TFPP Power Rankings #7 – Playoffs & Lottery Primer

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The regular season is over and the Playoffs will begin on April 15th. In our 7th & final edition of TFPP Power Rankings, let’s take a look at how we rank the 16 teams left. Who surprised us this season and how does the team look going into their Round 1 matchup. We take a look at each first round battle, the in-season record between the two and which surprise players might hold the keys to how well their team does in the post-season.

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#1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – Record: 67-15 Last Time: 1st Highest: 1st

Surprise of the season: Kevin Durant injury
Prediction for the playoffs: Return to the Finals vs the Cavs.

First Round Opponent: vs. Portland Trailblazers (4-0)
Key Matchup: Stephen Curry vs Damian Lillard
Playoffs Wildcard: Andre Iguodala

The Warriors managed to survive while KD was out and will have him back healthy for their playoff run. First up should be an easy matchup against the Blazers, where they will simply need to contain Lillard. For all their star power, Andre Iguodala and the bench unit will likely hold the real key to how far the Warriors actually go.

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#2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS – Record: 61-21 Last Time: 3rd Highest: 2nd

Surprise of the season: The play of Dewayne Dedmon
Prediction for the playoffs: WCF Finals battle, down to GSW in 7.

First Round Opponent: vs. Memphis Grizzlies (2-2)
Key Matchup: Kawhi Leonard vs Mike Conley
Playoffs Wildcard: Patty Mills

Dewayne Dedmon has replaced Pau Gasol in the starting lineup and the Spurs have flown under the radar all year. Kawhi Leonard is clearly the key to this team and will be deployed on all opposing stars in the playoffs, which could include Mike Conley. Behind him, Patty Mills can be an igniter off the bench and he could turn a few games that decide a series for the Spurs.

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#3 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS – Record: 51-31 Last Time: 2nd Highest: 2nd

Surprise of the season: The trade for Kyle Korver.
Prediction for the playoffs: A re-match versus GSW in the Finals.

First Round Opponent: vs Indiana Pacers (3-1)
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs Paul George
Playoffs Wildcard: JR Smith

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Cleveland this season but their path back to the Finals is pretty easy. The trade for Kyle Korver came as a surprise and made up for the loss of JR Smith during the regular season. The Cavs are going to need last season’s Smith to turn up at some point though, or else they may lack the same dynamic that won it all last season.

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#4 HOUSTON ROCKETS- Record: 55-27 Last Time: 4th Highest: 4th

Surprise of the season: Contribution of Eric Gordon & Ryan Anderson.
Prediction for the playoffs: Likely 2nd Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs OKC Thunder (3-1)
Key Matchup: James Harden vs Russell Westbrook
Playoffs Wildcard: Patrick Beverley

The Rockets season has surprised everyone. Sure we all recognised the possibilities but Houston have pulled off basically the ‘best case’ scenario so far. James Harden is the cause but Gordon and Anderson have been huge revelations on this team. All 3 will be important in the playoffs but with the ton of star PGs in the West, Pat-Bev could be the real wildcard for this team.

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#5 BOSTON CELTICS – Record: 53-29 Last Time: 5th Highest: 5th

Surprise of the season: Rise of Avery Bradley.
Prediction for the playoffs: ECF but an easy win for the Cavs.

First Round Opponent: vs Chicago Bulls (2-2)
Key Matchup: Isaiah Thomas vs Rajon Rondo
Playoffs Wildcard: Marcus Smart

Despite the signing of Al Horford, this Boston team is still very much reliant around their collection of guards. Isaiah Thomas becomes the pivotal player in any playoff series matchup and this 1st Round will be no different. Bradley has gone from average starter to quality 2 guard and Smart is a true wildcard off the bench. Stevens is sure to rely on all of them for big minutes in the playoffs.

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#6 WASHINGTON WIZARDS – Record: 49-33 Last Time: 6th Highest: 6th

Surprise of the season: Otto Porter is a legit 3&D guy about to get paid.
Prediction for the playoffs: 2nd Round exit after putting up a good fight.

First Round Opponent: vs Atlanta Hawks (3-1)
Key Matchup: John Wall vs Dennis Schroder
Playoffs Wildcard: Bojan Bogdanovic

The Wizards have had a pretty good first season under Scott Brooks. Wall has been at his best, Beal has stayed on the court and Porter has turned himself around from a possible draft bust to a legit wing player on both ends of the court. The starting 5 is solid but Bogdanovic will be the key to the bench holding up their end of the bargain in the Playoffs. The Wizards might not be good enough to advance passed the 2nd Round but that’s no failure for this season.

