NBA Draft, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: Perfect draft pick combos for the Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Magic

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Every team has to weigh countless variables in the NBA Draft — the skill sets and projected upsides of various prospects, their ages and physical profiles, the positions and roles they might play in the NBA and how that fits with the existing roster, their personality and mindset, etc. Often this puts teams in the position of having to choose between two disparate outcomes, this or that, best player available or best fit, shooter or creator, etc.

But teams with multiple first-round picks have the luxury of setting themselves up to check as many boxes as possible, using their picks to add complementary combinations of players. Barring any upcoming trades, there are four teams who will have multiple first-round picks in tonight’s draft. Based on my own subjective evaluation of their roster situations and leaning heavily on the analysis of more skilled draftniks, here’s how I think each team could get the most bang for their bucks.

New York Knicks — No. 19 and No. 21 — Chris Duarte and Zaire Williams

The Knicks really struggled offensively in last year’s playoff loss as their lack of depth was exposed. If Julius Randle or R.J. Barrett was struggling, they didn’t have other reliable creators to turn to and even when their stars were on, the supporting cast often couldn’t add enough production. In Duarte and Williams, the Knicks would get two wings that could theoretically fill those holes. Duarte is an experienced 3-and-D wing who should be able to play meaningful minutes right away. He’s a good shooter and defender and his track record as a primary scorer at Oregon could mean he’s eventually able to help as a secondary creator. Williams struggled mightily in his one year at Stanford but he has great size and fluidity and looks to be a very strong spot-up and pull-up shooter. He’s more of a project but has as much upside as the Knicks are going to get from any player in this range. Both players fit a need and in combination, they give New York a safer player they should be able to count on for next season and a higher-upside gamble for the future.

Oklahoma City Thunder — No. 6, No. 16 and No. 18 — Corey Kispert, Jaden Springer and Scottie Barnes

With three first-round picks (and a dozen more over the next few drafts) the Thunder are in the luxurious position of really being able to take the long view. That could manifest in chasing long-term projects with star upside, essentially lots of high-risk gambles hoping one pays off. The other option, the one I propose here, is playing it safe and adding several high-level role players who can grow together and scaffold each other’s development as they wait for whoever the next big star is that they’ll eventually pair with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Kispert has to prove he can defend and do anything off the trouble but he’s an elite shooter, spotting up and off movement, and will add a ton of space to the Thunder’s offense. Springer is a strong combo guard who can shoot, create and brings a ton of energy at the defensive end. He can play in a variety of roles and lineups working around Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and whoever else the Thunder add. Barnes is a shaky shooter but a versatile forward who can defend multiple positions very well and plays like a point guard on offense. Together, this group adds depth, skill and versatility to a Thunder team that’s still figuring out what they want to be.

Orlando Magic — No. 5 and No. 8 — Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga

The Magic desperately need shooting and Moody certainly addresses that. He’s also a strong wing defender and even without star upside he’s a very useful 3-and-D-plus role player. Kuminga is very raw but has an incredible athletic profile and definite star potential. There are plenty of other options for the Magic but this gives them a swing at a star and a safer more NBA-ready player to plug right into the rotation next season.

Houston Rockets — No. 2, No. 23 and No. 24 — Evan Mobley, Isaiah Jackson, Bones Hyland

The Rockets are in a bit of a different situation given how spread out their picks are. At No. 2, they need to land a star and hopefully some decent role players with the other two. Assuming the Rockets don’t trade back, Mobley should absolutely be the pick. He’s an elite defensive big-man prospect with enough offensive skill and talent to play in a variety of frontcourt combinations. He may not be as sexy as Jalen Green but he looks like a more reliable building block.

As a rim-protecting, vertical-spacing, run-and-jump big man, Jackson is a very familiar archetype or should always have a role even if it’s a small supporting one. Hyland will be limited by his size defensively and his score-first mentality prevents him from being a full-time lead guard. But he’s an elite pull-up shooter and shot-maker who should have value as a second-unit microwave scorer type.


This week on The Long Two, Ben Ladner looks at what’s behind the United States’ early struggles in the Olympics? Plus, two key inflection points that could determine the course of Thursday’s NBA Draft.

A burgeoning card collecting obsession sends one determined man on a hunt for the next, next, next Michael Jordan rookie card.

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