There are constructively three avenues to build an NBA team: free agency, trades and the draft. While the former two receive the vast amount of attention, the draft continues to serve as the vehicle most likely to secure elite talent, especially for small markets. The following ranks the league’s future traded draft pick assets most likely to secure franchise-changing talent with factors such as market strength, predictive franchise success and time being weighed in.
(All traded draft pick information is courtesy of RealGM).
Premiere Potential Franchise-Changing Picks
1.Brooklyn’s 2016 Unprotected First Rounder to Boston.
Currently bottom 5 in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and pace, as well as last in three-point makes and attempts per game, Brooklyn has all the makings of a bottom 5 team. Despite the small sample size, it’s difficult to project a dramatic shift here, as the Nets simply don’t have the personnel to be better than league average on either side of the ball. Lopez is Brooklyn’s only starter above replacement level, and an offense where one of the top two options is Jarrett Jack mid-range pull-up jumpers is not sustainably effective. Along with the Sixers and Lakers, the Nets round out the cellar of NBA teams. Even though they have no incentive to “tank”, the East has improved enough to mitigate that lack of incentive. It is rare that a team acquires unprotected access to a draft pick, and even rarer that in the short-term trajectory that picks forecasts out as a likely top 6 pick at worst. That quality of an asset is a potential franchise changer (think Simmons, Bender, Ingram, Skal), rendering this pick owed to Boston the league’s premiere outstanding draft pick asset.
2.Lakers’ 2016 First Round Pick Protected 1-3 in ’16 & ’17, and Unprotected in ’18 to Philadelphia.
The Lakers are a shoe-in bottom 5 defensive team, as the only non-minus defender on the roster is Hibbert (their perimeter defense specifically is abhorrent). They gave up 80 points in the paint against the Kings, a befuddling number. But we already knew their defense would be awful. The Lakers are pushing the pace more this year and taking more threes, but the former is largely because teams score so quickly on them that game pace quickens, and the latter usually comes in contested isolation situations off the dribble without ball movement. Scott’s Princeton offense has a combination Hibbert catching the ball initiating the offense foul line extended and Kobe isolating on wing post-ups, both with little to no ball movement, setting up a recipe for failure. This roster is flawed as the halfcourt post-up tendencies of Bryant and Hibbert clash with the uptempo pick and roll strengths of the three core young guys (Russell, Clarkson and Randle). I don’t see this ending well. The Lakers’ pick is top 3 protected, affording them some shelter, but even if LA finishes with the 3rd worst record the odds are still in favor (53.1%) of the selection falling outside the top 3. Even with the worst record in the league there is a 35.8% chance the pick is conveyed. While not quite on the level of the Brooklyn pick, this is still a premiere trade asset, despite it being highly unlikely the Sixers ever trade it if conveyed.
3.Sacramento’s 2018 First Round Pick (1st available if Kings convey 2016 first round pick to Chicago Protected 1-10 & 1-10 in ‘17) protected 1-10 & Unprotected in 2019 to Philadelphia.
This value of this pick is lessened because the NBA landscape can change a great deal in 3 or 4 years, but it is still highly relevant to this discussion. The parameters of this pick are quite different, being as though the timeframe it’s conveyed is dependent on when Sacramento conveys it’s pick to Chicago. The Kings project to be right in the 7-13 conveyance range of its pick obligations to Chicago this year (top 10 projected), bringing about three possible outcomes:
- If they convey the pick to Chicago in 2016, it triggers the first available conveyance of the 2018 pick owed to Philadelphia (top 10 protected).
- If they do not convey the Chicago pick in 2016, there is a carry-over to 2017, and if the Kings again finish in the top 10 in 2017, they convey a 2017 second rounder protected 56-60 and the pick to Philly is triggered in 2019 in unprotected fashion.
It’s rather complex, but the second scenario presents the most pick value here for multiple reasons. The first is obviously that the pick in 2019 would be completely unprotected akin to the Brooklyn pick in 2016. The second is that 2018/2019 season is the season after Cousins becomes an unrestricted free agent. While I explored earlier the potential of Cousins renegotiating and extending his contract with the increase in cap space available due to the cap spike, if he opts to leave as a free agent that’s a golden road to a bottom 5 finish that season. Sacramento is obviously not a free agent hot-bed, and outside of Cousins and I suspect Cauley-Stein they have not amassed blue chip talent in the draft and are highly unlikely to do so via free agency or trades (they have severe pick trade limitations via the Stepien rule for all future first rounders and operating under the 7 year rule). Basically with this pick, you are gambling on Cousins leaving in 3 years and an unprotected shot at the #1 pick, which was likely the reasoning for Hinkie conducting that trade. There is higher risk here, but the pick carries the rare reward of franchise-changing potential.
