Second-round picks who could make an impact in 2014-15
When trying to assess which teams won and lost on draft night, most of the focus centers on the first-round picks. These players, by and large, are expected to make immediate contributions. Projecting the trajectories of second-round picks is more difficult. Some wash out of the league before playing a single game, while many catch on as role players off the bench. Still others, such as Dennis Rodman and Manu Ginobili, blossom into stars.
Which second-rounders are most likely to make an impact as rookies? Here are 10 names to watch:
K.J. McDaniels (No. 32 pick) and Jerami Grant (39), Philadelphia 76ers
Under first-year coach Brett Brown, the Sixers pushed the tempo (they ranked first in possessions) and took a ton of shots but often paid for it on the other end of the floor, where they ranked 29th in field-goal defense. McDaniels is not only one of the best and most versatile defenders in this class, but he’s also a terrific athlete who finishes well in transition. Grant, pegged by some analysts as a first-round pick, brings length (6-foot-8 with a 7-2¾ wingspan) and explosiveness at small forward, along with the ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. Grant's physical tools suggest he can become an elite defender, though both he and McDaniels leave a lot to be desired as perimeter shooters. With 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel, a potentially elite rim protector, joining McDaniels and Grant after missing last season while recovering from ACL surgery, the Sixers should at least have the makings of an improved defense -- a unit that could become even more formidable when No. 3 pick Joel Embiid returns from foot surgery.
Joe Harris (33), Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs used the No. 1 pick to select what they hope will be a two-way star in swingman Andrew Wiggins. The rationale for taking Harris in the second round was more specific: He can flat-out shoot. Harris made 40 percent from three-point range at Virginia last season and finished his four years at 40.7. Though he lacks top-end athleticism, Harris can help a Cleveland team that ranked 26th in effective field goal percentage and had just two players (free agents Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles) with at least 100 attempts shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. A solid passer with a high basketball IQ, Harris should acquit himself well under David Blatt, who spent two decades coaching in Europe. Wiggins' performance will determine the value of Cleveland's draft, but Harris could turn out to be an important part of the Cavs’ 2014 haul.
Cleanthony Early (34), New York Knicks
The 6-7, 209-pound Early, who shone in a memorable 31-point performance for Wichita State against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, is active on both ends of the floor, can slash to the basket and can knock down perimeter jumpers. He’s the sort of high-energy player capable of lifting a Knicks team that often looked disengaged as it stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. How Early – who needs to work on his ball handling and lacks distribution skills – will adjust to new coach Derek Fisher's triangle offense remains to be seen. But with Carmelo Anthony potentially leaving in free agency, the Knicks picked up a capable wing who should be a hit at Madison Square Garden.
Jarnell Stokes (35), Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies signed star power forward Zach Randolph to a two-year extension last week. It’s clear that Randolph, who turns 33 in July, is past his prime, even though he posted a three-year high in Player Efficiency Rating last season. Stokes, a Memphis native who played at Tennessee, is an ideal candidate to be Randolph’s long-term replacement and, in the meantime, a productive understudy. The main knocks on Stokes are his size (6-8, 263 pounds), short reach and virtually nonexistent perimeter skills. But Stokes compensates with his strength, toughness, tireless work ethic and ability to carve out space on the low block. His elite glass cleaning should afford him some minutes in a frontcourt anchored by Randolph and Marc Gasol. Finding room on the roster for Stokes shouldn’t be much of an issue, either, as the Grizzlies reportedly are making power forward Ed Davis an unrestricted free agent by declining to extend him a qualifying offer. Among the players taken in this draft, few fit their team’s identity better than Stokes. He’ll eagerly buy in to Memphis’ grit-and-grind mentality.
Nick Johnson (42), Houston Rockets
The Rockets’ season ended with a first-round loss to the Trail Blazers after allowing the most points per possession of any playoff team. Dwight Howard remains one of the best rim protectors in the game, but Houston would do well to boost its perimeter defense. That’s what Johnson, a hyperathletic combo guard out of Arizona, promises to provide. While his size (6-3, 198 pounds) caused him to slip, Johnson is one of the better two-way players in this class. He has a basketball pedigree and has drawn praise for his character and leadership. Alongside pesky point guard Patrick Beverley, Johnson can disrupt offenses with his quickness, tenacity and ability to recover on penetrating ball handlers. He’s also a good decision maker and solid shooter who can play point guard in a pinch. And if you’re looking for early candidates for Most Exciting Rookie, keep an eye on Johnson.
Markel Brown (44) and Xavier Thames (59), Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have some important decisions to make this summer, most notably a replacement for coach Jason Kidd after he left for Milwaukee. Beyond that, swingmen Paul Pierce and Alan Anderson, guard Shaun Livingston and big man Andray Blatche are free agents. Depending on which players return, the Nets could have some big holes to fill. Brown or Thames could supply valuable depth in the backcourt. Brown is an exceptional athlete -- he tied for the highest vertical leap (43½ inches) at the combine and gained widespread acclaim at Oklahoma State for his highlight dunks -- with the physical tools (including a 6-8¾ wingspan) to be an elite defender. Thames flourished as a senior at San Diego State thanks to improved shooting (37.4 percent from three-point range) and lockdown on-ball defense. More than anything, this Nets team needs a jolt of youth. Brown and/or Thames would suffice.
Jordan Clarkson (No. 46 pick), Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers entered draft night with a dire need for a major infusion of talent. They got one in the first round with Julius Randle, a bruising power forward who averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds at Kentucky. In the second round, Los Angeles made another valuable addition to its barren roster by swinging a trade with the Wizards to land Clarkson, a 22-year-old point guard from Missouri. Point guard Steve Nash is 40 and coming off a season in which injuries limited him to 15 games. And while Los Angeles figures to bring back fill-in starter Kendall Marshall on a $915,000 team option, Clarkson can step in and provide quality minutes right away. Though his perimeter-shooting numbers dipped last season for the Tigers (with whom he sank only 28.1 percent from three-point range), Clarkson is a good athlete who can handle the ball well and get to the rim. The 6-5, 186-pound Clarkson is also versatile enough to play the one or the two. Nabbing him in the middle of the second round could go down as one of the biggest steals of this draft.
Russ Smith (47), New Orleans Pelicans
Even as he put up impressive scoring numbers – including a D-League single-game record of 58 points in February – Pierre Jackson was not called up by the Pelicans last season. New Orleans traded Jackson to Philadelphia on draft night in the deal for Smith, who, like Jackson, is an undersized scoring guard. Why, then, should we expect Smith to make meaningful contributions next season? The 6-1 Smith is one of the best perimeter defenders in this class, with a knack for harassing opponents and swiping the ball. He also -- provided he can curb his penchant for reckless forays into the paint -- has the skills and size to be a better scorer than Jackson (who is two inches shorter), and could conceivably spell Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans as a change-of-pace guard off the bench. A trade of Austin Rivers would help Smith’s chances, too. Smith might be the biggest reach on this list, but I would be remiss to discount the player assessed by one venerated statistician as the best in college basketball the last two seasons.