The NBA playoffs have officially started! As is the case every season, eight teams from each conference make the playoffs, while the remaining seven from each conference pack their bags and prepare for the NBA Draft Lottery next month.
Here at Liberty Ballers, we thought it would be a fun exercise to conduct a playoff draft, in which the Eastern Conference playoff teams take turns selecting players from the conference’s lottery-bound teams to round out their postseason rosters.
The rules are simple:
- Eight Liberty Ballers writers were assigned a team.
- The draft was conducted in descending order (meaning the 8th-seed Detroit Pistons selected first overall).
- We chose to do a snake draft (the last team to select in each round selects first in the next round, as the draft order reverses).
- The draft went three rounds, so every playoff team drafted three players.
Let’s get started!
Detroit Pistons - 8th Seed (Drafted by Tyler Monahan)
With the Pistons grabbing the eighth seed, they now match up against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, a tough task for any team. I sought to narrow the talent gap between both teams with my draft selections.
Round 1, 1st Overall Pick - Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
With the first pick in our draft, I targeted Detroit’s lack of shooting guard depth by drafting Bradley Beal. Sure, Luke Kennard and Wayne Ellington are nice players to use in short spurts, but adding an All-Star-caliber player in Beal was an easy choice.
Round 2, 16th Overall Pick - John Collins (Atlanta Hawks)
Next up, I added a high-upside backup in case Blake Griffin’s injury lingers, that being John Collins. Collins can be thrown into the starting lineup and create a strong duo with Andre Drummond or come off the bench and add energy.
Round 3, 17th Overall Pick - James Johnson (Miami Heat)
Finally, I added James Johnson to the team. Johnson would give the Pistons an added edge, as well as giving them another option to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Orlando Magic - 7th Seed (Drafted by Kevin Love)
With the Magic in the two spot, I knew I would be selecting one of Kemba Walker or Bradley Beal to give some star-ish power to a team without any stars — unless we’re being generous to Vucevic. From there, I hoped to add wing depth and athleticism.
Round 1, 2nd Overall Pick - Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets)
Easy selection here. With Kemba on board, Orlando picks up a guy who is more than willing to accept a scoring burden. This also has the added benefit of pushing D.J. Augustin to backup point guard, giving Orlando a very reliable point rotation.
Round 2, 15th Overall Pick - Kevin Huerter (Atlanta Hawks)
Scooping up a rookie here, Kevin Huerter is an inexperienced player in regards to playoff basketball. But he’s an above average shooter, giving the Magic a three-point threat off the bench, and while he’s not exactly a defensive stopper, he’s not a sieve either.
Round 3, 18th Overall Pick - Dewayne Dedmon (Atlanta Hawks)
I’m not thrilled with this pick — especially because Khem Birch has been a decent backup to Vuc — but it seems pretty Magic-esque. Dedmon provides stout 2nd unit defense and his willingness to step behind the arc improves spacing — something Birch does not offer.
Brooklyn Nets - 6th Seed (Drafted by Matt del Rio)
The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the league’s feel-good stories this season. Led by a group of talented, young guards, they’ve succeeded in developing solid chemistry across the roster. For a team that has overachieved—and is notably ahead of schedule in their rebuild—I didn’t want to disrupt their on-court chemistry with my draft selections. Instead, I zeroed in on veterans that could provide strong, steadying guidance in the locker room as the team takes on the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Round 1, 3rd Overall Pick - John Wall (Washington Wizards)
Considering Wall’s Achilles injury, this selection may be startling to some. Allow me to explain. When it comes to strong leadership in the locker room, look no further than Mr. Wall. During his nine seasons with the Wizards, he’s never once been the source of off-court turmoil. His teammates generally adore him, and his impressive playoff resume will undoubtedly inspire the Nets’ young core. Wall should connect immediately with D’Angelo Russell (another player that has never been involved in off-court drama), just as he connected with Beal in Washington. This is a home run pick.
