While the Western Conference continues to dominate the NBA, a lot of the teams near the bottom are in a good position to get needed talent, with Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers owning the first two picks. Even recent power Oklahoma City is in the lottery after injuries hurt their season, as is a much-improved Jazz team that may just be a piece or two away from making another big leap.
Click here to see the Eastern Conference draft needs.
Picks: Round 1 – #21; Round 2 – #52
Needs: Point guard; Bench depth
The Rajon Rondo experiment went horribly wrong by the time the playoffs came around, and Monta Ellis may decline his player option, so the Mavericks may look to address the point guard position at number 21, at least to provide some help if Ellis stays, or they acquire one in free agency. They could hope that Jerian Grant falls to them, or reach a bit and take Delon Wright, two big point guards who will help on both ends of the floor. Really, the Mavericks may end up thin at many positions, and they could look at the best player available regardless of position. They could see a variety of guys here, such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kevon Looney, R.J. Hunter, or even Montrezl Harrell. The addition of depth could be what they look for at number 52, though being that far down, there’s a lot to play out before they can figure who is available.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 7; Round 2 – No. 57
Needs: Looking to the future
Things didn’t go to plan for the Nuggets last season, leading to Brian Shaw being dismissed and the team winning just 30 games. Former Sacramento coach Michael Malone has been brought in, and many expect Denver to try and move some of their higher-priced players, including point guard Ty Lawson. At #7, if Denver keeps the pick, expect them to select the best talent available rather than picking based on a specific need, though with their hopes for last year’s first-round pick Jusuf Nurkic, a big man may not necessarily be in the equation. As they wait for things to shake out in the spots right before them, I expect Denver to hone in on Mario Hezonja, a versatile and athletic wing who may be able to help them right away, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, especially if they are able to deal Lawson, or freshman small forwards Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson. At #57, the Nuggets may not get anything of immediate value, though with some strong International scouts, they could find a draft-and-stash player they like there, though they could find a college senior who could battle for a roster spot as Malone tries to shake things up. Forwards Larry Nance, Jr., Aaron White, or Branden Dawson will all bring skill and energy to a team, and would be a good value here.
Golden State Warriors
Picks: Round 1 – #30
Needs: Bench depth
After a dominating regular season which led to an NBA championship, the Warriors’ main concern is keeping the core of the team intact, with the re-signing of Draymond Green the biggest priority. In order to clear some cap space, the Warriors may try to package this pick, along with others and David Lee, to rid themselves of their highest-paid player. If they do keep the pick, a draft-and-stash option may be the direction they go, though they may also look to find a player in a mold similar to Green’s if they think they may lose him. LSU sophomore Jordan Mickey has the defensive skills to help right away, and his offense can be developed in a manner that Green’s was. Texas senior Jonathan Holmes is another forward who can provide some versatility on both ends of the floor. If they think Green will return, Syracuse freshman Chris McCullough may be a good option at #30, as he recovers from knee surgery. He has a lot of raw talent and athletic ability, and Golden State’s strong D-League system would be a great place for him to develop once he is ready to play.
Picks: Round 1 – #18; Round 2 – #32
Needs: Point guard; defense; system fits
Patrick Beverley’s injury hampered the Rockets as they headed towards the playoffs, but with James Harden and Dwight Howard, they were still able to get to the Western Conference finals. Beverley is a free agent now, as is Jason Terry, so the Rockets may look to add a young point guard to give them a little depth at the position, especially if they re-sign Beverley. It is already widely-rumored that Duke freshman Tyus Jones has a promise from Houston at #18, when he shut down his workouts after meeting with them. If he Jones is somehow gone by that spot, they may look to Jerian Grant, a solid scorer and passer who creates scoring chances well when attacks the basket, something that could fit well with Houston’s three-point attack. At #32, Houston may look to continue their trend of finding International players who may help them a couple of years down the road, with big men Guillermo Hernangomez, Nikola Milutinov, and Arturas Gudaitis all possibilities.
Los Angeles Clippers
Needs: Bench depth
The Clippers fell short again in the playoffs, ending a 56-win season in a tough seven-game playoff with the Rockets in the West semifinals. Re-shaping the bench has been a Clippers’ priority for a few years now, and they already made on move, acquiring Lance Stephenson for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Re-signing DeAndre Jordan is the off-season priority, though they may not be done dealing either. As of now, the Clippers don’t have a pick in this draft, but that can change if they see a player they like available in a position worth a deal for them.
