2018 NBA Draft: Every Lottery Team's Plan A, Plan B and Plan C

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2018

2018 NBA Draft: Every Lottery Team's Plan A, Plan B and Plan C

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    No NBA team enters the draft with only one plan in mind.

    Squads slotted later in the first round have no choice other than to assemble an extensive big board. It gets harder to project who will fall where as the shindig unfolds Thursday. Picking in the lottery is simpler—specifically in the top half of the 14. The pecking order is clearer, the choices more obvious.

    That doesn't make finding the right player and formulating the correct plan easy. Curveballs are always thrown. Teams must be prepared to adjust on a whim.

    The Phoenix Suns, owners of the No. 1 pick and thus draft-day tone-setters, are technically the only ones who can afford to have tunnel vision. They're not worrying about another organization stealing their top target right out from under them.

    And yet, even they need to arrive in New York on Thursday with an open mind. Deandre Ayton is the consensus choice, but opportunity could knock elsewhere. They could trade down, still grab a big and procure another asset in the process. They could fall in love with Luka Doncic. They could 2013 Cleveland Cavaliers on us and take someone who hasn't prominently factored into the first overall discussion.

    Every team's list of priorities—which may have been written out on a certain surface with Expo markers—will seek to juggle all possible scenarios.

    Plan A will sometimes account for the most likely outcome, but it predominantly regales in idealistic developments relative to draft position. Plans B and C then reconcile the possible with the sensible: What teams can and will do versus what they should do.

    To the dry-erase boards!

1. Phoenix Suns

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Plan A: Draft Deandre Ayton

    Luka Doncic believers (raises hand) will want the Suns to give more serious consideration to moving away from Deandre Ayton. The league's future is rooted in playmaking wings. But Phoenix has a few of those in place.

    Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and TJ Warren could be the 2-3-4 troika of the future. Or maybe the Suns are a player or two shy. They don't know either way.

    Investing in a superstar prospect at the 5 fills a void without making a reach. Tyson Chandler isn't long for Phoenix, and neither Dragan Bender nor Marquese Chriss has shown anything remotely close to the guard-like coordination and footwork displayed by Ayton.


    Plan B: Draft Luka Doncic

    This isn't so much a Plan B as an alternate Plan A. The Suns don't need contingencies. They have the first overall pick. They dictate terms for what happens thereafter.

    Familiarity plays a role here. Head coach Igor Kokoskov worked with Doncic during his time with Slovenia's national team. Perhaps that gives Phoenix the confidence to explore a positionless model, in which Booker, Doncic, Jackson and Warren play at the same time.

    Defensive repercussions abound within this experiment. The Suns have to believe Doncic can match up with bigger wings and that Jackson is fit to chase around point guards full time. But a cast of on-ball playmakers largely equipped to work off one another has its appeal.

    Ayton isn't sparing them from defensive concerns anyway. He isn't ready to anchor a league-average blockade. He may never be.


    Plan C: Trade Down

    General manager Ryan McDonough said the Suns will reach out to "see if there are teams that want to blow us away with an offer for No. 1 because I think in this draft we’d be comfortable picking lower than that," per AZCentral's Scott Bordow. 

    Is this posturing? Obligatory due diligence? A ploy to drive up existing offers? Probably, most definitely, and perhaps. But Jaren Jackson Jr. recently wrapped a "monster" workout for the Suns, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski. Both he and Doncic are projected to fall outside the top three in Jonathan Wasserman's latest mock for Bleacher Report.

    If the Suns feel for them what the Boston Celtics felt for Jayson Tatum last year, they should see what teams like the Atlanta Hawks (Taurean Prince?) or Orlando Magic (everyone?) would fork over to jump up a couple spots. 

2. Sacramento Kings

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Plan A: Hope Phoenix Passes on Deandre Ayton

    In an ideal world, the Suns roll the dice on Luka Doncic and make the Sacramento Kings' decision for them. It feels unlikely. Mock drafts have weeded out everyone not named Deandre from No. 1 duty in recent months.

    If he's available, though, the Kings needn't give a second thought to what that means for Willie Cauley-Stein's future. They're light on superstar prospects. De'Aaron Fox deserves a high-ceiling friend.


