Anatomy of a Draft
Success at the Draft is simple. Here’s the secret.
Today’s thoughts are about progressions. Professional progressions. Has this guy or that guy progressed enough as an athlete and basketball player to warrant attention from the NBA’s most needy teams? Granted, I love the college game and on a day-in, day-out basis, I would prefer watching a college tilt over a pro one, but I have almost as much interest in the NBA Playoffs/Draft Build-up as I do in the NCAA Tournament.
The season is in its final week and almost half of the League is/has been preparing for the upcoming draft. Unlike the NFL, when the draft is the one place where you build your team for the present and future, the NBA’s elite teams are in a position to basically ignore the crop of incoming professionals due to shrewd front office moves and quality scouting. Do the Cavs, Lakers and Celtics care as much as the Kings, Thunder or Wizards? Of course, they don’t. Not only are the top teams completely out of range for the Lottery’s riches (Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, Ricky Rubio, etc.), but they are also regularly not in need of players of that ilk.
Many “experts” talk about draft strategies and whether teams in different sports should draft for need or just select the most talented player available. After years and years of following all of the major sports—and specifically how college players become professional ones (yes, even football, although I am not quite Mel Kiper Jr. I don’t watch that much college football.)—I think between the NFL and the NBA (the only real relevant American sporting leagues, in my opinion), teams should operate their drafts in entirely different fashion.
The NFL is a much different animal than the NBA. The NFL Draft (this weekend’s huge sporting event) gives you a chance at, in theory, seven players to fill in almost 30 different spots on the football field. Between special teams, and the 22 position players from either side of the ball, “drafting for need” is essential in this sport. If you are super weak on defense (I.e. my hometown Denver Broncos) and solid (if not different with no Jay Cutler) on offense, it behooves you to draft defense-heavy. Take the most talented defensive players in the spots that you have the most need. Again, for the Broncos that would be up the middle with defensive linemen and linebackers. Taking another potentially great quarterback or wide receiver, just because he is available does not usually equate to wins in such a specialized sport.
With the NBA, however, I feel teams in any position at any spot—or in any roster situation—should always take the best talent available. I don’t believe that “drafting for need” is a prudent approach, as ultimately, basketball players are basketball players, regardless of size or position. All on the court must play defense, all need to score, and all are required to play within a team system. A 320-pound offensive tackle has nothing to do with what a linebacker, punter or defensive back deals with in their position. On the other hand, the smallest point guard in the League might end up getting switched out onto the tallest center and therefore they are “equals.” Take talent, not size or position.
Drafting for need can lead to a dearth of actual star talent (so necessary for long-term sustained success) and leave you with a bevy of role players.
One of the prime examples of employing this strategy was the well-documented drafting of Darko Milicic by the Detroit Pistons. Other than his recent decision to ship off leader-extraordinaire Chauncey Billups to Denver, Joe Dumars’ only real mistake as a GM (personally, I think as highly of Joe D. as any executive in the League) was not only buying into the hype surrounding the Serbian bigman, but also feeling that his team was complete at the positions that would have been played by Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade. Yes, he had an All-Star backcourt in Billups and Rip Hamilton and a budding wing star in Tayshaun Prince, but to think that there wouldn’t have been room then (or a couple years later when they could have moved either Billups, Prince or Rip for something of actual worth) was a calculated mistake that still confuses me to this day.
Take the player who you deem the most qualified for a long professional career and ignore your current roster.
The Sacramento Kings, for example, are loaded in the frontcourt with young talent. Believe it or not Spencer Hawes is a legitimate NBA big man. I’ve always been an Ike Diogu fan (and not just because he blew up last night against the Nuggets). Donte Green will be a scorer in this League. And Jason Thompson has a bright future as well, but if the team from California’s capital gets the first pick, they better not screw it up.
Take Blake Griffin.
He is by far the best player in this draft and having him on your team this year, next year and five, 10 years from now will make your team better than any other available player could. Maybe you develop a logjam at the power forward/center position, but maybe you develop a dominating multi-headed force. Maybe one of those already on your team flames out and never meets expectations and you are fortunate to have several viable options down low. Or maybe, two years from now you can package Hawes, Green or Thompson for a veteran guard that can help your burgeoning playoff team.
The Clippers could always use a player of Griffin’s size and skill in the competitive Western Conference and like Sactown, there is never enough talent, regardless of position.
Washington is probably the most intriguing team in the group, as they legitimately need frontcourt help. For them to add an offensive and defensive force like Griffin behind Gilbert, Caron and Antawn would make their offensively-talented, but height-challenged team that much more dangerous.
If Oklahoma City lucks out and gets the first ball, roster aside, to have a player of Griffin’s magnitude would be transcendent for this new NBA city. Yes, Blake played his college ball a couple hours down the street in Norman, but the kid is an OKC-native. Dream scenario. Just ask Jordan Farmar how sweet it is.
Not that selecting one of the young guard-stars is a bad decision. To be honest, I haven’t seen the Rubio/Jennings combo near enough to compare their actual value to Griffin’s, Thabeet’s or even say, a Jordan Hill. But I can promise you that selecting the best player available is a strategy that will put your team in the best position for the aforementioned progress and prolonged team success.
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports.