Thursday night’s draft signaled the beginning of a new NBA season. It’s a promising time because your top prospect has yet to be labeled a bust and your team still has dreams of hitting it big in free agency. Some things were clarified during the draft, but plenty of uncertainty remains. Each team walked out of the draft with at least one question answered. And they’ll enter the summer trying to answer one more.
- #18 Goga Bitadze
What was solved: Do they have enough big men?
The Pacers already have two very solid bigs in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, both of whom are just 23 years old. Turner was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate this year after leading the league in blocks. Sabonis was a finalist for 6th Man of the Year. Nonetheless, the Pacers drafted for talent, not for need. And Bitadze has plenty of talent. The team had the third best defensive rating this season and Bitadze’s rim protection could actually improve that. The offensive end is where he’ll do most of his damage. He can play inside or out and his 3-point shot makes him a good fit for today’s game. The Pacers decided to add a third great big man on draft night, presumably because they think he can be the best yet.
What needs to be resolved: Who can they resign this summer?
The Pacers project to have about $30 million in cap space, but it’s going to go fast. Four key players will hit the free market: Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews and Thad Young. Losing Bogdanovic would hurt the most after he averaged 18.0 points and 42.5% from 3-point range. Ideally, Indiana would bring back Bogdanovic and Young and pair them with a healthy Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis. Harrison Barnes is an attractive option after averaging 16.4 points and 39.5% on 3-pointers this season. Terrence Ross, Danny Green, and Rodney Hood may also be in play. The Pacers had a good season considering their star player missed most of it, but losing multiple starters in free agency would be devastating.
San Antonio Spurs
- #19 Luka Samanic
- #29 Keldon Johnson
- #49 Quinndary Weatherspoon
What was solved: Are they still a top-flight organization?
Once again, the Spurs had an excellent draft. Both Croatian star Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson are developmental projects with big upside. The Spurs will find a way to make these guys flourish under Coach Pop. The Spurs remarkable stretch seems to be winding down, but their ability to find value anywhere in the draft has kept them one as one of the NBA’s most well-run teams.
What needs to be resolved: Will DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge continue to lead the way?
It’s rare for the Spurs to move their core players in trades, but DeRozan and Aldridge will be 30 and 34 when next season begins and both are on the final year of their contracts. The Spurs are going to get back Dejounte Murray, but this team will be about as good as last year. With little shot at winning the Western Conference and Coach Pop getting older, it’s fair to wonder whether Spurs management will ride out the DeRozan and Aldridge era or if they will make a move to reposition themselves for one final title run with Pop. Several title contenders might be interested in one of the Spurs’ stars this summer.
- #20 Matisse Thybulle
- #54 Marial Shayok
What was solved: Will they find good fits alongside their two stars?
Sixer’s General Manager Elton Brand said that his team “definitely needs hard-nose players, shooting.” Well Thybulle isn’t going to help much with shooting, but he is a gritty, tough kid who is an ideal fit for a Philadelphia team loaded with talent. Thybulle was the best defender in college basketball last year and the 76ers are going to need that ability if Jimmy Butler leaves. Thybulle’s game doesn’t demand the ball in his hands which means he should have no trouble meshing with his new teammates.
What needs to be resolved: Who are they going to lose?
The 76ers would be content to re-sign everyone and run it back in 2020. But Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick may be looking to find homes elsewhere next year. That would be debilitating to a starting lineup that may be the best 1-5 in the league when healthy. The 76ers are built around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, both of whom are only going to get more expensive over time. If the 76ers want to get other stars around this duo, it has to be while they’re still relatively cheap.
If the 76ers roster takes as big of a hit as many expect them to, then they will need to look elsewhere to replace a couple of All-stars in Butler and Harris and a prolific 3-point shooter in Redick. Al Horford, Marcus Morris, and Malcolm Brogdon are some possible choices, but this trio would be a step down for Philadelphia. The 76ers need to limit the damage this summer and not lose too much in free agency.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- #23 Darius Bazley
What was solved: Will they add shooting during the draft?
Drafting for need is always dangerous, but it’s surprising that the Thunder drafted another player who won’t alleviate the team’s horrendous 3-point shooting. Not much is known about the prep-to-pro forward who hasn’t played organized basketball in the last year. It seems like Bazley is more of a long-term project and won’t add much immediate help. The fact that the Thunder didn’t try to find shooting on draft night is even more curious given that they are way over the cap. Unless the team makes a trade, they’ll have to add shooting via the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth approximately $5.7 million). Not adding any shooting was not the answer the Thunder were hoping for on draft night.
What needs to be resolved: Do they move Steven Adams?
The Thunder are full of solid individual pieces, but for the last two seasons, the team results haven’t been there. This season they paid a league-high $61 million luxury tax bill and only had one playoff win to show for it. The team needs to shake things up and they aren’t going to move their top two pieces in Westbrook and George. Steven Adams is the odd man out. The big man is a fantastic center and shouldn’t be scapegoated as the team’s issue, but he’s going to earn $27.5 million next year and his fit with the Thunder is questionable. Adams is a traditional big man, but OKC needs outside shooting and a modern big that can stretch the floor to open up driving lanes for Westbrook and George. And moving his contract may allow the team to sign solid two-way wings like Trevor Ariza, Terrence Ross, or Seth Curry.