    Plan B: Test Luka Doncic's Trade Value

    Marvin Bagley III has been the consensus choice at No. 2 since Doncic kind-of-sort-of-didn't-really hint that he'd rather stay in Europe than play for the Kings. ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony has since reported he won't withdraw from the draft, but rival executives believe both Sacramento and Atlanta will pass on his services, according to Wasserman.

    That doesn't mean a few other organizations wouldn't pounce on taking Doncic at No. 2. The Kings appear to be thinking along these same lines. Multiple league executives told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor they're open to moving down the draft-day totem pole. 

    Most teams outside the top three don't have much to offer that would entice a Kings squad firmly entrenched in a rebuild. But they don't own a first-rounder in next June's pageant. If they're not interested in Doncic, dropping down a few beats for an extra pick or prospect or married to a singular frontcourt talent wouldn't be a terrible move.

    The caveat: Sacramento needs to set the bar high. Something along the lines of the Magic or Chicago Bulls peddling their selections this year and next should be the standard.


    Plan C: Draft Marvin Bagley III

    Taking Bagley is the safest, most likely outcome. Sure, the Kings could prioritize the opportunity to add a 2019 unknownth overall first-rounder. They could also see next year's pick situation as motivation for knocking this June's decision out of the park.

    Bagley looks like the most polished-to-date big of this class at his peak. He jettisons Skal Labissiere's future into the sun, but the Kings needn't sweat it. Bagley's in-progress face-up game is more of an asset than Labissiere's stunted growth, and he already beats Sacramento's incumbent as a diver.

    His fit beside Cauley-Stein could be prickly at first, but Bagley canned 39.7 percent of his three-pointers on modest volume (2.1 attempts per 40 minutes). He has pick-and-pop pizzaz, which should allow the Kings to explore dual-diver frontcourts featuring both him and Cauley-Stein.

3. Atlanta Hawks

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Plan A: Talking Themselves Into Luka Doncic

    The Hawks cannot take passing up on Luka Doncic lightly if he slips past the Kings. They need a frontcourt running mate for John Collins, but they're not positioned to overlook a combo wing with killer-instinct scoring and second-nature off-the-bounce playmaking. 

    Few teams are, for that matter. But the Suns (Booker) and Kings (Fox) can argue they have their No. 1 options and/or primary facilitators. The Hawks cannot.

    Dennis Schroder isn't that guy and may have eyes for (sarcasm font) big-market, warm-weather powerhouses in Indiana and Milwaukee. Taurean Prince tapped into some late-season table-setting, but he's no point forward. Doncic deserves a long, hard look from the Hawks if he's there at No. 3. The panned-out version of his trajectory satisfies both best-fit and biggest-need blueprints.


    Plan B: Draft Mohamed Bamba

    Jaren Jackson Jr. gets traction here for his coveted amalgam of open-space ball-handling, rim-running and paint protection. But Mohamed Bamba is too tantalizing for the Hawks to look anywhere else without sniffing around the trade-down market. 

    "Both would work next to John Collins," Wasserman wrote. "But Bamba's 7'10" wingspan and potential as a shooter combine to fuel one of the most unique cases of upside in recent memory. He's also bound to look more impressive during workouts with surprising outside touch."

    Bamba's extra length and height (7'1") coalesce into a slightly cleaner defensive fit. Collins is 6'10" on a good day and ill-fit, for now, to be an interior anchor. And his own moonlighting from the corner ensures the Hawks won't concede much, if any, offensive floor balance.


    Plan C: Trade Down and/or Take Jaren Jackson Jr.

    Falling for Jackson over Bamba and Doncic is not indefensible. The Hawks could take him at No. 3 no matter who's on the board and face minimal invective in the aftermath. But he's not the near-unanimous selection. Far from it.  

    Either the Dallas Mavericks or Memphis Grizzlies might surrender a small prize to take Doncic if he's around at No. 3. And staying in the top five guarantees a crack at Jackson. 

    Warm up to Michael Porter Jr., Wendell Carter or even Mikal Bridges, and the Hawks open the door for offers from thirsty top-10ers.

    Do the New York Knicks throw out No. 9, Frank Ntilikina and maybe other stuff? Would the Philadelphia 76ers use No. 10 and Dario Saric or future picks if it meant landing Doncic? Are the Magic above dangling No. 6 and Jonathan Isaac? (They should be, but are they?)

