The Biggest Weakness Every Lottery Team Must Address in 2021 NBA Draft
Lottery teams will try to address their weaknesses with new cornerstones through the 2021 NBA draft.
Often, the biggest need is simply talent, but it's not always easy to identify the best player available. In that case, teams may attempt to plug holes with specific players they feel they can either bank on for their rebuild or low-cost production.
We pinpointed each lottery team's biggest weakness and possible prospects who can help.
Biggest weakness: No offensive initiator/centerpiece
This offseason represents Phase 1 of the Houston Rockets' rebuild, which comes after the James Harden trade and the team finishing No. 27 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Rockets are more than a quick fix away from returning to relevance, but Cade Cunningham would put them back on track.
John Wall is a useful veteran to keep the show running while Kevin Porter Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and KJ Martin get comfortable and confident. However, Houston needs another initiator to build around—a player whose creation the offense can eventually run through.
Cunningham is an obvious dream target for Houston with his ability to double as a No. 1 scoring option and lead playmaker.
Jalen Suggs also makes sense as Wall's eventual replacement who could log minutes in the meantime as a combo guard due to his athleticism for slashing and cutting off the ball. It wouldn't hurt to add more firepower from Jalen Green, through his particular shot selection and skill set are relatively redundant with Porter's.
It's tough to argue against Evan Mobley for the Rockets, as his rim protection and overall defensive upside could help Houston build a new identity. His scoring upside remains exciting as well, though Mobley isn't the type to initiate offense the way Cunningham can.
Biggest weakness: Lack of creation
General manager Troy Weaver added some cornerstone keepers last summer through the draft and free agency. But while the front office and fan base presumably feel good about the additions of Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart, creators are missing from the roster.
Even Hayes, the team's expected point guard of the future, has some trouble separating or generating quality offense one-on-one. Grant's usage rate jumped to 28.5 percent in Detroit from 18.0 percent with the Denver Nuggets.
The lineup needs another player who can get his own shot or set up teammates. Cade Cunningham checks both boxes. Jalen Green seems like a strong consolation prize with his quickness and explosion to generate easy opportunities, plus advanced self-creation and shot-making skill at the 2-guard slot.
The Pistons could use talent in any form, so there wouldn't be anything to criticize about an Evan Mobley selection. Flashes of ball-handling and face-up play suggest he could eventually be used to regularly create for himself. Unless Hayes makes a substantial jump with his playmaking next season, however, Mobley's offense would likely come quicker on a team that offers more experienced point guard play.
Biggest weakness (potentially two lottery picks): Missing floor general or wing play
Durability has arguably been the Orlando Magic's main problem. But even at full strength, the lineup clearly has holes. Ranking the biggest ones is almost pointless this early in the rebuild. It's a good thing Orlando could have two top-10 picks, as they own the Chicago Bulls' pick if it's outside the top four.
Ideally, Orlando adds a more reliable floor general, given Markelle Fultz's ACL tear and shooting woes and Cole Anthony's questionable facilitating feel. There is still uncertainty about who each player will be over the next few seasons. For a starting point guard, does Fultz offer enough playmaking to make up for his lack of scoring and shooting? Can Anthony run a team offense efficiently enough? The development of Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. will be tied to Fultz's and Anthony's decision-making and gravity.
If Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs are gone, or the team isn't confident that Suggs is the right fit, Orlando could think about using its own pick to plug a hole with Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga.
There is an argument that Orlando has three quality ball-handlers in Fultz, Anthony and R.J. Hampton, and that this roster needs wing scoring and shooting. Terrence Ross and Gary Harris aren't exciting cornerstones for a rebuilding team. Okeke may be better suited as a big, given his limited creation skills.
Australia's Josh Giddey jumps out as a possible point guard answer with the Bulls pick. The NBL's assist leader has distinguished himself overseas with his special passing IQ, plus unique 6'8" size to see and easily execute. Of the playmakers outside the projected top five, Giddey has the best resume and skill set for facilitating offense.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Biggest weakness: Talent
The Oklahoma City Thunder won two games total in April and May. They won't be picky this draft. Best player available is the only criteria to follow during their search.
