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The Knucklehead Report: Biggest Winners and Losers From the 2014 NBA Draft

The 2014 NBA Draft was certainly an entertaining one. From the flashy suits (albeit Andrew Wiggins’ attire) to the impossible-to-pronounce names of the draftees in the late second round, draft night was stocked with talent up and down the board and every team that made a selection in the draft had the opportunity to improve their roster. However, while some teams made picks that would provide immediate impact, others took much higher risks that might not necessarily yield an adequate reward in the near future.

Based on the situation of each team in the Association, here are the biggest winners and losers of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Winners

Charlotte Hornets

One word could describe the Charlotte Hornets’ draft night – fulfilling.

At ninth overall, power forward Noah Vonleh was widely considered a huge steal for the Hornets. The former Hoosier exerted every inch of his 6’9” frame to finish around the rim, compete in the post, and impose his will to block shots around the paint. Vonleh also showed off an impressive outside shot (despite limited attempts) that not many big men around the NBA pack in their arsenal. Noah Vonleh should mesh very well with Al Jefferson banging in the paint and Cody Zeller providing hustle play on both ends of the floor.

With their twenty-fourth overall pick, the Hornets selected Shabazz Napier, a two-time NCAA Champion at the University of Connecticut. Napier’s skillset would have complimented former UCONN teammate Kemba Walker very well. Had this scenario remained as such, the Hornets would have still had a considerably successful draft. However, one transaction improved their draft class from successful to fulfilling in every which way. Trading Shabazz Napier to the Miami Heat might have stung at first, but the reward was well worth it. P.J. Hairston at 6’5” will be one of the most physical two guards in the NBA. He is a deadly outside shooter and put that on full display this year for the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League. Kemba Walker’s valiant leadership should be able to help Hairston improve his team defense as well.

The Charlotte Hornets also added former Stanford power forward Dwight Powell with the forty-fifth overall pick. Powell flaunts a basketball IQ that would fit similarly with that of most players on the San Antonio Spurs, and bringing that to Charlotte would also add some necessary frontcourt depth. The Hornets made a statement in their last year as the Bobcats that they were back to take advantage of the weak Eastern Conference. Last season was just the beginning of a nice run that the Hornets seem to be brewing.

Orlando Magic

Orlando took arguably the best athlete in last year’s draft with Victor Oladipo and opted to continue that same trend this year with flex forward Aaron Gordon.

This is certainly not a bad thing. Oladipo seemed to pan out well playing a combo guard role and finished as the runner up behind Michael Carter-Williams as the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year albeit the lack of genuine talent from the 2013 draft class. Many (including myself) thought that Orlando would have chosen Dante Exum to formulate the backcourt moving forward. However, picking a power forward to pair with up-and-coming center Nikola Vucevic was certainly a viable option. To say that Aaron Gordon is a “freak” athlete would be somewhat of an understatement. Gordon’s athleticism was unmatched by anyone in the 2014 draft class. His exceptional ability to rebound and finish around the rim will continue to allow Vucevic to work as an improving outside shooter while aiding him in the paint as well.

With the twelfth pick, Orlando went with Croatian star Dario Saric, which would have continued to add frontcourt depth for the roster. However, Saric and two future picks were dealt to Philadelphia for the draft rights to their tenth overall pick, point guard Elfrid Payton. Talk about a practically perfect match. Adding Payton gives the Magic point guard stability for the immediate future and will help Victor Oladipo become more comfortable as a reliable starting shooting guard with Arron Afflalo heading back to Denver. In a weak Eastern Conference, a lineup of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic, with a solid bench headed by Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn should serve the Magic well moving forward.

Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls

It would be hard to say that the Denver Nuggets were winners in the 2014 NBA Draft and that the Chicago Bulls were not or visa versa.

The trade between the Nuggets and the Bulls was positive for both clubs and provided each of them with an important entity – flexibility. When the Nuggets dealt combo forward Doug McDermott to Chicago, the Bulls gained a scoring punch who could execute his personal agenda from nearly anywhere on the court. Furthermore, trading away their second first round pick afforded the Bulls to not take on the salary of another draftee. If Derrick Rose can get back to playing his game while staying healthy and Chicago could land Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls should look to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference. If Anthony does not go to the Windy City, Tom Thibodeau’s team should still be a tough matchup given its reputation for hustle and defense.

Post draft, Denver seems to be oddly impressive this season after a previous year of disappointing injuries under first year head coach Brian Shaw. Trading Evan Fournier to Orlando for Arron Afflalo was an unbelievably great deal for the Nuggets. They acquired a veteran shooting guard who can assist Randy Foye from outside the arc and help to guide draftee Gary Harris on both ends of the floor while trading away a former first round pick who had not amounted to much at this point in his NBA career, thus avoiding rotational gridlock at shooting guard. While the Nuggets also had many big men on the roster in Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, JaVale McGee, and Timofey Mozgov, injuries have plagued their ability to produce. Adding Bosnia’s Jusuf Nurkic gives Denver much needed depth in the frontcourt. Nurkic logs plenty of minutes and his practically immoveable size and ability to score in the paint should give the Nuggets flexibility if they choose to let Timofey Mozgov walk or if their bigs continue to suffer extended injuries. The Nuggets and the Bulls got some of the best deals on draft

New York Knicks

Allow me to start this section by saying that when Phil Jackson wants to work magic, he does just that.

