This post will be assessing the Winners of the 2016 Draft and also re-ranking the players now that we know the situations in which they ended up.
Context is important. The team that drafts the players matters. Where the player is drafted matters. In general, 2nd rounders have a lot less margin for error than 1st rounders. Undrafted Free Agents have no margin of error at all and are very unlikely to be successful, even if they sometimes turn into Ben Wallace, John Starks, Robert Covington, or Matthew Dellavedova. These things have to be considered.
If a player went undrafted, it’s because no team wants to be heavily invested in that player’s development. Sometimes the reason for that, rightly or wrongly, is that the player has been judged to be missing effort, work-ethic and desire. Sometimes the reason is that many NBA teams tend to be impatient. Sometimes the reason is the prospect is old. It doesn’t matter, whatever the reason, a prospect without a team in their corner is much less likely to succeed.
1. The Philadelphia 76ers
They got the best player in the draft, Ben Simmons, and two European players in Timothe Luwawu and Furkan Korkmaz who are mirror images of each other. Luwawu is a defensive player with upper level athleticism and questionable offense. Korkmaz is an offensive player with slightly lesser, but still positive athleticism and questionable defense. Which is to say both have the possibilities to grow their games.
These were great picks at 24 and 26. In fact, I think most of the teams that drafted European players probably did well for themselves.
2. The Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers may have drafted two starters in Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac. And it’s possible both could be more than that in time. Luke Walton proved to be an excellent Game coach earlier this season, and as a former player, who was much less athletically gifted for his position than either of these guys, I have a feeling that he’ll be heavily invested in their skill development.
3. Kris Dunn
I love the Timberwolves situation for Kris Dunn, especially if the Timberwolves don’t trade Rubio and commit to playing the two players side by side, at least while Dunn is young and developing. Thibodeau will get the best out of Dunn defensively and on offense, there should be a lot less latitude for poor decisions, since Rubio, Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine will all at times be trusted to make decisions as well. Their guards will be small, but more importantly they’ll be good.
I can’t wait to see Rubio-Dunn-LaVine-Wiggins-Towns play next to each other. And these young players are all in a great situation to improve.
Brad Stevens is an excellent coach. He’s proven to be excellent at developing players during his time at Butler and in Boston. More specifically, he puts them in situations where they are most likely to be successful. Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart (who people forget is still very young) are examples of players who’ve developed under Stevens watch. Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Sullinger, Olynyk, Amir Johnson are examples of players who’ve been put into situations and roles that leads to their success.
Brown has a lot of things he doesn’t do well, but I think you can bank on him playing defense (The Celtics try hard and they try smart), and I’d guess his shot has a reasonable chance to improve. I’d also guess he’ll not be asked to do things he can’t do, and he’ll get to learn in a Winning Culture.
Now, the idea of a “Winning Culture” the way it is used is mostly ridiculous. As a really good counter example, Seattle/Oklahoma City was able to build themselves from nothing because they were more talented than everyone else. Talent is the most important thing, but no one has ever argued about Jaylen Brown’s talent. We’ve argued about his decision-making and the likelihood that his bad habits stay so.
And the same could be said for Demetrius Jackson. For whom, we also argued about his correct role. We don’t have to worry about the latter now. Brad Stevens will figure it out. He’s smart and done so in the past, and there’s enough competition that Jackson is likely going to have to defend to get on the court. Both will move up my rankings.
For an interesting read about how culture and environment affect achievement, read this.
Coach Budenholzer has done a number of things well the last few years: 1) Develop players jump shots, 2) Get his player’s to embrace passing and play as a team, 3) And this last year, get his team connected on defense.
I think Bembry will be better than Prince in the long-term, but I love Prince’s chances to be successful with Budenholzer’s instruction. What I thought was a pretty average jump shot in any given situation now likely has a chance to be a lot better than that. Atlanta also has talent in Millsap, Schroder and Korver that lets these players fit pretty natural into roles that should have them tasting some on-court success, even as rookies. Though of course, most rookies are bad.
6. The Spurs and Dejounte Murray
The Spurs select another score first Point Guard. Tony Parker, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills, their first thought is always to put pressure on the defense by way of their offensive ability, and then Popovich trusts his system to get them to play the right way. And generally when he has this much talent, he doesn’t fail. I’d bet on profound improvement to Murray’s jump shot and decision-making in the next few years. If that’s not the case, he won’t survive on the team.
The Golden State Warriors are a perfect situation for McCaw and he already has a two-year fully guaranteed contract. It’s small, but they are going to be invested in his improvement, as this is an organization that knows the value of youth and skill development.
8. The Memphis Grizzlies
I don’t know if the Memphis Grizzlies are currently the best place to be developing young players. They haven’t had a lot of success since Robert Pera took over. The only young player that had any amount of success in that time is Quincy Pondexter and that was relatively short-lived. So I’ll be downgrading both Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis, not hugely, but enough to account for the situation they’ve ended up in, which doesn’t seem wholly positive.
