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What should teams look for in Thursday's draft? Our shopping list details the projections and needs of all 30 squads.
2014-15 Finish: 16-66, last in West
1st Round Picks: No. 1
2nd Round Picks: No. 31 and No. 36
It’s weird to say a 16-win team has a ton of talent, but Minnesota features recent first-round picks all over the roster. As long as they don’t trade out of their current position, the Wolves will become the first team in NBA history to field three straight No. 1 overall picks, as forwards Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett arrived in last summer’s Kevin Love trade. Add uber-athletic youngsters Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine, who respectively flashed brilliance behind oft-injured veterans Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio at center and point guard, and there’s some potential.
Minnesota’s biggest needs are at power forward and shooting guard. There’s some question whether 39-year-old Kevin Garnett will be in uniform or the front office next season, and Bennett has been one of the more underwhelming former first overall picks in recent memory, so there are minutes to be had at the four. Likewise, injuries cost two-guard Kevin Martin half a season on the back nine of his career, and midseason addition Gary Neal becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
All that being said, the consensus top-two players in the draft are both (essentially) 7-footers, and Flip Saunders will select Karl Towns or Jahlil Okafor rather than reach for Kristaps Porzingis or D’Angelo Russell to fill a need. Minnesota has reportedly promised the pick to Towns, which makes sense, since his ability to shoot from distance and defend athletic forwards in tandem with Kentucky’s centers allows Saunders to play him in a frontcourt with Dieng or Pekovic. And who better to mentor the defensive-minded Towns than KG, one of the game’s great hybrid bigs?
The Wolves could then use their two early second-round picks to address needs, as picks 31-40 are expected to include a number of power forwards (Cliff Alexander, Christian Wood, etc.) and shooting guards (J.P. Tokoto, Pat Connaughton, etc.). However it shakes out, Saunders further builds depth on a youthful roster with the idea that enough darts thrown at the draft board will result in a bull’s-eye or two.
2014-15 Finish: 30-52, 12th in West
1st Round Picks: No. 7
2nd Round Picks: No. 57
In many ways, the 30-win Nuggets have more roles to fill than the 16-win Wolves, since all three of their eight-figure salaried players are question marks. After a knee injury cost him the entire 2013-14 season, Danilo Gallinari may never live up to the four-year, $42 million contract he signed three years ago, although he showed signs of resurgence in the final quarter of his penultimate season on that deal. Kenneth Faried didn’t meet lofty expectations after a brilliant summer for Team USA and a four-year, $50 million contract extension. And Ty Lawson’s off-court concerns haven’t curtailed two years into his own four-year, $48 million deal. As a result, all three have appeared in roughly seven zillion trade rumors over the past year.
Rookie center Jusuf Nurkic’s production (13.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes) was apparently all the Nuggets needed to send Timofey Mozgov packing for Cleveland in exchange for a couple of future first-round picks. Arron Afflalo also fetched a future first-round selection, but left the Nuggets with a massive hole at the shooting guard position. In essence, there’s nobody on the current roster standing in the way of GM Tim Connelly drafting the best player available at No. 7.
The Nuggets have enjoyed success developing foreign-born talent in recent years, including Gallinari, Nurkic, Mozgov, Evan Fournier and Kosta Koufos, so they may be less hesitant than other teams to nab Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay or Mario Hezonja — the three riskiest projected top-10 picks. (Or even two of the three if Denver succeeds in its alleged attempt to send Lawson to Sacramento for the sixth pick).
As for pick No. 57, which comes from the Clippers and puts a cap on a 2009 trade involving the immortal Cheikh Samb, Denver will be taking a flyer from a position that rarely pans out, so the “best player available” mantra applies once again.
2014-15 Finish: 38-44, 11th in West
1st Round Picks: No. 12
2nd Round Picks: Nos. 42 and 54
Once the Jazz traded Enes Kanter to free up the middle for Rudy Gobert, they owned the league’s top defense by a significant margin in the second half of the season and posted one of the NBA’s best records after the All-Star break, so don’t expect anybody to be swiping the starting center position from the Stifle Tower.
Likewise, Utah has longterm commitments everywhere on the roster. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks all signed hefty extensions, and as long as Burks recovers from season-ending shoulder surgery, all three should be key cogs again. In the backcourt, Dante Exum, Trey Burke and Rodney Hood remain on rookie contracts and will eat another significant portion of the team’s 240 minutes a night.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has decisions to make on his frontcourt bench rotation, as Jeremy Evans becomes a free agent and Jack Cooley, Trevor Booker and Elijah Millsap are all on non-guaranteed deals. There should be plenty of opportunity to find backup bigs where they’re drafting. Someone from the group of Frank Kaminsky, Willie Cauley-Stein, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles and Bobby Portis will be there at No. 12, and another crop comes around when they pick again at No. 42. And if multiple bigs aren’t their bag, the Jazz can bolster their backcourt with one or both of their second-round picks as security should their current young crop not pan out.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 Finish: 45-37, ninth in West
1st Round Picks: No. 14
2nd Round Picks: No. 48
As long as Kevin Durant returns to form following his foot surgery, the Thunder expect to be legitimate title contenders in 2015-16. Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are all back in the fold for one more run, and there will be more urgency than usual, since the former MVP enters unrestricted free agency next summer. So, Oklahoma City will be looking for someone who can help win now, and who better to evaluate productive college talents than recently hired coach Billy Donovan?
OKC GM Sam Presti has decisions to make on newly acquired restricted free agents Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler, both of whom could help in a championship run. The Thunder have 13 guaranteed contracts before signing those two, including depth at every position, so Presti either must trade picks or make a deal to clear roster space.
Wisconsin senior Frank Kamisky might be the most NBA ready player in the draft, but he’s often projected to be off the board before OKC’s pick rolls around. Badgers teammate Sam Dekker is an intriguing option, since a) his three years in college should help ease the transition to the pro level and b) he could be a contingency plan down the road if the doomsday scenario of Durant departing ever occurs. Other established collegiate players like Cameron Payne, R.J. Hunter and Bobby Portis could be options should Presti want to bolster depth at another position.
The Thunder have little use for their mid second-round pick, so taking a chance on a foreign player they can stash overseas for a season or two (Arturas Gudaitis, Nikola Milutinov, Cedi Osman, etc.) might be their best option if they keep the pick.
Portland Trail Blazers
2014-15 Finish: 51-31, fourth in West, lost in first round
1st Round Picks: No. 23
2nd Round Picks: None
The Blazers could be among the teams most affected by free agency. Only four players currently own guaranteed contracts from Portland. All-NBA forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the biggest question mark, while key contributors Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Afflalo also can sign anywhere come July 1.
Regardless of who GM Neil Olshey expects to lose this summer, the Blazers can use depth at every position, even at point guard, where All-Star Damian Lillard and veteran backup Steve Blake are both signed through the 2015-16 season.
Portland won’t find a legitimate starter for a team hoping to win 50 games again, so using the No. 23 pick on anybody but the best player available would be a mistake. The hope is whoever falls to them — a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Justin Anderson, Montrezl Harrell or Kevon Looney —helps now and develops into a starter later.
Read Ball Don't Lie's other 2015 NBA Draft shopping lists: Pacific Division
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