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NBA Team Pre-Draft Needs - Northwest Division

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Hello again!  Back after a brief hiatus and continuing this week is our look at what each NBA team needs in the run-up to the NBA Draft.  The draft remains the cheapest and smartest way to build a team, though (assuming the GM knows what he's doing), and the past few seasons have seen large numbers of rookies contributing immediately.  Some (including DraftExpress) have called this year's draft extremely strong, so that trend should continue.  When evaluating team needs, I'll look at who will/will not be under contract next season, as well as the team's recent draft history. Any contract information I use comes from ShamSports.  The previous divisions can be found here: Atlantic/Pacific/Central

Today I'm looking at the Northwest Division, which had four of its five teams make the playoffs.  That fifth team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, might've actually been worse than the Nets if you ignore W-L record.  So they're not exactly close to competing with their immediate competition.  Nevertheless, each team has some pretty concrete areas they could address through the draft.

Minnesota Timberwolves [picks: lottery (19.9% chance at #1), 16, 23, 45, 56]

Players under contract for next season:

PG: Jonny Flynn/Ramon Sessions
SG: Corey Brewer/Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Gomes (Unguaranteed)
PF: Kevin Love/Al Jefferson/Gomes
C: Jefferson/Ryan Hollins/Nathan Jawai (Qualifying Offer)

Recent draft picks: PG Ricky Rubio (2009 1st round); PG Jonny Flynn (2009 1st round); PG Ty Lawson (2009 1st round); SG Wayne Ellington (2009 1st round); G Nick Calathes (2009 2nd round); G (sorry, force of habit) F/C Henk Norel (2009 2nd round); PG O.J. Mayo (2008 1st round); F/C Nikola Pekovic (2008 2nd round); PG Mario Chalmers (2008 2nd round); SG Corey Brewer (2007 1st round); F/C Chris Richard (2007 2nd round)

Remember when I said the Timberwolves might've been worse than the Nets last year?  (You should, it was only a paragraph ago.)  Actually, they were worse than New Jersey in defensive efficiency (111.6 vs. 110.6), but slightly better in offensive efficiency (101.6 vs. 100.6).  The Timberwolves also played at the third-fastest pace in the league, meaning they were playing basketball the Max Power way ("Isn't that the wrong way?" "Yeah, but faster").

Luckily for them, whether it was design or by chance, the Timberwolves will have some available roster spots and five picks in a deep draft.  Of course, that also was true last year, and the Timberwolves ended up with every guard they could nab.  I'm not totally sold on Corey Brewer as a starter, and if they're going to go with a Jefferson/Love frontcourt, they could do with some better backups than Hollins and Gomes.  And that's even if they re-sign Darko Milicic.

Needs: Small forward, talent in general, a computer that makes companies.

Oklahoma City Thunder [picks: 21, 26, 32, 51]

Players under contract for next season

PG: Russell Westbrook/Eric Maynor/Mustafa Shakur (Qualifying Offer)
SG: Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden/Kyle Weaver (Unguaranteed)
SF: Kevin Durant/Sefolosha
PF: Jeff Green/Serge Ibaka
C: Nenad Krstic/Nick Collison/D.J. White/Byron Mullens

Recent draft picks: SG James Harden (2009 1st round); G Rodrigue Beaubois (2009 1st round); PG Russell Westbrook (2008 1st round); F/C Serge Ibaka (2008 1st round); F Walter Sharpe (2008 2nd round); F/C Trent Plaisted (2008 2nd round); F/C DeVon Hardin (2008 2nd round); C Sasha Kaun (2008 2nd round); F Kevin Durant (2007 1st round); F Carl Landry (2007 2nd round); F Glen Davis (2007 2nd round)

The Thunder's building project seems to have gone quicker than expected, thanks to the general brilliance of Kevin Durant.  Honestly, looking at this list I don't see a whole lot of holes; while a backup for Durant would be good, that seems like an area where the team might go after a veteran.  One area that could stand to improve is three-point shooting; the Thunder made just 34 percent of their threes last season, sixth-worst in the league.  Again, though, they could always go after some experienced help in that area.  Much as GM Sam Presti seems to like stockpiling picks, don't be surprised if at least one of these gets traded away either in a package for a veteran or for future picks.

