By Mike Misek
The Mavericks may have had the best draft of anyone, at least in maximizing the value at their picks, selecting three Pac 12 players. There’s a real chance all three of their picks end up as top 15 players to come out of this draft when all is said and done. Josh Richardson did not acclimate especially well to Philadelphia, but is a good player who was added in trade. Josh Green surprised some being taken at #18, but is solid value and not a terrible fit. Green is not going to be a primary scorer or handler in the NBA, but in Dallas he will not need to be. He was a solid defender at Arizona, and has the physical attributes to translate to the NBA. He was not an especially high volume three-point shooter at Arizona, but did make 36 percent. Tyrell Terry became a bit of a draft darling, and it was due to weight concerns that he slid. While he was a marksman at Stanford, his slight frame was clearly concerning, hence falling to the second round If he can add strength and become a competent defender, he could make the Mavericks look very smart for taking him at 31. it is certainly a worthwhile pick to have someone with his shooting ability on or near the league minimum in salary, and afforded the Mavericks the ability to deal Seth Curry for Josh Richardson. Tyler Bey might be the Mavs next generation Shawn Marion as an athletic combo forward with length, explosiveness, and the ability to do a little bit of everything, and a shot that showed significant improvement in his junior year.
Draft Grade: A
Hampton was viewed as another trail blazer, along with LaMelo Ball, opting to bypass the college route in favor of getting paid and developing in the NBL with the New Zealand Breakers. While the move seemed to work well for Ball going top 3, Hampton appeared to have lost ground in regards to his draft stock going into the season, as some had him projected as a top 10 pick following his performances in showcase events at the end of the year. It was a bold and admirable choice to go halfway around the world to play, but there is no doubt his struggles cost him a few draft spots. He is still an intriguing athlete with prototypical physical measurement for a combo guard. It is hard to get past the middling production and shaky shot when considering how close the season is. Also going just two spots ahead of Payton Pritchard is probably a sign of teams leaning towards more NBA ready guys and the thought that there will be a high project bust factor in this unprecedented “COVID draft”. On the plus side, Denver has a track record for patience and development. But Hampton may require more than they were expecting. Of Arizona’s freshman class, Zeke Nnaji was the least acclaimed going in, but probably had the best season. He is a skilled big man and aggressive offensive rebounder who projects that his range as a shooter will expand with time. Denver got a mature, overachiever with their first pick and quite possibly the opposite with their second.
Golden State Warriors
Wiseman has a chance to be very good, but does he really love the game? The criticism was made of Anthony Edwards ad nauseam, but somehow Wiseman got a pass. Wiseman only played three college games, two dominant efforts against overmatched South Carolina State and Illinois-Chicago teams and a foul-affected showing against Oregon, so he does not have a huge NCAA body of work, and will be 13 months removed from game action when the season starts. His decision to shut it down and not play out the second half of the season after his suspension ended was curious, considering Zion Williamson nearly blew his knee out and was back playing a week later. Wonder how Wiseman would respond to a question about his level of competitiveness versus Zion’s with these factors being considered. He will not be a star overnight, but his size and athleticism will allow him to contribute. It will be up to the Warriors to bring out the effort and intensity that was often lacking from him in High School. The expectations are high, and the Warriors may have found a 10 year bigman with All Star potential, but at 8 million a year, Wiseman comes with bust potential as well, considering his lackluster motor. Nico Mannion failed to live up to his prep hype, but much of that was due to a jumpshot that never got on track. He matched up evenly with Cole Anthony, even getting the better of him on a few occasions. He’s one of the best late picks in the entire draft and could be a gem at 48. The Warriors have since cut their back up PG, Ky Bowman, in favor of him. He did not shoot as well as expected, struggled to get a step on anyone, and was a liability defensively. But he shows the size, moxie and competitiveness to overcome that and be a solid PG, developing with the Warriors. The former Boise State sharp-shooter Justinian Jessup is contracted to play this season in Australia’s NBL. If all goes well, it would seem as though a two-way contract might be possible in a year’s time.
