Every Team's Biggest 2021 NBA Draft Need
Every team will take its own wish list into Thursday night's 2021 NBA draft.
They'll vary in size and scope, and range from a general need, like talent, to something far more specific, like a backup point guard.
The basketball gods won't grant every wish. Depending on how the draft board breaks, a lot of teams may not even try, since reaching for lesser talent just to fill a need is rarely advisable.
But in a perfect world, the best available player is also a need filler, and everyone gets what they want. Here's what all 30 teams want at the annual talent grab.
Atlanta Hawks: Backup Shot-Creator
Atlanta's offensive efficiency torpedoed whenever Trae Young took a seat, losing a whopping 13.8 points per 100 possessions. That says plenty about Young's ability to run an offense, but it says even more about what the Hawks lacked behind him.
While they eventually got decent mileage out of Lou Williams, he's a 34-year-old free agent. Even if the Hawks want to bring him back, he's not a long-term solution.
If Atlanta targets this area with the 20th pick, then Florida's Tre Mann, Baylor's Jared Butler and West Virginia's Miles McBride should all be on the radar.
Boston Celtics: Point Guard
The Celtics gained significant financial flexibility by trading away Kemba Walker, but they lost their first-round pick—and their only natural point guard on the roster.
Marcus Smart shines brightest at the defensive end. Payton Pritchard is more of a shooter and scorer than a table-setter. The return of Al Horford will help with the ball movement, but he isn't plugging the hole at point guard, either.
Truth be told, whomever the Celtics select at No. 45 won't walk into a starting gig. But backcourt depth would be helpful, and Boston could get that out of Ohio's Jason Preston, Colorado's McKinley Wright IV or the G League Ignite's Daishen Nix.
Brooklyn Nets: Rotation-Ready Role Player
A healthy Brooklyn team might deserve to be the favorites entering next season, which puts a lot of pressure on all of the role players to be up to par. They could have fairly sizable roles depending on the free-agency paths taken by Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeff Green and Blake Griffin.
The Nets arguably need depth everywhere, although they might receive the biggest return from a three-and-D wing or an above-the-rim center. Brooklyn has the 27th pick to try to find either one, so it could target Houston's Quentin Grimes for the former or North Carolina's Day'Ron Sharpe for the latter.
Charlotte Hornets: Athletic Center
Charlotte's need at the center spot is most easily seen in the fact that both Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are off to free agency. But truth be told, the Hornets could keep both players and still need an upgrade at the 5 spot.
They're ho-hum options at best, and neither has the turbo-charged athleticism that should belong to a big man sprinting alongside LaMelo Ball. All of the Hornets' moves should be made through the prism of bettering Ball, and he could do wonders with a bouncy big who can crush lobs and go end-to-end real quick.
Texas' Kai Jones seems like an obvious target at No. 11, but if Charlotte is really bullish about Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson, he might work in this spot, too.
Chicago Bulls: Backup Big
Chicago's biggest offseason need is a veteran ball-mover who can turn this roster into a playoff participant.
But at the draft, where the Bulls only own the 38th pick, they probably won't aim higher than a depth piece. Specifically, they should find someone to soak up minutes at the center spot when Nikola Vucevic needs a breather.
That should be doable in this draft range. Whether it's North Carolina's Day'Ron Sharpe, Western Kentucky's Charles Bassey or Texas' Jericho Sims, this front office will have options.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Two-Way Wing
This might feel adjacent to a cop-out answer because every NBA roster could use another two-way wing (or several). But it's a particularly pesky itch for this roster.
The Cavs have backcourt scoring covered with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, a perimeter stopper in Isaac Okoro and an interior anchor in Jarrett Allen, assuming they bring him back from restricted free agency. All they need is a wing who plays both ends to tie this roster together like a Lebowskian rug.
Having said that, Cleveland probably isn't scratching the itch at No. 3. Doing so would require reaching past three-level scorer Jalen Green, two-way center Evan Mobley or floor general Jalen Suggs. That's the player pool the Cavs should pull from, and they can worry about their elusive wing another day.
Dallas Mavericks: Draft Capital
When Kristaps Porzingis flopped this postseason, it burned the Mavericks for reasons beyond the ominous question of whether they had committed to the wrong co-star for Luka Doncic.
It also hurt because Dallas continues paying for that exchange. It's the reason the franchise doesn't have a first-round pick in this draft and is out a 2023 first-rounder if it lands anywhere outside of the top 10.
