Every Team's Biggest Need in the 2022 NBA Draft

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2022

Every Team's Biggest Need in the 2022 NBA Draft

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    Most of the NBA is already operating in offseason mode.

    The rest will get there in the next month (give or take a few days).

    If you aren't thinking about your franchise's next step, you're already behind.

    We're here to bring everyone up to speed by spotlighting the biggest need—from a second-round flier to a franchise cornerstone—each team will take into the annual talent grab.

Atlanta Hawks: Perimeter Defense

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    By virtue of rostering Trae Young alone, Atlanta should always field a formidable offense.

    Of course, it will also have glaring defensive questions, too, and while the right blend of lanky stoppers might answer them, the Hawks haven't found them yet.

    They need a lockdown defender on the perimeter, and De'Andre Hunter just hasn't shown evidence of ascending to that level. Jimmy Butler exposed that void during the Miami Heat's five-game series win over the Hawks, averaging 30.5 points on 54.3 percent shooting and more than quadrupling his five turnovers with 21 assists.

Boston Celtics: Sharpshooting

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    Ten different Celtics fired up 100-plus three-point attempts this season. Just four of them cleared the league-average connection rate of 35.4 percent: Jaylen Brown, who edged past it at 35.8; Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard; who played support roles on the second unit; and Josh Richardson, who was dealt to the San Antonio Spurs at the deadline.

    Boston wants to establish an elite three-point attack. In the regular season, only eight teams launched more long-range looks. In the playoffs, that number is down to one. The issue is not enough of those shots are falling for this club to qualify.

    Improved playmaking helped the Celtics offense hit a higher gear this season. If they can make similar strides in the shooting department and widen the attack lanes for Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston could enter the Association's top tier.

Brooklyn Nets: Defensive-Minded Role Player

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    At one point, the Nets seemed to wager on their ability to simply outscore any opponent that stood in their way. That was most easily seen in the assembly of the three-headed, point-producing monster of the Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden trio, but even the smaller moves seemed to take them in that direction. The backcourt backups are almost all score-first guards, while the interior features offense-first options like LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.

    Brooklyn can't make that same bet any longer. Not after swapping out Harden for Ben Simmons, a hyper-versatile defender with glaring offensive shortcomings.

    The Nets will have to find better floor balance, and that starts with adding more stoppers to the mix. If they stay in this draft—their lone pick is the Philadelphia 76ers' first-rounder, but it can be deferred to next year—the defensive end should have all of their attention at the talent grab.

Charlotte Hornets: Starting Center

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    The Hornets, who just enjoyed their first winning season in over a half-decade, could be one player away from really interesting.

    Unfortunately, the missing piece is a big one. Literally.

    As tempting as it is to bathe in the excitement surrounding fast-risers like LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges, it's impossible not to notice Charlotte's wholly uninspiring collection of centers. Mason Plumlee is over his skis as a starting center, Montrezl Harrell is an offensive specialist (and unrestricted free agent), and PJ Washington only offers so much paint protection as a 6'7", 230-pounder.

    The Hornets hold a pair of first-round picks (their own and the New Orleans Pelicans'). Failing to use one on a potential impact player at the 5 would meet the legal requirements of first-degree roster mismanagement.

Chicago Bulls: Rim Protection

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    Assuming the Bulls bring back Zach LaVine in free agency—an assumption that still feels likely but apparently can't be written in permanent marker—they won't have many holes to fill.

    Nearly all of their key contributors are under contract for next season, which is great news for those who believe this club's biggest issues could be corrected with a clean bill of health.

    That may be true on the perimeter (Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso showed their immense defensive value when healthy), but the interior is a different story. Chicago averaged the sixth-fewest blocks and surrendered the fourth-most field goals inside of five feet, and even optimists would struggle to find sources of hope for an internal solution.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Two-Way Wing

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    Cleveland's celebrated core of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley has exponentially elevated this franchise's ceiling.

