Holding Court - Ceiling wins over quick returns in NBA Draft
Maximum ceiling over immediate help seems to have been the overriding theme of this year’s NBA draft when Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid went at the top, in that order, in the player draft that got more attention than any draft in history last Friday Manila time.
This was because while Cleveland, which owned the top pick for the second straight year, debated between Wiggins and Parker after Embiid broke his foot a few days before the annual event, the Cavaliers eventually decided to go with the player with a higher ceiling (Wiggins) over one who can help them now but may not have as much upside (Parker).
Then, in a move that smacks of going for broke, Philadelphia also threw caution to the wind by opting for the seven-foot Embiid’s unlimited potential in picking him third despite the medical red flags that have been raised about him, which include not only the fractured foot but also a fractured lower back, a supposed case of hepatitis and a reported low bone density borne out by unconfirmed tests.
Cavs general manager David Griffin justified Cleveland’s selection of Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 swingman out of Kansas, by saying he had the highest ceiling among all players in the Class of 2014. “All of our scouts felt he had the most upside,” Griffin said. “Andrew understands there is another level of his game we want him to get to. He knows he’s got more in the tank.”
The Cavs supposedly did not agree on who to pick between Wiggins and Parker prior to the draft and just decided on their final choice in the last hours before the proceedings held at the Barclays Center in New York, the home of the Brooklyn Nets. The event’s broadcast broke the highest TV ratings for an NBA draft set in 2003 during the year LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were drafted. Griffin and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert were reportedly split as Griffin preferred Parker while Gilbert wanted Wiggins. However, two hours before the draft, Gilbert posted a photo of the team’s war room on his Twitter account and captioned it “United and busy.”
With Wiggins having been tabbed by the Cavs, Milwaukee then lost no time taking the player they wanted all along, Parker, an accomplished scorer whom most scouts believe can help any NBA team now with his explosive offensive game. The consensus is that he was the most NBA-ready player in the draft after an All-America season at Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced su-SHEF-ski), despite rumors that he was out of shape in his workout with Cleveland during which he supposedly performed poorly, something Parker disputed before the draft. But being able to play in Milwaukee now puts him near his family in Chicago.
“I’m just very optimistic,” said Parker, who in our observation showed the most polish among the players drafted in his deportment and interviews. “If it was one, two, put me at 60, just getting that opportunity, getting that chance of being in the NBA.”
After Embiid was taken third by the 76ers, Orlando followed suit by grabbing Arizona hybrid forward Aaron Gordon with the fourth pick in a move that also surprised some. This was because the Magic were expected to take Australian multi-purpose guard Dante Exum, who was instead chosen by Utah with the fifth selection. The league’s two flagship franchises – the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers – then took a rare turn at an early lottery spot by picking Oklahoma State’s combo guard Marcus Smart and Kentucky power forward Julius Randle at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively.
But the biggest pick of the evening – given the impact it had on the rest of the drafting order – belonged to Philly with its big gamble on Embiid, who some projected would fall all the way down to Boston or even the Lakers. In fact, there were even reports that Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, would try to steer the Kansas big man down to Boston or the Lakers if he were not picked No. 1 by withholding information on his physical tests from the other teams and giving it only to the Celts or the Lakers.
As it turned out, not even such a ploy would have deterred Philadelphia from passing on such a tantalizing talent, who would have been a no-brainer as the top pick if not for those medical issues. “I sniffed opportunity,” Sam Hinkie, the Sixers’ president and GM, said when the draft was done. “The moment he got hurt, we thought we might get him. We might be just the organization with just the set of owners, and we might be the one to do it.”
The Sixers, of course, wouldn’t be taking a gamble just with Embiid’s long-term health prospects but with its fan base, known among the most demanding and rabid of all fans in America. This is because the Sixers already gambled – and lost – in trading for former All-Star center Andrew Bynum back in 2012 in a four-team trade that cost them one-time All-Star Andre Iguodala. Bynum never played a game for the Sixers because of chronically bad knees and was not re-signed after the 2013 season. Then, the Sixers also drafted Nerlens Noel last year with the sixth pick despite the Kentucky big man’s torn ACL and the 6-11 center-power forward missed all of last season. The Sixers, meanwhile, limped home with a 19-63 record, including a record-tying (Cleveland also had such streak in 2011) 26-game losing streak.