Big Market High Lottery Gambles
4.Brooklyn’s 2018 Unprotected First Round Pick to Boston
Another piece of the KG/Pierce trade, the rationale is fairly straight-forward here in providing another unprotected shot at a franchise changer in 2018. However, the odds are tempered with Brooklyn’s market appeal in free agency and the odds they acquire talent over the next two summers. Finally armed with cap space this summer with Johnson’s expiring contract and the cap spike, we’ll see what Brooklyn’s free agent appeal really is. They have limited assets and little draft pick flexibility, so it’s highly likely they go all in on free agency both summers, reducing the value of this pick.
5.Lakers’ 2018 First Round Pick (1st available based on ’16 pick being conveyed to Philadelphia above) to Orlando Protected 1-5 and Unprotected in ’19 (becoming 17 & ’18 2nds to ORL if Philly pick isn’t conveyed by ‘17)
The odds are against the Lakers keeping their top 3 protected pick over the next two years, rendering there a possibility of conveying either a lightly protected or unprotected pick to Orlando in ’18 or ’19. Even though the Lakers were spurned by marquee free agents like Dwight and Aldridge, LA has not lost it’s desirability as a destination city, nor is LA likely to strike out on all potential free agents in the future, even if they are second tier guys like Whiteside. With Kobe off the books next offseason and the team already possessing a promising young core, we’ll again be able to gauge the draw of this market and franchise.
6.Miami’s 2021 Unprotected First Round Pick to Phoenix.
Similar to LA and Brooklyn, Miami possesses considerable free agent market allure, but unlike the other two franchises, Miami has a reputable infrastructure in place with Riley. That being said, there is a high possibility Riley is no longer running operations 6 years from now given his age and the sheer act of trading a pick of this caliber in the first place. It is almost impossible to predict the NBA climate 5 or 6 years ahead, and the Heat deserve the benefit of the doubt in being able to retain sustained success then. But the unprotected appeal again is alluring.
7.Miami’s 2018 First Round Pick Protected 1-7 & Unprotected in ‘19 to Phoenix (1st available if Cleveland conveys their ’16 1st protected 1-10 to PHX).
This pick will almost certainly be triggered in 2018 with the Cavs a shoe-in to finish outside the top 10 this year, rendering their pick conveyed to Phoenix and enabling the first available 2018 pick to Phoenix to be conveyed. Based on similar premises as the above Miami pick, the value of this selection is lessened by the top 7 protection.
2016 Potential Lottery Pick
8.Dallas’ ’16 First Round Pick Protected 1-7 in ’16-’20, Unprotected in ’21 to Boston.
I’m far more bullish on Dallas now with the combination of Matthews’ herculean recovery from his achilles injury, Parsons’ return and the injuries plaguing New Orleans, lessening the value of this selection. Dallas is now firmly in the 7-8 seed playoff race, and are highly unlikely to finish with lottery odds favorable to landing in the 8-10 range. Thus far I’m also not overly intrigued with the 2016 draft prospects outside of the top 4 in terms of presenting franchise-changing ability, as this draft certainly does not look as deep as last years. The Mavs have market respect in terms of free agency, and given the top 7 protection this pick is highly unlikely to ever be high lottery.
Memphis: Wild Card
9.Memphis’ 2016 First Round Pick to Denver Protected 1-5 and 15-30, 1-5 in ’17-’18 and Unprotected in ’19.
The following two picks are most volatile to me. This pick had far greater value before Gasol re-signed, and given the back-ended protection in 2016 the pick projects to be conveyed in 2017. There is a possibility, though I’d deem it small, that Conley will exit this summer as an unrestricted free agent. He’s the best lead guard in free agency by a considerable margin and will certainly garner max contract talk. Memphis has a strong infrastructure and culture in place, but if he departs they may choose to rebuild, rendering a bottom half the lottery pick in a stacked 2017 class a possibility.
10.Memphis’ First Round Pick to Boston Protected for Selections 1-12 in 2018 (conveyable if Memphis conveys a 1st round pick to Denver in 2016), 1-8 in 2019 (conveyable if Memphis has conveyed a 1st round pick to Denver by 2017) and 1-6 in 2020 (conveyable if Memphis has conveyed a 1st round pick to Denver by 2018) and Unprotected in 2021.
The likely scenario as painted above is Conley re-signing in Memphis, the Grizzlies conveying a lower end 2017 first rounder and thus triggering a top 8 protected 2019 pick in Gasol’s second to last season where the Grizzlies are still above league average (last year prior to his player option which given his age at that point in time he’s likely to trigger). Evaluating the strength of this pick will again be easier after free agency this summer.