The NBA Draft is an annual opportunity for many. It’s a hugely profound moment for young prospects, as well as front offices hoping to revitalize a franchise and establish their own reputations.
For decades, most teams have understood the value of a first-round pick, and especially lottery picks. Those that didn’t – like the Isiah Thomas-led New York Knicks – were fleeced time and again, trading picks for projects.
More recently, a trend has emerged that’s seen teams amass a war chest of picks. This is additionally helpful in rebuilding, as picks can be used in the draft or as trade capital – and when a team amasses multiple future first-rounders, swapping out one or two is sometimes even better than using them as flooding a maturing roster with more youngsters isn’t always an ideal recipe for success – and it probably hurts the young players even more than it does the team.
It’s easy to assume that teams in control of the most future first-round picks are best-positioned for future success. Granted, examining a team’s future is about more than just draft picks. The problem is that with the exception of a select few concrete examples, grading a team’s front office is an exercise in anecdotal evidence, and predicting the growth of current players is nearly impossible – with Julius Randle’s recent rise being a great example as to why.
Still, we look ahead at the team’s collections of future picks. Triangulate that with current, young talent and you’re most of the way toward identifying the future favorites in the NBA.
So with that, let’s start assessing.
Without getting into the minutia of pick protections, only seven teams are owed first-round picks (or pick swaps), and only four teams – Atlanta, Memphis, New York and New Orleans – are owed at least one first-round pick without owing any first-rounders themselves.
Conversely, two teams – Dallas and Denver – are not owed a single first-round pick. Further, 17 teams owe future first-round picks, eight of whom owe multiple future firsts.
To summarize, just like the U.S.’s wealth disparity, a select few teams own a majority of the NBA’s future capital. Next, let’s identify the teams with the most and/or best future assets, beginning with the honorable mention list and ending with the best-positioned team.
– Atlanta Hawks (Oklahoma City Thunder, 2020)
– Golden State Warriors (Minnesota Timberwolves, 2021 top-three protected)
– Memphis Grizzlies (Utah Jazz, 2021 protected 1-7 & 15-30, 1-6 in 2022, 1-3 in 2023, 1 in 2024 and 2025 and converts to 2025 and 2026 second-round picks if not conveyed; 2024 Golden State (protected 1-4 in 2024, 1 in 2025 and unprotected in 2026)
– New York Knicks (Dallas Mavericks, 2021; Dallas Mavericks, 2023 protected; Los Angeles Clippers, 2021 swap)
3. Houston Rockets
The Rockets’ future looks considerably different than it did as of the end of last season. Gone are Russell Westbrook and James Harden and instead they’ve got John Wall, Victor Oladipo and plenty of draft picks. For a team that looked poised to be in trouble in the very near future due to over-leveraging themselves in their pursuit of Westbrook, it looks a whole lot different today.
2021 – Brooklyn Nets (swap)
2021 – Detroit Pistons (protected 1-16 through 2022, 1-18 in 2023 and 2024, 1-13 2025, 1-11 in 2026, and 1-9 in 2027. Converts to a second-round pick if not conveyed)
2021 – Portland Trail Blazers (protected 1-14 through 2027. Converts to a second-round pick if not conveyed)
2022 – Brooklyn Nets
2022 – Milwaukee Bucks
2023 – Brooklyn Nets (swap)
2023 – Washington (protected 1-14 in 2023, 1-12 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025, 1-8 in 2026. Converts to 2026 and 2027 second-round picks if not conveyed)
2024 – Brooklyn Nets
2025 – Brooklyn Nets (swap)
2026 – Brooklyn Nets
2027 – Brooklyn Nets (swap)
Before we get ahead of ourselves, the Rockets also owe their fair share – otherwise, they’d be a bigger focus of this article. Houston owes their 2021 first-round pick (protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder if they finish behind the Miami HEAT and the Thunder. They also owe their 2026 first-round pick (protected) to the Thunder.
Houston is well-positioned, though, thanks to the Harden-to-Brooklyn deal. The Nets sent three unprotected first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps. Seven picks in total which arrive in a steady stream between now and 2027. Looking only at the 2027 pick, Durant will be 38, Harden 37 and Irving 34. At first blush, that appears to work out really well for the Rockets. The same will be true at least for the prior draft (2026) – and maybe even a few before that.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans has accumulated a significant number of future first-round picks. Hard to look past the Pelicans youth in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – but either way, the Pelicans are in incredible shape. Here’s a look that the future picks they’re owed:
2021 – Los Angeles Lakers (protected 8-30, and unprotected in 2022)
2023 – Los Angeles Lakers (swap)
2024 – Los Angeles Lakers (can choose 2025 instead)
2024 – Milwaukee Bucks (swap)
2025 – Milwaukee Bucks
2026 – Milwaukee Bucks (swap)
2027 – Milwaukee Bucks
Of note, the fact that they possess the power to wait an extra year (from 2024 to 2025) until receiving the second Lakers pick, if so desired, is big. LeBron James has to get old at some point, right? It’s inadvisable to bet against him this season – and probably next year, too – but eventually it’s bound to happen. If he’s still performing in 2023-24, the Pelicans have the luxury of playing the odds and holding off one more season.
