Every NBA Lottery Team's Most Pressing Need in 2020 NBA Draft
All NBA lottery teams have pressing needs. If not, they'd be among the 16 teams holding playoff battles inside the bubble.
The question is how much those needs should influence their decisions on draft night.
It's tempting to say clubs should always take the best player available since talent typically wins out in the Association. But that can lead to roster redundancies and a situation in which the whole is less than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, focusing solely on needs can cause clubs to reach for lesser talents.
This debate will continue up to and after the draft on Oct. 16. Before Thursday's lottery reveal, let's focus on identifying each non-playoff team's biggest need and examining prospects who could address it.
Golden State Warriors: Frontcourt Upgrade
If all goes according to plan, Golden State will take the light-years expressway to travel at warp speed from worst to first. It would normally be an impossible ask of anyone, but with (hopefully) healthy versions of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back in action, this team could be an exception.
First, though, it needs to bulk up the rest of this roster, and acing its draft-night decision is perhaps the most critical step. Trading the selection is a distinct possibility, but no matter if the pick stays or goes, it should probably be used to upgrade the frontcourt (provided that doing so doesn't require a reach).
Kevon Looney can't get healthy. Marquese Chriss has three years of bad numbers and one season with decent stats on an abysmal team. Alen Smailagic has an intriguing future, but for now, he plays the game about five times faster than he thinks it. While shooting might not rank among Draymond Green's top 10 priorities, his 38.9/27.9/75.9 slash line is nevertheless worrisome (if not outright problematic).
Adding an aerial finisher like James Wiseman would lend a new layer of potency to pick-and-roll plays with Curry. Anchoring the back line with Onyeka Okongwu could help the Dubs construct their next championship-level defense. Turbo-charging the offense with Obi Toppin's scoring punch could mean nightly point totals in the 120s.
The Warriors have options—if they keep this pick.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Centerpiece
The Cavaliers are getting restless. They have 38 wins against 109 losses since LeBron James' latest exit, and they aren't the least bit interested in stockpiling defeats.
"Now two years into the rebuild, [owner Dan] Gilbert is turning up the pressure for the Cavs to show real improvement next season," The Athletic's Jason Lloyd reported.
That seems wildly optimistic (to put it politely), but if it is the organizational aim, then finding a substantial upgrade on draft night is a must. The Cavs don't have enough star power to compete for the postseason, so when they're on the clock, they must seek out the highest ceiling available regardless of position.
Anthony Edwards has featured-scorer potential. LaMelo Ball is a preternatural passer who can elevate everyone around him. James Wiseman's best-case scenario includes rim protection, interior finishing and some stretch shooting.
The Cavs need to find their favorite from this group, hope he falls in their lap and then furiously work to get him up to speed since he might be tasked with trying to lead a playoff run as soon as next season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Wing Defender
The Timberwolves could have a top-10 offense next season.
Maybe that's aggressively optimistic considering the club's No. 24 finish in the category. But if D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns find their two-man harmony and Malik Beasley hoops like he did during his 14 games in the Gopher State (20.7 points on 47.2/42.6/75.0—numbers that seem to ensure his return in restricted free agency), the pieces are in place for a massive jump.
But the offensive improvement will only matter if the defense (20th) rises along with it. Unless the Wolves want to hold nightly races to 130 points, they'll need someone to offer some semblance of resistance on defense.
Minnesota may need to move down to align its biggest need with the draft board as the players best equipped to attack it probably aren't going in the top five.
Devin Vassell is an instinctive team defender who never misses a rotation or fails to fully hustle. Isaac Okoro is a disruptive on-ball stopper with the versatility to check smaller, quicker players and bigger, stronger ones. Either could be a snug fit in the Wolves' wing rotation.
Atlanta Hawks: Secondary Shot-Creator
The Hawks were so Trae Young-centric that it's a bit surprising there wasn't a petition to change their logo to his face. They followed his lead to an extreme and saddled him with the second-highest usage rate ever for a player age 21 or younger (34.9 percent).