Cade Cunningham would jumpstart the rebuild and give the Thunder another interchangeable, big guard to score and play-make. A 40.0 percent shooter from three with the size to defend wings, he could play on and off the ball in Oklahoma City's backcourt.
The NBA's worst offense could also use Jalen Green, another three-level scorer with more athletic ability than Cunningham. Mobley would give the Thunder a two-way centerpiece to build with from the 5 spot, while Jonathan Kuminga would add more power, speed and shot-making potential from the forward spots.
It gets tricky for Oklahoma City if they fall to No. 6. Scottie Barnes, Jalen Johnson, Davion Mitchell, Keon Johnson, Josh Giddey, Franz Wagner, Moses Moody and James Bouknight would be the most likely names in the highest-upside-available discussion for a rebuilding franchise. Barnes, Mitchell, Johnson and Wagner project as defensive-first prospects, while Johnson, Giddey, Moody and Bouknight offer more offensive potential.
Biggest weakness: Offensive efficiency/shooting
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the league's worst three-point shooting team with the No. 28 ranked offense. Ideally, they have the chance to draft a new No. 1 option who can both facilitate and shoot. Only Cade Cunningham realistically fits that description, and he'll require the Cavaliers to win the lottery.
While Darius Garland started to develop into a more complete point guard, and Collin Sexton has emerged as a 24.3-point-per-game scorer, it's worth questioning the ceiling of an offense that's dominated by a pair of 6'1" ball-handlers.
It's tough to fall in love with the idea of Jalen Green for Cleveland, given his preference for one-on-one play and lack of playmaking. Even though the Cavaliers have Garland and Sexton, Jalen Suggs would still make sense for this lineup due to his passing, defense and knack for generating quality shots in transition. Jonathan Kuminga would give the Cavaliers more scoring versatility from the power forward slot, but his weaknesses as a shooter and decision-maker are worrisome.
Assuming the Cavaliers don't land Cunningham, they should at least explore trades, either down the board or for an established veteran. Corey Kispert seems like a reasonable trade-down target as potentially the draft's top shooter and one of its more efficient two-point finishers and decision-makers. Moses Moody also makes sense—possibly even as a mid-lottery reach—for his off-ball scoring and shot-making versatility.
Biggest weakness: Defense
The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning the corner in April and May with a roster at full strength and Anthony Edwards cooking efficiently. The rotation still needs more defensive-minded role players for the league's No. 28-ranked defense. It looks like Jaden McDaniels is on the verge of becoming a key three-and-D forward. But there is room and a need for more with an offense built around Edwards, D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota only keeps its pick if it lands top three, and there isn't a puzzle-piece fit for its exact needs. However, Cade Cunningham is too rare of a prospect to pass on, and his versatility, shooting and passing should work well next to Russell.
Evan Mobley would be an interesting target for Minnesota since he's viewed as a center and Towns already occupies that position. But Mobley, who's in the conversation for top defensive player in the draft, has the mobility and foot speed to guard 4s while also possessing the tools and skill set for inside-out offense.
He could be used as a roll man and finisher while Towns stretches the floor, or Mobley could play around the perimeter, thanks to his touch and fluidity attacking closeouts from spot-up position.
Otherwise, Jalen Suggs comes off as the next-best option to target top three, given his defensive IQ/activity. He causes problems with his pressure and off-ball instincts for creating turnovers. And given his experience at Gonzaga sharing the ball, plus an unselfish mindset, he'd find ways to coexist offensively in a combo role.
Biggest weakness: Depth
Based on the Toronto Raptors' current roster, they are a middle-of-the-pack offensive, defensive and shooting team. The biggest weakness may change after free agency, depending on what happens with Kyle Lowry and Gary Trent Jr. But as of now, the rotation could really just use depth, considering it finished last in the NBA in bench scoring.
If Lowry comes back and the Raptors wind up picking outside the top four, then this should be a simple case of best player available, particularly since Toronto is unlikely to find an upgrade over Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, and there won't be a center worth drafting in the No. 5-9 range.
