2016 NBA draft grades: Pick-by-pick analysis of the first round

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Did Sixers make right selection with Ben Simmons at No. 1?
Friday June 24th, 2016

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BROOKLYN — Like most years, some of the 2016 NBA draft went to plan, but much did not. This draft class had a thinner talent gap from top to bottom than most years. And with many teams holding multiple picks, it all spawned a truly unpredictable series of events. 

Things started to get weird when Thon Maker went No. 10 and started a run of players drafted a bit ahead of their projected slots. Naturally, that created tons of value, from Wade Baldwin IV and Henry Ellenson on down. Trade rumors involving Jimmy Butler, the Celtics and the Timberwolves petered out. The chaos in the green room was real, with three potential lottery guys falling all the way to the end of the first round.

Miss the draft? Need some answers? Still learning to say “Guerschon Yabusele” in a Boston accent? Check out our pick-by-pick grades of the entire first round. 

• SI's NBA draft trackerThunder ship Ibaka to Magic | Trade roundup

2016 NBA Draft Grades: 
  • 1
    1 Ben Simmons, Lsu
    Grade: A
    F | 6'10", 240 | FR.

    The worst-kept secret of the night is out of the way, and the 76ers finally put a proper face on their rebuild. Simmons will be ready to slide into the lineup next season and give Philly a dynamic point forward to build their team around. Best-case scenario, his passing ability elevates the parts around him, his jumper develops and the Sixers are back to being a real NBA team. There was a great case for Ingram here, but Simmons may have the most unique skill set in the class. Keep trusting the process. MORE

  • 2
    2 Brandon Ingram, Duke
    GRade: A
    F | 6'9", 195 | FR.
    Thanks to a hard consensus on the top two selections, L.A. fell into the cushiest spot in the entire draft. Ingram, with his size, smooth jumper and ability to score, has All-Star caliber upside. His skills will be a nice fit with the Lakers’ young pieces, particularly with coach Luke Walton arriving to shape their development. Ingram needs to gain weight and is a year or two from consistently contributing, but long-term his upside is tantalizing. When it’s all said and done, he may score more points than anyone in the class. MORE

  • 3
    3Jaylen Brown, Cal
    Grade: B
    F | 6'7", 225 | FR.
    It’s getting hot in here. Pro-ready point guard Kris Dunn had been rumored as a coveted player in this spot. But the Celtics are going with Brown, whose size and athletic profile on the wing are high-level. There are holes in his game, his year at Cal was imperfect, and he will take some time to adjust to a much faster NBA game. But in Boston—where he can ease into a role and won’t face sky-high expectations—he makes sense. It would appear the Celtics are hanging onto this pick, and ultimately their inability to deal it for a star still stings. Instead, they roll the dice on a guy who could become one. MORE

  • 4
    4Dragan Bender, Croatia
    Grade: A
    F | 7'0", 220 | AGE: 18
    Phoenix has been stuck in the competitive middle, and sorely needed a power forward and an injection of elite talent. Long-term, Bender was the best four-man available. He’s the youngest player in the draft, and given his size, passing ability, ball-handling and shooting potential, could in time become a high-level cog in the Suns’ offense. Bender possesses an intriguing range of skills and fits the needs here perfectly. He and Devin Booker should be fun to watch together for a long time. MORE

  • 5
    5Kris Dunn, Providence
    Grade: B+
    G | 6'4", 220 | SR.
    The hard-nosed Dunn seems like a philosophical match for Tom Thibodeau. He’s seen as the most NBA–ready guard in the draft, competes defensively and can make plays and score on offense. The personnel fit for the Wolves is a tad less clear, with Ricky Rubio in place. Maybe he moves this off-season. Minnesota needed shooting on the wing, and Jamal Murray remains on the board with a little more long-term upside. But Dunn slots in nicely with a talented core that will surely look different come October. MORE

  • 6
    6Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
    Grade: B–
    G | 6'4", 215 | SR.

