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Teams to Watch in the Draft

The 2010 NBA Draft is coming up this Thursday, June 24. I’ve always thought that the lottery siphons much of the suspense surrounding the draft, but there is certainly still room for excitement, particularly in the mid to late first round and when teams make surprising selections.

While Kentucky’s John Wall is certainly the prize of this year’s field, there figure to be plenty of other first-round gems to be had. With that said, here are the teams that figure to make key additions via their selections on Thursday night.

New Jersey Nets (Picks 3, 27, and 31)

After a 12-70 season, the Nets have nowhere to go but up. Even though their falling to third in this year’s draft order and losing out on Wall was a disappointment, No. 3 should still provide a good pick. In contention for the pick are Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins, and Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson. If Philadelphia elects to forgo Ohio State’s Evan Turner at No. 2 as a result of this week’s trade with the Sacramento Kings, the Nets could nab him, too.

With the combination of one or more talented free agents and the three draft picks over the course of the night, the Nets could definitely make a playoff push in 2011, especially in what seems to be a weak Eastern Conference.

Minnesota Timberwolves (Picks 4, 16, 23, 45, and 56)

The Timberwolves, like the Nets, had a terrible season in 2009-2010 in spite of a number of young, talented players. Finishing second to last in the entire league, they also have a ton of room to improve. With a bevy of selections in the draft (five in total), the T’Wolves can retool and try to become competitive. If they don’t find the players they want, they can always deal the picks or the prospects in a package to bring in a top-tier player. In addition, Ricky Rubio is waiting in the wings in Europe, so they have him to look forward to as well.

Los Angeles Clippers (Picks 8 and 54)

The Clippers have slogged through years of mediocrity last year despite continually boasting fairly impressive starting lineups. Their chemistry and leadership have always been the paramount issues. This year, with only five players under contract, they will start fresh. Finally joining the rotation is Blake Griffin, who missed the entirety of his rookie campaign with knee problems. With Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, and Chris Kaman also on the roster, small forward is clearly a need for the Clippers.

In this draft, LA is fortunate enough to have a number of candidates to choose from. At No. 8, Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson, Wake Forest’s Al-Farouq Aminu, Butler’s Gordon Hayward, and Nevada’s Luke Babbitt are all suitable selections, so the team will be able to plug a major hole in its roster.

Memphis Grizzlies (Picks 12, 25, and 28)

The Grizzlies put up a solid year in 2009-2010 even after the questionable acquisitions and Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson. Even though AI was a disaster, Randolph proved to be an offensive and defensive force in the paint, giving the team a great anchor down low to pair with budding center Marc Gasol. In addition, with OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay (who might flee via restricted free agency), they are rock solid at the wing positions, at least on offense.

With three picks in the first round, the Grizzlies have plenty of fodder to strengthen their rotation. Point guard Mike Conley hasn’t panned out as they would have liked, and neither has Hasheem Thabeet, so they can fortify both of those positions. Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton or Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside could fit the bill.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Picks 21, 26, 32, and 51)

The youngsters from Oklahoma City stunned the basketball world by coming relatively close to knocking off the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. They have a great roster already with Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jeff Green, and Kevin Durant, of course, but their front court faces some questions. Their lack of length and height was a major deterring factor against the eventual champions, and they need to remedy that to hope to acquire the Larry O’Brien trophy in the near future.

The acquisition of BJ Mullens last year proved to be a waste, so they need to rethink how they’ll solidify the center position. Again, Orton and Whiteside are potential fits.

Hardwood Paroxysm