Tiered 2016 NBA draft board features three players in tiers of their own at top

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
2 Comments

As I explained last year:

Draft for need or take the best player available?

It’s the question as old as drafts themselves. Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:

  • Current ability
  • Potential
  • Likelihood of meeting that potential

Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.

That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.

But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.

So how does the tier system work?

Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.

Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.

Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.

The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.

Here are my tiers for the 2016 draft, covering the nine necessary to get through the first round. Within each tier, I rank players as if the teams drafting had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier. As you can see, there isn’t much separation among many players in the second half of the first round and into the early second.

Tier 1

1. Ben Simmons, PF, LSU

Simmons oozes talent. No matter which team landed the No. 1 pick, he should be the selection. His passing and ball-handling are special for a power forward, and his athleticism creates elite upside. Questions about his shooting and attitude are fair, but his positives demand taking a swing on him.

Tier 2

2. Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke

Ingram’s length, outside shooting, athleticism and youth are tantalizing. In this draft, that’s enough to make Ingram the No. 2 pick. But I’m not as high on him as most. I would’ve liked to see a more well-rounded game at Duke, and his low free-throw percentage (68%) makes me think he’s not an absolute lock to shoot well at the next level.

Tier 3

3. Dragan Bender, C, Croatia

I’d rather have someone with a stronger track record of success when drafting this high, but this draft drops steeply after the first two picks. I wouldn’t feel good about drafting anyone here. At least Bender brings elite upside with his fluidity for his size, ball skills and youth. I’m not as quick as others to chalk up Bender’s lack of playing time to politics. That’s a big red flag for me. In an average draft, he’d be several spots lower. In this one, he’s a slight cut above the rest of the pack.

Tier 4

4. Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky

Murray is an awesome scorer with ability to shoot from outside and put the ball on the floor. Can he play point guard? His passing ability is a little behind, but his individual scoring will attract attention and make it easier to find open teammates. Skills aren’t isolated. Can he defend in the NBA? That’s a much more worrisome question.

5. Kris Dunn, PG, Providence

Dunn’s aggressiveness on both ends of the floor leads to far more positives than negatives, and that approach can be encouraging. Dunn clearly has confidence in himself. The concern is his shaky outside shooting will exasperate Dunn’s problems. If teams go over on Dunn’s pick-and-rolls, how often will he dribble himself into trouble? At least Dunn has the craftiness to still excel in those situations, and his jumper could come around.

Tier 5

6. Wade Baldwin, PG, Vanderbilt

Baldwin has an elite wingspan (6-foot-11), and he’s strong and fast. His defensive potential is excellent. A quality outside shooter and passer, he should be fine offensively. He runs into problems when probing inside the arc, limiting his ability to contribute immediately. He could always see minutes on the wing as he develops his point-guard skills. He’ll be defending shooting guards and small forwards, anyway.

7. Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma

Hield is the type of prospect who fools people. He established a reputation as a lights-out shooter early in the season before regressing later, and that was after three years of play that made him look like a second-rounder. It’s easy to fall for Hield’s competitiveness and work ethic, and maybe he has truly improved in ways that translate to the NBA. That especially seems like the case defensively. But the risk that Hield just outgrew his competition while going on a hot streak is great enough that I can’t rank him higher.

8. Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington

Chriss’ shot-blocking and shooting potential are a rare combination. His poor rebounding is just as distressing. Chriss’ athleticism gets plenty of praise, but his shortcomings – defensive recognition, passing – should draw more attention. Still, like most, I’m drawn to his potential.

Tier 6

9. Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah

Poeltl is a traditional center with enough mobility to stick in the modern NBA. His feel for rebounding should translate, and that’s comforting. But if he doesn’t get substantially stronger, Poeltl won’t be able to bang inside against archetypal NBA centers. And if he doesn’t shoot better, he won’t create a matchup advantage. There’s at least a decent chance Poeltl develops in one, if not both, of those ways.

10. Timothe Luwawu, SG/SF, France

Luwawu is a nice big wing with elite defensive potential. He can move his feet to hound the ball-handler, and he elevates quickly – a skill that also pays off if he gets any space offensively, as he’s a frequent dunker. I’d like to see his improved shooting over a larger sample, but he could be a ready-to-contribute 3-and-D player. Taking the ball out of his hands more often should cut down on his all-too-common sloppiness and turnovers.

