Commentary

Draft grades: Evaluating every team, from A+ to D

Originally Published: June 27, 2008
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

When I'm not covering the draft for ESPN, I grade students for a living as a university professor. So I know that instant grades are based on incomplete information. But they are also a necessary tool for evaluation.

With that in mind ... how did the 30 NBA teams do in Thursday night's draft?

Before Thursday, we billed this as a deep draft without a lot of star power -- and this year's grades reflect the quality of players available.

Teams listed in alphabetical order by city.

Atlanta Hawks                                                                      Grade: Inc.
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: None

Analysis: Atlanta sent this pick to the Phoenix Suns in 2005 as part of the Joe Johnson deal. Considering how well Johnson has played and the long three-year gap between the trade and this pick, we can't be too hard on the Hawks.

The Suns took Robin Lopez with the pick. New Hawks GM Rick Sund isn't going to lose any sleep over missing out on him.

Boston Celtics                                                                           Grade: B
 
Round 1: J. R. Giddens (30)

Round 2: Bill Walker (47), Semih Erden (60)

Analysis: The Celtics didn't make nearly the same splash in this year's draft, but they did come away with two elite athletes and an intriguing international prospect for down the road.

If Giddens gains some maturity, he could be a nice, athletic shooter coming off the bench. Despite his knee injuries, Walker still has great athleticism -- his health will determine his ceiling. Overall, the Celtics addressed two positions very well for where they were drafting.

Charlotte Bobcats                                                                   Grade: B-
 
Round 1: D.J. Augustin (9), Alexis Ajinca (20)

Round 2: Kyle Weaver (38)

Analysis: I'm a D.J. Augustin admirer, and I think he'll be an improvement over Raymond Felton eventually. The Bobcats were shopping Felton before the draft and I think they'll keep doing it now.

Ajinca is intriguing on paper and in workouts, but I'm highly skeptical he can turn 5 points per game in the French league into a solid NBA career. I think they wasted some cash buying the pick.

Weaver is a Larry Brown-type defensive specialist who can play two positions. He's a nice get at No. 38.

Chicago Bulls                                                                             Grade: A
 
Round 1: Derrick Rose (1)

Round 2: Omer Asik (36)

Analysis: The Bulls got lucky in the lottery and made it pay off by getting the right fit for their team. I'm not sure that Rose is the most talented basketball player in the draft, but he has every intangible that you'd want in a No. 1 pick: He's tough, strong and explosive, and just as important, he's a leader who will put the team first. He'll be an All-Star for a decade and end up with a ring on his finger someday. What else can you ask for in a No. 1 pick?

Asik was the only international player I really liked in the second round. He is so active and has such a great motor that he should find a place in the league the same way Anderson Varejao did. But his contract issues could delay his arrival for a while. My only issue with the pick is the high price Chicago paid for it: three second-round picks. That's a lot for someone who might never wear an NBA jersey.

Weems is an athlete, but right now there's no roster space for him.

Cleveland Cavaliers                                                                 Grade: A-
 
Round 1: J. J. Hickson (19)

Round 2: Darnell Jackson (52), Sasha Kaun (56)

Analysis: Hickson has been one of my sleepers in the draft. He has an NBA body and great athleticism, and he can play inside and out. His game needs to develop, but the raw tools are impressive. He could be a nice long-term replacement for Joe Smith. At No. 19, he was one of the few players left on the board with a chance of being a great player.

And according to John Hollinger's statistical formula, Jackson is one the biggest sleepers in the draft. As for Kaun, he'll be playing pro ball in Russia next year.

Dallas Mavericks                                                                        Grade: D
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: Shan Foster (51)

Analysis: Dallas sent its first-round pick to the Nets as part of what is shaping up to be a disastrous deal for Jason Kidd. With the Mavs looking old and on the downward slope, they no longer have a pick to start to reload their team.

Foster is a good shooter, but he has virtually no chance of getting any burn in Dallas unless the team decides not to sign any guards this summer in free agency.

