NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (2024)

Draft grades are undeniably a great way to make a writer look quite silly, but you know what? Everyone gets stuff wrong when evaluating players. Even the best evaluators working within the NBA get things wrong regularly. And ultimately, grades are a great way to reflect on how each team handled the NBA Draft and take a bigger-picture look at their roster-building goals and the overall process.

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Below, I’ll break down all 30 teams, explaining what I liked, didn’t like and what I thought was interesting about how they decided to proceed at the draft. Teams are in letter-grade order, and I tiered them into how I’d evaluate them. I didn’t spend a ton of time parsing through how to order each team within the same grade, so I wouldn’t say I “ranked” them. But I did dive deep into my thought process on the draft and the week leading up to it with any deal that involved picks.

Here are my 2023NBA Draftgrades, and for a deeper look at this year’s group of prospects and how I had them ranked,check out our NBA Draft Guide from mid-June.

GO DEEPERAnalysis, fits for all 58 NBA Draft picks from John Hollinger and Sam Vecenie

A Grades: My four favorite drafts

Utah Jazz

• Selected Cody Williams (No. 10), Isaiah Collier (No. 29), Kyle Filipowski (No. 32)

This is my favorite draft of the year from a value perspective. The Jazz did a remarkable job letting the board come to them after reportedly being in trade discussions earlier in the day to move up. Instead of giving up future picks to slide up the board and get the guy they wanted, they stood pat and let him fall to them. I wouldn’t have put the odds particularly high that Williamswould have fallen to No. 10 when the day started, but because thePistonssurprised with Ron Holland at No. 5, theHornetstook Tidjane Salaun at No. 6 ahead of theSpurs, the Spurs moved out of No. 8 in a deal to Minnesota, and then theGrizzliestookZach Edeyat No. 9, the Jazz hit essentially a three-outer on the river and ended up with their guy.

Williams isn’t a sure thing, but he’s one of my favorite wing upside bets in the class. At nearly 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and long strides, Williams was one of the best finishers at the rim this season in college among perimeter players in addition to showcasing real potential as a ballhandler and playmaker. He’s a slick slasher with sharp ball pickups to get to the rim and also can pass on the move to hit open teammates. The key here will be the jumper. Williams made a high percentage of his low volume from distance, but he hasn’t shown a ton of comfort yet as a pull-up shooter. If that part of his game comes together, watch out. This will be a big hit.

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Then the Jazz took Collier at No. 29. Again, the team easily could have tried to move up for him, but didn’t. Collier was a polarizing player for scouts this year and I ended up with him at No. 19. The best flashes of Collier make one think he could be an All-Star. The bad moments make you believe he’s more likely to be a backup point guard. Unsurprisingly given that, there’s a wide range of opinions league-wide on his future. But the Jazz could use a bit more power in the backcourt. They’re quite small and skinny back there, withCollin Sexton,Keyonte George, andJordan Clarksongetting most of the reps. Those players are, by and large, pull-up shooters and guys who hit catch-and-shoot jumpers. Collier is a serious rim-pressure player who will attack and find creases where they sometimes don’t exist. He’ll hit kickouts and make high-level passing reads. If he can iron out the turnovers and develop a more consistent shot, this has potential to be the kind of guard the Jazz needed. Again, this class is all about informed bets based on your situation. Collier is a great informed bet for the Jazz.

Then, the team got exceptionally lucky in seeing Filipowski fall to No. 32. This was probably my single biggest value selection in the draft. I had Filipowski ranked at No. 16 on my board and I’m a big believer in him finding a role in the modern NBA. Look at the best offenses in the NBA. Most of them have floor-spacing bigs at the center position: Kristaps Porziņģis in Boston, Myles Turner in Indiana, Chet Holmgren in Oklahoma City, Nikola Jokić in Denver, Brook Lopez in Milwaukee and more. Those were five of the six best offensive teams in the NBA this season. In the modern professional game, it’s critical for teams to have a big man who can stretch the floor, act as a playmaker and create more space for attacking wings and guards. It’s difficult to find big men who can dribble, pass and shoot — there aren’t many of those players hanging around, and certainly not enough for every team in the league to have one. Filipowski is close to being able to fill that role and will if his jumper continues to improve like it has for most prospects who show a minimum level of touch at this age. For a Jazz team that just traded a player they really liked in Kelly Olynyk at the deadline, to end up with a similar style player in Filipowski at No. 32 is just about a perfect result.

All told, the Jazz ended up with three of my top-20 players in the class. They are a team that needs some home run upside on the roster, and they got a chance to take two swings at that fence in Williams and Collier. If either works out even slightly, this will be a good drat. Then on top of it, they get a guy in Filipowski that I think turns into an awesome third big man in the NBA. Tough to do much better than this in a draft that has this many questions.

Grade: A

Houston Rockets

• Selected Reed Sheppard (No. 3)
• Acquired A.J. Griffin from ATL for No. 44

Yet again, the Rockets put together one of my favorite drafts of the cycle. This is at least the third year in a row. I’m an enormous fan of Reed Sheppard and had him rated at No. 2 on my board. The Kentucky Wildcats were 30 points per 100 possessions better when he was out there, per Pivot Analysis. I bet he will drive winning play in the NBA, too. Players who think the game and shoot like Sheppard — he made over 50 percent of his 3s this year and is one of the best shooting prospects I’ve ever evaluated — have reliably proved to outperform their athletic tools and measurements in the modern NBA. They have too many ways to become good players even if parts of their games don’t translate.

Even if Sheppard cannot play point guard full-time, his team could put him next to an elite wing on-ball playmaker and take advantage of the floor-spacing and shooting he’ll provide. Even if Sheppard isn’t always able to collapse defenders, he’ll make early hit-ahead and extra kickout passes to keep defenses in rotation. Defensively, he’s a high-wire act as a playmaker who blocked 0.7 shots per game at 6-foot-2, then also grabbed 2.5 steals per game. There are concerns here. He’s short and can allow perimeter penetration at times. He’ll certainly be hunted in mismatches in the NBA. But he also tends to make havoc-inducing rotations that create problems for offensive players.

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He’s just a guy that I truly believe in, and I love the fit in Houston. The Rockets needed to add a shooter to their loaded young core of prospects, and they needed another connective tissue player between guys like Alperen Şengün, Amen Thompson, Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Cam Whitmore and Tari Eason. Putting him in transition with those guys is going to be lethal. Putting him in dribble-hand-off situations with Şengün is going to be exceptionally hard to guard. Defensively, a number of these players have the length and athleticism to cover for him. I love the pick and I love the talent even at his size.

They came into the second day with No. 44. Instead of using it to select a player at the draft, they traded it for a young player who has shown promise but fallen out of favor in his previous situation in A.J. Griffin. The No. 16 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Griffin clearly has some talent. During his rookie season playing for Nate McMillan, Griffin flashed regularly as a terrific floor-spacer and shooter who deserved time on the court. From Nov. 19, 2022 to Feb. 26, 2023, Griffin averaged 10 points while shooting 48 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the line in 22 minutes over the course of 45 games. He did that as a teenager. But why is that Feb. 26, 2023 date important? It’s when Quin Snyder was hired in Atlanta. For whatever reason, Griffin just simply fell out of Snyder’s rotation almost immediately. Then on top of that, he dealt with a couple of injuries this season that held him to just 173 minutes played.

This is far from a certain bet for the Rockets, but betting on Griffin is a drastically better option than anything the team had available to it at No. 44. He’s still only 20 years old, has two years left on his deal, has real prospect pedigree and talent, and actually played reasonably well for a teenager in the NBA when given a chance. They’ll get every opportunity to look at him over the summer and in training camp. If they find out that Atlanta was right to not play him, they can decline his team option in October and move on by the end of next season. But midway through his rookie year, Griffin had the look of a long-term starter in the NBA. There’s reason to buy into this as a calculated gamble worth taking, hoping that a change of scenery unlocks what made him interesting back then.

Grade: A

Washington Wizards

• Selected Alex Sarr (No. 2)
• Acquired Bub Carrington (No. 14), a 2029 first-round pick, two future second-round picks, and Malcolm Brogdon for Deni Avdija
• Acquired Kyshawn George (No. 24) for No. 26 and No. 51

The Wizards made two enormous decisions. First, they decided to trade Avdija for an enormous haul from the Portland Trail Blazers. This certainly surprised many around the league, as the impression that I’d gotten from speaking with league sources throughout the draft cycle was that — despite many calls made the Wizards’ direction about the 23-year-old forward — the team saw him as a big part of its core moving forward. Ultimately, it seems like they just got an offer they felt they couldn’t pass up. They received the No. 14 pick, a 2029 first-round pick, two future seconds and a player in Malcolm Brogdon that they can either keep to help facilitate the development of the team’s young players or move on to acquire more asset capital. Front offices sources who spoke with The Athleticdidn’t describe the deal as an “overpay,” but they did feel like the Wizards came out exceedingly well. Even though Avdija is quite good and is on one of the best value contracts in the NBA, he probably fits a bit better on a team closer to contending than this one, where his high-level positional defense and well-rounded complementary game can help a team take that next step. More on what the Blazers are getting in Avdija in their section.