R1, P52: KJ Martin
The Rockets spent a lot of money to buy a 2021 2nd rounder only to trade it to acquire a pick to take Kenyon Martin Jr. Martin is a solid athlete and shows some of the same intensity that made his father Kenyon Martin Sr. a successful pro.
Los Angeles Clippers
Dealing for Luke Kennard seems to be a great bit of work. It took Kennard a couple years to round into form, but he should be an incredibly valueable contributor for the Clippers next season as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Jay Scrubb is a lottery ticket coming off a Juco Player of the Year season. He might be the best athlete in this draft, but desperately needs to be coached. He is a big-time scorer from all three levels, good ball-handler, but very left-handed. Defensively, the appeal is in his athleticism and length. At the moment, he is raw on that end. The Clippers also traded to add Minnesota bigman [Daniel Oturu]. Oturu is a promising shooter with great size and athleticism. He may take a season or two to contribute but was excellent value where he was selected as we projected him as a mid-late first value.
Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James is going into year 18 in the league. A pick in the late 20s was not assured of helping the Lakers repeat, and setting aside a big moment in the Finals, Danny Green did not play up to expectations. Adding Dennis Schroder, via trade with the Thunder, made all the sense in the world.
Memphis was not in a great position going into the draft but addressed shooting and did a solid job of adding mostly ready to contribute players. They also seemed to lean heavily on analytics, so it will be interesting to see how these picks turn out. Desmond Bane was a player mentioned by some as a guy that could go in the mid first. We had him graded out in the early 40s but he’s obviously one of the more ready players and a top shooter, two assets that are sure to perk up the ears of any GM. He has been a very good shooter throughout his time at TCU, but had to be Mr. Everything offensively this past year. He had to create more for himself and his teammates, and his efficiency didn’t change. By some metrics, it went up. The degree of difficulty of what was asked of him and how he played elevated his draft standing dramatically. His reward is going to a team with a good young point guard and vailable wing minutes. With a 7’2 wingspan, Robert Woodard may have been a guy that benefited from the lack of exposure due to the pandemic. While he has the phsyical attributes and three point numbers, it was questionable whether he was really ready to take the jump this year. He has a chance to develop into solid role player and doesn’t have far to move, with Starkville being just down the road from Memphis. His three point shot came around this year to 42 percent, but not at an especially high volume. He’s slightly robotic for a wing, but if he can polish up his offensive game, he could very well develop into a rotational player in time. Xavier Tillman was one one of the real standouts by analytics projections, showing great ability to pop and connect on PNR as well as defend and rebound. But similar to Woodard, his movements are robotic and lack fluidity. He has the potential to carve out a role in the frontcourt, though it does appear crowded.
Anthony Edwards may not be at the top of every pundit’s prospect list. And granted there are some concerns about his killer instinct and desire to be great. but some of the negative publicity surrounding Edwards went overboard based on expectations. He was rated as the top pick all season, at least on our board, and he averaged 19 points per game. Perhaps seeing his name at the top of the draft board created some unrealistic expectations among the media. Edwards was clearly the best fit and safest, smartest pick for a struggling Minnesota franchise. Especially when you consider their 2021 first will go to the Warriors (top 3 protected), and they have already made a commitment to build around Karl Anthony-Towns and DeAngelo Russell, in giving away that asset to pair the two. Anthony and has all the attributes to be an elite NBA player, but as his year at Georgia showed he needs to develop better consistency, attention to detail and decision making. His shot selection is concerning. But his shot form is very intriguing. He was a sub-30 percent three-point shooter who took close to half his attempts from distance, many of which were not in catch-and-shoot situations. Was that due to being asked to do too much, or indicative of a bigger problem? Our hunch is it was due to circumstance. He’s an elite level athlete, who if he gets focused and learns the right practice habits, can become an all star and the team’s franchise talent. He’s not a selfish kid, he just lacks the family structure to ensure he will stay on course. And that will be the key for his long term success, developing a base to fall back on and develop sustainable work habits and focus. Can he put it all together, and help to turn things around in Minnesota? And will he jump ship once his rookie contract expires? Concerning questions for Timberwolves fans, but without a doubt GM Gersson Rosas did extremely well this time around with multiple great picks in a difficult draft. While one can quibble with them failing to trade back to get more value, it’s important to remember none of the teams high in the draft could make a deal. No deals were made in the top 15. What were the odds of that happening? The market of sellers never priced the value of their picks well enough to get a buyer, so it was not just a Minnesota issue. Leandro Bolmaro is going to stay in Barcelona for this season, which is not necessarily a bad thing for his development given the compressed NBA season to come. He has been elevated to Barcelona’s first team this season, and is off to a slow start. He is a creative wing, but is in the process of learning how to play without the ball. But Argentinean players age like a fine Malbec, and look for Bolmaro to keep improving while other players peak. Jaden McDaniels at #28 is the right place for the gamble. In spurts he looks like an NBA lottery pick, and was widely viewed as one of the top freshmen prospects entering the college season, but he struggled mightily at Washington. Attitude and effort are major concerns, but the talent is there for him to be a big time player. He has a long way to go to become a contributor, but has the physical makeup that a struggling NBA team certainly should take a chance on. Minnesota hit a home run on upside with Edwards and McDaniels. Now can they get those players to realize their talent?
