With the draft only a short while away, this article will break down what exactly each team in the NBA would most benefit from finding in the draft and what players generally fit that mold. Unfortunately, what determines this by and large depends on the state of the franchise, and since several franchises have major decisions dependent on the course of free agency (which they won’t get to see before the draft), some of these are less than predictable and I can’t give anything more than a best guess. So, without further ado…
The Hawks have picks 19, 41, and 60, having just traded their 31st pick and Dwight Howard over to Charlotte. One big looming question about the direction of their franchise in the form of Paul Millsap. First, it’s no large secret that the Hawks without Millsap were awful; they went 2-9 in a few stretches he missed due to injury, and that’s with wins over the Suns and 76ers (both of whom were into the “blatantly tanking” section of the season). They enter next year with six total players guaranteed to be under contract (omitting Ryan Kelly’s fully unguaranteed and Mike Dunleavy’s partially guaranteed contracts), but also minimal cap space due to having $55 million locked up between Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder, and Kent Bazemore, such that a max contract for Millsap (or his $30 million cap hold), puts them into a category that might as well classify them as “no cap space” because the midlevel exception is larger than the amount of space they have. Of course, they do have the option to let Millsap walk and use about $36 million in other ways, but then you have to account for deals for Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala, and even possibly some older guys like Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries, and Thabo Sefalosha. As such, I consider it most likely that they will bite the bullet, pay Millsap and a couple of the other pieces, and use their high picks to bolster their existing core and their lower picks to attempt to give themselves a future. It’s also worth noting that while this team has Malcolm Delaney, the ostensible backup PG, under contract next year, they did not seem to have much faith in him, having played lineups without any PG at all in which Taurean Prince guarded the ostensible first pick.
As such, reasonable guys for them to target early include Justin Jackson, Semi Ojeleye, or John Collins. Those guys probably won’t all be on the board, but at least one of them probably will, and they’ll be able to hopefully step in and contribute immediately. With the second round picks, historically teams are a lot more likely to take a draft and stash in the early 2nd due to the unguaranteed contracts, so looking at guys like Anzejs Pasecniks, Jonah Bolden, or Isaiah Hartenstein, should they still be on the board, is an option. Then they can turn around and take any of a number of competent PG prospects likely to still be on the board at 60 – Melo Trimble, Marcus Keene, Tai Webster, Monte Morris, Derrick Walton, Kadeem Allen, and many others – and that’s before you consider the possibility of a guy like Nigel Williams-Goss falling. Or, if they need, they can take a guy like Jawun Evans early, to solve the backup PG problem, and then turn back around and take the draft and stash long term project later, looking at a guy like Vlatko Cancar or George De Paula.
The Boston Celtics have (for now) picks 3, 37, 53, and 56. They have nine players that are at least partially guaranteed under contract, two players who are likely to want to come over from international ball (Guerschon Yabusele and Ante ZIzic), and a few other fringe options in the form of guys like Jordan Mickey and Abdel Nader, who aren’t guaranteed contracts but could very well make the team. Oh yeah, then they have a fairly large chunk of cap space that they’ll almost definitely use to win now. Basically, the Celtics are so set on assets that they don’t really have to choose between winning now and planning for the future, so they can basically make draft moves with nothing but planning for the future in mind – so long as they don’t run into any roster spot issues since they can use their cap space to win now. Adding two players in free agency and keeping Jordan Mickey’s unguaranteed contract leaves insufficient roster spaces for one of the second round pieces, which means that it’s plausible that they sell one of the picks rather than lose it for nothing.
The Celtics already have a bit of a glut of guards: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and even guys like Terry Rozier and possibly James Young, and that’s before you mention how Jaylen Brown was statistically more effective at the 2 than at the 3. This was supposedly a reason for them shying away from Markelle Fultz and dealing #1, and so it makes little sense to trade back and still end up with a guard just the same. As a result, I think that the #3 pick likely gets moved again, which makes it impossible to predict who they’ll take because there’s no way to know where they’ll land or if they’ll even pick at all since guys like Paul George and Jimmy Butler are on the table. Should they pick at #3 though, I think they will just take whoever they think the best player on the board is, though they might ding Lonzo Ball a bit for being a guard. Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum seem like fairly strong picks as well at 3. As for picks later in the draft, these could be absolutely all over the board. They won’t take someone whose best trait is being a finished product (finished products won’t see play for this team), but a guy like Isaiah Briscoe or Andrew White of Syracuse might be in play.
The Brooklyn Nets own picks 22 and 57, having just sent the 27th pick (and Brook Lopez) to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. They are painstakingly bad (though still not as bad as their record) with little short run path to winning. This makes the path through the draft extremely straightforward: draft for potential. There’s probably a slight bonus for being able to play next to Russell, Caris Levert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson well, as those are the only three long-run high caliber pieces on this team – but even that wouldn’t be an absolute dealbreaker for a team in such desperate need of talent.
As such, first round picks for them might include guys like Terrance Ferguson, Bam Adebayo, Harry Giles, Ike Anigbogu, or Frank Jackson – all high upside guys who might form part of a future core who don’t conflict with Russell, RHJ, or Levert. They might even make a slight downward reach for a guy like Tony Bradley. Similarly, guys in the back end of the draft like Cancar or De Paula also make sense for the Nets.