From there, the team entered the draft and made the selection that everyone expected over the course of the last month. The team selected high-upside big man Alex Sarr from the Perth Wildcats in the NBL. League sources began telling The Athletic around December that Sarr was seen as the Wizards’ top prospect in the class, so for them to end up with him is a huge win for the organization. Having said that, Sarr is no sure thing to be a star. He is athletic and a terrific defender. He’s long and mobile and has the potential to be the kind of defender that every team is looking for with how much ground he can cover, particularly across the weak side of the court. Offensively, he has potential to shoot, has potential to handle the ball and showed some short-roll passing flashes throughout the year. All of this is theoretical, though. Sarr still has a ways to go developmentally. The Wizards have all the time in the world to give him to develop now, which is great. But don’t expect him to set the world on fire from Day One.

The Wizards had wanted to acquire a second lottery pick throughout the draft cycle, and the Avdija trade allowed them to do just that. Washington used the No. 14 pick on Pittsburgh guard Bub Carrington, who was probably the player that I was highest on compared to the overall consensus this season. I had him at No. 8 on my board and think he’s a tremendous upside swing to fill the team’s need for a lead guard. He is a real dribble-pass-shoot threat with awesome ball-screen instincts as one of the youngest players in the class at just 18. He is a tremendous shot-maker as a pull-up scorer already. As a passer and playmaker, he sees the court well and clearly knows how to read the defense. Defensively, he got better throughout the season. On top of that, he’s on a remarkably positive growth trajectory. He was just 5-foot-8 when he was a sophom*ore in high school before shooting up to around 6-foot-1 as a senior, and then continuing to grow to 6-4 before playing a game at Pittsburgh. He didn’t have the frame to really attack the rim then, and he’s still learning. Carrington was my favorite home run swing in the class given what he can already do, and what I think he’s capable of down the road.

Finally, the team used its No. 26 overall pick and No. 51 pick to move up two slots to No. 24 and select Kyshawn George. I’m less enthusiastic about George than I am some other players in this class, ranking him at No. 35 on my board. He is another physical late bloomer who just sprouted to 6-foot-8 within the last 18 months after growing up as a lead guard. My issue with George is that despite turning 21 in December, he’s never actually been all that productive. He averaged under three points per game in the professional second division French league in 2022-23, then this year averaged under eight points per game. He is 6-foot-7 with long arms and can shoot, though, so I at least understand the swing.

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The key here for me is that the Wizards picked a direction and went for it. They’re all in on the future now, and they’ve maxed out on upside swings between the three prospects here and Bilal Coulibaly last year. On top of that, they’ve positioned themselves nicely for a 2025 NBA Draft that is considered to be quite strong with Cooper Flagg, Dylan Harper, Nolan Traore and Ace Bailey at the top. The ultimate grade here will be dependent on how good Sarr becomes, but he’s a good informed bet for this team to take at this time in terms of process.

Grade: A-

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Los Angeles Lakers

• Selected Dalton Knecht (No. 17) and Bronny James (No. 55)

This is an easy win for the Lakers. They got Dalton Knecht, the player I had ranked No. 9 in the class, at No. 17. I wasn’t quite as high as some teams seemed to be on him, but I do think this is an absolutely perfect pick for a team that both needed immediate help and needed shooting.

The Lakers were just 28th in the league in 3-point attempt rate this past season. They finished eighth in 3-point percentage, but I’m a bit worried that this number was boosted by aberrant shooting seasons by Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell, along with even a 41-percent year from LeBron James. Now with Knecht, the Lakers have a serious shooter who will need to be guarded from every inch of the half-court area. He’s a tremendous off-ball scorer who moves exceedingly well away from the ball and flies off of actions at a high level. Defenses are going to have to pay attention to him, or else he will get loose and fire from 3. But even if they get a late closeout on him, Knecht is also awesome at attacking closeouts and driving. There’s more to his game as a scorer than simply his shooting. He can get into the lane and finish with touch or vertical pop. He can take midrange jumpers as a counter. And, yes, he can fire 3s off of real actions.

That’s going to open up a ton of space for guys James and Austin Reaves as drivers. They’re going to have so much more room to operate around the court. Teams won’t be able to sag off of their man quite as easily, for fear of either of those two players kicking out and hitting Knecht for an easy 3 (which he will make at a good clip). This should be a serious offensive upgrade over the next couple of years. Hopefully, new coach J.J. Redick can take some of his old sets that he used to run to create space for Knecht to thrive as an off-ball scorer, and hit the upside he has potential to be in that respect.

Then, the Lakers did the obvious and took Bronny James at No. 55. Look, teams make picks all the time to keep their stars happy. I can’t really say that I have an issue with the team doing this. It’s the 55th pick. The odds of hitting a rotation player that low are incredibly slim. In terms of the evaluation on Bronny, I ended up with him at No. 72 on my board and saw him as an Exhibit 10 grade. But he was not the lowest-rated player on my board that got picked on Thursday. He is nowhere near ready for the NBA. He’s at least two years away if every single thing goes right with his development in the next couple of seasons. For him to get the development he needs on the ball and to iron out his consistency as a shooter, he must spend the next two years in the G League. To me, that’s not a worthwhile investment given that his upside is something in the ballpark of a rotational 3-and-D guard. But when the other side is disappointing your star player, it’s worth taking him and seeing what happens.

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Grade: A-

B+ Grades: Teams that exceeded the value of their assets

Boston Celtics

Selected Baylor Scheierman (No. 30) and Anton Watson (No. 54)

Just an extremely smart draft for the Celtics. No other way to put it. It was simple, and their selections fit right into the offensive and defensive styles that made them the best team in the NBA this season.

Boston was seen as Scheierman’s floor entering draft night at No. 30 by front office sources across the league, and that indeed came to fruition on Wednesday night as the Creighton wing fell to them. He fits everything that the organization has looked for from its role players under Joe Mazzulla. The team values the 3-point shot more than any other in the league due to its spacing impact for stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Scheierman is one of the best shooters in the draft class, an all-situations marksman that hit 37.9 percent of his pull-up 3s, 40.6 percent of his 3s off of screens, 44.2 percent of his transition 3s, 56.5 percent of his 3s out of ball-screens, and 37.5 percent of his 3s out of hand-offs. Bizarrely, he only made 35 percent of his spot 3s, but given how adept he is in all other situations, that feels aberrant. On top of that, I think Scheierman can really pass, and makes really quick decisions around the horn on reversals in the way Boston loves as it keeps teams in rotation. Defensively, he’s strong and physical, but he’s more in the Sam Hauser mode of just merely holding up on that end as opposed to making an elite impact. I had him at No. 22 on my board, so I thought this was a serious steal for the Celtics.

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Watson is one of my favorite sleepers. I thought he’d end up as more of an undrafted free agent, but the Celtics decided to take him at No. 54 where he’ll likely be on a two-way deal. I think he can defend within an NBA scheme right away and has potential to add a lot of value on that end of the court if his offense improves enough to keep him on the floor. He’s switchable and long, plus knows where to be in help. He also passes well and makes quick decisions along the perimeter. His future will all be determined by where he gets to as a shooter. He showed flashes this year and made 41 percent from distance, but it was over minuscule volume. He’s a project, but an interesting one to undertake given how good he is on defense. I had him at No. 64, but think he was undervalued throughout the process.

Grade: B+

NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (4)

Donovan Clingan won back-to-back titles at UConn. (Robert Deutsch / USA Today)

Portland Trail Blazers

• Selected Donovan Clingan (No. 7)
• Acquired Deni Avdija from the Washington Wizards for No. 14, a 2029 first-round pick, two future second-round picks and Malcolm Brogdon
• Traded No. 34 for three future second-round picks; Traded No. 40 for cash considerations

The Blazers made two extremely large decisions today that will shape the future of their franchise. First, they acquired Avdija from the Wizards, a fascinating choice that involved them cashing in on draft capital to acquire a young, established player on what is considered to be one of the best value contracts in the NBA. Not many people noticed it while he played in Washington, but Avdija has become an incredibly useful player. He averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists last season while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3, and 74 percent from the line. He’s also long been a sharp defender who consistently rotates well across the court and, at 6-foot-9, has no problem switching out onto multiple positions. It would be an exaggeration to call him an All-Defense guy, but his presence benefits his team on that end. It would be a stretch to say that Avdija has filled out more, as he’s listed still at the same 210-pound frame that he came into the NBA with. But it’s clear his body has changed now that he’s 23 years old. He’s a bit more explosive than he was when he was younger, and with some added strength has come the ability to take further advantage of his long-held ball skills as a driver. When he bumps NBA players now when he has a head of steam — especially in mismatch situations — they tend to move.

On top of that, he signed a bargain extension in October prior to this breakout season that will see him get paid just $56 million over the next four seasons on a declining contract structure that will see him make over $15 million in 2024-25, but less than $12 million in 2027-28 when the salary cap is projected to climb to nearly $190 million dollars. No matter what happens from here, Avdija will be a significantly valuable player compared to the amount of money he’s making. But just how valuable will be dependent upon how real his shooting improvement is. Avdija had been in the ballpark of a 30 percent 3-point shooter entering last season. This year, he hit that 37 percent number and I thought the release looked a bit cleaner. He’s taking a bit more of a set shot now than he did when he was younger. He’s simplified things. There’s less motion and fewer places for the mechanics to go wrong. Undeniably, there are stretches of inconsistency still, and he needs to clean up how quickly he loads into the shot to get it off at a higher volume. But I think there’s real reason for optimism.

