Posted by Neil Paine on June 22, 2009
With the draft swiftly approaching, it's time to examine the specific needs of the teams with the top 10 picks from a statistical perspective. For this exercise, we'll use our various metrics to see the areas in which each squad was a lacking a year ago, we'll see which rotation players the team may lose via free agency, and finally (with a little help from Kenpom.com) we'll look at which prospects in this year's draft may help them where they need it most.
1. L.A. Clippers (19-63 in 2009)
Free Agents: Fred Jones, Steve Novak (R), Brian Skinner, Ricky Davis
Needs: It would actually be easier to identify what they don't need -- shot-blocking, I guess (they ranked 4th in block%). Everywhere else, though, L.A. is a disaster, from their last-place offense to their 27th-ranked D. They especially had difficulty getting quality shots inside, giving them an horrific eFG%. They basically have needs everywhere.
Targets: Just take the best player available -- psst: it's Oklahoma F Blake Griffin -- and put the Grizz on the clock, OK? The 6'10" Griffin ought to be able to help fix this offense, given his monstrous production as a sophomore at OU (117.2 ORtg on 31.7 %Poss), and he also ranked third in the country in defensive rebounding %. Since the only other real potential superstar on the board is Ricky Rubio, who happens to play the same position as a guy they broke the bank for last summer, Griffin is a true no-brainer for the Clipp Joint at #1.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (24-58 in '09)
Free Agents: Hakim Warrick (R), Quinton Ross
Needs: Statistically speaking, the Grizz had horrible issues with turnovers and assists on offense last year -- problems that just seem to scream for a new PG (Ricky Rubio, anyone?). However, Memphis seems hesitant to give up on 2007 #4 Mike Conley after just 2 seasons, so they will likely address the need for an interior presence (they were 3rd-to-last in 2-point FG% defense, 24th in the category on offense, and had their shots blocked the 6th-most of any team). They also could stand to upgrade their 3-point shooting capabilities.
Targets: Assuming Griffin is off the board and they stand pat at PG rather than taking a chance on Rubio, UConn C Hasheem Thabeet looks like the guy to shore up their interior issues on defense. The imposing, 7'3" Thabeet ranked 6th in the nation in block% and led the Huskies to the country's 3rd-best defense. I've also seen chatter that they may be targeting Arizona St. SG James Harden, which would presumably have O.J. Mayo sliding over to take on primary ballhandling duties a la Dwyane Wade. Mayo's turnover rate (16.3%) was not all that bad for a rookie scoring guard, so combining him with the efficiently-scoring Harden may not be the worst idea in the world.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-59 in '09)
Free Agents: Desmond Mason, Damien Wilkins (ETO)
Needs: Despite the Thunder's impressive core of young talent (Durant, Green, Westbrook, etc.), they have some serious issues on offense; they ranked dead last in eFG%, 2nd-to-last in turnover rate, and had no long-distance game to speak of beyond Durant/Green (they were last in 3PA/FGA and 3rd-to-last in team 3FG%). Some kind of shooting guard who can shoot a high % while playing off Westbrook, Durant, and Green would be ideal.
Targets: Obviously James Harden would be the guy for them at SG; he can shoot, was 15th in the NCAA in ORtg among players using >28% of team possessions, and questions about his ability to create off the dribble are of reduced importance next to Westbrook/Durant. If he's off the board, though, there's little chance OKC takes Rubio here, since Westbrook is the PG of the future and neither has the size to shift to SG. So if Memphis ends up taking Harden, look for the Thunder to snap up Hasheem Thabeet to try and fix their 24th-ranked block% and 27th-ranked 2-point FG% defense. Guard Tyreke Evans of Memphis could be a dark horse here as well.
4. Sacramento Kings (17-65 in '09)
Free Agents: Bobby Jackson, Rashad McCants (R), Ike Diogu (R)
Needs: The Kings have myriad problems on both sides of the ball, but their biggest weakness last year was on defense, where they finished dead last in the NBA. They did not rebound, force misses, keep anyone out of the paint, or effectively defend the 3-ball -- in short, they were a catastrophe. Then again, the Beno Udrih experiment at PG has been a clear mistake, so they would certainly be tempted to upgrade there if the opportunity presented itself.
Targets: It all depends on how Memphis & Oklahoma City's picks shake out. Right now, Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet are looking like the obvious choices, since each fills a big need (one on each side of the ball). But what to do in the event that both are gone by the time the 4th pick rolls around? Stephen Curry would be one option at the point, but they don't especially need his shooting and he could compound their problems on defense. Similarly, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn is athletic but undersized and didn't impress with his NCAA defensive numbers. I like Ty Lawson, but he'd probably be a reach this high. They'd better hope one of their two main guys are still on the board when they pick Thursday night, because after that they may be better served just trading down.
5. Washington Wizards (19-63 in '09)
Free Agents: Juan Dixon, Etan Thomas (ETO)
Needs: Health from Gilbert Arenas is #1, but you can't buy that at the draft. So, they'll have to settle for some kind of upgrade at guard, where the immortal Mike James saw 50 starts and 30 MPG for the club last year. But again, teams in need of a passing guard face a huge drop-off after Rubio (who all we're assuming is actually worth it as well) -- the next best options are guys like Curry, Lawson, Flynn, and UCLA's Jrue Holiday, all of whom come with their own deficiencies. Arguably the team most burned by the 3-pointer on D last year, Washington could even opt for a perimeter defensive ace instead of a passer.
