The 2014 NBA Draft was packed with talent at the top. How do things play out in a re-draft of the lottery?
Let’s assume for a moment that the NBA Draft is like a cake – it has many layers (as do onions and ogres). The top layer is the first few picks of a draft, the players with superstar potential. Some drafts fail to produce even one such player, while others have a thick and delicious top layer for their cake. Think 2003, the draft that produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony.
Below that is your second layer, delightfully sandwiched on either side by thick filling. These are players who are surefire starters, with the possibility of making the All-Star game if circumstances turn out right. The 2000 draft being the exception (just three All-Star appearances from the entire class), most classes have a solid handful of such players in this group.
The third layer are players who are either starters or strong bench players depending on the situation, but almost always return value on their draft slot. These aren’t star talents but rather the fourth, fifth, and sixth men a team needs to build a contender.
The 2014 draft is one well on its way to producing players in the top tier, and interestingly enough teams seem to have done a solid job of identifying those players from the jump. The top three picks – Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid – all look like candidates for that very top layer, and at worst the second tier of All-Star talents. The lone outlier comes shooting out of the second round.
Especially compared to the complete whiff of the 2013 draft to evaluate its own talent, that is a win for the teams at the top. But once you eat your way into the second and third layers of this cake (that line is why I used cake and not onions), you will realize that under the surface even the “best” drafts are a guessing game in the end.
Some quick ground rules: teams are drafting in the re-draft primarily on quality of player, more so than positional needs. The potential for players to continue improving is evaluated as of today, not then, and more weight is obviously given to proven contributors. We are also including notable undrafted players who were eligible for the 2014 draft.
Finally, this draft is following the actual selection order based on trades made before and during draft night. That means that Orlando will be selecting a player at number ten, not Philadelphia – we can’t know how trades were influenced by players available, or when they were agreed to, so we’re doing our best here.
One new rule for our second re-draft: we are in a separate alternate universe than the one we created last week. That means teams are selecting in this draft as if the 2013 draft happened as it truly did, not how it should have gone based on 2017 knowledge. My apologies to the Cavs, Suns, Kings and Jazz specifically in this area.
Our story begins once more in the lakeside village of Cleveland, where the Cavaliers stole the top pick in the draft for the third time in four years.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Original Pick: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Re-draft Pick: Andrew Wiggins (Originally Picked 1-1)
This pick involved splitting a number of hairs, as this draft has serious strength at the top. Four players were in consideration here for the Cavaliers, including each of the original top three picks and point-center phenom Nikola Jokic. Ultimately it came down to what the Cavs needed most with the pick.
If the Cavaliers could have built on last week’s re-draft of the 2013 draft – and selected Giannis Antetokounmpo – they could have traded for Kevin Love and still retained Joel Embiid, who possesses the highest upside by far. On his inexpensive rookie contract, the Cavaliers could be trotting out Joel Embiid next season alongside LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love.
But back in reality, the Cavaliers blew the pick on Anthony Bennett, and need the two-way upside of Andrew Wiggins here to make the trade for Kevin Love that ultimately netted them a title. As great as Embiid could be, Cleveland will take the title every time. Jokic has performed better than Wiggins at this point in their careers, but Wiggins still possesses the potential to be a player without weaknesses – Jokic will be a difficult player to build a title team around with his poor defensive traits. Wiggins remains the pick here.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Original Pick: Jabari Parker, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Joel Embiid, Kansas (1-3)
The Milwaukee Bucks love Parker, and he has completely bought into that organization and done everything they have asked of him. He has made huge strides in his game: extending his range, tightening up his ball handling, and adding to his skillset every year. Defensively, he plays hard despite his shortcomings. The injuries have been difficult for both parties, but the Bucks otherwise have no reason to regret this pick.
Even so, Joel Embiid has to be the pick here. His upside is tremendous, laid on top of his already prodigious ability. During his limited time on the court this season, Embiid put up unprecedented numbers, scoring at all three levels and anchoring the defense with numbers that would lead the league over a full season. He would take patience, but Embiid and Giannis is a pairing that would rule the post-LeBron East in a few short years.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Re-draft Pick: Nikola Jokic, Denver (2-41)
For all of the waiting Philadelphia had to do with Joel Embiid, he seems worth the wait – provided he recovers from this latest injury. But if he’s only available for 30 games a season, that’s not only wasted talent – it’s poor return on the third overall pick.
