We have fallen out of the lottery portion of the draft (Click here for Part One of our preview), which represented every team that in the NBA that missed the playoffs except for the Raptors, who wound up giving their pick to the Thunder in a trade. Now we move on to teams that made the playoffs, but believe you-me, just because you got to the playoffs this season doesn’t mean you are on your way. The Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference after finishing six games under .500, worse than the Dallas Mavericks, who finished 10th in the Western Conference. No one is glowing about Milwaukee’s title chances. I have always felt that if you want to get better in the NBA, you either need to go rock bottom and rebuild in order to grab elite draft prospects with high picks (Look at what the Thunder did from ’07 to ’09) or you get rich quick by luring in top free agents (Um, yea, Miami). Being in the middle of the standings year after year is the NBA equivalent of being stuck in the mud.
Still, the latter part of the first round has quite a high value if you pluck the right guy for your team. Rajon Rondo, Tiago Splitter, Roy Hibbert (!), Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, and Jimmy Butler were all chosen outside of the lottery in the last seven drafts, so the payoff is definitely there for teams trying to get unstuck from the middle. The teams without a first round pick barring any last-second trades are the Heat, Grizzlies, Lakers, Raptors, and Warriors. Miami, Toronto, and GoldenState don’t have any draft picks at all.
#15- Milwaukee Bucks- Dennis Schroeder, PG Germany
The aforementioned Bucks reached the playoffs, but got quickly swept by the Miami Heat and have hired a new coach in Larry Drew, who previously coached the Hawks to three-straight playoff runs. Not the worst hire, but he will not wow you in the film room, either. Drew inherits a team with an intriguing set of big men in John Henson, Larry Sanders, and Ersan Ilyasova. But they are likely to lose at least two of their top guards (or maybe all three) in Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, and J.J. Redick. So the backcourt is a clusterfuck. Drew did a great job of turning a very raw Jeff Teague into a pretty good point guard in Atlanta, and I bet he sees a lot of Teague in the 19-year-old Schroeder, who was basically an unknown before he shined at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland for the International team (He played alongside Sergey Karasev and two top guys for the 2014 draft in Andrew Wiggins from Canada and Dante Exum from Austrailia). He is extremely quick and tenacious and has a long wingspan like Teague, but he is untested and turns the ball over a lot. GM’s want to see Russell Westbrook when they see a small, athletic two-guard, but you better hope you don’t get Austin Rivers instead.
#16- Boston Celtics- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG/SF Georgia
The run is officially over for the Celtics. They made the absolute most out of what they could get out of head coach Doc Rivers (leaving to coach the Clippers), captain Paul Pierce (reportedly going to be dealt by draft day), Kevin Garnett (constantly in trade rumors), Ray Allen (now with Miami), and Rondo (coming off knee surgery). The good news outside of that is that they have everyone else under contract for at least next season. They still pushed the Knicks to six games, but the downward trend is definitely there when you go from an NBA Finals to the Conference Finals to being out in the first round. The Celtics might want to start with some needed athleticism at the small forward spot due to the impending exit of Pierce. Boston has done a solid job of finding hidden gems in the draft recently with defensive guard Avery Bradley and big-boned Jared Sullinger. Caldwell-Pope played on an awful Georgia team for two years, but he was highly ranked out of high school and his shooting skills are much better than you would expect from a projected slasher. The hops are definitely there, too, so he can insert some instant offense into the rebuilding C’s.
