As opposed to other leagues that have much longer drafts, the NBA Draft is just a two-round affair which means more often than not that “best available” trumps “area of need.” Teams can still look to fill holes via the draft, but it’s more likely that they’ll use free agency to do so. Ahead of Thursday’s draft here’s a look at what area (or areas) each team will look to address, and whether or not that can be accomplished via the draft.
The post focuses on the West, which stands to undergo a significant amount of change this offseason thanks to the Anthony Davis trade and Golden State’s injury issues. You can find the Eastern Conference post here.
Dallas Mavericks (2018-19 record: 33-49)
Needs: Rebounding, point guard, front court depth
The Mavericks don’t have a first-round pick, as it was included in the Luka Doncic/Trae Young deal made last June. While Doncic has the ball in his hands quite often as the Mavericks’ primary playmaker, there will still be a need to add at least one point guard to the roster this summer. If that player is comfortable playing off the ball at times, it would represent a good fit for Dallas given the presence of last year’s lottery pick. With the team’s lone pick in this draft it is possible to address the need for front court depth, as Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith will both be restricted free agents this summer.
Kristaps Porzingis, who was acquired from the Knicks in January, is close to full strength after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. He’ll also be a restricted free agent, but the expectation is that he and the Mavericks will agree to a long-term deal. Dallas needs to address the team’s rebounding and rim protection, and in the draft Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford are two prospects that could be available when the Mavs come up at pick number 37.
Denver Nuggets (54-28)
Need: A power forward capable of stretching the floor
Denver’s 54 wins were the most in a season for the franchise since the 2008-09 season, which fell in the middle of a run of ten consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance. This year ended a five-year dry spell, and with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way it’s highly unlikely that the Nuggets find themselves on the outside looking in anytime soon. But there are areas in which the team can improve, and one would be adding a stretch big to the roster. Paul Millsap, who shot 36.5% from three and made 0.8 three-pointers per game this season, was solid playing alongside Jokic but the team has a decision to make there.
Millsap’s team option for next season is worth $30.1 million, and the Nuggets have until June 29 to decide whether or not to pick it up. In May Nuggets team preside Tim Connelly expressed his desire to have the veteran forward back next season, but will it be at that $30.1 million price tag? Or will Denver look to work out a deal with Millsap that pays less annually, thus freeing up more money to use in free agency? Either way free agency is where the Nuggets are going to be most active, as the team does not have a draft pick.
Golden State Warriors (57-25)
Picks: 28, 58
Free Agents: Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Jonas Jerebko, Kevon Looney, Andrew Bogut (unrestricted; assuming here that Durant opts out of his deal); Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook, Damion Lee, Marcus Derrickson (restricted)
Need: Bench depth
The Warriors’ quest for a third consecutive title fell short, as Toronto won the NBA Finals in six games. And Steve Kerr’s team had to battle both the Raptors and the injury bug in the finals, with Kevin Durant coming back in Game 5 from a calf injury, only to rupture his right Achilles tendon, and Klay Thompson suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during the third quarter of Game 6. Both players, who will also be unrestricted free agents (if Durant opts out of the final year of his deal) this summer, face lengthy rehab periods. As a result of Durant and Thompson’s situations, and the amount of money the Warriors have already spent in keeping the core together, the two draft picks at Bob Myers’ disposal are of high importance.
Golden State needs to improve the depth, and not just by adding warm bodies capable of cheering on their teammates from the bench. The Warriors need to add productive bench options, and with the first round pick it is possible that they land an experienced rookie capable of being that kind of player immediately. Free agency will also be an area in which Golden State can bolster the bench, beginning with current Warriors such as Kevon Looney (unrestricted free agent) and Quinn Cook (restricted).
Houston Rockets (53-29)
Needs: Wing shooting, interior depth
The offseason thus far has been anything but smooth for the Rockets, with the majority of the roster reportedly available via trade as Daryl Morey looks to put together a core capable of making a run in the West. Outside of the pending free agents Nene has yet to decide whether or not to pick up his player option, but even if he returns the Rockets will need to add depth in the post.
