If you thought I gave out too many As and Bs in the 2007 NBA Draft grades on Monday, just wait until you see how lenient I am for the 2008 class! The 2008 class was much stronger and the most boneheaded moves were exposed as such not because of abject failure of top picks (though there is an element of that), but because mid-rung and low-rung prospects ended up being so danged good.
Reminder: we'll be going through the drafts up to 2011 this week on SBNation.com.
First, a quick revisit: we asked readers to assign the award of the Best 2007 Draft to a team. The Seattle SuperSonics won in a landslide with 69 percent of the vote. Huzzah!
With the No. 1 pick in a draft without a clearcut No. 1 pick and a mid-second round pick, you cannot do better than this. It is impossible. The Bulls really deserve kudos for taking Rose over Michael Beasley; guards, at that point, rarely went No. 1 overall. Beasley had red flags, but had dominated college ball with spectacular numbers. It was not a clearcut choice. But Chicago certainly made the right one, and is earning those dividends now.
Michael Beasley (2), Mario Chalmers (34)
A rotation player (who on Miami happens to be a starter) in the second round saves this from being an F. It's hard to fault Miami too much -- Beasley was a consensus top-2 pick. But sometimes the consensus is wildly wrong, and it is the job of GMs to assess when that is the case. Pat Riley openly flirted with taking O.J. Mayo at No. 2 or trading out, and while Mayo would have been nominally better than picking a player to be pawned off for a second-round pick within a couple years, the fact is that the Heat took Beasley and left a whole lot of immediate help on the table.
Kevin McHale had a massive draft victory near the beginning of his T'Wolves tenure, picking Kevin Garnett at No. 5 in 1995. Then in his final draft in Minnesota he swapped picks with Memphis and took Kevin Love at No. 5. FLAWLESS VICTORY. And please do remember that it was McHale, not David Kahn, who made a play for Pekovic, the T'Wolves' current center of choice. (In the Love trade, Minnesota also picked up some better assets, such as Mike Miller instead of Marko Jaric. That would prove valuable in 2009.)
Another brilliant draft from Sam Presti and Rich Cho. Westbrook was thought to be in play all over the top-10 leading up to the draft; picking him at No. 4 was considered no small risk. As it turns out, he's clearly one of the three best players from the draft, and many would take him No. 2. To land Ibaka at No. 24 is pure frosting. And hey, who remembered that there was a Hardin on this team before there was a Harden?
O.J. Mayo (3), Darrell Arthur (27)
This grade is all about the Mayo choice, which was a spectacular double whammy of bad. The Grizzlies traded up from No. 5 to No. 3 ... only to pass up Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. The deal surely pivoted on Minnesota landing Love (who McHale adored); the risk would have been that if Minnesota would have taken Westbrook No. 3 for Memphis, Seattle would have taken Love for itself, and executed the trade with the T'Wolves with Memphis looking in from the outside. But hey, the Grizzlies would still have gotten their player, Mayo, and he'd have been cheaper as a lower pick and they wouldn't have had to take on Marko Jaric!
Arthur was a fine pick-up late; the costliness of his injury this season shows his value. But the machinations of that top-5 pick were baaaad.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Danilo Gallinari (6)
There were probably a couple better players on the table, but the margin is pretty slim at this point, and Gallinari was a lovely fit with Mike D'Antoni's offense. He'll likely be an All-Star at some point, and that's a good goal for No. 6 picks. (It's just too bad he'll be an All-Star in Denver.)
I told you these grades would look inflated! Gordon was a brilliant pick-up, the best scorer on the board and someone whose college experience masked his inner talent level. We'll grade on the Jordan pick -- excellent -- and not the eventual Clippers overpayment (damning). Great pull for L.A.
Joe Alexander (8), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (37)
Welp, the good feelings couldn't last forever. For the second straight year, the Bucks punted a lottery pick. Joe Alexander was actually quite a bit worse than Yi Jianlian, and was taken in a stronger draft. There wasn't a lot of screaming talent that Milwaukee missed at No. 8, but no fewer than a dozen blue chip players who would have been better.
Mbah a Moute, a still excellent defender, saves this pick from landing at the 'F' level.
Passing up Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert proved to be critical mistakes for a team without a center, and picking Ajinca with fellow international projects Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum on the board was a mistake. These failures in the draft going back to 2005 (Raymond Felton, Sean May) and 2006 (Adam Morrison) helped create the Bobcats we know today.
I cannot give the Nets an 'A' on this because they included Anderson in the Vince Carter trade a year later. That was a fantastic mistake. (Great selection at No. 21 to create the opportunity for the mistake, though!)
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Jerryd Bayless (11), Nicolas Batum (25)
Look at it this way: if the Blazers had taken Batum at No. 11 and Bayless at No. 25, we'd be considering an 'A.' An 'A,' however, is out of reach because 1) this could have been "Solid Big Man" + Batum, and because Portland gave up Omer Asik for three future second-round picks. Asik is worth 1 million second-round picks, easily.
Thompson has proven an NBA-worthy big man, and while he's not as good as Hibbert, Ibaka or Anderson, he's worthy of a No. 12 pick in this draft. Those second-round picks, though ...
Brandon Rush (13), Roy Hibbert (17)
The Pacers entered the day of the 2008 NBA Draft with something like $3.4 billion owed to Jermaine O'Neal and the No. 11 pick. They left without J.O. and with Roy Hibbert. Another FLAWLESS VICTORY.
The ultimate enigma ultimately failed miserably to make an impact of any positive sort in Golden State. The Warriors are to blame because they took a player they had no chance of developing, given Don Nelson's status at the time.
Dragic was a great second round pick-up, but Lopez has been a major disappointment, especially compared to the big men taken in the remainder of the first round. Lopez alone would have had Phoenix wavering between a 'D' and an 'F'; Dragic's success (even though he was eventually traded) makes up for it.
Marreese Speights (16)
Speights is still building his resumé, but he's doing it in Memphis having left no imprint on Philly and getting the Sixers nothing back, essentially.
JaVale McGee (18)
This is my only argument in favor of this lofty grade: Philly had the No. 16 pick and took a player who was eventually traded for two second-round picks. Washington had the No. 17 pick and took a player who was eventually traded for Nene. That's a massive difference in value.
We now know Hickson as the Ricky Davis of big men. But he was quite solid in 2009-10 as a regular season starter; something tells me that Miami could use him against Indiana right now as a pressure valve power forward that remains a third option at best. (Look at how Udonis Haslem hitting a couple of shots opened the floor for Miami in Game 4.) Also, Cleveland miraculously picked up a conditional first from the Kings in the infamous Hickson-Omri Casspi trade before the clock struck lockout.
Courtney Lee (22)
[Still not sure whether Courtney Lee is a good NBA player.]
Houston only loses its 'C' because it gave up Nicolas Batum to get Greene, Dorsey and a 2009 second. Batum is multitudes better than Greene, who (with a first-round pick) was flipped for a one-year rental of Ron Artest, which begat Trevor Ariza, which begat Courtney Lee, who we still don't know about.
This series of picks looked a lot better on draft day.
Now let's hear it from you: which team had the best draft? Vote away and explain your choice in the comments. Tomorrow: DAVID KAHN ENTERS!