What should teams look for in Thursday's draft? Our division-by-division shopping list details the projections and needs of all 30 squads.
2014-15 Finish: 40-42, seventh in East, lost in conference quarterfinals
First-Round Picks: No. 16 and No. 28
Second-Round Picks: No. 33 and No. 45
The Celtics were quietly one of the league's better stories in the second half of last season, turning in the East's second-best record and third-best "net rating" (which measures whether you've scored more points than your opposition over the course of 100 possessions, or vice versa) after the All-Star break. Rising star head coach Brad Stevens helped turn a collection of role players, cast-offs and reclamation projects into a consistently competitive squad that punched above its weight class, developed the capacity to throw haymakers after the trade-deadline acquisition of dynamo point guard Isaiah Thomas, and that, despite being totally outgunned, was willing to stand and trade with the LeBron-Kyrie-and-Love-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs.
That series, which ended in a sweep, laid bare Boston's three biggest weaknesses: the lack of a top-flight scoring option — especially among the starting five, given Stevens' preference for using Thomas as a game-changer off the bench — as well as the absence of a reliable rim protector on the interior and a paucity of 3-point shooting.
Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger can be useful contributors, but none profile as the sort of shot-blockers (or even shot-alterers) who dissuade drivers at the basket if they beat the Celtics' perimeter defenders. To be fair, that's no easy task when Boston's running the Avery Bradley-Marcus Smart backcourt; then again, relying on two defense-first guards alongside point-small-forward Evan Turner, none of whom can reliably knock down perimeter shots, kept the C's from making the most out of Stevens' offense. The Celtics ranked 13th in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game last season, but finished 27th in long-distance accuracy as a team, and shot just 25.6 percent from deep in their 4-0 loss to the Cavs.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge's relentless rebuilding efforts have left him with four selections in the first 45 picks of Thursday's draft. He could target frontcourt help in the form of Arkansas' Bobby Portis, a hard-charging four who models his game after former Celtics star Kevin Garnett, or Kentucky's Trey Lyles, an offensively gifted forward who showed his versatility by playing out of position alongside soon-to-be lottery picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein in Lexington. He could pull the trigger on shooters like Georgia State's R.J. Hunter or Stanford's Anthony Brown. He could roll the dice in Round 2 and take a chance on center Robert Upshaw, a huge and intimidating defensive presence at Washington whose off-court and physical issues are reportedly giving some teams pause.
Or, Ainge could decide that this is the time to cash in the chips he's been so patiently hoarding these past few seasons and throw down a Godfather offer for the kind of dominant two-way centerpiece who can serve as the catalyst behind Boston's push for Banner No. 18. If only there were somebody like that available.
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2014-15 Finish: 38-44, eighth in East, lost in conference quarterfinals
First-Round Picks: No. 29
Second-Round Picks: No. 41
This is when Billy King really starts feeling the burn of the Nets' "who cares about the future, we're moving to Brooklyn tomorrow and we need stars now" roster-building strategy. By record, the Nets should've slotted into the middle of the first round at No. 15, in prime position to scoop up a passed-over lottery talent when a team or two zigs instead of zagging. Instead, the 60-win Atlanta Hawks will make that pick after exercising the right to swap selections with Brooklyn that they received in the July 2012 trade that made Joe Johnson one of the cornerstones of the Nets' rebranding. (Which, now that I think about it, explains some stuff.)
The Nets will also ship their 2016 and 2018 first-rounders to the Celtics, and give Ainge the right to swap No. 1s with them in 2017, as part of the 2013 draft night blockbuster that sent Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. That deal delivered one playoff series win before Pierce headed to D.C. and a clearly diminished Garnett assented to a return to the Twin Cities; that hurts.
In more immediate concerns, two-thirds of Brooklyn's starting frontcourt could hit the market, with midseason acquisition Thaddeus Young opting out of his contract to enter unrestricted free agency and center Brook Lopez reportedly considering following suit. Retaining them, as King wants to, will likely put the Nets within a stone's throw of the 2015-16 luxury-tax line, set at $81.6 million.
All told, King doesn't seem to have many assets available to deploy in improving a roster that struggled to both spread the floor (20th among 30 NBA teams in 3-point attempts per game last season, 26th in team accuracy) and secure stops (24th in points allowed per possession), either now or in the future. It would make some sense, then, for King to swing for the fences. You're certainly not guaranteed a difference-maker at 29 or 41, and you need help everywhere, so why not go for the biggest boom-or-bust players on your board in hope that internal development and dumb luck can turn them into steals?