11. Jaylen Brown, SF, California

Brown has an elite physical profile for an NBA wing. He just put it to horrible use in his lone season at Cal. He shot poorly from outside and often dribbled himself into turnovers. He didn’t disrupt opponents nearly as much as you’d expect for someone with incredible defensive potential. Brown seems smart, but basketball intelligence can be different. He must develop his shooting and passing abilities to match his aggressiveness with the ball – or completely change his approach. Either is a tall order, but at least Brown’s upside is high if he does.

Tier 7

12. Henry Ellenson, C, Marquette

We’ve seen how important playmaking fours have become in the NBA. Ellenson could be a playmaking five. He’s a skilled ball-handler with clear potential as a shooter and passer. His soft hands will also allow him to make plays more traditionally in the pick-and-roll or on post-ups. Defense is a big issue, because Ellenson is both slow on his feet and relatively ground-bound vertically. There’s probably a better chance of him developing enough core strength to defend the paint positionally as a center rather than getting fast enough to stick with power forwards.

13. Ante Zizic, C, Croatia

Zizic flat out plays hard, and that shows up most on the glass. He’s an excellent rebounder. Zizic isn’t the most skilled offensively, but his energy provides efficient opportunities near the rim. Effort hasn’t yet turned him into an adequate perimeter defender, but maybe it eventually will.

14. Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey

Korkmaz has quality size (6-foot-7) and athleticism, and those traits influence his offensive skills that complement each other – outside shooting, driving and passing. Defense is a major flaw, though. The physicality of the NBA could be a rude awakening for him. At least time is on the side of the 18-year-old.

15. Juan Hernangomez, PF, Spain

Hernangomez is a stretch four with some complementary skills – driving and passing. His rebounding ability suggests he’s not just a soft jump shooter. Yet, he hasn’t shown much defensively.

16. Deyonta Davis, C, Michigan State

Davis’ leaping ability gives him strong potential as a rim protector, but does he have the recognition and communication skills to quarterback a defense? Maybe that will develop in time for the young player. His offense isn’t refined, but again, he’s young and his hops – and hands – offer intrigue as a finisher.

17. Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State

It’s rare to find a wing who passes this well. Valentine adds quality outside shooting and rebounding, too. But there are concerns about him not finding his groove until his junior year and really excelling until his senior year. Plus, reported knee issues raise a red flag for someone whose athleticism is already below par.

18. Patrick McCaw, SG, UNLV

Long and athletic, McCaw is an absolute ball-hawk defensively. Transition is his main source of offense. He’s also a good passer, though subpar ball-handling will limit his ability to distribute at the next level. If his outside shooting improves just a moderate amount, he could be an ideal 3-and-D player. On the other hand, if he doesn’t get stronger, his defense might not translate.

19. Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga

Is there still room in the NBA for big men who neither protect the rim nor space the floor? If any 2016 prospect can overcome those limitations, it’s Sabonis. His aggressiveness on both ends offsets his athletic limitations, particularly as a rebounder and interior scorer. Still, those are major shortcomings.

Tier 8

20. Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky

I love Ulis’ feel for the game, but I fell for Tyler Ennis and Tyus Jones for similar reasons, and neither have made a dent in the NBA yet. Maybe Ulis should just stand on his own, but I can’t escape those comparisons. Health questions also give me concern about the tiny guard, but that’s tough to read without seeing his medical info. If I knew more about his hip, he might fall further.

21. Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

College basketball overwhelmed Labissiere. I don’t think he’ll pan out in the NBA. But if he does, watch out. Labissiere could be a 7-footer who protects the rim and makes 3-pointers, a lethal skill set. It’s that potential that has him so high despite being a major, major project.

22. DeAndre Bembry, SF, St. Joseph’s

Bembry is an excellent all-around player with one notable exception – shooting – and that threatens to unravel his entire game. How many opportunities will he get to drive to score or kick if defenses never respect his outside jumper? Bembry’s age – he turns 22 on July 4 – is also a negative.

23. Zhou Qi, C, China

The 7-foot-2 Zhou has excellent feel for blocking shots, combining his elite size and timing. His shooting touch will allow him to contribute on the other end. He just has to get much stronger before he can really take off. If I had more confidence in his listed age, he’d be a tier or two higher.

24. Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State

Beasley played with plenty of energy, and that’s encouraging. His outside shooting stroke looks good, though it’d be more comforting if he had a longer history of shooting well. His defensive potential is high enough, but for someone who gambled so frequently for steals, he got few. At least his ability to finish inside offers hope Beasley can be more than a 3-and-D player, which is especially important because he’s not a lock to excel at eithers 3s or defense.

