The wait for June 25th seemed like forever, but the 2015 NBA draft came and went, as team's look forward to the future. Now we won't truly know how well teams did, for another three years or so, after these players are given a chance to develop. Now, let's look back at what the teams in the Northwest division did and assign grades to each team, starting with our beloved Denver Nuggets.
Denver Nuggets: A-
1st Rd, Selection #7 - Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, DR Congo
2nd Rd, Selection #57 - Nikola Radicevic, G, Serbia
I really liked what Tim Connelly was able to do on draft night, especially in selecting Mudiay at number seven. I thought Denver did a great job of letting the board play out, not overpaying to move up and it certainly payed off for them. The Nuggets might have got the steal of the draft in Mudiay and they got good value with both of their picks on draft night. In my opinion there were four, maybe five potential franchise players in this draft and I believe the Nuggets got one of those players in Mudiay.
I wrote about the Congolese guard before the draft extensively and even predicted Denver would catch a break, having Mudiay fall to them at seven. I had him ranked as the third best player in this class, seeing him as a cross between John Wall and Gary Payton. Mudiay's at his best in transition and in the pick and roll, which should fit in to exactly what the Nuggets want to do offensively with new head coach Michael Malone. Also at 6'5", 200 lbs and sporting a 6'8.5" wingspan, Mudiay's size and defensive abilty at the position will be a welcome addition, especially in a Western Conference loaded with talented guards.
If anything, Mudiay represents hope for a franchise that has been dying for a star player and leader. He's also a extremely hard worker and has a very assertive confidence about him, both things this team desperately needs from its best player. This confidence was shown when he was asked at his introductory press conference about fellow rookie, Los Angeles Lakers guard, D'Angelo Russell, Mudiay responded, "That's definitely a guy I'm ready for."
As for Radicevic, I like his game a lot and stumbled upon him while watching tape of his teammate at Seville, newly minted Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis. Radicevic is a draft and stash guy for the Nuggets, he should be staying overseas for, at least, another season. He's a nice combo guard prospect though, who has great size at 6'5" and possesses true playmaking ability.
The Serbian lefty reminds me of Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, given his craftiness and ability to attack the rim. He needs to continue to develop his range from three-point land, but hopefully that's something that should come in the next year or so overseas.
The only downer on draft night for the Nuggets, was their inability to trade Ty Lawson. With Mudiay on board, everyone not named the Nuggets expects Lawson's days in Denver to be numbered. Look for the team to be very aggressive in finding a deal for Lawson this summer. A lot has been made, by the Nuggets, of Lawson and Mudiay playing alongside each other, but that would be a huge mistake by Denver. Mudiay is a pure point guard, not a combo guard, he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and at some point the franchise will have to turn the point position over to him. The clock continues to tick on Lawson's future with the team.
1st Rd, Selection #1 - Karl-Anthony Towns, F/C, Kentucky
1st Rd, Selection #24 - Tyus Jones, G, Duke
The Wolves surprised nobody by making Karl-Anthony Towns the no. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Towns is a phenomenal fit for Minnesota and gives them a stellar young nucleus to build around. For a team that ranked dead last defensively last season, adding a shot blocker in the middle, of Towns' caliber, should only help improve the team in that area. Town's shooting ability fits well in pick and roll situations with Ricky Rubio, while his ever blossoming post game should open up things for Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on the perimeter. Lastly, I'm not sure Towns could have a better mentor, especially in Minnesota, than Kevin Garnett which should only help the Kentucky big develop.
Even though Towns was the crown jewel of the Wolves draft, I really liked what they did in trading back into round one to get Duke point guard and Minnesota native Tyus Jones. Minnesota only had to give up two second round picks to Cleveland to make the move, a relatively cheap price to pay. The former Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, returns to his home state to continue his professional career.
He provides the Wolves with a very good backup point guard immediately, as well as an insurance policy in case Rubio gets injured. Jones has good vision, speed and is a phenomenal free throw shooter. I wouldn't be shocked to see Jones become Minnesota's point guard of the future and staring for the team soon. With a foundation of Wiggins, LaVine and now Towns, the future is looking very bright for the Wolves.
