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.
- #40 Justin James
- #55 Kyle Guy
- #60 Vanja Marinkovic
What was solved: Can they add anything of value with a bunch of late picks?
The Kings entered draft night with three picks, but all of them were late in the second round where it can be difficult to find value. The team needed a center, but they did well to add three shooters who can bolster a roster that had the 4th best 3-point shooting percentage this past season. James was inconsistent his senior year, but shot 41% from 3 during his junior campaign. Guy is small, but he’s an excellent marksman who shot nearly 43% from 3 last season. The Kings were smart to improve their floor spacing because it gives Fox and Bagley room to drive and work in the post. They found a few players who can be productive spot-up shooters coming off the bench.
What needs to be resolved: How aggressive should they be in free agency?
The Kings are never talked about as a free agency destination, but they have significant cap space, enough for two max players this summer. They aren’t going to draw two max players, but they should bring in veteran leaders who are still young enough to grow with the young core of De’Aaron Fox (21 years old), Marvin Bagley III (20), and Harry Giles III (21). These guys are still a few years away from competing so it doesn’t make sense for the Kings to add win-now players. The ideal option would be 26 year-old Tobias Harris who would make this team a contender in a few years. More realistic options would include Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre Jr.
- #44 Bol Bol
What was solved: Are they a rehabilitation clinic for injury-prone lottery picks?
After selecting Bol Bol, the answer to this question seems to be yes. That makes back-to-back drafts where the Nuggets took big risks. Last year, it was Michael Porter Jr. and his injured back and this year it was Bol and his weak feet. Before each of these men had injuries in their freshman season, they were projected to go top-5 or top-10. On draft night, both tumbled down the draft board until the Nuggets picked them up. Evidently they are one of the few franchises who believed they could tap into the immense talent.
Denver’s courage and patience is admirable. Then again, they can afford to take risks and be patient. This past season, the Nuggets snagged the #2 seed in the West and were on the brink of the Conference Finals. Denver continues to add potential, so if their medical staff is as good as they think, then their team will keep adding draft steals.
What needs to be resolved: Will Michael Porter Jr. be back to full strength for Summer League?
The team has reported that Porter has returned to his pre-injury form. If that’s true, then Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Porter will be competing for a championship next year. The Nuggets have been bringing Porter along slowly so it’s hard to gauge exactly where he is until he steps on an NBA court this summer. But the fact that the Nuggets took another gamble on the injury-prone Bol makes it seem like the team thinks they hit on their first bet. Zion will get more attention in the Summer League, but the bigger story will be if Denver brings out a healthy Porter.
- #45 Isaiah Roby
What was solved: Will they make any moves on draft night?
Last year, the Mavs found their franchise player when they jumped up to grab him at #3. Since then, Luka Doncic has been a phenom and well worth losing this year’s first round pick. This year they stayed put at pick #45 and had a quiet draft. They picked a player who isn’t nearly as polished as Doncic, but Roby is still a very interesting prospect. He only shot 33.3% from 3-point range this past season, but he can make plays off the bounce. When he plays with energy on defense, his 7’1” wingspan causes trouble. The Mavs didn’t need a home run this draft, but they found good value this late in the draft.
What needs to be resolved: Will they land Al Horford?
The Mavs have a good chance of landing Al Horford in free agency. He fits well alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic. He’s a great defensive presence and can compensate for the recuperating Porzingis next season. He can spot up from three when Doncic drives or he can bang bodies down low. The Mavs would be fortunate to acquire Horford for next season, but any season beyond that will come with some risk. The soon to be 43 year old is seeking a long term deal and the Mavs can’t afford any crippling contracts that would hamper the duo of Porzingis and Doncic for the next four years. Dallas is still several pieces away from competing but signing Horford is a move that a team in win-now mode would do.
Los Angeles Lakers
- #46 Talen Horton-Tucker
What was solved: Will they regret not having a higher pick?
The Lakers didn’t care about the draft very much as their eyes have been set on free agency for a while. Still, they gave the Magic $2.2 million and next year’s 2nd round pick for the rights to Horton-Tucker. The team must view him as a cheap bench option for a team that won’t have much cap space for the supporting cast. When the Lakers traded the #4 pick for Anthony Davis, they resigned themselves to focusing their energy on free agency.
What needs to be resolved: Who will be the final piece to the Lebron Superteam?
Any roster featuring Lebron and Davis will compete for a championship, but the Lakers need another piece before we should call them the favorites. The primary need is at point guard and many are speculating about former Laker D’Angelo Russell. Russell is used to having the ball in his hands, but he would be the third option on this team. Another high profile name attached to the max slot is Jimmy Butler. Butler excelled this season despite playing with two other ball-dominant stars in Philly this season. And lastly, the Kawhi to Lakers rumors have become frustratingly loud, although it’s hard to imagine Kawhi making that move.