Jalen Johnson, Keon Johnson, Scottie Barnes, James Bouknight and Moses Moody will be viable options.
If the Raptors jump into the top four, Cade Cunningham becomes the obvious target and replacement for Lowry, who they wouldn't have to re-sign. Mobley makes equal sense in terms of fit for his two-way impact at center. And the Raptors could think about using VanVleet as a full-time point guard and drafting Jalen Green for scoring and athleticism at the 2. Jalen Suggs, a physical ball-handler and defender who's actually drawn comparisons to Lowry, is also an attractive option to pair with VanVleet.
Biggest weakness: Point guard play
Even after acquiring Nikola Vucevic, the Chicago Bulls still ranked No. 22 in offense since the trade. And now Coby White will miss the offseason recovering from left shoulder surgery. The Bulls need to catch a break and jump into the top four for a passer—or they lose their pick to the Orlando Magic.
The Bulls have a 20.3 percent chance of keeping their pick, and they'll be hoping for the opportunity to draft either Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs.
Cunningham is a better distributor than the numbers at Oklahoma State suggest. We would see that with more weapons around him and less of a scoring workload to carry. Suggs would also be an excellent fit for his unselfishness, playmaking and ability to put pressure on the defense and rim with his downhill attacking next to Zach LaVine.
If neither are available, Evan Mobley seems more appealing for Chicago than Jalen Green, who's drawn comparisons to LaVine. Mobley's defensive range and scoring versatility may actually work from the 4 and give Chicago a reason to shop Lauri Markkanen and try to find an established distributor via trade.
Biggest weakness: Defense
After pairing De'Aaron Fox with Tyrese Haliburton, the Sacramento Kings' next step is to strengthen their defense, which ranked last in the NBA.
A dream scenario has Sacramento hitting on their 20.3 percent chance of jumping into the top four so they can grab Evan Mobley. His rim protection and switchability would work from either big-man position.
A more realistic lottery outcome has them picking in the No. 9-11 range. The Kings still seem too far away to worry about needs in the draft, but if they need a tie-breaker between prospects, defensive potential should factor into the equation. Scottie Barnes could then be a favorite with his 6'9", 227-pound frame and versatility to guard ball-handlers and wings.
Third in the NCAA in defensive plus-minus, Franz Wagner also fits the Kings' lineup as a two-way combo forward. And there should be some level of interest in Isaiah Jackson, a bouncy, high-motor big who'll likely have led all first-round prospects with a 12.7 block percentage.
New Orleans Pelicans
Biggest weakness: Lack of three-and-D
With an offense built around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, there should be a focus on surrounding them with shooters and defenders. The New Orleans Pelicans just finished No. 23 in defense and No. 26 in three-point percentage, rankings that don't align with playoff teams.
Needs shouldn't come into play if the New Orleans Pelicans move into the top four with their 20.3 percent chance. In that range, they can't pass on the best player available between Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs, who'd each fit with the current lineup.
The more likely scenario has New Orleans picking at No. 10 or No. 11. There, they could target Moses Moody or Davion Mitchell, players with both upside as shot-makers and defenders. Moody made 1.8 threes per game with 6'6" size and excellent length, while Mitchell, arguably the top defensive ball-handler, improved to 44.7 percent from three.
Franz Wager would give them a multipositional defender and capable shooter who needs to improve his consistency. Or the Pelicans could play it safe with a surefire three-point threat in Corey Kispert, though he wouldn't provide much value defensively.
Biggest weakness: Center production/impact
The Charlotte Hornets will have decisions to make about restricted free agent Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier, who could be a trade chip in the final year of his contract. The roster's main weakness right now is the center position with Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo both entering free agency.
Assuming Charlotte doesn't hit on their 8.5 percent chance to move into the top four, the Hornets should have a few late-lottery options to plug their 5 hole.
