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With the NBA draft order set, teams can officially start strategizing and building their boards now that they know where they’re picking.
Front offices must prepare with targets to pursue and backup plans for unexpected developments.
We created a theoretical whiteboard for each team that owns a lottery pick, putting together a wish list of prospects based on the order and exploring occasional trade ideas.
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Plan A: Zion Williamson
The New Orleans Pelicans won’t have to create a whiteboard to strategize how they’ll approach the selection of the No. 1 overall pick. They’ll draft Williamson to replace Anthony Davis as the team’s new franchise player, assuming AD’s trade demand hasn’t changed.
Before the draft even arrives, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin will pitch Davis on staying to form the NBA’s most daunting frontcourt. But assuming Davis’ mind is made up, Griffin and his staff may still have scouting to do.
Explore trade possibilities
Griffin doesn’t have to trade Davis before or during the draft, but he needs to keep the phone lines open. Offers will be coming in that include first-rounders in the 2019 draft. It wouldn’t be shocking if the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers were to make one after they secured the Nos. 3 and 4 picks, respectively.
Just in case, the Pelicans should familiarize themselves with Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver, who could each be pieces of a larger proposal.
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Plan A: Ja Morant over RJ Barrett
The Memphis Grizzlies’ search will presumably come down to Morant versus Barrett. Each has a strong case based on their performance this season and what this particular franchise could use.
With Mike Conley’s prime and time running out in Memphis, drafting a potential star point guard could be too enticing. Between Morant’s explosiveness and offensive results this season—he became the only NCAA player (since 1992-93) to average at least 20 points and 10 assists—there appears to be major upside for Memphis to unlock.
Ideally, the Grizzlies would hold on to Conley for the short term and let him mentor the incoming rookie until the deadline. Then, they can deal their veteran floor general and hand the keys over to Morant, who could join forces with Jaren Jackson Jr. to give this team a pair of franchise cornerstones, one in the backcourt and another up front.
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Plan A: Make offer for Anthony Davis
Even if the New York Knicks are excited about adding Morant or Barrett at No. 3, it’s still worth calling the New Orleans Pelicans. Assuming Davis’ trade demand stands, the Pelicans will have to deal him to someone before losing him for nothing in free agency. And despite missing out on Williamson, New York can still make a compelling offer.
There are two questions: A) Will New Orleans even consider a deal that doesn’t include an established star, and B) How much should the Knicks be willing to throw in? Their proposal can include the No. 3 pick for the Pelicans to take Morant or Barrett, plus multiple future first-rounders and Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and/or Dennis Smith Jr.
Plan B: Draft whoever is left (Morant or Barrett)
The Knicks will do their due diligence and interview/work out dozens of prospects. But realistically, when they’re on the clock, they won’t have to make a difficult decision. They’ll just take whoever falls between Morant and Barrett.
If Memphis takes Morant, the Knicks draft Barrett without thinking and add one of the top freshman scorers over the past 30 years. His 4.3 assists shouldn’t go overlooked, either, as the interchangeable wing made impressive strides as a playmaker.
Barrett would find himself in a perfect place to develop if he were to start as a No. 3 option behind two other stars, who the Knicks will be hoping to add in free agency.
If Barrett goes to Memphis, the Knicks will take Morant and either move Smith to the off-guard or sixth-man spot. Unlike Smith, Morant is an elite passer, having reached double-digit assists in 19 of 33 games as a sophomore.
Drafting Morant would lead to a follow-up question asking how he’ll affect the team’s pursuit of free-agent point guards Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. But New York will worry about answering it after the draft, once it’s selected the potential star out of Murray State.
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Plan A: Revive trade talks with New Orleans Pelicans
The Los Angeles Lakers jumped in the lottery, moving up to No. 4 from No. 11. But the ultimate goal was cracking the top three. The difference between No. 4 and No. 11 in this draft isn’t obvious. The Lakers should re-engage New Orleans in trade talks for Davis and now throw in No. 4 overall.
They could sit tight, keep their core and wait till free agency next summer to sign Davis. But that would mean wasting another season of LeBron James’ contract. If they wait, James would turn 36 in his first season alongside Davis.
Along with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, general manager Rob Pelinka now has No. 4 overall to add to a package. It doesn’t mean they’ll offer everyone or that New Orleans will even be interested. That may depend on the other offers the Pelicans receive. But Pelinka wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t call the Pelicans again, now that he has another asset to throw New Orleans’ way.
