Different Strokes: Draft Winners in Different Evolutionary Stages

First things first: yes, that is Kris Porzingis throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game. Has he ever held a baseball before? How did he fare? Was it better than 50 Cent’s first pitch? All burning questions, but unfortunately, I have not been able to find any video of Zinger’s first pitch. Someone please help me find it, or else I’ll never feel whole again. Moving on to some actual analysis…

In two parts, I’ll take six teams, three draft winners, three draft losers, and gauge the quality of their draft haul. In doing this, I’ll consider the team’s position in the franchise life cycle, their current roster, their contract obligations, and any possible free agent intentions. Basically, I’ll comment on how these each of these picks speak to their team’s overall plan and what their next moves may be. Here are my winners, the losers post will be up within a couple of days. (Aside: probably…hopefully…damn you, summer term!)

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cedi Osman – 31st overall

Rakeem Christmas – 36rd overall

Sir’Dominic Pointer – 53rd overall

Having had the best season of my winners; flexibility is the operative word for the Cavaliers and their draft plans as they look to regroup and improve. Trading out of the 24th pick into the second round eliminates another guaranteed deal on the books this season, which will help GM David Griffin reassemble his team around LeBron and Kyrie. They have a number of free agents, including Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love, and LeBron James…kinda. Their stated goal has been to bring everyone back and most insiders believe them. (Update: K. Love, Thompson, and Shumpert have signed) How are they winners if their goal was to not do anything? Well, the primary reason is that each of the players they picked has a realistic shot at filling an NBA niche. But an underrated aspect of this draft is that they didn’t keep Tyus Jones, who was thought to be LeBron’s choice. (Aside: this could have been Jalen Rose creating narrative in order to justify yet another, well, strenuous comparison) Instead, GM LeBron took a backseat as the Cavs used three second-rounders to take stabs at prospects with some useful tools.

The first of whom is Cedi Osman, a Turkish product who will be playing for Anadolu Efes in the Turkish League for the next two years. (Aside: outside of a a couple other traditional Turkish powers, most of Efes’ tough competition comes in the Euroleague) Touted Sixers draftee Dario Šarić is also signed to Anadolu Efes, though Osman doesn’t share in Šarić’s particular brand of competitive showmanship.

However, Cedi has a nice all around game, shining most when he’s unshackled in transition. He’s decidedly a wing, a lithe 6’8” with a shooting stroke that should carry him to better shooting percentages as he gets stronger. He looks a little lost in half court offense at times, again, he’s only had limited playing time at 20 years old. Osman’s defense is another story, as he’s a little jumpy; but has a knack for forcing turnovers when he’s dialed in and not flipping out. His transition game really stands out to me; I’d think of him as a Corey Brewer-type player in this respect, but he needs to improve his on-ball defense in order to match Brewer’s value on that end. (Aside: and hopefully his trip across the Atlantic will be the last travelling he does) Osman has a bit more upside in half court offense due to his developing court vision, which was hard to discern because of his limited offensive role. Cedi’s a player that may prove valuable to the Cavs as a bench sparkplug in future years, or as a potential throw-in to a trade.

Rakeem Christmas represents insurance as a potential replacement for Tristan Thompson, or even Anderson Varejao, as the Cavs suddenly have a glut of big men. (Aside: other bigs are Timofey Mozgov and Kevin Love) Christmas’ advanced college stats are actually a tad better than Thompson’s were at Texas. But keep in mind that Thompson only played one year at Texas, whereas Rakeem Christmas spent four years under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. (Aside: Thompson is actually only a year older than Christmas) The Cavs are hoping that Christmas, who’s effort wasn’t always the highest, will pick up some of the tenacity teeming in Cleveland under Papa LeBron. (Aside: I like the idea of Papa LeBron, but not that LeBrons’s the one perpetuating it) He showed an improved shooting touch as his career progressed, something which clearly sets him apart from Thompson and may lead into a Varejao-type of pick and roll (pick and pop) game. I’m still not convinced Christmas can have the wrecking ball effect of Thompson or the calculated hustle of Varejao, but he certainly reprises a similar role on the court.

