The Biggest Weakness Every Lottery Team Must Address in 2019 NBA Draft
If you're in the lottery, it almost always means you've got enough holes in your roster to make drafting for positional need a bad strategy. Straying from the best-player-available mindset is generally a mistake.
The idea of this exercise, though, is to highlight key areas of need (often among many) for each team with a top-14 pick in the upcoming draft. We'll make specific pick suggestions on occasion, but that won't always be productive since we don't yet know the draft order.
The key idea is highlighting a shortcoming that, all else being equal, each team should try to address in the draft. Sometimes, that'll be a clear positional weakness. Certain teams, like the Chicago Bulls, obviously need a point guard. In other cases, the issue can be more philosophical or pertain to how the team is being run.
The issues afflicting lottery teams often extend well beyond "they don't have a good enough small forward," so we'll try to isolate more interesting shortcomings when warranted.
With some of these teams, there are plenty to choose from.
New York Knicks: Tangibility
We know the Knicks have an ocean of cap space. We know they've got as good of a shot as anyone (tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns) at landing the top pick. That financial flexibility and those lottery odds are theoretical assets, though. They couldn't take the floor if New York had a game tomorrow.
So, obviously then, what the Knicks need is something tangible. They need those theoretical assets to become practical ones.
If New York wins the lottery and drafts Zion Williamson, it'll be the first step toward transforming possibility and potential into something real. And once the Knicks have that first flesh-and-blood piece in place, the tone of this rebuild will change. There'll be a real, jersey-wearing human on whom to pin hopes.
From there, the Knicks can pursue their bold free-agency plans with the knowledge they've already completed an important part of their reconstruction.
Maybe this feels like an oversimplification, but the Knicks have had plenty of grand designs before. Emerging from the draft with Williamson would indicate the transition from dream to reality is really happening this time.
Cleveland Cavaliers: A Dearth of Assets
We can't discuss any of the three organizations atop the lottery without at least alluding to Williamson. For a Cavs team woefully short on the kinds of assets you'd hope to find in a rebuilding situation, he'd be a boon: the only no-questions-asked cornerstone on the roster.
Kevin Love, though compensated like one, doesn't quite measure up in the production department.
Cleveland should consider trading down if it doesn't land the No. 1 pick. That'd be one way to add more cost-controlled young talent. When the cupboard is as bare as it is here, you need to adopt a high-volume approach.
Collin Sexton's rookie season was a halved affair. Early on, he was a shot-profile disaster who also graded out as one of the worst defenders in the league. After upping his three-point volume later in the season, it was much easier to imagine him as a viable starter. That's not the same thing as being a star, though. Beyond him, there's just not enough high-upside talent here.
The Cavaliers can't clear the decks and bank on free agency like the Knicks. Instead, they need to hoard assets and hope one pans out.
Phoenix Suns: A Buddy for Booker
The Suns don't necessarily have to spend their pick on a point guard, but they do need to find someone who'll fit in the backcourt alongside Devin Booker.
Booker's offensive chops are beyond question. He's one of three players to average at least 26 points and six assists per game at age 22 or younger. The other two are Oscar Robertson and LeBron James. Advanced facilitating skills showed up in Booker's third season, and they should allow the Suns to broaden their draft parameters.
If they like a pure point guard prospect most, that's fine. He can run the offense while Booker pings around the floor hunting shots. If there's a more conventional 2 that tickles Phoenix's fancy, it can go that route as well. Booker could easily share playmaking duties in a dual combo-guard setup.
There may not be a prospect in this draft who ticks either box and profiles as the kind of defender who'll spare Booker from the toughest backcourt assignment, but the Suns need to be as realistic as possible about addressing Booker's weaknesses. He's still at a stage when he should probably be hidden on an easier matchup.
Oh, and just because we have to note it: If they get the chance, the Suns, like New York and Cleveland, should take Williamson without a second thought and worry about filling other holes later.
Chicago Bulls: Point Guard
Say it with me for the 1,000th time: Teams in the lottery aren't good enough to draft for need. It's best player available, period.
The Chicago Bulls could be forgiven for feeling like they've got four of the five starting positions pretty well handled. Zach LaVine, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. would seem to have the 2 through 5 spots locked down. There will be issues to resolve up front, as Markkanen can't guard power forwards, and Carter Jr. logged just 44 games (none with Porter) before a thumb injury ended his rookie year. Don't forget LaVine's defensive deficiencies, either.
Still, compared to the glaring need at point guard, concerns at the other positions hardly measure up.