Denver Nuggets                                                                        Grade: C
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: Sonny Weems (39)

Analysis: The Nuggets traded their first-round pick to the Bobcats for cash. Given what was left on the board at No. 20, it's hard to say it was a big mistake, though I think Mario Chalmers could have been a nice guard for them.

Weems is an excellent athlete, but his production in college doesn't suggest he'll be a steal at 39.



Detroit Pistons                                                                           Grade: B
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: Walter Sharpe (32), Trent Plaisted (46), Deron Washington (59)

Analysis: No one knows if Sharpe will be a stud or a bust. But I like the pick just because it's Detroit president Joe Dumars being bold, as usual, trying to reach for greatness. Sometimes things don't pan out, but he keeps trying.

Plaisted is solid at No. 46, and Washington is a great athlete who will probably play overseas.

Sharpe will be the guy to watch, and since he's such a gamble, I'm not sure how to grade the pick. But for boldness, it gets a B.

Golden State Warriors                                                             Grade: A
 
Round 1: Anthony Randolph (14)

Round 2: Richard Hendrix (49)

Analysis: Randolph has as much upside as anyone in the draft not named Beasley or Rose. But as with the huge upside guy they took last year, Brandan Wright, it might take Randolph a while to realize it.

I'm assuming down the road they'll play Wright at the 4 and hope Randolph develops into a 3. Along with Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, Wright and Randolph could form a nice young core for the time when Baron Davis, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson move on.

As for Hendrix, he can be a solid role player -- a good get at No. 49.

Houston Rockets                                                                    Grade: B+
 
Round 1: Donte Greene (28)

Round 2: Joey Dorsey (33), Maarty Leunen (54)

Analysis: The Rockets had a bizarre night. First they traded the guy they drafted at No. 25, Nicolas Batum, to the Blazers for Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey. Then they turned around and sent Arthur to Memphis for Greene. Why they didn't just select Greene at No. 27 is a mystery.

I think they would've been better off keeping Arthur, but they still did well. Greene has upside as a Rashard Lewis-type forward, and Dorsey, if he gets his act together, could be the second coming of Ben Wallace. Both could help them down the road. Leunen? Not so much.

Indiana Pacers                                                                         Grade: A
 
Round 1: Brandon Rush (13), Roy Hibbert (17)

Round 2: None

Analysis: To evaluate the Pacers, you have to take a step back a day to see how everything unfolded. They traded the chronically injured Jermaine O'Neal and a second-round pick for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and the No. 17 pick. That means they added a starting point guard coming off a career year, significant cap space in 2009 and a prospect.

Then Indiana swapped No. 11 and Ike Diogu for No. 13 and picked up a solid backup point guard, Jarrett Jack, and a local hero, Josh McRoberts.

So in the course of two days, the Pacers rebuilt their team in a way that improves it now and in the future. The Pacers should be much more exciting to watch with a Ford/Jack/Rush/Mike Dunleavy backcourt. The additions of Hibbert and Nesterovic give them some much-needed size. And with several major expiring contracts, including Nesterovic, Marquis Daniels and Jeff Foster, they'll have some significant trading chips at the trade deadline or real cap space in the summer of 2009.

Kudos to president Larry Bird and general manager David Morway for one of the most sophisticated rebuilding efforts I've seen.

Los Angeles Clippers                                                              Grade: B+
 
Round 1: Eric Gordon (7)

Round 2: DeAndre Jordan (35), Mike Taylor (55)

Analysis: The Clippers were on the verge of a trade that would've gotten them the No. 4 pick in the draft. Their target was O.J. Mayo and the cost was the No. 7 pick and a future first-round pick. While they didn't get Mayo, they did get another player they wanted at No. 7, so it worked out for them.

I'm not sold on Gordon. He's a good shooter and an excellent athlete, but he lacks two important things: a midrange game and size. Since L.A. also needed a point guard, I think D.J. Augustin would've been a better pick.

