Biggest Need for Every NBA Lottery Team in 2018 Draft
Just as a refresher, so you can see who moved up and who moved down, every team’s chances of landing the No. 1 pick leading into the draft lottery will be presented in parentheticals.
14. Denver Nuggets (0.5 Percent): A Wing
The Denver Nuggets are ready to win now, and they need another wing. There probably won’t be an impactful one available at the tail end of the lottery, so this could be a trade-down spot. At the same time, the Nuggets won’t have a ton of cap space to work with if they plan to max out Nikola Jokic (team option) and re-sign Will Barton over the summer. Wilson Chandler (player option) could also decide to explore the market either way.
Rolling the dice on someone like Kevin Knox makes the most sense. He’s a combo forward, but they can hope he’ll get by at the 3 spot with his offensive range. They could also try flipping him as part of a bigger package that gets them the truer small forward they don’t currently have on the roster. Their overall small forward rotation placed 19th in point differential per 100 possessions this past season.
13. Los Angeles Clippers (0.6 Percent)
12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons) (0.7 Percent): Big Man and Defensive-Minded Wing
Dual picks alert!
The Los Angeles Clippers will select in back-to-back spots thanks to the agreement they struck with Detroit Pistons in the Blake Griffin trade. Though they likely won’t net a game-changer, they can hope to land a rotation player or two with these selections. They could also try to combine them and trade up the draft board or cobble together a more enticing package for an established name.
If the Clippers hold onto both of these picks, though, they should be thinking about a wing and a big man. The former is an obvious need; every team in the league could use more wings. But their rotation in that department is made up of Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, C.J. Williams, Sam Dekker, Sindarius Thornwell and an overpaid Danilo Gallinari. That doesn’t exactly spell good times.
Plus, Rivers, Johnson and Dekker (restricted) will be ticketed for free agency next summer. Gallinari will then follow suit in 2020. They need a wing of the future who packs a defensive punch without harshing their floor balance.
Drafting a big might feel redundant with DeAndre Jordan and Boban Marjanovic on the docket. But Jordan will turn 30 in July and has a player option for next season. Marjanovic will be a free agent in 2019. They need some sort of insurance policy—especially with next year’s pick set to end up with the Boston Celtics if it falls outside the lottery.
11. Charlotte Hornets (0.9 Percent): Point Guard
The Charlotte Hornets’ need for a point guard is unconditional. They’ll need one in the event they elect to start over and trade Kemba Walker. And for the record, they should absolutely do this. They’re capped out to the moon and back, and he’ll see his $12 million salary double when he reaches the open market in 2019.
Selecting someone like Collin Sexton or Trae Young is a hedge against dealing Walker elsewhere. They won’t come in and immediately pilot an above-average offense, but they’re at least building-block material.
In the event the Hornets hold onto Walker, they still need another point guard. They scored like the NBA’s worst offensive team whenever their All-Star floor general caught a breather this season, according to NBA.com. They experienced a nice uptick during their Walker-less minutes after the All-Star break, but they need a secondary ball-handler to ensure they don’t devolve into a stagnant mess when running second-stringers.
Malik Monk could be that player in due time, but he barely played this year. It’s unclear how high the Hornets are on his ceiling. Nicolas Batum is supposed to be that player, but he’s just not. He’s better when working alongside a buffer—hence the Hornets’ need to sniff around the point guard market even if they keep this core intact.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Los Angeles Lakers) (1.1 Percent): Playmaking Wing
After Markelle Fultz, last year’s No. 1 pick, appeared in fewer than 15 games as a rookie, the Philadelphia 76ers can flirt with the idea of drafting another point guard. At least one of Sexton or Young should still be available at this spot, and they could use more spacier options at the 1, since neither Fultz nor Rookie of the Year favorite Ben Simmons nor T.J. McConnell is an accomplished shooter.
Still, a playmaking wing feels like the way to go. The Sixers should pounce on a three-and-D type like Mikal Bridges if he’s available. Many believe he’ll be one of the five best players in this draft, yet he’s consistently dropped outside the first seven in mock projections.
