2009 NBA Draft Grades, Pt. 2
The grades are in for the Western Conference…
In part two of SLAM’s post-draft breakdown, we take a look at the Western Conference. Overall, the West cleaned up fairly nicely in this years draft, due mainly to the fact that their teams owned the first seven picks on the board. Still, a few teams that had playoff success this past season were able to make some noise in the second round by acquiring a few steals that managed to slip through the fingers of those who owned picks in the first round. Aside from a potential point guard debacle up north, the West can give itself a pat on the back for a job well done.
Denver Nuggets: B+
Players Chosen: Ty Lawson (18, trade with Minnesota)
The Nuggets pulled off a smart trade in swapping a future first round pick they obtained from Charlotte for the rights to the former UNC point guard. Denver had several needs to address, all of them pertaining to depth, but picking up a young backup point guard to help shoulder some of the load with Chauncey Billups was a great decision. Reviews of Lawson have been up and down in the weeks leading up to the draft, but it certainly became apparent how valuable and important he was to Carolina when he was battling his foot injury, you also can’t teach the type of speed that he brings. Lawson should be a quality backup for Billups, someone who can run the offense for stretches in the game to save Billups for his usual postseason brilliance. Of course, learning under one of the best point guards in the game will only benefit Lawson in the long run.
Portland Trailblazers: C+
Players Chosen: Victor Claver (22), Jeff Pendergraph (31, trade with Sacramento), Dante Cunningham (33, from Clippers), Patrick Mills (55, from Nuggets)
This was an OK draft for Portland, they went after players that would add depth to their frontcourt and added a point guard, but there isn’t anything overly spectacular to write about with any of these picks. The Blazers made an early deal with Dallas to move up a couple of picks and get their man in Victor Claver, but he is all potential at this point and will take some time to get there. Claver is a 6-10 combo forward who got off to a great start in Spain’s ACB League this season before missing a lot of time with a knee injury. He’s a typical big European wing in that the scouts love his athleticism, his range out to the three-point line and his fundamental approach to things. He doesn’t create his own shot well, needs to get tougher and isn’t very consistent at this point in his development. It may not have been necessary for Portland to move up to get him, but Claver could be a solid role player one day. Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham are both fairly athletic fours – Cunningham being the more athletic one – who can spread things out somewhat with their mid-range game. Cunningham can play on the perimeter, and will likely have to since he is undersized, but his handles aren’t great and he is just an average rebounder at best; definitely a hustle player though. Pendergraph is a guy that has a solid frame (6-9 230) and knows what his role is. He hustles, finishes the touches that he gets and moves fairly well without the basketball. He could develop into a solid rotational player; think Fabricio Oberto or Ryan Hollins. Patrick Mills is a nice pickup for the 55th pick in the draft. Granted, his stock fell as the draft got closer and closer, but for a time this was one of the more dynamic guards in the college ranks, so why not use a late pick on him when there is no commitment to signing him. Mills has the quickness and finishing ability to crack a roster as a backup point guard and be a solid contributor. Overall, Mills was probably the best pick Portland made, only Claver has any real upside and that is a big maybe with him.
Utah Jazz: A-
Players Chosen: Eric Maynor (20), Goran Suton (50)
This was a very smart, solid draft for Utah; they needed to add depth in a few key spots and they drafted competent players to do that. Let’s start with Maynor, who is one of the most underrated players in this draft and will be a welcome addition as a backup for Deron Williams. Maynor is absolutely an NBA-ready talent who will be able to come in and give 10-15 minutes a night off the bench right away. He just oozes point guard in every sense; he has good size, great court vision, is a pass-first player who can also shoulder the scoring load when need be and he has a good mid-range game. Playing behind Williams and under a coach like Jerry Sloan will only make Maynor a better player in the long run, this is a great fit for both parties involved. Suton is a nice addition as well, even though he might be spending a year overseas first. Clearly the Jazz aren’t resigning Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, someone has got to go. With that being the case, Utah nabbed a big, hardnosed player in Suton who at 6-10 245 pounds has a body that can handle getting physical in the lane. He has a pretty polished offensive game, nice post moves, soft hands and the ability to step out and shoot from pretty deep if the Jazz ultimately sign him. Utah didn’t get flashy in this draft, but absolutely got quality players with both of their picks that will be able to help them in the future; this was one of the more underrated drafts by any team.