On top of all these, the Sixers also traded for the rights to this year’s No. 12 pick, Croatian forward Dario Saric, despite the 6-10 frontliner’s having signed a three-year deal with Turkish club Anadolu Efes, costing them their own pick at No. 10, point guard Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette. Would the Sixers’ fans have the patience to wait for Saric, or, for that matter, Embiid, who is expected to miss a minimum of five to eight months rehabilitating the broken navicular bone in his right foot? What happens if Saric decides to finish his three-year contract, or, worse, if Embiid never gets fully healthy considering the history of big men with similar injuries? The talent or upside is not the question; it’s the medical issues that could haunt the franchise big time if the gamble fails that is at issue, plus the amount of time that the young Sixers will take to develop and turn the team into a bonafide contender, as ESPN analyst Stu Jackson noted.
This early, Hinkie seems to have thrown the onus on the fans themselves, thanking them for their “patience and understanding,” and selling them the hope that such patience will, in the long run, pay off. Hinkie reminded everybody who would listen that the Noel-Embiid frontcourt will be a “menace” at the rim, and that one-year coach Brett Brown was already drawing up plays for the pair.
“I do think that Joel and Nerlens can co-exist,” Brown said. “I think I can find a way to play those two guys together. It’s a really good problem to have.”
Hinkie assured Sixers fans that the team consulted various doctors about Embiid and came out confident there was “little long-term risk” to his health once the foot healed. Embiid was projected as Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick before the foot issue came in the open after Cavaliers doctors discovered a fracture in his right foot. “In this scenario, and only this scenario, does he fall to three,” Hinkie stressed. “If he can remain healthy, he can have a fantastic, fantastic NBA career.”
Embiid himself expressed disappointment that he couldn’t even join the draft proceedings, although he was caught by TV cameras in Los Angeles looking as if he was not excited he was going to a team that’s not had particularly much success in recent times. But he diplomatically said he’s fine with having been picked by the Sixers.
“It is different. Disappointed, I wish I could be there,” Embiid told ESPN’s draft broadcast. “But I’m excited the Sixers took me. I still can’t believe it. I started playing basketball so late, it just means that anything is possible. For my back injury, it hurt me. But I saw the doctors and they said I was going to be fine. And unfortunately this foot injury happened a week before the draft. But I believe in God and God knew what he was doing, I’ve always said that and I’m going to just keep praising Him.”
His Jayhawks teammate, Wiggins, was just pleased he was picked just behind him and Parker after reports of his free fall. “He worked so hard,” Wiggins, ironically the primary beneficiary of Embiid’s injury, said. “He didn’t let nothing get to him. He always stayed motivated. So I’m just proud. It’s a proud moment for Kansas.”
The draft was considered an unusually deep one, with analysts saying last year’s first-rounders may just be equal to this year’s second-round talent. A total of 10 international players were taken in the first round, tying for the second-most in draft history.
Below is the complete rundown of the first and second round, with the school or country of origin, position, height and weight as well as previous year’s stats in parentheses, plus a short description for each draft pick.
1. Cleveland – Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, GF, 6-8, 197, 17.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) – The best athlete in the draft with the most upside; has unlimited potential and is often compared to former All-Star Tracy McGrady. Only question is if he has the killer’s mentality to take charge and go after it night after night.
2. Milwaukee – Jabari Parker (Duke, F, 6-8, 241, 19.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) – May not have the ceiling or athleticism of Wiggins but is the most NBA-ready of the top three; can score from inside or outside. Could become the face of the Bucks for the next decade or so.
3.Philadelphia – Joel Embiid (Kansas, C, 7-0, 240, 11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) – The best center prospect to come along since maybe Shaquille O’Neal; footwork, mobility and offensive and defensive potentials are off the charts. He could become an all-time great if his health issues are overcome.
