The NBA draft is an inexact science. Teams prove year after year that it’s impossible to know exactly what a player will amount to in the league. (Darko Milicic, anyone?) The 2014 draft was no exception, as several players have outperformed their draft position while others have disappointed so far.
Hindsight is 20-20, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun questioning what could’ve been.
So let’s look at what each team selecting in the 2014 draft lottery would’ve done last June if they knew then what they know now. We’ll assume no trading of picks on draft night, only acknowledging the swaps that happened before the night of the event. Teams will also be drafting based on need as well as talent, as they usually do.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF
Original Selection: Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.1 PER, 0.031 win shares per 48 minutes
The Cavaliers made the right decision last June by picking Andrew Wiggins first.
The athletic 20-year-old swingman has shown remarkable two-way potential throughout his rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, potential that could’ve been even better cultivated with the Cleveland.
With LeBron James eventually coming over from the Miami Heat, a Wiggins/James duo on the wing could’ve been hell for opponents to deal with on both ends of the court. The 30-year-old James could’ve taught Wiggins some of the tricks of the trade.
But the rest, as they say, is history.
Knowing what they do now about Love’s inability to fit the team’s system and the young Timberwolves star’s ability, the Cavaliers probably would’ve drafted Wiggins and kept him for themselves.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Joel Embiid, C
Original Selection: Jabari Parker
Embiid’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: Has not played due to injury
Joel Embiid was slotted by most to be the No. 1 overall pick before a foot injury just days before the draft, and understandably so. When you’re 7’0″ and 250 pounds, athletic, highly skilled on offense and defense and 20 years old at the time, you’re going to be viewed pretty highly by scouts.
Embiid moves up to the No. 2 slot in this re-draft for a couple of reasons.
First, original No. 2 pick Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in December that sidelined him for this season. This injury may impact his career moving forward. Second, the Bucks have a bigger positional need at center, especially after Larry Sanders’s unexpected retirement at the age of 26. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are Milwaukee’s two best players, and they are both wings, so Parker’s presence was taking minutes from the other promising young standouts.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF
Original Selection: Joel Embiid
Parker’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 12.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.6 PER, 0.088 win shares per 48 minutes
Although the 76ers’ actual pick was snatched up a slot earlier, they have a pretty nice consolation prize in this re-draft: Jabari Parker.
Heading into the draft, Philadelphia was looking at any position other than point guard since they had Michael Carter-Williams on the team. The squad’s other blue-chip prospect, Nerlens Noel, has the versatility to play either post position, so drafting a big man was not off the table. (as we saw when Philly drafted Embiid)
Even with his torn ACL, Parker is one of the safer and more NBA-ready prospects in the draft. He would’ve been the Sixers’ starter at small forward from Day 1.
4. Orlando Magic: Elfrid Payton, PG
Original Selection: Aaron Gordon
Payton’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.0 PER, 0.025 win shares per 48 minutes
The Magic get to keep Elfrid Payton in this re-draft, but won’t let him slip all the way to No. 10 this time around.
The 21-year-old floor general still doesn’t have much of a jump shot, but he has played well in almost every other aspect of the game. Watch him nearly lead Orlando to an upset over the Memphis Grizzlies here.
And unlike many rookies who hit a wall around January or February, Payton has only gotten more valuable to the Magic as the season has worn on. He has averaged 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.9 steals in 36.8 minutes per game over his last nine contests.
5. Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, PG
Original Selection: Dante Exum
Smart’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 7.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 11.3 PER, 0.075 win shares per 48 minutes
The Jazz are still in the market for a point guard with the potential to be an above-average starter in this league. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Trey Burke will not be that player.
Another floor general, Dante Exum, was Utah’s original selection, but I think the team goes with Marcus Smart in this re-draft. Exum is younger than Smart, but is raw and looks a couple of years away from being a quality starter. Also, Utah’s defensive identity would perfectly fit Smart, who has been called a “terror” on that end of the court by Grantland’s Zach Lowe.
The up-and-coming Jazz would benefit from Smart’s immediate contributions and his potential to be a very good player in this league.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF
Original Selection: Marcus Smart
Gordon’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 5.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, 12.1 PER, 0.065 win shares per 48 minutes
The Celtics go with combo forward Aaron Gordon here instead of a point guard. Rajon Rondo wasn’t happy in Boston and probably still would’ve been traded, but the Celtics probably could’ve found a floor general either in free agency or via trade.
With the Celtics planning to unload Jeff Green, Gordon’s athleticism would’ve softened the blow for Boston’s future in the frontcourt. Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass are nice pieces, but none of them are explosive or have much upside. The 6’9″, 225-pound Gordon, on the other hand, has both in spades.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Celtics were planning to take him at No. 6 anyway.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF
Original Selection: Julius Randle
Randle’s 2014-15 per-game statistics (only played one game): 2.0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, -7.5 PER, -0.0273 win shares per 48 minutes
Julius Randle slipped a little bit in the actual draft, so his raw talent probably puts him a bit above the No. 7 slot.
