The 2016 NBA draft was a multi-tiered, talent-stratified draft that featured both franchise players and large question marks. The first two draft picks bolster the most talent, as forward Ben Simmons and guard Brandon Ingram unsurprisingly went first and second to the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. However, the rest of the draft was anybody’s guess, beginning with the Celtics’ third pick. As with every draft, some teams fared better than others. Here are a few of the 2016 winners and losers – excluding the 76ers and Lakers, as they are presumed to be the obvious winners.
Phoenix Suns: In what ended up being an eventful night for Phoenix, the Suns brought in forward Dragan Bender from Croatia, forward Marquese Chriss from Washington and guard Tyler Ulis from Kentucky. Choosing two unproven players with tremendous upside in Bender and Chriss, the Suns win the “great risk-greatest reward” accolade. However, the Suns earn a spot on the winners’ list because of the way they were able to consolidate their draft picks. They traded forward Bogdan Bogdanovic, their 13th pick; center Georgios Papagiannis from Greece, their 28th pick; forward Skal Labissiere from Kentucky; and a future second round pick to move up and grab Chriss. This is essentially what I wanted the Celtics to do, but Phoenix was the team able to capitalize on an abundance of draft picks. Phoenix now has a solid, albeit inexperienced, frontcourt in Bender and Chriss with center Tyson Chandler to serve as a mentor, adding another Kentucky guard to boot – making five on their roster.
Indiana Pacers: While the Pacers made some moves prior to draft night, I’m going to count their transactions because of the involvement of draft picks. The Pacers were able to acquire forward Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn for their 20th overall pick, guard Caris LeVert from Michigan, in addition to adding guard Jeff Teague in a three-team trade that saw guard George Hill leave for the Utah Jazz. The Pacers were also able to add New Hampshire native and forward Georges Niang from Iowa State. This newly revamped roster gives the Pacers the ammunition to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, adding role players around forward Paul George for minimal sacrifices. Teague and Young can contribute immediately and Niang will provide solid minutes behind Young and center Miles Turner.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks swung for the fences by choosing forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft and they were rewarded mightily. They swung for the fences again in the 2016 draft, choosing center Thon Maker from Australia, but I don’t see this move paying dividends. Maker is essentially a 7-foot-1 question mark. He didn’t play in college, instead opting to play a post-graduate year in Canada for Orangeville Prep. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, especially in high school, but the truth is that we haven’t seen him play consistently in a high-level organization. Moreover, no one is completely sure how old he is, as a recent discovery has given birth to the thought that the tenth overall pick might be older than 19. It’s possible the Bucks just chose a 20+ year old without collegiate or professional experience. I can see why the prospect is intriguing, but for a team already with great length and depth in the frontcourt, I think the more sensible pick would have been someone more experienced like guard Denzel Valentine or guard Wade Baldwin IV. The Bucks were able to add guard Malcolm Brogdon in the second round, but they’re certainly pushing their luck with these supposed homerun picks.
Orlando Magic: I’m not really sure what Magic GM Rob Hennigan has been thinking lately, but it doesn’t seem like it’s for the betterment of his organization. In February, the Magic sent away forward Tobias Harris for a likely one-year rental of guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova. On draft night, the Magic turned Ilyasova, 11th overall pick forward Domantas Sabonis and guard Victor Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for forward Serge Ibaka, an aging player on the final year of his contract. Ibaka is a good stretch four—shooting 35.5 percent from three for his career—that can complement center Nikola Vucevic’s post game. However, his defensive presence is declining, averaging 1.9 blocks per game compared to his 2.5 career average, and the Magic will have to pay him big money next year if they want to keep him. Seems like a head-scratcher, especially when the Magic gave up two lottery picks in Oladipo and Sabonis, along with a serviceable stretch four in Ilyasova, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc for his career. Whatever Hennigan was thinking, the Magic certainly won’t find themselves in the playoff hunt in the stronger Eastern Conference.
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