As I wrote in the winners and losers column after the first night, the consensus from front office sources around the NBA seemed to be that this wasn’t necessarily an overpay by Portland, but a lottery pick, a 2029 first-round pick, two seconds and a solid veteran guard was a price point that they probably wouldn’t have been willing to pay. It’s an aggressive move, but I think it’s one that will likely pay off for Portland as the NBA’s new limitations on team-building within its collective bargaining agreement make value contracts like Avdija’s all the more valuable in the future. Barring injury, I can’t see a world where he wouldn’t be incredibly valuable again on the trade market in two years once his contract continues descending. And that’s without him getting any better, something he has done in each of his first four years. The more I thought about the deal and got over the initial sticker shock of how much Avdija cost, the more I thought it was a solid deal for Portland.

Beyond him, the team also selected Donovan Clingan as its only drafted rookie in this class. Clingan had been connected with Portland at No. 7 throughout the process, as the team was noted by league sources throughout the pre-draft cycle to have a high grade on the big man. He’s an elite rim protector and drop coverage big man that will immediately step in and help what was the 23rd-ranked defense in the NBA last season. Per the NBA stats site, no team in the league allowed a higher percentage from its opponents within five feet of the rim than the Blazers 68 percent. He’s also a sharp passer from the high post, hitting cutters all over the court, and an excellent screen setter that will work incredibly well with young franchise point guard Scoot Henderson. The team will need to figure out what to do with Deandre Ayton — it’s a ridiculous proposition to consider playing them together in today’s NBA — but those are future problems. If you don’t necessarily believe that Ayton is the center of the future in Portland, which is what the mere fact of this selection indicates, then it shouldn’t stop you from taking someone that you have rated highly and you believe can be that player.

In the second round, the team traded No. 34 to New York for three future second-round picks, which was a solid bit of business. However, they then essentially traded No. 40 for cash considerations through a series of complex moves involving Oklahoma City and Golden State. They traded down from No. 40 to No. 52 with Oklahoma City for cash, then sold the No. 52 selection to Golden State for more money. No. 40 is a valuable pick to essentially just sell without any asset value coming in return. I wasn’t a fan of that.

Overall, I think it was a good set of two days for Portland.

Grade: B+

Sacramento Kings

• Selected Devin Carter (13th)
• Traded Davion Mitchell, Sasha Vezenkov and No. 45 to Toronto for Jalen McDaniels

The Kings took one of my favorite players in the draft class on Wednesday in Carter. Simply put, the guy is just a winner. He’s going to bring serious value to whatever organization he’s a part of throughout his career. He’s an awesome defender who will be switchable and aggressive at the point of attack across the perimeter, traits that should be even more valuable if the NBA and its officials continue to allow as much physicality moving forward as they have since February. He reads the game very well and drastically improved as a shooter — having made 38 percent from 3 on seven attempts per game as a junior. He’s an elite athlete, too, arguably the best in this draft class. More than that, though, he just gets every loose ball. He averaged nine rebounds per game as a 6-foot-2 guard. He flies around on the ground and gets any 50-50 ball. He’s competitive and tough.

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The only slight issue I have with this pick is that the Kings will be very small across the perimeter in trying to include him into the fold. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are the team’s best perimeter players, and they’re an undersized backcourt. Keon Ellis has emerged into a useful, and he’s a bit undersized. Kevin Huerter has seemingly been on the trade block forever and he’s the only that has any height. At some point, the Kings are going to have to prioritize getting some size. Having said that, I do just think that the opportunity to bet on Carter’s traits was too good to pass up at No. 13. I ended up with him at No. 7 on my board.

The team then did a cap dump deal, moving the $13 million that Vezenkov and Mitchell were owed next season to Toronto for McDaniels. It saves the team about $8 million and brings back below the luxury tax line and gives them a chance to make some free agency additions using exceptions. To only have to give up a mid-second to do that is useful. Maybe McDaniels can help them next year in some way as an athletic forward with size (something the team actually does lack, as mentioned above) but even if he doesn’t, the main objective here for Sacramento was completed.

Grade: B+

Minnesota Timberwolves

• Acquired Rob Dillingham (8th) for a 2031 unprotected first-round pick and a 2030 top-one protected pick swap
• Selected Terrence Shannon Jr. (27th)
• Traded Wendell Moore Jr. and No. 37 for No. 53; Then traded No. 53 to Memphis for No. 57 and cash; traded No. 57 to Toronto

A genuinely interesting draft for a team that fairly believes it can win the title in 2024. Armed with the No. 27 and No. 37 picks entering the night, Tim Connelly and company made what was inarguably the most surprising move of the evening and traded up to No. 8 overall to acquire Rob Dillingham. To do so, they traded an unprotected pick in 2031 and a top-one protected pick swap in 2030, a high price for the Wolves’ future but one that ultimately could be a difference-maker in them winning the title within the next two years if Connelly’s evaluation of Dillingham is right.

I ended up with Dillingham at No. 15 on my board, but would have had him drastically higher on a board made specifically for the Wolves. Why? I’ll let Connelly explain.

“We have a lot of good things – the success in the playoffs, the regular season,”Connelly said during his post-draft news conference. “But we lacked probably a guy, besides Ant(hony Edwards), where it’s like, ‘Alright, just go get it.’ How do you get there? Free agency? We had limited options in free agency. Trades? The guys (on our team) that have value league-wide, we don’t want to trade them. And then you try to get creative. We thought he was the best shot creator in the draft. So he was a focus. There was a couple other guys that we really liked. We thought if we can get one of these three guys, even if the give (to another team) could be aggressive and it can be a lot, I don’t know how we can achieve that in the next two or three years via free agency. We don’t want to trade our core guys. It’s pretty simplistic. I think we’ve checked a major box that we lacked last year.”

During the playoffs, it felt like the Wolves were a creator short. Everything was on Edwards’ shoulders to be the primary creator on offense. And with the Wolves deep into the luxury tax and likely entering the second apron, their options were very limited in how they could acquire a player. Even if they didn’t go over the second apron and had access to the taxpayer mid-level exception, the player they get there would have had nowhere near the upside Dillingham does.

Dillingham is, for my money, the best on-ball shot creator in the class. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and brings an unrelenting aggression to hunting looks. I think he’ll have no issue separating from defenders in the NBA. He’s quick with a tight handle and consistently gets to his spots whenever he wants. Then on top of it, he possesses tremendous touch to attack using his pull-up game. He drilled 38 percent of his pull-up 3s and has a slick little floater game. He started to really blend the passing and scoring game together this season in a way that eluded him at lower levels. Then on top of it, he actually played exceptionally well both on and off the ball. He drilled 47.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, per Synergy, this season, and wasn’t an overly selfish player. He showed the ability to play with Reed Sheppard in ways that allowed them to share the point responsibilities. Honestly, I think he’s going to score at the NBA level, and I think he might do it quickly. He’s extremely gifted with the ball in his hands.

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So what’s the downside and why did I have him ranked 15th on my board when not accounting for specific teams? I thought he was pretty clearly the worst defensive player in the class, and he doesn’t really have the tools to project much positive growth within the NBA game. He is just 164 pounds and struggles to play through any contact on that end. he doesn’t contest shots well, and tends to be quite inattentive off the ball. He navigates screens incredibly poorly. There’s just very little to point to on that end that says he’s going to be a non-liability. But here’s the thing: what’s the best way to cover for a defensive liability? How about having the best defense in the league behind him with all sorts of length and rim protection as well as a number of elite on-ball options to make it so he’s not forced into as many of those responsibilities.

I still have worries Dillingham is going to be able to play in playoff settings. NBA teams will absolutely hunt him with their best players and sets both on and off the ball. But he’s been selected into the absolute perfect environment to be able to thrive. He’s going to get to learn under veteran starting point guard Mike Conley. He’s going to play in a perfect scheme for his game surrounded by the perfect roster to help him. If Dillingham is going to reach his ceiling — and that ceiling is very real because of how creative he is as an on-ball player — he has the best chance possible to do it. And on top of that, he fills the exact need Minnesota needed. I loved this deal from the Wolves. With Anthony Edwards and the team you have now, you have a real chance. Go for it and see what happens in this three-year window.

Beyond Dillingham, the team selected Terrence Shannon Jr., an older prospect who was as productive as a player can be at Illinois but who I also have some real questions about regarding his translation. He’s an athletic battering ram, a relentless driver who attacks bigs with success due to his supreme explosiveness and athleticism, but he also typically has blinders on while doing it. The track record of older wings with assist-to-turnover rates like this that are also fairly inconsistent as 3-point shooters (Shannon made just 34.3 percent of his 3s off the catch this year, per Synergy) is not particularly strong. But Shannon could make a greater impact on defense in the NBA than he did the last two years in college. I had him at No. 39, but I understand people making the bet on him given his elite collegiate production.

Finally, the Wolves made a small move to get off of Wendell Moore’s contract to save what will likely be about $450,000 in salary off of their books once accounting for a corresponding minimum deal and potentially millions more in luxury tax payments. Eventually the Wolves decided not to use the later draft pick they had received in return from Detroit. Overall, an enormous swing for the fences on a polarizing player, but one that I really understand given their situation.

