Redrafting the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery
Bleacher Report's Yaron Weitzman published a book on The Process-era 76ers yesterday. I talked to him about it on the Press Pass Podcast, but one tidbit of information I gleaned from the book was an anecdote about a predraft workout featuring Joel Embiid and the Cleveland Cavaliers' GM at the time, David Griffin. You can read the full excerpt here, but in essence, Embiid told Griffin he simply had to take him No. 1 overall, and Griffin told everyone it was the best workout he had ever seen.
Griffin, of course, did not listen to Embiid. The Cavs took Andrew Wiggins with the first pick; presumably, Embiid's foot surgery days before the draft resulted in his drop to Philadelphia at No. 3. But the anecdote got me thinking: What if Griffin had taken Embiid first anyway? It would be less than a month later that LeBron James would announce he was returning to Cleveland after a four-year stay in Miami, resulting in the blockbuster trade that saw Wiggins and 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett to Minnesota for Cleveland's third star, Kevin Love. How would it change how the rest of the draft shook out? I decided to see for myself, and re-drafted the 2014 NBA draft lottery.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Embiid missed his first two seasons due to injury, but regardless it's safe to assume he's shipped out for the end goal of acquiring a third star for LeBron. So this is less about how the immediate future of Cleveland changes and more about how this would change things for Minnesota. If they have Embiid on their roster, do they still take Karl-Anthony Towns first overall in 2015? Or do they choose to pair Embiid with D'Angelo Russell? Knowing what we know now about those two players, it's as nearly a perfect match as one could imagine; Embiid can clean up all of Russell's mistakes defensively, and Russell would be a better fit as a pick-and-roll partner than any of his counterparts in Philadelphia. The Wolves as a Western Conference powerhouse with two young superstars is a fascinating future to imagine.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Nikola Jokic, C, Serbia
In our re-drafts, teams would be operating with the benefit of hindsight when it comes to the players being drafted, but not about the state of their roster when the draft took place. So in this situation, the Bucks don't know they have a future MVP in 2013 No. 15 pick Giannis Antetokounmpo, but they do know that Jokic would make a similar leap from complete unknown to superstar in a three-year span. Milwaukee was probably happy with their center rotation of John Henson and Larry Sanders, but Jokic transforms the team. He'd be a bit of a tough fit with what Giannis would become thanks to his ball-dominant playstyle and lack of elite shooting, but pairing Jokic's passing with Giannis' instincts and athleticism is an extremely dangerous 1-2 punch.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Without Embiid to select as the first step of what would become known as The Process, Philly goes for another uber-athletic forward to kick-start their rebuild. Gordon doesn't have the same limitless potential that Embiid does, but his high-flying style would endear him to Sixers fans looking for anything resembling a modicum of hope during the franchise's darkest days. The biggest ripple effect would come from Gordon's health; he played in 47 games his rookie season, and would presumably be more of a featured piece in the barren wasteland that was the 2014-15 Sixers roster. Does he win them an extra game or two and prevent Philly from the third overall pick, used to select Jahili Okafor? Further down the road, he makes for an odd fit with Ben Simmons. Does it change their thinking at all? Or is Simmons to Gordon the alley-oop duo of the next decade?
4. Orlando Magic: Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Colorado
The Magic had a promising shooting guard in Victor Oladipo and a scoring forward in Tobias Harris already on their roster, so they fill the point guard hole with Dinwiddie. It took him a few years to come into his own, but eventually he and Oladipo would make for one of the more dangerous scoring backcourts in the league.
5. Utah Jazz: Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
The Jazz are pretty set in the frontcourt with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert (still some time away from becoming the DPOY we've all come to know), so they get some scoring in the form of LaVine. They were already looking for backcourt help when they selected Dante Exum with their original pick, and Gordon would be more effective in his early seasons than Exum, even if that's only because he was available to play. Similar to Gordon, it would be several seasons before he became an all-around scorer, but he'd inject some excitement into the franchise with his Dunk Contest Champion-worthy hops.
6. Boston Celtics: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Knowing what Smart would become and given who's left on the board, the Celtics stick with their original pick here. Smart is a truly unique defender capable of defending every position despite standing at only 6'3", and his offensive game did progress, albeit slowly. Add in the fact that, six years later, he's the emotional leader of a squad with the talent to win a championship, Boston wouldn't give him up.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Clint Capela, C, France
Heading into Kobe Bryant's twilight years, the Lakers look for a pick-and-roll partner to help ease the transition. Capela didn't play much his rookie season, but played 20 minutes a game his sophomore year and by Year 3 was a full-time starter. He wouldn't affect the win column all that much as a high-end role player, but he'd be a valuable piece going forward as either a trade chip or a member of the LeBron James-era LakeShow.
8. Sacramento Kings: Joe Harris, SG, Virginia
The Kings originally took Nik Stauskas here, so they take Harris in the re-draft and get the player they thought they were going to get. Harris was a late-bloomer but eventually developed into one of the league's premier deep threats and a three-point contest champion. He'd fit in nicely alongside then-franchise cornerstone DeMarcus Cousins.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Charlotte goes with a different power forward in this redraft and take Randle, who has become a solid scorer, if nothing else, in the years since. He could help take some of the scoring load off of Kemba Walker and would only become more valuable as the league shifted to emphasize spacing above all else.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Elfrid Payton, PG, Lousiana-Lafayette
The Sixers took Payton with this pick and sent him to Orlando in 2014, but in this redraft, they keep take Payton again and keep him. He can't shoot or score particularly well, but his passing was above-average even coming into the league. His partnership with Gordon would start in Philly instead of Orlando and would keep the good folks of Philadelphia entertained.
11. Denver Nuggets: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
The Nuggets took Harris later in this draft via a trade with Chicago, so in this version they stay put and get their guy. Harris was emerging as the prototypical three-and-D wing until he took a step back this season, but his production and defensive chops over the last five years are enough for Denver to justify taking him again. How their future shakes out is quite different with no Jokic waiting in the second round, but Harris is a quality role player who could fit alongside any future star.
12. Orlando Magic: Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Instead of trading for Payton, the Magic stay put and take a brief draft-and-stash in Nurkic. He would slot nicely next to Tobias Harris once he comes to the States starting after the 2014-15 season. A starting five of Dinwiddie, Oladipo, Harris, Nurkic, and whichever small forward they find to fill in the gaps would be a playoff contender, even if it's not quite a championship contender.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: T.J. Warren, SF, NC State
The Wolves wouldn't decide to move Kevin Love until after the draft this year, so they keep trying to build around him. Instead of LaVine, unavailable in this redraft, they take a similarly-minded scoring wing in Warren, even if he gets it done in a much different manner. When the trade eventually goes through, Warren would pair well with Embiid, too.
14. Phoenix Suns: Bogdan Bogdanović, SG, Serbia
Without Warren available, the Suns go draft-and-stash with Bogdanović with the 14th pick instead of the 27th like they did in the original version of the draft. Bogdanović would come over in the 2016 season and become a good bench-spark scorer who could help shoulder the scoring load with Devin Booker, although the defense would suffer as a result.