As opposed to other leagues that have much longer drafts, the NBA Draft is just a two-round affair which means more often than not that “best available” trumps “area of need.” Teams can still look to fill holes via the draft, but it’s more likely that they’ll use free agency to do so.
Ahead of Thursday’s draft, here’s a look at what area (or areas) each team will look to address, and whether or not that can be accomplished via the draft. The first post focuses on the East, with its teams currently possessing nine of the 14 available lottery picks.
Atlanta Hawks (2018-19 record: 29-53)
Picks: 8, 10, 17, 35, 41, 44
Needs: Wing depth, interior depth
Atlanta enters the draft with six picks in total (Brooklyn will pick on their behalf at No. 17), with three being second rounders, but that could very well change between now and Thursday night. Last week GM Travis Schlenk reiterated his desire to make a deal using the team’s second round picks in an attempt to move up in the draft, and the Hawks also have the eighth, tenth and 17th overall picks to use in a potential deal. If Atlanta is unable to trade any of those picks, it’s likely a safe bet that they go the “draft and stash” route with at least one of the second round picks. Given how young the core of this roster is, adding six more young players immediately via the draft wouldn’t make much sense.
Improving the depth on the wing and in the post should be points of emphasis heading into the draft, and where Atlanta is positioned in the first round they can get good value in both areas. Duke wing Cam Reddish has been projected by many to be the best option at pick number eight, and at ten there should be no shortage of power forward or centers from which to choose. Texas center Jaxson Hayes is one of the youngest prospects in this draft, but if Atlanta wanted to go with a more experienced player then power forwards such as Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura are also expected to be available at tenth overall. If Atlanta can move up they could target a more experienced wing than Reddish, with Virginia forward DeAndre’ Hunter and Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver both projected to go anywhere from fourth to seventh.
Boston Celtics (49-33)
Picks: 14, 20, 22, 51
Needs: Perimeter depth, point guard
With Anthony Davis reportedly being traded to the Lakers, Boston won’t have that issue to worry about this offseason. What Danny Ainge and company will need to address is the fact that Three key rotation players will be unrestricted free agents (Irving, Horford and Morris). And with Irving set to hit the market and Terry Rozier being a restricted free agent, the point guard position will be an area of need for Boston this summer. Given where the team’s three first round picks are it may be difficult to do this via the draft, unless they manage to work out a deal in order to move up.
This draft has three lottery-caliber point guards (Ja Morant, Coby White and Darius Garland), but the middle of the first round is likely to be dominated by wings with lead guards such as Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and Virginia’s Ty Jerome projected to be late-first round players. Boston can add depth on the wings with their firsts given the depth at that position, but the most important work to be done by the Celtics this summer will be in free agency. Should Irving leave that would present Boston with a serious question: do they consider Rozier to be a point guard that they can rely on as a starter? And at what cost, since he’ll be a restricted free agent?
Brooklyn Nets (42-40)
Picks: 27, 31
Needs: Front court depth
The Nets have already made one move of note, trading Allen Crabbe, the 17th overall pick and a 2020 first (lottery-protected) to Atlanta in exchange for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second round pick. That move freed up a decent amount of money for Brooklyn, which will now have about $46 million to use in free agency. It’s been reported that Kyrie Irving will be a target in free agency, and if he does sign that would likely mean the end of D’Angelo Russell’s time in Brooklyn. With DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all being unrestricted free agents, adding depth in the front court will be key for Brooklyn as the franchise continues to build towards being a contender.
It’s possible to address this with either of the team’s remaining draft picks, whether they add a wing or a true interior player. Olimpija Ljubljana power forward Luka Samanic, Oregon wing Louis King and Maryland power forward/center Bruno Fernando are three names to keep in mind when the Nets are on the clock at 27th and 31st overall.