It’s safe to say the Lakers made a solid choice here, considering their need for talent at almost every position. Randle will make an immediate impact for Los Angeles when he takes the court this fall, as the lefty power forward is a relentless scorer and a strong rebounder.
8. Sacramento Kings: Dante Exum, PG/SG
Original Selection: Nik Stauskas
Exum’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 4.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 6.6 PER, 0.013 win shares per 48 minutes
When the draft happened last June, the Kings still possessed Isaiah Thomas, a 5’9″ point guard coming off a season in which he put up 20.3 points per game.
Sacramento then signed Darren Collison and unloaded Thomas in a sign-and-trade. Collison did a fine job starting for the Kings this season before an abdominal injury, but a floor general with some more upside would be ideal for Sacramento.
Enter Dante Exum. He’s only 19 years old and isn’t very seasoned, but he has received comparisons to Penny Hardaway for his combination of size and skill at the point-guard position.
Exum at least makes more sense than Nik Stauskas, the Kings’ original pick here. Sacramento already has the rising young Ben McLemore at shooting guard, so picking Stauskas was unneeded.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Rodney Hood, SG/SF
Original Selection: Noah Vonleh
Hood’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 7.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 10.1 PER, 0.068 win shares per 48 minutes
Rodney Hood gets my unofficial “most underrated rookie” award.
Although the 22-year-0ld swingman probably isn’t one of the nine best prospects in the draft, he’s still a solid player and a great fit for the Hornets at No. 9. Charlotte ranks dead last in the NBA in three-point accuracy (31.4 percent) and has a scarcity of floor-spacers on its roster.
So why wouldn’t the Hornets take Hood? Since the All-Star break, the former Duke standout has hit 25 of his 55 shots from behind the arc (45.5 percent) and averaged 9.9 points overall for the Jazz.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Dario Saric, SF/PF
Original Selection: Elfrid Payton
Saric’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: Has not played in NBA, playing overseas
The Sixers go after a player they already have the rights to at No. 10.
Dario Saric is a Croatian point forward with great size (6’10”) and skill to play either forward position. Philadelphia would be (and still is) ecstatic to have him join the roster after a year or two in Europe. His absence from the team in 2014-15 also fits nicely with the team’s tanking efforts.
The Sixers could’ve had an intriguing future core of Carter-Williams, Parker, Saric and Noel, but alas, we won’t ever see that combination.
11. Denver Nuggets: Jusuf Nurkic, C
Original Selection: Doug McDermott
Nurkic’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 6.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.2 blocks, 15.5 PER, 0.080 win shares per 48 minutes
The Nuggets will make sure to snatch up Jusuf Nurkic at No. 11 before any other team gets to him. Because this time around, there’s almost no chance he falls to No. 16 and Denver is able to trade for him again.
Although Nurkic is better than the 11th-best prospect, some of the teams ahead of Denver didn’t need a big, banging center. But the 20-year-old “Bosnian Bear” could become one of the top pivots in the league someday, with his combination of size, strength and skill.
Nurkic does average 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes, so he’ll have to tone down his aggressiveness as he develops.
12. Orlando Magic: Noah Vonleh, PF/C
Original Selection: Dario Saric
Vonleh’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 2.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.0 PER, 0.116 win shares per 48 minutes
The Magic have four-fifths of their starting lineup of the future compiled in this hypothetical situation: Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic occupy the point guard, shooting guard, small forward and center positions, respectively.
Orlando will have trouble passing on power forward Noah Vonleh’s tantalizing potential at No. 12.
The 19-year-old big man was projected by some to sneak into the top three picks, and despite a rookie season without much playing time, his potential is there. If Vonleh delivers on that promise, the Magic could’ve had quite the roster.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Zach LaVine, PG
Original Selection: Zach LaVine
LaVine’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 8.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 10.3 PER, -0.024 win shares per 48 minutes
Like the Magic’s No. 12 pick, the Timberwolves are all about potential here as they select Zach LaVine here at the same spot they did in the actual draft.
LaVine is terribly raw and has put up some ugly efficiency stats, but there’s no denying he has a pretty jump shot and jaw-dropping athleticism. For those of you who live under a rock, here’s his performance from this year’s dunk contest.
He may never turn out to be a starting-level player in the NBA, but he was worth a flier at No. 13.
14. Phoenix Suns: Mitch McGary, PF/C
Original Selection: T.J. Warren
McGary’s 2014-15 per-game statistics: 6.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 19.3 PER, 0.167 win shares per 48 minutes
Mitch McGary has dealt with some unfortunate injury luck this season, but he has been phenomenal when healthy.
The energetic 22-year-old big man would’ve been a great fit for the Phoenix Suns, who had (and still have) a lot of guard depth with questionable talent in the post. In fact, according to 82games.com, Suns centers are outscored 21.0 to 14.6 points per game by their positional counterparts.
The energetic big man showed what he’s capable of in an impressive, 19-point, 10-rebound performance against the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 8.
Note: All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of March 20 unless otherwise indicated.