    Now, just imagine what this group would do if surrounded by a two-way wing—not Lauri Markkanen masquerading as a jumbo-sized 3 or Isaac Okoro racing to find his rhythm from range.

    While Cavs fans surely would have preferred to emerge from the play-in tournament with its first LeBron James-less postseason berth in decades, the consolation prize is another lottery pick and another chance of adding high-level talent. Should the selection yield a difference-making swingman, Cleveland could be headed toward a second consecutive campaign chock-full of pleasant surprises.

Dallas Mavericks: Shot-Blocker

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    While finding a true co-star for Luka Doncic might be the top offseason priority—unless they think Jalen Brunson can handle the role—that's not an itch the Mavericks can scratch on draft night.

    Plugging the interior with an athletic center who can block shots and crush lobs, though? That's certainly doable with the right pull from late in the first round.

    Kristaps Porzingis paced this team in blocks—while suiting up just 34 times before being traded away at the deadline. Dallas needs an intimidating presence in the paint (hence the reported interest in Rudy Gobert). Finding one could give real legs to this defense, which climbed to seventh in the regular season but sits just 10th among playoff participants.

Denver Nuggets: Wing Depth

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    Missing your second and third options on offense as Denver did this season (Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., respectively) is an unfortunately great way of exposing issues with depth.

    Still, even if the Nuggets were full strength, they could've used more capable wings.

    Protection for Porter alone is necessary following the 23-year-old's third back surgery, while free agency could subtract the likes of Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes. Denver desperately needs to mine talent from the first round's final third again, as it did when snagging Bones Hyland at No. 26 last summer.

Detroit Pistons: Second Shot-Creator

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    The Pistons pounced on a foundational talent while grabbing Cade Cunningham atop the 2021 draft.

    They should use their next lottery pick to make Cunningham's life easier.

    They need another shot-creator, and that's true regardless of whether they want to include Jerami Grant in their long-term plans. Ideally, they can find someone who can score and set the table like Cunningham, but if not, they need someone who either scores more efficiently or is a much better distributor than Grant.

Golden State Warriors: Reliable Depth

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    Golden State is heavily committed (financially at least) to the quartet of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Jordan Poole should soon join that club either by an extension this summer or in restricted free agency the next.

    That doesn't leave much wiggle room for the rest of the roster, which is mostly comprised of players on rookie-scale pacts and veterans making minimum money. The squeeze could get even tighter this summer with free agency looming for several key support players, including Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II.

    It makes sense, then, for the Warriors to prioritize reliability with the 28th overall pick. They thought they were getting that from Moses Moody, but the switch hasn't flipped yet. They hoped James Wiseman might provide it by now, but he followed a choppy rookie season by having his second erased by injury. It's a lot to ask a freshman to contribute to a championship run, but Golden State has no other choice.

Houston Rockets: Best Player Available

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    At some point during the next phase of Houston's post-James Harden rebuild, things like fit and team needs will start to play prominent roles in the decision-making.

    The Rockets aren't at that point yet.

    While they could use a dot-connecting floor general or a sharpshooting big (if they don't plan on keeping Christian Wood long term), what they really need is top-level talent. They seemingly found just that in last year's No. 2 pick Jalen Green (and quite possibly No. 16 pick Alperen Sengun, too), but they need more blue-chippers to really get something going.

Indiana Pacers: Power Forward

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    After trading for Tyrese Haliburton and pairing him with instant-impact rookie Chris Duarte, the Pacers should be in good shape at the guard spots. And if they're finally ready to take Myles Turner off the trade block—they're reportedly leaning toward keeping him, per NBA insider Marc Stein—the center spot is another strength.

    But what's the plan at power forward?

    T.J. Warren has played four games in two seasons and has free agency awaiting him. Jalen Smith is also slated for the open market and might be more of a 5 than a 4 in the modern game. Isaiah Jackson saw limited run as a rookie and spent the bulk of his floor time at center. Hitting the lottery jackpot and opening an avenue to Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren could be a way to fast-track this retool.

Los Angeles Clippers: Plug-and-Play Reserve

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    Some will say point guard is the obvious choice. There are two reasons why I didn't.