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#7 UTAH JAZZ – Record: 51-31 Last Time: 7th Highest: 6th

Surprise of the season: Rudy Gobert is now elite.
Prediction for the playoffs: 2nd Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs LA Clippers (1-3)
Key Matchup: George Hill vs Chris Paul
Playoffs Wildcard: Derrick Favors

The Jazz have a tough 1st Round matchup coming up against LAC. The Gobert/Jordan matchup will be exciting and Utah of course have Hayward as a weapon on the wing. Can’t help but feel this series will be won at the PG position though, where Hill will need to nullify CP3s influence on the series. Favors has hardly been a factor this season, which makes him a dangerous weapon in the second unit if he can get healthy.

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#8 TORONTO RAPTORS – Record: 51-31 Last Time: 8th Highest: 4th

Surprise of the season: Toronto finally got help for Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan!
Prediction for the playoffs: Knocked out in the 2nd Round.

First Round Opponent: vs Milwaukee Bucks (3-1)
Key Matchup: PJ Tucker vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Playoffs Wildcard: Serge Ibaka

The Raptors slid in the back half of the season, largely due to Lowry’s absence. It’s hard not to recognise that this team however, is better suited going into the the playoffs this time around. Their depth is finally there and the D from the likes of Ibaka and Tucker should be amplified in the playoffs. Both of whom will be crucial in this first round matchup.

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#9 LA CLIPPERS – Record: 51-31 Last Time: 9th Highest: 1st

Surprise of the season: Austin Rivers is not the butt of (as many) jokes anymore.
Prediction for the playoffs: 1st Round exit, again.

First Round Opponent: vs Utah Jazz (3-1)
Key Matchup: Chris Paul vs George Hill
Playoffs Wildcard: Blake Griffin

The Clippers just haven’t clicked this year. Re-occuring injuries have robbed the team time to gel and things don’t look great going into the Playoffs. They are going to need everything they can get from their Big 3, where Paul HAS to dominate and Blake has to just about be the best player on the floor. Never thought we’d be saying this but Austin Rivers also needs to lead with his play off the bench.

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#10 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – Record: 43-39 Last Time: 10th Highest: 6th

Surprise of the season: The swap of JaMychal Green & Zach Randolph.
Prediction for the playoffs: 1st Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs San Antonio Spurs (2-2)
Key Matchup: Mike Conley vs Kawhi Leonard
Playoffs Wildcard: Marc Gasol

The Grizz aren’t bringing much in the way of surprises, what you see is what you get. That is why any advance passed the 1st Round is dependant upon the play of Conley & Gasol. Gasol could cause real trouble for a slightly thin SAS front line and Conley will need to step up. A switch of Leonard onto Conley will signal Memphis causing problems.

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#11 OKC THUNDER – Record: 47–35 Last Time: 11th Highest: 9th

Surprise of the season: Russell Westbrook was always great but who saw this coming?
Prediction for the playoffs: 1st Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs Houston Rockets (1-3)
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs James Harden
Playoffs Wildcard: Steven Adams

OKC were not supposed to be a playoff team when Durant decided to leave. Russ has managed to pull this team into the playoffs almost single handedly and this series against the Rockets will be no different. Russ’ play and his duel with Harden will decide the 1st Round matchup but look for Adams’ play to be an important factor too. He could really hurt the lack of bigs on the Rockets if he shows up.

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#12 MILWAUKEE BUCKS – Record: 42-40 Last Time: 15th Highest: 11th

Surprise of the season: Malcolm Brogdon – a 2nd round steal.
Prediction for the playoffs: 1st Round bounce – not ready yet. 

First Round Opponent: vs Toronto Raptors (1-3)
Key Matchup: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs PJ Tucker
Playoffs Wildcard: Mirza Teletovic

The Bucks have rallied to earn a spot in the playoffs, which will be huge for their development even if they don’t advance any further. Giannis’ rise to All-Star, likely MIP and bonafide star of the league means good things for the Bucks’ future. As does the surprise of Brogdon. A red hot Mirza could unlock the Bucks in the first round and help their cause to go further than the 1st Round.