Charlotte Hornets (39-43)
Picks: 12, 36, 52
Needs: Interior depth, shooting
After missing out on the postseason the Hornets franchise is at a crossroads, with Kemba Walker’s free agency being the reason why. The All-Star point guard, a third team All-NBA selection this season, is eligible for a super max extension which would be worth $221 million over five seasons if he were to re-sign with Charlotte. But, with the Hornets caught in between a rock and a hard place due to past contracts that have not panned out, keeping Walker on a full super max would make it nearly impossible for GM Mitch Kupchak to improve this roster to the point where it can be a factor in the East. Walker has said that his preference is to remain in Charlotte, and he’d even consider taking less than the super max, but he will also listen to other teams when free agency begins.
Walker’s future in Charlotte will be the biggest storyline regarding the franchise this offseason. As for the draft there’s a need to add reinforcements/players capable of turning into valuable contributors, especially in the front court. The status of Frank Kaminsky, who played well to close out the season, has yet to be determined as he’s due to be a restricted free agent on June 30. And after the 2019-20 season Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Willy Hernangomez will all be unrestricted free agents. With that being the case Charlotte would be well-served to pick an interior player who can contribute immediately as a rim protector, as the team’s current crop of front court options haven’t been the most consistent.
Chicago Bulls (22-60)
Picks: 7, 38
Need: Point guard
The 2018-19 season was a rocky one for the Bulls, as Fred Hoiberg was ultimately replaced by Jim Boylen. And on the injury front, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Denzel Valentine all missed significant amounts of playing time due to injury (Valentine didn’t play at all). Zach LaVine had his moments, but there’s a clear need at point guard given the inconsistency of Kris Dunn. With the seventh overall pick, it’s likely that Chicago will be able to address the position in the draft. Murray State’s Ja Morant is unlikely to be on the board at that point, but either Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland or North Carolina’s Coby White could be available.
If the Bulls go the point guard route, what’s left to ponder is what their draft board looks like, especially with another team that has a need for a point guard (Phoenix) picking one spot ahead of Chicago.
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)
Picks: 5, 26
Needs: Wings, overall talent
This draft will be the first of the John Beilein era in Cleveland, and it’s safe to say that this won’t be a short-term rebuild even with the presence of veterans such as Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. The Cavaliers ranked at or near the bottom of the NBA in many of the major statistical categories, which highlights the team’s need for talent. As for specific positions the wing could be an area where Cleveland focuses its attention with the fifth overall pick, with prospects such as Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s DeAndre’ Hunter being the most likely targets.
Cleveland selected a point guard in Collin Sexton last June, and while he still has some developing to do when it comes to running a team it’s very difficult to see GM Koby Altman picking another point guard in this year’s draft. The Cavaliers can also go the wing route with the 26th overall pick, as this draft projects to be dominated by off-guards and small forwards from the middle of the first round down to about the mid-twenties.
Detroit Pistons (41-41)
Picks: 15, 45
Needs: Point guard, front court depth, consistent shooting
Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are both under contract for next season, with the latter having a player option for the 2020-21 campaign, and Reggie Jackson has one year remaining on his current deal. There are some areas that Detroit will need to address this offseason, most notably the backup point guard role. Ish Smith will be a free agent this summer, but even if he were to return the Pistons did not get the consistent play that a playoff team needs at the point guard position this season (that’s on both Jackson and Smith).
Given how this draft is likely to shake out, it’s unlikely that the Pistons will go the point guard route at 15th overall. But it could be an option at 45th overall, as the second round projects to be littered with lead guards that were productive at the college level. Among the names to keep in mind there are Tennessee’s Jordan Bone, LSU’s Tremont Waters and Shamorie Ponds out of St. John’s. Detroit could also stand to add some depth in the front court and a consistent perimeter shooter. Luke Kennard played well down the stretch, and while Bruce Brown was solid defensively he did not provide much production on the other end of the floor.
Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Picks: 18, 50
Needs: Point guard depth, wings
Despite losing Victor Oladipo to a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in late January, the Pacers still managed to win 48 regular season games. Indiana was swept out of the playoffs by Boston, and this summer the front office will look to revamp the roster. There are multiple free agents that filled key roles on the team, including starters Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison, and Wesley Matthews (who started upon his arrival in Indiana) and Cory Joseph will be on the open market as well. Adding depth on the wing is something that Indiana will need to do this summer, and the good news for the Pacers is that the middle of the first round should be dominated by young wing talent.
