The 1 Biggest Need for Every Likely 2014 NBA Draft Lottery Team
With a month left in the 2013-14 NBA regular season, it's high time for teams already knocked out of the playoff race to focus on potential draft prospects.
As March Madness kicks into gear, NBA scouts have their work cut out for them in the coming weeks. Top prospects like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart will have one last opportunity to make a name for themselves before declaring for the NBA draft, which should have scouts salivating.
Most of the likely lottery teams have multiple holes on their roster, so they won't solve all of their problems on the night of the draft. Landing the right prospect will go a long way toward expediting their respective rebuilds, though.
Here, with the help of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com/stats, take a look at the biggest need of every likely 2014 NBA lottery team, based on current roster construction, statistical deficiencies and/or upcoming free-agent decisions.
Teams are organized in order of team record, from worst to best, and are listed regardless of whether they actually hold a 2014 first-round pick.
Milwaukee Bucks (13-55)
Biggest Need: A star to pair with Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Milwaukee Bucks' 2013-14 season might be an unmitigated disaster, but there's at least one bright spot: first-year swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Back in January, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman did a redo on the 2013 draft based on the rookies' performances to that point in the season. The Greek Freak went second in Wasserman's re-draft, behind only Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
Antetokoumpo's per-game averages of 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks might not scream "future superstar," but that's where the eye test comes in handy. He's capable of swatting an opponent's shot on one end, leading a fast break and dishing a no-look behind-the-back pass to a teammate for an easy deuce, as he did against Utah on March 3.
The 19-year-old has already grown an inch since being drafted, according to SI.com's Ian Thomsen, and might not be done there. A medical exam determined he has "the growth plates of a 16-year-old," Thomsen reported, so "he could become a unique 7-foot ballhandling playmaker with the skills to run pick and roll."
In other words, the Bucks hit the jackpot last summer with the 15th overall pick. Now, with virtually zero chance of falling outside the top five of the 2014 draft, Milwaukee must find a second future star to pair alongside Antetokounmpo.
In reality, any of the top three prospects—Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker—could make sense next to the Greek Freak. If the Bucks decide to sell low on Larry Sanders after his disastrous 2013-14 season, they could slide Embiid right in to replace him without batting an eye. Otherwise, the Parker-Wiggins debate will likely boil down to which position they see Antetokounmpo playing in the long run.
Philadelphia 76ers (15-52)
Biggest Need: A No. 1 option on offense
The Philadelphia 76ers intentionally threw this season away, recognizing that the tear-it-down-and-build-it-up method is the quickest route back to relevance for a mediocre team in the NBA.
As such, their offensive statistics are, well…offensive.
Philadelphia ranks dead last in both three-point shooting percentage (.306) and offensive efficiency (98.6 points per 100 possessions). In terms of the latter, the Sixers are more than three points per 100 possessions behind the next-closest squad, the Orlando Magic.
Joel Embiid would be a luxury for the Sixers paired next to Nerlens Noel, as their defense is also a raging tire fire, but offense is the bigger concern. After all, Noel hasn't played a single minute this season, so his eventual debut should help shore up the Philly defense.
Andrew Wiggins would be the ideal prospect for Philadelphia, given his offensive explosion as of late. He's long enough to cause problems on defense, giving him the edge over Jabari Parker in that regard, and he's clearly capable of taking over a game offensively, too.
Orlando Magic (19-49)
Biggest Need: A stud small forward
The Orlando Magic might have the third-worst record in the NBA at the moment, but they're not all that far away from playoff contention, believe it or not.
In Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo, Orlando has a potential backcourt of the future. Given the way Afflalo's long-range shooting complements Oladipo's slash-and-kick game, the Magic should seek to re-sign Afflalo in the summer of 2015 if he declines his $7.5 million player option for 2015-16.
Orlando's frontcourt situation also appears secure for the near future, as both Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris have developed into possible building blocks. Each missed time due to injuries this season, but when healthy, Vucevic and Harris have been two of the Magic's best four players.