New Orleans Pelicans
R1, P13: Kira Lewis, Alabama
Kira Lewis is going to be an interesting contrast to Lonzo Ball as a Pelicans point guard. Lewis is not the natural point Ball is, but is as quick as they come. And Ball is said to be on the trade block, so it’s apparent that the team sees Lewis as the team’s PG of the future. He was a streaky shooter and more turnover prone than is ideal. He is a bit of a right-handed Brandon Jennings, and the hope is that over time will become consistent and controlled player to go with his speed. Lewis has all the attributes to get there, showing great potential as one of the draft’s youngest players. But does he have the leadership and intangibles to take over as a starting point guard?
Oklahoma City Thunder
This was not a draft where a team would want a ton of picks, but the Thunder stockpile is good for years to come. Thanks to extending Daryl Morey (and company) another line of credit in exchange for garnishing even more future picks (Horford deal) for the next half decade. Aleksej Pokusevski is the kind of gamble one can take when armed with as many as they have over the next few years. Bol Bol was worryingly skinny last summer prior to the draft, and was 10 lbs heavier than Aleksej with a better body of work. While contracted to Olympiacos, he played for their reserve team in the Greek second division as a result of a unique relegation stemming from the club owner boycotting a playoff game and Aleksej not yet being good enough to help the first team in their Euroleague campaign. It is worth noting, the track record of players coming to the NBA after not being able to get first team minutes for club teams overseas is not good. With both Olympiacos B and his time with the U18 Serbian team, it was interesting to see his reluctance to go inside the arc against a set defense, which is not ideal for a 32 percent shooter from three in Greece and 26 percent with the U18 team. In transition, he showed a wonderfully advanced skill set for a 7-footer, which is why the bet makes some sense. If he can gain and sustain 20-30 lbs, and if over time his shooting efficiency catches up to his willingness, then he could become a good player. But some in the know calim he lacks the love for the game to realize the hype he received. Theo Maledon might have misplayed his hand in the draft. He is a 1st round talent with great size and athleticism for a point guard, but his insistence on playing in the NBA in 2020-21 might have caused him to slip. Had he been willing to play 2020-21 in France, continue to develop, and join a team in the summer of 2021, he would have been appealing. Kudos to Presti for a great pickup here with a first round talent at 34. Vit Krejci is a long-term stash. He had a solid U20 tournament with the Czech Republic and has slowly been brought along with Casademont Zaragoza in the Spanish ACB. While a bit of a late bloomer, he has emerged as a very good combo guard with Anadolu Efes, and could be targeted to come over next summer, after rehabbing from his injury Despite our draft grade being lower, Sam Presti’s offseason and timing on moving Westbrook and then flipping Chris Paul for maximum talent was masterful. Presti is stockpiling picks and proving his ware as one of the league’s top GMs. Sam Presti went all Europe and seems to have his sights set on the top of the 2021 draft and stockpiling future picks. We didn’t love their first pick, but really like their second two.