Needs: Three-point shooting

Portland Trail Blazers [picks: 22, 44]

Players under contract for next season:

PG: Andre Miller/Jerryd Bayless/Patrick Mills (Qualifying Offer)
SG: Brandon Roy/Rudy Fernandez/Bayless/Mills
SF: Martell Webster/Nicolas Batum/Roy
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge/Dante Cunningham
C: Greg Oden/Marcus Camby/Joel Przybilla (Early Termination)/Jeff Pendergraph

Recent draft picks: F Victor Claver (2009 1st round); PF Dante Cunningham (2009 2nd round); Jon Brockman (2009 2nd round); G Patrick Mills (2009 2nd round); G Brandon Rush (2008 1st round); F/C Joey Dorsey (2008 2nd round); C Omer Asik (2008 2nd round); G Mike Taylor (2008 2nd round); C Greg Oden (2007 1st round); PF Josh McRoberts (2007 2nd round); G/F Derrick Byars (2007 2nd round); PG Taurean Green (2007 2nd round); G/F Demetris Nichols (2007 2nd round)

Of those 12 draft picks I just listed from the last three years, only three players are still on Portland's roster.  Some of those picks were traded on or close to draft day, but that's still not a great percentage, particularly given their recent reputation as an up and coming team.  Not that such reputation isn't true, but they've used their draft assets to acquire other players.  Interestingly, seven of the players on that list have spent some time in the D-League.

As for what they need going forward, I don't think another backup big man would hurt.  Not because of Oden or anything, but I'm not totally sold on Pendergraph.  Even if they re-sign Juwan Howard for some reason, Howard had the worst PER on the team among guys who played more than five games at 10.0, inspirational figure or not.  That's getting pretty deep into the rotation, though.  I suppose they also could look at the point guard position, since this upcoming year will be the last that Andre Miller's contract is guaranteed, and down the road the team could decide to let him go and move Jerryd Bayless to the starting lineup.

Needs: Bench help

Utah Jazz [picks: lottery (2.2% chance at #1), 55]

Players under contract for next season

PG: Deron Williams/Ronnie Price/Sundiata Gaines (Unguaranteed)
SG: Wesley Matthews (Qualifying Offer)
SF: Andrei Kirilenko/C.J. Miles/Othyus Jeffers (Unguaranteed)
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Mehmet Okur/Kyrylo Fesenko (Qualifying Offer)/Kosta Koufos

Recent draft picks: PG Eric Maynor (2009 1st round); F/C Goran Suton (2009 2nd round); C Kosta Koufos (2008 1st round); C Ante Tomic (2008 2nd round); PF Tadija Dragicevic (2008 2nd round); G Morris Almond (2007 1st round); F Herbert Hill (2007 2nd round)

Much was made in the LA/Utah playoff series that Deron Williams is the only lottery pick on the Jazz roster.  That's going to change this year, courtesy of the New York Knicks.  I'd like to draw your attention, though to the fact that Kosta Koufos is the only Jazz draft pick from the last three years still on the roster (and yes, Fesenko was a draft day trade, etc.).  They've done a good job in the past at finding solid-to-very good players in the second round, but the recent dry spell means that next year's bench stands a little thin at this moment.  Boozer's a fairly safe bet not to return, but the hit won't come so much from replacing him with Millsap as it will be finding someone to back Millsap up.  They also could use some additional shooting should Kyle Korver not re-sign, but he seems to be happy in Utah and the community likes him, so he may be back.

And, of course, they should officially sign Gaines and Jeffers because, you know, they should.

Needs: Power forward, maybe a three-point shooter

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have no picks in this year's draft, which is pretty much par for the course.  The only Nuggets draft selections from the past five years are 1.) Sergio Llull (2009) and 2.) Leon Powe (2006).  Both of those guys were second-rounders.  Apparently Julius Hodge really scared them off.  Since they apparently don't care about the draft, I don't care about them.

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