That's unfortunate because the Mavs have several needs that otherwise could've been addressed at the draft, including secondary playmaking, perimeter scoring (especially if Tim Hardaway Jr. leaves in free agency) and frontcourt athleticism.
Denver Nuggets: Scoring Guard
The Nuggets might be able to construct a top-10 attack around Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., but adding a point-producing guard to the equation might blow the roof off this offense.
With Will Barton declining his player option and Jamal Murray facing a lengthy recovery from an ACL tear in his left knee, Denver needs more perimeter firepower. In a perfect world, the Nuggets would land a player who can create his own shot, splash spot-up threes and chip in with secondary playmaking.
Whether that's a reasonable wish list for the 26th pick is up for debate, but there are players who could check every box if they maximize their development. Florida's Tre Mann, Baylor's Jared Butler and VCU's Nah'Shon Hyland stand out as possible targets likely to land in this range.
Detroit Pistons: Franchise Centerpiece
Since pivoting into a top-to-bottom rebuild, the Pistons have coaxed a near-All-Star campaign out of Jerami Grant and collected a number of intriguing young prospects. But this team lacks an elite-level centerpiece, which is why its fans should be thanking the basketball gods for showering it with good fortune at the draft lottery.
Detroit holds the No. 1 pick in Thursday's draft, which creates several avenues for the organization to add its primary building block.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pistons are still deciding between Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham, G League Ignite's Jalen Green and USC's Evan Mobley. Cunningham seems the likeliest pick as a jumbo playmaker who can also handle primary scoring duties and lock down the defensive end. But Green could be a future scoring leader, and Mobley boasts enviable versatility on the interior, so all three options might be great ones.
Golden State Warriors: NBA-Ready Three-and-D Wing
With Stephen Curry playing at an MVP level, Draymond Green dialing up all-world defense and Klay Thompson on the mend, Golden State could have a pathway back to championship contention. But the rest of this roster needs work, and time is of the essence with the aforementioned trio all on the wrong side of 30.
That could push the front office to put one or both of its lottery picks (Nos. 7 and 14) into play on the trade market, though ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that "short of Bradley Beal being available," the expectation is Golden State will use the picks.
If the Dubs keep these selections, look for them to invest the picks on the perimeter in polished shot-creators, shooters and high-IQ defenders. Should they walk away with UConn scoring guard James Bouknight and Oregon three-and-D wing Chris Duarte, look for the Warriors to be circled as draft-night winners.
Houston Rockets: Blue-Chip Building Block
After years of orbiting the franchise around all-galaxy star James Harden, Houston needs a premier prospect to put at the foundation of its Beard-less future. Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate are solid pieces, but the Rockets need someone who can ascend to top-20-or-better status in the league.
The No. 2 pick could provide exactly that.
Assuming Cade Cunningham is off the board, Houston will likely decide between Jalen Green and Evan Mobley. The club arguably can't go wrong either way. Green offers the draft's best scoring upside, and Mobley can patrol the paint and the perimeter at both ends of the floor.
Indiana Pacers: Two-Way Wing
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the Pacers aren't interested in taking the long road back to relevance. They made that much apparent when they made the coaching change from Nate Bjorkgren to Rick Carlisle, and that may not be the last win-now move they make.
They have also discussed sending the No. 13 pick to the Houston Rockets for Indianapolis native Eric Gordon and the No. 23 pick, per B/R's Jake Fischer. Regardless of whether that comes to fruition, it shows the desire to add a player who can help right now with shot-making and perimeter defense.
If Oregon's Chris Duarte is still on the board, he seems to check the most pressing boxes for the Pacers. Arkansas' Moses Moody and Gonzaga's Corey Kispert could fit the bill, too.
Los Angeles Clippers: Playmaker
Assuming Kawhi Leonard stays in L.A.—he holds a $36 million player option for next season—the Clippers will be right back in championship-or-bust mode. That puts the onus on the front office to go find a floor general, especially if Reggie Jackson parlays his strong playoff showing into a big payday somewhere else.
L.A. needed more shot creators around Leonard and Paul George even before the former suffered a partial ACL tear in his right knee. That injury just increases the urgency to find someone who can lighten George's playmaking duties.
The Clippers have a chance to find what they're after at the 25th pick. Between Baylor's Jared Butler, Auburn's Sharife Cooper and Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu, L.A. might see the right blend of playmaking potential and the ability to contribute right away.