4. Orlando – Aaron Gordon (Arizona, F, 6-8¾, 220, 12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) – May be the best defensive player in the draft along with Marcus Smart; shooting needs work but has the potential to become very good at it. He already has a basketball IQ as high as anyone’s.
5. Utah – Dante Exum (Australia, G, 6-6, 196, 18.2 ppg, 3.8 apg) – Hasn’t faced quality competition but has all the tools to become a great combo guard; has that explosive ability with the ball. The mystery man of the draft.
6. Boston – Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, G, 6-3¼, 227, 17.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg) – The most accomplished combo guard out there; built like a tank and plays a physical type of game. He won’t back down from anyone and is an “instigator” (not a retaliator) type of player that Boston wants.
7. Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle (Kentucky, F, 6-9, 250, 15.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg) – Physically ready for the NBA; has all the tools although he may be a little short for his position. Break in foot caused him to slide but he definitely has great potential.
8. Sacramento – Nik Stauskas (Michigan, G, 6-6½, 207, 17.5 ppg, 3.3 apg) – May be a surprise of sorts at this pick but he’s the best shooter in the draft along with Doug McDermott; can really jack it up and score in many other ways. He could be a much better J.J. Redick.
9. Charlotte – Noah Vonleh (Indiana, F, 6-9½, 247, 11.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg) – Has the biggest pair of hands in the draft, even bigger than the 11½- inch-wide hands of Kawhi Leonard at 11.75. Also went lower than expected but has the two-way game to make passers regret it.
10. Philadelphia (later traded to Orlando) – Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette, G, 6-3¾, 185, 19.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 5.9 rpg) – Has great potential at the point and already plays such an excellent defense some people compare him to Hall of Famer Gary Payton (no relation). But he has to improve as a shooter to become more effective in the pros.
11. Denver (later traded to Chicago) – Doug McDermott (Creighton, F, 6-7¾, 218, 26.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg) – The fifth-leading scorer in college basketball history; absolutely a lights-out shooter but also has many ways to score. Has been compared to Wally Szcerbiak but can be much better than that.
12. Orlando (later traded to Philadelphia) – Dario Saric (Croatia, F, 6-10, 223, 12.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) – Tremendous basketball IQ and all-around skills for his age. Shooting needs work but can pass and rebound; rights acquired by Philly as a stash.
13. Minnesota – Zach LaVine (UCLA, G, 6-5¾, 181, 10.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg) – The best athlete in the draft along with Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon. Extremely raw but has the potential to become a good one if he develops, or a bust if he does not.
14. Phoenix – T.J. Warren (North Carolina State, F, 6-8¼, 220, 24.8, 7.2 rpg) – Has a variety of ways to score but has to extend his range beyond 15 feet and maybe add a three-point shot to become more effective in the pros. The Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
15. Atlanta – Adreian Payne (Michigan State, F, 6-9¾, 239, 15.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) – Long, lean and deadly up to three-point range. But he has to be more physical to become a really good power forward at the next level.
16. Chicago (later traded to Denver) – Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia-Herzegovina, C, 6-11, 280, 8.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg) – For one his size is surprisingly nimble on his feet. Mobility, strength and a 7-2 wingspan can serve him well in the pros although conditioning issues have to be addressed.
17. Boston – James Young (Kentucky, G, 6-6¾, 213, 14.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) – Could be the best all-around scorer on that Wildcats team that made it to the NCAA finals. Kentucky coach John Calipari calls him “as fast, as long and athletic” as anyone in the draft who “can really shoot.” A southpaw.
18. Phoenix – Tyler Ennis (Syracuse, G, 6-2½, 180, 12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) – Not much of an athlete but can he set the table and play like a great point guard. Will have to be able to guard fellow point guards though to excel.
19. Chicago (later traded to Denver) – Gary Harris (Michigan State, G, 6-4½, 205, 17.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) – A surprisingly lower pick than anticipated, but definitely has the talent to become an excellent pro; has a good touch, can defend well enough and has a good head on his shoulders.