Kris Dunn's starting job appears to be up for grabs, which it probably should be after a third season during which he regressed in points, rebounds, assists, three-point attempts and free-throw attempts per 36 minutes.
If Ja Morant is available when the Bulls pick, he should be the guy. If he's not, trading down to target Vanderbilt's Darius Garland or North Carolina's Coby White could work. Chicago's generally inexperienced core could probably benefit most from a veteran point guard acquired in free agency, but there's also something to be said for adding a player who'll grow with the group.
Atlanta Hawks: Stopping Power
Thanks to the extra pick they added from the Dallas Mavericks last summer, the Atlanta Hawks will get two selections in the lottery (as long as Dallas doesn't jump into the top five).
That means they'll have a pair of chances to find help for a defense that ranked 28th in points allowed per 100 possessions this past season. Whether in the form of a wing to protect Trae Young from tough matchups or a big to cover for John Collins' deficiencies inside, Atlanta has to add players who can balance out its offense-only roster.
De'Andre Hunter profiles as a multi-position defender, and Texas center Jaxson Hayes has the tools to defend the rim in ways Collins hasn't. You'd have to hope the Hawks wind up with at least one of the two.
As long as Young and Collins are key pieces of the Hawks operation, defense is going to be a weak point. The draft could provide Atlanta's best chance to minimize the hurt on that end.
Washington Wizards: The Frontcourt Abyss
Do not stare directly at the Washington Wizards frontcourt. Clinical tests have linked prolonged ocular exposure to a positional group this ghastly with uncontrollable nausea.
Dwight Howard and Ian Mahinmi are the only bigs under contract for 2019-20, but the Wizards could bolster that group by overpaying to match offers on restricted free agents Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.
Uh oh, there's that nausea creeping up again...
The Wizards can't do anything in the draft to make John Wall's albatross contract vanish, so their best bet is targeting a young big who can defend the rim, rebound and, ideally, be ready to play immediately. Judging by the talent on hand, it's not like there'll be much competition for a starting gig.
Texas' Jaxson Hayes is an option here, or the Wizards could get creative and trade down in hopes of snagging a high-upside wild card in Maryland's Bruno Fernando.
New Orleans Pelicans: A Departing Savior
The New Orleans Pelicans are partly responsible for Anthony Davis wanting out. They didn't surround him with enough talent to contend and were often conspicuously bad in their efforts.
Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca and Solomon Hill, anyone?
That said, it's hard not to feel bad for the Pels. They signed a franchise cornerstone to the biggest deal they could, and then he decided (long before that deal's expiration) that he'd basically changed his mind. Davis is effectively quitting on a contract, which makes the Pelicans sympathetic.
What better way to lift the Pelicans' spirits than by giving them a dose of hope that would feel similar to the one they got by drafting Davis in 2012?
With only a six percent chance to land the top pick, it's highly unlikely the Pels will be able to draft Williamson. But they should be on the phone immediately with whoever lands the Duke product, dangling Davis without hesitation.
Maybe they can swap one savior for another.
Memphis Grizzlies: Wing Scoring
Jaren Jackson Jr. gives the Memphis Grizzlies options. If he reaches his ceiling as a floor-spacing center who can defend in a switching scheme and protect the rim in more conventional looks, the Grizz can plug in offensive-minded pieces with less worry than most other lottery teams.
Jackson, in theory, will be their great eraser.
Memphis needs scoring, and it should take long looks at RJ Barrett, Jarrett Culver, Cam Reddish and Ja Morant if it doesn't end up conveying its top-eight protected pick to the Celtics. Even Darius Garland could help in the event the Grizzlies move Mike Conley and open a vacancy at the point.
The Grizzlies, 27th in offensive efficiency and effective field-goal percentage this year, need guys who can put the ball in the basket. Jackson will handle preventing opponents from doing that on the other end.
Dallas Mavericks: Math
It's not that the Dallas Mavericks struggle with numbers. It's that the math just isn't in their favor.
There's only a 26.2 percent chance Dallas will keep its top-five protected pick. If it doesn't luck out, it'll convey its first-rounder to Atlanta as part of last year's Luka Doncic-Trae Young swap. That's unfortunate for a Mavericks team that could use another young star to grow with Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but it's also kind of refreshing that Dallas' fate will be so simple.
Either fortune smiles on the Mavs, and they get to make one of the top selections, or they don't pick at all.
Generally, you'll find Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett listed as the top three prospects. From there, Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver and De'Andre Hunter are in the mix at No. 4. With Doncic entrenched as the primary playmaker, Garland and Morant may not be as valuable to the Mavs as they would to teams in need of point guards.
