Ita��s almost draft day! With the NBAa��s version of Christmas nearly upon us, ita��s time to take a look at the needs of each team in this yeara��s draft and take a look at which players could be a fit for their needs and, perhaps more importantly, have a chance to be available at their draft slot. Wea��re breaking it down by division, because even though they are mostly useless constructs that just mess up playoff seeding unnecessarily, they are a useful organizing structure. Wea��ll get things started with the Atlantic Division.
First-round picks: Nos. 16 and 28
The Celts need a lot. Candidly, they could improve just about everywhere. They are a team of sixth, seventh, and eighth men. This has been mentioned ad infinitum because, well, ita��s true. The Celtics are a well-coached, competitive bunch, but they need a true star to build around. Unfortunately, the Celticsa�� scrappy group of hustlers and grinders won them too many games to end up in the lottery, so their odds of finding a star in this yeara��s draft have fallen pretty significantly. Still, therea��s talent to be had in the mid-range and back of the first round (near Bostona��s picks) of this yeara��s draft and Danny Ainge might be just the guy to find it.
The Celtics could go for a big man. Ever since Kevin Garnett was traded, the Ca��s have been lacking in rim protection, or really, any sort of defensive presence anywhere in the paint.
The Celtics could look to a tireless big man, with a 7a��1a�? wingspan in Bobby Portis to help them lock down the paint. Portis isna��t an incredibly intimidating presence at the rim, given his 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes, but his length and motor could still make him an effective interior defender.
Upshaw is a behemoth standing 7 feet tall with an enormous 9a��5a�? standing reach. He barely has to jump and his hands are above the rim, swatting numerous shots and altering countless others. Upshaw needs to get his off-the-court act together, but he could be just what the Celtics need to lock down the paint. He has the potential to be this drafta��s most impactful defensive force.
Boston is not only lacking in interior defense, it could also use more players with the ability to makes things happen off the bounce. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are nice defensive players who can score semi-effectively, but they struggle to get into the paint consistently to collapse the defense. That leaves the Celtics with only the diminutive Isaiah Thomas who can get to the rim. Dekker is a do-it-all offensive wing who showed some star potential during Wisconsina��s run to the national championship game. He could be just what the Celtics need.
First-round pick: No. 29
Like the Celtics, the Nets need a lot of help. Theya��ve only got one shot at it in the first round, with the 28th pick. (They get another chance in the second round at pick 41, but second round success stories are generally so fun because they are so very rare.) The Nets could primarily use wing help, although they may need to start thinking about replacing Brook Lopez, if he chooses to opt out of his player option and the Nets decide they dona��t want to pay him over the long term.
Brown has the potential to be a three-and-D wing at the NBA level and if you can snag one of those in the late first round, youa��ve done quite well. Given the Netsa�� backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose strengths still lie in creating shots, placing a strong defensive player alongside them who can knock down open looks would be a nice look.
Hunter is similar to Brown in that he is a shooter, but hea��s got more off-the-dribble game than Brown. Hunter played a gambling brand of defense in college, which allowed him to put up some impressive defensive box-score stats that probably overstate his impact on that end. On the other hand, his physical tools suggest he has potential to be a plus defender.
The Nets would have to get a little lucky here, in order to land Anderson, as he is currently projected by Draft Express to go before Brooklyn makes its pick, but he is a strong defender who takes pride in impacting the game on both ends and he is a lights-out shooter.
New York Knicks
First-round pick: No. 4
Returning to what seems to be a running theme so far, the Knicks need help just about everywhere. The only place they appear to be relatively set at is power forward, where Carmelo Anthony should be the starter. Whether Derek Fisher plays Melo there instead of small forward next season could be a different story. The Knicks will have their pick of some of the most talented young players in the country. Theya��re also reportedly interested in buying a second-round pick, which, if possible, they should do. Make that money work, Jimmy Dolan!
Russell might not get to the Knicks at No. 4, but Phil Jackson already got fined for talking about how great a prospect he is, so needless to say hea��s probably interested if Russell is available. And he should be; the 6a��4a�? guard has a statistical profile that is impressive and exceptionally rare. He can shoot, he can pass, and he can get to the basket. He reminds me of Manu Ginobili with his passing flair; his game just oozes smoothness and polish. He needs to work on his defensive effort, but aside from that, there are very few holes in his game, already. Oh, by the way, he is just 19 years old.
Mudiay is an excellent athlete with the strength to finish through contact and the smarts to make the right decision in the pick and rolla��which he ran a ton of in Chinaa��many more times than not. Mudiaya��s jumper needs to be totally overhauled but he is known as an incredibly hard worker, so hea��s probably a safer bet than most to fix his weaknesses. On top of that, hea��s a strong defender with the physical profile to translate that ability to the next level.