20. Toronto – Bruno Caboclo (Brazil, F, 6-8, 205, 4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) – Raptors take a flyer here as this pick completely came out of left field but the kid is said to have great offensive potential with his touch from long range and 7-7 wingspan. The MVP at a Basketball Without Borders tournament in Argentina.21. Oklahoma City – Mitch McGary (Michigan, F, 6-10½, 266, 9.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) – Has NBA size, high basketball IQ and good hands and is a hustle guy. There are questions, however, about his back and conditioning.
22. Memphis – Jordan Adams (UCLA, G, 6-4¾, 205, 17.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) – A pretty good shooter with good all-around skills. Lack of athleticism, however, could set him back.
23. Utah – Rodney Hood (Duke, F, 6-8½, 208, 16.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) – A versatile scorer whose offensive skills will turn him into a rotation player; has to get a lot stronger, however, to last in the NBA.
24. Charlotte (later traded to Miami) – Shabazz Napier (Connecticut, G, 6-1, 175, 17.4 ppg, 4.9 apg) – Two-time NCAA champion who was the Most Outstanding Player in the Huskies’ 2014 title; so impressed LeBron James with his toughness and shooting he urged the Heat to trade for him.
25. Houston – Clint Capela (Switzerland, F, 6-11, 222, 12.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) – Drafted by the Rockets as a future; great athlete who can become a better Ian Mahinmi if he acquires more intensity.
26. Miami (later traded to Charlotte) – P.J. Hairston (Texas Legends, G, 6-5¼, 229, 21.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) – A sweet stroke is his main weapon. His offcourt issues forced him out of North Carolina but he seems determined to make the most of his second chance starting with his D-League stint.
27. Phoenix – Bogdan Bogdanovich (Serbia, G, 6-6, 205, 14.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.7 rpg) – A combo guard who has the chance to carve a niche in the NBA; has good all-around skills and high-level experience in Europe.
28. Los Angeles Clippers – C.J. Wilcox (Washington, G, 6-5, 201, 18.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg) – Another guy with a sweet stroke; has a variety of ways to score although his perimeter shot stands out. Has to improve ballhandling though.
29. Oklahoma City – Josh Huestis (Stanford, F, 6-7, 230, 11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg) – An underrated player under the radar who can make it with his hustle and great effort on the defensive end.
30. San Antonio – Kyle Anderson (UCLA, GF, 6-8½, 230, 14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.6 apg) – A Boris Diaw clone with his terrific passing ability; has as much potential at this point as his soon-to-be French teammate but has to improve his defense.
31. Milwaukee – Damien Inglis (France, F, 6-8, 240, 4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) – A stash pick with a well-developed body who can defend and pass but whose shot is suspect.
32. Philadelphia – K.J. McDaniels (Clemson, F, 6-6, 196, 17.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) – Good athlete, good defender but not a especially good offensive player.
33. Cleveland – Joe Harris (Virginia, G, 6-6¼, 215, 12.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg) – Not one to jump out on you but could be good enough to stick particularly with his outside shot.
34. Dallas (traded to New York as part of the Tyson Chandler deal) – Cleanthony Early (Wichita State, F, 6-7¼, 209, 15.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) – A terrific athlete who can make shots and defend.
35. Utah – Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee, F, 6-8, 260, 15.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg) – Has to find a niche as he is undersized at center; works hard but can’t shoot and is not a good athlete.
36. Milwaukee (later traded to Memphis) – Johnny O’Bryant III (Louisiana State, F, 6-9, 245, 15.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) – A sleeper whose low-post moves would remind one of Al Jefferson.
37. Toronto – DeAndre Daniels (Connecticut, F, 6-8½, 196, 13.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) –A member of the NCAA champion Connecticut team who has to find a position in the pros.
38. Detroit – Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado, G, 6-6, 205, 14.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) – Could have been a first-round lock with his shooting and leadership but fell down the board because of a torn ACL.
39. Philadelphia – Jerami Grant (Syracuse, F, 6-7¾, 214, 12.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) – Son of former pro Harvey Grant of Washington who has a lot of development to do to succeed in the pros.