Round 2, 14th Overall Pick - Dwight Howard (Washington Wizards)
Again, I understand if their is confusion regarding this pick, but hear me out. What Dwight Howard lacks in health, he makes up for in likability. Howard has been a member of six NBA teams. He was, without a doubt, the most respected and beloved player on each of those teams. Ask James Harden about Dwight—the praise will be endless. Ask Kobe Bryant—his eyes will well up with tears reminiscing about his former teammate. The Nets could use this legendary jokester in their locker room. Under the bright lights of the playoffs, his comedic prowess will offer some much-needed levity.
Round 3, 19th Overall Pick - Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat)
Although I deliberately avoided drafting healthy players with my first two picks to preserve on-court chemistry, I thought it was wise to use my third and final pick on a secret weapon of sorts. Folks, it’s Whiteside time. If there is one thing I can say about Hassan Whiteside, it is that he’s never been played off the floor when facing Sixers big man Joel Embiid. Not once. Definitely not in last year’s playoffs. This season, the Nets have not had an answer for Embiid, and now they have the Embiid-stopper himself. The Cameroonian center most certainly does not occupy space in Whiteside’s head, either. The perfect pick.
Indiana Pacers - 5th Seed (Drafted by Steve Lipman)
The Pacers are a well-coached team that plays good defense and executes out of the half court most of the time. They lost their star player, Victor Oladipo, earlier this season, so I was targeting guards or wings who could score and defend to make up for some of what they lost with Oladipo. I wasn’t really interested in big men, as Thad Young, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner have pretty defined roles over there.
Round 1, 4th Overall Pick - Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)
With my first pick, I chose Hawks PG Trae Young. Trae is a great shooter and passer and could throw tons of lobs to Myles Turner in the playoffs. Also, the Pacers are a solid enough defensive team that I wouldn’t worry too much about Trae’s defensive warts.
Round 2, 13th Overall Pick - J.R. Smith (Cleveland Cavaliers)
With my second pick, I stole shooting guard JR Smith right from under Matt del Rio’s nose. Fresh legs! Tyreke Evans has been awful, and in Smith, the Pacers would be adding a shooter with tons of playoff experience to the rotation.
Round 3, 17th Overall Pick - DeAndre’ Bembry (Atlanta Hawks)
With my third and final pick, I took Hawks swingman Deandre Bembry. Bembry is not a good shooter, but he’s a very solid and switchable wing defender with cool hair. The Pacers need options when it comes to guarding Kyrie Irving in the first round, and Bembry and Cory Joseph would give the Pacers a good chance.
Boston Celtics - 4th Seed (Drafted by Dan Volpone)
I just want to say I hate the Celtics. They disgust me, as does the entire city of Boston (I’ve never actually been there). Anyway, my strategy going in was to replace the injured Marcus Smart (I did not), add wing depth (I did), and add some height (I did). It was also a priority to add players who fit well in Brad Stevens’ system. This is because Stevens (the most overrated coach in the NBA) is not nearly as flexible with schemes as his reputation suggests.
Round 1, 5th Overall Pick - Justise Winslow (Miami Heat)
Danny Ainge once offered four first round picks in a failed attempt to move up to grab Winslow on draft night in 2013. Finally, he gets his man. Winslow is a good 3-and-D player who adds even more depth to a well-rounded group of Celtics wings.
Round 2, 12th Overall Pick - DeAndre Jordan (New York Knicks)
Kyrie Irving wants more vets? Jordan (30) kind of checks that box. He’s not the All-Star he once was, but he can still contribute on both ends. He also wont ask for the ball ever, so Kyrie can do his thing while DJ waits by the rim for a lob or offensive rebound.
Round 3, 21st Overall Pick - Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
I wanted a point guard to replace the injured Marcus Smart, but no one left was better than Terry Rozier. So I went with Adebayo, another solid big man. Between Bam, DJ, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris, the Celtics will be able to clog the lane against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, the two best players in the conference.
Philadelphia 76ers - 3rd Seed (Drafted by Adam Aaronson)
Truth be told, my strategy wasn’t much more complete than getting who I though was the best player available at each pick. The Sixers need depth across the board, so I wasn’t focused on a certain position. I tried to get players who would help provide stability while also adding a new dimension to the team.
