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Grading the 2014 NBA Draft: Part 1

The central idea behind the long term draft analisys I've been doing on the internet is that while the NBA draft is on average a coin flip we can, through a robust examination of the numbers, greatly increase our odds of successfully identifying good player. The table below illustrates that point.

This is why I take the time each year to write in depth draft previews (hereherehere and here for 2014). This is why I keep track of the results over time. 

The simple and probable belief that exceptional players at lower level professional leagues (be it pro-bono work in the NCAA, the Euro league or dleague) are more likely to excel in the NBA .

This is why I built tools to rate and compare all the players. This is why I built a draft model.

What I am simply trying to do is to clearly identify exceptional players that reduce the level of risk of a draft pick. We can't really know in the end how good or bad a player is going to be much like we can't really know the outcome of a game beforehand or of the roll of a die. We can however make reasonable assumptions as to the level of risk and the probability of success.

That is what I'm going to grade in this post. How did each team do, based on the information available, at maximizing the value of the draft capital (i.e. picks) that they had available to them. I will look at the data. Look at every team's picks and provide an assessment as to the likely return on their draft investment.

I will also make some, hopefully, insightful and funny commentary. Your milage may vary.

2014 NBA Draft Results

That is your quick graphical summary of the 2014 NBA draft provided for reference. It also provides a good starting points for our grades.

You'll note that four teams in the NBA completely traded out of this draft (the Mavericks, Warriors, Pacers and Trailblazers) . The Warriors and Trailblazers are pretty set with good, young franchises with a plan and decent rosters so we will not fault them for the pass. The Pacers had some serious deficiencies that will only be agravated in this offseason thru Free Agency. They lack depth. The Mavericks seem to have a free agent plan but the expiration date on their roster keeps getting closer and closer. 

I'd rate them as Warriors/Trailblazers pass, the Pacers fail and Mavericks incomplete until I see their roster after free agency.

Let's go thru the remaining 26 alphabetically.

The Hawks wasted the 15th pick on a 23 year old that couldn't crack an 80 rating in the NCAA. I do like their second round. I really like Walter Tavares as prospect. Great ACB numbers. Great value for a second rounder. Best 7 plus footer on the board at that point. Patterson was at least top 10% in college and has a shot at making the roster. 

Tavares and his size get them a passing D but just barely.

As a Celtics fan, this was very much a yes! followed by OH NO! as captured in our video podcast of the draft. Smart projects as a great player. I do worry about having him and Rondo together but it'll be better than Avery Bradley. I almost killed something when they picked Young. The last thing the Celtics needed was another wingman who can't shoot, pass, steal, block or rebound. 

It's not like we were playing our Power Forward completely out of position at center. Capela was right there. I begrudgingly give the Celtics a C+ but I'm not happy.

A B? For the Nets? Really? Yes really. The Nets walked into the draft with zero picks, bought themselves three second rounders and proceeded to three players with a decent change at catching on a roster. Markel Brown and Xavier Thames both are in the top 10% of the NCAA population. Cory Jefferson can get to the line and rebound. For the draft capital they spent, the Nets look to have gotten something. It's enough for me to curve them to a B.

The Hornets behavior on draft night inspired this tweet:

Heat fans loved that MJ did them a solid and drafted Napier for them.The fact that they took back P.J Hairston who was downright terrible in the d-league (high usage low production guy is not what the Hornets need). was the questionable icing on the crap cake that was that trade.

Powell is not even worth mentioning. Hornets did nail the Vonleh pick. A+ prospect that should be fun playing next to Al Jefferson and he has some range. He's the only reason I'm not flunking Charlotte and giving them a D. MJ, greatest player of all time does not mean great owner. 

 

The Bulls took McDermott with the 11th pick. The models do not love him but project him to be a borderline starter. He can score and shoot efficiently, it's the other areas of his game that were lacking. Definitely looks to have at least one NBA level skill. Cameron Bairstow is nothing to write home about.

I give them a C for average if not great return.