With Brooklyn's frontcourt mix potentially in flux, a trio of intriguing power forward prospects could fit the bill. Syracuse's Chris McCullough showed flashes of athleticism and skill before tearing his ACL in January, and could represent an attractive buy-low option. UNLV's Christian Wood sports a 6-foot-11 frame, some offensive touch and enviable defensive potential, but those assets reportedly come married to concerns about his decision-making and maturity. Kansas' Cliff Alexander, a highly touted prep prospect coming out of high school, struggled to earn minutes in Lawrence and missed time due to concerns over alleged NCAA violations, but his strength, length, rebounding and hustle could help him carve out a role at the next level.
The Nets could also seek fresh answers at the point. There are two years left on the contracts of both Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack, both of whom are on the wrong side of 30 and neither of whom at this point can be expected to capably lead Brooklyn's offense in the years to come. UNLV's Rashad Vaughn and Utah's Delon Wright may be off the board by the time Brooklyn goes on the clock, but if King decides to look for a triggerman late in Round 1, he could take a look at Louisville shot-creator Terry Rozier. If he doesn't like the value at that spot, he could consider Boston College combo guard Olivier Hanlan with his second-round selection.
[2015 NBA Draft shopping list: Pacific Division — Which way will the Lakers go at No. 2?]
New York Knicks
2014-15 Finish: 17-65, last place in East
First-Round Picks: No. 4
Second-Round Picks: None
Among the many — and I mean many, many, many, many, MANY — things he has said recently, Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson has termed his team "kind of covered" at the "lead guard and small forward" positions heading into Thursday's draft. You can understand why he said that. The Knicks will get franchise cornerstone Carmelo Anthony, whom Jackson last summer gave a five-year, $124 million contract, back from injury this fall, and New York's point-guard depth chart features veteran Jose Calderon, for whom Jackson traded before the 2014 draft, and rising sophomore Langston Galloway, an undrafted free agent identified by Jackson confidant Clarence Gaines Jr. who was one of the only bright spots in the Knicks' dismal 2014-15 campaign.
That said: It's awfully difficult to consider this Knicks team — fresh off the worst season in franchise history, having turned in the league's second-worst offense and third-worst defense on a per-possession basis — being "kind of covered" anywhere. New York needs players absolutely everywhere, and while the Knicks and their fans are still stinging over the bum turn of lottery-night luck that likely took them out of the running for Towns or Duke's Jahlil Okafor, they've got the opportunity to land one here. (Or, depending upon how seriously Jackson is considering moving down from No. 4, perhaps multiple opportunities.)
A Knicks team that simply could not score when Anthony was off the floor could benefit from the addition of an offensive playmaker like Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, of whom we know Phil's a fan. Or Kinshasa-by-way-of-Texas-by-way-of-China guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who would offer a penetrating edge the Knicks have long lacked. Or 7-foot Latvian pro Kristaps Porzingis, whose shooting touch and massive wingspan have helped make him the draft's fastest-rising prospect. Or firebrand Barcelona wing Mario Hezonja, whose combination of knockdown shooting, explosive off-the-bounce moves and reportedly irrepressible swagger could signal a star in the making.
As often as he's talked about his desire to add interchangeable playmaking pieces on offense, though, Jackson has also emphasized the need for drastic defensive improvements to a roster that couldn't stop anybody. That could put forever-hustling Duke swingman Justise Winslow or Cauley-Stein in the mix, provided Jackson's not among those concerned about the Kentucky stopper's foot. Either selection could allow Anthony to see more time at power forward, where he was lethal during the Knicks' 54-win 2012-13 season, and could provide a framework for giving New York its best chance at making meaningful improvement on both ends of the court.
[2015 NBA Draft shopping list: Northwest Division — Is Karl-Anthony Towns the future in Minnesota?]
2014-15 Finish: 18-64, 14th in East
First-Round Picks: No. 3
Second-Round Picks: No. 35, No. 37, No. 47, No. 58, No. 60
Quiet as it's kept, the Sixers had a better than average defense last season. With Brett Brown continuing to favor an aggressive, swarming style predicated on forcing opponents into mistakes — which Philly did well, posting the NBA's second-highest opponent turnover percentage — a long-armed squad led by 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel tied the Celtics and Utah Jazz for 12th in the league in points allowed per possession. All those second-round picks and 10-day contracts, and all that constant roster churning, have turned up some players capable of making a defensive impact.