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#13 INDIANA PACERS – Record: 42-40 Last Time: 13th Highest: 12th

Surprise of the season: The return of Lance Stephenson.
Prediction for the playoffs: Scary 1st Round opponent that will likely still go home.

First Round Opponent: vs Cleveland (1-3)
Key Matchup: Paul George vs LeBron James
Playoffs Wildcard: Jeff Teague

Indiana are not a team we’d want to be facing this playoffs, especially in the 1st Round. Paul George isn’t exactly the kind of guy Cleveland wants to mess with in the first round, as he has the propensity to lift again come playoffs time. With newly returned Lance and Jeff as his sidekicks, the Pacers could do some damage to other team’s hopes.

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#14 ATLANTA HAWKS – Record: 43-39 Last Time: 12th Highest: 5th

Surprise of the season: Tim Hardaway Jnr is really good.
Prediction for the playoffs: Likely 1st Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs Washington Wizards
Key Matchup: Dennis Schroder vs John Wall
Playoffs Wildcard: Dwight Howard

The Hawks have been all over the place this year and their fortunes seem to rest squarely on Paul Millsap’s shoulders. That’s not good for this season or next. Millsap is not 100% healthy which likely means a 1st Round exit if he can’t perform to his usual standard. He could also leave this off-season. That leaves the underrated Hardaway & Howard to carry the load for the Hawks future, along with Schroder who will be up against it with Wall.

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#15 PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS – Record: 41-41 Last Time: 16th Highest: 7th

Surprise of the season: The Jusuf Nurkic addition and the subsequent impact. 
Prediction for the playoffs: Could get swept rather quickly but may take a game.

First Round Opponent: vs Golden State Warriors (0-4)
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard vs Stephen Curry
Playoffs Wildcard: Mo Harkless and/or Al-Farouq Aminu

The Blazers have turned a very busy off-season into a very disappointing start to the season and finally into an encouraging end to the season. Nurkic is pretty much the reason for that. While they may only take a game off GSW if they are lucky, the signs for the future are still there. Harkless/Aminu will be key to the Blazers doing any further damage in the opening round. They will be tasked with guarding all the Warriors stars and must hit open shots for the Blazers to compete.

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#16 CHICAGO BULLS  – Record: 41-41 Last Time: 19th Highest: 11th

Surprise of the season: Dwyane Wade being a bit of a let down.
Prediction for the playoffs: Hard fought 1st Round exit.

First Round Opponent: vs Boston Celtics (2-2)
Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs Isaiah Thomas
Playoffs Wildcard: Jimmy Butler 

What a weird Bulls season. While the Bulls will need Butler to go HAM, they also have several guys who could become FA’s this off season that might decide to show out. Rondo, Mirotic and Wade all need to improve their stock for a better pay day/longer contract. Would it be shocking to see National TV Rondo appear and abuse Thomas on both ends of the floor?

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For the 14 teams 13 teams (sorry Brooklyn) not featuring in the post-season, attention turns to the next key date on the NBA calendar; Draft Lottery night on May 16. We take a look first at a surprise from this season and look forward to a prediction for next season too. We then outline each team’s chances at the 1st overall pick, their likely draft picks and highlight one (or two) soon to be professional(s) that each team could target.

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#17 MIAMI HEAT – Record: 41-41 Last Time: 18th Highest: 15th

Surprise of the season: James Johnson & Dion Waiters are getting paid!
Prediction for next season: Similar to this season, with a playoff berth next time.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 0.5%
Likely Draft Picks: 14
One To Watch: Justin Jackson

The Heat shot themselves in the foot a little by charging towards the playoffs, only to miss out. The draft pick is much worse as a result but perhaps the good it may have done from free agency can outweigh that. Riley will need to decide who of his own players he is going to pay and then chase some others. Jackson from UNC would fill a need for some wing shooting and all going well, the Heat could go one better next season.

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#18 DENVER NUGGETS – Record: 40-42 Last Time: 17th Highest: 14th

Surprise of the season: We knew Nikola Jokic was good but he is REALLY good.
Prediction for next season: Denver might finally be back in the playoffs. 

Number 1 Pick Odds: 0.6%
Likely Draft Picks: 13, 50, 51
One To Watch: OG Anunoby

Much like Miami, Denver just missed out on the playoffs but did their perception in the league no harm in the process. The rise of Jokic possibly came sooner than everyone expected and the Nuggets have some real pieces along with him to build around for a playoff run next season. They are stacked at most positions currently but another wing with true defensive skills could help.