Tier 9

25. Diamond Stone, C, Maryland

Stone was productive at Maryland despite not being in the best shape. Improving his conditioning is a clear and traversable route to improving. He scored well inside, showing solid touch, and crashed the glass hard. Defensive rebounding is a concern.

26. Chinanu Onuaku, C, Louisville

Onuaku defended well despite not being in great shape or having an ideal motor at Louisville. If his conditioning and effort – two related traits – improve, he could be even better at the next level. His strong rebounding ability and rim protection should translate. He’s a willing passer, but he’s too sloppy with the ball and takes too many jumpers outside his range.

27. Taurean Prince, SF, Baylor

Prince used his strength impressively at Baylor to dictate play on both ends of the court. A capable, though slow-releasing, 3-point shot, kept defenders on their toes. I’m just not sure that type of bully ball translates for someone who was older than most of his college opponents.

28. Caris LeVert, SG, Michigan

Injuries have derailed LeVert, but maybe the worst is behind him. When healthy, he’s a tall guard who can shoot, put the ball on the floor and pass. His defense is still a work in progress, but he has shown enough flashes to believe it could become a strength.

29. Kay Felder, PG, Oakland

Felder has an excellent feel for offense as a scorer (shooting and driving) and passer. Put the ball in his hands, and good things happen. But he’s 5-foot-9, so there’s significant risk about his game translating. Still, Felder has the traits – hops, speed, confidence – important for an undersized guard. Maybe he’ll even become a defensive pest instead of a liability if he has to shoulder less offensive burden.

30. Gary Payton II, PG, Oregon State

Payton has awesome defensive ability, much like his father. However, it’s difficult for even good defensive point guards to impact the game as much as bigs. Payton is also a long way from capably running an NBA offense, but he has the tools to suggest he could get there.

31. Guerschon Yabusele, PF, France

A powerful but undersized big man, Yabusele carries a big frame in an explosive way. He scores inside and out, and there’s a funkiness to his game that just might work. He’s not good enough as a rebounder and even worse as a defender, though.

32. Ivica Zubac, C, Bosnia

The 7-foot-1 Zubac is big and uses his size pretty well. But when faster or bouncier opponents challenge him, the results aren’t encouraging. He’s fairly skilled offensively, and he’s a willing passer – an important trait for old-school centers trying to find a place in the new NBA. He’s also young with room to develop, which he’ll need to do.

33. Dejounte Murray, PG, Washington

Murray is tall and fast, and his athleticism gives him potential. But he has so far to go as a decision-maker and a scorer from all areas of the court. If you want to swing for the fences, Murray is a decent pick. But he’s a real project.

34. Petr Cornelie, PF, France

Cornelie is a stretch four who can play above the rim. That’s a special combination. But he needs to get a lot stronger. A lot stronger. His weakness threatens to undermine the rest of his game. Maybe he will, but he turns 21 next month.

Kings active before trade deadline, looking to add defense

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The Sacramento Kings will make their first playoff appearance since a Bush was in the White House (2006).

If the 29-22, third-seeded Kings will do damage in the postseason, their bottom 10 defense has to be better. The Kings are being active at the trade deadline with the focus being on a defensive upgrade, sources told NBC Sports. As bait, they are dangling their reserve bigs — Richaun Holmes and/or Alex Len — but the problem is the backup big market is busy at the trade deadline.

The Kings have been linked to the 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle, with Marc Stein confirming those talks are still ongoing (but the Hawks are chasing Thybulle, too). Stein added a new rumor, as well.

Sources say Sacramento has inquired about the availability of Charlotte’s Mason Plumlee.

Charlotte is selling and Plumlee would be an upgrade behind All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

One way or another, expect the Kings to try and make a move at the deadline.

Latest on Kyrie Irving trade request: He’d prefer to land with Lakers

0 Comments

Kyrie Irving requesting a trade out of Brooklyn before the Feb. 9 trade deadline has the entire league buzzing.

That doesn’t mean it has the entire league leaping into action — the Lakers, Suns and Mavericks are interested, but beyond that the market is thin. And even those teams have some reservations. That said, this trade could come together fairly quickly so all the teams involved can make other moves before next Thursday’s deadline (there is no perfect deal out there).

