Throughout the pre-draft process, fans tend to ask the same question: who would be the best fit for our team needs? It's a constant team-first narrative that permeates all of professional sports, where loyalty is to the franchise and our only care is whether they win. It's not necessarily a poor priority to have; fandom is typically based on a geographical or emotional connection to an experience at a game that evokes memories and passion from one's past.
As someone who gets really invested in the prospect scouting side of things, I've tended to take a little different of an approach the last couple of years. Instead of hoping one team gets the best player for them, I've flipped the script. Now, I hope the prospect ends up in the on-court scenario that is best for their career.
Within my scouting, certain traits become evident to me that would pop at the next level in specific situations. Whether it's a need for continued skill development, so a stable environment and organization with track record of developing high-caliber players is paramount, or a certain skill that would surround the prospect to augment their game, I want the best outcome that can help these players succeed in the NBA.
It's time we looked at things through their lens. Today, we'll start down that path. Here's a list of best landing spots for some prospects who are just outside the top tier, a look at why the team is a match for the player, and whether such a proposition is plausible on draft night.
For clarity, we aren't doing every prospect, just a few who seem to have an ideal match for who they are and need to become.
Scottie Barnes - ATH, Florida State
Since the season has ended, I've turned into a pretty big Scottie Barnes fan. Through the winter, the absence of a jumper has scared me into being very cautious about making him a top-six prospect. For a gifted PNR playmaker and passer, there will be portions of his game that are taken away easily without a reliable jump shot.
That said, there have been increasing Giannis Antetokounmpo vibes from Barnes. He's got massive hands, finishes his layups all at or above the rim, is a freak in transition and has a natural feel for passing. What Barnes needs is patience to develop, space around him and offensive movement in the playbook that will help get him the ball on the move instead of staredown pick-and-rolls.
The Toronto Raptors hit most of those boxes right away. They have a great deal of shooting within their system, featuring Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby in the backcourt/ on the wings. Kyle Lowry could return via free agency and be an additional shooter/ playmaker. The kicker to me is a frontcourt combination of Barnes and Pascal Siakam, a real hybrid at the 4 and 5 that could transform how the Raps play. Barnes would benefit from the spacing, additional playmaking and group around him.
In Cleveland, a movement-based offense before ball screens is tailored for Barnes to combat teams that go under. If they do, he has two competent shooters in the backcourt in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to create for. There's an early opportunity for minutes at the 3 or 4, and the defensive tandem of him with Isaac Okoro would be fantastic.
Usman Garuba - F, Real Madrid
A switchable rim protector who doesn't shoot it great, Usman Garuba can play the 4 or the 5 but is ultimately best-served as a 5. The best situation for him will be with a team who can play him more at that position, embrace being a tad smaller and mesh with his best traits. Defensively, that means more length and pressure to build an elite unit. Offensively, it's surrounding him with shooters and scorers, where he can catch-and-finish on the baseline or make plays out of the short roll.
Defensively, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the perfect landing spot. The length that Sam Presti values, and the perimeter toughness he covets, would go hand-in-hand with drafting an elite defensive piece like Garuba. His length and defensive impact at a position of need is important, and could create a franchise down the line with a clear identity. They have dozens of picks coming in the next few years; they can take their time to develop guys who are a little more raw on offense. Garuba at the 5 in Mark Daginault's offense would be much more of a facilitator at the top of the key while the other 4 guys cut around him -- it's an optimal role for someone who can pass really well but doesn't handle the ball great.
Speaking of defense, I really like the potential fit of Garuba in Toronto. He and Pascal Siakam as an ambiguous 4 and 5 combo would lead to really interesting results on both ends. What's most exciting is the pairing of Garuba, a defensive wizard, with Nick Nurse, the franchise's wunderkind coach that is willing to do literally anything on defense to beat an opponent. It'd be like giving Nurse a bazooka and letting him loose on the battlefield. Offensively, there may be enough shooting with guys like Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. for the short roll to be opened up, an area that he needs to thrive.
From an offense-first perspective, Charlotte would be an outstanding home. There are already so many backcourt playmakers and shooters on the roster that Garuba's lack of 3-point range will be masked best as possible. The team has a clear need at the position long-term. Put Garuba in the short roll when teams come out to trap LaMelo Ball and the Hornets immediately have an impactful escape valve. They'd get the rim protector they covet, and Garuba can supercharge a burly but undersized frontcourt in stereo with PJ Washington and Miles Bridges.