Portland Trail Blazers
- #25 Nassir Little
What was solved: Can we take a risk here?
The Trail Blazers had an excellent season and are well positioned for the future. That’s why it was a smart decision to take a player with high upside. The team won’t be able to make significant additions this summer so it was important to find talent in the draft. Little had a disappointing year at North Carolina, but he was projected to be a top-10 pick before the season began. His high motor meshes well with Portland’s playing style. He won’t be under pressure to perform right away. If he can rediscover his high-school form, particularly on the defensive end, then the Blazers add a significant piece. If he doesn’t pan out, the team is still ok. Portland found themselves in a good position to take a risk on draft night.
What needs to be resolved: Who should the team try to resign?
The Blazers are over the luxury tax and can’t make many moves this summer. Four of their players are heading toward free agency: Rodney Hood, Al-Farouq Aminu, Seth Curry, and Enes Kanter. The team can extend Aminu and its likely to lose Curry, but they have a chance of bringing back either Hood or Kanter. Kanter serves as security for the injured Jusuf Nurkic, but Hood should be their first priority. He’s more versatile, can extend the floor, and he showed he’s a difference maker in the postseason. The Trail Blazers don’t have the funds to compete on the open market, so choosing who to bring back and who to let walk is going to be the biggest question of their summer.
Los Angeles Clippers
- #27 Mfiondu Kabengele
- #48 Terance Mann
What was solved: Who’s the next DeAndre Jordan?
Kabengele has a completely different skillset than DeAndre Jordan, but the Clippers hope that the new big man can be the rim protector of the future. This season they featured an old Marcin Gortat and a raw Ivica Zubac. The team’s interior defense suffered as a result as they gave up the 8th most points in the paint in the league. Kabengele is a stretch big who’s game is perfect for the modern NBA. He’s a 37.4% 3-pointer shooter that stands 6’10’’ and has a 7’3’’ wingspan. As the Clippers aim to hit it big in free agency, they used draft night to help fortify their weak center position.
What needs to be resolved: Will they land Kawhi in Free Agency?
The Clippers have been connected to other free agents, but for months Kawhi has been their man. His presence is enough to turn any team into a title contender, but the Clippers isn’t just any team. They made the playoffs this past season having a team filled with nothing but solid role players. Pairing Kawhi with Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, and the rest of them, would immediately make them one of the championship favorites. The Clippers have a simple off-season plan: get Kawhi.
Golden State Warriors
- #28 Jordan Poole
- #39 Alen Smailagic
- #41 Eric Paschall
What was solved: Did they find replacements for Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant?
The answer to this is obviously no. The Warriors are in a unique position right now: they know without a doubt that their team is going to be significantly worse next season. It didn’t take draft night for them to realize that, but it helps explain their decision to take Jordan Poole. Poole is a talented shooter, but his lack of athleticism makes him a liability on defense right now. He’ll need a couple of years to learn the Warriors system before he can become a reliable player off the bench. That works for a Warriors team which figures to have neither Thompson nor Durant for much, if not all, of next season.
What needs to be resolved: What happens if Durant resigns?
Two years ago, the Warriors signed Steph Curry to an extension worth $201 million. Now, they’re offering Klay the max deal of $190 million. The only question remaining is if Durant agrees to the max of $221 million. If he accepts, this team would become the most expensive roster ever. As if paying $200 million in luxury taxes wouldn’t be bad enough, Golden State would have even less depth than they did this year. Even worse, it would likely mean that Draymond Green leaves next summer when he becomes a free agent. Losing him will hurt the team just as much as if they lost one of their three stars. Durant is the best player on earth when healthy, but is he worth losing Draymond and forfeiting all the team’s depth? There’s no doubt that the Warriors will offer the max, but they will need to begin assessing their future prospects if he accepts.
- #31 Nicolas Claxton
- #56 Jaylen Hands
What was solved: Will they draft NBA-ready role players?
The Nets’ eyes may be set on making big splashes in free agency, but they shouldn’t do so at the cost of completely gutting their bench. In order to create two max slots, Brooklyn lost a few surrounding pieces. The draft was an opportunity to remedy that, but the team traded away its first round pick and then signed a developmental project in Claxton. Brooklyn needs to fill out its roster if it hopes to compete at a championship level next season, but we didn’t see them do this via the NBA draft.
What needs to be resolved: Should they stick with D’Angelo Russell or sign Kyrie Irving?
While Russell emerged as an All-Star this season, Kyrie experienced probably his worst season in the NBA. While Russell led the Nets to the playoffs, Kyrie was involved in endless drama with the Celtics. All that being said, the Nets are the favorite to land Kyrie. If the team signs him, then Russell intends to enter free agency. Kyrie is a better basketball player, even in a down year, but he comes with added baggage and won’t display Russell’s passion for the Nets.
The Nets have two max slots, which they hope will be used on Kyrie and his close friend Kevin Durant. Some reports say that if Kyrie tries to come alone, then Brooklyn may actually favor keeping Russell. The Nets are at a pivotal point in their franchise and they need to decide whether Russell or Kyrie is their franchise player.