Additionally, they received a haul in return for Jrue Holiday, and rightfully so. But arranging the picks so that they receive a swap in 2026 and an unprotected first-rounder in 2027 is ideal. By the end of the 2026-27 season, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be 32 going on 33. While the odds are in the favor of Antetokounmpo in terms of maintaining his athleticism and greatness at least into his mid-30s, who knows what happens between now and then.
Also, just the sheer number of incoming first-round picks moves the needle for New Orleans. The Pelicans do not owe any first-round picks, meaning that could have either two first-round picks in three of the next five drafts (2021 and 2024), or they could have three first-round picks in 2025. In any case, well done, Davin Griffin.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Buckle up because Sam Presti has put on a master class in rebuilding.
2021 – Golden State Warriors (protected 1-20 – if pick falls within protections, Thunder receive Minnesota’s 2021 second-round pick)
2021 – Miami and/or Houston (swap) (Thunder to receive two most favorable of its 2021 first-rounders between Miami and Houston, both are protected 1-4.)
2022 – Phoenix Suns (protected 1-12, 1-10 in 2023 and 1-8 in 2024. Becomes unprotected in 2025)
2023 – Denver Nuggets (protected 1-14 through 2025. Pick converts to 2025 and 2026 second-round picks if not conveyed.
2023 – Los Angeles Clippers (swap)
2023 – Miami HEAT (protected 1-4 through 2025 and unprotected in 2026)
2024 – Houston Rockets (protected 1-4. Pick converts to 2024 second-round pick if not conveyed)
2024 – Los Angeles Clippers
2025 – Houston or Los Angeles Clippers (swap) (Houston pick protected 1-10. Converts to Clippers unprotected pick swap if not conveyed)
2025 – Philadelphia 76ers (protected 1-6, 1-4 in 2026 and 2027. Converts to 2027 second-round pick if not conveyed)
2026 – Houston Rockets (protected 1-4. If not conveyed, converts to 2026 second-round pick)
2026 – Los Angeles Clippers
That’s quite the list. High-level, taking into consideration that the Warriors are unlikely to transition their 2021 pick and other near certainties, the Thunder are owed nine additional first-round picks between 2021 and 2026. NINE.
Notably, the Clippers picks are especially enticing as they are all unprotected. That would be meaningless this season, as the Clippers currently boast the second-best record in the NBA, but they owe picks as far in the future as 2026.
Their success is also entirely tethered to the presence of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard is currently 29 and George is 30. So, as of the start of the 2023-24 season – the one immediately following the first draft in which a pick changes hands – Leonard will be 33 and George will be 34. Assuming they’re both still on board, that’s probably still safe for Los Angeles.
But what about 2024? And most alarmingly, 2026? Those picks will be incredibly valuable! As of the 2026 NBA Draft, assuming Leonard and George are even still playing and on the Clippers, they will be 34 and 36, respectively.
The NBA Draft is less of a science than we’re led to believe in the run-up to it. But that only furthers the idea that collecting as many picks as possible is a brilliant strategy. If having one pick to select a long-term contributor amongst the first 30 is challenging, having two narrows the odds and having three improves them exponentially.
With negotiations around the possibility of allowing high schoolers into the NBA Draft as soon as 2022 and the implementation of the G League Ignite team, there are new and innovative ways of procuring talent beyond just the NCAA and international leagues.
That should only further the availability of top-tier talent in the draft, making first-round picks all-the-more valuable for the foreseeable future – but between Presti, Stone and Griffin, those selections are in good hands.
NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench
Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.
When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.
But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.
On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.
“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”
As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.
“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.
This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”
Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.
Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.
“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”
Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.
“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”
And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.
He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.
“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”
NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?
In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.
1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)
The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.
Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category. Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them.
In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season.
2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)
As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.
Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.
Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.
3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)
Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late.
In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.
Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation.
4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)
Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.
Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season.
5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)
Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.
If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)
While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP.
It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.
While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?
The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.
After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.
Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.
But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.
Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.
Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.
It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.
Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.
If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.
The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.