Thursday night’s draft signaled the beginning of a new NBA season. It’s a promising time because your top prospect has yet to be labeled a bust and your team still has dreams of hitting it big in free agency. Some things were clarified during the draft, but plenty of uncertainty remains. Each team walked out of the draft with at least one question answered. And they’ll enter the summer trying to answer one more.
- #9 Rui Hachimura
- #42 Admiral Schofield
What was solved: Are they going to build around Bradley Beal?
The summer is long and full of trades, but the fact that Beal was still in Washington at the end of draft night suggests that the Wizards intend to keep him. There was a lot of discussion that he might be traded for the Pelicans’ #4 pick, but New Orleans found another suitor. Without John Wall this season, the 26 year-old Beal flourished by averaging 25.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. As long as the Wizards feel there is some chance of him resigning with the team, it’s smart for them to start building around Beal.
What needs to be resolved: Can they afford to add significant pieces in free agency?
The salary cap projects to be $109 million for next season, but the Wizards already have about $90 million committed to just five players. Filling out the roster–still without a general manager–will require several out-of-the-box moves. The first step should be to try to retain the in-house talent of Tomas Satoransky, Thomas Bryant, and Bobby Portis. These men will receive attention from other teams, but they were three bright spots on this team last year. After acquiring three cheap players in the Lakers trade, the Wizards should be able to resign at least two of the three. The Wizards can’t afford to make much of splash this summer, but it will be a successful off-season if they can continue to build a young core while they wait out their bad contracts.
- #11 Cameron Johnson
- #24 Ty Jerome
What was solved: Did the team make a mistake trading down?
Although questions about draft success are better reserved for the future, it’s hard to imagine that time will make the Suns’ deal look better. Phoenix originally had the #6 pick, but they traded it to the Timberwolves in exchange for pick #11 and Dario Saric. At pick #6, the Suns could have had their choice of Jarrett Culver or Coby White. Instead, they used the #11 pick on 23 year-old Cam Johnson, a move which many people considered a reach because his history of injuries.
Culver (wing) and White (point guard) would have filled two big needs in Phoenix. Each of them has All-Star potential. Saric and Johnson can be solid role players for the Suns, but their ceilings are much lower. It would be one thing if the Suns were originally slotted for #11, but actively moving down the draft board and forgoing a chance at a game changer was a puzzling move.
What needs to be resolved: Who is Devin Booker’s backcourt mate?
The Suns have to find a starting point guard this summer. This past season, when Booker wasn’t playing the position himself, the Suns used De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo, and Tyler Johnson. They should look to upgrade this summer and find a facilitator who can get the most out of Booker and DeAndre Ayton. D’Angelo Russell and Malcom Brogdon would be ideal, but Phoenix will more realistically pick from the pool of Ricky Rubio, Rajon Rondo, and Emmanuel Mudiay. If Phoenix fails to find a guard who can help Booker, then their draft day trade-down will be even more scrutinized.
- #12 PJ Washington
- #36 Cody Martin
- #52 Jalen McDaniels
What was solved: Will they play it safe on draft night or go for a home run?
Charlotte doesn’t have any cap space to make a significant move this summer. With money tied up in bad contracts, they were reliant on the draft to get better. With this in mind, it was a possibility that the Hornets would take a risk on a high-upside prospect like Kevin Porter Jr. or Bol Bol. PJ Washington is a very solid player, but his ceiling isn’t high enough to lift the Hornets out of mediocrity. Playing it safe again means this team is destined to be the #6-10 seed next year.
What needs to be resolved: Is Kemba Walker worth it?
Signing Kemba to a 5-year $221 million supermax would hamper the Hornets for years to come. He’s already publicly said that he would take less money to stay, but a hometown discount would only guarantee a few more good, but never great, years. Kemba is the best player in franchise history but it may be time to rebuild in Charlotte. The Hornets must consider whether building around Kemba is still the correct move. If Kemba winds up going to the Boston Celtics, then it may be a blessing in disguise.
- #13 Tyler Herro
- #32 KZ Okpala
What was solved: Will they go find a star?
The Dwayne Wade era is officially over and the Heat don’t really have any star power on their current roster. Rather than trade up or take a risk on a high-potential player, the Heat chose Herro who has a limited upside. Herro could be the best shooter in this class, but he will struggle to make plays for himself. The team also used the 44th pick to select Bol Bol, who has a very high ceiling, but they quickly traded him to the Nuggets for a future 2nd round pick. The Heat had a solid draft night, but they should still be looking for star power.
What needs to be resolved: What are they going to do with all those bad contracts?