But with Embiid off the board, Jokic is a fantastic – and fascinating – replacement. The young big from Serbia came over one year after being drafted, a timeline that would have fit The Process perfectly. His passing skills are way above the average center – and perhaps even the best in the NBA – and he has shooting range similar to Embiid. The defense is sorely lacking – Jokic was one of the worst rim-protecting bigs in the league – but his availability has been top notch since arriving in Denver.
4. Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Re-draft Pick: Jabari Parker, Duke (1-2)
Aaron Gordon has been a solid player for the Orlando Magic, probably their most successful draft pick since Dwight Howard in terms of development and production. When allowed to play at his natural position of power forward, Gordon’s athleticism and motor shine through.
Even so, he lacks the offensive upside of Jabari Parker, a player who is simply special on that end of the court. Injuries and defensive limitations have held him back through three seasons, but Parker is both young and has displayed the work ethic to improve each and every season. The Magic don’t have a truly special player like that on their roster.
5. Utah Jazz
Original Pick: Dante Exum, Australia
Re-draft Pick: Aaron Gordon (1-4)
Once again the re-draft stays within striking distance of the original, with Gordon falling just one spot to fifth. Exum provided decent return as a rookie, but a knee injury cost him the entire 2016 season and this past season he found himself behind George Hill and limited to a bench role. His upside is still hazy.
Gordon’s path forward is far from clear, but he looks the part of a dynamic athlete at the 4 who will only grow in his ability to take over a game. In an environment where the floor is spaced around him (a reality that may never be realized in Orlando), Gordon could put up All-Star numbers, and he may force his way there regardless.
6. Boston Celtics
Original Pick: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Re-draft Pick: Dario Saric, Croatia (1-12)
There is a clear dividing line between the top five in the draft and the next group of players, but Dario Saric looks like the most likely to make the jump. Although he was selected in 2014, he did not come to the NBA until this past season, where he put up All-Rookie numbers on the 76ers.
As a ball-handling power forward, Saric unlocks versatility for his team, and Boston coach Brad Stevens would love to design plays and rotations with that in mind. Smart has been a bulldog on defense but terribly inconsistent on offense, so he drops in the re-draft.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Zach LaVine
The next three players to be selected are all shooting guards, so there is a level of choose-your-flavor here. While Orange Julius has worked hard to make an impact for the Lakers, the question of whether he puts it all together is up in the air. He could be an All-Star or a washout in five years, and nobody really knows which is more likely right now.
That means the purple and gold go for a 2 here, and their tastes lead them to the flashy Zach LaVine. Part of the Timberwolves’ young core, LaVine has shown he can score from anywhere on the court, and his offensive game has flashes of a recent 2-guard Lakers fans were used to watching.
8. Sacramento Kings
Original Pick: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Re-draft Pick: Rodney Hood, Duke (1-23)
Sauce Castillo has an excellent nickname and a less-than-excellent game, although his work in Philly far outstripped his Sacramento ineptitude. The Kings go for another 2-guard in Rodney Hood, a reasonable choice as a wingman for DeMarcus Cousins. Hood has played well in a more limited role on a deep Jazz team, but in Sacramento he could easily be scoring 20 per game by this point in his career.
9. Charlotte Hornets
Original Pick: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Re-draft Pick: Gary Harris, Michigan St (1-19)
Noah Vonleh was originally supposed to be a dynamic two-way big man, stretching the floor and protecting the rim. While he finally began to carve out a role in Portland this past year, he is not the star the Hornets thought he would be. Gary Harris is one of those players that is perennially overlooked and yet might have value far greater than we realize. He is incredibly solid, can guard both guard positions, shoots the lights out and moves well without the basketball. Great pick here for the Hornets.
10. Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Elfrid Payton, UL-Lafayette
Re-draft Pick: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia (1-16)
The Magic are twice affected by our specific re-draft rules, retaining the 10th overall pick they traded for on draft night but not Rudy Gobert, whom they selected in the 2013 re-draft from last week. That means they are still in need of a dynamic big man, and Jusuf Nurkic fits the bill. If Nurkic is the player he was for two weeks in Portland, he rises quickly up this list. If he is the player who wallowed in mediocrity for the Nuggets the 15 months prior, he is too high. The answer is most likely somewhere in the middle.
11. Chicago Bulls
Original Pick: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Re-draft Pick: Clint Capela, Switzerland (1-25)
Pop-Out: While the Sacramento Kings receive plenty of flak for their poor trades, the Chicago Bulls do not deserve to be excluded from that discussion. On draft night in 2014, they flipped two first round picks for swingman Doug McDermott. One may note that while McDermott has not yet been selected (spoiler alert: he won’t be), the two players Denver received for him, Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic, have been.
They also flipped Taj Gibson and McDermott for Cameron Payne, a point guard with limited tools who (spoiler alert) will not be selected in next week’s 2015 re-draft. It doesn’t stop there. They also traded valuable rotation wing Tony Snell for useless point guard Michael Carter-Williams prior to this season. It’s hard to find a trade that they “won” in the past five years. Give the Kings some rest and beat up on the Bulls front office for a few minutes. It’s only fair.
Back-In: Doug McDermott never became the player Chicago hoped, so instead they go for Clint Capela here. The quintessential pick-and-roll big, Capela runs hard from rim-to-rim, crashes the offensive glass, and throws down high-percentage looks. The Bulls could use anyone who shoots high percentage shots.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Dario Saric, Croatia
Re-draft Pick: Tyler Johnson, Fresno State (Undrafted)
Our lone representative from the ranks of the undrafted, Tyler Johnson is a swing guard who projects as the perfect third-guard for a team. With Nikola Jokic slinging passes from the post, Johnson would be able to roam the perimeter for catch-and-shoot threes, as well as move the ball from outside when teams hug the middle. With Saric gone, Johnson is a solid consolation prize.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
Original Pick: Zach LaVine, UCLA
Re-draft Pick: Julius Randle, Kentucky (1-7)
Another tier drop here, as the draft moves from solid starters to mystery pieces with upside. Randle has defined skills – playmaking, scoring inside – and defined weaknesses, from defense to shooting to effort. But if he can put things together he could be a dynamic player, and Minnesota would bank on that continued upside here.
14. Phoenix Suns
Original Pick: T.J. Warren, N.C. State
Re-draft Pick: Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (2-46)
Warren has been a solid rotation player for the Suns, but without three-point range his upside is limited. Clarkson lacks strong defensive tools, but he can shoot and handle the ball and would fit well next to any of the Suns’ numerous point guards at this point. The Suns also would have benefited from a forward with range here.
Honorable Mentions: Jerami Grant, Syracuse (2-39); Marcus Smart, Oklahoma St (1-6); Doug McDermott, Creighton (1-11); T.J. Warren, N.C. State (1-14); Dante Exum, Australia (1-5)
Three takeaways come to mind when looking at the 2014 NBA Lottery Re-draft above. First, the elite talent at the top of the draft was seen from the outset, as the top four picks from the draft were taken in the top five of the re-draft. The exception was Nikola Jokic, a big man so unique teams can hardly be blamed for missing on him. Missing on him for 40 straight picks? Not so great.
Secondly, Denver owned this draft. They came away with a franchise cornerstone in Jokic at 41, a surefire starter at the 2-guard in Gary Harris, and a starting-caliber center in Jusuf Nurkic. Three starting-level players in one draft is an enormous haul, and this illustrates how the Nuggets have performed exceedingly well in the draft.
Finally, we see how hard it truly is to evaluate talent as we get closer and closer to the present. Players such as Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, and Dante Exum could still develop into stars – it’s becoming les likely, but the window is still open. Shoot, Bruno Caboclo just dropped 32 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in the D-League Championship Game to lead his team to the title. He could still make the leap.
As we draw closer to the present, those players who have performed already will float towards the top, and the group of players brimming with unrealized potential will grow. That makes our “20-20” look grow more hazy, but makes the exercise no less fun.
Long live The Process, and long live Lottery Re-drafts!