That leaves small forward as Orlando's biggest position of need heading into the 2014 draft. Moe Harkless hasn't progressed much during his sophomore season, posting a below-average player efficiency rating for the second straight year, and may be better suited for a sixth-man role with the Magic.
If the lottery holds to form based on team records, Orlando would land the No. 3 pick, which could mean a direct route to Duke freshman Jabari Parker. That would be a best-case scenario for both Orlando and Parker, as he could slide into a complementary role where he wouldn't be relied upon to single-handedly lift his team's offense.
The Magic won't be done there, however, as they'll also have a late-lottery pick via either Denver or New York (whichever is the worst of the two). With that pick, they could target a backup point guard to replace Jameer Nelson, as only $4 million of his $8 million contract in 2014-15 is guaranteed, per Spotrac.com.
Boston Celtics (22-46)
Biggest Need: A backcourt sniper
Last summer, the Boston Celtics decided to vault head first into a full-on rebuild. They shipped Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for a motley crew of rotation players and three future first-round draft picks, including Brooklyn's 2014 first-rounder.
The smoldering wreckage left in Boston was bound to underwhelm in 2013-14, with point guard Rajon Rondo sidelined until January to recover from a torn ACL. Forward Jeff Green failed to step up as a reliable No. 1 option on offense—he's averaging 17.2 points per game, but only shooting 41.5 percent from the field—and no other Celtic is averaging more than 14.2 points per game.
Boston has another year to sort out its frontcourt of the future, as Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are all under contract for the 2014-15 season. Its backcourt, however, won't be so simple.
Avery Bradley will become a restricted free agent this summer, while Rondo's contract expires following the 2014-15 season. If Boston plans on keeping both players around, it would be better suited moving Bradley to the bench and acquiring a long-range sniper to plug in next to Rondo as the starting 2-guard.
Unless the Celtics hit the lottery jackpot, they should go with the best-player-available method for their own first-round pick (likely in the 4-6 range) and target a sharpshooter with their second first-round pick (via Brooklyn). A combo guard like Dante Exum could be a nightmare next to Rondo, while a bruising forward like Julius Randle or Noah Vonleh could slide in nicely next to Sullinger.
If Michigan's Nik Stauskas slides to the middle of the first round, Boston would pounce all over him. Otherwise, keep an eye on UCLA's Zach LaVine, Michigan State's Gary Harris and D-League guard P.J. Hairston as possible targets for the Celtics.
Utah Jazz (22-46)
Biggest Need: A "3-and-D" small forward
Like the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz could be on the precipice of locking up four of their five starting positions for the long run.
Utah signed power forward Derrick Favors to a four-year, $48 million contract this past October, while rookie point guard Trey Burke won't have the chance to reach free agency until the summer of 2017 at the earliest. Even if Utah doesn't sign third-year center Enes Kanter to an extension this summer or fall, he still won't reach restricted free agency until 2015.
Gordon Hayward, who will become a restricted free agent this summer, is the big question mark for Utah moving forward. If another team offers somewhere in the neighborhood of a four-year, $50 million deal in the offseason, would Utah consider matching it with Kanter's extension right around the corner?
The Jazz's willingness to shell out major money for Hayward will dictate their approach to the draft. If they're planning on letting him walk in free agency, they'll hold out hope for some lottery luck, as Jabari Parker could slide in and replace Hayward relatively easily.
Without a gift from the lottery gods, the Jazz would be best suited going with the best-player-available method of drafting and searching for a replacement 3-and-D wing in free agency. Doug McDermott has the sharpshooting down, but his defense leaves something to be desired, while a prospect like Aaron Gordon still has a long way to go on the offensive end.
A starting five of Burke, Alec Burks, Parker, Favors and Kanter could have Utah competing for a playoff spot as early as the 2014-15 season. If the Jazz don't get lucky on lottery night, however, they'd likely be reaching on a Hayward replacement wherever they end up in the draft.
Los Angeles Lakers (22-44)
Biggest Need: A defensive-minded center
The fates conspired against the Los Angeles Lakers this year, with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash sidelined by injuries for most of the season. Their absence doesn't excuse how badly the Lakers are hemorrhaging points, however.
