In what was one of the more anticipated drafts in recent years, the 2015 version delivered on intrigue, surprise and eventual booing from the New York crowd. All bets were off when it came to whom the top pick would be, but the rest of the lottery had countless possibilities. In the end, many teams shined, while others left cloudy images as to what directions these teams are taking. When it comes to draft grades, I can be a tough cookie to crack, but these assessments are done with an eye for need and fit for each roster. Here’s my 2015 NBA Draft grades:
Atlanta Hawks: D
One could think that the Hawks had the Brooklyn Nets’ number in both the playoffs and the draft (with their Joe Johnson deal culminating in a No. 15 overall pick), but all they seemed to dial up was an utterly disappointing night. Trading down to get Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Knicks was seemingly pointless, as SG Rashad Vaughn remained on the board to address lack of versatility on the wing. Meanwhile, actual draft picks SG Marcus Eriksson and PF Dimitrios Agravanis likely won’t make anything near a dent on the team, and the only player that fit the team’s need – SF Kelly Oubre Jr. – was traded away!
Boston Celtics: B
I’m not sold on Marcus Smart as a franchise point guard, and Isaiah Thomas could slot himself into a starting role, so PG Terry Rozier (albeit picked fairly high) can be a playmaking point guard to either take Smart’s spot or be a big contributor off the bench. In addition to their need for another dynamic point guard, the Celtics got a late steal with sharp shooter R.J. Hunter, who can and will make an immediate impact next season. PF Jordan Mickey can be a nice replacement at power forward for Brandon Bass, who’s likely not returning in green and white.
Brooklyn Nets: B
Despite SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (acquired in a draft trade with Portland) not having much offense in his basketball DNA, he is a superb defender and fits the style and approach of defensive-minded head coach Lionel Hollins. To amend for a lack of scoring ability on Hollis-Jefferson’s behalf, 35-year-old trade acquisition Steve Blake can still shoot the ball well. PF Chris McCullough is coming off an ACL injury and didn’t exactly put on a clinic at Syracuse, but the hometown forward has the tools to be a contributor in due time.
Charlotte Hornets: C
Apparently, Hornets owner Michael Jordan really wanted C Frank Kaminsky in Buzz City. I’m not sure how Kaminsky will fare alongside Al Jefferson, as both are defensive liabilities, despite being quite talented on the offensive end. The Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lamb trade acquisitions look a lot more critical after this draft, as shooting guard and small forward needed to be addressed somehow.
Chicago Bulls: B
I strongly felt that the Bulls needed a lock-down defender at small forward, and with Justin Anderson already off the board, Hollis-Jefferson or Anthony Brown could’ve been had here. However, PF Bobby Portis was too good to pass up, and maybe he could join Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol for a very formidable frontcourt, as Portis would slip into the small forward role. New head coach Fred Hoiberg has options, and that’s what’s important moving forward.
Cleveland Cavaliers: F
In what will be the Cavaliers’ quest to pleasure impending free agent LeBron James, the team may as well had not drafted anybody at all. I liked the PG Tyus Jones pick as someone who can be a better off-the-bench distributor and playmaker than scrappy Matthew Dellavedova, but Jones was immediately shipped to Minnesota for players that may not even scratch the roster (SF Cedi Osman, PF/C Rakeem Christmas. The focus for Cleveland was improving the roster with immediate help (preferably offensively), but Jones may have been the best of that bunch to do so, unless SF Sir’Dominic Pointer (52 percent from the field at St. John’s last season) can carve out a roster spot.
Dallas Mavericks: B
With a handful of point guards still on the board to help with a position that is mired in uncertainty this summer, I assumed that Dallas would aim hard for a dynamic guard like Olivier Hanlan or Tyus Jones, but it bounced back with a quality pick in SF Justin Anderson, who has starter written all over him for next season. He automatically gives this team a B grade, while C Satnam Singh Bhamara could be a value pick down the road — provided he makes the roster.
Denver Nuggets: B
I would’ve loved to see SF Justise Winslow or SG Devin Booker with the No. 6 pick, but landing what some scouts (and NBA coaching legend Larry Brown) say is the best point guard of the draft is nothing short of great, given Ty Lawson’s status with this franchise. Emmanuel Mudiay is solid enough to play alongside Lawson until he’s traded, and can be a cornerstone moving forward. The Nuggets had no choice but to grab him, while Serbian PG Nikola Radicevic is miles from being a contributor in Mile High.