Grade: B+

Memphis Grizzlies

• Selected Zach Edey (No. 9) and Jaylen Wells (No. 39)
• Acquired Cam Spencer (No. 53) for No. 57 and cash

If nothing else, this is an extremely Grizzlies draft. The Memphis front office under Zach Kleiman marches to the beat of its own drum when it comes to draft time. They think outside of the box and have no problems selecting players against the grain of consensus. Honestly, I find it refreshing. Sometimes it works out and they unearth excellent value based on draft position like Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, Vince Williams Jr., Xavier Tillman, Santi Aldama and G.G. Jackson. Other times, they end up with very loud misses like Ziaire Williams and David Roddy. Their overall results are undeniably positive, though.

That will be fascinating to track again, as the Grizzlies used a top-10 pick on Edey, one of the most polarizing players to come through the basketball ecosystem in a long time. A 7-foot-4 center who was the most dominant college basketball in the last two decades, he’s going to put a lot of pressure on the extremes of modern basketball on both ends. He’s an elite rebounder and post player who I think is an exceptionally good bet to produce in terms of points and rebounds. He’s an excellent pick-and-roll player, too, showcasing elite screening ability for his guards. Defensively, he showcased real improvement throughout his collegiate career in drop coverage, and 7-foot-4 with a 7-foot-11 wingspan, he has serious potential to put a lid on the rim. Having said that, he moves a bit awkwardly, and will need to be utterly elite with his angles to maintain a presence on the court. There will also be matchups that he can’t play against as a big that likely has to play in deep drop constantly even with his improved mobility.

However, this is about as perfect an environment as you’re going to find for him to thrive, next to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marcus Smart defensively to cover some of the ground that he may not be able to. He’s also the kind of player that you absolutely can’t go small or switch against. He is an absolute monster on the interior, an ass-kicker of epic proportions who enjoys bullying smaller players on the block and establishing position with ease. There’s also something to be said for the fact that Edey is known as an extraordinary competitor with an insatiable work ethic. League sources toldThe Athleticthat he went into pre-draft workouts and absolutely demolished everyone put in front of him. He was one of the consistent answers when prospects were asked the question “who was better than you thought they were entering the process?” I ended up with Edey at No. 17 because I worry about what he looks like in the playoffs — and my rankings tend to value playoff projection more heavily — but I think he’s very likely to return top-10 value from this class during the regular season.

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The other two picks were also fun and placed an emphasis on shooting. Spencer is one of my favorites in the class and I ended up with him at No. 39. He’s another wildly competitive player with an incredible work ethic for an organization that values such traits. He’s a 43 percent 3-point shooter over the course of his career in college, too. Wells is another really fun story as a high school player that was a late bloomer and simply lost out to the pandemic within the recruiting process. He was 5-foot-8 during his freshman year of high school and only played two years of varsity basketball. But by the time he was a senior, he was 6-foot-6 and was an all-state selection. He had to go Division II to start his career, but quickly earned his way up the ladder and was excellent at Washington State this year, drilling 42 percent of his 3s with a pristine stroke. Wells needs to improve the rest of his overall game, but he’s a good developmental project for the Grizzlies.

Grade: B+

B Grades: Teams that got the value they should have

Phoenix Suns

• Acquired Ryan Dunn (No. 28), No. 56 and two future second-round picks for No. 22
• Traded a future second to New York for No. 51; Then, traded No. 51 and No. 56 back to New York for No. 40
• Selected Oso Ighodaro (No. 40)

The Suns accomplished their goals this week. The thing league sources told The Athleticabout the Suns entering the week was to expect them to trade back in order to accumulate more pick assets for future flexibility. As of the start of the week, the team only had one second round pick that it could trade. Now though, it has two more future seconds, in addition to two players that I like for their organization.

Let’s start with Dunn, the team’s first round pick it acquired after trading down with Denver. Dunn is one of the best defensive prospects I’ve evaluated. He’s that good. He’s a true defensive playmaker who flies around the court and wreaks havoc with his immense athleticism and length, forcing turnovers all over. He’s also one of the worst offensive prospects in the first round that I’ve seen in the last 10 years. He looked quite uncomfortable with the ball by the end of the season for Virginia, and hasn’t come close to making 3s yet in his collegiate career. The good news? Phoenix has enough offense. They need defenders. Dunn should be able to become more of a screen-and-roll threat around Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. As long as plays with players who can shoot, I’d expect Dunn to play quite a bit this season. This is about as good a landing spot for him as he could have expected.

Then, the team took one of my favorite players to watch in college basketball the last two years in Arizona-native Oso Ighodaro. The Marquette big man is one of the best passing bigs in this class, a sharp weapon in dribble handoffs and ball-screens who is excellent at screening, re-screening and creating just those little edges for his man. He’s also a great finisher at the rim with real vertical pop, and he has a nice little two-foot, jump-stop floater game. On defense, Ighodaro is versatile in ball-screen coverages in that you can switch him on occasion and also use his mobility to play at the level or even at times blitz. He needs to get better around the rim as a rebounder and rim protector. I worry some of the big post centers in the West could cause him some issues.
This is more depth and more assets than the Suns had when they entered the week. They accomplished their goals. They’re better than they were when they started the week.

Grade: B

NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (5)

Harrison Ingram seems to be a decent 3-and-D bet for the Spurs. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

San Antonio Spurs

• Selected Stephon Castle (No. 4) and Harrison Ingram (No. 48)
• Acquired an unprotected 2031 first-round pick and a 2030 top-one protected pick swap from Minnesota for No. 8
• Acquired Juan Nunez (No. 36) for No. 35 and cash considerations

The Spurs had been connected with Castle from the beginning of the draft process, and it seemed likely they would end up getting him at No. 4. As the No. 3 player on my board, I think Castle is a good selection and I understand why they valued him. He’s a strong fit with their core and continues to give them added roster flexibility in how they want to build the core around Victor Wembanyama. Castle can be a secondary initiator on the ball and makes high-level passing reads. Some think he has point-guard upside, but I think he’s more of a wing who can lead the break, play out of ball-screens and continue to develop as a scorer. Because of those scoring questions, though, he is polarizing. Not everyone around the league is sold on his upside.

The Spurs need to continue adding ballhandlers, though, and Castle will give them one in the coming years to keep working with. He fits well with Devin Vassell in almost all iterations. You could play them together at the nominal 1 and 2 if Wembanyama’s development into a primary option hits its fullest potential, or you could play them at the 2 and the 3 if the Spurs figure out they need a real primary playmaker down the road. Castle is also a tremendous defensive player with versatility. He can guard 1 through 4, and does a great job handling his assignments.

The trade at No. 8 was a draft night stunner, and I wonder how much of it had to do with the Hornets surprising many and taking Tidjane Salaun at No. 6. The Spurs had been connected with Salaun by front office sources across the league. In return, they get an unprotected first round pick in 2031 as well as a pick swap in 2030. I don’t hate the idea of just punting a pick in a weak draft to what — simply by averages — will likely be a stronger draft even if we know nothing about the 12-year-olds who will be eligible for the draft for the first time in 2031. More than that, though, given that Wembanyama will be firmly in his prime and near the end of his second contract, that pick seems like a way for the Spurs to kick the asset can down the road and eventually cash in on a star trade.

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In the second round, the Spurs selected another player they had been connected with by league sources: Spanish point guard Juan Nuñez, who is one of the best passers in the class, but is quite deficient as an athlete and needs to improve his jumper. He’s likely to be stashed overseas for a couple of years. The team also selected North Carolina wing Harrison Ingram, a reasonable 3-and-D bet who was quite good for the Tar Heels this year, but also has some athletic deficiencies by NBA standards in terms of explosiveness.

Overall, this Spurs draft will be dependent upon how Castle turns out and what the Spurs are able to do to build around Wembanyama after punting No. 8 toward the future.

Grade: B

New York Knicks

• Selected Pacôme Dadiet (No. 25)
• Traded No. 24 to Washington for No. 26 and No. 51; Traded No. 26 to Oklahoma City for five second-round picks
• Acquired Tyler Kolek (No. 34) for three future second-round picks
• Traded No. 38 to Oklahoma City for No. 40 and cash; Traded No. 40 to Phoenix for No. 51 and No. 56; Traded No. 51 to Dallas for No. 58 and cash
• Selected Kevin McCullar (No. 56) and Ariel Hukporti (No. 58)

All told, the Knicks came into the draft with Nos. 24, 25 and 38. They’ll leave it with a surplus of two future second rounders as well as four players who could all come in handy at some point.

Throughout the process, I’d mocked Tyler Kolek to the Knicks at No. 24 as league sources told The Athletic that the Knicks had been interested in Kolek throughout the season. Instead, the team ended up getting him at No. 34. He’s my favorite of the prospects they acquired, as a tough point guard who stylistically fits with the Villanova guys the Knicks have come to love so much. He plays off of two feet and has tremendous footwork, finishing at the rim above 60 percent despite never dunking. He makes shots off of the catch at a high level, and is one of the best passers in the class. This is a no-brainer pick for the Knicks and I’d expect him to be rostered next season.