If he’s off the board, the Sixers should still be thinking swingman. The Justin Anderson experiment isn’t working, and he doesn’t profile as a shooter. Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot is still so raw. J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli are free agents. Robert Covington saw his efficiency plummet in the postseason. The list goes on and on.
So while the Sixers could wind up wooing Paul George or LeBron James in free agency, or even trading for Kawhi Leonard, they need to act as if they’re trying to build atop this nucleus. And that starts with targeting a perimeter shooter who can make some plays off the bounce.
9. New York Knicks (1.7 Percent): A Wing
Speculation isn’t necessary here. We’re pulling this need straight from the mouth of New York Knicks team president Steve Mills. He recently said the franchise hopes to select a wing in the draft.
Maybe he was banking on the Knicks moving up in the order. Or maybe he, like many expect, is super high on Bridges. At any rate, he’s right. The Knicks need more wings, preferably ones who play defense. Courtney Lee is their only two-way wing at the moment, and he’s about to turn 32. He’s on an affordable contract, but he no longer fits their competitive timeline.
There will be calls for the Knicks to take Young or Sexton here. They should resist them. They have a backcourt pileup with Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the fold. And though the latter two can play some 3, they still have no use for yet another ball-dominant guard in the rotation.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets)(2.8 Percent): Perimeter Defender
The Cleveland Cavaliers no doubt left the lottery disappointed. This pick is essentially the final ingredient from last summer’s Kyrie Irving trade, and they acquired it under the guise they’d be rewarded with a top-three choice.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. The Brooklyn Nets were a tick better than anticipated, and now the Cavaliers are at No. 8—a pick that’s not nearly valuable enough on its own for them to parlay into a superstar running mate for LeBron James on the trade market.
That’s okay. It can still be used as part of a larger deal. Failing that, they’ll have the chance to draft an athletic wing who stands to help out their sing-crappy defense. Many have Michael Porter Jr., once the consensus No. 1 pick, falling outside the top seven. Both Miles and Mikal Bridges will be available here as well.
Targeting a genuine rim protector is also an option as well. Tristan Thompson isn’t cutting the mustard anymore. But wings are easier to trade—which the Cavaliers must consider as they prepare for LeBron’s free agency—and there won’t be many quality bigs available in the middle of the lottery. Unless Mohamed Bamba plummets down the draft boards, Cleveland should be resigned to taking someone who can help their bottom-three defense.
7. Chicago Bulls (5.3 Percent): A Wing
No team in the lottery needs a wing more than the Chicago Bulls. Denzel Valentine, a should-be combo guard, received ample spin at small forward this past season because they were overloaded in the backcourt. David Nwaba and Justin Holiday are their only real(ish) wings, and Holiday, at 6’6″, is probably best suited defending shooting guards.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they should have their pick of the litter. Luka Doncic won’t be available by this point, but they’ll have access to both Bridges and Porter. They also have the option of trading down and still picking up one of Bridges or Walker while snagging another pick or prospect in return.
6. Orlando Magic (8.8 Percent): Point Guard
If a point guard gets drafted in the top seven of the lottery, it’s because the Orlando Magic took him. Their entire floor general carousel consists of D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack for the time being—and Mack’s on a non-guaranteed salary they could ultimately choose to waive.
Jonathon Simmons, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross can pitch in on the pick-and-roll front. Ditto for Aaron Gordon (restricted). But the Magic desperately need a real playmaker to jump-start their half-court offense after trading Elfrid Payton at last February’s deadline.
The temptation to go best player available will be there, and Orlando isn’t exactly drowning in talented wings. But Trae Young has one of this year’s highest ceilings if his off-the-dribble shooting and passing translates to the NBA. The Magic should be looking around him first.
5. Dallas Mavericks (13.8 Percent): Playmaking Wing
Man, oh man, does this sting for the Dallas Mavericks. They were projected to finsh third in the lottery—prime Luka Doncic territory. But they were instead leapfrogged by both the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings.