R1, P10: Jalen Smith, Maryland
Some GMs just have a type, and it has not taken long to see that career 40 percent three point shooter James Jones loves guys who can stroke it. Jalen Smith became a bit of a draft darling because of his length at 6’10” with a 7’2” wingspan and season shooting 37 percent from the arc. The risk comes in that even having put on weight at Maryland, he is still slight and not especially agile. The stix moniker still applies and his legs still appear like they could be frail and injury prone. Can he be solid enough in his lower body inside to make the most of his length? Offensively, can he keep teams honest so that they cannot simply put a wing on him, and challenge him to make them pay inside. The Suns may ultimately look back at this pick as a reach when players like Precious Achiuwa, Tyrese Haliburton Cole Anthony and Devin Vassell were all still on the board.
Portland Trail Blazers
CJ Elleby, Washington State
Elleby emerged out of a chaotic end of the Ernie Kent era at Washington State and the ensuing first year of Kyle Smith. He showed a lot of toughness playing through challenging circumstances out of position on a transfer diminished team, and was a big time scorer. He is not an ideal athlete for a wing, andstruggles to get much separation or move his feet laterally, but it is hard to bet against a guy who looked good in that situation. he’s got the will that’s missing from many of the players taken before him. Elleby is a (somewhat) local product, from Seattle, who is headstrong and can develop into an overachieving shooter a la Jared Dudley. Granted point guard Nico Mannion was on the board.
R1, P12: [Player: Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State
R2, P38: Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech
Haliburton may have been slightly overrated by the analytics driven draft media. He’s a great kid and a solid pick at 12, but make no mistake, he didn’t slide way past where he deserved to be taken. We rated him as the 11th best prospect in the draft (and not top 5) for the simple reason that there are major concerns about his jumpshot. He does not address a need, but was an asset too good to let pass. And credit the Kings for picking for value and NOT drafting for need. He is a very heady guard. he’s a winner and a consummate team player, which when added to his phsical profile and great analytics makes him very intriguing,. While his shot is unconventional, and he struggles to pull up with a defender in his path, he is a career 42 percent from behind the arc. His quickness and strength is not ideal, especially if the hope is to eventually have him paired with a very slight De’Aaron Fox or undersized Buddy Hield in the backcourt, but the Kings will have time to work through it. Jahmius Ramsey was a prospect who could have gone in the 1st round. He is young, competitive and can shoot. Now, he is headed to Sacramento and likely behind Fox, Hield, Haliburton, and Cory Joseph. While Sacramento clearly saw value in him falling, it is always a fine line between a value and bad fit.
San Antonio Spurs
In the Orlando bubble, the younger Spurs showed signs of hope. Even with that good spell from Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV, it still felt as though the Spurs could use another athletic wing. It feels like a gift that Devin Vassell fell to them. He is a long, athletic wing who was well coached at Florida State, and can really shoot it. And landing in San Antonio almost ensures that he will turn into a great pick at 11. Tre Jones might have been taken in a tough spot. While a tough defender, and solid all-around point guard, going to San Antonio and likely being behind Dejounte Murray and Derrick White is not ideal without even mentioning that Patty Mills has another year on his deal. Granted there is no knowing how a teams roster will evolve, so taking the best player available trumps fitting in players to need. Jones can work with the shot doctor Chip Engelland and despite going later, has a shot to be a more productive pro than his older brother Tyus.
R1, P27: [Player; Udoka Azubuike], Kansas
R2, P37: Elijah Hughes, Syracuse
Udoka Azubuike backing up Rudy Gobert is going to scare the children. It gives their frontcourt almost unfair size, length, and athleticism. But this is new era, and speed and skill trumps size in many aspects. Make no mistake, Azubuike is limited offensively, and it will be a contest to see if he can dunk a dump off or lob before getting sent to the line, but the Jazz now have two centers who shrink the court. Elijah Hughes graded out as a possible late first rounder for us, and we love his ability to isolate and skill level to score. He emerged as a fantastic offensive player in his final year at Syracuse. He became their primary scorer, and showed the ability to score in a number of ways. Like many players coming out of Syracuse, the concern is how he transitions out of the zone. While he has the athleticism, defending is also a learned skill, and he will need to play catch up.