Los Angeles Lakers
Picks: Round 1 – #2, #27; Round 2 - #34
Needs: Looking to the future
Another draft and it’s the same story for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant is in the last year of his contract, and with his injuries the last few years, this may be it for him. The Lakers can now turn towards putting a solid foundation in place for the future. Though 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle missed most of last season with a broken tibia, he should be ready to go next season, and second-round pick Jordan Clarkson was a revelation, making the NBA’s All-Rookie Team. With three picks in the top 34, including #2 overall, the Lakers are in a good position to add talent to a roster which really needs it. With the debate over the top pick for the Timberwolves leaning more towards Karl-Anthony Towns now, the Lakers will have a few options at #2 overall, though it’s hard to see them passing on Jahlil Okafor and the chance to have a game-changing big man, even if the fit with Randle is less than ideal. A couple of other options could be D’Angelo Russell, whose versatility could allow him to play alongside Clarkson, or Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, whose ability to stretch the floor could open it up for everyone else. Assuming they go with Okafor at #2, they may look to address the backcourt at #27. Clarkson will be up for a big pay increase after next season, and the Lakers may look to be proactive and seek a replacement now. The pickings are slim for a point guard in this range, though Delon Wright or Terry Rozier may be available. At #34, they could look to add some scoring, defense, or a combination of both. They could look for some better defensive big men, like Jordan Mickey, or even taking a chance on Robert Upshaw. They could also look at a more versatile option at the power forward spot with a player like Christian Wood or Jarrell Martin, if available.
Picks: Round 1 – No. 25; Round 2 - None
Needs: Perimeter shooting, frontcourt depth
Perimeter shooting still seems to be a sticking point for Memphis as they battle near the top of Western Conference, and last year’s first-round pick, Jordan Adams, while a scorer, still isn’t a great shooter. The good news for Memphis is they should find some shooting at #25. They should have a player like Justin Anderson or R.J. Hunter drop to them, though I think Anderson would be the preference due to his defensive ability. It’s assumed that Marc Gasol will re-sign with Memphis this off-season, but he, Zach Randolph and Jeff Green will all be a year older, and Memphis may be interested in adding some youth to their frontcourt. They added Jarnell Stokes last season, and they may still look to acquire a second-round pick where there could be a lot of good big men available.
Picks: Round 1 – #1; Round 2 – #31, #36
Needs: Don’t mess up first pick; defense; shooting
The beginning of the Andrew Wiggins era gave Minnesota fans hope for the future, and improvement from young players Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine made the Timberwolves a fun team to watch. Now, with the top pick in the draft, Minnesota can add another key piece to their future. The presumption is that Karl-Anthony Towns will be the pick, and he will certainly make the team better on both ends of the floor. Jahlil Okafor can give them a dominant offensive presence in the middle, though his defense needs a lot of work, so Towns likely gets the nod here. Two early second-round picks will give the Wolves the ability to add some more talent, especially an upgrade to their bench. Jordan Mickey could give the team another outstanding rim protector, or his college teammate Jarell Martin could add some scoring punch off the bench. With rumblings that Ricky Rubio may want out, they may want to add some help at the point guard position, especially realizing that LaVine is not a long-term answer there. They could find a player like Delon Wright or Terry Rozier at #31. With much of the roster settled, a draft-and-stash may be an option at one of the second-round spots, especially with a number of big men who could blossom into NBA players in a few years, such as Nikola Milutinov, Arturas Gudaitis, or Guillermo Hernangomez.
New Orleans Pelicans
Picks: Round 1 - None; Round 2 - #56
Needs: Add long-term talent around Anthony Davis
The Pelicans made a surprise run to the playoffs, even giving the Warriors a couple of good games, but still dismissed Coach Monty Williams at the end of the season. Alvin Gentry is in now, and he is tasked with building a team around Anthony Davis, who is entering the last year of his rookie deal. They don’t have many players signed for next season, but they also don’t have a first-round pick, having dealt it to Houston in a deal for Omer Asik, a free agent this summer. It’s hard to see them adding someone at #56 who will help build on last year’s playoff appearance, so expect that the pick may end up as part of a deal to add a roster player.
Picks: Round 1 – #14; Round 2 - #48
Needs: Backcourt depth, Perimeter shooting
Kevin Durant’s Injury derailed the Thunder’s season last year, though an MVP-effort from Russell Westbrook still almost got them to the playoffs. The team did some dealing at the trade deadline last season, adding players like Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter, though giving up Reggie Jackson left the team a bit thin at the point guard spot behind Westbrook. D.J. Augustin was fine, but he’s not a long-term solution, especially as the team will need to convince Durant to re-sign after next season. They can possibly address the point guard situation at #14, and though the rumor of a promise to Cameron Payne likely isn’t true, there is a very good chance they will take him if he falls to them there. If he’s not available there, they could look at Jerian Grant or Tyus Jones. If they look to just add the best player available, they could be looking at wings like Kelly Oubre, or Sam Dekker, or possibly add a replacement for Kanter in Bobby Portis. With a solid developmental situation in place right there in Oklahoma City, they could definitely add some value at #48, with scoring guards such as Olivier Hanlan, Michael Frazier, Joseph Young, or Norman Powell options.