The Charlotte Hornets own picks 11 and 31. They previously held #41, but moved up to 31 by sending Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli to Atlanta. They have a firmly-entrenched starting lineup signed for multiple years down the road, and a couple of backups that they should trust in the form of Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky. They also have a worse backup PG situation than Atlanta who, as I’ve noted, didn’t really have a backup PG at all last year. More than anything, though, because of the disappointing result last year due to a bunch of factors, the 1st round pick this year will need to make an immediate impact. As a result, if they can solve their backup PG problem through the draft, then that’s a great outcome for Charlotte. If they can’t, however, then they’ll look to solve their second biggest problem: defending the power forward position when Marvin Williams is on the bench.
And most of what that tells you, then, is who they shouldn’t take: Collins, Collins, Markkanen, and Patton. Donovan Mitchell is an incredibly strong fit here (to the point where it’s almost unnecessary to talk about anyone else), unless he somehow rises higher. There’s also a possibility of Ntilikina, Monk, or any of a number of guys who are projected to go in the top 10 but might find on draft day that no team wanted to go in their direction. Ultimately, unless everything falls exactly wrong for the Hornets, then their #11 pick will probably look pretty obvious when it rolls around. The only bad case is if the top 10 doesn’t include any bigs like Zach Collins or Lauri Markkanen, in which case the Hornets still have decent options in Anunoby and Ferguson (Luke Kennard is also technically an option, but I despise him as a prospect, especially for what the Hornets actually need), but more than likely those will be available later than their pick at #11, so they might start looking for an offer to trade back to a team that want to leapfrog whoever deals for the Pistons’ 1st-round pick, which is supposedly very much so on the table. Pick #31 will likely be used in a similar fashion, aiming to take a player that might be ready to come in and contribute immediately, though the Hornets probably will still aim for some upside out of the pick. A guy like Johnathan Motley might fit well as a good short term fit next to Frank Kaminsky, or they might look at a PG like Frank Mason in the event of getting a prospect like Monk or Mitchell in the 1st round, should they not be certain those guys will be able to contribute immediately running the backup point.
The Bulls own picks 16 and 38. There’s a not-so-fine line between what the Bulls need to do, which is kickstart their rebuild, and what they will likely do, which is sit on their hands and try to tread water. Given the news that GarPax are switching levels of influence and that the more rebuild-prone one is taking over, we’re going to address both possibilities in the draft. If they choose to keep on trying to compete with the current core, then they are in desperate need of shooting, which makes this draft an easy decision. If they choose to blow it up, then they’ll need to find someone who fits in with their long-run core without overriding any of their long run pieces.
So if they are to keep going, their options for shooters are Luke Kennard, who is likely the best pure shooter in the draft and also a semi-competent playmaker out of the pick and roll; Justin Jackson, whose shooting is much less reliable due to only having succeeded in the small sample of his junior year, but is the best player of guys in this list right now; Terrance Ferguson, who is the riskiest shooter of everyone here given his poor numbers in Australia but who also has the highest ceiling of those players available; and Semi Ojeleye, who is closest to Jackson but unlike the other four is likely to be able to step down and guard power forwards as necessary The last point may be something Chicago values since their three main PFs for last year are Taj Gibson (not on the roster), Nikola Mirotic (current free agent), and Paul Zipser (still young). Which allows us, then, to segue into the long run pieces for the Bulls, which are Zipser, Portis, Felicio, and maybe Denzel Valentine or Jerian Grant. This means that, effectively, targeting a high potential guard is a possibility. The problem is there’s only one guy who fits that description available at 16 who wouldn’t be a massive reach: Terrance Ferguson. So, the Bulls may just take whatever big they perceive as the best player on the board, since Felicio isn’t exactly the kind of player you turn down, say, a Jarrett Allen level prospect for.
The Cavaliers have no picks in this draft, but that doesn’t mean we won’t talk about them. After last year’s buy-in to draft Kay Felder and counting on him to be a rotation player immediately backfired somewhat spectacularly, I doubt the Cavs make that mistake again. I don’t see Cleveland entering this draft this time aroundl, especially if rumors of Cedi Osman coming over hold up.
As of right now, Detroit owns pick 12. They, like Charlotte, have a fairly entrenched starting lineup, though they are a lot less happy with theirs than Charlotte is and may choose to dismantle that starting five by trading away either Reggie Jackson or Andre Drummond and declining to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was, by most accounts, their best player last season. Which means that this is going to be one of the most absolutely difficult picks to peg out of the draft for anyone because the Pistons are locked into a core that isn’t that good and they’re going to have to find their way out of it – and how they use the 12th pick isn’t nearly enough to actually get them out of it.
If they are going to simply try and advance the current core, then they’re going to have to draft a player rather than an archetype (and even then still get very, very lucky). They can hope Donovan Mitchell falls to them and use him as a backup combo guard alongside either Jackson or KCP. They can take OG Anunoby and hope that Stanley Johnson’s sophomore year was the fluke, not the rookie year, and then hope their three wings (KCP, Johnson, and Anunoby) are just as crazy good at switching the perimeter as they can be. Then, add in Drummond getting all the rebounds, the plan would be to essentially win games 82-75. But more than likely, I think they trade the pick as they’re rumored to, simply because it’s so unclear how any rookie available at 12 will help this team, and SVG hasn’t always been the best at developing young players.