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#19 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – Record: 31-51 Last Time: 20th Highest: 16th

Surprise of the season: Ricky Rubio may have played himself into a future.
Prediction for next season: Karl Anthony Towns will be a MVP candidate.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 5.3%
Likely Draft Picks:
6
One To Watch: Lauri Markkanen 

Year 1 under Thibs has been a little bit of a disappointment but not all is lost. Rubio’s recent play may see him stick around in Minnesota on a valuable contract and KAT is a true superstar who will be even better next season. LaVine’s absence will hurt early next season but Minny should avoid the glut of PGs in the draft and go after Markkanen. The D could be a problem but the fit on O is unquestionable.

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#20 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS – Record: 34-48 Last Time: 24th Highest: 18th

Surprise of the season: Traded for DeMarcus Cousins and didn’t lose Anthony Davis.
Prediction for next season: Playoffs. Brow & Boogie is good, not great. 

Number 1 Pick Odds: 1.1%
Likely Draft Picks: 40
One To Watch: Markelle Fultz  Grayson Allen

Bit of a nothing year for the Pelicans, until they came out of nowhere to land Boogie. To get Davis that kind of help and not have to lose much, is pretty remarkable for a team with so little assets to begin with. Having said that Gentry is on borrowed time and the ceiling for this team could still be a 6 seed or near next season. Unless they strike gold by winning the lottery and keeping their pick, the best they can hope for in the way of ready to go help could be someone like Grayson Allen.

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#21 CHARLOTTE HORNETS – Record: 36-46 Last Time: 21st Highest: 10th

Surprise of the season: Frank Kaminsky has his flaws but he’s had some huge games.
Prediction for next season: A return to the playoffs with another low seed.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 0.8%
Likely Draft Picks: 11, 41
One To Watch: Zach Collins

A pretty disappointing season for the Hornets but they have the pieces to remain competitive and with the right moves could be back in the hunt for 17/18. They managed to get big games out of Frank as well as Walker, Batum and occasionally Williams but the consistency just wasn’t there. More athleticism would be nice and Collins out of Gonzaga fits the bill.

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#22 DALLAS MAVERICKS – Record: 33-49 Last Time: 22nd Highest: 17th

Surprise of the season: Seth Curry – not just Steph’s little bro anymore.
Prediction for next season: The Dirk Nowitzki farewell tour will be much like Kobe’s.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 1.7%
Likely Draft Picks: 9
One To Watch: Dennis Smith Jnr

The 2017 Draft is loaded with PGs and the Mavs could really do with one to develop long term. Dallas will be praying a guy like Smith Jnr can fall to their pick. Next season looks to be another rebuilding one and it could mimic the Kobe farewell tour a little. It is likely to be Dirk’s last, so the spotlight with be on him while the team is not all that good during the process.

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#23 SACRAMENTO KINGS – Record: 32-50 Last Time: 23rd Highest: 19th

Surprise of the season: The Kings traded Cousins and Buddy Hield looks pretty good.
Prediction for next season: SAC will hit full rebuild mode and be bottom of the West.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 0% – PHI has swap rights / NOP pick is Top 3 protected.
Likely Draft Picks: 8, 10, 34
One To Watch: Frank Ntilikina & Jonathan Isaac

Well they did it, the Kings finally traded Boogie away. The haul wasn’t quite what we all expected but Hield is looking pretty good in Sacramento. It was yet another disappointing season for the Kings and they may be ready to go full rebuild mode. They will likely have two picks inside 10 and while they have plenty of youth already, it mostly sits in bigs and shooting guard talent at the moment. Isaac would be a handy wing addition while Ntilikina might be the last rated PG left.

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#24 DETROIT PISTONS – Record: 37-45 Last Time: 14th Highest: 14th

Surprise of the season: Reggie Jackson’s knee injury and deep slide.
Prediction for next season: Another 9 seed if SVG doesn’t blow it all up.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 0.7%
Likely Draft Picks: 12
One To Watch: Jarrett Allen

Detroit have had the season from hell. Injury to Jackson has turned him into a questionable starting PG, Drummond showed little sign of improvement after his big pay day and both could be traded in the off-season. With another pay day looming for KCP, Van Gundy is going to need to move something to signal change. If Drummond is moved, look for the Pistons to draft another young big like Jarrett Allen from Texas.