Los Angeles ranks 28th in the league in defensive rating, allowing opponents to score 110.1 points per 100 possessions. The squad also gives up a league-high 48.8 points in the paint per game, according to TeamRankings.com.
Starting center Pau Gasol is the main culprit for the Lakers' defensive deficiencies. Opponents score a whopping 112.2 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the court compared to 106.9 points with him on the bench (a net of minus-5.3), which is the second-worst on-off split in the team's starting lineup.
Chris Kaman, meanwhile, is too busy napping on the bench to give a damn.
If the Lakers get lucky and land the No. 1 overall pick, Kansas center Joel Embiid would be their likeliest choice. He'd provide an immediate defensive upgrade down low to replace Gasol and Kaman, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents this summer.
If Los Angeles stays in the 4-6 range on draft night, combo guard Dante Exum may very well be the pick instead. He told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling earlier this year that having a mentor like Kobe would be his "best option," which sparked concern from at least one NBA executive, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, about him attempting to force his way to LA.
Sacramento Kings (24-44)
Biggest Need: A frontcourt complement to DeMarcus Cousins
The Sacramento Kings will have two competing interests during the 2014 draft.
First, point guard Isaiah Thomas will become a restricted free agent this summer. He recently told SheridanHoops.com's Michael Scotto that he hopes to earn more than the full mid-level exception, which will be $5.305 million in 2014-15, per salary cap guru Larry Coon.
NBA executives don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with that valuation. An Eastern Conference general manager told Scotto that he wouldn't offer Thomas more than $4-5 million per year, while a scout said, "depending on fit with the rest of the team, the most I would give him is the full mid-level exception."
If Sacramento decides to part ways with Thomas and acquire his replacement in the draft, Dante Exum or Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart would be the two most logical candidates. Point guard isn't the only position of need for Sacramento, however.
After locking up DeMarcus Cousins with a five-year maximum extension last fall, the Kings need to find his long-term frontcourt complement. While a bruiser like Julius Randle could provide an extra dose of physicality, Sacramento would be better suited acquiring a power forward who can bang down low or stretch the floor.
Indiana's Noah Vonleh would be the best-case scenario for the Kings barring some lottery luck, but Arizona's Aaron Gordon or Croatian Dario Saric could work well next to Cousins, too.
Detroit Pistons (25-41)
Biggest Need: A solution to the Josh Smith conundrum
The Detroit Pistons made one of the most questionable decisions of the 2013 offseason when they signed former Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal.
With the twin-tower duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond already on board, the Pistons had a potential frontcourt of the future in place even without Smith. Unless they had no intention of matching an offer for Monroe in restricted free agency this upcoming summer, the Smith-Monroe-Drummond threesome was an unmitigated disaster in the making.
Of the 49 three-man units that have played at least 1,176 minutes this season, the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio has the second-worst net rating (-7.9). Only the Philadelphia 76ers' Evan Turner-Thaddeus Young-Spencer Hawes threesome was worse, and both Turner and Hawes aren't on the Sixers anymore.
Detroit thus has a delicate balancing act to manage for its final 16 games. On one hand, the Pistons only have a limited amount of time to make their frontcourt triumvirate mesh before Monroe becomes a restricted free agent. Failing to do so puts immense pressure on the squad's front office to decide whether the Smith experiment necessitates the end of Monroe's time in the Motor City.
However, unless Detroit finishes with one of the league's eight worst records, it must ship its 2014 first-round pick to Charlotte. And with point guard Kyrie Irving potentially sidelined for the rest of the season, per Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Cavaliers could quickly fall below the Pistons in the race for one of those worst eight records.
If the Pistons do decide to cut bait with Monroe this summer, they could slide Smith to the 4 and draft a floor-spacing forward like Doug McDermott to slide in at the 3. As painful as it would be to lose a talented 23-year-old big man like Monroe, it might be the best thing for all parties' future success.
Cleveland Cavaliers (26-42)
Biggest Need: Three-point defense
Like the Sacramento Kings, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be juggling two major competing issues on the night of the 2014 draft.
