Need doesn’t play into the NBA draft as much as it does in that of other major sports, but there’s certainly a place for needs-based drafting near the top of the lottery.
For the teams lucky (or unlucky) enough to find themselves with a top five pick, positional needs are often scattered across their depth chart. But for many of the franchises selecting later in the draft, drafting often becomes about big value and high-reward selections.
For teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, this year’s draft will be a mix of both strategies. This may be the ideal year to have multiple first-round selections given the lack of elite talent at the top of the class.
Let’s take a look at how the first round of this year’s NBA draft may shake out, highlighting a few selections that feature a player who fills a major need for his future NBA team.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
Noel won’t be an immediate starter for the Cavs, but not because of a lack of talent. After suffering a devastating knee injury last season with Kentucky, he’ll likely need some extra time to repair and recover.
But when the athletic shot-blocker returns to the court, Cleveland will be in position to field four-fifths of an All Star-caliber lineup. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiter and Anderson Varejao (along with Tristan Thompson) are excellent complements to a player who can be the glue to hold the Cavs’ defense together.
Even with exceptional scorers like Ben McLemore and Otto Porter available, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland passing on a dominant frontcourt defender with the first overall pick. He fills a need and has all the potential to be a difference-maker for a young, developing squad.
2. Orlando Magic: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
The Magic are in a terrific situation at No. 2. They could certainly use a center like Noel to make up for the loss of Dwight Howard, but landing McLemore would be a welcomed consolation prize.
3. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
Otto Porter is the kind of lengthy perimeter scorer the Wizards desperately need to play alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. He moves well without the ball and does nearly everything at a high level.
With Wall and Beal already in place, Washington has a chance to augment an already potent group of perimeter scorers with the addition of Porter. He fills a big need and has the NBA readiness to prove it in his formative years with the team.
UNLV’s Anthony Bennett may also be an option here (if Washington is looking for more positional versatility), but Porter is too good a fit for the Wizards to pass up.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV
Beggars can’t be choosers, especially at the top of the lottery. Charlotte has a ton of needs, and any number of players can fill one of them.
At No. 4, the Bobcats can opt to select the best player on their board. There’s a good chance that player’s name is Anthony Bennett.
5. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Victor Oladipo wasn’t on the NBA radar prior to last season with Indiana, but his tremendous performance throughout the year will likely now land him in the top five picks of the 2013 draft.
The swingman plays terrific defense and has an excellent three-point shot—both of which will benefit a team that finished 26th in scoring defense and 28th in three-point percentage this season.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
Trey Burke put together a tremendous 2012-13 season in which he averaged 18.6 points and 6.7 assists at the helm of Michigan’s offense. If New Orleans hopes to turn things around next season, it will have to take advantage of value and select the best player on the board at No. 6.
7. Sacramento Kings: C.J. McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh
It’s hard to get a feel for C.J. McCollum’s positional fit at the NBA level. He’s a tremendous shooter who can create his own scoring opportunities, but at 6’3”, he won’t match up well with many NBA two guards at the defensive end. He also has limited versatility as a point guard and his passing skills need some work.
That said, the Lehigh product is an exceptional scorer who can offer Sacramento some versatility. McCollum needs to develop more as a passer, but it’s not hard to imagine the combo guard logging a lot of minutes in his rookie season, regardless of which team drafts him.
8. Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Detroit has some pieces in place to be a true contender in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons. But if the Pistons hope to bridge that gap in the near future, they have to add some scorers who can lighten the load for Brandon Knight.
Muhammad didn't quite live up to expectations this season at UCLA, but he did put together a nice campaign worthy of a top selection in the NBA draft.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
The Timberwolves are in desperate need of a long-range shooter, but there aren’t any guards who warrant a selection at this point in the lottery. Instead, Minnesota can add a pro-ready big man with the upside to be a key component at both ends of the floor in the next few seasons.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Alex Len, C, Maryland
If Portland is unable (or unwilling) to retain J.J. Hickson, it will have to consider adding another big man early in this draft. Even if Hickson sticks around, he isn’t a pure center who can limit opponents’ frontcourt at the defensive end.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Philadelphia may be better off letting Andrew Bynum walk in free agency. If the oft-injured big man isn’t around in 2013, the 76ers must have a plan in place to augment their frontcourt, even if that means reaching a bit to obtain a center in this draft.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
Russell Westbrook’s absence in the playoffs was ultimately what derailed a tremendous Oklahoma City season. If the Thunder hope to avoid similar issues in the future, they have to focus on adding depth behind their stars.
13. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany
Dallas’ backcourt is in desperate need of a boost. With many of the top domestic guards already off the board, German point guard Dennis Schroeder may be the Mavericks’ best option.
14. Utah Jazz: Shane Larkin, PG, Miami
Like Dallas, Utah needs to rejuvenate its corps of guards. Shane Larkin’s size may be a bit of a concern for teams drafting earlier in the lottery, but his athleticism and leadership ability more than make up for his diminutive stature.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke
Depth at point guard and shooting guard certainly wasn’t an issue for the Bucks this season. While Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick may not all return next year, Milwaukee doesn’t need to add more clutter to its backcourt.
16. Boston Celtics: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
The Celtics aren’t just one piece away from championship contention anymore. If Boston hopes to regain its spot atop the Eastern Conference, Danny Ainge has to find some value in the draft and begin adding talent from top to bottom.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Atlanta will likely be in the throes of a major overhaul this offseason. But regardless of who stays and who goes, the Hawks still need to find a suitable center to lock down the paint at the defensive end.
Gorgui Dieng is a lengthy shot-blocker who also has some polish at the offensive end. There are big men still available with more upside, but Atlanta needs someone who can play an immediate role in its rebuild.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston): Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
With back-to-back picks in the first round, Danny Ferry may ultimately choose to package his selections to move up for an impact player. If he stands pat, however, expect the general manager to use on his two selections on a high-upside perimeter scorer like Archie Goodwin.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Rudy Gobert, C, France
It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Cavs double up on big men in the first round, especially with Noel potentially missing the opening weeks of the season. Considering Anderson Varejao’s injury toubles, Cleveland needs to continue adding depth to its frontcourt.
20. Chicago Bulls: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
Derrick Rose’s absence exposed Chicago’s inability to put up points without its superstar on the floor. If the Bulls hope to field a more potent offense—even when Rose returns—they will need to first add some depth at the guard positions.
21. Utah Jazz: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan
The Jazz could easily double up on guards in the first round. Their backcourt needs that much work.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is a high-upside selection here, too. With tremendous length and an ever-developing outside shot, he’ll be in position to log immediate minutes for the Jazz in 2013.
22. Brooklyn Nets: Erick Green, PG/SG, Virginia Tech
This pick is all about depth for the Nets. Without a dominant big man on the board, they can opt to add another talented scorer to their backcourt with the versatility to see time at either point guard or shooting guard in relief of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
23. Indiana Pacers: Lorenzo Brown, PG, N.C. State
Lorenzo Brown is a terrific passer who can add some depth behind George Hill. He’s not a high-level scorer (like Indiana could certainly use in its backcourt), but Brown is a solid on-ball defender who fits the Pacers’ system.
24. New York Knicks: Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Dario Saric has lottery potential, but he’s also a bit of a liability at the defensive end. New York doesn’t need an immediate starter at any position, though, and Saric could be the kind of project player the Knicks would love to develop for the future.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Tony Snell, SG, New Mexico
There isn’t much Los Angeles needs at this point. With plenty of depth at nearly every position, the Clippers won’t be under much pressure with the 25th pick.
Tony Snell would give them another high-upside scoring threat, though, and this is about as far as he’s likely to last in the first round.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis): Deshaun Thomas, SF, Ohio State
Deshaun Thomas may be the closest thing to a perimeter scorer that Minnesota can find at this point in the draft. He’s not the lights-out shooter Ricky Rubio needs to open things up, but Thomas certainly has the ability to find the bottom of the bucket.
27. Denver Nuggets: Giannis Adetokoubo, SF, Greece
Denver will likely be without Danilo Gallinari for part of the 2013-14 season. In hopes of augmenting some of his production, the Nuggets can select a talented forward with a ton of potential.
28. San Antonio Spurs: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
Tim Duncan won’t be around forever. Hopefully the Big Fundamental will stick around for a couple more seasons while Jeff Withey continues to develop, though. He may not ever be a high-upside big man, but the Kansas product certainly has the defensive prowess and high motor to benefit from playing behind Duncan for a while.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sergey Karasev, SG/SF, Russia
The depth continues to pile up for the Thunder.
With the addition of Michael Carter-Williams earlier in the round, Oklahoma City can continue adding some complementary pieces who can make things a lot easier on its talented scoring combo.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami): C.J. Leslie, PF, N.C. State
After selecting a perimeter scorer with their first pick, the Suns can go in another direction with the final selection of the first round.
C.J. Leslie doesn’t have an exceptionally high ceiling, but he’s the type of physical frontcourt defender who can log some minutes right away and set the tone at the defensive end.