Targets: Playing alongside Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, & Antawn Jamison rules out the more scoring-oriented guards, but I think they need to consider Memphis' Tyreke Evans here. Evans logged major minutes on a defensive juggernaut a year ago, he can swing between the 1 and the 2, he had nice steal numbers, and he has that great wingspan which could really help the Wizards on D at the 2 alongside Arenas. He'd be a nice value at #5, but he's still not the pass-first guy they want next to their stars, so I think they'll opt for one of the purer PGs listed above. Sometimes you just have to take the best player available, though, and that's what Evans will likely be when Washington makes their choice Thursday night. Simply put, teams that draft for need this high get burned more often than not.
6. Minnesota T-Wolves (24-58 in '09)
Free Agents: Rodney Carney, Kevin Ollie
Needs: Some kind of defensive support -- or, barring that, at least a real point guard (preferably they'd like to do both in one package, but as we've seen, the supply on PGs this year is nowhere near meeting the demand). They don't really have a strong defender inside (27th in 2ptFG% D) or out (24th in 3FG% D, 28th in forced turnover%), so that would seem to be priority #1 here.
Targets: Hasheem Thabeet would be a tremendous fit if they can trade up to take him, but the cost could be too high to be worth it. If so, then they end up with the same quandary as Washington: which point guard to take? Ty Lawson should really be higher on these PG-starved teams' radar screens; he's undersized but a strong passer and a proven lead guard. That said, Jrue Holiday might make even more sense -- he shot well, he's bigger, and he's a better defender to boot.
7. Golden State Warriors (29-53 in '09)
Free Agents: Jamal Crawford (ETO), C.J. Watson (R)
Needs: Defense! (Are we sensing a theme here?) The fast-paced Warriors were actually a good offensive team in 2009, but as you might expect from a Nellieball team, their defense was porous and their rebounding was profoundly bad. They have a stable of frontcourt options that could develop, but the backcourt needs to be revamped with the future in mind. With Crawford likely gone after 2011, that would either place Monta Ellis at the two (in which case they'd be searching, like so many in this draft, for a distributing guard to lead the team) or Ellis would stay at the point and they'd need to take a SG.
Targets: This seems like a "duh!" pick to me, assuming he's still around by #7: Stephen Curry. They need a solid passing PG, Nellie loves 3-point shooters, Curry is both... A no-brainer if he's on the board. If not, there's always Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings, or a handful of other decent PG prospects. And if Ellis insists on being the PG, perhaps Nellie wants to groom USC's oversized 2-guard DeMar DeRozan for the Warriors' future? Either way, it's going to be a guard because the frontcourt is crowded.
8. New York Knicks (32-50 in '09)
Free Agents: David Lee (R), Nate Robinson (R), Eddy Curry (ETO), Al Harrington (PO), Quentin Richardson (ETO), Chris Wilcox
Needs: Contracts that expire next summer? Ah, but you can't readily buy those on draft day, either, so NY will likely take the best player available with an eye on building talent for the future of the franchise post-2010 (LeBron or no LeBron). Or maybe they'll even trade the pick. So many options.
Targets: Depends on who's available. Even with the run on point guards, Jordan Hill is unlikely to be available this late, though they should take him if he is. Stephen Curry is a great fit in Mike D'Antoni's offense and would be a super value at #8. And if he's not available, at least one of the other headline guards -- Evans, Holiday, DeRozan, Jennings, Lawson, or even a guy like Gerald Henderson -- will still be on the board. The great thing about the Knicks' position right now is their flexibility; they can essentially take anybody they want, regardless of fit, because they don't really have a clue what their roster will look like a year and half from now.
9. Toronto Raptors (33-49 in '09)
Free Agents: Carlos Delfino (R), Joey Graham (R), Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker
Needs: Toronto ranked 22nd in both offense and defense, so it's basically a toss-up as to where they need the most work. Theoretically, the likely departures of Marion and/or Parker create the need for a perimeter-oriented 2-way player to replace them in the lineup, with an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball. Then again, some kind of true center would also be nice after the Jermaine O'Neal experiment failed and forced Chris Bosh & Andrea Bargnani to play out of position at the 5 again.
Targets: Unfortunately, there are no true centers in this draft after Thabeet, at least no talents of top-10 caliber. So that leaves an athletic swingman who can defend... Um, Louisville's Terrence Williams, anyone? Williams can shoot, defend (he put up solid block & steal %'s while logging 85% of the minutes for a Cardinals team that was 2nd in the nation in defensive efficiency), and would be a great fit. He's also very likely to still be on the board when the Raps make their pick at #9.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (34-48 in '09)
Free Agents: Ramon Sessions (R), Charlie Villanueva (R), Keith Bogans, Francisco Elson (PO)
Needs: Finally, a team that needs scoring, not defense. Scott Skiles took over the Bucks last year and whipped them into shape defensively, molding a team that had been last in the NBA in 2008 into the league's 15th-best defensive squad in '09. A full season of Michael Redd will improve the offense (if he isn't traded first, that is), but Milwaukee also needs to come up with a way to replace Villanueva and/or Sessions' offensive contributions, since one if not both are leaving via free agency.
Targets: There should still be good values at PG available when the Bucks pick at #10 -- Lawson will almost certainly still be around, as will Jennings and perhaps even Flynn or Holiday. Pitt PF DeJuan Blair and Ohio St. C B.J. Mullens will also be on the board if they want a big man, but taking either at 10 would be a huge reach. In all likelihood, the Bucks select one of the many PGs in the tier just below Rubio prospect-wise. If history serves as a guide, only one or maybe two (at most) out of that group will ever cash in on their potential and become stars; it's just a matter of distinguishing them from the busts, a job that's obviously far easier said than done.