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    Plan A: Cross Fingers for Luka Doncic to Fall

    Earmarking Luka Doncic for the Grizzlies would have been acid-trippy not too long ago—most ideal, yes, but beyond likely. Now, mere days ahead of the draft, it has become the expectation.

    Givony and Wasserman have Doncic headed to Memphis in their latest mockups. Ditto for SI.com's Jeremy Woo. The Grizzlies should be ecstatic if real life mirrors these simulations. They have needed a playmaking wing since before they knew Rudy Gay wasn't the answer and don't have a clear path to getting one outside of the draft.

    Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons will earn a combined $78.7 million next season. Memphis will be lucky to retain Tyreke Evans, a non-Bird free agent who will eat up most of the mid-level exception. Adding the player they're paying Parsons to be is otherwise out of the question. The No. 4 pick is the Grizzlies' best—their only—hope of shooting that gap in a way that helps them re-enter the playoff picture.


    Plan B: Trade Down for Michael Porter Jr.

    Ending up with Marvin Bagley or Jaren Jackson if Doncic gets scooped up is hardly a nightmare scenario. Both can play beside Gasol in the frontcourt and inject some sorely needed mobility into the rotation. But the Grizzlies' combo-wing situation is more dire, which makes Michael Porter Jr. the better fit.

    Back problems ruined his only collegiate campaign, but the soon-to-be 20-year-old isn't that far removed from monopolizing first-overall affections. At 6'11", he can play the 3 or the 4 while dabbling as a small-ball 5, and his fledgling off-the-dribble decision-making won't hurt his offensive value in Memphis. He can roll off screens and master quick-fire spot-ups on passes from Conley, Gasol and (hopefully) Evans.

    CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish has the Grizzlies invested enough in this archetype to take Porter at No. 4. Most mocks have him tumbling outside the top five. Some, like Givony, even have him falling to the Cavaliers at No. 8.

    With a bare-bones pick-and-prospect cupboard, the Grizzlies have to see whether they can trade out of fourth overall, still take Porter and snag another asset.


    Plan C: Draft Porter at No. 4

    Again: Bagley or Jackson works here. The Grizzlies could also see whether No. 4 and salary filler can be parlayed into a more established wing. But tethering themselves to Porter makes more sense.

    Drafting another big is redundant if they're angling for an instant turnaround. Parsons and his glass knees need to play the 4, and giving up on both JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin when they're not embracing a full-on reset would be weird.

    At the same time, trading this pick for an older player shouldn't be the least bit in play. The Grizzlies need a youthful insurance policy in case their split-second restoration goes belly up.

    If Paul George has a secret affinity for good barbecue and wants the Oklahoma City Thunder to talk sign-and-trades with the Grizzlies, then they're free to junk this advice. Otherwise, their wish list maxes out at players like CJ McCollum or Otto Porter Jr.—slightly overpaid roster upgrades who don't move the needle enough to forfeit so much of the future.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Plan A: Hope Luka Doncic Keeps Slipping

    Dallas will be the last team left building a shrine to the "Let Luka Doncic fall" gods. Promise. 

    Well, actually, never mind. He's incurred gradual spills down mock drafts everywhere over the past couple of months. Bigs, meanwhile, are climbing through the top-five ranks like the NBA is partying in 2004. Explain that. Seriously. Asking for a friend.

    Doncic is criticized and downplayed for his suboptimal explosion and foot speed as a lead ball-handling wing. Fine. Whatever. But he's a lead ball-handling wing—the building-block prototype for today's game. His fall, however slight, is bizarre. Especially when he's not being leapfrogged by a herd of bigs who thrive defending in space, protecting the rim, creating offense off the dribble and stroking threes.

    There won't be a decision to make if Doncic is hanging around at No. 5. The Mavericks will take him. Common sense suggests he won't get past the Grizzlies at No. 4, but he initially wasn't supposed to escape the top three. So you never know.


    Plan B: Hope Atlanta Doesn't Take Mohamed Bamba

    The Mavericks' immediate frontcourt situation is painted in unnecessarily urgent terms. They don't need a center in the interim. Dirk Nowitzki is going on 40 and should be spending most of his time at the 5. Dwight Powell is working off a career year. Maxi Kleber exists.