Los Angeles Lakers: Playmaking and Shot-Making
The Los Angeles Lakers might follow the lead of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they need more offensive contributors to keep their offense from stagnating in the half court.
L.A. has long needed better spacing around its stars, but the team also seeks a "difference-making playmaker" to create more opportunities for James and Davis to fill the 4 and 5 spots together, per longtime NBA scribe Marc Stein.
Can the Lakers reasonably expect to find such a difference-maker with the No. 22 pick? Probably not, save perhaps for a trade that packages the pick with other assets and brings back an established floor general.
But if L.A. stands pat, it might find a capable ball-mover and floor-spacer in Jared Butler, Tre Mann or Miles McBride.
Memphis Grizzlies: Wing Scorers
The Memphis Grizzlies could have viewed their playoff breakthrough as a sign that their rebuilding project is going exactly as planned and continued following their long-term strategy. Instead, they seem to view Ja Morant's sizzling postseason debut (30.2 points and 8.2 assists per game) as a reason to buy big and surround their young star with as much marquee talent as possible.
On Monday, they agreed to send starting center Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th and 51st overall picks to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, a pair of first-round picks (including this year's 10th overall selection) and the No. 40 pick, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported Memphis wants to keep moving up the board to land either James Bouknight and Jonathan Kuminga. Both have the kind of sky-high scoring ceilings the Grizzlies have long needed on the wing.
If the Grizzlies can't get high enough to add them, Moses Moody, Josh Giddey and Michigan's Franz Wagner could work as complementary wings who bring value to both ends of the floor.
Miami Heat: Frontcourt Depth
Despite following their 2020 Finals run by failing to win a game in the 2021 postseason, the Miami Heat won't panic about their position. Injuries and issues with COVID-19 protocols kept the club from ever finding its rhythm, so the front office shouldn't treat the disappointing finish as the sign of a fatally flawed roster.
The Heat do have plenty of work to do this offseason, but it probably won't occur on draft night. Previous trades left them without first- and second-round picks, so the Heat will sit out of the draft without brokering another deal.
That's unfortunate since Miami could at least use more depth at the forward spots and more size at center. The "at least" qualifier comes into play because the Heat have only five players with guaranteed contracts for 2021-22, so free agency could open even more holes to fill.
Milwaukee Bucks: Bench Scoring
To defend their NBA title, the Milwaukee Bucks might need to load up their second unit with quick-strike scorers.
They had a few good ones this season, but that may no longer be the case if Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes seek out more money elsewhere in free agency.
If Milwaukee goes searching for microwave scorers, it could like what it finds at pick No. 31. That could be the right range for Nah'Shon Hyland, LSU's Cameron Thomas or Arizona State's Josh Christopher.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Forwards
The Minnesota Timberwolves sacrificed both their first- and second-round picks in their 2020 trade deadline deal for D'Angelo Russell, so they'll be sitting out of this year's draft unless they trade their way back in.
On one hand, that isn't necessarily the worst thing since they might already be set on building blocks. Between Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and 2020 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards, the franchise should feel confident in its foundation.
On the other hand, the supporting cast could stand an upgrade or two, especially the at the forward spots. A floor-spacing 4 or a two-way 3 could really spruce up this group, but the Wolves might have to find that player on the trade market or in free agency.
New Orleans Pelicans: Snipers and Stoppers
The New Orleans Pelicans have a 21-year-old centerpiece in Zion Williamson and an urgency to win sooner than later. That's often the case for small-market franchises with stars on the roster, and it's doubly true for New Orleans since some of Williamson's family members are reportedly angling for his ticket out of the Big Easy, per The Athletic's Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory.
The Pels need to improve their roster before these rumblings turn into something far more dire. They struggled in a number of areas this past season, but their deficiencies on defense (23rd in efficiency) and in shooting (27th in threes) were particularly frustrating since they need those to be strengths with Williamson.
Moving down the draft board from 10 to 17 upped the difficulty of finding a player who can help in both areas, though the Pels might be trying to find an established contributor via trade. Should they stay in this spot, expect them to give serious consideration to Cameron Thomas, Corey Kispert, Virginia's Trey Murphy III and Alabama's Joshua Primo.