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#25 NEW YORK KNICKS – Record: 31-51 Last Time: 25th Highest: 14th

Surprise of the season: Can we be sarcastic? Rose, Noah, The Triangle? Oh Knicks.
Prediction for next season: Carmelo Anthony is traded and the Knicks rebuild.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 5.3%
Likely Draft Picks: 7, 44, 58
One To Watch: De’Aaron Fox

What a disaster of a season, which we all saw coming except for the Knicks themselves it seems. It was bad story after bad story and the on-court play managed to get even worse as the season went on. The Knicks need a full blown reboot. Melo could be traded in the off-season and they would be smart to let Rose sign elsewhere. A fresh PG is something the Knicks have needed for years and Fox could certainly be that guy.

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#26 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – Record: 28-54 Last Time: 26th Highest: 25th

Surprise of the season: Joel Embiid. Way better than the hype.
Prediction for next season: Can you say 8 seed? Health permitting, of course.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 14.7% – Swap rights with SAC
Likely Draft Picks: 4, 36, 39, 46, 49
One To Watch: Malik Monk

Joel Embiid made the Philly season worthy of watching while he was around and the rest of the Sixers continued that trend after he was gone. Brett Brown always had his team playing hard and now they actually have some talent on the floor to combine with that. Ben Simmons will be back to start next season and if all the stars can stay on the court, the playoffs are not out of the questions. If Simmons is really playing the point, then Monk is someone who could fit in.

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#27 ORLANDO MAGIC – Record: 29-53 Last Time: 27th Highest: 22nd

Surprise of the season: The Serge Ibaka trade and then giving up on him. 
Prediction for next season: Another lottery trip. This team needs to blow it up properly.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 8.8%
Likely Draft Picks: 5, 26, 33, 35
One To Watch: Jayson Tatum

Another miserable season for the Magic, made worse due to the moves they made to try and compete this year. Orlando gave up a substantial package for Ibaka, only to give up on him. They also signed a number of guys to big money deals but none of it worked. Orlando really need to blow it all up and could do with new players at most positions. A wing would be handy but if Tatum is available he will be hard to pass up on.

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#28 PHOENIX SUNS – Record: 24-58 Last Time: 28th Highest: 26th

Surprise of the season: Devin Booker scored 70 points in a single game.
Prediction for next season: The Suns make a trade for a star.

Number 1 Pick Odds: 19.9%
Likely Draft Picks: 2, 32, 54
One To Watch: Josh Jackson

The Phoenix Suns somehow managed to be an extremely fun sub-30 win team. It helps when you have a guy like Booker scoring 70 points in a game and other young prospects keen to impress. However, the Suns still need pieces. A full blown rebuild would see them in danger of reaching 10 years without playoffs, so a trade of some of the youth for a star cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, drafting Jackson would be a wise move no matter which route the franchise takes.

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#29 LA LAKERS – Record: 27-55 Last Time: 29th Highest: 15th

Surprise of the season: The start to the season. Had to really tank to make it up late.
Prediction for next season: Russell, Randle & Ingram aren’t ready for prime time yet.

Number 1 Picks Odds: 15.6%
Likely Draft Picks: 3, 28
One To Watch: Lonzo Ball 

The Lakers had a crazy start to the season under Luke Walton and all of a sudden Russell, Randle and their friends looked like the baby Warriors. They came back to earth pretty fast and then had to tank like bandits to hopefully keep their pick. If they do manage to keep the pick, Lonzo Ball is just too easy a connection to make. With him the Lakers will be stacked with youth but not quite ready for the bright lights yet.

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#30 BROOKLYN NETS – Record: 20-62 Last Time: 30th Highest: 28th

Surprise of the season: Brook Lopez wasn’t traded and the Nets played hard!
Prediction for next season: It’s going to take longer before they rise up the standings.

Number 1 Picks Odds:
25% 0% – BOS has swap rights
Likely Draft Picks: 22, 27, 57
One To Watch: Harry Giles & Luke Kennard

It was a rough old season for the Nets. Coach Atkinson managed to get his players to play hard to the bitter end and they were a challenge for many teams late in the season. They simply just need talent. GM Marks has already shown a strategy that includes taking guys who would have likely gone higher if they were healthy. It’s risky but it’s their best chance at the best talent they can get outside of a genuine slider falling in their lap. Giles fits that mould while Kennard’s surprise season could make him an interesting option late.


All stats from NBA.com and basketball-reference.com and tankathon.com.
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