoot situations with the ability to run off screens as well as the size and lateral agility to be a plus 1/2 defender. That has value, surely, but his game seems limited outside of that. He doesn’t have much off the bounce as a playmaker or shooter off the dribble, and isn’t big enough to check bigger wings in the league. That caps his upside. The one component working in Booker’s favor is he is the youngest player in the draft, so he can still grow and mature. With more ball dominant guards Bledsoe and Knight racking up heavy usage, Booker’s off-ball shooting ability is appealing. I just question Phoenix’s ability to play those three at the same time defensively, even with the league going smaller. Booker reminds me much more of an inferior version of J.J. Redick than Klay Thompson.

14.Oklahoma City Thunder: Cameron Payne

I get the rationale here. Payne is more NBA ready than someone like Kelly Oubre and can give the Thunder an off the bounce threat next year as a playmaker off the bench as the Thunder compete for a title/the ability to retain Durant. Payne has a nice floater game, has good feel and vision seeing the floor off pick and roll and is a good enough shooter to demand the defense’s attention (though I’m not totally sold on his push shot). He looks like a dynamic backup point guard and someone who can give the Thunder quality minutes. I just think Oubre filled the Thunder’s great (and really only) long-term need of a legitimate 3&D wing. But the Thunder are all in next year, and took the NBA ready contributor.

15.Washington Wizards: Kelly Oubre

There has been a lot of talk that Oubre has never really been coached on either side of the floor and has really been relying solely on his physical tools thus far without a real understanding of what he’s doing. That concerns me in regards to Oubre’s ability to pick up NBA schemes. That being said, there have also been reports that Oubre is working three-a-days and watching film every night to build his basketball acumen. That is the kind of information that can make or break evaluation of a prospect. If Oubre has that drive and has been this good without being coached, he becomes infinitely more desirable. The physical tools are there with Oubre’s plus athleticism, frame and ridiculous 7’2” wingspan. If he is a worker too that changes everything.

As for what transpired in the actual draft, the Wizards moved up to nab Oubre as presumed Pierce insurance for the cost of 2 second round picks. I like the move for the Wizards. Oubre had the highest upside left on the board.

16.Boston Celtics: Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey

The first real draft stunner in terms of both draft placement and fit. Rozier just seems redundant with Smart and Bradley as none are lead guards but instead undersized 3&D wings. Those players have value, but eventually you need a lead guard and more help on the frontline. Also, it’s not like Boston couldn’t have traded back and picked up an additional asset, selecting Rozier in his expected draft range. Boston should have gone Portis at 16.

In contrast, Hunter provided excellent value at 28. I’m not sure he has the strength or quickness to defend any NBA starting level player, but he’s at worst a bench shooter and rotation player. Hunter also has underrated feel as a passer, especially out of pick and roll, and could be a secondary ball-handler off the bench. Mickey offers Boston rim protection from an undersized source, something they didn’t possess.

17.Milwaukee Bucks: Rashad Vaughn

Vaughn was one of the few prospects I never saw play in college and don’t have a good read on. He’s allegedly a good scorer. Milwaukee is definitely scoring deprived. Makes sense. I wanted Milwaukee to move up for Cauley-Stein and cement the best defense of the past decade but that became an impossibility once he went as high as 6.

18.Houston Rockets: Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell

Dekker profiles similar to poor man’s Chandler Parsons, rendering him a worthwhile gamble here. I’m not buying his ability to space the floor consistently however. He’s still skilled enough and moves well enough without the ball to be a player in Houston’s system. Harrell is an energy big who can’t space the floor or defend a specific position. He can run the floor and dunk, which I suppose aids his fit in the Rocket’s transition machine.

19.Atlanta Hawks: Tim Hardaway Jr.