Minnesota Timberwolves: C
Players Chosen: Ricky Rubio (5), Jonny Flynn (6), Wayne Ellington (28), Henk Norel (47, from Miami)
Why David Kahn? Why did you feel the need to draft both Rubio and Flynn? Certainly, if one was being used as trade bait then it makes sense, these were two very sought after players. To keep both and then insist that the two will co-exist and play alongside one another in your backcourt of the future is lunacy. Jonny Flynn is not a shooting guard, he is a scoring point guard who barely stands 6-1 in sneakers, hate to break it to you. Additionally now, Rubio, arguably the second most prized prospect in the draft, is very likely going to opt to stay in Spain for the next couple of years because of the fact that Flynn was also drafted. In the end, the Wizards may actually come out of your trade looking like the smart ones. With the need for depth in the frontcourt or another scoring wing, there were plenty of options to use the sixth pick on after Rubio was already selected. Would DeMar DeRozan have been a role of the dice? Sure, but Rubio was already in the bag so you could afford to get a bit risqué with the next pick. You could have really ruined the Knicks night and taken Jordan Hill to serve as a rotational guy for Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, but instead you’ve created what should continue to be a very interesting drama. The Wayne Ellington pick wasn’t a bad one, he’s a good perimeter shooter who can create his own shot; could be a nice option off the bench though he doesn’t provide much defensively. Norel is an athletic, shooting big man who needs to get much stronger and learn to play in the post; he is a few years away from the NBA at least at this point. The one real smart move all night was trading away Ty Lawson to Denver to pick up a future Charlotte first round pick which could turn into another lottery selection, but it isn’t enough to make up for the potentially devastating effects of taking Rubio and Flynn back-to-back.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A-
Players Chosen: James Harden (3), B.J. Mullens (24, from Dallas), Robert Vaden (54, from Charlotte)
The Thunder had a very strong first round and kind of a questionable second round. In drafting James Harden OKC does two things: they announce Russell Westbrook as their point guard of the future and add an NBA-ready talent to line up next to him. Harden was easily the best shooting guard available; he is crafty, has a high basketball IQ and a real nose for the basket. He will be an immediate help in the backcourt and with Westbrook, should make for a fun one-two punch to watch in the upcoming seasons. While there are a tremendous number of skeptics when it comes to B.J. Mullens, drafting him at 24 is a great move by the Thunder. They need help in the frontcourt, that much is certain, and Mullens is one of the players with as much upside as anyone in the draft. By selecting him late in the first round, OKC isn’t taking a major risk because the vast majority of players taken that late in the first aren’t going to wind up being big time players anyway, if Mullens does develop, then it’s a steal. The place that the Thunder lose points is in the second round by selecting Robert Vaden, the gunner out of UAB. First, Vaden is a one-dimensional player who isn’t very athletic and secondly, OKC could absolutely have signed him as an undrafted free agent if they were that interested. With the frontcourt being such an issue for this team, why not use the pick on a guy like Ahmad Nivins, a big, strong body who absolutely dominated the A-10 last season? Still, the first round was a very good one for the Thunder and they’ll get a respectable grade for it.
San Antonio Spurs: A+
Players Chosen: DeJuan Blair (37, from Golden State), Jack McClinton (51, from New Orleans), Nando De Colo (53, from Houston)
It’s almost unfair really; the Spurs always seem to wind up coming away with major steals on draft night. First, we have to start with the Richard Jefferson trade, how can you not? San Antonio traded away some moth balls who will likely be waived (Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto) and an able bodied backup center in Kurt Thomas for an potential All-Star in Jefferson. This will take some of the pressure off of Manu Ginobli who will be coming back from injury, and add a little bit of life to an aging Spurs roster. Now let’s talk about the draft itself. The Spurs landed two players who were being looked at as first round guys, both in the second round. It’s still shocking that Blair fell as far as he did, even with the concern about his ACLs (or lack thereof). But this is a huge steal for the Spurs if Blair can stay healthy; he can be that tough frontcourt player to line up next to Tim Duncan and provide some help on the glass. Blair is a no-brainer that late in the draft simply because he was a borderline lottery guy for so many weeks before whispers of health issues had him drop like a rock. McClinton was also being talked about as a late first round guy that the Knicks were seriously taking a look at with the 29th pick they bought from the Lakers. McClinton is a classic Spurs draft pickup, a guy who can come in and contribute quality minutes off the bench. The Eddie House comparisons are pretty good, but McClinton is a little better at creating his own shot, still, a nice addition. Then there is Nando De Colo, a fantastic find at 53. De Colo is young, has great size for the point guard spot and is a brilliant passer. He knows how to run an offense and while he’ll need a year overseas to further improve his strength and overall game, he will be a nice backup for Tony Parker when he ultimately comes stateside. For the Spurs to have no first round picks and still land three players who will crack NBA rotations is very impressive.
Houston Rockets: A
Players Chosen: Jermaine Taylor (32, from Washington), Sergio Llull (34, from Oklahoma City), Chase Budinger (44, trade with Detroit)
The Rockets entered Thursday night without any picks and by the time they were finished they had landed three talented players, all acquired in the second round. Taylor is definitely one of the sleepers of this draft and will stick on an NBA roster. The former UCF standout was one of the top scorers in the nation this past season, has a good frame for a two-guard and can score in a variety of ways with his skill set and athleticism. He made his first real noise at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament where he was torching opposing defenses and will be a nice scoring option off the bench. Sergio Llull may need to spend another year overseas (he’s 21) but looks capable of fitting in nicely as a backup at either the point or off guard spots depending on where he is needed. Llull is an intelligent player with great handles and penetrating ability; he has also proven to be a pretty competent perimeter shooter – think Jose Calderon best case scenario. Chase Budinger may have been the second biggest steal of the draft behind DeJuan Blair. For Budinger, a guy who for a couple of years was viewed as a lottery talent, to fall all the way to 44 is very surprising. He is a great athlete, has excellent size for the shooting guard position and has a pretty versatile offensive skill set. He’s never going to be a start in the NBA, but Houston landed what should amount to a very solid rotational player towards the backend of the draft. Given that the Rockets entered the night with nothing and left with three players who should all see quality minutes in the League, they’ve earned a very high grade.
Dallas Mavericks: B
Players Chosen: Rodrigue Beaubois (25, trade with Oklahoma City), Nick Calathes (45, from Minnesota), Ahmad Nivins (56, from Portland)
The Mavericks had an OK draft, nothing spectacular, but they certainly addressed the needs they had at the point guard and big man spots. Beaubois is anything but a sure thing, but he has been an intriguing prospect for many scouts thanks to his measurements and fantastic athletic ability. The Guadalupe native has a 6-2 frame that works for a floor general, but a freakish 6-10 wingspan that makes him a great defender, both on and off the ball. He is very quick, has excellent handles and range beyond the arc. The biggest knock against Beaubois right now is he isn’t a true point guard at this point and will take some time to develop. Nick Calathes may be ready to play the point before Beaubois is, of course a lot of that depends on whether or not he decides to play overseas for a year. Calathes was a bit underrated in this draft due to his average athleticism, but he has excellent size (6-5) for the position and a good overall skill set. He is a player who knows how to run an offense and could make for a nice backup option for an aging Jason Kidd. Nivins adds another thick, strong body to the frontcourt who will be able to take up space and make hustle plays. If he reaches his full potential we’ll looking at a Leon Powe type of player who can rebound and get garbage points off the bench.
New Orleans Hornets: C
Players Chosen: Darren Collison (21), Marcus Thornton (43, trade with Miami)
The Hornets did not choose wisely with their only first round pick of the draft, opting to go with an undersized point guard in Darren Collison when they so badly need help in the frontcourt. This pick makes little sense given that Chris Paul and Antonio Daniels are already on the roster, and yet Collison – who is really a second round talent – was the man they opted to go with at 21. With the need for another athletic big man who can run the floor with Paul, B.J. Mullens or DaJuan Summers might have been better picks here. Not to say someone like Mullens is going to blossom into a star, but certainly he addresses the need for versatility in the frontcourt. New Orleans did go out and get a scoring wing, something they needed, in the form of LSU’s Marcus Thornton. He’s a player who can help fill the void being left by the decline of Peja Stojakovich as he continues to age and deal with injury problems. Thornton is a little undersized for the shooting guard position and his athleticism has been questioned on several occasions, but he does have a nose for the basket. Still, this pick doesn’t make up for a poor selection for the team in the first round.
Memphis Grizzlies: B+
Players Chosen: Hasheem Thabeet (2), DeMarre Carroll (27), Sam Young (36)
Memphis did a pretty good job in this draft and were able to add another guard who can score to compliment O.J. Mayo in the backcourt in acquiring Quentin Richardson from the Knicks. James Harden was a name mixed in quite a bit at the number two pick, but ultimately the Grizzlies opted for Thabeet in hopes that he will be the defensive game changer that he has shown the potential to be. If he develops any kind of ability to score at all in the post, that will be a major plus, but it is going to be interesting to see how Thabeet and Marc Gasol play together. DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young were very nice additions for later in the draft, particularly Young who slipped a little bit. Carroll is a player stuck between the three and the four, and though he isn’t a highly skilled player or a super athlete, he is a tremendously intense player who makes things happen with his hustle. He will be an energy guy who comes off the bench 10-15 minutes per game. Young looks the part of a defensive specialist in the NBA. He has outstanding athleticism, a great wingspan, is tough, rebounds well and has a good understanding of how to play at that end of the floor. Offensively he’ll likely do his damage running the floor and cleaning up the offensive glass, but certainly he adds toughness to the frontcourt.
