Raphielle Johnson

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Western Conference Draft Needs

Thursday, June 7, 2018

With the 2018 NBA Draft a little more than two weeks away, it’s time to take a look at what needs each team has to address with its draft picks. In the Western Conference the goal of 14 teams is to put together a roster capable of unseating the Golden State Warriors, a franchise that appears to be on its way to a third NBA title in the last four seasons. Houston, which took the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, has plenty of talent and there are other teams in the West not far off from contending. There also teams that are in the midst of a rebuild, as they look to get into a position where simply making the playoffs is a realistic goal.

Below are thoughts on what areas each Western Conference team needs to address in this year’s draft.

Dallas Mavericks (24-58)
Picks: 5, 34, 54
Need: Front court building block

Franchise staple Dirk Nowitzki will be back for his 21st season, and Dallas needs to account for the fact that eventually he will retire. The Mavericks added a key building block to the mix last summer by drafting point guard Dennis Smith Jr., and this time around the team is in a spot on the draft board where it could land a gifted player who can slot into Nowitzki’s role once the future Hall of Famer calls it a career (and play alongside Nowitzki next season). Adding a forward who can score both inside and out would be the best move for Dallas, when it comes to the franchise’s future beyond 2018-19. While that would be the preferable move, adding a big who doesn’t have range out to the three-point line wouldn’t be a major problem either. Having three picks to address the need for front court depth should help the Mavericks, and they’ll need that lottery pick to be a player the team believes without a doubt it can use as a major player as the rebuild continues.

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Denver Nuggets (46-36)
Picks: 14, 43, 58
Need: Point guard

The Nuggets, who finished a game out of a playoff spot, have some good perimeter pieces to build with in Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. However, there’s a need to improve the team’s depth, especially with Devin Harris and Will Barton both being free agents this summer. Murray can handle some of the point guard responsibilities moving forward and improving the depth at that spot is something Denver will need to do if they’re to build on the positive momentum gained this season. Denver’s first round pick is in a spot where guards and wings are expected to be plentiful, and with two second-round picks the team can address the need for perimeter depth even further. Taking a shot on a developmental big man, especially one who may need to remain overseas next season, could be in play at number 58 but adding players to the perimeter may be the best course of action for Denver.

Golden State Warriors (58-24)
Picks: 28
Need: Front court depth

While the majority of the team’s most important players have been taken care of contract-wise, with Kevin Durant expected to re-sign with the team this summer, the bench does need to be addressed. The Warriors have a host of contracts due to come off the books July 1, and while teams like Golden State can take a measured approach in filling out their roster due to the desire of players to join a title contender, landing a player via the draft who can contribute as a reserve would be a good idea. One step was taken in this direction towards the end of the season as Quinn Cook played well enough to earn a contract that’s guaranteed for the 2018-19 season. However, with Nick Young, Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney, JaVale McGee and David West all due to be free agents, the Warriors’ lone pick in this draft becomes of even greater importance. What the team can also do is purchase a pick from another team to get a player they really value, as they did last year when acquiring Jordan Bell from Chicago.

Houston Rockets (65-17)
Picks: 46
Need: Wing depth

The Rockets have just one pick in this year’s draft, and in discussing what the team should address at number 46 it should be noted that free agency will have a far greater impact on the direction of the franchise. Chris Paul will be an unrestricted free agent, as will wings Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, Joe Johnson and Gerald Green. Whether or not the Rockets manage to land an elite wing in free agency, the team is in a spot where getting a young option at a decent price wouldn’t be a bad idea. The emphasis here would be on a “3-and-D” guy, as Paul (should he re-sign with the Rockets) and James Harden will remain the team’s primary ball-handlers. Being comfortable offensively without seeing much of the basketball outside of catch and shoot situations will likely be a key for whichever wings the Rockets either add or re-sign this summer. Nevertheless, Houston could also go the “draft and stash” route with the 46th pick to keep some money clear in preparation for free agency.

LA Clippers (42-40)
Picks: 12, 13
Needs: Point guard, athletic big

With Chris Paul being traded last summer and Blake Griffin meeting the same fate in January, two-thirds of the Clippers’ “big three” was gone before the All-Star break. That left DeAndre Jordan, who on July 1 will have the ability to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent (which is expected to be the case). The possible loss of Jordan means that the Clippers will likely need to use one of their two lottery picks on a big man, preferably one who’s highly athletic and can have an impact defensively. Point guard is another area the team needs to address, and if the Clippers can land a guard who can both initiate offense and occasionally play off the ball (Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic both have player options this summer), that would be even better. This franchise could have a much different look once free agency concludes, and the draft gives Jerry West and Lawrence Frank an opportunity to begin charting that course into the future.

Los Angeles Lakers (35-47)
Picks: 25, 47
Need: Front court depth, talent

Given the number of contracts coming off of the team’s books July 1, the hope amongst the Lakers faithful is that the franchise can reel in at least one elite free agent this summer. But even if that were to happen, team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka need to improve the team’s front court depth, especially with Julius Randle set to become a restricted free agent. Brook Lopez and Channing Frye, who combined to count for just over $30 million of the Lakers’ cap space this season, both come off the books, and Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant have contracts for next season that are not guaranteed. While front court depth is one concern, adding a quality shooter to the mix wouldn’t be a bad idea either as the Lakers were the second-worst three-point shooting team in the NBA. Whichever direction the Lakers go with their two picks, the team needs to get players who can both supplement a superstar and help with the rebuild should LA strike out in free agency.

Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
Picks: 4, 32
Needs: Talent/guard depth

A good percentage of Memphis’ cap space is being taken up by three players: Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol, with that triumvirate combining to count for more than $78 million against the cap for next season. Given the contracts coming off of the books this summer the Grizzlies will have some room to make additions, but they need to improve the depth of talent on this roster. With the fourth overall pick, a disappointment since Memphis had the second-best odds of landing the top pick heading into the lottery draw, the team is in a spot where it should have its pick of multiple talented front court options. What the team will also need to address is its perimeter depth, as Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers will be unrestricted free agents and the contracts of Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden are not fully guaranteed (Harrison is guaranteed $100,000). While the big men are the headliners at the top of the draft, the late-first and early-second sections could be dominated by perimeter players and that could work well for the Grizzlies at pick number 32.

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Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
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