What pushes the grade higher is grabbing Jordan in Round 2. He was overrated as a lottery prospect, with a questionable attitude and so-so production. But at this point in the draft, he is no risk and all reward. If Jordan develops, he could get some other GMs in hot water. If he fails, then nothing lost.

Taylor is a nice player who could find a spot in the league.

Los Angeles Lakers                                                                  Grade: A
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: Joe Crawford (58)

Analysis: Los Angeles traded the No. 28 pick to Memphis (along with their 2010 first-round pick plus Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol and Kwame Brown) as part of the Pau Gasol trade. I think the Lakers would do that deal a hundred times over.

I don't see Crawford ever wearing a Lakers uniform, but at No. 58, what do you expect?

Memphis Grizzlies                                                                   Grade: B+
 
Round 1: O.J. Mayo (3), Darrell Arthur (27)

Round 2: None

Analysis: I've been hard on Memphis GM Chris Wallace for the Pau Gasol deal, but I thought he went a long way toward redeeming himself on draft night.

The trade to get Mayo wasn't perfect for the Grizzlies. It cost them an excellent player in Mike Miller and a top prospect in Kevin Love, and it forced them to take back a contract that was actually worse than Brian Cardinal's -- the dreaded Marko Jaric contract. But the Grizzlies ended up with a player who has the potential to be better than Love, and they actually broke about even in the deal financially.

They they traded the rights of Donte' Greene for Arthur and in the process filled their hole at power forward with a guy who was one of the most underrated 4s in the draft.

They now have to figure out a few more deals (they are overloaded at the guard position and undermanned in the frontcourt), but overall I think Wallace did well, coming away with the third-best player in the draft, one of the few guys this year with real All-Star potential.

Miami Heat                                                                               Grade: A+
 
Round 1: Michael Beasley (2)

Round 2: Mario Chalmers (34)

Analysis: I hate to break it to what looked like a very sober, perhaps disappointed Pat Riley, but the Heat won this draft. They walked away with arguably the best player in the draft and then got a second-round steal at point guard, a position at which Miami really needed help.

Beasley has a chance to be a superstar. With him and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have a terrific future. On top of that, Miami got a player at No. 34 who I had ranked as a potential mid-first-round pick. Chalmers is perfect for Riley: He is tough, plays defense, can shoot the lights out and is a winner. Once the Heat find a way to trade Shawn Marion, they'll be in great shape to make a big run at a young free agent next summer.

Milwaukee Bucks                                                                     Grade: B
 
Round 1: Joe Alexander (8)

Round 2: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (37)

Analysis: I loved the idea of Alexander in Milwaukee before the Bucks traded for Richard Jefferson. After they made the trade, drafting Alexander didn't get me as excited.

The Bucks should've looked to shore up holes on their team. Alexander is a special talent with great upside, but if he's buried behind Jefferson, what's the point?

I like Mbah a Moute as a Bruce Bowen-like defender -- but he's a small forward, too. Where are they all going to play?

Minnesota Timberwolves                                                       Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Kevin Love (5)

Round 2: Nikola Pekovic (31)

Analysis: For the first time in more than a decade, Minnesota's Kevin McHale is earning an A from me. He did a really nice job getting value for Mayo at No. 3 and putting together a young team that could win 35 to 40 games next year.

Love won't be a superstar, but he's going to be solid. Pairing him in the front court with Al Jefferson makes the Wolves a little undersized, but they now have two excellent low-post scoring options.

Besides Love, the key acquisition was Mike Miller. He immediately comes in to fill a huge hole (long-range shooting) for the Wolves. If Randy Foye is healthy and can play up to his potential, the Wolves have the makings of a nice team. There's hope in Minnesota for the first time in a while. I didn't think we would see that with McHale on the watch, but I was wrong.

Pekovic can't come over for a few years, but he's also a low-post bruiser who has put up big numbers in Europe.

New Jersey Nets                                                                     Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Brook Lopez (10), Ryan Anderson (21)

Round 2: Chris Douglas-Roberts (39)

Analysis: The Nets had a really big day.

