2017 NBA Draft Team Needs: Northwest Division
I have said this on numerous occasions: this is easily the hardest NBA Draft to study and nail down. After the top ten picks of the first round, the draft falls into complete uncertainty where 50 different players could go in the next 20 picks. Not a single team is leaking information yet and all we are left to work with is our own opinions. As OTG’s NBA Draft Lead Writer, I will do just that.
The regular season has concluded and the playoffs are well underway so going through these teams to figure out what their specific needs are should be, at this point, pretty self-explanatory. We take a look at what all 30 teams’ needs are and how they can be met by this year’s draft.
Minnesota Timberwolves (31-51) 5th in Northwest: Power Forward
The Timberwolves have been one of the most exciting teams to follow for the past number of seasons. The young talent they have manifested over the past couple of years has been staggering and extremely attention-drawing for NBA fans. Karl-Anthony Towns has turned himself into one of the league’s most dominant bigs after only two seasons, Andrew Wiggins looks like the second coming of Tracy McGrady, and players like Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng are blossoming into NBA stardom. Looking at this team from a pure talent perspective, the only thing they lack is experience. Even with all this young talent, the Timberwolves have an opportunity to add another high upside prospect to this incredible mix of young phenoms. With a defensive coach like Tom Thibodeau, the need for a defense first player isn’t dire. The power forward position has been interesting given that Minnesota hasn’t had a player that can rightfully assume that role. Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac is regarded by many as the best fit for Minnesota with his ability to play within the offense. He is a long athletic forward with great size and ability to stretch the floor. He plays great in a pick and roll system and is able to crash the boards at a very high rate. If Isaac is gone by their selection at number seven, Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen would be a great second option. A Pau Gasol doppelganger with high upside and skills to contribute right away would help the Wolves tremendously.
Denver Nuggets (40-42) 4th in Northwest: Athletic Wings
Nuggets fans should be thrilled by the drastic improvement and growth they saw from their young roster last season.. The big story all season was the unleashed potential of Nikola Jokic, who put up such incredible numbers that his production basically forced a midseason trade of Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland. He became a building block for the future and possible star to this team. The backcourt grew quite a bit as well this past year with Emmanuel Mudiay grabbing another year under his belt to go along with productive play from Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. Denver’s biggest problem is in transition. They don’t have many guys that can run with some of the faster teams in the NBA. In other words, they’re a little slow. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are very solid forwards, but neither are known for their speed. Denver would benefit from a wing that can run the floor, defend, and hit the three ball. Players like UNC’s Justin Jackson and athletic wing Terrance Ferguson would be good fits in this system. Jackson is a player that has gotten a ton of exposure over the past few years and it was just this year that we saw draft potential in him,so much so that he now projects as a late lottery to mid-first round pick. He could always defend and run the floor extremely well, but his offensive game was lackluster at best. This year, he developed one of the better three-point shots in college basketball and helped carry the Tar Heels to another NCAA Championship. Terrance Ferguson is a similar player, but much more athletic. This kid can jump through the roof and run through the walls of the gym to go along with a solid outside shot. He does have a slim frame, but his body should grow which will make him a more adequate defender. With the Nuggets picking at 13 in the draft, grabbing this need is more than a possibility.
Portland Trail Blazers (41-41) 3rd in Northwest: Talent at Both Forward Positions
After quickly getting wiped out in the first round by the real-life Monstars in the Golden State Warriors, it’s now time to plan for a heavy draft in Portland as they hold not one, not two, but three picks in the first round. However, none of those picks are in the lottery as they sit at 15, 20, and 26. The Blazers have a real opportunity to drastically improve this roster to compete for a wide open division. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have become one of the best backcourts in the NBA with their unreal knack for creating offense. The Blazers also struck gold late in the year after they shipped Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic established himself as a dominant force for the future in the paint. The forward positions have plagued them ever since they lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. They have tried to fill the void with guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh, etc., but they haven’t been able to find any level of consistency. Vonleh is a player that still has upside, but definitely needs more time to develop,so Portland should look for a player who can play the four position with their pick. Wake Forest’s John Collins, UCLA’s T.J. Leaf, and German phenom Isaiah Hartenstein would be great fits for the Blazers. Aminu and Turner are both players that can contribute, but they would serve well as role players especially with their inability to consistently defend. The Blazers could also look to bring in a small forward who can play aggressively and defend at a high level. The perfect fit for this need would be Indiana’s OG Anunoby. With the exception of Kansas forward Josh Jackson, he is the most tenacious defender in the draft. Given the number of picks they have, Portland could easily look to add depth wherever they can get it, so even adding some extra scoring in the backcourt wouldn’t hurt. If they could grab a guy like Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, Duke’s Luke Kennard, or even Louisville Donovan Mitchell, it would help bolster an already strong backcourt. The Blazers are in a position to give this roster a serious boost and make a serious run at competing for the division.
Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35) 2nd in Northwest: Shooting
Russell Westbrook is a freak and is clearly the star around which the Thunder need to build . With that being said, they lost a player that maybe some of you have heard of, Kevin Durant. Ever since then, the Thunder have painfully lacked in the scoring department. This deficiency was exposed in the playoffs as OKC literally couldn’t hit a three-point shot to save their lives. Yes, they acquired Doug McDermott from the Bulls, but he is not destined to be a legitimate starter no matter how you look at it. The kid really struggles defensively so his chances to start are minimal. Oklahoma City sits in a difficult position where the primary scorers and shooters in the draft may already be gone by the time they select at 21. Their primary focus should be Luke Kennard simply for his scoring ability and knack for hitting tough shots. Kennard has fantastic range on his shot as well as the ability to find ways to get the ball in the basket. Not only is he a great shooter, but he is an all-around great scorer and that is exactly what the Thunder need. However, there is a possibility that Kennard could be gone by then so a good second option would be the Latvian project Rodions Kurucs. This kid is very raw and has a slim frame which causes some struggle defensively, but his ability to score is tremendous. He looks a lot like Jazz forward Gordon Hayward with his ability to shoot and finish in the paint. It is unknown if he will come to the league right away, but when he does, he should definitely be able to make a serious impact. The Thunder are doing their best to recover from Durant’s departure, and this draft could be the first step to getting where they used to be.
Utah Jazz (51-31) 1st in Northwest: Legitimate Big-Man Depth
Looking at the Jazz, this roster is relatively set as far as pure needs are concerned. They lack some star power so that could easily be their biggest need, but a lot will depend on free agency and where Gordon Hayward decides to go. The Jazz have two picks in the first round sitting at 24 and 30 so they can take advantage of the depth of this draft and look to add whatever talent is on the board. From a pure positional perspective, they could add another big to platoon into that rotation. Jeff Withey has underwhelmed as a pro and Joel Bolomboy likely won’t develop into much more than a role player. Derrick Favors and Trey Lyles anchor down the power forward spot, but Rudy Gobert stands alone as the only reliable center. Getting another guy that can anchor the middle of the paint will help the second unit tremendously. Prospects like UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu, Oregon’s Jordan Bell, or even Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan would fit here. They need to aim for a big who can primarily score on a consistent basis. Though Gobert is an intimidating big with plenty of skills at the rim, he lacks a consistent offensive game. These picks could also be used to stash talent overseas to help develop players and bring over a piece when they need it. It will be hard to read what the Jazz do before free agency, but you should fully expect them to be in strong position to win the division again.