    First, while it's entirely possible (arguably probable) the Clippers pursue a point guard this offseason, this focuses on draft needs. L.A. only has one pick in this talent grab, and it won't come until No. 43. Even the most hubristic executive couldn't confidently say they could pull a point guard from the middle of the second round and immediately plug that player into a rotation role on a contender.

    Second, this position group could be stronger than you think. Reggie Jackson is solid and sometimes much more than that. The Clippers reportedly have "high hopes" for Jason Preston, per Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times, and getting him healthy could stabilize the spot. Plus, this club gets plenty of playmaking from other spots, as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Terance Mann are all capable shot-creators.

    What L.A. really needs is someone who can soak up minutes in the rotation and not appear overwhelmed. If that player is a point guard, great. If not, that's fine, too.

Los Angeles Lakers: A Pick

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    The Lakers will enter the draft lottery with the eighth-best odds and a 26.2 percent chance of climbing into the top four, per Tankathon.

    Unfortunately, this isn't L.A.'s selection to make—regardless of where it lands. The Lakers sent it out during the 2019 trade for Anthony Davis.

    They sacrificed their second-round pick in that swap, too, so barring another trade, they'll merely be observing this draft from a distance. Add that to the list of major bummers for this franchise, as you could argue this organization needs an injection of young, exciting talent more than any.

Memphis Grizzlies: Highest Ceiling Possible

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    Memphis' rapid rise from pesky playoff opponent to full-fledged heavyweight has overloaded this roster with talent, much of it of the 25-and-under variety.

    Still, though, the Grizzlies remain a one-star squad, and to truly chase the title, they might need a top-shelf co-star to pair with Ja Morant.

    No stone should remain unturned in that search, and they have enough swings at the draft board—at least two first-rounders (three if the Lakers' pick lands outside of the top 10) and the Cavaliers' second—to let it rip on a high-risk, high-reward option. Spending last year's 10th pick on Ziaire Williams was an all-out swing for the fences, and Memphis has enough depth to take another big shot or two.

Miami Heat: Half-Court Scorer

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    The Heat have constructed an absolutely ferocious defense, and this offense can feel overwhelming when Tyler Herro has it rolling and Jimmy Butler summons his superstar form.

    But on cold nights from Herro and quiet ones for Butler, Miami can get a bit bogged down in the half-court attack.

    When the Heat are desperate for a score, they could use more places to turn. Maybe it's wishful thinking to expect them to find such a player with the No. 27 pick, but we shouldn't doubt this franchise's ability to draft the right player and ace their development.

Milwaukee Bucks: Perimeter Depth

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    Assuming the Bucks can keep Bobby Portis, who has outplayed his $4.5 million player option for next season, and have a healthy Brook Lopez, who suited up just 13 times in the regular season, the frontcourt should remain a strength.

    The perimeter, though, could use some beefing up.

    There isn't a great point guard option behind Jrue Holiday, and the wings could take a hit if one (or both) of Pat Connaughton ($5.3 million player option) or Wesley Matthews departs in free agency. Covering any of those spots with a table-setter, stopper or long-distance splasher would make the defending champs even harder to handle.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Forwards

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    There has been talk of the Timberwolves shopping D'Angelo Russell this summer, per NBA insider Marc Stein, which would presumably vault a pass-first point guard to the top of the wish list.

    If they retain Russell, though, then it's time to fortify the forward spots.

    Jaden McDaniels remains more interesting in theory than helpful in reality, and Jarred Vanderbilt's elite motor can only do so much to cover up his offensive limitations. Anthony Edwards is a rising star, but the Wolves need wing depth behind him, particularly if Taurean Prince exits in free agency.

New Orleans Pelicans: High-Volume Shooter

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    Give next season's Pelicans a healthy Zion Williamson, and they could be cleared for take-off.

    With that possibility on the table, they must ensure the rest of this roster is ready for flight. Bottom-third rankings in three-point makes (10.6 per game, 28th) and percentage (33.2, 27th) suggest it's not quite there.