Plan B: Trade down with Coby White in mind
The player Pelinka likes at No. 4 could also be available later in the lottery, since there isn’t a consensus order in the tier following Williamson, Morant and Barrett. It’s worth making calls to trade down and collect a second asset.
Coby White would be an interesting option to trade down for. He’d offer more playmaking in the backcourt and some insurance for Lonzo Ball, who’s missed 65 games over his first two seasons. White, 6’5″, could also play some 2-guard and add shooting (2.3 3PTM).
Plan C: De’Andre Hunter
If the Lakers hold at No. 4, they’ll just take the best player available and ignore position or need. De’Andre Hunter comes off as a safe pick and fit for anyone, particularly after scoring 27 points in the national title game while helping to hold Jarrett Culver to 5-of-22.
One of the draft’s top defenders, able to guard positions 2 through 5 while also shooting 43.8 percent from three, Hunter would give the Lakers an interchangeable, two-way player.
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Plan A: Jarrett Culver
De’Andre Hunter will be in the mix for Cleveland, but he’ll turn 22 before Culver turns 21. The Cavs can opt for the upside play with Culver, who may offer more star potential as a younger, 6’6″ scoring guard and secondary playmaker.
An improved passer and tough defender to shake, Culver seems like a strong fit alongside Collin Sexton.
Plan B: De’Andre Hunter
Hunter represents the safer play, and given the uncertainty in this draft after Williamson, Morant and Barrett, the Cavaliers wouldn’t be wrong for valuing a high floor.
Capable of locking down defensively, switching onto all five positions and making spot-up three-pointers (43.8 percent 3PT), the 225-pound combo forward would bring stability to the middle of Cleveland’s lineup. The question with Hunter concerns his ability to expand on his shot-creation and scoring, though his 27 points in the national title game seemed promising.
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Plan A: Explore trades
Do the Phoenix Suns want to add another rookie to their mix? Is a teenage point guard going to help them turn things around? Ideally, Phoenix would trade the the No. 6 pick for a veteran, whether it’s at point guard or power forward. Signing one in July will also be a part of the plan, but unfortunately for Phoenix, free agency happens after the draft. Mike Conley would seem like an ideal target, though the Suns would want some commitment regarding his interest in staying long-term.
Plan B: De’Andre Hunter
Fans will be hungry for Darius Garland or Coby White, but taking the ball out of Devin Booker’s hands and giving it to a rookie—who won’t even be the top ball-handler in the draft—is a scary proposition.
After missing on Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, the Suns should target Hunter, a defensive forward to pair with Deandre Ayton.
Phoenix ranked last in the NBA in three-point shooting and No. 29 in defensive efficiency, and Hunter just won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award while knocking down 43.8 percent of his threes.
Plan C: Darius Garland
If Hunter is gone, Phoenix could favor Garland, who only lasted five games before tearing his meniscus. But in that limited stretch (not counting the game in which he got hurt in the opening minutes), he averaged 19.8 points while shooting 11-of-23 from three. There is a little more intrigue tied to Garland than White, since we’ve seen White struggle with separating offensively and defending at different points, while Garland went down before opponents were able to expose any obvious weakness.
Garland could ultimately be one of the draft’s top shooters, both off the catch and dribble, and that alone should be appealing to Phoenix, even if he never develops his floor game and playmaking.
Plan D: Coby White
White would give the Suns backcourt a spark of shooting and even more pace and playmaking than Garland offers. That he also ranked in the 95th percentile this year as a spot-up player also bodes well for his ability to fit next to Booker and Ayton, who’ll continue to be the focal points of Phoenix’s offense.
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Plan A: Jarrett Culver
Culver should look like a best-available-player option for the Chicago Bulls at No. 7. He’s capable enough of initiating offense that the team shouldn’t put significant stock in his fit. Culver developed into a competent ball-screen playmaker, while his defense in the backcourt could be valued next to Zach LaVine.
Plan B: Coby White
The Bulls don’t have room in the starting lineup for another forward or center. At No. 7, it would make sense to look at one of the two point guards: Darius Garland or White.
Who’s better comes down to personal preference. I give White the slight edge for his superior passing and 6’5″ size, plus the fact he played the whole season and fueled the nation’s No. 8 offense, per KenPom.com.
Compared to Kris Dunn, White would give Chicago a more potent pop of scoring and shot-making.