The Indiana Pacers own picks 18 and 47. The Pacers’ decision-making will be almost entirely determined by how they sense the Paul George saga is going. The roster desperately needs better defenders, and so that’s what they should be targeting through the draft, and that remains true whether they should expect to re-sign Paul George or not (most of what changes is the level of development they’ll be looking for in a prospect).
The most elite defensive prospects, your Jonathan Isaacs, Josh Jacksons, and Donovan Mitchells, are all going to be off of the board by 18, which means that they have to deal with some slightly bigger gambles of defenders. Guys like Ike Anigbogu or Bam Adebayo should come into play since they might be able to step in next to Turner. But more likely is that their best option for persuading Paul George to stick around is a 2 guard that projects as “just an okay defender” in Justin Jackson. If George is leaving, Indiana comes away with a little bit more freedom here and can take a guy like Terrance Ferguson, who will likely be a better defender in the long run, or someone like Harry Giles, who could be a fantastic two-way prospect given time to develop (and knees that don’t explode). At 47, similarly, guys like Sterling Brown, Sindarius Thornwell, or Devin Robinson could go a long way to shoring up their perimeter defense in the immediate.
The Miami Heat own pick 14. Having never been much for building through the draft, Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra seem likely to, should they even pick here, take a guy who can contribute immediately (though I don’t think they’ll forgo all upside in the process). The team may have to fill the shoes of Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Luke Babbitt, who all played fairly key roles for them this year. Those guys represent playmakers from the wing and a bit of three-point shooting. While I think they may end up using the extra space from medically-retiring Chris Bosh to pay one of those guys enough to stay, they may need additional help on the wing.
If they’re looking for that, then they may find it in Semi Ojeleye, who is the prototype for the combo forward that Eric Spoelstra has seen inexplicably high levels of success with, to the point that the Lakers are paying about $50 million too much for Luol Deng for the next 4 years. That is, however, a bit of a reach based on typical draft position, and so they certainly could go after other less-reachy picks like John or Zach Collins, who both can play a little bit of PF next to Whiteside in the short run while they develop, or Justin Jackson, who can fill Waiters’ role as a playmaker from the wing for a much cheaper price. Ultimately, the Heat have shown a lot of ability to make the best of the strengths of players they’re given, so they can get away with a bunch of options here, even a guy like Luke Kennard, who they could easily use both to hide the deficiencies Justise Winslow has and use Justise Winslow to hide his deficiencies.
The Bucks own picks 17 and 48. They currently have what appears to be their future core in place, between Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker. Which means that now, they’re looking for auxiliary pieces. Unfortunately, they’ve somewhat locked themselves out of the market for a lot of those pieces due to a series of bad contracts for Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, and Mirza Teletovic. While they will have a chance to retain some of their free agent talent (they’ll probably keep Tony Snell), relevant bench contributors like Jason Terry and Michael Beasley may both walk. They also have some young players who are, for lack of a better description, a little iffy at PG and C. Which is to say, Brogdon and Maker are currently fine options, but they also have deficiencies at some level that mean they could be upgraded should the right player be available. The Bucks also struggled massively with game-to-game inconsistency, in large part due to somewhat poor spacing.
In short, I tend to think that the Bucks’ first pick will likely be dictated by what’s available between a PG and a C, and in the back half of the 1st round, that’s a lot of centers. As a result, anyone from Jarrett Allen to Harry Giles to Ike Anigbogu or even Bam Adebayo is on the table, depending on what the Bucks think they need. In the 2nd round, then, I expect them to pick someone up to fill the play-making void on the wings – a guy like Wes Iwundu seems like an ideal fit given his passing ability, length, and newly discovered three-ball, but guys like Tyler Dorsey, L.J. Peak, and Devin Robinson will likely also be available to them.
New York Knicks
The Knicks own picks 8, 44, and 58. They, somewhat like the Pacers before them, really only have two assets on their team that should heavily affect decision-making, and those two assets run in completely contrary directions. But, unlike the Pacers, whose older asset is the much more valuable one and thus the more likely to inform decision making, the Knicks’ more valuable asset is the young one, and based on Phil somewhat smearing Melo in the media, it seems a safe bet that they understand that (though their execution of understanding that is seemingly poor). The second most valuable asset to put next to Porzingis in the long run is Willy Hernangomez, who is a somewhat flawed prospect, and not the kind of player that you make decisions based off of.
As a result, the talent-starved Knicks will just take whoever they perceive as the best long-run player remaining on the board at 8, whether that’s Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, or any of the top prospects that happens to go on a slide. With the later picks, there’s no point in hesitating a guess here because the Knicks just need absolutely everything, but also don’t seem likely to invest in a pure development project like Isaiah Briscoe or Kobi Simmons. They have the pipe dream of a Jonah Bolden or Tony Bradley falling to them, but more likely than that they’re looking at a Josh Hart or Wes Iwundu type player who still has a little bit of potential in spite of their age relative to the rest of the pool (in a similar capacity to having grabbed Cleanthony Early a few years back).