    Fast forward a few years, and yeah, things don't look great. Dallas needs staying power at the 5. Throwing gobs of money at DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan (again) is an unseemly solution. Mohamed Bamba does more for the future. He's younger and cheaper than free-agent plugs, and he'll have an instant impact within his wheelhouse. He can finish rainbow lobs and swallow shots at the rim in his sleep.

    Picking him up at No. 5 only recently started to feel like a stretch. His measurements are the stuff of legend; he boasts a 9'6" standing reach, per The Stepien. If Atlanta thinks it can successfully recalibrate the form on his jumper, Dallas will need to look elsewhere for a frontcourt fix.


    Plan C: Draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

    Trading out of No. 5 shouldn't be on the Mavericks' radar unless they're enamored with Michael Porter Jr. and positive they can grab him a few spots later. They need another big-picture pillar beside Dennis Smith Jr., and turning to free agency isn't a foolproof plan.

    Jackson will be on the board if Bamba is already gone. His split-big role will incite some imbalance, since Harrison Barnes should be an every-possession 4. But that's a one- or two-year dilemma at worst. 

    Jackson's NBA future lies at center, and he'll mitigate some of the overlap in dual-big units with his outside touch and passing. He canned 39.7 percent of his threes at Michigan State on 5.0 attempts per 40 minutes and will add an air of positionless playmaking if he ever figures out how to maintain control when dribbling through crowded areas.

6. Orlando Magic

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Plan A: Draft Trae Young

    Isn't it great when Plan A also aligns with the most likely outcome?

    Trae Young's stock has suffered more than a few blows in recent months. His shooting percentages cratered in the face of defensive adjustments to close Oklahoma's season, and the knocks against his physical profile are mounting in number. As O'Connor explained:

    "Then there's Young, who is among the smallest of the group at 6-foot-0.5 without shoes, 178 pounds, and a 6-foot-3 wingspan. Mike Conley and De'Aaron Fox are a little longer. Curry and Kyrie Irving are a few inches taller. Dennis Smith Jr. and Kyle Lowry are a lot bulkier. Young is comparable in size to small starting point guards like Kemba Walker and Darren Collison, or rotation point guards like Shabazz Napier, Joe Young, and Patty Mills. Considering we just witnessed small guards being attacked relentlessly in the playoffs, what does that mean for Young's NBA upside?"

    The Magic shouldn't care. They need a point guard. Badly. It doesn't matter if Young is the second coming of Curry. He doesn't need to be. He just has to be a better option than D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack, with the shot-making acumen and vision to be so much more. And he is. The Magic can, and should, look past his coin-flip finishing around the rim and precarious passing attempts for now.


    Plan B: Draft Michael Porter Jr.

    Slotting Michael Porter Jr. inside a rotation that features Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon (restricted free agent), Jonathan Isaac and Nikola Vucevic could get hairy. At 6'11", he should be manning the 4, with a trifle emphasis on playing the 5.

    But Porter is more combo forward than pigeonholed 4 or coopt big. Playing him at the 3 won't turn out as poorly as it did for Gordon. He's not a polished pick-and-roll initiator, but he's more likely to get there. And he's already comfortable working off the ball from the outside in.  

    Plus, the defensive ceiling on a Porter-Isaac-Gordon trio does not officially exist. Stir in Jonathon Simmons, who is no stranger to being used as a de facto point guard, and the Magic have open-ended access to borderline switch-everything arrangements. Head coach/defensive enthusiast Steve Clifford would have a field day with that quartet.


    Plan C: Trade Down for Collin Sexton

    Count yours truly among the Collin Sexton skeptics. His shot selection is wonky, verging on awful, and he's more of score-first, score-second, pass-third point guard. He plays taller than 6'2", but, well, he's only 6'2".

    Taking him at No. 6 is a no-go. He's a late-to-fringe-lottery candidate in most mock drafts. But that only makes it easier to trade down and select him later on. Breaking bread with the Charlotte Hornets (No. 11), Los Angeles Clippers (Nos. 12, 13) or Denver Nuggets (No. 14) would still put the Magic on track to get him—provided the New York Knicks don't get cute at No. 9.

    Holding serve is, of course, an option. Orlando could go the best-player-available route if it becomes disenchanted with Young. But Sexton, for all his rough-around-the-edges inefficiencies, plugs a gaping hole. 