While that provided him with a platform upon which to build his first All-Star campaign, it showed the shortcomings of his supporting cast. Atlanta couldn't find shot-creation from anywhere else—veteran Jeff Teague arrived in January and promptly tallied the second-most assists with 4.0 per game—and the offense torpedoed without Young (15.5 points worse per 100 possessions).
Ideally, Atlanta would draft someone who could help Young shoulder both the scoring and table-setting duties. Georgia's Anthony Edwards, an Atlanta native, needs polish, but his best-case-scenario version features three-level scoring and complementary passing.
But if the Hawks can't scratch both itches with this pick, they should at least get one. Nabbing a passer like LaMelo Ball or Tyrese Haliburton would allow Young to focus more on his scoring and further weaponize his spot-up sniping (98th percentile). Adding a scorer like Obi Toppin could let Young do even more damage as a distributor, which is a scary thought when he already averaged this season's second-most assists.
Detroit Pistons: Building Block
The Pistons aren't quite in a full-scale demolition since Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Tony Snell all remain on the roster. But the teardown process has already started—the deadline dump of Andre Drummond being the clearest example—and Detroit's primary focus should be laying the foundation for whatever comes next.
Positional needs don't have to enter that conversation. Sure, the Pistons could use a long-term point guard to learn whatever Rose can teach next season and then grab the reins right after. And yes, they'll need to fill their Drummond-sized vacancy in the middle sooner than later.
But they need everything right now, so "talent" simply tops the wish list.
All top prospects should interest the Pistons, whether Anthony Edwards for his two-way potential on the wing, James Wiseman for his seldom-seen physical tools or Onyeka Okongwu for his defensive versatility. But LaMelo Ball might be the most intriguing if Detroit feels, as many observers do, that his ceiling stretches the highest in this draft.
"You cannot teach his basketball IQ, his passing savvy, his understanding of the game," NBC Sports' Rob Dauster wrote. "And in a draft where there is no one that is a clear-cut NBA superstar, I think that makes LaMelo Ball worth the risk at No. 1."
New York Knicks: Floor General
During last year's draft, ESPN boiled down the Knicks' needs to a single word: everything. A 21-45 season did little to change that assessment.
Saying that, point guard stands out as a particularly significant need, as it has since...well, maybe since the last time Walt Frazier laced them up. Elfrid Payton was fine this season, but he's not a building block. Frank Ntilikina has three years of NBA service under his belt and still hasn't found his offensive niche. Dennis Smith Jr.'s first full go-round in Gotham was ghastly.
The Knicks need a change. Luckily, their new front office knows it.
"The Knicks scouting staff has been instructed the top priority is a scoring point guard on whom to use their lottery pick," Marc Berman reported for the New York Post.
LaMelo Ball would increase the potency of Mitchell Robinson's rim runs and free RJ Barrett to focus more on scoring. Killian Hayes could expand the offensive menu as a playmaker and scorer. Cole Anthony has the athleticism and off-the-dribble arsenal to challenge for the club's scoring lead. Tyrese Haliburton can function as a walking adhesive with his ability to connect the dots.
Any of the four could be considered a priority target.
Chicago Bulls: Low-Maintenance Playmaker
The Bulls feel closer to being competitive than their 22-43 record suggests.
Zach LaVine has All-Star numbers (25.5 points and 4.2 assists per game), Coby White flashed them late in the season, and Lauri Markkanen has shown them in the past (26.5 points and 12.6 rebounds over an 11-game stretch late in the 2018-19 season).
But Chicago needs its Lebowski rug to bring everything together.
The Bulls seemingly had sufficient firepower, yet they finished the campaign just 29th in offensive efficiency. A distribution dearth brought about their demise. No one averaged even six assists per game, while only Tomas Satoransky and LaVine cleared four per night.
As B/R's Jonathan Wasserman observed, Tyrese Haliburton's skill set closely aligns with Chicago's needs:
"On paper, no guard fits better than Tyrese Haliburton, who was averaging 6.5 assists per game while shooting 59.2 percent from two, 41.9 percent from three and 82.2 percent on free-throws before a wrist injury. With 6'5" size to play 2-guard, he also generates 1.4 points per possession as a spot-up player (99th percentile), making him a versatile fit next to LaVine."