The more pressing need is perimeter shooting, preferably a three-and-D wing (or wings) capable of playing off of James Harden offensively. With the departure of Trevor Ariza that was a role the Rockets never seemed to fill, and that would ultimately be a factor in the team’s demise. Houston has no draft picks to use, making free agency and the trade market the only areas in which they can address these issues.
Los Angeles Clippers (48-34)
Picks: 48, 56
Needs: Front court depth, wing shooting
The Clippers were one of the NBA’s biggest surprises last season, as Doc Rivers’ squad won 48 games and pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs. Of the players set to be free agents Patrick Beverley is the most important. He’s a high-level defender who can also lead young guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet and Jerome Robinson as they continue to develop into quality rotation players.
Team president Lawrence Frank will have two second round picks to work with in Thursday’s draft, and they can address the needs of front court depth and perimeter shooting on the wing with those selections. JaMychal Green, Wilson Chandler and Ivica Zubac will all hit the market on June 30, with the first two being unrestricted free agents. But free agency for the Clippers will begin with one name: Kawhi Leonard, who’s fresh off of leading the Raptors to the franchise’s first NBA title. The Clippers did a lot of work throughout the course of the 2018-19 season to position themselves to make a run at Leonard, and those moves also set the current team up for success. Will that be enough to persuade Leonard to return to southern California? We’ll see.
Los Angeles Lakers (37-45)
Needs: Depth, point guard, perimeter shooting
The Lakers no longer have a pick in this draft, as the fourth overall selection will be included in the Anthony Davis trade when that’s completed. Los Angeles gave up a lot in the deal when taking into consideration the players (Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram) and draft picks headed to New Orleans, but Davis is much better than any player the team could have possibly selected had a trade not been made.
Given how much work GM Rob Pelinka will have to do in free agency in order to fill out a roster that’s headlined by Davis, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma, it’s highly unlikely that L.A. will look to get back into this draft. It’s all about free agency now, and in addition to addressing the point guard spot the Lakers need to sign some capable perimeter shooters as well. It’s yet to be determined just how much money the Lakers will have to use in free agency, with that figure dependent upon when the trade is completed and whether or not Davis decides to waive his trade bonus.
Memphis Grizzlies (33-49)
Needs: Point guard, perimeter shooting, interior depth
The Grizzlies have just one pick in the draft, and the general consensus is that Murray State point guard Ja Morant will be the choice. And that move makes sense, as he’s an electric playmaker capable of either getting his own or setting up his teammates. With the Grizzlies in the midst of a rebuild that should be led by Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., last year’s lottery pick, where does that leave veteran point guard Mike Conley? On the trade market most likely, as he was (along with former teammate Marc Gasol) made available in February but ultimately stayed put.
With Gasol winning a championship in Toronto, one has to imagine that Conley would prefer to move to a team where he can go after a title instead of stick it out in Memphis for another season. And it’s been reported that Utah has expressed interest in acquiring Conley, and he’d be a good fit alongside Donovan Mitchell. Boston, which has some uncertainty to address at the point guard position with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier both being free agents, is another team to keep an eye on. Either way, Conley has a player option for the 2020-21 season and it’s likely in Memphis’ best interest to trade him. In return the team should look to add some perimeter shooting and post depth, as the Grizzlies have multiple big men that will be free agents this summer including Jonas Valanciunas and Joakim Noah.
Minnesota Timberwolves (36-46)
Picks: 11, 43
Needs: Perimeter shooting, front court depth
A new era began in Minnesota this spring, with Gersson Rosas being hired to lead the team’s front office. One of this first decisions was to remove coach Ryan Saunders’ interim tag, with the young coach taking on the task of improving a team that underachieved last season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will lead the way on the court, and in order for that tandem to be successful the Timberwolves need to improve the talent around those two. Perimeter shooting is one area that needs to be addressed, as Minnesota ranked 19th in the league in three-point percentage last season (they were 24th in two-point field goal percentage).