The first rounder the Knicks used at No. 25 was on Dadiet, a fast-rising French forward prospect at 6-foot-8 who can really score. He has a fluid offensive game as a scorer and really moves well off of the ball. I buy his shooting, too. My main issue, though, and why I didn’t end up with a first-round grade on him, was that he doesn’t really do anything else. He isn’t a particularly good defender. He doesn’t really rebound yet. His passing vision isn’t all that strong. I thought he was a worthwhile second rounder, but I understand taking a flier on him. We’ll see if he ends up coming over immediately or not. There was certainly an impression among teams that his preference was to come over this year. For his development in all aspects of the game, that actually might be for the best to get him around Tom Thibodeau, who will hold the non-scoring parts of his game accountable.

The last two picks are interesting, and I would expect that they’ll either be stashes or two-ways. McCullar was seen by many as a potential first-round pick, but I don’t believe I ever bumped him up into that status for two reasons. First, he’s never been a consistent shooter. Second, his injury history is extensive and played a role in his dropping on draft night. He just consistently picks up inopportune injuries that sap his effectiveness in a significant way. I had him at No. 55 on my board, and here he goes No. 56. That’s about right. I can see why the Knicks were interested, though, as he’s a tough defender.

Finally, Hukporti is another one of my favorites having seen him extensively in Melbourne. I’m betting that he ends up actually on this roster at some point. Maybe not this year, but eventually. His game is the kind that Thibodeau will love. He is a very direct, rim-to-rim big that protects the rim, rebounds and plays with a high motor. He works hard on the court and never gives up on the glass. I’m not predicting him to be anything more than a third center — his offensive polish might not allow more than that — but Hukporti has tools that the Knicks have been successful with in their centers recently.

Grade: B

Philadelphia 76ers

• Selected Jared McCain (No. 16) and Adem Bona (No. 41)

The 76ers seemed like one of the teams that could decide to move their first-round pick to acquire a veteran role player that could help them win now. Instead, they just stood pat and took two players who I quite like at their spots.

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I ranked McCain 14th, so this was the right value. He’s a smaller scoring guard, which does create some question on how exactly that’ll fit with Tyrese Maxey. But I think the 76ers roster is so open right now — with the low number of players signed — they probably shouldn’t have been considering fit and instead should have taken the best players available. McCain and Dalton Knecht were my last two lottery players available, so selecting McCain was fine. The guys who have tended to exceed their draft position offensively in recent years have tended to be elite in terms of creativity or be great shooters who can play through contact. McCain is the latter, and his production at his age is not something to be ignored. He has a strong 200-pound frame, and the intel on McCain isn’t just good; it’s elite. He ticks every single box from a character perspective and is known to be excellent in terms of work ethic — both in the gym and in the weight room. There’s every reason to buy into him continuing to grow from this already strong starting point. At the very least, you’re getting a great shooter whom you know will come in and make 3s.

Then in the second round, the team went with Bona, a player who league sources haven’t stopped raving about during pre-draft workouts because of his amazing attitude and the energy he brings to the gym every time. He has the look of a perfect backup center long-term because of how good he is defensively. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a good rim protector, and he’s an active, aggressive defender who has versatility on the perimeter. He’s athletic and consistently plays with a high-end motor, a motor so strong that it’s a skill. He’s a true energy-giver to his team in the way he’s able get second-chance opportunities and momentum-shifting recovery blocks. Bona also gives the 76ers the ability to move on from Paul Reed this summer if they want to, either via not guaranteeing Reed’s contract or trading him to create even more flexibility.

Now we wait to see what the 76ers can get done in free agency and on the trade market.

Grade: B

Oklahoma City Thunder

• Selected Nikola Topić (No. 12)
• Acquired Dillon Jones (No. 26) from the New York Knicks for five future second-round picks
• Traded Lindy Waters III to Golden State for No. 52; Traded No. 52 and cash for No. 40; Acquired Ajay Mitchell (38th) from the New York Knicks for No. 40 and cash

I generally love what the Thunder do, and I love their process for selecting players. Their recent draft history sees them clearly value a few things at an exceptionally high level. They love legitimate positional size, high-level processing ability and feel for the game, as well as dribble-pass-shoot skill. This draft saw them generally stick to the script, albeit with a minor hiccup in the middle.

Selecting Nikola Topić is an excellent home run swing for them at No. 12. That’s around where I had him ranked. Undeniably, it’s a risk. But everything in this class is a bit of a gamble and the teams who will have the most success are the ones that tend to be more comfortable making informed bets. Topic has a partially torn ACL that held him out of the end of his season, and decided to wait until he was drafted to consult with his future team on a treatment plan. It’s possible he misses the upcoming season, but the Thunder will be okay with that. They’re experienced in having players redshirt a year (see: Holmgren, Chet) and knew what they were getting into here. It’s what you think Topić’s upside is. His 13 games in Serbia while playing for Mega this season were some of the best tape any prospect put out there this season. Having said that, it was only 13 games, and the rest of Topić’s season was not ideal. He moved over to play for Euroleague club Red Star and wasn’t all that impactful. He showed flashes while trying to get acclimated to his new situation, but he never quite got to his best spot before going down with his first sprained knee. Then he came back for a few more games and tried to re-acclimate before going down again with the current injury. The Mega tape is just a very small sample size to bet on. Oklahoma City, with its massive number of selections in coming years, can afford to take a home run swing such as this. If it works out, they might end up with a high-end playmaker who gives them more options in the backcourt. If it doesn’t, they have the ability to pivot and move on without much harm.

The next pick was the one I struggled with. They bought back into the late first round, spending five second-round picks to acquire No. 26 and select Dillon Jones. This was, by far, the draft’s biggest reach for me. I had Jones at No. 65 on my board, and am not particularly a fan of his game while also respecting his ability to produce. He’s a high-IQ player who can rebound at an exceptional level for his size at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. He was productive, averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game. He passes well, but he’s also a bit too turnover prone, and he really struggles to shoot it. He made just 31 percent from 3 over the last two seasons. On top of that, he’s never really been asked to defend. He isn’t overly athletic and I don’t think he separates all that well from his man. For me, it’s a question of scalability. I don’t know that he’s good enough on the ball to be tasked with handling it regularly in the NBA, and I don’t know that he’ll be effective enough off the ball as a shooter or defensive player. I thought this was a pretty egregious overpay.

The Thunder more than made up for it, though, in the second round, by selecting Ajay Mitchell at No. 38. I had Mitchell at No. 30 and love his crafty game on the ball. I think he’s a sharper separator than Jones as a small-school player because of his ability to decelerate and handle the ball with suddenness. He’s a real pull-up shooter going both directions, and he drilled 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3 chances. I also think he’s an underrated passer. To essentially get him for Waters, a player they developed out of nowhere in their G League system over the years, is an incredible bit of business and great work.

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It was a bit of a roller coaster, but I like the first and third picks enough to where I can’t be overly harsh on the second one.

Grade: B

Toronto Raptors

• Selected Ja’Kobe Walter (No. 19) and Jonathan Mogbo (No. 31)
• Acquired Davion Mitchell, Sasha Vezenkov and Jamal Shead (No. 45) from Sacramento for Jalen McDaniels
• Acquired Ulrich Chomche (No. 57) for cash from Minnesota

In the first round, the Raptors took Walter, a player who got lottery buzz throughout the season that I never totally understood. I ended up with him at No. 23 on my board, and thought right around this spot was right. I think he’s a good bet to shoot the ball. He made just 34.1 percent of his 3s, but many of those were off of movement. He hit the 32nd-most 3s off of screens in the country this season as a freshman, per Synergy. He has clean mechanics and gets the ball up quickly. Having said that, I wanted to like his game more than I actually did because I didn’t love his defensive tape. He plays too stiffly, without great hip flexibility, and comes up too high in his stance. His closeouts are too hoppy — he often drops his hips a beat late, which results in him getting beat, sometimes even in a straight line. He gets turned around on multi-stage moves, sometimes over-pursuing the initial one and unbalancing his feet. I think he can get to average on that end but I don’t know that I quite see 3-and-D, either. Still, next to Scottie Barnes, the team needs to find as many shooters as it can get. The value is right, and the fit is right.

At No. 31, the Raptors decided to stay and select despite signaling ahead of time that they’d be open for business overnight to move that selection. They selected Mogbo, a skilled, undersized big man at 6-6 who can really handle the ball and pass. He’s capable of grabbing and going on the break and attacking any space that defenders give him, and he’s lethal in short-roll situations. He’s a bit between roles as a four and five, and he’ll need to find an answer on defense in that respect. The Raptors are probably hoping he can be a four, where his skill set is a bit more well-suited. The added bonus here is Mogbo is one of franchise star Scottie Barnes’ best friends.

The Raptors swung a trade to help the Kings with their salary sheet while taking a flier on a former lottery pick. The Raptors traded McDaniels to the Kings for Mitchell, Vezenkov and the No. 45 pick. Vezenkov was one of the best players in Euroleague for multiple years before making the move over to the NBA. He can shoot it and moves well without the ball, but his athleticism did not translate in any way on defense. He’s probably best suited for Europe. His expiring salary could be useful at a later date, but I would also understand the team moving on from him. The better bet here is Mitchell. He’s a great on-ball defender who makes life miserable for opposing ballhandlers, but has been extremely inconsistent on offense and has yet to find a role there that really works for him. He’ll stick as a backup point guard for a while because his defense is a legitimate change of pace in the backcourt, but I don’t see much starting upside long-term, either.

