Needs: SG, A big to pair with Karl Anthony Towns
The Timberwolves are in the envious position of having Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and Zach Lavine with which to construct a team around. On the flip side, they’re in Minnesota, which means all things being equal, free agents are probably going to sign someplace a little warmer. The Timberwolves, perhaps more than any other team, have to rely on the draft to build a winner because to do so through free agency would require overpaying even more than what free agency typically requires. They’ll have money to spend, but it’s likely going to be difficult in a buyer’s market to land a big fish. So, with that said, the 5th pick becomes that much more important. The T-Wolves have hit big in the draft before with Towns last year, but have also bungled a few along the way (drafting two point guards in the 2009 draft before Steph Curry went off the board). This year there seems to be a consensus when it comes to what the Timberwolves will do when they are on the clock. Most mock drafts feel that Jamal Murray would be the pick assuming he is still on the board. He simply fits what Minnesota needs at the moment. He is much more shooting guard than point guard, but can handle the ball well enough to allow Rubio to play more off the ball and open up the defense with his cutting. A more solid, less explosive version of Zach LaVine. Murray also would provide them with some added shooting and could develop alongside the team’s young group of players. As an added bonus, he should fit in Minnesota’s locker room as he would be joining Wiggins, another Canadian who it’s likely he’ll be playing alongside on the Canadian Men’s National Team for years to come, and Towns a fellow former Kentucky Wildcat. However, what happens if Murray were to go off the board prior to pick number 5? Buddy Hield would seem to be an obvious choice or they could select Dragan Bender if he’s available as well. They also could look to add a little bulk to their front line to help Towns down low by selecting, or trading down to the 8-11 range for Damontas Sabonis or Jakob Poeltl, as both seem to be a bit of a reach at 5. Regardless of how the top four picks go, Minnesota should be able to fill a need come draft night.
Needs: A difference maker
Picks: 7, 15, 19, 53, 56
The Nuggets are a team that has good players, but not great players. They just can’t seem to get over the hump to become a winning franchise lately. You want young talent? They have Emmanuel Mudiay who, while erratic, has shown flashes of being a bigtime point guard. Nikola Jokic finished third in rookie of the year voting behind Towns and Kristaps Porzingis and looks to be a building block for the franchise. Despite injury problems, there is also still hope that Jusuf Nurkic can rebound to become a really solid player for them as well. However, the team around them just doesn’t fit. Danilo Gallinari is only 27, but it’s starting to become concerning that his body is not up to the rigors of an NBA season. Kenneth Faried, despite his youth and all-NBA motor, has fallen out of favor in Denver. Wilson Chandler is 29 and missed all of last season due to injury. Luckily for them, the Nuggets have a chance to hit the reset button here and build the team they want. If they can follow last year’s good draft with another this year they could be back on the path to contention. Three top 20 picks could net them some players ready to step in and play from day one next season. At seven, they have a roster to take the best talent that falls to them. Some options include players such as Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Marquese Chriss, or Domantas Sabonis. It may seem odd for a team like Denver to take a boom or bust prospect like Chriss or Labissiere, but with three top twenty picks they can afford to swing for the fences a little more than other teams. At 15 and 19 it’s likely they could look at players such as Denzel Valentine, Malachi Richardson, Malik Beasley, or Damian Jones. Look for French swingman Timothe Luwawu to be in the mix for them as well as they have a strong track record with his agency. With the roster they have set up, the only position I would be shocked to see them use a pick on in this draft is point guard. Although, if Kris Dunn somehow magically fell from the sky and was there at 7, things could get interesting as the Nuggets would have to choose between the consensus best player on the board at a position they appear set at, or filling a need.
Needs: Guards, depth
Picks: 12, 42, 52, 60
The Jazz were the last team left out of the playoffs in the tough Western Conference and quite frankly, it could go either way for them moving forward. They could be the team that slides into the bracket next season or they could end up taking a Phoenix-like fall in the standings next year. Here’s betting on the former. They have Rudy Gobert, who may be the most imposing shot contester in the entire league anchoring the paint and skilled forwards such as Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors around him. However, their guard play is underwhelming at times. Rodney Hood who gives some hope, Shelvin Mack, Alec Burks, and Trey Burke are the top four guards from last year’s team and Dante Exum will return alongside them. However, is that enough fire power in the backcourt to sustain their improvement? The problem is that with where the Jazz pick, there doesn’t appear to be any great matches in terms of guards that could step in and play for them right away, which means they likely will look for the best player available. A player such as Washington’s Dejounte Murray would provide a lot of upside, granted they wouldn;t see much in the short term. Since power forward seems to be the most loaded position in the draft, looking to add talent at the position at 12 probably makes the most sense. they should probably opt to build depth. Some interesting possibilities include Poeltl, a Utah product, or Labissiere as a project. Forwards such as Brice Johnson or Domantas Sabonis, if he fell to them, could make a lot of sense as well.
Needs: A scoring big
Credit Damian Lillard’s emergence into a superstar and CJ McCollum’s vast improvement for the team’s surprising season. The Trailblazers lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Will Barton, and the best player they add is Al-Farouq Aminu and they somwhow only lose 7 more games. Sure, McCollum played like every game this season was against Duke and Lillard was, well, Lillard, but this team was not expected to be where it ended up this season. After an offseason where they hemorrhaged talent they topped the (injured) Clippers in the first round and took a game from the Warriors in the second round. It doesn’t appear as though they will be adding much if any talent through the draft this year as they don’t currently own a pick. However, what they do have is money and a point guard to draw in free agents with. This offseason will be about seeing if they can land Lillard a third running mate that could help propel the team deeper into the playoffs. Mason Plumlee had his moments, but got exposed some in the playoffs. With Lillard and McCollum in the back court, virtually every other position could be an area to be addressed this offseason. They’ll have to deal with the restricted free agency of Meyers Leonard, but this team is in a good position moving forward, even if their roster as currently constructed doesn’t look the best on paper.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Durant to stick around
The Thunder have a guy you may have heard of named Kevin Durant that happens to be a free agent. When looking at OKC’s team needs, there really truly is only one need right now: Durant to resign, and that appears to be the likely scenario. If KD indeed returns, the Thunder immediately return to their status as title contenders. They very nearly topped the Warriors in the conference finals with him, after all. If, however, he leaves, the Thunder would obviously take a giant step back, as so much of what they do is centered around him. Russell Westbrook is a phenomenal player in his own right, but what makes the team so special is having both of them. In addition, let’s say Durant leaves. What, then, keeps Westbrook from following him out the door after next season to join a team such as the Lakers? Simply put, this offseason could be the one that leads to titles for the Thunder, or just as easily could be their dooms day. Now, there’s a chance that this is all hyperbole and even if Durant leaves they sign a really good replacement and remain a conference front runner (or they don’t sign a replacement and Westbrook goes all Damian Lillard on us and carries the team on his shoulders). They have no draft picks, and assuming they retain Durant, cap space won’t exist for them. So, the Thunder, despite coming up short in the playoffs, are going to be desperately hoping for the status quo this offseason.