The other area the Minnesota needs to address is the team’s front court depth, as Taj Gibson will be an unrestricted free agent. The return of Robert Covington, who played in just 22 games after arriving in Minnesota via the Jimmy Butler trade due to injury, will certainly help in that regard. But if the Timberwolves can add another athletic front court player who doesn’t necessarily need a lot of touches on offense, that would go a long way towards improving the rotation. Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, who showed the ability to defend either forward position last season, merits a long look from the Timberwolves for this reason.
New Orleans Pelicans (33-49)
Picks: 1, 4, 39, 57
Needs: Perimeter shooting, rim protection
The Pelicans will have a much different look next season, as Anthony Davis will be traded to the Lakers come July 6. In return New Orleans gets Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and multiple first-round picks, including the fourth overall pick in this week’s draft (L.A. will make the pick on New Orleans’ behalf). Obviously Zion Williamson will be the pick when the Pelicans pick first overall, but what will New Orleans instruct the Lakers to do with the fourth overall pick? That spot in the draft is a tough one, as many only project the top three (Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett) to be the potential difference-makers in this class.
Does New Orleans look to move this pick in exchange for an experienced option, which would better position the team to make a run at a playoff berth? Or does the team keep the pick, adding another talented young player to the rotation? It was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic on Monday that the team is monitoring the status of Wizards guard Bradley Beal, even though the Wizards have said in the past that they hope to rebuild around the All-Star shooting guard. Perimeter shooting is a need that New Orleans needs to address this offseason, as both Ball and Jrue Holiday shot less than 33% from three last season, and adding some rim protection will be key as well. There’s no Davis patrolling the paint anymore, and when it comes to the front court depth unrestricted free agent Julius Randle could be moving on as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33)
Needs: Perimeter shooting, interior depth
Oklahoma City won 49 games this past season, but with a first-round exit at the hands of the Trail Blazers it’s understandable if people look at the year as a disappointment. Paul George was playing at an MVP level before he suffered the first of his two shoulder injuries, and they’ve been addressed already via surgical procedures. And Russell Westbrook had arguably the worst season of his career from a shooting standpoint, so while he did manage to once again average a triple-double 2018-19 could have been better from a production standpoint.
As for the needs of this roster, perimeter shooting sticks out especially when considering how much Westbrook and George have the ball in their hands. Oklahoma City’s supplementary players struggled in this area during the Portland series, and it’s an area where the Thunder have to get better if they’re to improve their standing in the West. Adding a 3-and-D wing capable of consistently hitting perimeter shots would be optimal, and there should be some solid options available when the Thunder are on the clock at 21st overall. Front court depth is another area to address in the offseason as Nerlens Noel has a player option, and even if he does opt in the Thunder need to get better behind starting center Steven Adams.
Phoenix Suns (19-63)
Picks: 6, 32
Needs: Point guard, front court shooting
With two quality young players in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to build around, the Suns have a clear need to address this summer: point guard. Last season’s crop of lead guards underwhelmed, at times leaving Booker to take on the responsibility himself, and this year’s draft class set up perfectly for the Suns to do that. The the lottery happened, with Phoenix landing the sixth pick after going into the process with just over a 52% chance of landing in the top four (14% chance of winning the lottery).
So instead of Ja Morant being available, the Suns will likely be choosing between Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White if they aim to fill the point guard role in the draft. Garland played in just five games last season due to a torn meniscus, but he’s back to full strength and according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony will be working out for the Knicks (who pick third) on Wednesday. Another area of need for the Suns is front court depth/shooting, especially with wing Kelly Oubre Jr. set to be a restricted free agent and Josh Jackson still yet to develop a consistent jump shot. The Suns need a lot of help as Monty Williams begins his tenure as head coach, but the point is the most important area for the team to address.