    The Pelicans are preparing for change in their backcourt and need scoring to supplement Anthony Davis up front. They had their choice of Hield and Jamal Murray here and chose the more NBA-ready option. Hield’s shooting will translate, and as the more mature player of the two, he’ll be able to play a role for the Pelicans next season as Eric Gordon departs. He’s the best pure shooter in the class, and defensively he’s also a bit better than Murray right now. But they may rue passing on a younger prospect with serious long-term scoring upside in the interest of an accelerated rebuild. MORE

  • 7
    7Jamal Murray, Kentucky
    Grade: A
    G | 6'4", 205 | FR.
    The Nuggets are winners here, landing an extremely talented combo guard in Murray to pair with Emmanuel Mudiay. Murray can really shoot, and was a no-brainer as a pure scorer with room to grow. He had a case in the top five, and makes for a great value and personnel fit. The questions with him come defensively, and that’s an area where Denver will almost certainly struggle as currently constituted. But he makes a whole lot of sense and will be a nice addition to an intriguing group of young parts. MORE

  • 8
    8Marquese Chriss, Washington
    Grade: B–
    F | 6'9", 225 | FR.
    The Kings sent this pick to Phoenix for Nos. 13 and 28, a 2020 second-rounder, and Bodgan Bogdanovic, a shooter currently stashed overseas. It’s a net gain in terms of high-end talent for the Suns—a major need for them—but taking a player whose position resembles the guy they just took, Dragan Bender, makes it a bit of a head-scratcher. Chriss has star upside, but also may have further to go than any of the elite talents in the draft. You can’t fault the Suns for taking the highest-upside guy left, but their long-term plan is slightly fuzzy at the moment. MORE

  • 9
    9 Jakob Poeltl, Utah
    Grade: B+
    C | 7'1", 240 | SO.
    With Bismack Biyombo likely priced out from a return to Toronto, the center position became a need for the Raptors. They should be poised for another playoff run, and found some pro-ready help at No. 9 in Poeltl, whose back to the basket skills and size make him a nice asset. He likely can’t share the floor with Jonas Valanciunas, but the Raptors can conceivably batter opposing bench lineups on the interior for the next several years. Toronto still needs shooting and help on the wing, but this is a nice fit. MORE

  • 10
    10Thon Maker, Orangeville Prep
    Grade: C-
    F | 7'0", 218 | Age: 19
    WHOA! Here’s the first curveball of the draft. Bucks GM John Hammond reportedly coveted Maker throughout the evaluation process. That said, this feels like a reach. Maker has size, length and a developing jumper, but has never faced high-level competition on a consistent basis and isn’t ready to bang inside in the NBA. The Bucks have a glut of forwards on board already, and though Maker won’t have to be conscripted into action, they aren’t addressing a clear need here. He’s conceivably a stretch four down the line if he bulks up, but right now, he’s just a stretch. MORE

  • 11
    11Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
    Grade: B
    F | 6'10", 240 | SO.

    Orlando sent this pick to the Thunder, along with Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova, in exchange for Serge Ibaka. Oklahoma City is letting the dice fly right now. This is nuts. The Thunder will add three useful parts to their core for one here as they attempt to bring back Kevin Durant and make another deep playoff run. Oladipo fills a huge need at shooting guard. Ilyasova is a passable stretch big. Sabonis is a skilled energy big who will really benefit from stepping into a good situation and playing with experienced talent right away. Ibaka’s length was critical for OKC in the playoffs, but this all looks like solid value for a player who could really float offensively. MORE

     Trade: OKC gets No. 11, Oladipo for Ibaka

  • 12
    12Taurean Prince, Baylor
    Grade: B+
    F | 6'7", 220 | SR.
    The Hawks acquired this pick in the Jeff Teague trade Wednesday and coveted Prince, who immediately fills a hole on the wing as a delayed replacement for DeMarre Carroll. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none, but that should be a positive as he slides into Atlanta’s ball movement-heavy system. There weren’t a ton of pro-ready two-way wings in the draft, and the Hawks were decisive and got their guy. You do wonder, though, if he’d have been available later in the draft. MORE

  • 13
    13Georgios Papagiannis, Greece
    Grade: D
    C | 7'2", 240 | Age: 18
    The Kings are still the Kings, and they have kinged themselves. Papagiannis is an 18-year-old center with some upside—perhaps a justifiable pick in the first round—but this was a guy nobody had pegged in the lottery. This was confusing. Henry Ellenson and several other bigs were on the board. MORE

