Many professional basketball teams, perhaps even the one you support, drafted players in the hopes of bolstering their rosters the other night. Here are some snap judgments of their efforts from a fellow who watches a handful of college games per year. The numbers in parentheses are where they fell on ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford's big board. Save those for posterity because he'll probably change them in a year or two.
If any franchise in the league was overdue for a break it was the T-Pups, so I was happy to see them end up with the number one pick in a year there's a player worthy of it, unlike, say, a couple of years ago when Anthony Bennett was taken first overall by Cleveland. It remains to be seen whether Towns will be a generational big a la Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett, but it's undeniable that he was the best two-way pivot of anyone in the draft and a far sounder prospect both in terms of skills and maturity. Maybe some previous Minnesota regimes would've been seduced by the post skills of Jahlil Okafor, but credit Flip Saunders for understanding that defense matters. Towns is already off to a good start with the locals, choosing to get in a late night workout his first day in town. Okafor, meanwhile, already seems allergic to his jersey.
Trading two second-round picks for Jones also seems like a prescient move. At the least he'll push Ricky Rubio as a backup, but it won't be shocking if he supplants him as the starter one day. Jones isn't an elite athlete by any means, but he's smart and tough and unselfish. With guys like Towns and Andrew Wiggins on board, the last thing they need are score first point guards. Moving Zach LaVine off the ball for good should help take advantage of his athleticism in transition. I'm curious if Minny can move Nikola Pekovic and what kind of assets they can get for him.
The most fascinating pick of the lottery came at the very end, where the Thunder took Payne, "a pure point guard," at 14. That spot seems a bit high for a backup who plays the handful of minutes Russell Westbrook sits per outing. Is there any chance that GM Sam Presti and new coach Billy Donovan are thinking about moving Westbrook off the ball or easing the ball handling pressure off of him? Remember, Kevin Durant will presumably return healthy next year, and he'll gobble up a number of Iso possessions too. So if you already have those two dominating the ball, then what's the point of drafting someone like Payne, who isn't a catch-and-shoot threat? The pragmatic view is that Payne was drafted as insurance in case Westbrook leaves as a free agent, but the Thunder already got some decent news in that regard when the Lakers drafted D'Angelo Russell second overall. I'm just going to be interested to see how often KD and Russ actually let this kid touch the ball.
Johnson did nothing for me the handful of times I saw him. Granted, he was a fourth big at Kentucky, but it'll be a stretch to ever see him develop into a useful player in the pros. The Thunder also offloaded bust Jeremy Lamb to Charlotte for vagabond Luke Ridnour to be their third point guard and a mentor for Payne.
You'd think that Ty Lawson telling us that he'll soon be playing elsewhere would be enough of an indicator that he's moving on from the Nuggets, but if you need further convincing, then how about Denver drafting another point guard with their lottery pick? Mudiay slid a bit, which is to be expected when a scouting report offers red flags such as "turnover prone, especially under pressure," and "motor can run hot and cold." Add the legitimate questions about his shooting prowess on top of that and you're basically gambling on a 19-year-old who's a proven athlete but a complete mystery as a basketball player. Mudiay probably had the highest upside of anyone left so you can't blame them for the pick, but I wonder if they wouldn't have been better trading down or taking a slightly safer bet with no maturity or character concerns like a Justise Winslow.
Because they're the Nuggets, they used their late second-rounder on another point guard. Radicevic, a Serbian of little regard, will probably be a stashed away overseas.
In their continued efforts to make over the roster, the Blazers traded one rookie small forward who can't shoot in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for one who can in Notre Dame's Connaughton. Mason Plumlee and Steve Blake also exchanged zip codes in the deal. Connaughton, a two-sport star, is undersized and not quite quick enough to be a two guard, but his three-point shot improved each year with the Irish and he could thrive off the bench as a specialist. Connaughton is athletic enough to catch people by surprise his first go around through the league, but once the scouting reports catch up to him, that won't be as much of an asset.
The Spaniard Diez has more traditional small forward size, but he's stuck with Bonneresque T-Rex arms so we'll have to see if he can ever get his shot off and defend in the league. It's up in the air if he'll come over this year or not. He might as well if the Blazers are starting all over.
Utah Jazz: C-
Yet another Wildcat who was drafted way too high because of his measurables even though his on-court play left much to be desired. Lyles has ideal size and wingspan, true, but he's not a super athlete, he's not overly quick or strong, and he has a limited arsenal of moves and so-so shooting range. It's fair to wonder if playing with a guy like Towns helped him or hurt him. Yes, Lyles would've had better counting stats in another program with less talent, but if opponents had to worry about him as the first or second option, his efficiency surely would've suffered as well. As a backup for the Jazz he'll find himself in a similar situation, not having to play against top players hellbent on stopping him, but I would've taken a point guard like Payne instead.
Haplan was a good-not-great shooter in college but had a pretty good all-around skill-set. His ceiling is limited because of his size and sleight frame, but maybe he can turn into a third or fourth guard, a combo guy off the bench to pair with Rodney Hood, Alec Burks or Dante Exum. Trey Burke is not long for Utah.