After gutting the roster in the Anthony Davis trade, it may actually be wiser to spread the cap money around and sign a couple second-tier free agents, rather than using it all on one max contract. Players like Patrick Beverley, Danny Green, and Terrence Ross would add depth to a team which needs to be careful not to overwork the 34 year old Lebron and the injury-prone Anthony Davis. It’s likely that some ring chasing veterans will sign for the minimum, but the Lakers need to develop a more balanced team this summer.
- #50 Jarrell Brantley
- #53 Justin Wright-Foreman
- #58 Miye Oni
What was solved: Will they make any more trades?
The Jazz made their big move before the draft even started when they traded for Mike Conley Jr. During the draft, they were relatively quiet when picking up three players late in the second round. Wright-Forman stands out after being the 2nd leading scorer in college, but it’s difficult to project how he fits in the NBA. The Jazz are content with their roster and didn’t feel the need to be aggressive on draft night.
What needs to be resolved: Was Mike Conley Jr. the final piece or should they make another significant move?
A core featuring Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Conley is solid, but I don’t think they are a true contender in the West. The team needs another offensive star, but Utah won’t have any cap space this summer. However, they do have a mid-level exception worth $4.7 million that may help them add a serviceable bench player. A great shooter like Darius Miller would be ideal, but Wilson Chandler or Jared Dudley may also be an option. In order to make a serious acquisition this summer, the Jazz would have to get creative and dump Derrick Favor’s salary. This would free up as much as $17 million in cap space, which is money that could land the Jazz another big time player like Bojan Bogdanovic.
- #59 Dewan Hernandez
What was solved: Are they preparing for a future without Kawhi?
The Raptors had a quiet draft, made no moves, and seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that their entire summer revolves around Kawhi’s decision. They don’t seem to be preparing for his departure and they’ve showed no signs of making any draft or free agency moves. It shouldn’t be too surprising, but it is worth noting that the team did not prepare any contingency plans on draft night.
What needs to resolved: Will they keep Kawhi in Free Agency?
We’ve already seen that the Clippers entire summer will be dominated by this question, but so too will the Raptors’ off-season. It’s one of the most talked about NBA topics and yet its significance still can’t be overstated. If Toronto retains Kawhi, they will be the Eastern Conference favorites and have a legitimate shot at repeating. However if he leaves, then this team likely winds up somewhere as a #5-8 seed next year. Kawhi will always be a ‘fun guy’ in Toronto’s eyes, but he’ll be damn Bill Murray if he sticks around.
What was solved: Does the Western Conference now belong to them?
After the Warriors imploded with injuries, some saw the Rockets as the logical successors in the west. Draft week was filled with events that suggested the Rockets may not be the new kings. On draft night, Houston could only watched as the teams around them improved themselves. Earlier in the week, they watched the Lakers and Jazz make major trades. All the while, Chris Paul has been denying reports that he demanded a trade from the team. The Rockets didn’t learn much about themselves on Draft night, but they’ve seen this week that there’s a lot standing in their way of a title.
What needs to be resolved: Can Chris Paul still be a star?
This question would have been crazy in any of Paul’s first 13 seasons, but season 14 featured a version of Paul who I’m not sure can be the second best player on a championship team. And I’m definitely sure this version of Paul can’t command $38.5 million next year. Paul’s regular season numbers have dropped off a bit, but it was during the playoffs when his age began to show. He can give it to you in small spurts and he can still score 15-20 points a night, but his commanding presence over the flow of the game is gone. It is very unlikely the Rockets could move Paul’s salary even if they wanted to. The Rockets may be able to make some smaller moves in free agency, but they have to hope Paul has a resurgent season next year.
What was solved: Should they trade into the draft?
The Bucks were content with staying out of the draft. They have a number of free agents this summer and the focus has been on figuring out those deals. The uncertain state of next year’s team may have made them reluctant to trade any of their current assets or future picks.
What needs to be resolved: Who should they resign in free agency?
This summer, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Nikola Mirotic, and George Hill are all eligible for free agency. There isn’t enough money to resign all these players, so Milwaukee has to decide who they can afford to lose. Middleton, an All-Star this past season, would be the most difficult to replace. His 18.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, and strong perimeter defense make him top priority, but it is fair to wonder whether he actually deserves max money. Brogdon should be taken care of next as his 15.6 PPG and high efficiency would make him difficult to replace.
Depending on how much money is left at this point, the Bucks should look to resign either Lopez or a couple of the bench players in Hill and Mirotic. Lopez was a starter, but Hill and Mirotic give the team depth. If Lopez walks, then the team needs to replace him by targeting a sharpshooter in free agency. The Bucks were championship contenders last season, so they should try their best to keep that team intact.