A lot is going on, here is the latest on an Irving trade from reports around the league.

• As it was over the summer, Irving’s preferred landing spot is with the Lakers, according to multiple reports (Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports and Marc Stein most prominently).

• Unsurprisingly, sources tell NBC Sports that the Lakers are interested, with the core of the trade being Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029) going back to Brooklyn. From there, putting together a Lakers trade gets complex (which is why it didn’t get done over the summer when the sides talked): The Lakers want to put lottery protections on the 2027 pick; the Nets want to stay competitive and want players back, not just picks; Brooklyn wants to send out Joe Harris in the trade (reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic) and get back either Austin Reaves or Max Christie (the Lakers don’t want to include those players); and, if the Nets take on Westbrook they would add $58 million to their luxury tax bill (and they get worse in the process). There likely is a third team involved in any trade between the Lakers and Nets, Brooklyn wants to stay competitive and will need more considering the drop-off between where Irving and Westbrook are in their careers.

• Irving is playing the long game and wants to get paid, something Brooklyn was hesitant to do. However, does that change in a new setting? Both the Lakers and Mavericks are reportedly reluctant to give Irving the four-year, $198.5 million max extension he wants, Adrian Wojnarowski reports at ESPN

• A Dallas trade with the Nets would involve Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith heading to Brooklyn, but the Mavericks may also want to unload other contracts in there. However, it’s not unanimous in the Nets front office that they should add Irving, some have concerns about how Luka Dončić and Irving would mesh off the court, reports Tim Cato of The Athletic.

• Don’t bet on the Clippers getting involved, despite their need for a point guard and to make things work with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, something sources told NBC Sports and was reported by ESPN’s Zach Lowe on his podcast.

• Irving’s trade demand caught the Nets and Kevin Durant off-guard, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his podcast.

• Irving was set off and demanded a trade after the Nets extension offer had incentives tied to the Nets winning a championship to get all four years, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. Now Irving will not accept any offer from Brooklyn — including the full max — and wants out.

• The max extension any team that trades for Irving can offer is two years, $78.6 million. To get Irving the four-year max he wants, a team would have to use its Bird rights this offseason to re-sign him.

• A number of teams — hello Miami! — are more interested in how the Irving demand impacts Kevin Durant’s future in Brooklyn than acquiring Irving.

Mo Bamba comes off bench to fight Austin Rivers, five players ejected

0 Comments

Well, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

Friday night saw a rare true punches-thrown brawl in the NBA. The Timberwolves Austin Rivers — who was in the game — had missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench a few possessions previously and there had been a lot of trash talk. He came over and confronted the Magic’s Mo Bamba and the fight started when Bamba came off the bench and threw punches at Rivers. And then it was on, with other players jumping in.

After the officials watched the tape, five players were ejected: Rivers, Jaden McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Jalen Suggs from the Magic.

Before the media, Rivers took a conciliatory tone postgame, at least at first.

“This isn’t like a cool moment for me,” Rivers said, via the Associated Press. “I feel embarrassed. I’m the oldest on the team. I consider myself the leader of the team, or one of the leaders of the team. It was a weird game, and I don’t think that helped at all. If anything right now, I’m just (ticked off) that we lost, and that I had (something) to do with that. It doesn’t make me feel good.”

However, on social media the punches continued.

All this comes a couple of days after Dillon Brooks and Donovan Mitchell got into a fight (Brooks was suspended for a game). Maybe guys need the All-Star break to get away from it all for a few days.

Expect suspensions (plural) and fines to be handed down over the weekend by the league.

The Magic went on to win the game 127-120.

Five teams most likely to trade for Kyrie Irving before deadline

0 Comments

Kyrie Irving wants a trade out of Brooklyn. Now. Before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

It’s no sure thing a massive trade like this comes together in less than a week, but it has spiced up what was a relatively flavorless trade deadline to this point (with all due respect to Rui Hachimura).

Irving’s trade request asks some tough questions of the team’s interested in him. The incentive to make a deal is obvious — landing one of the game’s biggest names and an elite shot creator averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 37.4% from 3. On the other hand is the long list of disruptions he has caused the Nets and other teams he’s been on, combined with the fact he is asking out in Brooklyn partly because they would not give him a four-year max contract extension. Does a team trading for Irving look at his track record and want to lock him up for that long? (To be clear, a team that trades for him is limited two a two-year, $78.6 million extension; he might want to re-sign with the team as a free agent, a risk for the team acquiring him.)