Kai Jones - ATH, Texas
Tempo, tempo, tempo. Jones is best when he can get out and run the floor, pressure creatively on defense and be paired with a lead guard who likes to push tempo. He also needs a situation where he'll get minutes and develop through mistakes, as he isn't an incredibly polished prospect but won't learn the landscape of the league unless he gets minutes. He is one guy in this class who I genuinely believe needs rookie minutes to develop.
The opportunity for minutes at the 5 exists in Washington, Charlotte and Sacramento. All three have lead guards (Russell Westbrook, LaMelo Ball, De'Aaron Fox) who will push tempo, secondary handlers (Bradley Beal, Terry Rozier, Tyrese Haliburton) who can also start the break and offenses who are in the top-ten in the league.
Jalen Johnson - F, Duke
Johnson is a difficult prospect to peg. He's really begun to slide down draft boards and might even be in play outside the lottery. Frankly, with how well he handles at his size and the flashes he showed on the defensive end, I have a hard time envisioning him making it that far down in the draft. The key for Johnson is unlocking his athleticism. In transition, he's tremendous and navigates traffic well. Put him in the half-court and he struggles.
The Billy Donovan offense in Chicago that has been run for Patrick Williams would do wonders for Johnson. The Bulls prioritize and find ways to get Pat Will downhill towards the rim from the slot areas. While the existence of Williams likely would block Johnson/ make him redundant there, it's the ideal system for him to thrive in.
Nobody knows what does or will happen in Indiana with Nate Bjorkgren, but that's another ideal offensive fit for Johnson. The Pacers need a solution who can be reliable at the 4 so they find clarity with the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis frontcourt dilemma. Johnson as a 4 could see a ton of impact there long-term, and the ability of Sabonis to play atop the key as a facilitator/ attacker means Johnson's lack of shooting consistency can be worked around.
Finally, Houston is a blank slate with time to develop guys. I'd like to see Johnson have the affordability to work through his game on a team that's bottoming out and will let him play with the ball in his hands. He and Christian Wood would be an ultra-intriguing frontcourt tandem.
Jared Butler - CG, Baylor
I might be the only person in America who has Jared Butler in his top-ten. Here's a guy who has steadily improved in really impactful ways, is really young for the amount of college experience he has under his belt, can play on-ball or off-ball, is a tenacious defender and is a proven winner. Sometimes conversations about athleticism and age really are complicating a simple matter. Butler is a hooper.
Pegging where Butler will go is difficult as a result. He could sneak into the lottery, or go at the tail end of the first round. So we'll give him an ideal fit in every range.
If he's a lottery guy, I'd love to see Butler wind up in Indiana. Yes, their coaching and front office workings are blurry, and that complicates how to predict their on-court product moving forward. Butler's off-ball shooting makes him an ideal backcourt mate next to Domantas Sabonis, the guy the Pacers will play through from now on. Butler and Malcolm Brogdon are two shooty, strong defending, competitive guards who can mix-and-match together or both handle responsibilities while the other rests. He'd be good in small lineups as the 2 or in bigger lineups as the 1 next to Caris LeVert. If Indy plays 5-out again with Sabonis running offense from top of the key, that will exacerbate some finishing concerns surrounding Butler.
The one thing the Pacers don't have is a rim protector. Enter the Philadelphia 76ers, who have so much length and playmaking on their team. Butler would slide into the Shake Milton/ George Hill role. He can create his own when they need him to/ on second units, but the real functionality comes from his ability to guard 1s or 2s, space the floor and run off screens a la Seth Curry. It's the perfect blending of all his skills and a situation where his competitiveness gets rewarded right away.
On the draft night spectrum, those two teams fill a little too high or a little too low. The Dallas Mavericks might be juuuust right. Luka Doncic is their do-it-all guy, alleviating the burden from Butler to play a ton with the ball in his hands. But what Butler does is take away the need for Doncic to do literally everything, where he gets beat up a bit. Put a 40% 3-point shooter on the floor and Luka has more space. Put one who can also create his own shot late-clock and all of a sudden the Mavericks have a little bit more danger to them. The 5-out schemes and shooting frontcourt compliment Butler well.
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)