    New Orleans only had three players average at least 1.5 triples this season; for context, 140 players across the Association (about 4.7 per team) crested the mark. That trio was comprised of deadline addition CJ McCollum, Devonte' Graham (whose role was greatly diminished in the playoffs) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (who was sent packing in the McCollum trade).

New York Knicks: Floor General

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    The Knicks need a point guard.

    In related news, water is wet and the sky is blue.

    This franchise has been searching for a floor general forever, but the urgency to find one is quickly increasing. New York needs to learn sooner than later whether there's enough talent in place to justify a major win-now move, or if it's better off to keep drafting and developing youth. Without someone around to connect all of the dots, it's hard to get a read on how close this squad is to competing for something of substance.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Best Frontcourt Player Available

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    You could argue that Oklahoma City remains in the rebuilding state where triumph trumps everything with regard to roster decisions, and you might not be wrong.

    Having said that, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey already seem locked in place as the backcourt of the near and long-term future. Unless a guard is the best prospect available by a wide margin when the Thunder make their first selection, they can get more mileage out of upgrading the frontcourt.

    Darius Bazley remains a mystery (ditto for Aleksej Pokusevski), Luguentz Dort lacks size for the wing (6'3") and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl might fit best in a multifaceted reserve role. Putting a top-tier talent atop this group could substantially accelerate this rebuild.

Orlando Magic: Go-To Scorer

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    Across the NBA, 69 different players averaged at least 17 points this season. That's an average of just over two per team, and 29 clubs had at least one.

    Care to guess which squad didn't make the cut?

    Cole Anthony paced this group with 16.3 points while shooting below 40 percent from the field for the second consecutive season. Franz Wagner hit the ground running in his freshman season, and Wendell Carter Jr. took a leap, but neither seems like an offensive focal point. Anyone hoping a healthy Jonathan Isaac could fill the void should probably note his career-high is 11.9 points per game. Oh, and he hasn't suited up since August 2020 because of a torn ACL and meniscal tear, so good luck pining major hopes on him.

Philadelphia 76ers: Three-and-D Wing

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    As the 76ers crashed and burned their way out of the second round—suffering their four defeats by an average margin of 18.5 points—two things became clear. First, James Harden isn't James Harden anymore, as Joel Embiid admitted following Philly's elimination. Second, there aren't nearly enough usable wings on this roster.

    The wing shortage won't be solved on its own. If anything, it could worsen by next season, since Tobias Harris looms as a logical trade candidate ($37.6 million is a ton of money for a fourth option) and Danny Green, whose $10 million salary is non-guaranteed for next season, potentially suffered a significant knee injury in Game 6.

    Regardless of Philly's plans for Harden, who has yet to pick up his $47.4 million player option, the Sixers need spot-up shooters to keep the floor spaced for Joel Embiid's post-ups. But shooting specialists won't cut it, as it's too easy for opponents to target the likes of Georges Niang and Furkan Korkmaz on defense. Philly needs multidimensional wings, and finding one on draft night would be huge given the potential cost of this roster.

Phoenix Suns: Second-Round Pick

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    The Suns are quickly learning there is a cost to fielding a perpetual contender.

    And it ain't cheap.

    Phoenix already has one of the league's most expensive rosters, and the cost could keep climbing. Deandre Ayton needs a new deal with restricted free agency awaiting him. Cameron Johnson, who exceeded expectations as a rookie and has only improved over the two seasons since, is eligible for an extension.

    Money is tight, so trading into this draft for a second-round pick that could potentially be inked to a team-friendly pact could make a lot of sense.

Portland Trail Blazers: Power Forward with Range

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    Before the Trail Blazers had even finished tanking their way through the season's second half, they let everyone know they have zero intentions of being down for any longer.

    "I just need y'all to know one thing: this will not continue," Damian Lillard told fans before the season finale. "Next year, we will come back better than we've been."