But we should assume Dallas will be ecstatic if it gets the chance to take any one of those guys because it'll mean the math, improbably, worked out.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Not Having Brandon Clarke
Yes, that's a name up there where we've been putting each team's weakness. It's there because, in this case, the fit between Brandon Clarke and the Minnesota Timberwolves is so enticing.
I guess, technically, we're saying not having Clarke is Minnesota's biggest weakness. The Wolves should try to correct that.
There's really no such thing as a Paul Millsap or Draymond Green "type," but Clarke at least fits the mold of an undersized power forward who flies around the floor doing dirty work, defending and generally playing harder than everyone else. That's exactly the kind of 4 you'd want to put alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, whose ability to space the court and draw defensive attention would mitigate Clarke's suspect jumper.
Sometimes you can think too long about draft fits or fixate on pairings you'd like to see. Maybe this is one of those cases. But it's hard to deny the way Clarke's edge, versatility and on-the-margins contributions would align so perfectly with what the Wolves need to support Towns.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shooting
The real weaknesses plaguing the Los Angeles Lakers and turning them into leaguewide symbols of dysfunction—wayward ownership, consistent and destructive belief in Lakers exceptionalism and horrendous roster-building principles—aren't fixable with a draft pick.
Those are all deep-rooted and chronic diseases, and new head coach Frank Vogel isn't going to cure them.
So while worrying about the Lakers' lack of shooting is like noting a few specks of flaking paint on a sinking ocean liner, it's probably best we keep our focus narrowed to things that could actually be fixed in the draft.
Last season, the Lakers shot 33.3 percent from long range, the second-worst conversion rate in the league. Noted marksman Rajon Rondo led all Lakers regulars at 35.9 percent from deep. Though it's not even on the first 100 pages of the triage list for fixing this franchise, adding some perimeter help would be a good idea.
Charlotte Hornets: Uncertainty
The Charlotte Hornets have to make their draft decision before Kemba Walker's free-agent future gets resolved. That complicates matters because a Walker exit would leave a massive void at the point—unless Devonte' Graham makes a much larger leap than expected.
Hopefully, Charlotte will have some inkling of Walker's intentions by draft night. If it looks like the All-Star is headed out the door, the Hornets could target Coby White or Indiana's Romeo Langford, a pair of lead guards who should be on the board toward the end of the lottery.
If Walker plans to stay, it opens a couple of interesting paths. The Hornets could swap their pick in an effort to add more win-now talent, or they could package it with a bad contract (Nicolas Batum's would work) in an effort to clear the books a bit, ideally freeing up enough space to sign a free agent in 2020 after deals for Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist expire.
If Walker commits for another four or five years, the Hornets should do what they can to make those seasons count.
Miami Heat: "The Guy" Is M.I.A.
Stars can arrive via any slot in the draft. A higher pick tends to increase the odds of getting a franchise-altering talent, but teams have found their cornerstones all over the lottery.
This is good news for the Miami Heat, who have a 90.6 percent chance of selecting 13th and who desperately need a transformative talent.
Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow are valuable weapons (Richardson might have some stardom in him), but all three profile as high-end support staff. Starters, sure, but probably not dominant enough to lift the Heat into the league's upper tier.
In 2015, Devin Booker went 13th. Two years later, the Jazz grabbed Donovan Mitchell there. If you want to get really optimistic about "Lucky 13," note some dude named Kobe Bryant came off the board at that spot in 1996.
The Heat must hope their draft slot yields similar value.
Boston Celtics (via Sacramento Kings): The Lack of Anthony Davis
After a 4-1 second-round dismissal dragged all the chemistry, leadership and fit concerns that defined the regular season back into the light, the Boston Celtics need some time alone to reflect. You'd better believe they'll ask themselves some tough questions.
Is this a core that can win at the highest level?
What to do with Marcus Morris, another free agent?
Oh, and how do all those variables influence the pursuit of Anthony Davis, who might consider staying with Boston through his 2020 free agency even if Irving isn't around, according to The Athletic's David Aldridge?
The Celtics could have as many as four first-rounders in this year's draft. If Davis is the guy they believe will properly reorient the franchise in its pursuit of titles, they can trade all of them—probably along with Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown—to get their man.
AD is the top priority here. Boston's picks are just a means to an end.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary info courtesy of Basketball Insiders. Draft info and lottery odds via Tankathon. Pick protections and details via RealGM.