Zagorac is also supposed to have lots of talent.
No coach values perimeter skills in Big Men more than Stan Van Gundy. I don’t know if we can bank on defensive improvement, as only KCP is really good on defense for Detroit (and he had a lot of talent to begin with), but this situation is great for potential offensive gains.
10. The Oklahoma City Thunder
They might be the biggest winner besides Philadelphia, especially if Durant comes back. The presence of Oladipo as a two-way player basically makes them impossible to guard. And Oladipo is long enough, while still being very athletic, to match up against any number of players on Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio, and LAC.
In addition to getting Oladipo, the Thunder also get a legit stretch-4 in Ilyasova and a Power Forward in Sabonis, who looks like a definite NBA player now and into the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if he adds some value by season’s end.
As for Ibaka, he looks clearly to be on the downside of his career, only giving the defense and energy in spurts that were his calling cards early in his career. Better to sell early, while instituting your own version of a death lineup in Westbrook-Oladipo-Roberson-Durant-Adams. (Oladipo is one of the best bets to improve his shot from distance in the next year or two. He already has in the mid-range.)
Toronto and Oklahoma City are exactly the kind of teams for whom it makes some sense to add players like Poeltl and Sabonis.
11. The Houston Rockets
The Rockets drafted Chinanu Onuaku, Zhou Qi and signed Gary Payton II immediately post draft. This is a huge return on two early to mid-2nd round picks. All of the players have some star potential and both Onuaku and Payton II look like definite NBA guys to me given a chance.
The only problem for them is that the Rockets haven’t successfully developed a player since Robert Covington (who they thought so much about, they jettisoned him for nothing) and before that Chandler Parsons. Besides Parsons you have to go back to Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming to find real success stories, and they jettisoned Lowry as well.
12. The Los Angeles Clippers
Brice Johnson is in an excellent situation to learn slowly and be successful. The thing I worry about is what happens when Chris Paul finds himself in a new situation and Johnson can no longer rely on such good service.
13. Kay Felder
Kay Felder is going to an organization that’s going to love him. And he’s there only draft pick. This is probably the best situation for him going forward, at least in the immediate future. The defensive questions aren’t going away, but there’s legit offensive firepower ever. He’s on the order of greatest sub 6’0″ college players ever, and that includes Isaiah Thomas, Mugsy Bogues, Nate Robinson and Earl Boykins. Arguably he was better in college than any of them. I think he has a fairly decent shot to be successfully combine some of the skills of Isaiah Thomas and Ty Lawson.
1) The Phoenix Suns
It’s possible the Phoenix Suns got a lot better on Thursday with the acquisition of Bender and Chriss, exactly the type of gambles such teams should be taking. There’s legit upside for both guys, and your odds of finding a star are much better when you have two guys rather than one. The problem is that Phoenix as an organization looks a little bit in disarray, and also that they’ve had a fairly mixed track record with young players in recent years.
People will point to Devin Booker, who looked so limited as a defender last year that there are legit questions about how valuable he can be in the future. That’s despite how good he looked on offense.
Some of the player’s they’ve drafted have developed okay. Markieff Morris, TJ Warren, etc . . . but none of have improved considerably on their weaknesses.
2) The Milwaukee Bucks
This is all about Thon Maker, who looks awesome on highlight videos, looked very raw at Hoop Summit, and is obviously very athletic for his size. If Maker develops into a star, which is definitely possible, this will go down as an awesome draft, despite what happened in the 2nd round.
I’m not going to talk about the fact that Milwaukee passed on a couple of players I loved for one I merely liked in Brogdon. Its’ quite reasonable to have different evaluations of players and the Bucks have far more information about these players than I do.
However, I hate when teams sell their draft picks for cash. Especially when the pick is a guy with legitimate two-way potential like Patrick McCaw. Draft picks or Trades are really the only way a team like the Milwaukee Bucks is going to find a star. So beyond the cost controlled labor that a draft pick provides, selling a pick makes no sense. Since even if McCaw doesn’t develop into a bonafide star, he might develop into a player attractive enough to other teams to develop into a valuable trade piece.
Selling picks, especially high 2nd rounders is invariably short-sighted. It’s quite likely that a legit NBA player will come from the pool of players available at pick 38. Passing on the chance of finding him is foolish. Far more than $2.4 million dollars stands to be pocketed if the Bucks are ever good enough to win a championship.
3) The Indiana Pacers
George Hill seems the better player than Jeff Teague, though Jeff Teague does offer the non-fungible skill of dribble penetration. And Thaddeus Young is also likely better than any player the Pacers would have procured at 20. But you have to ask where the Pacers are going and what are they thinking? And the only answer is that these deals are a huge bet on the future of Myles Turner as a possible superstar.