Tumbling down two spots probably takes them out of the running for Doncic. He might get past the first and second picks—might. He sure as anything, however, isn’t slipping past the Atlanta Hawks or Memphis Grizzlies after that.
Most will bank on them drafting big if Doncic is off the board. That’s fine. They’ve been after a franchise center for a while, and both Nerlens Noel and Salah Mejri are expected to leave in free agency this summer. But Dirk Nowitzki plays a ton of center now, as does breakout performer Maxi Kleber. Dwight Powell, another option at the 5, is also working off the best season of his career.
Rather than taking Bamba, the Mavericks should consider snaring Porter or even Mikal Bridges here. Their need for a more creative wing than Harrison Barnes is far too great for them to suppress it.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (19.9 Percent): Combo Forward or Big
It will take a small miracle, but Doncic could feasibly fall here, in which case the Memphis Grizzlies should scoop him up. Then again, they have to be realistic. And the reality is he probably isn’t getting past the No. 2 pick.
This will likely leave the Grizzlies to flirt with the idea of taking a combo big, such as Jaren Jackson Jr. or, should he be available, Marvin Bagley III. They’re free to do that. They could use a higher-end JaMychal Green—that big with outside range who can put the ball on the floor and play next to Marc Gasol. Heck, they might even need Gasol’s replacement if they decide to usher in a rebuild.
Reaching for a wing like Porter or Bridges should not be out of the question here, though. The Grizzlies have been searching for a floor-spacing scorer who can hold his own at the defensive end for what feels like forever. Chandler Parsons was supposed to be that guy when they signed him in 2015. He clearly isn’t. Making an over-the-top play for a wing has to be on the table.
3. Atlanta Hawks (13.7 Percent): Best Player Available
The Atlanta Hawks are in a pretty comfy position. They own three first-rounders in this year’s draft and don’t have a gaping hole anywhere. They could use a point guard if they trade Dennis Schroder, but neither Young nor Sexton is worth a top-three choice. Doncic would be a no-brainer here and can orchestrate the offense from one of the forward spots, but he’s not expected to slip past the Sacramento Kings at No. 2.
Marvin Bagley III seems like the most sensible selection. His scoring at the 4 permanently forces John Collins to the 5, where’s probably best suited, and the offensive ceiling on a frontcourt that includes both of them is out of this world—infinitely so if Collins ever knocks down threes in volume at a league-average clip.
2. Sacramento Kings (5.3 Percent): Best Player Available
What a weird spot for the Sacramento Kings to be in. They don’t have a surefire star cornerstone on their roster. It could be De’Aaron Fox, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people who guarantee he’ll have a better career than either Taurean Prince or John Collins will in Atlanta.
And yet, they have prospects at every turn, leaving them with no clear position of need. Point guard is about the only spot they shouldn’t be looking at. There are no floor generals worth a top-two pick in this pool, and again, they have Fox.
Taking Doncic is a safe play for a Kings squad that hasn’t excelled at player development in years past. But if he gets chosen first overall, Sacramento will have an interesting dilemma on their hands: Do they draft another big or biggish player, such as Deandre Ayton, Bagley or Jackson when they already have Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere? Or do they consider looking at Porter, Bridges or the chance to trade down?
1. Phoenix Suns (25 Percent): Playmaking Big or Wings
Point guard would technically be the Phoenix Suns’ biggest hole. But they aren’t taking Young or Sexton here. That would be draft-day suicide.
Besides, if it’s pick-and-roll playmaking they crave alongside Devin Booker, Doncic is their guy. He’s a crafty passer off the bounce, and he even spent time playing for the Suns’ new head coach during his stint with the Slovenian National Team.
This situation gets dicey if they’re looking for a defensive anchor. Ayton would be deemed the pick in that scenario. He’s actually something of a liability right now, but most believe he has the physical tools to be a switchy big who swallows shots at the rim in bunches.
But picking him is not without collateral damage. It would amount to the Suns essentially saying they’re out on one of Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. If they’re not ready to do that, Doncic is the more polished fit.
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