Thursday, May 30, 2013

2009 NBA Draft (with 20/20 Hindsight)

I'm more excited for the NBA Draft than I am for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs. And I'll be honest, I'm somewhat hedging my excitement because Miami-San Antonio just doesn't do it for me. I hate watching the Heat because they don't play any sort of tough basketball. I hate the Spurs because they are the exact opposite of the Heat. Once Miami eliminates Indiana, I will not care at all about the NBA Finals.

(Hoping for a little bit of a jinx there.)

The bottom line is I'm already looking forward to the draft. But now, a twist: we are going to look backward to the draft. And we're going to back it up a few years, to the 2009 Draft (because a lot of these guys are due for big paydays in the coming months). I love looking back like this and seeing how teams could have used their picks better and how that could have impacted the landscape of the league.

Hypothetical scenario: I'm going back in time and re-doing the draft the way it should have been done with full knowledge of everything I know now about how players turned out. Here's the top ten because I ran out of people to say nice things about.

1. Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
You have to take Blake here, regardless of the other talent available. People point to Chris Paul as the savior of the Clippers, but he doesn't even think about a white LA jersey unless Blake is there. His personality and his in-game tenacity (read: dunking) turned the Clips into a semi-legitimate contender.

2. Memphis Grizzlies - James Harden, SG, Arizona State
Here's a fun fact: the Grizz have drafted exactly one player that was "good in a Memphis uniform" (ambiguous term, but you know what I mean) since Shane Battier in 2001. Mike Conley in 2007. Their first round picks since then: Kevin Love (traded), Donte Green, Hasheem Thabeet (in this draft), DeMarre Carroll, Xavier Henry (not bad), Dominique Jones, Grievis Vasquez (traded), and Tony Wroten. Taking Harden instead of Thabeet gives them Conley-Harden-Gay-Randolph-Gasol. And then they win the NBA championship this year. So... there's that. Or, I suppose, they could blow it up riiiiiight before they were about to win and let Harden go for a handful of scrubs.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson
This is a horrible draft to have a star point guard on your roster, because it features a ton a serviceable point guards. OKC probably trades this pick, but let's throw Steph Curry in as their sixth man and just let me know if there is a more likable big three than Curry-Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant. No?

4. Sacramento Kings - Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis
Let it be known that the Kings had a 25% chance at first in this lottery, a 64% chance of landing in the top three, and a 100% chance of getting at least the fourth pick. They got number four.If that doesn't sum up the team's current situation, I don't know what does. What's strange is there is nothing wrong with the Evans pick - he was the rookie of the year and his rookie numbers have only been matched by Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron. So we're sticking him there and hoping that they hire a new coach.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Again, nothing wrong with the pick. Rubio has been amazing in terms of re-igniting the passion of fans and making the team fun to watch. Where Minnesota went wrong was.....

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC
They picked Jonny Flynn here. After Ricky Rubio. They are both point guards. I said earlier that this was a point guard-heavy draft, but come on. They acquired Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic the year before (and since we have 20/20 hindsight vision, we know they'll be a solid frontcourt). They just took Rubio (who is a solid game-managing and ball-distributing point guard). They now need a scorer to play the 2 or the 3. This is another case of where the pick probably gets traded (just like it should have been in real life!) but DeRozan isn't terrible if he were to be surrounded by other, better scoring options.

7. Golden State Warriors - Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
Well, they're hurting because they couldn't take everyone's favorite babyfaced assassin. But they end up with Jennings, a similar score-first point guard type and then pre-unite him with Monta Ellis. It's tough to say if they make the same kind of run this year with Jennings plugged in Curry's place, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they do okay - and maybe even better because of Jennings' resistance to injuries. Knock on wood.

8. New York Knicks - Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA
Wikipedia defines 2008-2010 for the Knicks as "Rebuilding (2008-2010)". Post-Isiah, the Knicks took Danilo Gallinari in 2008 and turned Jamal Crawford into Al Harrington. Then they turned Zach Randolph into Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas. If it seems like they gave up a lot, it's because they wanted to offer LeBron and a friend max contracts. Looking back, I bet they would have had a better shot at low-balling Bron Bron vis a vis salary and having some competent teammates for him. NY also bought out Stephon Marbury just before this draft. There are so many roster moves to list that I am just not going to do anything else because all of the players were in and out like a revolving door and then half of them got turned into Carmelo Anthony anyway. So we're sending Jrue to New York (instead of Jordan Hill) and then hopefully eventually leaving the Knicks with Holiday-Shumpert-Carmelo-Amar'e Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler. Obviously you would rather have Jrue at point than the Jason Kidd-Raymond Felton-Pablo Prigioni trio.

9. Toronto Raptors - Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
At this point, Toronto was a team with Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in the frontcourt. Fun fact: in 2008, the Raptors traded TJ Ford/two foreigners/Roy Hibbert to Indiana for Jermaine O'Neal and a nobody. I bet they'd like to have that one back. Lawson is the best player left on the board (besides maybe Jonny Flynn who is the same exact player in my mind). So ship him to Toronto and hope something good comes. But nothing ever will, because it's Toronto.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Starting five of players Milwaukee drafted between 2000 and 2008: TJ Ford-Michael Redd-Luc Mbah a Moute-Ersan Ilyasova-Andrew Bogut. Pretty much average or above-average role players, right? Well Flynn fits right into that mold. The problem with being middle-of-the-road in professional sports is you keep ending up with back-end-of-the-lottery guys, and probability tells you that you're not going to get a franchise-changer as often as teams that cycle between good and bad. This concludes the draft portion of the post, but I want to dive deeper into the mediocrity cycle.

I'll focus on the NBA since we're already here.

First round draft position the past however-many years (in reverse chronological order):
Milwaukee 2012-1997: 14-10-15-10-8-6-1-8-13-15-9-19-10
Toronto 2012-2000: 8-5-13-9-17-1-16-7-8-4-20-17-21
Portland 2012-2001: 11-6-21-22-22-13-1-4-6-13-23-23-21-19
Philadelphia 2012-1998: 15-16-2-17-16-12-21-13-9-16-26-20-8
New York 2011: 17-8-6-23-20-8-9-7-22-15-25-18-19-21
Those number one picks: Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden.

When you end up on the fringe of the playoffs or just missing them, you can't afford to sit with the same team to shake things up. Combined NBA titles of those five teams in the past ten years is obviously zero, and none of them have even gotten close. None of them are in horrible shape going forward, but it's all due to moves outside of the draft. That's one way to build a team, but the cheaper and more efficient way to do it is to draft a team with a long-term plan in mind. And maybe don't take two point guards back-to-back with the fifth and sixth picks.

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