It’s natural to ponder the point of participation in the NBA Draft Lottery when the results don’t yield picks near the top of the order, but we’ve learned over the years that positivity quietly brews for the squads picking up the rear.
Case in point: the Miami Heat, which grinded to the 2020 NBA Finals behind the contributions of a pair of players chosen among the final four picks of the lottery in Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
Over the last six years alone, picks No. 11 through 14 brought us:
- Zach LaVine (13th in 2014)
- T.J. Warren (14th in 2014)
- Devin Booker (13th in 2015)
- Domatas Sabonis (11th in 2016)
- Donovan Mitchell (13th in 2017)
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th in 2018)
- Adebayo (14th in 2017)
- Michael Porter Jr. (14th in 2018)
- Herro (13th in 2019)
Interestingly, teams took players that attended the same schools in the 11 to 14 range in seven of the last 10 NBA drafts with a pair of Kentucky teammates being selected on three occasions (2015, ’17 and ’19).
This year, San Antonio, Sacramento, New Orleans and Boston own picks 11 through 14.
“We want to be competitive in there here and now,” said David Griffin, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations on a Nov. 4 conference call with the team’s season ticket holders. “At the same time, we’re very mindful that sustained success means you keep your salary structure such that you can continue to add pieces. When it’s really time to hit the gas and make a run at being special-good, you have the flexibility to add those pieces.”
As Miami showed us, that first step takes place with the Draft.
So, let’s take a look at some of the needs of the teams picking 11th through 14th as well as some of the players that could potentially fill them once it all commences on Nov. 18 at the 2020 NBA Draft.
No. 11 San Antonio Spurs
It’s quiet in San Antonio and it’s likely because the Spurs own a unique opportunity at No. 11 with their first lottery pick since 1997, when they took Tim Duncan No. 1 overall. ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently discussed hearing some buzz about Golden State trading the No. 2 pick to San Antonio for LaMarcus Aldridge and the 11th pick, but on the surface that seems unlikely since the Warriors would have to send so much back in salary to make it work. That doesn’t mean San Antonio — which saw its 22-year playoff streak come to an end this season — isn’t working behind the scenes to try to swing a deal to move up in the Draft.
If San Antonio stands pat, the Draft board should still feature plenty of prospects at No. 11 capable of helping quickly such as Florida State’s Patrick Williams, Villanova’s Saddiq Bey or Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey. The Spurs already have plenty of promising young guards in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV, and could benefit from adding a young wing such as Williams or Bey. San Antonio will surely be intrigued by Bey’s shooting ability (45.1% from 3-point range last season) and versatility on offense and defense, where he can guard multiple positions. Williams isn’t as effective as Bey offensively, but his versatility to play the three and four and his upside defensively might tempt the Spurs. Maxey, meanwhile, is a homegrown Texas product with a two-way combo guard skillset. It’s concerning he shot just 29.2% from deep at Kentucky, but let’s not forget San Antonio has one of the league’s best shooting coaches in Chip Engelland, who played a major role in Kawhi Leonard’s development as a shooter.
No. 12 Sacramento Kings
It’s difficult to figure out which way Sacramento might be leaning after bringing in Monte McNair back in September to take over as general manager. McNair worked in the Houston Rockets’ organization for 13 years prior to taking the job in Sacramento, and if you combine his past experience with the personnel currently on hand, you can bet the Kings will be looking to run the floor this season with centerpiece De’Aaron Fox leading the way.
Bey and Williams make sense in this spot if they’re still available, as well as Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith and Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa. Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. has also been generating some buzz to the Kings at 12, but his skillset, from this vantage point, seems too similar to Fox’s. McNair has said he wants the Kings to “play fast and space the floor,” and although Lewis possesses Fox’s speed and scoring ability, you have to wonder whether he’ll be ready to contribute immediately, given his size (165 pounds). Nesmith is one of the best shooters of this Draft class, which would give Fox more passing options. Nesmith also possesses a wingspan of nearly 7-feet, which would only benefit him down the road as a two-way player. Achiuwa also makes sense for a team looking to run. He can play the center spot in smaller lineups, defend both forward spots, and can switch onto guards. Achiuwa could turn out to be an immediate contributor as a defender.
No. 13 New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans underachieved for sure in the bubble, but the truth is this is probably already a playoff team next season without a major infusion of talent through the Draft. This team drips with talent in Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram (last season’s Kia Most Improved Player), Lonzo Ball and last year’s No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson. This team also has 2019 lottery pick Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the No. 17 pick of the 2019 draft. But New Orleans ranked 29th in turnovers and 28th in opponent fast-break points, finishing last season No. 21 in defensive rating (111.6). The Pelicans’ hiring of defensive-minded Stan Van Gundy as coach should go a long way towards fixing most of what ailed them last season. A smart pick at No. 13 would likely only bolster depth.
New Orleans could benefit tremendously from Nesmith’s shooting, as he knocked down 52.2% from deep last season, and he’ll improve defensively working with Van Gundy. Achiuwa, meanwhile, could provide depth in the frontcourt and possibly serve as an athletic complement to Williamson. Maryland’s Jalen Smith could be a fit here, too, given the big man’s 3-point shooting ability (36.8% last season); especially if the Pelicans decide to trade back toward the bottom of the round. In addition to the 13th pick, the Pelicans own a trio of second-round picks (39, 43 and 60) they could use as currency to maneuver how they choose.
No. 14 Boston Celtics
The only team in this Draft with three first-round picks, the Celtics surely realize they won’t have enough minutes to play three rookies next season. Besides that, Boston’s roster is pretty solid in most spots. So, the logical move would be to try to trade one of the picks or a couple to move up the board for a prospect they covet.
If the Celtics can’t find a trade partner to move up, they’ll be lucky if Achiuwa is still there at No. 14 as a potential backup for center Daniel Theis that would eventually move into the starting lineup. Remember what Adebayo did to the Celtics in the conference finals? With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Achiuwa is regarded as a high-motor player with an aggressive mentality that could help Boston immediately as a defender and especially as a shot blocker. Some mock drafts have projected North Carolina freshman guard Cole Anthony to the Celtics at 14. Anthony is a confident player with NBA pedigree as the son of Greg Anthony. Coming off a knee injury, Anthony could step in as the primary backup point guard behind Kemba Walker. Bey fits here, too, given his NBA readiness and the fact he could provide wing depth for a Celtics squad that was thin there at points last season. Arizona’s Josh Green appears to be an ideal fit as a 3-and-D specialist for Boston as well, but he’ll probably still be around when the Celtics pick again at No. 30.
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