Picks: Round 1 – #13; Round 2 – #44
Needs: Big man who can stretch floor; point guard
The Suns did some retooling last season, shipping out point guards Goran Dragic and rookie Tyler Ennis, a first-round pick a year ago. They still have a solid backcourt with Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin, though Brandon Knight and Gerald Green will be free agents this summer. It’s been said that the Suns’ front office would like to add a big that can stretch the floor with his shooting ability, and they may find some good options at #13. Frank Kaminsky is a seven-footer with a good long-range shooting stroke, and is ready to contribute immediately. Thinking more long term, guys like Trey Lyles, Myles Turner, or Bobby Portis could give them what they need down the road, though they may not be ready to contribute immediately. With only one real point guard right now on the roster in Bledsoe, they may look to add one at #13, with not many options in that range other than Cameron Payne, or maybe reach a bit for Jerian Grant or Tyus Jones. They may look to add someone at #43, though free agency is the likely answer. If they do, they could find some good scoring point guards who can fit their style of play with guys like Olivier Hanlan, Joseph Young, or Andrew Harrison.
Portland Trail Blazers
Picks: Round 1 - #23; Round 2 - None
Needs: Frontcourt depth if they lose LaMarcus Aldridge; wing scoring
Portland’s big question is whether they will be able to retain LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency this summer, though key contributor Wesley Matthews is also a free agent. While they may not be able to replace Aldridge immediately through the draft, the addition of any help in the frontcourt would be good. The options may be a bit slim at #23, but a guy like Montrezl Harrell could come in and help with defense and rebounding, and there’s a chance they could see a guy like Kevon Looney fall to them, though he isn’t ready to be a contributor immediately, he has length and potential. They could be better off finding a replacement for Matthews with scorers like Rashad Vaughn, R.J. Hunter, or Justin Anderson all options.
Picks: Round 1 – #6; Round 2 - None
Needs: Point guard, perimeter shooting
No matter what Sacramento does, things never really seem to get better, though with George Karl as coach, and talent like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, things should improve. Looking at the roster, one area where the Kings need help is at the point guard position, where they could really upgrade from Darren Collison and Ray McCallum. There is a possibility that Emmanuel Mudiay could drop to them at #6, and it’s hard to see them passing on him. They’ve also shown interest in Cameron Payne. If Mudiay isn’t available, and they think they can do better than Payne at #6, they may look to add more shooting, where the last two first-round picks, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas, haven’t really been getting it done. McLemore showed improvement in his second year, but the Kings may look to take a guy like Mario Hezonja, a wing with good size and athleticism who can shoot. There is always the chance they just look for best player available, and I know a lot of people would love to see a frontcourt pairing of Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein.
San Antonio Spurs
Picks: Round 1 – #26; Round 2 – #55
Needs: Prepare for a future without the Big 3
With only five players under contract next season, the Spurs’ priority will be in free agency, specifically locking up Kawhi Leonard long-term, and making decisions on key guys such as Danny Green and Cory Joseph. If Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili decide to return, they’ll have a spot available, though the Spurs really need to start contemplating life without them. The Spurs have always been very good at finding value in the draft, so picking #26 doesn’t mean they won’t find a future starter. If Green gets priced out of their range, or Ginobili doesn’t return, they may look for some shooting, with guys like Justin Anderson or Anthony Brown possibilities, especially since both are also good defenders. If Joseph doesn’t return, the Spurs could look to add at the point guard position with players like Delon Wright or Terry Rozier, if available. The Spurs have also been very good at finding International talent, so expect a possible draft-and-stash at #55, though some quality college players could be available who could contribute in the near future.
Picks: Round 1 – #12; Round 2 – #42, #54
Needs: Frontcourt depth; shooting
The Jazz took a big step forward in the first year under Quin Snyder, and they should only get better next season with all of their key players returning. With all the young talent they have, long-range shooting is still a concern, and it is something they can address at #12 and #42. Looking at guys like Frank Kaminsky, Trey Lyles, or Myles Turner could give them both shooting and depth up front, though Kaminsky’s ability to contribute immediately could be their preference. If that’s not the direction they go, they can look at a versatile, but young, wing in Kelly Oubre, Jr. They can address more shooting in the second round with players like Michael Frazier, Josh Richardson, or Pat Connaughton possible options.