What may best sum up the trade market for Irving: Teams calling are more interested in what this means for Kevin Durant than Irving (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN).

Still, teams will be interested. Here are the top five worth watching.

1) Los Angeles Lakers

When reaching out to league sources in the wake of the Irving bombshell, the Lakers were the first name off everyone’s lips. Which makes sense because the sides discussed the idea last summer but never pulled off the trade. Now, more than halfway through the season, with the Lakers three games below .500 and sitting outside even the play-in tournament, there is a sense of desperation to do something so as not to squander an All-NBA season from LeBron James. Is that enough to get a deal done?

LeBron is trying to add some pressure.

The trade would, at its core, involve Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029), likely unprotected (although Wojnarowski reports the Lakers “privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving”).

That doesn’t mean Westbrook is headed to Brooklyn, the sides likely will engage a third team in the deal (San Antonio has cap space, and the Lakers have talked to the Jazz) to take on Westbrook in exchange for draft compensation. However, putting together a trade that works for everyone gets difficult, which is why one never happened this summer.

It’s obvious why the Lakers want to do this trade. Irving playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis makes the Lakers potential contenders in a West where nobody has run away with the conference (even if Denver is trying).

It’s less obvious why this is the best option for the Nets.

In a direct swap, Westbrook — even with the added depth of a quality young role player — is a dramatic drop-off from All-Star starter Irving. Plus, in a straight-up Westbrook for Irving deal the Nets take on more salary, adding $56 million to a luxury tax bill already at $109 million (numbers via Bobby Marks of ESPN). Whether the Nets would be more enticed by a three-team trade depends on the other team and players involved, but if the Nets are going to hold on to Durant they need to find a way to stay a contender, and that won’t be easy to do in any trade with the Lakers.

2) Phoenix Suns

The Suns can make a trade work in a couple of different ways, but they all center around Chris Paul heading to Brooklyn — a big name but a player whose game has fallen off this season at age 37. The trade likely would involve either Jae Crowder or Cameron Johnson — both of whom need to be paid after this season — plus some picks headed to Brooklyn.

The Suns need half-court scoring, and an Irving and Devin Booker backcourt would be a force that could get Phoenix back in the mix at the top of the West. Would soon-to-be new owner Matt Ishbia be willing to pay big and go into the tax for Irving in future years? Would the Nets consider CP3 and some depth at the four enough to pull the trigger?

3) Dallas Mavericks

It’s no secret the Mavericks are desperate to find a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić, who is wearing himself out carrying this team. It’s also no secret that coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. Is that enough?

A trade can be constructed by sending former Net Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn along with just made available Dorian Finney-Smith, plus draft picks (there are reports the Mavericks are also hesitant to go heavy on draft picks in an Irving trade). Marc Stein reports that Dallas might want to unload one of its longer contracts in a trade, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dāvis Bertāns.

Would some combination of those players plus a few picks be enough to interest Brooklyn? Is Dallas interested in signing Irving for the long-term, a four-year deal this offseason? Those questions could hold up the deal.

4) Miami Heat

Miami was on Irving’s leaked “places I would be willing to be traded” list last summer. Considering the Heat have struggled this season (despite the better play of late) and their struggles at point guard, it’s easy to see Miami’s interest.

However, it’s difficult to make a trade work. The Heat would want to send back Kyle Lowry, but there likely is little interest from Brooklyn in taking him on (he has a fully guaranteed $29.7 million on the books for next season). The Nets might want Tyler Herro, but he is in the poison pill year between signing his extension and it kicking in (the trade numbers going out and coming back are different for Herro under the CBA, making a trade very difficult to pull off).

Would the Heat want to sign Irving long-term? Is he a fit with the Heat culture? What makes more sense for Miami is to wait to see if Irving’s actions push Kevin Durant to again ask for a trade out of Brooklyn after the season, then jump into those trade talks.

You know Pat Riley will make the call, he’s always aggressive and wants to win now. But he’s not putting a player over the franchise, and he won’t give up too much to get a deal done.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are always aggressive as a front office, they need point guard help (someone who can create in the backcourt), and the owner is more than happy to spend if it means winning. The Clippers are loaded with mid-level salaries — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged to make a deal work. They also have good young players to temp the Nets, such as Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Is another high-priced mercurial star prone to missing time what the Clippers need right now? They will make calls, but it feels like a long shot.