Have you ever tried to throw a nice, breezy hypothetical draft with your coworkers for some Content and it all devolved into a Slack version of the Stanford prison experiment?
Eight members of The Ringer’s NBA staff gathered in a chat room on Wednesday evening with a simple task at hand: draft players off of non-playoff teams for the current eight playoff teams in each conference to “rent for their postseason runs.” (The caveats: The order is based on the standings as of Wednesday morning. You could only select players off teams within the same conference—so, East drafts from East. And no cap math necessary.) But, in the grand tradition of Ringer fantasy drafts, chaos quickly ensued. One staffer who shall remain nameless changed both of his or her picks upward of 20 times. The organizer of the event mixed up the order and at one point thought John Wall was draft-eligible (he wasn’t). Multiple caps-locked messages were sent. Everyone left angry. … Except for Jonathan Tjarks, who sent only two messages while tied up in a previous engagement and then filed his blurbs in a timely matter. Tjarks is the only good employee.
The results, along with commentary explaining the thinking behind each pick, are below.
1. The Raptors Select … Aaron Gordon
Danny Chau: If Wednesday’s game between the Raptors and Cavaliers (or either of the playoff series the two teams have played during the past two seasons) was any indication, Toronto will need an endless procession of players to take LeBron James duty on defense if they want to make it past Cleveland. Pascal Siakam is a hyperaggressive defender with some serious chops on the perimeter for a big man, but he is only one person (and a player with diminishing returns if left on the court for long stretches). OG Anunoby is but a rookie. There are better overall players on the board, but give me Gordon, who can thrive in a more streamlined role as a roving defender and an opportunist on offense. His 3-point shot has fallen off a cliff since his early-season hot streak, but he’ll be getting many more easy looks than he had in Orlando.
2. The Celtics Select … Blake Griffin
Paolo Uggetti: Replacing Greg Monroe with Griffin is quite the upgrade. While Detroit’s deadline trade for Griffin didn’t help its playoff push, the forward is still averaging more than 20 points and almost seven rebounds a game with the Pistons, while also shooting slightly better from 3 than he did in Los Angeles. His presence would not only give the Celtics some much-needed depth after losing Daniel Theis, but also provide the type of high-level scoring punch that their frontcourt, Al Horford included, lacks. We’ve seen what Brad Stevens can do with a scorer like Kyrie Irving. Imagine what he could do with Griffin.
3. The Cavaliers Select … Kemba Walker
Chris Ryan: Cleveland’s defense still looks switched off, even in games like Wednesday’s win against Toronto where their offense flipped out. So yeah, Nic Batum’s particular set of skills—3-and-D—would be in demand in Ohio. But the French wing is smoking Gauloises, watching Captain Kangaroo, and nursing tendinitis in his Achilles as the season winds down. And given the Cavaliers’ current M.A.S.H. tent vibes, they need all the healthy bodies they can get. You can count on Kemba. The All-Star point guard has played in 70 of Charlotte’s 72 games and is putting up numbers just a hair off from his 2016-17 career highs. He also solves one glaring problem for Cleveland: When Koby Altman brought in a raft of new players at the deadline, he forgot to nab a hypebeast.
The bigger the stage, the better the Kemba. Too bad we can’t see him square off with Kyle Lowry in the Eastern Conference finals.
4. The Pacers Select … Taurean Prince
John Gonzalez: This pick did not go the way I hoped or planned. I wanted to take Blake Griffin, because there’s an easy joke in there somewhere about how that’s the only way he’s ever getting out of Detroit. But Paolo took him. Because Paolo is selfish. And then I thought I’d go best player available and take Kemba, but Chris took him. My coworkers evidently devised this game as a plot against my sanity. But then KOC jumped the gun and said he wanted Prince before it was actually his turn to pick, so I took Prince out of spite. You’re welcome, Pacers fans.
5. The Wizards Select … Reggie Bullock
Kevin O’Connor: There are big-name players left on the board, but the Wizards need to fill gaps, and Bullock helps do that while enhancing some of their strengths. Bullock has quietly turned into a reliable two-way player with the Pistons. Teaming Bullock with Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. gives the Wizards three players who can defend multiple positions, which maximizes their lineup flexibility in the playoffs. They will need as many players as possible who can switch onto the likes of LeBron James and DeMar DeRozan.