Orlando has picks 6, 25, 33, and 35. They have a fairly talent-depleted roster, having traded away several young assets over the past few years in Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis, all for quick fixes that didn’t work and ended up with one less job for Rob Hennigan. They have two strong rotation caliber players in Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, who they will likely build around, but beyond that, they have a bunch of borderline starter caliber players in Elfrid Payton, Terrence Ross, Nikola Vucevic, and Bismack Biyombo. Also, as was demonstrated this year, Fournier and Gordon are heavily locked into a single position – Gordon is a power forward, and Fournier is a shooting guard, and this team was much worse off for most of the year trying to pretend otherwise with Gordon. This somewhat limits the flexibility at the 6th pick, but later picks will likely be bench talents at first anyway, so there’s not too much pressure back there. Also, with as much money tied up into Vucevic and Biyombo as they have, I find it unlikely that they’ll look to add another center without another move lined up to take on one of those two.
So with #6, I expect the Magic just to take the best player on the board. This could be anyone from De’Aaron Fox, to Jayson Tatum, to Dennis Smith Jr., to Jonathan Isaac. Fortunately none of those guys intersect with Fournier or Gordon too much. The one guy I really don’t see them wanting is Malik Monk, who I don’t think you can play at the same time as Fournier without Monk learning to play PG – something that’s largely considered unlikely. With the remaining picks, then, all of them fall in a narrow 10 pick window at a stage in the draft where it’s generally only a mild crapshoot as opposed to a total crapshoot in the late 2nd. As a result, they can take absolutely whoever they feel will be the best player here. If Harry Giles is on the board at 25 and they’re sold on his abilities, why not take a run at him and let him acclimate to the NBA level. If they think Jonah Bolden or Anzejs Pasecniks will translate well, take him. Basically they’re just in a position, unlike a majority of teams in the league, to truly take the best player available across the board and try to develop him.
The Philadelphia 76ers (again, for now) own picks 1, 36, 39, 46, and 50. They have 13 players under contract, $51 million in cap space that will almost certainly be used on at least two players, the draft rights to Furkan Korkmaz, who apparently wants to come over now. If you’ve added all of those up, you have 21 players and a maximum of 17 roster slots. In other words, something’s got to give. It seems a safe assumption that at least one pick will be a draft and stash, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one of them move as well in some sort of trade. Positionally, most of what they’re waiting on is everyone to get healthy, but they certainly lack guard depth at some level. While they may have the best white American PG in the league, T.J. McConnell is not anyone’s long run answer as anything more than a backup.
As a result, when they pick at #1, they certainly should take Fultz. And they will. He’s the clear best prospect in the draft at a position of desperate need. They can continue to take prospects all over the place in the 2nd round and try to develop them, though they might want to consider looking for guys who are fairly good at making an impact without the ball in their hands, since as of right now a large chunk of their guys who see major minutes (from Simmons, to Embiid, to Saric, to Okafor, to soon to be Fultz), all demand the ball in their hands. While they do have some guys like Covington, Stauskas, and Holmes that are good at moving without the ball, that also seems to be an issue as of right now. As a result, guys like Peter Jok, Sterling Brown, and Josh Hart should be fairly good pickups, even if they don’t fit the stereotypical project mold. Of course, this being the 76ers they absolutely could always decide to continue taking projects – a guy like Kobi Simmons would certainly have time to develop here, for example. And they also have to take a look at draft and stash prospects like George De Paula, Vlatko Cancar, and Alberto Abalde so as to guarantee that they aren’t just going to have to cut whoever they pick after training camp. Ultimately, I don’t think all of these picks will end up on their roster, but they’ve got a large number of directions to take the picks in.
The Toronto Raptors have pick 23. They’ll have to make a decision on their core this summer, with Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, and Kyle Lowry all free agents. Thus, it seems likely that they’ll do what they can to retain all three of those, and I imagine they’ll draft with that in mind. This sets them from 1 through 4, and leaves the only major question mark on the roster as Jonas Valanciunas and the center spot in general. Since Dwane Casey refuses to actually play schemes on either end that are to Valanciunas’s advantage, it seems a safe assumption that he is not in the Raptors’ future plans, and a lot of Raptors blogs have started acting as such. Ultimately, the largest problem for the Raptors this year was poor pick and roll coverage on the 1-5 pick and roll because Valanciunas couldn’t contain the guard well enough to keep them from exploding to the rim. Casey’s schemes often left him in no man’s land, and as a result, Valanciunas would often find himself on the bench for large swaths of time. So as is, the Raptors have basically set up a “Casey or Valanciunas: pick one” scenario, and all signs point towards them choosing their coach.
Considering the overabundance of centers at the back of the first round, I somewhat expect that do be what the Raptors end up doing with this pick, but I think they’ll be extremely choosy with which one they take. Someone like Ivan Rabb or Justin Patton, who can’t step out to the perimeter, just leaves them in the same place that they already are. However, if they see someone like Ike Anigbogu or Bam Adebayo, who has the athleticism to step out to the perimeter and properly execute those schemes while also protecting the rim, that would be a good place for them to strike. On a slightly opposite end of the big-man spectrum, I could see them determining that Ibaka can move to the center spot full-time and then they turn around and take T.J. Leaf. With Patrick Patterson’s impending free agency, they may need the spacing and offensive creation Leaf provides out of the 4 spot and Ibaka can make up for his lateral quickness deficiencies. Ultimately, the Raptors are going to try to find some form of current help from this pick, and that’s a fairly unlikely thing from the 23rd pick, so they may take whatever good fit is available to them.
