The NBA playoffs are right around the corner and for the most part, the boys have been separated from the men. About half of the teams will be headed to the postseason, while the others will most likely be headed south to vacation in the tropics. But while the players who have gotten their teams into the lottery sip cocktails in Tahiti, their scouts and execs work overtime to try and figure out which prospect will be the next addition to their franchise.
Here, I’ll take a look at each team outside of the playoff standings as of today, the exigencies in their current roster construction, and few players they might consider taking when they’re finally on the clock.
It’s looking like Miami will be the last lottery team in the Eastern Conference, making them the 9th seed 3 out of the 5 years since LeBron left. It’s disappointing to see Dwyane Wade play so well on his “Last Dance”, only to probably be left less than 2 games outside of the playoffs. When Goran Dragic went out with injury this season, Erik Spoelstra was forced into giving Justice Winslow the starting role, which he has thrived in, and since becoming their most important player.
Consequently, the Heat most likely won’t look to draft a point guard. For a long time now, the Heat have desperately needed a scoring wing with ample height. Cam Reddish clearly fits this mold, but probably will be off the board by the time the Heat pick. Realistically, the Heat might want to try and move up to get a guy like a Reddish or a Langford, but I think they’d settle for Keldon Johnson out of Kentucky. The size and athleticism is there, and his defensive intensity will certainly grab Pat Riley’s attention.
As if the Celtics needed another valuable draft pick. This is going to depend on what Kyrie decides to do this summer, but we won’t officially know that until after the draft. Their most valuable talent is situated at positions 1 through 3, including Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier.
Boston isn't an especially good rebounding team, so it’d be expected that they draft a center or power forward that can defend and clean the glass. If Bol Bol can successfully bounce back from his season-ending injury, Boston could end up obtaining another diamond in the rough via the draft.
Los Angeles Lakers
There’s no telling whether the Lakers will still have this pick by the time the Anthony Davis situation is resolved. There’s also no telling what this roster will look like for next season, considering 7 of their rotation players aren’t under contract for next year (Rondo, Bullock, Stephenson, Chandler, Muscala, Caldwell-Pope, McGee). Additionally, the Lakers made a massive trade offer to the Pelicans during the regular season, essentially giving away all of their young pieces besides Josh Hart.
So, if they want Anthony Davis, they’ll at least have to match that offer. But what we do know is that if the Lakers are going to keep this pick, an aging LeBron James needs to be surrounded by guys who are ready to shoot threes at an efficient clip. Kentucky’s standout shooter Tyler Herro fits that mold perfectly. Herro is an energetic defender and has shown that he can be an elite three-point shooter.
It feels like the Wolves have been building their team through the draft for an eternity, but fortunately, they’ve been taking steps in the right direction during the past few years. Nonetheless, it takes an immensely talented team to make the playoffs out west, and this team is still a piece or two away. Karl-Anthony Towns continues to grow and exceed expectations, while Andrew Wiggins is trying to improve his efficiency so he can fulfill his unbelievable physical potential. One could argue that the Timberwolves actually won the Jimmy Butler trade, Robert Covington and Dario Saric are ideal complimentary pieces in the NBA.
As far as the draft goes, the Wolves desperately need to consider making riskier draft picks in search of high ceilings because Minneapolis is the furthest thing from a desirable free agent destination. Maybe they luck into a great pick and are able to steal a Ja Morant, Darius Garland or RJ Barrett, but it’s looking like they’ll be somewhere between the 8th and 12th picks, which means that a guy like Coby White could be available for them to take, and a serious addition at point guard.
The Hornets have been the face of mediocrity in the NBA for the last half-decade, which is basically the worst place an organization can be. They’ve had a lot of draft picks not pan out how Michael Jordan hoped and was put in a tough position with Kemba Walker at the most recent trade deadline. They ultimately decided to keep the greatest player in their franchise’s history (I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s better than Lance Stephenson) when they could’ve traded his contract (possibly one of the best value contracts in NBA history at $12M a year) before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
If Kemba makes an All-NBA team this year, he’ll be eligible for a supermax contract from the Hornets. Obviously, their strongest position is a point guard, and Miles Bridges looks like he could become a dangerous all-around player at the two or three. They lack talented players with good height and P.J. Washington fits that mold at 6’8”. He carried Kentucky throughout the tournament and would allow Charlotte to play bigger lineups.
The buzz around the NBA says that teams will inquire this summer about Bradley Beal, but I see no reason that they should trade him. He’s a legitimate sniper, moves his feet well on defense and I believe he could be the second or third best player on a championship team. The problem is, even with the immense talent of him and John Wall have gone to waste. The Wizards shed Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter Jr. in the past year and desperately need to hit on a good draft pick this year.
Ever since Dwight Howard had his little “incident” they’ve been void of a good big man, and they’re in perfect position to land a number of power forwards and centers in the 7-11th pick range. Nassir Little, DeAndre Hunter, Jaxson Hayes, and Bol Bol could all be up for grabs for Washington.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have a less-than-mediocre roster which you can safely assume will look a lot different after this offseason. They’ll most likely be forced to shed Anthony Davis, but if done right he’ll yield tremendous value. With the Brow out of the picture, Jrue Holiday is undoubtedly the best player on the roster, and I’d argue that they should consider trading him too. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league and there’s a slim chance his career timeline will coincide with whatever young pieces they receive when they deal Davis. Combine that with a good draft pick this year, and this franchise could greatly jumpstart a much-needed rebuild.