Detroit Pistons: B
Looking past SF Justise Winslow made me cringe at the No. 8 pick, but SF Stanley Johnson could pan out if his outside shooting complements Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy’s inside-out system. Johnson also projects as a possible tweener forward who can help crash the boards at power forward. SF Darrun Hilliard II, another sharp shooter, also fits the bill for Van Gundy’s squad.
Golden State Warriors: A
PF Kevon Looney, bad hip and all, was an absolute steal at No. 30. The Warriors were looking to trade the pick with plans to get PF David Lee’s final year off their books, but Looney makes for an adequate replacement and quality depth at the power forward position. He may need to bulk up a bit to bang low with NBA power forwards, but Looney has the time to prepare for his role for the defending NBA champions.
Houston Rockets: B
Unless this team has huge plans to sign Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis, this team needed to land a quality point guard in the worst way. I didn’t understand the need for SF Sam Dekker, but I suppose, because of his talent and versatility, he’ll earn a role behind Trevor Ariza, or in a small-ball lineup at power forward. In actuality, PF/C Montrezl Harrell makes the case for the Rockets’ B grade, as he was a first-round talent with plenty of experience, intensity and defensive prowess that became a second-round steal.
Indiana Pacers: A
Before David West’s reported willingness to bolt Indiana for New York, I would’ve graded the Pacers’ draft a C. However, the potential that exists from a prospect like C Myles Turner is hard to avoid, as C Frank Kaminsky was already off the board to the Hornets at No. 9. He’ll help fill the void at power forward and possibly usurp Roy Hibbert at center if he’s traded at some point, while undersized two-guard Joseph Young gives the bench a spark it lacked last season.
Los Angeles Clippers: A
Being the only team in this year’s draft without an actual pick, the Clippers did well to creep back into the fold and trade for SF Branden Dawson, possibly addressing a void at small forward (which could be filled by Doc Rivers favorite Paul Pierce this summer). Dawson has some athletic ability to bring to the table and is a friend and former college teammate of Warriors F Draymond Green, when both were at Michigan State. With the Warriors and Clippers becoming heated rivals, this could be a more interesting pick than naught.
Los Angeles Lakers: B
Staying true to its “Showtime” mentality, the Lakers selected the most exciting player in this year’s draft in SG D’Angelo Russell. He’s a stud who will make an immediate impact as Kobe Bryant’s potential successor. However, the reach for PF Larry Nance Jr. in the bottom half of the first round was a bit baffling, considering his second-round grade, while three-point marksman SF Anthony Brown in the second round was easily one of the steals of the draft.
Memphis Grizzlies: F
This was one of the more confusing drafts of any team. I would only understand PF Jarell Martin being taken to be a potential replacement for Zach Randolph, who is set to be a free agent in a few years. As solid a pick as PG Andrew Harrison is in the second round, help was sorely needed at shooting guard, and that wasn’t anything close to being addressed in the draft.
Miami Heat: B
Shocking as it was for me to see SF Justise Winslow drop all the way to Miami, I was a bit surprised that the Heat didn’t address the frontcourt. However, Winslow is a can’t-miss acquisition that will shake things up on both ends of the court. Selecting SG Josh Richardson may lend to speculation that Dwyane Wade may not be back with the Heat, but he needs some polishing on his jumper before he can be a positive contributor.
Milwaukee Bucks: C
SG Rashad Vaughn is a basic need pick that will certainly help the Bucks’ desire for more shooters, but I felt Milwaukee needed to trade up for power forward depth (Trey Lyles would’ve been perfect in that sense). Vaughn is capable of a Nick Young type of role off the bench, capable of averaging 14 points per game. But there’s still too much uncertainty at center and, beyond Jabari Parker, power forward.
Minnesota Timberwolves: A
I absolutely love the direction the Timberwolves are moving in the aftermath of this draft. They were blessed with the No. 1 overall pick and the best player in this class, as PF Karl-Anthony Towns has the ability to turn around this lowly franchise. PG Tyus Jones is the cherry on top for a lineup that needs point guard competition with Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio.
New Orleans Pelicans: F
With a big need for help at small forward, I thought the Pelicans could’ve gave SF Branden Dawson a shot to crack the roster. Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham didn’t exactly light up the stage last season. Instead, New Orleans opted to ship Dawson to the Clippers, who have their own void at small forward.