With the number one pick, the Cavaliers select a player not liked as the number one pick by basically any statistically based model. Look, I'm not saying that Wiggins won't be an NBA level starter at some point but based on his NCAA numbers he's not there yet and he might not be anytime under his rookie contract. I think he will score a ton but that'll be down to opportunity. I would have swung for the fences and taken Embiid. Joe Harris will be lucky to be a twelth man.

I have to give the Cavs an F. At least, they're consistent.

The Nuggets sure have gotten smart about drafting. They didn't quite win the night but they went 3 for 3 with their picks selecting solid talent across the board. Given their recent track record of drafting excellent talent ( Lawson and Faried), Denver seems to have a solid handle on draf night. 

Nurkic and Jokic are excellent young Euro bigs with good track records in Europe. Gary Harris was a high volume three shooter although with some accuracy concerns (could be the volume or could be the youth).

All in all an excellent haul earning them an A+.

The Pistons had one shot. They used it well I think. A for them for finding an accurate shooting SG that gets to the line and passes well. Stan Van Gundy will put him to great use.

The Rockets, much to my annoyance, got the best propect on my board in Capela. I have no clue how the Rockets were able to add a hgh flying, 20 year old productive seven footer who can block shots to play next to Dwight Howard. The smart GMs in the league in general (Spurs, Grizzlies, Heat, Rockets and Nuggets) did a real number on the rest of the NBA.

Their second round pick was a bit ho-hum so the Rockets final grade falls to B+. Or it fell because I'm annoyed at Mr. Morey for a great draft.

The Clippers, whose biggest weakness is the lack of any big man depth and who have an insane logjam at the wing, went out and drafted a shooting guard. Not only that, but in C.J. Wilcox, they drafted a Shooting Guard that barely cracked the top 30% for the NCAA as a 23 year old senior and had the second worst projection of any first rounder as per our model. 

They also passed on a far superior wing player who went to the team they have to get thru. The Clippers don't just get an F, they get a Super F for misunderstanding their roster, helping their rivals and drafting poorly.

The Lakers went out and got Julius Randle who as a 19 year old was dominant in College and did it on a loaded team. These are all excellent indicators. I love this pick for them, they get a nice, clean solid A from me.

Memphis won the draft for me. In Jordan Adams, they get a 19 year old that was increadibly productive on a loaded UCLA squad and who projects highly. More importantly, he helps adress a roster weakness. Stokes is another super productive player to plug into their roster. 

I would say of any team, they spent the draft capital on hand in the wisest possible manner. A+ and head of the class for them.

The Heat not only adressed one of their glaring areas of weakness, they did it while aquiring a player loved by Lebron and sticking it to a division rival. In Napier, the Heat get perhaps the best, ready now, point guard in the draft.

Pat Riley is not to be trifled with. He gets an A+.

The good news is that's half the drafting teams covered. The bad news is you'll have to wait till part 2 for the rest.

-Arturo

Has there ever been a prospect as hyped as Wiggins based entirely on athletic potential? He reminds me of the NFL draft where a guy runs a fast 40 time and jumps up 2 rounds.
JMills, Wiggins reminds me of Marvin Williams 2.0. Remember how hyped he was before college? It didn't translate into consistent production at UNC (he even came off the bench) but people made endless excuses for his strangely passive play (it was a veteran team, freshman don't play much at UNC, he was just nervous). He even had some big games like a 20pt-15reb game and hit a game winner over Duke. Everyone loved his athleticism and potential. He had so many tools but it never translated into the NBA. Didn't have a terrible career, but definitely not worth a #2 pick.
Feel like the grades should be more weighted by draft position, where hitting/missing on higher pick is more important than lower. The Bobcats nail their #9 pick which has a significant impact on their future success, while missing on spots that typically yield borderline roster-worthy players, and they get a D?
@BigPhil second the Marvin Williams comparison
I agree with NewTinsley. I read some 6ers blogger say he couldn't fall in love with the 6ers draft because they didn't pick XYZ player with the 57th pick when so-and-so was available... In the words of Pat Riley, get a grip.
NewTinsley,
I docked the Hornets for getting left laying in the middle of the ring by Pat Riley.
I liked the Hornets trade of Napier to the Heat. He's not the guy the Hornets wanted and they managed to extract two 2nd rounders from the Heat to move up 2(!) spots at the end of the first round. That's a pretty high price tag, and they got the guy they wanted anyway. Really good trade.