This past season, the Heat were the most expensive team to miss the playoffs in NBA history. Next year, the team will pay Hassan Whiteside $27.10 million, Ryan Anderson $21.26 million, and James Johnson $15.35 million. Miami is filled with expensive contracts that can’t be traded unless the team is willing to attach draft picks to them. The Heat are in a catch-22 because they can’t get cheaper without simultaneously getting worse on the court.
The Heat’s young core of Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow has actually showed promise. Heat President Pat Riley will have a busy summer attempting to build around them, while also trying to off-load all the bad contracts.
- #14 Romeo Langford
- #22 Grant Williams
- #33 Carsen Edwards
- #51 Tremont Waters
What was solved: Will they draft a replacement point guard?
With the departure of Kyrie Irving and the unknown status of Terry Rozier, the Celtics find themselves in need of a point guard. The question was whether Danny Ainge would fill the position through the draft or through free agency. Since Carsen Edwards projects to be a solid bench player, not a full-time starter, it’s safe to assume the Celtics will look to sign a free agent point guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rozier re-signs with the team and tries to resurrect his ‘Scary Terry’ form from 2017-2018. Whoever Boston gets as their next point guard, we now know they’ll find him via free agency.
What needs to be resolved: Who will they target to replace Al Horford?
Several months ago, the Celtic’s free agency plans were pretty clear: resign Kyrie and Al Horford. In a fitting end to a turbulent season, both those players now appear on their way out of Boston. Replacing your two best players is a difficult task, but the team is projected to have enough cap space to find solid options. Nikola Vucevic, an All-star big man with the Magic, would help fill in the hole left by Horford. He won’t be a defensive force like Horford, but his rebounding and offensive game may be an upgrade. Adding him and another second-tier free agent to a core featuring Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart still sounds like a great situation.
- #15 Sekou Doumbouya
- #37 Deividas Sirvydis
- #57 Jordan Bone
What was solved: Will they play it safe on draft night?
Doumbouya may not pan out, but the Pistons deserve credit for taking a risk on the high-ceiling of the French forward. Blake Griffin is 30 years old and it would be a mistake for the Pistons to play it safe for the last 3-4 years of his prime. Doumbouya is going to take some time to develop as his handles and efficiency need work, but his physical profile gives him big upside. Whether or not he comes along fast enough to fit the timeline of Griffin remains to be seen.
What needs to be resolved: Can they get Blake Griffin any help?
Since being traded to the Pistons, Blake Griffin has become underrated. This year he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists while leading his team to the playoffs. His supporting cast is inconsistent and has low ceilings. Adding role players around Griffin won’t be enough to make this team a real competitor in the East, but it may not be possible to bring in bigger free agents. The Pistons don’t have any cap space because they have already committed $27.10 million to Andre Dummond and $18.09 million to Reggie Jackson.
Between Griffin’s 29.6% usage rate and Jackson’s 23.7% rate, the Pistons need guys who can play off-the-ball, i.e. 3-point shooters. When asked about 3-point shooting, head coach Dwane Casey joked ”We ranked in the top of the league in attempts, and now we’ve got to make some of them.” The recently acquired Tony Snell, a career 38.2% 3-point shooter, will help with that. Resigning Wayne Ellington would be an affordable way to add shooting and some defense. Reported targets Rodney Hood, Steph Curry, and Dewayne Dedmon would be valuable additions too.
- #16 Chuma Okeke
What was solved: Are the Magic in full win-now mode?
This season, the Magic made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, but on draft night, they made it clear that the rebuild isn’t over. The pick may seem odd because there is a sizable chance that the Magic lose key players in free agency and without much money to replace them, the team needed to get immediate help in the draft. Chuma Okeke is a very solid pick, but he’s a long term project. He’s coming off a torn ACL and won’t add much of anything this upcoming season. Building the team’s future while also building on last year’s playoff success is a difficult needle to thread. Right now, it appears that Orlando is willing to sacrifice some of the present in order to cultivate a brighter future.
What needs to be resolved: Will the team resign their free agents?
The Magic have made it clear they want to retain their own free agents, namely Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross. Vucevic, an All-Star this past season, is the biggest decision. He’s coming of a career year in which he averaged 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 36.4% 3-point percentage. The team is confident that Mo Bamba is their long-term center, but his development still has a ways to go. Vucevic, still just 28 years old, is going to be expensive, but he is the much better option for the immediate future. Finding a replacement for Ross will also be tough as he averaged 15.1 PPG and 38.3% 3-point shooting off the bench. Jeremy Lamb is one potential target if the Magic allow Ross to walk. This summer, management in Orlando must decide if they should run it back with last year’s veterans or if they should go in a different direction.