Bullock could be the best shooter of the bunch, as he’s hit 44.3 percent of his 3s this season with many coming off screens and handoffs. The Wizards’ offense ranks 15th in the half court, per Synergy, so having another weapon could help open the floor for John Wall and Bradley Beal, or give them an outlet.
6. The Sixers Select … Andre Drummond
Haley O’Shaughnessy: Sure, Drummond and Joel Embiid don’t quite get along. But nothing will soften Embiid up like having a reliable big man behind him. Drummond is a significant step up in center insurance for the Sixers, which is something their injury-prone unicorn calls for quite often. (Drummond is, as Danny backed me up during the draft, “the best version of Amir Johnson.”) Philadelphia’s experimental pairings of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor wound up with both traded, but Embiid’s sound interior defense makes up for what Drummond lacks, and gives him room to get to the perimeter more on offense—which is exactly what Brett Brown wants.
7. The Heat Select … Zach LaVine
Justin Verrier: I don’t know what you’re going to get out of LaVine over the next month-plus. (Case in point: He’s missed the past three games with knee tendinitis, and will likely miss a few more. … Though I’m not sure how well the tanking Bulls’ medical timelines would hold up on a fact check these days.) But LaVine is the only potential impact offensive player on the board for a Heat team that could use someone who can move the needle on that end. I considered a couple of Nets here—D’Angelo Russell (too erratic), Spencer Dinwiddie (probably too point guard-y to close games with Goran Dragic), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Miami has its own Swiss army knife with questionable shooting in Justise Winslow), in particular—but LaVine, even in his current quasi-recovery state from last year’s ACL tear, can still pop off for 30-plus, like he did against his former team in early February. Ideally, LaVine could fill the closer role currently earmarked for Dwyane Wade without compromising spacing or assuming he’ll take every important shot.
8. The Bucks Select … Dwight Howard
Jonathan Tjarks: It’s been a long and ugly fall from grace for Dwight, who was traded to Charlotte for essentially nothing last offseason and hasn’t been able to get the Hornets out of their neverending cycle of mediocrity. Milwaukee has not been able to defend even with Jason Kidd gone, and it could still use a starting-caliber center who can protect the paint, execute basic defensive coverages, and catch and finish around the rim. That’s essentially the job Dwight had with the Hawks last season when they were a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. That’s all Howard is now, but it would still be helpful for Milwaukee so it can buy time in the playoffs before using Giannis at the 5—which must happen!
1. Rockets Select … Brandon Ingram
Tjarks: Even in a hypothetical exercise in which every West playoff team is getting better, everything Houston does still has to revolve around matching up with Golden State. The Rockets have a pretty complete roster, but what they could still use in a potential West finals is a wing who (a) can space the floor, (b) be a secondary playmaker, and (c) has the physical tools to switch screens and match up with the Warriors’ perimeter stars. There aren’t many guys who fit that criteria outside of the playoff picture out West, so I’m going to take Ingram, who has really broken out in his second season in the NBA. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he’s averaging 16 points and four assists on 47 percent shooting this season. He’d give the Rockets a much more dangerous weapon spotting up in the corner off Harden pick-and-rolls, and he (at least theoretically) gives them someone else they can throw on KD for stretches.
2. The Warriors Select … Gary Harris
Verrier: This is the original sin of the Great Devin Booker Slide of 2018. (And, in the sake of full transparency, Tjarks actually picked him for Golden State before we realized we mixed up the order … again.) Booker’s unlimited range would turn the Warriors’ already historic offense into a clown car of elite shooters. But if there’s a reason to be concerned about one of the best rosters ever assembled, it’s probably their defense, which is at its worse since this historic run began (with the caveat that the Warriors have never had this many injured starters since then, too). Hence Harris, an excellent perimeter defender who has already taken nearly 400 3s this season and made 40 percent of them. The 23-year-old would not only serve as insurance should the injuries to Steph Curry or Klay Thompson linger past the regular season, but he could upgrade the OG Death Lineup on both ends—trying to score on Curry, Harris, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green is a Sisyphean task, even for the Rockets—something you couldn’t say with Booker in the mix.
