Every Tanking Team's Biggest Need in the 2018 NBA Draft
Eight teams have a legitimate chance to end up with the worst record, and the Kristaps Porzingis-less New York Knicks are doing everything in their power to expand membership in that club to an uneven nine. Then again, the Brooklyn Nets aren't intentionally tanking, as they still owe an unprotected first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus have no reason to lose. They won't be featured here, though they're still dropping enough contests to belong in the bottom-feeding octet.
Finding the leading needs for these organizations makes for a tough task.
The rosters are so weak that in almost every situation, multiple areas need improvement. For that reason, we're going to avoid picking ideal prospects. All of these teams have such a wide range of potential draft-day outcomes and boast realistic shots at the top selection, which means they could all feasibly be gunning for Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic.
We will, however, try to parse through the many needs and identify each team's top priority in the 2018 NBA draft. As difficult as that endeavor may be, most of these franchises do have one inadequacy that rises above the rest.
Atlanta Hawks: Rim Protection
How many building blocks do the Atlanta Hawks already have?
John Collins should be considered the only lock, given his impressive two-way play as a rookie. Perhaps his ceiling doesn't rise beyond the level of an All-Star reserve in the Eastern Conference—this could be selling him short, though we won't know for a while longer—but the Peach State front office should at least be confident he'll serve as a vital piece when the Hawks are again ready to compete for playoff victories.
Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince could both work their way into that group, but neither has demonstrated the consistency necessary to earn unmitigated admission. And even if they do, that leaves a glaring hole in the middle.
For all the good Collins provides, he isn't a rim-protecting presence, as he's limited by his 6'10" frame, 6'11.25" wingspan and lack of shot-blocking instincts. The Hawks currently lack a rim protector whose career trajectory syncs with their rebuilding schedule, and they're already a middling team in terms of interior defense.
Remedying that should be their main priority at or near the top of the 2018 NBA draft, whether that comes through betting on Deandre Ayton's physical profile eventually translating into point-preventing excellence or reaching for Mohamed Bamba. The Hawks have enough holes that they could easily justify going with the best-player-available strategy at any position, but they do have a biggest weakness which they could address.
In this case, that's both figurative and literal.
Chicago Bulls: Wing/Forward Help
The Chicago Bulls have a young player with some semblance of upside at nearly every position.
Kris Dunn's offensive development during his inaugural go-round in the Windy City offers hope he can be a two-way threat at point guard for the foreseeable future, and he's still only 23 years old. The 25-year-old- David Nwaba brings defensive intensity on the wings every night as he carves out a larger role and hopes to find a permanent home. Zach LaVine hasn't broken out after recovering from ACL surgery, but the uber-athletic 2-guard also has yet to celebrate his 23rd birthday.
Then we move into the frontcourt, which is populated by a blossoming Bobby Portis (23) and a 20-year-old Lauri Markkanen who's clearly the most promising piece on the roster.
So, what does that leave the Bulls looking for in the 2018 NBA draft? They could justify taking basically anyone other than a pure power forward. Dunn and LaVine are too limited on one end to look the part of future superstars, while Nwaba is the weakest presence of the aforementioned bunch. And notice we haven't bothered to mention Robin Lopez or Cristiano Felicio at center.
But shooting guards and small forwards (more the latter than the former, given LaVine's spot in the lineup) still make the most sense in a league trending smaller, as Markkanen should be able to play the 5 for significant periods in the immediate future. He's already logged 21 percent of his minutes there as a rookie.
Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic should be in play if the Bulls land a top-two pick. But if they fall any further, they could use a versatile scoring threat capable of playing the 3 and 4—Michael Porter Jr., for example.
Dallas Mavericks: Frontcourt Scoring
In the interest of full disclosure, the Dallas Mavericks need just about everything.
Dennis Smith Jr. should solve any point guard problems going forward, but this franchise can't afford to turn its nose up at an available prospect such as Luka Doncic when it's in dire need of a talent infusion and could operate with a dual-1-guard system. And the NC State product is still the only roadblock during the selection process; everything else is 100 percent fair game.