As for the point guard position, that’s an area the Pacers will need to address in free agency. Of course Aaron Holiday is on the roster, but that won’t be enough with Collison and Joseph both being free agents and it yet to be determined when Oladipo will be able to return to action. At pick No. 50 Indiana could add another young point guard to the roster, possibly one that could go on to spend a considerable amount of time developing in the G-League if the team does well in free agency.
Miami Heat (39-43)
Needs: Shooting, perimeter depth
Miami enters the draft/free agency season in a difficult spot. There are areas that the Heat clearly need to address, but due to the team’s salary cap situation there isn’t much room to do so via free agency. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside both have player options for the 2019-20 season, and their decisions will have an impact on just how much money (if any) Pat Riley has to spend in free agency. And with just one draft pick to work with, it’s important that Miami gets this one right. With the increased use of Justise Winslow as the primary playmaker when Dragic was recovering from a knee injury, Miami’s need for a point guard may not be as pressing as their need for consistent shooting on the wings.
The Heat finished the season ranked 26th in scoring offense, 22nd in field goal percentage and 21st in three-point percentage. Given how solid Miami was defensively, ranking sixth in the league in defensive rating, it’s obvious where Erik Spoelstra’s team needs to improve if they’re to get back to the postseason after missing out in the final year of the Dwyane Wade era. At 13 there’s a better chance of Miami adding a wing who could potentially factor into the rotation next season than a point guard, given the depth of that position in this year’s draft. Indiana’s Romeo Langford and USC’s Kevin Porter Jr. are two players that could be in the conversation for the Heat at that spot.
Milwaukee Bucks (60-22)
Needs: Perimeter shooting
Due the Bucks finishing with the NBA’s best record they’ll pick last in the first round, and that’s the only pick at the team’s disposal. Free agency will be of far greater importance to the Bucks, as Khris Middleton is expected to decline his player option and go onto the marker as an unrestricted free agent. With Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, who will be a restricted free agent, due to be on the market, the priority for Milwaukee will be to re-sign those two with an eye towards maintaining the team’s status as a contender in the East. It was reported by Marc Stein of the New York Times on Monday that both Ersan Ilyasova and Tony Snell are available, as the Bucks are looking to increase the amount of money they’ll have to spend in free agency.
As for the team’s lone draft pick, it’s in a spot where Milwaukee can pick up an experienced player capable of factoring into the rotation immediately. Virginia point guard Ty Jerome, who has good size for the position and also shoots well from the perimeter, could be an option for the Bucks with the 30th pick. It’s also worth noting that Donte DiVincenzo, last year’s first round pick, should be ready to go after being sidelined by a heel injury. Getting more shooters to play around Giannis Antetokounmpo, even if Middleton and Brogdon return, should be the priority for Milwaukee be it through the draft or free agency.
New York Knicks (17-65)
Picks: 3, 55
Needs: Talent, wing scoring/depth
The Knicks appeared to have this 2019 free agency period figured out, as the team did what it could to clear up a significant amount of money to take into the marketplace. But then Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles during the NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving is expected by some to favor Brooklyn, and Anthony Davis is headed to Los Angeles as the Knicks’ proposed trade package didn’t impress the Pelicans brass. With no trade for Davis the Knicks will in all likelihood hang onto the third overall pick, which is expected to be Duke’s RJ Barrett. New York did draft a wing last June in Kevin Knox, but he struggled for much of his rookie season and at third overall a team has to take the best available player on the board.
While Knox struggled, second round pick Mitchell Robinson was the team’s best rookie and undrafted signing Allonzo Trier exceeded expectations as well. If New York can once again hit on its second round pick, with that part of the draft not lacking for guards, it would be another step in the right direction for a franchise that put off a deep rebuild for far too long. Landing an elite free agent this summer would speed up the process, but the Knicks can ill-afford to skip steps even if that were to happen.