Portland Trail Blazers (53-29)
Needs: Interior depth, wing scoring
One season after getting swept by New Orleans in the first round, Portland reached the conference finals for the first time since 2000. The ending wasn’t great, as Golden State won the series in a sweep, but the Trail Blazers led each of the final three games by double digits before losing. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum remain the leaders, and Portland also awaits the return of center Jusuf Nurkic as he recovers from the fractured leg he suffered in late March. Two areas the Trail Blazers will need to address this summer are depth in the post, and scoring at the forward positions.
Rodney Hood’s role as a bench scorer was of even greater importance during the postseason as Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless (who dealt with knee issues for most of the season) both struggled, but he and Aminu will be unrestricted free agents. Also set to hit the open market is Enes Kanter, who was of even greater importance to Portland once Nurkic suffered his injury. Shooting-wise Seth Curry will also be an unrestricted free agent, but the need for Portland will be greater at the forward spots than in the backcourt.
Sacramento Kings (39-43)
Picks: 40, 47, 60
Needs: Center, 3-and-D wing
The Kings, who made noticeable strides last season, have a new head coach in Luke Walton and the question now is whether or not this young group can take another step forward. De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles are all key figures in the team’s rebuild, but the center position will need to be addressed this offseason. Willie Cauley-Stein will be a restricted free agent, but if he returns next season the Kings will need more production from him when it comes to rim protection. The 7-footer has averaged less than one blocked shot per game each of the last three seasons, but he did establish new career-highs in both rebounding (8.4 rpg) and steals (1.2 spg).
Be it Cauley-Stein or another center Sacramento will need to add a player capable of making things tough on opponents around the basket. Another area to address will be the wing, where Sacramento could stand to add a 3-and-D player. Harrison Barnes has decided to opt out of the final year of his deal, but the general belief is that he'll sign a multi-year deal with the Kings. Even if Barnes' situation plays out in that fashion, picking up a young wing capable of contributing as a spot-up shooter and defender would be a good move for the Kings to make.
San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Picks: 19, 29, 49
Needs: Front court depth, wing shooting
Thanks to the Kawhi Leonard trade the Spurs have an extra draft pick to work with, as they’ll be picking 19th and 29th in the first round. Of the players due to be free agents this summer Rudy Gay is the most important, as he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.1 three-pointers per game with shooting splits of 50.4/40.2/81.6. Given the fact that San Antonio’s two best scorers (DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge) tend to avoid the three-pointer, adding another capable shooter on the wing is something the team could look to do via the draft.
Another issue to address is the team’s depth in the post, as there wasn’t much in the way of scoring from the power forward/center positions beyond Aldridge. The 19th pick may be where San Antonio looks to add a wing, although center Goga Bitadze could be on the board at that point. As for the 29th pick the Spurs can go in a variety of directions, including big as there should be some solid young post options available at that point. Also, it should be noted that one of the team’s biggest offseason additions will be the return of Dejounte Murray, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Utah Jazz (50-32)
Picks: 23, 53
Needs: Point guard, interior depth
While Utah has done well to reach the playoffs in each of the two seasons after Gordon Hayward left via free agency, on both occasions Houston eliminated the Jazz. Donovan Mitchell is one of the game’s brightest stars and Rudy Gobert the NBA’s best rim protector, but in order for Quin Snyder’s group to take the next step they need to get their star guard some help on the perimeter. It’s been reported recently that the Jazz are very much in the running for Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who was rumored to be a target at the trade deadline in February. If Utah were to get a deal done, it’s likely that the team’s first round pick will be part of the package headed to Memphis. If not, there will still be a need to address the point guard position with free agency being the more likely avenue used to do so.
Ricky Rubio isn’t a priority for the Jazz at this point, which is understandable given the fact that the team needs more scoring at the point to take some of the pressure off of Mitchell. Another area Utah needs to address is the team’s front court depth, with Derrick Favors’ future with the team yet to be decided. Utah has until July 7, the day after the free agency moratorium comes to an end, to decide whether or not to guarantee his salary for the 2019-20 season ($16 million). It may take some time for a decision to be made, as Utah has been reported to be interested in making a run at free agent Tobias Harris when free agency begins.