But given the impending retirement of Dirk Nowitzki—maybe that won't happen this year, but it has to come at some point in the near future, right?—and the upcoming free-agency venture of Nerlens Noel, landing a franchise-altering frontcourt talent makes the most sense.
The Mavericks' identity has been wrapped up in Nowitzki's scoring prowess for well over a decade, and that must be replaced. At the very least, they need to secure an upside-laden understudy. Plus, finding a capable point-producer who suits up at the 4 or 5 would take pressure off Smith and Harrison Barnes, allowing both of them to fill more comfortable roles and start playing more efficient and effective basketball.
As such, Deandre Ayton should be the dream acquisition for this squad. And if he's off the board, they should be calling Duke and thinking about Marvin Bagley, whose ideal landing spot happens to be this organization, per Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman.
Memphis Grizzlies: Scoring Wing
By virtue of holding onto Marc Gasol through the trade deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies aren't giving up on their current core. They'll likely go into 2018-19 trying to build around the aging duo of Mike Conley and the veteran big man, especially since they've devoted so much money to incumbent players that their largest infusions of talent almost has to come through the draft.
And if (when?) Tyreke Evans leaves in free agency, they'll need to replace his scoring output.
The swingman has been a gem for Memphis when healthy, making the most of his one-year contract by developing from beyond the three-point arc and becoming a complete player. Even with his time missed, he sits at No. 25 in NBA Math's total points added, sandwiched directly between Steven Adams and DeMar DeRozan. ESPN.com's real plus-minus gives only 22 players superior scores for their work in 2017-18.
Chandler Parsons will be entering his 30s next season, and the Grizzlies don't have many high-upside options waiting to fill offensive roles on the wings. They need to find one and replace Evans (or learn the position behind him), or they'll squander the remaining high-quality outings that Gasol and Conley have left in their respective tanks.
Imagine those two running pick-and-rolls before kicking the ball to Michael Porter Jr. and letting him create in a one-on-one situation. Jaren Jackson Jr.'s sharpshooting abilities—he's knocking down 39.6 percent of his deep looks as a freshman with Michigan State—could provide the requisite spacing for more offensive production.
Memphis could feasibly go the best-player-available route if it lands a top-two pick, and gaining access to Deandre Ayton could compel it to look into trading Gasol. But given the current roster construction, an offensive wing makes the most sense.
New York Knicks: 3-and-D Wing
Just imagine a player like this one, who The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks brilliantly describes, suiting up for the New York Knicks:
"[Mikal] Bridges could become the best pure 3-and-D player in the NBA. Even the best players in that mold tend to favor one side of the ball. Bridges has a chance to be one of the best shooters and one of the best defenders in the league. How valuable would Andre Roberson be with ball skills and an elite 3-point shot? How about Wayne Ellington if he was a perennial All-Defensive team selection? As one NBA executive who likes Bridges told me, he’s the only player in this year’s lottery whose floor is a guy who could play big minutes in the Finals."
The Knicks should realize how stealthily valuable Courtney Lee has been to their efforts on both ends of the floor—Nylon Calculus' Ian Levy highlighted him as one of the league's best LeBron James stoppers this year—then seek to replace him with a younger, better version who fits the timetable of this rebuild.
Could they use a playmaking 4 to pair with Kristaps Porzingis? Sure. Do they need an ace defender capable of teaming up with Frank Ntilikina to wreak havoc on the less glamorous end? Of course. But they could also kill multiple birds with one stone and land a wing capable of contributing on both sides of the ball.
Three-and-D players are theoretically easy to find, but they're more valuable than most would like to admit. Players such as Otto Porter Jr. who can thrive in so many different areas propel their teams to new heights. Landing one would expedite New York's attempted climb back toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings while pairing nicely with the team's one guaranteed building block (Porzingis) and presenting a strong fit with the hopeful one (Ntilikina).