The Washington Wizards have only pick 52, and their issue is almost entirely depth. They have decent backups from the 3-5, though Ian Mahinmi’s spotty injury history makes him difficult to rely on. They don’t have any cap space, but they have Tomas Satoransky and the ability to re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic to fill the other backup wing spot next to Kelly Oubre. That leaves backup PG, where they were almost as bad off as the Hornets, having trotted out Trey Burke for large portions of the year and then Brandon Jennings for the rest of it.
While #52 can’t be guaranteed to actually contribute, Washington should be able to find someone able to contribute for them. As I talked about with the Hawks, there’s a lot of options for the Wizards at 52 to attempt to plug that hole with, and those same guys are options here. Monte Morris, Derrick Walton, Melo Trimble, and Kadeem Allen may all be there for them. Being eight picks earlier, though, gives them a better shot at Nigel Williams-Goss, or possibly even one of South Carolina’s guards, Sindarius Thornwell or P.J. Dozier.
The Mavericks have pick 9. With Dirk aging, they’ve gathered a bunch of pieces that are borderline starter quality but don’t have much star upside, ranging from Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell to Seth Curry and even Wes Matthews. The only pieces they have that are really good enough (and young enough) to inform decision-making are Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel, and since Barnes can switch between 3 or 4 as necessary (though he predominantly played the 4 last year, mostly out of necessity), basically the only thing they can’t do is take a guy who can’t play with Nerlens Noel.
So that gives a lot of versatility to the possibilities at 9. Frank Ntilikina has been a hot name – the Mavericks have hired his coach at Strasbourg to coach their summer league, and he’d have time to develop for this team. But the thing is, the Mavericks are really in a position to take the best talent and let them grow. If, in their eyes, it’s Malik Monk, they’ll take him. Dennis Smith Jr.? Sure. Even a guy like Lauri Markkanen (though I consider him unlikely simply because the Mavericks, more than anyone, understand that there is no “Next Dirk”), is strategically plausible since Nerlens Noel is able to step out to the perimeter and cover his defensive weaknesses in a similar manner to Cody Zeller covering up Frank Kaminsky’s. Basically, any name short of Zach Collins that you’ve heard in the top 10 is on the table.
The Denver Nuggets have picks 13, 49, and 51. Despite being pegged as a candidate to discharge one of those later picks, that seems unlikely given the lack of a need to do so. They won’t run out of roster slots, even if they make a few deals around Will Barton and Wilson Chandler. They have full access to all of their picks to fix the massive glaring hole on the defensive end that they have. What makes it trickiest for them is that they have to find a way to somehow do it without using the strongest defensive position in center. Denver finished with the fifth-best offense in the league, alongside the 29th-best defense. They were only bested by the Warriors, Rockets, Cavs, and Clippers on offense. They were only undercut by the Lakers on defense. That makes it 100% clear where this draft’s priority is. I imagine they’d also consider a PG, given that their current options are Mudiay, who is inconsistent to say the least, Murray, who isn’t a traditional point guard (Though Denver isn’t a traditional offensive team, so that might not be the worst thing), and Jameer Nelson, who isn’t an NBA caliber player any more.
As a result, pick 13, if the Nuggets pick there, will likely be one where a bunch of teams look at their big board and go “Huh?” There’s a possibility of Frank Ntilikina or Donovan Mitchell being on the board, and I think the Nuggets would be remiss not to take one of them given how their top end defensive potential, lined up next to Gary Harris (a good defender in his own right), could cause trouble for opposing guards. Past that, though, the Nuggets should possibly be looking at offers to move their pick back in the draft, because OG Anunoby’s stock has somewhat fallen in recent days. He or Jordan Bell could be available later on, and they’d both do fantastic things down the road to fix the Denver defense while also possibly netting other assets or facilitating a Barton or Chandler trade as mentioned earlier. In the second round, meanwhile, they should continue to look for defense. The defensive potential of P.J. Dozier, Sindarius Thornwell, Edmond Sumner, or Sterling Brown should be what they’re looking for in the pick here, and they should regret more than any team the drop-out of Kostja Mushidi, who would’ve been great for the current roster.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State, like Cleveland, has no picks in this draft, having traded their two. However, if there is someone open to selling, Golden State will be buying. While Cleveland saw little success with buying in for Felder, Golden State got rotation minutes out of Patrick McCaw, a pick they purchased off of the Bucks. With only five players under contract (seven once you count Curry and Durant re-signing), the Warriors will look for help from any source that could fit in the second unit. Buying in makes sense for them if Boston puts one of their picks for sale.
