NBA Lottery Teams That Should Think About Trading Down

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 20, 2021

NBA Lottery Teams That Should Think About Trading Down

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    It's not too early for NBA teams to start preparing different scenarios for draft night.

    The odds are mostly set for where lottery teams will be picking, so they can begin to think about what they'd do if they move up, stay where they're projected to or move down.

    We discussed some hypothetical situations where certain franchises may want to consider trading down to draft a similar prospect while acquiring an additional asset. 

If Top-3 Teams Slide in Lottery

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    Houston Rockets

    With the NBA's worst record, the Houston Rockets have a 14.0 percent chance of winning the lottery and a 52.1 percent chance of finishing top four. There is 47.9 percent chance the Rockets drop to No. 5 and send their top-four protected pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul trade.

    Houston shouldn't think about trading down or out if they keep their pick, with Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green all star-caliber prospects who fit the roster without major issues. Cunningham, Green and Suggs should be capable of playing off John Wall in the short term, while Mobley and Christian Wood seem interchangeable at the 4 and 5 spots. 


    If Rockets pick goes to Thunder at No. 5

    The Thunder could wind up with two top-five or top-10 picks. Given their roster, which is close to a blank canvas with cornerstones like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Aleksej Pokusevski able to play different positions, Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn't overthink about moving down. They'll just want to take the best player available with each pick.


    Detroit Pistons

    With the NBA's new flattened odds, the Detroit Pistons share the Rockets' 14.0 percent chance at winning the lottery and 52.1 percent odds of landing top four. However, there is a 27.8 percent chance they drop to No. 5 and a 20.1 percent chance they fall to No. 6. 

    If Detroit falls to No. 5, and Cunningham, Mobley, Green and Suggs are off the board, the Pistons have something to think about. Jonathan Kuminga is widely considered the most enticing available prospect. But unless Saddiq Bey plays 2-guard, there isn't room for the 6'6", 210-pound forward who shot 24.6 percent from three in the G League bubble. 

    Taking the best player available is still Detroit's priority, but only if that player can maximize his potential without stalling teammates' development or hurting spacing and ball-movement. Ideally, the Pistons add backcourt creation or offense.

    There are appealing trade-down targets for Detroit later in the lottery, including a shot-maker in Moses Moody and a scorer in James Bouknight. The Pistons could stick at No. 5 or No. 6 and take Keon Johnson, though his handle and shooting skills are behind his athleticism and defense. 

    If Detroit gets the sixth pick and Kuminga is gone, Moody is the name that stands out as the most attractive trade-down target. The 6'6" wing finished fourth among freshmen in scoring without dominating the ball or taking tough shots.


    Orlando Magic 

    The Magic have a 14.8 percent chance at falling to No. 5, a 26.0 percent chance at No. 6 and a 7.1 percent chance at No. 7. There is no reason to think about trading if they get a top-four pick, as Cunningham, Green and Suggs could work with Cole Anthony or RJ Hampton, and Mobley could play the 5 next to Jonathan Isaac or Chuma Okeke. 

    Given the front office's history of interest in frontcourt versatility, Kuminga figures to be in play for the Magic at No. 5. He'd give them more shot creation and scoring than both Okeke and Isaac. The question for Orlando asks what it should do if it falls to No. 6 or No. 7.

    There is no need to trade down with their own pick if they wind up stealing the Chicago Bulls' top-four protected pick.  

    So at No. 6 or No. 7, Orlando should just focus on drafting the best player available to a roster that's far away. Keon Johnson and Jalen Johnson, a threatening playmaking 4 and finisher, are viable options. The Magic figure to like Scottie Barnes' defense, though his lack of offense is concerning for this particular team. 

    Moody would be a textbook fit for his off-ball scoring and shooting, though Orlando could presumably also get him with Chicago's pick if they do indeed own it. Australia's Josh Giddey, the NBL's assist leader at 18 years old, would be a sneaky option for his terrific passing and facilitating skills as a 6'8" ball-handler. 

    Either way, Orlando has no need to think about trading down with its own pick.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder share the same record, so a coin flip will decide who has the better chance at landing top five and avoiding the possibility of sliding as low as No. 9.

    If the Cavaliers do wind up picking top four, they can't afford to trade down and pass on a potential star prospect like Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green because of a questionable fit. It is worth entertaining offers if another team is willing to deal an established star for the pick. 

    Otherwise, Cleveland receiving bad lottery luck and falling outside the top four should trigger trade-down conversations. 

    Jonathan Kuminga could be available at No. 5, and there are pros and cons to the Cavaliers drafting him. Assuming Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen are cornerstones locked into Cleveland's starting lineup, it could use a frontcourt scorer. And that's Kuminga's identity—an athletic, 210-pound forward who can create his own shot and convert from three levels. He'd replace Kevin Love at the 4 and offer more pop and versatility. 

    However, he shot just 24.6 percent from three and 62.5 percent from the line in the G League bubble, a concern for the NBA's worst three-point shooting team. What would the spacing be like for Darius Garland and Collin Sexton with Okoro, Kuminga and Allen sharing the floor? 

    With the No. 5 or No. 6 pick, the Cavaliers should explore moving down with shooters Moses Moody and Corey Kispert likely available in the late lottery. It's a situation that reminds of the 2019 trade between the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, when the Suns moved back from No. 6 to No. 11 to get a shooter in Cameron Johnson and rotation player in Dario Saric. 

    If the Cavaliers can't get Cunningham, Mobley, Green or Suggs, and they aren't convinced Kuminga is a star, then it makes sense to target a need while trying to acquire an additional asset (rotation player or future pick) via trade. 