3. The Trail Blazers Select … DeAndre Jordan
O’Shaughnessy: Portland reportedly attempted to deal for Jordan before the trade deadline, but ultimately couldn’t work out a deal with the Clippers. DAJ is the ultimate complement to the force that is the Blazers backcourt, and he would be a dependable, go-to third option by playing the role he always has for L.A.: finishing around the rim. Jusuf Nurkic excelled during the Blazers’ 13-game win streak, but the 23-year-old can be too inconsistent.
4. The Thunder Select … Harrison Barnes
O’Connor: Barnes is a forgotten man. After playing a supporting role for the Warriors, Barnes got paid in Dallas and faded into the background as the Mavericks disappeared from the limelight. But Barnes has gotten better at scoring without relying on his teammates to create for him while still retaining the ability to lock down multiple positions and drain 3s. Though Corey Brewer is doing the job as an Andre Roberson replacement, it never hurts to add another versatile player into the fold. Plus, Barnes is certainly a defensive upgrade over Carmelo Anthony. If only it were this easy for OKC to add another impact player making more than $20 million.
5. The Pelicans Select … Nikola Jokic
Gonzalez: Thought about going a couple of different ways here. Lou Williams would have been a nice offensive addition. I also considered Lonzo Ball, partly because the Pelicans like to push the pace and share the ball (and he could have taken some minutes from Rajon Rondo, who is still somehow in the league), but mainly because by Game 2 of the playoffs, Boogie Cousins would have come limp-running out of the back of the Smoothie King Center, WWE-style, to throttle LaVar. Guaranteed. Also, I would have taken Devin Booker, but there was some confusion about whether he was already off the board, because all Ringer drafts must be terrible and confusing from start to finish. In the end I took Jokic, who is referred to in Eastern Bloc basketball circles as “Serbian Boogie.” It’s true. No need to Google that or fact check.
6. The Spurs Select … Isaiah Thomas
Ryan: Full disclosure: I did this for the LOLs. Isaiah doesn’t play defense, loves briefing reporters more than anonymous White House sources, and would immediately be embroiled in an intra-squad beef with Pau Gasol. You think Kawhi Leonard has caused tumult? Try IT on for size. But the more I thought about it, the more I kind of liked this idea. Isaiah would give San Antonio a bit of the backcourt offensive spark that they lack right now, and Gregg Popovich could hide him defensively, partnering him with emerging octopus-defender Dejounte Murray to form one hell of a Seattle reunion. And if there’s one thing the Spurs lack, it’s that dog-let-off-its-leash attitude that Isaiah brings. King of the Alamo!
7. The Timberwolves Select … Devin Booker
Uggetti: What a steal. I get that nobody is watching the Suns these days, so let me take great pleasure in reminding you: Booker is awesome and has yet to meet a 3-point shot he doesn’t like.
That’s a casual 39-point performance against the Thunder (who just so happen to be a possible playoff matchup for the Wolves). Minnesota needs shooting. It takes the fewest 3s in the league, and so, not-so-coincidentally, makes the second-fewest 3s in the league. Booker takes three more 3s per game than any player on the Wolves, and he makes nearly two more 3s per game than any player on the Wolves. Adding his jumper would give the Wolves another dimension. Plus! He’d be reunited with his Kentucky teammate Karl-Anthony Towns. Save a courtside seat for Coach Cal during the playoffs.
8. The Jazz Select … Marc Gasol
Chau: This might seem like an odd choice considering how much time Rudy Gobert spends on the court, but if I’m the Jazz, I’d want to lean into the team’s identity as a defensive monolith. With Gasol, the team can sub Gobert out and replace him with one of the smartest defensive quarterbacks in the game, with the added bonus of a 3-point stroke. The Jazz often stagger Gobert and Derrick Favors’s minutes to allow Favors to shine alongside the second unit. Having Favors play alongside another 7-footer seems antithetical to the modern game, but their skill sets complement each other’s much better than the forced pairing of Gobert and Favors in the starting lineup. And above all else: It’d get poor Marc Gasol back into the playoffs. The man did not ask for this disaster of a season!