While certain big-market teams — or hometown teams of LeBron James — can swing their fortunes through copious spending in the free agent market, the best way to build an NBA franchise remains through the NBA Draft.
Kevon Looney's length and defense should make him a great fit with the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. (Photo: Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports)
Just ask the Golden State Warriors, who didn’t spend a top-five draft pick on any of their core players in ascending to the league’s best team.
So which playoff NBA teams took the next step in Thursday’s NBA Draft and which ones didn’t make an immediate impact? Here’s a look at all 16 teams to make the playoffs this year, along with a pair of “honorary playoff teams” to see which teams are building to go further in 2015-16.
Measurements are from DraftExpress.com.
Golden State Warriors: The Warriors were one of the best teams since 2000 because of a deep squad that could play in a variety of ways, stretch the floor and defend multiple positions with length. And those are all things that the Warriors’ lone draft pick, UCLA’s Kevon Looney . brings to the table. An outstanding fit for Golden State’s system, Looney is an ultra-competitive 6-9 forward with a nearly 7-4 wingspan. And while he needs to fill out his frame, he boasts some of the same attributes that made Draymond Green an attractive selection out of Michigan State. Looney can pass the ball, he’s an excellent rebounder and — in an admittedly small sample size — he shot 41.5 percent from three-point range. Looney isn’t a great athlete, but he makes up for some of that with his length, and he has enough projectable versatility to make him a no-brainer fit for a Warriors team that will probably lose backup power forward David Lee .
NBA Finals Team
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers dealt out of No. 24 to pick up a pair of second-round picks, the first of which they turned into one of the draft’s top international prospects, 6-8 small forward Cedi Osman. The 20-year-old Osman won’t hit the NBA until 2017 at the earliest, so he shouldn’t affect the Cavaliers’ immediate plans. Drafting Syracuse post Rakeem Christmas at 36 could be a steal. At 6-10 243, Christmas has a massive wingspan longer than 7-5, and he blossomed as a senior, scoring 17.5 points per game and showing more offensive moves in workouts than most scouts knew he had. At worst, he’s a rebounder/shot-blocker with upside. The Cavaliers then ended their draft with St. John’s wing Sir’Dominic Pointer, who gives them a defensive option to develop behind their current guys.
Conference Finals Teams
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks had one of the stranger drafts, dealing away several picks for Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Knicks, then taking a pair of international draft-and-stash projects late in shooting guard Marcus Eriksson and power forward Dimitris Agravanis. The Hawks started with the 15th round pick, then traded that for the 19th pick and two second-rounders. The 19th pick then went to the Knicks for Tim Hardaway Jr. And it’s on Hardaway that the Hawks’ draft fortunes likely lie. A 6-6 shooting guard, Hardaway can score, averaging 17.2 points per 36 minutes this past season, though his shooting percentages weren’t great. He’ll be asked to supply immediate depth and scoring for the second unit behind shooting guard Kyle Korver .
Houston Rockets: The Rockets made one pick that made all the sense in the world and one that seems a strange fit. Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker is the former. With his athleticism and versatility, Dekker could be a long-term replacement for what the Rockets lost this past offseason in Chandler Parsons . Dekker was a lottery-type talent who slid just outside to No. 18, and the Rockets landed a talented player who also fits their system. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell . while a very good player, is the one who might be a square peg in a round hole. Harrell is an undersized, tenacious rebounder at the four who scores most of his points around the basket. Traditionally, the Rockets have employed stretch fours at that position, players who can step away from the basket and who can create more room for Dwight Howard to operate inside. Harrell has a chance to stick in the league, but it might be a surprise if it comes with the Rockets.
Conference Semifinals Teams
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls entered the draft with one of the best starting lineups — when healthy — in the NBA. The Bulls’ biggest issues were creating a younger supporting cast for those five and adding more depth. Landing Bobby Portis with the Bulls’ lone pick at No. 22 was a positive addition from that end. Portis won’t start immediately with Pau Gasol in front of him, but he gives the Bulls a player who was a late lottery type talent to develop behind Gasol. A legitimate four with scoring ability at 6-11 246, Portis will give the second unit some scoring pop and added toughness.
Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers didn’t have any draft picks. Their primary priority, moving forward, will be keeping DeAndre Jordan from jumping elsewhere.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have established their identity as a team that pounds the ball away down low. And LSU power forward Jarell Martin is another player who can get it done in the post. He wound up being a nice depth pick as well, since the Grizzlies traded backup power forward Jon Leuer later in the night for the No. 44 pick, which they turned into Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison. At 6-6, Harrison is a big, dynamically athletic point who can play backup to the much smaller Mike Conley . or even potentially play alongside him.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards were part of the biggest draft-day trade, sending the 19th pick and two second-rounders to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-way deal. The Wizards landed the No. 15 pick in return, and grabbed Kansas wing Kelly Oubre . Oubre perfectly fits a team that started Paul Pierce — not a long-term solution — at small forward, and one building around a backcourt that can get up-and-down in transition. Oubre is a smooth athlete with a 7-2 wingspan who projects as an outstanding team defender. His offensive game, particularly his ball-handling, is a raw spot. But he should plug in well to a team that has built its identity around defense and athleticism. The Wizards also took Iowa power forward Aaron White . a 6-9 stretch-four type who shot almost 36 percent from three last year.