Plan C: Darius Garland
Garland hasn’t played much over the past year, and it could take time before he’s comfortable running an NBA offense. But he’s a highly convincing pull-up and spot-up shooter, and though known more for scoring over playmaking, he’s shifty off the dribble and more than capable of setting the table for teammates off ball screens.
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Plan A: Explore trades
The Atlanta Hawks will have two late lottery picks. They can look to add a pair of rookies to their core or package the selections together in hopes of either landing a top-three pick or an established veteran talent.
It would only make sense to move up if the Hawks can crack the top three, or even top two, for a chance to draft Barrett. But unless Atlanta is willing to include John Collins, the Knicks won’t be interested.
Targeting established, immediate-impact players via trade, like Myles Turner or Aaron Gordon, would make more sense.
No. 8: Best player available
Plan A: Jarrett Culver
If no trade is made, the Hawks need to draft the best player available (assuming he fits) at No. 8 and then make their selection at No. 10 based on what they did two picks earlier.
De’Andre Hunter would make sense, but it’s unlikely he makes it to Atlanta here. Culver is also a long shot, but he’d be a strong fit next to Trae Young for his size, offensive versatility and defensive potential.
Plan B: Cam Reddish
Scouts are split on Reddish, who had an inefficient season. But it’s tough not to like his fit in Atlanta, where he’d have a tremendous passer in Young to play off and enough of an opportunity in the rotation to get touches and shots for restoring his confidence. He’d give the Hawks another three-and-D wing and a possible replacement for Taurean Prince if the Hawks aren’t intent on re-signing him long-term after the season.
Plan C: Romeo Langford
The Hawks will want to learn more about the thumb injury that may have impacted Langford’s shooting woes. If it turns out surgery corrected the issue, and he eases concerns during workouts, the scoring 2-guard could be a winning pick for his fit and upside. With Langford, the Hawks would be getting a scorer next to Young who can create his own shot from each level in the half court.
Plan A if the Hawks can’t add two of three targets at No. 8: Jaxson Hayes
The Hawks now have offensive weapons, but they’ll want to tighten up defensively. Hayes, who turns 19 next week, could be the draft’s top rim protector after averaging 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes. Assuming Collins continues to develop his jump shot, the 6’11” Hayes would be a fit in the middle to anchor Atlanta’s defense. He also ranked in the 90th percentile or better off cuts, rolls and in transition.
Plan B if the Hawks can’t add two of three targets at No. 8: Brandon Clarke
Clarke is similar to Hayes in that he impacts games with his athleticism and off-ball action. But he’s also 22 years old and 6’8″, which is why Hayes could be favored. Still, Clarke was an even better shot-blocker (4.5 per 40 minutes) while flashing more offense out of the post and spot-up situations.
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Plan A: Explore Bradley Beal trades
The Washington Wizards shouldn’t force anything, but they have to make calls and explore trades for Beal. Keeping him will mean wasting the prime, final years of his contract during losing seasons following John Wall‘s Achilles injury.
Unless they’re able to sign a high-profile free agent, rebuilding with young talent and draft picks seems like a logical plan. And dealing Beal might be the only way to accomplish that. The Wizards could look to move up into the top three or offer Beal to another team for young talent and future picks.
Plan B: Look into Bol Bol
Bol was building a top-five case before suffering a stress fracture in his foot. The narrative then shifted. Now, he’s considered too risky. But is he? The Wizards need to do their homework on Bol’s medicals, because he’s one of the few prospects outside of Williamson, Morant and Barrett who has star potential.
And given where the Wizards are, adding a low-upside role player won’t move the needle. A 7’2″ three-point shooter with ball-handling skill, post moves and shot-blocking tools, Bol could be a steal if concerns about his health turn out to be overblown.
Plan C: Cam Reddish
Reddish should have a good opportunity to rediscover his confidence in Washington, where he can earn immediate minutes and shots in a low-pressure environment. This late, it’s worth valuing his three-and-D floor and betting on his off-the-dribble game to continue improving. He did flash glimpses of pick-and-roll ball-handling ability (96th percentile), and with Wall out, he’d likely see more possessions to create in Washington.
Plan D: Romeo Langford
Langford could be viewed as Beal’s replacement and a best-player-available option. He happens to mirror Beal in terms of physical tools and style as a three-level scoring 2-guard, though he’ll have to improve his shooting. It’s possible a thumb injury affected him at Indiana, which could make him a strong buy-low pick for the Wizards at No. 9.