On the surface, a young, defensive-minded center appears to be the Cavs' biggest need. Anderson Varejao can't stay healthy and only has a partially guaranteed contract for 2014-15, while Spencer Hawes has never been a plus defender and will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
Cleveland signed Andrew Bynum to a partially guaranteed two-year, $24 million contract last summer, but he failed to make it past December without burning his bridges there. After trading Bynum and three future draft picks to Chicago for Luol Deng in January, the Cavs were back to square one when it came to a long-term building block at the 5.
Amazingly, those center woes aren't even the biggest issue plaguing Cleveland at the moment. Instead, three-point defense is the squad's biggest Achilles' heel this year.
The Cavs' opponents are shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range this season, the 11th-worst mark in the league. Per TeamRankings.com, Cleveland's opponents make 9.0 threes per game (second-most in the league) and generate 26.7 percent of their points from three-pointers (most in the league).
Unfortunately for the Cavs, there isn't an elite wing stopper in the top 10 picks of this year's draft outside of Andrew Wiggins. Barring another dose of extreme lottery luck, Cleveland would be better suited addressing its glaring need at center (Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein or Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic could be possibilities) and fixing its perimeter defense via free agency.
New York Knicks (27-40)
Biggest Need: A 2014 draft pick
The 2013-14 New York Knicks are the sixth-oldest team in the league, with an average age of 28.4. Since the Knicks are 13 games below .500 at the moment, they're in desperate need of an infusion of youth.
There's just one problem: They don't have a single 2014 draft pick.
New York traded away its first-rounder to Denver in the deal that netted Carmelo Anthony back in 2011, and sent its second-rounder to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani last summer. Barring a trade over the coming months, the Knicks will be forced to rely upon undrafted free agents as their only source of young additions.
If newly hired team president Phil Jackson can work his magic on the trade market and secure a first-round draft pick, the Knicks could use a young point guard to supplant Raymond Felton. Earlier this season, a team executive told SNYtv.com's Adam Zagoria that Felton was "the worst starting point guard in the NBA."
The Knicks likely can't force their way into the lottery, but if they somehow land a late-first-round pick, a point guard prospect like Louisiana Lafayette's Elfrid Payton or Semaj Christon from Xavier could make sense.
If it's clear by draft night that Carmelo Anthony plans on leaving New York as a free agent, a replacement like Aaron Gordon, Montrezl Harrell or Adreian Payne could be a godsend for the Knicks. A combo guard/forward like Kyle Anderson would also be intriguing if New York picks up the Triangle with Jackson on board.
New Orleans Pelicans (27-39)
Biggest Need: No more trips to the infirmary
In all likelihood, the New Orleans Pelicans will not possess a first-round pick on the night of the draft. They shipped their top-five protected 2014 first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers last summer (along with injured rookie center Nerlens Noel) for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.
At the moment, it's looking like New Orleans' pick will end up somewhere in the 8-12 range. If the Pelicans don't all-out tank the rest of the season, they'll likely have less than a 5 percent chance to move up in the lottery and keep their pick.
Adding a late-lottery selection would have been a great luxury for the Pelicans, but realistically, they don't need an infusion of fresh young talent like most of the other bottom-feeders do.
Instead, New Orleans just needs to avoid a series of catastrophic injuries—aka, the exact opposite of this season—to have a realistic chance at a playoff spot.
In early December, superstar-in-the-making Anthony Davis went down with a fractured left hand and missed seven games. Since then, the Pelicans lost stretch-4 Ryan Anderson indefinitely due to a herniated disc, while a right tibia stress fracture has sidelined Holiday for the rest of the season.
Losing all three of the Holiday-Anderson-Davis trifecta was impossible for New Orleans to overcome. The Pelicans don't need a lottery pick in 2014; they simply need to stay healthy in 2014-15 to compete for a playoff spot in the uber-competitive Western Conference.
Denver Nuggets (30-37)
Biggest Need: A combo guard
The Denver Nuggets will be actively rooting against the New York Knicks over the final month of the 2013-14 regular season. New York owes its first-round pick to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade, but Denver must convey the worse of its own pick or New York's to Orlando this June.