Knicks fans probably did not have much hope going into the upcoming season after Carmelo Anthony opted out of his current contract. Nevertheless, the Zen Master’s primary goal the past few weeks should have been to somehow get back into the draft to take advantage of the deep pool of talent. After giving Dallas Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, New York yielded a reward of a productive point guard in Jose Calderon, several assets on low expense contracts, and two second round picks. The first of two second round picks (thirty-fourth overall) was spent on Cleanthony Early. In my opinion, the late selection of Early was perhaps the biggest steal of the draft. A solid two-way player, the former Wichita State Shocker proved why his school should be on the map for successful collegiate basketball programs. He can score in a variety of ways and use his length to defend multiple positions.

Forming a nucleus with a base of Tim Hardaway, Jr., Iman Shumpert, and Cleanthony Early gives the Knicks an impressively productive backcourt. Adding the brother of the “Greek Freak” in Thanasis Antetokounmpo also gives New York a defensive presence at the two guard that has avoided them in the form of J.R. Smith’s inability to play team basketball. If the Knicks can acquire a rebounding big man similar to Tyson Chandler but on half the price, New York will be in a position to achieve some immediate success.

Adam Silver and the NBA

Since he assumed the responsibilities as NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver’s actions have made him a favorite among the league’s players and the fans alike. The Association’s plans regarding Isaiah Austin were no exception to Silver’s reputation.

Widely regarded to as a low first round to mid second round pick, the former Baylor Bear had already been through a traumatizing period when he lost vision in his right eye at a fairly young age. However, he just picked himself up and believed that he could succeed in whatever he set his mind to. Austin’s diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome came as yet another extremely saddening pothole in his road towards the NBA. But Adam Silver and the league were right there to help Isaiah Austin achieve his dream of being a professional basketball player, making him an honorary draftee of the NBA. It was certainly a moment full of emotions – sadness that Austin’s days of playing competitive basketball are at an end but joyful for how much the NBA could express care for an individual player, proving that each athlete is human and that playing in the league is not a right but instead a privilege that can be taken away at any time.

Kudos to Adam Silver and the rest of the league for drafting Isaiah Austin. They certainly earn the title of winners at the 2014 draft.

Losers

Minnesota Timberwolves

Where to begin…

Zach LaVine is a freakishly good basketball player, but not the one that fits the scheme of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Drafting LaVine sends an awkward message to point guard Ricky Rubio, implying that if he does not improve his productivity, he could be out the door sooner rather than later. Gary Harris would have been a much better fit in Minnesota, adding depth behind Kevin Martin at shooting guard and providing Flip Saunders’ team with a better defensive presence in the backcourt. Harris also proved to be a more efficient scorer in his time at Michigan State than Zach LaVine in his time as a nonstarter at UCLA. Adreian Payne would have also been a great option because of his ability to replicate Kevin Love’s skillset once he departs from Minneapolis or to perform a similar role for the Timberwolves off the bench if K-Love were to go against the odds and stay with the organization.

While the T-Wolves made the most of their three second round picks, they traded away the best one that they selected in Markel Brown out of Oklahoma State. Brown is a versatile two-way guard who is continuing to improve his jump shot’s consistency and range and has plenty of athleticism to accompany his game. But he now plays for the Brooklyn Nets who did not have a single pick prior to the beginning of the draft. Glenn Robinson III and Alessandro Gentile were not bad picks by any means and should add depth at the swingman position behind Shabazz Muhammad or as an insurance policy if he does not work out long term. However, that cannot overshadow the fact that the Timberwolves did not take advantage of theirother two picks in the draft, which could come back to haunt them in a tough Western Conference.

Toronto Raptors

I never like to doubt what general manager Masai Ujiri is doing when it comes to basketball operations. Instead, I prefer to simply think that Ujiri just always knows something that we do not.

In the case of Brazilian small forward Bruno Caboclo, I truly thought that viewers were in for a Bill Simmons “what?!” moment similar to when Anthony Bennett was drafted first overall last year. While Caboclo might have tons of potential (as he has been referred to as the Brazilian Kevin Durant), his recent statistics are (for lack of a better word) abysmal. Via www.nba.com, Caboclo averaged a measly 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in Sau Paulo, Brazil last year. While his numbers improved during the Liga America games particular in the form of efficient shooting, Caboclo seems to be more reliant on his large size and wingspan to defend rather than to use that same frame to attack on offense. It might work out in the long run (as the Caboclo is said to still be two years away from being two years away – yes, you read that correctly), but that was easily the worst reach of the draft at twentieth overall.

The drafting of second round picks Xavier Thames and DeAndre Daniels were actually sound picks that add depth to a Raptors roster looking to repeat its reign as the Atlantic Division champion this year. However, the reaching of Caboclo when viable options such as Shabazz Napier, Kyle Anderson, Cleanthony Early, K.J. McDaniels, and many more were still available will probably not pan out well this season.