Teams That Made the Playoffs
Boston Celtics: The Celtics have about 8,000 draft assets over the next few years, but it’s unclear which direction they’ll be going with those picks. Taking Louisville guard Terry Rozier with the No. 16 pick was a bit of a surprise, though the Celtics followed that up with arguably the top long-range shooter in the draft in R.J. Hunter of Georgia State. The somewhat funny part is that had the Celtics swapped those two, most wouldn’t have thought anything about it: Hunter was projected as a late-lottery or
just after pick. The second-round pick on Jordan Mickey was a strong one: he’s a long freak athlete who could be a great defender at the four position. William and Mary point guard Marcus Thornton gives an athletic scoring option to pair with Rozier. The Celtics get another thumbs-up here for collecting Texas forward Jonathan Holmes as an undrafted free agent. A stretch four, Holmes was projected by some to sneak into the latter part of the first round. With his size (6-9), effort level and skill-set, he could well make the Celtics team at some point.
Brooklyn Nets: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has the potential to be among the best defenders in the NBA, and he can be a monster as a slasher who makes plays at the rim. Hollis-Jefferson was acquired with a pick that sent Mason Plumlee to the Trailblazers. Backup point guard Steve Blake was also acquired in that trade. The Nets’ other picks will take some time. First-rounder Chris McCullough is a plus athlete for the power forward position, but he’s raw and might not even play this year as he comes back from an ACL tear. Juan Vaulet — acquired for two future second-round picks — won’t be in the league for awhile either. The 19-year-old Argentinian has a nice mix of size (6-6) and athleticism. The Nets should get a bit of a boost for picking up Cliff Alexander as a summer-leaguer who will have a very real chance to make the team. Alexander was a top-five prospect in the 247Sports Composite as recently as last year, and even though his minutes fluctuated, he still averaged 16.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes. He lacks polish, but his rebounding could be plus right out of the gate.
Dallas Mavericks: Taking Virginia’s Justin Anderson would have been a pretty smart choice for just about any playoff caliber team. His bulk (6-6 231), length (nearly a 7-0 wingspan), athleticism (a 43-inch max vertical) make him one of the draft’s top defensive players, and his developing offensive game — he shot 45.2 percent from three last year — makes him one of the draft’s best three-and-D wing prospects. He should factor in, at least as a rotational player, almost immediately. Satnam Singh is fascinating, a massive 7-2, 290-pound center who can shoot the ball out to three-point range. His abilities haven’t been honed into a nice package, but he’s also only 19 years old. How he develops will be one of the more interesting second-round story lines.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks needed shooting and scoring in a bad way and landed both in first-round pick Rashad Vaughn . a 6-5 off-guard who could blossom into a big-time scorer at the NBA level, and Greivis Vasquez . acquired from the Raptors for the Bucks’ second round pick and a 2017 protected first-rounder. The Bucks still have a major need at center, but have the money to throw at some of the top free agent candidates at the position. Should the Bucks land one and retain restricted free agent Khris Middleton . they could be a top four team in the East as early as this season.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans didn’t have much of a chance to impact draft day with just one pick, and the No. 56 pick in the draft at that. But in a second round where so many teams elected to draft-and-stash international prospects, the Pelicans went the exact opposite way with Michigan State’s Branden Dawson . a 3/4 ‘tweener with great athleticism. At worst, Dawson should be a competitive defender and rebounder for his position. At best, he develops a three-point shot and becomes a huge steal. Either way, not a bad selection for so late in the draft.
Portland Trailblazers: The Trailblazers needed to get some LaMarcus Aldridge cover, and traded their first-round pick and backup point guard Steve Blake for Mason Plumlee and a second round pick. Plumlee isn’t Aldridge (obviously), but he does have potential, indicated by the fact that he averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes this season, just his second in the NBA. The second-round pick the Trailblazers turned into Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton, one of the top shooters in the draft and a player who will inject some toughness. Daniel Diez is pure draft-and-stash … he wasn’t even really considered a legitimate NBA prospect until this season when all of his shooting numbers took huge leaps forward.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are always one of the more fun teams to watch on draft night because 1) they evaluate international prospects so well and 2) they’re willing to actually develop players they take. That’s what makes second-round selection Cady Lalanne so interesting. An good athlete for a 6-10 player and boasting a 7-5 wingspan, Lalanne’s growth potential is pretty strong, as he showed in making the all-tournament team at the pre-draft Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. First round pick Nikola Milutinov is a draft-and-stash type player who has height (7-0), length and athleticism for a center prospect. Neither player will likely help the Spurs much this season, but both are nice developmental-type prospects who won’t affect the salary cap, allowing the Spurs to go after a player like LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors let go of Vasquez to the Bucks, but might have drastically improved their backup group through the draft. Utah’s Delon Wright is a 6-5 offensive creator, whether he plays point guard or shooting guard, and he’s a huge upgrade over Vasquez on the defensive end. UCLA wing Norman Powell is another fit to that end: he’s a freak athlete and has the potential to develop into a really nice wing defender. The other thing that getting rid of Vasquez helped with was clearing up cap space so that the Raptors can pursue talent in free agency.
Honorary Playoff Teams
No, these two teams didn’t make the playoffs. But they just barely missed out, and with copious injuries to boot. Both are likely playoff teams, if healthy, in 2015-16.
Miami Heat: The Heat landed the steal of the first round with Duke’s Justise Winslow — an elite talent in this draft who happened to fall to the Heat’s No. 10 selection. He should be a high-level defender from the word ‘go’, and his offense should have a chance to develop alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh . Josh Richardson was another nice selection. A versatile guard at Tennessee, Richardson can fill in and defend multiple positions with his frame, length and athleticism.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder have run through a number of candidates for James Harden ’s job since dealing him to Houston. And while Murray State’s Cameron Payne isn’t Harden, he is a fantastic offensive creator who can play more of a distributing role alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant or a more scoring role with the second unit. There’s a reason the Thunder promised him they’d take him if he was available. The second-round pick of Dakari Johnson could give them a burlier body underneath with a player who compares somewhat, from a body and “under the rim” skill-set with what the Thunder had with Kendrick Perkins . Really solid draft that made the Thunder significantly deeper.