10 things we learned from the 2015 NBA Draft
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By ALAN GOLDSHER
The week leading up to this year's NBA Draft was filled with rumors, innuendos and outlandish trade scenarios, wild suggestions along the lines of: Miami sends Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside to Boston for 37 second round draft picks, the rights to Jerry Sichting, and a David Ortiz batting glove.
Despite all the pre-draft yakkity-yak, there was very little movement, and most teams were forced to — gasp — use their own pick! Despite the lack of fire, there was plenty of interesting smoke, smoke that taught us a whole bunch about today's NBA. For instance...
PHIL JACKSON HAS BASKETBALLS OF STEEL
The predictable fallout from New York's speculative—and some might say iffy—pick of long and lanky stretch four Kristaps Porzingis was immediate and loud. It all came to a head two days after the draft when, with Knicks fans' boos still echoing through the Barclays Center rafters, whispers surfaced of Carmelo Anthony's discontent with Phil Jackson's choice of the enigmatic, raw Latvian.
Melo denied he was angry with the Zen Master, to the point that he posted a mea culpa of sorts on Instagram, but let's be honest here: Where there's smoke, there's a cheesed-off veteran forward who wishes he'd signed with the Chicago Bulls when he had the chance.
The question then became, did Phil Jackson care about Carmelo's feelings, needs, desires and wishes? He claimed yes: "He's our favorite son," Jackson said. "At this point in his life, that's the way it should be." But then he added, "The second most important thing is what we do for this franchise. And that has to be a consideration. And I let Melo know that as we made [the Porzingis] choice." Translation: Phil is going to do what he wants to do, and everybody has to deal with it, Anthony included. If you don't like it, he's going to take his ball and go home, so nyah, nyah, nyah.
THE BOSTON CELTICS FRANCHISE REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY LIKES GUARDS. REALLY.
Before Draft night, the C's had four starting-quality guards on their roster in the forms of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner. (Turner claims he's a small forward. Turner is wrong.) And this isn't even taking into account last year's much ballyhooed first-round draft pick James Young.
Last Thursday evening, the Celtics main decision-maker—and apparent backcourt fetishist—Danny Ainge couldn't package any of his team's 6,319 picks to land either a veteran A-lister or a spot in the lottery, so with the 16th pick, instead of filling a need with highly-touted power forward Bobby Portis, they grabbed another guard in the form of Terry Rozier, a perfectly swell player who many mock drafts had going as late the second round. Twelve picks later, Ainge passed up power forward projects Chris McCullough, Kevon Looney and Montrezl Harrell, and grabbed R.J. Hunter, who is—wait for it, wait for it—ANOTHER GUARD!
Adding second round pick, guard Marcus Thornton, into the mix, Boston now has 925 backcourters. Yeah, the NBA is becoming a small man's league, but come on, dude, seriously?
THE CHICAGO BULLS ARE PRETTY DANG LUCKY
And speaking of Portis, it looks like the Bulls found themselves another late-round steal. Portis joins Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Niko Mirotic as The Guy Everybody Will Wish They'd Grabbed Six Picks Earlier. Being that I'm a Bulls fan, I'm thinking of sending Ainge a nice thank-you bouquet. If you'd like to contribute a calla lily, hit me up on Twitter.
THE NBA'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS CONTINUES...BUT WHY?
Dig the complete list of all the international players selected in the lottery since 2005 (and pre-2015), in reverse chronological order:
– Dante Exum (2014)
– Dario Saric (2014)
– Jonas Valancuinas (2011)
– Jan Vesaly (2011)
– Bismack Biyambo (2011)
– Ricky Rubio (2009)
– Danilo Gallinari (2008)
– Yi Jinlian (2007)
– Andrea Bargnani (2006)
– Mouhamed Sene (2006)
– Thabo Sefalosha (2006)
– Fran Vasquez (2005)
– Yaroslav Korolev (2005)
Of the 13, three are starters, five are benchies and five are out of the league. Now you know why Knick fans are quivering in their Nikes at the thought of Mr. Porzingis' future.
THE KENTUCKY CONTINGENCY IS, UM, UNCERTAIN
Since we had so much fun with our last list, here's another one:
– Julius Randle
– James Young
– Nerlens Noel
– Archie Goodwin
– Anthony Davis
– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
– Doron Lamb
– Darius Miller
– Enes Kanter
– Brandon Knight
These, of course, are the last ten Kentucky players drafted into the NBA, pre-2015. Only one of the 10 is an All-Star (Davis), four are solid starters (Noel, MKG, Kanter, Knight), three are benchies (Young, Goodwin, Lamb, Miller) and one is an unknown quantity (Randle). So if you run the numbers, that means of the six Kentucky players picked this year (Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson), we're looking at three starters, two benchies, and a stud who misses half of the season.
THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS ARE FIXABLE
The vast majority of hoops prognosticators had Mitch Kupchak's braintrust grabbing Jahlil Okafor with their no. 2 pick. Some hoops prognosticators—like me—felt that even though Okafor has stud potential and he'd fill a need, uber-talented guard D'Angelo Russell should be the move.
Well, Kupchak made the move, and with aging Kobe Bryant, last year's first-round pick Julius Randle healthy and last year's rookie sensation Jordan Clarkson ready, eager, and willing to get busy—and Kevin Love's camp making noise about the inscrutable forward inking with the Lakers—things might get interesting at the Staples Center. Heck, the Lakers might even give the Clippers a run for their money. (Now there's a sentence you never thought you'd hear, eh?)
THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS AND THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS GET THE BOTTOM OF THE FIRST ROUND
When you're a lousy team picking at the top of the lottery, it might not be a bad idea to snatch up the best player available, rather than take a flyer on a teenager or European who might or might not pan out. When you're an awesome team picking at the bottom of the first round, you take whatever flyer you damn well please, which is exactly what the previous two world champs did.
The Warriors grabbed Kevon Looney, a player who, at one time, was projected as a low-lottery pick. Health and attitude concerns massively trashed his draft status, but did the Dubs care? Nah. Their roster is stacked, so they could make a ballsy, high risk/high reward pick without freaking out. If Looney blows up, Draymond Green style, yay for them, and if he tanks, no biggie, he was the 30th pick.
The Spurs, as is their wont, used their selection on Nikola Milutinov, a seven-footer from Serbia who literally nobody has seen play, not even his parents. This year, he'll be stashed overseas. Next year, he'll be riding the pines in Texas. The following year, he'll be in the starting lineup. And the year after that, he'll be headed to the Hall of Fame. Because that's the way the Spurs roll.
TEXAS STOLE THE ELECTION
As noted, the Spurs probably discovered a guy who will one day dominate the NBA, Ginobili-style, but let's talk about their cross-state neighbors. There were several teams before Houston picked at 18 who would've made great use of Sam Dekker, and yes, I'm talking to you, Utah, Phoenix and Boston.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey's analytic-filled brain probably exploded when Milwaukee grabbed Rashad Vaughn at 17—an excellent pick, by the way—and left the Wisconsin product ripe for the taking. And then there're the Dallas Mavericks, who, with the 21st pick, snatched up everybody's mock draft fave, Virginia's Justin Anderson, the kind of willing role player essential to fill out any self-respecting championship roster.
A LOT OF ATTITUDE GOES A LONG WAY
This draft was filled with what those in the industry refer to as "high-character guys," Towns, Okafor and Frank Kaminsky being the most notable. But it also had its fair share of dudes with 'tude, like new OKC Thunder guard Cameron Payne, who, after the draft, boasted, "There is no ceiling for Cameron Payne." (Alan Goldsher loves guys who refer to themselves in the third person.)
And then there's D'Angelo Russell, who, in June, set the North American record for saying the phrase, "I'm the best player in the draft." And then there's Bobby Portis who, before games, in order to get himself ANGRY and IN THE ZONE (that's right, not angry and in the zone, but ANGRY and IN THE ZONE), imagines his opponents are slapping his mother around. Yikes.
NEITHER OF THE DRAFT'S TWO STUD CENTERS WILL BE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Quick, who was the last center that won R.O.Y.? That would be Emeka Okafor, way back in 2005...but you know what? Emeka was a part-time forward. The last true center to grab the award was Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, all of which doesn't bode well for the Karl Towns' and Jahlil Okafor's chances of being viewed as the best player to come out of the draft.
My favorites for the award are the two cats who landed in the best situations, situations that offer them playing time and a roster that's good, but not too good: Denver's Emmanuel Mudiay and Miami's Justise Winslow. (For those backing D'Angelo Russell, the kid'll be a mega-stud eventually, but he won't be a mega-mega-mega stud until Kobe rides off into the sunset.)
The 2015 NBA Draft was one of the most intriguing in years—so much so that it set a television viewership record—and it'll be fun as hell to watch how it plays out.
Alan Goldsher is a Senior Writer for FanDuel. He's the author of 14 books, and has contributed to ESPN The Magazine, NBA.com, and Chicago Bulls.com. You can follow him @AlanGoldsher.
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