7. Chicago Bulls

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Plan A: Trade up 

    Nikola Mirotic's legacy lives on.

    The Chicago Bulls wouldn't need to care so much about trading up if not for the quasi-upsurge engendered by his return to the rotation. They owned the league's worst record, at 3-20, when he made his season debut. Then they went 15-8 over their next 23 games, before settling into a seven-game losing streak that included rerouting him to the New Orleans Pelicans midway through.

    Random hot stretches have never proved so costly. The Bulls finished the year 9-27 after that, ahem, 23-game tear. Strike their midseason blip from the record, and they played at a 17-win pace, which would have fast-tracked them toward league-best lottery odds.

    Winding up with the seventh overall pick stings. And the Bulls probably have no way out of it. Most of the teams ahead of them won't be itching to trade down. But they can pair No. 7 with No. 22 and some other stuff (Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine). Maybe that begins to do something for the Kings, who were interested in taking Michael Porter Jr. at No. 2, per USA Today's Sam Amick, before hip spasms forced him to cancel the workout part of his second pro day.


    Plan B: Trade Down

    Keeping the No. 7 selection shouldn't be so low on the Bulls' to-do list, but they find themselves in a unique, patently inconvenient spot: desperate for wings inside the top half of a lottery overrun with talented bigs.

    Choosing Porter if he's available jibes with this placement. But documented hip and back issues attach an unneeded layer of risk. If the Bulls can flip this pick to, say, the Clippers for No. 12 and No. 13, they should still be in Miles Bridges/Mikal Bridges/Kevin Knox territory. 

    Getting two of them would be a huge win. Or the Bulls could take one and then capitalize on a potential Collin Sexton drop. They needn't even limit themselves to the Clippers' selections. Another late-lottery team might sweeten their pick with an extra asset.

    Any prospective trade yanks the Bulls from Potential Superstar country, but they're barely there now. And when their biggest voids can be addressed later in the draft—even outside the lottery—they owe it to themselves to scour the 11th-hour market for alternative opportunities.


    Plan C: Draft Michael Porter Jr. or Mikal Bridges

    Drafting someone with cornerstone chops is the entire point of slogging through a hard-knocks season.  Porter was billed as that player before back injuries. Additional complications with his hip shouldn't entirely scare off the Bulls. Settling for the safest player available is disingenuous to everything they just endured.

    In the event he's gone and all their trade options have been exhausted, the Bulls should tilt toward fit. Wendell Carter could be the best player left by this point, but they have bigs and the NBA is a wing's league.

    Mikal Bridges is a seasoned college player and potential plug-and-play gold. The gap between him and the top talent remaining won't be worth reading into—unless that player is Porter or Trae Young.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Plan A: Travel 3 Weeks Into the Future, See Whether LeBron James Stayed and Shop/Use the Pick Accordingly

    Shopping No. 8 only becomes a viable course if the Cavaliers have a sense that LeBron James won't abandon them in free agency. The market for this selection isn't going to yield a megastar, but they can build some interesting packages around shorter-term salary fodder if they're open to absorbing larger contracts. 

    Warming up to Nicolas Batum's deal (three years, $76.7 million) could coax the Hornets into assembling a massive blockbuster with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Might the Washington Wizards be concerned enough about their financial future to dangle Bradley Beal or Otto Porter? Feel free to insert your favorite CJ McCollum conspiracy theory here, too.

    Beyond informing them he'll pick up his player option to force a trade of his own, James won't be tipping his hand to the Cavaliers or anyone else. Draft night is even too early for him to follow Chris Paul's lead. But hey: Cleveland has to try.


    Plan B: Hope Against Hope Trae Young Falls

    Everything about Trae Young's entry changes if he slips to the Cavaliers. His defensive warts don't dissipate, but his unchecked range and shot creation look infinitely more valuable beside James. He's the closest they'll come to partially replacing the from-scratch mastery they lost in Kyrie Irving without blowing up the roster...again...for the third time.

    Losing James to greener pastures wouldn't bankrupt this pick. This is not akin to the Miami Heat taking Shabazz Napier in 2014. Young has earned most of the asterisks on his resume, but the dude can flat-out get buckets. He specialized in making something out of nothing at Oklahoma. Cleveland could do much worse than him in a hypothetical reset.


