The 13 Teams That Improved The Most On Draft Day 2013
(Yes, I'm looking at you, OKC and Philly).
And then leave it to big-spending Brooklyn GM Billy King, whom I have accused in the past of overpaying players to make them look like All-Stars, to swoop in on all us so-called know-it-alls and steal the show in a blockbuster trade with Boston that upgrades the Nets into an instant NBA championship contenders.
(And to think, King stole Draft Day 2013 for Brooklyn while only having a late first-round selection in 22nd pick, Mason Plumlee).
Then you had Dell Demps, who has had his ups (drafting Anthony Davis, signing Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez) and downs (botched Chris Paul trade, maxing Eric Gordon, drafting Austin Rivers) in the GM seat, but was able to capitalize Thursday on the mistakes of others, thus setting up his New Orleans Pelicans so well for the future by turning his No. 6 pick into All-Star Jrue Holiday and a 2014 protected first-rounder.
And finally, you had the Sam's Club of super-smart GMs Sam Hinkie and Sam Presti setting up their Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder franchises, by grabbing fallen centers Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams when the analytics-inspired opportunities presented themselves.
Yes, Anthony Bennett surprised us all by going No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and true 'dat Victor Oladipo improved the Orlando Magic at the No. 2 slot.
But when we all go back and look at the teams that were the biggest winners on June 27, 2013 Draft Day, we probably will be singing the praises of the Nets, Sixers, Pelicans and Thunder, who took advantage of a falling-center market and a fire-sale Cetlic transition to make their teams significantly better for the 2013-14 season and beyond.
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Next season, this former trio of Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be looking up at the championship banner-less Barclays Center.
1. BROOKLYN NETS: Talk about a Dream Team. An All-Star reunion. A Big 5. Who cares what you call it? A Hello Brooklyn NBA moment happened for real Thursday when the Nets stole Draft Day 2013 by acquiring two Hall of Famers in a trade. Now it's not just KG, Pierce and Rondo as Boston Big 3 Part II (sorry, Rajon). It's Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez and sixth man Jason Terry. You've got to give GM Billy King credit for this BIGTIME, turning Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries' expiring contract and three future first-round picks (2014, 2016 and 2018) for Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry. In fact, I am forevermore addressing Billy King as BIGTIME Billy King for having the foresight and payroll to keep spending his bosses' money when I thought it was inappropriate and foolish. Looks like BIGTIME Billy King has the last laugh on this one. Will it pay off with an NBA championship? Who knows? But it definitely transforms the BK Nets into a Top 6 preseason pick (1. Heat, 2., Spurs, 3. Thunder, 4. Pacers, 5. Bulls, 6. Nets), and that is something I did not see coming when they assembled the most overpaid team in the East a year ago. Congrats to BIGTIME for pulling off a deal that potentially turns Brooklyn into Miami's next nightmare.
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Despite recovering from ACL surgery, Nerlens Noel will still likely play more games than the Sixers' center last season, Andrew Bynum.
2. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: As my man mixed math artist David Williams asks, "Is this going to go down as the greatest day in Philadelphia 76ers history?" Well, after careful consideration, we're willing to go back and call it Best Sixer moment in past 30 years, but that's what happens when Houston Rockets' GM Daryl Morey's former right-hand man Sam Hinkie takes control of the 76ers' ship and fixes their floundering franchise on one single draft day. First, Hinkie sees Nerlens Noel, who was the best prospect by far iMHO, drop from his projected No. 1 slot to No. 6 and pounces on the moment. He makes a fair trade for the Pelicans' No. 6 slot, sending All-Star Jrue Holiday and a protected 2014 first-round pick (picks 1-thru-5) for the rights to the 7-0, 206-pound Noel. Hinkie basically turned an All-Star into a potential Hall of Famer, which is always OK in my book. He then took a solid lottery potential starter with the 11th pick in tall point guard Michael Carter-Williams to fill the team's point-guard void. Later, Hinkie then made one of the best second-round selections in 38th pick Nate Wolters, a guard who was 16th on my NBAge Advantage Checklist. Philly won't necessarily show their improvement as a franchise right away in the win-loss column, but the three moves are all steps in the right direction long-term for the Sixers.
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Next season, instead of getting his shots challenged by Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday will be throwing lobs his way.
3. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: If Noel turns out to be a stud, critics will rip the Pelicans for trading this pick away. But I credit New Orleans for this move because they turned their No. 6 pick into an All-Star (Jrue Holiday) and a 2014 protected first-round pick (for picks 1-thru-5). That is incredible bang-for-buck value. I don't think any of the Top 5 NBA Draft picks will accrue as much worth as Holiday and the 2014 first-rounder. And for that, Demps deserves credit as the GM who turned the 6 pick into a sure thing. Now check out the Pelicans roster heading into Summer 2013: Holiday, Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, free agent Al-Farouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez. It's a general manager's dream team of young assets who will just get better as time goes by. Eventually, when Demps chooses to spend free-agent money to make a playoff push in a year or two, he has the lure of a young, talented team to do all the recruiting for him.
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Steven Adams landing in the Thunder's lap at 12 might signal the end of the Kendrick Perkins era.
4. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: If you are a Western Conference top contender, you hate the fact that Steven Adams dropped to the 12th slot in the draft, especially when you ranked him sixth on your board and especially if the 7-0, 255-pound center went to the team that desperately needed a new center in its starting lineup (sorry, Kendrick Perkins). If Adams turns into a good center in the next year or two, this makes Sam Presti's cost-cutting move of James Harden a year ago more tolerable. What happens if Adams becomes a Top 10 or 15 center, a distinct possibility on this team? Imagine this potential NBA Finals lineup: Adams, Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook. Good luck scoring 90 points on that squad.
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Some lamented the Bobcats' choice of Cody Zeller, but he has a good chance to impress and surprise with his offensive game.
5. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: This was owner Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho's finest moment yet. Drafting Cody Zeller at the No. 4 slot was wonderful in three different ways: 1. they got a prospect who I believe was the second-best player in the draft; 2. because of Zeller's offensive-prolific game, the Bobcats finally have a big man who can score on his own, as well as score off the creativity of point guard Kemba Walker; 3. they found a perfect complementary piece for young Bobcat big Bismack Biyombo, whose defensive prowess can continue to flourish, while Zeller takes the lion's share of offensive post duties. Charlotte is still years away from being a playoff team, but you have to like young assets Zeller, Biyombo, Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
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Things are looking up for Washington as Otto Porter is a versatile player whose game is complementary to any team.
6. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: It is not often that a pro team can take the hometown collegiate favorite and not only land a potential All-Star, but also fill a need while doing so. That is precisely what the Wizards did when they selected Georgetown's do-everything Otto Porter as their small forward of the future. The No. 3 pick is a good rebounder, efficient scorer and very strong defender at his position. You can just see Porter fitting in seamlessly on this team for years to come, playing alongside guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, along with center Nene. His boardwork makes Nene's job easier, and his all-around skills jigsaw in nicely with the guards, who are both still developing their off-the-ball games. I would expect Washington to improve as a team with Porter on board, qualifying for postseason play in the near future, perhaps as soon as the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
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Among his draft peers, Trey Burke might be the most natural leader and best point guard in this draft.
7. UTAH JAZZ: What do you call a GM who trades the 14th and 21st picks in the NBA Draft for the ninth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. I say you call him pretty smart when that ninth pick turns out to be Trey Burke, who was ranked fourth on my draft board. I also say you can maybe rank one-year Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey alongside some of the best GMs in the game for pulling off a move this shrewd (yup, right behind Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Mavs, Celtics, Bulls, Pacers, Lakers, as well as 76ers and Nets). To top things off even further, the former Spurs assistant GM Lindsey may have even plucked a couple of San Antonio favorites Rudy Gobert and Erick Green from his former team's grasp, with a couple of late-round maneuverings.
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The Suns might have taken a gamble by taking Alex Len while Nerlens Noel was still on the draft board.
8. PHOENIX SUNS: Suns GM Lon Babby got a big for now, Alex Len, with the fifth pick and a young point guard for the future, 18-year-old Archie Goodwin, with the 29th pick in a good bang-for-buck draft. Still, one has to wonder if the Top 5 teams in the draft, who all selected good prospects for their organizations, missed out on the big jackpot by bypassing Nerlens Noel time and time again. It's something we will have to address again in sixth months when we first see how good these players are on NBA courts. In the meantime, the Suns can rest assured that they will have a good center tandem once again, just like 2011-12, when a healthy Marcin Gortat and a since-departed Robin Lopez roamed the Phoenix floors. Len should be able to handle all the all-around center duties of a player required to play 20-plus minutes a game.
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The draft began with a shocker when the Cavs took Anthony Bennett first overall.
9. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: First things first. Anthony Bennett should be a good player for the Cavs. But unless he turns out to be a mix of Charles Barkley and Anthony Mason and young Larry Johnson, I do not understand why Cleveland took him with the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He's big (6-7) and wide (250) and can score like crazy, but I think his defensive liabilities at the power forward position knock his stock down. Then, when I see Cleveland draft him, I am beginning to think GM Chris Grant and Coach Mike Brown might be envisioning him as an oversized small forward to play alongside young power forward Tristan Thompson and veteran center Anderson Varejao. And THAT would be a huge mistake in my book because playing the 3 spot would make Bennett's defensive liabilities even more pronounced. I hope I am wrong because, regardless, the Cavs got a good player in Bennett, not to mention an efficient-shooting small forward in Sergey Karasev, the 19th pick. I just think that the Cavs didn't capitalize on this No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft like they could have. That said, even a two-start, one-sub, big-man triumvirate of Varejao, Thompson and Bennett should be good together in due time, as long as none of them is forced to play out of position at the 3 spot.
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The Pistons kept to their draft strategy that has worked out well for them the past few drafts: taking small name but productive players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
10. DETROIT PISTONS: Pistons GM Joe Dumars did most of the heavy lifting for improving this franchise in past drafts, landing bigs Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe already. So when Dumars took strong complementary parts Kentavious Caldwell-Pope eighth and Tony Mitchell 37th, he gave Detroit yet another sound shooting guard and power forward to fortify his 2014 potential playoff team. I really do believe the days of Darko are behind Dumars, and if they can make some other free-agency moves next week, the Pistons may indeed be on the path back to respectability in the years to come. If nothing else, shooting guard KCP and power forward Mitchell will do all the little things that will help the Pistons' young forces come together as a team of chemistry.
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Some had forecast Victor Oladipo as the No. 1 pick, so Orlando was happy to see him available with the second pick.
11. ORLANDO MAGIC: At worst, Victor Oladipo will become a defensive specialist in the NBA that deserves 25-30 minutes on the floor every night. At best, the active Oladipo will become The Next Dwyane Wade as his camp continuously hypes him. Regardless, Magic GM Rob Hennigan now begins Year 2 of his slow transformation project. I say slow because I don't see Orlando becoming a playoff team in at least a few years, say, 2016 or 2017. Yeah, it's going to take that long to go from a franchise that is taking its sweet time rebuilding to actually succeeding in the playoffs once again. I mean, we are heading into Year 2 Sans Dwight and the biggest headliners on the Magic are merely Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. Unless Orlando makes a major splash in free agency the next two weeks, we are destined to wait years for them to get much better. Are they improved from last year? Yes. That's why they are ranked 11th on this list. But did they capitalize on the No. 2 pick? I don't think so.
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Portland's drafting of C.J. McCollum from Lehigh gives the Trail Blazers the possibility of a backcourt (along with Weber State product Damian Lillard) hailing from small schools.
12. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: You can't go wrong with 10th pick C.J. McCollum because he is just a good, quality guard. But what makes him such a nice fit for Portland is that McCollum is a blend between the 1 and 2 positions, which places him perfectly on a team that already has pure point guard and Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard along with wing Wesley Matthews, who is a blend of 2 and 3. These three can spot each other rest and also play together on the floor at the same time, which is a likelihood since McCollum can handle, shoot, pass and defend with equal aplomb. He even gives Portland a potentially potent small-ball lineup with small forward Nicolas Batum moving into the stretch 4 spot at times. Shooter Allen Crabbe, the 31st pick, and Jeff Withey, the 39th pick, could turn out to be an adequate second- or third-stringers.
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the best shooting guard prospect in the draft, Ben McLemore, falling to them at No. 7 is a blessing for the Kings. Now they have to figure out which of their shot-happy guards they will have to move.
13. SACRAMENTO KINGS: Last year's Kings had plenty of guys who liked to shoot (Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette), and all of them were above-average shooters, at best. Ben McLemore gives Sacramento an upgrade at the shooting guard position. He's a better shooter. Perhaps a better scorer. But whether McLemore can do all the little things that can make him a Top 10 shooting guard one day remains to be seen. By acquiring McLemore, the Kings will surely continue shopping Fredette and may not even pursue Evans when free agency begins next week. Ray McCallum, the 36th pick, is a backup point guard worthy keeping an eye on. It will be interesting to see if McCallum can beat out all comers and assume the second-string point guard post behind Thomas.