Funny enough, the player who the Raptors took at No. 45 is actually quite similar to Mitchell in Shead, although I actually like betting on Shead a bit more at this stage. Whereas Mitchell is an elite on-ball defender, I think Shead is fantastic both on and off the ball. He’s among the best guard defenders I’ve ever evaluated across the court. He’s exceptionally disruptive at the point of attack and physical in the same way that Mitchell is, but his instincts off the ball and his quick-twitch reactions allow him to wreak havoc in passing lanes, on the weak side, and in one-on-two situations. Offensively, I also think Shead is just a better passer and pick-and-roll player than Mitchell ever has been. Still, for Shead to stick, he’s going to have to find an answer as a shooter in some respect, otherwise teams just won’t guard him enough for it to matter. Still, he’s one of my favorites in the class, and I had him at No. 31 on my board.

Finally, the Raptors took Chomche at No. 57 after buying into the draft. I saw him in-person at Hoop Summit this past year and did not see much that made me believe he would have had much impact at a high-major in college next season, let alone in the NBA. He’s just very far behind right now in terms of his feel for the game on both ends. He clearly has tools with athleticism and a 7-foot-4 wingspan, but I ended up with him at No. 82 on my board and did not see him as draftable because of how long it will take to develop his game.

Grade: B

Orlando Magic

• Selected Tristan da Silva (No. 18)
• Traded No. 47 for two future second-round picks

An easy set of two days for Orlando. First, they took da Silva at No. 18, a solid player across the board who should tick a number of boxes for the organization. He’s a terrific off-ball mover and a good shooter who has made 39 percent of his 3s over the last two seasons. He passes well and generally makes terrific decisions on the court. He defends well off the ball and within a team concept. There’s just a lot to like about his potential fit in Orlando, especially if the Magic eventually move even further toward Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner being primary initiators of the offense. He could help them put out enormous lineups that cover a ton of ground on defense, knock down shots and make good decisions. I’d like to see him improve as a rebounder, but his game is just one that scales really well toward playing with good players. I like the selection.

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Beyond that, they moved No. 47 to New Orleans for two future second rounders. Given that No. 47 was likely a two-way slot for them, taking a flier on a couple of seconds in the future makes more sense to me. Solid showing from the Magic overall.

Grade: B

NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (6)

DaRon Holmes II will be counted on to provide productive minutes backing up Nikola Jokić. (Matt Lunsford / USA Today)

Denver Nuggets

•Acquired DaRon Holmes (No. 22) for No. 28, No. 56 and two future second-round picks
•Traded Reggie Jackson and three future unprotected second-round picks to Charlotte

The Nuggets accomplished the two goals that they entered the week with: save money off of their salary sheet, and end up with DaRon Holmes. League sources for opposing front offices have connected Holmes with Denver for about a month now as a likely landing spot. Clearly worried by how much that had gotten around, the Nuggets decided to trade up with Phoenix to confirm they would get their man. They moved No. 56 and two future second rounders to ensure that Holmes would be in Denver.

Holmes was the No. 24 player on my board, so the value is about right if you remove the price of the picks to move up. He has several of the skills teams love to see in a modern big. Many are looking for bigs who can dribble, pass and shoot to help space the court and make decisions for their guards and perimeter stars, and Holmes can certainly do all those things. He averaged 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and nearly three assists. He drilled 39 percent from 3. However, at his size, he faces questions about whether he can adequately perform the “big” parts of being an NBA big man. The non-negotiables for coaches, so to speak. Can he rebound consistently and end possessions? What is his exact defensive role? Can he play in drop? Can he switch? Is he more of a show and recover. He needs to answer those questions. But in Denver, he has a shot to be an awesome third big long term behind Nikola Jokić and Aaron Gordon, then occasionally play next to Jokić with his shooting ability. The name Naz Reid has occasionally come up while discussing him with front offices.

Then on Thursday, the team removed a significant amount of luxury tax from its bill by trading Reggie Jackson to Charlotte at the cost of three second rounders. Jackson was the team’s backup point guard, but wasn’t quite worth the $5 million that they were set to pay him next season. They should be able to find another option on the market at a cheaper salary given their status as contenders.

Finally, it’s worth noting, too, that the Nuggets signed my two highest-rated undrafted free agents — Trey Alexander and P.J. Hall — to two-way contracts after the draft ended. Calvin Booth basically ended the weekend with a cheaper tax bill and three of my top-45 rated prospects despite only using one pick. This is a much better week than it was last year when he had three top-40 picks and ended up selecting zero of my players ranked in the top-45.

Grade: B

New Orleans Pelicans

• Selected Yves Missi (No. 21)
• Acquired Antonio Reeves (No. 47) for two future second-round picks from Orlando

The Pelicans filled a significant need at the center position in the draft by selecting Missi, an enormous big man with a 9-foot-2 standing reach and enormous vertical leap that should allow him to become a low-usage, high-impact big man that plays a very direct game. In many ways, he’s one of the safer picks in the draft in terms of projecting rotation players. Players this big, athletic and hardworking rarely fail. Given his attitude, it’s hard to imagine him not at least becoming a backup center. Beyond that, he must clean up some of the technical flaws within his game and continue to grow more comfortable with the ball in his hands when the defense takes away his first option. I believe he’ll be a starter eventually, but he has limitations. I see him as something like a Clint Capela-type, but will note that I think he’ll take a bit of time. The team would be remiss to expect him to be able to step in immediately from Day One as a starter. They need to go get someone else to take on a majority of the minutes.

Then, the team ended up filling another need on draft night with Reeves. The Pelicans should keep taking fliers on shooters like him to surround Zion Williamson with. Indeed, Reeves is a flier, but one that I thought was worth taking as a priority two-way bet (or even on a guaranteed deal). He’s best right now as a lethal catch-and-shoot guy, making 45.8 percent of his 3-point attempts in that situation, per Synergy, with a lightning quick release. Defensively, I thought he showed real improvement this year, but it’s going to be an issue for him at the NBA level with how skinny his frame is. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see him pop off for a few big games where he catches fire.

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All told, just a smart, simple draft that filled needs from New Orleans.

Grade: B

Chicago Bulls

• Selected Matas Buzelis (No. 11)

A simple draft for the Bulls by selecting Buzelis and keeping the Chicago native at home. Many think of this as a steal for the Bulls given that Buzelis was projected widely as a top-10 pick, often associated with the Pistons at No. 5. I had Buzelis at No. 12, though, and think this pick is more in line with his value. He’s an interesting swing for the fences, but one with a lot of issues that could go sideways.

The idea is that he can be a big wing shot creator at 6-foot-9. Everyone is looking for this type of archetype, obviously. He’s a terrific open-court athlete that plays with attitude and tries to dunk on everyone’s head. But he’s skinny and doesn’t really play with much force yet. How much will his frame come along? That’s a good question. As a ballhandler, I think he tends to be more of a looping crossover guy as opposed to a consistent player who breaks down defenders. On top of that, the jumper is the real swing skill. His shot isn’t broken, but he’s only had one distinctly positive shooting stretch (his season at Sunrise Christian). Is that an aberration, or is it a signal that he has room to grow? It’s difficult to tell with teenagers. He made just 26 percent of his 3s this season. I don’t see him regularly shooting off movement, but I think there’s a good chance he will learn to be a proficient spot-up 3-point shooter. He also needs to improve as a passer.

If he shoots well and his frame fills out, he has a chance of becoming a solid pro. He makes interesting instinctive defensive reads along the baseline to block shots, and can be impactful off the ball on defense. But this is definitely a project for the Bulls, in my opinion. It’s a swing worth taking at this point of the draft, though, and I have no problem with them going for it.

Grade: B

Indiana Pacers

• Acquired Johnny Furphy (No. 35) for No. 36 and cash
• Selected Tristen Newton (No. 49) and Enrique Freeman (No. 50)

A simple draft for the Pacers. After moving the two 2024 first-round picks they owned coming into the season for Pascal Siakam back in January — a deal that they would make 100 times out of 100 — they used all three of the second-round selections they had.

Furphy is the big name here. He was expected to be a first-round pick but surprisingly dropped out of the first round. I ended up with Furphy at No. 27 on my board so I didn’t think it was out of the question that such a thing could happen. He’s a good shooter and a terrific finisher around the rim, but he has a lot of work to do on defense and his athletic testing did raise some eyebrows at the combine despite his game playing up athletically more than that on tape. He needs to add a bit more game off the bounce. But it’s hard to find 6-foot-7 wings who can shoot. He’s a great bet at this point in the draft.

Newton and Freeman are fliers that seem destined for two-way contracts. I like Newton a bit more than consensus and ended up with him at No. 46. The Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, Newton doesn’t necessarily have a single standout skill as a combo guard, but he’s solid at everything and he has a confident demeanor that never sees his heart rate rise in important moments. Freeman is one of the draft class’s great stories, as he was on an academic scholarship at Akron before deciding to walk on to the team as a freshman and becoming one of the best defenders in MAC history. He won All-Defense honors four times, and was the league’s Player of the Year this season while leading the team to the NCAA Tournament. Largely a post player at Akron, he needs to keep expanding his skill set and offensive game. But at the very least, he’s a fun developmental project.