New York Knicks: B
As spiteful and “betrayed” as Knicks fans feel from this draft, team president Phil Jackson and crew actually didn’t do bad. PF Kristaps Porzingis is drawing boos to this day, but he fits the triangle offense better than SF Justise Winslow, who was the consensus fan favorite selection. Meanwhile, acquiring PG Jerian Grant in a mid-first round trade was crucial to the team’s wish for a capable (and younger…ahem, 33-year-old Jose Calderon) jump-shooting point guard running the triangle, and C Guillermo Hernangomez appears to be a stash pick with hopes of development down the road to bolster a currently weak frontcourt (pre-Greg Monroe).
Oklahoma City Thunder: C
With Kevin Durant entering the final year of his contract, Oklahoma City could’ve used a scoring forward like Kelly Oubre Jr. in case of Durant’s departure. I believe PG Cameron Payne is good enough to start on many teams next season, instead of being relegated to a backup role behind Russell Westbrook. C Dakari Johnson appeared to be the more logical pick in the second round, providing needed center depth behind Steven Adams.
Orlando Magic: D
With a No. 5 overall pick, a team has to make a splash like no other. C Willie Cauley-Stein was that pick, not SG Mario Hezonja, who may come off the bench if Tobias Harris is retained. However, Hezonja will not move quietly in Orlando, while SG Tyler Harvey is destined for the D-League.
Philadelphia 76ers: C
Two words why the 76ers, who will continue to be bottom feeders in the Eastern Conference, earned this grade: Jahlil Okafor. They shocking saw the most polished big man in the draft fall to them, and could stake claim for one of the league’s most difficult frontcourts to deal with moving forward. PG Emmanuel Mudiay would’ve made more sense here, while remaining picks PF Richaun Holmes, C Arturas Gudaitis, SF J.P. Tokoto and PF Luka Mitrovic are simply roster filler.
Phoenix Suns: B
Pre and post-draft, this Suns team still looks underwhelming in the frontcourt, but it filled a particular need with arguably the best shooter in the draft in SG Devin Booker. Booker, a 41 percent three-point marksman in his lone season at Kentucky, can and will be a quality starter on the next level. At 19, the ceiling is high for Booker, who needs to polish his defensive skills, but is in a good position to do so.
Portland Trail Blazers: B
Despite not really drafting anybody for their roster, the Trail Blazers came out with a positive mark. Their lone selection, SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, was shipped to the Nets for Mason Plumlee, while Hornets trade acquisitions Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson relieve cap space and help fill a possible void in LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure. Meanwhile, SG Pat Connaughton is a solid shooter and versatile competitor and 6’8” SF Daniel Diez has a bit of former Blazer Nicolas Batum in his game.
Sacramento Kings: C
As the George Karl-DeMarcus Cousins feud is underway, the Kings have so many other needs to address. While I feel C Willie Cauley-Stein will be an interesting big man to align with or take the place of Cousins, PG Emmanuel Mudiay could’ve been the pick to finally solve the team’s lack of a star point guard. Perhaps a trade could be in the works to get Ty Lawson from Denver, but the Kings remain a work in progress after this pick.
San Antonio Spurs: A
The Spurs always remain major winners in the NBA draft, because they understand the value and impact of each player drafted better than most teams in the league. C Nikola Milutinov is a stash player who should make an impact in a few years. Meanwhile, C Cady Lalanne, with some D-League work, would only help to the team’s biggest need: an effective rebounding machine.
Toronto Raptors: D
Toronto adds to a list of confusing drafts, as the Raptors lost out on a chance at PF Bobby Portis to get a point guard that has no consistent jumper. PG Delon Wright is a solid prospect that will be a defensive upgrade over Greivis Vasquez, who the Raptors were able to deal to the Bucks for a future first-round pick. After selecting SG Norman Powell in the second round, it became obvious that the Raptors were thinking better perimeter defense in this draft, but issues remain at power forward and small forward.
Utah Jazz: C
Trust me, the Jazz are getting incrementally better as we speak, but they still have some ways to go because of a lack of a star on their roster. PF Trey Lyles is an NBA-ready talent, but Derrick Favors is already solidified at the power forward spot, making this choice a bit puzzling. I would’ve liked PG Cameron Payne to take the reins with Dante Exum in the two-guard spot, but PG Olivier Hanlan is a solid rebound in the second round.
Washington Wizards: A
I feel the Wizards nailed it with this draft. Trading for SF Kelly Oubre Jr. was a big move, as the verdict is still out on Otto Porter as Paul Pierce bails D.C. And depending on how he’s used, stretch PF Aaron White can be a quite an addition to a weak power forward group.