  • 14
    14Denzel Valentine, Mich. State
    Grade: B
    G/F | 6'6", 220 | SR.
    It’s been an unpredictable 48 hours for the Bulls, but here they make a classic Chicago move and take a solid, accomplished college player. There were real concerns among some teams about the condition of Valentine’s knees. The Bulls felt good enough to take the risk. Valentine’s well–rounded offensive game should allow him to play early. He’s one of those players who just knows how to play. His defense is the weak point. With the state of the franchise totally up in the air, it’s tricky to evaluate this with total confidence. MORE

  • 15
    15Juan Hernangomez, Spain
    Grade: B+
    F | 6'9", 225 | AGE: 20

    Given their surplus of draft picks, it was very likely the Nuggets would stash at least one of their first-round picks overseas. That’s likely what will happen with Hernangomez, who could be a nice long-term replacement for Danilo Gallinari as a tough combo forward. He’s known as a fiery competitor, and should be a good addition to Denver’s international flavor whenever he comes over. There is a lot of talent still hovering on the board here. MORE

  • 16
    16 Guerschon Yabusele, France
    Grade: C
    F | 6'8", 270 | age: 20
    With eight draft picks at their disposal, Boston’s decided to dive into the draft-and-stash bag, investing in burly French forward Yabusele. He anchored a pretty bad team in France last season with a weirdly effective skill set, as he can shoot it from the outside and score on the interior while playing at around 270 pounds. He’s undersized, but has an enormous wingspan. All this said, there were more highly regarded, stashable European bigs in this range who were higher on most draft boards. It’s slightly puzzling. MORE

  • 17
    17Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt
    Grade: A
    G | 6'3", 195 | SO.
    Memphis probably just got the grittiest, grindiest player in the draft. This is a terrific fit. Whether Mike Conley returns or not, Baldwin’s ability to play both guard spots will be a help. His impressive physical tools make him a pretty good bet to be a great NBA defender. Offensively, he will have some development to do, but he makes for a nice value pick here for the Grizzlies. He can learn from Tony Allen. Can we be the first to dub him the Grind-son? MORE

  • 18
    18Henry Ellenson, Marquette
    Grade: A
    F/C | 6'10", 245 | FR.

    After the draft got topsy–turvy, the Pistons landed a terrific value pick. Able to score on the block, put it on the deck and hit an open jumper, Ellenson was No. 6 on my Big Board and is one of the most offensively skilled bigs in the class. The Pistons need shooters around Andre Drummond, and Ellenson—also a good rebounder—seems tailor-made for what Stan Van Gundy likes to do. This was a no-brainer choice. MORE

  • 19
    19Malik Beasley, Florida State
    Grade: A–
    G | 6'5", 190 | FR.

    Beasley was one of the best shooters still on the board, and the Nuggets keep loading up on guards after taking Jamal Murray at No. 7. Denver has established some positional depth across their roster and justifiably swung for upside here at No. 19. They’re adding a nice player with scoring potential and strong intangibles, and can ease him into the rotation. In my book, Denver is 3-for-3 in the first round. MORE

  • 20
    20Caris Levert, Michigan
    Grade: B+
    G | 6'7", 205 | SR.

    Indiana sent this pick to the Nets in the Thaddeus Young trade, and this is exactly the type of upside play Brooklyn needs to make. LeVert’s long injury history makes him a major gamble, but the Nets don’t control their own first–round pick until 2019. He’s a lottery–type talent in a vacuum, and the Nets have to try and extract value from a difficult position. It’s the type of risk they can afford to take. He goes a little bit higher here than most expected, but it makes sense. Sean Marks’s first pick as GM is in the books. MORE

    • Trade: Nets take LeVert after dealing Young

  • 21
    21DeAndre Bembry, St. Joe's
    Grade: A
    G | 6'6", 220 | JR.

    This is pretty much an ideal fit for Bembry, whose terrific passing ability and well-rounded game are philosophically in line with what the Hawks like to do. His feel for the floor is beyond his years, and he can do a bit of everything for you, with his three-point shot the only real bit of doubt. With Bembry and Taurean Prince, they’ve injected youth and talent on the wing and added two players who won’t be overwhelmed next season. Whether Al Horford stays or goes, the Hawks make two solid moves for the future. MORE

  • 22
    22Malachi Richardson, Syracuse
    Grade: B–
    G | 6'6", 195 | FR.