Winslow is the sort of versatile forward that NBA teams are now all on the lookout for all of the time. Winslow can defend either forward position, he can score a bit, and he can shoot it from deep. Hea��s basically a guy that can fill in whatever cracks your team has and help make your group more than the sum of its parts. He and Carmelo Anthony could form a fearsome forward duo, with Winslow defending whichever matchup is tougher on one end and spotting up for open looks off of Carmeloa��s shot creation on the other.
First-round pick: No. 3
The Sixers would seem to be relatively set in the frontcourt, with Nerlens Noel looking like a generational defensive big man prospect and Dario Saric performing incredibly well overseas as their potential power forward of the future. I left out Joel Embiid, as his continued foot problems cast his future in some doubt. Still, the Sixersa�� strategy seems to be to grab the best player available whenever possible, so they could still grab another big man, depending on what happens with the first two selections in the draft, before Philly picks at No. 3. It does seem more likely than not, though, that the Sixers will be looking to grab a guard or a wing in this draft.
Philadelphia could easily take any of the three players mentioned with the Knicks and personally, I think Da��Angelo Russell makes the most sense for them, but leta��s toss out some other options to keep things interesting.
Hezonja has been playing in the best basketball leagues in the world, non-NBA division, since he was a newly minted teenager. As a result, hea��s developed into a knockdown shooter, a strong interior finisher, and a creative pick and roll player. Hezonja also has great size for a shooting guard at 6a��8a�?. The Sixers could definitely use a player with Hezonjaa��s ability to get buckets.
The 7-foot Latvian from the Spanish ACB league has gotten rave reviews on the basis of his individual workouts and ita��s not hard to see why he would shine in that setting. Porzingis has a beautiful shooting stroke, moves nimbly, and can really jump for a guy his size. He wasna��t bad on his game tape, either, combining solid production with glimpses of what could be. Sam Hinkie is still in a�?try to find a stara�? mode, and Porzingis has some convinced that he has that level of potential, so he could be the Sixersa�� guy.
There is a small, small chance that the former consensus No. 1 best prospect in this draft could slide to third. It would probably involve the Timberwolves nabbing Karl-Anthony Towns with the first selection and the Lakers selecting someone like Mudiay or Porzingis at No. 2. If something like that were to happen, expect Hinkie and the Sixers to pounce on Okafora��s talent and figure out the resulting logjam of frontcourt players out later. Okafor and Noel would be near perfect complements for one another, especially if Noel is able to continue fine-tuning his jump shot.
First-round pick: No. 20
The Raptors are in a strange position. They won nearly 50 games this year, but their defense was terrible, and all year long they felt vaguely fraudulent. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri has a number of interesting decisions to make regarding whom to bring back, with Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, and a number of others hitting free agency. The Raptors are picking 20th, so theya��ll likely be looking more for either a project they can try to do develop into something speciala��like they did last year with Bruno a�?Who?a�? Cabocloa��or a lower ceiling guy they can plug in to a rotation role right away. Either way, the luxury of their situation is that they dona��t have to target any one position. If I had to bet on it, though, Ia��d bet that the Raps go for a frontcourt player with Johnsona��s free agency looming.
Looney is a bit of an undervalued prospect, given where most mock drafts have him projected to go. That could be a big win for the Raptors. If Looney slips all the way to 20th, he could be another long-term bet for the Raptors, in the Caboclo vein. Looney is a raw offensive prospect, but he just turned 19, he is an active and interested defender, and he has shown some ability to space the floor from the power forward spot. He could be one of the steals of this yeara��s draft.
On the other end of the spectrum is Montrezl Harrell. Hea��s much more of an established product than the bet on upside that Looney represents. Harrell is sort of like Kenneth Faried if Faried was stronger and played better defense at the expense of chasing defensive rebounds. He could be a nice bench contributor for Toronto from day one.
Wood, a power forward from UNLV, is somewhere between Looney and Harrell. Hea��s young, at just 19 years old, but hea��s played two college seasons already. Wood has great size for his position at 6a��11a�? with a 7a��3a�? wingspan and he puts it to good use, blocking thre shots per 40 minutes. He needs to continue packing on weight, though, as he is just 216 pounds after entering college at just 200. At the NBA level, he will get pushed around if he stays that light. Still, Wood has enough offensive skill, with his face-up dribble drive game and improving jump shot, and defensive production and potential to be a worthy pick in the mid-late first round.