Haliburton works on or off the ball, which is critical when LaVine, White and Markkanen will all command a significant number of touches. His size (6'5") and versatility should also allow him to move around the court and help address the Bulls' wing shortage.
Much of the same applies to Killian Hayes, who arguably offers a higher ceiling (though also a potentially lower floor) than Haliburton.
Charlotte Hornets: Star Power or Frontcourt Fixture
If the Hornets are positioned to land a marquee talent, then team needs go out the window. Even after receiving better-than-expected production from Devonte' Graham, Terry Rozier and P.J. Washington, Charlotte's Kemba Walker-less roster is missing a true No. 1 talent.
Grabbing another guard might create some short-term redundancies, but that's fine. None of the players residing in Buzz City have a high enough ceiling to pass on a potential star in an attempt to avoid overlap. If the Hornets deem Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball the best player in this draft and have an opportunity to take one of them, that's an easy call.
Shifting the conversation to roster construction, the 5 spot is a glaring weakness. The only center under contract for next season is the solidly unspectacular Cody Zeller, and he'll hit the free-agent market in 2021.
The Hornets have to take long looks at James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu, both of whom could emerge as frontcourt fixtures and address the club's 25th-ranked defense.
Wiseman is less refined, but his physical tools are immense (7'1", 235 lbs, 7'6" wingspan with explosive athleticism). Okongwu isn't as naturally gifted, but he offers both rim protection (3.5 blocks per 40 minutes) and enough mobility to handle perimeter switches.
Conversely, Obi Toppin could be a target if the Hornets focus on fixing their 28th-ranked attack. His ceiling might be shortened by the fact he's already 22 years old, but any club lacking a go-to scorer will most certainly be intrigued by his production (20.0 points per game on 63.3/39.0/70.2 shooting).
Washington Wizards: Stopper
This season's Wizards could occasionally score with anyone, but their defense was consistently disastrous. Actually, that's overselling the unit that became the second-least efficient in NBA history.
Whatever Washington wants to achieve next season—clearly, there are some expectations or it wouldn't have held onto Davis Bertans (let alone Bradley Beal)—step one is finding some stoppers. Moreover, that step involves uncovering defense-first role players who offer enough shooting to share the floor with John Wall and Rui Hachimura.
Devin Vassell might be the dream target. He's on a short list of the draft's best stoppers, and he converted 41.7 percent of his long-range looks over two seasons at Florida State. If he bulks up his 6'6", 180-pound frame, he should be versatile enough to check the opposition's top scorer most nights.
Isaac Okoro probably has the edge in on-ball defense, though his lack of shooting (28.6 percent from three, 67.2 from the stripe) is an issue. Josh Green offers three-and-D potential, but the Wizards are likely selecting ahead of his draft range. Onyeka Okongwu is another possibility should Washington choose to build its defense from the inside out.
Phoenix Suns: Long-Term Point Guard
While the Suns overpaid Ricky Rubio last summer (three years, $51 million), they needed to see what this roster could do with a competent point guard. The answer proved more than most expected as Phoenix did everything shy of snapping its now decade-long playoff drought, going a perfect 8-0 inside the bubble and falling a tiebreaker short of making the play-in tournament.
That should be a lesson to the franchise not to neglect the position, and even though Rubio has two more seasons to go, it makes a lot of sense to reinvest at the 1. Rubio turns 30 in October, so he'll need a successor, and Phoenix's next floor general can ideally climb even higher.
LaMelo Ball would be a dream in the desert as his next-level passing could unlock even higher efficiency from Devin Booker and generate a volume increase for Deandre Ayton. Killian Hayes isn't quite the same caliber of table-setter, but he's a more natural (and more efficient) scorer. If either is still on the board when the Suns select, the pick won't require a second thought.
Tyrese Haliburton leads the group of more realistic targets, and his penchant for playmaking could have a similar impact on the players around him. Cole Anthony would be an interesting off-the-bench flamethrower for next season, but he must improve as a passer. Kira Lewis Jr.'s burst and Tyrese Maxey's scoring arsenal could also catch the Suns' attention.