St. John’s product Sir’Dominic Pointer, who, to my knowledge, has not been knighted, is another defensive and transitional threat. (Update: Pointer’s twin sister is named Miz’Unique. Maybe their father is André 3000) Pointer averaged 4.3 stocks (steals + blocks) last year, ranking among the top 50 Division I players in both blocks and steals. His advanced peripherals (3.3 steal percentage and 7.4 block percentage) support these numbers. A huge weakness of his, since he’s a wing player, is his lack of an outside jumper; Pointer only took 45 shots from behind the arc in his last two years of school. However, he’s a nifty off-ball mover in the halfcourt, where he takes advantage of defenses that pay him little mind, cutting for buckets and offensive boards. Moreover, his shot isn’t broken; he hit some midrange shots and sat above 70 percent from the line for the last couple of years. Sir’Dominic possesses good passing instincts, evidenced by his very respectable assist numbers. He averaged 3 dimes per game, which was good for an assist percentage of 18%. These are made more impressive by the fact that he doesn’t have a great handle, so it’s not like he’s dribbling around, creating passing angles. Hopefully, he’ll tighten his handle, unlocking more options for him and his teammates. All in all, he’s another Brewer-type breaker, though smaller, with a similarly loose handle, but more fluidity when turning horizontal speed into verticality at the hoop. He and Osman share some similarities, though Osman is three years younger and could very well improve his read on the game. On the flip side, Pointer could very well improve his jump shot. Cleveland is betting that one of them can put it all together, and I’d bet on Pointer right now. (Aside: for all of those keeping track at home, that’s me betting against the Euro as hell freezes over)

I really like these picks for the Cavaliers, even considering that none of them will bolster their three point shooting, which was their biggest hole in the Finals. The retention and recovery of Kevin Love will help their spacing, while these players should eventually pick up the Cavs’ aggressive defense and spur their transition game. I would imagine that Cavs decision-makers, outside of attracting another shooter, are aiming the keep the band together. This draft allowed them to remain flexible in doing so while adding some potentially useful role players. The phrase, ‘potentially useful role players’ has never sounded so good.

Bulls

Bobby Portis – 22nd overall

Despite a change in coaching, yet another versatile big man heads to the City of Wind. Something to note here is that new coach Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State Cyclones faced Portis’ Arkansas Razorbacks squad in December. Portis put up 19 points on 8 of 10. He hit both of his threes. He didn’t turn it over. He got better from there. Someone was taking notes. (Aside: an interesting trend to study would be the draft success of college gone pro coaches in their first two to three years. I’d imagine this has already been studied though. If not, we have a new article!) Portis is an intriguing prospect because he boasts a solid power forward frame at 6’11”, 246 lbs which he uses with the finesse of a tweener. However, he’s certainly a better low post player than most given that label and it isn’t entirely due to his size. Portis improved his footwork on the block through the end of his sophomore year and he started combining a burgeoning turnaround jumper with some deliberate drop step. And the turnaround. It burgeons.

Arkansas_Razorbacks_vs_Iowa_State_Cyclones

Unfortunately, he releases his set shot more slowly due to his funky, but workable mechanics. His stroke and follow through look good in addition to a smooth power transfer from his feet to his wrist. But Portis doesn’t move people as consistently as he should when he backs them down, and in general around the hoop. He fails to get low and drive people as you can see above. The thing to note about consistency is that usually the reason some people can’t do great things consistently is that they don’t have the requisite talent. Sometimes they’re just young, so time will judge Portis on that front. Ditto for his ability to extend his shooting range to the NBA 3-point line; Portis should hit from the short corner soon enough, so we’ll see about those longer shots. An underrated aspect to his game that the Bulls should particularly like is his ability and willingness to pass out of the low block. This was a needed aspect in the Bulls offense last season as both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah like to operate in the high post, though Nikola Mirotić has shown the ability to alleviate that pressure. They may need more relief to install what Hoiberg envisions. Looking at Mirotić’s shot chart in that link, it’s easy to see how Portis would fit into that intermediate area with Threekola on the court. Personally, I would like to see Portis increase his comfort level handling the ball and working from the perimeter. Maybe Hoiberg will work with Portis on improving these skills as he did Georges Niang at Iowa State. On defense, I think he’ll develop the ability to hang after pick and roll switches, an area in which Taj Gibson is particularly proficient. Portis represents some insurance in that respect.

Arkansas_Razorbacks_vs_Iowa_State_Cyclones (2)

He used his mobility to anchor the Arkansas zone defense last year, which should translate into some more than capable help side defense once he settles into the pace of the NBA game. His rim protection is a work in progress; I’m not sure that his has the natural timing of a prospect like Jordan Mickey.

