Needs: Towns or Okafor to be a star
Picks: 1, 31, 36
With the draft lottery in the books, Minnesota simultaneously finds itself in both the best and arguably most unenviable situation leading up to the draft. On the one hand, they hold the number one overall pick which gives them the right to select either Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. It’s not every year that there are two big men in a draft that so clearly project to be difference makers at the NBA level. They do it in different ways, but Minnesota will have the opportunity to decide which type of big man they would like to add to their young group of players. Towns represents a player with gobs of potential who excels on both ends of the court and should develop a nice pick and pop game. Okafor, on the other hand, is more of a throwback big man who, despite his current defensive limitations, should be an Al Jefferson type player that controls the post and allows the team to play through him.
The idea of having either of those two players sounds appealing to any franchise. At the same time, the Wolves have struggled to claw their way back to relevance since the days of KG, Sprewell, and Cassell, and the fan base is getting antsy. They look like they are on the right track with young players such as Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Shabazz Muhammad on the roster. This brings us to the conundrum that you can only accumulate so much young talent before the team is expected to win, and Wiggins, Rubio and Towns/Okafor puts them up against that metaphorical line. On the flip side, you don’t see many teams experience a great deal of success with a team as young as the Wolves will be the next handful of years. They really need to nail this first pick and let their group of young players gel in to one cohesive unit together. If that happens, and a few things break their way, they could turn the franchise around in a hurry.
With their 2nd round picks (31 and 36) they could continue with their UCLA Bruin success by targeting a defensive minded 2-guard such as Norman Powell.
Picks: 7, 57
The Nuggets were an absolute mess last season. They fired their coach, had everybody on the team miss at least 5 games, and all but 4 miss ten or more. The Nuggets lineup was constantly being mixed and matched and it made it extraordinarily difficult to get any sort of traction over the course of the season. They have Ty Lawson manning the point guard position, but he isn’t a player that a team can rely on to carry them to the postseason by himself. If Danilo Gallinari can stay healthy, and Jusuf Nurkic continues to develop, the Nuggets will have some pieces that could be useful on a winning team. They also have Kenneth Faried, but don’t seem married to a future with him on the roster. With the team sitting at pick 7, the draft could go in a number of different directions. It’s safe to assume that they won’t be looking to go with a center at 7, and with Lawson in the fold and no point guards projected in that area of the draft, point guard is off the table.
The Nuggets could look to fill a spot on the wing with somebody such as Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, whose size and strength would complement Lawson’s quickness. They could also go for somebody like Justice Winslow, who isn’t afraid to do all of the little things that don’t show up in a box score. European wing Mario Hezonja is also a player with a great deal of intrigue and potential. He would likely offer more offense than Stanley Johnson. There are a lot of options for Denver, and those options could change once the team settles on their head coach for next season. They really need to nail this pick if they want to make it back to the playoffs any time in the near future. The team doesn’t seem willing to dedicate to a full rebuild, but if they don’t hit on the seventh overall pick, they may have no choice, forcing them to move on from Lawson and Gallinari.
Picks: 12, 42, 54
It was easy to overlook with them never seriously looking like contenders for the playoffs, but the Jazz were one of the top teams in the entire NBA after the All-star break last season. Rudy Gobert has blossomed into the type of defensive anchor every team in the league would like to have. Favors has begun to become the player the Jazz had hoped he would become when they traded for him. Hayward has become a stellar wing, and the trio of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, and Dante Exum make for a talented trio of guards. Are they good enough to be contenders right away? No. But if they can add depth (whether by getting a quality player to bring off the bench or by landing a starter with the 12th pick and pushing one of the aforementioned players to a seat beside the coaching staff,) they will be even closer to making the playoffs. The Jazz aren’t the most talented team in the division, and they don’t appear to be in a position to have a huge offseason, but they obviously have a plan for what they want the team to be, and it’s working for them. Sam Dekker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Bobby Portis, or even Kevon Looney could be excellent fits for the Jazz at 12. They need somebody who can score the ball, but does more than just score. The Jazz need a versatile player that will be able to fit alongside their existing players without having a negative effect on the chemistry they developed late last season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Shooting guard, Depth
Picks: 14, 48
The Thunder suffered an inordinate amount of injuries last season, including injuries that forced Russ Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka to miss considerable time. Even with that being the case, they were one Anthony Davis double pump, buzzer-beating three from reaching the playoffs. How many teams could have handled everything they dealt with last season and still come that close to playing in the postseason in the Western conference? The Thunder replaced Scott Brooks with Billy Donovan, and will now have the chance to add a lottery pick to their stable of star players. Oklahoma City will be looking to win next year to remind Durant of all the reasons he should stay in OKC. The 14th pick could net the Thunder a shooter like Devin Booker who fits Donovan’s style (and was recruited by him when Donovan was at Florida), Oubre (also recruited by Florida and has a nice shooting stoke), or somebody like Frank Kaminsky, who could play either "big" position alongside Ibaka or Steven Adams. Or they could even look to add Kaminsky’s teammate, forward Sam Dekker, who has NBA readiness, and has proven to be a big game performer.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the core of this team (Durant and Westbrook) staying together, so making a big push to win now makes a lot of sense. The team struck gold with the addition of Enes Kanter, but his break out play for the team did not go unnoticed by the rest of the league and his market value has skyrocketed. So he is just one more tricky piece they’ll have to fit into their cap situation moving forward.
The Thunder are in a solid position to improve a team that was already in the discussion as one of the top teams in the NBA and a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. It’s rare to see a rookie head coach come into the association and have a great deal of success, but Donovan should be able to lead this team to a deep playoff run behind Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka, Kanter. Their lottery pick is one of the few lucky enough to be joining a contending team, and if they choose wisely, they’ll add a player that can provide immediate dividends.
Needs: LaMarcus Aldridge to stick around, Talent in general
Not all that long ago, things looked really bright for the Trailblazers. This franchise has been snake bitten in the last few years. Greg Oden’s injury woes were closely followed by Brandon Roy’s career ending injury, and finally, Damian Lillard came along and breathed life into the organization. Unfortunately, that excitement has begun to wear away. Rumors are swirling about LaMarcus Aldridge possibly leaving this offseason as a free agent and Nicolas Batum has regressed the past two seasons. Wes Mathews also went down with a major injury last season and the Blazers faltered down the stretch, losing to Memphis in the first round. With the team seemingly at a crossroads, it’s important that they have a big offseason. Ideally, that scenario has them bringing Aldridge back. If not, they will have money to spend in free agency, but that will be their only real method to stay competitive next season. Because of the way the season started for them and the fact they made the playoffs, they will be picking 23rd in the draft this season. With that pick, they’re looking at coming away with somebody such as Montrezl Harrell, Delon Wright, Rashad Vaughn, or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. At this point in the draft, it’s hard to say what a team will do. It will most likely come down to the classic draft trope: the best player available. Whoever the best player is left on the board will likely become a Blazer.