Los Angeles Clippers

This draft was not a good start to the Steve Ballmer era with the Clippers.

Why would you draft another three point specialists when your roster is only composed of three point shooters and high-flying dunkers? While former University of Washington guard Chris Wilcox is certainly a good shooter, the selection by the Clippers makes absolutely zero sense. The Clips have a starting lineup composed of a superstar point guard, two efficient bigs, and two guard/forwards whose offensive productivity is limited to the three-point line. If the Clippers were to have drafted Cleanthony Early or K.J. McDaniels, they would have been getting an adequate defensive presence to replace Matt Barnes who could also shoot from various spots on the floor but more importantly, do what Barnes cannot do – finish at the rim. Both Early and McDaniels were relentless in attacking the paint last season, and their efforts were far more successful than not.

Without a second round pick to justify the drafting of another pure shooter, the Los Angeles Clippers did not make the most of their opportunity to improve themselves in an overly competitive Western Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers Fans

Fans throughout history love to latch onto a team that wins games, just ask the Miami Heat bandwagon of recent years. The fans of the Philadelphia 76ers should not have high hopes for a productive season this year, which is disappointing for a historic franchise in the Association.

Getting Joel Embiid third overall should end up being a steal, but we simply will not know how his game translates until he gets back to one hundred percent health. The Sixers have made it clear that they have no problem with not winning right now. However, regardless of GM Sam Hinkie’s “lose now win later” mentality, fans should still not expect to see their team in a more competitive state than last season. The organization itself did not do too shabby with its picks at face value either. But given the present status of the Sixers, there is a chance that neither of their first round picks play a huge role on the roster. For example, while the assumption is that Joel Embiid will rehab his foot and come back to full health, his on-court job is as a center, not a power forward. While he has the tools to potentially move to the four, it is not his natural position. Perhaps, Embiid was drafted as an insurance policy in case Nerlens Noel cannot live up to his expectations. But even that could be a risky backup plan given his recent injury history.

Then we have Dario Saric. Good thing that the Sixers acquired him along with future picks for Elfrid Payton because a backcourt of Payton and Michael Carter-Williams would have probably been the most redundant combo in the league in terms of the inability to shoot. Internationally, Saric is a superstar and possesses all of the necessary tools (except for a consistent three-point shot) to succeed in the Association. But even Saric himself is not planning on coming to the NBA until 2015, and if the 76ers cannot make a strong enough sales pitch to keep him interested in coming to the United States, he can rip up his draft day deal and opt to resign with Anadolu Efes in the Turkish Basketball League.

K.J. McDaniels was arguably the Sixers’ safest pick overall with Jerami Grant behind him because of his inability to shoot outside of ten feet. If Embiid and Saric can coexist and produce with Noel, Philadelphia could be competitive for a long time. But if issues arise between them, the Sixers will remain in the NBA Draft Lottery for an even longer duration with no clear light at the end of the tunnel.

The Milwaukee Bucks Front Office

Do not get me wrong, drafting Jabari Parker was perhaps the only logical move by Milwaukee with the number two overall pick. But even the selection of the former Duke Blue Devil accompanied by under-maximized second round selections caused more disarray on the roster than the front office did in putting things in a better perspective.

Jabari should have gone first to Cleveland. The Cavaliers are far too invested in the idea that LeBron James could head back to Ohio, a concept that should be below the last task on the organization’s to-do list. Taking Parker would have been perfect, adding a proven scorer to an offense headed by Kyrie Irving and putting the team in a position to draft a big man later or make it a top priority in free agency. Drafting Andrew Wigging (a great player in his own right) was a classic example of over-drafting. Selecting Wiggins basically tells Dion Waiters, who has shown glimpses of impressive productivity, that the Cavs no longer have faith in him as the starting two guard. Sure, A-Wiggins can play the three, but playing an unnatural position is much easier said than done.

Not only did that create confusion within the Cavaliers organization, but the Bucks had to share in that as well. Like I said, Parker was the right pick and he will help Milwaukee immensely. But whether or not it was the right move, it logjams the front court even more than this past season. What many analysts fail to realize is that the Bucks have so many big men on the roster in Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Zaza Pachulia, and even last year’s selection Giannis Antetokounmpo when he absorbs rotation time at the four. Parker can play the three and the four as can the “Greek Freak.” But where Parker is inferior to Antetokounmpo in defense, he outshines him greatly on offense. Milwaukee certainly does not want to readily move on from the “Greek Freak” just yet, but the selection of Parker certainly means that some of the big men will have to go.

Milwaukee still needs to address issues regarding its backcourt and while Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson was a solid pick, it does not come close to solving the problems that the Bucks’ guards ran into last season. Only time will tell if general manager John Hammond can solve the puzzle he has created in Wisconsin.

Written by Alex Floch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

Alex Floch View All

I am currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Growing up in a sports family, I have formed a distinct love for the industry. I enjoy writing about sports in my free time and hope to one day be able to pursue it as a career.

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