Overall, Portis could be sort of an below the rim Josh Smith.  I say this realizing that one of Smith’s defining characteristics, especially early in his career, was his rim-rocking athleticism. Portis isn’t an explosive high flyer, but he’s smooth with the ball and could really turn into a good driver if he gets comfortable on the perimeter and his handle improves, particularly his left hand. Though his advanced defensive metrics went down from his freshman to sophomore year, that may be attributable to his usage rate and minutes played going up. Since he was exerting more energy on offense and over time, he couldn’t match his defensive benchmarks. Draymond Green (junior -> senior) and Kawhi Leonard (freshman -> sophomore) saw the same dip. However, it is encouraging to see that his turnover percentage went down in spite of higher usage, which he also shares with Leonard.

In short, great pick up for the Bulls, who may want someone with more offensive flexibility in the long term. Pau is up there in age, Noah slumped last year, Gibson’s offensively limited, and Mirotić remains a polished prospect. Bobby Portis skews somewhere between Gibson and Mirotić, but he’s Noah’s size. In case you’re wondering, Gibson is on a pretty tradable contract — 2 years, $17.45 million. Would a Pau expiring, with player option, to the Knicks be that crazy here? (Aside: I’m just saying. Adding Shane Larkin plus a sign-and-trade of Lou or Mo Williams would give the Bulls some non-Rose voltage. Mo might provide some cap flexibility as they look to resign Butler and Dunleavy.) Back to Portis. He has the potential to fill many perspective gaps on the Bulls roster, as well as the ability to add to an offensive system which most expect to be more open under Hoiberg. The Bulls are giving Hoiberg a versatile weapon on offense and defense in the hopes to have a Warrior-like offensive turnaround. (Aside: though the result won’t be as charring as the duo of Thompson and Curry. Also, if I’m a defensive head coach, I pause to go to an up-and-coming team because they’ll just fire me after their defense improves and they need to progress their offense. It would still help build a resume, which is why I’d pause and then probably take the job anyway) Even if Noah rebounds in an expanded Bogut role and gets extended, the Gibson and Mirotić pacts are due for renewal after 2016-17, and Pau has a player option for that season. If Portis cracks the rotation and steadily contributes, the Bulls are freed to choose one of them to trade or let walk in free agency, though clearly Gasol can’t play forever. Regardless of the identity of a possible tradee, Portis allows the Bulls to keep the asset churn going which is key for every franchise. It’s great to see a team can cash in an asset for a quality player while opening up another opportunity to gather draft picks or other assets; I consider it a win.

Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis – 4th overall

Jerian Grant – 19th overall

Guillermo Hernangomez – 36th overall

Some will disagree with categorizing the Knicks as winners in this draft, but here’s my reasoning: the Knicks need everything. They need shooters, ball handlers, wing defenders, post defenders; you name it, they need it. Excepting Carmelo Anthony, the only valuable assets in their possession are cap space and draft assets. Kristaps Porzingis is a long term shot at a superstar, but he could also land quite nicely on the sweet-shooting big man cloud a la Channing Frye (Aside: I’m going to start calling him Kris Porzingis, it rolls off the tongue and makes him sound less Miličićian. I wonder if fans would be less pessimistic about foreign prospects if the scouting hype machines tried to Anglicize their names first) Obviously, Porzingis has the potential to do a lot more than just shoot and speak fantastic English; the Knicks hope that he’ll turn into a fantastic Dirk Nowitzki amalgam who uses his length to shoot over defense and protect the rim. He anchored Sevilla’s defense in the ACB last year and is more athletic than apex Nowitzki, leading many, me among them, to believe that he’ll eventually carry that skill over to the NBA. Regardless of how much he has, or adds, athletically, he should try to develop the Dirk-away because it’s such a weapon for players that shoot with touch, particularly big men. The Knicks are hoping that they’re getting two of the NBA’s most valuable skills, rim protection and 3-point scoring, in the form of a 7’1” Latvian string bean. With everything that’s been said about his work ethic, I’m disinclined to doubt him.