A few weeks ago, it appeared as though Denver would be in line for a top-five pick courtesy of New York. Now, with the Knicks on a six-game winning streak, it's looking like the Nuggets won't improve their draft position much (if at all).
Denver will likely target a combo guard in the draft, as its guard rotation has been reduced to tatters since Nate Robinson suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee. Given the oft-lengthy recoveries from ACL surgery, Denver can't count on him being a major contributor during the 2014-15 season.
The Nuggets signed Ty Lawson to a four-year, $48 million extension back in the fall of 2012, but beyond him, they don't have a single guard worth building around. Robinson, Aaron Brooks and Randy Foye are decent, inexpensive reserves, but shouldn't be relied upon as major contributors.
If Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart slips in the draft due to his mid-season swoon, the Nuggets would be wise to capitalize. Otherwise, a shooting guard like Michigan State's Gary Harris, Michigan's Nik Stauskas or Duke's Rodney Hood could make sense for Denver.
Keep in mind, the Nuggets will already gain one starter next year as Danilo Gallinari returns from knee surgery. Adding another shooter next to Lawson and Gallinari could have Denver back in the playoff hunt as early as 2014-15.
Minnesota Timberwolves (33-32)
Biggest Need: A shooting coach for Ricky Rubio
If the Minnesota Timberwolves have any hope of retaining Kevin Love past the 2014-15 season, point guard Ricky Rubio needs to make major strides with his shooting stroke over the next 12 months.
Back in December, Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry took stock of Rubio's miserable shooting season, noting that his inability to finish close to the basket was the primary concern. Goldsberry dubbed him "arguably the worst finisher in the NBA, especially when Austin Rivers is inactive."
Things haven't improved much over the past two-and-a-half months for Rubio. Of all players who have appeared in 40 or more games and average at least 30 minutes per contest, Rubio ranks dead last in field-goal percentage on shots taken on any touch that starts within 12 feet from the basket, per SportVU. Using those same criteria, he also trails only Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley in terms of pull-up field-goal percentage (.294), per SportVU.
Rubio, who is shooting only 36.9 percent from the field this season, is essentially inviting opponents to sag off him and pack the paint. Until he can make them pay for that strategy, the Timberwolves' offense will continue to suffer.
One bright side to missing the playoffs this season is that Minnesota will retain its top-13-protected first-round pick, which would have otherwise gone to Phoenix as part of the Wesley Johnson trade. The T'Wolves could snag a shooter like Duke guard Rodney Hood or Creighton forward Doug McDermott with their pick, which should help improve their floor spacing.
Unless Rubio can break out from his season-long shooting slump, however, the Timberwolves could be in dire straits when it comes to Love's long-term future.
Phoenix Suns (38-29)
Biggest Need: Small forward depth
Of all the teams featured here, the Phoenix Suns are the least likely to end up with a 2014 lottery pick. At the moment, they're only 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the West's No. 8 seed and, according to ESPN.com's Hollinger Playoff Odds, still have a 35.3 percent chance of earning a postseason berth.
Regardless of whether the Suns succeed in their quest to make the playoffs, they may have the brightest future of any 2014 lottery team. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe look like a backcourt worth building around, while Gerald Green, Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker are all in the midst of career years.
Between Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, the Suns have two young project centers to develop, which leaves forward depth as the team's one potential need heading into draft night. Tucker is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and Markieff's twin brother, Marcus, hasn't panned out at the 3.
Luckily, the Suns appear as though they'll have three first-round picks on the night of the draft—their own, Washington's and Indiana's. While none will be high enough to land a stud like Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, Phoenix can roll the dice on a duo of small forwards and hope one sticks.
Creighton's Doug McDermott and UCLA's Kyle Anderson could be targets for the Suns in the mid-first round, as the former can be a lights-out shooter for the squad while the latter has an all-around game that could mesh well with Dragic and Bledsoe. Later in the first round, Wisconsin's Sam Dekker, Kentucky's James Young or Kansas' Wayne Selden could be on Phoenix's radar.
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com/stats and are current through games played on Sunday, March 16. All team records are current through games played on Tuesday, March 18.