I’ll put the Hawks here even though they obviously traded this pick. I’m honestly baffled by this trade. Not only is Hardaway Jr. not a fit with his lack of basketball feel and shoot first mentality in Atlanta’s motion/extra pass system (not to mention he’s a morbid defender), but the Hawks surrendered a first round pick to nab him. I think Hardaway Jr. should have netted a second rounder at best. Befuddling. Portis would have been a great fit here.

20.Toronto Raptors: Delon Wright

Masai Ujiri somehow bamboozled the Bucks into shelling out a future first round pick for the expiring contract of Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez provides the Bucks with some playmaking but is a minus defender and not a long-term fit there. Not sure what the hell went on in this transaction.

Alas, with this pick the Raptors took stat-model-friendly Wright, who can do almost everything but shoot. I’m not sure I love the fit here because Toronto’s team is basically comprised of perimeter players who need the ball, and Wright does as well with his lack of off-ball shooting ability. But this move was likely made for the future, and Wright has the looks of a quality backup point guard if he can run the show during his stints on the floor.

21.Dallas Mavericks: Justin Anderson

Anderson gives Dallas a big-bodied potential 3&D player with the strength and lateral quicks to defends both wing positions. I don’t see much else in terms of ball skills for Anderson however, and his success in the league is contingent on his three-point shooting consistency, a notable question mark.

22.Chicago Bulls: Bobby Portis

I love it when teams just take BPA/the talent in this range (usually in every instance I support this) regardless of fit, and that’s exactly what Chicago did. Portis is a four with good feel for the game, a high motor, and the make of being good at all things but a master of none. He was easily the best player left on the board, and even though Chicago has a lot of depth in the frontcourt, Portis was the right choice here.

23.Brooklyn Nets: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough

The Blazers traded this pick and Steve Blake to the Nets for Mason Plumlee and what turned out to be Pat Connaughton. You can’t argue the value for either team, as Plumlee gives the Blazers am established hyper-athletic pick and roll dive big for the cost of a pick in the mid-20’s. The Blazer’s also shed Steve Blake’s ’15 salary as they set up for potential rebuild.

Similarly, the trade for Brooklyn makes sense, more so because I’m an avid RHJ fan. The Nets have been searching for a defensive oriented wing for some time, and landed the best perimeter defender in the draft. RHJ is an excellent athlete and profiles to be able to defender 4 positions on most nights. He also has a good feel for the game offensively. We know his weakness: his shot is broken, but if he gets even in the vicinity off league average range he’ll be an impact player. He’s a poor man’s MKG at a fraction of the cost with an excellent work ethic. Again, that kind of player I usually favor, but I’ll go down with the ship. I had RHJ #12 on my board, so landing him here could be the steal of the draft for the Nets. Along with Vaughn, McCullough is another guy I don’t have a feel for. The Nets obviously need an infusion of young talent and are starved for draft picks in the future, so any draft pick is an asset. I would have preferred Looney at 29 though.

25.Memphis Grizzlies: Jarell Martin

Memphis allegedly gave Martin a promise early in the process. I would have preferred Anthony Brown in this spot however as a lengthier wing who could provide impact floor-spacing, something the Grizz desperately need.

26.San Antonio Spurs: Nikola Milutinov

The Spurs draft and stash an elite European prospect to keep salary of their books as they pursue LaMarcus Aldridge this summer. Expect San Antonio and Milutinov to sign a written agreement that states Milutinov will not play in the NBA next year early in the process, removing his cap hold (the same goes for Liveo Jean-Charles).

30.Golden State Warriors: Kevon Looney

The rich get richer, as the Dubs take the best player on the board in the lengthy Looney. Looney at one time was ranked as high as 7 on some national big boards, which I never quite understood. He’s an average athlete without much in the way of shot creation and ball skills. But if he can space the floor like he showed in a small samples size from the college three-point line he could be a dynamic rotation player with his length and rebounding ability, the latter being his one translatable skill. Looney also has to add a great deal of strength, and if he does so I could see the Dubs employing him next to Draymond in small ball settings. Regardless, this was a great dice roll by the champs.