First they moved Richard Jefferson in a deal that brought them Yi Jianlian and something that might be more important: cap relief. As we know, LeBron James can become a free agent in 2010, and his friend Jay-Z, a Nets co-owner, will be preparing the welcome mat for King James.

Then the team added a couple of other important assets on draft night. Lopez won't be great, but at No. 10 he's a value pick as a center who can score around the basket. Douglas-Roberts is much better than his draft position suggests -- he should've been a late first-rounder.

I'm more skeptical about Anderson. Like Yi, he's a face-the-basket 4, so his selection seems redundant to me. Then again, I'm not sure at No. 21 there was anyone much better.

New Orleans Hornets                                                          Grade: Inc.
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: None

Analysis: The Hornets sold the No. 27 pick to the Blazers for $3 million. Given their needs, it was probably a good idea. The Hornets will probably try to make a run at a free agent like Ben Gordon this summer in an attempt to upgrade the 2 position.

New York Knicks                                                                     Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Danilo Gallinari (6)

Round 2: None

Analysis: With the Knicks' three favorite backcourt players gone -- Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and Russell Westbrook -- new Knicks president Donnie Walsh did the right thing.

Gallinari is a talent and one of the few guys in the draft who could really be special someday. Those who are bashing the pick because Gallinari is a project should do their homework. Gallinari was the team leader on an Italian Euroleague team -- and the Euroleague is much more competitive than the NCAA. Euroleague teams scrimmage NBA teams in the preseason and beat them from time to time. The fact that Gallinari has starred there at such a young age suggests that he's more ready than most of the freshmen rushing into the league. And with Mike D'Antoni coaching him, you can bet the Knicks will play to his strengths.

Gallinari has weaknesses -- he has so-so lateral quickness and lacks muscle. I'm not sure he'll ever turn into Dirk Nowitzki, to whom he's been compared. And the Knicks still have a long way to go in the rebuilding process.

But this was a good start for the Knicks. If they can use David Lee to get a legit young point guard, they'll keep moving in the right direction.

Orlando Magic                                                                         Grade: B-
 
Round 1: Courtney Lee (22)

Round 2: None

Analysis: Lee was a "need" pick and a solid one. He can score a variety of ways, and the Magic needed a 2.

But he wasn't the best player on the board. Darrell Arthur, for instance, would have been a better pick.

I'm not down on Lee, but he's not a guy who can put them over the top.

Philadelphia 76ers                                                                  Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Marreese Speights (16)

Round 2: None

Analysis: Speights is a really nice pick for the 76ers. While I had him rated slightly behind Darrell Arthur, Speights might be a better fit for Philly. He's the kind of low-post bruiser and rebounder they need. And he's much more skilled than people realize. If he stays in shape and works hard, he could end up being like Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, one of the steals of last year's draft.

Phoenix Suns                                                                            Grade: B
 
Round 1: Robin Lopez (15)

Round 2: Goran Dragic (42)

Analysis: First the good news: The Suns didn't sell or trade their first-round pick for a change. Their scouts must have been high-fiving when this pick went down. Can you imagine traveling all over the world for a year to scout players and then having your team take a pass year after year?

When the moment of truth came, Phoenix took the guy who might have been the best player available. Lopez could become an Anderson Varejao-type defensive presence.

I do like Dragic at No. 42 as a guy who could eventually find his way here to play an important role on a team.



Portland Trail Blazers                                                             Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Jerryd Bayless (11), Nicolas Batum (25)

Round 2: None

Analysis: For the third straight year, the Blazers walk away with an A in the draft. Portland GM Kevin Pritchard continues to be the most daring, creative and active GM in the league. If I were to use a draft term to describe him, I'd say he's got an amazing motor.

The Blazers had a prearranged deal with the Pacers to move up to No. 11 if D.J. Augustin or Bayless were on the board. After the draft, Pritchard told me they had Bayless ranked fourth on their board -- so that's great value at No. 11. As part of the trade, they also picked up Ike Diogu, an undervalued big man who has been injured a lot.

Pritchard also bought the No. 27 pick from the Hornets and traded up late in the first round to get another player he wanted, Nicolas Batum.