Sacramento Kings

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Unless the Sacramento Kings get lucky with a 20.3 percent chance at moving into the lottery's top four, they'll likely be picking in the No. 8 to No. 11 range. This is trade-down territory for a team that's set in the backcourt and finished last in the NBA in defensive efficiency

    But no move should be made until the Kings see who's on the board when they're on the clock. It may be worth staying pat if Keon Johnson or Scottie Barnes is available.

    Johnson, an explosive slasher and aggressive defender, could work as an interchangeable wing. He projects more as an energizer at both ends early in his career, though he's worth taking this high due to signs of scoring and passing potential to complement his attacking and pressure defense. 

    Barnes would give the Kings a unique two-way playmaker who'll earn his money on defense, guarding different positions and locking down ball-handlers at 6'9". The Kings would have to get creative with how they use him and Marvin Bagley. Neither are reliable shooters. Barnes could be interesting as a small-ball 5. Playing him at the 4 could mean Sacramento shopping Bagley. 

    Otherwise, there are appealing options for Sacramento who may be available in a lower draft tier. 

    Real Madrid's Usman Garuba stands out as a fitting target for the Kings' frontcourt. Aside from Evan Mobley, he could be the next-best defensive prospect in the draft due to his special IQ and anticipation for optimizing his strength, mobility and quick hands. His defense has been earning him minutes in Euroleague since 17 years old. But in late April, Garuba made surprise noise in the playoffs with his offense and shooting. 

    Regardless, he's the type of low-maintenance, impact-over-stats big the Kings could use.

    Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson is another interesting trade-down target for his rim protection and defensive activity. With bounce and quickness, he registered a 12.7 block percentage as a freshman. But high school tape and flashes of mid-range moves at Kentucky suggest there is potentially hidden scoring upside to unlock as well. 

    The Kings could also look at Stanford's Ziaire Williams, a 6'8", three-and-D wing who'll slip to the teens or 20s after putting up disappointing percentages. He's an appealing buy-low value pick for the idea that he's a better shooter than the numbers suggest, he wasn't given many chances to create and his tools and IQ are suited for effectively guarding ball-handlers and small forwards.

Golden State Warriors

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    There is a 72.4 percent chance that the Minnesota Timberwolves land outside the top three and have to send their lottery pick to the Golden State Warriors (via Andrew Wiggins-D'Angelo Russell trade).

    Depending on where Golden State lands, it may make sense to explore trading down. 

    The Warriors should stay at No. 4 (9.6 percent chance) and draft whoever falls between Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs and Evan Mobley. They are too strong of prospects to worry about fit, though it will be worth listening to offers if other teams want to propose a deal including a more established star-caliber player. The Warriors do have their own first-rounder (No. 17) to use on a rookie.

    If Golden State picks at No. 5, trading down may look more appealing. Jonathan Kuminga is an exciting prospect in a vacuum for his scoring potential, but he could be a black hole and turnoff for an offense that's predicated on ball-movement and shooting. 

    Franz Wagner stands out as a terrific fit, but a reach at No. 5. He's a target to move down for based on his shoot-dribble-pass versatility as a 6'9" forward. Aside from being able to spot up from three, slash through caps and play-make off ball screens, Wagner was a plus-defender at Michigan with convincing foot speed and IQ for guarding the perimeter, switching and making rotational reads.

    He's an easy fit anywhere in Golden State's lineup, as is Moses Moody for his off-ball scoring, three-point shooting and wing-defender tools.

    It wouldn't be surprising if the Warriors like Real Madrid's Usman Garuba, who might not be there at No. 17. There are similarities to Draymond Green with their defense, passing and knack for impacting games without needing shots or points .

    Golden State could also look at Josh Giddey, but more as a trade-down target. He'd give the Warriors another ball-handler and playmaker to take pressure off Stephen Curry. And given his 6'8" size, IQ and signs of shooting potential, coach Steve Kerr could play him as a wing, as well as use him to facilitate when Curry is out. 

    There wouldn't be anything wrong with moving down for Corey Kispert, either. The Warriors' system and players would optimize his proven shooting skills and shot-making versatility. He's an appealing plug-and-play option, especially if Klay Thompson will be load managed next season.  

Orlando Magic (via Bulls)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There is no reason for the Orlando Magic to shop their own pick. They may feel more inclined to get creative and gamble with a second lottery pick, which they have a 79.8 percent chance of acquiring from the Chicago Bulls (top-four protected).

    Recent history suggests the No 8-11 range isn't the greatest spot on the board to find value. If they're able to secure a star prospect like Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs or even Jonathan Kuminga with their own pick, the Magic may want to use the Bulls' pick to move down and acquire a pick in the teens or 20s, plus a veteran for a young rotation that features Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mohamed Bamba.

    It would be like the Minnesota Timberwolves-Oklahoma City Thunder trade last draft. After the Minnesota Timberwolves got Anthony Edwards, they traded No. 17 to move down and acquire Ricky Rubio and the No. 28 pick, which they used on Jaden McDaniels, one of the biggest 2020 steals. 

    If the Magic think they can find the same caliber player in the late teens or 20s as they can with the Bulls' late-lottery pick, they should look for a deal. They could then leave this draft with an elite prospect from their own pick, an established starter (for moving down) and another mid-to-late first-round rookie. 

    In the teens or 20s, Orlando could look to move down for an explosive scorer like Josh Christopher or three-and-D wings like Ziaire Williams and Chris Duarte.