New York Knicks: Shot Creator
The New York Knicks got a lot right this past season, snapping a seven-year playoff drought, sending Julius Randle to the All-Star Game and finishing fourth in defensive efficiency under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. But the offense was a mess (22nd in efficiency during the regular season, second-worst in the postseason), which speaks to their need for another shot-creator.
New York has four picks in this draft (Nos. 19, 21, 32 and 58) and no need for four rookies, so they'll likely try to consolidate the picks to trade up (or for a veteran). If the Knicks could climb into the late lottery, that might get them within range to add Baylor's Davion Mitchell or Adelaide's Josh Giddey.
If they can't move up, they could consider Sharife Cooper, Jared Butler, Cameron Thomas or Stanford's Ziaire Williams at No. 19.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Legitimate Scorer
The lottery gods weren't kind to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who wound up with the sixth pick in what many consider to be a four-player draft at the top. That not only pushes them out of the Cunningham-Green-Mobley-Suggs tier, but it could also deny them a shot at Jonathan Kuminga or Florida State's Scottie Barnes.
With multiple picks in this draft (in addition to No. 6, they own Nos. 16, 18, 34, 36 and 55) and the next several, they could make a big push to move up. They reportedly "made a legitimate offer" to pry No. 1 away from the Pistons but were rebuffed, per B/R's Jonathan Wasserman.
OKC figures to continue working the phone lines into Thursday night and would hit a home run by getting into position to grab Green, who would form a dynamic backcourt with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for years to come. If the Thunder can't climb above No. 6, they could target Kuminga or James Bouknight to share lead scoring duties with SGA.
Orlando Magic: Everything
Pivoting away from a perpetual chase of the No. 8 seed was a smart move for the Orlando Magic. But their blank canvass might feel more like an abyss until they find the high-level prospects who can give them a clear direction for their rebuild.
They have a few interesting pieces on the roster, but they all come with asterisks attached. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are both working their way back from ACL tears. Cole Anthony is a scoring guard who shot under 40 percent as a rookie. R.J. Hampton is a virtual unknown with less than 900 minutes under his belt. Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. haven't done enough to know which will be Orlando's big man of the future.
That's a long-winded way of saying the roster needs everything, so Orlando should follow the best-player-available practice at picks Nos. 5, 8 and 33. That probably means deciding between Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, Jonathan Kuminga and James Bouknight at No. 5, then perhaps targeting Josh Giddey, Franz Wagner, Davion Mitchell, Tennessee's Keon Johnson or Besiktas' Alperen Sengun next.
Philadelphia 76ers: Perimeter Scoring
The Philadelphia 76ers' offseason needs will vary greatly depending on what they do with Ben Simmons.
If the Sixers move the three-time All-Star and five-position defender, they'll presumably bring back a perimeter scorer and open up a void on defense. If that happens, it might make sense to spend the No. 28 pick on a stopper like Jared Butler or Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
But given Simmons' unique skill set and the sour taste left by his disastrous playoff showing, Philly might find this isn't the best time to trade him. The Sixers seek "an All-Star-caliber player in return," per The Athletic's Shams Charania, and it's unclear which team (if any) is willing to meet that price.
If Simmons stays—for the time being, at least—Philadelphia needs to add more scoring punch to its perimeter group. Nah'Shon Hyland, Cameron Thomas and Sharife Cooper could all be targets to give this offense more zip from the outside.
Phoenix Suns: Depth at Point Guard and Center
The Phoenix Suns' future is in Chris Paul's hands.
If the Point God stays put, perhaps exercising his $44.2 million player option and extending his contract, then the Suns won't be shopping for more than reserve roles. They could need point guard depth if Cameron Payne signs elsewhere, and they could use someone behind Deandre Ayton to help cover the absence of Dario Saric, who tore his right ACL during the Finals.
If Paul leaves, the Suns will be scrambling to replace their on-court leader. But that probably wouldn't change their draft plans, beyond possibly dangling the No. 29 pick for more immediate help.
Assuming the Suns stand pat and go substitute searching, they could pursue Sharife Cooper, Ayo Dosunmu or Tennessee's Jaden Springer for backcourt help or Isaiah Jackson, Day'Ron Sharpe or Charles Bassey for the interior.
Portland Trail Blazers: Trade Chips
Damian Lillard doesn't necessarily sound like he's itching for a one-way ticket out of Portland yet, but he is getting antsy for the front office to upgrade the roster around him.
