But he got better as it went on and was one of the top 3 players by the end
That's a silly designation to begin with (Marco Belinelli, Anthony Randolph, Josh Selby, et al were all the best player in SL once upon a time) and also not true.
By the numbers, McLemore played horribly early in Las Vegas, then completely turned it around late once he got more comfortable. On the whole, 15.8 points and five rebounds per game is pretty impressive, and that 19-point third quarter against the Hawks in the Kings' finale was a sight to behold.
But did McLemore really play any better, or did he simply make more shots? I'm inclined to say the latter. Most of the scoring he did came in spurts and/or garbage time. Consider: He scored 22 points in the second half against the Raptors and 19 in the third quarter against the Hawks. That's 41 points in three quarters. In the other 17 quarters, McLemore scored a total of 38 points. That's a massive amount of inconsistency that has to be factored in when evaluating his overall performance.
Why was he so streaky? Because he spent the entire time seeking low-percentage jump shots. It was an out-of-body experience, to be honest. As one official from another team told me, if you never saw McLemore play in college, you'd think he was one of the worst gunners in the league. It's telling that McLemore didn't have a single assist -- not one! -- in any of the five games. Assists are an incomplete measure of playmaking, but I didn't see McLemore succeed with many dribble-drives during the tournament.
Some of those teams have been great at times as well. The Blazers had a monster team awhile back that they stacked through the draft and they are pretty good now. Chicago is a beast and almost all of their players are home grown. You have to be good everywhere (trades and FA), but the draft is the core. Or at least it should be.
Having picks in the draft is key, but that doesn't mean you have to use them strictly in the draft. It's about options and flexibility. You don't want to be too cavalier with moving picks (hello, NY) and tilt too much into the "every pick is a gamble" because that's why you pay your FO and your coaches- find and develop talent. But people right now are leaning to far in favor of the unquestioned value of a draft pick.
Debating Holiday's game and its value is fair. But they traded two mid to late lottery picks for a 23 yo who has proven himself to be a good player. He hasn't entered his prime yet!! If they had sent picks for an Iguodala S/T I would agree with your position. The team is young, locked up, and flexible on the court and on the cap sheet. It might not work, but it's not a franchise killer.
I have read and agree that you don't build through high pay mid level players (8-12m a year guys). You kill the cap. If you have a superstar you pay them, otherwise you stockpile guys on rookie contracts and mid-level exception type contracts (around 6m a year). Otherwise you have a bunch of medicore talent and will have a medicore team
1. The Pelicans have not killed their cap.
Gordon, Holiday, Evans, Anderson account for ~ $42MIL this season. Parker, Duncan, Splitter, Ginobili accout for ~ $40MIL. Each team has a promising young player on a rookie contract and then various cheap role players. The Spurs have $52MIL on the books for next year, the Pelicans have $53MIL.
2. $8-12MIL should not be mediocre talent. Because a player may has flaws doesn't mean he isn't good. Plus if your FO is dumb in FA, why do you think they would do any better in the draft?
3. If every team in the league is deciding 1sts are more valuable than gold, how hard will it be to acquire them? No 1sts were moved at the trade deadline this past February. On the other side, if every team wants 1sts, how much can you get by selling them?