Needs: Rebounding, ball movers, defense
Picks: 3, 23, 43
Portland was a big winner in the draft lottery process, jumping up to #3, allowing them to get one of Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson should they choose to keep the pick, or move the right to draft one of those two players if the right deal comes along. Questions continue to circle the team regarding whether they will keep Dame Lillard in Portland, but I haven’t seen enough to make me think that they are ready to move on from their franchise scoring leader. If they were to opt to trade him, it becomes a full on rebuild in Portland. Until then, they are going to try to find the right blend of talent to put around him in order to become a contender in the Western conference. The thing is, they need a lot. Jerami Grant is a good fit beside Dame as a guy that can defend multiple positions, can do a lot of different things on the court, and doesn’t need the ball in his hands in order to impact that game. After that, they have a bunch of question marks. Anfernee Simons has been a good player for them, but he’s another guard that is very high usage, doesn’t move the ball especially well, and is offensive oriented. Shaedon Sharpe showed some promise as a slasher and finisher, but remains young and still has a lot of growing to do as a player before he’s a starting caliber player for a contender. The team has been looking to move Jusef Nurkic for what feels like forever now, but don’t actually have an above average replacement for him on the roster. In short, the team is a mess, and needs to nail this offseason before they waste another year of having Lillard on the roster. If they keep the pick, Scoot Henderson seems like he would be an interesting fit. While he’s also a point guard and would likely shift Lillard to more off-ball duties, he could provide more of a physical defensive presence while also being a playmaker that focuses on facilitating in open space created by playing next to a guard of Lillard’s level. If they opt to trade the pick, they very likely could include Simons alongside it and look to get an immediate impact player. The problem is, how many of those players are out there and available? Bradley Beal is said to be available, the Pelicans have refuted rumors that Zion Williamson is in play, and it seems unlikely Boston would trade away Jaylen Brown when the Celtics are in win-now mode. On top of the draft, they have decisions to make on Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle, who are both restricted free agents. Essentially, Portland may have to choose between trading away Dame (unlikely), settling for another young player to plug into the rotation (very likely), or making a deal that isn’t actually enough to help them get to the level they want to be at, but placates Lillard into not trying to force his way out of town eventually (also pretty likely).
Needs: Perimeter defense, depth
Picks: 9, 16, 28
Utah nailed the start to their rebuild. They fleeced the Timberwolves so bad in the Gobert trade that the entire front office should be charged with theft, and the Donovan Mitchell trade netted them Lauri Markannen, who became the league’s Most Improved Player and a 25 and 8 guy. Are they contenders right now? No. But to have pieces like Markannen and Walker Kessler to build around, plus all of their incoming picks, they could find themselves challenging for a playoff spot in short order. They have three first round picks this offseason, and two of them are in the top 16. They would be well served looking for perimeter defenders to bolster their lackluster defense (23rd defensive rating in the league). Because they have Kessler behind them, defenders can be aggressive on the perimeter, so if Utah were to add someone like Kentucky’s Cason Wallace, it could help them force more turnovers and get easy looks in transition. Bilal Coulibaly of France could be an interesting pick up and someone that would fit their timeline as well. Gradey Dick, and Taylor Hendricks are real possibilities as best talent available, long term plays. They also have some cap space, but look for smaller deals to fill out the roster with complementary pieces as opposed to a big splash, as they will look to build slowly and with a solid foundation as opposed to rushing a rebuild that is already off to a good start.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Needs: Size/Strength inside
Picks: 12, 50
Oklahoma City surprised a lot of people last season by contending for a playoff spot despite not having the services of second overall pick Chet Holmgren. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the step to All-NBA caliber player, and their other rookie, Jalen Williams, looked like a building block for the future. With Shai, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and Williams on the perimeter, this team has the perimeter play to be a tough out in the playoffs for years to come. If Holmgren can be what they expect him to be, this team could be a contender for more than just a playoff spot in the very near future. The one thing they truly are missing is a strong post player to protect players like Holmgren and Aleksej Pokusevski from being pushed around. They will likely look to fill that need through free agency, with someone such as Andre Drummond, Thomas Bryant, Dwight Powell, or even bringing Mike Muscala back. If they look for it in the draft, Trayce Jackson-Davis from Indiana could fill the need or even Dereck Lively from Duke (although he isn’t a perfect fit for that particular need). Ultimately, I expect the Thunder to select the best available player when they select at #12. Gradey Dick of Kansas, Kobe Bufkin of Michigan, and Nick Smith are all players that could fall in that range. Expect this team to rely more on the growth of their young talent that making any splashy additions this offseason.
Needs: Keep the team intact
Picks: 37, 40
The Nuggets are fresh off their first ever NBA Finals win, and look to be in good shape to contend for more over the next few years. Nikola Jokic has the type of game that should age gracefully, and they run an offense that takes advantage of their players’ strengths. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon are all back, and really, if the Nuggets could bring every rotation player back from last season, they likely would. Bruce Brown can be a free agent and could very well command more than the Nuggets will be able to give him. If he leaves, they will need to find someone to play his role. That could be simply increasing Christian Braun’s minutes, but they would likely want to add another rotation caliber wing. Jeff Green is also a free agent, and they will likely look to retain him. If not, they will need another versatile frontcourt piece. In a perfect world, that would be Zeke Nnaji taking a step forward, but likely they will be looking for someone new to come in if Green departs. On the bright side, as the champions, veterans will likely be willing to take less to join them, and Jokic is the type of star that others are interested in joining. In the draft, they have two second round picks, and while it’s unlikely this year’s second round picks will play a major role for this team, I could see them targeting players such as Olivier-Maxence Prosper of Marquette, Adama Sanogo of UCONN, Sidy Cissoko of the G-League, and maybe even Jalen Pickett of Penn State. Ultimately, after winning the title, Denver will be looking to bring as many pieces back to attempt to repeat and filling in any gaps that arise. Don’t expect any trades beyond the one they made with OKC during the Finals to net them a first round pick in next year’s draft.
Needs: Point guard, forwards
Minnesota messed up last offseason. Like, they really messed up. As the league has moved towards more small ball and emphasizing perimeter play, the Wolves decided to zig as the rest of the league zagged. They gave up an ungodly amount to get Rudy Gobert, and now are paying him and Karl-Anthony Towns a combined 77 million dollars. That’s 77 million for two centers when the salary cap is set at approximately 134 million next year. Towns is more perimeter oriented, but the pairing has not looked great together so far, and playing two centers together clogs up the paint for Anthony Edwards, who is at his best when he’s attacking the rim. In addition, they have Mike Conley running the point, and as he’s getting older (and is on an expiring deal next season) they must find a replacement point guard soon. There have been rumblings about Towns potentially being targeted by different teams around the league, but there are questions about how far you can go with him as your best player. So now the Wolves are in a situation where they have very little in terms of draft assets to fix their team because their drafts run through Utah for the foreseeable future, and they don’t have cap space (not that star players are known to flock to Minnesota anyway), and so their only real option is to continue to enjoy mediocrity or trade away the few valuable players they have left to try to build around the anchor that is Rudy Gobert. If they go point guard hunting in free agency, they could look at bringing back Pat Beverley, trying to lure Russ Westbrook with a larger role, or take someone like Coby White who has not panned out in Chicago. They also need forward help, and there simply isn’t much out there this offseason, so it might come down to hoping Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels, and Towns can hold down the forward spots until the team is in a better spot to rebuild or they blow it all up via trade. This is a team that swung for the fences last season. Unfortunately for them, not only did they not hit a homerun, they basically fouled the ball off their own foot, breaking it, and now they are hobbled for the future.