Considering they keep Holiday and have moderately bright spots at the 4 with Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor, the Pelicans are in a position where they’re hoping someone with a high ceiling will fall to them. I think Romeo Langford’s stock has fallen a little bit towards the end of the season to no fault of his own, but other players stealing the spotlight. He’s an instinctive scorer and could perfectly fit the Jrue Holiday mold with his length and defensive abilities. He’d certainly be a solid addition to the Pelicans.
In its current state, the Memphis roster is one of the most confusing in the NBA. It feels like Mike Conley deserves to be somewhere he can have a chance to win. The Chandler Parsons contract might be the worst in the NBA ($25 million through 2020). You’ve also got Jaren Jackson Jr., who is still raw but has shown at times that he could be a future all-star. Then they’re left with a bunch of dudes who are just, well, dudes: Joakim Noah, CJ Miles, Kyle Anderson, Avery Bradley. Most of these guys could play probably find a role on a winning team, but they simply have too many of them. It’s clear that they, like the Cavs, should just draft the guy with the highest ceiling.
Currently, at the 6th worst record in the league, I think they should really be hoping that Darius Garland is still available when it’s their turn to pick. He didn’t play much for Vandy this year, but his game has clear cut, undeniable similarities to Damian Lillard. On top of that, Mike Conley would be a great mentor for a young point guard.
Assuming the Hawks get a pick somewhere between 4 and 6 (which by no means is a sure thing) an ideal scenario would be for them to look for a star shooting guard with size who can score off-ball. Then again, you look at what Masai Ujiri has put together up in Toronto and wonder if you can ever have too many two-way forwards. Atlanta has done an excellent job adding young talent through the draft in Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins, and could potentially take a huge leap in the next few years if they hit on another pick. If the Hawks land around pick number 5, Jarrett Culver out of Texas Tech would be a great addition. He’s said to have a high floor in the Josh Hart mold, but that’s not giving him enough credit.
If the Hawks somehow end up around 7 or 8, there’s a good chance that Cam Reddish will still be on the board. He had an extremely inconsistent season, but when you watch him play it’s clear that he could be a dominant 3 under the right guidance. The Hawks also have the Mavs pick this year (also most likely to be somewhere around 6), which creates an extremely positive outlook for the future.
Their record doesn’t show it, but Chicago actually has some nice young pieces to build around. Zach LaVine has proved to be an explosive young scorer, Otto Porter Jr. (despite being massively overpaid) has improved his three-point stroke tremendously in the past couple seasons, and the frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. could be a huge problem for the league once fully developed.
So what I see with the Bulls is a need for a guy with star potential at point guard. It’s hard to say whether NBA teams view RJ Barrett as a primary ball-handler or a wing scorer, but either way, he would be a nice addition to the Bulls. Barrett still clearly has star potential, but his struggles in the NCAA tournament probably make Ja Morant a more enticing pick.
Put simply, the life has been drained from the Cleveland Cavaliers since losing Kyrie Irving and LeBron James in consecutive summers, as if Cleveland needed another reason to be miserable. It’s doubtful that Kevin Love would resign there, considering he declined his player option for 2019-2020 which would’ve paid him $25 million. There’s little chance that he wants to spend the tail end of his prime in an organization that desperately needs a rebuild. They’re in such a desperate position that their strategy should most definitely be to pick the player with the highest ceiling on the board (granted, they do have a nice young point guard in Collin Sexton). In their case, they have a pretty good chance of getting RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Jarrett Culver, or Ja Morant.
If everything plays out as the odds indicate, the Suns should be in top-3 pick territory with the Cavs and the Knicks. Devin Booker has proven to be the best value pick of the 2015 draft and a potent scorer. For some context, he averages about 10 points more than Bradley Beal (a fellow all-star) did in his fourth season. People argue that Booker’s stats don’t translate to wins, but in the months of March and April, Booker has somehow managed to put together a positive net rating (0.1 and 3.4 respectively) while the Phoenix Suns as a team have posted net ratings of -5.5 and -5.6.
Considering the portion of each game that Booker plays, this is an incredible feat for him. Considering that they also have a nice young piece in DeAndre Ayton and the fact that Josh Jackson hasn’t (yet) lived up to his draft position, a guy like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant could be a perfect pick for the Phoenix Suns.
New York Knicks
Let’s be honest, the Knicks need Zion Williamson. New York Basketball needs a hero. But to end it there would be too easy. Let’s take a minute and pretend that the Knicks would ignore the fact that Zion is a transcendent physical specimen that will probably change the NBA, and that they would draft based on roster need.
Right now, it’s sort of tough to say. They do have a solid modern-day power forward with sky-high potential in Kevin Knox, and it’ll take a few more years to see what he’ll truly become. Dennis Smith Jr. is a nice piece, but I think it’ll take another level of a point guard to get them over the hump. That said, if the Knicks don’t end up at #1, I think they’ll want a point guard Ja Morant, who can do anything and everything with the ball in his hands.