It hasn't, however, produced much in the way of playmaking. The Sixers finished dead last in the league in offensive efficiency for the second straight season, and plumbed new depths of punchlessness this time around. Since 2000, only the depressingly talent-light 2002-03 Denver Nuggets and historically awful 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats have posted worse full-season marks than Philly's 93 points-per-100. For the Sixers' experiment to continue in earnest, Sam Hinkie's got to find more guys who can create and make shots.
If he's there at No. 3 — which will likely depend on Mitch Kupchak — Russell seems like a perfect fit. He can handle the ball, he's an audacious and gifted passer, he can shoot and, at age 19, he fits into the development timeline of a Sixers club that — at first by design, but perhaps increasingly by setback and circumstance — still seems to take the long view on entering contention. Mudiay's somewhat iffy shooting might make him a less obvious immediate fit, but if Hinkie's proven anything these past few years, it's that he's not about immediacy; if he thinks the now-former Guangdong Southern Tiger is the most likely eventual superstar in the bunch, he won't hesitate. Ditto for Porzingis, despite the Sixers' already crowded frontcourt-of-the-future mix, though "many NBA teams feel that Philadelphia's interest in the Latvian could be overstated," according to DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony.
With their raft of second-rounders, it would seem to behoove the Sixers to look for bargains on first-round-caliber players who slipped, as they did last year with K.J. McDaniels, whose impressive first half made him an attractive enough trade chip to return both a second-round pick and bombs-away point guard Isaiah Canaan at the trade deadline, and Jerami Grant, who flashed some explosiveness and defensive potential in Brown's wing rotation. They should also look for shooters. Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey, Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton and Florida's Michael Frazier could make sense for a club that wants to play a pace-and-space style but lacks the firepower; the Sixers attempted the league's sixth-most 3-pointers last season, but connected at its second-worst rate.
With all the youth already being served on Philly's roster and as many as four first-rounders potentially on the way next year, Hinkie could also look for draft-and-stash options. Big men like Guillermo Hernangomez of Spain, Nikola Milutinov of Serbia and Arturas Gudaitis of Lithuania would help the Sixers add to their cache of theoretical eventual size without taking up roster spots in the present tense.
[2015 NBA Draft shopping list: Central Division — Who will the Bucks pair with Jabari and the Greek Freak?]
2014-15 Finish: 49-33, fourth in East, eliminated in conference quarterfinals
First-Round Picks: No. 20
Second-Round Picks: None
It feels odd to consider the winningest season in franchise history a disappointment, but after the way the Raptors finished the season — a sub-.500 post-All-Star-break record followed by a dispiriting four-game first-round sweep at the hands of noted villain Paul Pierce and the Washington Wizards — few other descriptors seem to fit. (Well, few printable ones, anyway.)
At the risk of leaning on cliche, the Raptors feel like a team that needs an influx of confidence, attitude and swagger. To be honest, they feel like a team that needs someone an awful lot like Paul Pierce. So, yeah, just go find that with the 20th overall pick, Masai Ujiri!
Should Toronto's quest for Truth prove unsuccessful, the Raps could look for a player capable of bringing some versatility and nastiness on the defensive end, where Dwane Casey's club fell from an impressive ninth in points allowed per possession in 2013-14 to a permissive 23rd last season. The Raps' struggles were particularly acute on the perimeter, where an often-ailing Kyle Lowry looked overmatched, DeMar DeRozan often appeared more game than good, and neither Terrence Ross nor James Johnson proved to be the cure for what ailed Toronto. Lengthy, determined, intense types like Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Virginia's Justin Anderson might help take the burden off Casey's All-Star backcourt.
With Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough entering free agency, Ujiri might also consider adding youth and size to Toronto's frontcourt rotation. If he drops past the middle of the round, Portis would seem to like a steal for a club that could use a bit more aggression; Kentucky's Lyles, UCLA's Kevon Looney and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell could also fit. And while he profiles as neither a perimeter stopper nor an interior banger, Wisconsin's talented Sam Dekker has been mentioned as a potential fit for a team that could use more depth on the wing.
Read Ball Don't Lie's other 2015 NBA Draft shopping lists:
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