Los Angeles Lakers: C-
Players Chosen: Chinemelu Elonu (59)
The Lakers essentially sold off their entire draft save for the second to last pick. LA is clearly worried about resigning free agents Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza in the offseason and decided to make that their focus, rather than bringing in new talent. The two picks that were sold off turned into Toney Douglas and Patrick Beverley, both players who can stick in the NBA and be solid role players in the long term coming off the bench. Elonu is an athletic big man out of Texas A&M who probably came out a year too early, but still has the potential to crack an NBA roster if he really impresses in the Summer League. Right now his bread and butter is rebounding and being a disruptive force on the defensive end, but with LA already featuring plenty of talent in the frontcourt, this will be an uphill battle to say the least for Elonu. Even though the Lakers are thinking short term right now by resigning key players, it never hurts to add a little youth to the roster.
Los Angeles Clippers: A-
Players Chosen: Blake Griffin (1)
The only reason the Clippers aren’t getting an A is because they had a no-brainer for a decision with the first pick and it just doesn’t seem right to award a grade like that for no work. Griffin has star power written all over him and is the type of player who can make an immediate impact from day one. This isn’t to say that the Clippers are suddenly going to be challenging in the Western Conference, but Griffin is worth a few more tallies in the win column at least. Even if he doesn’t reach his full potential, the reigning National POY will become a double-double threat in the NBA. This is three years in a row now that LA has landed a quality youngster in the draft and they are starting to put together a rotation with some promise.
Phoenix Suns: B+
Players Chosen: Earl Clark (14), Taylor Griffin (48)
Phoenix hit a home run in the first round by taking Earl Clark at 14. This is a guy who has top-5 upside and the potential to be a stud at the next level. Of course, Clark presents more question marks than certainties, and is one of the biggest enigmas in the entire draft. Still, at 14, this is a good pick for Phoenix simply because of the potential value in Clark and because he addresses their need for a wing player and a combo forward all in one. If he is able to put it together and stay committed to improving, in five years we will be talking about Ear Clark as the top player from this draft, but that’s a big if. Griffin was a surprise pick in the second round, it seems even for Griffin himself. It isn’t to say that he is a bad player, certainly he is tough and athletic like his younger brother (not to the same degree of course) but there may have been some better options for the Suns to go with. He’ll be a long shot to make the roster, but an strong summer could earn him a contract.
Golden State Warriors: B+
Players Chosen: Stephen Curry (7)
This is a pick that could work either way for the Warriors. Monta Ellis had said he didn’t want the team to draft a point guard; Golden State drafted a combo-guard who they hope can handle being a point guard some of the time in the NBA. This does create an interesting dynamic in the backcourt though as Curry has clearly made his living as a marksmen from the perimeter and Ellis is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the basket. Both can play on or off the ball and if they mesh together could create a very fun and high scoring punch out west. There are plenty who think that Curry is going to be a star and some who are taking the wait and see approach, playing alongside Ellis in the long run could actually help ensure that those in the first category are proven correct.
Sacramento Kings: B+
Players Chosen: Tyreke Evans (4), Omri Casspi (23), Jon Brockman (38, trade with Portland)
Some may see this grade as being a little too high for the Kings, but short term they definitely addressed their most glaring needs. Everyone knew Sacramento was going with a point guard at number four, but who was it going to be? Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Tyreke Evans all were mentioned there and Evans was the ultimate choice. The Memphis product is not a true point guard yet, but he is the most NBA-ready of the three players that kept coming up at that spot. At 6-5 and nearly 200 pounds, Evans is a big, strong guard with good athleticism and slashing ability. His perimeter game still needs a lot of work, but he is a playmaker, there’s no questioning that. He’s shown the ability to create shots for himself and he did a good job creating shots for others when he took over Memphis’s offense midway through the college season. In the long run though, Flynn and Rubio could eclipse Evans as a pro player. Casspi is a real tough combo forward who has the potential to create some mismatches at the next level. He brings a lot of energy to the floor, attacks the basket well and is a good overall athlete. If he continues to improve his perimeter shooting and shores up his handles, he could be a nice offensive presence off the bench. Jon Brockman was a nice second round acquisition because the Kings desperately need some more toughness in their frontcourt. Brockman is severely undersized for the power forward spot but is an absolute bull who will body up anyone and can rebound very well. He could be another in the line of quality undersized big men to come out of the college ranks.