#17 and #18- Atlanta Hawks- Tony Mitchell, SF/PF North Texas and Mason Plumlee, C Duke
A DOUBLE RAINBOW~! for the Hawks, who are literally starting from scratch. GM Danny Ferry smartly dumped Joe Johnson (that is how they got pick #18) and Marvin Williams’ awful contracts in exchange for expiring ones. Larry Drew still managed to get a makeshift Hawks team (primarily made of three-point shooters) to six games with the formidable Indiana Pacers, so no shame in that. But the team will be bidding adieu to Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Dahntay Jones, Johan Petro, and maybe even Jeff Teague, who is a restricted free agent. So if there is one thing wider than Atlanta’s mediocrity, it is their cap space, where they have enough room for two max players and are sure to land a big name in free agency to go with All-Star Al Horford. Ferry also took a familiar face from his San Antonio days and hired Mike Budenholzer (who started out as a video guy just like Erik Spoelstra in Miami) to take over the team. It’s too early to tell what Budenholzer wants, but if they don’t get Dwight Howard in free agency, they desperately need a wing to replace Smith and a big man to replace Pachulia. Mitchell fits the first role fairly well, all the way down to J-Smoove’s inconsistent play. He was a beast under Johnny Jones his freshman year, but after Jones left for LSU, Mitchell struggled mightily as a sophomore. If he can stay out of the paint and work on his outside game, he could be a steal. As for the center spot, Plumlee is reviled for being a Dukie biggie, but he has amazing physical tools around the cylinder if you don’t box him out and he is a much better free throw shooter now.
#19- Cleveland Cavaliers- Allen Crabbe, SG Cal
Cleveland got this pick from the Lakers in the Ramon Sessions deal last season. If there is one position this draft is really thin at, it is shooting guard, specifically marksmen. Burke and McLemore are great shooters, but they are better known for multiple skills. Crabbe is a straight up shooter who can sometimes attack you off the dribble if you make him. He was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and dragged Cal to an NCAA Tournament win over UNLV and a near-upset over Syracuse. The Cavs are likely to lose Daniel Gibson (unrestricted) and might also lose Wayne Ellington (restricted) in free agency, so this pick seems to make a lot of sense. I still love Dion Waiters, the Cavs’ top pick last year, but he is more of a ball-handling guard. Crabbe is just waiting for the ball when he finds a dead spot to beat you.
#20- Chicago Bulls- Jamaal Franklin, SG/SF San Diego State
I went back and forth on whether or not the Bulls would go with a big guy to back up Joakim Noah, in which case Gorgei Dieng is a decent candidate for this spot, but I feel like the Bulls will fill that need with a veteran big on the open market. They got a point guard, who is still learning, last year in Marquis Teague and got a jewel in small forward Jimmy Butler in 2011. Tom Thibideau may be my favorite coach in the NBA right now, he values grit and fearlessness more than anything else. That is why I am taking a risk with Franklin, because he has a tendency to disappear in the middle of games and go off the rails. But I can see Franklin transitioning into a shooting guard in the league, plus he is not scared to defend the best guy on the court and he is a great rebounder. He reminds me a lot of what Lance Stephenson would have been in Cincinnati if he played three years instead of just one. The Bulls would be more than glad with that, especially with Marco Belinelli being a free agent and time running out on Kirk Hinrich. Franklin and Butler together on the second unit could make it a nasty one.
#21- Utah Jazz- Tim Hardaway Jr., SG Michigan
This pick finishes the deal the Jazz made when they traded Deron Williams to the Nets. The trend I am envisioning this year is a lot of the centers getting picked in a row late in the lottery followed by slashers and shooters. Hardaway is a little bit of both, but he definitely ain’t no break-you-down point guard like his daddy was. He played out of position at Michigan in John Beilein’s halfcourt version of small ball with Hardaway at small forward and Glenn Robinson III, a 6’6” guy and top 2014 prospect, at power forward. He is an elite shooter, but don’t let him get a head of steam off the dribble or he’ll do this. The Jazz drafted Alec Burks two years ago and tried him out as a guard, but it just isn’t clicking yet. The Jazz might also go with Dieng here (who Hardaway emphatically dunked on in that clip from the National Championship game) to take the pressure off of Favors and Kanter to carry the interior defense. That would make four potential first-rounders from the starting lineup for last year’s Michigan squad: Burke, Hardaway Jr., Robinson III, and mountain man Mitch McGary.