The Houston Rockets own picks 43 and 45. They are very much a team that wants to compete right now, but they are seemingly always active on the trade market. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these picks, which won’t likely contribute immediately, dealt for a contributing player. If they should pick them though, the Rockets seem likely to need additional help at center, having been less than impressed by the piecewise combination of Nene, Capela, and Montrezl Harrell, especially should Nene not re-sign. The Rockets also may want to look into long run replacements for older members of their core like Trevor Ariza, who is already 31, and Ryan Anderson, 28, who have already started up and down play.
Ultimately though, the ability of the Rockets to find pieces at all stages of the draft and even in undrafted free agents may shine through here, and they may get a relevant center out of one of those picks. If a guy like Thomas Bryant or Tony Bradley is still on the board (both of whom are loved by analytic draft models like Andrew Johnson’s, by the way), they should absolutely take them. As for finding a replacement for Ariza or Anderson at this stage, guys like Dillon Brooks and Vlatko Cancar may come into play, but a name I find extremely appealing for the Rockets specifically is Aleksandar Vezenkov, who is a versatile scorer who simply doesn’t turn the ball over. For a team that is extremely poor at holding onto the ball (24th in TOV%), that, along with his outside shooting could earn him a spot in the rotation quickly.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have no picks in this draft, but I could see them also playing the market hard to find a place to buy in. Having recently recruited Jerry West away from the Warriors, and having an owner who isn’t afraid to throw cash at a problem until it goes away, one of the ways the Clippers might finally start looking for that extra piece to put alongside the Paul/Griffin/DJ trio under the somewhat new regime is to buy into the second (and then watch as Doc Rivers never plays them). Also, I think they somewhat have to make decisions as though Paul and Griffin are returning, because if they’re gone then they’re screwed either way and there’s nothing else they can do. As a result, the buy-in market, which will likely have other competitors than just Golden State and LAC, will have at least a little bit of competition to drive up the amount of cash.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had just number 2 and 28 in this year’s draft, but have now also acquired Brooklyn’s #27 (see above). They were the worst defense in the NBA last year, and were only a little better on offense, ranking 23rd there. As a result, what this team needs is a combination of time for the core to develop, and a true Center, because as exciting as Ivica Zubac is, he probably shouldn’t be viewed as a definite long term solution. Ultimately, the pieces of their interesting young core consist of a PG who can probably step down to the 2 spot if necessary, a SF who can step down to the 4, and a pair of definite power forwards.
With the second pick, the obvious options on the table are Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson – though the Lakers are also very high on De’Aaron Fox, prompting rumors of LA trading back. The Lakers aren’t good enough at the things either of them do to force one on fit, so they should take the better player, no matter who that is. Ball is probably the higher ceiling player, where Jackson probably has the higher floor, so ultimately Magic’s going to do what he wants and that’s okay. With Russell now in Brooklyn, however, all signs point to Lonzo’s name getting called. What the Lakers choose to do with their next two picks, however, is where the options get truly interesting. I think they should 100% be taking a defensive center, and their draft will likely be determined by which one is on the board. If Ike Anigbogu falls to 28 as some mocks have projected, then they should take him and not look back. But the exact same thing is true of Bam Adebayo. And even of Harry Giles. But the thing is, they won’t be unhappy at all if what’s left to take is Tony Bradley or maybe even someone unconventional like Mathias Lessort, Jordan Bell, or Johnathan Motley. Basically, the Lakers will have a lot of choices with their two other picks that fit well with what they need, so they can actually get a decent impact out of their late 1st if they hit.
The Memphis Grizzlies have no picks in this draft. While their history of hitting on second rounders is excellent, I think they elect to sit this year’s draft out altogether, as they have to make decisions on handing a lot of money to guys like Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, possibly Vince Carter, and JaMychal Green. On a small-market budget, buying into the second round and then paying the guy a contract as well may be a bit too much for Robert Pera’s wallet to easily handle.
The Minnesota Timberwolves own pick 7. They have a theoretically complete starting lineup with a little bit of flexibility in it and a few pieces that are fairly movable. Ricky Rubio has been on the chopping block ever since Tom Thibodeau got there and installed schemes that basically worked in the exact opposite manner of everything that’s in Rubio’s skillset. He’s backed off of those a bit since then, but in general, he’s still seemingly looking to move Rubio. Similarly, the frontcourt pairing of Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng has struggled to guard the perimeter as both players prefer to be inside, and Andrew Wiggins was somewhat playing out of position at the 3 so as to fit Zach Lavine into the starting lineup. As a result, basically anything except a center is probably on the table. With a 27th place defensive finish, they’ll likely look to add defense, but even that won’t be an absolute dealbreaker if the right talent comes along.
So with that said, number 7 will likely be the best player off the board. This could range from Jonathan Isaac to Dennis Smith Jr. to Jayson Tatum or even possibly Frank Ntilikina. The only player I don’t really consider likely is Malik Monk due to some level of positional overlap with Wiggins and Lavine, but even that isn’t too crazy if that’s who the Wolves find to be the best pick.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans own pick 40, and need talent on the wing. They’re set at the bigs, and whether it’s through bringing back Holiday or stretching Asik to find the space for another FA PG, they’ll fill that spot. This means that 40 will go to a low usage wing who can get the ball to Davis and Boogie and give them a little bit of spacing.