In the second round, Pritchard turned three second-round picks into four future picks. That works because, given the roster crunch of the Blazers, they just didn't have any room for more players now.

Bayless is an upgrade over the guy the Blazers lost in the trade, Jarrett Jack. Bayless is a better athlete and a much better shooter. If he develops his point guard skills, he could be a Chauncey Billups-type of point guard.

I'm not as high on Batum. The guy Pritchard traded away, Darrell Arthur, will probably be a much better NBA player. But some scouts believe Batum has great upside, and the Blazers felt he was worth the risk.

Sacramento Kings                                                                   Grade: C-
 
Round 1: Jason Thompson (12)

Round 2: Sean Singletary (42), Patrick Ewing Jr. (43)

Analysis: A team should not be criticized just for doing the unexpected. But the Kings made a huge reach for Thompson at No. 12. He's going to be a solid rotation player at best. But it looks like he might be the Shelden Williams of this draft.

With solid players like Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Mario Chalmers and upside guys like Anthony Randolph and Marreese Speights on the board, I think the Kings blew it.

Singletary could be a nice second-round pick. But I have a hard time believing Ewing has a spot in the league.

San Antonio Spurs                                                                   Grade: C
 
Round 1: George Hill (26)

Round 2: Malik Hairston (48), James Gist (57)

Analysis: The Spurs are one of the best-drafting teams in the league, so I'm wary of criticizing them. But sometimes a team can be too clever for its own good. Hill is a nice player, but I don't believe he's a better point guard than Mario Chalmers.

Hairston is a nice pick at No. 48. He's solid at just about everything; he could make the team as a defender and spot-up shooter. Gist is a great athlete, but I'm not sure he's got what it takes to stick.



Seattle SuperSonics                                                                Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Russell Westbrook (4), Serge Ibaka (24), D.J. White (29)

Round 2: DeVon Hardin (50)

Analysis: A lot of people seem shocked the Sonics went with Westbrook this high, but I'm not. His combination of length, athleticism, motor and defensive toughness makes him an ideal fit with Kevin Durant. Westbrook needs to improve offensively, but at worst he is a defensive stopper. And he could become one of the best point guards in the league down the road. I had him rated as the fourth-best prospect in the draft, right behind Rose, Beasley and Mayo.

Ibaka is a great keeper pick for later. He's got amazing athleticism, but they're going to have to be very patient. White also was underrated. He's an excellent rebounder with toughness. Hardin also has a chance to make it as a defensive specialist.

Clearly the Sonics are thinking about ways to surround Durant with defenders.

Toronto Raptors                                                                      Grade: B
 
Round 1: None

Round 2: Nathan Jawai (41)

Analysis: The Raptors traded away their first-round pick in the Jermaine O'Neal trade and got back a second-round pick. Jawai's strength and width are a good fit on a Toronto team that's trying to fill some holes in the middle.

Utah Jazz                                                                                 Grade: A-
 
Round 1: Kosta Koufos (23)

Round 2: Ante Tomic (44), Tadija Dragicevic (53)

Analysis: The Jazz wanted to add some size, and they did. Koufos is a steal here -- he's a little like the second coming of Mehmet Okur, a big guy who likes to face the basket but who can mix it up inside. He was up and down as a freshman, but the talent is there.

Tomic reminds me of a young Pau Gasol. He's very skilled, but he lacks the strength to play in the post. He'll stay in Croatia the next two years, but down the road he could really be a prospect.

Dragicevic was the Adriatic League MVP -- and Utah GM Kevin O'Connor called me after the draft to rib me about not knowing that when I did my instant analysis. But as I told Bill Simmons in our debate, I'm trying to swear off the Euros.

Washington Wizards                                                             Grade: C+
 
Round 1: JaVale McGee (18)

Round 2: None

Analysis: McGee has upside -- kind of like Andray Blatche does. McGee made a big mistake coming out early, and I doubt he'll ever turn all that upside into a real NBA game.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider