The 2017 NBA draft has come and gone, and that means it's time for draft grades. Who won? Who lost? Which storied NBA franchise made their fans more miserable: the Bulls or the Knicks? All of this is wildly premature, but that's what makes it fun.
So without further ado... here are my grades for the best and worst performances from Thursday's draft.
Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: A
Picks: Markelle Fultz, Anžejs Pasečņiks, Jawun Evans, Mathias Lesort
Consider the alternate timeline in which the Sixers never make the trade with the Celtics, stay at No. 3, and walk away from Thursday's draft trying to talk themselves into the future pairing of Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons. It would've been an awkward fit with an underwhelming ceiling, and it'd mean waiting at least one more year before we saw a Sixers team that made any sense.
Imagining what this draft almost became for the Sixers is the best way to appreciate what they got instead. Fultz is perfect next to Simmons. He's a smooth combo guard who's got the highest floor in the draft, and arguably the highest ceiling. His game is somewhere between Brandon Roy and James Harden. The passing of Simmons should make Fultz even harder to contain off the ball, and with Fultz around to spread the floor, Simmons's weakness are mitigated and his strengths should be even more dangerous. Fultz is the No. 1 pick who makes last year's No. 1 pick even more valuable.
Obviously, it won't be as easy as it sounds. What looks perfect in theory will likely take time to come together on the court. Simmons still hasn't played an NBA game, and the adjustment for rookie guards like Fultz is always a little tougher than expected. Also, Joel Embiid will need to stay healthy for the "best young core in the league" talk to get real.
But this is a start, and there are potential nicknames emerging, and it's all getting fun.
For the first time since The Process began, the plan actually makes sense on the court. All it cost was an extra protected lottery pick, and it was very much worth it.
Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: A+
Pick: Justin Patton
Trade: Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and No. 7 pick to Chicago for Jimmy Butler and No. 16
[Climbs to the top of the nearest mountain]
[Watches eight hours of pick-and-roll defense]
[Eats six cheesburgers]
[Takes shirt off]
This is beautiful. There were many nights during this past season when I thought back to last year's draft. That's when it was reported that Tom Thibodeau had been discussing Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn in a Jimmy Butler trade. Talks fell apart, and it's not clear which side backed out.
What we do know: Had Thibs traded two promising young players for a veteran less than a month after taking over the most promising young team in the league, the Internet would've had a panic attack. What later became clear as the 23-year-old Dunn struggled mightily and Jimmy Butler dominated for Chicago: if that draft night deal was on the table for Thibs and the Wolves, it would've been the right move.
And he did it a year later! The Bulls side of this deal is its own story, but the Wolves are arguably the biggest winners of the draft. Patton is a nice prospect, and Butler is worlds better than anyone Minnesota could have grabbed at No. 7. Losing LaVine will hurt, but Minnesota actually looked pretty solid after he was sidelined with a season-ending injury. As for the Dunn side of the deal, I really do hope that he can rebound in Chicago, but part of the appeal in trading him is an acknowledgment that he isn't the point guard of the future. He was the fifth pick in a weak draft, and many other teams might have sacrificed a few extra years waiting for him to develop.
Not the Wolves. Now they have Jimmy Butler on board. I won't jinx the Wolves with too many expectations—the entire internet has made that mistake before (including me)—but next year will be fun. On the other end of the spectrum...
Chicago Bulls | Grade: F
Pick: Lauri Markkanen
Trade: Jimmy Butler and No. 16 to Minnesota for Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and No. 7 pick
What is happening here?
It's almost like Chicago management exists in an alternate world. Sometimes that meant trading multiple picks to bet big on Doug McDermott. Other times it meant lowballing Jimmy Butler in contract talks a few years ago. More recently it meant selling the world on the Three Alphas, then trading for Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne just a few months before they add one more overwhelmed former lottery pick in Kris Dunn.
I don't know. Whatever you thought of Butler's future in Chicago, it's hard to believe that the Wolves package was the best the Bulls could've gotten for him, particularly if you include February's Celtics talks in the discussion. It's even harder to understand what Chicago sees in Dunn, a player who struggled for almost the entire season last year. At 23 years old he was supposed to be ready to contribute immediately, and he wasn't. He probably still isn't. LaVine is coming off an injury. He's at least got some upside.
But then they used the No. 7 pick on Markkanen, in part because they already have Dunn, Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant, and Payne on the roster. They've made so many bad calls at point guard that I guess they didn't feel comfortable drafting a potentially good one (like Dennis Smith). I like Markkanen more than most, but he needed the right situation to develop gradually in a system that plays to strengths. Is Chicago that situation?
This grade isn't about the pick, and it's not even about the trade. I hope Markkanen succeeds and Dunn surprises people. But it's about the Bulls generally. It always feels like they're three steps behind the smartest teams in the league, and they don't seem to have any coherent plan beyond staying just competitive enough to turn a profit. There are teams that have been worse over the past few years, but it's hard to find a team that's been more frustrating. If you know a Bulls fan, hug that Bulls fan.
Boston Celtics | Grade: C+
Pick: Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird
I'm a little tired of trying to decode Danny Ainge's master plan for all these assets. When they traded the No. 1 pick, I think a lot of people around the league assumed that it was a prelude to a bigger move. But they didn't get Jimmy Butler on Thursday night, they didn't get Kristaps Porzingis on Thursday afternoon, Paul George rumors came and went, and ... Maybe they just really like Tatum? I'm not a huge fan of his game, but others are. And if anyone can find a way to take what he does well—iso scoring—and make it work at an elite level, it's probably Brad Stevens. Semi Ojeleye is a prospect I really liked, but with Ante Zizic and Guerschon "Dancing Bear" Yabusele coming over, I wonder whether they even have minutes for him.