"I think the best way to put it is just to be more urgent," Lillard said, per B/R's Sean Highkin. "Be more urgent about what our next step is and how we move forward. ... Do we want to win it all? Do we actually want to do that? Then we've got to do things to show that. Put action behind that desire to win at that level."
The Blazers don't have any picks in this draft nor much spending power in free agency, so they'll largely have to rely on trades for upgrades. In a perfect world, they'd have a first-rounder to help sweeten a trade offer, but they gave it up in the November deal for Robert Covington.
Sacramento Kings: Wing Stopper
The Sacramento Kings are hoping their backcourt of the future, De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, can lead a playoff charge in the present. They're shopping the No. 9 pick—plus Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley—in an effort to accelerate their rebuild, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
If Sacramento hopes to win sooner than later, it needs to fix its league-worst defense. With Harrison Barnes being more of a 4 at this stage of his career and Hield playing about as much defense as you'd expect from someone nicknamed "Buddy Buckets," the Kings need a lockdown wing defender.
Assuming Jonathan Kuminga doesn't fall into their laps, Franz Wagner, Moses Moody and Tennessee's Keon Johnson could all strike the right balance between prospect value and team fit.
San Antonio Spurs: Interior Anchor
After rostering the likes of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs know better than anyone how much an interior anchor can mean to a franchise. Jakob Poeltl, who probably peaks somewhere around "fine," isn't that kind of player.
Maybe San Antonio sees its next great big man being on the board at No. 12.
Real Madrid's Usman Garuba is raw on offense but electric on defense. Alperen Sengun is the polar opposite. San Antonio might have a chance to pick its preference between the two.
If the Spurs don't want to make that choice, then Kai Jones might offer the highest two-way ceiling among bigs in this draft range.
Toronto Raptors: Starting Guard (Probably)
The Toronto Raptors are facing a fork in the road this offseason.
They could attempt to return to playoff contention by re-signing Kyle Lowry and perhaps injecting new talent into their frontcourt with the No. 4 pick. Conversely, they could split with the (35-year-old) franchise favorite, draft Lowry's replacement at No. 4 and take a longer road to retooling.
Set aside the sentimental vibes emanating from a potential Lowry divorce, and Door No. 2 feels like the right path. The Raptors weren't as bad as their 27-45 record indicated—they pulled the plug early to increase their lottery odds and were rewarded with a leap up the draft board—but their ceiling stopped short of championship contention once Kawhi Leonard went back south of the border in 2019.
If this is it for Lowry and Toronto, the Raptors might be pulled to the perimeter on draft night. Jalen Suggs projects to eventually ace a lot of the same areas Lowry conquered during his Toronto tenure, which should push the Gonzaga point guard past Scottie Barnes in the Raptors' war room.
Utah Jazz: Two-Way Forward with Range
Despite tallying an NBA-best 52 regular-season victories in 2020-21, status quo seems like it's off the table for the Utah Jazz. Veteran point guard Mike Conley is entering free agency, and they might need to shed salary to put together the kind of offer he'll command.
The Jazz are exploring avenues to do just that. B/R's Jake Fischer reported Utah has dangled Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic on the trade market, and it might offload the No. 30 pick to get out of Derrick Favors' deal.
If the Jazz keep this pick, they should invest it at one of the forward spots, especially if they trade away one (or both) of Ingles or Bogdanovic. Floor-spacing is a concern since they don't get that from Rudy Gobert, and they need to widen the attack lanes for Donovan Mitchell.
Joshua Primo, Ziaire Williams, Quentin Grimes, Auburn's JT Thor and Isaiah Todd from the G League Ignite could hold prominent places on Utah's big board.
Washington Wizards: Plug-and-Play Forward
Trade-machine maestros might keep mapping various paths taking Bradley Beal out of the District, but word on that front isn't great for those hoping to poach the All-Star off-guard. According to B/R's Jake Fischer, "there's a growing expectation among league personnel that [Beal] may still choose to remain with the Wizards for now."
If that's the plan, Washington's front office needs to give him more on-court incentives to stay. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so the lack of a trade demand now hardly means he'll sticking around for the future.
The Wizards could essentially upgrade all of their non-Beal roster spots, but the forward group in particular needs strengthening. Corey Kispert or Trey Murphy III could help improve the spacing, Ziaire Williams would add more shot creation, Keon Johnson could up the athleticism, and Duke's Jalen Johnson could contribute playmaking and transition finishing.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.