Needs: Shooting, Rebounding
The Timberwolves have all kinds of young talent in franchise cornerstones Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach Lavine. Now, they have the opportunity to add yet another top ten pick to their collection, and they’ll want to make sure that they make the most of this pick. Despite having the salary cap room to add a major piece, it’s somewhat unlikely that they will land a major player through free agency, and you have to imagine that their time drafting in the lottery has to be coming to an end in the near future. Despite the young talent, they have two major weaknesses in their lineup: shooting and rebounding. They were dead last in three point shooting last year and despite Towns being 6th in rebounding per game, the team ranked 25th in rebounding (29th in defensive boards). How bad was it? Ricky Rubio was the team’s third leading rebounder. So this offseason their focus has to be to fix one of those glaring holes. While they’re at it, they need to make a decision on what to do with Rubio. Do they keep him around or do they look to move him? That could very well depend on what happens on draft night. If a point guard they like falls to them, they might be willing to move on from Rubio (although they could opt to do that anyway depending on if they feel Kris Dunn is a capable starting point guard option). If they look for shooting, Malik Monk seems to be a natural fit that could be available at 7. They could also look for a big to play next to Towns in Zach Collins or Lauri Markkanen. There’s one other option that I could see happening as well that would help them fix both issues – a trade down. Minnesota could trade down from 7 for a player and a late lottery pick in order to fix both issues. An intriguing trade could be trading pick 7 to the Nuggets in a deal that would include Kenneth Faried, another potentially under valued player Emmanuel Mudiay perhaps, (not that they are the same, but Chauncey Billups needed a fresh start before his career took off) and the 13th pick. Obviously, there would most likely be other pieces involved, but that basic framework could benefit both teams. The deal could allow the Nuggets to grab a new starting point guard and the Timberwolves would have a power forward to pair with Towns inside. Ultimately, if the Timberwolves can find a way to improve either of their two major issues, this is a team that could be poised for a big jump next season. Or the Wolves could hold pat and grad the top talent on the board with Dennis Smith if he’s there at 7, and let the chips fall into place.
Needs: Point guard, interior defense
Picks: 13, 49, 51
The Nuggets thought they had their point guard of the future in Emmanuel Mudiay in the 2015 draft, but he has struggled mightily since joining the team. Last season he averaged 3.9 assists to 2.2 turnovers per game. In a draft with a lot of talent at point guard, the Nuggets have to hope that they can find a way to land one of the point guards. Unfortunately for them, it would likely require a trade to grab one of them. It may seem crazy to advocate giving up on a player so early in his career, but the Nuggets finished 40-42 as Nikola Jokic became a top tier talent at the center position. Now, they may lose Danilo Gallinari as a free agent, but this is a team that has most of their major contributors under contract for next year. If the Nuggets can land a point guard to make an already potent offense even more efficient, they could jump into the playoff picture next season. However, the draft will give them more opportunities to bolster their interior defense than to add a point guard. Jokic is a stellar big man, but his strengths are primarily on the offensive end. If the Nuggets can pair him with a shot blocker it would help them out considerably. Some options here would include Jarrett Allen of Texas, Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, or even Harry Giles of Duke. Depending on Gallinari’s decision, the Nuggets could also find themselves with enough cap room to make a big move, too.
Picks: 15, 20, 26
On the bright side, the Blazers have just about everybody back under contract for next season and have Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum manning the backcourt. They added Jusuf Nurkic last season and he looked to be the missing piece in the post for a team devoid of solid frontcourt play. However, for the team to regain its form from a few years ago, they need to add talent to the roster. They have three first round picks with which to bolster their roster. All three of their picks are mid-to-late round picks, but they don’t have salary cap room, so these picks are going to be their path to improvement. Luckily for them, that area of the draft has a lot of options that would fit Portland’s needs. TJ Leaf, Kyle Kuzma, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Ivan Rabb are all good options that will likely be available to them. The interesting thing about Portland is that they can take some risks since they have three picks. That makes a pick of Giles interesting as he was originally looked at as a top 5 talent but injuries have moved him down the board. It’s easier to take risks when you aren’t locked into only one pick in a given draft. This makes Portland a real wildcard this year.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Help for Russ
Russell Westbrook had a historic year this past season, that’s no secret. The Thunder weren’t a very good team when you look beyond Russ though, and that’s also no secret. They lack shooting, playmaking, and overall talent around him. He carried the team as far as he could, but ultimately more balanced teams will have little problem winning a series against a one man team. With Victor Oladipo’s extension kicking in next year, they won’t have cap room with which to improve the team, which becomes problematic since making the playoffs resulted in landing only the 21st pick in the draft. It’s tough for a team to recover from losing a player like Durant, but it becomes even more difficult when you don’t get premium draft picks to rebuild the team. The 21st pick could net them a player like Donovan Mitchell of Louisville or Terrance Ferguson, who played overseas last season. Either of those players could add some talent on the wing, but Oklahoma City needs to hope more than anything that Oladipo is able to step up and take on a bigger role for the team next year. The Thunder are in that awkward territory where they aren’t a real threat to contend for a championship, but also have too much talent to bottom out and earn a high draft pick. In the NBA, more times than not, that can result in a team being stuck in mediocrity, and it’ll be up to Sam Presti to ensure he doesn’t waste Westbrook’s best years trying to carry a team to first round playoff losses year after year.
Needs: Gordon Hayward to stick around
Picks: 24, 30, 42, 55
They play slow, they don’t score very much, and on paper, they don’t appear like they should be a great team. Their stats aren’t pretty, but they absolutely lock teams down and get them out of their comfort zone. Because of this, they have had some serious success the past few seasons. Rudy Gobert has become one of the league’s premier big men and the team is built around this slow-it-down, defense first mentality. Even with this though, they need to be able to score points and Gordon Hayward has become that go-to offensive weapon for the team. When they need a basket, they can go to him. If he decides to leave in free agency, they must replace him with somebody that can get buckets for them or they risk taking a major step backwards. However, if they can keep him in Salt Lake City, they can continue building on their success. They have four draft picks this year, including two late round picks. While it’s unlikely they will get major day-one contributors in this draft, they may be able to find players that can come in and fit in to their defense first style. Wesley Iwundu of Kansas State would make some sense here, as would [Player Luke Kennard], or Caleb Swanigan. However, Hayward isn’t their only concern this offseason. If George Hill leaves, they’ll likely want to draft a point guard to develop. Options would include local boy Frank Jackson of Duke or PJ Dozier of South Carolina. Ultimately, it’s unlikely that people look back at this offseason for the Jazz’s draft, but instead it’ll be known as the season they either locked up Hayward or lost him to another team.