Isaiah Jackson would make for an exciting lob target to give LaMelo Ball, while his defensive upside still remains his biggest selling point. Alperen Sengun just won MVP of the Turkish BSL at 18 years old, and though he lacks Jackson's bounce and potential in rim protection, he's the more skilled, refined scorer for half-court offense.
The Hornets could target Kai Jones, whose skill set and lack of shot-blocking at Texas suggest he's more of a power forward. But he's still ultra athletic and 6'11", while his budding perimeter game could give opposing 5s problems.
Usman Garuba is the most limited scorer among late-lottery bigs, but he'd likely be the most impactful defender from Day 1 based on his Euroleague experience, NBA-ready physical tools and obvious IQ.
San Antonio Spurs
Biggest weakness: Frontcourt offense
With DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Trey Lyles entering free agency, the San Antonio Spurs should think about rebuilding the frontcourt. There is still room to upgrade the backcourt, but unless the Spurs jump into the top four with their 8.0 percent odds, they'll have a better chance to strengthen their 4 and 5 depth than their guards and wings.
Jalen Johnson would give them an athletic playmaking 4 who can handle in transition or face up at 6'9", 220 pounds. At the same size, Franz Wagner offers more shot-making range and similar driving and passing. They'd both provide a unique dimension of two-way versatility missing from San Antonio's lineup.
The Spurs could also target Alperen Sengun, who just finished top three in the Turkish BSL in scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking. Jakob Poeltl offers defensive strong value on his contract, but Sengun could be a center San Antonio could quickly feature in the post and roll game.
In need of shooting (No. 24 in three-point percentage), San Antonio may consider adding Corey Kispert as a high-floor specialist to bank on at both forward spots for the next four-plus years.
Biggest weakness: Durability
On paper, the Indiana Pacers roster looks stronger than their record. But this front office is banking on an incredibly injury-prone group.
Malcolm Brogdon hasn't played more than 65 games since his rookie year. Myles Turner has played more than 65 games twice since being drafted in 2015. T.J. Warren hasn't played more than 67 games once in his seven-year career. LeVert's cancer discovery was scary and unrelated to his injury history, but foot/leg problems have also limited him to playing more than 57 games just once.
Strong up front with a wing scorer and versatile backcourt, the Pacers shouldn't be thinking about filling specific holes. They just need a rotation player to count on, although, history says they can get great value at No. 13 overall, as we've seen Tyler Herro, Michael Porter Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker and Zach LaVine go No. 13 or No. 14 in recent drafts.
Over the past few mocks, we've given the Pacers James Bouknight, an athletic, shot-creating scorer who could play between Brogdon and LeVert or as a sixth man. Josh Giddey could fit with his passing and potential to play a jumbo playmaking role from the 2. Moses Moody would slide in easily thanks to his off-ball shot-making, while Franz Wanger could give Indiana a two-way Swiss Army Knife at the 3 and 4 spots.
Golden State Warriors
Biggest weakness: Lack of creation
The Golden State Warriors have a 72.5 percent of stealing the Minnesota Timberwolves' top-three protected pick and selecting twice in the lottery.
They need inside toughness for limiting opponents' offensive rebounds. But they'll look for that in free agency. Golden State should think about drafting some extra creation to a lineup that leans heavily on Stephen Curry. Even with a healthy Klay Thompson, who's still more of a spot-up and off-screen scorer, the Warriors could use another playmaker.
An ideal scenario has them landing the No. 4 pick with Evan Mobley and Jalen Green going in the top three. That would leave them with Jalen Suggs to draft and push their pace in transition, pressure defenses with athletic driving, set up teammates and force turnovers.
In the No. 6-8 range, which should offer similar talent to what they'll see at No. 14, the Warriors could target Franz Wagner for his pick-and-roll passing and defensive versatility, James Bouknight to self-create and score, Davion Mitchell as an explosive, defensive-minded backup or Josh Giddey to facilitate or run the second unit.
Tre Mann, Jared Butler, Sharife Cooper and Chris Duarte could also be considered at No. 14 if the Warriors grab a lower-usage player like Moses Moody, Corey Kispert or Keon Johnson with Minnesota's pick.