40. Minnesota – Glenn Robinson III (Michigan, F, 6-6¾, 211, 11.0 ppg, 3.8 apg) – Another scion whose father is former Milwaukee All-Star Glenn Robinson Jr. but who is largely inconsistent.
41. Denver – Nikola Jokic (Serbia, F, 6-11, 255, 11.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) – Very high basketball IQ; can shoot the ball and has size and great work ethic.
42. Houston – Nick Johnson (Arizona, G, 6-3, 198, 16.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) – A big-time athlete who has to find his position in the NBA.
43. Atlanta – Walter Tavares (Cape Verde, C, 7-2, 265, 6.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) – Possesses a 7-9 wingspan and good mobility to make him a potential intimidator on defense.
44. Minnesota (later traded to Brooklyn) – Markel Brown (Oklahoma State, G, 6-3½, 184, 17.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg) – A good athlete and shooter who could also become a good defender as well.
45. Charlotte – Dwight Powell (Stanford, F, 6-10, 235, 14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) – A skilled, finesse big man with good athleticism and an equally good potential.
46. Washington (later traded to LA Lakers) – Jordan Clarkson (Missouri, G, 6-4, 186, 7.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) – Fil-Am who plays the point even if he’s a natural “two”; will get his shot in LA.
47. Philadelphia (later traded to New Orleans) – Russ Smith (Louisville, G, 6-¾, 160, 18.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg) – The top scorer of 2013 NCAA champion Louisville who may be undersized but has terrific speed and scoring skills.
48. Milwaukee – Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh, G, 6-5¼, 226, 17.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) – Average athlete but has tremendous basketball IQ and passing skills; should have a place with the Bucks.
49. Chicago – Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico, F, 6-9¾, 252, 20.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) – Another average athlete who makes up for it with his toughness and high skill level.
50. Phoenix – Alec Brown (Wisconsin-Green Bay, C, 7-1, 231, 15.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) – A legit big man who makes 42 percent of his three-point shots but has to develop physically to become a “five.”
51. Dallas (later traded to New York) – Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Delaware 87ers, F, 6-6, 205, 12.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) – A strong defender with his speed and seven-foot wingspan but, unlike his younger brother Giannis, struggles mightily on offense.
52. Philadelphia – Vasilije Micic (Serbia, G, 6-5, 202, 12.1 ppg, 5.8 apg) – One of the best pure point guards in Europe whose great feel for the game is similar to Spain’s Jose Calderon.
53. Minnesota – Alessandro Gentile (Italy, G, 6-7, 230, 11.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg) – Has excellent all-around offensive skills though he lacks elite athleticism.
54. Philadelphia (later traded to San Antonio) – Nemanja Dangubic (Serbia, GF, 6-8, 195, 9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg) – Doesn’t have much range as a shooter now but will eventually get his chance to develop with the Spurs.
55. Miami – Semaj Christon (Xavier, G, 6-3, 186, 17.0 ppg, 4.2 apg) – Can really pass but has an iffy shot.
56. Denver (traded to Orlando as part of Arron Afflalo deal) – Devyn Marble (Iowa, F, 6-6, 200, 17.0 ppg, 3.6 apg) – Son of former pro Roy; a multi-skilled player with versatility who has to find his niche in the NBA.
57. Indiana (later traded to New York) – Louis Labeyrie (France, C, 6-10, 220, 2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg) – Is limited on offense but brings Anderson Varejao type of defense and rebounding to the table.
58. San Antonio (later traded to Philadelphia) – Jordan McRae (Tennessee, G, 6-6, 180, 18.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg) – Has an unorthodox game with fairly good all-around skills but has to get stronger.
59. Toronto (later traded to Brooklyn) – Xavier Thames (San Diego State, G, 6-3, 187, 18.1 ppg, 3.3 apg) – An excellent jumpshooter from mid and long range; a tweener though with not enough size for the “two” and speed for the “one.”
60. San Antonio (later traded to Brooklyn) – Cory Jefferson (Baylor, F, 6-9, 220, 13.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) – Wiry, athletic and an explosive leaper but has to polish his offensive game.
Next issue, we come up with our team-by-team draft ratings. – Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk and slept sports most of his life.