Utah Jazz: B
1st Rd, Selection #12 - Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
2nd Rd, Selection #42 - Olivier Hanlan, G, Boston College
Utah, again, had a nice draft, starting with their selection of Trey Lyles at the back end of the lottery. Lyles went right about where he was projected to be drafted, and I think Utah got solid value in selecting him. He gives the Jazz a guy who can play both forward positions (he primarily played small forward at UK) and gives them much needed depth in the front-court. Lyles fits nicely next to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, given his ability to score off the dribble and shoot from eighteen feet. Utah now has one of the best young front-courts in the league, and add another good offensive rebounder in Lyles.
Olivier Hanlan was also a solid pick for the Jazz, giving them a combo guard who can score off the bench. Hanlan had a stellar junior year at BC, averaging 19.5 points, 4.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. I think he probably should have gone higher then pick no. 42, but he'll have issues making an impact right away for the Jazz. I expect Hanlan to eventually be a nice scorer off the bench for Utah. All in all, a good night for the Jazz.
1st Rd, Selection #14 - Cameron Payne, G, Murray St.
2nd Rd, Selection #48 - Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky
Like the Nuggets, the Thunder stayed patient on draft night and it paid off for them. Not having to surrender assets to move up to get their man was a win for OKC. Payne was a great selection by Sam Presti, providing the Thunder with a guard who can provide immediate shooting, playmaking and scoring for their second unit. The Thunder have had a problem with depth and primarily bench scoring, Payne should help cure some of those woes. He's a good back up to Russell Westbrook and should be able to play with him at times, allowing Westbrook to play the two more this season. Payne to me is a poor man's D'Angelo Russell and fits in perfectly with what Oklahoma City needs.
I didn't understand why Dakari Johnson declared for this year's draft, and him going no. 48 showed why he should have considered going back to school. Although I think he lucked out with Oklahoma City selecting him. Johnson is fairly limited offensively, isn't a great athlete, and he reminds me a lot of Kendrick Perkins. I still think he will be a serviceable back up center in Oklahoma City; giving them a big body who can defend in the low post, set screens, and rebound. I like how both Payne and Johnson fit now, but also how they fit the future with the Thunder. Credit Sam Presti for another good draft.
2nd Rd, Selection #41(via trade) - Pat Connaughton, G, Notre Dame
2nd Rd, Selection #54(via trade) - Daniel Diez, F, Spain
Portland had the worst draft in the division, but their draft night trade made for a solid night. They initially selected Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the 23rd selection, but they traded him and Steve Blake to the Brooklyn Nets for Connaughton and 25 year-old Mason Plumlee, who spent his first two NBA seasons with the Nets. I didn't like the Blazers trading Hollis-Jefferson, but liked that they got Plumlee to help make up for the eventual loss of LaMarcus Aldridge this summer. Plumlee had a promising second season with the Nets last year, averaging 11.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 63% from the field in 82 games (45 of those as a starter). He should come in immediately and start at the power forward spot for Portland, and he could flourish now as a full time starter.
I love the Blazers flipping Steve Blake for Connaughton, essentially. The former Irish star has game. Connaughton should be a very good role player, and eventual fan favorite in Portland, bringing shooting and defense to their bench. He also is a phenomenal athlete, recording a 44" max vertical leap at this year's draft combine. He is extremely undervalued athletically. Connaughton will be one of the best perimeter defenders on the Blazers team next year, he's got a great motor and is a good rebounder for the guard position. He will also provide another shooter in the backcourt for the Blazers, as he was a career 39% from beyond the arc at Notre Dame.
Diez on the other hand will be a draft and stash player, but is a very promising young wing. He's got a good feel for the game, is scrappy and is a solid shooter, making 41% last season from three for Gipuzkoa Basket of the ACB league. Portland looks to be heading back to rebuilding mode, with the soon to be departure of Aldridge, but they did a nice job in getting some core pieces going forward in Plumlee and Connaughton.
I thought the Timberwolves and Nuggets stood above the rest in the Northwest, but the entire division drafted well. I'm very excited to see these guys play next season, especially Mudiay - who will no doubt win Rookie of the Year (fingers crossed).