The Knicks also flipped Tim Hardaway Jr. for point guard Jerian Grant, which was a good move on their part. Grant, the latest NBA inductee from the Grant family, plays more like a long lost Holiday brother. The quality of his defense, at age 22, is closer to Justin than Jrue, but his play as an offensive point guard is similar the latter brother. They both hover around 6’3” or 6’4” and use that size to their benefit as passers while leveraging sneaky athleticism to attack the defense. Jrue is more effective from long range, which is an area upon which Grant will need to improve. Jerian’s jumper is a bit behind the learning curve, especially since Holiday entered the league at 19. It seems to me that the more Grant’s shoulders stay perpendicular to the ground, the less he leans back, and the more his shot goes in. He’ll also need to tighten up what is sometimes a high dribble. Nonetheless, a good prospect picked up by the Knicks in exchange for Hardaway Jr.

In a bit of post-draft business, New York coughed up two future second-rounders, 2020 and 2021, for the rights to 36th overall pick, Spaniard Guillermo Hernangomez. He goes by Willy. (Aside: that’s the second-round lottery, a great place for snagging undervalued prospects like Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, and K.J. McDaniels. A downside of taking these guys is that they can get paid after two years, not four. Just ask the Rockets about Chandler Parsons.) In this case, they’ll stash Willy for a year in Europe. He was on loan in Sevilla this past year, where he played alongside fellow Knickerbocker, Kris Porzingis. (Aside: the loan system is phenomenal) He’s a solidly built post player who fared well against Croatian national and FC Barcelona center Ante Tomic in low post defense during ACB action. He reminds me of Nikola Vučević in the way he plays below the rim, nevertheless imposing his force on other players. However, Hernangomez doesn’t look to be quite the plodder that Vučević is. His mid-range game is thought to be a work in progress, but Hernangomez has shown enough touch around the rim, and at the line, to justify an optimistic outlook. The Knicks envision a hardcourt version of Smash and Dash, though hopefully Porzingis won’t disown Hernangomez as CJ2k did to Lendale White. An NBA comparison is a version of Serge Ibaka and Enes (the Menace) Kanter, though certainly not a carbon copy.

Here, the Knicks were able to add three valuable prospects that should fit into what Phil Jackson wants to do in the triangle offense. A key aspect to note here is that the none of these players eliminate any of their potential free agent targets as possibilities. Kris Porzingis looks to take the Giannis Antetokounmpo slow burn approach to playing time, Willy has another year in Europe, and Jerian Grant will play, but could hack both guard spots. This allows the Knicks to cast the widest possible net in the hopes that a star player deems his current situation worse than what’s happening in New York. Or they could temporarily overpay mid-tier guys like Arron Afflalo, whose contracts won’t look bad when the cap finally stabilizes at $108 million in the summer of 2017. If this is the plan, then I would love to see Pau sent to New York for Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early, and a protected first rounder. (Aside: this may only work if 1) the Bulls think they need to get rid Pau and 2) Pau wants to head to New York. It’s probable the Pau would garner better offers elsewhere) Phil and Pau without Kobe in New York would be a fascinating revenge-type move given the Knicks’ alleged love of D’Angelo Russell and Kobe’s alleged love of tearing Pau down. Pauzingis could be magical, they’ve both been tuteled by Scott Roth, who was the pseudo-head coach in Sevilla last year and was an assistant in Memphis with Pau. WOULD MARC GO TOO? Probably not, but the Knicks were on Goran’s trade destination list and they may best the $80m/5y offer he just got from the Heat. All of these players could play the triangle! (Aside: Maybe even Zoran, who plays just like old man Derek Fisher) (Update: Goran remains in Miami, so maybe Monta Ellis?) But the team would need some serious defensive punch to help Pau down low and decrease Melo’s load. Two free agent names I’ve just pulled out of a hat are Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler…two players the Knicks have shipped off within the last year. (Update: Shump’s still a Cavalier, maybe they would lure Beverley) In short, Phil pointed the Knicks toward the future with these picks without mortgaging significant playing time for potential free agents, something that’s hard to accomplish when picking in the top 5.

That’s it for the winners! Hopefully I’ll be back soon with some losers, as well as some miscellaneous notes on the draft. Until then, let’s all enjoy free agency, a time when we all get to find out what players and teams really want.

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One thought on “Different Strokes: Draft Winners in Different Evolutionary Stages

  1. ConCon,

    Excellent piece, I especially enjoyed reading your take on Kristaps Porzingis. I think that his first pitch at the Mets game is great from a personal branding/public relations standpoint. Not only is he endearing himself to New York sports fans (and throwing a nice looking pitch!) but he is getting his image out there to the public. Great work Kristaps.

    Like

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