The Eastern Conference was obviously the weaker of the two conferences this year, but this may be the draft where the East starts to pick up momentum. Philadelphia and Orlando both have multiple lottery picks, Milwaukee has the No. 3 pick and some early second-round picks, and Cleveland has the No. 1 overall pick again. While so much is left to chance in the draft, it is possible to try and break down where teams may be looking when their number is called. Here is a look at the Eastern Conference team needs and possible choices.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 15; Round 2 – No. 43
Needs: Perimeter shooting, depth on the wings and frontcourt
Though they made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks slipped into the playoffs, and they return much of the talent that got them there. The Hawks finished in the top half of the league in three-point shooting, though Kyle Korver was the only consistent threat. At No. 15 in the first round, the Hawks will have some good opportunities to bolster their shooting with players like Rodney Hood, James Young or Gary Harris possibly being available. If they choose to address the frontcourt depth in the first round, a versatile player like Kyle Anderson may be a strong piece who can contribute in a variety of ways, or strong-shooting big man Adreian Payne may appeal to them. Maybe not a possibility after they took two international players last season, only one (Dennis Schroeder) who came over to play now, the Hawks may look to add another big for the future in Jusuf Nurkic, who has NBA size but is still developing on both ends of the floor. The second round affords them a chance to add more at either of their needs with shooters such as Jabari Brown or Roy Devyn Marble being possibilities, or with a frontcourt player like Johnny O’Bryant, Dwight Powell or Serbian big man Nikola Jokic.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 6, No. 17
Needs: Depth everywhere, more talent
It was a rough season for Celtics fans, but the team will have a chance to instantly upgrade their talent with two picks in the top-20. The Celtics’ strategy should just be the best available talent in each spot. At No. 6, they could be looking at players such as Marcus Smart or power forwards Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh or Aaron Gordon. No matter which direction they go at No. 6, they can grab some talent who can step in an contribute right away in TJ Warren, Adreian Payne or Rodney Hood, or with some less developed talent in Tyler Ennis or James Young.
Needs: Replace aging talent
The Nets could really use a pick in this draft with a lot of good, young talent, but unless they swing a deal, they will be sitting this one out.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 9, No. 24; Round 2 – No. 45
Needs: Perimeter shooting, defense, depth at all spots
Coach Steve Clifford had the then-Bobcats playing very well last season, getting the team to focus on the defensive end. Now with two first-round picks, the Hornets can add some strong offensive pieces if they look in that direction. At No. 9, they could have plenty of choices for scorers in Nik Stauskas, Rodney Hood, Doug McDermott or Gary Harris. They can even address scoring at No. 24 with players such as Jordan Adams or PJ Hairston or look for depth at the point guard with Shabazz Napier or Jordan Clarkson. The one area where they probably won’t get much help with at No. 24 is frontcourt depth. At No. 45, the Hornets could find some frontcourt help in Patric Young or Johnny O’Bryant or point guard depth with Russ Smith or Deonte Burton.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 16, No. 19; Round 2 – No. 49
Needs: Scoring, backcourt and center depth
Tom Thibodeau did a masterful job keeping the Bulls on track after losing Derrick Rose again to a knee injury just 10 games into the season. With two picks in the middle of the first round, the Bulls can look to add some much-needed scoring, as well as looking for a good back-up option for Rose. The other option would be to package the picks in hopes of moving up for a better talent. If the Bulls look for scoring, players such as TJ Warren, Rodney Hood, James Young and Adreian Payne may all be considered. If they want to find a point guard with either pick, they can hope Elfrid Payton falls to them or look at Tyler Ennis. There is plenty of late second-round value available if the Bulls choose to keep the pick, and the Bulls can also hope that former first round pick Nikola Mirotic finally decides to come over to the NBA.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 1; Round 2 – No. 33
Needs: Talent and depth everywhere
The Cavaliers’ season was a disaster in many ways, but they came out of it with the No. 1 pick for the third time in four years. Kyrie Irving is still the centerpiece of the team, while Joel Embiid’s foot injury likely takes him out of the No. 1 spot. The choice comes down to either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Wiggins has been my top prospect this whole season, and he is still the best choice for Cleveland at No. 1. Wiggins gives them a player who can help immediately while also offering plenty of upside to make him worth a No. 1 pick. Parker would also be able to come in and help right away, though I don’t see Cleveland ready to give up on Anthony Bennett so soon, and I can’t see Bennett and Parker playing together. I guess there is a third option where Cleveland can trade the pick, but I don’t know what they would want and who would pay. At No. 33, the Cavaliers could look in a few directions, but defense and/or perimeter shooting may be a priority. CJ Wilcox could add some long-range shooting on the wing, while Cleanthony Early or Joe Harris can give them a versatile scorer who can play tough defense.
Picks: Round 1 - None; Round 2 – No. 38
Needs: Perimeter shooting, frontcourt depth
Stan Van Gundy has taken over the Pistons, and he has the centerpiece to build his team around with an ever-improving Andre Drummond. Frontcourt mate Greg Monroe is a restricted free agent, and the Pistons may let him go, allowing Josh Smith to move to his more natural power forward position. They drafted a shooter last year in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, though the results have been mixed so far. They may have some options early in the second round for another shooter with players such as CJ Wilcox, Joe Harris or maybe reach a bit for Roy Devyn Marble. If they choose to add some depth up front, the Pistons could look at players such as Dwight Powell, Cameron Bairstow or Khem Birch, all who could alleviate the rebounding pressure on Drummond. An International player they can stash could be their route as Van Gundy plans the team’s future, though many of the options aren’t very appealing.
Picks: Round 1 - None; Round 2 – No. 57
Needs: Add depth and shooting
With just one pick late in the second round, there may not be many obvious options for the Pacers to improve their roster, but with a draft loaded with talent all the way through, the opportunity will be there. Another big man to back up Roy Hibbert could be a priority, and they could find a player such as Jordan Bachynski available. Depending on what happens with Lance Stephenson this summer, they could look to fill a backcourt slot with a player like Jordan McRae, Markel Brown or Nick Johnson, or they could hope that a player such as Jabari Brown or Roy Devyn Marble drops to them. It’s not a great position to be in, but expect Indiana’s front office to make the best of it.