    Player C: Draft Best Player Available

    The Cavaliers need a talent infusion irrespective of how this offseason plays out. Re-sign James, and he'll demand a respectable supporting cast. Lose him, and the Cavaliers need youthful exuberance to headline a rebuild. 

    Straddling both agendas is an indiscriminate venture. Monitor the board for last-minute plunges (e.g. Young). Gamble on Michael Porter Jr. if he's there. Take Mikal Bridges. Or Wendell Carter. Reach for Miles Bridges. Or Kevin Knox. Forget about fit. The roster will look worlds different even if James sticks around. Cleveland just needs high-end talent, any high-end talent—period.

9. New York Knicks

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Plan A: See Whether Michael Porter Jr. or Trae Young Suffer Draft-Day Hits

    Look, in all likelihood, neither Michael Porter nor Trae Young is plunging this far. But the Knicks can dream. That's the point of most Plan As.

    Young is a touch more likely to encounter a stark nosedive. The Magic need a point guard more than any other team in the lottery and then some—times infinity. If they pass on him at No. 6, at least one of the Bulls and Cavaliers could sell themselves on Wendell Carter with the other favoring a wing. Once more: The Knicks can dream.


    Plan B: Draft Mikal Bridges

    Drafting for fit is more important to the Knicks than it is for most other teams picking in the top 10. They're rebuilding, but the call to acquire instant impact is atypically strong with Kristaps Porzingis' price point set to explode in 2019-20.

    It just so happens that, at No. 9, Mikal Bridges would have a stake in both best-fit and best-player-available terms. Cases will be made for Carter and Collin Sexton, but three-and-D prospects are more in line with the league's wing obsession.

    Bridges doesn't do much on offense other than make plays off the catch. And that's fine. They won't need him to do more.

    Tim Hardaway Jr. is at home dominating the ball, and they took Courtney Lee's pick-and-roll initiation for a spin last season. They need a sure-thing solution at point guard but don't have to trip over themselves selecting Sexton. Hardaway's shot selection fills their wild-card quota, and the time hasn't yet come to abandon the Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina experiments.


    Plan C: Draft Best Non-Big Available

    Yes, the "non-big" disclaimer exists solely to get out in front of any infatuation with Carter. Tying Porzingis' future to another tower is too much of a risk. New York has to first get a feel for whether he'll get by at power forward following his ACL injury.

    With Mikal Bridges gone, the Knicks should continue carrying out the search for more wings. That could take them to Lonnie Walker, Miles Bridges, Zhaire Smith or a guard/wing like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They're even free to trade down if the primary source of their affections is projected to go outside the top 10.

    As long as they're committed to adding a complementary wing, it won't matter. Kevin Knox is fair game, too—but only if they finally, mercifully, at long last view Porzingis as an all-the-time 5.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Plan A: Draft Best Player Available with Intent to Trade

    Prioritizing best-fit prospects is tempting when building the Sixers' draft-day whiteboard. They were pegged as favorites to reach the Eastern Conference Finals before the Boston Brads went full Cinderella. 

    Bringing in a cozy complement to join a presumably not-broken Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons keeps them in the driver's seat. They stay on course for Eastern Conference domination as early as next season.

    But let's face it: The Sixers have their eyes on something greater than organic acceleration. As of May B.B. (Before Burners), they were fixated on meeting with Paul George and LeBron James in free agency and plumbing the Kawhi Leonard trade sweepstakes, according to Philly.com's Keith Pompey.

    Inevitably sacrificing the No. 10 pick doesn't need to be part of George and James pursuits. The Sixers can dredge up the money for one of them without jettisoning the selection itself or the player they choose. Breaking into the disgruntled-star-under-contract market is a different story.

    More importantly, the Sixers could try doing their best Los Angeles Lakers impression. Scenarios exist in which they clear the space necessary to sign a star and then cobble together a blockbuster offer for another one. The working title for this pipe dream: Operation Begin 2018-19 with Two of Kawhi, LeBron and PG13.

    Pulling off this coup will eventually demand they part with whomever they pick at No. 10. And since they have plenty of in-house transcendence, they're free to select the player they think will carry the most value as a trade chip.


    Plan B: Hope Mikal Bridges Drops Past New York

    A catch-and-shoot aficionado who could mirror the offensive workloads ascribed to Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick while providing more defense? Yes, please.