The Celtics are probably not as brilliant as the true Ainge believers think, and they're probably not as dumb and gun shy as some critics make them sound. That's my only coherent Celtics thought after (another) 96-hour window of endless Celtics rumors. We'll see what happens in free agency.
Dallas Mavericks | Grade: B+
Pick: Dennis Smith, Jr.
The Mavericks should be thrilled. Dennis Smith has as much as talent as anyone on the board, and he could be murderous in Rick Carlisle's pick-and-roll. There's part of me that wonders if maybe the idea of Dennis Smith—45" vertical and three-point shooting, etc.—is more exciting than the player he'll actually be. I also wonder if someone should start sedating Carlisle before he watches Smith play defense. But even with those qualifiers, this is a best-case scenario for Dallas.
The biggest concern for Mavs fans was that Carlisle and Dirk were incapable of tanking and it would keep them from ever bottoming out enough to replenish the roster. But the combination of the Sixers inexplicably giving away Nerlens Noel and the Knicks inexplicably passing on Smith has given Dallas some real hope. It'll take time to materialize, but throw in Harrison Barnes as a reliable secondary star on the wing, Dirk (probably playing forever), and Carlisle (one of the NBA's best coaches), and the Mavs' rebuilding project looks a lot better than most people expected.
Phoenix Suns | Grade: A
Picks: Josh Jackson, Davon Reed, Alec Peters
I love the Suns' young core, and Josh Jackson is the perfect addition.
Granted, I spent most of this week worried that Ryan McDonough would make an impulsive move to flip No. 4 for someone like LaMarcus Aldridge, but that doesn't matter anymore. They were also flirting with Porzingis for the past 48 hours, but that's not important. What's important is that we made it. Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe can do the scoring and Josh Jackson can maul people. The Suns are too young to win more than 30–ish games next year, but a) this is a wonderful nucleus for the next five years, and b) those 30 wins will be awesome.
Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: B
Picks: Lonzo Ball, Tony Bradley
Trade: D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for No. 27 and Brook Lopez
The D'Angelo Russell trade may not age well as the years pass and Russell evolves in Brooklyn, but dumping Mozgov is a win whether they sign LeBron or not. And rather than Russell spending the next several years getting side-eyed by everyone in the organization, a fresh start probably made sense. Still, it's been a busy week for the Lakers and it'll take time to decide what worked. If they eventually sign Paul George next summer, not trading for him tonight will look brilliant. If Lonzo is as good as expected, it won't matter that they gave away Russell.
Or... Lonzo could struggle early, it could affect their free agency plans, Paul George could choose Boston or some other city for the rest of his prime, and all the cap space they cleared could go to waste. We'll see how it ends. For now there are only certainties. Josh Hart is a great pick and will help them. And, make no mistake, LaVar Ball won.
Orlando Magic | Grade: B
Picks: Jonathan Isaac, Wesley Iwundu, Ivan Rabb
I love Isaac, but he would've been more fun going to a team that didn't need him to score. He's great as a Swiss-Army Knife on defense and he'll eventually be able to stretch the floor, but I'm not sure if he'll ever carry an offense. He feels a little bit like a bigger version of Aaron Gordon. Still, the solution for Orlando will take a few years and Isaac's versatility is a solid place to start. Rabb and Iwundu are good as well. Now John Hammond just has to figure what to do with everyone else on the team.
New York Knicks | Grade: D+
Picks: Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Ognjen Jarmaz
Trade: Thought about trading Porzingis, didn't trade Porzingis
Ntilikina is an interesting prospect but he's probably a few years away from contributing in a meaningful way. In any case, he's not Dennis Smith. Knicks fans are understandably bummed and wondering what might have been with one of the most explosive guards in the draft.
Mostly, the Knicks get a "D" because whatever they were doing with Porzinigis is the latest reminder that Phil Jackson probably shouldn't be running the Knicks. It's just a mess. This should've been an easy week where New York gets Porzingis a potential All-Star sidekick in a loaded draft. Instead they spent five days antagonizing the best young player the team's had since Patrick Ewing, and then added a point guard who probably can't help 'til 2020.
It's not that Porzingis is untradeable. Two or three high lottery picks could have made it worthwhile. But the context is much harder to rationalize. If you're trying to trade the team's 21-year-old cornerstone because of a missed exit meeting, the problem is probably you.
And now everyone is staying put and apparently coming back next year. So, uh... Knicks!
Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B+
Picks: Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon
As a full-fledged Malik Monk acolyte, let me say three things about Thursday. First, I'm bummed that I have to watch Dwight Howard anytime I want to check in on Monk next year. Second, between adding weight and learning how to score and finish in the lane, Monk will probably take a year or two before he's effective in the NBA. But third, at some point there will be a new center in Charlotte, and we gotta bring the Dunk and Monk nickname to life. Dunk and Monk is the future in Charlotte.
Golden State Warriors | Grade: A
Pick: Jordan Bell
Jordan Bell was arguably the best defensive prospect in the draft. It was him or OG Anunoby. Anyway, he'll be awesome defending pick-and-rolls as a small ball center, and now that he's on the Warriors, it doesn't even matter that he can't really score. This feels like the Pat McCaw pick, Part Two. Life is not fair.
Sacramento Kings | Grade: A+
Picks: De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles
Trade: Sent the No. 10 pick to Portland for No. 15 and 20
Fox is great, and instead of trading up to get him, the Kings waited for him to fall at five. Then they turned the No. 10 pick into 15 and 20. Justin Jackson should be an excellent role player for them, and Giles is smart gamble at 20. I don't want to get too excited, and I'm worried about jinxing this, I don't know what to trust here, but... The Kings had a great draft?
It really was a crazy week in the NBA.