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Plan A: Explore trading up
Is it time to start shopping Andrew Wiggins? He’s plateaued without being able to elevate the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s worth finding out what they can get for him in a trade, though it seems unlikely they’d be able to move into the top three. Two-way players De’Andre Hunter and Jarrett Culver would be fitting targets in the Nos. 4-10 range for their ability to add value at both ends.
Plan B: Coby White
The Wolves could soon need an upgrade at point guard as Jeff Teague enters the final year of his contract. White’s passing and shooting would play well in Minnesota, particularly if Wiggins continues to start.
Plan C: Romeo Langford
Plan C involves taking the best player available who’ll have a chance to fit with the current group. The Wolves could add a three-level scorer in Langford to the off-guard slot, then move Wiggins to the wing and Robert Covington to small-ball 4.
Plan D: PJ Washington, Grant Williams or Brandon Clarke
Washington versus Williams versus Clarke comes down to personal preference. Williams may deserve the edge for his defensive IQ and toughness—two needed attributes in Minnesota’s lineup. There is a good chance he shows in workouts he’s a more competent shooter than he was at Tennessee.
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Plan A: Bol Bol
Without any assets to trade up and a franchise player who could leave in free agency, the Charlotte Hornets are in a difficult spot. They’ll have to stay put and draft the best player available, which could easily be Bol if he isn’t red-flagged after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. Charlotte might as well gamble on upside, and Bol offers as much as anyone from No. 4 on down.
Plan B: Romeo Langford
The Hornets missed with Malik Monk at No. 11 in the 2017 NBA draft, but they can rebound with Langford, who may be undervalued at No. 12 if he’s able to improve as a shooter. The 6’6″ 2-guard averaged 16.5 points while ranking in the 90th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, shooting 63.6 percent at the rim and making 51.6 percent of his mid-range jump shots.
Plan C: Goga Bitadze
Euroleague’s Rising Star winner, Bitadze had a breakout season overseas, evolving into a more dangerous post threat, pick-and-roll scorer and three-point shooter. He’s also been dominant in the Adriatic and Serbian Leagues. A 6’11” inside-out big man, Bitadze could easily wind up being the draft’s top offensive center, depending on how Bol’s tools translate.
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Plan A: Coby White
White would need to slip past teams that could use guard play. But if he does, the Miami Heat should be quick to react. Goran Dragic isn’t the franchise’s long-term answer anymore, and White would bring size (6’5″, 185 lbs), pace, passing and shot-making to Miami’s backcourt.
Plan B: Romeo Langford or Kevin Porter Jr.
Langford would seem like the safer pick to replace Dwyane Wade after he put together a productive freshman season at Indiana and measured 6’6″ with a 6’11” wingspan. Porter’s ceiling looks higher despite his limited impact off USC’s bench. A nifty shot-creator who’s able to knock down pull-ups and threes or fly down the court in transition, Porter has top-10 talent that just needs fine-tuning and NBA coaching.
Plan C: PJ Washington
The Heat could use another forward, particularly one able to stretch the floor alongside Hassan Whiteside or Bam Adebayo. Washington improved both his body and his shooting this year, hitting 33 of his 78 threes for Kentucky.
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Plan A: Explore trades
The Boston Celtics have the Nos. 14, 20 and 22 picks, and it’s unlikely they’ll want to enter camp with three rookies. They’ll have options to move up or out. Boston could try packaging two or three of its selections to move up for a target such as De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver, Bol Bol, Jaxson Hayes or a point guard like Coby White, who they could view as insurance in case Kyrie Irving leaves in free agency.
Plan B: Sekou Doumbouya or Goga Bitadze
Boston could go abroad with Bitadze for scoring at the 5 or select Doumbouya, the draft’s youngest prospect whose versatility fits the Celtics’ identity.
We like Bitadze better in a vacuum, as he’s the more polished of the two with an improving jump shot that’s becoming easier to buy into. Doumbouya has more defensive upside with the ability to guard both forward spots. He’s also taken a step forward with his shooting, though his limited skill and awareness for a perimeter player could mean Boston doesn’t ‘t see results during his first few years in the league.
Plan C: Romeo Langford or Kevin Porter Jr.
Langford and Porter will be in the best-player-available mix at No. 14. Porter has more natural talent, and Boston could be a strong fit for his development, as the Celtics would be able to ease him in alongside veterans.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports
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