In that regard, the second round is fairly rich. While these guys may not be ready to take the starting wing positions from E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill, they very well might make an impact down the road. If Wes Iwundu is on the board, his passing and defense makes him a great fit for an offense that has benefitted from a secondary playmaker in the past in a healthy Tyreke Evans. A name that hasn’t really come up before that might fit for them is Dwayne Bacon of Florida State, whose defensive woes could be covered over by Holiday, Davis and Solomon Hill, and Sterling Brown also might be able to step in and make an immediate impact on both ends for this squad.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have pick 21. The Thunder have no true 3 or defensive players on their roster; they basically have been forced to pick between 3 or D, getting either Roberson/Jerami Grant (all D, no 3. And if you’re buying Grant’s three-ball after one season on a small sample size, I have a bridge to sell you) or Abrines/Morrow (All 3, no D). This should be the first priority this year, as in spite of having the (presumptive) league MVP, they finished with a below average offense in large part due to lack of spacing around him. They finished dead last in 3PT%. It’s also worth pointing out that their backup PG was particularly catastrophic, so there’s a chance that if they don’t like their 3-and-D style wing prospects, they go for a PG.
3-and-D prospects in their area basically totals to Tyler Lydon, who has some question marks defensively due to length, but does try on that end, Semi Ojeleye, who also has questions on defense, but also tries, and Terrance Ferguson, who has questions on both ends, but also has the highest ceiling of all three. That’s a somewhat uninspiring group, so that could open up the possibility of the backup PG options; Derrick White and Jawun Evans will likely both be on the board, and could make an impact now at PG. White has the advantage that he could possibly play next to Westbrook, but Evans is primarily a Pick and Roll guard, which requires taking the ball out of Westbrook’s hands. However, at this level, talent will trump pure fit, and Evans may be able to run more of the Thunder’s offensive sets when Westbrook is off, so that may come out more valuable to the Thunder. Basically, the Thunder have more options than a team that’s set at center in the back of the first round should have.
The Phoenix Suns have picks 4, 32, and 54. They have their long-term starter at SG, and are hopeful about Chriss and Bender’s ability to be the long-term answer at the 4 and the 5. Further, they are a rebuilding team, and so while Eric Bledsoe is by far their best player, they won’t draft with him in mind, as they very well may be trading him. Ultimately, the Suns’ biggest problem were the schemes of Earl Watson, which were too low in complexity for the NBA level. As a result, it’s hard to say what exactly their needs are because we don’t know what the actual real schemes that they’re going to run are once Watson is fired. As a result, for the time being, they need to draft for talent, and that’s effectively the only path you can recommend they take. Also of note, T.J. Warren is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and will probably pull a large contract (despite us not really knowing how good he actually is). Phoenix may want to make decisions as though he’ll be there, unless an absolute slam dunk pick comes through.
So with that in mind, the SF prospects, like Jackson, Tatum, and Isaac, may get dinged a little. However, T.J. Warren is far from the kind of prospect that keeps a team from taking a player they perceive as a potential future star, and all three of those names will be options if they’re on the board. That said, if Phoenix views the best player left on the board as a tie between those three and one of, say, De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith Jr., then the PG should probably win out. With the later picks, then, Phoenix can just draft for pure talent. They might look to grab a center if Alex Len walks. Most of these will be available at 32 (and have already been discussed ad nauseum before: Tony Bradley, Anzejs Pasecniks, Thomas Bryant, and even possibly someone who drops from the 1st round), rather than later on at 54. Even at 54 they can grab a guy like Alpha Kaba or possibly Matthias Lessort, both of whom would be well-suited to learn how to impact the game from Tyson Chandler, who is somewhat the prototype for what they should both hope to become.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers have picks 15, 20, and 26. They also have 15 players under contract and -40 million in cap space. Now, they can waive Ezeli and his partially guaranteed contract (in fact, they almost certainly will), which will give them a roster spot, and if they want to have the other picks on the main roster they can waive Quarterman or Layman or both and re-sign them to the D-League two-way contracts. With a disappointing performance from Meyers Leonard last year, backup center is the most obvious need that they may try to solve here. They also may want a more traditional backup PG than simply shifting C.J. McCollum up, and the pairing of Noah Vonleh and Mo Harkless at PF is not exactly awe-inspiring either. I expect, then, that if they should pick at 15, 20, and 26, they’ll look to solve those three issues.
They shouldn’t struggle to find a backup C or a PF in that range. Guys like Justin Patton, Jarrett Allen, Harry Giles, and all sorts of long term project centers are around so that they can hedge against Meyers Leonard. Similarly, they will likely have a shot at John Collins, T.J. Leaf, and D.J. Wilson to give them another option at the PF. And shoot, if OG Anunoby does slide, then they’re more than able to take advantage of that and pick him up right around where they think the slide will stop so as to get a lottery talent on a late 1st pick, which is basically the best case with a pick like that. The problem is they likely won’t find a great PG option in this range. They might drop their last pick on Jawun Evans or Derrick White, two names that came up a bit earlier, but after that, the next best pure PG on the board might be Frank Mason III. Another option there might be trying to convert Frank Jackson, who is a scorer in a fairly different way than McCollum and Lillard, into a PG, but that might be a bit of a stretch that they don’t want to try.