    Plan C: Draft Lonnie Walker

    Lonnie Walker offsets a deficit for the Sixers. They needed another face-up weapon in their second-round series with the Celtics, and he's no stranger to creating his own shot. He'll cannibalize many other Plan Bs and maybe some Plan As. 

    Plopping him down beside Embiid, Fultz and Simmons is nevertheless touch-and-go. Philly has enough ball domination between them. Walker threatens to exacerbate an already shaky dynamic. 

    About half of his shots came from distance at Miami, which is encouraging. But he connected on under 35 percent of those looks. He also canned just 32.8 percent of his two-point jumpers, only 20 percent of which came off assists, according to Hoop-Math.

    Taking a stab at more of an accessory scorer is safer, but that player won't necessarily be around if Mikal Bridges is off the board. Walker is a worthy Plan C, with the upside of a Plan A.

11. Charlotte Hornets

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Plan A: Trade Up

    Will the Hornets steer into a rebuild? Are they married to making the playoffs? Trading up the ladder helps give them an idea one way or the other. 

    New general manager Mitch Kupchak should not be above treating Kemba Walker as bait. He has one year left on his deal, and the Hornets will be capped out until kingdom come—or, you know, 2021—if they re-sign him.

    Attaching him to the No. 11 pick better positions them to navigate his absence. They'll at least be closer to selecting a foundational stud. Who knows, maybe Clifford convinces the Magic to flip No. 6 for Walker and No. 11, paving the way for Charlotte to take Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. or a surprise faller.

    Turning their All-Star floor general into a five-spot jump doesn't equate to a happy ending. The Hornets should try extracting something else from the Magic; salary filler needs to be included anyway. But Walker isn't commanding a hefty ransom one year out from free agency.


    Plan B: Juggle Walker's Potential Departure with Keeping Him Long Term

    Consider this an endorsement for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He gives the Hornets an offensive captain if Walker gets traded or leaves next summer, but the two can also play in tandem. As Givony wrote:

    "The fact that he is 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan, highly instinctual defensively and has the unselfishness needed to operate alongside a variety of guards makes him easy to slot in alongside virtually any type of player. His offense has made significant strides, and NBA teams feel he's only starting to scratch the surface of his potential."

    Burning another lottery selection on a guard after taking Malik Monk last year is a little unsettling. But he's not a potential Walker heir. Nor is he, at 6'3", a tenable backcourt partner in crime. Gilgeous-Alexander could be both.


    Plan C: Draft Best Player Available

    Never mind fit. The Hornets need depth. Their bench ranked 21st in point differential per 100 possessions for the season and was even worse prior to the All-Star break (29th). 

    Buying into a late-season uptick doesn't resolve the talent shortage. They'll be lucky to keep Treveon Graham (restricted free agent). Anyone playable helps them, be it as an immediate contributor, potential trade asset or rotation mainstay once their rebuild commences. 

    Whether the best player available by their measure is a guard (Gilgeous-Alexander, Collin Sexton), wing (Lonnie Walker, Miles Bridges), big (Robert Williams) or tweener (Kevin Knox) is irrelevant. They're obligated to compile the top talent unless they're infatuated with a specific fit.

12/13. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Plan A: Trade Up

    Unless they part ways with free agents Avery Bradley and DeAndre Jordan (player option) and start auctioning off their veterans, the Clippers remain in win-collection mode. And while the draft is a great way to flesh out depth charts on the cheap, asset consolidation is part and parcel of surviving the Western Conference's bloodbath.

    Not surprisingly, then, the Clippers are interested in using the No. 12 and No. 13 picks to move up in the draft. Shams Charania confirmed as much during an appearance on Yahoo Sports' NBA podcast with Chris Mannix. He even identified a specific target (h/t HoopsHype's Bryan Kalbrosky): "You could see a lot of pick movement. The Clippers have looked to trade up. I think one guy that they’ve looked at heavily is Luka Doncic from Real Madrid."

    Doncic is most likely out of reach. The Clippers would have to get the Grizzlies to bite, hard, on the present. And then they'd have to swallow some bad money. Are they in love with Doncic to the point they'd offer No. 12, No. 13, Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell for the fourth overall selection?