Grade: B

LA Clippers

• Selected Cam Christie (No. 46)

The Clippers did not have their first-round pick this season as a result of the Paul George trade back in 2019. They did, however, make do with what they had, with a good second-round bet in Christie at No. 46.

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The No. 33 player on my board, Christie probably left college a year too early following a solid season at Minnesota. I’m a little worried that his frame is far enough way that the second team that gets him might end up being a bit more successful with him than the first team. But if I ranked players purely based on what they will look like from age-25 to age-30 years old (as opposed to the value that they will actually provide the team that drafts them), I would have had Christie as a first-round grade. He can really shoot, having made 39.1 percent of his 3s this past season and possessing beautiful mechanics. He makes them in all situations, too, having hit 36 percent of his spot-up 3s, 38 percent of his transition 3s, 43 percent of his 3s out of handoffs and went four of six on his 3s off screens, per Synergy. I totally buy him in these spots. However, it’s going to take some time on defense. He’s not very active off the ball, and on the ball he’s a bit too skinny to make an impact. He’s competitive, though.

At No. 46, you typically don’t find a talent like this, so I like the selection.

Grade: B

Atlanta Hawks

• Selected Zaccharie Risacher (No. 1)
• Traded A.J. Griffin to Houston for No. 44
• Acquired Nikola Djurisic (No. 43) and cash from Atlanta for No. 44

This will obviously be remembered as the Risacher draft for Atlanta, whether he works out or not. I ended up with Risacher at No. 5 on my board, so it’s not the pick I would have made if I were the Hawks. But I’m not going to crush them, either, as he was in my top-rated group of five players in this class.

Risacher will likely turn into a solid player in the NBA. He’s a good shooter and has solid defensive instincts in team settings. I don’t see the upside because I don’t love his on-ball game — he gets pushed off the ball a bit too easily right now and doesn’t really have much explosiveness or balance on the ball to be able to withstand contact (or even project that). And on top of that, he was a streaky shooter this year, going through a three-month cold stretch in the middle of the season in France. If he doesn’t shoot it at a really high level, things are going to get complicated for him in a hurry. Still I do think he will shoot it, and will hold value between that and his defensive play.

Simply put: This is the exact archetype of player every team is looking for, the big wing that shoot and defend. On top of that, I do like Risacher’s fit with Jalen Johnson in the frontcourt on the wing. Johnson can be the power playmaker with supreme athleticism that he’s morphed into in his third NBA season. Risacher can be the skilled shooter and finesse, floor-spacing wing. Again, this isn’t exactly what you’re typically asking for from a No. 1 overall pick, but this isn’t a typical draft. I don’t blame the Hawks for taking him.

On the second day, the team traded away Griffin, its 2022 first-round pick, following a disappointing season-and-a-half under Quin Snyder. I would be fascinated to learn more about why Snyder just never seemed to trust him after Griffin started his career in a positive manner during his rookie season before Snyder took over. But the reality is that it just never seemed like it was going to work out. So instead of compounding a bad situation, I appreciate that the Hawks decided to move on, get the cap relief for a team that is dangerously close to the luxury tax despite not being particularly good, and get an asset in return.

That asset ended up being Djurisic, an interesting international player for prospect powerhouse Mega that could become something down the road if he can figure out how to play off of the ball. He’s a big, creative guard at 6-foot-7 who can attack off the bounce and has some really interesting passing vision. He loves to attack and try to get downhill, and he makes some wildly impressive plays on tape that make you turn your head. Right now though, the results are a bit too mixed, and his game off the ball leaves a lot to be desired. He turns the ball over an awful lot, and the jumper looks clean but often comes out in a straight line. I had him at No. 37 because of the talent, but he’s definitely a project that needs to work through his game.

Grade: B-

NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (7)

Jaylon Tyson has good game off the bounce. (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

Cleveland Cavaliers

• Selected Jaylon Tyson (No. 20)

The Cavaliers entered the draft with No. 20, and exit with a player they selected at No. 20. It was a bit of a surprise that they took Tyson, but league sources did note toThe Athleticthat he performed well in pre-draft workouts across the league.

I had Tyson at No. 28, and think he has a lot of athletic traits that are traditionally underrated. He decelerates really well and uses his strength to bump defenders and create just that little bit of space. I loved his game off the bounce. He’s creative as a ballhandler and has an innate sense of how to navigate bodies. I think he’ll improve some of the issues he has overdriving with time, and I buy him becoming a solid enough shooter off the catch to make shots there.

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The Cavs could see him both as a wing that can give them a bit more lineup flexibility, or even as a guard that could replace Caris LeVert long-term as more of a bigger creator. I didn’t think it was necessarily the best value on the board, but I get why the Cavs went with an older player who gives them something a bit different than some of the wings they have signed long-term.

Grade: B-

Golden State Warriors

• Acquired Lindy Waters III from Oklahoma City for No. 52; Re-acquired No. 52 from Portland for cash after Portland acquired No. 52 for No. 40 and cash; Selected Quinten Post (No. 52)

A very circuitous route to end up in the same place. Early in the day, the Warriors acquired Waters from Oklahoma City for the No. 52 overall pick. Waters is a very real shooter who has played 104 NBA games in Oklahoma City and drilled 43.5 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. He’s also drilled over 40 percent from 3 in the G League over his last three years at high volume. Essentially, he’s a flier on a shooter on a cheap deal.

Then, the Warriors went back to Portland later in the day and re-acquired No. 52 to select Boston College big man Post, a skilled big who has good dribble-pass-shoot attributes. He’s a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter who can pick-and-pop or spot up. He can also put the ball on the deck a bit and attack closeouts, and he passed out of the post at a really high level. He’s a worthwhile bet, but I don’t know that he quite meets the athletic requirements to play in the NBA. It’s worth finding out, though.

Grade: B-

C Grades: Value-based or team-building-based questions

Charlotte Hornets

• Selected Tidjane Salaun (No. 6) and K.J. Simpson (No. 42)

I’m torn on this draft for the Hornets. On some level, I actually do think Salaun is a good bet for the Hornets to take. He’s a high-upside swing whose position and role fits just about seamlessly with their young core of Brandon Miller, LaMelo Ball and Mark Williams. Salaun is the kind of energy-giver with an attitude that this team needed. He plays incredibly hard all the time and is always engaged in what’s happening on the court. He also flashes some serious skill at times, particularly as a shooter. He cuts well off the ball to create shots, and just moves really well for a player that has a 9-foot-2 standing reach. He got drastically better defensively as the season went on, too.

But man, Salaun is also a project and one that I’m a bit skeptical has upside beyond that of a good starter. His on-ball game is quite loose right now, and he doesn’t have much explosiveness despite having some strength with a well-developed frame and movement skills when on the floor. He’s also not very vertical, and really struggled to finish around the rim this season, making just 40.8 percent of his layups. As a shooter, Salaun has moments. But he also only made 32 percent from 3. I don’t think I buy his offensive skillset quite enough to project him as a primary option at any point, which makes picking him at No. 6 pretty audacious even if I like the fit. Having said that, league sources connected Salaun with San Antonio throughout the pre-draft process, meaning Charlotte also likely felt like it couldn’t move back even though it had offers from teams to jump Portland in an attempt to get Donovan Clingan.

The second-round pick was Simpson, a really terrific basketball player who is an excellent shooter, a solid passer and a real shot creator while being able to pester opposing teams on defense. The problem is just that he’s 6-foot and quite skinny, making his upside a tough sell. I had him at No. 53, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he stuck as a backup point guard. He was one of the best players in the Pac-12 this season and has the kind of toughness that allows players like this to stick.

Grade: C+

Miami Heat

• Selected Kel’el Ware (No. 15)
• Acquired Pelle Larsson (No. 44) and cash from Atlanta for No. 43

This was a surprising draft for the Heat largely because of the team’s first-round selection. Ware doesn’t exactly scream Heat Culture. He he has all the tools you look for in a modern-day big. He’s 7-foot with an enormous wingspan that allows him to be a rim protector and tremendous finisher on the interior. It’s hard to find bigs who can genuinely space the floor, and Ware certainly has potential to do that. Genuinely, his tools are so good that they allowed him to average 16 points and 10 rebounds in the Big Ten. But, man, it’s just hard for me to get past the fact that his engagement and motor, despite improvement this year, are still worries that permeate his game on the defensive side of the court particularly. He has a lot of reps in drop where his hands are down and he’s not covering up anything in terms of angles. He should be lights-out with his length and movement skills, cutting off angles everywhere. But a lot of times he just wasn’t there. He’s not a second- and third-effort guy right now. Additionally, Ware’s feel for the game and skill set offensively beyond shooting do leave something to be desired.

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My read here is simply that the Heat believe they have the kind of situation that can unlock Ware’s game and see him become more consistently engaged on the court. I would love to see it, because if they figure it out, Ware has every chance to blossom into the kind of modern day big that teams search far and wide for. On top of that, I do have some questions about how the Heat plan to deploy Ware and star Bam Adebayo together, as I don’t know that I love the idea of playing Adebayo with another true big without a ton of skill as a passer. This is, quite simply, not a pick that I would have made. Certainly not this high, as I had Ware ranked at No. 26 on my board. He’s a home run swing.

