The day after, plenty of folks are trying to label the winners and losers of the 2014 NBA draft. That’s a little like declaring the winner of a game seconds after tip-off.
Who hit and who missed in the draft won’t be known for years, once the players have a chance to settle in and develop. Although the picks weren’t in precisely the order we predicted, they were mostly in the same rough five- to six-player blocks that most analysts expected.
Still, there were a few head-scratching picks. We hesitate to call these “winners” and “losers,” since most teams’ basketball operations departments spent far more time exhaustively researching these players than we ever could. But several players either surprisingly went higher or lower than anyone’s range indicated, with no apparent reason.
Gary Harris, Michigan State (Denver Nuggets) — Other less-complete shooting guards went earlier than Harris at No. 19, which is to be expected to a degree. “Potential” and “upside” often are tiebreakers in the draft, and the fact that teams probably know exactly what they are getting in Harris could have been a negative for his draft stock. Then again, what the Nuggets are getting is a clutch shooter and tough defender, which is a pretty good find at No. 19.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado (Detroit Pistons) — It’s not often that 6-foot-6 combo guards fall into the second round, but that’s where Detroit was able to gobble up Dinwiddie, who’s coming off a torn ACL, with the 38th overall pick. Although he is not a true point guard or a knockdown shooter, he is the type of versatile guard the Pistons have always coveted. His defensive potential makes him even more valuable on a squad that would be best served building around Andre Drummond’s rim-protecting potential inside.
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson (Philadelphia 76ers) — Not to beat a dead horse, but McDaniels, who went to the 76ers at No. 32, was one of the most exciting players in the country to watch last season and could be a defensive difference-maker in the NBA. Perimeter defenders aren’t as valuable as their low-post counterparts, but adding elite perimeter shot-blocking ability alters that disparity somewhat. The Sixers had an outstanding draft, and if Joel Embiid can stay healthy, they could have an elite inside-outside defensive duo.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA (San Antonio Spurs) — Considered a realistic option for the Boston Celtics at No. 17, Anderson tumbled all the way down to the last pick in the first round. Anderson was a tantalizing player in the first place, given his unique blend of size and playmaking ability, but now that he will come up in the Spurs’ machinelike system, there is reason to believe Anderson could become a star.
Dante Exum, Australia (Utah Jazz) — All right, so it’s only one pick. Yet the difference between Nos. 4 and 5 can be massive, particularly in this draft. Given Joel Embiid’s injury woes, Exum might have been the third-best prospect in this class, but the Magic passed on him to take Aaron Gordon with the fourth pick. The Jazz now have a dynamic young backcourt of Exum and Trey Burke, both of whom are capable of manning the point or playing off the ball. Plus, a franchise that struggles to keep free agents has both players under control for at least the next three years.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan (Sacramento Kings) — This comes with a big caveat: We think more highly of Stauskas than most and pegged him as a top-11 prospect, so the Kings only reached a bit in taking him eighth. But the Kings are widely believed to want to bolster their backcourt with a veteran point guard, dangling this pick and Ben McLemore in a package. Unless the Kings had a hard and fast offer from a team that wanted Stauskas, it’s odd they would extend even the slightest bit for a player who might have less trade value than Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton, Dario Saric or a number of players who were picked closely afterward.
Mitch McGary, Michigan (Oklahoma City Thunder) — Not to pick on the maize and blue, because we like both Stauskas and McGary and would love to have them playing for us. The Thunder taking McGary at No. 21 just seemed odd. If you target a player you like and take him, regardless of his being a second-round prospect in most people’s minds, that’s one thing. The question is, why would McGary be OKC’s target? They saw nice strides by center Steven Adams last season and have been at their best for years with smaller lineups, so it’s tough to see the benefit of playing the two together.
Rodney Hood, Duke (Utah Jazz) — He can shoot, for sure, and No. 23 actually is lower than Hood was predicted to go by many outlets. But he doesn’t play defense or rebound, his arms are short for a wing player his height and he has very little strength. Other promising wing shooters such as Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early or Washington’s C.J. Wilcox were on the board and are more dynamic than Hood.
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette (Orlando Magic) — This isn’t about Payton, per se. The 10th overall pick was a reasonable place to scoop him up, judging by his fast-rising stock. But the Magic got Payton by reportedly sending the No. 12 pick (Dario Saric), a 2015 second-round pick and a future first-round pick (probably protected in some way) to the 76ers. Granted, the Magic had to beat out the Chicago Bulls, who would have loved to take the draft-and-stash European at No. 11 to save money for their free-agent pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, but we’re not sure Payton will end up being worth two extra picks in the long run.
Bruno Caboclo, Brazil (Toronto Raptors) — Who? Seriously, this isn’t a rhetorical question. Nobody seemed to have any idea who this guy was when his name was announced Thursday night, when the Toronto Raptors took him with the No. 20 overall pick. Perhaps the 6-foot-9 player — we won’t pretend to know whether he is a forward or a wing — will turn out to be an impact player, but the Raptors almost certainly could have nabbed him in the second round or, more likely, as an undrafted free agent. There didn’t seem to be much reason to waste a first-round pick on him.
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