    Smaller-scale jumps are within reason. Maybe Philly (No. 10) or New York (No. 9) is willing to divest. Packages built around Harris and one or two picks could pique interest in Cleveland (No. 8) or Chicago (No. 7). 


    Plan B: Draft Wings

    Embracing best-player-available wisdom works if the Clippers are contemplating a rebuild. They'll have to draft for fit if they're hoping for a postseason rebirth.

    Every team needs more three-and-D wings. Los Angeles is especially thin on them. Offense and defense are largely compartmentalized on the perimeter. The best scoring options—Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Austin Rivers—aren't esteemed stoppers. The top defenders—Johnson, Thornwell, Tyrone Wallace—come with offensive trade-offs.

    Wings to keep an eye on: Miles Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Lonnie Walker.


    Plan C: Draft One Wing and Then One Faller or Reach

    The Clippers have the leeway to get creative if they keep both picks. Netting at least one wing is non-negotiable. But with plenty of veterans and back-to-back selections, they could remain on the hunt for a draft-day faller or intriguing reach.

    Acquiring another big is a good hedge against Jordan's future. He could opt out and leave this summer. He could opt in and bolt next year. He could opt in or re-sign only to age out of the team's timeline.

    Even if he's viewed as an indefinite fixture, the Clippers don't have much behind him. Montrezl Harrell is a free agent (restricted), and Boban Marjanovic is right behind him in 2019. Robert Williams would be someone to watch here, and praying for Wendell Carter to fall is totally allowed.

    Troy Brown and Zhaire Smith deserve some maybe-possibly-potentially love if the Clippers are open to making a reach. Collin Sexton isn't the best fit within an overcrowded backcourt, but star-quality confidence off the bounce begs them to take him if he drops and figure out the rest later.

14. Denver Nuggets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Plan A: Gauge the Salary-Dumping Market

    Denver is expected to dangle the No. 14 pick in an attempt to offload Kenneth Faried's expiring salary, according to Wojnarowski (h/t Denver Stiffs' Ryan Blackburn). Using lottery selections to cut costs is usually taboo, but signing Nikola Jokic (team option) to a max deal has luxury-tax implications when leaving the roster untouched.

    Except, what if bottom-line slashing isn't the Nuggets' motive for dumping salary? Team president Josh Kroenke has said they aren't "afraid" to pay the tax, per The Athletic's Nick Kosmider. That gives way to some tantalizing free-agency scenarios.

    Jokic's contract hold will sit below $3 million if they decline his option. Peddling No. 14 to cap-rich teams in exchange for taking on Faried puts them right up against the $101 million salary cap. That leaves them with a clear path to ample spending power if Wilson Chandler opts out and they renounce Will Barton.

    Sugarcoating salary dumps for Darrell Arthur (player option) and Mason Plumlee does the same. Moving one of them, plus Chandler if he opts in, affords them flexibility, too. Point being: They can make a splash this summer if they're willing to unload incumbent salary and pay the tax.


    Plan B: Hope Kevin Knox Falls

    Fight the urge to mention Collin Sexton's name here. He might be gone this late, but the Nuggets should not take him if he falls. They don't need a point guard. Jamal Murray can be the answer when your center is Jokic.

    Kevin Knox doesn't perfectly deepen Denver's shallow wing pool. He's a combo forward, with a strong lean toward the 4. But he beefs up a frontcourt pining for defensive switchability. Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles don't do the same, and Paul Millsap, 33, is not forever. A long-term alliance with Jokic is in the cards. 


    Plan C: Draft Best Wing Available

    Barton, Chandler, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Gary Harris and Juan Hernangomez do not form the most stable wing rotation. Barton and Chandler could leave in free agency. Harris doesn't have the length to chase around bigger wings on a full-time basis. Hernangomez should be a 4. Beasley is more of a swingman and has yet to carve out a role.

    The Nuggets shouldn't overthink this. If a surprise faller doesn't land in their lap, they need to take the remaining wing who's highest on their board.

    Miles Bridges, Zhaire Smith, Troy Brown and maaaybe Lonnie Walker are all realistic targets. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also warrants a look if they think his 6'6" frame and 7'0" wingspan (via The Stepien) will translate to minutes at the 2 and 3 in addition to point guard. 


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference or Sports ReferenceSalary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.