    That's an ambitious aim, but Portland could have four-fifths of a formidable starting lineup. That's assuming Lillard returns to full health, Josh Hart's $13 million salary gets fully guaranteed and both Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons return in free agency, but none of those assumptions feel too outlandish.

    So, what's the plan at power forward? Jerami Grant reportedly tops the wish list, per B/R's Jake Fischer, but he won't be cheap to pry away from the Pistons and needs a new deal by next summer. Ideally, the draft lottery will offer a simpler path to an upgrade by getting Portland in range to land someone from the Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren trio at the top.

Sacramento Kings: Spacing

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    While the Kings are as liable to divert from a strategy as anyone—see the shocking deadline deal of Tyrese Haliburton for the latest evidence of that—the three most important players for the franchise are: De'Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Davion Mitchell.

    There isn't a reliable spacer in the lot. Fox, who operates best attacking downhill, actually owns the best career connection rate at 32 percent.

    This offense can barely breathe as currently constructed. The Kings, who shot a collective 34.4 percent (24th) despite having Haliburton and Buddy Hield for the bulk of this season, desperately need to add sharpshooters, and the search starts on draft night.

San Antonio Spurs: First or Second Scoring Option

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    Much of what San Antonio needed—and even wanted—to see this season came to fruition. Dejounte Murray made an All-Star leap. Keldon Johnson emerged as a 17-point scorer and quantity-plus-quality shooter. Devin Vassell distanced himself from a disappointing rookie season. Even Joshua Primo, who won't turn 20 until Christmas Eve, showed impressive poise and encouraging flashes.

    Still, the Spurs walked away from this season with questions about their long-term offense and who will lead it. Murray will clearly be a focal point, but he needs a co-star—if not an outright Batman who can nudge him into a Robin role.

    Star-searching at the draft is, by its very nature, among the most optimistic forms of wishful thinking, but the Alamo City has the assets to dream big. The Spurs have their own lottery pick, plus first-rounders from the Celtics and Toronto Raptors. That should give them the freedom to either make a mad dash for upside or package some picks to climb the board for an elite prospect.

Toronto Raptors: NBA-Ready Reserves

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    If the Raptors want to go this route, they can lock themselves into this core over the offseason. Both Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are eligible for contract extensions, and it sounds like Toronto, which had a .660 winning percentage from January to April, wants to keep this nucleus together.

    "We still preach patience and growth here," Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said, per The Athletic's Eric Koreen. "I know with how the results came at the end of the season. I know the expectations now become day-to-day; I understand that from a fan perspective or media perspective. It's win now. But we're thinking (about) the long game here."

    Ujiri has pieced together a tremendous opening group—Siakam, VanVleet, Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.—but those players could use more support behind them. All five starters averaged 35-plus minutes, and the front office needs to find more players head coach Nick Nurse trusts to cut down that number.

Utah Jazz: Draft Picks

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    If the draft does nothing else, it provides a jolt of hope and excitement.

    Could anyone use commodities more than the Jazz right now?

    They are licking their wounds after a third first-round exit in four years. They face constant speculation about the futures of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert—even head coach Quin Snyder. They lack young, ascending talent, due both to some recent draft decisions and the challenge of developing young players while chasing a title.

    If Utah ships out a significant player, it should seek some level of draft compensation in the deal. Even if that type of trade doesn't go down, it might be worth dealing into this draft to at least breathe some new life into the locker room.

Washington Wizards: Point Guard

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    These things are always subject to change, but signs keep pointing toward the Wizards retaining Bradley Beal in free agency. He doesn't want to leave, and they won't show him the door.

    If Beal is staying put, then this roster must improve. Perhaps a healthy Kristaps Porzingis will fortify the frontcourt. The wing spots could be in decent shape with continued growth from Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert.

    But point guard is a problem. Tomas Satoransky and Raul Neto are unrestricted free agents. Ish Smith's $4.8 million salary is non-guaranteed. There isn't a great player in the mix, and it's debatable if any qualifies as a serviceable starter. If the draft board breaks just right, filling this spot during the talent grab would be ideal.


    Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.