Orlando Magic: Point Guard
Rarely does a tanking team have a need spring to the forefront this readily.
The Orlando Magic have a number of intriguing pieces already in place. Evan Fournier is a threat to score on the wings in a wide variety of situations, and he should settle in as a nice complementary piece once he's surrounded by more reliable talent that draws away defensive attention. Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon are full of upside at the forward positions, bringing vastly different sets of skills to the proverbial table. Throw in Nikola Vucevic, and you even have a traditional center who's still only 27 years old.
But after trading Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns at this season's February deadline, the Magic desperately need a new point guard.
The rotation is currently comprised of D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack, which means the floor general of the future is still throwing on a different uniform—likely a collegiate one. Right now, the former is 30 years old and sitting at No. 25 among 1-guards in ESPN.com's RPM. The latter is three years younger, but he also drops well down the standings in that particular advanced stat, checking in at No. 32.
Fortunately, the Magic should have a plethora of options in this year's draft. Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Colin Sexton have emerged as the class of the position for the 2018 prospect pageant, but falling deeper in the pecking order (or trading down and picking up additional selections) would still allow Orlando to take a chance on someone like Landry Shamet, Trevon Duval or Khyri Thomas.
Phoenix Suns: Defense, Defense and More Defense (Ideally Center)
Continued development from Josh Jackson should help the Phoenix Suns grow into a more fearsome defensive unit, but they'll still need capable interior stoppers who can make up for the dribble penetration allowed by key offensive threats such as Devin Booker and TJ Warren.
During the 2017-18 campaign, no team has allowed more points per 100 possessions than the Suns (110.6), with only the Sacramento Kings (109.9), Cleveland Cavaliers (109.5) and Orlando Magic (108.8) checking in within sniffing distance.
And that's with Tyson Chandler playing sporadic minutes. The veteran center has suited up in six of the team's 14 contests since February began, logging 23.8 minutes per appearance. He won't stick around forever, and it isn't as though the rim-protecting answer is already on the roster. Alex Len won't solve that problem anytime soon, while Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are better suited for other roles.
Phoenix could get away with going in so many different directions if it winds up atop the draft order. Luka Doncic would be a stabilizing presence in the backcourt, making life so much easier for Booker. Deandre Ayton would be a game-changing offensive addition. Michael Porter Jr., assuming health, can fill a number of different job descriptions.
But Mohamed Bamba would be perfect for this team, shoring up the biggest weakness and allowing the Suns to finally climb out of the Western Conference's basement. And as general manager Ryan McDonough said, per AZCentral.com's Scott Bordow, selecting a center is a "slightly higher" priority than finding a point guard in this year's draft. That sentiment should only grow stronger if Elfrid Payton continues to play quality basketball as he settles into his new desert-based home.
Sacramento Kings: Best Player Available
"The Sacramento Kings need more than just talent," Wasserman penned before picking the team's dream fit. "They need someone to change their identity and culture. That's why they'll value Luka Doncic over Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Texas' Mohamed Bamba."
More so than any other team in the race toward the bottom, the Sacramento Kings just need to draft the best player available, so long as selecting him will work toward imbuing the organization with a winning culture. And this can be spun positively, since they have intriguing pieces at every single position.
None of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles and Willie Cauley-Stein are guaranteed to blossom into stars. But they're all working with vast reserves of potential still remaining dormant, which means the Kings have legitimate upside at every traditional position in a lineup.
That makes the 2018 draft easier. Just get the best player.
The Slovenian guard, as Wasserman went on to explain, can fit next to Fox: "Doncic offers enough versatility to run the show and make the decisions or play alongside De'Aaron Fox, who may be better suited working with a strong passer and shooter in the backcourt."
Ayton would become the leading member of the frontcourt. Bamba would immediately improve the defense. Bagley and Porter Jr. could provide more of an offensive punch. You can make a case for any of the top-tier prospects fitting in with the incumbent players.
Despite their shaky draft history in recent years, the Kings just have to pick the best one.