    The Kings acquired this pick from the Hornets for Marco Belinelli earlier in the night. Richardson rose up boards over the past month, with his shooting ability and 7-foot wingspan at shooting guard making for an interesting long-term gamble. It can be tough to peg players who establish stock largely off NCAA tourney performances, and I was never quite sold, given he was an older prospect for his class and that his game was somewhat one-dimensional. At least Sacramento needs wing help and is aiming high here. MORE

    • Trade: Kings acquire No. 22 pick from Hornets

  • 23
    23Ante Zizic, Croatia
    Grade: B+
    C | 6'11", 240 | AGE: 19
    The Celtics must have really loved Yabusele at 16—they passed on Zizic, a more accomplished, stashable player at that spot, but should be happy to land him here. He’s a definite talent, known for his rebounding and toughness, and will probably be staying overseas. It looks like Boston will hang on to this pick and continue to gather assets. This is a sensible option. 

  • 24
    24Timothe Luwawu, France
    Grade: A
    G/F | 6'7", 205 | AGE: 20

    This is an awesome coup for the Sixers, as Luwawu could have gone 10 picks earlier. Scouts I spoke with were high on him, praising his playmaking, defense and athleticism. He was one of the better two-way wing players in the class. The Frenchman will be a nice addition to Philly’s rebuild, and it should be thrilled to land him. MORE

  • 25
    25Brice Johnson, UNC
    Grade: B
    F | 6'9", 228 | SR.

    This isn’t a big roll of the dice from the Clippers, but they could use immediate contributors given their situation, and Johnson should be able to do that. He’s athletic and can finish on the inside. If he commits to being a high-energy role player, he’ll help them. There were players with greater upside available, but it’s logical given their needs. MORE

  • 26
    26 Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey
    GRADE: B+
    G | 6'5", 175 | AGE: 18

    Philly picks a third international player, selecting Korkmaz, an 18-year-old Turkish wing with some upside. He’s early in his development and could (and probably should) stay overseas for a year or two. His shooting and athleticism offer some room for projection, but there’s a good amount for him still to put together. Dejounte Murray could have been a good pick here. Deyonta Davis and Skal Labissiere are still around, but Philly doesn’t need more bigs. Korkmaz gives the Sixers another piece with good potential to bring along. MORE

  • 27
    27Pascal Siakam, N.M. State
    Grade: C+
    F | 6'9", 230 | So.
    Siakam was extremely productive at New Mexico State last season, but was projected as a second-rounder. He’s also already 22. The Raptors are adding depth up front, and his physical tools and competitiveness suggest he will eventually give them something. Still, it feels like somewhat of a reach here. MORE

  • 28
    28Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
    Grade: A–
    F/C | 6'11", 220 | FR.

    Labissiere’s long wait came to an end as the Kings netted some nice value (finally). He’s a lottery-level talent, but is so far off at an advanced age that many teams were left wholly unconvinced. The Kings love their Kentucky guys, and while bigs aren’t a need for them, they take a worthwhile chance at this spot. If he becomes a passable shooter and rim protector, he has a chance to really help—it’ll just be awhile. Their three first-round picks have gone in reverse order of logic. MORE

     Trade: Kings get No. 13, 28 for No. 8 pick

  • 29
    29DeJounte Murray, Washington
    Grade: A
    G | 6'5", 170 | FR.

    The Spurs had reportedly tried to move up in the draft. They didn’t, and still landed a late lottery-caliber talent. Murray’s a gifted ball handler with great size and scoring instincts, with the only question being his jump shot. San Antonio has a strong history of fixing that. His potential is through the roof for where he was drafted, and this might be the perfect fit. As the Spurs start looking toward the future, this is a player that can totally be a piece. He might be the successor in Manu Ginobili’s role down the line. MORE

  • 30
    30Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
    Grade: B+
    C | 7'0", 244 | JR.

    Jones has been compared to Festus Ezeli, another Vanderbilt guy, and as the latter approaches restricted free agency, the Warriors find a guy who could be his replacement. He’s a very good athlete with shot-blocking ability and ideally will be able to anchor small lineups defensively. This is a nice pick for them. Meanwhile, Deyonta Davis, a long-term play in a similar position, slips out of the first round. MORE

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