Round 1, 6th Overall Pick - Otto Porter Jr. (Chicago Bulls)
While I wish I could have had a shot at Walker or Beal, I was happy to get Porter here. A very good shooter and solid defender with great size on the wing, he gives the Sixers a matchup-proof 3&D wing to bolster the rotation.
Round 2, 11th Overall Pick - Goran Dragic (Miami Heat)
I was hoping for Richardson to fall here, but will settle for his teammate. Dragic doesn’t solve any defensive issues, but would add another dynamic dimension to this offense as both a floor-spacer and a creator for himself and others.
Round 3, 22nd Overall Pick - Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)
I was trying to figure out whether I wanted Olynyk or Adebayo, and luckily Dan made that decision for me. Adebayo would have helped stabilize the defense when Embiid is off the floor, but he wouldn’t be able to play next to Embiid. Meanwhile, Olynyk can both be the backup center and log minutes at the four. His ability to space the floor would do wonders for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Toronto Raptors - 2nd Seed (Drafted by Sean Kennedy)
The Raptors (sadly, as they are the Sixers’ likely second-round opponent, Game 1 losses aside) have no glaring weaknesses in their lineup, so I went the Best Player Available route for my draft selections.
Round 1, 7th Overall Pick - Josh Richardson (Miami Heat)
With my first pick, I’m going with Josh Richardson, who received a two-week timetable one week ago for his groin/hip injury. He should be back for the end of the first round, or at the latest, the start of the second round. Richardson can slot in for Danny Green in the starting lineup, basically as a younger version of Green with more playmaking chops.
Round 2, 10th Overall Pick - Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls)
With my second selection, I looked at the one major area where Toronto is actually below average: getting to the pool free throw line. The Raptors rank 21st in the league with a 0.247 FTA rate. Enter Zach LaVine, who was top-20 in the league this season with 6.0 free throws attempted per game. He can serve as a microwave scorer off the bench, with an added bonus for Toronto that he absolutely torched the Sixers to the tune of 39 points the last time he suited up against Philadelphia.
Round 3, 23rd Overall Pick - Marvin Williams (Charlotte Hornets)
Finally, with the roster basically fleshed out, I went the veteran glue guy route with my last pick. Marvin Williams has plenty of playoff experience, and is content to stick to a role of knocking down spot-up 3s without turning the ball over offensively. On the other end, he can slide across a couple positions and has good instincts to make smart, disruptive plays. He’ll fit in nicely at the end of the rotation.
Milwaukee Bucks - 1st Seed (Drafted by Brian Murphy)
Per Cleaning the Glass, Milwaukee has the highest Point Differential in the league, while also boasting the 2nd ranked defense and 3rd ranked offense, meaning they didn’t have a ton of holes to fill heading into the draft. Their biggest concern right now is probably an unfortunate spell of injuries that have hit a number of key contributors, such as Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon. My main strategy, therefore, was to add shooting and depth to the positions bit by the injury bug, while also making sure that the new players are comfortable playing next to a high usage superstar. In what’s considered the most open Eastern Conference field in years, Milwaukee’s metrics imply they might be a giant hiding in plain site, so this draft was more about tightening the screws than re-inventing the wheel.
Round 1, 8th Overall Pick - Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Already a well oiled machine, my main goal for the Bucks was to add depth in positions hit by their recent injury bug, while also obtaining players who fit their wildly successful system. Mission accomplished with this first pick. Love’s addition will allow Nikola Mirotic to ease back into form while sliding perfectly into Coach Bud’s system. He also knows a thing or two about playing with generation-defining superstars.
Round 2, 9th Overall Pick - Jeremy Lamb (Charlotte Hornets)
While there were better players on the board than Lamb at this point in the draft, he provides capable relief to a position of need as the team deals with injuries to Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, and Donte DiVincenzo, while not being as high usage as someone like Zach LaVine.
Round 3, 24th Overall Pick - Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks)
While not an offensive scheme match made in heaven, the idea of Robinson operating as the five man in the Bucks no shots at the rim defense is too good of an opportunity to pass up on. The young Knick is in the 99th percentile of all bigs in block percentage and would make an ideal fit protecting the rim for Milwaukee. I’d also like to see just one Jason Kidd style half court trap with Giannis and Robinson’s length.
Which team had the best draft?
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