San Antonio Spurs: Scorer with Size
The Spurs are smart enough to know the best-player-available route is typically the one to take on draft night, so it's unclear how much team needs will enter the discussion. But if they play a part, the Silver and Black will likely wind up thinking big—with an offensive slant.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are 30-somethings approaching their final seasons under contract. Jakob Poeltl is entering restricted free agency, and even if he's kept, it will be to safeguard the defense. Trey Lyles' $5.5 million salary is only partially guaranteed, and he has averaged fewer than 21 minutes in each of his five NBA seasons. Luka Samanic might be a rotation player down the line, but he spent nearly his entire rookie campaign in the G League.
San Antonio needs more frontcourt help for the future, and that prospect should be able to put the ball in the basket.
If teams are scared of Obi Toppin's age (22), the Spurs almost assuredly wouldn't let him slip through their grasp. For all the young talent they have quietly assembled, none have consistently displayed the top-shelf offense Toppin routinely showcased this past season.
Deni Avdija seems another natural target as a 6'9" playmaker with shooting potential. Patience and San Antonio's player development program could also be what brings the best out of Aleksej Pokusevski or Jaden McDaniels.
Sacramento Kings: Impact Defender
While injuries kept the Kings from ever getting a great look at their full roster, this probably isn't the next defensive juggernaut. But the addition of a star stopper during the draft could be a huge step toward becoming one.
Isaac Okoro has to be on the radar. If he's available when Sacramento is on the clock, this could be the quickest selection of the opening round.
"On paper, the Kings need an elite wing defender more than any other type of player. There is no doubt Okoro is exactly that," Richard Ivanowski wrote for the Sacramento Bee. "He would fit in perfectly as a wing stopper."
Devin Vassell and Josh Green are clear targets, too. Should Sacramento shift its defensive search to the interior, Onyeka Okongwu might prove a strong long-term fit next to Marvin Bagley III.
New Orleans Pelicans: Complementary Role Players
Assuming the New Orleans Pelicans bring Brandon Ingram back from restricted free agency, as expected, their focus should be on finding the right complementary fits for him and Zion Williamson. If a contender rises from the Crescent City in the near future, it will do so around their young stars.
Today's win-now clubs can never have enough shooting, and the Pels are no exception. E'Twaun Moore is bound for free agency this offseason, and JJ Redick will go there next year. Darius Miller will hit one of those two markets as his $7 million salary for 2020-21 is non-guaranteed.
New Orleans can start planning for any subtractions now by targeting a sniper. Aaron Nesmith looked as good as it gets before a foot injury derailed his sophomore season. He buried 4.3 triples per night at a ridiculous 52.2 percent clip. Saddiq Bey (career 41.8 percent from deep) and Devin Vassell (41.7) belong in the crosshairs, too.
The Pels could also opt for a shooting big to clear the runway for Williamson. There aren't many in this draft—and none that necessarily fit the draft range—but Deni Avdija might grow into the skill set. Further down the board, Aleksej Pokusevski is a fascinating (if painfully raw) blend of size and perimeter skill, and Jalen Smith offers the unicorn combo of shot-blocking (2.4 per game) and shot-making (36.8 percent from three).
Memphis Grizzlies: Role-Playing Wing
Before running out of gas in Florida, the Grizzlies spent the season proving their rebuild is ahead of schedule. Between Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis might already have the two pillars who will support its next postseason team.
That's just as well since this draft probably won't be of much assistance.
The Grizzlies only have top-six protection on the pick they owe the Boston Celtics for the Jan. 2015 trade that brought Jeff Green to Beale Street. Memphis has just a 2.4 percent chance of catching lottery luck and moving into the top four, per Tankathon.
If the Grizzlies do luck out, they should search for another wing to slot in between their cornerstones. Devin Vassell's defense and low-maintenance offense should make for a seamless addition to the rotation. Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija could be similarly easy fits and early rotation players.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.