Every NBA GM wants to hit a home run in the draft, whether you’re going for the next LeBron James high in the draft or the next Draymond Green later. The NBA draft is only six days away (!!!). Teams have been studying prospects and preparing for this night for months. Draft night is the night that could change a franchise for better or worse. However, there are teams that can afford to swing and miss more than others. There are also teams in every given year where it is imperative for them to succeed. Let’s get into the teams who absolutely must get their draft pick right on June 21st.
We all know of the Kings’ struggles in the draft. Let’s take a look at some of their drafts post-2010, where they landed DeMarcus Cousins. In 2011, the Kings ended up with college sensation Jimmer Fredette, whose inability to create his own shot was his downfall. They passed on the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson. 2012 saw the Kings take Thomas Robinson over Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond.
The Kings took Ben McLemore in 2013, who some compared to Ray Allen, over C.J. McCollum and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nik Stauskas in 2014 and Willie Cauley Stein in 2015 (over Devin Booker and Myles Turner) marked two more botched classes. Georgios Papagiannis was the pick in 2016. 2017 rookie De’Aaron Fox had a promising rookie season but it is yet to be seen if he will take the next step.
Now we arrive at the 2018 draft, where the Kings picking at two have their highest pick since 1989, where they drafted Pervis Ellison number one over Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway, and Shawn Kemp. Luckily for Vlade Divac, the Kings find themselves with a pool of players loaded with superstar upside.
The Kings have reportedly been interested in dealing the pick but if they keep it, they must get it right. We have DeAndre Ayton, a physical freak at center with a great offensive game and Luka Doncic, a generational offensive talent, sitting at the top. Guys like Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mohamed Bamba are all high upside bigs. They could gamble on Trae Young, a budding offensive superstar. Either way, they need a player to be the face of the franchise that they’ve desperately searched for.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in a sticky situation with their current roster. When fully healthy, the Grizzlies are a fringe playoff team. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, while both being on the wrong side of 30, are still top 50 players in the NBA and borderline All-Stars.
In 2017, Conley averaged 20.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. He will likely go down as the best player ever to never make an All-Star game. Gasol is still a very good center: a defender, a rebounder, a passer, a scorer, and now a three-point shooter. Tyreke Evans had a revival in 2018, averaging 19.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 5.1 rebounds. This was his best year since Evans’ rookie season. Dillon Brooks, a 2017 second round pick, flashed scoring potential, putting up a respectable 11 points per game.
The logical thing for this team is obviously to trade Conley and Gasol and rebuild. Combined with the $94 million dollar man himself (Chandler Parsons), they make up 80% of Memphis’ payroll. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ ownership is reluctant to rebuild because of how small their market is. What fans will come to games and buy jerseys when Wayne Selden dribbles the ball up the floor and passes to MarShon Brooks? Not many. For the Grizzlies, they are clearly not willing to sacrifice millions and millions of dollars to make winning a title their ultimate priority. This being said, their number four pick in the upcoming draft will make or break the next two seasons until Gasol and Conley’s contracts are up.
DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic will almost certainly be off of the board by the time Memphis picks at four. Fortunately for Memphis, young superstar talent is abundant in this draft. Guys like Marvin Bagley, who fits this culture perfectly, Mohamed Bamba with his freaky potential, and Jaren Jackson could all be superstars. All of them would have a very good mentor to learn under and wouldn’t be asked to do it all right away.
If they wanted, Memphis could take a gamble on the injury-riddled Michael Porter Jr. His Back injuries are undoubtedly concerning but he has 25+ points per game upside if he can fully recover. A lineup of Conley, Gasol, the fourth pick, Brooks, and Evans is a playoff roster and the Grizzlies’ only hope of making noise without rebuilding.
LeBron James has likely played his last game as a Cavalier. Of course, there is a possibility he stays in Cleveland but LeBron leaving is better for him and the franchise. Besides the eight pick and Kevin Love, Cleveland has very few assets to improve their team if James were to stay. They would have to hit a home run with this pick. Maybe Michael Porter Jr. falls and he recovers from his injury. But in all likelihood, the King will leave his throne.
Without James, the Cavs will almost certainly trade Kevin Love for more assets. When it comes to young talent, this Cleveland team has almost none and is certainly a lottery team next season. Rodney Hood has shown scoring potential as has Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. is a high energy role player. Outside of those three, who all have role player upside, Cleveland has nothing. Drafting highest upside at eight will be the priority. We could see the Cavs pass on a safer pick like Mikal Bridges or Wendell Carter Jr. in favor of a higher risk pick like a Porter, Trae Young, Collin Sexton, or Kevin Knox. Either way, the way this draft goes could dictate if LeBron James stays in Cleveland and the future of this team.
The Wizards have one of the most poorly constructed rosters in the NBA. For a team whose upside is around the fifth seed in the East, they have -$23 million in cap space and are severely lacking in young talent. John Wall and Bradley Beal are two excellent guards but they have been inconsistent in the playoffs and haven’t been able to stay healthy. Otto Porter Jr. is an intriguing young 3-D talent but his upside isn’t immense and he surely isn’t worth his $106 million dollar contract. Kelly Oubre is another intriguing wing but likely not an All-Star.
Outside of the four players I just mentioned, Washington has absolutely nothing in terms of young talent and is loaded with bad contracts. You definitely don’t want to be paying Ian Mahinmi $16 million a year. For Washington, they may want to trade their stars and try again. If they wish to keep their core in order to compete, the 15th pick in the 2018 draft will be crucial in adding another star.
There are quite a few players around the 15 mark that the Wizards could land with lots of upsides but also lots of risk. Unless a player like Kevin Knox or Lonnie Walker IV falls to them, they may have to gamble a bit. Zhaire Smith is a super athletic wing with a decent shot but an abnormal game. He is an excellent shot blocker and an excellent rebounder and a very good defender. He is immediately an impact role player and could become an All-Star if his offensive game improves.
Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky to prepare for the draft, creating many questions. Yet, he is a very athletic big with plenty of upside. Maybe they reach for Jerome Robinson, a lethal scorer and shooter with shades of Devin Booker in his game. Either way, making this pick count could push the Wizards into contention in the East.
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