Otherwise, you’ve basically just constructed a team that mirrors Cleveland or Oklahoma City in terms of where the team is strongest (SF, PG) but is noticeably worse than these other two teams at both positions. That’s not really a way to win, especially when both OKC and Cleveland can play small when they want to do so.
4) The Utah Jazz
It’s more likely than not that the Jazz got the best player in the three-way trade between them and Indiana. George Hill is a very good player, and he plays a position which Utah needs lots of help. What’s more than that is he’s versatile, able to guard both 1s and 2s. The question for Utah is really how they compete with the best teams.
They have a number of above average players now in Gobert, Hayward, Hill, Favors and Hood. A starting five with no offensive weaknesses that should be able to match up fairly well against most of their opponents, but I still don’t see the star that’s going to keep them from getting blown out of the water in the playoffs, and it’s historically been very difficult to attract such free agents to Utah.
These teams with no weaknesses work much better when the best players on the team are guys like Steph Curry or Draymond Green, or Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups, or Kawhi Leonard,Danny Green,Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It’s possible Gobert becomes a guy at that level. Then, who else? Exum? Perhaps that’s the answer, or perhaps Utah is going to have to find a way to consolidate a couple of these good players into one great one. (Not by some “Man with Two Brains” type shit, by way of a trade of course.)
Lobsters, not Losers
Because of course it’s better to be lobster than a loser. After all, if you’re a lobster, you have eight legs and pincers and a hard shell, and that means you’re not totally good for nothing, even if people sometimes eat you and other times you are alone:
Hoiberg hasn’t successfully helped a single player to play better defense in his entire career. I’m not sure if it’s entirely important to him as a coach. He’s an excellent offensive coach and that’ll probably be good for Denzel Valentine’s pocket-book, but the concerns about his defense are bigger now than they were at draft time.
2) Undrafted Players
Undrafted players really have to have NBA skills to make teams. Even Gary Payton II might have to go the hard-road because of the lack of a jumper. NBA Teams repeatedly make claims that they are the game’s best teachers, but it’s hard to actually believe when they don’t take chances on deserving players who do everything but shoot from distance, which has proven to be one of the most teachable skills.
As such, it’s difficult to be particularly hopeful about any such players future success. Just take, Robert Carter Jr., who has likely NBA skills and is now signed to the Golden State Warriors, who would know how to use them. He’s going to struggle to make a roster that already features Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodola, Andrew Bogut, Ian Clark, perhaps Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa, is going to have Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw on guaranteed contracts and is going to bring in additional Free Agents. That’s just a difficult road to sled.
Even James Webb III, who signed with the 76ers is likely going to have to make a roster over Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes. Even if the 76ers trade one Big or Two Bigs, they still have a lot of Centers and Combo-Forwards.
Post Draft Re-Rank (Top 14 NCAA Prospects)
1) Ben Simmons
2) Brandon Ingram
2) Kris Dunn
4) Wade Baldwin
5) DeAndre Bembry
6) Jaylen Brown
7) Dejounte Murray
8) Brice Johnson
9) Deyonta Davis
10) Taurean Prince
11) Chinanu Onuaku
12) Demetrius Jackson (The fit with Stevens is good)
13) Patrick McCaw (On Atlanta or San Antonio, I probably have him at 5 or 6)
14) Henry Ellenson
15) Kay Felder (still difficult to bet on a 5’10” player)
16) Marquese Chriss
17) Gary Payton II
18) Denzel Valentine
I’ll take Gary Payton II’s difficult road over Denzel Valentine. That’s how much I don’t like the defensive fit in Chicago. (Pending Free Agency of course.) And having Jimmy Butler as a legit point-of-attack defender on Wing could potentially help Valentine a lot. The reason Hoiberg’s teams have always failed is that they just don’t defend.
Derrick Jones Jr. has beyond a difficult road as a guy who was 3-4 years away from being successful and with no definitive NBA skills. The fact that the NBA didn’t invest in his development makes him a difficult bet moving forward.
Where We All Get It Wrong
We aren’t honest with ourselves about how bad as this game we are. That’s one thing history proves over and over again. We are not good at this game. We don’t even properly understand all the contingencies in terms of how context and opportunity affect a prospect’s growth.
For instance, some of the reason that young players do better than older ones has to be due to the fact that they get guaranteed contracts and thus have more opportunity to fail. That’s not all of it of course, but the difference between guaranteed and non-guaranteed contracts is necessarily an inefficiency in any study in terms of the success or failure of prospects, as is the difference in perception of a top 5 pick, a top 10 pick, a lottery pick, a 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick and an undrafted player. The investment of teams in prospects goes a long way into picking which prospects will be successful. And we know teams are bad at picking which prospects to invest in. Because we are all not altogether great at it.
That’s one thing that makes the evaluation of how team’s did difficult. And it’s one reason why I’m going to side heavily with teams and organizations that have had recent success in nurturing prospects.