The Sacramento Kings have picks 5, 10, and 34. They have seemingly nothing but shooting guards and centers on their roster going forward, which pretty clearly defines what they’ll do with their picks. Past that, though, the needs of this team are somewhat unclear going forward because somewhat like the Suns, the talent is so raw that we don’t know exactly what skills they’ll develop. Also, because of the hole left by the DeMarcus Cousins trade, their schemes didn’t quite settle in the later part of the year. As a result, the Kings will probably draft for positional fit, but will primarily be targeting talent.
Don’t be surprised at all if the Kings take two PGs with 5 and 10. I don’t think there’s any way the Kings go out of this year’s 1st round without a PG, and so they won’t risk missing out on this year’s extremely talented crop of PGs by passing on one at 5. This will likely mean either De’Aaron Fox or Dennis Smith Jr., especially if Lonzo is a Laker. They’ll then turn around and get to #10, and while there’s the possibility of wanting to take, say, a Zach Collins or a Lauri Markkanen, since they’re both fairly different from the current crop of bigs on the Sacramento roster, they’re more likely to continue to take the best player on the board, especially if that guy is Frank Ntilikina or Donovan Mitchell, both of whom can guard up, allowing for some more versatile small-ball lineups with their younger 2 guards in Hield and Richardson at the other wing. The 34th pick could be used to find some more playmaking out of the bigger wings, which could mean a guy like Tyler Lydon, but fits like Jonah Bolden and Kyle Kuzma seem to make even more sense. Kuzma especially is a good ball-handler who could really make good use of the shooting range of some of the other young pieces in Labissiere and Hield.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs own picks 29 and 59. They have major holes at the 1 and 5, as Tony Parker suffered a quad tendon tear and was showing his age in the first place, plus Patty Mills is a free agent who will likely be too expensive to justify retaining. Additionally, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon may both be free agents (and both of them were borderline starters in the first place). While they may use cap space to fill one of those holes, it’ll be difficult to do so for both, so they’ll likely attempt to get one option for one of those places out of the draft.
It’s much more likely to get a contributor out of the 29th pick than the 59th, so that seems to be the likely place for them to look, and there should be a bunch of centers available around 29 as the back of the front end. The Spurs’ motif in the draft has generally been to take players viewed as flawed (Kyle Anderson was too slow, Kawhi Leonard couldn’t shoot) and then put them in the best circumstances to hide their weaknesses and use their strengths. With that in mind, a guy like Caleb Swanigan, who hasn’t really come up in the back of the first round’s centers, could sneak up into this area. The Spurs have never been much for the explosive athlete rim protector, and that’s not what they’re asking Swanigan to be. But beyond that, there will be plenty of guys here who have that one skill that the Spurs will look for, and so they’ll have their choice. Ivan Rabb’s rebounding might be tantalizing, or Isaiah Hartenstein’s fluidity. At the 59th spot, they may take on more of a project because of the sheer unlikelihood of actually hitting there. A guy like Isaiah Briscoe getting into the gym with the Spurs shooting coach or Amida Brimah learning how to play in NBA schemes might turn into a worthwhile player down the road over an asset that isn’t that likely to pan into anything.
The Jazz own picks 24, 30, 42, and 55. Their offseason will completely hinge on the decisions of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, who, should they to leave, would make any planning moot. The good news for the Jazz, though, is that that won’t change how they pick, since should Hayward and Hill leave, then next summer the Jazz can just completely push the reset button, having the ability to drop down to no one other than Rudy Gobert and one year of Alec Burks remaining under contract (though it’s likely that they’ll have the 1sts from this year’s and next year’s drafts, as well as Trey Lyles). As a result, they can basically pick as though Hayward and Hill will still be there, because that piece will still be valuable if the reset does happen. As for now, the Jazz have a hole at PF, where they were legitimately starting Boris Diaw and giving significant minutes to Joe Johnson this past playoffs (which, credit to Quin Snyder, was brilliant with the way Blake was playing him, but isn’t exactly a long term thing). They also run an offense that needs significant scoring contributions from the pwer forward spot, something that was kind of lost when Favors injury struggles started. Their secondary needs probably start from a backup PG – Shelvin Mack was awful, and he’s a free agent so it just gets worse – and then extends to backup center, where Jeff Withey is a free agent.
As a result, the Jazz will probably pick in line with those goals. In the 1st, a guy like T.J. Leaf (should he fall) or more likely, D.J. Wilson or as a long run project, Isaiah Hartenstein would fill their need at power forward. It would also seem advisable to go for the backup center here as well, since the bulk of the strong Centers in the draft will go in that 24-30 range. Having had a guy on the bench for a few years who already does the same things as Rudy Gobert, taking a change of pace like Anzejs Pasecniks or Caleb Swanigan might be a good idea, but more likely they’ll stay with more of the same and take a guy like Ike Anigbogu. They can then go on and take their backup PG in the late 2nd, where any of Tyler Dorsey, Frank Mason III, or Monte Morris will be available, and that’ll leave them with the option to do basically whatever they want at 55. They could even take two centers in these picks, grab the “more of the same” guy at 30, and then grab a change-of-pace player like Luke Kornet at 55.