Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Talent in general
Picks: 6, 16, 18, 35, 36, 55
The thing about rebuilding the way the Thunder are doing, is that there’s not much they can’t use. They have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a foundational piece, but he’s versatile enough to play multiple positions, as can Lu Dort, and so they have the freedom to pick whoever and whatever they want with their roughly 100 draft picks that they own. With 6 picks in this draft, it’s unlikely they select 6 players, so expect the Thunder to be wheeling and dealing on draft night. It’s clear based off of their current rebuild state and their excessive cache of picks that they are committed to building their roster through the draft. With the 6th pick they are right on the edge of the top tier of players, and could land a player like Jonathan Kuminga or James Bouknight to build around. However, they could use some combination of the 6th, 16th, and 18th picks (and possibly dip into their treasure trove of future picks) in an attempt to move up if one of the teams ahead of them is willing to move down. Generally you can look back at what a team did last season or who they’re losing and come to some conclusions about what the team should focus on in the offseason. But with the team tearing it all down, and missing players for large chunks of the season, it’s difficult to even know what the Thunder will value when constructing this team. It may even depend on who they land with the 6th pick. If the team is committed to playing Aleksej Pokusevski, they will likely look to add an inside player that has a bit more muscle to play alongside him to prevent Pokusevski from being subjected to mismatches he just can’t possibly hold his own in. Ultimately, OKC will likely be going for best player available and figuring out the roster fit later since they aren’t likely to be contenders anytime soon. The team does have around 50 million in cap space available, but I would expect them to utilize that in trades instead of going out and signing major free agent acquisitions.
Needs: Guard depth, Power forward
The Nuggets were one of the top teams in the West last year and had the MVP in Nikola Jokic. However, they lost the war of attrition in the playoffs as they just ran out of guards. Jamal Murray, the team’s second best player, went down with a significant knee injury, tearing his ACL in the playoffs. Will Barton was out for much of the playoff run with his own injury issues and is now a free agent. Monte Morris, Facu Campazzo, and Austin Rivers are players that can play important roles on good teams, but they can’t be a team’s three primary guards if the team wants to have a deep playoff run. They played well, but the Nuggets needed more. With Murray’s recovery expected to last into this upcoming season and it being uncertain how much he will be able to do when he does come back, it will be important for the Nuggets to find some more guard depth to protect against a fate similar to this past season’s. They still have Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. as well as Aaron Gordon who is on an expiring contract. They will need to find a long-term solution to their power forward spot. That could be as simple as resigning Gordon, or they could look to bring in another player that could fit playing the 4 beside Jokic. They don’t have much in the way of cap space for this year as they are up against the cap, but at pick 26 they could find a guard that could play important minutes for the team. Alabama’s Josh Primo, (pictured) Florida’s Tre Mann, Tennessee’s Jaden Springer, Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Baylor’s Jared Butler, and Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi are all potential options when the Nuggets are on the clock, and there is very little chance that all of them get picked before Denver cal select one of them.
Needs: Point guard, athleticism
The Jazz were the top team in the regular season and bring back almost all of their players from last season. The exception to that is point guard Mike Conley. They’ve got experience playing without him as he only played 51 games for them last season, but the team is certainly better with him on the roster. I would expect them to push to resign him and keep the band together another season as they showed they are good enough to be one of the top teams in the association as currently constructed. They lost in the playoffs to the Clippers, but that shouldn’t be enough to make the team give up on their vision. The squad is already over the salary cap, so they can’t go out and land a top shelf point guard in free agency, so the decision to bring Conley back should be an easy one. Assuming they bring Conley back, their plan on draft night should be to add some athleticism in the frontcourt to help them matchup with more explosive teams. It’s difficult for Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic to match up with athletic wings and while they have Gobert backing them up, it could benefit the team to add somebody such as Isaiah Todd, Texas’ Greg Brown, or Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. You could also see them look to add a wing player such as Alabama’s Herbert Jones to use as a defensive stopper and to hopefully slow down players such as Paul George that the Jazz currently don’t have a great matchup for defensively.With the 30th pick a point guard like Gonzaga’s [Player Joel Ayayi] or Auburn’s Sharife Cooper appear to be solid options.
Needs: Dame Lillard to stay
The Blazers need Damian Lillard to want to stick around, because if they can’t convince him to stick around, it won’t matter what they get back in a trade package for him, they won’t be nearly as good as they have been. The thing is, they need a resolution (whether by trade or Lillard buying in) soon so that they can commit to a direction for the franchise. There would be nothing worse for the team than trying to add pieces to entice Lillard to want to stick around only for him to force his way out after the Blazers commit to salary for future seasons. If he is committed to staying, Portland has to make some roster moves to fill in their holes and do everything they can to make the team a championship caliber contender. However, if Lillard is hell bent on leaving, the Blazers have a favorable cap position moving forward as Lillard would be off the books (hopefully replaced by young players and draft picks) and CJ McCollum would be the only major contract on the books after next season. Obviously keeping Lillard is the ideal situation, but what Portland has to ensure is that they end up in some no man’s land where they lose Lillard and their salary cap flexibility.
Needs: Rebounding, shot making, defense
I’m honestly unsure what the plan is in Minnesota. Usually, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s possible to see what a team was trying to do. With Minnesota, that’s difficult to do. They pay a lot of money to be a bad basketball team. Karl-Anthony Towns is the best player on the roster by a wide margin, but there are very real questions about his defense and ability to lead a team. D’Angelo Russell is a quality piece, but he shouldn’t be a second best player on a good team. They got Anthony Edwards last year and he showed some real flashes, but battled inconsistency. This is a team that is on the books for 131 million in salary this upcoming season, traded away their first round pick for this season, and yet still won only 23 games this past season (one more than an OKC team that is actively dismantling their team to build for the future). Minnesota seems to think they can rebuild without using the Philadelphia / OKC method, so if they are going to try to fix this on the fly, they have some issues that need to be resolved. They were the 29th ranked defense in the league, so they need better defenders and better rebounders to finish off defensive possessions. Then they need to address the fact that they are extremely inefficient offensively, shooting 44.8% (26th in the league) from the field. Without cap space or draft picks, it would be in Minnesota’s best interest long-term to sell off pieces to cut salary, add picks, and start actively trying to rebuild the roster. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, and if they keep trying to just throw pieces together instead of starting over, it could be a long time before they end that drought.