Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
There are two main ways to build a competitive team in the NBA: either through signing players in free agency or developing players through the draft.
Whichever route a team chooses depends on the assets they have at their disposal; whether that be cap space, draft picks or trade-able contracts. Even so, the cheapest and most realistic option for most is to build through the draft. The contracts are controlled at set amounts each year and young players give teams the easiest opportunity to get the best “bang for their buck.”
This is the state that we find the four teams we are going to talk about today in the first edition of the “Draft Needs” series. For a variety of reasons, they each decided to essentially take this year off in the hope that they can draft a transcended player to be the cornerstone of their respective franchises.
Here is a look at the teams and some of the candidates they could be looking at.
(Note: All of the first round picks these teams have are not set and stone until the NBA Draft Lottery. Current pick projections are based on the odds each team has to win the lottery. Minnesota has the greatest chance, so they are projected to get the number one pick)
1. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Needs: PF, C
Picks: 1, 31, 36 (from SAC)
The Timberwolves will latch on to the earliest opportunity to get a quality big man. They have a huge hole at the four, one that they’ve tried to fill with the likes of Adreian Payne, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Arinze Onuaku, Robbie Hummel, and Kevin Garnett’s corpse. They also have a lot of money tied up to Nikola Pekovic, and with the way the NBA is trending the need for a slow footed post up big is scarce.
The good news, however, is that this is a great year for front-court depth. The consensus top two players are Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns, both of whom are centers by nature and would be welcomed with open arms by Flip Saunders.
While either of the two would fit in well in Minnesota and give them a potential All-Star big, Town has more room to grow into a top option on a playoff team. The decision will be made easier if they decide to keep Pekovic — an option they may have no choice over given his hefty contract and injury history — since Towns’ offensive game is more well-rounded than Okafor’s.
Once it gets to the second round, Saunders can take a shot at some prospects he thinks will bring a specific skill to the team. If front-court depth is still a need, then guys like Jarell Martin and Cliff Alexander could bring toughness, while Christian Wood and Robert Upshaw could bring rim protection. Most second rounders end up in the D-League, and given the current roster the Timberwolves have, it doesn’t look like they have much room for any more developing players.
2. NEW YORK KNICKS
Needs: PG, SG, SF, C
The Knicks are a train wreck across the whole roster. Outside of Carmelo, they need anything and everything.
Phil Jackson made it clear that he is going to spend a lot of money this summer in an attempt to rebuild their roster through free agency. With that in mind, adding the best available player is the priority with their pick.
The Knicks don’t have a choice or flexibility to choose based on need. Okafor’s back-to-the-basket presence would be a great fit for the triangle offense, and while Towns has the potential to be just as good, the Knicks don’t have the luxury of being patient as Towns develops his offensive game.
Jackson has done his homework on D’Angelo Russell, but I doubt he takes the Buckeye unless they fall out of the top two or three.
3. PHILADELPHIA 76ers
Needs: PG, SG, SF, PF
Picks: 3, 35 (from ORL), 37 (from DEN), 47 (from NO), 58 (from HOU), 60 (from GS)
There has been a lot of negative feedback on how Sam Hinkie has run the 76ers team over the last few years. They have made it no secret that they have been deliberately rolling out bad teams and acquiring assets in the hopes of landing a once-in-a-generation superstar. After that, they are content with collecting as many second round picks as possible on non-guaranteed contracts to increase their chances of finding competent NBA rotation players. It’s all about increasing the odds to Hinkie.
Hinkie also made it known in his latest draft and deadline deals that no position is safe when he traded Michael Carter-Williams and budding rookie K.J. McDaniels. If he has the opportunity to maximize an asset and get a return he believes is more valuable, he’s not afraid to pull the trigger.
The center position is the only one not of need for the 76ers, as they have a Rookie of the Year candidate in Nerlens Noel and a potential star in Joel Embiid. Noel was phenomenal in his rookie season after sitting out last year resting his ACL injury, and Embiid played strictly center at Kansas. With the top two players in the draft both being centers, Hinkie has his work cut out for him if he lands the No. 1 pick.
All three of those players (Noel, Embiid and Towns or Okafor) are young who need to develop their games, so it isn’t the worst thing in the world if they have three young centers on the roster. At the very least, they all develop as expected and become valuable trade assets in the near future. That’s exactly what went down in Utah this year when the Jazz realized they couldn’t keep Enes Kanter, Derek Favors, and Rudy Gobert. They chose Kanter as the scapegoat, and the rest is history as Rudy Gobert flourished in the second half of the season as a starter.
Despite being very secretive with their draft plans in recent years, the Sixers have oddly let it leak that they want Emmanuel Mudiay. Based on our scouting report on the point guard, he’d be a perfect fit for the Sixers’ fast-paced offense. As for the plethora of second round picks they have again this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they drafted prospects from overseas. Some international names to keep an eye on in the second round are George Lucas, Aleksandar Vezenkov, Timothe Luwawu, Nikola Milutinov, Guillermo Hernangomez, and Mouhammadou Jaiteh.
4. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Needs: PG, SF, C
Picks: 4 (top 5 protected or to PHI), 27 (from HOU), 34
The Lakers are in the same boat as the Knicks. Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle are expected to return healthy next season, but outside of those two they have a need at every position. Much like the Knicks, they are planning on building through free agency this summer, banking on the “LA Factor” being a reason for stars to come play for them.
The tricky thing with the Lakers is this: they are sitting with the fourth best lottery odds — an 11.9 percent chance to win the No. 1 pick — but their first round pick is owed to the Sixers if it falls to sixth. If two teams jump them in the lottery, they are out a first round pick. While it is highly unlikely this will happen, there is a slight possibility, and it would definitely be a huge setback in their rebuilding plans if they weren’t able to add a young piece to their core.
Assuming they keep the pick, though, I’m sure they would love to have someone like Towns or Okafor, and it is more likely for them to jump into the top two than it is for them to drop out of the top five. Towns would be better fit next to Randle, because Randle and Okafor bring a lot of the same to the table. Both love to post up (albeit on opposite blocks because one is right-handed and the other is left), making it a spacing nightmare.
Jordan Clarkson has been a nice find for the Lakers, but who knows how sustainable his play will be. It isn’t uncommon to see second round guys flame in and out of the league, which is why it is more likely that they take a point guard like Russell or Mudiay with their pick. Russell can also double as a shooter around Kobe or Randle post ups, making him a better fit than Mudiay. We all know Kobe loves to have the ball in his hands, and Russell has the potential to be a floor spacer thanks to his sizzling 41.1 percent 3-point shooting as a freshman.
By the time they pick 27th or 34th, the Lakers are getting into specialists and role players. Shooting is something the Lakers should invest in, as they shot the fourth worst percentage from mid range while also shooting the fourth most mid range shots (that’s laughable). A shooter like R.J.Hunter could be available at 27 for them to draft, as well as points guards like Delon Wright, Tyus Jones, and Cameron Payne.