In the second round, the Heat picked up a bit of money to trade down one spot and select Larsson, a player who fits their scheme well on offense. He’s a shooter who is strong and has some explosiveness as a power athlete. He also reads the court well as a passer and is much more effective as a driver than one would think. He averaged 12.8 points, four rebounds and four assists per game at Arizona this year and was remarkably efficient in the chances he got. I had him at No. 49 on my board as a bit of an older player who really only had one year of NBA-caliber production. He has a chance to develop into a rotational wing if things break right.

The Ware pick is just one that I wouldn’t have made, so I can’t grade this draft highly. But I understand the swing and think that this is truly the best possible place for Ware to develop into what he has potential to be.

Grade: C+

Dallas Mavericks

• Acquired Melvin Ajinca (No. 51) from New York for No. 58 and cash

The Mavericks had a quiet two-day draft. Their first-round pick was owned by the New York Knicks, completing the monster Kristaps Porziņģis deal that brought him to Dallas from New York back in 2019. It’s a tenure in Dallas that didn’t work out well for the team or for him. After two-and-a-half disappointing, injury-riddled years, the Mavs sent him along to Washington in a weird deal that saw them take back Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. However, both sides quickly came out of the arrangement OK given that Porziņģis won an NBA championship this season with Boston, meeting his old Mavericks team in the Finals.

In the end, all Dallas ended up doing was moving up from the No. 58 pick to No. 51 using cash considerations to acquire French wing Melvin Ajinça. Assuming Ajinça stays overseas, he’ll be a solid stash bet that the Mavs can hope continues to develop. He’s a 6-foot-7 wing with a strong frame and physical profile, but has short arms. He’s an excellent lefty shooter who made 35 percent of his 3s for Saint-Quentin over in France this season from a variety of different movement-based actions. However, he needs to keep improving his ability to use his right hand, to see the court as a passer, and to impact the game across the court when he’s not scoring. He wasn’t one of my favorite players available when the Mavs picked him, but at No. 57 on my board, he wasn’t a reach at this stage of the draft, either.

Grade: C+

Detroit Pistons

• Selected Ron Holland (No. 5)
• Acquired Wendell Moore Jr. and No. 37 for No. 53; Selected Bobi Klintman (No. 37)

I’m just staggered by Detroit’s continued refusal to move into the modern day and value prospects who can shoot the basketball. I like Holland a lot as a player, and none of this is a reflection of him. He’s going to be a good player. But at some point, you can’t have a core group of young players that include Holland (a non-shooter), Ausar Thompson (a non-shooter), Jalen Duren (a non-shooting big), Isaiah Stewart (a big who has improved as a shooter, but doesn’t get guarded tightly around the 3-point line) and Jaden Ivey (another shooter that teams don’t really press up on). Newly hired shooting coach Fred Vinson is regarded as one of the best in the league, but he’s not a miracle worker and he only has so many hours in the day.

You especially can’t do it when the player you’re building around is Cade Cunningham. Cunningham is at his best when he’s wheeling and dealing with space to operate in the middle of the court. A maestro out of ball screens and a dynamic midrange pull-up scorer, Cunningham already generally struggles to find any space in the midrange to make plays, either for himself or his teammates. It seems like every time he gets around his screener right now, he always has nail help coming, and the weak-side defender is always tagging heavily onto the roller toward the rim, leaving him to either do it himself or kick out to a poor shooter. Holland isn’t going to help that in any way, and this roster isn’t actually going to help him reach his ceiling as presently constructed, either.

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Holland is at his best as a slasher trying to find gaps with nifty ball pickups and long strides while attacking the rim. He gets legitimate pressure on the basket. But we’ve seen Holland in a situation like this last year with the Ignite, and it wasn’t pretty. He posted a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in the G League, while shooting just 24 percent from 3 in 29 games. He made just 55.1 percent at the rim, a low percentage in a G League that isn’t filled with a ton of elite rim protectors. Everything just looks like it’s moving 1,000 miles and hour for him when he’s crowded. I love his competitiveness and I think he has a chance to be a good defender, but much like Cunningham, I thought he needed to land in a well-spaced situation to see him reach his ceiling on offense.

Something needs to give with this roster. I get that Trajan Langdon is new to the job of president of basketball operations, and he shouldn’t be held responsible for the nightmarish reign of Troy Weaver. But this is the situation he landed in, and I don’t know that he made life easier for the guy that they will likely be paying this summer to be the organization’s franchise player moving forward. The Pistons have a ton of cap space to spend either in free agency or in trades. But at the end of the day, to either maintain a prospect’s trade value down the road or to allow them to grow and build within the roster, you need to create an environment for them to thrive. I don’t think that happened on Wednesday night.

One final note: I’m also pretty staggered that the Pistons, already down one first-round pick from the Stewart trade back in the 2020 NBA Draft, did not decide to move down to select Holland. It takes two to tango, but moving back to No. 9 and picking up an asset while allowing the Grizzlies to move up to take Donovan Clingan would have been the easiest move on the planet for them. Even if it was simply a lottery protected first-round pick, they still would have gotten Holland in all likelihood (I rarely heard his name associated with any of the teams from No. 6 and No. 8). And even if Holland had been gone, the team easily could have taken another wing in this mold in Cody Williams, who league sources tell The Athletic had a great workout in Detroit.

I like Holland enough as a player (and think the team’s second-round pick, Bobi Klintman, was a solid enough value at that slot) to where I can’t give this a totally failing grade. They also have enough time and resources to make up for it next week. But more than anything, I just continue to be disappointed in this team’s direction.

Grade: C-

Milwaukee Bucks

• Selected A.J. Johnson (No. 23) and Tyler Smith (No. 33)

Oh, boy. I wrote much of this on Wednesday evening, but I just do not really love the direction the Bucks went here. It seems like there’s a real divide between where the organization is right now in the front office and where it is on the court. This team has had as little success drafting in the last seven years as any team in the league. Sure, they’ve been good throughout that time, but they’ve gotten very little positive production in the draft since Jon Horst took over. The team has made 10 selections since then, and only is a real hit in Donte DiVincenzo — a player that they gave up on before he turned into what he is today. They also gave up on Sam Merrill before he turned into a rotation player, too. The team hit on A.J. Green, an undrafted free agent who might be in their rotation next year. But the actual draft picks, from D.J. Wilson through MarJon Beauchamp and Chris Livingston, have not worked out.

That’s a big reason I just do not understand taking the route they’re taking with significant projects like A.J. Johnson and Tyler Smith. The developmental track record just is not there to bet on yourself to get the most out of these kids.

Let’s start with Johnson, who I think I was higher on than anyone in the public sphere. He’s a developmental scoring guard who has some serious wiggle and athleticism. Down the road, I think there are a lot of outcomes where he’s a positive player in the NBA. His traits aren’t dissimilar to that of Anfernee Simons, although Simons was a bit more powerful and explosive at this age. And yet, I couldn’t get him any higher than No. 32 on my board. He’s under 170 pounds right now and nowhere near ready to play in the NBA. This was a reach for me, let alone the evaluators who ranked Johnson much lower on their boards and were reasonable in doing so after seeing Johnson struggle as much as he did in Australia.

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Then, the team doubled down and took Tyler Smith, another very talented young player that requires a lot of development. I ranked Smith at No. 25 and can understand a team falling in love with his talent. His jumper is a significant weapon for his size. He’ll knock down shots throughout his career, and that’s meaningful at the 4 — or potentially at the 5 if he can get much stronger. However, his measurements and game make him a tweener between the 4 and 5 spots right now. He’s not strong or physical enough to play the 5, but also doesn’t possess enough all-around skill to play the 4 yet. On top of that, he’ll need to make significant defensive strides, because this year was a struggle on that end. That’s OK; he was a teenager playing professional basketball for the first time. But it also makes him a significant project because he was lost out there in ball-screens.

I wrote this on Wednesday night, but multiple front office sources from other teams jokingly speculated to me that the Bucks took Johnson so that coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t have to worry about playing a rookie because he was so far away from contributing. Then, the team doubled down and did the same thing on Thursday. I get that it’s hard to find rookies who can play, but taking fliers on rookies who can play are even more important for contending teams in the new paradigm of the collective bargaining agreement, which hammers teams from a roster-building perspective that are close to the second apron like Milwaukee is.

I think the players Milwaukee took are talented. I just don’t know that this is the right organization to develop them given their previous track record and status as a contender.

Grade: C-

Did not participate

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets did not have their first-round selection this year after trading it to Houston in the deal to acquire James Harden back in 2021. That pick became Reed Sheppard at No. 3, so obviously that’s not great. Houston also owned Brooklyn’s drafts in 2025, 2026 and 2027 from that deal, which was setting up to be a catastrophe of epic proportions. However, the Nets made moves prior to the draft this week to take back control of their situation and start a rebuild, re-acquiring their own selections from Houston at a significant up-charge of Phoenix Suns picks that the team acquired for Kevin Durant.

Yeah, the sooner the Nets put this entire debacle behind them, the better.

Grade: N/A

(Top photo of Adam Silver and Dalton Knecht: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

NBA Draft grades for every team: Why Lakers, Jazz get top marks while Heat leave questions (2024)
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