Orlando Magic (42-40)
Picks: 16, 46
Needs: Perimeter shooting, wing depth
Two key members of the rotation that led Orlando to its first playoff berth in seven seasons, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, will both be unrestricted free agents this summer. Vucevic is coming off of the best season of his career, with the center earning his first All-Star Game appearance, and while at times streaky Ross gave the Magic valuable perimeter shooting when he was on. One would have to assume that the former will be the priority for Orlando when free agency begins, and with the team’s two draft picks they can address both the need for perimeter shooting and additional depth on the wings.
As noted earlier in this piece, the middle of the first round won’t lack for wings who can knock down shots. It’s unlikely that North Carolina’s Nassir Little will be available when Orlando picks, but North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson, USC’s Kevin Porter Jr. and Indiana’s Romeo Langford could all be on the board at pick number 16. Oregon center Bol Bol could also be in the conversation, but with the Magic already having Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba it’s difficult to see the team’s shot-callers going in this direction unless Bol is clearly the top available player on their board.
Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)
Picks: 24, 33, 34, 42, 54
Free Agents: Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Amir Johnson, James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz, T.J. McConnell, Greg Monroe (unrestricted); Haywood Highsmith, Shake Milton (restricted)
Needs: Wing depth, shooting
After the 76ers’ season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, the focus shifted towards free agency. While GM Elton Brand will have five picks — four in the second round — to work with Thursday night, free agency is going to be of far greater impact on the future of the franchise. Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, JJ Redick and Mike Scott are among the many who will be unrestricted free agents come June 30, with Butler and Harris likely to command hefty contracts on the open market.
But before free agency the 76ers will focus on the draft, and given the amount of money the team will likely have to spend it feels safe to assume that a couple of those second round picks will either be moved or used on “draft and stash” prospects. As for the first round pick, Philadelphia can add some depth on the wing despite having acquired Zhaire Smith via trade on draft night last June. And it would be preferable if Philadelphia’s first round pick is a proficient perimeter shooter, especially if Redick signs elsewhere later this summer. This draft doesn’t lack for wings, meaning that Brand and company will have some quality options to consider when Philadelphia is on the clock.
Toronto Raptors (58-24)
Free Agents: Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks, Eric Moreland (unrestricted; assuming that both Leonard and Gasol don’t pick up their player options); Patrick McCaw, Jordan Loyd (restricted)
Needs: Wing depth
The new NBA champions are still celebrating, and the Raptors certainly shouldn’t be blamed for that on the heels of the franchise’s first NBA title. Masai Ujiri and company have one draft pick, as their first round selection was sent to San Antonio in the Kawhi Leonard deal. The pick Toronto still has — 59th overall — could be used for a “draft and stash” in order to save some money for free agency, but if that doesn’t happen there are some players who can provide value late in the second round.
If the Raptors look to draft a player who can help them immediately, adding another young wing with some size to the mix wouldn’t be the worst idea. Toronto could also look for a big with the 59th pick, but the team already has one young “project” in Chris Boucher. So looking for another wing makes more sense, especially when taking into consideration how many of the team’s current off-guards/small forward stand to be free agents come June 30.
Washington Wizards (32-50)
Needs: Front court depth, point guard
With John Wall (Achilles) due to miss a significant portion of the 2019-20 season, and Tomas Satoransky being a restricted free agent, the Wizards would be well-served to add a point guard to the mix at some point this summer. But given the team’s draft position it’s more likely that this is done via free agency, as there will be no shortage of veteran point guards on the market at the end of the month. The front court also needs to be addressed this offseason, with the Wizards having multiple free agents (including Bobby Portis, Jeff Green and Trevor Ariza) and Dwight Howard missed most of 2018-19 due to injury. Also, the Wizards (who have yet to hire a full-time GM) have yet to decide whether or not to pick up Jabari Parker’s team option.
Preferably the Wizards will draft a forward that’s versatile on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense. Without Howard the team’s remaining centers were Thomas Bryant and Ian Mahinmi, with the latter playing sparingly despite the injury issues. Limoges combo forward Sekou Doumbouya, Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke and even Texas center Jaxson Hayes are three of the names worth keeping track of heading into Thursday’s draft.