On the flip side, of course, they might as well be throwing darts with the way they draft, so using those extra picks wisely...
Most of these teams will be back in the lottery.
My winners:
Wiggins for his Westbrookian suit that shows confidence. Might have the potential to be a irrational volume shooter that everyone loves and gets all star votes.

But the real MVP of the draft is Levine for realizing that it sucks to be in the lottery even though he tried to skirt his reaction with a explanation.
Lakers also acquired the draft rights to Jordan Clarkson at #46
great part 1 arturo, thanks for all the work you do. i have been jonesing for this since thursday :]

it did really seem that the rockets/76rs/spurs had unsurprisingly great drafts, and i hadn't noticed how well the nuggets did.
but god damn, those grizzlies. thank you based hollinger. in 2013 we picked a WP darling but it was a pretty late pick and he didn't play much last year, so the new front office had shown some promise, but i wasn't completely sold yet (thabeet at #2 is a mere 5 years ago). this draft obliterated any doubts. with only a single mid-first round pick, we got the highest rated wing in the draft, and then fleeced the jazz, getting one of the top rated bigs (in a draft absolutely stacked with bigs) for just a 2016 second rounder. not to mention, they're both quite young, and stokes happens to be a memphis native and the best player out of the state of TN in recent memory. so exciting!

my team drafted really, really well: what is this feeling?
one thing i don't understand in the scorecards is predicted WP48 listed as a %. i understand the relative values (capela's 20.7% looks a lot better than nick johnson's 4.4%), but what do the numbers themselves mean? i don't think i've ever seen WP48 written as a %.

Tinsley, the hornets gave the strongest team in their conference the exact player they wanted, and ended up with 2 thoroughly underwhelming players. vonleh was a good pick, but he was the highest "draft express" ranked player available at #9, so it's not like it was a terribly insightful decision. at least they didn't step on a land mine with their lottery pick, but that's about all you can say. i wouldn't go higher than D+/C- at best, and that's at the "for charlotte" rate
jinjo,
It's how I like to think of WP48. An average player who plays 48 minutes gives you 10% of a win. 5 average guys give you 50% of a win in 48 minutes.
Who do you think the Spurs would have drafted at 1? When Pop retires, they should just leak their draft lists.
thanks Arturo, that makes sense
Andrew,

If they were comfortable with Embiid, they probably would've done that. If not, I assume they'd move it.

Given their current roster, I assume they'd like to grab an athletic, defensively skilled big, like Vonleh, or a PG/SG who can help take over Manu's role.
The Spurs should just trade for Lebron. Now that is an unstoppable championship team.
Arturo,

Nice article, as always. I think grades are really fun (I even read Chad Ford's grades even though I lost all respect for him when he started singing the praises of Rudy Gay in an interview) so I liked this a lot. My one gripe with your grades is Chicago. McDermott might be a good player (I don't think he will be, personally), but they gave up WAY too much for him. Even using your model, which improves chances of success, draft picks have a ton of variability. The value of the 16th and 19th picks (plus a future second rounder) is way more than the value of the 11th pick. This was a bad trade for Chicago in terms of value unless McDermott was really slipping relative to where he should have been drafted (if, for example, Embiid had fallen that far then I would have no problem with them moving up). I would have docked them more for that, considering how hard you punished Charlotte for their trade.

Looking forward to your next segment.
What happened to the NYK or am i missing something.
^^^^ nvm
I notice that Caboclo (the Raptors crazy pick) is graded as an 'F', i.e., total bust. Is that based on analysis, or is it auto-generated?

I notice he's the only player you haven't projected a WP48 on.
KuH,

The grade is for him a) having weak numbers + b) not playing against good competition.

Imagine an NCAA player that couldn't get minutes in a weak conference, and put up bad numbers to boot. That player is likely to be a bust.

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